Morphosis, What Have We Learned


Photo by Alex Stoddard

[M>O>S/Delsin/Morphine]


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With What Have We Learned being the kind of ambitious, expansive techno statement that it is, it’s hard to believe Rabih Beaini’s debut album as Morphosis was only recorded in two days. Then again, maybe it’s not such a stretch: despite the album’s general tendency towards unconventional sounds and structures, Beaini turns his restless experimentalism inward to create something that wisely avoids sprawl in favor of tight and steady focus. Apparently entirely the result of improvisation, the tracks on Learned wander slightly as if they’re slowly feeling out the space around them, but Beaini never lets them meander too far out of sight. Instead, they’re reined in with a motorik sense of driving, circular repetition, creating a fascinating listen that’s somehow mystifying and insular even as it reaches far outside the confines of techno.

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What Have We Learned is conceptually, sonically and emotionally consistent, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the stranger techno albums you’ll hear all year. There’s something intriguingly exotic about it, but not the polished, manufactured kind of exoticism: rather, putting on the album is like walking into some arid, smoke-filled bar tucked away in the corner of some tiny street. It’s not always friendly, full of shady characters who’ll shoot you strange looks, and if you spend too much time in there you might inhale something you shouldn’t have. “Silent Screamer” establishes the mood from the outset, dragging its feet on a buzzsaw synth that seems to droop deeper and deeper until it’s practically scraping the ground, a feeling repeated to even more delirious effect on vocal-heavy tracks like “Too Far” and “Europa.” On these tracks the percussion begins to feel subservient to the textures, an uncomfortable inversion that somehow feels totally natural in Morphosis’ druggy realm.

That’s not to say Beaini hasn’t built some bangers with his odd little assembly line, and in fact the album’s best moments come at the apex of its most humid krautrock clockwork workouts. Crucially, the album dips its toes right into the techno river with its second track “Spiral,” one of the album’s most straightforward tracks, signaling that while you’re not likely to get out of the smoke entirely, you’ll at least find some room to breathe amidst all the suffocating sludge blanketing the most of Learned. “Wild in Captivity” and “Androids Among Us” both weigh down their rickety beats with sweltering synths and uncomfortably humid ambience, where the drums sound like they’re fighting to cut through the heavy-hanging air. Elsewhere, “Kawn” rides an up-and-up-and-up-some-more perpetual ascension, lifting the album’s second half into decadently exhausting heights into the heatstroke delirium of the frantic “Dirty Matter.”

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By the time the album wheels down to a close with the Workshop-esque downbeat “Europa,” which finally unwinds the album’s almost defensively tight coils for a minute-long synthwave coda, nothing’s a surprise anymore. Taking familiar elements and throwing them onto a techno framework can be just as fatal as playing it safe with tired tropes, but Rabih Beaini has an enviable sense of direction and classicism (reverence towards the Teutons of both techno and krautrock) that powers his trawls through all sorts of unfamiliar subtropical climes. Maybe that’s the surprise, that one of the year’s purest techno albums is not exactly one for the purists, and all the better for it.

ey  on May 3, 2011 at 10:19 AM

great writeup, great album.

Blaktony  on May 3, 2011 at 11:14 AM

I agree, well written & an adventurous debut album. Nice.

jt  on June 18, 2011 at 12:34 PM

catch him play live in London on July 2nd
http://www.residentadvisor.net/event.aspx?251363

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