Expectations can be dangerous. As record buyers, we bank on our expectations to guide us (eg. I’ll usually pull a Strictly Rhythm record before 1994 and not bother with anything after). We’re told to generally not be judgmental in life or form preconceptions, but with music these preconcieved notions are among the few things keeping us sane. So when it was announced that Donato Dozzy’s production partner Nuel would be putting out an album on Further Records, the corners of my brain that sort through Discogs pages and past techno news cycles fired up and informed me this would probably be somewhat similar to Dozzy’s K album. The duo’s coveted collaborations fetch fortunes, and Nuel’s solo work up to this point hasn’t been totally dissimilar to Dozzy’s. So while I expected an unusual take on techno, I didn’t expect something with tenuous-at-best ties to it.
Putting the needle on Trance Mutation unveils a world populated by some of the least techno sounds in existence: tabla and guitar. So many of the sounds on this album are organic that at first blush it seems wrong to even relate it to techno or electronic music as a whole; but one listen to opener, “Mentalism,” reveals a strain of music that has much in common with the shamanistic techno often found emanating out of teepees on Japanese mountaintops. Far from pulling a Brandt Brauer Frick or Elektro Guzzi, where bands using acoustic instruments make techno compatible music (often interestingly and enjoyably), Nuel made music that is decidedly removed from the contemporary club landscape. So while you likely won’t hear cuts like “Vibration” out at Berghain, it sounds like it could have been right at home at Roman orgies (a first-century Lab.Oratory?), with Maenads swaying to Nuel’s rhythms while off their heads on peyote.
It’s rather easy to tie Trance Mutation to the classical world, given its recording on the coast of the Adriatic and the use of truly timeless percussion. And while this record gets a lot of plays from me on Sundays as a mental salve after the weekend’s activities, it’s just as packed with hedonism as your favorite Radio Slave ketamine jam. Few records have toyed with my expectations so much recently, and it’s heartening to report that Nuel, in doing so, released a really stellar piece of work. It’s the kind of record that sounds like nothing else out there, even though Nuel could have undoubtedly made a great album by doing what was expected of him. This bucking of both trends and expectations is an admirable move in and of itself. Rather than being idiosyncratic for idiosyncrasy’s sake, Trance Mutation is, at the end of the day, an honest album from someone who sounds like they’ve been wanting to put out this music from day one. Trance Mutation as a title is particularly emblematic: few records reach the kind of hypnotism achieved here. Look no further for the soundtrack to your next bacchanalia.