The artificiality of electronic music has long been seen as a hurdle to overcome. There are vastly different ways musicians have dealt with this, from sampling live instruments to amping up the plastic elements and playing off the absurdity of the sounds. However, some artists use the synthetic so seamlessly with the organic that they blur the line between them beyond recognition. Numan Khan, a new Planet Mu signing, is one such artist. The angular beats and fluid melodies on his debut, Race Against Time, fit together in surprising ways and keep listeners guessing.
On “Race Against Time,” the beautiful interplay between accordion and harp provides a regal melody, with the galloping beats underneath providing a funky counterpoint. This playful interaction is not only interesting musically but also represents a keen awareness of the evolution of music over the years, putting old styles of composition up against modern production techniques. Even on a more contemplative track like “Photograph,” where snatches of tinkling ivories coexist in the steady thump and hum of the rhythm, there is a sense Numan is playing with the idea of how music making has changed over the years as it unfolds like a small symphony conducted by a single producer. With his sharp sense for cultivating tension and a knack for tricky rhythms, Numan uses thoroughly knotted string loop to keep “Voodoo” on the edge of going off the rails, creating carefully controlled electronic mayhem. The closing purple sounds of “XX” reveal the influence of grime on Numan’s work, a fat bass bubbling throughout the track as sinuous synths rise and fall overhead. While the tracks on Race Against Time vary in sound and structure, sometimes dramatically, the combination of organic melodies and bass-wobbling electronic beats remains consistent and devastating.