Space Dimension Controller, Welcome to Mikrosektor-50

[R&S Records]

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A Google search for “best rock concept albums of all time” reveals about what one would expect: A bunch of websites acting under the self-important guise that their opinion on such honors is what matters most; substitute “rap” for “rock” for similar results. Now try throwing “electronic” into that shoddily worded formula and what do you get? Nothing. (Well, in reality, you get the same results as with the other two. Apparently Google is as reluctant to recognize electronic music as a thing as the rest of our general population. But I digress.) This shouldn’t come as a surprise though. Rock concept albums are often built on the sweeping dramatism that has dictated the genre’s course for much of its existence, and hip-hoperas are founded on lyricism, naturally. Electronic music largely eschews both of those signifiers and thus, there’s a dearth of albums existing as cohesive statements, never mind ones that tell a single linear story. So it’s with some lack of precedence that we arrive at Space Dimension Controller’s long-in-gestation feature presentation, an honest-to-god Electronic Concept Album that manages to effortlessly incorporate those storytelling devices while flirting with moments of musical brilliance.

When I interviewed Jack Hamill last month, I made sure to ask him about his process when writing this album. Since he’s arrived in our collective consciousness with a scarily good string of EPs, he’s possessed this fully formed narrative — an intrinsically plotted, if slightly blunted, back story entailing deep-space exploration. If you’ve been paying attention, I’m sure you’re at least somewhat versed on Mr. 8040 and Max Tiraquon. If not, may I suggest this breakdown, courtesy of the man himself. Since his arrival, as a 19-year-old prodigy of sorts, he’s assured that it’s all been building towards this, his debut LP for R&S Records. But seeing as his breakthrough was some three years ago, I was curious as to whether the story he tells on Welcome to Mikrosektor-50 is the one he’s intended all along. If when push came to shove and the reality set in of having to come up with an album’s worth of material for the ever-venerable London imprint, whether the urge to wow with production chops would win out over a cohesive directorial debut. He guaranteed me that it had not, though, that the movie played in his head while producing, rather than assigning a loose-fitting story arc after the fact. He also mentioned that he had R&S’ full vote of confidence throughout, a move that pays off for all parties involved as the final product is truly cinematic experience, in spite of the aforementioned setbacks built into the format.

So how did he pull it off? Namely with breadth. Hamill has always existed as an amalgamation of his influences, a cool blend of 80s house, early-90s G-funk, and retro-tinged electro. With such tangible reference points, it’s a testament to his brilliance that he’s been able to hash his own sound, never being accused of mere revivalism. Mikrosektor plays the influences a bit more free-handed, however, unraveling his tightly knit equation across the 13 included titles. In fact, the reference points are so readily blatant at times that certain tracks play like straight-up tributes. This is largely in part to the presence of Hamill’s use of vocals throughout. The b-boying head bop of “Mr. 8040’s Introduction”? Whodini at their most unhurried. The title track’s taught-necked galactic bounce, replete with an auto-tuned 16 bars? Afrika Bambaataa, all the way. Even when he’s not touching on that post-Parliament era of funk, there’s still familiarity in droves. “Confusion on the Armament Moon” cuts the vocals down to a ketamine crawl and lays them over a jostling quiver, bringing to mind the Visionquest pulse that has ruled the past couple summers. A female accompaniment joins the fray on “You Can’t Have My Love” — a siren love interest to be further explored on future releases in the storyline; Inner City for the sake of this review. And the specter of Juan Atkins as Model 500 presides over the entire release.

My personal favorite of Hamill’s releases thus far has been The Pathway To Tiraquon6, the late-2011 “prequel” to this album. Pathway possessed a greater variety than we’d previously seen from the producer — from slap-dash DnB to heart-stirring orchestral ambience — and while there’s no comparable instances of overstepping genre boundaries here, he does manage at least a couple toes outside his self-imposed confines. “Rising” is the most obvious instance. Emerging from a comical interlude in which a seedy Zorak-sounding character offers 8040 backdoor admittance to his club, a heavy handed 4/4 washes its way in. In contrast to the outlined proceedings, it feels like we’ve been dropped into detonation site, rather than a club, as a violent sidechain dictates the momentum. It’s the soundtrack to any “clubbing in the future” movie scene you’ve ever witnessed. And as a final gasp before the obligatory closing titles, “Back Through Time with a Mission of Groove” plays like familiar contemporary house fare, but still possesses a sharp-tongued bass lick lest we forget it isn’t born from this galaxy.

Look, there’s no mistaking that Mikrosektor isn’t for everyone. Specifically speaking to those who need their music to be of the absolute cutting edge, this probably won’t tickle your tight-assed fancy. But to those same people, don’t come crying to me about the dearth of quality electronic long-players. As someone who spends most of their day wading through promos that are mere collections of tracks that wouldn’t make a splash when formatted as a single, I couldn’t be more content with Hamill’s feature presentation. Even in avoiding the tired “song-song-brief interlude-song-song” format of which we’ve grown all too accustomed, he’s mercifully juking expectations. So in fulfilling the contractual obligations he’d promised ages ago, Hamill’s now a free agent, able to break from his concept if he so well pleases. But just know, if he does opt for a sequel, expect to see me at the midnight screening.

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