14 July 2019 (released)
29 October 2019
Techno is well into its fourth decade of existence. The genre whose cyborg-like evolution directly paralleled the creation of its technology. It is one of the only genres that can stand on its two feet without the need for live instruments. In the beginning, it was very simple. Crude basic drum machines could only craft songs in large subdivisions making for choppy, highly machine-like rhythms. The rock musicians that harnessed this technology (Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Gary Numan) created tracks whose beats and synths had an awkward rigidity to them, yet because of the dazzling nature of the technology, the ham-fisted samples were glossed over. Through the years, the love of the repetitive beat grew to the point where now, the entire industry is built on that robotic, consistent beat. However, since then, sampling technology has developed immensely. Producers now have a near-limitless ability to shape their sounds, so much so that advanced producers now look to input arrhythmic sounds into their beats to give them an organic feel.
Oxford-based French producer Doctor Steevo makes an optimistic style of EDM drawing from several of the prevailing styles over the last decade from downtempo to dubstep. At times, his tracks seem to hit a mainstream vibe while others show a more subversive side. Many of them feature a running beat built on drums, percussion and arpeggiators that remains stable while a kind of “freestyle” improvisation will get layered in with either drums or synth hits. The result definitely strays from the complacency of some electronica, particularly the pop-leaning variety. At times it injects fascinating counter-rhythms into the fold and at times it throws the beat off and siphons off the groove from the main beat, leaving it hard to follow.
A worldly Latin beat opens the record with sampled chanting amplifying the rhythm. 'And the Universe Begins' trades pitched vocals with drilling machinery. A punchy amped up synth is accented by a smattering of various samples creating some very interesting syncopations with the driving main beat. Contrast this with a song like 'Of Thorepin the Elf' a song which relies on a fairly common EDM track to do most of the heavy lifting but is intercut by fills that don't quite catch the groove. In an attempt to ramp up the intensity, they grind it to a halt.
The downtempo tracks seem to do the best job at finding a beat and gelling. Late album track 'Under the Heat of the Sun' has all elements working together. A steady sampled drum kit, slick sax, airy ethereal synths, fairytale piano, and delayed vocal samples. A good kick back and chill tune.
It's hard to place This Mutoid. On one hand, Doctor Steevo pushes the norms of EDM by syncopating samples to unusual rhythms but at times, the fills just don't land in the pocket. The pocket is a concept that is vital to live music but is sometimes ignored with electronic music because you can just snap to a grid and assume the sounds line up. As jazz musicians prove, you can be WAY outside the confines of a basic 4/4 beat and still have it work IF you're in the pocket. If Steevo can pay more attention to the pocket, future releases will have a much better chance of hitting the mark.