- When Levon Vincent borrowed Marshall McLuhan's famous maxim "the medium is the message," he was using it to justify his commitment to vinyl. But his point—that the music you release is inseparable from the way in which you release it—has broader applications. Vincent has been a revered figure in house and techno for years now. Any album, but particularly a long-awaited debut from such a well-liked artist, will bring with it new expectations. This new medium implies a new, grander statement. Finally the artist can speak in complete paragraphs, rather than the short, sharp sentences of a dance floor 12-inch.
But Vincent has always packed plenty of verbiage into his singles. Even his simplest tracks are witty reactions to house and techno convention, full of stylish turns of phrase and vivid colloquialisms borrowed from both his native New York and his adopted home of Berlin. Wisely, he doesn't try to out-talk himself on his self-titled debut. Instead, he subtly shifts the terms of the discussion, presenting a message that is better suited to the medium, even if it's not quite as well-suited to Vincent's skill set.
Often it feels like the transformation was as simple as nudging around a few faders on the mixing desk. "Her Light Goes Through Everything," a cryptic roller out of the Joey Anderson playbook, picks up a full arrangement of drums as it goes, but they're kept way back in the mix. Likewise "For Mona, My Beloved Cat. Rest In Peace," whose gorgeous clouds of melody dominate its barely-there groove. Repeatedly, percussion is used as little more than a timekeeper, while an array of synths and strings do the hard work. "The Beginning" drifts by like an early Autechre cut. "Phantom Power"'s gaunt bassline recalls Vincent's floor-focussed "Fear," but it's content to nod along in breakdown mode.
At first this can be underwhelming—you might find yourself hoping for an enormous kick drum to thunder into view, sweeping all of those pretty melodies into a pitch-black abyss in the manner of so many Vincent classics. Even the more straightforward tracks tend to have a smeared quality, as in "Launch Ramp To Tha Sky," whose airy groove is clogged with strange reverbs, or "Junkies On Hermann Strasse," whose aggro churn is a little too blunted to really hit home.
Still, "Junkies…" is the album's only weak moment. The others, while never delivering the thrills of "Six Figures" or "Solemn Days," slowly reveal a different kind of charm. By the time we get to "Black Arm W/ Wolf" and "Confetti," Vincent has perfected his new style: richly arranged, tuneful, sentimental but not quite saccharine. So much so that when he returns to more familiar sounds on the home stretch, it doesn't feel quite appropriate. "Anti Corporate Music," "Small Whole-Numbered Ratios" and the closer "Woman Is An Angel" are all fantastic. But without them, the album's arc seems clearer: a slow but steady ascent up that launch ramp into the sky.
A1 The Beginning
A2 Phantom Power
B Junkies On Hermann Street
C Launch Ramp To The Sky
D1 For Mona, My Beloved Cat
D2 Her Light Goes Through Everything
E1 Black Arm W/Wolf
F Anti-Corporate Music
G Small Whole-Numbered Ratios
H Woman Is An Angel