Rave deconstruction has been back in the spotlight lately. Established figures like Russell Haswell and Mark Fell are in high demand from young labels like Diagonal and Liberation Technologies. And a new generation of musicians are following in their footsteps, taking the conventions and materials of dance music and reshaping them in weird and wonderful ways. Lee Gamble, a self-professed Editions Mego fanatic, puts techno under the microscope. Lorenzo Senni pens bizarre sonic essays on trance. Budapest's Gábor Lázár, meanwhile, fires out machinegun patterns of abrasive synth tones, transforming a single eardrum-scraping rave sound into a study on the psychedelic properties of the dance floor. Music this intensely minimalist is difficult to get right. It risks draining its subject of the qualities that make it so exciting, or else prioritising concept over a musically engaging outcome. Lázár's productions have been improving in this respect, but it's on this collaborative album with Mark Fell that he makes a major breakthrough.
Fell has always had a kinder sound palette than his younger colleague—particularly in his recent Sensate Focus project, which reconciles his highly abstract approach with (slightly) more straightforward dance forms. Fell's contribution to The Neurobiology Of Moral Decision Making takes its cues from those releases. Specifically, he uses the same drums, a hyper-crisp palette of claps and kicks that form constantly changing rhythmic patterns, hinting at body-satisfying grooves even as they dance teasingly beyond comprehension. Solo, Fell uses these drums to make glistening tributes to house music's sensuality. Paired with Lázár's synths, which buzz and yammer like a boxful of angry hornets, they become a motor for something much more confrontational.
Herein lies the record's challenge. 50 minutes of these two minimalists was always going to be daunting; with materials this abrasive it borders on the sadistic. When, on occasion, the pair's inspiration runs a little dry, the whole exercise starts to seem perverse and mind-numbing. Track four's loping rhythm becomes monotonous even as it continues to change and develop. Likewise track five, where the beat sounds as if it's being repeatedly paused mid-bar. In these moments, it feels like Fell and Lázár aren't amplifying dance music's pleasure-giving qualities, but disrupting them unnecessarily.
Elsewhere, though, it's easier to slip into the duo's world. Track six steers us out of the mid-album slump with a set of brain-boring ascending tones. On the short and sweet opener, Lázár's acrid synths squelch and slide with uncanny grace, sparring frantically with the drums before settling into radioactive puddles. And on the 12-minute closer, Fell and Lázár show what extremes of contrast they can wring from such limited materials. The opening half is frenzied, its beat-salvos spat out at a dizzying rate; by the end we're crawling along at a snail's pace. In some respects Neurobiology is an off-puttingly intellectual exercise, but it's this ear for drama that redeems it.