- During the mid-'90s, at the height of his fame as a DJ, Sasha was known for playing music with a distinct and powerful emotional centre. These moods weren't necessarily new in dance music. A similar sense of poignancy had been explored in other genres, but the appeal of Sasha's progressive house sound was in the framing. His style suggested sophistication. His tracks blended pathos and hope, and, in doing so, induced reflection. A friend once told me she wanted Sasha and John Digweed's Northern Exposure mix played in its entirety at her funeral, and, length aside, I think it's a great choice.
Sasha's solo music has been less important in people's appreciation of him, but at times he's captured the spirit of his DJing. 1999's Xpander EP is the most obvious example, but there were tracks on the otherwise patchy Airdrawndagger album and relatively more recent cuts on his emFire label—"Coma" comes to mind—that were similarly evocative.
Scene Delete, Sasha's latest album, was inspired by his appreciation of modern classical. The collection is drawn from music he was writing as a sideline to his club tunes, using the relative serenity of styles like ambient and downtempo as a sort of creative catharsis. At a glance, the tone of these tracks isn't too removed from core Sasha. Melodies lead pretty much everything here and the vibe is almost uniformly contemplative. There are elements of Max Richter, Nils Frahm and Steve Reich (all mentioned by Sasha as influences), while the electronic aspects riff on glitch-meets-melody acts like Jon Hopkins, Boards Of Canada, Burial and James Holden. Scene Delete is incredibly well-produced, and not without its moments, but these 21 tracks mostly feel like an indistinctive composite of their influences. There's little of the emotional individuality that once defined Sasha.
A few of these tracks are rooted in the club, and the album's highlights come from this pool. "Linepulse" doesn't have a beat but it does have a big quivering bassline with lovely snatches of melody bouncing off it. Scene Delete's tracks are subtly blended, DJ-mix-style, so on "Pontiac" there's a bit of the previous cut's beat before it settles into a brassy synthesizer line that grandly swells and recedes. "Warewolf" could be the centrepiece of a Sasha DJ set, its simple, arresting refrain packaged for camera-phone moments. But it bleeds into "Bring On The Nighttime," a track that embodies one of the album's main issues. The involvement of Ultraísta's Nigel Godrich (the famed Radiohead producer) and vocalist Laura Bettinson means extra dollops of melodrama at a point in the record where the repetition of its core sentiment is already beginning to cloy. "Modcon," a few tracks before it, highlights Scene Delete's other main problem: its clipped percussion almost sounds like it skipped a Burial pastiche attempt and went straight for a sample. On "Shelter," Max Richter's 2010-released Infra looms large.
There's probably enough suitable material on Scene Delete to comprise a snappy little electronica record. If you placed, say, the moodier "Scarpa Falls" and "Abacus" amongst some other electronically derived highlights, the results could have been convincing. But as it stands, with 21 tracks, and with the same earnest thematic button pushed over and over, it's a difficult album to submit to. On a comparable record such as Jon Hopkins' Immunity, the UK artist called on a range of compositional techniques and angles to deliver his resonant message; on Scene Delete, we always go straight from A to B, mostly bypassing the qualities that originally made its creator so good.
01. Channel Deq
05. Time After Time
08. Cassette Sessions D
09. Cassette Sessions E
12. Scarpa Falls
14. Bring On The Nighttime feat. Ultraista
17. Untitled 3
19. Rooms feat. John Graham
21. Vapour Trails