- Repetition and austerity are key principles of minimal electronic music. When Factory Floor described their latest album, 25 25, as "ultra-minimalist," it carried an implicit promise of quality. Subtraction is both the album's theme and its trigger—the departure of Dominic Butler, who last appeared on the band's self-titled album, left Factory Floor in the hands of Nik Void and Gabe Gurnsey. Their approach has also changed: 25 25 is more electronic than Factory Floor, a result of the duo's club performances and growing enthusiasm for modular synthesis.
The late composer Pierre Boulez once said that the music by minimalists such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich was "too simple to be interesting." A similar criticism could be made of 25 25. In testing the limits of minimalism so rigorously, Void and Gurnsey lose sight of the difference between absence and substance. Take the title track, which lacks the sharp angles and rhythmic undulations of older Factory Floor song structures. Backed by a strobing arpeggio, electronic squeaks, processed syllables and one-shots take turns over a linear, unchanging beat. After the zip of opener "Meet Me At The End," 25 25's rhythm slackens. The second track, "Relay," sedates a kuduro-esque sequence of bleeps and lays it across skipping drums and Void's cries. As with the next song, "Slow Listen," the music is like an exercise bike, moving without going anywhere.
Part of 25 25's locomotive problem is down to a faded vocal presence—Void seems to sing between the beats rather than over them, a ghost in her own songs. Consider how she insinuated herself into the erotic pulse of "Two Different Ways," regulating the track's melodic heartbeat with ice-cold counterpoints. On much of this album, she distributes her voice in more submissive fragments, letting them drift into the cracks of songs. Employed mostly as a rhythmic device on 25 25, Void's voice cedes some of the personality that made Factory Floor's debut so distinctive.
Factory Floor's aesthetic is rarely comforting, and yet their new music settles into itself as it revisits old habits. The vocal accents of "Dial Me In" grease the modular spirals and percussive mutations around them. On "Ya," a white heat emerges from layers of rhythm, topped and tailed by bright woodblocks and the song's yawning vocal. In these tracks, Factory Floor take shelter beneath trusted ideas; whenever they abandon them, Void and Gurnsey, too invested in austerity, fail to summon the reckless impulse that usually comes with risk-taking.
"Wave" is 25 25's most successful experiment. Circling around a bendy, sub-Saharan African rhythm, it conducts synthetic FX—balloon squeaks, purring bass—into clashing, asymmetrical patterns. It has an element of illusion that recalls the holographic sheen of older tracks like "Fall Back" and "(R E A L L O V E)." That sense of ambiguity doesn't register on much of 25 25: the sensory tricks are either faint, familiar or absent.
01. Meet Me At The End
03. Slow Listen
04. 25 25
05. Dial Me In
08. Upper Left