- Symbolism can be tricky in electronic music. Within such an amorphous mode of expression, even cogent metaphors or allusions can seem like non sequiturs. This could be why avant-garde groups like Matmos or Babyfather work with tangible themes, or why certain experimental club artists use imagined narratives largely for aesthetics. patten, the two London-based artists known only as A and D, go beyond simple, single-serving concepts. Their holistic approach involves music, visuals, live performance, physical objects, DJing and more in an effort to, as they've explained, "invite a way of looking at things differently."
patten's third album, Ψ (or "psi"), comes five years after the first. In 2011, GLAQJO XAACSO came out of nowhere and enticed the electronic music world. It was mysterious and aloof like an Actress record, but also came packed with a handful of banging tracks. Perhaps most importantly, the album had no conceptual barriers of entry—a colorful enigma that didn't ask to be solved. The project grew more dense and inscrutable once patten signed to Warp. Many of GLAQJO XAACSO's straightforward pleasures were absent from its follow-up, 2014's ESTOILE NAIANT, and it made digging through the jumbled, nebulous electronics much less rewarding. Ψ cleverly returns to the skewed body music on patten's first album, which nearly offsets the tangle of blurred gestures and garbled theorizing.
Opening with a randomized arp sequence, "Locq" tumbles down the album's overgrown path of disjointed rhythms and untethered FX. There's a multitracked voice calmly chanting amidst the din, but what exactly it's saying, or what it's meant to bring to the non-musical disarray, is unclear. The presence of new member A and her quiet monotone is more textural than anything else. Her words are often so processed and muffled that they almost don't register as human, relegated to another layer of patten's mayhem. The anthemic "Used 2 B" uses experimental club music as building blocks for its song-based electronica, which might have worked better if A wasn't merely set adrift in its mangled beats. "True Hold" and "Epsilon" work better than most, harnessing trance, trap, industrial and bass music signifiers into something unrecognizable yet emotionally resonant. In both tracks, the quiet poignance of A's voice can be heard.
Maximalism is a major tenet of patten's sound, but it's problematic for Ψ's clubby hybrids. Listening to A quasi-rap over the heavy bounce of "Blade"'s beat is a thrill at first, until it becomes clear that its anxious synth loop isn't going anywhere and sounds are continually piled on top. Such onslaughts are the norm, and they can turn interesting ideas into an overstimulating slog. When things open up in places, as on excellent instrumentals "Pixação" and "Yyang," it's a rare joy to take in each slick, slanted sound.
"The Opaque" seems emblematic of Ψ and the patten project as a whole. It starts with an unusually sparse arrangement: kick, snare, hi-hat and a squiggle of synth. The beat comes together, punching and stuttering as A jumps in with her half-intelligible verse. Even if you can't understand her words, there's a feeling of conviction in their delivery, and it anchors you in the uncanny music. Then the change comes: the vocals are deconstructed and timestretched, the beat becomes random and erratic and the melodic elements are almost indecipherable from the atonal noises. What starts as a captivating, lucid song becomes bloated and smeared beyond recognition—the only line that makes sense is when A says at the end of each stanza, "Now, forever." If "The Opaque" was supposed to communicate something, it's significance was lost in the excess of ideas.
04. Used 2 B
05. True Hold
09. The Opaque