- To hear a techno producer say they don't like Aphex Twin would be like a priest admitting they're not really into God. It's no surprise to learn, then, that Answer Code Request, AKA Patrick Gräser, is a Richard D. James fan. (As he once told Crack, "For me, all Aphex Twin is perfect.") What's made his music notable, though, is the fluency with which he's turned overlapping influences—ambient, rave, IDM, breakbeat—into a modern techno sound, fine-tuned to the dance floors Gräser, a Berghain resident of five years, has played to. This wasn't without precedent. Shed was doing similar things years before, and Sub:stance, the night Scuba ran at Berghain until 2013, helped set the scene for the club's embrace of steppy UK rhythms. While Gräser's full-length debut, 2014's Code, drew from a familiar canon, its execution was remarkably refined.
That album's appeal lay in a hi-fi techno sound with a liner-note literacy in the classic Warp catalogue, but it was also an unmistakably Ostgut Ton LP, and among the label's finest of the decade. Gräser's second full-length, Gens, comes from a similar place, but the air around it has turned sour. Its smog-thickened atmosphere, he's suggested, reflects a period of artistic isolation, a "desire to go deeper into the sounds of [my] synths and instruments." You'll sense this most keenly on "Sphera" and "Orarum," whose synths hang like low-lying storm clouds. (There's a classical tint to "Orarum," where flutes spiral below its thick tonal canopy.) The change in tone makes for some of Gräser's finest work. The chords on "Gens," resonating in vast, empty space, are magisterial. "Ab Intus"'s angelic vocal synths have a similarly doleful quality, though the subaqueous lead wriggles desperately, like a deep-sea diver jimmying open a rusted door.
One of Gens's best is also its brightest. "Knbn2" is a thing of beauty, its prismatic lead catching so much light that it could flood a cathedral. "Res" and "Mora" lift themselves from the gloom by echoing '90s ambient. ("Res" could pass for a sped-up version of "Hymn," from Mixmaster Morris and Pete Namlook's Dreamfish LP.) The album's light and dark passages are discretely arranged. On Code, those moods seemed entangled within each track. (The subtle rave elements on "Field Depth," "Zenith" and "Spin Off" seemed to bind them together.) That shift leads to several excellent tracks ("Gens," "Ab Intus," "Sphera"), but it makes Gens monotone in a couple spots. In addition, the album's midsection is slightly flat-footed. Instead of slicing up the rhythm, the breakbeat on "Cicadae" is anchored to the track's dread-filled 4/4 pump.
Rather than looking to other music for inspiration, Gräser burrows into himself. His inward gaze—symbolised by Sarah Schönfeld's microscope-rendered artwork—adds a regal, almost tragic edge to Gens. But in the process, it cedes some of the rhythmic whip and tonal variety that has made Answer Code Request tracks so fresh-sounding. That's not to say he should keep doing the same thing—Gens's atypical tracks are also among the best. "Audax"'s 160 BPM purr is both transcendent and raw as hell. The melancholic, rain-splashed ambient of "An Unattainable Distance" sounds weary and lived-in. Forgoing an easily recognised past, it sounds instead like a foggy memory of something lost.
03. Ab Intus
12. An Unattainable Distance