- In conversation with RA's Angus Finlayson a few years ago, MGUN, AKA Manual Gonzales, portrayed himself as being distant, though not cut off, from his peers in Detroit. "I don't like to get ideas from people," he said. "Sometimes when you do that you kind of taint yourself without knowing." Though his 2012 debut, The Near Future, arrived amid a tide of outsider house 12-inches from New York and the UK, Gonzales's roots in his hometown have since shone through. His catalogue has spanned '80s electro-inspired jams ("She Can't Love You," "Laser Jam"), Terrence Dixon-flavoured minimalism ("Harmnear," "Funnel Vision"), kosmische-via-Kraftwerk drifts ("Files React") and Underground Resistance-style ragers ("Migraine"). His music has occasionally reached further back for inspiration. One track on The Near Future, "Walk With Me," was a distortion-racked edit of Jefferson Airplane's "Around Me"; he has described himself as a fan of "mid-century everything," including '60s rock.
In recent years, Gonzales's music has shown a consolidation of these influences. His 2016 LP Gentium was less prone to experimental whims. His latest LP, Axiom, also shows a maturing craft, and a slightly narrower scope. It's lighter on grotty textures. Ideas are more fully formed. The experiments feel purposeful.
Axiom's dance floor thrust brings these little changes into focus. Take "Sil." Its bass guitar and live drums make it feel like a disco edit, but the kicks catch you off-guard—nudged as far along the grid as possible, they're way ahead of the rest of the loop. It sounds like an ungainly DJ mix at first, but an oddly compelling groove eventually takes hold.
"359," another track that sounds slightly misaligned, is the album's only blemish. Its amphetamine-rush synth chords, noirish piano and electric organ stabs seem cramped and uncomfortable together. (Maybe that's the point—it was inspired by a hectic party he played in Glasgow several years ago.) The other uptempo pieces find Gonzales in much better form. "Hole"'s nasty arp zig-zags at sharp angles, with steely rides and snares giving it added bite. Another electro track, "Cancel," seems to glide on a sustained organ note and 808 cowbells, but an acid bassline subtly kneads it forward. Axiom's brisk pace is notable even when things slow down, or, in the case of "K Art W Heel," get weird: its queasy melodies go back and forth with a conversational rhythm.
On Gonzales's past records, you could usually only count on hearing one or two tracks in any given style. Axiom's spine, though, is house and techno, and the LP is at its most satisfying in these modes. The melodic sensibility in "Nichrome"'s prancing keys echoes early KMS, though there's nothing as odd in those records as Gonzales's flatulent acid line. "Your Never Home"'s chunky chords, piano figures and drowsy vocals scratch an itch for deep, midtempo house. "She Finna Blow"'s humid glissandos and pealing crystal tones evoke a casual, almost psychedelic luxury; for a moment, you might be transported to a party by an infinity pool, Aperol Spritz in hand, overlooking the Adriatic Sea.
Axiom was apparently made in whatever time Gonzales could grab while not working at Peoples Records. You can sense a record shop's worth of ideas floating around. The majority of them are sharply executed, which makes the rougher ones more apparent. The untidiness of tracks like "359" or "Vap," a children's TV show interlude of simple hiss-shrouded melody, isn't so much the result of the punk attitude Gonzales once identified with as a hangover from it. Axiom loses nothing for easing off that approach, and shows the depth of Gonzales' craft as clearly as we've ever heard it.
01. You Inside Me
02. K Art W Heel
05. See It For Myself
06. She Finna Blow
09. Your Never Home