- Welcome to techno's strange sector.
- In the spirit of Am I Who I Am's title, it seems reasonable to wonder what PTU would call the music on their first album. In a recent RA profile, the Russian duo Alina Izolenta and Kamil Ea mentioned their enthusiasm for "techno's strange sector." That's a decent (if not comprehensive) summary of PTU's catalogue, where unsentimental gestures to IDM and acid have tumbled alongside surrealist flourishes. On a sleepy drum track from 2017 called "Between Us," for example, someone could be heard whispering about beasts while one snored nearby.
Am I Who I Am's first few minutes are similarly eccentric. On "Doc 22," an AI recites Orwell's 1984 amid a thick atonal goo, which dissolves to reveal a whipping, insistent groove. The result is compellingly imperfect, a first or second draft most others would spend ages refining (the tracks are excerpts taken from various live shows). The album thrives on this improv impulse. You can sense that especially on "Over," whose first minute is an entertaining megamix of club music tropes, from mentasm synths to air-raid sirens.
Sometimes PTU go beyond techno's strange sector. "Former Me," with its glossolalic vocals and grime-like synth melody, is a nicely executed take on weightless. "Which Word Is The Coldest"'s square-wave lead also echoes grime. While the LP's minimal, bleepy palette tends to produce chilly sounding results, there are surprising flushes of warmth in tracks like "How Does It Feel," whose slinky bass guitar and live drums, reminiscent of Radiohead's Amnesiac, cast a bonfire glow on its high-rise suburban gloom.
There's a loose concept at play here: a cyberpunk utopia for machines who live long after their extinct human masters. It's a variation on a well-worn theme, sure, but it may have inspired at least one terrific track. Untouched by the drab greys of countless Ostgut and Sandwell copyists, "After Cities" is a parallel Fourth World of mechanical birds and weedy concrete jungles. Its thumb piano-like lead cycles amid mysterious tones and long-tailed synth chords in ways that might call to mind a RAMZi-mimicking droid.
Like other excellent sort-of-techno LPs of recent months, Am I Who I Am stakes out its musical identity by feeling out others. But the album's lawless attitude stands it apart. Take the first half of "Skyscript." It starts with a flat, macho thump—an almost ironic take on techno, a style that PTU usually channel indirectly. Once the intercom vocal comes in, things get unlovelier still (imagine an electroclash remix of Marcel Fengler's "Friction"). Some would say it's the inverse of how PTU critique their failures: "This sounds great, but it's not original." But I still like it for a simple reason: it is completely off its nut.
The track that follows, "I Heard You Breathe," seems at first like a stock ambient outro. But as its sad synth and bass tones waft in the wind, some faint breakbeats fade in and out of earshot. It's as though Ea and Izolenta are circling the club as punters, sizing up their options (possibly in the car park, since you can also hear motorway traffic whizzing past). Though lots of techno producers like to pose as outsiders, PTU's music reflects their distance from the established techno capitals. They've been busy elsewhere.
01. Doc 22
02. The Pursuit Of A Shadow
03. Castor & Pollux
04. After Cities
05. Former Me
06. How Does It Feel
08. Copper Mines, New Machines & The Future Conspiracy
09. Which Word Is The Coldest
12. I Heard You Breathe