Umfang - Riven

  • The New York artist's second LP is eight tracks of ultra-reduced techno.
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  • At times, it can feel like Umfang is simply guiding the passage of air through space. On the Brooklyn-based producer's 2017 album, Symbolic Use Of Light, the drums from her tiny, trusty Boss DR-202 were blurred and enlarged with a dusting of reverb; the acidic bass from her Korg felt like it was beamed in from a distant universe. Though a 4/4 beat remained at the heart of the album, she often veered into the textured world of ambient techno, at once aloof and calmingly restrained. Despite her penchant for massive, unrelenting techno in the DJ booth, restraint seems to be her philosophy writ large when it comes to production. "I like to make as simple music as possible," she said in a recent interview. "I like to use only two sounds." RIVEN, Umfang's fourth album and the first on her newly minted label Thanks For Enlightening Me, takes this ethos to its extreme, with tracks pared back to their most minimal forms. Synths are presented unadorned by the additional depth of a bassline. Shuddering drums shuffle along unperturbed. Though the LP tracks Umfang's varied, warm-hued inspirations—trip-hop, tech house—it does so with an icy remove. Rather than invoke the former's dub or the latter's buoyant grooves, she strips them for parts, leaving behind only a creeping arpeggio or sparse hi-hat loop. What remains is hauntingly spacious, a rhythm without a context. The pared-back approach produces tracks that scan as DJ tools, building blocks onto which a fuller composition can be built. In a vacuum, though, they are glacially slow and repetitive. "Glass Escalator" establishes its halting drum pattern within the first seven seconds, but continues on for nearly five minutes, with little variation save for a tinny progression halfway through. "Baby Blue" similarly introduces its main components immediately—buzzing bass, ominous synths, a compact drum loop—and simmers them until they're reduced to background noise. At times, it comes off as a thought experiment more than a finished product, an exploration of the bare minimum needed to evoke familiar dance music tropes. RIVEN is most successful when Umfang repackages those tropes into more novel combinations. The soaring sounds of opener "Flare" become a motif that returns on the vaporous "2 Body Beat," a slow-building track that eschews dance music altogether for more ambient, drone-inflected spaces. "Rubber" does what it says on the box, looping her x0xb0x's bouncing bass, but builds to a quiet peak with soft synths that glide across its sturdy foundation like watercolors on dried ink. On "Riven" and "Floating Pieces Attract," Umfang steps closest to what her Bossa fans might expect: pummeling drums. Even here, though, she layers a swirling synth that gently ebbs and flows, a New Age take on techno.
  • Tracklist
      01. Flare 02. Glass Escalator 03. 2 Body Beat 04. Riven 05. Rubber 06. Baby Blue 07. Regenerate 08. Floating Pieces Attract