- Ilian Tape continues a string of stellar albums.
- Starting with the debut LP from founders Zenker Brothers in 2015, a string of benchmark albums from Ilian Tape core artists Skee Mask, Stenny and Andrea have established a winning approach: stretch out and get weird, but don't leave your comfort zone. You don't need convoluted concepts or a star-studded guest roster, you just need a sense of narrative and a healthy dose of dynamics. That's key to Ilian Tape, whose albums don't come with manifestos. They're varied, cerebral affairs with one foot in techno and the other somewhere in outer space. Cosmic Transmission is the latest in this lineage, and it's something of a victory lap for the Munich duo.
It's illustrative to compare Cosmic Transmission with the duo's Mad System EP earlier from this year. Where that EP featured rippling, full-bore techno, Cosmic Transmission starts with a six-minute drift and then hobbles to life with "Who's In Control," whose blunted stagger has more in common with trip-hop. The Zenker Brothers have developed a strain of dance music influenced by hip-hop and drum & bass, a hybrid that feels divorced from the quantized tick of techno, even when it isn't.
Take "Natural Connection," where stuttering breakbeats fall over the track like a shower of ash. The drums are just another element in a self-contained whole, rather than the glue holding the track together. "Intense Incense" has high-impact basslines and twitchy drums that find the halfway point between vintage drum & bass and trap, while "Transforming Well" sounds like a late-'90s hip-hop instrumental.
Some of the best tracks hardly have beats at all. The late album trilogy of "One For All," "Reset" and "Let Loose" focuses on robust synth arpeggios that propel the tracks forward by themselves. It's here where you can really hear the hip-hop influence, particularly in the smoky atmosphere, which reminds me of some of RZA's earliest beats—crunchy, hazy, occluded. This is atmospheric techno, but not in the sense that it's particularly spacious or ethereal. Instead, the Zenker Brothers prefer beats obscured by smog and smoke, scuffed textures and rusted-over drum sounds that have a timeworn patina.
The dusty production and occasional b-boy swing lends Cosmic Transmission a retro flavour, albeit one that Ilian Tape has also made contemporary. It's part of a sonic signature the Zenker Brothers have been developing since they first started making waves with booming breakbeat tunes like "Berg 10." The duo's smoked-out beats, skewed breaks and hotbox haze come together to make a very specific but yet universal style of techno—the Ilian Tape signature.
01. When Nothing Is Safe
02. Who's In Control
03. Intense Incense
04. Natural Connection
05. Sphere Force
06. Divided Society
07. Transforming Well
08. One For All
10. Let Loose