VC-118A - Spiritual Machines

  • Barely-there electro and dub techno.
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  • "Soft Spot," from Samuel van Dijk's latest album for Delsin under his VC-118A alias, feels like the culmination of the sound the Dutch producer has been fine-tuning for a decade. The track starts with the scattershot movement of drums and IDM-esque bleeps running across the stereo field. Slowly it builds into an otherworldly symphony as a synth lead duets with breathy dub techno chords. It's a goosebump-inducing track, almost church-like but still definitively mechanical—Spiritual Machines, then. We get plenty more of these ethereal robot hymnals across van Dijk's fourth VC-118A album, as he reaches new heights in his well-wrought fusion of dub techno and electro. In a review of the 2016 VC-118A album Shift Registers, Andrew Ryce noted how "van Dijk takes [electro] to the stratosphere." On Spiritual Machines, we move further out into the atmosphere, barely able to make out even the crop circles of the dance floor anymore. "Soft Spot" has only the fading memories of electro in the drum programming, and you'd have to pitch "Operator" or "Machina Overloop" up about +8 for either to work in the deepest of warm-up sets. Electro remains the foundation of the record, but it's a gentle type. On Spiritual Machines, mechanic rhythms are soldered with the emotional breadth and depth of dub techno. "Aurora" starts as a piece of lean and sinewy electro before haunting dub chords turn the song inwards. The title track has an almost ecclestiatical high-end which it sets against the swagger of 808s that manage to still feel light and airy, while "Endless" has a gossamer-thin electro rhythm and a slow build of feedback that reminds me of a kettle boiling—not dissonant, but familiar and inviting. This slow, meandering approach could make for a unfocused, even morose record in less capable hands—in fact, it was an issue on the otherwise excellent Shift Register. On Spiritual Machines, van Dijk sidesteps the problem, turning up the intensity at all the right moments. The drums on "Industria" and "Voice Message" hit with a refreshing oomph, while "Serge Extra" is an equally welcome slice of dark electro, forged with a properly sinister bite. Ultimately, this bit of groove is what yins the record's yang. I'll be the first to admit that I'm a sucker for the dramatic and melancholic in my dance music, but these tracks are a reminder that a bit of funk alongside all the feels is never a bad thing.
  • Tracklist
      01. Endless 02. Serge Extract 03. Soft Spot 04. Update 05. Aurora 06. Lost 07. System Of Connections 08. Operator 09. Spiritual Machines 10. Industria 11. Glitch 12. Voice Message 13. Machina Overloop