- Marshal McLuhan once wrote, "We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us." Dance music producers know this all too well. Back when acid was taking off in Chicago, the limited (albeit much sought-after) sonic palette and sequencing style of the Roland TB-303 led many of its owners to produce acid lines that echoed those of their 303-owning peers.
The same homogeneity can be found in producers using tools manufactured in the present day as well. Take the "Monomachine," a digital synthesizer manufactured by Elektron. Even with five different types of synthesis and an incredibly flexible sequencer, its contribution to a given production is often easy to recognize. It takes a firm technical grasp of the machine in combination with strong creative ability in order to coax original sounds out of it. One artist who displays this ability possibly more than any other is the LA-based John Tejada, who for the past few years has used Elektron units almost exclusively when performing live. In preparation for those live shows, Tejada built up enough material for a new album, which he has entitled Where, and released on his own Palette Recordings imprint.
The title of the first cut, "Feel It," conjures visions of summertime tech-house jimmy jams, but in the place of flip-flops you instead get a space helmet. One could consider it a tribute to 2001: A Space Odyssey: HAL 9000 provides the lyrics ("My mind is going… I can feel it") over what one assumes to be the looped breathing of the astronaut Dave Bowman. The rolled toms and muted guitar strums rounding out the track show off Tejada's trademark of mixing organic and synthetic elements.
Two melodic highlights on Where occur back-to-back in the form of "Raindrops" and "Turning Point." "Raindrops" features a layered staccato harmony of electric piano and bass notes riding over a bed of synthetic rain drops drenched in slap back delay. There's not much else to it besides a dissonant-and-yet-hopeful melody and the usual clever edits, but the end product has enough hook and shine to it to make it memorable. "Turning Point" continues the minor/major key feel but features a remarkable digital bass line as the centerpiece, surrounded by washes of pad swells. The short breakdown featured here should be used as a reference in breakdowns 101—it's a useful, appropriate transition that shows just enough leg before getting back to business.
Those looking for some harder fare would no doubt be matched well with "Torque" and "Labyrinth." "Torque" is beset on both sides by wobbly bass and a horn section seemingly constructed from old sirens, the whole package bouncing off of the knee of a devastatingly punchy drum section. "Labyrinth," which previously saw release as a single late last year, finds Tejada at his rowdiest, full of grit and digital malevolence. The main theme is a multi-layered noisy synth line whose pitch and filter modulations sound like they were derived from the rising and falling of ocean waves. There are sound systems out there—lying in wait—for tracks like these to come along and utilize the full frequency spectrum.
Despite the positives, Where doesn't really feel like an album when taken as a whole. It may be more helpful to consider it as an extra long EP, a collection of Tejada's newest works. Perhaps reinforcing this feeling is the lone vocal track on the album, "Desire," featuring Nicolette. In a different environment it might work, but surrounded by the cohesive sound of the rest of the album it just feels isolated and disjointed. If you're looking for a good Tejada album to consume from start to finish, check out 2004's Logic Memory Center. If you're satisfied with some well-produced singles that can be pulled out and enjoyed a la carte, Where is for you.
01. Feel It
04. Turning Point
05. Desire feat. Nicolette
10. La Mer