Sten - The Essence

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  • Peter M. Kersten's productions as Lawrence are the archetypal darlings of Dial, the label he founded with Carsten Jost and Turner's Paul Kominek. Mixing solid house rhythms with exposed weepy melodies, Lawrence tracks readily conform to album-length "home-listening" requirements, qualities that reputedly have convinced many a rock jock of the joys of dance music. His work under the name Sten is both more functional and less well-known, but the stripped-down explorations of Detroit and Chicago retain Kersten's unmistakable hand—a sense of warmth and play are inherent in these otherwise cold, revisionist exercises. Sten's second album The Essence comprises recent singles, b-sides and new material and, at least until track six, flows as smoothly as anything Kersten's ever released. Layering blunt, frequently unwavering drum patterns over moody, vintage synth pads, this suite of tracks establishes an enthralling, dystopian atmosphere perfect for dark, late night journeys. Indeed, the paranoid tones of "Daylight," which opens the album, suggest merely the first rays of sun (and the accompanying dread), the motorik drive and minor-keyed gloom subtly leavened by tinny keyboard stabs. "Unknown Faces" and "The Gate" add woodblocks and congas to the bare rhythmic framework, but remain mere tools; "Square" meanwhile is anything but, its brash drum tones and bleak synths evoke the electro-futurist nightmares of John Carpenter, or more recently Jeff Mills' Metropolis. For the title track Kersten returns to the tribal "essence" of earlier rhythmic tracks, but he then applies the brakes: "More Stash" revels in subdued Krautrock chug, strobing Jörg Burger chords and blank repetition. Left here, this would have been a fine EP, but the quality and sequencing then takes a nosedive. The re-appearance of Kersten's lame-the-first-time-around James Brown pun "Take Me to the Fridge" from 2006 is the nadir, the sleek focus of earlier tracks lost amid clunky samples, incongruous sounds and overcrowding. "City of Dust" is similarly misplaced, a lurching rhythm failing to settle, the rest of the track led astray. Closer "Way to the Stars" is a return to form, straight-ahead drums riding through clouds of buzzing alien chatter, families of bleeps and kinder chimes zigzagging in trademark Lawrence fashion. When closely adhering to the parity and precision found in prime Detroit techno Sten can be quite convincing and, for most of The Essence, Kersten does just that. Steer clear of "Take Me to the Fridge" and this album is worth a listen.
  • Tracklist
      01. Daylight 02. Unknown Faces 03. The Gate 04. Squares 05. The Essence 06. More Stash 07. Take Me to the Fridge 08. City of Dust 09. Way to the Stars