- I'll be honest. It gets to this time of year and my ears feel a little fatigued. Not in the sense that I can't hear, but more in the sense that I've already heard it. OK, so the New Year is more of a physiological clean slate than anything else, but for some reason, amidst all of the retrospective pontification and reflective banter, things tend to become cloudy. Upon hearing Playtime, though, the second LP offering from David Moufang and Jonah Sharp under their Reagenz guise, it was as though a cobwebbed cupboard had been cleared by a jet engine.
The album scurried into record stores at the beginning of November with little fanfare, following cold on the heels of the pair's eponymous 1994 collaboration which saw them exploring the dual textures of ambient and house. The story goes that Moufang and Sharp met at an Autechre show, recorded that initial LP, lost contact and then bumped into each other once again at another Autechre gig last year. It's an uncanny tale, but the only truly relevant point to bear in mind is that the second of those meetings took place in Japan. Two of the tracks ("Shibuya Day" and "Keep Building") were recorded there using the studio of an unnamed analogue synth collector, but perhaps most pertinently, the inspiration drawn from that session among the machines appears to have imbued the project with a sort of audible "synth sex" concept. Or in other, less crude terms, Moufang and Sharp have drawn into focus the capabilities of their tools and allowed them to run wild.
The comparisons with Moufang's extraordinary adventure on last year's Songs from the Beehive alongside Benjamin Brunn will serve as an obvious reference point here, but Playtime—as the title suggests—is a somewhat less pensive campaign. Case in point: Album opener "Dinner With Q" saunters along like it was balmy and August. A tenacious bass and guitar interplay underpins the thing, but as explained above, the synthesizers are given completely free reign to chatter and play, drawing your attention willingly towards higher frequency treats.
The remainder of the tracks that could loosely be termed as "house" succeed by nailing two key criteria: inducing a physical reaction while nourishing your aural palette. "DJ Friendly" and "Keep Building" work these points particularly hard—the former through its clipped snare and delicately effected Rhodes; the latter via guest Fred P's call-to-arms vocals over expansive legato leads. Meanwhile the 23-minute "Du Bist Hier!" conjures all that shines on the listening front, with skinny lazer-like synths being guided through a cave of reverb by an unwavering heartbeat bassline.
The issue that I often have with electronic music is that many of its practitioners treat synthesis as simply a means to an end. What's perhaps most arresting about Playtime is that these artists clearly have a deep understanding of their instruments and push that knowledge to its outermost bounds. Moufang appears to still be discovering fresh nooks and crannies of the Nord Modular despite using it extensively on the aforementioned Songs from the Beehive; takes it to the stage as a centrepiece of the Reagenz live show; and has no doubt basted this album in it.
Playtime should certainly be considered as a late contender for album of the year, but making such a statement would just be adding unnecessary noise to what is otherwise perfect clarity.
01. Dinner With Q
02. DJ Friendly
03. Shibuya Day
04. Keep Building feat. Fred P
07. Du Bist Hier!