The idea of a band—that is, people playing instruments like guitar and bass and drums—making techno (or any other so-called "serious" dance music) has always felt like an equally great and potentially dangerous idea. It's great because, well, there's no risk that half the band is just checking their email when you see them live, and potentially dangerous because they're often a toenail away from being a novelty act. Plenty of acts (Brandt Bauer Frick Ensemble and Archie Pelago are two contemporary examples) have been eschewing that prospective gimmick quite nicely. Austrian trio Elektro Guzzi have been, too, but as excellent as their self-titled debut album from last year was—well, that was one razor-thin toenail. This band playing minimal techno was basically a band about playing minimal techno. Their musicianship was astounding, their pocket delicious and their grooves undeniable, but there was something worrisome about their approach.
What could have been an artistic dead-end, however, was apparently just the beginning. With a fiery live album under the belts, the Guzzis return with a new full-length for Macro, and sweet Jesus have they come back snarling. Parquet is one of the brisker, fiercer and more uninhibited techno records of the year, a fact that the band playfully obscures in its opening moments: "Affumicato" might begin with muted drum hits and indie-ish eighth notes on a nasal guitar, but as the guitar line spreads out and the kick drum swells, you realize things are about to get very big.
There's more rock at work on Parquet than on previous Elektro Guzzi outings—guitars growl, basslines walk, drum sticks knock up against each other—but there might be more techno, too. "Vertical Axis" nails cathedral-sized techno about as well as Function does, but with a musicality that's tough to squeeze out of production gear alone. Likewise, "Reserva" keeps a relatively simple tech house beat interesting by way of a gorgeously played guitar lick. I keep wondering which instrumentalist here deserves special props, but they all—Bernhard Hammer on guitar, Jakob Schneidewind on bass and Bernhard Beuer on drums—have moments where they just own these tracks.
Interestingly, rock instrumentation doesn't act as much of a humanizing force on Parquet. Rather than rough up the perfection of machines or lend some "organic touch" to these tunes, Elektro Guzzi maintain that digital-ish perfection pretty well, using their instruments instead to give a jolt of danger to a style of techno that can sometimes come off as a little steely. At the same time, however adamant these guys are about their lack of loops and overdubs, they're getting ever more brilliant at obscuring and transforming their axes. Parquet proves these guys aren't approaching a dead end, but are truly becoming a force to be reckoned with.