Not many debut albums have been 16 years in the making, and calling an LP Incubation is about as tongue-in-cheek a nod to belatedness as any self-respecting member of the straight-faced Sandwell District crew would permit. Emerging from the reptilian space egg, David Sumner's first album is as finely tuned as even the most demanding heads could expect. Sumner's old crew technically ceased operations last year—although it did just announce the impending release a new Fabric mix—but the communiqués from former members like Silent Servant, Regis, and Function haven't slowed; if anything, they've just delineated their contributions to the collective more clearly. Incubation is an album as compact, thematically consistent, and immersive as Sandwell District's much-admired Feed-Forward or Silent Servant's Negative Fascination, although in the absence of Sumner's friends' industrial leanings, this sounds like a tidy, even classical statement of techno loyalty. Function uses a typically tight, time-tested palette of sounds, and in doing so runs the risk of relying too much on the built-in associations that come with a particular drum-machine clap or 303 line. He largely succeeds in making them his own, though, thanks in part to Tobias Freund's mixing. Together, they polish everything to a glassy, reflective sheen that seems to go on forever, like two mirrors facing each other.
There's a sense of lightness and even elegance here that keeps the album this side of barreling; the tracks spiral uneasily inside an ink-black void rather than tunneling through the wastes. Every hi-hat's velocity has been edited for maximum effect and absolutely nothing is out of place, leaving open the question of whether the inescapable mastery is intended to reinforce or mitigate the music's paranoid undertow. Bookended by the sedate, foreboding "Voiceprint" and the sweaty, full-bore "Voiceprint (Reprise)," the meat of Function's album is both claustrophobic and ceaseless, like a snake eating its own tail. Rarely have claves sounded so foreboding, echoing into infinity as the listener slowly rotates, suspended on the cusp of some terrible vertigo. Using familiar tools to defamiliarizing effect, Incubation is the kind of techno record that invites the listener to be both underwhelmed and overwhelmed at once. It's a neat effect, even if the album's sensations are difficult to hold onto after one has experienced them. They're gone when the moment is, meaning that this is body music inasmuch as it only makes sense in motion—there isn't much to hold in the mind after the fact.
That's a point in Function's favor—many other producers have been releasing records since the '90s without managing to sound this effortlessly like themselves and part of a grand tradition, distilled into perfect proportions. And despite appearing on the standard-bearing dance label Ostgut Ton, Incubation ultimately makes more sense as the soundtrack to a long drive than a selection of club tracks. Disregarding the CD's tacked-on bonus cuts, what takes place between the record's two "Voiceprint"s is a richly detailed, time-dilating set from a producer who can make the most out of narrow limitations.
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