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  • Filed under: Review
  • 03/11/2013

Versalife Vantage Point

Dutch producer Boris Bunnik is a man of many aliases, yet a core sensibility always shines through, regardless of the moniker he chooses. Vantage Point is the first full-length from his more overtly electro-focused Versalife project, but in many ways, it picks up where his 2011 album as Conforce, Escapism, left off. Much of the story, as always, is in Bunnik's meticulous, aquatic sound design; the listener is immediately taken into a lushly detailed world, with the album working more like a tour of its features than a collection of tracks per se. So, while few of Vantage Point's 10 tracks would stand out in an EP setting, when experienced as a whole, they offer a mutually reinforcing listening experience that elaborates on Bunnik's Drexciyan fixations.

The opening pings of "Subdomain" cover all the bases; skittish, wide-ranging arpeggios, razor-sharp synth pads, sonar bass, and a generous helping of claps and ticking rimshots create a soupy medium for the listener's gills to grow back in before things really get underway with "Sonic Signals." The album's second track finds a gingerly stepping but unexpectedly weighty 808 figure harnessing frazzled synth blasts that could be the the muffled cries of some mythical underwater beast, bringing things up to a manic level that persists throughout much of the LP. While the template follows James Stinson's and Gerald Donald's lead, Bunnik makes a science of their nervy mythologies; if not quite predictable, there's something about these tracks that feels inevitable, showing little of the dislocation that his idols turned into art. Bunnik throws a wrench in the works on "Normal Behavior," whose breakdowns halve the track's tempo, stretching a moist Reese bass into a teeth-gritting, gravelly smear before abruptly righting itself, but it doesn't suffuse its surroundings with a palpable sense of instability.

The paranoid hi-hats of "Recombinant Creations" are among the album's most obvious nods to Detroit; they skip along, conjuring images of a jet ski moving at full clip over marine whitecaps while basslines bubble up threateningly from below. It's all very bare bones compared to the more relaxed, generous curvatures of Escapism, a stripping away of the producer's flesh in order to let the drum machines and rubbery bass wallops do the talking. There's nothing objectionable about Vantage Point in this sense—it's another masterful feat of engineering. And while Versalife's mastery suggests the album amounts to more than a collection of stylistically focused tableaus, that greater meaning remains elusive. That's the trouble with using such freighted sounds. Technical precision aside, the proceedings can feel like just another homage to a much-respected style. Versalife is at its strongest when the music strikes out into its own ambient terrain, as it does on creepy, glowering interlude "Further Corrections." It's a moment when the process of revision gives way to a feeling of original vision, and its shapeless pings come off like the birth pangs of something new, that for the most part lurks beneath the faultless surface.

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