Like all distinctive labels, PAN imprints its music with a particular grain. Even with its diverse roster of artists—only Lee Gamble could be described as a PAN regular—the Berlin-based label can regularly be counted upon to hold up distorting mirrors to familiar-sounding styles. It's especially effective in the album format, with recent efforts like Objekt's Flatland and Lee Gamble's Koch proving to be particularly potent. The label's fifth LP of the last 12 months comes from Afrikan Sciences (a.k.a. Eric Douglas Porter), who makes his PAN debut with Circuitous.
It's hard to argue that this album goes to the same lengths as the aforementioned records to twist and bend its source material, but to do so would not be in this album's nature. Based on organic jazz forms and following the ancestry of musical forebears Sun Ra and Miles Davis, Circuitous is an immersive record that's content both to lull and gallop, all while welding together its loosely structured grooves to bundles of knotty drum programming. Many of these tracks have a casual, free-flowing vibe to them, refracting an exploratory jazz sensibility through a 4/4 frame. As a result, it occasionally feels like the time signature is caging rather than carrying the melodic debris floating atop it, a compositional trick that lends these tracks some nice nuggets of dramatic tension.
For instance, "The Image" features bits of live-sounding drum percussion poking rapidly in and out as instruments swirl, arpeggiate, and swell, as if they're trying to escape the track's shackles. The song's busy rhythmic elements meet but never congeal, meaning that each new listen is likely to reveal another aspect of the music's individual parts. Elsewhere, however, Circuitous is a bit more orthodox in its interplay between melody and rhythm. Toasted bass notes and stringy synths coat a rapid, bongo-like thrum of hand drumming and shakers on the LP's title track, which is typical of Porter's agile compositions.
Still, Circuitous rarely sounds conventional. On "Swash," the impression left is that of a live jazz band jamming together rather than an individual holed up in a basement studio, and much of the album riffs on this playful feel. At other times, the LP steers into more abrasive terrain, using mutilated drums and droning analog swooshes to conjure a sense of unease (on "Group Home Reality" and "I'm Asking You KB," his airy rhythms are crunchier and condensed, as though he's feeding them through a meat grinder).
Even Porter's history as a hip-hop DJ reveals itself now and again on Circuitous. "Tell Me Who Like That (Bedside Manner)" bears the mischievous mark of a Def Jux production, while "Transient Authority" features a complex weave of melodies, samples, and thumping snares that recalls a typically trippy Flying Lotus record. That said, Afrikan Sciences' grasp on Circuitous is singularly his own, and the album undoubtedly stands apart from the more austere machine music that populates many of PAN's other releases. Still, it's not quite as fun or as innovative as it aspires to be—the LP has its bland moments, it's a little too long, and occasionally feels like it's a little lost in itself—but on the whole, it's a quietly compelling fusion of classical jazz foundations and experimental electronic music.