In the spirit of AnD's approach to its debut album, there's no simpler way to put this: Cosmic Microwave Background is fucking hard. It's a techno record forged in the harshest industrial environments by Manchester-based duo Andrew Bowen and Dimitri Poumplidis, whose prolific workrate has thus far suggested an intuitive approach to making music. This album, however, also bears the intensive focus of two artists who have spent the last five years honing a style of techno that is getting, in their own words, "harder and harder and harder."
Manchester is probably just a little too far away from Birmingham to claim any proximity-based lineage from the likes of British Murder Boys and Downwards as far as its techno scene goes, but AnD makes the two-hour drive up the M6 seem much shorter. Cosmic Microwave Background draws some inspiration from Detroit—another one of techno's famous cities—as "Cosmic Strings" and "Diffusion Damping," two of the grooviest songs here, sound like unearthed Axis classics.
That said, Cosmic Microwave Background is no easy ride, and its opening two tracks are strenuous exercises in fissured grooves and disorienting flares of machine noise. "Particle" sounds less like an intro than a warning shot, emitting wave after wave of starship bleeps and spiking modular synths amid a gaseous cloud of ambient tones. "The Epoch of Recombination" is even more unsettling, an all-out assault that dares listeners to flinch from its welding sparks and a flailing almost-rhythm that sinks and resurfaces in a soup of soft and hard metals.
It takes a little time to acclimatize to Cosmic Microwave Background's relentless aerobic intensity—there will be occasions where listening to it will, naturally, feel pretty exhausting—but AnD's militaristic, body-moving tracks otherwise manage to sustain the effort for the duration. The album's other (sort of) ambient passages, such as "Gravitational Waves"—a stripped-down reworking of "The Epoch of Recombination" that plucks out some of the original's sharper shards—help the album to catch its breath, if only a little. This is a rare example of a techno LP where these glacial moments serve a practical purpose, and aren't simply tacked-on bits of beatless frippery; AnD has given proper thought to how fast or slow each point of Cosmic Microwave Background should be.
A resurgent interest in thrashing, machine-made techno has mostly come with references to Blawan's and Pariah's Karenn project and R&S' growing stable of industrial techno producers (Paula Temple and MPIA3 among them); that Bowen and Poumplidis are mentioned less frequently has a lot to do with how effectively they reshape familiar perspectives while remaining slippery and flexible with their signature sound.
Having departed some time ago from the dub-techno timbres of a few years ago, AnD has, through Cosmic Microwave Background, absorbed and recast a great swathe of ideas from Midlands techno and the coal face of the Detroit spectrum. There's a hard-nosed Drexciyan groove about "Acoustic Oscillations," with its needling digital splutters and rigidly four-to-the-floor drums, but AnD puts its own twist on things by filling the spaces here with splintering sonic ephemera. "Power Spectrum" is similarly busy with signal noise, but the drums are cracked and swung in a way that recalls a Surgeon record.
Cosmic Microwave Background, then, is a satisfying synergy of established ideas and new forms colliding together to create rich, lead-powered music that is life-giving, messy, occasionally ugly, and never anything less than a total rush. It's an adrenaline shot with legs, with an impact that lands with the same devastating force on each listen.