Ital Endgame - XLR8R

Ital Endgame

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Daniel Martin-McCormick's experimental music resume is as varied as it is impressive. Membership in the bands Black Eyes and Mi Ami long ago proved the DC-born artist's chops in the fields of hardcore and electronic-infused punk, and in his time he's also offered up abrasive, oddball electro-sleaze as Sex Worker. As Ital, he's been catching our ears with his curveball house since 2011, first via a quickfire series of EPs on 100% Silk and then with two albums during 2012 for Planet Mu, Hive Mind and Dream On.

On those LPs, Martin-McCormick channeled a degree of quintessential Planet Mu-ness through staccato manipulation of vocal samples and restless percussion, though these elements were consistently leavened by recognizable house structures and tender emotional textures. Endgame hasn't completely ditched the slightly skittery aesthetic that colored much of his early Ital work, as its opening salvo of cut-up and distorted female whispers, "Beacon," faintly recalls Hive Mind's opener, "Doesn't Matter (If You Love Him)," before being deftly repurposed as Endgame's most zen-like ambient interlude.

However, the sound Martin-McCormick most regularly drives at on this album, as well as on the EPs for Workshop and his own Lovers Rock label that immediately preceded it, is a subtly pulsing brand of intricately melodic house and techno that evokes, at various moments, the likes of Kassem Mosse, Silent Servant, and Sandwell District.

"Relaxer" opens the record at the spacier end of this spectrum, its soothing pads blanketing an array of mechanical noises that shimmer and sparkle in the distance rather than clanking in the foreground. "Whispers in the Dark" is a different iteration, its pinball percussion and bass throb gradually upping the album's energy level, while "Endgame" sits between these two stools, its soporific bass hum barely present as music-box chimes and hats cavort in the foreground.

Endgame finds a multitude of ways to express its quietly febrile aesthetic, but for all of the album's gently thrumming subtleties, it is by no means a record on which Martin-McCormick has foregone his desire or ability to go hard. Mid-album highlight "Coagulate" offers a huge, Drexciyan bass groove that eventually unfurls itself, serpent-like, out of an eerie, fathoms-deep pool of sonar bleeps and foggy pads. "White II"—Endgame's last 'big' moment—is another standout; a booming, repetitious slab of whirring techno, the track seems to take some cues from Factory Floor's most metronomic and immersive live digressions.

"Black Dust" and "Oche" are virtual companion pieces that bring the record back to the same sort of glimmering, tender mood in which it began; moreover, they represent a pleasingly full-circle close to an album whose tastefulness and craft never compromise its intrigue.