Looking for someone to work on the soundtrack of your next gothic-horror flick? Pär Grindvik might be your man. The title track of the techno vet’s new album, Isle of Real—somewhat surprisingly, his debut long-player after two decades on the scene—is a stately, slightly ominous elegy. Its mournful swoons, echoing chords and dirge-like organ signify a determined dread, perfect for the scene in which our hero trudges over the moors to save his maiden while facing near-certain death. The song hints at Grindvik’s skill at setting a mood—sometimes, as with “Isle of Real,” through melody and instrumentation, but just as frequently through his precise arrangements, a knack for sound design and an ear for resonant ambience that imbues even his most throbbing techno cuts with a layer of gauzy atmosphere.
Isle of Real’s tracks alternate between fragile emotionalism and driving galvanism, with the common factor being a kind of fine-cut elegance that’s the Stockholm LTD boss man’s stock in trade. Grindvik has posited the LP’s theme as “spaces once inhabited, long since abandoned and reclaimed by the creep of nature”—and that creep is clear on tracks like album opener “Never Give In,” which pairs a distant weeping wails with bursts of percussive squelches, as if some formless being is intruding on forbidden lands. A yearning synth line wraps itself around a syncopated, modulating kick in “Shelter,” while the repeating riff of “Shine” rises skyward, grounded by deep bass tones and jostling percussion—tracks like these see Grindvik squeezing as much emotion as he can from his electronics.
As you might expect from Grindvik, the album is brimming with propulsion, and there is plenty of full-bore techno on Isle of Real—but even in the album’s tougher moments, there’s plenty of ethereality and emotion on tap. The power of “Holy Nothing” comes from its low-end pulse, high-frequency tension and compressed synth shards, but Grindvik entwines the track in enough dub to swim in; “The Marlton” has the spaciousness of an mid-’90s Get Physical cut (complete with hooky, minimalist riff) but wraps it in a layer of billowing haze; “Limits of Real” lays a shimmering sprinkle of chiming keys over a sinuous acid spiral. There’s a kind of fluid, spinning feel to these cuts—but rather than spiraling off through centrifugal force, the circularity of these tracks drive the attention inward, focusing attention to their core. Isle of Real might be Grindvik’s debut album—but it’s the work of an artist who’s been refining his craft for years, and its strength, sophistication is the culmination of that experience.