In an electronic-music world where so many acts settle into a specific genre and subsequently stick to it, it's always refreshing to know that there are still those who subscribe to the Warp Records school of thought; these artists' work may be defined by a distinct artistic spirit, but the framework that spirit embodies fluctuates with endless permutation. St. Petersburg producer Monokle (a.k.a. Vlad Kudryavtsev) is one such artist; his output is anchored in ambient, IDM, and glitch, but he manages to distill those musical pillars into refreshing work with each new release. When last we heard from the 26-year-old, on 2011's Bird Swirl EP, he was sounding like Flying Lotus, all crunchy boom-bap beats and technicolor soundscapes. Now, Monokle has returned in a more polished form, sporting a clean and airy sci-fi sheen on Saints, his first LP for Hamburg's Ki Records.
Even though Saints remains a testament to Monokle's diverse appeal, traversing hyperactive bass, off-kilter 4/4 rhythms, and pillowy atmospherics, footwork's blossoming influence has clearly left an imprint on Kudryavtsev. That said, his interpretation, which can be heard right from the start on album opener "Holt Found," would scarcely register with any of the faithfuls juking it out on Chicago's south side; the genre's distinctly frenetic rhythm is present, but the track unfolds in waves of warped vocals, synth swatches, and electronic warmth. The footwork template also bleeds right into "Glow," a song that sounds as if it arrived more than 10 years too late to land on the soundtrack for The X-Files. Utilizing a brand of tonal melody that recalls the show's paranormal theme song, the track deftly calms juke's manic nature by juxtaposing it with broad, spacey textures, found-sound crowd noise, slow-moving chord progressions, and soft vocal murmurs.
The other musical trend keenly felt on Saints is esoteric but no less present, and that's the hazy influence of bass music, be it the highly syncopated, house-tempo groove that emerges late in the whirlpool ambience of "Embers," or the oversize bassline and broken beat of "Slower." The latter recalls the work of drum & bass icon Photek, a comparison that holds true throughout much of the LP, as he and Monokle are both artists harnessing deep, liquid sounds in what is increasingly a post-D&B world. That soothing fluidity certainly defines Saints' lead single "Swan," a track defined by its jazz rhodes, padded drumming, and delicate melodic line; on it, Kudryavtsev could be playing a marimba with bars made of glass.
This lightness is a quality that defines much of Saints. If flashes of light were audible and harnessed as an instrument, Monokle would be an absolute virtuoso, as these bright pings of sound pervade the meditative "Homesick" and frantic disorder of "Arrows." Amid the album's chaotic footwork and leftfield house beats, there's an abundance of clean tones that impart a distinctly science-fiction sort of glow, as though Kudryavtsev is capturing both the noisy, overpopulated bustle and the utopian possibilities of some future metropolis and communicating that in musical form. In the context of that world, Monokle's artistic spirit might be best described as that of a robot dreaming.