According to the press materials for ?-Ziq's first studio release in five years, the XTEP EP finds Planet Mu boss Mike Paradinas abandoning "the furrow-browed quest for cutting-edge exploration" in favor of a creative process focused on pure enjoyment. It comes as little surprise, then, to find that the record—which arrives ahead of a forthcoming summer album—comprises five tracks of unabashedly carefree, nostalgic, and readily accessible electronic music. Fortunately, what ?-Ziq's latest lacks in daring originality, it largely makes up in for in melodic joyfulness and sheer likeability.
Lead track "XT" is a collage of upbeat guitars, filtered piano chords, and retro synthlines spread across a disarmingly straightforward electro-pop beat. There isn't a trace of the glitchiness or fuzz that often undercut Paradinas' early output. Instead, the track unfolds to make a pleasant patchwork of major-key melodies and breezy rhythms. It's XTEP's most obvious example of premeditated joyous experimentation, but probably the least engaging cut on the record.
Elsewhere, Paradinas touches on more traditional dancefloor territory. "Ritm" is built around an immensely likeable piano-house groove and an utterly euphoric, lo-fi synth melody—resulting in a track that wouldn't sound out of place amongst 100% Silk's faded nostalgia. "Pulsar," meanwhile, comes across like a tribute to mid-'80s New Order with its dreamy vocoder outbursts and arpeggiating backbone.
XTEP's last two tracks manage to offer a few updates and provide the release with its highlights. "Monj2" brings a welcome bit of aggression to the proceedings, blasting dense kicks and a juke-inspired, drum-machine rhythm while still remaining rooted in the uplifting melodies that run throughout the EP. "New Bimble," on the other hand, clears a bit of space amongst the vintage synths to make room for a garage-leaning beat and a meandering, slightly mournful piano riff.
Without any context, it might be easy to dismiss XTEP for sounding a little dated and being too reliant on simplistic melodic pleasures. But given Paradinas' lifelong contributions to electronic music, if the veteran producer wants to have a little fun, we don't find much harm in going along for the ride.