The contradictory fallacy of aspiring to your peers whilst simultaneously striving to exist outside of their shadow is part and parcel of any musical endeavour, but perhaps nowhere more so then in electronic music. As a genre where the author is often totally obscured in a mire of artificial loops, issues of legible identity and derivation are rife. For ease of identification the human mind can be guilty of drawing a shaky line from one dot to another, conflating the recognisable with the new as a simplistic means of comprehension. To create is to be compared.
Produce anything approaching experimental footwork, and you’ll be shuffled under the auspices of Teklife. Dare to employ chopped-up keyboards over jazzy house breaks, and you’re a Mahogani Music-aping tourist. And for decades now, entering the domain of ambient techno has been to fall at the feet of Aphex Twin, even as his own light has waxed and waned. That’s all to say that on his latest LP, Cocoon Crush, Objekt (otherwise known as TJ Hertz) has crafted a defining statement on his nook of that realm, once more shifting the goalposts that have eluded penning him in at each stage of his career.
Hertz’s last major flurry of activity was back in 2014, the year he released his debut LP, the hypnotically austere Flatland, and one of the year’s defining tracks in ‘Ganzfeld’ as a split EP with Dopplereffekt. Since then, bar his fantastically far reaching mix CD, Kern Vol. 3, in 2016, and another solid entry in his numbered EP series last year, Hertz has been remarkably quiet. Given his evolution from the rolling dubstep of his early faceless iteration — when he was first pegged as a Richard D. James moniker — to the increasingly synthetic hard-headed techno born of his infatuation with Berlin, the direction of Cocoon Crush felt fated to continue this path; the inevitable Flatland 2.0.
Album opener, ‘Lost and Found (Lost Mix)’ does all it can to disrupt this hypothesis, immediately trading the barren hospital horror of Flatland for a luscious production design that sounds simultaneously full-bodied and crystalline in its balance. In the first of several moments cribbing from East Asian cultures (or appropriating depending on your outlook), Hertz finds a clear-eyed inspiration in the pentatonic scale. The opening keys are reminiscent of traditional Chinese instruments like the Guzheng, despite sounding more concave, and act as a clear central motif as Hertz layers skittering drums and sweltering bass rips atop it, pulling focus back and forth without ever finding a groove in its relatively brief runtime.
Hertz follows this swiftly with ‘Dazzle Anew’, a track that appears to chronicle a burrowing mechanical insectoid’s first croaks of life, centring on a series of unmistakably cybernetic whirring basslines that simultaneously sound wholly organic. It’s a remarkably well layered and coarse landscape, whose parts never technically cohere into a matching melody, but successfully give the impression of growth and narrative. It falters and jerks, veering between the previously mentioned tinkling East Asian tones, and a cacophony of fleshy and metallic sounds that clamour atop one another to create something genuinely seething. Other tracks on the album in this vein, like ‘Silica’, similarly succeed in creating arrhythmic medleys, but rarely capture the same enthralling metamorphosis found here.
More so than on Flatland, Hertz indulges fans of his dependably club ready EPs with several tracks wherein the bottom completely drops out, as on ‘35’ and ‘Deadlock’, but for the most part Cocoon Crush follows the path laid out by its first two tracks. Despite these superlative opening moments, the album isn’t bereft of weaker elements, in part due to its commitment to texture over traditional song structure. It’s an understandable foible when Hertz has clearly pieced together the component parts so carefully, but, particularly during the record’s second half, it does lead to tracks that impress rather than engage. Whilst its palette is much more animate than the steely timbre of Flatland, the clinical configuration of each vignette can still result in the final product feeling cold. Moments like the church bells on ‘Rest Yr Troubles Over Me’‘ still leave room for rapture, but this is a record that’s consistent in tone without necessarily being consistent in quality.
In hindsight there were elements of Cocoon Crush to be found in Objekt #4, particularly at the midpoint of ‘Needle & Thread’ which utilises the same twinkling synthline and churning pads found on ‘Nervous Silk‘. Rather than a divergent step then, this is an application of Hertz’s production techniques to a new field of organic experimentation. Hertz himself has pointed to the fallibility of overarching genre categories, defining his music on Bandcamp as ‘proto-minimal wankstep’ and ‘ambient gabber’ amongst a litany of absurdist classifications. Regardless, even as Hertz cycles into a new sphere of influences, on Cocoon Crush he stakes a claim for his own recognisable peculiarities. Heaps of crackling tones, a flippant regard for structural frameworks, and a blindingly stark vision for both the individual part and the whole.
Cocoon Crush is out now on PAN.
Buy it here.
Words: Blaise Radley