At heart, ‘Hard Islands’ – the latest album from blissed-out-electronica talent Nathan Fake – is a techno record. More importantly though, it’s the right kind of techno. It far succeeds numerous lesser, generic efforts thanks to Fake’s varied musical palette and willingness to guide things into other, more experimental territories at any time – when the techno is toned down, the album never threatens to veer towards mundane house or an over-reliance on painfully simplistic beats, as so many are fond of doing. Instead, IDM, shoegaze and ambient arenas are all explored and embraced, and the album sounds wholly fresh and interesting for it.
Chris Clark, Boards of Canada, and the output of Aphex Twin’s various guises (both the acidic analogue of AFX and the harder beat-driven edge of his Polygon Window moniker) are all sounds that spring to mind when listening to the record. Yet Fake has also done what previous releases have hinted at – solidified a distinct sound which, whilst reminiscent of those before him, is also very much his own.
The melodic soundscapes and separate experimental techno sides of his musical personality have now been lovingly melded together, allowing the dreamy chord swells to sit happily alongside balls-to-the-wall nosebleed-acid moments, resulting in something that’s complex yet lo-fi, dark yet… kind of bouncy in places. Sounds ridiculous – totally works.
Best track? Easy: track one, ‘The Turtle’ – absolute gem, with an utterly infectious, half-jaunty acid melody that jumps around all over the place amid undeniable pulsing beats. However, album closer ‘Fentiger’ comes a close second, beginning with dirty bass stabs and jittery beats before suddenly breaking into a glorious burst of dreamy synths, which are gradually underpinned by the original rhythm – it’s the bastard offspring of the euphoric breakdown that years of shit trance and house failed to pull off, which Nathan makes work. Clever.
Also clever: what makes the album so engaging is the fact you’re listening to an amalgamation of techno, IDM and shoegaze which somehow doesn’t feel like it’s actually any of those. Which, for reasons I can’t quite articulate, is a resoundingly good thing.
Having heard the trippy synthtronica of his ‘Drowning in a Sea of Love’ album around four years ago and loved it, I never quite understood why there wasn’t more chat about Fake’s work. Whatever the reasons, ‘Hard Islands’ now proves him to be way ahead of the pack, and one of the most interesting and promising electronic talents around.