Slam are probably best known for their status as marque-name DJs and being the honchos at the generally on-point label Soma. Yet, dazzled by their status as overlords of tech-house and techno, it can be easy to overlook the fact that Orde Meikle and Stuart McMillan also fall into that rare category of techno acts who put out decent albums. From the hard and fast sound of Headstates (1996) to the anthem orientated Alien Radio (2001) to the sultry electronic palette of Human Response (2007), the Glaswegian duo have time and time again produced techno albums that are amongst the best of the year.
Reverse Proceed, the pair’s fifth album, is no exception. Composed of fourteen tracks and running for over an hour, it’s no slim offering. Yet, where many techno albums suffer from their own excess, artists stuffing in tracks that would have been better released elsewhere (if at all), here the capaciousness is justified. For Reverse Proceed is not a techno album in the sense of a bunch of bangers arbitrarily collected together. Instead, it is something much more considered: an audio journey from ambient soundscapes to all-out techno; each track seguing into the next, the sound changing in tonal gradients rather than leaping between different styles. The effect is something like a film soundtrack, with the individual tracks both adding to and benefiting from the context of the over-all album.
Opener Tokyo Subway establishes the cinematic motifs; a field recording of Japanese mass-transit announcement plays over dystopic synths and reverb-dusted keys. The heavy ambience is sustained in Visual Capture, with its light synths and lulling melody it channels Aphex Twin’s early ambient aesthetic. It’s followed by Reverse Proceed, a track which chugs along to a crackling sub-bass and strange, slowly fluctuating frequencies. If the opening was a departure from a train station, here the listener is transported through a hulking landscape of unsettling and abstract industrial shapes.
It’s a hell of an opening movement and one that the album doesn’t top, although that’s not to say the album tapers out. Synchronicity offers the album’s first fist-pumping techno moment, with its storming 4/4 kicks and urgent percussion, quickly followed by the machine-funk of Ghosts of Detroit and the unrelenting 909 of Pattern A3. However, at nearly nine-minutes long, it’s Factory Music that feels like the centre-piece to the ‘techno’ part of the album; the swelling bassline, fizzing electro and modulating blips making for a grandiose outing in paranoid techno.
Things remain interesting in the final third of the album. The blips, kicks and horns of Convolute sounds like a conventional techno track that has been given an bath in hydrochloric acid, whilst the contemporary post-industrial aesthetic of Catacoustics and the ever-expanding bass of Rotary offer a reminder that Slam are still, at heart, DJs making music for club floors.
As the murky conclusion of Resolved brings the album full-circle to the point from which it departed, it becomes clear just how many hours that the duo have put into considering the structure of the album. Each minor transition has clearly been obsessed over, not only in the sense of engineering a smooth transition from ambient to techno, but in creating a character to the album that is both cogent and multitudinous. A techno album that you’ll want to sit down and listen to in one sitting has always been a rare thing, but this is exactly that. For an act who are known for producing solid techno LPs, it’s no small praise to suggest that this might be there best one yet.
Slam - Reverse Proceed LP on Soma
01. Tokyo Subway
02. Visual Capture
03. Reverse Proceed
04. Cirklon Bells
06. Ghosts Of Detroit
07. Relevant Question
08. Patter A3
09. Factory Music
Our rating: 8.5/10