Of all the artists rostered onto the impressive n5MD,
SubtractiveLAD makes a strong case for flagship status. I can't
think of another act that more embodies the labels core ethos
of emotional experimentation. No Mans Land is
Stephen Hummel's (aka SubLAD) third album for the Californian
label, and further showcases his refining compositional process.
Rather than embarking with a desired result in mind, Hummel
prefers to inhabit a piece, developing and varying until it
almost takes on life of its own. The creative outcome is like
turning on a tap to Hummel's subconscious and allowing his
inner feelings to flow into the music.
What might be less apparent, whilst enjoying this album, is the fact that
SubLAD created or at least designed many of his own instruments. After training
within Jazz, Hummel became something of an analogue keyboard connoisseur. The
long story short - the sounds that we are hearing have never been near any
other recording we might deem 'ambient', 'electronica' or 'experimental'. They're
his alone - bespoke analogue keys, mainly, plus guitars and the ubiquitous
processed percussion. In this tag-obsessed world then, when discussing SubLAD,
IDM simply is not an option.
Though it may seem odd to say so, given its electronic origins, I find the
music on No Mans Land to be pleasantly naturalistic in style.
The rain-splashy key arrangement of opening track The Shell conjures
memories of Tubular Bells, though thankfully dispensing with the need
of any Exorcist. Next up, Life in a Day imagines a harsh, alien landscape
complete with crunching beats and swathes of portent synth. Yet again n5MD deliver
an album that works holistically. It's a lovingly sequenced record for which
we need never reach for the remote control to skip filler. That aside, there
are certainly highlights. The imposing title track is a perfect example of
Hummel's 'repeat and refine' style. If forced at gunpoint to pick one favourite,
I might have to select Synthetism, a futuristic urban vista simply oozing
with confidence. Similar cinematic themes are played out elsewhere. There are
touches of Eno (Meditation 17) and Moby (Sun in your Eyes) before
the majestic closing track, The Lucky Ones, which is pure Vangelis.
I love the way this track begins as a Tyrell Corporation fly-by before disappearing
into a Lanterna sunset. Sublime.
Plenty for the chin-strokers to analyze then - the personalized instrumentation,
the constant chord restructuring, and the twin techniques of twiddling with
amplification and stretching sound. The joy of this record for me is that I
hardly consider any of those things. Instead, I'm transported for an hour into
the subconscious of a remarkable musician, an experience I find intensely human.
"'More human than human' is our motto."
(Tyrell, Blade Runner)