Austrian wunderkind reinvents himself for a second album of progressive, pushing the envelope electronica
Well, here’s a surprise. Ninja Tune release an album that’s smart, experimental, challenging and a little bit out there? If it looks like a duck and all that.
Ninja have been turning in this sort of stuff since Austrian Oliver Thomas Johnson, or Dorian Concept to you and me, was six years old. Which in old money is 1990. They’ve had their fair share of hits and misses over that time, as befits almost a quarter of a century in business, but whatever they do, it’s never anything less than welcome. Which brings us neatly to ‘Joined Ends’, the sophomore outing from Dorian Concept.
A self-proclaimed bedroom producer, the former multimedia arts student is a proper product of the social network generation. Johnson first came to prominence via a YouTube clip of him messing around with his beloved MicroKorg. Big hitting fans such as Gilles Peterson duly followed, as did his 2009 debut Dorian Concept long player, ‘When Planets Explode’.
Six years on, Dorian Concept has dialled down the quirky freeform electronica, rejigged the kit list to include a Wurlitzer electric piano and a handful of analogue synths, and here we have what initially seems to be a much more straightforward affair. ‘The Sky Opposite’, with its Greenaway stabbing, draws a line in the sand from the off. It’s a huge sound that builds layer upon layer until it almost bursts. ‘The Few’ is the heart-pumping sound of too many hands clapping, ‘Trophies’ has a drum ‘n’ bass skip to its step and rich housey chords on the soles of it shoes, while the deep purr of ‘11.04.2012’ could heat rooms.
But underpinning the pacey, bright rhythms, the warm synths and the hypnotic riffs, is an otherworldliness. A slightly detuned reality, a distant echo of something or other. It stirs up memories of tuning in a radio in the dead of night in the olden days, when the whole of Europe seemed to be drifting in and out on the still breeze.
And you really do hear all sorts here, the sounds crackling and mumbling away underneath the expansive compositions, adding another layer to a record that keeps on giving with repeated listens. The real delight is the single pip that pops up all over the place, denoting either the end or the beginning of track, depending on your disposition. It’s a tone familiar to those who used to set their watches by the 8 o’clock time code on the radio before heading out to school. Quite how our Mr Concept has tapped into this just makes you like him more.
The closer, ‘Tried (Not Tired)’, goes askew right at the end, running too fast, dropping out and suddenly stopping. Like something has gone badly amiss. Like the tape has snapped or the wrong button has been pressed. And suddenly you’re sat in silence. Not for long, though. You’ll be back at the beginning soon enough, listening harder as you try and decipher a little more.