John Tejada  ‘Signs Under Test’ (Kompakt)

Smart and bright techno music for dancefloors and headphones, often both at the same time  

Californian producer John Tejada’s career stretches back 15 years, with countless recordings under both his own name and a string of aliases, a trio of album collaborations with fellow West Coaster Arian Leviste, and numerous releases with Takeshi Nishimoto as the instrumental electro-rock duo I’m Not A Gun. So it’s perhaps little wonder Tejada has amassed a back catalogue that encapsulates a variety of divergent styles. He was initially influenced by 80s hip hop, but these days his tent is firmly pitched in the house, tech house and techno domains. 

Needless to say, Tejada lives for making music. He is most at home drifting between the generic contours of hi-energy techno for clubs and expansive, pulsing arrangements better suited to home listening. ‘Signs Under Test’, his third album for Kompakt, somewhat falls between the two.

Created using mostly analogue hardware, the opening ‘Two 0 One’ sets the prototype, as a deep bass drum underpins pockets of bright melody and shimmering, undulating synth waves. Tejada toys with the same refrains throughout, adding intermittent pitch changes and heightening the tempo with an intelligent use of drum breaks. The result is compelling. ’Y 0 Why’ employs similar techniques but goes into deep space territory, ending up not too far removed from the Richie Hawtin school of lunar modulation. Bobbling interstellar melodies float airily, punctuated by wistful, bubbling notations and squelching bass motifs. The production is spotless, but the use of analogue hardware creates its own sense of atmospheric resonance.

‘Beacht’ is another fascinating listen, showcasing Tejada’s ear for a strong melody while building techno constructs through syncopated tones and brooding beats. It sounds very simple, so simple you almost feel you could make this music yourself, but the spacing of the notes, the choice of sounds and the pattern phases, as well as the incredible attention given to every element, belies a hidden complexity. Make no mistake, ‘Signs Under Test’ is the work of a man who understands techno’s lineage and has years of experience to back it up. This is high praise for sure, but what is most impressive is the way that Tejada manages to keep the quality consistently high throughout. ‘Cryptochrome’ is a good example of how, despite rarely deviating from the traditional techno aesthetic, he’s able to switch on the ambient mood with effortless ease.

Indeed, it’s John Tejada’s ability to diversify and toy with different ambiences and sound palettes that really widens the appeal of this album. Operating on two levels – high tempo enough to partition the dancefloor and headphone perfect for those that appreciate the devil in the detail – ‘Signs Under Test’ is quite an achievement.

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