Lost Souls Of Saturn ‘Reality’ (Holoverse Research Labs / Slacker 85)

Planets Align

In astrology, the return of Saturn to the same position it occupied when you were born after nearly 30 years is said to lead to a period of soul-searching. Seth Troxler might not have gone as far as Goldie on ‘Saturnz Return’ and started composing hour-long symphonies, but the Michigan-born producer did happen to be in his late 20s when he announced the Lost Souls Of Saturn project with veteran New York sound engineer Phil Moffa. 

He was clearly beginning to take things seriously, not least because, as a man renowned for being one of the most outspoken figures in clubland, he was making music to talk about philosophy, psychology and Philip K Dick.

The results were not half bad. In fact, considered purely as a techno album, Lost Souls Of Saturn’s self-titled 2019 debut is pretty bloody good. Rooted in the ubiquitous 4/4 pulse of Troxler’s sets at clubs like Fabric and Berghain, it also ventures into more psychedelic pastures. The thing is though, Lost Souls Of Saturn weren’t talking about it as dance music but as a conceptual masterpiece descended from The KLF, The Orb and Sun Ra. And if you want to count yourselves among such exalted company, then not half bad just isn’t good enough. 

Some more intriguing things emerged around the album, however. There was an epic remix of Lebanese electropop band Mashrou’ Leila, which came much closer to being the mind-expanding experience Lost Souls Of Saturn envisaged. There were live shows in art galleries, where the pair ditched drum beats to perform Cluster-style kosmische surrounded by spectacular sci-fi visuals. They also tempted James Holden into turning in his first remix in nearly a decade, his version of ‘The Awakening’ – clearly a dry run for the astral travelling of last year’s incredible ‘Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities’. 

Lost Souls Of Saturn’s second album ‘Reality’ has more in common with Holden’s last LP than their own previous record, and not just because both albums come with a comic. In this case, it’s a VR-augmented graphic novel about two “reality hackers” called John and Frank. Both Troxler and Holden became superstar DJs in their late teens and have subsequently strived to escape that pigeonhole. They’ve not entirely cut the cord tying them to formative house and techno sounds, but they have loosened it to such an extent that they can drift off to wherever they like. 

‘This Foo’ is the only real kick drum-driven dancefloor moment on ‘Reality’, and its straight-ahead rhythm sounds a bit flat compared to the ups and downs and twists and turns in every other track. By then, we’ve already traversed the interstellar, ‘Bitches Brew’-style live trumpet from Greg Paulus on ‘Zorg Arrival’, all percolating electronics and clattering live drums, before landing in ‘Scram City’, a dub techno track that melts down the genre’s usual cold aesthetic to become as warm and bubbly as a bathtub on Venus. 

Moffa’s astounding grasp of sound design means everything feels deep enough to drown in. Take ‘Click’, where a dubby bassline rolls far beneath frothing IDM beats and singer Lvv Gvn’s siren-like vocal. 

That immersive quality doesn’t always make for comfortable listening though. ‘Metro Cafe’ is a flat-out terrifying bad trip of abrasive rhythms and sinister voices snarling violent threats, while the murmured conspiracy theories in the eerie ‘Realization’ also feel like drug-induced paranoia. Now a married father rather than the hedonistic playboy of yore, if these two tracks reflect Troxler’s mental state back in the day, you can see why he just says no. 

Maybe the reason ‘Reality’ completely succeeds where ‘Lost Souls Of Saturn’ sometimes fell short is because Troxler’s current domestic contentment means he feels he no longer has to hold onto his old life by keeping one foot in the club. A conjecture given some credence by the closing two tracks, which seem to encapsulate a journey of personal discovery leading to a form of transcendence. 

Both feature singers channelling different Davids. On ‘Mirage’, it’s Adam Ohr going Gahan at his most anguished as he ponders, “How did you get yourself / Into this place again?” over stomping gothic synthpop. On ‘Lilac Chaser’, Protomartyr vocalist Joe Casey sounds like a blissed-out Bowie singing about “an after-image in the void”, while synths and guitar feedback drift like a starship passing over the event horizon.

It ends with what resembles a faint radio transmission proclaiming, “It is perseverance that will turn a dream into a reality”. In this ‘Reality’, Lost Souls Of Saturn have made the album they always dreamed they could. 

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