Cold Mission: into the far reaches of experimental dark techno abstraction

Logos, Cold Mission, Keysound Recordings LDN042CD (2013)

London-based producer James Parker comes from a grime / dubstep dance-club background but this solo debut is far removed from the more rhythmic tendencies of that scene; “Cold Mission” has much in common with minimalist dark techno in its structures, moods and ambience. He lulls his listeners into a false sense of familiarity and security with the intro track and then throws them into entirely new territory with gruff lion-roar sounds, dramatic warm synth flourishes, imitations of chirping birds and skittish percussion (“Statis Jam”). The dark brooding spaces Parker creates become the background against which he plots his almost skeletal course of sound, melody and rhythm experimentation. Whatever warmth and security might exist here are very fleeting and are to be found in the sounds he splashes about on his black velvety canvas.

Parker uncovers some very gorgeous vistas here: “Swarming”, a collaboration done with a musician called Rabit, features beautiful crystal tones that trick you into thinking you’ve entered a giant hard and sparkling glass cathedral of myriad mirrors reflecting colours and sounds. “Seawolf” is a defiant number of Mexican stand-offs of duelling sets of drones, ripples and bass whoops with crackling samples of guns being cocked. Two guys Dusk and Blackdown help cut out abstract geometric shapes with stuttering bell, voice samples and crispy crackle percussion effects on “Alien Shapes”.

Later tracks seem less experimental, more rhythm-bound and of less interest. I guess there has to be the obligatory dystopian futuristic Bladerunner-esque alienation / dehumanisation / trans-humanism piece that is the title track. “E3 Night Flight” leaves me cold with its insistent rhythmic inanity. The third collaboration, “Wut It Do” featuring Mumdance, restores the album’s reputation with an aggressive attacking intensity and shifting rhythms. Outgoing track “Atlanta 96 (Limitless Mix)” is a little disappointing after “Wut It Do”, losing some of its predecessor’s energy, but it seems to be a summary of what’s gone before and at the same time it’s champing at the bit and anticipating more experimentation on future solo Logos releases.

The album has its ups and downs, and sometimes I have the feeling that Parker retreats back into familiar structured rhythm territory to please his fans and let them know he hasn’t entirely forgotten his origins. At least the first half of this album is very brave in its experimentation and shows much skill on Parker’s part in describing a new, quite alien world in which we must rely on our own resources to navigate its reaches, find a foot-hold and discover unexpected comfort and joy. Here’s hoping he can go much farther in sonic time and space on subsequent recording excursions.

Contact: Keysound Recordings / Cargo Records