It’s already been 10 years since Richie Hawtin released anything under his über-famous moniker, Plastikman.
No wonder, then, that Planet Techno is so excited about this new and rather unexpected album — which was announced barely a week prior to it’s release — which was recorded live over two nights at the Guggenheim Museum in November 2013, dates which, coincidentally or not, corresponded almost to the day to the 20th anniversary of the release of Plastikman’s very first album, Sheet One.
In hindsight, it seems safe to posit that there are two distinct periods in the Hawtin/Plastikman productions. The first, comprised of the albums Sheet One, Musik, and Recycled Plastik, is more dancefloor-oriented Techno, while the second, comprised of the albums Consumed and Closer, is more ambiant and cerebral, while his Artifakts [bc] album was clearly a transitional album with a foot in both periods.
EX, his new album, clearly belong to this second period, yet the 7 tracks, totalling 54 minutes, have a je-ne-sais-quoi that sets them apart from the rest, a je-ne-sais-quoi that I would be tempted to describe as being more organic.
The tracks are generally less “foggy” than the other two album of this second period from the Canadian producer. What I mean by this is that they are just as cerebral, but no longer have that oniric — or schizophrenic, depending on your personality type — feeling found on Closer and Consumed.
But, beyond that, Hawtin clearly hasn’t reinvented himself, or the wheel, with EX, but that is far from a bad thing. Plastikman is a sound, an aesthetic, it’s unique, and hoping to see him reinvent that on every album is illusory. Plastikman is nothing short of a musical genre unto itself…
Some might argue that even musical genres evolve, but one would have to be of really bad faith to argue that EX is in no way an evolution in Plastikman’s sound when compared to the previous two albums.
There clearly is an underlying theme linking the album’s tracks, all of them being titled by a word beginning with “ex” — EXposed, EXtend, EXpand, EXtrude, EXplore, EXpire, EXhale — which seem to relate to Hawtin’s obvious exploration of the tension between man and machine over the past decade, using his clinical approach to chart the impacts of technology on our minds and bodies.
Speaking of which, EX will be offered in a special limited edition using the Subpac technology. If you don’t know the Subpac technology, it’s basically a cross between a subwoofer and a back massager designed to make you actually feel the bass, which, if you are familiar with Plastikman, you know that it is more often than not the very foundation of his tracks.
After several back to back listens — and comparatives listens of his previous output for good measure — two tracks clearly stood out for me: EXpand and EXpire. I would venture that they alone are worth getting this album, but there are others that make it even more worthwhile. First, there is EXtrude, which is downright fun to listen to because it feels like listening to a choir of bullfrogs, and then there is the closer, EXhale, whose minimalist musical poetry recalls, albeit very faintly, the Oxygène- and Équinoxe-era of Jean-Michel Jarre.
EX is available now on digital format, CD and vinyl will be coming very soon, as well as the Subpac limited edition. You can stream the full album below, and I’ve also included a link to a 7 minute making-of video on the performance at the Guggenheim.