Available on: Imbalance Computer Music LP
“You / do not / exist / anymore”. Robert Henke’s sinister filter-whispered threat, although only uttered a few times, dominates the chrome-plated drum’n’bass excursion that opens Monolake’s eighth long-player Ghosts. In fact, this absent presence becomes the focus of the strange empty spaces that comprise the remainder of this album, casting an odd, emotionally vague shadow through its twists and unexpected turns. And this speedy solid introduction turns out to be something of a misnomer.
Henke is of course a master technician, a textural magician par excellence. The creative King of Ableton and early Chain Reaction innovator deals these days only with sounds of the most pristine variety; something that could, of course, pose manifold issues of style over presence – certainly on a personal level, I’m always going to err towards the raw rather than the shiny. But, in this instance and given the massive over-saturation of washed-out production masquerading as sonic philosophy (and a foggy screen to a paucity of inspiration) Ghosts’ hi-tech investigation of sidereal occurrences feels quite subversive. Monolake’s sound here is a sparse spacious collapse of ambient and techno with eruptions of dubstep wobble and unidentifiable ear-bending sounds of such ludicrously exquisite grain that you want to reach out and touch them. At points this music almost twists round and heads into Skull Disco territory, although significantly less grimey.
Launching your new album with its most driving track turns out to be a neat conceit, as ‘Taku’ sends Ghosts down an unexpected pathway. Under a repetitious subdued heartbeat and an eerie haunting whistle, Henke performs miraculous alchemy with pebbles in a bowl, letting the initial sound breathe before ripping into microscopic shards of texture. ‘Hitting the Surface’ is equally mesmerising, restlessly metamorphosing water so that it bends into warped and surreal shapes over a malevolent melody and gamelan-like tones.
Henke wraps all these creepy creaky techno phantoms round a vague narrative of humid exploration in an equatorial-like environment, with scientists coming apart at the seams whilst calibrating and connecting data, and the death of Jonathan who may or may not serve as the protagonist in the title track. The fiction, announced in a note-perfect, almost disinterested Ballardian tone, combined with the prevalence of hyper-manipulated found-sound and sublime foggy-focus artwork of trees and waterfalls lends Ghosts an air of future-bound exotica. Don’t let the fiction fool you though. Feelings of anger, loss and absence permeate Ghosts’ grooves and although the source of these emotions may be secret, there’s no mistaking the feeling that this the album has something specific at its bruised heart.
So, when a stark ‘Discontinuity’ smuggles an almost Burial-esque melody around panicky sirens and tinny industrial rhythms, the gaseous thickets of cloudy ambience keep you rooted in this fictive jungle rather than locate you in a more obvious techno city. ‘Phenomenon’ erupts in a clarion call of wheezing whining electronic bird-call which throws up a nice subversive technique whereby the environmental sounds are used to provide musical texture and vice versa. This all reaches a peak of complexity on ‘The Existence of Time’ with countless rhythmical tics and parallel lines – bubbling sub bass, sine waves, more wobble, off-kilter cymbals and bursts, and what sounds like insect wings – microscopically amped into clouds of weird noise.
What Ghosts most puts me in mind of is a more techno-specific response to David Toop and Max Eastley’s towering 1994 ambient masterpiece Buried Dreams. There is the same concern for melding field recordings and environmental ambience with a blatantly studio-bound instrumental aesthetic, and even Henke’s narrative outline could have fallen straight out of that albums hallucinatory jungle obsessions. Henke is always at great pains to direct Monolake so that it exists in a constant dialogue with the dancefloor and with its multifarious abstract leanings, Ghosts pushes that challenge to its limits. That it succeeds on both counts whilst balancing a fictive pathway with real emotion only makes it more remarkable.