Le Seuil De Tolérance
While France’s Ex_Tension have always sat at a comfortable intersection of technoid, ambient, and rhythmic noise from a purely musical perspective, the formal presentation of their work has often been more fragmentary. The distinction between EPs and LPs has been difficult to draw in their catalog, with entire halves of releases occupied by lengthy trip-out tracks, and they’ve welded multiple remixes into DJ-maddening single tracks. None of this is meant as a slam on Vincent Gendrot and Pierre-Yves Hohmann: their work has been great and records like Desert and Freedom, eccentric as they may be, have distinct charm and personality. Le Seuil De Tolérance feels more like a unified album than anything they’ve attempted before from a structural sense, yet it achieves this while tiling out a mosaic of distinct and clearly delineated styles (and listening practices) from track to track.
From the get go, Gendrot and Hohmann use their excellent studio chops for intriguing feints and misdirects. The hand drums and strings that dot the lengthy intro of opener “Fear” puncture our expectations for this sort of material far more readily than the static washes or low, crawling sequences. By the time a breakish IDM drum figure emerges and the track takes off properly, we’ve already been primed to be listening around the edges, rather than to the core engine of the track. Subsequently, there’s a sharp break from the pock-marked, futuristic IDM sound Ex_Tension are known for with the slowed, pure old EBM of “Ausgang”. As opposed to “Fear”, the core groove is so insistent, so omnipresent that the samples and minor production touches seem to fade underneath it. The more glacial “Brume” uses a moody background wash to draw attention to the micro-fissure details of its repeating, deceptively simplistic chime lead, which is slowly pulled apart and recompressed.
At a glance in the queue, “Thin Blue Line”‘s sixteen minute run-time seems like a nod to earlier behemoth Ex_Tension tracks like “The Plague” or Edward Ka-Spel collab “Legacy”. However, after an ambient introduction gives way to a glitchy feel, it becomes apparent that it’s something entirely different. The glitch passage in turn yields to a grimy guitar sequence, which itself morphs into a sleek electro-industrial nodder and finally ends as an arpeggiated comedown. Each of these phases feel distinct, but emerge and fade smoothly in and out of each other, flowing more like an eclectic yet seamless DJ set with a steady BPM than a single track. In a sense, “Thin Blue Line” is a microcosmic representation of Le Seuil De Tolérance: stylistically varied and clearly delineated but also cohesive. It’s a subtle structural manoeuvre, the likes of which might go unnoticed in genres much more interested in sound design and texture than albumcraft, but one which definitely adds to Le Seuil De Tolérance‘s charm, and Ex_Tension’s cachet.