Basic Unit Productions/Negative Gain Productions
Dejan Samardzic and Daniel Myer’s work together as Haujobb defies the easy narratives we use to understand music. Their entire discography is made up of seeming contradictions, progressively more streamlined while containing new strata of detail, more grandiose through careful applications of restraint, constantly evolving into a purer and more definitive version of themselves. A quick comparison of Freeze Frame Reality and Solutions For A Small Planet is all that’s required to see how much addition by subtraction they’re capable of. Their best material is born from that tension, and in the case of new album Blendwerk from its resolution; it’s a distinct departure that is paradoxically and even perversely Haujobb being Haujobb.
Tracing their sound from 2011’s excellent New World March, cursory listens would seem to suggest that Myer and Samardzic have rendered the mechanical motifs of that album in an even more unadorned fashion. That analysis quickly falls apart on repeated listens, in spite of the album’s very forward application of analogue bass synth and perfectly round and expertly placed kicks, Blendwerk contains multitudes. It’s easy to find in spots, such as “Dark Heart 5” revolving around piano provided by Greek IDM auteur Zinovia. The song uses a slight but sonically rich arrangement of skipping and chirping synth sounds to counterpoint and add depth and detail. Haujobb plays it more coy elsewhere, hiding an elastic arrangement of percussion and protean synth textures behind a fat bassline and a particularly manic vocal from Myer on “Destroy”. A stripped-down element here brings the odd production tic into the fore there. Every creative choice represents the negation of an infinite number of quantum possibilities, and Blendwerk feels like a very conscientiously navigated journey through that multiverse.
This isn’t to say that Blendwerk is a devil made up entirely of details: it is often very straightforward compositionally. “Failures” is probably the most plainly EBM song that the band has written in more than two decades, with its strength lying in rich sound design that feels more indebted to the techno and nu-body sounds that inform Dejan’s recent work as DSX and Myer’s occasional drops as Liebknecht. “Failures” is their contradictory nature in action, more elementary in form but also rich in production complexities that easily disappear when not focused on directly. It’s an especially impressive trick when the duo engage in self-reference, like “Information Space” resolving unexpectedly from disparate elements into a distinct nod to Solutions for a Small Planet, and “Perfection”‘s invocation of “Penetration” in its opening seconds.
While we can imagine Blendwerk ruffling some feathers by virtue of its integration of a broader swath of techno-driven sounds, this sort of cross-pollination’s been at the heart of the band at least since Solutions. Hell, go back to the Polarity liner notes to see what contemporary sounds were getting Dejan and Daniel fired up in the studio in 2001 (Timo Mass, Matthew Herbert, and Unkle amongst others). Tracking releases by other bands on their own Basic Unit Productions label is all that’s required to get a sense of what’s pushing them forward fourteen years later. Blac Kolor, Div|der, and R010R are all acts which have no doubt drawn influence from the pulsing tension Haujobb mastered in the 90s, and are surely happy to serve as an inspiring launchpad for their next salvo of anxiety. Another (thankfully) irresolvable dialectic.
A final note about Haujobb’s inscrutability even as they’re delivering material which is clobbering you with heated bass and vicious snares: the track structuring of Blendwerk initially puzzled us. The stacking of four beat heavy tracks to close the record out while the more subdued and downtempo material was found on the A-side seemed like an odd means of sequencing things. Were Haujobb wanting to ensure that their more experimental fare wasn’t overlooked during misguided searches for club tunes or “singles” (whatever currency those concepts have in 2015)? Did they want to close things out with the clattering and confrontational “Produkt” as a way of sticking in the listener’s craw even after the record was over? Then we noticed that Blendwerk‘s tracks play in alphabetical order. That’s Haujobb for you: confounding stabilizing narratives by virtue of not giving a fuck.
Having listened to this for a few days now (*cough* staying up far too late constantly refreshing Spotify for days to grab a listen as soon as possible *cough*), I can say that I am enjoying this record A LOT. It took a few metaphorical spins for the album’s style (as hard to describe as it is) to click with me, but once it did, it was (and is) pure Haujobb gold.
That said, in my quite unprofessional and not even particularly experienced opinion, this album sticks out like a sore thumb in Haujobb’s catalogue even more than ninetynine, which is pretty much universally signalled out as the, shall we say, “black sheep album” by them. I wasn’t cognizant for any meaningful portion of the nineties, but from my perspective in 2015, there’s actually a very logical progression across the first four Haujobb albums; a steady shift away from rhythm, harshness and techno-paranoia and towards ambiance and beauty. In other words, I think your point regarding “addition by subtraction” applies equally equally well to the pairing of Solutions and ninetynine as it does to Freeze Frame Reality and Solutions (even if Solutions is generally considered to be the better album, there’s no denying that the style of ninetynine brought something new ad unique to the table that wasn’t present on Solutions). Even if the songs on Polarity were superb, it almost feels like a step backwards stylistically, or at least back and then sideways (again in my relatively uninformed opinion).
With Blendwerk, I have a very hard time drawing lines to other Haujobb albums. The most obvious connection is to New World March, but I’ll agree that comparison to that album quickly falls apart even if my thought process is very different from yours. For me, NWM was characterized by an atmospheric sense of distant danger and strong themes of structure and order, all tying together into a delicious discussion of that most classic of industrial ideas: control. Rhythm, Pulse, Pad, Beat, World Domination. There was anger on NWM, but it was constrained to a framework that still felt very… well, traditionally Haujobb. Smooth. Clean. Cold. I don’t have the vocabulary to articulate this better, but suffice it say, even with the screams of “RHYTHM!!!” leaking through the chorus, Dead Market felt incredibly rhythmic and structured, more so than any other Haujobb song I can think of.
Input Error follows largely the same tactic as Dead Market, an overall very “smooth” track occasionally erupting into violence at strategic moments. On the other hand, Destroy sounds like it’s about to tear itself apart, although that’s not to say that it doesn’t have a strong rhythm or that the sonic elements don’t work well together. The changes in volume, the buzzing static and heart-beat like drum sounds of the intro, the frantic vocals that might not be too far out of place on a Caustic album… I gotta admit, it was weird hearing this song for the first time, really weird, and not necessarily pleasant the first time around. Without the vocals, I would not have believed that I was listening to Haujobb. That said, armed with the knowledge that I was, in fact, listening to Haujobb, I can definitely hear hints of what I’ve come to expect from them in the song. The polished production, the precision of arrangement: they’re all there. They just feel like they’re in service of something very new. Something more chaotic.
And then there’s the lyrics. Haujobb’s lyrics often defy comprehension for me (any idea what “Japanese lights are burning longer” is supposed to mean?), but hat I find on Blendwerk still strikes me as unexpected. There’s swearing on Completion and Produkt, there’s an obsession with ice cream on Little Miss Danger, and there’s even what seems to be a spot of comparative phallometry on Information Space. I don’t have any idea what all these things are supposed to mean (yet), but the approach feels different. Again, more chaotic, or at least less refined/intellectual (not intended as a negative criticism).
And yet, some parts of the album completely defy this chaotic-feeling approach. Aside from parts of its vocals, Information Space is as rhythmic as track as they’ve ever produced, rivalling even Dead Market for it’s shear head-bobbing-ness. And then there’s Leaving, one of the few tracks that immediately struck me as being absolutely fantastic on my first listen. I don’t think I need to tell any Haujobb fans exactly how sad the phrase “All memories deleted” sounds coming from this band. The sweeping synths on Perfection sound downright spacey to me, almost going as far as evoking thoughts of the opening music from Star Trek: The Next Generation (not the main fanfare. You know. The weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-ooooooo-wayyy-ooooo-woooooooo that plays over images of planets and galaxies before Picard’s voice-over starts). It’s interesting that both of these tracks, along with Input Error, seemed rife with themes of hopeful transhumanism the first time I heard them, but these ideas fell apart when viewed in the context of the whole album: when heard between Failures and Produkt, Perfection sounds less openly futuristic and more claustrophobic, if not xenophobic. The titular “Perfection” is no longer a brilliant achievement of progress and order, but a cynical label ironically, almost sardonically applied to something exclusive and hostile. It’s still probably my favourite track on the album, even if my perception of it has changed so much in the last few days.
I don’t know what I’m hoping to accomplish by posting this. I just wanted to get my thoughts out there. It’s a fascinating album that’s steadily carving a space for itself in my mind, finding its place both relative to the rest of Haujobb’s work and as its own entity. Overall, great stuff, even if I don’t fully understand what it is yet.