Chinese producer Keju Luo is still relatively young, but has amassed an impressive list of credentials outside of his Broken Thoughts project. Engineering, mixing, soundtracks, and even an apprenticeship under film composer Klaus Badelt (himself an adept of no less a name than Hans Zimmer) have evidently given Luo experience beyond his years in terms of pure sound design and arrangement. Thankfully, his instincts for mood, pacing, and other nuances of composition aren’t lacking either, and the resulting mix of drone, glitch, and IDM on his latest release, Realign, is a masterclass in atmospherics.
Loops and rhythmic repetition are a theme throughout Realign, but unlike plenty of drone artists Luo doesn’t take them for granted, and instead seems to have given careful thought as to how and when to restate and when to modulate phrases and ideas. The office machine clatter of “Losslessness” seems to embrace monotony as a theme and dares the listener to surrender to its mindless simplicity, while “Douglas Firs” positively seethes with dread as its pads layer atop one another. “The Primal Forces Of Nature” is where Luo’s soundtrack chops really come to the fore, its tense pulses and clicks connoting Mann or Villeneuve-style standoffs.
The mix of difference and repetition (apologies to Gilles Deleuze) used by Luo always feels in service to the individual pieces and moods he’s crafting, rather than the other way around. Given how organically each piece ticks along or unfolds, I gasped aloud when I noticed on my third or fourth pass that each and every of Realign‘s tracks cued up in my media player clocked in at exactly five minutes; not a second more or less. I might be tempted to call such a conceit pretentious or braggadocious were it not for the fact that not a single track on the record seemed to need to be longer or shorter.
The line between soundtrack work and the more ambient side of Our Thing has never felt more blurred: check the heavy dark ambient feels of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Arrival score, or Lustmord showing up on Lovecraft-cribbing flick The Void. Luo has already done time on both sides of the fence, and has no problem synthesizing any of the sounds and moods which these various traditions trade in, as Realign ably shows. It’s that rare album where technical prowess is immediately apparent, yet is also happy to cede the spotlight to the clearly drawn moods and themes they aid. Strongly recommended.