Colin Cameron Allrich’s work as Slighter is feeling pretty developed in 2019. While nominally working in the post-industrial diaspora, the Portland-based producer’s material has less to do with specific genres or styles and more to do with mood and atmosphere. To wit, Slighter has found a lane, and that lane is heavily designed sonics and rhythms which stay low-key but are rarely laid back. New album Automata is that aesthetic at its most unified, with the pluses and minuses of that narrow focus on full display.
Automata‘s best songs are the ones which tap into energy and momentum without feeling the need to crank the dial to 11. “Isolate” has a groovy bassline and half-whispered, disaffected vocals that set the stage for the gradually layered waves of sound that build the song up to its surprisingly intense climax, an effect that is achieved without heavily modulating the track’s established elements. The excellent “Give Me” works a similar vein, but relies on guest-vocalist Craig Huxtable of OHMelectronic’s emotional delivery to provide much of the track’s push and oomph. The album’s most upbeat and club-ready number, “The Hunt” (a collaboration with Moris Black), establishes an Ebb-like bassline and banging percussion loop, but takes its time getting to full-on dancefloor bounce. The songs have dynamics and power, but are kept on a tight leash to preserve their unity with the surrounding numbers.
Much of the remainder of the album is made up of tracks that share the same sense of meticulous design and production, but which go for a low, throbbing, soundscape approach to composition. It’s by and large good, but the unity of texture and approach can cause them to melt into one another. That means that they’re fine to listen to in the moment, but looking back it can be difficult to tell which identifiable feature belongs to which song. Was that little NIN-esque bit of guitar on “Survive” or “Undertow”? Is the vocal from Christy Hannon on “Walls” and the spoken word bit by Kadin Contois on “Imbalance” or is it the other way around?
Still, consistency of approach is hard to hold against Allrich, and if it’s a flaw in the record it’s not one that impacts the listening experience, except in retrospect. Slighter’s strength has come from carving itself a niche and working hard to define it, and that pays off for Automata far more than it holds it back.