This Futile Engine
Colin Cameron Allrich’s work as Slighter has been developing in two parallel directions for a while now. His last LPs Automata and V O I D have been exercises in painstaking sound design and minute production detail, while simultaneously showing an increased capacity for songcraft. Given the genre no man’s land that Allrich’s work occupies situated somewhere in a murky nexus of bass music, industrial, trip-hop, and electronic soundtrack composition, those qualities have been the definitive factors in assessing any given Slighter release. To wit, a Slighter record is more about how it sounds, then what it sounds similar to. 2023’s This Futile Engine is a culmination of that ethos, its slick technical execution as much a part of its appeal as its songwriting, almost to the point that the two are indistinguishable.
That particular quality is no more apparent than on a track like “Memory Corrupter”, a collaboration with Steven Seibold and Morgue VVitch. The actual boundaries of the track aren’t defined by conventional structures or melodies, but by the balance between its textural elements, vocals and the placement of its shredding, metallic percussion. While you could find points of comparison for its intentionally amorphous and ungraspable form (it and “Planet Failure” bring Gridlock’s latter material to mind), the specific footprint of Allrich’s work is easily identified; a clever balance of loose flowing pads that slide through the mix without ever coalescing entirely and darting synth sequences that occasionally nod to popular electronic dance music (“Nostalgia Hysteria”‘s acid workouts, the techno klaxons of “Have no Fear”) without being entirely of them.
Which is not to say that there aren’t traditional songs to be found, or at least tracks that can fit that mold. “Pulling Me Under”, another in a series of excellent collaborations with Craig Huxtable of ohmelectronic, works a sneaky chord progression that transitions between its bass, string sounds and vocals in almost subliminal fashion, never grabbing the spotlight but never far from the heart of the composition. Alternately, “Dark Divine” places Yvette Winkler’s singing far out in front, so that its whooshes, stabs, and layers of reverb fall into place around each syllable and give the song a more melodically driven feel.
The quality of a record like This Futile Engine exists almost moment to moment in the listening experience; its deliberate obscurity (in mood and form) resists parting any individual moment out from the whole. To pick a random example, you might be able to recall a piece of “Ūnitās”‘ hypnotic rhythm after its passed, but its sublimated menace and anxiety is so much more powerful in the context of the whole. Albums that work holistically are a dying breed in the streaming age: with this LP Slighter has made a case for the LP as an experience distinct from any of its individual component. Recommended.