“It is not made up of ‘sketches’, it is not ‘beatless’, it is certainly not ‘downtempo’, the accompanying text is not ‘nonsense’,” JR Seaton said of his debut album, Suzi Ecto, on Twitter, when it was announced a few months ago. “Put very simply, it’s techno.” Though Seaton is usually a man of few words on social media, his outburst was understandable, given his feelings on how the rush to produce content online is leading a reduction in words of overall quality, which he made known in an interview given in February 2014 to Zweikommasieben Magazin. “There’s a difference between the economies of producing this kind of stuff and the amount of content that online publications have to create to sustain themselves. It means that, for the most part, journalists aren’t paid per word anymore,” he said. “They have to produce this many reviews to pay their rent.”
As Suzi Ecto was announced, Seaton himself was the victim of this constant rush to deliver content. Without having the necessary time to familiarise themselves with what is a complex album, his debut long player was misrepresented by a few hastily written online news stories, one of which, it should be said, was written by myself. On a cursory, hurried listen to Suzi Ecto, it’s easy to get the wrong idea of what Seaton is trying to make. On first listen it might seem like the typical “techno producer does ambient” album many artists fall into making when trying to make a long-player more than just a set of club tools. Indeed, Suzi Ecto is certainly not the kind of techno album we’ve become accustomed to hearing over the past few years of Berghain-inspired austerity and industrial beats. In its colourful, detailed construction, it feels like the antithesis to techno albums made to fit into this particular cultural moment, offering a refreshingly alternative viewpoint of the genre. With a real lack of discernable kick drums throughout, it’s difficult to hear it as a club album.
In Seaton’s earlier productions for Houndstooth and Throne of Blood it was always easy to hear his music as techno – tracks like “Threshing Floor”, “Depicta” and “Black Octagons” were shot through with a firm rhythmic pulse obviously designed for the dance floor. What’s always made Seaton’s work different however are the carefully arranged sounds hung gently around those beats. Too obtuse to be considered melodies, and too affecting to just be considered texture, they mirror the impressionistic hand-painted images that have accompanied several of his releases to date. Suzi Ecto is the logical place for Seaton to go with his music, where kick drums always felt incidental to the illusory worlds he was trying to create. It’s still possible to detect a trace of rhythm in all of the tracks across the album, but his queasy synths and ambient tones are very much foregrounded throughout.
The album opens with “Snipe”, a quavering collection of tones both natural and synthetic reflecting the broad brushstrokes of black, blue and burnt peach that comprise the album’s cover. Largely stripped of a firm 4/4 backbone, strange nuances become apparent in Seaton’s music; it feels rendered by hand rather than arranged in a sequencer. “Selu Sekou” is driven by the kind of ambient loop you might expect to hear on a Japanese video game menu screen, albeit given a bold avant-garde touch with a snaking woodwind line, while the subtle percussion of “Raindance” creates a track that’s far from beatless, but its relaxed tone and languid vocal create something that explores techno in a very different way. This cross-section of organic instrumentation and synthetic tones inspire a different kind of response from most techno; much like the hypnotic music of Heatsick and Morphosis, Suzi Ecto isn’t music to lose yourself to, but music to lose yourself in.
It’s that sense of wonder Seaton creates throughout Suzi Ecto that makes it so impressive. Rather than just constructing linear compositions, Seaton’s compositions feel like a gallery of sculptures and paintings to be soaked up and explored from different angles. “Hoax Eye” might be the most conventional dance floor track on the album, but it still comes adorned with tones constantly shifting perspective, while “Fold Again At Last” is as intricate as its name suggests, tones and crackling and shifting like a loosely pinned collage of cut paper blowing in the breeze. In tracks like “Dovetail” and “Rosso Dew”, which stop just at the edge of breaking out into something more full-on, movement is implied rather than directed. Like so much other music made over the past year or so, you could imagine hearing these tracks in a club quite easily, but what kind of response they’d get would probably be different every time.
“Nowadays there’s a lot more content, but none is matched to any particular time,” Seaton also said to Zweikommasieben in the same interview. “No one is really engaged, you drink a cup of tea and then forget what you just read.” Seaton was talking here about online journalism, but he could just as easily have been talking about the manner in which much electronic music is made at this particular cultural moment; sometimes quickly thrashed out on analogue gear to give an air of authenticity, sometimes quickly uploaded to embeddable SoundCloud streams to be forgotten once the algorithm has moved the music on to the next recommended tune. Suzi Ecto is clearly an album that rejects such notions. An album that consciously rails against disposability, the increasing lack of time in our daily lives and quick turnover of trends, it requires you to set aside some time to explore every one of its shifting aspects. Just as Seaton has clearly taken his time to create Suzi Ecto, the album requires a similar transaction from the listener. If you’re willing to engage in that transaction, you’ll find yourself exploring one of the most rewarding albums of the year.
3. Sulu Sekou
4. Hoax Eye
6. Fold Again At Last
8. Rosso Dew
9. Coney Storm Drain
10. Okko Ink
11. Acephale I