I suppose that it was a bit naive for me to think that after almost 5 years without a release under the pseudonym of Plastikman, Ritchie Hawtin would come back out full stride. Granted, he's been super-busy, releasing a whole string of discs that have kept his name in the spotlight and featured his unique talents. His DE9: Closer To The Edit was a chopped-up dancefloor delight, as he deconstructed songs sometimes down to a single note and put everything back together into one of the best mix discs of the past couple years. His collaboration with the rather flambouant Sven Vath on the mix The Sound Of The Third Season was successful in places, but spotty in others while his earlier Decks, EFX, & 909 was a rollicking, hard electronic mix that worked in spades.
You have to go clear back to 1998 for the last release under the Plastikman name, though, and his last effort (Consumed) was a haunting, claustrophobic journey through the dark recesses of his mind. Interestingly enough, he calls Closer an even more personal record, and while there is one particular reason for that, it doesn't really venture into any new ground for Hawtin as an artist.
The most obvious difference, and the one that most people will be talking about, is the use of vocals on the release. Hawtin has finally broken down the wall and included his own voice on a release, but it's not quite what you'd think. Instead of singing, or even speaking, every use of his own voice is in a deeply filtered, digitized, and rather ominous way. On the first single from the disc, it creeps in over a tweaked-out acid line and a wobbling bass, but the vocals ('I try in vain / to disconnect my brain' among other lines) sound too much like bad teenage poetry to really have the effect that they were probably supposed to. The same sort of vocals are used in the opening track of "Ask Yourself," a super-dark and haunting track that would have been more effective and creepy without them (or at least without them being so overbearing).
Hawtin is still the master of the minimal, as is evident by a majority of the release. It's haunting and super-claustrophobic, and much of it sounds like the perfect sequel to the excellent Consumed. "Lost" is little more than simple synth strings and an ominous tone, but it all gives way to tweaked-out, oddly pitched acid blips that are so creepy they should be in a horror soundtrack somewhere.
Another interesting thing to note is that much of the album feels like it was recycled from old releases (something he's done more than once), but run through software and jockeyed with enough that it feels just a little off (meaning slightly pitched-off, etc). Technically, that's not a bad thing, as it only adds to the uneasy feeling that much of the release has. The loping "Ping Pong" feels like a chase through dark hallways of an abandoned asylum while the tweaked-out "Slow Poke" (which employs much of the weird sound manipulation I talked about above) is all clips and clops through subway tunnels spraying with steam. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the disc just treads familiar territory over and over again. "Mind Encode" is just barely different than a track on Consumed and the two longest tracks on the disc (each clocking in at over 10 minutes) putter through the same dank acid-infected waters. Sure, he's great at using a 909, but he's already progressed past the music he's made with Closer, and much of the time it feels like falling back on old habit for lack of new ideas. Hardcore Hawtin fans will still find things to love (I did, although I was also frustrated a fair amount), but if you're just wanting to get into Plastikman, there are better places to start.