Mathew Jonson Mathew JonsonAgents Of Time
This album by Mathew Jonson has been talked about for years –yes, years– and although it isn’t the “Chinese Democracy” of modern techno, it is true that its landing here among the new albums is theoretically at the wrong time, with all of the hype of minimal, and the latest Detroit revivalist wave already on the downswing, as this is the framework in which the agile Canadian producer has best fitted (always with his usual way of understanding sound, as if it were a thick, flexible rubber band, with electro and trance patterns slipped in there too). But those who have been following his career, from his origins at the sorely–missed Itiswhatitis label to his signing with Minus, later founding Wagon Repair and moving to Berlin for logistical reasons, know that with Mathew Jonson you should never get discouraged or give him up for dead. He goes at his own pace –which used to be meteoric and is much less hurried now– and the album has taken the time that he saw fit. Meanwhile, he has played in an improvisational trio with his buddies from Cobblestone Jazz, he has given presence to his label, and now, just because, comes “Agents of Time”. It’s no longer being awaited like the second coming of Christ—as it was in 2006– but neither will it disappoint us. This musician from Vancouver is too clever and brilliant for that.
It’s interesting to note that the only thing that one might say the album could do without—in reality there is nothing we could do without, but… are the songs with the faster tempo, “Thieves in Digital Land” and “Sunday Disco Romance”. “Agents of Time” as a whole develops at a slow pace and has a decoration of curves and gentle angles, as in an atmosphere of reflection. Mathew Jonson, who has always been a club man, looking out for the 12” cuts, producing for DJ’s, planning his live shows as experiments of up to three hours of improvisation in real time, seems to have planned his LP debut as if it were a sock turned inside out. Now he shows us the other side of his sound in all its glory, which amounts to the same thing—hypnotic, sort of trance, sort of retro: you have to notice that there are bleep sound influences from the early 90’s in “Girls Got Rhythm”, which at times could seem like a cut from Orbital’s first album, but without so much punch, without inciting one to sweat or expend so much energy. It’s an album to listen to on the sofa, with one leg crossed over the other, bouncing your foot up and down like a cow moves its tail up and down when it’s swatting flies.
In any case, let’s not underestimate the potential of a sound system that can shake off the cobwebs and the ceiling plaster of any club: many sections of “Agents of Time” would work in warm-ups with the intention of creating suspense, generating the tension that floats through the minutes prior to great nights. Mathew Jonson has always had that anticlimactic touch, long developments that don’t end explosively, but rather with a slow, steady increase: here he comes back to his best creation so far, “Marionette” (subtitled “The Beginning”), creating an anticlimax in seven minutes of spiralling sound that could be seventy, and they would still leave us with that anxious expectation, biting our cuticles, and the rest of the album (except the looped disco music of “Sunday Disco Romance” which is closer to Smith’n’Hack or Tiger & Woods than to his usual work) stays at this interesting crossroads. Music for waiting, transitions, and states prior to overflowing. A skilful manipulation of emotions.
The album starts with “Love in the Future”, drifting, speculative, like retro synthesiser music by Jan Hammer or any other composer of scores for television. Then he steps on the accelerator and, surprisingly, starting with “Night Vision” –that is, in the middle of the CD– the rhythm drops suddenly and the sound looks for new reference points. Here it’s easy to see Drexciya, ERP or Vector Lovers, that romantic, yet pessimistic connection between Detroit techno and electro, while it is an even darker electro that dominates in “Pirates in the 9th,” very European, like Andrea Parker at her best. Then he gets mantric, and the songs are perhaps too long—there are some that last three minutes too long, and there are others that don’t have anything extra, even though they last eleven minutes, like “When Love Feels Like Crying,” which is like “Marionette” with low blood pressure and the beats almost static. It is an up outstanding work of home listening that brings together drifting soundtracks, Detroit space techno, the catatonic rhythms of European minimal, underwater electro, and the nostalgia of the intelligent English techno sound. It is both original and revivalist (a tough combination). Which is to say, I think I’ve wet myself.