Soul Center Soul CenterGeneral Eclectics
I don’t remember any Thomas Brinkmann record made as a joke. I do remember a big sense of humour, but executed with great seriousness. At times, the German chose to use a sample completely out of context –like when he inserted Mardi Gras music without leaving the iron minimal techno scheme on “Charleston”, the last cut on “Lucky Hands” (2005)– but never could we say he’s a clown. His last album, the sinister “When Horses Die…” (Max.Ernst, 2008), was his exploration of singer-songwriter techniques, and we found him writing and chewing lyrics, operating with instruments like the guitar, muttering litanies that could have come from dark lords like David Sylvian or David Tibet. All in all it would be barely conceivable that Brinkmann would deliver a light album without a huge conceptual effort, which is why the first reaction to the sight of a physical copy of this “General Eclectics” is so shocking: never before had T.B. thought of such a scatological sleeve (if you haven’t seen it, it’s a pissing horse), no matter how much the press release speaks of a reference to the sleeve of Einstürzende Neubauten’s “Haus Der Lüge”, and in general, never before had Brinkmann sounded so “happy” within the usual structural strictness of his techno reeking of Cologne.
I say “happy” because the better part of the ten tracks have swing –especially “Boot Box”, where I think I recognise a sample of Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” and some pre-bebop jazz harmonies– and also because, although Brinkmann has returned to his all-time techno of the Profan / Studio 1 / (early) Kompakt school, he always complements it with notes, vocals and twists that help relax the facial muscles: hard to identify samples of which he keeps the origin to himself –remember that what Brinkmann signs with his name has various origins like the tactile manipulation and mutilation of vinyl or found sounds recorded on different locations; Soul Center on the other hand always has a sampled base of old Stax and Motown records– which give the mix a different taste. This techno is cooked with the finest herbs.
That’s why his records always go down well. This one is no exception, although I have to say that it doesn’t surprise nor stimulate me like it used to years ago, when I started to collect the vinyls from that series released on Max.Ernst, where every side had a woman’s name. The kind of techno essentially remains the same, hasn’t changed fundamentally –only in particular details– and I find it hard to find something that makes me think there has been a complete change in his way of working that could have any effect on the sound. In fact, a large part of “General Eclectics” sounds old school –like West-German techno from the late 90’s, the whole Mike Ink school of whom Brinkmann is the first and best disciple– and also like recent stuff like Spectral Sound ( “Walk With Me” has a vocal that could be from early Matthew Dear) and, especially, like M Nus. In fact, the spelling of “Fu_ky Du_ky”, with the underscore, could raise the suspicion that this is an attack, a tribute or and gratuitous reference, as it sounds like a muscular version of Marc Houle or Troy Pierce’s classic works.
But maybe this is all in my head. Brinkmann lives isolated from the world and the scene, without looking for friends, comfortable in his caravan, and his techno is always personal, never made as an answer to anything. What there is though is an invisible red thread from the second ( “Hal2010”) to the last track ( “Dyr Bul Scyl”), which is the concept of “futurism.” I said before there are no big surprises on “General Eclectics”, and it’s true. But at the same time it’s one of Brinkmann’s most consistent albums from start to finish, and also one of the most playable as a DJ. It doesn’t surprise, but it’s useful, one of the most hedonist (it works better at a club than at home, which is a novelty), and it has two trademark details like the vocal samples of Russian futurist poets Vladimir Mayakovsky (“Dyr Bul Scyl”) and Aleksei Kruchenykh ( “Schumi(ichi)”). Therefore, the futurism on this album has to be understood as a return to a previous moment when we caught sight of possibilities that today, in retrospect, haven’t been realised or even explored. In the case of Brinkmann, maybe the underlying feeling is frustration about how that rigid, formal and experimental techno from Cologne which he was part of never resulted in a record like this, with an admirable balance between humour, experiment and invitation to dance. It arrived late, but it arrived.