One sometimes gets the impression that the British electronic scene has shifted on its axis. We mean that electronic music that has an almost pop undercurrent, however well the texture and aesthetic may fit old-school IDM like a glove, the kind of electronica that strings together melodies that snare you like a net, over crackling beats cut like diamonds. Until recently, the ends of that axis were held up by James Holden and Border Community, the label that he owns. But if we look within that current – which has at times flirted with trance, minimal, gliding esotericism, or a sightseeing exoticism – for a name that is really playing a starring role right now, we might have to agree that Holden has lost a little of his former hold (due not to a lack of talent, but of work on the street) to Gold Panda, the head of Notown. We’re not trying to start a war here, not at all, but it is significant that one of the firmest bastions of Border Community, Luke Abbott, has taken his new EP to Notown. It is as if the other side, which is on the rise, had gained a slight advantage.
“Modern Driveway”, a five-song EP, shares the same features that made “Holkham Drones” one of the best electronica albums of 2010 (and one of the favourites of actor Elijah Wood): pointillist melodies in which each note, played with nervousness, like a harmonic tickling, forms a curve of positive sensations. It’s like an analogue rainbow drenched in colour; underneath, there are constant rhythms, but as if they were dragging sand or gravel along with them, and then there is a use of texture that is both rough and warm at the same time. It’s the same type of sound that made a name for Holden and Nathan Fake in their day, and that Luke Abbott has managed to reactivate in his wonderful 12”s for Border Community. This is an effective continuation of those works, in which the distinctive features of “Holkham Drones” also appear: an obsession with the gliding music of the 70s – “Ovals” flirts with a geometrically-shaped new age and fractal melodies – and its more rock variant, as if it were a remix of early Kraftwerk, in “Meeting Hill”.
And then there are the three tracks aimed at the dance floor. “Modern Driveway” is a complex architectural structure with multiple melodies and an asymmetric rhythm, in which everything fits perfectly, starting and finishing smoothly, with all of the epic stuff concentrated in the middle. The muffled beat is wrapped in snow-capped arpeggios in “Hand Drawn Maps” and the tougher “Carrage”, which seems like it’s going to go for speed, but then ends up sounding like an ethereal loop that spins around in a solitary, bucolic landscape — a timid, adorable hint of deceleration. It might not sound as adventurous as “Holkham Drones”, with that glacial mystery, and it does sound more rural. But these are trivial nuances when it comes to Luke Abbott, who has shown that he has not lost momentum, he is still on a roll, firmly established in the major leagues of British electronica, with Four Tet, Gold Panda and other kindred souls.