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patten’s ‘Ψ’ is witchcraft as electronic music

| Tuesday, September 27, 2016

patten banner webCRISTINA INTERIANO | The Observer

Whoever seeks to pigeonhole patten would have a hard time going about it. The London-based production duo made up of a man and a woman cryptically self-identifying as D and A, respectively, has been responsible for some of the most mysterious left-field electronic music of the decade so far. It is only appropriate, indeed, that patten has lately been paired on tours with fellow Warp Records luminaries Autechre, LFO and Battles; a tour in which the duo has wowed fans — and blissfully unsuspecting festival passersby – with stunning audiovisual displays reminiscent of label-mate Oneohtrix Point Never or remixeé Björk.

The duo’s output is rarely easy on the ears, and purposefully so. Listening to patten’s 2014 LP “ESTOILE NAIANT” it is clear that the duo innovates not merely for innovation’s sake, but as a way of challenging what electronic music fans understand electronic music to be. There are dance-like beats and swelling pads, yet uncanny sounds overlap so abrasively that tracks take on the semblance of a kaleidoscopic collage.

The duo’s latest release – “Ψ” (Psi) – follows a slightly different playbook. While “ESTOILE NAIANT” blended several genres under the electronic umbrella, “Psi” keys in on bass music and develops its futuristic aesthetic with the duo’s own esoteric flair. Tracks evolve around a disorienting drum-machine beat, sustained while cyberpunk synths and occult orchestration spin around it, developing these pieces into chilling creatures that seem to inhabit a space between full moon nights and the great beyond.

Notable on “Psi” is the addition of vocals to almost all tracks, a human element that felt conspicuously absent on “ESTOILE NAIANT.” Yet it would be misguided to expect that this new presence would add a dimension of warmth or accessibility to the music. In most cases, the peculiarly accented speech, veiled behind layers of surreal effects and monotone delivery, is less affecting than it is mesmerizing, even slightly unsettling, like the awakened spirit of malicious software.

In many ways, “Psi” feels like a revival of the witch house genre popularized in the early 2010s by artists like Crystal Castles and Clams Casino; there are common features among these tracks that evoke the paranormal in subtle yet audible ways. But if patten seems to capitalize on the success of the genre on this latest record, rest assured that the duo is refreshingly original in its approach. Structurally, tracks on “Psi” evoke less the trap sensibilities of witch house as much as they emulate the deconstructionist bass music of English producers Logos and Jam City.

The duo draws from their influences to great effect. On the opening track, “Locq,” the record introduces listeners immediately to the arcane aesthetic with a messy arpeggio that devolves into something between a responsorial psalm and a ritual summoning. Later on, “Used 2 B” couples high-energy, acidic beats with the sound of a whispered spell. The diverse elements in these tracks would seem not to match on paper, but in practice the duo is skilled enough to craft a terrifying sense of urgency.

That said, patten encounters familiar challenges on “Psi.” Some of the maximalist clutter of “ESTOILE NAIANT” is retained on this record, muddling what could otherwise have been airtight tracks. Additionally, at forty minutes the record feels overlong; standout tracks stand out, but everything else feels a bit redundant, if admittedly well-crafted. The duo would do well to focus its energy on fewer tracks that could better flesh out the patten aesthetic, rather than leaving more underdeveloped tracks on the album. It is also interesting to note that, for artists so fixated on exploring new creative ground, they have done little to experiment with release format and presentation; perhaps the album form is an outdated venue for their art to begin with.


Essential Track: “Dialler”

If you like: Logos, Jam City, XXYYXX

3.5/5 Shamrocks

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