Hidden Tracks‘ 27 minutes don’t really feel like an album of tracks. Rather, the 10 pieces feel a little like fragments. Probably a better way to describe them would be as miniature movements in the overall suite. The album really only works as one long piece of music, not as a compendium of individual ideas. Its relative overall brevity, therefore, works greatly in its favour. The idea of an aural journey is strong but CHLLNGR & Dr. Echo keep that journey to a listenable length which, if anything, leaves you wanting more, not waiting for it to come to an end.
The bio discusses that journey of the listening experience in celestial terms, “outerspace” and that kind of thing. What Steven Jesse Borth II and Justin DeHart, the duo in question, have really created, though, is quite an enjoyable ride through the terrains of krautrock. From the exceptional blast of motorik that opens the work in ‘Smoke’ to the meandering synths and analogue bleeps of ‘Abyss’ down to the ambient, Tangerine Dream bliss out of ‘Control’, Hidden Tracks is an ode to the diversity of everything exploratory in the krautrock moment. It’s not stale pastiche (thankfully), however, with some distinct dub moments throughout, and crusty drum loop cutups that would do Massive Attack proud raising their heads during tracks like ‘Crossroads’. It is nostalgic music, but not music that is bound. The pair feel comfortable to push into areas not imagined in the 70s, all the while looking lovingly backwards. And, aside from the brevity of the tracks, what keeps things really fresh throughout is a constant melodicism. Rather than simply building aural textures, the duo inhabit their sonic world with memorable musical refrains, further extending the metaphor of a classical musical suite.
With promises of future collaboration in shared studio space (these tracks having been worked up via the 21st century default of internet file sharing), the duo, of which I’d not previously heard, should be well worth following. A further blending of their ideas, with the ability to push each other in real time, should see them really begin to throw out musical ideas they can truly call their own. As it stands, Hidden Tracks is a highly enjoyable review of all that is good about the influence of the finest German musicians of the 70s.