Jesu masterminds Justin Broadrick and Diarmuid Dalton originally kicked off their Council Estate Electronics partnership in 2009 with the intention of paying tribute to the synthesiser music of their youth, the plan being to create music along the lines of Tangerine Dream, Jarre and Cluster. Once the duo started work though, they found other unplanned influences seeping in, particularly early seventies dub like King Tubby and Scientist, and dub techno sounds in the vein of Basic Channel, Chain Reaction and Maurizio. While Council Estate Electronics’ preceding 2012 album ‘Longmeadow’ saw the duo crafting menacing, industrial-edged landscapes over two expansive side-long tracks, this latest third album on Italian label Glacial Movements ‘Arktika’ sees them trading more aggressive sounds for a wander out into minimalist and stripped-down dub techno.
The second release in Glacial Movements’ ice-themed ‘Iceberg’ series, the eight tracks that comprise ‘Arktika’ were inspired by the newly built Russian icebreaker of the same name, a 60 megawatt beast that promises to crunch through ice more than ten feet deep and lead convoys along routes that would otherwise be impassable. Given the muscular subject matter, you’d be forgiven for expecting this album to be a lesson in brute force, rather than the often stripped down and skeletal dub landscapes being explored here. The ten minute long ‘Urals’ opens this album with its most expansive track, as slow analogue synth swells roll and merge against a slow backing of dubbed-out percussive tones, the cold electronics relentlessly circling before a 4/4 kickdrum pulse locks in, sending things gliding off through shimmering layers of trailing synths and reverbed-out harmonics that vividly call to mind icy waters sliding against the bow of some vast vessel.
If there’s a tangible sense of (albeit ghostly) dubby swagger to be found amidst the frigid textures, it’s in the shuffling offbeat hi-hats, which add a sense of warmth and looseness reminiscent of Rhythm & Sound. By contrast, ‘567 Foot 33,500 Ton’ gets far nastier as a distorted synth pulse buzzes relentlessly like a swarm of wasps above an eerie backdrop of thudding muted kickdrums and dark ambience, the monotonous ominous pulse suggesting the vast powerplant providing the force to smash the ice, in what’s easily the most aggressive track here. ’50 Let Pobody’ meanwhile sits right at the opposite end of the spectrum as refracted melodic synth tones add elements of brighter colour to an undulating backbone of punching kickdrums and bendy sub-bass drops, the hypnotic sense of swing that’s generated adding a loose, wandering undertone to the serenely glowing electronics.
If the aforementioned track envelopes you in exactly the sort of warm bliss that you wouldn’t associate with Justin Broadrick, eerie closing track ’60 Megawatts’ brings the cold isolationist atmospheres back to the forefront, as ghostly, arkestra-esque delayed out keys echo out over a deserted post-landscape of humming drones and distantly pulsing slow rhythms, in what’s easily the most austere take on dubby techno experimentation that I’ve heard in a while. While to my ears it doesn’t immediately conjure up visions of the hulking icebreaker of the title, ‘Arktika’ contains more than its share of intriguing ghosts flitting around the superstructure.