A graduate of San Francisco’s prestigious Mills College, Los Angeles-based electronic producer Stefan Smith is a relative newcomer to the dance music scene, though in truth he’s had his hands in electronic production for a long time, having worked with the likes of Fred Frith and Pauline Oliveros, as well as an assistant to legendary synthesiser designer Don Buchla.
While this debut self-titled album arrives on French techno figurehead Agoria’s Sapiens label though, it’s aimed far more at the head than the dancefloor, with Smith primarily using analogue gear and drum machines, with minimal subsequent editing in order to preserve a sense of rawness. Indeed, there’s a close kinship to be found here with the similar adventurous Black Dog, with the nine tracks collected here venturing between expansive ambience and more rhythmically driven post-IDM structures.
‘Figure In A Landscape’ opens this collection with an ethereal wander out into droning ambience as deep bass tones murmur and bleed into each other against a background wash of cycling distorted tones, and in many senses it represents a palate cleanser, setting the scene for what follows in its wake.
After this contemplative opening, ‘Chimera’ offers up the closest thing to a propulsive dancefloor track here, grafting brittle-sounding electro breakbeats onto deep ebbing analogue synth tones and squelching acid 303 lines in a manner that calls to mind the influence of Warp’s seminal ‘Artificial Intelligence’ series more than anything else, the melancholic bass undertones bringing the more emotional side of the track into sharp relief.
‘Embers’ meanwhile ventures out into a near-beatless landscape of spiraling analogue synth arpeggios and fluttering percussive tones that suggests the more proggy side of the ambient, before ‘Vestige’ sees twinkling synth pads intersecting with spiralling bleeps and icy treated vocals. Elsewhere, ‘All Strange Away’ reaches out into acid IDM territory that’s pure ‘Analogue Bubblebath’ as contorted 303 lines squirm against stiff electro rhythms and flecks of icy synths, the ghostly bass grooves lurking just below the frigid surface. An excellent debut album from Smith that’s also one of the most satisfying IDM headphone listening experiences I’ve heard this year.