Based in Kassel, Germany, Jan Grebenstein has spent the past six years developing a reputation for crafting abstracted, industrial-tinged electronics, and this latest 12” EP on Regis’ Downwards label ‘Raging Tender’ sees him joining forces with longtime collaborator Christine Seefried for four new tracks that blend spoken word with dark, stripped-down synthetics.
While Grebenstein’s been associated with the techno scene in the past, there are few obvious hallmarks in evidence on the distinctly minimalistic electronic palette employed on these four tracks, with the duo restricting themselves to just just one drum machine, one synthesiser and one voice in each case. There’s a distinct thematic focus on gender, sexuality and body image to Seefried’s spoken contributions, with her cold and imperious yet curiously lulling tones providing a perfect match for the dark electronics that pulse and surge around them.
Indeed, all four tracks here manage the not so easy feat of coming across as sinister yet strangely relaxing at the same time. Opening track ‘Raging Tender’ places a juddering EBM bass arpeggio at its core, but pulls all of the rhythmic ballast out of the centre by reducing the beats to skittering, hiphop flavoured snare kicks, Seefried’s repeated phrase “Pain is serious, pain is an embodied experience” taking on an almost ritualistic feel as the bass patterns cycle endlessly against pinprick hi-hats.
‘Breathe’ meanwhile takes on a stripped down dubby feel as swaggering off-beats roll against melancholic wavering synths, the fusion of sharp-focus metronomic rhythmics and Seefried’s vivid depiction of an unnamed person being blindfolded and abducted calling to mind a much darker take on ‘100th Window’ era Massive Attack.
On the flipside, ‘Arab Icon’ gets more jagged and industrial as distorted sheet metal-style electronics blare atonally against sparse bass pulses and dubbed out snare kicks, the harsh coiled textures winding up the tension as Seefried’s vocals float impassively. ‘Body Electric’ meanwhile takes the Walt Whitman poem as its jumping off point, sending eerie darkwave ambience swirling against slow throbbing bass kicks as Seefried’s icy intonations of “I sing the body electric’ echo off into the darkness. It’s exactly these sorts of curious juxtapositions between lurking menace and lulling calm that make ‘Raging Tender’ so fascinating.