Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Matt Karmil’s minimalist techno enthralls

April 16, 2020

Matt Karmil‘s techno is stripped down to (almost) the bare minimums of the form: staccato beats; limited layers of synths, often as few as a single synth; and squiggly, almost-naked melodies that sneak out of the locked-in mix. STS371 opener “Smoke” has one complex sample that serves as the melody put on repeat, accented by some tape hiss, an 808 thump, and some distant squelchy bass. (A high-hat comes in later for the “big finale.”) It is economy making the most of its limited resources: the vibe it creates is almost hypnotic in its approach. You can hear the variations in the tape hiss as part of the song. It’s attention to detail in its most fine-pointed version. Karmil revels in making a tiny amount resources saturate a space and create a vibe. I love it.

This is immaculately designed work; every sound has been adjusted just so to meet Karmil’s exacting requirements. The synth washes that take up the first 90 seconds of “Hard” have been manipulated perfectly to keep the vibe of “Smoke” going but move the work in a dreamier direction. The chopped-up back-beat of “210” uses snips of distortion to rough up the sound and serve as subtle percussion. The nearly-ten-minute “Breezy” is the absolute minimum of techno, with a high-hat, a kick, and a distant arpeggiator playing off each other for over a minute on the outset; seven minutes later, the synth has become a modulated siren wail and a bass kicks in a few notes here and there over the high hat and kick. It’s a subtle journey, y’all.

There are some slightly bigger moments: the conclusion of “Still Not French” has lead synths gently trading off blips over a helicopter-chopper rhythm synth, the beat, and other sounds. Lead single “PB” has a lot of things going on, for a Karmil song: a sample of someone breathing, phasing synth sounds, bass arpeggios, bass lines, relatively complex beats; the whole thing comes off like a tune from a spy movie. It’s still nothing in terms of the tracks needed to make a maximalist ODESZA-like track, but it’s a veritable orchestra from Karmil. It’s great.

If you’re into minimalist techno, you already probably know Karmil and this is just an encomium for a friend. But if you’re a fan of other types of electronic music, you may not know Karmil, and I would strongly suggest that you get to know his work via STS371. —Stephen Carradini

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Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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