Young dogs can still learn new tricks, as demonstrated by the Portuguese duo Sturqen on their impressive disc Raia. The press release promises “a different kind of Sturqen, a different kind of sound”, and it delivers with a diversity and depth only hinted at in previous recordings. This is a huge step forward for the duo, a shout to the world that they intend to stay relevant.
Until now, the duo was known for its solid techno-industrial rhythms and hard synths: a club-friendly sound that relied on the almighty drum for its power. The primary shift of Raia is that the percussion has gone on vacation, requiring the other instruments to be more percussive. A secondary shift is a focus on restraint, apparent from the very start. ”In” introduces the familiar factory sound, and “Ummus” the buzzing bass and rising cyclone drone, but neither breaks into all-out war. The drama builds throughout the album, seeking release, and when it comes, the effect is cathartic. This intentional push-and-pull is uncommon in the techno-industrial field, which is generally marked by beat-driven tracks from start to finish. But because Raia is more concerned with operating as an album, interlude pieces such as “Vcd” seem more like integral components than bridges.
It’s hard to understate how important Sturqen’s experiment may turn out to be. Raia is an invitation to listen to the textures and moods behind Sturqen’s previous work and to realize that crafted musicianship was already taking place, masked by the dancefloor appeal. The beeps of “Riulu”, the crunching vinyl pulse of “Monte”, the meandering synths of “Vela” all serve a deeper purpose. They draw the listener so far down the sonic path that when a drumbeat finally emerges, seven tracks in, it’s too late to retreat. Even here, the distorted guitar chords provide the primary appeal; just as Sturqen fans think the duo is finally playing to its strengths, they discover other strengths, equally as compelling. This ackowledgment allows the drum to retreat again, ceding ground to the propulsive bass of “Musgo”, returning only for the grand finale of “Kepler”, which oozes a Front 242 vibe.
Gutsy, admirable, and intelligent, Raia is a sweet surprise from Sturqen and an encouraging sign of things to come. (Richard Allen)