First came Loop, then Main, then Robert Hampson put the pseudonym to rest and went it alone. After 2006, fans were told they’d never hear another Main album again. But the mourning was brief, because Hampson himself had not retired; last year’s triumphant pairing of Signaux and Suspended Cadences introduced him to a new generation, many of whom had not been born when he started to record. As mentioned here last year, sonic longevity is a rare thing, and Hampson’s artistic growth continues to defy typical trajectories. Yet to his credit, Hampson has never been a typical artist.
An even larger surprise awaits on Ablation, as the new album presents a reconstituted Main. Since the turn of the century, relative youngster Stephan Mathieu has also been carving out a niche in the industry as both a solo artist and a collaborator. (Un Coeur Simple was reviewed here earlier this year, and The Falling Rocket has just been released.) Main was once a duo, and is now a duo again. The surprise is not merely in the results of this inspired pairing, but in the fact that Hampson has chosen to collaborate again after establishing himself under his own name; humility and mutual respect seem to have come into play for each artist. The balance of power is so refined across these grooves that one may have difficulty distinguishing where one artist’s vision ends and the other’s begins; Ablation seems like a shared vision brought to life.
The four tracks range in length from nine to fourteen minutes; together they operate as movements, relating to each other in ways both obvious and oblique. Already in the second minute, Hampson seems to be opening his piano very loudly, disturbing the shimmer and skitter, setting up a series of dark chords and percussive oddities, which may be Mathieu on bongos and Hampson on piano guts. While it’s not melodic, it flows, a shining feature that distinguishes Main’s work from that of other experimental musicians. This isn’t thrashing; it’s intentional curiosity.
“II” balances electronic pulse and drone, experimenting with tempo without introducing any element that would tempt a sober person to a dance floor. And yet, one can intuit a relationship with dance music as these textures are often encountered in watered-down form behind a repetitive beat. Club culture could learn a lot from Main, especially when it comes to complexity; Ablation is the mystery behind the electronics, the synapses firing instead of the footwork. Timbres and structures continue to fluctuate throughout the remainder of the album, leaving listeners thoughtful instead of drained.
Editions Mego writes, “old fans of Main will not be disappointed”. Jaded minds might think, “They have to write that.” But Editions Mego is right. If anyone is thinking, “this can’t possibly be as good as the old stuff”, we’re happy to tell you that it is. No one would confuse Ablation with a recording from the 90s, but the quality is just as high if not higher, and the reason is that Hampson – and now Mathieu as well – are eager to record contemporary, courageous music that should be as fondly remembered in twenty years as the early Main discs are today. (Richard Allen)