If this album sounds futuristic, it’s for good reason; it was recorded this summer, and released in late spring. Yes, Ryan Huber has managed to crack the space-time continuum! Astor is also evidence of a new direction for the artist (also known as Sujo), who has been releasing new works every month since February, moving solidly toward the electronic front.
Drone and electronics are a natural pairing, in that neither cancels the other out. Beats can add form to drones, while drones can add textures to beats. While electronics have been a part of Huber’s work in the past, Astor marks a full embrace, including many tracks in the hard techno arena. This is a good shift for the artist, or at least for this guise, bordering at times on the timbres of the PAN roster. Surprisingly, one can dance to many of these selections, especially “Merchant Deceit”, “Covent Garden”, “Star Chamber” and “Selkirk”, although many of the other tracks include sublimated or distorted drums as well.
Not that Huber has left drone behind. The title track offers the familiar waves of grain, undulating in sine waves, approaching as if from a great distance. A faint pulse can be heard in the closing minutes, as if a party is taking place in a house up the street. The footsteps in gravel and the tossed-and-turned sonics of “In the Wake” continue to offer subtle foreshadows, as do the clanks and bass of “Tuileries” (whose title refers to a French garden). But wise is the player who holds back his trump card. When “Merchant Deceit” drops, we realize that we’ve been prepped for the occasion, albeit subconsciously; the wisdom of the construction is revealed. And by late in the disc, there’s no doubt that this is an electronic album; the muscles are in motion, the heart is aflame.
“Covent Garden” is the album’s darkest track, a mangled industrial work that labors like a scratched disc, presenting its smooth and scarred sides in alternate segments. But “Star Chamber” and “Selkirk” represent the album’s peak, as suddenly clear mastering cuts through the grime like windshield wipers in a mud storm. An alarm sounds throughout the former, followed by the sound of a sputtering engine. But when “Selkirk” hits, the factory workers stop evacuating the floor, and start to dance. Kraftwerk would be proud. (Richard Allen)