Peter Burr’s cover is a perfect reflection of the music: man and machine, improvisation and code. In visual terms, this is a stark departure from the prog look of 2016’s Physicalist, although half of those tracks would feel at home here. Save for “Rebreather,” the mild sea charmer at the center of the album, Semblance drops the ambient leanings to concentrate on percussion. While the synths still sing in the background, the other six tracks throb with percussive energy. The tempos vary while the vibrations form connections between tracks, allowing the album to unfold like a 40-minute mix.
The band’s stated ambition is to “broaden the idea of what an electronic music ensemble can sound like.” This may not work on our regular readers, due to their sonic immersion; but it may resonate with the larger populace, who are less accustomed to hearing electronic sets constructed with the delicacy of modern composition. How then to break through? Perhaps with a jazzy track such as “Cut-Up,” whose female narrator refers to algorithms and consciousness, referencing The Orb. Or perhaps an edit of lead single “Three-Two,” which at eight minutes will be excluded from popular playlists. This leads us to a larger question: is compromise essential when one’s ambitions are so high? The sad answer is yes, unless artists choose to expand perceptions within the industry rather than across the industry. The ocean breakdown at the center of “Three-Two” provides the set with its spotlight moment, but unless the edges are snipped, few people will encounter it. Then again, minimalist Jon Gibson (cited as an influence) is not exactly a household name.
The finest track, “New City,” combines multiple influences. The percussion is present, but so is the piano. Multiple synth lines crash and converge. The tone is hopeful, as implied by the title. The ten-minute length allows the track to breathe and expand, especially in its extended prelude and postlude, the latter like a window to the stars. And therein lies the trio’s blessing and challenge: if shortened, the track would lose its cumulative power; yet at its current length, it will reach only the initiated. So how will the trio achieve its goal? Perhaps only slowly, by percolation. In the meantime, it’s okay to just make engaging music. The underground will still be listening. (Richard Allen)