This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Genre: Ambient, Techno
Favorite Tracks: “Pitfall,” “Vanguard,” “Old Winter’s Way,” “Ex Aere”
DJ Richard has settled into the a perfect interstice between noise and techno-flavored house. A native and current resident of Providence, Rhode Island, his music reflects that of his environment: industrial, minimalist, and driven. Following up his extremely concise and solid breakout debut, GRIND, which catered to a far more house and IDM-driven demographic, comes DIES IRӔ XEROX. While GRIND had momentary inklings of drone and industrial sounds, at its core it centered around Richard’s trademark danceable beats. His sophomore release forgoes this formula while still retaining the same solid IDM structure he so deftly constructed on his first record. As with many artists, the transition from debut to sophomore release is not without its occasional growing pains, but fortunately, DIES IRӔ XEROX still carries enough standouts, serving as an appropriate progression in Richard’s career.
The self-titled intro to the album serves as a fantastic precursor for what is to come and yet, it is in no way a track to return to beyond the first listen. It’s too repetitive in nature, with the same 10-second loop being repeated ad nauseum throughout the 2:34 track length, and yet the sound is extremely cavernous and reverb-soaked, giving it a truly sinister and foreboding feeling. However, without there being any other elements introduced into the foreground or background, it overstays its welcome after the minute mark—something that unfortunately may turn off possible listeners due to its monotonous nature.
There’s a true bipolarity to the beginning of DIES IRӔ XEROX, since the follow up track, “Pitfall,” is a shining highlight and a fantastic representation of Richard’s skills as a producer and, in a sense, composer. “Pitfall” is a perfect introduction to Richard’s keen ability to balance the more experimental traits of his music with that of something danceable and accessible in nature. He tends to feature more driving and rhythmic beats with shrill and alien samples which help breakup the loops. His strongest skill as a producer is that he knows the perfect moment to switch up the track; he never implements a new element into a track too early or late, riding the line nimbly and easing the listener into a hypnotic trance before switching it up at the most opportune moment to prevent fatigue.
“Vanguard” is another standout, immediately leaving behind the more experimental traits the rest of the album holds by going for a far more conventional tone. While characteristically “Vanguard” never comes off as derivative, with Richard taking traits from deep-house and techno while giving them a far more demonic tonation, the track’s core is a blisteringly fast beat with rapidly fluctuating synths, situating it squarely as a neon-soaked cyberpunk classic. The following cut, “Crimson Curve,” serves as another transitional track much like the opening self-titled track, unfortunately bringing with it many of the same issues as well. “Crimson Curve,” along with other transitionary parts of DIES IRӔ XEROX, attempts to break up the formula by injecting moments bordering on sound art, yet they lack the same cohesion the more conventional tracks hold.
Much like GRIND, DIES IRӔ XEROX wraps on a generally high note. “Ex Aere” is a favorite from the listing, which carries a somber overtone without ever coming off as overdone or divulgent. The implementation of traditional drum work meshes expertly with the noisy and overblown sampling throughout. Richard revitalizes the clapping beats and sampling that were ever present on GRIND, making it simultaneously one of the album’s most established and unorthodox tracks. Then comes “Old Winter’s Way,” which helps usher in the ending to the album. While short and somewhat transitional, it fortunately is not held back like many similar tracks on the record. The high-pitched drone throughout presents a feeling of isolation; while at first it seems constant in its pitch, upon further listens it carries a great sense of depth. There is a great range of tonality and levels, and it serves as a short but truly eerie opener for the closer, “Gate of Roses.” While the use of a church organ gives the “Gate of Roses” a really grandiose impression, it never goes anywhere. There is a lack of any BPM variance or new elements introduced, and it ends extremely abruptly. It simply falls off mid-chord with no fade-out or impression of finality, giving the album an undeservedly unpolished lasting taste.
It’s difficult to grapple with what DIES IRӔ XEROX set out to do. It is indisputable that DJ Richard is accomplished in the realm of more beat-driven IDM, yet his latest release, at times, seems to suffer from an identity crisis. The fundamental issue with the album is that the more experimental sound pieces lack any true sense of originality or diversity, as well as the foresight to tie the album together. DJ Richard seems to be attempting to create sound art pieces from the viewpoint of a techno producer, with heavy use of loops and repeated sampling, rather than that of someone more attuned, such as Arca or Oneohtrix Point Never. This leaves DIES at a somewhat tumultuous position, and while there are extremely bright moments, including some of the best IDM tracks of the year, they sit next to blasé filler.