December 7, 2021

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Cristian Vogel: Rebirth of Wonky Album Review


Though few others than middle-aged alumni of the IDM listserv may realize it, from the mid 1990s to the mid 2000s, Cristian Vogel had one of the greatest runs in experimental techno. Club avant-gardists rarely maintain their lofty standards for more than a quarter century; Surgeon and Jeff Mills come to mind, but not many more. But Vogel makes a strong case for entry to that pantheon with his 25th album, Rebirth of Wonky

“Wonky” was a fleeting musical trend around the turn of the last decade, one that Simon Reynolds described in Retromania as “strands of glitchy electronic, experimental hip hop and spacey seventies jazz fusion” whose “off-kilter beat structures and mutant funk grooves” were embellished with “day-glo synth tones and snazzy riffs that hark back to eighties electro-funk and video-game music.” Although Vogel certainly has created his share of “off-kilter beat structures,” he never really belonged to the wonky movement. He’s too headstrong to jump on any bandwagons.

Vogel, who grew up in Chile and England, seems to have drawn inspiration across his career from both Spike Jones’ jazz hijinks and Iannis Xenakis’ abstruse electro-acoustic compositions, with their caustic and scrupulous timbral attack. Those qualities surfaced early on in Vogel’s productions, but within a techno framework, which made him a maverick’s maverick. On 1999’s Busca Invisibles, he perfected a strain of slapstick techno, as evidenced by the jarring sproings, clangs, and pitch-shifted kazoo stabs that pepper its best tracks. Then, with 2002’s Dungeon Master, Vogel flaunted the purest expression of his ruthless techno-brut instincts.

Given Vogel’s long history of unconventional sound design, Wonky’s first three tracks may trick you into thinking the title’s a red herring, as they’re some of his most accessible works to date. “When You Can’t Go Clubbing Anymore and Have to Dance with Oaks” begins with a woman speaking in hushed tones that are swirled into pebbled sibilance; the only words I can discern are “Return to the source.” Gradually, a subaquatic techno throb emerges, followed by a suspenseful ambient interlude and then one of Vogel’s most melodramatic melodies. It reeks of nostalgia for ’90s clubbing, and who can blame him during a pandemic? “The All Clear” reaffirms that Vogel is much more interested in melody now than at the height of his weird period. This track has the tessellated grandeur of pioneering IDM duo B12, but its rhythm is uncharacteristically stodgy. Toward its end, the piece reverts to vintage Vogel ruggedness and abrasiveness. “Pendula” serves as a palate-cleanser for Wonky’s stranger second half, with its Thomas Köner-like frigid ambience conjuring the sound of icebergs colliding.

“Peace La Roche” bridges the gap between Vogel’s abstract, chiming compositions for Gilles Jobin’s choreography (e.g., his 2010 album Black Swan) and the pugilistic, disorienting techno of albums such as Body Mapping and Specific Momentific. The scattershot beats, rudimentary organ stabs, and tumble of disturbing body and mouth noises of “Thuja” have no utility except to mess with your mind and equilibrium—noble aims that IDM’s vanguard artists were also fostering a quarter century ago. If the martial techno-funk of “Ice Le Fantôme C’est Moi” is not exactly geared to get hands in the air and asses shaking, it may thrill fans of cutting-edge horror-film soundtracks. Most intriguingly, to grok where Vogel may be headed next, check out “Acido Amigo,” an enigmatic abstraction of old-school electro that sounds at once like a nod to Detroit legends Drexciya and a harbinger of future decades’ destabilized quasi-dance music.

Rather than a rejuvenation of the genre that the title may imply, Rebirth of Wonky finds Vogel reasserting his mastery of music that goes awry—in the dictionary sense of “wonky”—in unique ways. The album is a welcome reminder of Vogel’s mad-scientific past while also pointing toward novel odysseys of oddity.


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