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The-Drum, ‘Contact’ (Audraglint)

The-Drum, Photo by Maria Tz
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: June 24, 2013
Label: Audraglint

Despite the fact that The-Drum’s debut album is largely instrumental and free of any vocals or narrative that explicitly states, “This takes place in the future, or maybe in outer space,” you just know. The young Chicago underground-dance duo mean to transport us to another orbit, far from humanity. Opener “Heat” is about setting the scene: electric whirring, distant windstorms, footsteps crunching on a dry rocky surface, a code punched into a keypad, an electronic door opening, and all the world is quiet. Then: “Welcome. Systems online. Launching.” And quite suddenly we are there, in a coolly dystopian nether-earth, some electro cosmos where Vangelis’ 1982 Blade Runner soundtrack reigns as the sovereign lord, and the atmosphere is clouded by ultra-synthetic MIDI patches. Traces of anything organic are long gone.

The-Drum are not your typical ’80s hacks; the twosome represent a generation of hyper-productive young DJ/producers who are based in Chicago (see also Supreme Cuts, Chrissy Murderbot, and Sich Mang) for whom Cajmere’s “Percolator” is a foundational document; though, like good disciples, they’ve each adapted that truth into their own personal testament. The-Drum’s best work seems to burrow into that deep space between 808 pulses and blow it out, winnowing down the sub-bass and following it all the way to the edge, where it finally dissolves; Contact lives in the shadow of the boom. The samples, even the coital sighs on “SimStem B,” don’t lend much humanity; the arrangements and programming are cool and precise, conveying not a human touch, but the mediation of a perfect technology.

The sound throughout is familiar, but not nostalgic — all this synth-gliss is merely them showing reverence for their influences. All the infinite chilled space and ominous synth bass of tracks like “Narco” point to early-daze Detroit techno; but even at their most ambient, and for all the duo’s love of contemporary R&B (their name is a shameless nod to The-Dream, though there’s nothing here that references anything more recent than, say, Yello’s “Oh Yeah”), it’s obvious that they aren’t interested in merely recreating the past. No, The-Drum are fully capable of taking us far, far away.