Pantha du Prince exists in a rarefied field of techno.
Hendrik Weber’s Pantha du Prince project exists in a rarefied field of techno. His tracks feel more like compositions than bangers, and he constructs leitmotifs more than beats. In a singles-dominated format, Weber makes albums in which each track is part of a whole and subtly alters elements of the songs that precede it. Like Voices in the Lake, Pantha du Prince also uses electronics to simulate the effects of nature, crafting idyllic, lilting music that could be described as digital pastoral. His previous two records, This Bliss and Black Noise, were peaks of a form of techno that scarcely exists beyond the confines of his laptop, aimed at scoring one’s Walden-esque nature trip instead of a night at Berghain.
The Triad, however, marks a significant departure for the producer, one reflective of years spent in increasing collaboration with other artists. The title itself alludes to a makeshift trio of Weber, vocalist Scott Mou (a.k.a. Queens), and Bendik Kjeldsberg, who records as The Bell Laboratory and previously worked with Weber on 2013’s Elements of Light. The give-and-take between the artists results in a vastly different album than Weber has ever made, and it allows him to take his bedroom programming into larger sonic terrains, as in the way that opener “The Winter Hymn” gradually spirals out from an initial arrangement of soft bells into a spacious composition that uses Mou’s indecipherable vocals to create a quasi-spiritual vibe. It is the sound of standing on a snow-covered mountain watching the Northern Lights, with the snares and handclaps laid underneath heralding the crunch and constant movement of ice underfoot.
If techno tends to settle into its beat and offer variation only to increase the energy, the tracks on this album exist as undulating, unpredictable properties unto themselves. “Fraud im Mond, Sterne Laufen,” named for the Fritz Lang sci-fi silent, derives from its inspiration a kind of retro futurism, burying its bells deep in the mix to sonically approximate the twinkling of stars and leaving ample space to produce a somber feeling of traveling through a void. The track even morphs slowly into a vague throwback to Detroit electro and early techno, involving the dated future of techno’s very beginning to capture its aesthetic mood. “Chasing Vapour Trails,” the album’s longest song, begins as boilerplate light techno, rolling over a 4/4 beat and filled in with faint synth eighth notes. Yet in a microcosm of the album’s approach, the track shifts so subtly that when, 10 minutes later, you’re left with the fade-out of layered vocals, densely arranged bells and spacey synth whooshes, it’s hard to pinpoint when it changed so drastically.
Electronic music makes little space for looking backwards, either to its own rich history or even to the structure of tracks on the same album. But Weber clearly draws from the past in the creation of The Triad, and it’s remarkable how this outlier of a techno record can be such an accessible miniature history. “Lichterschmaus,” with its bouncing synth that fades in and out of the mix with every chord, has a lightly experimental feel, and the minimal presence of the bass calls attention to the subtle variations of the gliding synths. It’s worth breaking down the song’s title: translated literally, it means “feast of light,” an evocative name in its own right. But it also calls to mind works by other electronic musicians: the 1999 album Leichenschmaus by German techno producer Florian Senfter, as well as the composition “Licht” by pioneering German electronic composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Whether the compound allusion is deliberate or the title is just another case of Weber choosing names that best suit the tracks’ mood, the coincidence only deepens the sense that Weber is drawing from something deeper than his own immediate ideas.
Weber’s albums as Pantha du Prince have always been elegant and transportive, and The Triad sacrifices none of these properties. “You What? Euphoria!” could practically be the title of everything the producer has ever recorded, yet its chiming bells nonetheless pivot enough from the spirituality of “The Winter Hymn” to embody a more carefree feeling. The track’s slow slide into somewhat traditional techno reveals the underlying dance music that informs Weber’s decidedly more cerebral arrangements. Closing tracks “Islands in the Sky” and “Wallflower for Pale Saints,” capture the soaring spirit of the record than perhaps anything else. The former manages to play Kraturock synth clusters in legato fashion and layers the vocals until they too become an instrument, while the latter strips down to nothing more than a gentle guitar, using small touches of synthesizer and mixing to magnify it into something vast but quietly intimate. Weber’s last two albums have a unity of vision that marks them as modern classics in electronic music, but, in many ways, this collaborative album is nearly their equal because it is the exact opposite: a work of mutual input that reaches its way toward a collective idea that its individual members slowly discover.