If you have a passing interest in Detroit Techno, this album will be as easy to put on as a well-worn hoodie.
Ambient techno, at its squishy best, should act like a pair of fuzzy bunny slippers that are perfect for sliding across your kitchen floor for silly dance moves. As much as some of the genre’s practitioners draped themselves in sub-names like “Braindance” or “Intelligent Dance Music,” the New Age-ier side of electronica should be a deeply calming (and fun!) personal experience.
Newcomer Lee Kelly, from Dublin’s First Second Records, has fashioned that cozy techno on Excerpts from Layers of Identity. If you have a passing interest in Detroit Techno or Aphex Twin’s less horrifying experiments, this album will be as easy to put on as a well-worn hoodie. Kelly’s sleek, funky beats that slip in just enough spa meditation sonics are something to be applauded. The goofy “Ezzzz Into it” surmises the whole album pretty well. The N64-style synths swell and fade in precise, ebbing motions. But the clattering beat beneath never bows to a straight rhythm, instead it constantly adds and subtracts, playing excellent counterpoint to the glowing keyboards.
The bookends, “Still Hopeful It’s True” and “You Can Still Live Free” are reminiscent of Lone’s most spaced out moments, and much like Matt Cutler’s interludes, they both poke at a soft mischief. “Still Hopeful it’s True” sounds like it’ll just bob up and down on its shimmering opening before a playful little piano line darts in and out of ear shot, hinting at the more propulsive thumps soon to come. “You Can Still Live Free” has a descending melody line that nearly falls atonal, sounding a smidge like a G-Funk hook smushed into waves of sparkling ambiance. As the album closes, it’s like Kelly was smirking and whistling nonchalantly as he walked away.
But “Our Place in Time” is the crown jewel and an incredible exercise in layering. If Injury Reserve’s “Rap Song Tutorial” showed how to make a trap track while providing laughs and an actual banger to boot, “Our Place in Time” spells out the same formula for techno without the winking irony. Though Kelly does have a small joke to play. The initial, steely drum line is met with a buzzing, burping bass that seems to promise a Drexciya style banger. But those Enya-worthy synths drop back in, coating the whole thing in gossamer and taking the song down a much more tranquil path. The clanking chorus line is an inspired piece of catchiness and, soon after it’s introduced, Kelly starts shuffling around individual elements like cards, producing new pairs and straights on the fly. It’s by far the longest song on this relatively crisp EP at over 7 minutes and deserves every second.
The only thing out of place on Excerpts from Layers of Identity is the remix of “Still Hopeful It’s True” from DJ OK. Though DJ OK’s rework is firmly okay, it briefly snatches us away from Kelly. And Kelly has a wonderful sonic pillow fort that doesn’t need any intruding.