An absolute legend of minimal techno, Richie Hawtin's dark, submersive experiments with acid house basslines and spare rhythms as Plastikman have been partially responsible for setting up the framework for all electronic music that came afterward. His early-'90s albums like Sheet One were considered groundbreaking in techno circles and led to more shadowy, tortured ambient electronic textures on albums like 1998's Consumed. Though constantly working under some alias or another, the last proper album under the Plastikman banner came in the form of 2003's claustrophobic Closer. Its decade-later follow-up, Ex, was recorded at a very special performance and the unique circumstances and the challenges they posed are reflected in the album's tense, sometimes desperate tones. Hawtin was invited to perform at New York City's Guggenheim Museum as part of their annual fundraising events. The performance offered a chance to present something special for an uncommon audience of museum patrons, and a series of intensive studio lock-in sessions found him churning out enough material to merit the first new Plastikman album in over ten years. Though Ex was recorded during performance, its nonstop sweep of abstract minimalism and uneasy grooves are by no means a typical live album or even "continuous mix" fare. The material here sounds meticulously conceived and stays engaging throughout, even if the audio was recorded in one pass in front of an audience. Hawtin's trademark rubber-band acid synth patterns, minimal percussion clacks, and rolling subsonic basslines all appear throughout Ex, but he also bridges new territory. There are touches of psychedelic experimentalism in the watery bursts of echo and reverb on "EXtend," and the album builds to its peak of tension as the manic track "EXpire" stacks nervous, pushy rhythms one on top of another. There's a slight looseness to some of the tracks, but never sloppiness. Instead, Ex is the sound of a master at work, endlessly inspired and pushing forward in real time. The off-the-cuff mixing choices, intense sub-bass motion, and cinematic flourishes that repeat subtly over the course of the album all happen under deft control. The sounds are by turns troubled, angry, isolated, and wonder-struck in ways that only Hawtin can sound, and Ex adds another mysterious chapter to the Plastikman story.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas