Iron City

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The band's (or rather the person's, aka Jeff McIlwain's) fourth full album, Iron City is a very attractive, delicately moody listen, very much eschewing freneticism in favor of a slightly out of favor but still worthy take on low-key electronic/dance moves. If anything, Iron City calls to mind the early '90s, suggesting what might have happened with Autechre if Brown and Booth hadn't gone more fully into cryptic constructions and sonic overload. But McIlwain generally tends more toward what labelmates Seefeel ended up doing (without the guitars) and what Aphex Twin already had down pat -- textures are incredibly understated, beats are deliberate pulses, subtle loops create a trance-like effect -- though sometimes the tracks have multiple (and noticeably different) parts. "Bent" in particular really sounds like one of the more up-tempo numbers from Selected Ambient Works 85-92. There's a definite turn-of-the-millennium sense still, however, thanks especially to the crisp, tickling-your-eardrum beats on songs like "Numbers." Both the album artwork and general atmosphere draw on the sort of propulsive futurism underpinning much European-inspired techno; even the stuttering breaks on "Invisible" are shaped in part by the low, distant moans in the mix that suggest a certain Berlin-at-midnight chill. That said, both "Scheming" and "Perpetual" play more openly with R&B beats and moves, the latter even adding a hint of dub echo to further leaven the general blend. Nothing rampages at any point, and those who think that such control is a sign of simple prissiness will want to avoid this disc. But even if Iron City might be better off as contemplation music rather than something for the illegal rave out in the desert, it's still worth one's time.

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