Being one of the best techno labels on the planet is something of a dubious honor in 2003. It's probably no matter to the people behind Ai, a U.K. label that spent the better parts of 2002 and 2003 carefully sculpting a substantial reputation and mystique. Releases with sharp design sense trickled out in limited pressings -- a common ploy for upstart imprints. However, any fetishization amongst collectors would've been warranted in this case. The cues -- the glory days of Warp, Skam, Underground Resistance -- are readily apparent, but most of the producers can get away with the common threads when the bulk of their material could be slotted into the catalogs of those labels with little trouble. New Town isn't an overview of the label's best vinyl-only releases thus far; it's mostly all-new material. This is their highest profile release to date, and rather than roll out the heavies -- such as Claro Intelecto's "Peace of Mind," a modern-day electro jam that begins as a lullaby and evolves into a missing romantic Channel One track -- they've opted to simply provide another lot of bracing electro-techno productions. The frosty moodiness of Andy Freer's "Super Galaxo" and T.R.I.P.'s "Donald Plays Techno" stick out for the simple fact that they don't evoke a kind of galactic dystopia; excepting those two, everything else is filled with the vibrant kind of unease, menace, and paranoia that their forebears thrived on in the early to mid-'90s. Claro Intelecto's "Delete" is the fiercest of all, with rapid waves of effects swarming over and under a hurried rhythmic pattern. The title of "Big Dark Room" by FZV isn't nearly as evocative as the fear-inducing content within; you can practically sense four steely walls gradually closing in on you as the track builds tension through repetition. The disc constantly shifts between dance-oriented and "f*ck dance, let's terrorize" material, and it's all suspensefully mesmeric.
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AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman