Karen Gwyer Makes Outer-Limits Techno
When we last heard from Karen Gwyer close to a year ago, her backstory was that she was a new mother who recorded her debut album Needs Continuum shortly before giving birth.
The London-based Midwesterner hasn’t offered any clues as to her current situation prior to the release of this EP for No Pain in Pop, but the content offers enough progression to suggest the past 12 months have altered her musical outlook.
Needs Continuum was mostly an instrumental electronic work that drifted between ambient passages, dreampop, and hard techno, resembling the early thoughts of someone still trying to figure out where they wanted to go.
The silence between releases suggests Gwyer has done as much thinking about music as she has making it—a feeling mirrored in the toughening up of her work over these three tracks, which leaves Needs Continuum feeling like a series of stretches before the main routine.
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Gwyer has chosen to work with length on New Roof, bringing in two of its tracks over the 10-minute mark. Something noticeable here, especially after listening to her debut album, is the small step taken toward producing something that’s more recognizably hers.
Occasionally a flat, processed hand clap or too-familiar drum sound would emerge on Needs Continuum, anchoring her close to myriad others who have left satisfied with the untouched presets of old analog equipment.
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Here, it’s harder to tell where she’s grabbing sounds from, although the soft purr of bass-y synth that undercuts the lead “Lay Claim to My Grub” suggests she’s still enamored with instruments of a certain vintage.
The general feel takes a retro-futurist direction, bringing to mind Autechre in their straighter, earlier form, just when they were on the cusp of deconstructing music altogether but still interested in where repetitive beats could lead.
Despite the advances here—a more compelling array of sounds used, with greater shades and contrasts than before—this feels like it’s only inching toward progress, with Gwyer yet to find a way into something fully-formed.
Spread over an EP like this, with the two-minute-long track at its center feeling more like an interlude than anything else, that works just fine, ultimately giving New Roof the feel of progress made toward a greater goal.
The silliness of the titles hints at a sense of humor behind it all, although it’s hard to tally that with the purposefully dispassionate electronics and soft analog underbelly of “Grub”, which has more in common with a sloppier Four Tet or Andrew Weatherall’s Sabres of Paradise.
At least Gwyer’s ideas are bigger this time around, although there’s still a lack of lucidity, resembling someone who’s just woken from a dream and can only partially piece together the wonderment her subconscious just handed to her.
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