To Rococo Rot have been creating their subtle strand of post-rock inflected techno for nearly twenty years, but Instrument (their eighth album) is a landmark as their first to feature vocals. Three gently disorientating songs on Instrument feature none other than Arto Lindsay and it seems a perfectly natural fit for both artists – opening song Many Descriptions is a somewhat conventional starting point in an otherwise strange record, that undulates like a river, or a road.
There is a steady, subtle (there’s that word again) motorik pulse that runs through much of the record, particularly its first half; this is not to say that there is a trotting out of any of the clichéd NEU! And Kraftwerk references that have become so deathly dull over the last few years – To Rococo Rot are far too interested in delicate details to be so crass. Furthermore, one shouldn’t mistake the use of words like ‘subtle’, ‘gentle’ or ‘delicate’ for ‘bloodless’ – there are many surprising moments throughout – the geometrically staccato piano of Spreading the Strings Out, the dancefloor arpeggi of Pro Model, the scraps of noise (though not ‘Noise’) that make up the abstracted minute and a half of Sunrise, among many others.
Longest Escalator in the World closes Instrument, a collage of (one would presume Lindsay’s but perhaps not) abstracted, clanging guitar accompanied by washes of synth for well over three minutes before Lindsay’s vocal appears again; it’s particularly mysterious, a wandering reverie, a midnight drift… It’s tempting to wonder what a full-on collaboration between To Rococo Rot and Lindsay would have sounded like, but to do so sells short the seven tracks that the vocal songs dress rather than vice versa. Instrument paints its way into your imagination with deft brushstrokes and quietly gets under your skin.
‘Instrument’ is out now on City Slang.
Andrew R. Hill