CD, Tympanik Audio, 2009
Now with five albums and numerous remix and compilation credits to his name, Toronto-based electronic musician and visual artist Michael Morton – otherwise known as Displacer – has found a new home with US label Tympanik Audio. Having released his first three albums between 2003 and 2006 on French label M-Tronic, Morton releases “X Was Never Like This…”, his second album for Tympanik in as many years.
Like “The Witching Hour” before it, “X Was Never Like This…” is a combination of new tracks with a couple of collaborations and several remixes from an impressive line up of artists including Daniel Myer of Haujobb/Architect, Keef Baker, labelmate Lucidstatic, Marching Dynamics and Morton himself.
Appearing in no less than three versions – an instrumental version and two vocal versions featuring the talents of Victoria Lloyd of Clair Voyant/HMB and Broken Fabiola respectively – “Elbows Bent at Right Angles” eases into the mood of the album, quickly building momentum from a gentle start to quickly build in pace, alternating between cascading euphoric beats and sparkling digital ambience. The second version adds Victoria Lloyd’s vocals to the mix and places the track in an entirely new context. Her slightly off-kilter processed vocals are seductive and give the track a dark ethereal quality that suits it perfectly. The final version of “Elbows Bent at Right Angles” features the talents of Broken Fabiola whose vocals are processed in a similar way but with a dreamier and somewhat Daniel Myer-esque outcome.
The title track “X Was Never Like This…” features carefully chosen if slightly odd samples from various sources mixed with deep bassy tones, slow militaristic beats and hip-hop scratches that gradually increase in pace. The first of the remixes is by Haujobb’s Daniel Myer and is disappointingly generic and unadventurous by his standards. Famine’s rework is fairly true to the original but amps up the beats, distorting them a little, making them more frantic, harder and crisper. Morton’s own remix of the track heads in the other direction, slowing the pace right down at the start and picking it up as it progresses until it practically self destructs by its close.
“Never Compromise” starts out as a fairly relaxed ambient track but soon layers beats and guitar to create a hybrid retro electronic soundtrack mixed with Morton’s particular twist on things. Mark Thibideau’s remix draws out the deep bassy elements and emphasises the retro keyboard line to inject a sense of urgency into the track without dispensing with the classic electronic feel of the original. Even more ambient in nature is “Windmill” which builds from atmospheric organ-like tones from the start to reach a radiant crescendo before introducing a crashing martial beat whilst continues to flood the senses with melodies and cascades of sparkling tones. Keef Baker strips “Windmill” right back to basics before unleashing a rush of deep bass guitar, sharp stabbing beats, gentle piano keys and fuzzy distortion that swings between sinister undertones and bright optimism. Marching Dynamics dispenses with the sparkling ambience of Morton’s original and focuses on the dark rhythmic and melodic piano elements and transforming the track into a brilliantly emotive rework.
Victoria Lloyd again lends her vocal skills to “Junkie Boulevard”, a track that mixes her seductive ethereal style with Morton’s drum ‘n’ bass electronics, futuristic keys and bassy tones. Partially processed and manipulated, Lloyd’s vocals are occasionally obscured and distorted as the pace slowly quickens, battling for attention with her vocals. The remaining track on the album is Ludicstatic’s remix of “To Live, Love, Die or Kill…” from “The Witching Hour”. They take the eerie breaks, creeping textures and subtle hip-hop rhythm of the original track, distort the beat, bring the dark atmospherics to the forefront and turn up the intensity level several notches, adding some grinding industrial elements and appropriately themed samples to the mix for added effect.
“X Was Never Like This” offers a small collection of new material and a selection of good quality remixes exploring different aspects of Morton’s original works. His ability to mix classic and modern electronic sounds along with a myriad of elements drawn from a diverse range of different music styles gives Morton’s music complexity which in turn unveils new depth with further listening. The addition of quality remixes from his Tympanik Audio labelmates, other recognisable names from various electronic music scenes and the vocal talents of Victoria Lloyd all help to build on Morton’s increasingly strong reputation.
— Paul Lloyd