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Audiophile album of the year 2018: Morphology’s Traveller

  • Album of the year? In 1996, it might have been B12’s Time Tourist. The London duo’s sophomore outing, released on Warp, was a moody, twitchy electronic ride into the future with its sci-fi influences worn, quite literally, on its sleeve. Executed by The Designers Republic, the back plate carried encoded references to Star Wars, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick whose novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” provided the source material for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

    Time Tourist‘s Opening cut “VOID/Comm” nods obviously at the Voight-Kampff hardware used in book and movie to detect replicants. Elsewhere, the mood of Blade Runner’s eerie score is never entirely absent — B12 shot Vangelis blueprint through with Detroit techno tropes. Only full-range loudspeaker systems and/or headphones will reveal the album’s subtle use of low/sub-bass that lends the occasional cut some useful sonic heft.

    So the story goes, in the wake of Time Tourist‘s commercial and critical success, B12’s Mike Golding and Steve Rutter baulked at signing a multi-album deal with Warp only to watch label mates Autechre and Aphex Twin, seemingly less concerned with a contractual lock-in, ascend to far greater heights.

    After 1998’s jazz-influenced 3EP, their last for Warp, it would be another decade before we’d see a third B12 album. Last Days Of Silence was released in 2008 on the duo’s own eponymous label but failed to match the success of its predecessors. Two years later, a reportedly “near fatal accident” almost took Rutter off the map completely.

    Warp gave B12’s debut album Electro Soma some seriously lavish re-issue treatment in 2017 and put out an expanded re-issue of Time Tourist in late 2018.

    Nowadays, B12 is effectively Steven Rutter gone solo (with Mike Golding’s blessing), releasing music at a steady clip since 2015 via Delsin, Central Processing Unit, Soma, De:tuned, Touched and his own Firescope Records label.

    And yet Firescope isn’t only a conduit for Rutter’s work as B12 or his own name. It’s for other artists like Darren Nye whose Emotional Intelligence EP delivers (sometimes playful) minor key chords and twitchy percussion that comes straight out of the B12 playbook.

    However, it is Morphology’s Traveller, also released on Firescope, that rings the bell as a logical successor to Time Tourist, the Finnish duo swapping out B12’s techno soul for electro. The first two cuts – “Distant Signal” and “Second Light” – could easily stand in for outtakes; a pair of moody tracks that run heavy with skittering breaks to rely less on any underpinning kick drum. And if Traveller‘s “Hidden Variable” isn’t the second cousin of Time Tourist‘s “Epilion“, I’ll eat my Aphex Twin teddy bear. Mind you, the same could also be said of Traveller‘s “Detached”.

    Throughout its 50 minute run-time, Traveller, as its name suggests, connotes that most elusive quality – a sense of travelling without moving. And anyone listening via a nice pair of headphones or loudspeakers will be rewarded with superb dynamics. This album steers well clear of the tendency of some electronic producers to crush the life out of their work in order so that it sounds louder next to others. Roon pegs Traveller‘s dynamic range at 11.

    And I’m not just saying Morphology’s Traveller is my pick of 2018. Spotify’s Rewind tells me (and you) that I’ve lived it:

    Stream Traveller on Spotify here, Tidal here or Qobuz here. Buy the download or CD – made to look like a mini-vinyl – on the Firescope Bandcamp here.

    The first vinyl run is long gone but if you find a used copy (Discogs here), be assured that the splatter/clear vinyl is free from surface noise and sounds splendid. My only niggle is that Rutter (or the pressing plant) opted to put the run-out groove messaging in the run in. Lower the needle further into the record to pick up the groove proper (and avoid some nasty sounds).

    Firescope just issued second run on clear vinyl (see header image) but you’ll need to hit up your local retailer for a copy as it’s already sold out on Bandcamp. You can also dig deeper on Morphology’s other releases via their own Bandcamp page (here) with your first call going to the Mirror Comparator EP.

    Further information: Firescope

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile. John used to live in Sydney. Now he lives in Berlin.

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    Darko.Audio podcast #13 – Best of 2018