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Wednesday, Nov 5 2003
Ever since blowing people away in '93 with the infamous Sheet One, longtime techno iconoclast Richie Hawtin, aka Plastikman, has influenced countless DJs and electronica aesthetes with his spare electronic textures made from the barest whisper of synthesizers, acid bass-lines, and 808 kicks. Back then, Hawtin insisted his music was all about progression and experimentation -- not about repeating himself. Yet minimalism is about as difficult an art form to reinvent yourself within as any, which perhaps is why it has taken Hawtin all of five years to figure out what was to follow his last LP, '98's Consumed. On many of Closer's tracks, reinvention takes the form of lyrical content, spoken rather than sung in a creepy vocoder-ized monotone. And while this touch doesn't end up changing the formula in any radical way, it gives a unique insight into the emotional underpinnings of Hawtin's sound.

Hawtin's confessionals appear early on in "Help Yourself," in which a voice chides the musician for his inability to cope with his own inner demons. This understated anguish appears\ elsewhere on the album ("I Don't Know," "Disconnect"), but in its absence the music steps away only slightly from the impressionistic ambience of Consumed. The atmospheric dub effects and unsteady pulses that have defined Hawtin's sound since his debut are still present, the only difference is that they've been given a darker emotional context. Here, they are the soundtrack to one person's isolation, informed, but not restricted, by techno's disembodied rhythm and noise.

At heart, Hawtin is a sonic technician who gets off more on disembodied sounds and atmospheres than he does on melodies and harmonies, so people who were scared of a Moby-style singer/songwriter turn can rest easy. But although he's once again created a challenging collection of charged ambience with Closer, Hawtin has left any questions we might have concerning innovation unanswered.

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Justin Hampton


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