Recommended: Monoak – Resolute EP

For those of us who have never had the pleasure or the privilege of attending the fabled Freerotation festival in Wales, the glut of live recordings that have surfaced over the past few years merely provides a taste of what’s on offer. Ambient sets recorded in the yurt from Jane Fitz and Surgeon sit alongside exploratory workouts from Neel and Magic Mountain High, while now legendary DJ sets from Objekt and the Hessle trio show that it’s far from a breezy hippie get-together.

In the wake of a weekend-long jam session that followed the festival in 2012, organiser Steevio laid down a few tracks alongside mainstays Juju & Jordash, Move D and Soulphiction. The High-on-Wye Quintet (a play on Hay-on-Wye, the town closest to the festival site of Baskerville Hall) provided the first release on the Freerotation label in late 2014. The Hafod Jams (Part 1) were a study in paced delight, with ‘Cedar Of Lebanon’/’Spongy Tree’ coming in at a hefty 18 minutes. Just as this release took its sweet time from inception to release, so did the second on the label, the Resolute EP from Monoak, a London-based Irishman who’s been steadily building his profile over the past few years. He recorded a mix for Rob Booth’s Electronic Explorations podcast series, as well as a live set for the Null+Void Rinse FM show, gave away a track on XLR8R and played a rake of gigs, honing and refining his live set.

Having played at Freerotation in 2014 and 2015, it’s no surprise that the label release his debut EP; according to its SoundCloud bio, “the label’s purpose is to provide a platform for Freerotation artists to experiment and collaborate, and to give a voice to upcoming and under exposed artists”. This release follows the template as heard in those live sets mentioned above, with driving techno underpinned by a deft melodic touch. Arriving in early December, it may have passed unnoticed, with list season in full flow. At the mercy of pressing plants, such is often the lot for the vinyl-only release.

The title track, which featured in that Null+Void set mentioned above, races ahead with ghostly intensity, shimmering flourishes rolling out of each phrase like a playful run up a keyboard. A motorised voice utters a repeated, unknowable phrase, while the drums dance so lightly as to appear translucent.  ‘When’ follows a similar pattern, its murky synth tones refusing any great certainty, giving way to major chords and stomping percussion. The B-side is perhaps the stronger pair here, beginning with ‘Amay’, all sparkling melodies that could be lifted out and transposed into a killer track in almost any genre — it’s not even a million miles from ‘March Madness’. The whole release has a timeless air about it, unwilling to fit into any recognisable trend or mode, but this track in particular stands out by virtue of those virtuoso phrases that sing through in every octave and level of modulation. ‘Sync Sequence1’ takes flight in a slightly shocking direction. Opening with a simple rubato phrase that suggests a wry playfulness, it moves into bouncing 12/8 time as juddery sparkles of sound float above mournful arpeggios. The gently rattling percussion seems to be built from field recordings, but rather than lending an air of natural organics, this simply makes the track feel even more strange.

The Resolute EP is not perfect. Despite its impeccable sound design, the opening side of incessant beats never really veers far enough from the realm of the functional. Heard in context, away from the confines of a 12″, it can be absolutely killer. In isolation, it can begin to plod. The flip, however, succeeds wildly, and gives us great hope for further electronic explorations from Monoak.

Aidan Hanratty

Dublin ...