HELIOSPHERE By Benjamin Damage


Benjamin Damage lives for today. Or at least he lives for the same yesterday as lots of his contemporaries. When Damage came up several years ago, his work– solo and with frequent collaborators Venom and Doc Daneeka, traced the move of UK producers to the sounds of early house music. Damage and Daneeka contemporized them by adding aspects of UK Funky and bass music, though last year’s They!Live didn’t live up to the promise of early single “Creeper”. On Heliosphere, Damage’s first solo album, he moves into the harsher, straightline realm of rave techno, a resurgent style invigorated by a flood of European producers returning to the industrial climes of UK thrashers like Surgeon and Female. Damage’s techno productions are a lot like his house tracks: good but a little generic.


The album doesn’t feel retro or modern, just careful and deliberate. Damage isn’t an extremist; the 10 tracks on Heliosphere don’t hurdle forward, storm noisily, or threaten. The malicious UK variety of techno that Damage borrows from was nihilistic, and had as much in common with noise or hardcore as funk and disco. (It even looked like hardcore, sometimes.) Damage’s version is more orderly. Even when Heliosphere whips itself into a frenzy, like during the breakneck revving of “Delirium Tremens”, it does so safely, never coercing.


Despite a couple of intriguing, spaced-out interludes that have much in common with Boards of Canada’s inky psychedelia, the album carries on predictably, checking off boxes: punishing banger (“Extrusion”), acid workout (“Spirals”), piano-led stomper (“0I0x”). It’s a techno buffet, a place where detail is sacrificed for variety. And that’s the problem: there’s little here that Damage could call his own, no characteristic drum treatments, few memorable snaps of melody. The sequences are short and compact; the whole album sounds like it was laid out with a protractor and graph paper. The album’s best, most assured moments are those slower tracks. “End Days” is silky and assured, a twirling ribbon of synthesizers set atop tittering hi-hats. Moody table-setter “Laika” is menacing and foggy.


This kind of concrete, warehouse dance music demands grayness, but the tension on Heliosphere is like the tension during the opening scene of an action film: we know the principals can’t die yet, so there’s nothing at stake. And like an action flick, the cared-for, excellently produced content – here, ashy noise for partying, there, people being shot and buildings blowing up-masks the project’s ultimate conservatism. Which is a shame, because Damage definitely has the ear for this music. It’s his voice he needs to locate. ( By Andrew Gaerig from www.pitchfork.com )