Abacus - Then (DNH Records, 1997)
Updated: Sep 8
Prepare to give yourself over as we descend into the innards of techno's deepest fantasies, on this one of a kind record from one of house's most intriguing producers.
Occasionally, breaking out and seeking a new place to embed your sound can do wonders to the creative outputs of a producer, and it is something that has occurred frequently throughout the past few decades. Sometimes content comes in perfecting and fine tuning your preferred sound, but moments come by where a need to diverge and explore new avenues comes along, a desire to embrace something new, something a bit different, that arrives to the surprise and wonderment of music listeners. Often these strides out into new pastures can lead to many doors opening up in both the minds of the producer and the listener, a new side to a sound so perfected but continually open to new excursions and channels to be explored. Its a demonstration of both the talents behind the music alongside the ability to see beyond, to explore and delve into a new rhythm or feel that transcends beyond what we usually expect, and into a new place that contains so much enriching factors for us to align ourselves to. When the focus remains primarily on the melodic features from before, it becomes somewhat easier to flow between varying genres, only if the producer has sublime abilities in this realm, and more often than not they do, being able to pull of the essence of many differing genres simply by channelling and understanding the vibe. A wide spectrum of producers tried their hand at differing genres, with the tradition beginning in the 90s and continuing up to this day, with their interests starting off as wide as possible which then became reflected in their music. The creation of aliases meant that the sky became the limit for many, an ability to shift and weave between different genres with ease and gusto, never shying away from trying out something new and daring. For some, it remained an ambition to be as wide spread as possible, taking in all they could see and involve themselves in, a mission to refine their sound through exploration and genre depth, to arrive at a point where we look back and can start a journey that will never fail to impress. But sometimes, doing it once or twice had almost the same impact, a rare excursion into a new world that yielded such incredible results, a flash in a pan that continues to gather momentum years after its initial release. A side step, a moment's diversion, a quick dip into a new well of inspiration, drawing power from other swirling genres to provide a little side note that could be read over and over again by those who traverse back through time.
In many ways, Austin Bascom and his music really demonstrates what the new school early to mid 90s house sound was all about, with his music lauded as some of the finest the genre had to offer during this period. Closely aligned with the Prescription imprint sound, Bascom's music reads and flows like an emotive story, with all manner of characters, narratives and scenes flowing from its rich and in depth exploration of house and deep house. There is a superb pairing between rhythm and melodic progression that is found all across his discography, with slight subtle variations between each release allowing for constant engagement with listeners, who become sucked into the worlds in which Bascom starts to craft. His sound remains one of high audial and technical quality, technique paired with brilliant vision and understanding of where his tracks start and where they look to end, a self-contained series of excellence that is hard to beat. Each record presents a distinct flavour, a delicate balance of sorts, that revolves around his core deep house sound with such fascinating results, moving between tonal plains and contexts to provide music to soundtrack so many of our fun filled exploits, be it by the pool, in the dance, or the sombre quiet morning moments. Its expressive and wonderful, providing so many moments for immersion and also for letting yourself go, to do away with your worries and engage yourself with truly groundbreaking tunes that do much to ease away the ills and fears we all have washing through our minds. In relation to musical outputs and aliases, Bascom largely channelled his work through the Abacus name, with so many excellent EPs coming out under this alias, with our favourites including the excellent debut EP, 'The Relics E.P.', which contains some wonderful vocal work that elevates the track to some very important places indeed, with the record landing in 1994; the brilliance of the music found within the 'The Abacus E.P.', that arrived in 1995; the endlessly groovy and soft tones of the 'The Earthly Pleasures E.P.', that arrived in 1996; the sublime percussion led grooves found on the 'Collectors Edition' record, that also landed in 1996; both the 'Analog Trax' records are incredible, spanning a wide variety of feels and tones, with the volumes both landing in 1997; the excellent 'African Hi:Fi Vol. 1' EP, that arrived in 2006; and finally, his most recent effort, the one-sider mastery of the 'Basic Amounts' record, that landed in 2018. Under his A:xus name, he released some equally stellar stuff, with the dreamy house perfection found on the 'Soundtrack For Life' LP, that landed in 1999, being our absolute favourite. Both the Charly Brown records, a group involving Bascom and Nigel Hayes, 'The Twilight Zone' and 'Freaked Out', are excellent groovy disco tinged house numbers, and would light up any dance floor. All in all, you are able to witness and experience in his music some serious shit, contents of which move mountains with their inherent deepness and ability to push and elevate the boundaries of dance music, not just within house music but beyond as well. Looking back through his works for this review, we were so impressed with the continual excellence that spewed forth from his music, with such care and attention placed on the craft, but also a huge slice of intelligence and technique that finds a way to expose itself right at the top of it all. Dance music that moves and grooves as much as it feels and invites, with each cut and record a brilliant reminder of just how good Bascom is at representing the essence of house music. We implore you to go out right now and check it all out, its all so damn brilliant.
And now, we draw focus to the record that sticks out certainly from within his Abacus discography, which manifests itself in the 1997 record 'Then'. To our knowledge, it remains his only real excursion into the realms of deep melodic and expressive techno, and what is found within is truly, truly remarkable. Over two long cuts, Bascom applies his melodic excellence to two unravelling pieces of brilliance that continually evolve and probe, providing a soundscape that is filled with such wonderment, the ease of immersion so infectious to get within, providing yet another compelling piece of music that has come from the finger tips of the man. Bold, daring and deeply interesting to listen to, its a real high point in a career defined by quality and excellence, as something we come to expect really from Bascom, so without further delay, lets get into it.
Side A opens up with the title track, and we arrive in typically techno chordal zones. The backing chord line rises from the depths before moving up to the clouds above, with light keys moving along the sides, crafting a very compelling introduction to get us on our toes, and then the drums hit, and its pretty fucking special. Full of energy, brimming with character and feel, the heat is turned up instantly, taking the crowd from a moment of bliss and into the dance, a dance that is fixed in time and transported all over. The light key touches that fill the gaps in the beat add enormously to the deep sweeping pads on top, crafting little moments of texture and feel into the track, with the balance between the full melody and drumming sequences as strong as ever, with the cut weaving excellently between moments of euphoria and beaty brilliance, whipping up once more a frenzy of feel and emotion. The track then begins to play itself out with this looping feel, moving between the lines of our imagined fantasies and the unknown, all the while demonstrating such power, such grace, such momentum, as techno goes its up there with the feel of the times and the direction in which the genre was heading. Superb stuff, two cuts of the highest order, which retain Bascom's ability to weave compelling melodies over the top of expressive structured beats, translated so well into a techno setting, where the complexities of the beat are not lost at all on Bascom and his knack of crafting tracks that really do transcend.
'Now' arrives on side B, and the immediacy of the musical feel becomes apparent very quickly. The twinkling synth sequence lies on top of soft gentle beats, wooshing and blowing in the mind, the feel one of technological prowess and cosmic exploration, and before long we swing right into the core drivers of the track. The beat becomes a techno powerhouse, with kicks and deep set drums taking over the rhythm, whilst on top we are treated to some wonderful chord progressions, as per standard, to compliment the wonderful drumming patterns. Bascom swings the track between varying levels and layers, moving the keys away to focus on the drums, then moving back into a full spectrum of sound, and then moving back into stripped back spaces, where the drums really begin to sing. As with other records he released, the focus tended to remain with the beautiful melodies, a narrative that unwinded in front of our very eyes, but here the focus is drawn much more towards the drums and their little switches and changes. After the opening salvo, we are treated to an extended drumming sequence, which weaves and amazes with its dips and dives in complexity and flows, before the melodic progressions come back in as if to frame the drums and all they wish to achieve. The technologic sounds that wash over the tops of the drums add intrigue and engagement to proceedings, with the chordal sweeps that move through the track doing wonders to whip us up into a full on frenzy. Its beautiful to listen to, as immersion goes there is much here to wrap our heads around, a fully realised and integrated world that has so much to offer to the listener. Around the 6 minute mark, the chords surface for a second, hinting at a long excursion into its depths, but the switch into the deep drumming pattern turns heads and minds, and its pretty wonderful, a real surprise. The chords finally resurface in all their glory around the 8 minute mark, but it is all about the drums on this cut, a truly brilliant expressive piece of music that will have you thinking about it for a long time after you finish listening to it.
Exhilarating might be the word that comes to mind when looking to sum this record up in just the singular, but there is a never ending pool of things to highlight and select on these two cuts. Bascom ventured out to make something a bit different to his usual work, and ends up crafting techno of the very highest order, his abilities and talents allowing him to approach the genre with the same care and attention that he applies to his deep house works, and the results are simply stunning. Two cuts that are lengthy but perfectly balance, demonstrating such flow that allows for the listener to really involve themselves in all the little switches and transitions that abound from the record, an immersive experience that will have you on your toes throughout. So why not give it a shot - give into the techno gods and experience it for yourself.....
check out the title cut here: