Oscar Mulero – Muscle and Mind LP [POLE]

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‘Muscle and Mind’ sees one of Spain’s most vetted techno exports return to the long-play for his third studio album. As a whole, the album presents the next evolution in Mulero‘s constantly evolving sound, building upon his typically dark and bracing aesthetic, but holds a newfound sensitivity and groundedness that is more emotionally yielding than his previous work.  The album further consolidates his recent releases, following on from last year’s ‘Vertigo‘ and ‘Electric Storm’ EPs. This brilliant 12-track release shows an artist in absolute control of his medium.

‘Mind Body Interaction’ provides a smouldering opening, heralded by the analogue crackle and a lumbersome bass drum, thumping like a base-line heart rate; muffled clatter atmospherically litters the soundscape as brightly pads dowse the mix in pale light. The mood is bleak, but hopeful; there is an aged weariness that bears down on the wandering soul, enough to give up, but still in possession of that vital life-line. A suitably epic opening.

‘Dualistic Concept’ proceeds with a faint dialogue, images of dank concrete cells fill the space until suddenly a four-four clambers into the mix unannounced, as Mulero sweeps us into his dark and brooding narrative. Mulero’s style of techno is best known for its chugging rhythmic percussion and dense, bottom-heavy textures. His music is often hypnotically minimalist, yet still retains a bracing and provocative sneer to it that make it more imposing, as opposed to contemplative. An ominous melody sits quietly in the foreground, still dominated by the pounding kick and hissing embellishments. Mulero’s management of texture here allows the different layers to weave in and out while maintaining the pounding energy that drives this track forward. This is no conventional techno track and we’re at once reminded that this is a concept LP no less. Just after the 7 minute mark the imposing loops come to an abrupt halt while a muffled voice sounds in the dark, cold and isolated, wrapped in the fathomless depths of a distant dystopia.

‘Involuntary Response’ opens with a jilted drum pattern, as accompanying components fizzle into the mix. The rhythms jolt, almost involuntarily, as strings enter tentatively through the cohesive clutter. The tone is brought down by the lack of rigid four-four and rhythmically intricate percussion voices, a really nice progression in the album. Having clambered through subterranean tunnels and cast-iron doors, we arrive at ‘Anatomical Variation’. Its sporadic atonal melody and bright off-beat hits are a quick change of mood. The understated kick allows for the other elements to shine through, shifting the focus from the straight kick drum onto the dancing melody.

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‘Mentally Induced Action’ is another gem on the album and a classic techno track from Mulero. You can really hear the impact of using solid state studio gear here – sounds are vivid and vibrant, percussion etches into the fibres as the synth stabs glide across the mix like pulses of electrified neural energy. After quite an intense and meditative trip, ‘Interrelated’ is perhaps more accommodating. This one cusps the listener with a more tender treatment, the skipping chime-like motif counter-acting the harder drum pattern beneath. The simmering texture welcomes additional hat figures as it quietly builds and develops into the breakdown. Past the three minute mark the track unfolds into breathtaking serenity – yet different from a Zen-like tranquility, it’s a calmness that is organic, alive and breathing. Not only a rare instance of Mulero’s more forgiving side, listeners will find ‘Interrelated’ as a point of solace within Muscle and Mind, before Mulero softly guides us deeper into ‘Mindful Body’.

The next track is driven by the insistent bass drum, while the forward lilting energy can be found in its interplay with the cross-rhythm bell and the assertive clap figure, similarly loose hi-hat interjections reinforce the animated kilter of this number. ‘Element’ is an effervescent glimmer split into an ambient section and a more lively second part, which gradually builds into a sparkling pool of energy. There’s a ethereal quality in this one that comes out in the tranquil pads, like distant holy chants, while the high pitched frequencies that open the piece are perhaps one glimpse of divine intervention.

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‘Mechanical Function’ returns with more techno. Also returning is Mulero’s wonderfully hypnotic style, layering progressively and seamlessly. He amps up the intensity, gearing us for a drop as we approach 02:25, yet he pulls it back, and begins the build all over again. In Muscle and Mind Mulero’s sound is more considered, ever more meticulous, as he continues to refine his aesthetic. His ability to deliver such force and power while incorporating a sensitive ambience is a real triumph of this LP. The eponymously titled ‘Muscle and Mind’ employs more angelic pad-work, while the conventional four-four is dropped for a break-beat angle. The title track is not the techno banger that one may have presumed it would be, rather, a more introspective look, as it signals the tail end of the album. ‘Muscle and Mind’ is both heady and intensely reflective, animated by the whizzing percussion and electronic ripples as the punchy drum pattern ambles through the ambient mist. Beautiful writing from Mulero.

‘Mental Causation’ takes things a step further, as we embark upon a beatless journey through the cosmos. Synth harmonies move in organ-like counterpoint, ponderous yet isolated in the stark emptiness. The singular synth line probing the fathomless expanses of the mind exposes shades of melancholy within, yet Mulero manages to somehow create an almost neutral sense of simply being, the sonic manifestation of pure experience. We are forced to go further inward.

‘Unconscious’ closes the album. The track opens with another hand-picked recording featuring soft murmur and a fumbling snare drum. Cerebral pads softly knead the mix while bric-a-brac clutters about in the backdrop, rummaging through the discarded and long-forgotten fragments of mind and memory, dust-covered emotions and distant experiences.

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Muscle and Mind is a dense and often revealing exploration through the mind-body connection. What makes this release so compelling is Mulero’s focus – the sound palette is concentrated yet self-sufficient, while his skilful work with material and timbre is a rare quality. What is fascinating about Mulero is the strength of his aesthetic while being able to explore deeper, untapped recesses of his artistic faculty. Mulero continues to be an ambassador for Spanish techno and further cements Pole Group‘s place in European techno. There is a fine balance, never before reached, between Mulero’s familiarly dark aesthetic and the more sensitive side – moments of bliss and yielding are achieved in tracks like ‘Interrelated’, ‘Mental Causation’ and ‘Unconscious’. While the opening of the album embarks on something overcast and burdened, Mulero moulds this epic into a resolution that we can just about grasp by the end, insofar as acquiring higher knowledge and a deeper understanding from the journey we’ve just taken. The time and consideration that has gone into the making of this album is evident, completed in numerous airports, hotel rooms, foreign places; and as we are all individual cells of a global organism, so too are the tracks of this album deeply connected through a web of consciousness. Every track breathes its own individuality, and there is ample evidence to know that every care has been given to each and every second of this album. From a purely sonic perspective, the album is an absolute pleasure to listen to, with the whole project being mixed down on solid state technology in the studio. There aren’t really many ways to say it, it just sounds so good, it’s almost palpable. The timbres resonate from the speakers with a tangible vitality, as if you could touch and taste every percussive hit, every synth line, every little detail. While it is typically ruthless in parts, Mulero seems to capably imbue the album with a humility and a sensitivity, a complex and sophisticated communication of emotions that can only come out maturity. Developments from 2011’s Grey Fades To Green and 2012’s Black Propaganda are subtle but unmistakable. Muscle and Mind is a successful long-play for its artistic integrity, stylistic individuality, and conceptual grounding – another excellent release from Pole Group.

[ Links – Oscar MuleroPole GroupVinyl/Digital ]
[ Images – Zhen Yang – Soho42 ]
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