In 1978, Kraftwerk released The Man-Machine, an album that openly explored the intersection of humanity and technology. Nearly 40 years later, that examination is still underway, and the electronic-music community can’t seem to decide whether or not humanity’s ever-increasing dependence on technology is a good thing. Matrixxman a.k.a. Charles McCloud Duff is the latest artist to weigh in, and Homesick, his debut full-length, finds him swimming rather comfortably in these philosophically murky waters.
With track titles like “Network Failure” and “False Pattern Recognition,” it’s no surprise that the album comes from an admitted sci-fi obsessive who’s just as interested in the concept of uploading human consciousness to the web as he is in making hard-hitting club tracks. Of course, these kinds of themes are nothing new to the world of techno, and while it seems almost blasphemous to slot Matrixxman alongside Detroit stalwarts like Juan Atkins, Jeff Mills, and Underground Resistance, there’s no question that his work is mining similar territory, both conceptually and musically.
That being said, Matrixxman is no copycat. Small pieces of Homesick can be traced back to various Detroit, Chicago, and Berlin luminaries, yet the album has a cohesive voice that’s rooted in Duff’s unique worldview. In a recent interview with Resident Advisor, he explained that Homesick takes place “in a dystopian, post-human future” while tackling subjects like “emergent A.I., interplanetary travel, reckless pursuits through steamy metropolis alleys, neuroenhancement drugs, extreme polarization of social stratification, [and] ethical issues of whether or not it’s kosher to casually sleep with a robot that actually has feelings.” That may sound more like the plot of a Philip K. Dick novel than a techno opus, but it’s certainly no weirder (or less intriguing) than Drexciya’s Afro-futurist visions of an Atlantis-esque underwater kingdom populated by the children of slave women drowned during the Middle Passage.
Speaking of Drexciya, Homesick’s “Red Light District” recalls the pioneering Detroit duo’s playfully unhinged electro-techno hybrids, although Matrixxman’s snapping breakbeats and funk-infused basslines do tend to hew a bit more closely to the grid. Despite his otherworldly daydreaming, he remains a focused and precise producer, lending his tracks — especially the long-form techno compositions — a particularly sharp edge.
First single “Augmented” remains a highlight, its pulsing rhythms bathed in soft tones and a creeping sense of paranoia. “Opium Den” ratchets up the tension even further by setting its chunky techno groove atop an endlessly ringing alarm clock. The aforementioned “Network Failure” and “False Pattern Recognition” both take aim at the dance floor as well, the former employing seasick melodies and tweaky acid flashpoints, the latter accenting its flurry of percussion with strident synth chords. On a housier tip, “H.M.U. (Hit Me Up),” which finds Matrixxman pairing up with frequent collaborator and unofficial life partner Vin Sol, channels classic Dance Mania while combining alien tones with an infectiously bubbling drum pattern.
There’s no shortage of potential DJ weaponry on Homesick, but what makes the album truly impressive are the cuts where Matrixxman gets out of his presumed comfort zone and steps away from the club. “Necronomicon” opens the LP with nearly ten minutes of dubby menace, and “Dejected” is similarly ominous, despite the fact that its droning atmosphere dissipates before the song can reach the 90-second mark.
Much brighter is “Packard Plant,” another selection that’s essentially devoid of percussion; the track is meant to be a tribute to the shuttered Detroit auto factory that briefly became a hotspot for the city’s rave scene in the ’90s, but the song’s swirling acid lines ironically (albeit not unpleasantly) harken back to classic Chicago house. Album closer “Earth Like Conditions” gets a bit noodly, but there’s plenty of drama in its woozy dynamics. Even better is “Annika’s Theme,” a song whose gauzily cinematic melodies wouldn’t sound out of place on The X-Files or Twin Peaks. The track may not have a kick drum, but perhaps Matrixxman no longer needs one to be effective. If Homesick is any indication, he’s fully capable of opening a portal to his own dimension, even when there’s no dance floor in sight.