Wednesday 6 November 2013


So the time has finally come. I've known about Austrian-born Berlin-based artist Clara Moto for a few months now, firstly when I wrote about her track 'Disposable Darling', taken from her August-released EP Disposable Darling. Her brand of pop-tinged techno - or techno-laden pop - was evident from the get-go and it's still something that makes her sound particularly interesting. As far as mainstream listeners go, techno has been a bit of a black sheep in the "dance" family; disco, house, drum and bass, and dubstep (amongst other genres) have enjoyed quite a bit of crossover in pop music (and as "popular" music itself) from the 90s onward. To my mind anyway, techno has been largely ignored.

Clara Moto, however, whether by chance or by choice, has made a step forward for techno in this respect. Whilst not mainstream, nor technically "pop", her new album Blue Distance - released on Monday (4th November) - not only softens the edges to the often quite stony facade of techno, but it also adds subtle pop nuances that have the potential of giving the genre a friendly facelift.

Songs like 'Things We Almost Did', with its Beatles-like positioning of sitar swoops and clinking marimba type chords, and 'In My Dream', whose soft, glistening synths, vocal hooks and lovesong lyrics, provide a gentler techno sound. Kicks still thud, snares slap, yet there's a touch of ambient beauty that is less nightclub and more bedroom. Likewise, 'For All Reasons So Sad' exudes a certain haunting delicacy: a music box melody and heavily reverbed faraway vocals, with reverse-string sounds alongside, play over sub-bass before a beat complete with bongo sounds comes in; final song 'Lyra' - featuring the aching, breathy vocals of Paris-based graphic designer & singer/songwriter Mimu - has a gentle lullaby feel to it, dotted with grand piano flourishes, washes of synth and a slow, muffled beat.

Then there are tracks that, whilst effusing darker sounds, still don't seem to belong in the club. The lonely shades and almost mournful ambient strings of 'Holy' cover up its rumbling kicks. There's the strong beat and booming bass of 'My Double Edged Sword', with a film-score scale to the song - thanks to thick, soaring strings and ornamentations of altered vocal samples, like birds flocking - that makes it a rather grand listen. 'I Saw Your Love' is another grand number - rich, almost indefinable strings rise like a tide throughout the song as an increasingly busy beat, almost like that of a marching band (the rapid, raw hi-hat here is particularly nice), injects it with energy.

A couple of tracks do however keep things strictly dance-oriented. The percussive jitters of 'Hedonic Treadmill' sit perfectly above its constant beat as unnerving swooshes of atonal synth chords swoop in and out of earshot - the bassline here, a simple two-note affair, is wholly conducive to head-nodding and foot-tapping. 'Placid Kindness' mirrors this track later on in the album with a similar driving beat attended to by skiffling hi-hats yet with a less dark sound, glittering bell sounds giving it a kind of happy, innocent feel.

A good gauge for the general sound of the album, however, comes from opener 'How We Live In Each Other' - which I wrote about in more detail in September. It begins ambiently enough, but soon sends you into a whirlwind of heavy techno bounce, kicks exploding and vocals heady with disarming layers and a Middle Eastern-style melody. It's here where the mix of dark melody, soft ambience and techno-flavoured beats first occurs. It has been said previously that Clara Moto brings a feminine or female touch to the male-dominated world of techno; however, just because something is soft or delicate it does not - or rather should not - govern its immediate association with one gender or another.

Clara Moto has not brought her femaleness to techno - she has brought intelligence, thought, feeling. Blue Distance, a line taken from a Sylvia Plath poem referring to remoteness and isolation, is an album that has been thought-through, a process that has taken place in someone's head, their mind and their mind alone, as opposed to someone thinking only in terms of the club where the collective likes and dislikes of the crowd can sway how a person makes music. Here is an artist who thinks for herself, who sounds the way she does because of the way she makes music - not because of her gender.

It's out now on Paris-based international record label InFiné.

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