What is genius?
Velum Break approached me once requesting I review their first record, caprolactam, and said they’d never really solicited a review before. This level of craft leads me to be suspicious of that statement, but maybe so. “There’s almost no way this person is real”, I say to myself. Shimmys and shuffles typically reserved for masterful pieces by the (unwilling) godfather of IDM Aphex Twin, but this isn’t RDJ… Is it? With all his anonymous projects, how can we even be sure? You can’t really, you just have to accept that whoever this person is has made something absolutely stunning and far ahead of most everything else. Whoever Velum Break is doesn’t really matter, my review of caprolactam was glowing, and my curiosity piqued, I had to have more.
Shortly after caprolactam, Velum Break put out Ceed in L. The 4 songs here felt older maybe, or perhaps it’s just a different set of circumstances. It was still just a taste of what he was capable of apparently, because what he did next was far beyond Ceed in L musically.
There’s so much to talk about throughout Bench Manoeuvres, but how about we start with how squeaky fucking clean it is. You know how when you peel the plastic off a new phone, and it has this unblemished shine to it that you immediately fuck up with your filthy animal digits? This record sounds how that feels. Bench Manoeuvres is much smarter than most everything else happening in music right now, and this is where my genuine suspicion that he’s either someone’s alias, or he’s completely capable of genius, arose.
I hate calling people genius, because no one ever listens to what you have to say about the person after that point. It’s because it’s always a cop out for people when they’re having a hard time understanding something new, but I make this kind of music (kind of), and have been doing so exclusively for over a decade now. I should know how all these parts fit together. I’m kind of supposed to know how this happened, but I don’t. A good example of what I mean would be how I immediately understood the way Venetian Snares made Traditional Synthesizer Music. It’s renoise run into a modular synth he built. It sounds amazing, yeah, because it’s a great record. The record isn’t “genius” though, it’s just clever. His “My Love is a Bulldozer” is much closer to that distinction, but I digress.
Is Velum Break genius? I don’t really know who Velum Break is, so I can’t say that. What I can tell you is that Bench Manoeuvres is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s an album that constantly surprises, and upon repeated listening will always show you another dimension of itself. I couldn’t even tell you how many times I listened to this record already, almost on repeat sometimes.
It opens with moaning synths that start burping and lurching into the room like some drunk ogre. It starts slamming into walls and colored lights are flashing before suddenly it’s all glass as everything turns crystal clear before slowly starting to streak again with its internally decayed grime. Lamellae Tear alternates between this gleaming shiny sound and this dirtier streaked, almost biological, swallowing gurgles clicks and groans.
Vanilla mint is a dip further into “dance” territory than I’m used to with Velum Break. I think you would definitely be able to dance to most of Velum Break’s output, but Vanilla Mint is different somehow. It has a future disco feeling that seems very reminiscent of Daft Punk etc. Almost like an homage to his roots without being a direct call back to the sound. One thing I found myself aware of here were the claps, and how they are prevalent on the record, but vary between what feel like digital claps and sampled ones. This feels like it may be the thematic backbone of the record, the combination of organic and inorganic. Whether it’s percussive, or sampled vocals, or whatever. Vacillating between real and unreal is what’s pulling you further into the sound.
Every single step of what Velum Break has done on this record seems planned out, tested, and complimentary. Poubelles has some of the best transitions I’ve ever heard in a piece of electronic music. It also puts off some serious Venetian Snares “Traditional Synthesizer Music” vibes as it rises into this lush soundscape where Velum Break shows you all the DMT hallucinations you could ever imagine.
I feel like I get a hint of so many of the influences that went into this, from the “traditional synthesizer music” tones, to the aphex acid drum lines, to the weird, Cyriak esque, bouncy transitions. In reality I don’t know shit about Velum Break’s background or influences. These are my reference points because I’m not understanding it well enough. Velum Break is the reference point. He is the source of this sound, and everyone is imitating him.
The Booth is immediately engrossing. Like following a snake through the garden weaving in and out of the grass, we wind through the sounds of clicks and clacks to finally find where we dig down into the dirt to hide. That main synth line is completely satisfying in every way to me, and I can’t describe how much I needed to hear it. SIRFS is a bouncing ball with the unholy horns of the apocalypse all cut up and sampled behind. Everything stimulates visualizations, everything is multifaceted and deep, everything is just another step on the path.
Staro has this aching beauty to it. It’s probably the most melancholic and lonesome line I’ve heard from Velum Break, and I love it. Catchy and dark, pulling you down into this quagmire of high voltage noises and beeps. Everything collapses and it reveals its underbelly all mechanical and cogwheels before covering back up with the warm blanket of the swelling melody that makes you forget all the small pieces that invariably went into this construction. A thousand tiny turning pieces churning out this mournful line as the circuits moan and cry at you.
Lots of the sounds here are unrecognizable as individual parts, and Talking In Motion makes me think about those tiny pieces. Trying to imagine the mountain of samples and instruments required to put something like this together is a fun exercise. Everything has combined into a manifestation that is immediately recognizable as Velum Break, which is basically what what any good artist would hope to accomplish musically. Without being derivative all the sounds and influences are pushed into a whole new place where an artist can get comfortable and live. With Bench Manoeuvres Velum Break has found what I would classify as his stride.
The moment this process come to complete fruition for me was on Signals. It’s the best ending I’ve heard to a record in ages, and I didn’t want it to stop. I get goosebumps as the intro pushes into the driving line that carries you through the barriers in your mind. I’m reminded of Leftfield but this is immediately usurped by the high voltage synth that starts to goad you into frenzy. There’s a kind of urgent intensity, this dizzying feeling, this overwhelming velocity pushing you forward. It’s heady and drunk, and the desire to just fucking run until you die or turn into a machine is almost irresistible.
It’s so difficult not to just declare Velum Break as genius and leave the rest unsaid because it’s so much easier than explaining how this record makes me feel. I don’t (always) actually believe that he’s Aphex Twin, because that would be much shittier than him being this diamond among all the other derivative garbage that so many people put out in this genre that is the “free jazz” of electronic music. The catch all genre that IDM represents really lends itself only to two things. Either bullshit fluff made by people who don’t know their heads from their asses, or people like Velum Break who are making these beautiful pieces of art that are very difficult to categorize for consumption. The fact that he’s not one of the biggest electronic musicians in the industry today isn’t really surprising (considering the state of the music industry today) but it’s also definitely not permanent. Whoever signs Velum Break and puts them on a tour and festivals etc is going to rake in cash for everyone involved. Just try to imagine this track so loud you feel it in your fucking teeth. It would be absolutely maddening, with many cries of ecstasy and tearing of flesh. The crowd would rip each other apart as the track grinds to its inevitable end, concluding with the death of everything in its path.