It used to be the case that simply no more than a quill and paper was all that was necessary for a musician to create music. In stark contrast, the advent of the digital realm of electronic music creation proposed a very delicate balance between this original notion and a second dimension, being that of production and engineering. But if we consider both traditional and contemporary songwriting ability as residing delicately on such a spectrum, then it stands that the combined powers of both Ehlers and Then – better known as SLUMBERJACK, masters of visceral, up-front and in your face electronica – lean heavily with their debut LP Dichotomy to the latter.
Everything about Dichotomy asserts a clean, if only slightly perceivably saturated smack, with excellent commandeering of the stereo space resulting in sounds positively burrowing their way into the depths of your very ear canals. It’s music miraculously dynamic enough for headphones but simultaneously boasting a low-mid excitement and heft that screams to be played on any system able to capably replicate that double-digit frequency weight each and every one of Dichotomy’s dozen track-listing implores.
And in almost as many genres, of which the twosome treats the likes of trap, bass and downtempo styles in usual SLUMBERJACK fashion. Where this begins to become truly invigorating is in the pair’s relatively recent foray into the realm of more mid-tempo, four-on-the-floor styles as is the case with easy album standout tracks ‘Pain’ and ‘The Reprise’, and later revisited with ‘And I’ and ‘Paradox’ featuring The Kite String Tangle. These tracks work so well because they reveal the potential for the perfect intersection of Ehlers and Then’s mature grasp of beat manufacturing in perfect dichotomy (a-ha!) with the intangibility of previously seldom rhythm and dance-floor grooves. It adds a third dimension in its departure from the kind of music historically too erratic to do much other than prospect, in lieu of new sonic temptations that demand from you anything from a simple foot tap all the way up to full-blown dance-floor shape cutting.
Each track does feel inherently SLUMBERJACK in its execution of stapled exotic harmonic modes, punchy production and soaring vocal performances, but it does feel like the dynamic duo still have a little bit of a ways to go in consistently discerning and differentiating themselves from the genre-pioneering heavyweights that arrived before them. Although the execution itself is next to flawless, the lower than ideal hanging fruit of ideas it attempts – particularly those of signature synthesis and sample curation – create at best a sense of mid-2010’s future-bass nostalgia but at worst a familiarity that plays it a bit too safe. It would stand that in combination with their proven time and again world-class engineering chops something a little more experimental would result in an end product as absolutely industry-rattling as the very sound systems across their club performances.
While on the whole Dichotomy feels at times a missed opportunity for the combined efforts of Ehlers and Then to have experimented on their compositional formula further, when they do break said formula we are exposed to by far and away the most progressive the act has been to date. The result is that what Dichotomy actually is, is a shining portfolio of the many electronic and bass styles both old and new that landed SLUMBERJACK in the pantheon of industry leaders they reside in to this day.