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LABEL: NovaMute RELEASE DATE: October 21, 1996 GENRE: Acid, Minimal, Techno
// review by SoyBomb

Don't get hit by this asteroid.

French producer Emmanuel Top has been around for quite some time, being one of the more popular and prolific acid-genre producers from his country. He has also been considered a proven minimalist techno creator, this being much of his focus. That being said, minimalist music such as this is not everyone's cup of tea. In fact, the majority of music listeners probably want more from their music than the bare minimum. This is why I argue that Emmanuel Top's 1996 album, "Asteroid", is extremely polarizing to the point where most people will deride it as severely lacking.

We start off with the titular track, Asteroid, a sixteen-minute ride through a cosmic belt of giant crusty rocks. After a wispy blast-off, the soft but thumping beat begins. Despite some weird claps and a mild sci-fi warbling in the background, the track doesn't really go anywhere for a long while until a weird TB-303 bass slowly (and I mean slowly — we're talking several minutes here) ekes out some dominance, though it's nothing spectacular. It's becoming very clear that Asteroid is going to be a gradual, minimalist journey, not one that blast you with cool sounds and instant gratification. At around the 6:52 mark, we now have a pretty neat 'n funky beat going, a good kick and some rolling percussion. A new TB-303 bass crawls its way into the foreground, scratching and clawing to get in; at 9:00, the theremin approaches to scare you into thinking you're in a B-movie from the late 1950s. Bass and theremin take turns beating each other up, but really, it's a very repetitious affair that progresses too slowly with little return. Sixteen minutes? Could've been three, really.

Industriel opts to hit harder with deeper and louder punchy kicks as a more direct assault on your eardrums. Suddenly, a wave of shrill cricket acid warbles its way in. And with a mild bassline nestled snuggly in the background, refusing to waver, the clash of beats and frenetic claps glide us along with an almost jungle-style rhythm. The track indeed has an "industrial" feel to it, a coldness, an inhumanity. This song would be great as backing music for an independent film about cyber-sleuthing.

Replay is another long opus, 13 minutes, 39 seconds in all, and it spends its first few minutes slowly building up a muffled porcine bassline underneath little else, aside from the occasional pop. It becomes sluggishly more interesting, a bit more "danceable", even if that's not the intention, before the track warps into a non-stop abrasive acid festival on the ears. (I had to turn down the volume; it was giving me a bit of a headache.) Suddenly, rhythmic clanking enters the fray, and I'm just grateful that something else is happening. It doesn't stick around for long, though, Top favouring the return of unwavering bass jabs. A voyage through the dictionary definition of "monotone", why the song is entitled "Replay", I have no idea, as I have no reason to do so.

Generation, another long-winded one that starts out funkier than the rest with a subtle bassline that braces itself for an oncoming conga line. Equally funky percussion slinks in as well, but it still takes a "generation" for this song to go anywhere, at least until around the 4:41 mark, where really creepy, haunting, mechanical stereo sweeps take over. This was...unexpected, to say the least. The clanking returns from "Replay" before a more standard bassline arrives to pick up the slack of what seemed like a dying track. Also peeking its head in is that sweet, sweet TB303 acid sound. Nothing fancy, just its existence there is welcome, as it always is if you like having your ears tickled. Overall, Generation is experimental, like the previous tracks, but it sure takes forever to get anywhere.

Reflex begins with just a very soft bass bopping along, with a few extra effects reminiscent of the strange gurgles old indie PC games would sputter out of the original SoundBlaster card. Several minutes later, I'm briefly awakened by the sound of crowds cheering in one ear and stock electrical current effects in the other. Not exactly sure what to make of this. This must be one of those "sound collages" I hear so much about. Top brings in the percussive elements: a very weak kick, a sack of reverbed claps, and even yes, the coveted classic faux cowbells. The electricity and crowds return before the track slides into the more expected acerbic territory, that acid synth poking its head out and wiggling about like a worm on a sugar high. The song is more about the last third where any energy truly lies; the first two parts are merely warmups. There's nothing particularly great about the track overall, however, beyond its journey through aural sensations.

The remainder of the album seems to have its own theme separate from the other tracks, beginning with Introduction, a rumbling track that sounds like what you'd hear from an irritating party next door: nothing but muffled repetition. Aside from a few hi-hat trickeries, this is tripe before quickly switching over to Developement. The first third sounds just like too many of the other tracks: a dry kick, a bassline too distant to elicit auditory excitement. Some funky acid peeks in to fill in the blanks, but for a track about development, there's barely anything here that develops aside from a synth sneaking in. It comes in full force over time, eventually piercing your ear by the end. The album concludes, fittingly, with Conclusion, a 51-second ending filled with just a random smattering of sounds over a deep bass thump from time to time. Minimalist indeed, you can't describe it, and it's honestly not that interesting anyhow.

For fans of minimalist music, I'll say it right now: I know. I know this music isn't for clubbing, for dancing, even for fun home listening. I know this is not music made for the masses. But even for minimal music, there needs to be more substance. Thirteen minutes of faint bass jabs isn't artful; it's drab. It seems more like background music for some sordid affair. Not necessarily a funeral, mind you. Maybe you just found out you forgot to submit your taxes on time. Then this music would provide just the right atmosphere in the distance while you scramble to collect all your income forms. For the musical society at large, this will bore your socks off. Having heard some of his other music from around the time of this release, Asteroid falls extremely flat. Almost makes you wish this Asteroid had missed Earth...

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