An entire history of electronic music can be gleaned from Stephen Hummel's latest subtractiveLAD collection, his tenth full-length issued under the moniker and the third to have been released completely independently. Among other things, vintage electronica, ambient, and IDM surface on the fourteen-song Nucleus, his first subtractiveLAD outing since 2014's Wilderness (a 2015 release, Thousand Yard Stare, also appeared but under his birth name).
Despite being firmly rooted in machine-based production, Nucleus perpetuates the emotional electronic music aesthetic associated with the n5MD imprint on which earlier subtractiveLAD outings appeared. In fact, Hummel composed the new album's material almost entirely using hardware instruments and effects, including analogue synths, an MPC, and stomp-boxes, and the material grew out of live hardware jams in his studio. Such an approach invests the music with a rawness and spontaneity that can sometimes go missing when tracks are endlessly tweaked. Beat-driven productions and ambient mini-epics rub shoulders throughout, making for an ever-stimulating and picturesque travelogue.
If we didn't know better, we could easily be convinced that Eno's sitting in on “From Seed,” even if the dramatic ambient overture gradually enters darker territory than that which we associate with the one-time Roxy Music member. Elsewhere on the ambient front, there's the synthesizer-heavy “Particles,” as starry-eyed and dazzling a creation as one could imagine packed into four minutes. With an arrangement drenched in whirr'n'click and acidy squelch, “Extinguished” transports us back to the early days of Warp-styled IDM when an act such as Autechre was in its formative period. The downtempo swing of funk and hip-hop makes its way into the swirling IDM radiance of “Vermillion,” while subtle smatterings of acid lend the shuffling step of “Frayed” aromatic flavour. Not surprisingly for a piece so titled, the emotional temperature rises emphatically during the sweeping ambient of “My Heart, a Cube,” while the closing “Even Stars Forget” caps the release with a lovely demonstration of just how much cosmic heartache can be coaxed from machinery when the right person is at the controls.
Having released music for many years, Hummel's an old hand at this sort of thing by now and knows it's wise not to wear out one's welcome. So while fourteen detail-rich productions do appear, each is in the four- to five-minute range and as such makes its case with dispatch before ceding the stage to another. He freely ranges across so many styles on the hour-long collection, one is tempted to label his approach encyclopedic, and consequently anyone interested in learning about the various paths trod by electronic music in all its forms could do worse than regard Nucleus as a starting point.