“When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed. Say something once, why say it again?”—words to live by, even if they were sung by Talking Head David Byrne in “Psycho Killer” almost forty years ago. And what possible connection, you might well ask, could that have to Stephen Hummel's latest subtractiveLAD collection Wilderness? Simply that, unlike some electronic producers who see nothing wrong with releasing a new album even when it sounds like a recycled version of the one preceding it, Hummel's music seems to be in a constant state of metamorphosis and each album a departure from the one before it. Wilderness, his ninth album under the subtractiveLAD name and his first since 2013's The Language of Flowers, perpetuates that tradition by presenting what feels like a new subtractiveLAD identity or at the very least a radically revised version of it.
Forget serene ambient settings and think instead high-energy and maximum-velocity synthesizer-powered pieces that would sound more at home booming forth from an outdoors festival stage than a living room stereo. Hummel does have a concept in mind for the hour-long set, specifically the (im)balance between technology and the natural world, and primarily uses analogue synths as the instrumental resource and sequencers as the compositional tool as the means by which to explore it. Oft epic in pitch, the music comes at the listener in waves, its scale enormous and its power seemingly indomitable.
Certainly the opener “Subspace” chugs with a relentless, locomotive fervour, and the subsequent “Naked Pioneer” brings a like-minded fury to its own presentation. Wilderness does share one thing with past subtractiveLAD releases and that's an affinity for long-form pieces, two of which appear on the new release. In contrast to the frenetic pace of the opening tracks, the luxurious fifteen-minute running time of “Double Sunrise” allows Hummel to scale this particular mountain in a leisurely fashion. Leisurely doesn't mean wayward, however: multiple layers of beats and sequencer patterns do get gradually folded in until the material achieves a heft and density similar to the cuts sequenced before it. While the synth-heavy music is largely starry-eyed, some earthy moments appear in the MPC beatmaker-like flurry that surfaces near the end of “Pulled by the Stars” and in the funky hip-hop-styled groove that runs through “New World, Old Wound.”
Hummel does dial down the intensity on occasion, as the comparatively restrained “Every Part of You” and meditative ambient closer “Dominion” show, but more often than not he's more intent on amping up the energy level to a near-ecstatic pitch and giving his gear a thorough workout. While it's seemingly not in Hummel's nature to look back, he is doing so in one specific sense for Wilderness in augmenting its release with First Steps, a pay-what-you-want Bandcamp collection of previously unissued material recorded during 2003 and 2004 at the onset of the subtractiveLAD project. As the two releases bookend a decade of recording activity, they effectively celebrate ten years of subtractiveLAD music-making.