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Sandwell District – Feed-Forward review

Ticking all the boxes that will make fans of mystery-laden techno pant heavily – limited edition pressing, clear vinyl, no download release in sight, lovingly crafted artwork – the debut Sandwell District long player immediately enters the realm of collector’s item. The US-UK collective, comprised of Regis (Karl O’Connor), Function (Dave Sumner),  Silent Servant (Juan Mendez) and Female (Peter Sutton), have hit a raw nerve with their dark, cerebral sound that has been cultivated by the meeting of some of the genre’s most singular minds.

The album’s nine tracks are split across four sides of 12 vinyl, with a further 7″ included alongside a booklet showcasing Sandwell District’s cultish, obscure collection of artwork and photographs, which anyone who has bought their vinyl, seen them live or read their Tumblr knows is as important to the label’s aesthetic as the music. The contents of the 7″ deserve special mention too – with one side opening with warped noises that point to the Industrial influences they wear on their sleeve, before collapsing into a strangely beautiful wave of ethereal synths. The other side maintains a spooky, almost orchestral air, with the final cinematic flourish utterly gorgeous.

The album proper opens with the three parts of “Immolare”, with a robust techno throb sandwiched by an intro/outro of atmospheric synth rhythms and barely-there vocals. The main body is dominated by a particularly abrasive sonic hook, which takes you through the darkest of tunnels before re-emerging into the light once the beat drops out and the gentle synths return to the fore. Things toughen up on the flip, with “Grey Cut Out” dropping straight into a demented broken beat, before we arrive at “Hunting Lodge”, which is hallmarked by an almighty kickdrum and a slithering pit of analogue swirls which give the track a decidedly rough, grubby edge. It’s dark, yes, but inherently danceable.

“Falling The Same Way” offers the LP’s most emotive moment, with abrasion swapped for warmth – gentle snare hits, occasional bleeps and another delicious analogue melody provide the rhythmic foundation. The space between the instrumentation is filled by a wonderfully affecting field sample, not dissimilar to the sound of rain falling on a tin roof. “Svar” sees the appearance of the subaqueous sonar bleeps that have characterised the Sandwell District sound, with yet more interesting percussion. “Double Day” and “Speed + Sound (Endless)” round off the final side of the second 12″, with the former sounding like a drugged out, pitched down Chicago house track drowned in a bath of techno atmospherics, while the latter brings the LP to a suitably melancholic close.

Aaron Coultate