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Xhin – Sword review

The work of a Singaporean producer issued on a Berlin label run by an Italian, it’s fair to say that Sword is coming from the leftfield and doesn’t fit neatly into an ordained techno narrative. What Sword does achieve, however, is to shatter any of the perceptions that listeners may have had about Xhin’s work to date. There are only a few instances on the album where the producer and label’s trademark sound is audible, and even then, these exceptions do not follow the textbook Stroboscopic approach.

“Vent” sets out a dubby, tunnelling sound as electricity crackles and hisses in the background, but the tempo is more laid back than usual. At the other end of the spectrum is “Teeth”, a discordant techno swagger that induces quasi-psychedelic sensations and “You Against Yourself”, whose stripped back stomp and sheets of metallic riffing sound like Mike Dunn’s “Magic Feet” re-imagined for a digital age. But it’s Xhin’s compositional skills that are most impressive: drawing inspiration from horror movie soundtracks, “The Secret Closet” is a creepy, eerie opener, and it leads into the spindly, glitchy breakbeats of “Fox & Wolves” and then the plaintive piano lines of “Insides”.

Xhin has previously expressed a desire to follow in the footsteps of Yellow Magic Orchestra and Aphex and as Sword progresses, it becomes increasingly obvious that this is one of its main goals. “Foreshadowed” is a stepping rhythm weighed down with atmospheric chords and “Wood” is populated by lullaby-like hooks and sees him explore the melodic approach on “Insides” further. Best of all though is “This Is What You Drew While You Were Half Asleep”, which finally sees Xhin reach the beautiful dream-like state this unexpected album had hinted at.

Richard Brophy