Despite still being in his 20s, Niels Luinenberg has already released a string of acclaimed EPs and has showcased his impressive DJing skills through gigs around Europe and a series of excellent online mixes, as well as this year’s Interia compilation. Can he now take the next step and translate his skills to the album format? This is the hurdle where many talented techno producers falter; it’s one thing to make a dynamic dance floor EP, but it’s another matter entirely to come up with fresh ideas and approaches for a much longer format. The album format has highlighted the shortcomings of many and showcased the real talents of few, but happily, Traces sees Luinenberg join a small group of techno artists who have made the transition. The Dutch producer has said that research was key to his approach on Traces, but this writer has a different opinion and feels that Luinenberg’s lengthy DJ sets provide the most obvious clues about where he sought inspiration.
“Frozen Land” starts the album in contemplative mode as austere synths unravel over slow-paced, shuffling drums. It’s followed by “Enter”, where robotic vocals and seared acid lines underpin a slow-motion, ominous bass. Together, these tracks make for an atmospheric opening. Luinenberg maintains the evocative feeling on “Utopia” but ups the tempo slightly, with tight claps and acid lines providing the basis for magical, Drexciyan synths. Traces then shifts from the esoteric to the visceral, as “Redemption” rides heavy claps and rough acid lines; “Target” unfolds to cavernous drums and heavy tribal beats, while “And If You Know” features scatter-gun percussion and a “Losing Control”-style pitched down vocal sample.
That’s it as far as dance floor tracks go, but Luinenberg indulges his Detroit fetish on “Challenger”, a gloriously seductive track with a purring bassline and with “Onkalo”, where ominous drums and a viscous low end recalls Gosub at his best. The parting shot, “On A Distant Journey”, is perhaps the album’s finest moment. It sees Luinenberg draw inspiration again from the classic techno and electro sounds that feature in his sets. It boasts synth lines that merge the soul of Derrick May and Kraftwerk’s robotic emotions, but just when the listener is convinced that they are in for a deep trip, Luinenberg unexpectedly drops ferocious drums and distorted acid licks before veering back to his esoteric leanings. Delta Funktionen may not have Forward Strategy Group’s experimental edge or Shifted’s unique sound design, but on Traces he proves himself to be one of the few to thrive in this most adverse setting for techno producers.
Tracklisting (CD/Digital version):
1. Frozen Land
6. And If You Know
9. On A Distant Journey