Born from a Manhattan high-rise, Living on Superstition is an album based on the paranoia and disdain that come with living above a big city. James Place, also known as Phil Tortoroli, treating us to more of his introverted techno, somehow clearly produced in surroundings overflowing with decadence.
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The press release for this describes it as “harrowing”, which is puzzling to me as, apart from the track titles, I found it to be a rather bliss-inducing LP of hazy techno. Phil Tortoroli is apparently the real person behind the James Place moniker and he has assembled a nice setup of analogue gear in his Manhattan high-rise apartment, which gives this album its signature sound.
Opener ‘Another Mourning In America’ starts with a richly textured, heavily compressed drone loop over which a distorted melody ushers in a rolling, lopsided rhythm. The drone is subtracted and replaced with some deft dub techno-style haunted delay trails that morph full-circle into the opening drone.
Second track ‘High Rise (Rainier)’ is one of the album’s highlights. It features a grainy harmonic loop and an off-kilter rhythm playing off filtered planes of surface noise that’s very much in the ‘outsider house’ fashion. Over this hypnotic foundation, Tortoroli builds up a ruminating melodic cycle and then floods the whole mix with a saturated high midrange two-chord drone that almost reaches into shoegaze territory.
Throughout the album Tortoroli maintains an impressive balance between developing subtle but affecting melodic patterns and more abstract tonal and rhythmical experimentation. He’s at his most cinematic with the short but vivid ‘Overcast and Burned’ and ‘Sense of an Ending’; the former sounding like an electronic Morricone score for a Western set on Mars, the latter somehow reminding me of Coil’s abandoned Hellraiser soundtrack. Impressive stuff.
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