Oil 10 – Modularium

Funkwelten (FW015), 2014

Ninety seconds in, and it’s readily apparent:  this isn’t the same Oil 10.  Since 1998, Giles Rossire has blended old-school analog electronica with modern flair and quirk, slowly and gradually evolving from experimental beats to whimsical works of fancy enhanced by rhythm and energy.  With Modularium, Oil 10’s first true album in eight years – the 2009 collection Retrofuture notwithstanding – things have taken a turn once more.  This is still Oil 10, mind you – fans will recognize the 1950s-era spacey beeps and swoops, classic EBM structures, and odd vocoded samples – but it’s leaner now; more dramatic and mature, and ever so slightly colder and darker.

Rossire unveils the new incarnation of his project immediately.  “Eternal Sunshine” isn’t a track of wide-eyed wonder and innocence, but a portrait of a midnight sun that’s close to flaring out, painting a burning sky with slashes of crimson.  It begins with the sound of solar wind, similar to the opening of a like-themed dark ambient track, but before long, we’re treated to a classic EBM sequence and Oil 10’s newfound dramatic chords, laced with an off-tempo pulsing beat; Rossire no longer leans on the 4/4 crutch now.  As the track’s melodies unfold (Rossire has always excelled at juxtaposing minimal melodies), we realize we’ve entered new territory.  Modularium is grand where 2006’s Departure was quirky; there’s no anime-inspired moments here, to be sure.  “Eternal Sunshine” is awash with boldness, but threading through are the brightly sparkling elements that have defined Oil 10 since its inception.

“Moonstone” is nothing less than an ode; a wordless poem brimming with beauty, but it’s heard through a shadowed filter despite its brightness.  Rossire blends his IDM-style rhythms with assured practice, and fits them precisely into the flowing synth washes and sequences.  He’s always been able to pull off such assemblages with seemingly little effort, but now, he’s learned to manipulate the flow without jeopardizing the track’s identity.  A wonderfully retro bass synth anchors “Missing Future” while chords and whistles soar overheard, and still, Rossire does not give in to the tried-and-true 4/4 dancefloor foundation.  It’s as if he’s purposefully keeping the leashes taut, allowing the enhanced keyboard work to remain the focus.  When the fantastic high-pitched melody emerges, it’s clear the track has been built around it from the start.

When Modularium finally eases into Oil 10’s comfortable synthetic skin, the result is indeed full of awe: it becomes obvious that up until this point, Rossire has been preparing us for this.  “Human Decision Required” sees the return of standard EBM beats and the bizarre vocal samples that Rossire has often used to unique and memorable effect.  But now, what’s a classic Oil 10 track at its core has become augmented by Modularium’s metamorphosis: it’s darker, moodier, more complex.  It’s familiar, and yet, completely new.

Rossire follows this with another bit of newness:  the beatless ambiance of “Shadowland.”  He’s delved into these waters before (eg. “Counter Clock”) but now, its cinematic boldness isn’t quite the departure it may have been before, fitting perfectly into the album’s sonic palette.  The slow-paced beat of and dark passes of “Spin” are offset by a quiet piano melody and the trademark sweeps.  The crowning moment of Modularium, perhaps, is “Rise From the Styx,” the perfect culmination of traditional Oil 10 elements with its newfound cloak of pulsing shadows.  Bringing to mind past tracks like “High Adventure” and “Grand Illusion”, this is a beat-driven affair with a wonderful synth melody that hints just a touch at the prior quirkiness, along with a repeated sample so integral to the project.  It’s Oil 10, refined and evolved.

“Midnight Radio” also revisits past moments – in this case “In The Gloom” from the 2001 album Links – with its carefully constructed framework of clicks, bleeps, whistles, and wandering voices, all with the backing drama in full effect.  “Things To Come” follows a minimal foundation reminiscent of DAF and Kraftwerk, with a trademark high-pitched melody winding alongside chord-shifting electronic keys and sequences.  “Voyager’s Return” closes the album with analog sequences dancing among keys rife with longing and a touch of sadness and regret.

Oil 10 has quite an interesting and varied discography, but it has always been defined by the strength of Rossire’s songwriting and tinkering with established formula.  Modularium is perhaps the biggest departure yet for the project, bringing new confidence along with more evocative atmosphere and experimentation, all filtered through a wondrous dark tint that shifts the project away from its recent pop-style instrumental formula to something more cinematic and bold.  Of course, one can’t help but wonder where Rossire might take us next, but here;s hoping we won’t have to wait another eight years to find out.

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