Whilst it’s great on many levels that all things kosmische and motorik have been so widely embraced and recognised in recent years, we’re at a point now where adherent artists can’t just cruise along on the fuel of all the key references to make a real impact. For it is no longer enough to have a Cluster synth fetish, to know Tago Mago backwards and to figure-out just how Neu! locked into a rhythm. This is something that Neil Rudd has clearly realised with Modular Living, his third album as the London-birthed Eat Lights Become Lights.
Whereas its two predecessors – 2011’s Autopia and 2012’s Heavy Electrics – displayed a decent handle on classic experimental Germanic rock touchstones, there was perhaps something missing to make Eat Lights Become Lights really stand out from the current cult-ish in-crowd. In comparison to said LPs, Modular Living feels like some form of a rebirth. Interestingly, the album’s more distinctive character hasn’t come from jettisoning core inspirations but actually from delving into them in a deeper and more uncluttered fashion. Therefore, the somewhat peripheral post-rock guitar layers and thicker drum beds of earlier recordings have been pushed even further down and often out of the mix, in favour of sleeker aesthetics and a more tightly-finessed vision.
Broadly speaking this means that Modular Living divides its time between well-defined strands of groove-led exhilaration and dreamy exhalation. Across the former camp, Rudd unleashes a stream of pulsing synth and percussion led workouts that wordlessly mix a variety of choice ingredients. Hence, the imagined futures of Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine are revisited with extra propulsion for the title-track; Harmonia’s analogue-electro is re-explored with slinkier less rudimentary edges on the likes of “13th Looking South…” and “Electromagnetika”; and the lesser-known pastures of late-‘70s Can are ploughed successfully on “Chiba Prefecture.” However, it’s the less high-speed side of Modular Living that truly excels. Thus, with the mid-point back-to-back bliss of the remarkably gorgeous “Rowley Way Overlook” and the near-ecclesiastical “Los Feliz To Griffith” comes an uplifting weightlessness that recalls the highpoints of Cluster’s collaborations with Brian Eno and through the ghostly “Habitat ’67” unpeels a closing piece drenched in an almost symphonic Tangerine Dream synth swirl.
Overall then, Modular Living is not about escaping or ignoring its author’s self-evident influences but actually about honouring them more devoutly to find a self-rejuvenating elemental essence. Put in slightly simpler terms, if you’re only looking for a handful of records this year drawing-up from the seemingly bottomless Krautrock well, then make sure that this is one of them.