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Nuel - Trance Mutation

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Artist: Nuel

Album: Trance Mutation

Label: Further

Review date: Mar. 30, 2012

The recent surge in Italian dance music making it out of Italy can largely be attributed to the work and reputation of one Donato Scaramuzzi. From Claudio PRC to the mysterious Pup Recordings label, Scaramuzzi’s two-decade career as Donato Dozzy, a champion for Italian explorations of all things techno and house, cannot be underestimated back in the boot. Nuel’s Manuel Fogliata understands and appreciates this influence as well as anyone else this side of another Italian and frequent Dozzy cohort, Giuseppe Tillieci (confusingly named Neel). Fogliata has worked directly with Scaramuzzi in co-running the Aquaplano label, as well as performing together live. With Trance Mutation late last year, Fogliata takes another cue from Dozzy in releasing music on the cassette-happy Seattle imprint Further.

The premise of Trance Mutation is simple enough: Fogliata devotes every day in a week to one song to achieve a sound similar in ethos but sonically unrecognizable from his usual deep house and techno. The album’s description insists this is “both more individual and experimental, yet also more accessible and honest.” The opening seconds of “Mentalism” tell a different story. This sounds like one of those early-1990s Pure Moods compilations or a slick, overproduced assortment of “world music.” Licensed Massage Therapists looking for the ideal healing music will love it.

This cheesy, self-conscious “exoticism” — and once you hear it, you can’t unhear it — becomes distracting to the point of frustration. It’s the small things that reconnect you with the association: the echo on the drums of “Mentalism” or the arabesque guitar loop coupled with what sounds like a rain stick on “Correspondence.” Every song has it, and by the end of the album, you’re not sure if this was done on a lark or if Montescudo’s proximity to the coast influenced its dubiously breezy nature, or if Fogliata simply should have sat on these tracks and reviewed them with more careful consideration and the passage of time.

I don’t mean to suggest that just because he’s working outside the comfort zones of Aquaplano or Donato Dozzy that he’s in the wrong for trying something new here. But these attempts to build “introspective intensity as the mental attrition of sleep deprivation cleanses the mind to reveal only more confusion” feel hollow, disingenuous, insincere.

The most revealing moment of Trance Mutation is also its most personal, its most emotionally captivating, its most sincere. It also happens to be its last. Some 40 or so seconds before “Gender” concludes, Fogliata drops out the polyrhythmic percussion and various peripheral live effects to play the guitar loop of the song on piano. Free of other sounds, the loop on this instrument sounds more intimate than anything else on the album. Only at its last gasp does Trance Mutation succeed in what it sets out to do. The rest is an extended meditation on the relative merits of Swedish and deep tissue techniques, hold the hot stones.

By Patrick Masterson

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