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Professor Genius - Hassan

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Artist: Professor Genius

Album: Hassan

Label: L.I.E.S.

Review date: Oct. 30, 2012




L.I.E.S. boss Ron Morelli started his label two years ago with the intention of putting out tracks his friends had been sitting on, all with minimal promotion and imagery. Heís put out stellar records by relative unknowns (Bookwormsí "Love Triangles"/"African Rhythms"), established niche concerns (Legoweltís Sark Island Acid EP), producers going incognito (Jahiliyya Fields), and his own co-productions with Lee Douglas as Bad News. With Professor Geniusís Hassan, the label expands its horizons, serving as a safe place for established names to experiment outside of their typical sound.

The man born Jorge Velez takes a hard left from his usual buoyant italo here, venturing into queasy, Middle Eastern-themed techno. Itís not a shocking reconfiguration, even for fans of his other work; Shackleton and Demdike Stare paved the way for the opium haze, suggestive B-movie sleaze, and hits of ethnic instruments that weave through cuts like "Alamut" around the same time that the label was getting started. But think of Shackleton, Whittaker and Canty more as enablers than a crippling influence; despite those reference points, and the generally foreboding feel of the melodies and off-kilter rhythms, Professor Genius retains the lightness and dynamism of his Italo guise even as he dives into murkier waters.

Sonically, Hassan is uniform. Even as it alternates between gaseous, mirage-like ambient tracks and lazily pulsing, cosmic ones before uniting the two styles in its final movement, "Hassan Two," all the sonic elements remain close to the surface. It lacks the depth of field that Demdike Stare imported from Basic Channel and fathomless dark ambient, perhaps because he relies on synths throughout and hints at a bass drum only on "The Valleys of Paradise" ó indeed, its drifting, hand-drawn grid feeling is closer to krautrock in many ways than anything with a connection to the club. Itís a pretty audacious reboot of the Professor Genius style, although insisting on using the same name doesnít confound expectations as much as create a kind of metanarrative that distracts from the mysterious vibe heís cultivating.

At just over 30 minutes, Hassan itself is a contained album, somewhat stuffy and dreamy like a room with blinds shut against stifling heat, and it leaves about as much residue as a day spent indoors in a cloud of hashish. And that seems to be the point: to create something eerily seductive, with tracks ending before you can decide whether you feel safe or threatened. The remixes that round out the album ó from L.I.E.S.mates Steve Moore, Marcos Cabral and Steve Summers ó make a stronger impression, teasing out the subtlety of the Professor Genius tracks into more ambitious, banging terrain without losing the sour tang of the originals. Steve Summersís take on "The Valleys of Paradise" is particularly strong, smuding the Moroccan oboe of the original into a kind of smog while adding mirage-like delay, a plinky melody and a languorous house thud.

While HassanĎs explorations donít gel quite as well as Jahiliyya Fieldsí more formless Unicursal Hexagram, their intentions are unique. The albumís a bold statement from Velez: Rather than airborne Italo journeys, Hassan is a work of stupor, stasis and reverie.

By Brandon Bussolini

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