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STL: At Disconnected Moments

Like many highly regarded producers, Stephan Laubner, aka STL, has no interest in fame. While he is revered by the underground world as one of the heroes of modern dub techno, his indifference to his notoriety is evident in both his decision to live in the remote German town of Harz and his reluctance to release music outside of his own label, Something. That reluctance is what makes At Disconnected Moments different from the dozen albums Laubner has already released under the STL moniker: it is his first LP not released on Something.

Arriving on the Smallville label that was home to two of his most popular releases back in 2009, Neurotransmitting Clouds on the Secret Freeway and Silent Statethe album builds on certain themes explored in these releases. The tracks themselves re-appear on the record, reminding the listener once more of the sheer impact nuance and patience can have on a truly great loop. Neurotransmitting… is notable for this reason: notice how long it takes for the relatively simple, 16-bar hook to come to the foreground of the mix from when it first appears. The listener focuses, trying to isolate it – hears it coming, and craves it. Then when it locks into focus, its effect is infinitely greater. This delicate attention to even the most subtle of details is what makes Laubner a truly remarkable producer.

A fervent advocate of field recordings, the album is drenched with background textures that lend a sense of organic and natural context to every spacious interlude. Perhaps even more importantly, the percussions are sanded to a smooth finish, then left without polish; soft to the touch, but rugged and matte, refusing to deny their natural origin in favour of a synthetic lacquer.

Lead track Scuba’s Motion Dub grips and pulls us by our diving gear, not violently but insistently, deeper and deeper into the murky depths that the album inhabits. Delay and reverb are the order of the day, the almost atonal track taking its time (over ten minutes) to carry you to the next, One Day. Here we get our first proper teaser of the album’s tremendous capacity for melody and harmony; half way through, muffled yet bright brass samples start to make their way through the mix. Interestingly, all of the samples seem to sustain just one note, showing that Laubner’s employment of them is not just for their harmonic effect, but equally for their naturally beautiful timbre.

After Neurotransmitting… comes Space Cats, the first track on the album closer to five minutes than it is to ten. With a slightly higher tempo and more percussion than most of the other compositions, this cut conveys more of a dancefloor sensibility than its predecessors, with space-age laser synths evoking far off sci-fi wonder. Amelie’s Dub, along with Ghostly Ambit, could be called the weaker tracks on the album, but only by comparison with the rest of Laubner’s output. Some loops just won’t stand up to 5 minutes of repetition before melodic elements are introduced, and Amelie’s Dub is one of those loops. However, to reiterate: the track is only less engaging than the rest of the album – it’s still infinitely more emotive and intriguing than most house music out there today. Silent State, however, is a perfect example of when less can be more. Still as fresh and exciting now as it was upon release, it justifies every second of its twelve-minute running time.

Good Wine summons the spirits of heavy ghosts to brood and moan in a beatless chamber, breaking the album up nicely before Ghostly AmbitFeaturing tense modal string samples from about the halfway point, the cut is darker than the rest of the album, and coming off the sparse ambient soundscapes that imbue Good Wine, the album’s final cry is decidedly sombre, culminating in the morose drones of Over and Out.

While some tracks have the propensity to go on slightly longer than they need to, and one could be forgiven for thinking that the album makes no great variation on STL’s tried-and-tested formula, by and large At Disconnected Moments makes for truly compelling listening, and will reward any and all patience its listeners afford it.