As half of Swayzak, James Taylor has been in the deejay and house-and-techno-producer game for years, but Carthage Milk doesn’t much embody the type of sounds he and David Brown would serve up during their residency at Fabric. Not that the guys in Swayzak have any typical or predictable atmosphere in their selecting or in their productions, such as last year’s Loops From the Bergerie. But Taylor’s solo work, Carthage, is further removed from embraceable techno. Minimalist touches fill a grab-bag of vocal samples, occasional buzzing synth lines and channel-chasing extraneous pulses that open the freezer door on an otherwise fairly temperate room.
Carthage Milk morphs quickly from warm, experimental techno pieces to infrequent bouts of experimental creepiness a la Matthew Dear. For most of the album, though, Taylor remains within understated minimal beats and a club-friendly bass line or synth background. But he’s forever quietly pushing sonic experiments by peppering the products with computer-generated atmospherics, such as those in “Warm Cushion” or “Wetcoatdryfoot.”
“Warm Cushion” is anything but; it’s a stuttering mess of half-spoken syllables, glitchy abrasive noise and beats that are cut into pieces, until all elements quiet down a tad and fade out. “Wetcoatdryfoot,” its subsequent counterpart, is maybe quieter, but it’s nearly as chaotic in its random interruptions of fuzzy beats and record-needle-sounding squeals. The very personal fireside-type of warmth doesn’t take us in until “Take Me or Break Me,” when a lush string section loop is laid atop Taylor’s tendencies toward creating a Friday-night house closer. After a few sullen minutes, though, it’s not as personal. It’s as if the lights are coming on in the bag room adjacent to the bar and people are finding their way to a cab or maybe even “sealing the deal” with a half-dressed and rather exhausted-looking borderline alcoholic.
“Take” is the only one on Carthage that speaks to an audience of more than one person, and it doesn’t even need the pleasantly uttered apology that occurs near the end. Taylor’s entries are as strange and as beckoning as these words are, and his moods — be they good or miserable — are often easily read, due to Carthage‘s intricate, interesting presentation.