Symptoms’ best moments are, appropriately, really difficult to describe accurately or gracefully. They flicker in and out, touching on what sound like established pop/techno structures and stealing the velocity-by-association to launch further into the unfamiliar. Which is why music like this is worth following in the first place. A value-added collaboration between superproducer Vladislav Delay — his ambient moniker, better known on the minimal techno continuum as Luomo — and “poem producer” and wife Antye Greie-Fuchs, this album has more of a taste for terra firma than they’ve showed separately in the past, and it is also one of the better recordings either’s been involved in. It’s just that explaining why is slippery.
The first three tracks are the most immediate. “Connection” in particular suggests an unholy atmosphere combining certain inarticulate aspects of the ‘90s. An unabashedly slinky mid-tempo jam, it conjures a personal constellation that, for me, combines the atmosphere of Sliver trailers seen as a kid and the dead zone between adult contemporary radio and the mournful end of that decade’s R&B. In the lyrics, all that’s solid melts into air, and an opaquely marital scenario refracts through surveillance anxiety as AGF sings: “I hear your tiny voice via some satellite phone/ One I don’t own one I don’t know/ Who owns it, who owns my connection to you.”
Delay, who I assume to be manning the synths in the background, is equally articulate: In addition to the round bass line and a marching-ants pulse, he insufflates icy cutting breath into another and apes change sounds for decoration. There’s a whole ungentrified city in there — unmarred by meaningful facial hair or lifestyle. AGF and Delay contain multitudes and don’t succumb under strain. It’s great.
There’s just as much detail to ponder over in the following track, “Downtown Snow,” in which AGF’s voice does something it’s long suggested but never fully committed to: the best I can describe it is as a sort of tip-toeing nursery-rhyme cadence. Of the remaining songs, only “Bulletproof” and “Most Beautiful” don’t have a substantial hook or some production quirk interesting enough to act as an anchor point for subsequent listens.
For a team composed of a woman who helped Ellen Allien with production work on the languorous, hookless SOOL and a guy for whom a 10-minute minimal techno track was, prior to this album, a step toward pop accessibility, Symptoms is unexpected but thankfully not unbelievable. No matter where you live in your city, this album conveys something about what it’s like to be alive there. This is the point of one kind of techno music. Symptoms is exceptional partly because its creators don’t seem surprised by the ways in which it’s unusual.