If high school biology taught me one thing, it’s that as much can be said about a single cell as can be said about a system of them. Then why, I ask myself, do I struggle to describe Gui Boratto’s Take My Breath Away, an album that so carefully extracts the basic elements of the music that I love?
To start, Boratto records for Cologne, Germany’s Kompakt label, the premier source for meticulously conceived, bare-bones techno. From what I can tell, the unifying feature of Kompakt’s releases is the willful surrender of human flourishes: Clean mixes, phasing synth lines, and the near-ubiquitous 4/4 pulse replace charisma or charm as the music’s terminal focus. Even the label’s more evocative offerings — Wolfgang Voigt’s darkly atmospheric GAS project or the Field’s shoegaze techno, for example — are cold and spare, as if to soundtrack the sort of industrial-grade club going that has come to define German nightlife. Stabs at funk seem no less distant.
Yet Boratto is known for his singular take on minimal, drawing inspiration from experiences as a pop producer and the culture of his native Brazil. His 2007 hit, “Beautiful Life,” is more unapologetically celebratory than anything else I associate with the genre. It is more like a Europop song produced by someone with really good taste. The rest of his debut album, Chromophobia, is more restrained than “Beautiful Life,” readily bears the Kompakt imprint, and on the whole sounds a lot more like this new one.
In a sense, Take My Breath Away is primarily a collection of extremely well-rendered sounds. The album’s most thrilling moment comes at the very beginning, when a heavily textured kick drum falls beneath a fuzzy, ascending synthesizer melody and some percussive blips. Over six and half minutes long, the opener — and title track, not coincidentally — rises and falls but resists the euphoric heights of “Beautiful Life,” as if to establish a subtler arch to unfold over the next hour or so.
The album peaks during its fifth track, “No Turning Back," which has a legit hook, delivered through heavily processed female vocals. I can’t say much about the track except that it’s kind of epic and that it sounds as good on headphones over coffee at two in the afternoon as I imagine it would in a dark room full of stylishly detached Europeans and the occasional strobe light.
From there: more synths, more disco beats, and an increasing confusion over whether I’m hearing the same tune over again or am hopelessly unschooled in the art of subtlety; or perhaps a acute awareness that this the kind of music that sounds best when you don’t realize you’re listening to it. I tune in to a little oompa beat and then my attention drifts, only to be drawn in again 10 minutes later by some grand, elevating keyboard passage.
Still, Boratto changes up his sounds from time to time. The guitars that drive “Besides” may be digitized, but they seem almost heartfelt in light of all the quanitized tracks going on. And the piano melody on the closer, “Godet,” makes for a wistful goodbye — perhaps the most emotionally direct part of the whole album.
Ultimately, Take My Breath Away is a techno album, and it will probably be listened to either by people who know what they’re getting into or anonymously at a bar on the Lower East Side. To judge it definitively or try to grasp exactly what Boratto is after is pretty much for naught. As such I find myself fluctuating between a sort of rigid analysis triggered by the rigidity of the music, and an acceptance of the work as something ambient and whole, not to be picked apart or considered in any way other than it already is.