The extent of Mark Pritchard’s prevalence in the world of electronic music should be intimidating to anyone curious enough to seek out his full discography. Over nearly two decades, Pritchard has operated under six different monikers and jumped across genre boundaries too many times to count. He started putting out dark-tinged post-rave records as Reload, and then joined with Tom Middleton as Global Communication to release 7614, one of the most influential ambient albums of the ’90s. He then went on to explore breakbeat and garage as Troubleman and more experimental electronica as Harmonic 33, among other projects.
He is currently calling himself Harmonic 313, which is, fittingly, a reference to Detroit’s area code. There are hints of the Detroit techno scene all over When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence. Pritchard alludes to the entire spectrum of Detroit techno, from the emergence of house to the hip-hop production of J Dilla. The simplified quarter-note synth lines on songs like “Flaash” recall early house singles.“Battlestar” features guest vocals from Phat Kat and Elzhi, both of whom also collaborated with J Dilla.
Although Pritchard acknowledges techno’s Detroit birthplace, this is a record that primarily mixes and matches contemporary genres. The other main influence at work here is recent U.K. bass music. Pritchard devotes the majority of the tracks here to a combination of jungle, dubstep, and garage. Opening track “Dirtbox” is built around a churning bass line that has its foundation in the dubstep that has been prominent throughout the last year. “Cyclotron” features a garage-inflected drum part, and Steve Spacek’s vocals on “Falling Away” are reminiscent of those on Burial’s quieter tracks.
Pritchard doesn’t always succeed in experimenting with these different genres in the space of one record. After starting out with prominent driving bass lines, the record seems to trip over itself when more ambient tracks are introduced. The hip-hop of “Battlestar” is at odds with the more experimental instrumental tracks surrounding it. Each track taken independently is excellent, but overall the record progresses haltingly.
Of course, when the only complaint against a record is that its uniformly excellent tracks don’t always mesh well as a whole, it points more to the versatility of the musician than to any real deficiencies. When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence contains some of the most interesting bass-centered tracks to come out in some time, and represents a progression in the current bass scene as a whole, no matter what specific genre each track belongs to.