Forward Strategy Group – Mandate (2012)

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Forward Strategy Group present Labour Division, their debut album that follows a string of releases on Perc Trax, their own eponymous label, Stroboscopic Artefacts and Dynamic Reflection. Since their early days releasing on net labels to their current position amongst Europe’s most respected techno outfits the Leeds/Edinburgh duo of Al Matthews (Smear) and Patrick Walker have always done things their own way. Drawing on their vast knowledge of electronic music’s history Patrick and Al produce music where notable reference points are fused with new ideas to create their own distinctive sound.

Labour Division finds the Forward Strategy Group at their most melodic but also their most brutally uncompromising. Throughout the album the tracks shift between a range of atmospheres and timbres which in turn guide the listener though a number of different listening states, holding their attention and encouraging active listening rather than the passive, barely-there engagement often induced by less adventurous electronic albums.

The first five tracks aim to grab the listener’s attention from the very first bar, whilst the tracks making up the second half of the album go deeper the listener, introducing more immersive sounds that hint at influences far beyond the realms of dancefloor techno.

Album opening ‘Ident’ surprises from its opening moments, being more melodic than you have ever heard the Forward Strategy Group before. The track harks back to the synth workouts of the 1980’s but coated in a layer of industrial grime that sets out an aesthetic that runs through the rest of the album. Mandate and Elegant Mistakes both revolve around the kind of semi-broken rhythms which have been a characteristic of both the Forward Strategy Group’s output and that of the Perc Trax label of late. The former track builds up layers of delayed stabs and whilst the latter has echoes of classic UK hardcore as the distinction between drum sounds and processed human voices begins to blur.

From then on the duo serve up a blend of metallic percussion and reverberant stabs, effortlessly switching from widescreen soundscapes to razor sharp exercises in minimalism. Metal Image and Industry & Empire trade on their depth whilst Cultivar rounds off the album hinting at post-punk guitar textures without you ever being sure if your ears are hearing live instrumentation or not.

As you reach the end of the album it is clear that this is one of the rare occasions when a collaboration is exactly that, a meeting and melding of the history and skills of two individuals to create a cohesive album that is the key moment for the Forward Strategy Group so far and opens up endless possibilities for their work after the album.

[via Bryan Black]

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