If one of the creators of Techno comes along and releases an LP called Digital Solutions, it should be noted and accounted for. Yet, Juan Atkins and co’s first full-length release in 16 years as Model 500 turned out to be little more than a curiosity in music news. In the age of over-zealous publicising of the inconsequential, like album announcements, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Atkins’ own Metroplex label is overlooked in the shadow of a Super Bowl final or a new video of a bunch of wannabe reprobates setting a garden on fire. Does this mean there is no longer a place in contemporary music for the guy that pretty much invented Techno alongside Derrick May and Jeff Mills? Model 500 has certainly not considered that sentiment for Digital Solutions, and it also suggests that the Techno legends were ready to give something back to the genre they helped out of the primordial ooze of electronic music. At least that’s what the title of the album would insinuate and many of the song tiles concur, it seems. With that in mind I was quite hopeful in what we were presented with, would be a counter-reaction to Techno’s functional demand, and in a way, we did get it.
Electric night marks the return of a human element if we compare it to the latest contribution from a contemporary surrogate like Vril for instance. The swinging 808 grooves punctuated by a funky synth and a reverent musical monologue, find the human dimension that was lost to the genre in a Berghain basement. But, as the sequenced synth runs start falling into line and a sustained synth stab calls in the first verse, the instinct is towards encouraging nostalgic reflection, rather than contemporising the group’s sound. One immediately recognises it as a Model 500 album, but it should not be considered anything more than that. A title like Standing in tomorrow is deceiving as a result as it’s ironically squatting in the past with its robotic vocals and hollow keys straight out of 1995. But it’s exactly when the group reflect on their past like this track and call on their various influences when they are at their best. The title track stands testament to their sound and it is when they veer from this formula when things get a little confusing on Digital Solutions. The Groove is a case in point as two seemingly unwavering phrases go from Guitar solos to keyboard doodling. It’s an unimaginative re-hashing of the past that needed to end with Daft Punk. Model 500 are more successful when they interpret their influences in their own voice, like on Hi-NRG. Here space-age synths counterpoint the sequenced parts in a track that is more electronic disco-soul than Hi-NRG, but even here it borders very close to a re-hash of the past when the thin keyboard solo comes in. It shows a group out of touch with electronic music’s contemporary situation. Their textures are far too dense and cluttered to be counted with the minimalist aesthetic Techno, and even Electro, has cultivated today. Station is the only saving grace in this regard. Model 500 set a darker mood here with discord and long delays wafting around a trippy beat. It’s much closer to anything the group has done in recent years including 2012’s Control/Messenger 12” on R&S and I’m surprised they didn’t explore this format more for the album. It would have also made for a much more coherent album.
Model 500 haven’t quite made clear what their intention was with this album. It seems to have originated from an experimental domain, whereas they’d have been much better off re-defining their sound to suit their environment. Hell, they could have even just stuck to their guns and have made an album that sounded like it came from the genesis of Model 500’s career. It might have even received more attention that way. But they didn’t, and instead delivered something that has me torn in two. If Digital Solutions was an attempt at showing other artists that the future of Techno is in its origins, and to go forward one must look back, it will be quite a disappointment. That sentiment does little more than evoke a sense of nostalgia and is never conducive to any development. But if their intention was to contemporise their sound to bring the human element back to Techno, they did achieve it in a way. At times they might have fallen into the habit of self-preservation when they unabashedly re-hashed the past, but there are also times when their sound came together as something that we could recognise as Model 500 and appreciate only as such.