The 7th Plain (Luke Slater) | Chronicles I-III
Luke Slater (here as The 7th Plain) is a household name to most rave/techno devotees of the 90’s into the present. Chronicles is an epic project, perhaps Slater’s cosmic alt persona focused on more emotionally charged work as “a response to those hallucinatory, spiritual, but still social spaces at the heart of underground communities.” And this is a long-player, for sure — as it spans three 2xLP volumes with hours of new sounds. These are available individually or as a set, though there is something unique within each set that warrants a full-through listening session of the entire chronology.
CHRONICLES I: His adventure begins with an offset sci-fi theme that glistens with ambient space and a pop underbelly, sort of akin to most of Tangerine Dream’s latter day work. The pacing is quite good, a modernized nod to Vangelis, and he seems unfazed by the similarities to what he’s digested just outside the realm of Jean-Michel Jarre. Comparisons aside, Slater is one of the likely few that might take the torch from such previous luminaries, though in the same breath he is doing so on no uncertain terms. His is a highly commercial sound that could become its own popular and palpable soundtrack, or it could be used for any number of marketing campaigns, with such a distinguished pedigree and the glossy patina to show for it. So far Chronicles I is proving to be slightly restless in mood.
The synths fly high and fully forward becoming a bit icy on tracks like Surface Bound and elsewhere. The first track that grabbed my attention here was The Super 8, not in its dynamics, but in its lows, it reminds me of certain breaks in New Order’s stretched and ghostly Technique-era. Slater adds some cyclical keystrokes which ties the rhythm together as it pulses forward. Turning to previous techno inflections out comes T Funk States which diverts the built-up atmosphere – but will give the day-glow masses a chance to celebrate and party like its 1999. But this shifts again on the old-school minimalism of hushed hip-hop beats on Slip 7 Sideways. It’s low-rise funky presence blends here as incidental music, but the type you want to listen to, not simply endure until the next best thing comes along. And the first of three Chronicles ends with an early Moby-adjacent track called Chords Are Dirty, though we’re thankful he didn’t clean them as this is a decent short piece worthy of most contemporary ambient electronica.
As Chronicles II opens it’s a ambient-drenched theme, moving ever so slightly, like stars on a clear night, only interrupted by slight cymbals and a few shooting breaks. This is Silver Shinhook, and it’s a mix of ranging synths that seem to build, but manage to restrain themselves from becoming an all out techno assault, but you can imagine flashbacks to Slater’s early self patched-in and ready to take off. This is a combination of ignition and after-burners without the overly pompous take off. And I respect this approach from someone who can turn a party. Keep in mind that this is not a ‘continuous-play’ style remix album, these are distinct tracks, think of them as short plays made for space exploration.
And for all the poise this collection seems to have, there are still plenty of quasi-techno vibes strewn throughout, The 7th Plain is far from “Luke Slater’s ambient odyssey”. Though it’s less triggered than, say, Freek Funk (1997) or Alright on Top (2002), and blends more of the sound off his single platters that were surfacing in the late 00’s with a new avenue of restraint, keeping his output a bit more pared down and of the times. The first track the pops in my ears is the simple toy-like sounds of Convex, instantly recycling Kraftwerk’s Pocket Calculator, it’s fairly indelible an approach (which he takes even further on JDC). What Slater has done is morphed a sound from two eras, rave and early ‘techno-pop’ is a unique way that ends up having overtones of acid house of all things. It’s a complete and utter hybrid. Nailed it. Of course that’s followed up with something from left field, I Think I Think Too Much – an ambient distortion with barely audible vocal treatments embedded deeply. The record concludes with the highly commercial sass of Big Field.
On to the final grouping from The 7th Plain, Chronicles III. A chillout and upbeat Time Melts kicks-off what may be a stylish conclusion here. The synths are bright, striated, taffy-like, and the squeeze effects are proper delights. This is, by far, the most ‘late night’ of the three sets donning a hazy afterglow. The track that first pricks my attention is the mysterious Excalibur’s Radar, in fact I’d love to have a full album that felt as warm and weirdly warped. It is one of those tracks that seems to move inward rather than out, and as most of the entire series is so forward, this just under six-minute piece stands out like a hitchhiker’s thumb just outside the Mojave desert. The softened chords are dreamy, dusky, and a lil’ sordid. This is the newest signature for Slater, and he should run with this, perhaps a “Chronicles IV”? Surrounding it, however, the other tracks are a bit more boundless,like the effervescent Millentum which teases beats, and eventually delivers. This was one of the few track pairings that made sense, warm into “you are getting warmer….”. The track never pops its top, but does become a series of techno-laced layers that serve as a scant retro look into the producers’ trove of classic cuts.
I feel a bit lost in the track of the same name, it’s automated, lobbed beats and faux ring are a bit fluff and circumstance. Think City reminded me, at first, of an obscure track by artist Mike Kelley called Party Train (from the Day Is Done soundtrack) – but soon takes a blessed detour from all that chugging into somewhere new. You really have to await the very end to see the record open its petals. Seeing Sense, another hybrid for The 7th Plain, is a taciturn work that blends the warped electronics of the 70s to present day, plays on weary melancholic tones and sprite beats that play on and off each other. Again, Slater’s techno gloss bleeds through however here there seems to be a more sophisticated positioning that questions, should I dance or simply listen. I’d imagine this would make for a great live a/v show of epic proportions, maybe one that ends in the shadows of a sleep concert.