Captagon by Rod Modell

Tresor Records artwork

Rod Modell | Captagon
Tresor (CD/LP)

With Captagon, Rod Modell offers up some more of the minimal, dub-inflected techno for which he is known. Fans of his prior work will no doubt recognise the mode in which he’s working – a faintly gloomy electro-work-out mushed together with a liberal coating of compression, such is the fashion. 

The tracks are all constructed in the same fundamental way – Modell sets up a motif – usually a drum beat or arpeggiation, and then repeats it for 5 or so minutes, toying with a variety of filters, hi-hats and delays so as to maintain interest. He’s been doing this for a long time now, and it shows – the quality of the sounds invoked is tremendous, even whilst the actual music risks being all a little too functional. And whilst this sticks fairly close to the confines of its genre – albeit whilst wearing a slightly moodier hat, there is a feeling that this exact thing has been done so many times that simply being good at it doesn’t cut the metaphorical mustard – which is all the more annoying since Modell has previously shown an ability to imbue his work with a little more character and experimentalism. 

Captagon lacks the darkness, discordance, and even the clinical precision of his prior work, and instead attempts to invoke a vaguely tribal aesthetic that falls a little flat. Whilst there is some rich sound design it is limited, with more effort going towards the well-rendered but unadventurous synthesis and crisp but unexciting beats. I know that I am not exactly the target audience, but I can’t help but feel even devotees of this stuff will be wondering what the point is, why this should listen to this record above countless other very similar efforts.

I don’t want to be too hard on Captagon, because I recognise it as an excellent piece of craft. It is well made, and the strictness of the repetition is at times admirable, with the longer tracks working far better than the shorter for this reason. The opening track, Triangulation is actually pretty great, and sets a somewhat different mood than the rest of the album, pointing to a more abstract approach that is never revisited. Likewise, Jade and Tracer both utilise slightly more complexity in their sound design, with some unusual vocal-esque sounds succumbing to bold processing that acts as an audible swamp, pushing things into a more nuanced, characterful territory.  It is worth equally bearing in mind the length of the album – at a near hour running time, it is perhaps frustrating that there is 20 minutes or so of music that exercises both craft and compositional imagination – on a shorter album this might be enough to significantly change the overall feel. 

Captagon clearly knows for whom it is intended. There is an over-riding sense, however, that Modell plays things too safe here to really warrant interest, and I suspect that even ardent fans will hanker for something with a bit more personality, even whilst admiring the skill of his production.

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