Justin Berkovi: Mondrian
In naming his sixth album after Piet Mondrian, did Justin Berkovi want to draw a parallel between the obsessive precision of the renowned Dutch artist's abstract paintings and the polish of his own sleek productions? Or is he trying to distill the essence of techno into its purest form in a way similar to how Mondrian progressively purified his own images of representational elements so as to capture a less visible and more universal reality? If Berkovi alone has the answers to such questions, we at the very least can provide a critical assessment of the extremely fine music presented on the release, which in some ways could serve as a model that other techno producers might well emulate.
Berkovi strengthens the album's formally structured and conceptual feel by starting it with an intro of celestial gleam (“Godspeed”) before getting down to business with the title track, a prototypical slice of Detroit-styled future-techno that achieves lift-off within seconds and stays airborne for the duration, and “Nadir,” an airier affair whose vaporous dub-techno funk is patently designed to make the listener swoon. He covers a wide range of ground on the album, rhythmic especially, with the beats powering the tracks sometimes locked into straight-up techno grooves and elsewhere into something tougher and more tribal (e.g., the appropriately stalker-like “Surveillance,” acidy closer “Heat,” and “Heritage,” whose dynamic thrust gets an additional boost from its vocal snarl). The chunky basslines driving the largely stripped-down jam “Oceans” and the expansive “Days Go By” will no doubt have a few listeners thinking of Booka Shade, and in a number of cuts, creamy synthesizers flood the aural spaces while Berkovi lays out thumping pulses that are as jacking as they're relentless. The album's elevated by a number of moody floor-fillers, of which “Mainline Tension” and the synth-heavy thumper “Children of the Night (Rise Again)” are two of the best. In both cases, Berkovi anchors the tracks with locomotive grooves that he then embellishes with trippy melodic figures and surging stabs.Throughout the seventy-six album, Berkovi shows himself to be a distinguished sound designer who's in no way constrained by the synthetic realm within which his music generally locates itself. The thirteen tracks are littered with subtle percussive and ambient atmospheric touches, and representative pieces such as “Days Go By” and “The Observer,” the latter so uplifting it verges on trance, fuse rhythm and melodic dimensions so marvelously the effect is exhilarating. All told, Mondrian impresses as a superb album at the level of technical craft but also in terms of compositional quality, imagination, and emotional breadth.