Label: Affin LTD
The cover of Joachim Spieth’s latest album, Reshape, depicts a stony landscape against a moody sky at dusk, silver clouds backlit with soft orange light. His 2021 album Ousia featured a similar sun, only foregrounded by waves. It’s as if some lost, drowned continent rose from the murky depths, dotted with strange fossils and petroglyphs. That contrast is an apt analogy for Reshape — an album of remixes and reworkings from some of the biggest names in ambient, techno and drone in honor of the Affin label’s 15th Anniversary. The new album is made up of the same elements that shaped the previous work; but it’s a whole new world. Spieth’s entire oeuvre has been preoccupied with natural features like landscape, terrain, water or light. Each of Reshape‘s eight tracks feels more like a landscape to get lost in more than a simple song. Alva Noto’s “Sparsha” transforms the Ousia album opener into a knotter, thornier expanse than the original, bristling with arcing electricity due to Noto’s notoriously impeccable sound design.
Likewise, ASC takes the mystical meditative ambient of “Akasha” into moodier, more brooding terrain, adding a simple plaintive piano melody to give a feeling of endless questing and longing. Surprisingly, Bvdub tones down the techno on “Ultradian (Bvdub’s Collapsing in the Circadian Reshape),” a reworking from 2020’s Tides that sands down the throbbing dub techno beat of the original and focuses on the swooning synth pads and deep, rich bass drone. It just makes the beat drop two-thirds of the way in all that much more exhilarating, like a religious epiphany. “Jiwa (Zakè Reshape),” mixed by the leader of the relentless Zakè Drone Recordings, maintains the misty, mysterious quality of the Ousia, embellishing the fogbank synthpads with a simple repetitive piano stab, cutting through the murk like a laser through fog machine. “Cahaya Bulan (Markus Guentner Reshape)” – with Guentner teaming up again with Spieth after their masterful work together on Ousia – is similarly cloudy, but underpinned with an undertow of dark rushing water, like watching ice particulates flow into the deep with one of Spieth’s dreamsicle sunsets deepening above. Reshape reminds us of the endless plasticity of sound in electronic music. It can be bent, twisted, stretched to infinity; curled into luminous neon sculptures or elongated like one of artist Ed Ruscha’s landscape installations. It’s a reminder that nothing is ever fixed and permanent in the electronic ether, that things are always in flux and thus always worth revisiting. The album also invites you to revisit Affin’s back catalog. For a decade-and-a-half, the label has been a reliable source of high-quality, conceptual techno-laced ambient music, full of interesting ideas and heart in equal measure. Reshape is everything that’s good about Affin Records, all wrapped up in a neat sunset bow. The sound design is second to none, with the fiercest bass this side of a Ben Frost record, while still sounding as airy and elegant as Nils Frahm or Scott Morgan at their most accessible.
For longtime fans, it’s a welcome and much-deserved victory lap, while newcomers couldn’t hope for a better introduction. It’s also a chance to hear a lion’s share of the most interesting and talented voices working in ambient or progressive techno in one place at one time.