Like all deep, repetitive, beat-heavy electronic music, Driftmachine’s Nocturnes is best suited to the night time hours, so its name is well-earned. Opener ‘Claire Obscure’, however, takes a while before slipping into its aqueous beat. The Berlin-based duo instead spend most of the track showcasing all their other sounds. There are tinny wraiths of synthesiser, as if mimicking the latent sounds of the curled wires themselves. There are metallic taps playing a flickering rhythm, and under them a yawning, two-note bass figure that somehow manages to seem unnaturally drawn out without the notes actually being that long.
That sense of unease remains when Driftmachine get into the meat of the album. Central two-parter ‘To Nowhere’ is adorned with industrial crashes and subdued bursts of distortion. It rarely ever settles properly into a groove, preferring to leave brief scatters of beat echoing apprehensively for a couple of bars. Even the sustained rhythm that enters half-way through ‘pt. 1’ is subsumed a few times by near-silence and cavernous shivers. It’s reminiscent of The Haxan Cloak’s Excavation in its instability and refusal to lift instruments above subterranean menace. ‘Pt. 2’ is less fragmented, but the curiously high percussive tones – backed by an insistent, pulsating, almost organ-like drone – are no less tense.
The album isn’t always quite this full of dread, although its primary mode is this kind of nightmarish dub. ‘Drift’, for example, sounds like Jon Hopkins’ Immunity (possibly just a little bit too much), but with that albums’ organic qualities exchanged for an industrial sheen. Some of the tracks’ background ambiences could easily enough have been made by the tearing of sheet metal.
When Nocturnes arrives at its more overtly beat-focused main body, it can sometimes become somewhat numbing, a bit too repetitive at times, especially when it’s not being played in its ideal late-night habitat. That’s something that’s not often mentioned when talking about music that works really well at a specific time of day – that means there are lots of times of day when it isn’t so great. It’s possible however, that this is only a problem for reviewers, who have to listen to an album no matter what; everyone else can probably just wait until the sun sets. Nevertheless, the two 8-minute tracks at the end of Nocturnes do begin to stretch it too thin. ‘Sternenmeer’ plods along, its beat in need of some of the frightening interruptions of ‘To Nowhere’. The first half or so it achieves the quiet menace that it seems to be aiming for, but after that the suspense wears off. ‘Réveil des Oiseaux’ threatens to go the same way, but is lifted by some interesting melodic and harmonic material – a clanging piano, livelier shivers of synthesiser like bubbles of mercury and what sounds like a table interspersed with the main beat.
The album is also sensibly short, coming in at less than fifty minutes when a lot of late-night dub or deep house records can be bloated. As a consequence there’s any sense that Driftmachine have run out of ideas. It works best with bonus track ‘Call Mr Moriba’. Although it’s not as funny as its title makes it sound, it is a lot livelier than the preceding two pieces. The track goes back to the more active sound of ‘Drift’, with a wobbling bass melody, mobile shivers of ambience and some more acoustic-sounding percussion pattering through the speakers. Unless the listener has been lulled into a nervous sleep by this point, it’s a good way to finish off Nocturnes.