Toronto producer Ando Laj is out to challenge you. His debut release for Origin Peoples, Slab, presents two titanic tracks — 40 and 37 minutes, respectively — that require (and merit) serious focus to intuit the subtle gradations of rhythmic, textural, and melodic magic happening. While the tracks contain discrete segments, they're best heard as marathon journeys—each a profound expression of electronic music's malleability and ability to conjure fascinating illusions of space.
“Part One” starts in media res with a martial, abstract-funk bomb, plunging the listener into immediate state of militant hyper-alertness. It's a bit of a red herring, though, as nothing else on Slab matches that opening fusillade of beats. Rather, Laj spends much of this piece evoking a polar ambience and eerie desolation reminiscent of Norwegian producer Biosphere and the subaquatic dub of fellow Canadian musician Loscil.
Among the sparse synth burbles and faint bass pulsations, Laj weaves in grotesquely warped voices hinting at mystifying alien intrusions. When beats do re-enter, they're not to inspire dancing so much as they are to ratchet up suspense. If there's a quintessential moment on Slab, it occurs about 30 minutes in, when crisp, staccato beats ratatat over a paradoxically pacific synth pad—followed soon after by a passage of pastel tranquility that's haunted by a pitched-down voice, lending an unsettling aura to what could've been a chill interlude. The tension from such contradictory elements elevates Slab to a level beyond today's typical electronic music.
“Part Two” begins like a mysterious procession powered by high-definition hand percussion before it downshifts into a serene, compelling motif that's as baroquely intriguing as Eric Dolphy's Out There. From that point on, Laj continues to lead the listener down unexpected paths. Whether he's programing methodical, stumbling beats—think peak-era Photek at 16 rpm—over a subterranean, beautiful melody, or summoning glitched-out printer sounds over a delicate, pretty synth motif, Laj keeps the mind off-guard and maximally stimulated. After a Drukqs-like piano bit 19 minutes in, Slab coasts into deep, sub-zero ambience that drifts beyond the celestial frost of Bvdub and DeepChord and alights somewhere in the vicinity of Brian Eno and Harold Budd's sanctified isolation, everything muted for maximal emotional fragility. Such exalted peacefulness is a gift that's never been more necessary.