First Listen: Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory, 'Elements Of Light'
Last year, dance music continued to experiment with performance and production styles that go beyond gazing at a laptop. Some artists embellish computer music with organic instruments, while others improvise using hardware rather than software, as Juju & Jordash and the Moritz von Oswald Trio do. Hamburg's Hendrik Weber, better known as Pantha du Prince, dives deeper into the former approach on his fourth album, Elements of Light, a collaboration with Norwegian percussion group The Bell Laboratory. Performing at European festivals since 2011, the pairing is apt, even obvious: Chiming bells, treated with delay to form dashing kaleidoscopic patterns, are well established as the producer's signature sound.
Weber perfected a singular sound on his second LP, This Bliss, a wintry but suavely melodic outgrowth of the style established by hometown label Dial. Although formally dance music, Pantha du Prince's productions get by on emotional rather than physical tension, an organic flux that's not exactly floor-friendly but impressive to behold; it's majestic and intimate at the same time. His next album, Black Noise, gained wider notice thanks to its release on Rough Trade and a collaboration with Panda Bear, but was even moodier — at times dense and knotted.
Elements of Light, out Jan. 15, is introduced by the imposing tones of a carillon — three tons of bells played with a keyboard, typically found in bell towers rather than on techno albums. The overtone-laden sounds produced by The Bell Laboratory's real-world percussion and Weber's digital counterpoint take turns as the center of attention, with long stretches mixed together seamlessly. There are only five tracks, but the album's two lengthy centerpieces, "Particle" and "Spectral Split," are so sweeping that the album ought to be experienced as a single, mutating composition, part DJ mix and part Music for 18 Musicians.
Elements of Light broadens the scope of Weber's project at a natural pace, displaying a sense of dynamics indebted to classical music. At times, it's more overtly sweet and even bombastic than any previous Pantha du Prince material: On the cresting waves of "Spectral Split," the carillon can't help but sound triumphant. At other points, it's all understated ambience, a few glassy notes circling in space. Listening to Elements of Light is about absorbing the gradual, swelling transitions by which Weber and The Bell Laboratory get from point A to points B–G and back again. The ensemble setup plays up Pantha du Prince's talent for arrangements, a way of braiding electronic and acoustic sounds into a richly imagined whole. Without underplaying his accessibility or taking the path of least resistance, Elements of Light illuminates Pantha du Prince's music from within.