Imagine you could recall a whole night of dreams and nightmares - the good, the bad and the downright weird all wrapped up in one. Now try setting them to music... chances are it would play out along the lines of Dear Painter, Paint Me - the autobiographical debut album from Heartthrob. Written over a two-year period since relocating from New York to Paris and subsequently to Berlin, Jesse Siminski has assembled a remarkable collection of emotionally charged techno tracks that mirrors this whirlwind experience. Provocative, humorous, self-reflective and ultimately cathartic, there's clearly something very special going on here that continues the upward trajectory that started with the ubiquitous Baby Kate and continued through last year with Nasty Girl - his genre-busting collaboration with Gaiser (MVS1).
As the title of the LP suggests (Dear painter, paint me is borrowed from a series by German painter Martin Kippenberger, 1953-97), Heartthrob is a musician who wears his heart on his sleeve, who understands authenticity can only be achieved through soul-mining and who manages to transform the raw emotions he uncovers into the unique melodies and sublime hooklines that give his music its human spirit. In many ways he's a maverick musician even within the Minus ranks, focusing intently on the melodic, harmonic and tonal aspects of his music while openly railing against the 'redundant percussive techno stuff' that currently clogs our dancefloors. But that's not to say he lets up on the beats for a second, in fact his tracks are equally characterised by a deep understanding of the formal and conceptual ideas that define and shape the Minus sound. Add to that the mischievous time signatures, a penchant for the dramatic and an underlying sense of the absurd and you have all the ingredients for a hi octane, rollercoaster ride.
...and so to the music. Following the continuous play CD format, the opening track Future's Past really sets the emotional and structural tone for the next 50 minutes. Coming on like a funked-up John Carpenter movie theme, it's cinematic, big room techno at its best. The slow, rhythmic pulse of distant machinery is abruptly punctuated by dramatic synth stabs, before a staccato micro-melody tentatively enters the frame. Unassuming at first, this nervous little riff morphs through several different stateses over the following nine minutes with a seriously jacking groove in tow, before finally succumbing to the darkness. Epic in proportions, Confession is without doubt one of the major achievements on show here and continues the expansive theme. Timeless techno strings that drift in to dominate the first half of the track, while the lush sounds capes, hypnotic melodies and edgy peripheral efx combine to create a structurally complex, symmetrical arrangement that continually constructs and deconstructs before finally returning to its point of origin and dramatically folding in on itself.
The first single, Signs, has figured heavily in Richie Hawtin's recent sets. The understated introduction with its deep, funky bassline, loose hihat groove and sci-fi vocal efx soon makes way for the urgent, cavorting melody that bounds forward until the massive, resonating synthetic bass drops, wiping out everything in its path. Things start to get really interesting from a rhythmic standpoint as the subtle introduction of disco and Caribbean influenced time signatures give a new dimension to the chugging groove, offering the perfect foil to the sonic mayhem overhead. In a similar fashion, Out of Here employs a crazy swing beat groove in tandem with the fragile, otherworldly main motif. The initial friction between these fractured elements is soon forgotten as Heartthrob drops a few more unifying sequences into the mix and the gravitational pull becomes too good to ignore.
As you sink deeper into the album and your thoughts gradually unravel, you slowly begin to decipher his way of hearing things. Blind Item (CD and digital only) is another complex yet uncomplicated linear groove that relies on an endlessly morphing, hypnotic hookline. Simple in structure but embellished with lavish harmonics and efx, the pounding beats don't let up until the final breakdown slowly drifts out of view. As mentioned earlier, the album draws on the full range of emotions and Interference is where the lights go out. It's a breathtaking, example of edgy, paranoia inducing techno - a tipping point where the gloves come off and things get uncomfortably real. The raw beats are in full effect while the discordant howls summon up memories of dark days gone by. As Aldous Huxley once said 'The Christians enter the arena together but are crucified alone'.
The emotional turmoil initially bleeds over into Slow Dance with its beautifully ugly main theme, pumping bassline and call and response percussion fills. Raucous, drunken, with a devil may care attitude there is however, a resilience at work here that stands defiant in the face of a sometimes unjust world and brings us full circle to the final track. Heading for a Heartbreak doesn't completely tie up all the plot lines, deliberately leaving a few questions unanswered but it does put everything back on track with its quirky, acid overtones giving the piece the feel of a 1960's sci-fi pilot theme tune that was just too far out to make into a series.
It's a warm, satisfying end to an album that not only hints at so much more to come from this increasingly influential producer but will without question be one of the highlights of the summer and beyond.