Ex_Tension is the brainchild of the French duo Vincent Gendrot aka VXT and Pierre-yves Hohmann aka PY. This project has supposedly been at least creating music since 1997, but my understanding of their existence doesn’t begin until roughly 2004. The vast majority of their physical output has come through taking part on compilations which you can find as far back as 2005’s “Industrial Ceremony” CD-R on Altsphere Production. From here they would go on to take part in many more from “In this Terrific Cold Room 2” on La Chambre Froide to this year’s incredible six-disc collection on Elektroanschlag, “Elektroanschlag 8 // Final Edition”. Of course, this was only the second release for the American label Signifier and Ex_tension certainly took part on their first release and compilation manifesto “These Sounds will have to Meet somewhere in Between” with the “Significant Remix” of “Le Complexe” — an ironic situation considering the original version of that track isn’t found on this album, but rather another compilation in Kod.eX’s “Kod.eX Electronic Compilation”.
That said, this isn’t exactly a new album but rather a re-release of their 2006 self-released effort with a couple of unreleased bonus tracks in “Extermezzo” and “What Else”. The album starts out as a bit of ambient with experimental blips and pristine cymbal work. It isn’t long before rhythm kicks in on the low end of the mix behind a sample that will set the stage for the theme in the rest of the album with a defiant view towards “freedom”, that sample containing excerpts from the acceptance speech of Barry Goldwater upon becoming the Republican presidential candidate for the 1964 election against incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson (whom ultimately won in what is considered a landslide). Moving on, “Off” contains a moving percussion line that gives this track a strong 4/4 bombastic appeal with complex elements that are more based around layers than a complexity in the rhythm itself. Likewise, the bridging section of the track contains some beautiful synth sound and a chance in the approach of the percussion that brings about a surreal flavor to the track. “Infinity” seems to take an, ironically, more temporal approach that is grounded directly in bass-heavy grungy / sleazy beats for the opening portion, eventually working its way into a minimally more glitch-esque style. The extended version of “Lust” is mostly just low-volume sound experimentation that allows for a (much) longer build-up into the beef of the track that allows for a more progressive feel. “Extermezzo” takes us into a more down-tempo direction with trudging beats and a psy-like atmosphere lurking through synth in the background. The second half of the album follows this style of synth-laden beauty, modestly psy-style electronics and dirty yet flowing beats.
At least one of the remixes / alternate interpretations of the track “Freedom” that are present at the end of the disc is perhaps the most interesting on the entire album. ZNo’s style, despite being a relatively unheard of project, is deeply visceral on a dark ambient scale and they show a vehemently tenebrous face in their remix through industrial influences and an unexpectedly loud abrasive atmosphere. Unfortunately, Lith’s version isn’t much to listen to considering the extreme amount of repetition for a six and a half minute track. In the end, it probably would have been better to flip them and have the zNo version end the album.
It should be said that this album doesn’t appear to be conceptualized around the idea of freedom from an American perspective despite the opening sample from Barry Goldwater — after all, these two gentlemen are French. Rather, the ending sentiments of that track in “we can be freedom’s missionaries” and the album artwork itself as it looks towards the vast open skies seem to represent the thematic goals of the project more realistically (and perhaps spiritually on an introspective level). However, as a fully instrumental effort, I’m not sure how those themes were viably represented by the music presented other than perhaps the freedom that the dance-floor nature of the beats incorporated would make the listener feel. Overall it’s a solid effort, though I feel “Freedom” isn’t anything extraordinary. Of course it would fit right in with the catalog of its European brethren like Hymen Records, but that’s quite the point — it doesn’t stand out on its own. Regardless, for an artist coming into their own and for a new label in Signifier, this is a wonderful start to what may become an illustrious center for rhythmic music in America outside of their inevitable doppelgänger in Tympanik Audio.
05) Lust (Ex_tended)
08) What Else
11) Freedom According to zNo
12) Freedom According to Lith