You probably think of Huerco S. as an ambient artist, reluctant poster child of the mid-2010s ambient resurgence. His 2016 album ‘For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)’ is as good an ambient record as you’ll find; released in the same year as Trump’s election win and Britain’s Brexit vote, it was proclaimed by many to be a remedy to the political turmoil that surrounded it. But Brian Leeds, the man behind Huerco S., has since distanced himself from both the project and ambient music in general.
In truth, the association has never really been fair. Long before he was mentioned in the same breath as his namesake Mr Eno, Leeds was making all sorts of weird club music, most of which had beats and almost all of which was really fucking good. His 2013 album ‘Colonial Patterns’, released on immensely underrated Newcastle label Opal Tapes, is a work of mesmeric electronica driven by an ear for sluggish rhythms. He also produced ‘Elma (Ruff Rub)’, possibly the greatest outsider house track ever recorded.
After ‘For Those Of You’, Leeds all but ditched the Huerco S. alias, uncomfortable with the attention and uninterested in being synonymous with ambient. He switched focus to his label West Mineral Ltd and released under new names, most notably Pendant, for the 2018 album ‘Make Me Know You Sweet’ and this year’s ‘To All Sides They Will Stretch Their Hands’. His Huerco S. comeback album, ‘Plonk’, is almost anti-ambient, a work of strange, cascading beats inspired by trap, drill and the artist’s childhood love of cars.
‘Plonk I’ to ‘III’ burble and babble for about 15 minutes. Strings are plucked. Brooding atmospheres wash back and forth. It’s around ‘Plonk IV’ that you’ll snap out of whatever you’re doing and realise this is not a background album. A frenetic, haywire beat taps out on a metallic digital drum kit. The track races forth, spinning and stuttering until a murky, club-ready breakdown that’s half dub techno and half weightless grime.
Then there’s ‘Plonk VI’, the album’s vertiginous peak. As it climbs skyward, building a tower of heavenly sound over nine-and-a-half minutes, the track recalls Actress’s ‘Ascending’ or Donato Dozzy’s ‘Cleo’, tunes made for those coming-up- for-air moments in a DJ set that make you feel like levitating above a dancefloor. In instrumentation, moments like this are a world away from anything on ‘For Those Of You...’, but in their hypnotic effect, they have a lot in common. Both a thudding trap beat and a languorous, narcotic serenade, ‘Plonk VI’ is an incredible piece of music and Leeds’s best composition in years.
Tracks include snippets of ambiguous dialogue, sampled in among the noise just like in Burial’s most moving work. These vague hints of lyricism make the introduction of a rapper on ‘Plonk IX’ feel seamless. Over a bed of irregular beats, Washington DC emcee Sir EU mumbles a stream of rhymes and non-sequiturs like a man possessed by an unworldly spirit; as the track builds, his lyrics add to the feeling of a rising, suffocating tide.
With his closer ‘Plonk X’, Leeds finally does away with both beats and words, rolling out over 11 minutes that are inescapably ambient and affecting. Huerco S. is back.