trace is a third “official” full-length album by gridlock, and a major change of style compared to the differences between “further” and “synthetic form.”
I have always considered “further“ a continuation and refinement of ideas introduced on “synthetic form.” “further” was a stellar album, but at the same time it was a creative “trap” for the duo. both “further” and “synthetic form” accomplished everything possible in the genre they have created themselves. those albums reached the very top in this niche and created an absolute references, defining this kind of music in general for years to come.
obviously, it would be impossible to come up with something radically new and remain within the same style boundaries. and luckily gridlock avoided this “one-time wonder” dead-ends and managed to further evolve with “trace.”
if you have been following latest gridlock-related projects (o2, n5md) as well as few tracks that were available before the official release of this album, the new sound of the band would not come as a big surprise to you.
strictly speaking, the term “new” is not that accurate. you would still be able to recognize gridlock’s trademark compress crunchy percussion and strings. this time around though, the whole atmosphere has changed. the music is lighter, more refined and transparent. melodies often dominate the percussion which in turn has been significantly “minimized,” often reduced to almost minimal precision.
the melodies built on long soaring strings is what makes this album instantly appealing (this “instant” melodic catchiness might be another factor that initially scares away die-heard fans). often those gorgeous deep strings are flowing without any percussion, that only drops in now and then at random. there are a few tough tracks with familiar compressed sound, but overall lighter, dreamier melodies are dominant on the disk.
for many this new gridlock became a disappointment, leaning too close to the “lighter” side of idm world. and I will agree that I do miss a darker side of gridlock, but then there are both “synthetic form” and “further” that would always sound fresh.
the album starts with a few heavier tracks and then gradually slows down to warm flowing melody that is almost devoid of percussion. instead we are treated to nicely processed female vocal pieces. a little later the structure is regained, shaping the melody with random bleepy noises and scattered percussion, that is simpler and lighter. some of the most beautiful minimal tracks on the cd come really close to o2 track on gridlock/o2 split. they are perfectly shaped long melodic pieces with simple sparse percussion that is so perfectly fitting the overall atmosphere created by the track.
those tracks seem to be the new direction gridlock is heading. heavier, denser pieces become less and less frequent, seeming more like a tribute to the old sound, although they create an amazing contrast to slower, purely ambient pieces.
it would be wrong to see gridlock moving completely into the ambient side of the genre, the band is merely paying a lot more attention to minimalism and cleaner, stripped-down passages that create an even more striking contrast to layered percussion.
the increased range of emotions that “trace” creates is one more difference from earlier work, that was very “focused” on few key themes. this album requires a slightly different mindset, and hopefully the listeners that have been able to keep up with modern electronic music scene would be prepared to understand and accept new gridlock.
at this point gridlock, still remaining a main effort of the duo, is only part of the overall music vision of mike wells and cadoo. in order to fully understand and enjoy this album you should attempt to trace the references and the roots of its sound – from melodic idm and minimal ambient to tough compressed percussion and aggression of first releases. but ideally, I would recommend to set all the other gridlock material aside, and fully concentrate on the current album itself, not trying to make any comparisons.
“trace” is a landmark album for many genres – from post-industrial, to idm and ambient, it seems that unit is pushing the album the best way possible, successfully reaching out to many diverse audiences.