Jack Hamill has spent the past decade building out his Space Dimension Controller project as though it were a Hollywood blockbuster franchise. The music, a mixture of Detroit-inspired techno, electro-funk, and atmospheric electronica, conveys a cinematic sensibility that’s reflected in his titles (earlier albums The Pathway to Tiraquon6 and Welcome to Mikrosector-50 were both bookended by tracks called “Feature Presentation” and “Closing Titles”) and even his character development. Mr. 8040, the Belfast producer’s alter ego, is a recurring figure: a space-journeying, time-traveling narrator with the unfortunate tendency to slip into the 20th century’s most hackneyed rap cadences. (Consider this, from Welcome to Mikrosector-50: “I’m the Space Dimension Controller/And time travel is my thing/So I brought you all to the future/To show you all about the funk I bring.”)
It can sometimes be hard to say whether Space Dimension Controller is a musical alias or a kind of cosplay. It’s not that his productions are derivative; at his best, Hamill has spun his influences into a rich, captivating blend whose signature would be unmistakable even without all the hokey sci-fi world-building. But his determination to stick to the bit can wear thin. The vocals and spoken-word interludes are often at cross-purposes with the genuinely immersive qualities of the music. And at times, Hamill’s determination to emulate the sound of black American electro-funk verges uncomfortably on pastiche.
Love Beyond the Intersect, Hamill’s first full-length in six years, continues in the vein of its predecessors. The ambient swirl of buzzing synth drones, radio static, and spaceship noises that opens the album is so evocative of the movie theater that you can practically taste the imitation butter flavor on your tongue. True to Hamill’s penchant for concept albums, the record comes couched in a space-travel narrative that doubles as an allegory of losing and rediscovering one’s way. (Hamill has spoken in interviews and on Twitter about getting sober and finding new love, both of which are hinted at in the text accompanying the album.)
Fortunately, the music doesn’t belabor the tacked-on narrative. As usual, Hamill splits his vocals between gravelly rapping and gossamer vocoded refrains, but both are downplayed here. Worked more deeply into the mix than on previous records, they’re largely indistinguishable from his synthesizers, and the lyrics mostly set aside elaborate fantasy elements in favor of couplets about self-knowledge and romantic love. If they’re still giving out Nobel Prizes for literature in the 81th century, Mr. 8040 won’t taking one home.
Musically, these are Hamill’s most confident productions yet, displaying a masterfully evocative blend of textures: spongy bass synths, graphite-slicked analog drum machines, pads as rosy as the blush on a replicant’s cheeks. The fundamentals of his music haven’t changed much in the past 10 years, but his fusion of influences like Cybotron, Egyptian Lover, Model 500, and Metro Area feels more holistic than ever. They’ve all pooled into a sound you might call ambient techno-boogie, in which Detroit futurism meets ’80s disco in the neon glow of the chillout room.
The problem is that Hamill’s fusion has become perhaps too holistic, because most of these songs follow exactly the same template. Again and again, he uses the same rubbery basslines and pitch-bent funk leads, the same gaseous pads, the same hissing Roland hi-hats. Sometimes, it sounds like he’s repeating old glories: “Slowtime in Reflection” is remarkably similar to the 2010 track “BBD Alignment,” just updated with more vivid production. And some songs on Love Beyond the Intersect are almost indistinguishable. “PVLN” and “Voices Lost to Empty Space,” which follows it, share the same key and tempo. Rather than complementary parts of a suite, they feel like alternate takes that Hamill couldn’t decide between. (For what it’s worth, the latter, an instrumental, is the clear winner.) This kind of consistency carries across the whole album. If you’re in the mood for it, the experience can be pleasantly immersive, like a blissfully inconsequential afternoon at the multiplex. But the world is already awash in sequels. Hamill is clearly talented; it would be nice to hear him visit some new worlds.
Buy: Rough Trade
(Pitchfork may earn a commission from purchases made through affiliate links on our site.)