Henrik Weber, who records as Pantha Du Prince, is a great producer. As displayed on 2007’s latter-day techno classic This Bliss and 2010’s even better Black Noise, he’s got a great knack for balancing the utilitarian requirements of dance music and his own ideas of mood and texture. Organic percussion, mostly bells, is his not-so-secret weapon, and he deftly arranges them into sparkling melodies and unpredictable chord changes. And his tracks move relentlessly forward, taking his listeners on what feels like a train-ride through a tunnel lit by tiny specks of light.
All of Weber’s best qualities as a producer are on display on The Triad, his fourth album and first in six years. But The Triad also reveals a previously unforeseen Achilles’ heel: the guy doesn’t have a clue what to do with vocals. His only previous vocal collaboration was on Black Noise’s “Stick To My Side”, which featured a spry turn from then-indie megastar Panda Bear. Though the pairing worked, the human voice still cut sharply through Weber’s sylvan bliss, and any more vocal collaboration would probably have been overkill. The Triad proves as much.
Opener “The Winter Hymn” features some atmospheric cooing from a guy named Mr. Queens, and his vocals fit in seamlessly with the mix due to their strictly textural role. The next two tracks roll by undisturbed, and at this point we’re firmly immersed in Weber’s soundworld. But then Queens comes back to intone some New Age shit halfway through “In An Open Space”, and the listener has to adjust their mode of listening to focus on the lyrics instead of just the texture. Weber’s soundscapes are so rich that anything distracting from them becomes a nuisance.
The other problem is that the vocalists enter more or less at random. The ten-minute “Chasing Vapour Trails” has the potential to be a classic mid-album abyss, but five minutes in, some guy who sounds like cut-rate Matthew Dear comes in to spout his relationship woes. It feels like a slap in the face from reality, as when you’re stoned and the person you’re smoking with starts talking about their breakup. This is par for the course on The Triad. Without looking at the featured artists on any given track, it’s hard to know if and when a vocalist will show up, and the best you can do is hope ten or fifteen minutes will pass by without anyone muttering in your ear.
But—and this makes the album all the more frustrating—Weber is still a fantastic producer. He’s more or less doing what he did on Black Noise, but the tracks are bigger and brawnier this time around, and it’s a lot easier to imagine them actually working in a club setting. (Weber’s allegedly poor at moving dancefloors.) The best stretch of the album is the first three tracks, which lack vocals aside from Queens’ appearance on “The Winter Hymn”. Here, the surprises are pleasant: a slippery synth on “You what? Euphoria!” that seems to gently rock from side to side, a titanic synth lead on “Frau im Mond, Sterne laufen” that adds a welcome bit of grandeur.
An instrumental version of this album would be one of my favorites of the year, and it wouldn’t have been too risky for Weber to release one; Luomo, another minimal house titan, actually improved his 2007 album Convivial by cutting out the incongruous guest vocals on an alternate version. But, unfortunately, we’re forced to accept what we’re given on The Triad, which is a lot of top-notch productions with a whole lot of shitty vocals. It would have almost been more satisfying if the productions were worse. B MINUS