Album of the Week: B12 – Time Tourist

Mike Golding and Steven Rutter didn’t release many albums as B12 during the height of their career in nineties, but the ones they did had cultivated a certain allure and mystique. They counted the likes of Aphex Twin and Autechre as their peers at their label Warp, but some bad business decisions on their part, only amounted to two albums, even though their recorded catalogue at the time would number in the hundreds of unreleased tracks.

Their significantly shy media presence and their reserved output had never seen them rise to the same level of success than their counterparts, but their music lived on, enshrined forever in surreptitious underground lore. Dedicated fans and obscure collectors coveted their minimal output as their music laid dormant, but as that all changed in the last decade, B12 stepped out of obscurity again and embarked on a new phase of their career.

This next phase was spearheaded in most part by the re-issue of their seminal debut, “Electro-Soma” and it’s previously unreleased successor, “Electro-Soma II” on Warp records. While they had released their third LP and their entire anthology o their own B12 records back in 2008, the re-issue had catapulted them into the public conscious again and brought new, much-warranted attention to B12 and their music. For the fans it had validated their obsession, while introducing the group to newer audiences.

While Steven Rutter has steadily been recording music as a solo artist, mostly for his Firecracker recordings imprint, these re-issues have had the rumour mill spinning a yarn that the two are back in the studio together, working on some new, original material together – rumours nobody has been able to validate yet. For the moment, we’ll have to be content with the re-issues.

Around the time of “Electro-Soma”, Warp had offered B12 a record deal with a substantial advance for three records. They didn’t take it, because of some unsubstantiated concerns of a financial burden, and Warp all but cut ties with them. In 1995 however they’re name come up again at the label office and Warp approached them for a sophomore LP, and B12 wouldn’t make the same mistake again and simply jumped at the chance – “Time Tourist” was the result.

Today “Time Tourist” reaches us from some distant past, where it appears to be very much of its time, but not necessarily out of place in our contemporary age. Charming melodic phrases play amongst incandescent harmonic movements coaxed from the familiar sounds of vintage synthesisers and grooveboxes. Even in the 1990’s B12 weren’t necessarily braking any moulds, but they had firmly embraced that second wave of Detroit, and put their distinctive spin on it.

While “Electro Soma” was compiled from B12’s back-catalogue prior to their record deal, “Time Tourist” was an album that was created start-to-finish with the idea of becoming an LP. Science fiction concepts fly untethered to any single thread while the symbiosis between man, machine and music lays the fundamental ground for B12’s sound.

From “Void/Comm” to “Radiophonic Workshop” B12 trace a singular mood through the individual pieces that make up the LP, travelling over crests and through crevices as tension mounts and dissipates over their tracks. Pieces like “Scriptures” and “Gimp” are constructed like songs rather than tracks, with extensive introductions and complex harmonic- and melodic resolutions, and even though they are grounded in that same DIY aesthetic and sonic simplicity of their Detroit counterparts, B12 have always favoured a slightly more evolved and considered musical approach to their arrangements.

“Time Tourist” might be enshrined in its own time capsule, but there’s no reason why this record shouldn’t enjoy the same level of admiration as Kenny Larkin’s “Azimuth” or Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works”. B12 deserve their rightful place amongst these artists, and thanks to the re-issue of “Time Tourist” and “Electro-Soma” they can finally take their place.