If you’ve never watched Gordon Ramsay cook a steak on YouTube, I can’t recommend it highly enough; as long as you don’t have a sensitive vegetarian streak, it’s a soothing, revelatory experience. My video of choice is cut from Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course, a 2012 series in which Ramsay covers 100 basic recipes for novice home chefs. It’s just two and a half minutes, blessedly brief by YouTube standards, and it’s devoid of the aggressive energy and profanity that sours Ramsay’s other, more popular shows. (Editor’s note: clearly Jamieson isn’t a fan of the superlative MasterChef Junior.)
He pan-fries two slabs of beef with garlic and thyme, talking through the process and offering rules of thumb with the pace and quiet intensity of a veteran yoga instructor. The only sound you hear is Ramsay’s voice and the near-pornographic sizzle of the cooking steak. He cuts a slice off the finished product, takes a bite, and sends you on your way.
I’ve spent hours contemplating this video’s therapeutic qualities. What is the source of its power? I don’t have any fondness for Ramsay as a person or chef; I’m not good enough in the kitchen to pull off even this basic technique with the same kind of success; I don’t even like red meat that much. There’s simply something hypnotic about watching someone complete a task they’ve completed thousands of times before with minimal frippery and total command over their environment. I feel the same way about the new EPs Lindstrøm and Aphex Twin are releasing this week, short missives that succeed because of the brevity and specificity they share with Ramsay’s steak video. No matter the medium, mastery never gets old.
Lindstrøm’s area of expertise is space disco, the subgenre that blends the dancefloor dynamics of disco, Italo, and early house with the expansiveness and futuristic bent of Krautrock and prog. (That’s a lot of jargon to throw into a blender — in a practical sense, it means a strain of disco that’s stretches tackiness to its absolute limit over double-digit minute runtimes.) If Lindstrøm didn’t invent space disco, he perfected it, and the run of singles and albums he put together in the mid-’00s alongside contemporaries like Prins Thomas and Todd Terje are the genre’s essential documents. That’s why it’s a bummer he’s spent much of this decade making bloated prog-pop albums like 2012’s Six Cups of Rebel and Runddans, a messy collaboration with Todd Rundgren and Serena-Maneesh’s Emil Nikolaisen released last year.
Get ready for exultant synth stabs
Windings is remarkable because it’s just the opposite of those misguided experiments. It’s focused, bright, and rippling with energy. Opener "Closing Shot" was lauded upon its release as a single back in March, and that praise holds up today: it’s the perfect marriage of power and playfulness, a rock-solid groove decorated with exultant synth stabs — seriously, they’re like something out of an 8-bit game about the Olympics — and splashy handclaps. And even though it sets a high bar for the rest of the EP, the other two tracks on Windings match it with ease. "Algorytme" pits two sparkling lead melodies against each other like duet partners, full of personality and blessed with precise timing; "Foehn" is perky and warm, gliding over almost nine minutes like its namesake mountain wind.
You have to look back to the late-’00s to hear Lindstrøm working at this level for longer than a single, and that’s why Windings feels so special: it’s tough to put together a half-hour of music this compelling, even if you’re the guy responsible for the subgenre being codified in the first place. It’s even good enough to make you appreciate the album-length failures that preceded its release. I’d suffer through Runddans again if it meant giving Windings the credit it deserves.
Richard D. James doesn’t have Lindstrøm’s crowd-pleasing impulse or scattershot recent track record, but Cheetah feels like a return to something approaching his artistic core all the same. He’s put out three major EPs under various guises since returning to musical prominence with Syro in 2014, and Cheetah — named for a notoriously finicky British synth sold during the early ‘90s — hews closest to that album’s mutating analog techno.
Imagine tap-dancing skeletons
Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 experimented with atmosphere, space, and tone; orphaned deejay selek 2006-2008 was stuffed full of warp-speed squelching. Cheetah opts for slow-motion acid instead. "CHEETAHT2 [Ld spectrum]" and "CHEETAHT7b" make for a telegraphed opening one-two punch, lurching like horror movie villains; the two-song "CIRKLON" suite that follows is only a touch more robust. Every song moves with the grace you’d expect from skeletons reanimated and made to tap dance. The EP’s only colorful moments are its interstitial "ms800" pieces, sub-minute digressions that sound like demonstrations of the titular synth’s unique sound.
Does that sound ponderous? Consider it the latest piece of proof that James remains unique among producers as his career enters its fourth decade. Cheetah isn’t his most immediate work, but immediacy isn’t really the point: it’s an exercise in restraint, in wringing life out of a few difficult machines. It bears his signature. Put it this way: how would it feel watching Gordon Ramsay cook a steak if he was the only person on the planet who knew where to start? That’s what it means to listen to James’ post-Syro output, and Cheetah is no exception.