Gatekeeper reside in an unusual niche of electronic music. They make instrumental tracks that would not feel out of place in a trashy 80â€™s horror flick, but thereâ€™s never a tongue in cheek feel to it. For a lack of a better word, the duo of Aaron David Ross and Matthew Arkell are dead serious about the music they make, and are more than likely waiting for a call from John Carpenter to score his movies. â€śChains,â€ť the fantastic opening track from 2010â€™s Giza EP, sounds like the theme song to some long-forgotten grindhouse flick.
While they may have to wait until their next release to score a film, they went for another medium on their debut LP for Hippos in Tanks. Exo will be followed by a â€śfirst-person gaming environment designed by Tabor Robak, in which one explores various worlds inspired by the tracks on the album,â€ť according to the Hippos in Tanks write-up. Itâ€™s an intriguing idea, if only the album didnâ€™t already feel like stepping into another world. To seek out the game might seem a bit superfluous to the listening experience, mostly because Gatekeeper already have their sights set on a full-on assault of the senses. To hear Exo and not play the game would be a problem if only the album didnâ€™t feel like a complete work by itself.
Gone are the 80s horror film-inspired synths and drum machines of previous releases, and in its place are drum and bass, break-beat jungle rhythms, acid-infused synth lines, and a choir for good measure (yes, a choir!). The album is largely inspired by early 90â€™s UK underground pioneers such as Aphex Twin and Autechre, but Gatekeeper treat the style as a template rather than an artifact. Tracks like â€śExoliftâ€ť give the best example of the duoâ€™s mission statement: industrial drum patterns and TB-303 synths combined to fit squarely in what Richard D. James once termed â€śBraindance.â€ť In a rare feat for an electronic album, Exo begs to be heard all the way through, and it packs quite a punch when consumed in one sitting. With the running time a brisk 35 minutes over 12 tracks, the listener is never exhausted by one track or concept, though this isnâ€™t to say that the album is instantly accessible. Gatekeeper have made an album specifically for the heads, for those who have been waiting patiently for Aphex Twin to release a new album. Although it has one foot in the past, the LP never feels retro or revivalist. And while they may not convert any skeptics with this release, Aaron and Matthew have made an immense leap forward with Exo, crafting one of the yearâ€™s most complex, inventive electronic albums.