Veteran electronic musician Robert Henke returns with a new album by Monolake, his long-running project. On Ghosts (Imbalance Computer Music / Monolake), Henke uses extremely minimal soundscapes to emphasize percussive blips and muted electronic beats. These percussive elements create a landscape that allows swells of synthetic noise or harmonic passages to expand beyond their limits, creating the feeling that grandiose, symphonic layers prevail. This feeling emerges when the listener continues to work deeper and deeper into Henke’s songs; on first glance, one might note that the entire project feels sparsely populated and monolithic. Henke’s success is using that first impression to turn against his listener and build layers of sound without creating dense or claustrophobic arrangements. Despite a cold, industrial feeling due to clean, immediate production, there is no loss of personality or expressiveness throughout the disc.
On the opening song and title cut “Ghosts,” Henke collects series of spooky, barren noises and alongside whispered, veiled vocals — “You. Do. Not. Exist. Anymore.” — and tinny beats. “Toku” immediately follows with synthetic swells that invoke an entire choir, expansive across scattered percussion. Henke draws on those expansive themes to build suspenseful twists and turns on “Hitting the Surface,” using symphonic interludes against repetitive keys and echoed vocals. This track foreshadows some of the disc’s later tracks, such as “Phenomenon,” which is one of the most robust and expressive tracks on the album. Henke plays a sequence of feedback against choral vocals that sound devout, almost chanting; the degenerative clatter that follows on “Unstable Matter” seems downright surprising in context.
Immersing oneself into the sequence of Monolake’s Ghosts, Henke counteracts extreme or surprising noises against minimal and repetitive beats. Since the production of the disc is clear and crisp, there’s extensive clarity to Henke’s work — the sounds feel like they’re spinning a story, or at the very least, the twists and turns feel plotted rather than pointless. As the expansive elements increase in the middle of the disc, tracks on opposite ends serve as effective reference points. From a surface that foretells industrial, percussive music, Henke dives into a winding current of expressive noise.