ALEPH: Gesaffelstein’s Vindictive Modern Masterpiece

October 28, 2013 -

Brett Blackman

Equipped with a full pack of cigarettes and an undying appreciation for techno, I prepared myself for this review under somewhat unconventional circumstances. No stranger to the unreasonable hours of the night and the sense of ambivalence it evokes, I found myself clocking in at over 52 hours of no sleep. Although substantially unhealthy, I eventually concluded that this strange but encompassing state of clairvoyance would be the perfect blank canvas upon which to communicate and express the underlying crux of Gesaffelstein’s Aleph.


If you have ever had the pleasure of seeing Gesaffelstein live, you may have noticed that besides the occasional torso thrust or head bob, he doesn’t seem to evoke any sort of emotion and doesn’t say one word during his set (unless it’s to his trusted musical companion, the Bromance Records boss, Brodinski). His secretive mystique effectively adds to the overall Gesaffelstein experience. Devilishly unpredictable, he is not going to tell you how to feel, he wants you to figure that out for yourself.


Some may call it an obsession, but I would like to think of my deep-rooted, emotional connection with the music of Gesaffelstein to be a result of my own personal perceptions of his provocative and aphotic sound. With most artists, you as the viewer are capable and encouraged to form your own individualistic notions of their craft. This establishes an indirect relationship between the creator and viewer. A successful artist is one that can project and resonate something within their viewer that is unexplainable but also enchanting. Gesaffelstein has undeniably done just that in Aleph.

It’s probably fair to assume that the majority of electronic music fans first exposed to the brooding, mysterious, and suited Frenchman (also known as Mike Levy) as a dark, demonic and destructive individual. You might also presume he has experienced some sort of mental anguish that fuels his sensuously maniacal productions. His music undeniably evokes sensations of rebellion and violence but those are just the external assumptions. The internal analysis is entirely up to the listener as it is different from person to person. Personally, I feel driven into an intoxicating state of accepted mental delirium.

I made the journey to Electric Zoo this year specifically to see the electrifying Gesaffelstein and Brodinski duo command and conquer with their paramount back-to-back performance. In the sweltering New York City heat, I shoved past the empty faces doused in neon, proudly wearing a shapeless and oversized men’s black t-shirt boasting the Bromance Records logo, Gesaffelstein was the first release on the label. Watching the two smother their audience with vindictive vibrations led me into to a moment of musical clarity. I knew what they were trying to create and impression onto their audience.

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Tension, although a common theme among musicians and artists alike, assumes control over every visual, auditory and sensory stimulus, forcing it into submission and dominating any comfortable sense of normalcy. Aleph is an authoritative, intuitive and modern representation of Electronic Body Music (EBM), which rose to prominence in the mid-eighties through the success of Kraftwerk. Not to be confused with the EDM acronym, electronic body music is essentially ‘music of the body,’ a commanding force that seductively guides you through different waves of emotion. Any of you who have ever participated or have seen a symphony orchestra know that some of the most successful pieces have several different movements that all evoke distinctively different sounds simultaneously making impelling and compelling emotional appeals in an individual. Aleph is just that.

In a recent interview with BBC Radio One’s Annie Nightingale, Levy mentions how he was trying to establish this presage of not being able to breathe: Imagine being held under water against your will, thrashing your limbs in every direction, breathing in miniscule pockets of oxygen whenever possible to prevent your lungs from filling up with water. That’s exactly what Hate or Glory is like. Caught between two drastically different physical states, life or death. Being pushed and pulled in opposing directions like the ebb and flow of an ocean. Eventually this unnerving fight will drive you into a state of insanity, forcing you to surrender yourself into a shadowed unknown. Gesaffelstein captures these emotions through his signature echoing basslines that guide you through a musical maze of uncertainty and hysteria. The imagery of this first track is clear and is seen again in Duel and Trans.

Not only because of the title, Pursuit is a driving force of the entire album. It doesn’t stop, the tension builds; it keeps going, building more tension. A reasonable comparison (without distorting Gesaffelstein’s intended vision) could be made to a racing heartbeat. When you first start out on a run, at the start, your heart is beating a little faster than usual, and once you’ve been at it for a while, it starts to take its toll, something is telling you to stop. Perhaps there’s something telling you to succumb, but you keep pushing yourself to test your limits to see how strong you are.

Like in Obsession and Wall Of Memories, the commanding riff repeats, while lengthened synths and distinct pulses progressively build on top of each other, some times releasing for a short pause, but never forgetting that their fate is on the line.

Tracks like Out Of Line and Destinations have an animalistic sentiment complete with a lucid ambience from the throbbing bass and the monotone and devilish spoken word lyrics. In complete contrast, Hellifornia is predominately a bouncy but intensified hip-hop track, somewhat alike to his recent productions for Kanye West.

Nameless, Aleph, Piece of Future, and Perfection are all beautifully reminiscent of early electronic body music, intricate within their simplicity. The atmospheric waves of these tracks travel through states of tranquility and rebellious uncertainty. Sometimes evoking subtle hints of innocence but always returning to the signature Gesaffelstein sense of intensity.

Aleph, both beautiful and sadistic, is technically dynamic and representative of Levy’s perception and vision that is nothing short of genius.

Order Aleph

~Jade Waterman


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