Like most enterprising producers, Melbourne’s Mic Newman has cycled through a fair amount of styles over the course of his career. The early releases under his own name were, by and large, sturdy tech-housers with pleasingly rubbery textures; a 2016 album under the Mind Lotion moniker focused on introspective headspace material, both fragile and mystical; as P.M.T.C., he’s come up with something like a refined version of woodland hippy trance. But Newman, it seems, save his strongest work for his Fantastic Man persona, which first sprang to life in the early days of this decade via tracks ‘Look This Way’ and ‘Groove with You.’ Those tunes followed the ‘loopy, off-kilter house with R&B vocal samples’ template, and done with far more panache than most. Ever the exploratory type, Newman’s been busy expanded the Fantastic Man template since then — 2016’s gently swirling ‘Seaside Special’ and last year’s acid-breakbeat elegy ‘Native Power are particular favourites — and he continues that trend on the debut Fantastic Man long-player, ‘Utopioid.”
There’s a crystalline feel to much of ‘Utopioid,’ and one gets the sense that Newman spent time toiling over the songs’ arrangements. As precise as they are, though, they never feel overly meticulous, thanks to his knack for atmospherics. Opener ‘Superhighway’ is spacious, proggy ambience, its crisply churning synths and growling bass swathed in what sounds like treated field recordings, while the crisp, shifting rhythms and synth patterns of ‘Earthshine’ are layered in an array of spongiform tones and undulating pads. A few of the tracks seem to be reaching back to the ’90s for inspiration — ‘Forbidden Fiction,’ could be plucked like the synthetic end of Ninja Tune’s mid-’90s discography, while the slo-mo 303 workout ‘Mazes’ wouldn’t feel out of place on one of William Orbit’s ‘Strange Cargo’ records — but their emotional elegance gives them a depth that lifts them above exercises in mere nostalgia.
A few of the tracks seem to be reaching back to the ’90s for inspiration, but their emotional elegance gives them a depth that lifts them above exercises in mere nostalgia.
The album by and large, is a somewhat laid-back and occasionally wistful affair, and even when Newman does occasionally fire things up a few degrees, as with the relatively straightforward deep-house number ‘Diaspora’ or the jittery ‘d'Oxygen,’ the proceedings are lightened by gentle basslines or soaring synth washes. Nowhere is that tactic employed to better use than on ‘Forbidden Action,’ which sees Newman pairing the cut’s loping electrofunk throb of ‘Forbidden Fiction’ with gorgeous piano chords and assorted bits of gently oscillating filigree.
It’s a gorgeous moment in an album full of them. One of the loveliest of the bunch is the all-too-brief ‘Antiboudi’ which consists of keeling music-box chimes cascading toward an unknown destination. It feels like a deeply personal tune, one that stems straight from Newman’s heart — so that end point will be his little secret. The album’s title track, meanwhile, is an emotive lullaby that ends on a distant voice reciting from the Taoist text Tao Te Ching, ending with the lines ‘Oh, it is tranquil! It appears infinite.’ We’re not quite sure where Newman is going — perhaps everywhere, perhaps nowhere — but we’re happy to travel alongside him.