104 posts tagged review
Demdike Stare: Elemental (Modern Love)
It’s telling that this whopping double-album from leftfield ambient duo Demdike Stare has been out nearly a year before I’ve taken to writing about it. It’s a grower, for sure… it took me a few months just to really digest the full contents of the release, and much longer to wrap my head around the ambitious sprawl of it all. The very first Demdike Stare releases I heard were haunting, but straightforward; they seemed to really hit hard on the “dub” in “dubstep” (without much of the “step”) and revel in thick atmospheres that enveloped their heady beats. However, they’ve moved away from that somewhat obvious combination of sounds, and with an album as long as Elemental, they are free to wander through a variety of sounds, timbres, textures and moods. What I always found charming about Demdike Stare is that their earliest 12”s seemed to start circulating right around the same time hipster rags like Pitchfork were proudly touting their own new genre creation du jour, “witch house.” I always found the name both vaguely appropriate and also incredibly stupid for the artists that got tagged. Demdike Stare is perhaps one of the most appropriate acts to earn the name, even if their music often betrays the convenience of the label; their namesake is Elisabeth Southerns (a.k.a. Demdike) who was a prominent witch executed in the 17th century. Press release fodder aside, there’s nearly two full hours of music to take in over the course of Elemental. It isn’t massive as their previous outing Triptych, and this is to its advantage in my opinion. There’s a healthy blend of regular and irregular rhythms, ambient passages, confrontational sounds and wayward atmospheres to keep things interesting from start to finish. Even on a track like “Kommunion (Alternate)” they manage to work in movements, with a highly ambient opening that gives way to a plodding, almost industrial segment of beats and prepared piano sounds. The first few tracks are dark and dense, so much so that the lively intro to “Mnemosyne” and its following dubstep halfbeat are almost startling. The menagerie of sounds it evolves into are closer to M.I.A.’s Kala seen through a dark lens, though. Even when the music picks up more of a pulse (“Metamorphosis” has a nice underwater throb to it), it’s quite dark… there is a vaguely sinister quality to this music from almost any angle. Take “Violetta” for example as a track that’s just off-kilter enough to be surprising, but almost menacing in its racket. The radiance of “All That Is Ours (Sunrise)” that kicks off the second disc of Elemental starts off like a murmur, but by the time its zenith reveals itself, it’s a full on wall of noise. A similar crescendo occurs in “Dasein,” a shimmering wave of noise as it ends. The second half has a bit more of a groove at times, like the refreshingly reliable looping of “We Have Already Died” or the techno tinges of closer “Ishmael’s Intent,” but overall from start to finish Demdike Stare are exploring such a strange, dark variety of sounds that shift shape and constantly evolve that it’s hard to not be impressed, if not overwhelmed. Their various influences — dub, non-western music, industrial clatter, IDM, and more — play out in consistently engaging ways, highly recommended for those not afraid of the dark side of electronic music and interested in being challenged.
Der Zyklus & Albert van Abbe: No Comment_0005 (No Comment)
This split EP offers up a brand new track from Der Zyklus (a.k.a. Gerald Donald of Drexciya, Dopplereffekt, Japanese Telecom and a million other aliases) alongside two cuts from Albert van Abbe. Anyone vaguely familiar with Donald’s output ought to know that “brand new” doesn’t necessarily mean anything because his music never quite sounds fully of the time. His use of vintage gear and sounds, along with an uncompromising point of view about electro that’s heavily influenced the entire genre over the last 20 years, lends a very distinct and undated quality to his music. “Von Neumann Replicator” is an upbeat track that feels right at home when placed up against any of his other output for the project — crisp snare, punchy, clipped kick, woozy melodic leads. No Comment label boss Albert van Abbe rounds it out with two cuts on the flipside. His grooves match the beat science of Der Zyklus, but his aesthetic is decidedly icier and more mechanical. “Von Neumann Machine (V2)” is led by a tense drone, a repetitive bit-crushed snare and chintzy drum sounds that are as clean as they are cold. It’s got a four-to-the-floor kick that grounds it slightly more in the techno world, with a clinical edge that I’d liken to Sleeparchive or the Raster-Noton crew. The original that follows is a bit rougher around the edges, with more reverb and noise to its various sounds. The syncopation is similar, though, and the more pronounced bassline lends it a touch more immediacy. The artists are healthy complements to one another, and it makes me want to backtrack through the No Comment catalogue.
Jasmina Maschina: Alphabet Dream Noise (Staubgold)
“Folktronica” — what an unfortunate genre music journalists conjured up to explain the merging of computer music and acoustic guitar / songwriting that probably first came en vogue around the turn of the millennium. Jasmina Maschina (née Jasmine Guffond) combines these elements in various ways on her debut album, although I’d say ultimately these are songs with off-kilter embellishments. At the core of most of these tracks, Jasmina sings over delicate guitar, with varying amounts of arrangement around this focal point. In many cases it’s as subtle as some odd tremolo effects and details that intermingle with her core songwriting; a good example of this is “Marry Me,” a great gloomy song where her voice and playing really shine through the addition layering and detailing. At times she harnesses tension quite well, such as on the dramatic tremolo of opener “Scott Free” or the vaguely microtonal bends of “Community,” but at other times her songwriting is borderline twee, quite sweet, like the lullaby-like simplicity of “Sun.” Despite the simple truth that Jasmina’s songs here are actually fairly conventional if not for some tweaked details and overtones, there’s something about the album that keeps me coming back. It feels simultaneously dreamlike and friendly without being cloying or precious; there’s an unassuming quality to these that feels intimate and personal, and she’s letting us eavesdrop.
Guy Gerber: The Mirror Game (Visionquest)
Oddly gloomy single from house producer Guy Gerber, straddling the middle ground between indie pop, headphones listening and club music quite adeptly. “The Mirror Game” is anchored by a persistent 4/4 kick, but the production is not as punchy as what one might expect compared to Gerber’s previous outings. I’d liken it to Popnoname’s “Hello Gorgeous” last year, a track that was ostensibly a dancefloor anthem but whose production was less obvious. Vocals float throughout “The Mirror Game” but are highly manipulated/vocoded to be obscured. It appears in both the polished, full track as well as a stripped down beatless mix. “One Day In May” rounds it out as a more typical house track, a slick minimal workout with some vocal snippets sprinkled throughout and a handsome droning arrangement with little, infectious change-ups.
John Roberts: Paper Frames (Dial)
House producer John Roberts has always been slightly left of center, but there’s something quite inviting about his warm, leftfield house music that makes it feel easy and familiar. Paper Frames is his latest outing for the always-reliable Dial imprint, an EP consisting of 2 longer cuts and 2 shorter interludes. “Untitled II” and “Untitled IV” are brief prepared piano tracks that help set the tone for the other tracks that respectively proceed. The title cut is my favorite here, with a layered combination of mallet sounds, string harmonics and staggered acoustic drum samples that sound much closer to Four Tet’s repertoire than the majority of Dial acts. “Crushing Shells,” on the other hand, splits the difference, with a twinkly sound that is classic Dial over a more expected four-to-the-floor rhythm section that still manages to surprise with periodic spinbacks that throw the sound off kilter for a beat or two at a time. It’s a cool evolution to Roberts’ sound, and I wonder if this is where he’s heading for a new full-length. If so, we all have much to look forward to — it’s gorgeous and exciting to hear him exploring sounds even more on the fringe of dance music.
A-Sun Amissa: Desperate In Her Heavy Sleep (Gizeh)
This collection of five tracks tows the post-rock line in a way that will sound familiar to anyone who’s a fan of the pseudo-genre’s mainstays like Labradford. Over the span of its hour of music, the dynamics are fairly even, less loud-soft than an act like Godspeeed! You Black Emperor or Mogwai, drowsier and gloomier in a way that is simultaneously comforting and melancholy. It sort of picks up the torch Labradford’s A Stable Reference or Mi Media Naraja, with reverberated, clear guitar playing, overtones of feedback and organ drones, augmented at times with violin. At times the trio have a dirgelike stride, such as on the repetitive guitar and violin cycles of “A Hungover Whisper: Thin Light Failure / Decay,” the expansive 17-minute centerpiece of the album, but at others they strike gold with something more purely sublime. “Ceremony,” for instance, closes out the album in a more traditionally ambient, radiant way, tragically beautiful and haunting. “Dislocated Harmony: Into Small Cold Eyes / Several Miles Above” is also gorgeous, a shimmering wall of tension that builds and then slowly decays. For those who like their instrumental music on the somber side, it’s well worth a listen. I picked it up directly from the Gizeh site, and so should you.
Polysick: Digital Native (Planet µ)
Hailing from Rome, Egisto Sopor is the mind behind the odd musical stylings of Polysick. Digital Native is his first proper full-length album under the moniker, though he’s been quietly releasing music under both this name as well as TheAwayTeam for a couple of years now. Considering his newfound home on Mike Paradinas’s Planet µ label, it’s refreshing how atypical the sounds are on this album. It hardly relates to the label’s flagship breakcore or spazzy dubstep crossover sounds at all, with many tracks quite understated and melodic. It’s hardly ambient, though, but usually with a woozier quality of pitch bends and odd arpeggio synths, especially on a track like “Meltinacid” or “Lost Holidays,” or odd drumming and synth flute combos like “Preda” or “Gondwana.” There are very few samples on this album, at least in the melodic sense, and the arrangements are generally rather neat and clean. There’s something in Polysick’s languid synths and off-kilter patternmaking that is compelling, making for great headphones listening in his attention to detail here and there. One of my favorites is “Taito” with its square arpeggios and light, melodic pulse, recalling the liquid sleekness of early 90s Warp techno. Elsewhere things sounds deliberately unresolved, like the discordant synths of “Caravan,” the pitter-patter of “Tic Tac Toe,” or the rickety wooziness of opening track “Totem.” The longest track, “Transpelagic,” is a squiggly acid-infused cut that reminds me a bit of Drexciya and their underwater adventures. Definitely one for at home listening with its varied tempo and sonic palette, but not without some dancefloor potential here and there. It’s a pretty fresh and fun collection of ideas and sounds that feels nostalgic while looking forward.
The Traveller: A 100 EP (Ostgut-Ton)
The Traveller is an alias of techno producer René Pawlowitz, and the tracks herein are a little ruder, less taut and refined than his usual output as Shed. “A 100” has a big fat reverberated drum loop that anchors it, with not much of a bassline and only repetitive phrases and a series of droning chords layered overhead. “Ber” feels a bit stopgap between the first and last track, consisting entirely of chords and melodic patterns without any rhythm section, but “Bypass” snaps back into it with a jabby bassline and clean deep kick drum. Both “A 100” and “Bypass” are likely to keep any floor moving, just rough enough around the edges to oscillate between playful and something more sinister, a nice addition to his substantial body of work.
Brogan Bentley: Brogan Bentley EP (Leaving)
I’ve been digging this EP from Brogan Bentley, an odd fusion of dance music and lo-fi bedroom production. It has enough of a swagger to qualify as dance music certainly, but often the production is spacious and reverbed out, often lacking a beat altogether but with all of the nods toward the dancefloor without fully engaging it. A steady bob of the head may be all the artist has in mind, enjoying these sounds on a nice set of headphones. “Ask When I’m Night” is a prolonged tease with its persistent chord stabs and SK-1 style vocal snippets. It recalls some of the sample trickery of Burial or the Tri Angle camp, using obvious repitching and distortion of samples to provide a pseudo-refrain in an otherwise instrumental track. “Irish Sky” has more immediate percussion, nice and crisp, but it’s a curious combination of fast hi-hats and half-beat claps, as if it can’t decide whether it wants to be an anthem or a smoky slow jam. “With Him” is a bit grimier in production and all of its little triggered samples, while the rhythm section picks up a little 2-step trot and a fat bass synth does most of the legwork to move things forward. Overall it’s a cool mix of intimate, warm production and ideas that could just as easily translate into big club tracks. But somehow their miniature nature here feels just right to me, better experienced late at night on a good pair of headphones.
Get a free download of “Ask When I’m Night” at the Leaving Records site!
Vladislav Delay: Espoo (Raster-Noton)
“Olari,” the first track on this rather odd EP from Sasu Ripatti, starts off unassumingly enough with a sort of machine-gun like stuttering sample of synthesis, with what appears to be a double-time broken beat syncopation. But as is his wont, he confounds expectations by instead lurching into a disorienting, plodding 5/4 groove. It’s surpising and satisfying because he could’ve more easily just thrown down the 4/4 kick that the first minute or two begs for, but Vladislav Delay is not a project in which Ripatti has ever indulged the dancefloor (see Luomo, Sistol or Uusitalo for those perhaps more predictable beats). Even better, though, is “Kolari” which pounds away energetically with an insistent kick drum and gated wall of sound before some light melodic touches accentuate things. The uptempo kick/snare combo reminds me of old electro-industrial stuff like Liaisons Dangereuses or DAF in tempo and demeanor, but it’s all filtered through the Vladislav Delay arsenal of effects and technology in a way that makes this feel both incredibly current but also unique and likely to age quite gracefully, as has many of Ripatti’s productions over the years. Each of these tracks appears in a more abstracted treatment, with “Olari Versio” becoming a lighter, less lumbering study in repetition and rhythm, dropping the heavier handed percussion track altogether and instead opting to focus on the unpredictable stutter of its signature sample. “Kolari Versio” is more exciting to me, with its drum tracks muted but still present, half-tempo, but still effervescent with its bubbly, urgent rhythm. Even though it’s less of a full-on jam than its original version that comes earlier, it’s a nice nod to his more spacious repertoire without looking too far backward, allowing listeners to come down a bit in its more downtempo denouement. Excellent stuff. Along with Ripatti’s full-length under the moniker last year (Vantaa) it’s a reminder that he is constantly evolving and exploring new ideas in new ways. Top notch.
Squarepusher: Ufabulum (Warp)
Tom Jenkinson earned his place in the upper echelons of electronic music in the mid 90s with a glut of spastic, near perfectly executed drum & bass albums as Squarepusher, emphasizing both the “drum” and “bass” in ways that were and still are completely unique. His frenetic style of electric bass guitar work and ability to dice and program beats like nobody’s business has mutated over the years, with several more obscure projects that dove headlong into acid (Chaos A.D. being my favorite of those) and a phase of non-electronic music-making (1999’s Music Is Rotted One Note and a few EPs that surrounded it). He even created a “band” for his last album, a weird vocoder pop set that skewed toward downtempo funk more than the crazy breaks that made a name for him. The hype that surrounded his latest album largely stemmed from the anticipation that followed Jenkinson announced a return to entirely electronic production methods, casting off the guitar and bass touches that have nearly always graced his catalogue. Even through his more self-indulgent left turns, I’ve stuck with Squarepusher, because even when the result is slightly less successful it’s usually still interesting and worth a listen. Ufabulum is, I have to admit, very much a return to form. Like fellow Warp veterans Autechre, he’s not exactly blazing the eletronic music trail the way he did in the 90s, and in a way his most surprising music may be in the past, but that’s not to take away from how fucking GOOD this record is. It’s a healthy cross-section of all of the sounds and sensibilities he’s honed over the years, including the tightly crafted drum programming that’s become his calling card and a very nice melodic edge. He’s also managed to touch on some of the jazzy spunk of an album like Feed Me Weird Things along with the jaunty quasi-pop of “My Red Hot Car.” The front half of Ufabulum is stuffed with ideas, many tracks with a distinctly melodic flair. “Unreal Square” is a great play on the bleeping square synth that kicks it off, with a bright melody that’s as infectious as it is annoying. It blossoms into a lush melodic track with a more easy-going swagger until its final act, when faster breakbeats kick in — he exploits to full effect a wild manipulation of spatial depth on specific sounds, going from bone dry to deep reverb sometimes in syncopated bursts. Tracks like “4001” and “Energy Wizard” showcase his knack for sweet and simple melodies, underpinned by complex and unpredictable bass programming, while “Stadium Ice” would probably feel right at home on his 1997 release Hard Normal Daddy if he swapped out the synth bass for his guitar and cast more of a jazz light over the sounds in the arrangement. “Red In Blue” is a beatless wanderer that distinctly breaks the album into halves… Pitchfork more or less dismissed the second half’s darker sprawl compared to the brighter, more vivacious front half, but I beg to differ… they are two sides of the same coin, in my opinion. That a writer would dismiss such an awesomely executed set of tracks because it’s not as “fun” or easy as the first several tracks seems small-minded to me — these tracks may be more difficult, but I think that’s only in the sense that they have less melody at their core. “Drax 2” is probably the most spazzy and elaborate of them all, with a looming sense of dread in its bending overtones and atmospheres while the programming goes ape shit. “Dark Steering” is like The Cure’s “Caterpillar” in a minor mode when its melodic refrain is in action, but there’s so much more to it in the details. He even does a full-on acid throwdown toward the album’s close with “303 Scopem Hard” before tying it all together with the airier synth chorus of “Ecstatic Shock” as a little bit of closing levity. For fans of Squarepusher’s backcatalogue, there’s a lot to love here, even if it consists largely of already explored elements of his disparate catalogue. He juxtaposes them in new ways with nods to current trends like dubstep and its various offshoots without getting mired in anything particularly trendy. His production levels have never sounded so superior, and his voice is still quite unique albeit less surprising that it may have been ten years ago. Really outstanding stuff — I can’t wait to see him blow the roof off the venue when I see him later this month on his first American tour in what seems like forever.
Puresque: Leitmotiv (Tresor)
I think everyone has at least one old really good friend… Someone you feel so comfortable with and know so well that even if years go by between visits, it’s like you’ve never been apart when you reconnect. Tresor is one of those old friends to me, so to speak. When I first really dove into techno in the late 90s, Tresor was essential listening and learning. Like a Pavlovian response, my ears perked up at the mere sight of their iconic logo on every release, and only very occasionally was I not turned on by what I heard on each one, across the variety of styles and sounds they’ve perpetrated for so long now. I sort of forgot about them over the last few years, but I’ve come back around to them this year with a few really nice ones that have proven quite satisfying. I find myself struggling to put techno into words very well these days, and Leitmotiv is no exception. This is a pretty streamlined affair all around, quite slick and minimal without being boring or monotonous, and never particularly abrasive. Nothing too bangin’ to be found here, but rest assured there’s plenty to keep your head bobbing or your feet moving. “Spinnenwabe” was on the EP he released a while ago, and is still a highlight with its fat chunky synth stabs and insistent hihat patterns. Another favorite is “Grenzwolf” with its nine-minute stride, consistent but evolving form, along with “Saebelrasseln” and its tippy-tap syncopation and sound-the-alarm synth tones. Overall, though, it’s pretty consistent start to finish, a solid slab of techno from one of the genre’s label mainstays.
Jimmy Edgar: Majenta (Hotflush)
Jimmy Edgar has never really gotten a fair shake in my opinion. He seems too goofy and pop-inclined for the serious heads, but he’s perhaps also too geeky and leftfield to gain traction in the pop world. It’s not totally fair, because Majenta is an album full of jams that could easily win over the hipster dance music set as much as tried and true electro fans. While there may not be any “I Wanna Be Your STD” (ouch) on Majenta, there are a number of seductive and sexually suggestive tracks like “Sex Drive,” “Touch Yr Bodytime,” and “Hrt Real Good.” While Edgar’s vocals are kind of take it or leave it in my opinion, his tracks are ace. He seems to split his attention between a very loyal throwback to early 80s electro (Cybotron, A Number of Names) and 90s house — digital bonus track “U Need Love,” for instance, directly channels MK Korg M1 dub mix realness. But one of my personal favorites, as cloying as it may be, is “This One’s For the Children,” which sounds like a generous nod to early 80s classic “Shari Vari;” when juxtaposed with the Dopplereffekt-esque “Sex Drive,” it’s a hot one-two punch. Whether fans of pop crooner crossovers like Junior Boys will be able to catch Edgar’s groove remains to be seen, but signing onto Scuba’s Hotflush imprint is a good start. Clearly Majenta is fairly far removed from the bass music trends Hotflush tends to explore, but it’s refreshing that Scuba believes enough in the leftfield weird pop Edgar’s exploring to give him a chance.
Forward Strategy Group: Labour Division (Perc Trax)
Perc Trax is on a roll! The full-length debut album from UK duo Al Matthews and Patrick Walker is leaps and bounds cooler than the EPs I’ve heard from them over the last year or two. This is an album that really travels a distance over the course of its ten tracks. Opener “Ident” is an uplifting prologue, with its beatless arrangement of synths. From there it’s a headier mix of beats, bass and texture, without so much melody. But what’s refreshing is that as an album it really takes its time, never even really hitting what I’d call a proper techno stride until the halfway point. Perhaps that’s why this album is so compelling to me: it should be a techno album, but it’s not really techno at all. “Elegant Mistakes” is a nice crunchy broken beat groove, while “Industry & Empire” is a mid-tempo chugger that has some sweet detailing amidst the factory reverberation. “Metal Image” continues this thread of spacious, deep sound with an industrial slant — that is, industrial in the factory-like sense, not “rargh rargh rargh” vocal stylings or whatever. “TTH” is a really handsome gloomy groove, reminding me a bit of Monolake at his most melancholy, a big counterpoint to the rather streamlined mid-tempo electro of “Mandate” that starts things off. It’s an album that I’d say lends itself way more to home listening than club play; FSG have paid their dues to the dancefloor numerous times over by now anyway. They show off their chops at more atmospheric, less predictable sounds here with flying colors — superb all around.
Jon Convex: Lied To Be Loved (3024)
Jon Convex is joined by dBridge as guest vocalist on this threesome of techy house grooves, released on Martyn’s 3024 imprint. Much like Martyn’s recent output, these tracks crossover between UK bass music and house and techno effortlessly, with gestures and sounds from all combined. ”Lied To Be Loved” is fiercely melancholy, with a punchy repetitive groove dBridge’s gloomy vocals. It would sound downright morose if it weren’t for the tightly wound backing track Convex crafted as an accompaniment. “Zero” is ruder, with a rousing tempo and punchy kick/snare combo that leads the way. Vocal samples and groans are peppered throughout the track, giving it an extra bit of bite. “Stay” rounds it out by splitting the difference, again quite upbeat but with more of a smoothness in its synth chords and repetitive vocal samples. A bright, plucky synth lead is a handsome counterpoint to the Detroit bassline that courses through much of the track. It’s a great cross-section of sounds, each track with its own strengths, versatile for different styles of mixing.