"I'm a God-damn engineer. I take a plug; I put it one socket and it works. I put it in another one; and it doesn't. I go into an office building and one elevator works, and only the lights on the top floor. That's impossible, by anything I know about. I go down a street; buildings are burning. I go down the same street the next day. They're still burning. Two weeks later, I go down the same street and nothing looks like it's been burned at all." - Samuel R. Delany, Dhalgren, pp. 418-419
With September hitting hard and fast in the work department after a brutally slow and meltingly hot in July and August, I've been thinking a lot about teeth grinding lately. Be it the high-pitched chorus of drills I've been waking to for the past two months or just my own unfortunate muscular reflex to clench my jaw when stressed, I've found the records I've ended up selecting to highlight this month all sharing a similar taut and tight aesthetic. Whether it's the coil rung too tight and sent ricocheting about that is the current state of race politics, the Pong-like 'negotiations' with North Korea, or the waters upending centuries of history across the American seaboard, one could be forgiven for finding their knuckles turning a ghostly shade of white. Of course, the apocalypse games commencing outside our doors means the desire for escapism only heightens, old episodes of Star Trek becoming my go-to bedtime lullaby. For while we might find ourselves being backed into a corner, why not carve out space where there is little?
It's hard not to find the hard not to find one's mind slipping into dystopic, near-future scenarios similar to that found in Samuel R. Delany's epic sci-fi yarn Dhalgren and the hollowed out city at its core: Bellona. In putting together the tracks for this month, it began to feel like I was formulating something of an alternate soundtrack to Delaney's mysterious midwestern metropolois, each release featured dealing with future anxiety in its own way. Workshop continues its tear of a year with the Ozel AB-produced Workshop 24, a fantastical, emotive seance with the somewhat questionable ghost of vintage Chicago house while label veteran Mix Mup returns from a two-year respite with a slab of oddly nostalgic microhouse that paints a far grimmer picture, perverting a commerce-friendly template with planar, open-ended landscapes and Fontana-esque sonic cuts. Then it's back to the future for us with a pair of recently reissued electro and cyberdelic house cuts courtesy of veteran oddballs D'Arcangelo and C++. Finally, we burrow deeper into the cave as the pinging dub breaks of Torsten Profröck and kindred spirit Mischa Lively give us pause to contemplate the hopeless optimism of so-called "future music" and two producers more content to voyage through its darker recesses. It's a weird one this month, so let's get to it.
Odds and Ends
First, let's do a quick survey of some of the twelves I just didn't have the time to get to or that I'm impatiently awaiting when they hit later this month. Looking to the present moment, Kyle Hall continues to do his own thing with excellent results while going deeper into his recent black hippy stylings on seven inch release Eutrophia Sevan. On a totally different note, Beatrice Dillon has us all in a tizzy over two releases primed for the vanguard-setting imprints Timedance and Hessle Audio, the latter in collaboration with Call Super while the former sees her and Peder Mannerfelt donning remixer duties for bass boggler Ploy. Oh, and hey, there's a new Errorsmith album on the way, so that's pretty damn exciting! Here's the first track, hey! Moving on....
I'm always on the look-out for those tracks that seem like they should be no other place than on my table. One trend in my recent acquisitions has been taking in some of the overlooked highlights of post-Basic Channel dub techno, starting with a stunning 1996 slab of shimmering dubwise house courtesy of Sunkiss, the duo of house don David Alvarado and deep techno maestro Kenneth Graham. I've always had a soft spot for the Strictly Rhythm-distributed Groove On label run by George Morel of the SR-released Morel's Grooves fame, a twelve-inch series of of downtown-friendly house jams. And though the quality on the label ranges from the jaw-dropping to the atrociously gauche, when you see a release from the label with a $25 price tag and the note "dub techno classic" on it, well, you're going to at least give it a listen.
Outside of the first two Luke Hess releases on FXHE and all Convextion everything, finding American dub techno that actually feels vital is about as hard as turning up Abbé Faria's treasure. And as their name might call to mind, Sunkiss deal in the type of shimmering and vaguely melodic dub techno on the post-"Hyperprism" spectrum. Unlike that track, Sunkiss are interested in a more dew-kissed, less downcast and melancholy strain of the techno mutation, though with a neck-cracking directness as laid out by A side cut "Apogee." Coming in unassumingly with a minor undergirding pair of chord stabs, the duo take the layer-and-build approach to a genre that tends to focus more on the hypnotic nature of tracks, introducing most of the elements up front and giving them the space to ricochet and recombine at their own pace. For as ornately functional of a track as "Apogee" is, the central triplet motif is ratcheted up a few knots through the introduction of a snaking, building middle pad that injects a prismatic radiance into the proceedings where the animating tension moves from the minute changes in the attack and decay of the central chord stabs to the wily, sentient quality of the central harmonic tidal wave. Around the eight-minute mark, the duo achieve maximal euphoria as they wind things down, hitting a sweet spot of harmonic resonance as the central ray of light of the ever-shifting midline gradually fades away while never letting the energy die down.
Having razed expectations with "Apogee," the quivering vamp at the center of "Eclipse" feels more like a continuation of the ideas explored on the flip, expanding the sonic palette with a vocal flourish somewhere in between a sigh and coo that seems to be cycling through the phonetics of vowels. With the rhythmic-melodic gears churning at full speed, the vocal exhale seems to pick up in amplitude and nuance as it's stretched and colored to wring a pining quality from the track, all unresolved yearning and desire that never slips over into bitterness as tomorrow is another opportunity for who know's what.
Of course, tracks like the above work best in the mix and I've recently come across two otherwise unknown releases that have been getting plenty of play here at Casa Zurkonic. Deepblack label head Aybee is an artist that has been on my radar for years, but one whose catalog I've never really dug into in spite of loving much of what he has released on his label. So when I gave his cracking three-tracker Astral Metronome from 2012 a quick needle drop listen at Brooklyn's Human Head--an essential record store I've only just become aware of--it took about two seconds for me to drop the five bucks that this EP absolutely warranted. The A side is taken up by two masterclasses in atmospheric deep techno that borrows effortlessly from the genre's conventions while imbuing them with the producer's own unique sonic history. Opener "No Fiction" revolves around a see-sawing melodic smear over which he brings a crashing drum patters and tumbling bass notes to create one of those moody tracks that feel like they should come tumbling down, but instead can sound like more than the sum of its parts through smart mixing.
Like its name might suggest, "Ether" takes things further into the virtual, slinking subtly into existence on an exhaling middle note and staggered high-hat pattern before a muted dub techno chord stab starts echoing about the center of the mix. As a half-time rhythm crystallizes over the charging 4X4, Aybee ends up creating that most singular of dub techno offspring; a track that's as smoky and echo-filled as the next, but is also immensely danceable and, most uniquely, fun. The playful quality of the A comes into full focus on EP closer and B-side beast "Kommandos." A broken bass pattern is transmitted from the field as static clouds the mix right before a crystalline and wobbling bass line kicks things into gear. Over the next seven-or-so minutes, Aybee settles into the driver seat of this bass-led banger as the static coalesces into a pulsating particle cloud and the sound of passing debris rocks the hull, our captain remaining unphased. Where less patient producers might position themselves for an even heavier payoff, Aybee eludes the ejaculatory penchant of so much created in the wake of dubstep to craft the kind of awkwardly rolling post-El-B style of 2-Step that makes this such an undersung classic.
Our third and final slice of dub techno gold comes from Berliner Josef Gaard and his debut vinyl twelve, the transportive 2015 Obsidian Falls EP. The metronomic chimes that cast a gleaming glint on opener "Perennial" are one of the track's near-constant elements amongst a storm of echoing crashes and stabs that plays out like a dub techno four seasons, the harmonic high end remaining resilient against the varying micro-storms that populate Gaard's lush oasis in the midst of a barren wasteland. A Xerox-like scanning sound lifted from the Jan Jelinek playbook sets into the motion the meditative title track on the A2 as a martial bass drum patterns flutters and pulls, eager to escape into a vibrant flight but weighed down by the heft of the tectonic slabs being plowed through Gaard's patient terraforming. As the vista is cleared, "Obsidian Falls" reveals itself in all its magisterial beauty, dubby chord stabs rattling about as we find ourselves being raised onto more hopeful terrain.
As its title would suggest, "Elysea" is the soundtrack to a paradise visited and ultimately lost as Gaard indulges in dub techno's escapist tendencies that seem to often be ceded in favor of Basic Channel-aping supercolliders. And while Gaard turns up the energy significantly following the extended exhale of the A2, it's a gaseous turn-up track, one that is heavy on atmosphere while evading easy-to-pin tropes. The hopeful harmonics that finally reveal themselves in the track's closing act are present throughout yet submerged under a choking narcotic fog and a piercing high-end note that acts as the lighthouse ray guiding this ship home to its promised Eden, or whatever is left of it. The listener is left to bask in the soothing, shaking chorus that segues into a closing section full of library music-esque whimsy, almost hauntological in its Eldritchean thump and all the more curious for it. Returning to more functional terrain on closer "Fjord," Gaard lets the kick ride for a solid minute while crafting a windy background that sets the listener on one final, winding journey into the great dub techno beyond. It is the outside, the environmental from which Gaard seems to synthesize and manipulate the sounds that provides this EP with a truly Thoereauian sensibility. As a sandy snare and a toms-led drum pattern is judiciously paired with a glassine chord stab, "Fjord" finds Gaard at his most conventional and still he manages to create a track that sits in a class of its own. Call this music for the anthropocene as Gaard is intent on wielding those elements once believed to be beyond our control while never seeking to tame or sedate them, allowing them to enliven his compositions that yield new fruit on every listen.
From the externalized to the introverted and shot back out again, this trilogy of twelves makes a strong case for the possibilities still unrealized within the dub techno palette while not being precious with the genre's conventions, each one leaving its own distinct footprint.
Ozel AB - Workshop 24
Despite managing to churn out at least one 'big' record a year with the Resident Advisor crowd for a decade now, the label's feature on the popular dance music site at the start of the year seems almost prophetic in hindsight. For while the label has only put out two records so far, both have had near-seismic impact with the underground house crowd (and this guy). And while many thought the label had climaxed early on in the year with the deep and sleek four-tracker courtesy of up-and-comer Willow that took the euro house template and imbued it with a vulnerability and richness that has kept it hotly tipped throughout the year, the label founded by producers Evan Tuell and Lowtec have outdone themselves yet again. Having released two satisfactory twelves on lo-fi house trendsetters Lobster Theremin, Ozel AB (née Luke Palmer) has apparently found his voice on the Workshop label, turning in the stunning six-tracker Workshop 24--released in a limited edition with a bonus 7" which I failed to capture in time.
Kicking off with the vocal-led deep house of "Sierra Echo," parallels can be drawn instantly with new labelmate Willow's breakout "Feel Me," a track that also seemed to channel the full-bodied vocals of a Robert Owens or Romanthony, but with a subdued, smeared aesthetic that keeps both tracks from slipping into tasteless pastiche. Built around a looped chorus of "I just want love," Palmer deftly builds upon this head-turning sample by bringing in a bowel-stirring bass line and yearning, plasticized strings before bringing in a succession of complementary and counter vocal melodies over a two-chord bed of heavenly synths. Like watching a towering skyscraper be transformed from hulking brick into a filigreed Art Deco behemoth, Ozel draws upon the sonic legacy of Chicago and European deep house proffered by the like of Basic Channel's Main Street Records to craft something at once vulnerable and belabored.
Both sides of the record features a beatless middle track and "Fortier" comes in as a sparkling palette cleanser, injecting a waft of whimsy that perfectly sets up the shimmering dream house of "Orbit 416." Over the spoken vocals of a female child, a music box melody unwinds and loops itself over a pneumatic pulse that sounds like the pounding of velvet hammers. While carrying considerably less tricks up its sleeves as the more maximal "Sierra Echo," Palmer augments his bells-led composition with whirring sound effects that evoke the exploding of that music box before bringing in a more expressive counter-melody in the song's second half that wraps itself around the listener, submerging them in a quiet storm of heavenly notation.
The baritone, androgynous vocals become even more pronounced on the B side's two main tracks, the leaping "Positronic Dreams" and qualude-addled fever dream "Whuffle." A stuttered kick drum gives the former its stratosphere-reaching hook sung over a narcoticized proto-UKG swing. The gospel quality of house music is given a Euro-house makeover here and I'd be lying if it still doesn't cause an eyebrow to raise. But Palmer sustains such a vulnerability and emotionality throughout that whatever appropriation is going down feels more reverent than reductive, especially when the choral-like pads of "Sierra" join a starry, echoing high end that carries the song's harmonic overtones into the ambient "Interlude" that follows. Drawing upon a more dramatic and sharp-edged synth pad for its central motif, spoken words emanating from what sounds like an institutional intercom as an eski-like topline moves the EP into more emotionally wrought terrain.
The wistful, lovelorn Ozel is back on closer "Whuffle" with an opening lead line that calls to mind the chilly poetics of early Pantha Du Prince. Pairing a shorter, busier melody with a drawn-out three-note cul de sac, the intercom voice returns as a wavering keyboard howls into the pillow-lined room before another racially ambiguous vocal line comes in, splitting the difference between bedroom and church choir. And while Palmer's clear eye towards an imagined Chicago might walk a fine line, the emotional sincerity in which the six tracks all trade in is so consistent and the vibe so confidently defenseless, it's hard not to give the producer the benefit of the doubt when given the alternative of a DJ Seinfeld and Ross from Friends.
D'Arcangelo - D'Arcangelo EP
Continuing on with our journey through past releases that are just now getting the wider attention they long deserved is Suction Record's vinyl pressing of the debut self-titled debut EP by electro duo D'Arcangelo. Suction is the lovechild of "robot music composers" Solvent and Lowfish who founded the label in 1997 as an outlet for their mutual loves of electro and IDM. Originally released on the legendary Rephlex imprint run by Aphex Twin and Grant Wilson-Claridge from 1991-2013, D'Arcangelo "was one of the first releases to make a firm connection between contemporary IDM/electronix and the sound of ‘80s synth pop," as stated in the press release for Suctions reissue. Not being particularly in fashion both at the time and arguably today as well, this release came to my attention via Deejay Count Zer0's texting of the EP's 80s movie closing track of a jam "Diagram VII (80s Mix)," which he found via Omar-S' set at Output last month--one which I failed to attend. That being all I knew of the release when I came across it at my go-to store for new and weird twelves 2 Bridges Music Arts, I was even more excited to take it home when a preview listen revealed the EP's bifurcated thematic structure.
Announcing itself with the blunt-edged "Somewhere in Time," the listener is instantly plunged into a futuristic sound world somewhere in between the machine-generated polyrhythms of Pansonic and the screeching rhythm-melodies and a post-"Ventolin" Aphex Twin. As agitated and teeth-grinding the sound palette is, like the best of early Autechere, the duo find the groove amongst the metallic salvage dotting the dystopic ditty, breaking, popping, and locking steadily toward its conclusion while ominous swinging laser swords of Damocles inch closer through the whining, machine-sung death curdle of a melody that eventually topples the funk, leaving just a pulsing, steel heartbeat clinging to its last breath. Like gaining a second life in Mega Man, the listener is teleported to another zone in the form of the post-Suicide thrash of "Ro-hn." A cybernetic biker gang hurtles down the highway, machine-gun hi-hat patterns swung like chains as varying shrapnel and forms of life enter and get run over. A clipped fragment of a melody that rarely reveals more than a few notes of itself before collapsing into a skeletal breadown that feaures a duet between three drums hits and machine bleeps before descending into one last pass along the track, exhausting itself and the listener in the process in the most exhilarating of ways. The A ends on a particularly ragged note with "Srakt," an industrial stop-and-go that could have easily set the template for much of Emptyset's more rhythmic work in its tribal-esque pound and machine whirl, the duo seemingly intent on splitting the granules of what could be considered melody, positing an unfriendly and aggressive machine music that's an assault upon harmony, wringing it out of the most unlikely of sounds.
For any listener thinking about making a beeline for the escape hatch, Fabrizio and Marco completely switch the script on the B with their 80s-informed brand of cosmic electro. Like a pizza party earned by winning the local little league championship, "Diagram XI" comes bouncing in at a healthy sprint, slightly winded from the mayhem that just went down on that Class L planet as we find ourselves back on the Class M earth, an idealized sonic portrait of the 80s that calls to mind trips to Epcot and a ride on Space Adventure Mountain. Assuaging the listener within seconds, the opening warmth of synth and tambourine-led beat lays the groundwork for a series of melodic motifs that call to mind an empty suburban street on a quiet Friday night, the lead melody indulging in the kind of harm-free good times that youth is supposed to represent. Things are looking up when the frustrated funk of "Diagram VII-Mk mx" takes over as the optimism of early adolescence has given way to the confused angst and raging hormones of one's first year in high school as a searchlight of melody is conjoined with a b-boy stomp. Soon we're at the newly opened laser tag, where friends become enemies and that person you like just wants to be friends, the downward melodies signaling not a defeat, but a hope for something better as a polyphonous 8-bit melody settles over the arena, the third act revving its engine for a serious night drive. "Diagaram VII-80s rmx" is the sound of driving in Cameron's dad's red Porsche, the swagger belying an uncertainty and distrust in the future. Nonetheless, the party must go on and if there was ever an electro analog of "I Wear My Sunglasses at Night," this is it. Having just dragged the listener through a harrowing double feature of electro escapism, we've now arrived at the end of school party, the strobe-light melody bouncing and rocking all night long as a contemplative top-line soon escapes into the ether, end credits rolling as you get up to hit rewind. It's kind.
C++ - I/O EP
Much like the D'Arcangelo release above, this 2001 twelve from C++ of Iz & Diz fame via London's Music for Freaks label run by Luke Solomon and Justin Harris (aka The Freaks) is supposedly quite legendary at how unpopular it was, with one friend recalling seeing DJ Harvey clear an entire floor, though it's unclear with which side was responsible. While the obvious suspect would be the seven-minute ode to the dial-up modem that is "Angie's Fucked" on the B-side, lead track "Sure" certainly doesn't scream "big room tool TIP" even though its basic elements might call to mind a nimble early-aughts house barnburner. All upwards glissandos and glassy accents, "Sure"--in a fashion similar to the below "Diamonds--is one of those tracks that seems designed to frustrate as it endlessly vamps towards a resolution or drop that never comes, allowing the producer to stretch out and get weird with things as a flanged-within-an-inch-of-its-life vocal hook serves as the track's topline, emulating the strumming of a guitar one would typically expect to be drape across such a disco house-friendly gallop. Instead flashes of a melodic hook appear and disappear before the last two minutes of the track present a partially mangled version of what a more crowd-friendly mix of "Sure" might look like, booming disco horns and vocal chatter interpolating in fine, but not quite familiar fashion, keeping this track always at a curious and enticing (for the freaks, least) distance.
The track that brought me to C++'s mangled house was his soundtrack to the 90s internet bubble, the dial-up soloing "Angie's Fucked." Over a lightly distorted skipping drum beat, C++ wastes no time before bringing in the all too of-its-time sonic lead of a whining, irritatingly persistent dial-up modem. Seemingly drawing parallels between a metal guitar solo and DIY power electronics, Iz does little to gussy up his then-ubiquitous lead line outside of a perfunctory guitar stab and a well-placed "Woo!" that exhorts listeners to get weird with it and just let this sucker ride, which it does for a solid six minutes. Admittedly, I've found myself often pairing the grating modem sounds with more melodic fare to craft something that's a bit more palatable while retaining the sandblasted textures of "Angie." But taken on its own, the producer's commitment to this zeitgeist-y gimmick keeps it from falling into the novelty bin and considering the number of dancers out there who may have never had the privilege of hearing a dial-up tone out of necessity, this record was built for adventurous dancefloors.
Mix Mup - Gravity EP
Galloping in on a looser, rawer take on the classic microhouse skip-and-swing, "Diamonds" on the A is a sleeper of a lead track, the type of Euro house number that you can play ten times without it really connecting. But whether in his work with Kassem Mosse or his own solo material, Mix Mup has always eschewed the obvious bangerisms, so to speak, and "Gravity" is no exception. Its central square bass notes slide into one another, yawning momentary static into an otherwise clean mix, or so it seems. One of those tracks that can elicit "That all it does?", Mix Mup ratchets up the anticipation for some sort of conventional topline with a buzzing recreation of a holographic slinky making its way down a flight of stairs, only to stop and be set into motion again while the bass grows restless, stuttering and burping its way into the ether.
What the A lacks in a solid midline, "Post/Pre" opens the B side with a rich Rhodes-like chord that punctuates the sonic corpse at hand, a fluttering pan flute-like undulation riding steady beneath. A spastic hi hat rhythm pokes and prods at the composition, keeping time while spinning its wheels. One of my gripes about a lot of dance music reviews is that tracks that tend to lack a "payoff" of sorts tend to be downgraded in favor of those miniature epics that build and build and release in a too-often conventional fashion. Gravity sees Mix Mup steadfastly refusing the easy ways out in his compositions, much happier is he to let loose several of his sonic creations and let them entangle at their own speed. The preening portamento of a topline on closer "Periferique" serves as the light at the end of the tunnel, a tune as carefree as the others in its desire to leap about without ever resolving the tensions each introduce. What passes for melody here resembles the leaping water fountains found at a newly built mall in the late 90s, shooting from one valve into another, an endless and multi-tiered moebius strip of harmonics undercut by the producer's accents of wire coil scrapes and other micro-industrial flourishes that are enough to keep this brand of microhouse from ever being played in a department store. As sanitized as the mix might be, Mix Mup has little time for the teary romanticism of an Isolée as he remains focused on exploring the more revolutionary potential of the largely paseé and short-lived genre of microhouse, challenging the jetsetting DJ's who might absentmindedly scoop up this record to inject their own personalities into these tracks. Not a twelve for the lazy, indeed.
Mischa Lively & Dynamo
Keeping in line with this edition's theme of reviewing twelves that have been frequent visitors to my dorky midnight DJ practice sessions, I wanted to highlight one--in my opinion--overlooked classic while looking ahead to a more recent release that seems to draw a fair degree of inspiration from the producer known by handles as varied and vast as the Chain Reaction-featuring guises of Erosion, Resilient, and Various Artists alongside his perhaps better-known T++ project that took breakbeat science to new heights. Torsten Pröfrock, a Berlin-based producer that has been exploring the outer regions of dub techno, breakbeats, and all-around headfuckery for over two decades, occupies a singular space in the history of electronic music with a vast catalog that begs for a future in-depth dive. However, for the sake of brevity, we're going to leapfrog past his friendship with Robert Henke and the Ableton software he's helped Henke refine over the years to hone in one particularly deep cut released under his Dynamo alias, a project that bridged his dubwise soundscapes with his growing interest in refining the oft-gimmicky breakbeat. Refraining from using samples, Pröfrock's Dynamo and early T++ material showcased a producer with an uncanny ear for rhythm and percussive sound design, typically creating his own drum and synth sounds himself, giving his work an unmistakable personal stamp. A Hardwax devotee, weaving together hard-knuckles industrial and dub techno with steely, spacious rhythmic excursions that both reflected the sounds dominating the Berlin underground without ever pandering to a more populist dancefloor.
Perhaps a shining example of this calculated restraint can be found on his final EP under the Dynamo project, the 2000 release of 23° / 18° on his own DIN record label. Featured alongside his own projects were he various shining lights of IDM, dub techno, and far-reaching electronica, releasing records from the likes of Arovane, Pole, and Monolake, of which he was both a former memeber and whose 2001 Polaroid twelve featured what was the first appearance of the T++ project. While his Chain Reaction material managed to inject a palpable sense of space within the standard 4x4 framework, DIN saw the artist taking his immaculately-sculpted drum sounds and splitting countless rhythmic atoms, slowly morphing from forward-swinging drum patterns to more Jungle and D&B-informed drum programming. With each Dynamo release growing both more ambitious in sonics and rhythm, listening back now one can literally hear what would become the labyrinthine beats that became a hallmark of the T++ .
With the sound of cosmic debris being blown into zero gravity rustling for a few seconds, opener "23°" kicks things off in fine neck-snapping style with a steady forward-focused breakbeat navigating its way through a meteor shower of quasi-harmonic hits that echo and decay quickly. The oxygen grows thinner as the beat clears the atmosphere, releasing its flaming hull to pave way for the alien soundscapes of "24°," refracting the muscular opening track through the emptiness of subspace communication as Pröfrock demonstrates his ear for sound design, re-constructing his rhythm bank with the space dust gathered in the life support system, threatening to dissipate at any second.
For all the sci-fi sonics and measured soundscapes that Pröfrock constructs, it's not until the B where his beats start truly going off the beaten path as we're greeted with a garbled rhythmic communique at the beginning, subtly situating the listener right as the bomb goes off and the slamming, stuttered rhythmic backbone comes snapping to attention. Intent on playing the spaces in between the drum hits, Pröfrock injects considerably more swing into the rhythmic engine that propels EP centerpiece "18°" into orbit while suturing a hiccuping triplet at the end of the looped beat to give the rhythm a slinking stutter that seems to gain in velocity which each pass, the wheezing and sighing midline struggling to keep up right as it all comes crashing down once more. Similar in trajectory to the A side, "19°" plays as a mutated refraction of the preceding track as the space in between becomes notably fuller, polyrhythmic echoes settling over the landscape as a muted stab on the one keeps the momentum going until there is nothing left. A lack of resolution comes to the forefront as one of the EP's central themes, the producer intent on doing his astral traveling without any set goal in place, leaving infinite planes and vista to cruise past.
And although Pröfrock's influence on the Pillow EP by new artist Mischa Lively (get it?) is purely speculative, just looking at the genres listed on the record's Discogs page--Techno, IDM, Ambient, Noise, Dub, Musique Concrète, Leftfield, Grime--it's clear that like the veteran Berliner, the producer otherwise known as Blake Barton is interested in bridging the disparate influences he draws upon while reflecting a distinctly UK sensibility. Much like Pröfrock's various projects always seems to both capture a particular moment in his country's musical development while also carving out a path totally his own, Pillow is a testament to the post-genre hybridity that has covered the musical landscape, from the Top 40 to the dance music underground. The chugging hi-hat sixteenth notes that initiate the quixotic opening title track situates the EP's sonic bedlam firmly within the astral zone, yet it's the tender homespun melodies that Barton soon affixes to this search probe of a track that touches on breakbeat and house drum patterns while the machine-produced synths call to mind more techno-oriented themes of exploration and our own futurist fantasies. The track finally reaches lift-off at the four-minute mark over a sturdy 4x4 house-inspired bridge kick, carrying the listener off into a post-club revelry as the song feels more like a eulogy than an embrace as Barton is intent on finding his own voice through countless tried-and-true picked from across the electronic music spectrum.
The drum sounds on follow-up "Blakeup" are noticeably more acoustic, but the beat is distinctly inhuman, hurtling itself forward over the first four beats before scrambling back to pick up the pieces to create a push-and-pull tension that Barton holds over the course of the track's five minutes. As cosmic curios pierce through the aural continuum, Lively stresses his degree in breakbeat science admirably by eschewing the cluttered, maximalist sound that such busy beats can invite--he basically sucks out any semblance of melody during the track's extended breakdown of a middle section before transitioning into a bombastic final section that sounds like the BBC Radiophonic Workshop communing with seventeen Charles Haywards.
Opening with a similar hi-hat build-up as on the title track, B1 "A Posture for Learning" sees Barton going full-techno and seemingly spewing up the past two decades of Latin-infused MNML and the type of post-Villalobos sound design that sees the percussive thirty-second note accents plunged beneath beds of reverb and echo while a seemingly untreated bell sound keeps time as the rhythms become increasingly chaotic yet refined. It's on the closing ripper of "Held Open" that one hears the sonic chasms between the disparate genres listed on the release's Discogs page truly inhabiting a similar space as breathy choral pads exhale over a frenetic, polyrhythmic hi-hat pattern that blossoms into the track's central rhythm, a bruising breakbeat barnburner that finds the groove between a galloping 4X4 and a T++-esque half-time stepper. The Inception-like post-dubstep bass growl that is paired with the primary isorhythm at the track's halfway point adds a sinister quality to this singular banger before the atmospherics of space swallow the track whole. In space, no one can hear you cry, either.