Considering that lists occupy an arguably overblown place in today's music criticism in which they all either look the same or go out of their way to highlight unknown records, I was more than a bit surprised when at the start of this week I felt the sincere desire to do a round-up of my favorite releases of winter and mid-spring 2018. While other sites will do a monthly round-up or a fiscal quarter-like accounting every three months, it really wasn't until last week that I found myself rather pleased with how the year in music is shaking out so far and aware that I had actually quite a bit of new releases to share with you--let alone a few 2017 stragglers that still warrant regognition.
Part of what has made the past four months of record listening so pleasurable is that I've found myself discovering and listening to more artists who are new to me than trusted favorites. Don't get me wrong; if you follow this site, you'll see plenty of familiar names. But for someone who's spent the last three months diving into the past five years of UK-informed dance music, it's been a relatively quiet year for a lot of those artists...so far. Exciting releases from Facta, Wisdom Teeth, Hessle Audio, and Timedance are due in the next months--the latter label taking an especially bold and risky step with three twelves planned that range from familiar faces like Bruce and Ploy to many others who are just starting to bubble up.
But as anyone who's been listening to music for a couple decades can tell you, releases that come out at the start of the year--much like early Oscar contenders--rarely manage to stay on the mind of critics when it comes to year-end lists. When penning my own last December, I was rather shocked by how many of the releases were from the second half of 2017. That's why I'm doing something practical and taking a more detailed inventory of the releases that really hit home for me. Of course, this list is almost entirely dominated by dance and electronic releases. Don't know about you but been a bit underwhelmed with rap and pop music so far this year and have yet to find a new guitar band that actually sounds...well, good. But am all ears for suggestions...been jamming this goat album, but it came out in 2013.
As always, the list is in no particular order whatsoever. Hopefully you find something new that you like<3
First Third Report, Jan - Apr 2018
Vainqueur - Reductions 1995-1997 (Scion Versions 2018)
The Chain Reaction label, founded and run by Basic Channel's Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus, holds a special place in the hearts of many a dance music fan. Between the years imprint ran from 1995 to 2003, the label released thirty-six twelves and eleven CDs that served as the cutting edge of the still-nascent dub techno pioneered by Basic Channel. In a graduating class that includes the likes of Torston Profrock, Robert Henke, Shinichi Atobe, Vladislav Delay, Thomas Köner and Andy Mellwig, Fluxion, and many others, Rene Löwe has long held an especially respected and lowkey position as one of the early pioneers of dub techno. He first made waves back in 1992 by releasing the Lyot twelve under his Vainqueur alias on the Maurizio label before appearing on CR-01 as one-third of dub techno trio Scion Löwe made a name for his own productions by releasing four EPs and a CD for Chain Reaction between 1996 and 1997 that have obtained vaunted status (and insane Discogs prices) over the past two decades. Released on the Scion Versions imprint he runs with frequent collaborator Substance, four of the six featured here are culled from the Solanus, Reduce, and Elevation II singles with the third disc bringing the CD-only "Antistatic" and previously unreleased "Antistatic II" to wax for the first time. Cut at 45 and restored to their full length, each track here is a graduate seminar in dub techno minimalism and essential listening for any student of dance music.
Dj Call Me - Marry Me (Highlife 2018)
It says something that a track that was the song of the summer in South Africa at the start of this decade would take until now to see release. Following the now-predictable course of an influential DJ (Sadaf) playing it--after it had already well over a million views on YouTube--it gradually made its way into the hands of Euro-trotting DJ's before becoming an object for identification on the Piece of Shit Facebook group ID of Music (why hunt down a track yourself when you can just crowdsource it and then send those Discogs prices through the roof?) Anyhoo, the Huntleys & Palmers' Highlife sublabel which trades in ethno-Euro hybrids saw fit to release what is probably the first 'wedding song' to ever make me cry, so simple the melody yet so deep the sentiment. Built around the nonsensical couplet of "If I marry you/Would you marry me, my love?" the track trades in the type of harmonics that have made Mumford & Sons and the bands they inspired the bane of anyone who's attended a midwestern wedding in the past decade, but you can dance to it. Talk about a song I wish would actually become a wedding staple as it trades in the type of naive and sincere sentiments and bubbling-up rhythms that remind you why love can be pretty dope...until you get married;)
Ladies and Gentlemen, the best illbient record in ages. Believe me, I was not particularly eager to pick up this record, despite being a bit of a Burial completist (though I have falled behind since that last Hyperdub 10"). While Burial (Will Beven) has released a few notable, ableit lackluster, collaborations with the likes of Four Tet and Thom Yorke as well as Zomby, The Bug's Kevin Martin is a serial collaborator, first making a name for himself in the nineties alongside Justin Broderick in Techno Animal or with Sonic Boom & Co. as Experimental Audio Research. Once he got underway with his doom-laden dancehall as The Bug, he began working with a cadre of vocalists to take his riddims to the next level while adroitly acknowledging certain shared sensibilities with Dubstep--stomach churning bass, vibes-heavy halfstep---and then moving beyond to craft what many consider to be his best album, London Zoo. While I didn't care too much for Zoo and loved Angels & Devils as a bizarre type of pop album, I have longed for the more atmospheric Bug material without vocalists to the point that Tapping The Conversation and Pressure feel like ambient works compared to the super-charged tracks he makes for Ninja Tune. Where Burial lives his life behind a veil of secrecy, pulling back the curtains from time to time without notice to surprise us with a release, Martin's output has been almost nonstop since the nineties. And while Burial seems to effortlessly synthesize video game samples and UK dance music's specter, Martin is an artist who's always worked in a rather additive fashion; after all, the whole guiding idea behind The Bug aesthetic has been a synthesis between the dub mechanics of the Scientist and King Tubby and the drone metal of The Swans
Of course, being on a big indie like Ninja Tune has it perks, like Martin getting his own label to further explore his brand of music. 2017 saw The Bug teaming up with doom stoner metal veteran Dylan Carlson of Earth, While I have not listened to the album extensively, I was struck by Smith's unusually light drum work and focus on subtle sound design meant to accentuate Carlson's playing. Still, the album meandered and lacked the sense of purpose Martin's more song-based efforts boast and one was left feeling like they were listening to both artists play but not necessarily together. This is not the case with Martin's and Beven's work together as they've created what is without doubt the most enjoyable Bug record these ears have ever heard. Leading the two-track affair is the motorik-lite dub of "Fog" where Burial's influence is felt in the damp, chilly weather that gradually picks up into a windy white noise, nearly nullifying the forward motion of the beat itself. "Pressure" sees us back in Illbient territory--where The Bug cut his younger teeth--as a steady dub beat threatens to derail under the weight of the palpable bass pressure rising beneath.
Various - Anonymous Delusional Eros (Nous 2018)
I've spent much of 2018 so far trying to chart what I see to be a subtle, nuanced, but extremely exciting mutation within UK-inflected dance music. Broken beat has always been a genre/term associated with jazzy bullshit, if we're being blunt. But following dubstep's descent to lowest common denominator status, plenty of producers have continued mining the space where that genre arose out of late forms of UK Garage and 2-Step, displacing the all-too ubiquitous formula of a metronomic kick drum and snare hits on the one and three while also refusing to be pigeonholed by one genre. Now, I could be totally wrong, and it would be a gross over-simplification to credit one label or artist with inspiring this current crop of post-post-dubstep genre scientists, but the multi-genre pretzel techno pioneered and refined by Tom Ford (Peverelist) over the course of his Punch Drunk and Livity Sound/Dnuos Ytivil labels (with Asusu and Kowton) emboldened at least this listener to start exploring a nexus of labels and producers eager to explore new forms of genre synthesis.
Berlin's Nous label has always been a trusty source for unearthing new talent, most notably through their all-killer Ethos Series which has introduced now-established acts like Route 8 amongst a host of lesser-known artists. However, perhaps also sensing a new current in underground dance music, they issued what is arguably their most compelling release to date--that I've heard at least--wth the six-track Anonymous Delusion Eros compilation. Familiar with only one artist on the comp, the homie Gaunt, I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to get a copy until a quick needle-drop listen at the record shop suggested here were six tracks that I would be working into many of my sets. It also reveals some of the trends that have emerged within this bass-heavy brand of broken beat as exemplified by Ayln's opening missive, "Translinguistics." Skipping in on a post-Livity assault of stuttered kicks and bass, a wood block-like hit is introduced alongside a technoid bed of undulating synths to give the piece a forward momentum that is constantly changing at the microscopic level. D104 keeps the conversation with the staggered techno of "Muta" that again sees a handful of elements--punishing kick patterns, a sixteenth-note helicopter engine, atmosphere aplenty--arranged just so to create a minimal monster that neatly bridges more trad and adventurous strains of techno-not-techno. Finishing things up on the A is Agxp's neck-snapping"Spells." Opening on now-familiar terrain with machine gun percussion working in tandem with a syncopated pair of kicks, a weightless snare enters the grid to create the type of ambient lowrider banger you can only hope was actually playing on the radio in Blade Runner 2049.
Considering that the A-side is made up of the type of sleek polyrhythmic bangers you'd imagine Answer Code Request itching to play (if only he could...), the inclusion of Gaunt is a welcome change of pace, his multi-movement blown-out sound offering up a delectable dinner of meat and potatoes weirdness. Once that monster bassline comes in, you know you're dealing with a producer not content to play it safe. The polywhirl stylings of \Sweat's "Shalbatana" takes us back to firmer ground, playing out like the type of 'experimental' set opener a middle-of-the-road techno DJ would be lucky to spin. Things take a left turn midway through when they bring in the low-end acid pressure, setting up a clever post-EBM dub techno stepper built on a winsome two-tone melodic backbone. Ending this album-length twelve is "What We Become" by Dreams, a track that could easily have found its way onto an early Ytivil Dnuos release, all post-Livity rhythmic pretzels and anticipation. It's a fitting end to an EP full of tracks that might feel like eternal builds to nothing for those not impressed by this sort of gray area 'techno,' but when deployed in the mix become much-needed interventions to Beatport techno.
Yep, it's 2018 and we still have records with infantile jokes about eating pussy. Hilarious. Of course, bad humor becomes a bit more forgivable when it houses an extended EP stuffed with analog sounds you think you know what they are going to do, but you have another thing coming, mister. Tolkachev has crafted a work of extreme patience and ingenuity--if I had to draw a parallel with another recent record, it would be Buttechno's Super Siziy King, a constantly rhythmic album, just not the type of rhythms we're used to. Oddly enough, both records primary 4X4 shitkicker is housed in the fifth slot; talk about a conspiracy no one cares about. And the record builds to that moment of thundering acid patiently and curiously It a harmonically and rhythmically dense album that never loses the listener, either through repetition or intuitive track structures.
Opener "Shady" is twenty-eight basslines threatening to do something, but instead luring you in like Pennywise before the full-on dramatics of "The Main Thing Is To Survive" spasms into being with Stanislav banging out an especially intoxicating set of chords. "Fuck This Guy" closes the A in spartan fashion as a Basic Channel-like dub strobing flashes over the beat. The B side is where things start to heat up as a bevy of synth squirts greet the listener on "Hair in My Mouth" before the aforementioned techno beatdown of "Negative Space (Remastered" provides the EP with its money shot moment. Spent but not cashed, "Self Destruction" offers dancers a milk bone with its broken kicks and riffy, percussive synths. Drexciya's James Stinson would talk about the hermetic nature of his craft prior to unleashing the Seven Storms and it painted the picture of an artist so overflowing with ideas and worlds that the real one threatened to contaminate his vision. And though Tolkachev might not be working on quite the same scale, this Ukrainian producer seems to thrive on a certain sense of isolation, something that permeates his music through and through.
Despite not having a Ploy EP on the horizon anytime soon--though we're certainly looking forward to his contribution to the 3xLP Timedance compilation--he's continued to burn the rule book and establish himself as one of the most promising producers of my generation. I mean, there aren't many artists who can get me to buy a record I'm not interested in just for a single remix, let alone two. Alas, while I was able to get the slinky industrial creeper that caps off the Pletnev EP, the Romansoff twelve has managed to elude me
On last year's Unruly EP for Hemlock, Ploy once again took another hard left away from the gaseous techno that was a hallmark of his first two releases. Refining his command of rhythmic sound design on the Intrigued by the Drum, he saved the percussive pyrotechnics for the title track of that blistering Hemlock EP. Where that track saw Ploy taking up the often-sixteenth note polyrhythms that provide the rhythmic boost for many of his peers' tracks, recasting it in a combustible style and raw sound all his own. For his "Graded" remix, we find the producer in similar territory, but this time with a more organic and varied percussive palette as muted triangles, toms, and a barrage of other taut surfaces are struck, piercing the howling veil falling over the remix.
Ploy's disparate noisemakers jump right to the forefront on his "Thrown Furniture Remix" for tribal acid producer Pletnev as what sounds like a metal pipe bangs out a steady stream of syncopated eighth notes alongside a streaming current of FX. The rhythms soon double and even triple in their layered patterns as the song's central hook comes in, sounding essentially like a bassdrop but from an absurdly high register. Less rhythmically cloistered, Ploy sets about crafting an industrial-lite piece of sluggish techno that cleverly balances its organic-sounding percussion with a dramatic melodic motif and a vocoded robot. With only a Timedance compilation appearance scheduled for this year so far, here's hoping that Ploy is hard at work crafting a new way of fucking up dancers' domes.
DSR Lines – Spoel (SicSic/Black Sweat Records 2014/2017)
While Black Sweat has made its name as a reissue label with a strong focus on the Italian and the weird af, this is the first release of theirs since the Wayne Siegel LP I've felt compelled to purchase (not yet, unfortunately). It's an album of what I call rhythm-melodies. While so many melodies today are reliant on repetition or a rhythm (or several) there are those instruments and ways of playing when the beats and notes it's hitting become one in the same. Sure, we've been getting arpeggiated synth albums since the seventies, but there are those that feel like they're set on following a formula and those interested in something more, well, musical First released in 2014 via cassette label SicSic, it's presented here as a double LP with the D side made up of three previously unreleased compositions. One of those is the entrancing "Verschuiving" that opens on a charging post-Berlin School arp, the hard edges gradually dulled by an array of distinct but interlocking melodies before entering a breathtaking final third, the calm having fully taken over in the form of a futuristic lullaby. An album that both warrants deep listening yet is happy to just hang out in the background while you cook dinner.
Rezzett - Rezzett LP (The Trilogy Tapes 2018)
Pro tip: Don't go to the record store after staying up all night writing. I learned that one the hard way early this winter when, eager to start making up for lost time in building up my Rezzett collection--I am a Lukid superfan after all--I saw a $17 dollar record from the Dutch Brew label with Rezzett's name on it and I bought it without a second thought. So I was pretty bummed when I found it was a compilation of four artists who made distortion a central part of their sound. Now, not believing in 'rules,' the mere presence of distortion doesn't send me running for the hills, dog forbid I listen to something trendy. But as we've seen with lo-fi house, when you can leap past years of collecting gear and just install a VST plug-in to create tape hiss, well, I'd be lying if I didn't say some of the magic was lost. Before going silent following a run of increasingly grungey twelves and disappearing himself into the Rezzett duo with dub weirdo Tapes, Lukid's solo material was flirting with distortion in a way that actually seemed to enhance the music
Anyhoo, going back to the above comp, I was truly stunned by how lazy the majority of the tracks were in that the A side in particular sounded too familiar for comfort. And then "Cave Ritual" came on and like that, I no longer cared about that $17. Sounding like an 80s business funk track thrown onto garbage island to rot for a generation, it made me appreciate how Rezzett is able to almost create an olfactory dimension to their music as the distortion is used to not unlike one would applying shading to a drawing to highlight certain elements while downplaying others. So when it came time to grab the debut full-length the duo recorded for long-time home The Trilogy Tapes--a process that was delayed due to the need to include a poster in the package--I was a bit...underwhelmed.
If you've heard Rezzett before, you've heard the first disc. Don't get me wrong, there are highlights. Of the first three 4X4-structured tracks, "Sexzzy Creep" unsettling vocals make it a memorable composition in a way the first two cuts aren't. Fortunately, things get much better by the end of the the disc one thanks to the lovely ambient lullabye of "Yunus In Ekstasi," a patient, brief meditation. By the time you get to the second disc, it's forgivable for a sense of fatigue to set in at the prospect of four more extensions of the Rezzet 'sound,' but fret not. It took me several listens to finally clue in, but for the fan of the type of rhythmic and melodic variance that abounds across "Cave Ritual," the second disc is a treasure trove of thoughtful, complex, and affective compositions, starting with the slow come-up of "Wet Bilge" that gives a sense of continuity to the preceding palette cleanser of "Yunus." By the track's third minute, the duo have gone full Balearic, a reminder that both producers have always fared best when they break character. Album highlight "Tarang" turns up the BPM in a serious way while retaining a gentle wind-swept ambiance and a beguiling vamp-like melody that carries the track through to its blissed-out tribal techno-aping conclusion. By the time the come-hither hook of "Gremlinz" kick off the album's final quarter and the sped-up (and fucked-up) hip-hop-indebted beat makes it not just a standout track for the record, but one of the more exciting tunes I've heard this year. It's clear the two artists have been taking in much of what contemporary dance music has to offer as it cleverly bridges both American footwork and recent UK broken beat. Final track "Worst Ever Contender" picks up where 2014's "Zootie" left off, an ambient jungle number that manages to avoid sounding your typical British album-closer 'throwback choon,' somehow. Much like Rezzett themselves, Rezzett LP feels like an inversion of any and all expectations as it starts off sounding a bit too much like a "Rezzett record" and then three tracks in, dispenses with the formalities and embraces the weirdness that has made them such a fitting artist to turn in the first Trilogy Tapes full-length.
Steven Rutter - BrainFog (FireScope 2018)
Going off the music convos I have and the online record groups I monitor and contribute to, I don't think I can remember a time where IDM-electro-techno progenitors B12 have been more en vogue. I've seen the descriptor "B12-y" to refer to basically any piece of 90s dance music that fits into peoples' often narrow understanding of that heady but not-too-heady brand of dance music whose billowing pads and ear-catching melodies often mask the many moving parts at work beneath surface.. Like most my age (33), I have only had the bandwidth to get the two (fantastic) releases last year that saw both their seminal 1993 collection Electro-Soma and the new compilation Electro-Soma II that collected many of their seminal EPs and tracks under their many different aliases.
I was not familiar with Stever Rutter's solo work prior to copping BrainFog, released on his own FireScope label that focuses on "not just deep meaningful techno, but also techno with vocals, real songs with real meaning." Sure, we can mock the genuine sentiment behind a middle-aged techno/IDM progenitor going on about 'real meaning,' but give me Rutter's vox and explorative compositions over Yaeji's ironic-not-ironic faux-vapidity (and hey, I fucks with some "Raingurl.") Or rather, give me tracks that can't be made in a couple hours or less on Ableton with parts actually played than grids clicked. Ugh, sorry, I'm sounding bitter. But considering the utter indifference an album like this is typically met with--'the heads' making sure to get their copy of Electro-Soma (but usually not Volume II)--and the artistry and sensibility needed to create an emotional and affecting machine music album just lost on so many, well, sometimes this dudes need to kvetch. And if you're not feeling some kind of way by the end of album closer
Released on the newish anno imprint, Loidis is a brand new alias for the producer and a rather clever one as it sounds like the type of 90s ambient techno act you'd find on the Apollo label, but actually is the original way the city of Leeds (with which the producer shares a last name) was written at the start of the last millennium. Continuing his penchant for haiku-length titles, A Parade, In The Place I Sit, The Floating World (& All Its Pleasures) features three extended 4x4 walkabouts that refamiliarize those listeners who first fell in love with Leeds' music at the start of the decade with the kind of bucolic and expertly-assembled dance music that's been missing from his release schedule the past year and change. Clocking in at a solid fifteen minutes, B-side "The Floating World (& All Its Pleasures)" is where the record gets taken to a place listeners rarely get taken to these days. Opening up on what sounds like a delayed striking of guitar strings and the rhythm that emerges from doing so, it creates a distinctively laid-back quality to the track while adding a solid bit of drag to the beat that leads to a bit of time dilation once things pass the five-minute mark. Ultimately, Brian Leeds has succeeded at doing what he does best here, and that's creating a stunningly beautiful and simple piece of music rendered near indescribable by his singular sensibility. From the pacing to the sound design, not a single thing feels out of place or extraneous, each piece a plane of pure possibility realized to its fullest extent.
Having just experienced one of my closest friends giving birth to a son as well, I could never have expected the sudden and complete change in my feelings on the matter as, hey, that was my dude's son now so what else really matters? All of which to say, new life is often an impetus for change on a deep level and in the press pack for Wherever You Go I Will Follow, the sole words from Peteri about this release is "This one is all about family." Created as the soundtrack to an installation by Delta, an artist who has helped develop Delsin's visual identity over a host of releases, the twenty-two minute piece has been cut at 45rpm and split between the A of Where You Go and the B of I Will Follow.
Like his beloved Basic Channel, Peteri has always had an intuitive knack for conjuring up an ecosystem of studio magick. Where the former's methodology reflected time-consuming sonic sculpting born out of repeat sessions, Peteri's insinstence on chasing a sonic idea over the concentrated course of hours from which he excavates the moments where he 'got it right' has given birth to a catalog that rewards endless listening, not to uncover new elements or ideas buried beneath countless others, but rather to try and grasp just how something so simple can be rendered so densely intuitive. With Where You Go, I Will Follow, the producer has tapped into a potent emotional vein that eases some of the longing melancholia found in much of his earlier work, replacing it with a communl spirit of working together as the different elements in the mix interlock harmoniously into a glorious bliss machine. While it's unlikely this piece will bless listeners with its appearance on a dance floor anytime soon, it falls into a niche set of music that seems to beg that it be listened with those close to you in an embryonic space a la Miriam Zazeela and La Monte Young's Dream House. Or maybe just a living room with a Netflix video of a fireplace playing in the center. After all, there are no set rules with family, only free-forming love. Open yourself up to its embrace.
Gaunt - Don't Trip EP (THEM 2018)
If you’ve visited this site before or follow me on the social media, you might have inferred I am a bit of a fan of Gaunt. Born Jack Warne, he’s basically a 22yo savant who I first met while doing interviews for a piece on the current moment in UK dance. Whether it was our shared love for math rock, Touch Records, or visual art, it was one of those rare interviews I’ve had where, by the end of it, you’re not sure if you have a good friend or just great content. Fortunately, I’ve been lucky to end up with both, which of course forces me to question how I respond to Gaunt’s music and whether I should give him any space at all lest I be seen as playing favorites.
But here’s the thing: This is my site and I write about the music I love. Before I had even spoken with the producer, I had already started falling for his debut EP on Mistry and absolutely lost my shit over a quartet of unreleased demos. The fact remains, his is the first music that made me momentarily consider starting a label just to release those tracks. And his work continues to advance at an astounding rate. While the ever-humble Warne downplayed my praise over his latest four-track for the They imprint by noting that the tracks were two years old, his is the type of dance music that feels both contemporary and out of time. Lead track “Say What” is concréte club music of the highest (and sassiest order) as Warne channels a kind of distorted, mangled ballroom track that will definitely be my soundtrack if I ever find myself sashaying down the runway, the disparate sounds with a simple banging beat. “Weeboo” is my favorite track on the release, a slinking tech house number whose eerie earworms will stick with you for days on end. The second half of the EP brings the experimental edge that make both A side track so raw to the forefront, first on the wobbly, uncertain dance of “Don’t Trip,” a clumsily elegant piece, which, to be honest, is exactly what I love about Jack's productions. They have an intuitive looseness to them that makes me believe the producer was a jazz musician in another life.The record ends on a rather brutal note as the rhythmic slamming that punctuates the one is offset by a cavalcade of similar errant sounds and a high-pitched whine that nicely simulates a panic attack—it’s a bold move from a bold young producer that works thanks to the strength of the preceding three tracks. Time and time again, we’ve spoke about how the emphasis in young UK producers has shifted away from genre emulation to a focus on developing one’s own artistic voice and using music as an earnest means of self-expression.
Via Maris - Shelleys EP (Mistry 2018)
One of the most intriguing aspects of how artists like Via Maris, Bruce, Ploy, and Batu are covered by other music writers is usually what's not said. Sure, all four dudes supposedly live together in a "Cottage of Dance" and at least Bruce, Ploy, and Batu attended Bath Spa University (as did Asusu and Vesel), an institution that Idle Hands Chris Farrell has cutely referred to as "dubstep finishing school" due to the classes taught by the likes of Skull Disco alum Gatekeeper. But the fact that four of the leading producers of this 'new school' of UK dance sound wholly distinct from one another in every way is at odds with past press-covered creative outposts where the artists are often seen as interchangeable ("I mean, they're making like bass techno, right?") No, they're not, and Via Maris is finally getting his chance to show off his own voice, one that favors lower tempos, slippery rhythms, and the distinct traces of a former infatuation with the likes of Dilla and Madlib (but I'm totally assuming here).
That slippery control of groove is present from the EP's start as doppler effect-like siren whirls across the sluggish beat that manages to evoke hip-hop, UKG, broken beat, and much more in its principle rhythm alongside copious amounts of swing. Where earlier tracks like "Credentials" were masterful and maximal beat constructions that worked in spite of themselves, the producer B. Burke has seemingly co-opted the more straight-forward and conventional sound of his Ytivil Dnuos EP to create a piece that is undeniably unique while not really accomplishing much. And sometimes, that's all you need. B1 cut "Toys" is unlike anything the producer has done to date, as it takes a microscopic 2-step strut and threads a see-saw melody through the minimal drum hits to establish the track's central groove. Evocative of 8-bit video game melodies, a clean topline plunges into the mix once the foundation has been laid. Where the beat was stiff at the start, once the song gets going on all gears, it shifts to a post-rock samba--I swear I think of Tortoise's "Eros" every time I listen--without making any drastic changes to the drum pattern. Just like "Toys" has a decidedly playful and twee quality to it, closing number "Miasma" gets off to a sluggish, disinterested start before a percussive flutter sends it all skyborn in a matter not unlike Beneath's "Special Offer." However, where that track's principle melody lies in its low-end, Via Maris employs a single-note pad brimming with sci-fi overtones, buttressed by complimentary drones and a chugging bassline.
Beneath - Special Offer/ Kushty (Mistry 2018)
Recently, during an evening session spinning with my Danish Black Metal fan roommate reading quietly in our living, I found myself mixing into Beneath's "Special Offer" when my roommate observed, "I like this. It's like equal parts intelligent and braindead." This description floored me as I had long ignored the output of Beneath due to that latter quality, which can be used to describe the way the producer will affix a gnarly bassline seemingly held over from the days of DMZ and FWD>> to a pretzeled technoid beat. To paraphrase one critic, it simply sounded like techno with a pronounced low-end to make it 'British.' So what changed? I started falling under the spell of Ben's unique A&R vision that he carries out for his Mistry Muzik label, which has seen the likes of Laksa, Gaunt, Batu, and Chevel all release crucial twelves for the label alongside last year's full-length exercise in dread ambient courtesy of Kailin's harrowing Fracture. (Check out my review of the album here).
On his latest effort for his Mistry Muzik label, Beneath moves away from the massive stylistic switch-up found on “Seeus” towards two tracks that feel like vintage Ben while sounding, well, better somehow. “ “ opens up on a Jock Jams-like bass vamp that builds and then the bottom drops out, creating the type of swirling post-Livity beat that makes it extra deadly in the mix. “Kushty” is even more out there, sounding like an off-kilter house jam in its hook with the type of beat that sounds like Jock Jams on Ketamine. He’s demonstrated without question that he has an extremely clear and nuanced idea of what he wants from his label; now it’s time for his music to showcase its immense depth.
Pavel Milyakov - Eastern Strike (RASSVET records 2018)
Although the Gost Zvuk label has remained silent so far after an insanely prolific 2017 that saw four of its core artists each releasing a full-length effort, that doesn't mean we've been left wanting in the out-there Russian electronic music department. The ever-evolving artist behind Buttechno has returned to his birth name outside of the label for the second transmission from his own RASSVET records imprint following the blistering 1984 reissue that saw him reissuing his own self-released seven-inch as a twelve-inch record with two additional, mind-scrambling tracks. Most impressive was the fact that the record essentially played like two distinct EPs with two outré electro tracks on the A and two extended examples of his muscular, quirky brand of tech-house on the B. On our last check-in with his Buttechno alias via his confusingly great Super Siziy King release for The Trilogy Tapes, over six tracks we got mutant pop, dub-not-dub, and a Villalobos-channelling techno piece.
So, what greatness does Eastern Strike hold? Well, this is the first release since the dark ambient stylings of Day Of My Death that I could see dividing even the most hardcore of Buttechno fans. But unlike that somber piece of Gosha Rubchinskiy fashion show soundtracking, there's no doubt that he's having fun as always. The A is the real shocker here as it contains three tracks of the type of beatless trance-inspired arpeggiations and vamps that Lorenzo Senni has made synonymous with himself. Unlike Senni's earlier work that felt like static studies, leading track "Main Loop" repeats the same chord progression for four minutes--plus it's there in the locked groove at the side's end--but never gets old, Milyakov going straight for the heartstrings in a way Senni typically avoids. Or to put it another way, if Senni's compositions are grayscale trance, Milyakov's weightless synths are polychromatic, percussive, and poignant. "Chording" is even more dramatic, arpeggiated chords piercing the silence and emoting until the track flickers away. Closing the A side is the peculiar "Rassveting." Flipping through a series of movements, it injects a much-needed humanity into this three-track trance suite as the producer hammers out subsequent patterns and melodies. For fans of Milyakov's truly singular command of rhythm, "B.A.D." is an all-too brief but meaty rhythm track that retains the energy of the producer's more house-y material, but puts it to use in a frenetically subtle broken beat that employs errant textural smudges and digital scrapes to make it a much-needed breath of air in a broken bass mix. Just because Milyakov demonstrated that he could make a home listening record with the best of 'em on Super Siziy King, he creates tracks that are meant to be played with and Eastern Strike is another satisfying left turn.
Pascäal - No Pain (Clave House 2018)
Since emerging last year with their first two releases--including the stellar Shinjuku Lights EP by 外神田deepspace--the Detroit-based Clave House has quickly established a unique identity. Specializing in house music that orbits the outer limits, the label's third release by Brooklyn's Peter Wiley didn't hit me at first, but with each passing listen it revealed a firm and deep sensuality Whether discovered within a mix or just heard when one is in the right headspace, contains a world of rich sonic details and rhythmic concepts that work in concert to create the type of dance music that is as much of a joy to dance to as it is to simply sit down and give it a considered listen. Though both are still early in their existences, I'm more than eager to hear what both the producer and label are patiently cooking up next.
The Technocrat.s - Ruckzuck (Roughmix/Suezan Studio 1991/2018)
A blistering bit of bleep n' bass courtesy of Ralf Dörper pressed up on a spicy seven inch backed by a CD of the original remixes from the likes of Richard H. Kirk and other Warp and Network mainstays. It's a crucial artifact from the early days of British techno that ranges from Detroit-facing computer beatdowns to breakbeat-backed and vocal sample-laced proto-hardcore that might not sound as fresh as it did nearly thirty years ago, but still packs a serious punch.
Since first encountering the Athens, Greece Echovolt label back in 2009 when they released the ace Motorik EP by PG&S, also known as Jorge Velez and Will Burnett, it's become one of those imprints whose records I'll always check out if I stumble across them, but will rarely buy. Part of the reason is that a Greek label, they put out a lot of records from Brooklyn producers in addition to often signing some of the wesker material in an artist's catalog (JT Stewart and Legowelt, I'm looking at you.) However, since 2013, they've started the type of reissue arm that exemplifies what I wish more dance reissue labels did. So far I haven't been familiar with three of the six artists they've featured and Starcount is perhaps the most exciting entry in the series yet. We love seeing children and teenagers doing things that us adults couldn't even imagine, perhaps because it's one of those few moments that allows us to feel a pang of pride about the human race. Starcount--no birth name is given--was a sixteen-year-old teen living in Athens who produced lush, ornate tracks in his bedroom. As the first Greek producer to join the label's reissue effort, it's one of those records you'll wonder at first if you like it because you're more impressed that a person so young made something so sublime. But as time passes and you start to marvel at the cascading pianos and twinkling synths on "Calma" or the tribal-balearic house of "Jeraldine" with those melancholic keys, well, expect to give yourself over and teleport to the Saronic Gulf.-
Tessela / Lanark Artefax - Blue 01 (Whities 2018)
2018 has proven to be the year I finally refuse to let hype ruin a good record for me. I mean, that’s ultimately wishful thinking, especially in today’s lifestyle journalism masquerading as music writing. Still, maybe it’s the rumors that the owner is a bit of a cad or the Uber design-y covers. Or maybe it’s their “dubplate” series where they press twenty copies of a single sided record. As it turns out, the B side for the first ‘blue’ label released by the imprint is sourced from Lanark Artefax’s dubplate, which is an alternate, more bucolic version of “ ,” a track who unabashed aphexisms has earned him all the right fans. Considering how omnipresent the track was last year, I know I wasn’t particularly excited to get a new version on vinyl, but then we haven’t even touched on the A side...
Being something of a latecomer to Tessela, I’ve come to deeply respect his ability to marry rave diva vocals and post-dubstep lowends over his plosive breakbeats. Arguably the most riotous tune he’s put his name to since “Hackney Parrot,” “Glisten” is one of the most luxurious “rave tunes” I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. Using what sounds like a pitched-up clave to hit targets around the two and four and the solitary kick added on the downbeat for momentum, the producer doesn’t wait long to bring out the type of sustained bass tone that could likely help a person to find god. The stuttering vox remind the listener that this is a track engineered for da club, tho it’s not just some obvious banger you can throw on and expect results. Rather, it’s a track that needs finessing, context, and most importantly, a DJ who actually cares.
Dan HabarNam - Draw Your Pattern (Idle Hands 2018)
At some point in the past year, I fell hard for the Idle Hands label. While they've released some serious stinkers and some tracks are a bit too sparse at times, the label's commitment to the principles of dub--add bass melody to skanking drums and go HAM on the effects--more often than not result in lean, muscular tracks that might not be the highlight of your set, but will certainly get bodies moving. Unfamiliar with HabarNam, this is another one of those records where I heard about fifteen seconds o the breakbeat and bass drop before I decided to get my own copy. For as obnoxious as putting a breakbeat on a track as a means to chase trends is, when deployed smartly, they can elevate a track from a groover to an out-and-out banger, something "High Pass Rambo" most certainly achieves. The broken bass grooves of "Draw Your Pattern" on the flip is more a lowkey affair but one that fits nicely into a heads-down, dub fingers out set.
When diving into ГОСТ ЗВУК’s and ГОСТ ИНСТРУМЕНТ’s combined catalog and looking into each artist’s better-known aliases, a feeling of dejection falls over you as you start to understand just how little you, as a Westerner, know about Russian underground music. Restricting its remit to producers within Russia, it’s a label that showcases “artists who are quite established in Russia, but still might be unfamiliar to the world”. One way they flex the label flexes its curatorial muscle is by stripping its artists of their pseudonyms, which brings us to one Aleksi Nikitin, arguably the most successful artist on the label. Despite having released ГОСТ001 and an insanely accomplished album in the past couple years on the label, just a peek at the Discogs page for his Nocow alias is vertigo-inducing. In the intervening months since releasing Ледяной Альбом last April, he’s released a split EP, put out the first REKIDS twelve I’ve bought since 2008, and oh yeah, he dropped over an hour's worth of material across three stellar (and well-designed) EPs for his biggest fan, Len Faki's Figure Label. Nocow excels at crafting a particularly muscular brand of house and techno that is also extremely vulnerable as he often sings a lovelorn hook in his signature, sexy monotone. With the three titles--which translate to air (vozduh), water (voda), and soil (zemlya)--communicating an elemental, earthy vibe, the tracks themselves have an organically loose quality to them that has been missing from his more peak-time material. Not that these tracks don't bang. I recently capped off an hour-long mix for a Canadian radio show with Vozduh's highlight "Forgiven." Based around a cavernous, insistent bass kick, minimala percussive, and well-placed sonic flourishes, Nikitin foregrounds his voice in a way that's rarely heard outside of diva vocal tracks as there's no mistaking the line "I can't be forgiven," repeated again and again over the song's six minutes. As the listener moves from one element to the next, the particularities give way to certainly recurring if not subtle themes as the producer constantly tweaks his formula, from barebones heartbreak house to teutonic techno and plenty of abstractions and tangents to let the listener know he’ means business.
A Drummer From Detroit - Drums #2 (Fit Sound 2018)
A Drummer From Detroit - Drums #2 (Fit Sound 2018)
Back in 2011 when the first Drummer from Detroit EP came out, Andrés was still a year away from releasing "New For U," he quietly released the first EP, Drums #1, from his then-new A Drummer From Detroit alias, which contained the overlooked banger "Untitled," tucked quietly away on the B side as its simple beat was at star odds with the percussive bombast on the two A cuts. A skilled percussionist with an even better ear for a loop that won't quit, the Drums #1 felt a bit too bombastic for me as I am also a drummer, one who prefers locking it in the pocket over an extended drum solo any day. Still, "Untitled" has remained one of those tracks I've played steady for seven years, which meant that when a new Drummer From Detroit EP that would once again be released on the Fit label was announced a couple months back, well, homie got pumped.
It would appear that perhaps the producer got some feedback not unlike my own as this time around, two of the three tracks follow that minimal jazz-house formula that so many do wrong and he does so write. Sure, slow-burning tracks like "#3" are given a certain bounce from the ample hand percussion, but ultimately it's the simple, interlocking organ melodies that send me over the moon. Where "Part 4" is a very forgettable sub-five-minute jazz house workout--though that key melody is allllll right-- the highlight for me since I first heard the samples is undoubtedly (and once again) the B-side cut "Part 5." Boasting Latinx heritage, Andrés has never shied away from injecting himself into his music. And while I don't know where the luscious and sparse string stabs come from, outside of the track's sheer catchiness is the fact that it's a beautiful synthesis of disco, salsa, and other dance forms I did not grow up around. All I know is if I get through the entire summer in Brooklyn without hearing a single DJ play "Part 5," then more drastic measures to start getting gigs might be in order. Cuz let's be frank, even for as well-known as "New For U" is, artists like Andrés or Pittman below don't get the DJ Seinfeld or Ross From Friends treatment, despite those artists and their litany essentially trying to capture the magic contained here and in so much other dance music made by people who've actually lived it.
Brah, I can't even begin to express how pumped I was when I learned after a four-year drought, we were to be blessed by not one, but two subsequent Marcellus Pittman twelves courtesy of his own Unirhythm imprint. And as luck would have it, the two EPs present two different sides to the artist while reminding listeners who may have forgot why he's one of the most exciting and important producers in dance music today. "Revenge For Nothing" calls to mind a 2018 update on his world-destroying The Midwest Advocates E.P. Part One as both cuts are taut, minimal, and jacking with just a couple basslines and FX combined with the artists' inimitable sensibility to get that ass moving in fine form.
Much like their names, where Revenge For Nothing shows the stripped-back, lean, and fighting side of Pittman's productions, Can't Forget About You is three tracks of loved-up house beatdowns. The title track rides in on a grimy beat before the whispering chords and central vocal sample take the listener to the cloud. The B side features two more slices of house music romance, with "All Is Love" deploying Pittmann's signature stuttered beats in support of a pining piano line that cries out for its lost love. A rain-drop melody gives "Creepy Crawlers" its name and introduces a middle ground between the two EPs as the track flits between minimal cool and jazzy house tropes that reminds the listener why Pittman's off-kilter sensibility is what keeps him booking gigs and blowing minds.
DJ N Fox - Crânio (Warp Records 2018)
A friend and I were joking recently about how when bands sign to labels like 4AD or Domino, it often becomes a kiss of death. For when you sign to labels like that, suddenly you're dealing with a team of people (publicists, marketing dicks, out-of-touch owners) who all want that least indie thing of all: a big ol' hit that Trader Joe's and American Airlines will play to pacify the consumers. Over the past decade and change, Warp has also displayed similar predilections while signing a much wider net of artists, from Battles to Lorenzo Senni (neither of whom have half the buzz they did prior to signing). So when I saw a 'trailer' for the DJ N Fox EP to be released on Warp instead of the label that broke him to the world, Principé, I didn't really know what to expect other than if started making Beacon's Closet-friendly batida, I was jumping ship. And then I heard Crânio's opening track "Sinistro," a track that can seem to decide if it's in 3/4, 6/8, or 4/4 and moves at the sluggish BPM of today's pop hits (though turn that sucker on 45 and see what happens then).
Where his previous efforts, Noite E Dia and the staggering fifteen-minute acid odyssey of 15 Barras seemed to look outside of his Lisbon neighborhood towards cities like Baltimore and Chicago, Crânio is an unapologetically self-indulgent (and goddamn inspiring) six-track traipse through his cross-pollinating sound world. Both "Poder Do Vento" and "Maria Costa" are smothered in percussion, placinghe listener right in the middle of the dance, while the Mentasm-lite hook of "Poder" or the IDM melody floating over the frenetic orgy of beats hint at a type of sonic globalism that might not kill us all. The B-side kicks off with the slightly predictable "KRK," which in retrospect ends up serving as a palette cleanser for the final two tracks. "Waaba-Jah" brings back the snare rolls and flute that gave early hit "Weed" its hallucinatory fifth world bump, both intertwining into a gloriously transcendent rhythm-melody. Things come to close with the slowed-down bump of "Karma" whose pining piano line reminds the listener that no matter how many after-parties you attend, you can't run from yourself...or something like that. Either way, here's to N Fox beating the curse of the major indies!
Suba – Wayang (Offen Music 2018)
For an artist who was rescued from obscurity a few years back via the Offen Music label's archival collections of his more experimental and ambient work, the late Serbian producer Mitar Subotić was clearly a producer of many inclinations. Where his earlier eighties material exuded an isolationist sensibility endemic to Eastern Bloc countries, his life and music appeared to take on a whole new beginning after decamping to São Paulo. Having released his earlier material under the name of Rex Ilusivii, by 1995 when Wayang was recorded, he had taken on the alias of Suba and immersed him in the rhythmic dexterity and density of Brazilian music. Opener "Wayang 1" flirts with several different directions, including breakneck speed jungle, before settling into its laid back downtempo groove enlivened by the ample percussion and a disembodied vocal seemingly crying out in either pain or ecstasy. It's a wonderfully diverse album as far as its rhythms go, "Wayang 2" using a slowed-down D&B beat and looped snatch of conversation to add a whole new meaning to the word 'trance.' Of course, there's much more going on here across the album's eleven tracks as "Wayang 6" and "Wayang 7" harken back to the neo-classical and ambient leanings of the artist's previous moniker, but where an arctic frost once was now are beads of condensation, the melodies creating a balmy environ. Ultimately, Wayang is an album that zigs and zags with a sense of purpose far greater than token eclecticism and we're lucky to have it now readily available instead of languishing on DAT tapes in some forgotten storage unit.
Well, here's one I doubt many saw coming. As one friend has put it to me, Discodromo and Boris's CockTail d'Amore is the best party in Berlin despite reaching the decade mark next year. Both in their bookings and the releases on their label, the lads have shown a highly trained ear for picking out the best music from days past and present. Unless I'm mistaken, this is the label's first reissue and boy, is it a doozy. I was not familiar with the Ukrainian filmmaker, writer, and composer Lech and I doubt many were, considering his art remained locked behind an iron curtain for so long. While there is no shortage of ambient and new age records from the seventies and eighties, this one hit me hard from those opening piano notes that effortlessly morph into mallets and so much more over the album's five pieces. This is music for after-hours, when you're not ready for bed cuz the drugs haven't worn off enough and you need something to rest the mind. Or, you know, it also works when played after a long work day. Despite the absence of beats, the melodies are driving yet sedated and the music flows at a brisk pace, never lingering too long in one place. With this release CockTail d'Amour shows that they aren't just a part of the dance music vanguard, they're ahead of the game and most of us have yet to catch up.
Released on the new Italian imprint Hybride Sentimento, the label shines a light on this dreamy slice of ambient dance courtesy of the Treviso, Italy-based duo of Andrea Desiderà & Luigi Morosin. Active from the late 80s to the early 00s, Skies in the Mirror is an astonishing romantic and atmospheric piece music, the eight pieces effortless segueing into one another to create an epic tableau that calls to mind the reason-scrambling experience of seeing nature at its most unnatural. From the gaseous, victorious pads of opener "Hora Aurea" to the airy house rhythms that push the title track's vaporous chords into another dimension, this is the type of album that soaks up its surrounding and reproduces them in a way that's not quite alien, terrestrially rooted this brand of magic is. Earthen and textural, the sung voices intertwining with radio frequencies on a cloud-besotted plane, we experience a flattening of the fourth dimension and an expanding of consciousness that is able to reach the cosmos from the comfort of the studio. Pure wizardry.
D'Arcangelo - D'Arcangelo (Happy Skull 2018)
I'll be real with you: This EP, the first new material by Italian electro heartbreakers D'Arcangelo, typically wouldn't have been included this list, especially if the follow-up to last fall's mind-shattering Suction Records reissue of the duo's debut EP has come out by now. But such a sucker I am for their 80s-tinged, library music-indebted electro schlock, there's just no way a new (and totally solid) new D'Arcangelo record won't appear on this list.
Afrikan Sciences - Reciprocity EP (Deepblak 2018)
Despite having put out the bulk of his free-flowing inter-genre assemblages under the Afrikan Sciences moniker on Aybee's trusted Deepblak label since 2006, it wasn't until his 2014 Circuitous album released on Bill Kouligas' erstwhile experimental label PAN that the music of Eric Douglas Porter seemed to take hold with those of the
The shaky 4x4 pulse beating throughout opener "Reciprocess" feels like a red herring of sorts as Porter's ambling bass and keys seem to retain the looseness of jazz while employing repetition to craft a heady blend of interlocking melodies. Channeling the motorik afrobeat of Tony Allen, "Hullman Z" is the record's most accessible and DJ-ready track as a charging bassline grows and recedes in volume and force, accented by wooden percussion and a propulsive high-hat rhythm. After a solid three minutes of bass antics, a ruminative mallet line and a blown-out harpsichord or guitar stumble headfirst into the mix, the volume surging and dying down in a seemingly aleatoric fashion. It's a lively jam session whose rhythmic engine and EBM-facing bassline make it a truly curious and infectious hybrid of genres and styles. The rushed downbeat of "Get It G" accompanies a patient and mournful progression of notes to close out the A side. A muted gallop of a kick drum pattern comes striding in as vocals and keys belt out a question mark of a hook on "Just In Case," sci-fi organ swells and melodies only amplifying the joyful tension. Reciprocity's final track "Son Shine" is perhaps the most recognizable composition to fans of Circuitous, the beat effortlessly synthesizing a broken 2-step swing with a funky downbeat. Alien static assembles itself into a disquieting two-tone pattern against repeating vibes pattern and moaning chords, the beat once again shifting gears into a more upbeat sequence as a cluster of mallet chords takes the shape of the track's enigmatic topline, the tapestry of instruments seemingly both playing off of one another while existing in total isolation to form the type of disjointed and vexing grooves that have become this artist's calling card.
WINO-D - WINO-D (Wah Wah Wino 2018)
Record collectors suck. And while I am certainly a collector of records, it's always been a matter of collecting records to play for others and not to covet or make calculated purchases and then gouge poor saps on Discogs. Unfortunately, in just seven brief releases, Wah Wah Wino has become that label. The Dublin weirdo dance imprint had been quietly carving out a niche for themselves with their Wino-A through C series of twelves that played out like dream dance dubs from an impossible past. Then came 2017 and the release of Davy Kehoe's speed dub punk tear-out of an album and the real jewel in the crown, Absolutely Wino, a two-record collection of the label's core players taking on a raft of different guises in one of the more ambitious exercises in genre science in recent memory. While the tracks are undoubtedly informed by the past, they feel like unrealized jams and what-if's executed with the tact of record nerds and musicians who have pored over their source material with religious-like zeal.
Released in an edition of 670 this past February, prices on Discogs were already well above the $40 mark before my local shop even gots its copies. Containing five tracks that mine everything from electro stomp to motorik dub, the record essentially plays like a DJ tools disc for the adventurous disc jockey. Yet it's safe to say not many copies of these are going to be heard on the dance floor anytime soon (though I have already heard one friend drop the electro bookie of the A1 at a bougie bar in Greenpoint, so score one for the team:) The A2 is perhaps my favorite cut as it combines many of my favorite things--Jaki Liebzeit drumming, ever-curious earworms, acoustic guitar strummed so fast it sounds like it's airborn--for a dizzying marriage of Neu!-style linearity and amphetamine-laced folk-rock as mixed on King Tubby's control panel. What sounds like a stoned lot of musicians tuning up between jams is soon given an unlikely boost by a vintage electro-disco drum machine as guitars and synths unspool ever so elegantly, lazily floating across the kitchsy beat. The B2 is the most likely contender to find its way into a set by your favorite tastemaking DJ's monthly radio show as it reimagines an Arthur Russel Let's Go Swimming -style free-for-all, replete with an insidiously catchy bassline, a wobbly disco beat, and percussion for miles. Closing things with a bit of dissonant mechanical boogie, Wino-D is an album certain critics would point to as pudding proof of this generation's stubborn focus on nostalgic pining for an idealized past. But what sets Wino-D apart from the hauntological theorizing spurred by Burial and every other rave-referencing act is that there's no particular space or time being fetishized over the course of the record. Rather it suggests a parallel universe where ideas and sounds weren't limited by distribution and late 70s down NYC and Düsseldorf were in active dialogue while Mantronix and Grand Master Flash were communing with Lee Scratch Perry and Tubby on the regs. It's not pastiche and it's not genre emulation, but rather a learned and perfectly-executed experiment in recombining existing ideas and sounds in new and captivating ways. Genre science at its most disciplined.
A sublabel of the African-facing Glitterbeat imprint, Tak:til had an incredibly strong first year in 2017, releasing cult hits like Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society's luxuriously rhythmic Simultonality full-length, reissued 75 Dollar Bill's Wood/Metal/Plastic Pattern/Rhythm/Rock to an even wider audience, and repressed Jon Hassell's long out-of-print Dream Theory In Malaya (Fourth World Volume Two) to the fourth world-clamoring masses. Needless to say, 2018 was theirs to lose and they show no sign of forging a uniquely post-nationalist path with Korean multi-instrumentalist Park Jiha who plays an assortment of instruments such as the piri, saenghwang and yanggeum that call to mind organs, oboes and clarinets, but are played with an alacrity and dexterity rarely heard on their western counterparts. Her virtuosic yet patient playing is accompanied by vibraphonist John Bell and Korean musicians on saxophone and percussion to create an instrumental music that borrows as liberally from jazz as it does modern classical. This in-between music is perhaps best represented on the title track in which a Philip Glass-referencing set of arpeggiations are parsed out by Park, saxophonist KimOki, and Bell, the three musicians locked into one another's playing in a way that sounds composed and improvised at the same time, a quality found across the album's seven enchanting cuts, each piece trembling with the soulful humanity wielded by Park's leading lines. Talk about one hell of a debut.
The Connection Machine - Dissolved (Styrax Records 2017)
The duo of Jeroen Brandjes and Natasja Hagemeier have been releasing electronic music under a variety of aliases since the early nineties, ranging from the hard-charging acid of Cray Emoticon to Syndrome's instrumental hip-hop. Having released the wondrous Presentiment long-player in 2016 preceded by the CD-only release of Painless via legendary American label Down Low Music, they're an act that embodies the try-anything-and-everything spirit of electronic music while remaining a considerably cultish act. Dissolved is two-track release culled from the duo's Utroid Machine Missions - Black Hole EP from 1995 and Utroid Machine Missions - The Dream Tec Album from 1993 on the Utrecht-based U-Trax label, the latter a record attributed to various artists that were are all different projects of Brandies and Hagemeier. Though housed under the techno banner, the duo's music can often change genre or introduce another style with seemingly zero effort--so multi-faceted are their productions--and frankly sounds more of the moment when played today then it likely did in the mid-90s. A-side cut "X-Manray" is from 1993 and while holding tight to a steady techno-friendly kick, the duo deploy a second drum pattern that gives the track a distinct downtempo and medtitative vibe made all the more heady by Hagemeijer's spoken word poetry recited and hidden in the deepest recesses of the mix. One can't help but wonder if IDM trailblazers like Aphex Twin or Autechre were familiar with The Connection Machine as one can easily imagine an alternate timeline where The Dream Tec Album was embraced with the same fervor as Selected Ambient Works 85-92, Incunabula, or even Seefeel's Quique. Moving forward two years to 1995, "Echoes From Tau Ceti" is a comparatively conventional ambient house track built around the kind of MIDI sax that was all-too rampant during that period. But here's the thing: it's not a simple four- or eight-bar upbeat sax loop, but rather a melancholic and meandering melody that is as emotive as they get. The frantic drum machine programming feels more like jazz drumming in its eagerness to emphasize and accent certain flourishes in the sax line before descending into a kick-led bridge of somber pads and a mirror-image synth topline. Once the sax hurriedly returns to the mix, struggling to catch back up, and the elements all lock in harmony, you've got yourself the kind of singular hopefully downtrodden track you won't want to mix out of until its final seconds and nor will your audience. Now please let The Connection Machine reissue project now commence in earnest. Please.
Leif - Bluebird / Number 13 (Tio Series 2018)
The Irish producer Leif has the kind of immense back catalog that he's been building up since 2004 that is an imposing as it is impenetrable. From romantic house to rude beat constructions to the abstract synth gamelan epics that he has been plying over the course of two stellar ten inches via his own Tio Series imprint since 2006. Where July V/Shoulders Back saw the producer employing a dizzying array of synth arpeggiations not too far removed from those of the ethno-cribbing Don't DJ, the rhythms underpinning his melodic mania hewed a bit too safe for what he seemed to be trying to achieve, an issue that is put to sleep the second the heavily-delayed bass and snare hit form the percussive backbone of the heavenly "Bluebird." Where that track follows a more technoid structure in its hits on the one and three, "Lucky 13" is a sputtering, rotating tilt-a-whirl of melody given a restless propulsion by the ASMR-like fluttering kicks and sino-grime-facing central melody. It's restlessly innovative music whose most immediate analog is the zig-zagging lines found within Terrence Dixon's music, but with a rhythmic kick that makes it unlike any record you're likely to hear this year.
P. Adrix - Album Desconhecido (Príncipe 2018)
One of the words certain music fans use that I try never to use is "challenging." Why? Because it posits an antagonistic relationship with music where that which doesn't fit neatly into one's frame of expectation is given the dubious distinction of being 'difficult.' Of course, music can be studied and one can choose to take the time to familiarize oneself with the strange and the new until it's no longer as such; basically, calling something challenging is a lazy-ass move that I've noticed a sharp uptick that parallels Spotify's culture of auto cruise listening. Now, all that said, I'd be fucking lying if I said that after two months, I'm still working to wrap my head around the music of P. Adrix for, like Nídia, his is an eminently slippery music whose often clunky yet hypnotic melodies trick the listener into seeking familiar grooves and sonic tropes where there are none. When Adrix does seem to pay deference to either Lisbon or Manchester, it's never with a smile but rather an agonized grimace, an unfulfilled desire to feel comfortable someplace, anyplace. If batida is party music, then the music of P. Adrix is for the party after the wake. It might seem similar and provide some degree of comfort, but at the end of each listen, you find yourself right back where you started. You can either accept it or go kicking and screaming into the dying night. P. Adrix appears to do both.
Phill Pratt* / Bobby Kalphat – The War Is On Dub Style (Pressure Sounds 2018)
A long sought-after album of laser-focused dub from the early 80s recorded by pioneering dub producer Phil Pratt with the assistance of Bobby Kalphat on keys and melodica, whose soulful playing provides the perfect counterweight to the forceful, driving drums and bass. Heavy and heady in equal portions.
Emotional Rescuing has shown a particular knack for picking out choice dance cuts from the past four decades, cutting a wide swatch from dancehall and disco to homemade boogie and MIDI funk. But this classic rave cut is a new step for the label and a much-welcome one as we get a uniquely atmospheric and non-vampy breakbeat banger that features delayed, abstracted female vocals instead of the typical sampled hook. Where Cameroon Massif (Massive Mix)" is a full-bodied affair with layered voices, arpeggiated organ drones, building pads, and whistles aplenty, the "Massing Mix" is a far more stripped-down and dubby affair, the breakbeat more lithe and flexible with a nodding bassline and those trademark vocals left to shout out from the void. Haunting, uplifting rave gear, for true.
Michel Banabila - Trespassing / Marilli (Séance Centre 2017)
Clutch of Dutch sound artist's first album of rhythmic ethno-ambient recordings from 1983 backed with a quintet of previously unreleased tracks alongside concert performances and other rarities.