So here's something about this site that makes it inherently different from any major music site: I buy somewhere around 80% of the records I review on vinyl and try to support the rest on Bandcamp. And while everyone and everything from my bank account to my landlord hates me for it, the fact of the matter is that these round-ups were born from my buying all these great new records and not seeing them featured anywhere 'substantial' (re: on a PR firm's radar). That said, I've come to rely on this strategy to help me discover music that would otherwise be easy for me to dismiss because I did not put any money down for it, from endlessly trawling used and bargain bins for deals to buying records that intrigue me in spite of not being taken by the digital stream.
Now, I'm actually not saying this to pat myself on the back--or throw a pity party for my current inability to buy any of the below records--but rather draw attention to the importance of paying for art. I know, you've given to your friend's Patreon and are on Bandcamp like all the time. But for those of you not paying for records and perhaps have never had to, I can't stress enough how much buying CDs as a teen helped me grow as a listener. The best example I have of this is when I bought American Don when I was sixteen, having heard a snippet of What Burns Never Returns on College of Wooster radio. Once I got past the first track, I was beyond disheartened to find a collection of sprawling, seemingly free-form jams where I had thought I was buy a neat and tidy math rock record. It was not what I wanted. And yet, I listened to the record, almost in spite of myself, at least once a week for the next year out of a combination of stubbornness over wanting my $16 validated and the fact that something kept bringing me back, I heard something in the chaos that grabbed my ear and goddamnit, I had to make sense of it.
And I did. One day, I put on that record and the next I was buying every other Don Caballero record I could. But where I would at last conquer one record with my own comprehension, another would sprout up, having been bought on an assumption or hope that didn't line up with what was on the record itself, beginning the process anew. Today, when I buy a record, chances are I know what I'm getting even when I don't, such is the blessing and curse of the obsessive music fan. Where sites like Spotify now bring frictionless commerce so much so as to breed the illusion that music is by nature a free commodity, I can't help but wonder what this is doing for young listeners who remain unchallenged unless they choose to step out of their comfort zone, having no real financial stakes in the game (especially if they're on that family plan, y'all). I found myself asking how to challenge myself recently, not allowing myself to go to any record stores recently due to having to pay the goddamn rent. Sure, I have my different label and store mailers that keep me abreast of what's new, but what records am I missing by not having a clerk I trust telling me to check out something that wouldn't otherwise fall on my radar? It's a beautiful world for some, sure, but when it lacks the kind of temporary inconveniences that can help you grow as a listener, what kind of programs are we really running and with what degree of self-awareness?
Oh, you were expecting an answer? Well, here's some tunes instead.
Rian Treanor - RAVEDIT (The Death Of Rave 2018)
You know what I was just saying about not buying any more records, like two seconds ago? Yeah, totally breaking that rule for this beauty.
A couple weeks ago, I was raving on about the recent Fact mix from Beatrice Dillon, which I've since listened to many more times and just can't recommend enough. As life would have it, a friend of mine with fantastic taste and open mind lost his gourd over the whole thing, asking me to identify a track somewhere around the thirty-two mark. Now, the whole point of my listening to a Beatrice Dillon mix is I'm going to hear a bunch of tracks I won't hear anywhere else mixed with a care and style that's in far too little supply these days. So I chortled at the prospect of accurately identifying the track up until just as luck would have it, I did (Rian Treanor from his first EP on Death of Rave).
Now, the slow irony I'm getting to is that I also had a track on that mix I felt the same fervor my friend did, that "I MUST KNOW WHAT THIS IS" that fuels track ID FB groups (well, that and a lack of actual musical knowledge). A very Treanor-y rhythmic dismantling of something not unlike a JPop track. So, when I opened up my email last week to a Boomkat email just a few days after losing my shit over their hyping of that godawful EVOL record, it felt like someone's idea of karma-based humor that upon clicking the first sample, THERE IT WAS, a batshit slice-and-dice dancehall mindbender. It's the type of track I seek out as something of a litmus test or even a warning for those not up for the wilder, more experimental side of the dance spectrum--indeed, it's the type of people whose instant reaction to such a track is "This would never work on a dance floor" who I don't want on my dance floor. Just scroll to the last few minutes of the above Boiler Room set--which contains most of the tracks from this vinyl-only, edition-of-300 twelve-inch--and see the delirious smiles and confused head shakes this track brings after a solid forty-five-minute pummeling by Treanor.
While it took me until January's Contraposition to get me on the Treanor train, I've since been playing catch-up, snatching up everything of his not nailed down. For as divisive of a track as "Untitled 1" is, "Untitled 2" takes things back to slightly more conventional terrain as the producer sets about re-constructing a dissected Persian folk song into something oddly evocative of the type of sine-grime that Kode9 has long championed. Wrapping up the A side is the very unexpected vocal sample blending of Yello's infamous "Oh Yeah" into a pointillist pirouette, dizzying as it is serotonin-zapping. In an interview with RA at the start of the year, Treanor described his music thusly:
"That's probably my aim, to come up with something that's unusual to me. I would say something like, 'It's weird dance music.' But it's not weird at all. I think it's quite formulaic. Using these sounds that have already existed for 20, 30 years, and using some elements that have existed for ten years. It's absorbing things that already exist and returning them together in different combinations or something. So it's not unusual.
It's this desire to make the strange and alien out of familiar elements that has marked some of the more exciting dance music currently coming out of the UK and it's an aesthetic practice that arguably has become a default one for many electronic musicians during this century. And where for most of the 00s it seemed like our nostalgia might kill us, today it might be what sets us free as 'retromania' ceases to denote an unquestioning fealty to the past and puts forth a different type of retromania, one that uses old ideas to realize something wholly novel and other. Carrying on the 80s fest through to the fourteen-minute B-side, "Untitled 4" introduces the familiar melody from Yazoo's "Dont' Go", letting it remain unaltered for merely a second before it's blended into a stream of rhythmic-melodic epiphanies, one shooting past the other like molecules in the CERN accelerator before it's transcended its sample source in the literal sense, making hay of the sound waves and creating one of the few digital noise pieces I would gladly play on the floor. Oh, who am I kidding, I plan to play ALL the digital noise on the floor! For as rhythmically lithe as Treanors music may be, it comes from a non-academic place while utilizing the precision of academic computer music for a delightfully delirious and ultimately fun listening experience.
Just cuz I can't make it to my record shop doesn't mean I don't email with the owner like a tru nerd. And this one comes from him, courtesy of the mysterious Tribe Of Colin, a seemingly London-based DJ on NTS who is "all about the beats." Considering that that could double as the tagline for this site, I suppose I should start listening to his show. In the meantime, however, the sound clips above where enough for me to procure a copy of this, his second EP following last year's Wide Berth twelve. Also responsible for the demented Docile release alongside John T. Gast for The Trilogy Tapes earlier this year, there's a strong whiff of spirituality in Tribe of Colin's work. Not even accounting for the NTS picture of him on the steps of a church, his use of the ancient South Semitic Ge'ez script on the labels of both the Wide Berth and this release is noteworthy considering that its only use today is in the liturgy for a number of Ethiopian and Eritrean religions. In addition to the metaphysical diagram of a triangle with the elements of mercury, sulphur, and salt at each corner and the Kabbala-referencing text "The Triad Binah"on the record label, the "King & Lions" emblazoned insert features a Lion of Judah missing his cross scepter beneath a single Star of David, the face of Emperor Haile Selassie I resting within it and in the left hand corner.
So whether Tribe of Colin is looking to be the dance music Paul Laffoley or is just doing his own thing, any release that demands a bit of research from its buyer is good with me. Needless to say, before even dropping the needle, this record had an aura to it, making the deep-spoken words that open the EP especially vibe-setting as a hard Roland kick comes strutting in, setting "LSCITTPTCO" on a mellow, mystical journey whose jazz-licked toms careen into the ritualistic "Babylon Kingdom Shall Fall." Sounding like a relatively untreated sample from a Rastafarian ethnographic record, the impassioned singing shining a light across the A side. The track is collaged with a really familiar-sounding narration about Trenchtown life and a quick snatch of a speech before the stepping kicks and woodblock of "Guidance" narrows the scope once again, the parabolic wave-mimicking bassline joined by a snaking low-end rhythmic-melody and echoing chord stabs. The starkness of it all evoking some of Inga Copeland and Gast's more stepping work, though it retains a stubborn, subdued (not no less electric) eccentricity all its own.
Ominous, glacial bass drums and toms opens "Ascend to Terra Firma" and sends it forth atop a scaley, rough bass line, a distant horn beckoning us to push ahead, canned horns and an inquisitive motif filling out the composition, leaving plenty of negative space for the fear to poke through. The whole EP has a vaguely upward trajectory to it, not unlike taking a hike around Mt. Doom, and "MMANWU" is the sound of setting up camp and singing a tune to quiet the soul and steel one's resolve, for closer "Opium" provides that much-needed moment of beatitude the whole record has been ascending towards. Evoking the opener with its tough and no-frills drum machine beat, things are kept decidedly tense for the first couple minutes before a simple yet fully transcendent melody comes barreling down the mountain like the avalanche it is, picking up and throwing the listener to heights unknown. Just as the last track leaves its corporeal husk, a sample of a brief chat about "finding one's tribe" closes the affair, both providing a sense of finality while leaving the listener curious to hear where Tribe of Colin might venture yet. It's not groundbreaking stuff, not by a long shot. But that's not really what we're concerned about here now, is it? I mean, a friend of mine sent me this Tweet by *real professional critic* Andrew Ryce (who writes for P4K and RA) a couple of weeks.
That someone in his position would shit on so many producers is actually heartening to me cuz really, what are you even doing if making a track is just painting by the numbers. Tribe of Colin might not offer the brain-scrambling wizardry of Rian Treanor, but then again, Treanor doesn't come close to achieving the spiritualist atmospherics achieved by Colin's deft use of samples interwoven with his own tracks, which often seem informed by the surrounding sounds. And it's here where the record's true beauty lies. It'ss a sticky, dew drop-bespeckled work of art that marinates in its own vibes, letting them stew yet never burning the bottom of the pot.
E-Sagglia - Dedicated to Sublimity (Bank Records 2018)
In case you haven't gotten the memo, Toronto has got some serious heat emanating from it (as does Hamilton, represent). Following the recent Ciel record on Peach Discs as well as the reissues of two essential twelves from the Steel City catalog, E-Sagglia (née Rita Mikhael, a veteran of the city's noise scene) is the latest Toronto artist to catch my ears. I missed out on picking up a copy of her Tools of My Purpose four-tracker last year that featured four fried-and-frizzled re-experiments synthesizing noise and bass around unhurried beats, seemingly drawing more from the organic structures of free-form improv than 'proper techno.' It was a patient record, outside of its warehouse smasher of a title track, and one that truly seemed to benefit from her background and status as an 'outsider' inasmuch as she's relatively new to the dance music world. Following releases on another arch noise-techno imprint, Opal Tapes, as well cassettes on the Summer Isles label she co-runs, NYC's Bank Records follows up on both the Tools twelve and the highly recommended Striving For Action / Lounge Experience seven-inch from May with arguably her most accomplished and realized record yet, Dedicated to Sublimity.
The idea of the sublime might not come to mind upon first hearing the Berghain-ready post-industrial rush-up of album opener "Brunette Cistern," a white-knuckled techno romp at first blush but nothing is ever that simple with Mikhael. Where the track starts off feeling heavily gridded and ordered, a plying yet charming melody starts to scratch the surface of the mix somewhere in the second minute and gradually shifts into more elongated notes, almost serving as a counter-balance to the growing intensity of the track's rhythmic-melodic elements. Ending on a more aggressive note, the orchestral pillows of sound that open "Glass Wing" quickly perforated by a round of synthesizer darts, the machine-gun rhythm soon finding its way to the kicks and snares to create a hurried and quasi-manic rhythmic enclosure for a striking, beautiful vocal vine to grow upwards from and grow like a Jack-sown beanstalk, overtaking the percussive ferocity in favor of something far more holistic. The recent reactivation of Mick Harris' Fret project in the form of the Silent Neighbour EP was something that the spider-like industrial rhythms of "Reputation" instantly recalled. But where that record sometimes felt like it was drowning under its own distortion, E-Sagglia strikes a far more favorable balance between the chaos and the corporal as the incessant kick drum pattern always remains clear in the mix, pushing the mix and the dancers forward in that most gratifying of ways (in a mind-body parallelism sense, natch).
The previously released "Strive for Action" kicks off the B-side in pensive fashion, inferring an IDM-informed beat divided by a dubwise sensibility to make one of the album's indisputable highlights, a perfect example of the naturalistic, patient, and adroit use of elements and arrangement in a way that channels The Black Dog, Techno Animal, and Scorn with brilliant results. A steady onslaught of eight-note kick drums introduce penultimate track "Viper," one of the album's more literal moment as the track perfectly captures the menacing and insidious danger posed by vipers, whether the snake or the people. As impenetrable as it might sound, it actually seems to reflect one of the album's most personal moments, an instantiation of rage transmuted into something far more meaningful. Closer "Your Hold" expands upon the twitchy halfstep of "Strive for Action" while introducing the closest thing the album has to a "hook" in the topline that sprouts from the fecund, trembling low-end rumbles, a looping melody that is only resolved in the closing minutes when a more sustained counter-melody relieves the first motif of its burden, unfurling freely in the album's closing seconds.
For a label that only started at the beginning of the year, Brian Leeds aka Huerco S.' West Mineral Ltd. imprint seems to invariably turn heads each release, regardless of the Boomkat hype letter that's accompanied all three releases. Though that Loidis record was strong enough for me to throw aside any doubts starting to grow about Leeds' talent, I admittedly have been slow on the uptake with both his Pendulum album and the uon EP. I also haven't given each record too heavy a listen so that's one on me. Still, like the other two, I found myself clicking through on the mailer to check out the hitherto unknown-to-me Pontiac Streator & Ulla Straus and again, not being terribly intrigued. Nevertheless, I found myself returning to the bandcamp page a couple days later and all I can say is that I must have been in a pissy, anxious mood during that first listen.
Instantly recalling the loping tribal ambient of Michael Banibila, the duo of Ulla Straus and Pontiac Streator have captured that special kind of lazy, hazy, and unrushed warmth one would expect to hear on the fringes of the noise scene. Drawing upon the sort of gridless dub of African Head Charge for the avant-pop trance-chant of EP-closer and record highlight "Chat 4" or the sort of swampy fourth world captured by Chi on the tabla-enhanced "Chat 2," it's a record that certainly evokes plenty of earlier music while coming out the other side wholly distinct and realized. Taking the ennui of an endless summer and narrativizing it over four heavy and dulcet chapters that flow intuitively into one another, Chat is the house music at Casa la Swamp Thing, voodoo drums melding into new wave echoes. There's a real sense of spiritual tension and release achieved over the record's course, with its extended coda making the listener wish it could go on for a lifetime. And be sure to check out Lillerne Tape Club, a tape label I personally didn't know about that both artists have released upon...looks promising:)
Jay Glass Dubs - The Safest Dub (Berceuse Heroique 2018)
So we all know Gizmo, the dude who runs Berceuse Heroique, doesn't appear to be the greatest dude in the world, an impression several friends have confirmed following interactions with the guy. Still, he puts out enough banging records to have the label consistently featured here, so as long as he doesn't say too much dumb shit, we should be chill.
Anyways, Jay Glass Dubs is an artist I seem to hear about every few months alongside Seekersinternational and the various other outré dub acts that range from compelling to not. I had placed Glass on the less favorable end of the spectrum up to this point in part owing to not giving him a proper listen but also due to the decidedly experimental sheen attributed to him. After all, on his Discogs page it explains the project as being "a counter-factual historical approach of dub music." Now, that would typically have induced some serious eye rollage but as I was visiting his Discogs page while listening to his new three-tracker of easy listening dub, the counter-factual approach rang very true. As stated in the press release for the record, the artist was clearly operating from a well-defined conceptual vantage point, one that asks the listener to "imagine the beauty of a peak time Sade production in the days when pop could be massive and inventive with some Sly & Robbie voodoo magic from their 80’s pop production. Imagine if the brilliance of an Andrew Weatherall remix in the 90’s could meet with the melancholy of Roedelius. Summer is officially here. Deal with it and get loose with this one.”
Any press release that namechecks Sly & Robbie's 80s output alongside Cluster member Roedelius is bound to at least get a click from me and oh honey, was this click not in vain. Still, even upon listening to the record, I kept asking myself, "Am I really digging this?" Opener "The Warmest Dub" channels a decidedly Balearic vibe, sticking to a swaying 6/8 meter as shooting star synths dart over a busy bed of wooden mallets, a pining guitar-like wail providing the dreamiest of full stops. Moving to a more rigid 3/4 time signature for "The Safest Dub," the chugging rollage of Sly & Robbie is in full effect as the producer works off of a looped groove and spins web after web over the next nine minutes, the snare double hits and pulsating bass line adding a weirdly motorik quality to the whole shebang. Another nine-minute odyssey awaits the listener on the closing title track, the producer indulging in Quiet Storm dub in a way that's almost downright brilliant. Seriously, I'm still just trying to make sense of this record--or let go of that urge altogether--but this is one of the most fully realized and confident exercises in genre science I've heard all year and it's "The Warmest Dub" that ends the record on the highest of notes. Harnessing a rogue sax playing from the 80s and what sounds like a MIDI melodica, the producer demonstrates his ear for blending tones and textures as he continuously trots out trope after trope and redefines each one as your ear just takes it, ear drum agape. The type of record that makes you wonder the point of saying "It shouldn't work, but it does." It works. Let's just leave it at that.
Also, as luck would have it, following March's debut of his new analog-digital set-up, Zurkonic fave Newworldaquarium has turned in one twisted motherfucker of a remix for the next Don't DJ record due on Berceuse. Exploring a sonic space only ever glimpsed on "The Magnificent" but this time bringing down the astral terrain to the dance floor, this is Jochem Petri at his most twitchy and rhythmically dynamic. Considering he's a producer who can make a techno class out of single kick drum for the beat, it's truly exciting to hear him applying the type of live processing and shaping that he does to his harmonic elements to a clever assemblage of kicks, cymbals, and claps. Don't say I didn't warn ya<3
Could have sworn I wrote about the Hamilton, Ontario-based Geej label (co-run by Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspace) and their much-needed reissue project of Hamilton's mid-90s homegrown techno imprint, Steel City Records. Started by Oliver Barkovic in 1995 with thirteen releases between then and 1997, the Secret Werewolf and Opgang records offer two distinct and complementary takes on the Steel City sound. Where Yage's three tracks range from Chain Reaction-adjacent dub techno to IDM electro and the pop techno of "Owl," De Chirico is a much more restrained and upfront affair. Featuring four tracks that channel the Berlin sound through a North American filter, each piece is both taut and thoughtful, minimal and lush. Highly recommended.
Various Artists - Spider-Jazz: KPM Cues Used in the Amazing Animated Series (Trunk Records 2018)
Ted Dicks – Virgin Witch (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Trunk Records 2018)
Even when I can buy records, I don't often get to indulge my love for library music and soundtracks as that market has just been rammed by over-priced reissues and Discogs-inflated prices. Just a few blocks down the street from me sites a sizable library record collection with $30 copies of Electrosound and all the other KPM records I wish I could own (one day, Nick, one day). So tried as I did to ignore the seemingly-cheesy collection of musical cues from the original animated Spider-Man cartoon series from the sixties, once I realized they were composed by KPM's hired guns, I knew this was a record I had to check out and its mixture of musical pop art and more experimental impulses embodies what makes library music such a joy to me. Also on the docket is Ted Dicks' sensual yet forboding soundtrack for the 1971 horror film Virgin Witch, also given a much-needed pressing by the ever trustworthy Trunk.
Various - Onda De Amor: Synthesized Brazilian Hits That Never Were (1984-94) (Soundway 2018)
Various - Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul & Synt-oogie in 1980s South Africa (Soundway 2018)
The ever-reliable Soundway label operating our of London has gotten through half of 2018 and already released two fairly essential comps that both chart the arrival of 80s-era technology and musical ideas in South Africa and Brazil. Similar to Trunk, Soundway is one of those labels I need to remind myself to check in on every few months as chances are they've put out something interesting. And boy, are these two comps winners.
Black Noise - Nature Of The Beast (Metroplex 1997/2018)
Juan Atkins' legendary Metroplex imprint has been in the midst of an apparent reissue campaign of the likes that each release has me checking my records every few months only to realize I somehow never got a copy of The Vision's micro-jacking Spectral Nomad from 1996 or The Other Side Of Space's 1998 electro-punk Techno Drivers (which got reissued in 2016). Continuing with the focus on the label's mid-90s third-wave Detroit output that saw the city's producers productions adding a European efficacy to their tracks while keeping that inimitable minimal funk vibe that no one else can truly capture.
Black Noise is the Detroit duo of Moods & Grooves chief Mike Grant and Damon Peterson who released four records under the Black Noise moniker with this their first and arguably best-known record. It's easy to imagine this track tearing up the floors at Tresor and everywhere else in Berlin in 1997 as from the gate it boasts the sort of compacted post-Basic Channel stabs which sunk so deeply into their own city's own idea pool, the track's taut ten minutes possessing a unique fusion of hard chords and a soft, slinking bassline that's tied together by a rapid-fire mid-low rhythm-melody and serves as the listener's guiding light through the endless modifications made to the track's limited elements. The Mike Grant mix on the flip captures a similar brand of lowkey ferocity, the focus moved to a twitching cybernetic bassline as the chord stabs from the A are truncated to a single punctuating element at the end of each bar, hiding in plain sight for most of the track and then exploding into the red in the harrowing final stretch before dissipating into an extended drum outro, that speed freak of a bassline doing one last cha-cha with those eternally-swinging hi-hats. A masterclass in how hard it is to make something so simple.
Susumu Yakoto - Acid Mt. Fuji (Sublime Records/Midgar 1994/2018)
Fuuuuuuck yes, have I been waiting for this release for too long. Due to my high school love affair with the Leaf label, I've been quite happy to hear the number of friends and folk online who have since discovered his masterful 2002 ambient opus The Boy And The Tree, a record that went from .a loykey cult classic to canonical in the past five years. Eight years prior to that album, he released his second album on CD, the tribal ambient techno of Acid Mt. Fuji. Much like Ken Ishii's 1993 debut Garden On The Palm, listening to either album in 2018 is nothing short of a trip through time and space. Where Garden's wiggling, squirrely techno still sounds like nothing else, it's funny to think of the number of albums Acid Mt. Fuji both directly and indirectly inspired.
Last year, I read a book called Ambient Media: Japanese Atmospheres of Self, a book that takes as its focus the Japanese fixation with ambient music as it arose from the country's embracing of Erik Satie's "musical furniture." Much of the book's first half is dedicated to exploring the history of ambient or environmental music through the country's department stores and a trio of legendary ambient artists, Haruomi Hosono, Tetsu Inoue, and Chihei Hatakeyama. Missing from that discussion is undoubtedly Yakoto as he succeeded in creating a more rhythmically streamlined form of ambient, one that didn't ignore the dance floor from which he drew inspiration. Where opener "Zenmai" calls to mind an ad hoc tribal ritual, tracks like "Meijijingu" use a 4x4 pulse to explore sonic terrain largely ignored by more functionalist-minded producers. It's a varied album, moving from spiritualist drones to realized fourth world daydreams and so much more. Looking to the mountain that provides the album with its title and cover art, so monolithic and imposing, Yakoto's album is tantamount to a sonic re-mapping of this hulking protrusion comprised of rock and earth. Whether it's tracing the mountain's infinite ridges or delving deep into its inner sanctum, the producer succeeds in creating music that not only creates an environment but recreates it in all its complexity and nuance. Seriously, I forgot how much this album has been missing from my life and can't recommend it enough.