Benoit B: Vague à l'Âme EP (Wisdom Teeth 2018)
Unlike label peers like Timedance and Mistry, K-Lone and Facta's Wisdom Teeth label has perhaps invested the least in trying to break fresh voices. Or to put it a better way, they've focused just as much on shining a light on exciting new producers like LOFT, Chevel, and Simo Cell as they have on introducing established but overlooked producers to a new audience. Considering that Steevio and Duckett have been releasing records for almost two decades now, the fact that a young label like Wisdom would key in on how these producers' latest tunes so perfectly elide with the current moment in UK sound-system music speaks to their trend-immune A&R stylings.
Benoit B is a considerably newer artist, but one who's experienced something of a creative growth spurt in the past few years as he's taken the hyper-melodic style of house and techno that guided his early Banlieue label twelves and integrated less conventional inspirations, as last December's Japonaiserie collection of melodic ambient excusrions for Berceuse Heroique demonstrated. Now, for anyone who is a fan of the RVNG label and other experimental mallet bro scenes, the surge in interest in Japanese synth music from the eighties and nineties is nothing new. But given that trends in dance music tend to be rather myopic, the fact that the French producer has been infusing his recent releases with this inspiration is a bit unusual for such a producer, or that's what RA would like to think. What I've found in talking with Oscar Henson (Facta) is that much of what arguably makes the UK scene so exciting right now is that the producers are regularly looking beyond dance music for inspiration, be it Music for Memory comps and Yasuaki Shimzu reissues or eMego and Touch-style digital noise (amongst a countless number of other influences). Basically, these producers are acually using the internet not to chase nostalgia, but to enrich their own musical knowledge to create dance music that truly stands out from the sample kits and YouTube "How to Make a ___ Track" tutorials seemingly inspiring 98% of dance music these days.
Before even getting into the music, I gotta give Philadelphia-based artist and textiles designer Jo Faulkner a tip of the hat for creating easily my favorite Wisdom Teeth cover so far; the fact that I haven't been able to get a physical copy of this record is truly annoying me because so rarely does a cover match its contents. Hers is a functional art that makes use of ornate and involved patterns that one could stare at for hours and still find something new to appreciate. (not to mention her Anthropologie duvet cover, swoon).
It's a quality that mirrors the music inside following a quartet of previous releases that each pushed and pulled at the limitations of musical structure. That Benoit was so influenced by music that can be as shapeless as it is sequenced creates the EP's centrally engaging dynamic: the push-and-pull between starward melodies and grounded beats. The title track is one of the more inviting electro tracks I've heard all year, but as accessible as it appears, one is quickly lost in The Shining -like hedge maze of crisscrossing melodic patterns and more impressionistic one-off flourishes. A painterly quality exudes throughout the album's middle section as the Cochin Moon-era Hosono stylings of "Gyvenimo Tėkmė (Ft Dália)" supplements the featured vocalist's voice with loping bass strokes and the synthetic tropicalia of the MIDI percussion. Taking the shape of a spoken poem, the words that stumble across the producers patient accompaniment grows considerably brighter in. the second half as the assorted melodic ramblings are scattered like beanstalk seeds, growing not overnight but over the course of seconds before their reach exceeds the song's limits.
"Ice Valley" on the flip saunters in lazily at first before a bell-like glissando gives way to a. shadowy downtempo beat with the loosest handclaps appearing choosily on the two and four. A male's voice quickly enters and disappears about two-minutes in as a more steady progression of notes and percussion shores up the shifty, drunken rhythm. Closing the album in fine parabolic fashion is the on-the-nose title of "Kimono," buttressed by a woozy, vapors-filled chord progression and a nimble yet chem trail-leaving topline. Never quite fitting into the straightforward electro pulse of. the title track, the truncated slinkie of a off-beat hi-hat provides the piece withits primary momentium, drum machine toms richocheting nervously across the silken tapestry. Following five of my favorite records of the past two years, it was only a matter of time before Wisdom Teeth would release a record dn't instantly throw me off balance. Still, the four tracks on the Vague à l'Âme EP are far from fomulaic or predictable as it calls to mind the labrynthine melodies of last year's Duckett release, but even more ambitious in its layering and arrangment.