Yes, for my part, I believe that music is more than music, that it is not a run of the mill, utilitarian or aesthetic object, but a spiritual undertaking, or as an old Master used to say, a “beingful exercise”, an activity of the whole being. So I cannot deny that, sometimes, in the course of the most trivial musical theory, the most apparently technical experiment, the thesis of the spiritual reappeared, the intention of a going beyond which is difficult to name, but even more impossible to deny.
Sometimes you have to go down to get up.
I was wholly unfamiliar with the UK-based Seagrave label before stumbling across the post-genre explorations of Aygeetee and Birdy Earns via Joe Muggs’ monthly electronic music round-up for Bandcamp. Clearly inspired by Opal Tapes’ DIY philosophy, the label has been putting out their graphic cassettes and digital releases at a breakneck pace since setting up shop in 2014, having sired over seventy compilations and artist albums from a host of international producers that includes Renick Bell, Jay Glass Dubs, Perfume Advert, and rkss. Existing in the fertile valley between a live jam and fixed composition, Morphology’s ideational spirit sees the duo making countless allusions to plenty of possible influences, retaining an intentional neutrality so as to keep things merely suggestive, thoughtfully introducing elements like acoustic guitars, shimmering synths, and disembodied voices in a way that is both reverential and inventive. If anything, the references that come to mind when listening to Morphology have more to do with the general aesthetics of labels than particular artists as the album feels like it would be right at home amongst the synthetic soundscapes and post-post-rock experimentation of labels like Seattle’s Further Records, Cleveland’s Spectrum Spools, or Chicago’s Kranky. There’s a sincere and battle-tested curiosity at work here that equal parts inquisitive and respectful, ensuring new discoveries with each repeat listen.
One of my lowkey favorite twelves from 2018 was a shadowy debut twelve from an artist known as FFT, released by the newly-formed Uncertainty Principle label and consisting of five tracks that oscillated between experimental electro and breakneck techno. Featuring a menacing barrage of low-end tremors and whiplash-inducing speeds that would serve as a fitting soundtrack to a futuristic 16-bit racing game, fft1 was calculator music of the highest order, sounding like it had been pounded out on an alien computer console and engineered in the type of menacing laboratory setting that Elektroids warned us about over two decades ago. Last month, the artist released a new five-tracker entitled In-side on the outer-electro imprint Super Hexagon that sees him continuing to mine the eroding terrain between IDM and electro while pushing into even faster tempos on the title track alongside the beatless dissections of “Orr Din (Exr).” On “Orr Din,” a white noise blast serves as a pistol shot signaling that we’re off to the races, hurried calculator strokes provoking a frenzied state while criss-crossing melodies flicker above like so many shooting stars. Is this a stadium or a laboratory? We may never know.
Well-known in Seoul’s underground techno scene, Unjin Yeo is a producer whose scant discography stretches back to 2002. Over the past few years, he has released a handful of records that chart the space in between ambient and techno without ever falling into the well-worn tropes of ambient techno. Sharing the above “Ties (Hydrangea Remix)” with a friend, I was met with a Voices From The Lake track, a reference point that seems appropriate considering the extended and amorphous sounds that billow up across the producer’s latest EP, Hui Gui. on Kizen Records. The oscillating lower-register drones and metallic tones of beatless opener “Ties” kick off the record, a probing synth line and solitary bass string piercing the frozen ambience, giving away to the steely atmospherics of the title track. The slow-moving percussion of “Hui Gui (Ntogn’s Hex)” sets the stage for a glacial bass drone that gradually unfolds over six minutes, its breath rendered visible by the freezing temperatures and illuminated by the twinkling, wistful strings of “Untitled Space” that suggests a fondness for the Antartic fairytales of Thomas Köner and Biosphere. The redolent deep techno “Ties” closes the record with skipping kicks and a slow-moving melody buttressed by choral pads and fluttering rhythm-melodies that suggest a warm thaw is in the offing. Hui Gui is a confident and accomplished record that looks to the magisterial earthiness of Gas, transposing it onto a Korean winter.
Since debuting in 2015, Marcus Pengermaa’s Kuf project has been issuing pounding techno seemingly inspired by the earlier parts of the Basic Channel discography and Jeff Mills’ restless, astral melodies at a prodigious pace. Admittedly, I was rather unmoved while sampling his latest twelve, GGGGG, issued by Arsenik Records until I reached the closing title track with its restlessly resonant melodies and thudding kick, the haphazard melody moving upwards towards a reverberating note heralding the track’s eternal return. Solid stuff.
Having not checked it in well over a year, I’ve been luxuriating in the Energy Flash blog’s recent rash of tunes culled from the hardcore continuum’s heyday of adventurous bleep techno and elegant UKG. Absolutely blown away by the ferocious b-line and mangled vocal science found on DJ Narrow’s remix of Corrupted Cru’s “G.A.R.A.G.E.” and looking to Discogs for more info, I learned its sole vinyl pressing was on dubplate and backed by this absolutely stunning remix by Steve Gurley—its always Gurley Day around these parts—of Alpha Omega’s “We’re Gonna Make It” featuring vocalist Cathy Battistessa. Stretched across ten sultry minutes of restless 2-step rhythm mechanics, sudoriferous string swells, and a diabolical bass line clawing its way to the surface, Gurley’s remix is the ideal soundtrack to a seratonin-sapped dancefloor attempting to regain its composure after the rave rapture, those unlucky to remain on this mortal coil desperately seeking to regain a sense of purpose as the aimless ennui of adulthood sets in. Pure badboy business.
As I discussed in my 2018 track round-up, I’ve been very much in the thralls of JPop genius Tsunuku and his work with the idol entertainment company Up-Front Promotion’s Hello! Project and its numerous all-female groups and singers. Now, you might be familiar with the extremely abusive nature of Japan’s idol industry and I certainly don’t mean to downplay just how exploitative and generally fucked-up the whole business is. But there’s also many artists and songwriters who are doing genuinely amazing work that is worth checking out. After absolutely falling in love with their mutant R&B pop gem “Sexy Sexy,” I’ve been eagerly anticipating another mind melter from the eight-member Juice=Juice and it finally arrived a week ago in the anthemic EDM fist-pumper “Lightly Sparkling.” In addition to Tsunuku’s typically maximalist compositional style, the lyrics are truly heartbreaking as he painstakingly details a story of unrequited love through the prism of a fizzing soft drink, chronicling heartbreak with excruciating detail. You might scoff, but that doesn’t disqualify the awesomeness on hand here.
It might seem hard to imagine today, but you really can’t downplay how much scorn established music critics heaped upon Auto-Tune throughout the 90s and 00s, exposing their rockist pretensions as they lamented the death of human talent at the ends of the pitch-correcting software. With the technology having become normalized to an almost absurd degree this decade alongside our collective selves becoming post-human, it’s rather intriguing how little attention has been paid to Vocaloid, the signal processing was developed by Kenmochi Hideki at Pompeo Hadru University in 2000. Yamaha financed the software’s commercial production, releasing the Vocaloid software in 2003. It allows a user to input the desired melody and lyrics in addition to controlling pronunciations, vibrato, dynamics, and tone, synthesizing the parameters with the voices of particular singers and actors, each vocal bank being sold as a particular moe anthropomorphism (yep, just re-worded the shit out of some Wiki copy;)
One such character is Hatsune Miku, voiced by actress Saki Fujita and marketed as a virtual idol, having performed sold-out concerts as an animated projection. I learned of both her and the Vocaloid software only last week and suffice to say, my mind was absolutely blown as it’s one of those realities that you can easily imagine existing, making it all the more shocking when you learn it actually does. Not surprisingly, there’s a whole world of Vocaloid producers out there working with characters like Miku and I’m currently in utter awe os one of them in particular, Pinnochio-P. He creates songs of soul-crushing beauty and I haven’t been able to stop listening to the epically emotional “Thanks For Being Lifeless,” a love letter to the not-alive Miku that features the type of death-defying vibrato that makes a lot more sense when you realize the singer is in fact software. In a time when post-production can shape the voice in a way that feels inhuman, it’s kind of remarkable how easily software-voiced music can pass for the real thing. Words don’t really capture the insane beauty of this song, but it does serve as a strong reminder of the lowkey brilliance that is currently coming out of the idol and Vocaloid scenes if you know where to look. And if you like “Lifeless,” I strongly recommend checking out the equally wonderful “What’s Inside.”