Hachi machi! Between taking a week off of posting and the spring release schedule kicking into gear, there is more new music to cover than is reasonable. As someone who’s most alive when drowning in excess, that’s about as ideal as it gets in my book. Let’s get to it….
First up, there’s been a steady stream of notable experimental and dance music full-lengths as we enter the first major release season of 2019. And while it’s been covered on sites like P4K and RA, I still feel compelled to highlight the fact that Rian Treaonr’s debut album Ataxia is out now on Planet Mu and it’s yet another step forward for Mark Fell’s son (a designation I wouldn’t include if his music didn’t sound exactly like what a hypothetical son of Fell might make;) I really do mean that as a compliment! Also, be sure to scope out the mix Treanor made for Bleep that came out last week, that first track is a barnburner!…I’ve never gotten the rapt fervor that James Ginzburg’s (Emptyset) Subtext Recordings tends to elicit, but the label has just put out an Untitled stunner by UCC Harlo that filters a love for Bach and 4AD guitars through a contemporary electronic music production framework, achieving an unexpected degree of intimacy and immediacy that is as disarming as it is engaging. Between Harlo’s debut and Julia Reidy’s brace, brace album of digitally-modified guitar ruminations, it’s already a banner year for erudite electro-acoustic string experimentation….Machester’s newish YOUTH label first popped up on my radar via FUMU’s promising Sinuate LP of avant-hop beats and they’ve assembled a world class line-up for the sixteen-track SPORTS compilation, corralling together the likes of Kassem Mosse, Antinote’s Iueke, Turinn, and Broshuda (oh, and Peder Mannerfelt as well, if that’s your thing). Definitely a label to watch….For all their unabashed 93/94 jungle fetishization, Bristol’s Western Lore label is a tough one to ignore, kicking off their label in 2017 with a trilogy of Dead Man's Chest twelves—who has a new EP on Sneaker Social Club next month, btw—and moving from strength to strength with last year’s ace Blunted Breaks Vol.1 comp. The label has now hooked up with nuum veteran and video game developer Jasper Byrne—seriously, how many contemporary dnb producers work in games?!—of Accidental Heroes and Sonic & Silver for the enchantingly hard-hitting 110174 double EP released under his. Containing eight tracks of widescreen, emotive club music that feels neither of the past nor of the present, the record is situated in some hypnagogic wormhole where rave music stops being a meme and starts (re-)becoming music that saves and redeems lives. Designed to heal, designed to move….Erstwhile technoid traveler Samuel Van Dijk has quietly slipped out his third album as VC-118A and his first for Delsin, the stately Inside. Effortlessly fusing techno, electro, and ambient over thirteen tautly-calibrated tracks, the album has a sublimely overwhelming quality to it, similar to watching a snowy avalanche consume one’s field of vision whole. Opener “Tide” is a certified banger….Lastly, Berlin sound art label Edition Telemark have released a solid album of microtonal brass droneage with tuba player and composer Robin Hayward’s Words of Paradise album, performed by the Zinc & Copper trio of tuba, trombone, and horn with each twenty-minute side up on Bandcamp as a separate release.
In the reissue sphere, there’ve been quite a few gems getting fresh vinyl pressings but what is arguably the most exciting and anticipated March release comes from the lowkey legendary American dance music label Down Low Music. Run by underground legends JT Stewart and Minto George, the label had been dormant for over a decade and has roared back to life by pressing to vinyl for the first time The Connection Machine’s enduring 2004 album Painless. Consisting of Natasja Hagemeier and Jeroen Brandjes, the duo excelled at crafting a distinctively personal brand of machine music, conjuring up swirling, romantic melodies and lush arrangements that synthesized ambient techno whimsy with jacking beats and off-kilter hooks. Essential stuff….Jan Jelinek’s Faitiche label keeps keepin’ on its bidirectional path, releasing another double drop that pairs a treasure from Jelinek’s back catalog alongside another collaborative release, this time with Japanese sound artist ASUNA’s pensive organ drones on Signals Bulletin. And as sublime of a record as that it is, I’m even more stoked that a new audience gets to experience Jelinek’s 1999 early sadboi-glitch touchstone (Personal_Rock), released under the one-off Gramm alias on Move D and Jonas Grossmann’s Source Records. It accomplishes something unique from Farben and Jelinek’s early eponymous efforts, an impressionistic reading of once-hypermodern sample technology that packs in the class and the ass…..Any reissue from Osaka’s Vanity Records pristine catalog is a welcome one and WRWTFWW continue their nondescript reissue rampage with Normal Brain’s 1981 LP Lady Maid. Considering how many boring indie bands are still drinking from the weirdo-minimalist machine music punchbowl, Lady Maid is a pretty prescient piece of music, the broken dance music made by broken machines bursting with an impossible charm that makes denying all your boring rationalizations a cinch….Lastly, the ever-friendly folk over at Finders Keepers have repressed their 2011 reissue of Don Gere’s zoned-out, droned-out Werewolves On Wheels soundtrack and good lord, no hyperbole needed, it’s just wacked-out mindtrips for the whole gang. Bonus Beat: Belgium’s always-relevant Sub Rosa label excels at releasing must-hear compilations that complicate any narrow understanding of electronic music history and they’ve released yet another essential one in the form of An Anthology Of Greek Experimental Electronic Music 1966-2016. The label’s back catalog is always ripe for new discoveries, so let me point you in the direction of yet another one via 2002’s indie-turntablist masterpiece, Saule’s Saule.
It’s hard to deny that a certain vanguard of twenty-first century music producers is growing increasingly uninspired by the staid 4x4 Berghain template*, instead choosing knottier and more varied rhythmic horizons alongside BPMs outside the 120-129 range. One label that’s been interrogating a whole mess of rhythmic structures through a distinctively UK lens is Dusk and Martin Clark’s Keysound Recordings, regardless of what the trend status of ‘bass music’ might be. Their first release of 2019 sees a mighty braintrust being established between nuum lifer DVA and grime bandwidth scrambler Gage on “PIFFD”/”FLYTNURSE,” both tracks staring straight into the death of rave’s face to build a kingdom out of the abyss….In other low-end rumblings, LA’s Jelly Bean Farm drop yet another essential transmission with the debut EP from Yilan. Diaspora’s five tracks mine the experimental dancehall goldrush from a much more abstracted vantage point, sitting comfortably at a sub-130 tempo while kicking out thundering carnivalesque atmospherics, post-tribal percussive pummelings, and dread-filled soundscapes that excel at reminding the listener that the junk is indeed in one’s trunk. Hot shit….K-LONE’s Wych label has never given up on halfstep and has followed up the producer’s own stepping “BB8” b/w “Barbarossa” twelve from last year with Bristol up-and-comer Bengal Sound’s Corners EP, featuring sonorous flutes on the title track and a Tuvan headnodder on the flip with “Your Name.” Dislocate your neck….dBridge’s Exit Recordings continues to expand what dnb means in 2019 with new twelves from veteran producer Jubei and half-time maestro Dolenz, the former turning in two lusciously liquid cuts on “Cold Heart”/”Little Dubplate” and the latter firing out the Dilla-Dabrye-referencing“Pull Up” ft. Guilty Simpson (sounding not unlike an unquantized reimagining of The Battle of the Network Stars theme, in the best sense). Also, I slept on Iota’s Never Orbit EP and its blazing blend of grime sonics and footwork’s rhythm-science, so, Oops….It’s still a bit early to declare, but it does feel like arch-mnml techno label Perlon might be something of a return to (new) form as they continue on from Maayan Nidam’s inspired Sea Of Thee album—not to mention the icy technopop of International Anything’s Like This Girl EP—with house music lifer Ivan Iacobucci’s electrifying Logic Solution four-tracker, which starts off conventionally enough with the title track’s subversive speed garage saunter before taking a hard left with the proto-braindance/hardcore house vibes of “Platinum Booth” (below) and the intelligent techno-channeling “Magic Tribulation”….While I have the utmost respect for them, I always have to chuckle how much the Hospital Productions aesthetic is not my own. That said, if I see an artist like Oscar Mulero has put out a seven-inch on the label, it’s hard not to scope and the two tracks on Paradisaea are both on-trend and absolutely delightful. A-side cut “Adavre” is my type of neurotic, bassquaking, post-EBM banger that gets right down to business while B-side “Leence” looks to early IDM for a cinematic voyage.
*Though as John Twells recently (and excellently) described in Fact Mag, the venue is still very much at the forefront of dance music’s changing identity and there’s plenty to look to for hope: It’s controversial to say it, but dance music is better than it has been in a long, long time and if you’re looking in the right places there’s a surplus of hope. Nostalgia, meanwhile, is defeatist: we can’t turn back time, no matter how hard we try.
The marriage of icy dub techno and sanitized dnb rhythm-mechanics might sound like a no-brainer, but I’m hard-pressed to think of any standout examples on command (would be genuinely receptive to any suggestions). Swiss label re:st thrives on that shadowy terrain between jungle, ambient, and dubby techno and I was recently inspired to learn more about the prolific young imprint. It’s run by the producer Lcp whose in-between music features prominently alongside a cast of promising voices on the fringes of dnb that includes the likes of Sotus and Dailiv who also have new records out. Lcp’s new Carried From Secret Seas EP is neither straight techno nor straight dnb, rather occupying a similar neither-here-nor-there position as Forest Drive West as both producers thrive upon employing the open-ended hypnosis of designer techno but freshen it up with loping, swirling rhythms and tactile sound. Opener “Minus 10” rolls out on a militantly minimal kick drum rhythm, an arctic rhythm-drone unspooling in the most unhurried of ways as the track obtains a piercing, meditative focus that’s both soothing and energizing. Taking a path just to the left of straight forward tribal techno, “Rural Nightline” bangs out a resounding pattern that’s given a Bergman-like psychological thrill by a repeating choral call, the beat retaining a deft, skipping lightness that adds to the emotional heft. As solemnly enjoyable as either track are, it’s the closing title track that provides the EP’s most thrilling moments as Lcp deploys one of the more leaden woodblock-like sounds I’ve had the pleasure of hearing and soaks any remaining levity out of his UKG-facing rhythmic framework to craft a deeply mournful rave requiem.
Silvestre - All The Things (Padre Himalaya 2019)
As much as I might bang on about the lack of futurism/originality in dance music production, I also believe that retromania isn’t something to decry out of hand (as tempting as it might be). While it would be much easier to dislike every single record that sounds like it’s trying to create a nineties that never was, the act of historical remixing or re-visioning has become a tradition in its own right. When the 00s ended with producers like Burial and Zomby reconstructing un- or barely-lived histories and hypnagogia taking hold of the millennial underground, memory became a more active musical ingredient and it continues to shape contemporary music in never-seen-before ways. Just like musical geography became a major artistic ingredient in the twentieth centuries as songwriters liberally channeled ideas from other cultures, musical memory has become powerful a tool for artists to wield history in the laboratory of history.
Padre Himalaya is a weirdly interesting label, having released the memory house flavors of Renato and Silvestre before flipping the script with an EP of opaque Iranian percussion courtesy of Mohammad Reza Mortazavi. Silvestre is back on the label with the historical and genre mash-up All The Things and while I definitely cringed when the New Jack*-y freestyle of “Parabéns João Filipe,” after a minute I found myself nodding my head and by 1:37 the whole thing was over and the dreamy hardcore breakbeats of “All The Things” had my focus-starved consciousness engaged all over again. The pitch-bent lead swept me off my feet in spite how much I thought I “knew better,” that TaTu sample confirming my worst suspicions. And I didn’t care. Silvestre’s playbook of nostalgically cross-pollinating dance music history is one that felt hackneyed on day one, so I really have to applaud him and others for sticking with an all-too-knowing sound and making it actually enjoyable, comparable to musical junk food but infinitely more satisfying. Tracks like “Monthana Russa” are at one eyeroll-inducing for calling to mind Adult Swim’s interstitial syncs—the house that Flying Lotus built, absolutely—and disarming in their wide-eyed melodies, smiling rhythms, and RGB fidelity, almost as if one could make the argument that gimmicky lo-fitronica is the new music camp. Almost.
*OK, considering how many depressing, soul-searching thinkpieces on on Michael Jackson are out there currently, I was taken aback by how much I enjoyed Rick Juzwiak’s essay on the roll-out of his baffling (and extremely well-produced) HIStory double album. In particular, these two grafs had me applauding, as did his excruciating exposition of “Scream:”
But what’s most insidious about HIStory is how good its music is. “They Don’t Care About Us” (surprisingly, his second most-streamed video on YouTube with almost 585 million views, perhaps due in part to its perceived modern relevance as a protest anthem) is this fury of bits of percussion that sting like shrapnel. Syncopated within an inch of its life, it predicted the kind of brain-massaging micro-percussion that would soon be all over R&B thanks to the space-age likes of Timbaland. The songs’ hooks creep up and dig in, made particularly tenacious by generally staccato verses that give way to these glorious melodies that dawn on the songs like sunshine. Jackson glides over most of it with the same gravity-defying magic with which he dances.
By 1995, new jack swing was already on its way out of vogue, but HIStory was something of its grand finale—it never slapped harder or with more righteous indignation than via Jackson and his collaborators like Dallas Austin and the team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (who were all responsible for some of the subgenre’s most memorably [sic] entries).
Gacha Bakradze - Monument (Fever AM 2019)
For whatever reason, I’d found it easy to not really check out Mor Elian nor was I particularly aware of her Fever AM label until the cover of the Monument EP by Tblisi resident Gacha Bakradze caught my eye while scrolling through the Hard Wax mailer a week ago. Not being familiar with any of those names, I was quite stoked to discover both Elian and Bakradze are making a brand of whipsmart, aslant techno that works on both the body and mind in equal measure. Across Monument’s four tracks, Bakradze strikes a point-perfect balance between immersive sound design and straight-to-the-gut dancefloor dynamics, putting him in a similar strata of bass-minded producers that includes, say, the likes of Minor Science and Pearson Sound, the latter having his paper-thin snares (a la “Work Them”) channeled on scene-setting opener “Daraji.” Having established a tense and funky vibe, the EP gets a radiant release in standout track “Meurve,” a sturdy, no-fuss bassline and cheerfully downcast synth melody that sees a silver lining and leaps for it, a similar melodic optimism brightening up the steely, early braindance*-referencing title track. With the listener still basking in the light, Bakradze plunges back into the night for a midnight motorcycle trek around an urban manufacturing district on the throbbing “Rubber Plant.” Monument is an exceptionally well-produced dance music EP that boasts lush, romantic sound design and a strong narrative impulse that comes across via the tracks’ arrangements. As a dear friend observed, Bakradze stays firmly in the same key until the record’s final track and the first three track suffer from a same-y quality as a result, but the lively, microscopic attention to detail keeps any lingering dullness in the background.
*Boy, there sure is a lot of that these days, huh?
Basic Rhythm - New Style EP (Sneaker Social Club 2019)
As Basic Rhythm, Anthony J. Hart has conducted a curious computer-powered reading of UK pirate radio history, one that started out rather po-faced and pointillistic on the Raw Trax (2016) and The Basics (2017) LPs as well as the Slewage EP, for John Twells’ always exceptional Type Recordings, each album applying an Snd-via-grime/UKG rhythmic reduction that was as pretzeled as it was heady, post-genre, and post-glitch computer club music with a digital polish. Or, club music for the grad school set. However, following a quiet 2018 during which Hart released an album and an EP under his grime-focused East Man guise, he’s fired Basic Rhythm back up and doubled down on the project’s club origins to craft hypermodern bangers that move beyond the fidgety garage rhythms of his early period, perhaps losing a bit of the dizzying, labyrinthine rhythmic rush in the process. Part of that de-acceleration might be owed to his recent adoption of dubstep’s halfstep throwdown that made the “Dough Boy” side of his Arcola twelve from a few months back such a delight (as did his use of Yello-like baritone samples, just a few months after Rian Treanor dropped the “Oh Yeh” edit). On New Style, a four track effort for the rave design-loving and Hypercolour sublabel Sneaker Social Club, he shows off the full extent of his new genre science zeal, the title track deploying a house-y framework somewhere between funky and garage while “Too Nuff” is all military-grade halfstep flex pliced with silky soft pads. “London Warehouse” is the record highlight, recapturing the comedown glow and 7am rays of “Waremouse” while “Ready Again” sounds like a tip of the hat in the direction of the OG dance music grad students themselves, Hart engaging in the extra-broken rhythmic lunges and sampled negative space. The journey of Basic Rhythm has certainly been a compelling one so far, and while the first half of New Style can feel like he’s playing it a bit safe, the record’s extensive passion for its sacred texts makes it seem like its producer is having a lot more fun as a result, and what’s more contagious than that?
Klein Zage - Womanhood (Orphan Records 2019)
Considering that it’s a well-produced feminine pressure missile of a record, Klein Zage’s debut Womanhood EP has gotten more press than first records often get and yet I haven’t seen any piece in which the writer notes just what an absolute booty blaster Ariel Zetina remix of “Absolutely” happens to be. I had the pleasure of seeing Zetina spin last summer and she evoked that most satisfying of feelings when seeing an artist for the first time: when you see someone with a sound so in need of being in existence and still just at the shallow end of their abilities (with astonishing results so that all you hear is pure, inspiring potential). Indeed, it strikes me as an even more polished and effective iteration of her talent as she briskly yet patiently builds to a narrative climax built around the early best-dance-music-lyric-of-2019 contender—”I make it my business to come,” swoon—while elevating each progression into a sweat-soaked epiphany. Also, the Sabre Pepper Spray demonstration-video cover art is pretty goddamn fantastic.
DJ Rubio - Western Medicine (Man Band rec. 2019)
Similar to the Silvestre record, on first listen of DJ Rubio’s Western Medicine EP for Toma Kami’s Man Band rec. a first listen, it was hard to not be reminded of how overplayed and boring overdriven analog dance music tends to be. However, considering that even the most seemingly staid records in the Man Band catalog have a soulful warmth to them that ripens under repeat listens, the icy reservation came melting down as my ears tuned into the thoughtfully melodic sculpting of the skittering toms on opener “Merenrantafoto Sotarkoksen Ulhrista” (that’s Finnish btw:) By the time the extended electric guitar solo hits the mix, I’d typically expect to be running for the hills. And yet, there’s an earnest musicality going on across Medicine’s four tracks, the producer knowing which strengths to play to and when. The two beatless pieces that compose the record’s middle section soaring as much due to the elements he does deploy (fuzzy keys, field recordings, phantom utterances) as those he chooses to exempt (re: all of the other obvious New Age signifiers). Clearly this is a producer who got the message that lo-fi music sounds best when it’s uncluttered, the quiet krauty synth run that comes in at the title track’s final minute a testament to Rubio’s ability to subtly devastate. The EP ends with the motorik salsa shimmy of “Marlo My Man,” which adroitly highlights the beat’s inherent halftime pulse to transform the track’s initial squirminess into a smooth-stepping dub techno laxative. Cool runnings, everyone.
Ulrich Troyer - Dolomite Dub (4Bit Productions 2019)
As much of a devoted post-rock fanatic as I once was, Vienna’s Vegetable Orchestra always seemed a bit too ‘much’ for me. And, considering that the ten-piece ensemble employed a cook as a member and made its beats and drones out of vegetable instruments, well, I guess my snobbiness wasn’t at least totally unfounded. Of course, re-learning about the group now, I’m more than a bit curious. Guess it was only a matter of time when Gen X excesses would become charming again.
Anyway, where the Vegetable Orchestra were probably a bit too European and a bit too dance-y for my teenaged self, that guy would have loved Orchestra member Ulrich Troyer’s Dolomite Dub album for 4Bit Productions and its snowy post-rock dubscapes. For those who cringe at middle-aged white dudes doing anything with dub, well, I get it and I will be the first to admit that this is the type of music your city’s local arts center would book in two seconds, it’s also quite enjoyable. Utilizing a wide range of instrumentation and electronic toys, the percussive rhythms stick to a downtempo framework and Troyer leaps at the opportunity to paint in long, broad strokes, largely avoiding predictable chord progressions for neverending mono-notational vistas, the album really kicking into gear with the analogue gurgles and abstracted grooves of “(Part II)” while “(Part III)” whips up a glacial static before dissolving into a melodic tidal pool. In Troyer’s sound world, the veil between the studio and nature is meant to be pierced, the sound of trees rustling achieving an far more pleasurable cognitive function than tape hiss ever could (though tape hiss is pretty bomb, too;)