I don’t follow the contemporary ambient landscape as closely as some, so I apologize if you’re already well-familiar with the intoxicatingly unclassifiable music of Dublin artist Maria Somerville. But if you’re not, there’s a good chance you’ll get a similar vibe listening to her stunning All My People as I did that falls along the lines of “Well, she’s going to be absolutely fucking huge.” Personally, I’m reminded of my reaction to Julia Holter’s Tragedy back when that album first came out, both artists possessing a burning sense of urgency and purpose that their music simply has to exist. Existing on the dreamiest end of the dream pop equation, Somerville is that most dangerous of double threats, her earnest, direct voice on par with her retro-tinged command of sound design and stubborn, comforting drum machines. Clearly someone who has a lot to say and is just getting started, which is mad exciting….Since emerging back in 2014 as a symbiotic platform for pairing the artwork of Femke Strijbol with music to soundtrack their placid, abstract pieces, the Ghent-based tape label Dauw has served as a home for a number of notable artists (The Humble Bee, Machinefabriek, Benoit Pioulard) working in slow-moving, melodic drone strokes. Calling to mind the early output of Type or Stars of the Lid in the sense that many of the label’s releases eschew the billowing synthesis of contemporary ambient in favor of more traditional acoustic instrumentation, Dauw recently issued its third cassette from fellow Belgian Stijn Hüwels and the first Dauw record to dart across my radar, the entrancing and tranquil tomodachi, which sees the sound artist and guitarist deploying his primary instrument across ten slow-churned compositions. Check it out….In my book, there’s few better music-induced feelings than “this is nothing like I thought this would be,” so a tip of the hat to the Infiné camp for hipping me to the upcoming Orchestre Univers LP from “Maloya-electronic” composer Labelle. For as checkered as the recent history of collaborations between orchestras and electronic music producers is and considering how much I tend to cringe when taking in most* orchestral-electronic albums , once I had managed to check my hang-ups, the record up achieves a sound that’s somewhere in between Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Colleen’s first two albums. Composed specifically for the Orchestre Regional de la Réunion and recorded live during a quartet of concerts held across the island, I had actually come across Jérémy Labelle’s name before due to the ace cover art for his POST-MALOYA EP that came out last September around the time I was losing it over Jako Maron’s electro-Maloya sounds. Despite being born in Brittany, Labelle’s father hails from Réunion and as a teenager, the composer fell in love with traditional Maloyan music created by slaves when the island was a French colony alongside Detroit techno and IDM, moving to the island himself in 2011 where he committed himself to composing. There’s just something about Labelle’s music that compels me to dig past the glossy, well-worn orchestral surface, the artist excelling at balancing compositional proficiency with detailed, thoughtful texturing achieved through production. Another one to watch.
For all the renewed interest in American New Age music and Japanese ambient, labels like Bureau B have continued putting in the work to shine a light on the deep bench of European synthesizer mystics, inaugurating recent reissue campaigns focused on the likes of Carl Matthews and Richard Pinhas. The label has now turned its focus to the turned-on synthesizer compositions of Bernard Xolotl, a French-born mentee of Pandit Pran Nath who moved to California in 1974 and began releasing a series of inspired albums that includes 1985’s rapturous Last Wave, which Bureau B has now reissued….Speaking of European ambient, Smalltown Supersound has assembled a collection of unreleased recordings from Norwegian ambient composer Erik Wøllo and it’s a lovely, romantic set that should not be overlooked….Well, it’s another week which means yet another must-buy release from the STROOM 〰 label, which has excavated two classic slices of 90s ambient dance music from Cold and James Bernard. On the A-side is Cold’s (Isar Logi Arnarsson) “Strobe Light Network,” a fifteen-minute build-up of a track that was championed by Sven Väth, who played it as his closing track at the 1995 edition of Berlin’s Love Parade. It features plenty of Xolotl-friendly synth arps. When the kick comes in at the five-minute mark, the whole thing snaps into a spring-y, grass-cut groove, rejuvenating the mind, the boy, and the soul. Sporting a timeless name, “Lapis Lazuli” on the flipside is 90s electronic esoterica at its finest, reeking of noirish atmospherics and acid-tinged dramatics….I was totally oblivious to the existence of French deviants Geins't Naït until opening a Boomkat mailer the other day that was unusually (even for them) enthusiastic about this new Editions Gravats package and thus more than a bit wary as their taste runs a bit too goth for my liking, but good lord, this shit rips. Just from a historical perspective of wanting to know more about sampling in the eighties, the collection showcases a duo clearly in the thrall of channeling My Life In the Bush of Ghost’s sonic sampledelic approach into tougher environs. But unlike so much of their industrial-minded peers, these dudes were motivated as much by curiosity as style, pushing themselves and their listeners past any notion of comfort into the limitless, terrifying abyss of freedom….Recollection GRM doesn’t release much, so it’s worth noting the Editions Mego sublabel has two on the chamber for next month with Régis Renouard Larivière’s first catalog number with Contrée alongside Luc Ferrari’s “Music Promenade "/ Unheimlich Schön.“ And seriously, if you haven’t scoped out that Christian Zanési from last year, it’s a corker….
Despite having collaborated with a wide cast of experimental noise artists that includes Scanner, KK Null, and Thurston Moore and utilizing playback devices like turntables and tape recorder, I was totally unfamiliar with Italian artist Deison until chancing upon his new album Uncut created in collaboration with Devis Granziera. Released on the long-running and wildly prolific Old Europa Cafe, Uncut is one of the more accomplished slices of rhythmic noise that I’ve heard in some time, forgoing the icy brutalism often associated with the sound in favor of an expansive sound palette that fuses Pan Sonic’s mechanical beats with an improvisatory sense of structure, the central idea of each track interrogated from all sides before evaporating into the ether. And hey, considering that there will almost certainly be a CD-R renaissance at some point in the future, might as well scoop up one of the release’s 100 copies….Moving from rhythmic noise to rhythmic, noisy techno, Shxcxchcxsh’s Rösten has become a reliable source for a singular brand of hyper-intense experimental dance music. Following two well-received EPs for Peder Mannerfelt, Sissel Wincent takes another step forward with the immaculately produced and beautifully austere Assorted Lights four-tracker, smartly fusing Pan Sonic-informed dance floor minimalism with a club-tuned sensibility. Pure class….Archie Pelago member and saxophonist Zach Koeber is someone I’ve always admired for having a uniquely heterodox sonic vision, both with Archie and under his solo moniker of Kroba. He’s been creating long-form musical collages for a hot minute now in a style that started out sounding like “Demdike Stare meets spiritual jazz” and he’s followed up his sumptuous Orgone Blister tape for Styles Upon Styles with a new self-released composition entitled “Springtime” that’s currently up on his Bandcamp, an extended soliloquy for saxophone, Korg Minilogue, and percussion. He’s also been playing unreleased new music on his Lot Radio show. It’s like little else out there….Wasting little time since putting out a new Chi album back in February, Astral Industries has ensnared yet another lowkey ambient heavyweight as part of their roster, compiling six tracks from Belgian artist Sonmi451’s (Bernard Zwijzen) back catalog for the new Nachtmuziek EP. Zwijen’s sound seems almost too appropriate for our ASMR age, fractal microsounds that evoke popping bubblewrap or a symphony of crickets are brought to a roiling boil and flavored with vaporous, Room40-friendly keys and sampled voices. Really lovely stuff….Glasgow’s 12th Isle label is a curious one, existing in the electronic music hinterlands with a scant but impressive back catalog that is the embodiment of post-genre “neither here nor there” thinking, culling a cast of perennial weirdos that has thus far included Дайсез & АЭМ Ритм-Каскад, Best Available Technology, and Ramzi. While it doesn’t quite surpass last year’s killer Palta Og Ti På Den Tolvte Ø album from Palta & Ti, the label’s first missive of 2019 is Lo Kindre’s Chlorophytum EP, six tracks of DIY dorm room dub that are soaked in post-On-U echo science, Kraut-tinged machine rhythms, and IDM navel gazing that is very much worth your time….
I’ve been itching to talk about Leipzig’s Defrostatica “bass music label” since coming across Dispondant’s ear-catching Acid Jazz Ep since coming across it a couple weeks back—the physical copy of which is currently on sale. The label released their first transmission of 2019 via newish Canadian producer HomeSick’s Burnout 2099 EP, a promising six-track debut that casts its genre net wide, kicking off with a fairly straightforward rap banger before diving deep in the rhythms of reggaeton and dancehall with the jungle-referencing title track a personal highlight….Another Leipzig label that I’ve recently fallen for is broken braindance specialists YUYAY Records, which released a pair of hypnagogic electro albums last year that I’ve found all kinds of charming: XY0815’s This Tool Has No Options and VEF 317’s VEF Radio. The label has their first record of 2019 out next via Carl Y. Scheele’s Element #8 and it’s a testament to the power of being in awe of your machines to breathe new life into well-worn ideas….Italian bad man Piezo has followed up the ANSIA 003 comp released back in January with the delightful two-tracker The Mandrake / Tinned for Germany’s mighty Version label. A-side cut “The Mandrake” is a stripped-down, minimalist dancehall number that features ringing, metallic percussion and expertly-constructed subs while “Tinned” takes a familiar triplet kick pattern and gives it a skipping, pretzled overhaul before tossing a melodic anchor overboard in the form of a seesawing pair of pads. Oh, and speaking of Version, they’ve also repressed that tremendous pair of Benny Ill remixes from a couple years back. Music for the fifth circuit….Lastly, turning back to the breaks, despite the facepalm-inducing name, I’ve been coming back to Mani Festo’s Hold The Line EP for Rupture London and my gawd, dude has some of the crispest, jaw-dropping snares in the game as he joins producers like Sully and Etch in looking back to jungle’s halcyon days while keeping their sound firmly in the future. Top-rated, indeed.
Random Detroit-flavored jump-up from Spanky Rodgers to get things going….
Woweeeeeeee, pure badboy bizness, this! Irish techno lifers Clouds (Calum Macleod and Liam Robertson) barely seemed to take a breath after the release of their artcore-inspired album, Heavy The Eclipse, and they’re already getting both the Hard Wax staff and Discogs buyers into a frenzy with their debut twelve of 140+ insanity as Hamilton Scalpel (seriously, between a single copy of the twelve going for $33.70 and it getting the coveted “TIP” designation, this record has heat on it!) What’s perhaps even more exciting about the duo’s self-titled debut under the Hamilton alias is that it’s absolutely fantastic, presenting a rare opportunity for higher-BPM dance music to get some attention from the wider dance music community due to its unwillingness to adhere to genre conventions while also drinking liberally from the wells of jungle and dnb. Don’t get it twisted; there are rave vamps and Amen breaks by the boatload, but what makes Hamilton Scalpel so riveting is that the duo deeply understand that much of rave’s genius lied in its sonic extremism and the willingness of crowds to be bodied by the beats, the music emulating the drugs in that each track sought to be harder, crazier than anything you’ve ever heard before, each batch stronger than the last one. Kicking off the chaos is “Uprated Nite Zone,” an utter skullfuck that takes a soothing lowend groove and just obliterates any semblance of easy listening within a minute, the track falling apart and coming back for a second act of percussive madness before going back for seconds and thirds, daring you to tap out from exhaustion. “Slew Kin” rides aslant a phat 303 bass line as the samples come fast and heavy, the drum programming positively schizoid, which aids in achieving a velocity that’s as nerve-wracking as it is life-giving. “Coventry Dump Valve” is just pure, unadulterated filth, the subs beating you down relentlessly while a diva vocal implores the audience not to lose hope, to give themselves over to the beautiful pain wrought by the bass frequencies. The record closes with the tribal jungle of “Anti Vibe (UK Complience),” the track’s name neatly summarizing the Scalpel’s apparent MO. But where breakcore’s seemingly logical conclusion of rave’s accelerationist arms race collapsed in self-parody, Macleod and Robertson know how to craft a groove as well as they know how to tear it apart and much of the EP’s joy comes from observing the unique ways they reassemble the rhythmic fragments. Perhaps it’s their junglist status that predisposes them to ensuring that the music remains always danceable, even when it’s refusing to adhere to any established rhythmic patterns or sonic conventions. Macleod and Robertson are on an absolute, must-hear tear these days and while I might have once found their output ignorable, now I’m paying attention to their every step.
UK-born, Berlin-based producer Cressida (née Jenagan Sivakumar) has a back catalog that only dates back to 2017, but has already found considerable favor amongst the hard-edged, industrial techno crowd thanks to releases on labels like VOITAX and LDNWHT—ooh, check this one. Though his releases have featured plenty of to-the-point, 4beat bangers, he’s also demonstrated a penchant for transposing nuum-friendly rhythmic frameworks onto his in-the-red, white-knuckled sound, putting him amongst the sound’s next-wave artists like Giant Swan, Bad Tracking, and Pessimist. On his second twelve for VOITAX, Borneo Function, Cressida embraces his UK musical history to inject some much-needed sonic variance into his muscular productions, turning to the bloated sound of halfstep to squeeze a surprising amount of creative mileage (mining territory not unlike joeFarr’s “TyMaw” from 2017). The opening title track wastes no time in putting all of its chips on the table, marrying eski Triton squiggles with thundering toms and low-end growls with radiant results. Where “Borneo Function” mines a familiar hard-as-nails aesthetic that is very much of an ilk with the producer’s discography, “No Luv Ting” pushes deeper into the past, pairing smoked-out, Mo Wax-referencing rhythms with low-slung LA beat scene sonics and a quixotic harp sample in service of decidedly more chilled-out ends (and calling to mind artists like Black Taffy). Indeed, the rest of the EP displays Sivakumar’s fondness and aptitude for old skool sampledelia, the winding Indian vocal samples and bright snares on “SansF” harkening back to the glory days of downtempo compilations. EP closer “What Are You Like” saunters in with a slowed-down breakbeat electro feel that calls to mind late Mo Wax signing Black Lodge, loved-up pads and a menacing low-end probing that classic light/dark dichotomy in fine fashion. Borneo Function succeeds in adding considerable depth to Cressida’s profile and is a perfect example of what I’ve taken to calling ‘genre science,’ glibly cutting and pasting from recent dance music history to construct an alternative timeline, a parallel world where the novelty of sampling sidesteps the obvious gimmicks to craft timeless-sounding beats with a patina of nostalgia that comes from a place of earnest curiosity rather than artistically bankrupt mimicry.
ELLLL - Febreeze (First Second Label 2019)
First Second Label is a Dublin-based imprint of the famed All City Records store and label group and occupies a similar leftfield-ish territory as sister label Jheri Tracks and fellow Dublin dance music travelers Major Problems, albeit one that is considerably more retro and lo-fii in its sound. To be honest, I hadn’t really paid the label much mind until coming across the label’s first twelve of 2019 by Berlin-based producer
Ellen King under her ELLLL moniker, which came out last month alongside her CONFECTIONARY EP for yet another Dublin powerhouse label, Glacial Sound’s newish Glacial Industries. Considering that her 2016 debut EP Romance went hard on Lutto Lento-esque techno samplemania, the first impression given by record title track “Febreeze” is that King has put in some serious time into developing her production chops, returning with a sound that is at once incredibly trendy (ambient rave breaks, anyone?) but also so much better realized than 99% of her peers. Built around a driving two-four beat, fluttering synths, and “Waremouse”-referencing stabs, “Febreeze” does exactly what its title suggests, freshening up a well-worn sound and enlivening it with an airy meringue groove that, in a perfect world, would find favor with plenty of DJ’s outside the breakbeat house set. Demonstrating an uncanny proficiency for soundtracking 7am moments, “Sunrise Edit” hones in on the most sleep-crusted moments of “Febreeze” and magnifies them into a yawning, slow-burning early morning rave cut whose submerged two and four are kept suspiciously low in the background, the siren lead sounding like something between a singing theremin and an angelic vocal. What really puts the track over the top, though, is that King resists saddling it with the standard lowend, keeping the lower frequency bands at a distance to acquire a ghostly, purgatorial depth. Labelmate G.E.O. Corp takes a break from the memory house of his own First Second twelve for a belting remix that strikes an admirable middle ground between quaking, EBM-like arpeggiations and tropical-tribal percussive flavors for yet another ambient rave masterclass. Highly recommended.
Roger 23 is responsible for one of the weirder (and best) Ilian Tape catalog entries, so it’s of little surprise that his second twelve for the imprint’s beautifully-stamped white label series. As a producer, Roger Reuter has an unmistakably retro machine sound, albeit one that thankfully creates curious mutations out of the familiar ingredients, making him a perfect candidate for labels like Bio Rhythm and No Suit Records. Where his 2016 Ilian EP Extended Play saw him diving into the deep end of oddball ambient and electro, the well-named Is Demanding For A Cultural Negotiation four-tracker taps into another dance music trend, the record rocking a lush density that made me think of early braindance and mid-90s intelligent techno. However, true to form, rather than churning out staid alternative-AFX histories, Reuter slows down the BPM to a balearic crawl on opener “Gathering Dust,” a foggy tranquility setting down across the planes in the form of gaseous pads and soporifically charming melodies. The cutesy bitcrushed IDM drums and chintzy, strobing keys that inaugurate “Cultural Negotiation” are a bit undercut by a flickering vocal sample, sounding almost like a trying-too-hard-to-be-clever bloghaus era mash-up, but the incongruity does become a bit less distracting on subsequent plays as the listener learns to love the pretty monster on hand. The EP takes yet another left turn on the awesomely-titled “w/Da 15,88% Assistance Ov Nils Maneuvers In The Dark: Win [Mega MIX + Super Dub]” with surprisingly conventional tech-house sass, the 4X4 structure allowing Reuter to revisit some of the ideas initiated in the EP’s first half as he plays around with the melodic interplay over the track’s generous ten-minute run time. The bottom drops out on EP closer “From Interval To Interval He Does Chance His Postion (For Your Digi Pleasure Mix),” a stubborn bass drone paired with a menacing, glitched-out narration that cements the producer’s unique flair for the eccentrically dramatic. Cultural Negotiation is the type of record that makes me pull for my least favorite descriptor—”challenging”—and it’s a truly welcome change of pace from the endless glut of dance EPs too eager to self-categorize and adhere to genre templates, Reuter inserting himself directly into the in-between zone, drawing out unpronounced connections while synthesizing new neural pathways of associations. It’s called sticking to your guns, folks, and it’s what artists do.
Jeremy Hyman - FT048A (Future Times 2019)
Future Times is a peculiar label whose output, given its name, can often feel overly in thrall of the past. That said, to the label’s credit, the past that they look to tends to be a fairly experimental one and while not everything they release connects with me, it seems like at least once a year they’ll put out a record that’ll elicit a wonderful feeling of “what the fuck is this?!” I first heard of percussionist/producer Jeremy Hyman via his Baltimore art-rock outfit Ponytail, a band that was always too interesting for their own good and whose various members have all gone onto a multitude of interesting endeavors since the group’s dissolution. Hyman first debuted on Future Times back in 2016 with the exceedingly oddball Couch EP that never quite took off for me, but was bursting with so many ideas. On his new three-tracker, the first of a two-part EP, catalog number-titled record for the label, the first things that comes across on lithe opener “Slide” is that Hyman sounds like he’s been listening to considerably more dance music, seemingly finding inspiration with the contemporary UK dance music school, the track pivoting around a slime-soaked sub hook while filling out its high-end with meandering flutes, melodic curlicues, and flashing neon synths. Much like that ace Gacha Bakdradze EP I covered last week, Hyman excels when striking a balance between a surplus of ideas and streamlined, dancefloor-primed cruise missiles. The aptly-titled “Madness,” while very much an interestingly brief curio, takes a bit of the wind out of the record’s sails while still sounding more fleshed-out than the comparable experiments on Couch. Eight-minute closer “Tinted Mirror” is much more successful in giving Hyman’s more oddball impulses the space to stretch out as he pairs a brand of post-vaporwave muzak over a steady, stoic kick and tasteful percussive accents, the hallmarks of yacht and AM rock given new life through an early Italian piano house context that sticks out like a sore thumb in the best of ways, the track maintaining a steady upward development that keeps the listener rapt as it moves into a euphoric final section.
Unperson - ONRU002 [REMIXED] (Only Ruins 2019)
Keeping up with all the new and exciting sounds coming out of Bristol is a seemingly neverending joy as the city sits at the forefront of a number of contemporary dance music’s most exciting developments, from sound design-y punk techno to scholarly bass music and bleeding-edge dnb. However, the city has a storied house music history as well that extends well beyond known entities like Shanti Celeste and Chris Farrell. A newer strain of stuffed-to-the-gills-with-ideas house music started attracting interest from outside of the city with the start of the Only Ruins label and its first two releases from new voices Syz and Unperson who both excel making busy, omnivorous dance music uses house as a prism through which to interpret idea from a wide variety of genres, including electro and dubstep. The label’s ‘new intelligent’ aesthetic sees them recruiting Bristol producer Troy Gunner and recent Central Processing Unit alum 96 Back for a pair of immersive, wide-screen remixes off of Unperson’s phenomenal ONRU002. While both remixes demand to be heard, it’s Gunner’s expansive treatment of “Mind District” that is the personal highlight as it veers from patiently careening house chords to a unexpected dubstep-adjacent ‘drop’ that opens up into a pensive, thundering groove that harkens back to the heyday of technoid dubstep, but at a house-friendly tempo. Gunner takes a similar everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach as Syz and Unperson, inhaling a wide range of familiar dance music tropes and re-assembling them to decidedly novel ends to continually psych out the listener. Fresh on the back of their well-received Excitable, Girl LP, 96 Back gives “Staring At The Light Cable” an electro-house working-over to build a tautly charging groove that seems to take equal influence from the 90s Sheffield sound as it does from post-dubstep’s late-00s/early-10s electro revival, packing every bar with ear-exciting details. Only Ruins has got it going on.