For two decades now, the Jewelled Antler Collective has been operating at the fringes of folk, psych, and field recordings to plot a heady course that links a wide-ranging and accomplished network of musicians. Seattle’s fabulous Eiderdown Records has just released the debut self-titled album by collective lynchpin Glenn Donaldson’s latest project, 43 Odes, and it’s a magisterial tapestry of post-folk soundtracks for the nature-minded psychonauts out there. Really, really lovely….French dance music weirdos Brothers From Different Mothers give label staple/class clown J-Zbel the full-length treatment on Dog's Fart Is So Bad The Cat Throws Up. A humorous but weighty effort originally intended for friend-to-friend sharing, the record’s twelve tracks are a retromanic and compelling loveletter to hardcore techno, vintage rave tropes, and the art of having fun. So solid….Following on from their shimmering If I Had A Pair Of Wings: Jamaican Doo Wop, Vol. 2 and Kouta Katsutaro comps from earlier this year, London’s fantastic Death Is Not The End label press to cassette their installment of Blowing Up The Workshop’s wonderful mix series with the childhood loveletter to pirate radio Bristol Pirates, a fifty-minute mix-collage that stitches together a tapestry of DJ chatter, ads, and a multiplicity of interstitials excised from broadcasts recorded between the late 80s and early 00s. Positively nuuminous….I know you don’t need me to tell you about how insane and essential Sisso’s debut Mateso album considering the amount of press Nyege Nyege Tapes rightfully gets, so just let me join the chorus in saying, holy fucking shit, this sucker RIPS. All kinds of jaw-dropping….The Forbidden Planet label has always excelled at cultivating a very specific, very personal style of synth-led dance music through its releases and its latest from Finnish legend Mono Junk feels like an especially pure distillation of its aesthetic. Channeling a cold vein of bedroom synth-pop, the Vanished album is nine tracks of crunchy af synthesis and yearning vocals that is a solid genre science exercise….I only recently got hipped to the fact that eco-grime is, like, a thing—and one it would seem I’m super into!—thanks to the Eco Futurism Corporation label and thus I’m now making my way to Eva-01’s (great name!) Oskerushe album, which was released back in February on Bio Future Laboratory. It’s an absolute tour de force that seizes upon grime’s direct-yet-slippery emotionality and goes right for the heart. Not to mention, there’s a downright inspired deployment of Seal’s “Crazy”on album centerpiece “Krovky” that is wildly affective. Massively recommended….Oscar Mulero’s PoleGroup imprint pulls together a murder’s row of techno titans—including Sleeparchive, Tensal, Reeko, and Kangding Ray—for the PoleGroup Recomposed Part 2 compilation, which cherrypicks twelve outstanding cuts from the label’s back catalog for those of us who maybe don’t like techno as much as these dudes do. Reeko’s “Animals Fight Back” and Exium’s “The 12th Planet” are two personal highlights….
Valencia, Spain’s Abstrakce Records follow up their lovely reissue of Pablo Guerrero and Finis Africae’s
Los Dioses Hablan Por Boca De Los Vecinos with a stupidly essential and first-ever vinyl pressing of Miguel A. Ruiz’s Climatery LP from 1986. Centered around an always-moving assemblage of loops, the album is a brilliant blend of rhythmic dilation and melodic meditation that opens up its own realm of space and time for the listener to get lost within. Swooning so hard….The always-inspired Unseen Worlds has pulled yet another ace out of their sleeve with their first-ever issuing of "Blue" Gene Tyranny and Peter Gordon’s Trust In Rock performance recorded live at the University Art Museum in Berkeley, California on November 6, 1976. Clocking in at a whopping two hours and featuring a dazzling cast of players that includes Maggi Payne on mixing and recording, Gene Reffkin on drums, and Kathy Acker, who is responsible for the lyrics to three songs, Trust In Rock sounds at once overwhelmingly familiar and shockingly alien, blowing up the genre’s forms to massive proportions while channeling a sound not unlike Arhur Russell’s First Thought Best Thought. Also, here’s an Andy Beta-authored article for Bandcamp that provides some additional context. Super into this one….Originally reissued in 2006, 90% Wasser’s pressing of mysterious Chelmsford commune-dwellers Chen Yi’s "The" 1978 - 1983 has been turning quite a few heads as of late and with good reason. Comprising fourteen audio sketches recorded between 1978 and 1983, the group had a beguiling, mischievous sound that could be characterized as existing on the wildest, weirdest, and jammiest fringes of industrial music. A weirdo ripper, indeed….Following on from their platters released earlier this year, Melbourne’ s Left Ear Records have pressed to wax Nigerian artist Jay U Xperience’s Abuja, a four-track EP sourced from a “lost” 1993 CD release. Inspired by his surroundings in NYC and utilizing a Roland R-5 drum machine and Roland U-20 synthesizer, the musician born Justus Nkwane crafted a timely set of New Age-kissed global pop music that is oft-imitated these days, but rarely replicated. Check it out….Gost Zvuk’s reissue-focused sublabel Gost Archive have released a real gem with the first-ever official release of 80s industrial-adjacent group Notchnoi Prospekt’s all-instrumental Kurorty Kavkaza album. Melding Alexei Borisov’s reverbed guitar and Ivan Sokolovsky’s intuitive TB-303 programming and tied together by the duo’s incisive percussion, the album provides a sustained dive into a unique compositional sensibility that resembles something of a missing link between The Durutti Column and Black Rain. A must-hear….
Moving onto the voluminous world of dance music reissues, the ava. and Cold Blow labels have joined forces for the fantastic Electro Music Union, Sinoesin & Xonox Works 1993 - 1994 compilation that brings together a sterling selection of cuts from the short-lived Metatone label, run by J.M.Atkins and Damon D'cruz. Released at a time where techno was becoming more smarty pants and Warp’s Artificial Intelligence series cast a large shadow over the growing post-rave sounds spreading across the UK and Europe, Electro Music Union is ultimately a much-welcome introduction to Atkins’ considered, cinematic productions. Also, while we’re taking a look at the ava. label, be sure to check out the Unda Pressure EP by DJ Lil' John that was released last month and brings together three halcyon Chicago house tracks culled from the mid-90s. Please check them both out….Dublin’s Major Problems serves up a tasty slice of mid-80s “Italo-ish” robodisco by pressing Lowell’s melancholic, one-off 1985 cut “No Matter” backed with a remix from the one-and-only RüF Dug. Lovely….Run by Desert Sound Colony, who has a cracking remix on the latest Trouble Maker twelve, the Holding Hands Again imprint has been getting down to business since April as a sublabel of Holding Hands. Shining a light on overlooked dance music classics, the imprint has followed up their fantastic A Long Weight (A Wiggle Records Classic) reissue by Timmy S & JB with a cherrypicked three-tracker of turbo-charged tech-house from the legendary Bushwacka!, backed with a steady remix from DSC. Sound as a goddamn pound….Wormhole Wisdom, the new reissue arm of Craigie Knowes, kicks off with a bang by reissuing Jamie Odell’s much lusted-after and sole 1994 release as Loxodrome. Having fetched ‘Scogs prices upwards of a hundred bucks, The Loxodrome E.P. is four tracks of hyper-intelligent house and techno fusions that hijack the mind-body matrix and simply don’t let go. All kinds of essential….UK hardcore rave label Bogwoppa Records has issued a highly sought-after gem from their back catalog via Narc’s Small Hours EP, which features the A Guy Called Gerald-sampling “Voodoo” and the downcast euphoria of “Midnight Massacre.” Pure wickedness….Adelaide, Australia’s Isle Of Jura has pressed to twelve-inch ZE Records boss Michael Esteban’s one-off Bella Vista project’s 1982 synth-pop and disco hybrid Mister Wong, a cute and quaint track that is souped up with an extended Jura Soundsystem edit of the “Disco Dub” version. Dance music to cuddle to….
UK rave fetishists Sneaker Social Club have been making a run on 2019 with a busy and consistent release schedule that has yielded solid twelves from the likes of Basic Rhythm and Dead Man's Chest. Their latest comes from label regular Etch—still fresh off his Ups & Downs LP from last year—who teams up with London MC Nico Lindsay forSNKR020, three tracks of grimey post-UKG variants engineered to make you snap your neck. Hot stuff, coming through….I’ve been really enjoying Jacktone Records’ cooly psychedelic output so far this year. Their latest comes from Hasau Mountain co-founder Max Allison under his Mukqs guise, with Mem Aleph’s six tracks of improvised RPG techno casting a hypnotic, hyper-melodic spell. It’s a real treat….Singapore’s Midnight Shift label have really been excelling at releasing a brand of old school-loving dance music that is also smartly trained on the future-present. Their most recent release comes from fellow country-person and longtime operator Xhin who weaves together a thoughtful, potent blend of genres and ideas over Vision Electrified ’s four tracks. Been a minute since I heard a prog-rock breakdown in an electronic track, so that’s cool….Despite being an early pioneer of dubstep and just a sick fucking producer, I’m always shocked by many people seem to be unfamiliar with his oeuvre. So, first things first, please check that out if you’re unfamiliar. Secondly, following on from last year’s super lovely “Sugar" b/w “Triple S” (which includes El-B and Zed Bias remixes, swoon!), he returns to the promising Good4Ya label for the super lovely ”Classic Deluxe (El-B Remix)” / “Cuba (Horsepower Remix).” Thirdly, he also popped up on FaltyDL’s Blueberry Records to drop three heaters alongside Falty’s kinda lackluster “Ill Bent.” All kinds of essential….Ransom Note sublabel Outer Reaches just released the Swamp five-tracker of oneiric experimentation from the ever-evolving Fith collective and it’s an evocatively confident and out-there journey into metallic meditation and (post-)rock ritualism. It’s a vibe…Moving onto a couple of Leipzig labels doing their own damn thing, the Defrostatica label tap Detroit producer Sinistarr for a cracking set of explosively synchronous bass styles on the Everything On Time EP. ‘Tis a banger. Meanwhile, the Adventurous Music camp has issued a salvific EP of droning spiritualism via Hendekogan’s enlightened Religioes Unmusikalisch. Shut your eyes….
The Transfusions label continues to carve out a niche of dark-and-experimental big room techno, dropping two nuclear blasts last month that are very much worth your time. In addition to releasing the second Locust EP in a series with the searing Green, the label played home to their second EP from Vancouver’s Derivatives, which is an absolute fucking monster. Props to the homies….Fracture is a bad, bad man and has a real way of crafting classically-minded jungle with an undeniably modern sheen. Following on from the Big Up The Ladies EP for his own Astrophonica imprint back in April, he’s authored a hardcore hammer with the Unite four-tracker for 1985 Music. Pure badboy business, this….Following on from that blazing Dale Cornish/Sim Hutchins split I covered last time—”California” is the best kinds of fucked—Florence’s OOH-sounds drops a charmingly confounding platter in the form of Holy Similaun’s Hengenrax, containing four tracks of off-the-grid electronics that pairs soap opera emotionality with avant-garde sonics. Oh, and be sure to check out Cornish’s new Enhex album on everyone’s favorite Antwerpian oddballs, Entr’acte. Loving this….Haunter Records co-head Heith inaugurates the new Saucers label with the enchanting Mud EP, a pristine set of moody meditation and wry weightlessness. Top-shelf shit….There is no shortage of amazing Italian imprints operating at the moment and 2019 has witnessed the birth of yet another one via SURVIVE ltd. Specializing in experimental 90s brainrave, the label follows up barnburners from Cage Suburbia and Cosimo Damiano (agh! so good!) with Uforider’s Ufotrackx I, three tracks of explosive dance music “taped in Rome during the halcyon age of the free party.” Yes yes yes….In addition to relaunching his Fret and Monrella aliases, the stupidly gifted Mick Harris has also jumpstarted his distorted downbeat-focused Scorn after eight years with the gently ferocious Feather four-tracker for frequent label home Ohm Resistance. Consisting of three dubbed-out and blown-out versions of the title track alongside the knotted kick patterns found on closer “Whatever Is Touched Turns,” the whole thing is a masterclass of dread atmospherics and heavy-hitting hypnosis. Swooning over this one….Absolutely everything “delinquent dancefloor gear” label A14 releases is white hot fire and their fifth release in five years shows that their insistence on quality over quantity continues to pay dividends. With past releases on Hojo Clan and Samurai Music, Shiken Hanzo has been honing his heavy, stripped-down brand of dnb for a minute now and the four tracks on The Centipede present another satisfying chapter in his development, the downlow shuffle of “Oathkeeper” being my pick of the litter….
As far as engaging big room techno gear goes, Len Faki’s Figure label always excels at releasing thoughtful thumpers and their 2019 output has featured must-hear records like Icelandic techno godhead Exos’ Alien Eyes EP back in January and Faki’s Robot Revolution Remixes 2xLP in May. Keeping up their prolific release schedule, the label has just issued a second EP from KiNK’s newish Kirilik alias with the modular-focused tactile techno of the Souls EP. “Quad” is an absolute banger….The whole “trance revival” trend always strikes me as a bit odd cuz really, when did trance go out of style? Like, I get that all the uncool 90s dance music is cool now, but I’ve always been enough of a cornball to carry an abiding love for all shades of big room euphoria. Anyways, for those who can never get enough arpeggiated basslines and quixotic melodies, Tornado Wallace and Luca Lozano have teamed up as Psy Def X on a self-titled three-tracker for Lozano and Mr. Ho’s Klasse Wrecks label that is both unabashedly 90s-obsessed and expertly constructed. Digging that downtempo final section of “Lunar”….Close followers of Theo Parrish’s Sound Signature will likely be familiar withe name of DJ/producer Julion D’Angelo due to his Roots That Talk split with Thomas Xu released back in 2017 and his In-Patience mix CD from earlier this year. He’s now released the Stand On Your Square three-tracker on Chapel Hill’s Tone Log label and it’s a rivetingly deep dive into African rhythm science and heartfelt house that pulls no punches in compelling the listener to get on its level. As real as they come….I, and plenty of others, consider Patrice Scott’s first half-dozen or so EPs to be some of the more astonishing dance music released in the late 00s. That said, his output this decade has been considerably more hit-and-miss, but he always brings an impossibly deep understanding of the craft to every release and his Chasing Dreams EP on the stupendous Neroli label checks all the ‘deeply cosmic piano house’ boxes for me. A real pleasure….Last we heard from Loefah’s 81 label, they were trying to burn the club down with Pinch’s bombastic Walking With Shadows two-tracker released in early 2018—seriously, have you heard “AHH FFF SSS?!” For their first release since, they’ve tapped bass music insurgent Hypho for the Round Ere EP and it’s certainly a promising transmission, if not feeling a bit conventional at points. Check it…Lastly, a quick reminder that the Teflon Don himself, Aaron Paar, has a new EP under the alias of LA Housin’ Authority and, shocker, it’s four tracks of deep-and-down house music for the faithful. Always a delight….
Just a couple of quick links here. First off, I’m sure you’re familiar with the fact that Liz Pelly’s writings on Spotify comprise some of the most accomplished and insightful reporting on the state of the monstrous streaming platform. Her latest piece for The Baffler is entitled “The Big Mood Machine” and it’s an engaging look at how the company exploits user emotions for advertisers….Published back in February, “The Modern Creator's Paradigm — A Reason for More Critique and Accountability” by Eugene Kan, Charis Poon, Scott Masek, Alek Rose & Nathan Kan is a lucid and detailed depiction of the vicious circle of diminished creativity engendered by the platforming of culture and the disappearance of actual criticism. Essential stuff.
And a couple of recent highlights as a quick palette cleanser….sure, both tracks sound like they could have come out any time in the past twenty years, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t super enjoyable! I’m especially stoked for the return of Fly Pan Am as Roger Tellier Craig is an artist for whom I have so much admiration. Also, if you’ve never scoped his fantastic “Early Electronic Music in Québec: A Brief History” article for RBMA from a few years back, I highly recommend doing so.
Detroit dance music Odysseus, Norm Talley, is the type of producer whose output is so consistent and whose development has been so incrementally upward that it can be painfully easy to take his growing body of work for granted, the level of quality perhaps not fully registering until one takes a step back and surveys his discography. Having been in the game for over two decades, Talley has long excelled at a brand of big room-friendly deep house that speaks in the language of dance while subtly, smartly tweaking its parameters to imbue every second with his personal touch. Recently, I was having a conversation with a producer and label owner about how difficult it is to make quality functional dance music. But in listening to Talley’s output from the past year—with eight twelves released so far and counting—it’s hard not to feel like making bangers is the easiest thing in the world for the producer. Since dropping the stellar Norm-A-Lize LP on Omar-S’s FXHE Records back in late 2017, the label has become something of a home for Talley, the two wildly prolific and stupidly competent producers possessing a tangible kismet in their richly bare-bones production approaches. Both 2018’s I Tried To Told Cha and Pier Place Project, released in January of this year, flit from full-bodied big-room fare (“Fan-Ta-Cee” and “The Runner”) to sassy, low-slung, and sample-centered burners (“Detroit 2-Step” and “I’m Feeling Hot”). Indeed, listening to Talley’s output can sometimes feel like he’s the Baskin Robbins of house producers, considering how many flavors the man seems to be slinging (sorry, couldn’t help it;) On the aptly-named Beyond Time three-tracker for London’s Landed Records released back in April, he covers ample ground at a dizzying pace, quickly moving from the festival-primed filter sweeps of the title track to the rubber-y disco house of “That Detroit Bounce” and rounding things out with the loved-up, strings-aided euphoria of “A Love Story.” Meanwhile, The Black Bottom EP charts an upward trajectory from the backroom house vibes of “Blak Sandz” to the hands-in-the-air good times of “The Gambler” before rounding things out with the focused, arms-crossed tech house of “Blak Bottom.” I could go on, but I think you’ve got the point. He’s a goddamn national treasure.
With an RA bio that could double as a mission statement for this site, Italian producer Katatonic Silentio is a newish artist that has come bursting out of the gates on her first solo release, the five-track (seven on the digital version) Emotional Gun EP, following an appearance on a Biodiversità Records-issued cassette comp last year. Released on Milan’s accelerationist-minded Cyberspeak Music, the collective surrounding the label seems to be focused on the infinite becoming enabled by the machines with which we surround ourself and how it relates to the formalist-yet-transgressive nature of dane music, and that’s sick as hell. For a label and artist who appear to have a healthy obsession with both intimately understanding and thoughtfully subverting established structures, it makes a certain sense that Emotional Gun is ostensibly working within the stiff yet pliable strictures of half-time dnb as it seems a natural home for someone who might still be finding their footing, but already has plenty to say. Opener “Tundra” is a moody and nervy halftime stealth bomb, its pulsing bassline and hand drum shrapnel working in unison to build a hypnotic, menacing vibe that the jump-up energy of “Evolutionary Inertia” quickly builds upon, the crushed synth squelches whipping past at breakneck velocity. True to its title, the mania of “Sub_versive” lies in its low-end pile-on, competing rhythms jostling for attention as the punchy, aggressive mixing continually induces its own intoxicating brand of whiplash. The record’s unrelenting atmosphere courses through the plodding kicks that underwrite “Infrastructure Disintegrating,” double-timed beats threatening to claw their way past the steel girders. Closing the vinyl version of Gun is the dour downtempo of “Path of Uncertainty,” the dread energy bursting off the charts alongside errant FX, a cocksure b-line, and whipsmart hi-hat programming. Digital-only tracks “Timeline of Russian Cosmism” and “Brexit” push into even darker remits, the latter submerging the listener in the horrifying shortsightedness of ‘western civilization’ and reminding them how quickly it could all come burning down. Possessing a sound and aesthetic that is furiously tempered and sublimely outlandish, Emotional Gun burrows down deep and never lets go, almost daring the listener to avert their eyes. All hail the new complexity.
Second Storey - The Cusp (Frustrated Funk 2019)
Luxus Varta - Colder (TRUST 2019)
Galaxian - Golden Armageddon (Natural Sciences 2019)
Despite being in an age of “mehlectro” in which souped-up 2-step whips up the festival masses into a predictable frenzy, the longstanding margins of electro continue to produce records that push its sonic fictions further to the edge. I’m sure stuff like Jensen Interceptor is great to hear on the dancefloor, but when it comes to home listening, it’s the headier, more psychedelic fare that gets the repeat plays around these parts. So far, this year has already seen exceptional records from a number of newer producers and long-running acts, including Vivian Koch (The Owleon on a.r.t.less), FFT (In-side on Super Hexagon Records and Regional/Loss on The Trilogy Tapes), and Microthol (Transmissions on the mighty TRUST) and the past month alone has yielded a stunning triptych of new EPs from a trio of producers known for their consistently high quality output.
First up, Alec Storey is a producer whose earliest releases for Houndstooth seemed to attack electro, and a variety of other dance music genre, from an omnivorous post-dubstep approach and who has continued to release on an impressive number of labels that includes Aus Music, R & S, Nervous Horizon, and
TRUST. A genre gnostic with an auteurist mentality and a far-reaching palette, he makes his debut on Rotterdam’s esteemed Frustrated Funk with The Cusp. The record kicks off in low gear with the slow-burning technoid onslaught of heavy metal electro of “High Canopy,” a snarling, riff-centered bruiser of a banger. Storey picks up the pace on the title track, a piercing clave holding the pace on the two and four atop a jagged, restless b-line and an undulating synth lick that is topped off with a classically curious electro melody. Rounding out The Cusp is the equally breakneck “London Isn’t Easy,” an IRL stress dream of track that channels the anxious hunger of city living and features a tremendous half-time breakdown it is second half. By tapping into the rich dystopian heritage of laboratory-engineered electro, Storey has crafted a moody and enlivening record that points to the hope that sits just to the left of fear.
Debuting in 2015 on Solar One Music, Luxus Varta (Emeric di Paolo) has released his sensually melodic sound on a handful of labels that includes Shipwrec and brokntoys. Having released the Plastic Time EP back in February on Nocta Numerica Records, di Paolo makes his debut for the always essential TRUST with the late-night electo feels of the Colder five-tracker. Opener “Flash Tension” sets down like a cold frost, the billowing synths falling over themselves as charging, double-barreled synth chug and a ponderous yet direct melody craft a despondent, corporeal ecstasy, a sense that the explorative eroticism of “Sex After Midnight” doubles down in the best of ways. Following the afterparty-starting 2-step of the preceding two tracks, the record’s latter half employs a trio of ruggedly tendentious beats with “Kim’s Revenge” leading the sneak attack with a slippery onslaught of downward melodies. The charming awkwardness continues on “Side Effect,” the synth squelches and radio chatter adding to the track’s levitational ascent. Closer “Invisible” is the sound of dawn hitting a darkened bedroom, the tenuous rhythm and organ-like drones casting a distinctly devotional sensibility.
Finally, we move on to Galaxian, the Glasgow-based electro maven who’s built up a consistent and rewarding back catalog over the past decade. Mining similar doomsaying territory as Second Storey’s The Cusp, a hopeful spiritualism coursing just beneath the surface, Golden Armageddon is pretty severely front-loaded by its nine-minute stunner of an opening title track. Veering from the reverential to the apocalyptic and back again, the track comes hurling at the listener from above, the heavenly choir and maudlin strings swiftly darting into a maniacal synthesizer meltdown, alternating between the two sections before the whole thing collapses under its own relentlessness. The astral-dystopian dynamic continues on “Ride The Spiral,” a sampled guru narrating a path out of the cynical cycle in which we find ourselves without ever quite recapturing the transcendent thrill of the opener, though the errant synth careening beneath makes for a thrilling accent. Fear runs rampant over closing track “Psychic Purification,” the producer suggesting that perhaps the only path out of our current descent is to plunge headfirst into the abyss where there might not lie hope, but at least progress can be won at last by sticking to our principled guns.
Although at the start of this decade it seemed like industrial techno had a monopoly over the dark realm of UK dance music—and much of it was dull as dirt, imho—there’s been a steady rise in a distinctively post-genre approach that feels like it’s been really picking up steam as of late. From Blackest Ever Black’s savvy brand of record collector fare to UVB-76 Music’s greyscale approach to the post-dnb landscape to the burgeoning Eotrax label’s learned explorations, an ever-growing cast of producers have excelled at illustrating just how rich heavier and crunchier approaches to electronic music can be. In particular, Simon Shreeve’s Osiris Music UK now seems particularly prescient, having first gained attention for shepherding a purist and oppressive halfstep sound for Downwards fans when dubstep was having its identity crisis in the closing years of the 00s. Overseeing an early stable of artists that included the likes of Kryptic Minds (their Cold Blooded / Surge twelve with Youngsta is as crucial as it gets in my book), Kaiju, Ipman, and Killawatt, the label’s curation has shifted to a more omnivorous, bass music-adjacent sound that has resulted in recent records from Mønic, Overlook, and Pessimist. Following on from his 2016 Humanoid EP for the label alongside appearances on Mord, Eotrax, and Ohm Resistance, Kamikaze Space Program returns to Osiris for his debut album Dead Skin Cells, a suite of ten productions that exhibit the type of wide-reaching genre mash-up that doesn’t merely check off boxes from the dance music grocery list, but weaves together a host of styles and ideas that plots its own discontinuum. The opening title track lays out the album’s divergent sound through a techno-dnb framework out of which the hardcore breakbeat throwdown of “Sparks” flows perfectly, the yawning bass so immaculately textured that you can see the grain. “Dust” focuses the preceding bombast into a laser stare over which a guttural yell and more snarling bass move to sweep the leg, the almost sino-grime melodic meditation of “Rain” serving to ease the heightening tension. Things get thorny on the wonky-ish halfstep of “Insomnia” while “Crumbs” leads a dystopian carnival parade down a harrowing parade route. Harkening back to pad-driven jungle, “Derelict” is a highlight in its ability to strike a middle ground between euphoric and despondent, the choral voices existing somewhere between the light and the dark, between fear and hope while “Grey Clouds” serves as a perfect bridge to the album’s final section, the disjointed arp stabs lending the whole things a queasy stiffness. The martial vibes continue on “EF5,” mercilessly chopped-up breakbeats underpinning a viscous bass drone before closer “An Empty Sky” sounds the rave requiem with a certain mournful cheerfulness that implores the listener not to lose the faith. A thrilling statement of rave genre synthesis and nuanced, thoughtful production.
Since 2010, Pessimist has been concocting a sabulous brand of production that has evolved out of dnb into a more personal and realized sound and landed him on many a leading label, including Samurai Music, A14, and Crème Organization. He’s now teamed up with Karim Maas, who turned heads with the Old World Disorder EP on UVB-76 last summer, for a thirteen track self-titled album of prickly and intensely sculpted downtempo-informed and beatless compositions. Opener “A1” is a breezy 6/8 number that lopes about like a goth Mr. Natural, the rhythmic pulse rendered a phantom on tracks “A2” through “A4,” the producers maintaining a breezy and cinematic momentum throughout. “A5” features incorporeal hip-hop dynamics, the kick pulsing lightly as the beat never quite takes off as expected, rather existing in an extremely appetizing in-between space while “A7” features a dubby and tantalizing form of downcast trip-hop that is pure vibes. The B-side plunges back into the dark ambient deep-end with “B1” as the concave hi-hat sixteenth notes gets the neck snapping on “B2” and the destructive dub of “B4” serves as the record’s center of gravity, a disembodied vocal utterance circling the smoking wreckage from above. Where the album’s first two-thirds is a rather brief affair, the final three tracks all clock in at over five minutes, creating a strategically lopsided sense of sequencing that feels well-earned and organic. Splitting the difference between beat-driven and beatless, “B5” is downtempo at its most spectral, taking the deconstructed thump of illbient to its darkest and most abstracted extreme. A slightly awkward and beguiling downward drop opens up album closer “B6,” the patient yet driving downbeat and droning feedback sounding both familiar while gesturing towards a new path. An album that feels like a work in progress in the most completist sense.
Burnt Friedman - Musical Traditions In Central Europe (Explorer Series Vol.4) (Nonplace 2019)
Another insanely talented artist whose wildly consistent and inspired output can be a bit too easy to take for granted, German artist Bernd Friedmann has existed at the crossroads of electronic music, jazz, dub, and whatever else happens to catch his ear for over two decades, whether on his own, as part of jazztronica (sorry) outfit Flanger, or through his extended collaborations with Can drummer Jaki Liebzit (which are truly the best). Basically, the guy is an absolute monster and I’ve been looking for an excuse to sing his praises, which he has provided in fine style with Musical Traditions In Central Europe (Explorer Series Vol.4). Released on his own, wildly crucial Nonplace label—the whole catalog is gold, please scope if you haven’t— Musical Traditions is a creative sampling of central European culture refracted through the prism of dub, motorik, and Friedman’s own rhythmic sensibility to celebrate a certain cosmopolitan localism that has long animated European artists (and which seems to be disappearing from large swathes of the American heartland, imho). Opener “Supreme Self Dub” sets the scene accordingly as a laid-back downtempo beat is heightened by pretzeled percussion and serving as a warm-up for the streamlined, kraut-y chug of “Moslemschleier,” the horn drones taking on the visage of painterly strokes across a landscape viewed by train. “Die Schwebende Himmelsbrücke” deftly melds quiet storm sensuality with fourth world accents over a mercurial rhythm before “Unbehagen In der Natur” soundtracks ecological unrest as a nail-biting safari into the hinterlands, a vibe that “Semio-Blitz” takes awkwardly airborne through dissipating radio waves and insurgent wi-fi signals. Kicking off Musical Traditions’ second half is the Lucas Santanna-voiced “Berlin, A Cidade Que Não Morreu” that probes the Brazil-Berlin connection in the chillest of modes, the solemn spiritualism of “Messdiener” meanwhile exploring questions of devotion through a wide-eyed lens. As fits an album centered around the pleasures of provincial polyphony, the cautious thrill of discovery permeates “Sensation Des Normalen,” the dub pacing rendering Friedman's pretzeled polyrhythms into comprehensible bullet time as penultimate track “Gottesdienst” downshifts into the type of chilled-out, jazzy downtempo cafe material that isn’t typically executed with such grace and poise. The whispery reeds of Hayden Chisholm buttress the stylishly broken percussion that backs album closer “Sky Speech,” the late-night lounge atmospherics serving as the tastiest of nightcaps. Friedman has always excelled at crafting chilled, laid-back fare that orbits the over-sanitized world of downtempo Spotify playlists without ever caving into the type of toothless, autopiloted thoughtlessness that characterizes the current cultural cache of “chill,” the artistic intentionality remaining unmistakable throughout. And on Musical Traditions, he demonstrates just what a springboard his approach provides for weaving a heartland’s worth of divergent influences, executing the whole thing with an effortless panache.
Edit: Oli Warwick did a fantastic review of Musical Traditions for RA, the kind that makes your cheeks turn red from embarrassment.
Various Artists - Amateur Vampires (Opal Tapes 2019)
2019 is already shaping up to be a banner year for labels specializing in the darker, more experimental realms of dance music with labels like Alter, Youth, and Stabudown all releasing captivating various artists-authored full-lengths. Stephen Bishop’s Opal Tapes label has occupied a central place within the scene since setting up shop in 2012 and to celebrate their 150th release, they’ve unleashed the stunning Amateur Vampires that corrals twenty-six artists together to devastating effect. Honestly, the text on the album’s Bandcamp page does a better job than I could do of describing its contents, so let me just say that I’ve been genuinely bowled over by how much I really, really love this record and that it feels exceptional even by Opal Tapes’ already super-high standards. Avril Spleen’s “White Walls” and Sote’s “For Arta” are just two of the many highlights.