September 18, 2007

Supermayer - Save The World

Remember the supergroup? It was a big conceptual thing a few decades back, but it still pops up every now and again. Here’s how it usually worked: a bunch of high pedigree rockers would get together, proclaim that they really “dug each other’s music,” book a bunch of studio time, get stoned out of their gourds, and more often than not, release an album of half-baked ideas and poorly executed jams that proceeded to shift millions of units based solely on the reputation of the players. Sometimes the idea actually workedsee Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and Derek & The Dominos. Sometimes it wouldn’tsee pretty much everyone else.

Diehard fans of the musicians in question usually lapped this stuff up, but somewhere in the back of their minds, they still felt somewhat let down more often than not. The problem was squarely on themtheir expectations were simply, inevitably too high. No matter how great one of these supergroups sounded on paper, they couldn’t possibly live up to that sort of hype on record. Blaming the musicians, on the other hand, was a futile exercise. After all, they just wanted to hang out with some friends, play some music, and enjoy themselves. Can you really blame them for that?

Which brings us to the case of Supermayer, a supergroup-style collaboration between two of Kompakt’s biggest names: Michael Mayer and Superpitcher. And while the collaboration has more in common with the above than notthis is nothing if not a “fun” recordthis is most certainly not a bad thing. If anything, Save the World is just the kind of project that Kompakt needed, given the (somewhat inexplicable) backlash the label has been taking of late. Too many have complained that Kompakt has taken to making records by numbers; Save the World is anything but your (stereo)typical Kompakt fare.

Just as the grooves of those ’70s albums are laden with artists just trying to have a good time and vibe with each other, so does Save the World exude a palatable sense of smiling, laughing musicians just having some fun and getting down, and most importantly, encouraging the listener to do so as well. Look no further than the first proper track on the album (after the spoken intro “Hey!”), “The Art of Letting Go”the lyric tells the story of the album in a simple idea: over a grooving bass, chunky guitar chords, and some decidedly un-Kompakt sounds (are those horns? Melodica perhaps?), the gauntlet is thrown, “Let’s get to it / Relax / Let me go.” This is a first-class party record, assembled by two of techno’s foremost minds, and if the instruction is followed, you’ll have just as good a time listening as they obviously did making it.

With their mission statement firmly established, Supermayer proceed to circle the universe, capes flying, in search of the magic note, and while they never quite find it, the thrill of discovery is clearly the intent for our heroes (there’s even a comic book insert). There’s atmospheric dancefloor techno, there’s some light techno pop, some swinging indie bouncers, there’s vocals, there’s ambient interludes, there’s horns, there’s even a fucking gong. “The Lonesome King” is Martin Denny in Ralf and Florian’s studio; “Please Sunrise” recalls 808 State and YMO; “Two of Us” is a classic floor-filler laden with peaks and valleys; closer “Cocktails for Two” is a late-night comedown complete with shag carpeting and a disco diva perched on the love seat waiting for an afterhours tumble. It’s a gloriously unorganized mess, but all of it is so lovingly and skillfully done that it sounds far closer to some sort of mad genius.

Save the World is not a work of high art like The Magic Flute and it’s certainly not a pretentious epic like Kid A. It lives in its own skin and its comfortable there. The key to saving the world according to Supermayer is simple: lose the pressure and enjoy things for what they are, not what you expect them to be. There is an art to letting go, and they seem to have mastered it here, at least as much as such a thing can be mastered. They might not have saved the world, but Supermayer might just have saved your next house party.

Kompakt / KOMPAKTCD 61
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[Todd Hutlock]


September 6, 2007

Arsenal - The Coming (Idjut Boys Mixes)

200712"BalearicDowntempo

When Morrisey entitled his album Your Arsenal, he probably wasn’t just talking about football teams and weapons caches. In Venice of the fifteenth century, your arsenal was just a dockyard (arzenale), but less than a hundred years later, the British were already using (and saying) it as a place to store their weapons. This Arsenal is the Belgian kind, and not the ex-Big Black guitarist’s forays into cat-torture-noise rock. “The Coming” was a ploddy low-key track from their Outsides album, and here it finds its way reworked into downtempo dub-outs from the Idjut Boys, who produce three very different vibes in versions that alternately tickle, stroke, and romp some fluid from the original source.

That particular source is a dreamboat Fujiya and Miyagi soundalike, spongbathed into a bluntbeat fug with vocals that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Whale record. I suppose that makes it some kind of trip-hop whimsy. The Idjuts’ “Version 1″ goes the space-disco route, excavating some dancefloor sparkle from a track that previously wanted nothing but to skin up or roll over. “Version 2″ would work as a minimal tool for the groovewise inclined, and is grounded by a lumberous (to coin a word) bassline that sounds just like the one used on Serafin’s “Nidlenoch”. If it weren’t for the giveaway “spacy” handclaps and bass noodlings, you’d think you were right back there in mnml-land. “Version 3″ brings us back into the realm of the original, but adding in a little fruit juice and sunshine for a gauzy afternoon drift. It’s not overwhelming stuff in any sense, but the comforting roll and sway of each of the versions has made it a morning favourite the past few days. Nice and easy does it.

Play Out! / POM 005
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[Peter Chambers]


June 28, 2007

Various Artists - 4 Season Sampler, Volume 1

The young Jet Set Records out of Kyoto (who rock a logo highly reminiscent of a certain defunct airline) brings us this three-track sampler for their 4 Seasons CD comp, including an exclusive from Daniel Wang and organic beatscapes from two Japanese groups. The former is a fine enough offering, with typically bubblesome bass and a pair of “Eastern-sounding” melodic motifs, but it might sound a bit rote to those expecting some new tricks from the mighty Mr. Wang. The two natal inclusions are far more interesting, however.

Nix fuse several styles together for “Syk-A” with impressive, rapidly-moving fluidity. Over a smooth synthetic beat, they drop some jazzy keyboard infusions and gospel-house yearning with almost a New Age-y prettiness. The unexpected appearance of the flute in the track’s final third is a welcome nod to East-West crossover that sounds remarkably unforced. Similarly lovely and graced by natural progressions is the delicate “Flower” by Bassed on Kyoto. More jazz than house or techno, it’s a textural marvel, a series of interlocked rhythms, tasteful soloing and Minnie Riperton-esque vocal ejaculations that positively oozes the promise of spring emerging from an unfolding bud.

Jet Set Records / JS12S007
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[Mallory O’Donnell]


June 12, 2007

Gudrun Gut - In Pieces

Nobody has old-school West Berliner coolsie cred like Gudrun Gut. The ex-Einstrzende Neubauten/Malaria member and current Monika label boss has finally released her debut solo album I Put A Record On, a gauzy/wonky/smoky fug of beats, breaths, and sweet nothings. It’s a treat, but it pales in comparison to this EP of remixes. In fact, for me the past while has nodded to 2007 being the “Year of the Remix EP”. Hmm. It’s a measure of how connected Gudrun is that she’s got not just one, or two, but three luminaries to remix her work. For the price of one piece of wax you get a Voigt/Burger remix, a Pole remix, and a Dntel remix.

Voigt and Burger straighten things out in inimitable Kln style, sticking a one-note piano sample from the original in between some dubby soundplanes, and then placing the vocal in the middle of the whole she-bang. It’s a dead-simple track, but punches above the weight of its elements with direct, emotive force. If you’ve ever seen Michael Mayer do his dance behind the decks (youtube it if you haven’t), this iswell, this is what the dance “sounds” like. Pole’s mix stays with the groove and feel of the original, but adds a farty bumble-bee synth note and some of that Polescape magic. But as accomplished as both of these mixes are, it’s the Dntel one thats the heartwinner. Layering lots of found/field sounds in the background, Tamborello brings Gudrun out of the haze and into the sunshine for something like an electronically rendered Breeders tune. Tender anthems, tracks, and insect vibrations it’s all here volks. Get it while the getting’s gut.

Monika Enterprises / MONIKA 54
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[Peter Chambers]


March 27, 2007

Lusine - Podgelism / Podgelism Select Remixes

200712"CD/AlbumDowntempo • Ghostly International • Minimal/Deep

Seattles Jeff McIlwain has been cranking out quirkified electronic fare on Ghostly International since the labels early days, and now theyve set some interesting remixers (and Mr. Lusine himself, natch) loose on his back catalog to see what they can make of it, including such luminaries as Lawrence, Apparat, and Deru. That sounds like a great idea, and even if four of the mixes on the CD are from 2004s Flat Remixes EP, the whole thing still flows pretty well, despite the Frankenstein nature of the remix album.

The three Lusine mixes are spread throughout the running order, adding a unified sound to the proceedings and helping to draw the connection between McIlwains lush sound sources and the disparate styles of the remixers. Even the 2004-vintage mixes sound fresh and inspired here, especially the reworks from Matthew Dear (funky, bubbling minimalism) and Dimbiman feat. Cabanne (funky, soulful percussionism). If you already own the Flat Remixes twelve, no problem either, as Ghostly has seen fit to release a highlights four-tracker on wax including four of the best new mixes, including Robag Wruhmes ping-pong-in-orbit take on The Stop and John Tejadas swinging tech-house update of Make It Easy. On one format or another, theres a lot to love about Podgelism.

Ghostly International / GI-68 / GI-67
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[Todd Hutlock]


March 2, 2007

Pom Pom - Pom Pom 28

200712"TechnoDowntempo

Granted I haven’t gotten through all the Pom Poms, but front to back, top to bottom, the ones I’ve heard have been four tracks acting more/less as variations on a single theme. This one features four unrelated cuts though: A1’s a mellow take on stuttering twinkle-techno rhythms that remind me of a straightforward, ultra-minimal Radio Slave, if only for the amount of space in the middle; A2’s a brash house track in a timid techno body, unable to fully emote; B1’s practically a Plastikman cover, so funky in the treble; B2’s a screwed-down soundscape-type cooldown track, like if Throbbing Gristle wrote a track for a Buddha Bar comp, or if Excepter ghostwrote the next Enya.

Pom Pom / POM 28
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[Nick Sylvester]


February 2, 2007

3 Chairs - No Drum Machine Pt. 2

200612"DetroitDowntempo

Rick Whilhite, Theo Parrish, Marcellus Pittmann, and Kenny Dixon, Jr. are all quite capable of getting it done on their own, and so when they get together, something special usually happens, but this four-tracker of shag-carpet deeposity is a bit more abstract than you might expect. The title track opens things with a bongo-and-organ riff that shuffles along through deep space, flashes of noise and other weird bits whizzing by as if they dont have a care in the world. This is light years from the sort of floor-fillers you might expect, but Camillion gamely tries to move asses with some intricate hi-hat patterns and jazzy chords and riffs, and Congo Mambo moves in a Latin direction while staying dead mellow and low-key. The sample heavy and thoroughly filtered BABO is a bit puzzling (and also sorta funky), but this is clearly music aimed at the after hours set rather than peak time, and at that, it succeeds beautifully.

Three Chairs / 3CH 6
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[Todd Hutlock]


January 19, 2007

Jacek Sienkiewicz & Marek Raczkowski - Warsaw for Beginners

Jacek Sienkiewicz has, slowly but surely, been nailing the craft. Recent releases on his label Recognition have reached sublime heights of mean, moody, and magnificent techno, full of interlocking parts, sudden bad moods and noodling string pluck melodies capable of tugging even tautly tuned heartstrings. Late 2005s Double Secret Life found its way onto both Tobi Neumanns fantastic Fliederlieder mix and Lawrences Groove compilation as the crescendo selection, and with good cause.

Given the incredible polish (ahem) that Sienkiewicz has managed to achieve of late, its odd that he would choose to release Warsaw for Beginners (co-produced with Marek Raczkowski). Why weird? Simply because, despite a wealth of inventive ideas and odd combinations of almost Guru Josh piano lines, boisterous digitechno rhythms, and delicate au Harem textures, this feels like a strange sketch, a study for a far greater and more interesting EP that wasnt quite realized. I keep waiting in vain for it to happenmaybe this music needs new ears that are still growing. Give me time on that one, but for the moment, this is an eccentric, promising cacophony that doesnt quite hit the spot.

Recognition / r-epo019
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[Peter Chambers]


December 15, 2006

Mocky - Extended Vacation

I’m glad I gave myself another week with this one, because all my initial gripes about Mocky’s cloying, overstuffed whiteboy soul shtick (much like his boy Jamie Lidell’s) and the song’s bah nod to the “mile-high club” (somebody didn’t get that memo) have turned into mucho respect. This is great songwriting-really concise, really compressed, borderline neurotic details-wise-but Mocky’s big brilliant stroke is that his concise, compressed, neurotic bustle of a song is all about how he needs an “extended vacation.” I agree, man! Go to Spain or something! Once you crack that nut (i.e. the song’s form vs. the song’s content), the Radio Slave and REKID mixes will seem far less leftfield: RS and R’s slowburners more or less signify Mocky’s extended vacation. Radioslaves mix is an expansive, colorless, Pong-like paranoid vamp not unlike all his other expansive, colorless, Pong-like paranoid vamps, which beyond making for an awesome track is also kinda funny in context. REKID meanwhile turns the original into this laidback downtempo hiphop jam that’s better than 80% of Made In Menorca and 90% of laidback downtempo hiphop jams in general. Mocky’s anxious vocals are now but a blissful, forgetful slur.

Four Music / FOR 82876883831
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[Nick Sylvester]


October 20, 2006

Isole - Hermelin

Peter Chambers: Recently, Warp artist Clark has commented that four bars is a long time. In the artisan world of Isoles music, it seems equally true to say five years isnt much time. One listen to the bespoke animals of his imagination on We Are Monster was enough to explain where a decade or two could have been spent. While genre artists scribble, tinker and produce, Isoles music is a careful creation of storytelling and illustration better compared with master childrens illustrators like Maurice Sendak, Tomi Ungerer, or Bruno Munari. The title track Hermelin sounds for all the world like Rest or transitional period Isole, with its straight, open structure and oddly tuned and effected synths. Its unusually linear by the standards of his usually tangential arrangements, and doesnt ever really blossom or rupture like my expectations wanted it to. The B1, Willy Skipper contains strong elements of Niun Niggung-era Mouse on Mars, even if it retains Isolees trademark melodic overstuffing. From the B1 to the Sleazy Bee (B2): this ones a bumbler, clap-waddling along with a deranged hip-hop groove. These arent tracks, or even songs, but precious treasures, and yearn to be kept and cared for, and passed on.

Nick Sylvester: Busy as hell but no beat outta place, “Hermelin” reps the detailwork of 2005’s fantastic We Are Monster, and its sense of surprise: kicks come in a beat before expected, melodies compete and combine and deflate, sonics mutate, creating impossible space. Typical of Isolee, the composition grows up and out pretty logically, so it never feels overwhelming. The track darts out of the box with like this bluesy, slightly paranoid subway-car rattle, balanced out perfectly a minute or so later by these pillowy horn stabs that float like juggled handkerchiefs. Rhythm becomes tone, tone becomes rhythm, and it’s all so facile, like when that crisp laserlight melody snakes around the low-end like a laser in a labyrinth of mirrors, or how the held flute tones at the end torment each other by moving in and out of each other’s harmony. I haven’t even gotten to the other two tracksI’m sure they’re great toobut, holy shit, is this guy in his own league or what?

Playhouse / PLAY130
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