September 17, 2007

Modeselektor - Happy Birthday!

Actually Modeselektor are excited to become cartoons. The group’s last couple of album covers are giddily aware of it. Inside the cover for Happy Birthday! and on its portly made-for-CD running-time, Modeselektor pound away with ACME anvils and beep beep through open ranges—covering the distance between bangers and ballads. Or, to be fair, it’s just bangers and ballads. That’s it.

Let’s not take away from Modeselektor’s strengths though, the pair is also good at bastardizing genres and music scenes. Their debut album wasn’t named Hello Mum! for no reason. Happy Birthday! just begs to be described in a pragmatic word like “chock-full,” but here’s an overlooked factoid—it’s the first album to be graced by one Thom Yorke which isn’t worried about being tasteful with a capital T.

Being tasteless suits the band just fine. With “2000007,” it also lets them out-prefuse Prefuse 73. Not stuck explaining their exquisite band name or racial politics must be fun, because it definitely sounds a helluva lot more brash and exciting than what Scott Herren is doing these days. The track might be in the genre-netherworld between glitch-hop and euro-crunk, but it’s definitely an unabashed sequel to group’s last album opener with the French rap group TTC.

Modeselektor continue to gleefully plunder their own past as well as others for inspiration throughout the 18 tracks. One notable choice is Scooter and their Teutonic happy-hardcore schlockfest, “Hyper Hyper.” The original isn’t waiting to be rediscovered anytime soon, which makes Modeselektor’s locked-jaw and straight-faced cover even more perfect. Enlisting Otto Von Schirach for the vocal role of Wizard-gone-Return to Oz, with a couple flying monkeys in tow, “Hyper Hyper” is bound to make another generation of kids yell for hardcore all over again.

When the tempo slows, the duo is wise to make their music just as sonically juicy and epic. On their collaboration with Apparat, “Let Your Love Grow,” the group let a field of bulbous synths and trip-hop drum patterns sprout around Paul St. Hilaire, ending up with a dead ringer for Massive Attack. The track is a highlight but one that’s sure to be trumped in notoriety by “The White Flash.” The group’s best contribution to “White Flash” is to let Thom Yorke do what he does best (i.e. play lost angel in our dystopia and moaning into the abyss), and Yorke is perfectly laconic in return—he even twists the euphoric “you have all the time in the world” into something preciously fleeting.

Happy Birthday! constantly reminds me of something Vitalic said in an interview—”I like people screaming in the sound with explosions.” When Modeselektor don’t try to fit every scream and explosion into its folds, the album sags. Tacks like “BMI” and “The Wedding Toccata Theme” sound dull when set against the cartoon-ish extremes of a song like “The First Rebirth,” which comes alive by being chopped and crunked before your ears. Luckily, most of Happy Birthday! finds Modeselektor being so busy being loony tunes that there’s little time to sit still and be bored.

Bpitch Control / BPC 159CD
[Nate DeYoung]

August 7, 2007

B12 - Practopia / Slope

UK duo B12 (Mike Golding and Steve Rutter) were a prime mover in Warp’s Artificial Intelligence movement in the early ’90s alongside acts like Richard James’ Polygon Window, Black Dog Productions, and Autechre. 1993’s Electro-Soma was their definitive statement. Fusing lush European sounds with Detroit-derived rhythms to great effect, it was fathoms deep and foot-tapping all at once. The five-track Practopia dates from 1996 and is just now getting a proper release (the original only made it to white label at the time), but still sounds like it sprung from some sleek Blade Runner-like futuristic society. Much like Kraftwerk’s timeless style, the classic melodic lines, Derrick May-inspired rhythms and sense of…space…place it firmly in the retrofuturist mold. The infamous cover of the original Artificial Intelligence comp features a robot chilling out in an easy chair with headphones on. This could easily have been what it was listening to.

The newly recorded Slope three-tracker, cut from the same template of sounds, is an altogether more bouncing and aggresive affair, built more on layered percussive elements than drifting keys and ambient washes. It’s good stuff and still distinctive, but lands closer to the Plus 8 sound than the original B12 recipe. The robot just might leave its chair for this one.

B12 / B1215 / B1216
[Todd Hutlock]

June 20, 2007

From The Archives #2

From The Archive is a selection of dance related articles and reviews from the archives of Stylus Magazine.

Sami Koivikko - Salmiakki (Shitkatapult)

Todd Burns: Quite simply, tennis has become less of a game of finesse and more of overpowering menaces that demand respect less because of their innate ability to outthink the other player and more because of their ability to stifle any response. For a long time, this was the state of German techno…

Various Artists - Inflation (Mu Label)

Michael Heumann: This is, in short, a remix album where the source material is inaudible and the artists must use these inaudible sounds to create audible music.

Monobox - Molecule (Logistic Records)

Todd Burns: The true highlight of the album comes with “The Diamond Age,” which oddly enough sounds much more like early Autechre or Posthuman than any other obvious antecedents to Robert Hood’s brand of minimal techno.

On Second Thought: Thomas Brinkmann’s Studio 1 – Variationen / Concept 1:96:VR (Profan / M_nus)

Todd Hutlock: In the liner notes to the release, Brinkmann explains his system (which one can assume he used on both releases) in detail: “I used a self-made turntable with 30 kilo plate, and two SME 309 Tone Arms utilizing both Ortofon and Van den Hul moving-coil pickups. The interventions with the actual vinyl are few: I slowed down the speed of the record and used the left pickup (arm) for the left channel, and the right pickup (arm) for the right channel. It’s possible to hear a melodic displacement between the channels. With a little intervention and displacement of elements, the Concepts are sounding different. The same information they had before, but two times present. Like the idea of cloning and twins: still Richie’s DNA with a little mutation. A different groove.”

On Second Thought: Pete Namlook and Dandy Jack - Silent Music (Fax)

Dane Schultz: Silent Music could be seen as a stylistic pastiche of the entire FAX catalogue.

April 1, 2007

From The Archives #1

From The Archive is a selection of dance related articles and reviews from the archives of Stylus Magazine.

Frank Martiniq - Little Fluffy Crowds (Boxer Recordings, 2005)

Todd Burns: Frank Martiniq hardly has an identifiable “sound,” as you can tell from the above descriptions, but his compositions are united by one thing: a consistent quality, no matter the spin that Martiniq is putting on it. While you’ll probably never actively go out and seek Little Fluffy Crowds, if it somehow ends up finding you, you won’t be disappointed.

Losoul - Getting Even (Playhouse, 2004)

Ron Schepper: Peter Kremeier understands that a random gathering of dance tracks does not an album make, and so gives weighty consideration to Getting Even’s sequencing and its contrasts to ensure it’s heard as a listening experience beyond all else.

Shuttle 358 - Chessa (12k Records, 2004)

Michael Heumann: Chessa continues to deliver emotion-laden atmospherics. The eleven songs here are replete with the same spinning sine waves, sputtering bleeps and clicks, and (especially) lilting synthesizer melodies that effectively comprise the “Shuttle358″ sound.

Mokira - Album (Type, 2004)

Francis Henville:
+++++++++++long pasted water tones, clouds ++++++++++
+++++++four colors of air++++++++repressed anger++____
________nostalgia++++++++=======irrelevance, the sound
of muffled crying from next door (+) (+) (+) ++++++++++++
+++++++short moving tones++++++something sung_______
+++++++++++++++++++++it was once a guitar**********
+then the evening+++++++++ and the longer night+++++++

March 20, 2007

Motiivi:Tuntematon - Speicher 46

Alright: it’s time to fess up. Who put the acid in the Kompakt water cooler? Sure, they’ve always boasted a diverse roster, but suddenly it’s a diverse roster that kicks some serious ass—never before have so many releases from the Köln powerhouse simply leapt right out of your speakers. Two very different wide-angle shots from Scandinavian unknowns Motiivi:Tuntematon (please don’t ask the DJ to tell you who’s playing) grace Speicher 46. “I Don’t Feel Good (When You’re Not Around)” flexes powerful electro-tendons around a glorious rave chant and one of Kompakt’s fleshiest drum tracks. Just a bit dark, slightly gooey, and totally anthemic. On the flip, “Mankind Failed” is more than aptly-titled. A melancholy Vangelis slice that slowly unfolds into a pulse-pounding stomp of cold, fearfully-grinning machines that slowly pound out any and all humanity. A single decaying sweep gates us into the last five (beatless) minutes, which on their own form one of the most successful and blistering noise-sculptures I’ve heard since Coil sadly closed shop. Shimmering wraiths of electricity rising above a landscape of twisted metal and crushed bodies, while the bellows of those dark Satanic mills keep letting out steam. Awesomely grim.

Kompakt Extra / KOMEX46
[Mallory O’Donnell]

March 24, 2006

Nathan Fake - Drowning in a Sea of Remixes

Nathan Fake must be busy trying to get Jesus, Buddha, or Shiva to remix for the next 12”, because it seems like every other big name is quickly finding itself attached to his work. But as evidenced by the Watlington Street EP, and his recent full-length, he doesn’t really need them. Still, there are some seriously noteworthy mixes on this short EP, and none of them sound much at all like the originals. Apparat’s take on “Charlie’s House” was an attempt, in his words, “to just try and make a rave song.” I nod my head as if I understand, and think to myself that it’s maybe the most beautiful remix to have been graced by such a stomping electro beat. It’s like a cleaner German take on Sebastian, and just using Nathan Fake as a starting point. It is clearly the standout track.

Nathan’s friend and visual artist Vincent Oliver takes a stab at “Long Sunny,” in an attempt that brings to mind the work of Textual and Arab Strap, vocals and sloppy guitar jabs present. In a hot Border Community-on-Border Community action sequence, Fairmont, of “Gazebo” fame, takes a completely different approach to “Long Sunny” by keeping things fairly micro and melodic. There’s no doubt that it’s well done, although probably a bit too downtempo for most dance floors. The Fortdax remix of “You Are Here” is a good track, but on an EP this strong it takes more to stand out. Also, at times Fortdax’s mix comes off like the triumphant theme song of an anime cartoon, with strings. When all is said and done, it’s best that James Holden isn’t on this, if for no other reason than to prove that there is so much in Fake’s music and that other artists deserve a fair chance. Run, don’t walk, to Beatport, or Itunes, or whatever, because you’re going to need this.

Border Community / 010
[Cameron Octigan]

March 10, 2006

Monoton - Monotonprodukt07

If an inclusion into The Wire’s list of “100 records that set the world on fire (when no one was listening)” means an automatic spot in permanent obscurity, it does also give Monotonprodukt07 a free pass to avant-garde legitimatization in the same broad-stroke. Such obscurity also breeds a reputation for Konrad Becker’s masterpiece into a cultish following. A following that I fell entrapped by when critic Matthew Ingram not only called the record “the square root of Basic Channel, Kompakt and Oval” but also “a very strong candidate for the most important record of the last 30 years”—seemingly hyperbolic statements that both piqued interest and skepticism. But even after my initial pair of spins, I knew I couldn’t refuse.

With Monoton’s constant pulses of arpeggiating analog synths stringing together much of Monotonprodukt07, the album has an uncanny sense of sterility and rigidity that is not only furthered by Becker’s interests in mathematics and sound, but also as a metaphor running through the song titles (ie. “Soundsequence” & “Root of 1=1”). But there’s a tactile expanse that belies a merely frigid barren; echoes, drones, and fat dubbed oceanic waves of analog sound complicate the strictly dystopic tone of the tracks. Becker’s intention of an “integrated sound massage” certainly comes across with the sensuous drones of “New” and acid-tinged pounding of “Where Am I?” Littering the sheen of the underpinned rhythms with trance-inducing murmurs, Becker’s vocals float in and out from ether, sounding less like mere disembodied voices than full-on séances. Rather than just an ominous tone throughout, there’s a variety of trance-states that each track achieves, from the motorik-lite of “Root of 1=1” to Becker’s curiously nonchalant chant of “a fish in water thirsty” in “Wasser.”

While easier to trace paths back to Monotonprodukt’s influence on minimal techno, with the austere chic of Richie Hawtin and the label Sahko as the first of many strains to spring to mind, it becomes profoundly more difficult to explain why this didn’t “set the world on fire” itself in its time. Perhaps the album’s trance-like meditations transferred directly to its reception, with it spurning an interest that is more a fixation than an explosion. But Monotonprodukt07 is a fixation that haunts, not aging a day since it was first released—instead caressing and completely disregarding the effects of time itself. The re-release of the album sound especially impacting with a nice digital re-mastering for CD in 2003, retitled Monoproduckt07 20y++.

Monoton / Monotonprodukt 07
[Nate DeYoung]

January 27, 2006

Drop the Lime - Shot Shot Hearts EP

Luca Venezia (Drop the Lime) made Attention Deficit Disorder sound sexy last year by shoving so many ideas, cartoon noises, and breakcore rhythms into each second of his joint, This Means Forever. He also showed off his pipes that were equally hardcore punk rant as well as a gristled call to art students to get jacked up on booze and “gangsta kultcha.” His latest EP, Shot Shot Hearts shows an abundance of ideas, along with emphasizing that the man can croon.

Opener “Hometaker” slaps the listener’s face with gabber bass and splattergore beats with an equally discomforting swauve, R&B synth melody that steps into the room midway through. The following “Get On It” is another rumbler with an acid-beat that oddly grooves as much as it bludgeons. Venezia then undergoes a refreshing transformation as a blue-eyed soulman who launches from his influences rather than imitate them, unlike an Englishman named Mr. Lidell. He delivers a boogeyman serenade in “Cold Hearts,” which is made more ghoulish with smooth, night sky synths and splintered beats that sound like a warehouse inhabited by squatters. Venezia finally lets his voice stand alone without any noise to distract listeners away in “Tonight,” an acapella number that might make millions of tweens fall in love with him, earn him riches and later earn him a five-minute segment in a VH1 Where Are They Now? special by 2016.

Tigerbeat6 / 130
[Cameron Macdonald]

January 27, 2006

Kid606 - Done with the Scene EP

“Done with the Scene” is the song of an artist still trying to figure out what to do next. A droning, electro-pop synth melody first stares at the sunset while holding his chin with both hands. The song then grows more restless as a steady mid-tempo beat pushes the momentum with bits of guitar dropping in and a brazen Spaghetti Western-synth shouting out the melody. The song title suggests that Miguel Depedro is trying to move on after quitting his habit of being a yin-yang, either releasing records as a noisenik who smashes everything in a room with a whiffle bat or releasing Mother’s Day presents of synth-pop. As to where he goes next, it’s difficult to predict. The Done with the Scene EP gives some suggestions with remixes of a few tracks from his album Resilience as well as a cover of Annie’s cult hit, “Heartbeat.” In the latter, Depedro’s treatment keeps its focus on the song’s hook by smothering it with fuzzed-up shoegazer textures and scattered, mumbled vocals. It could’ve been much stronger without the odd synth screeches and the rather disjointed synching of everything.

As for the remixes, post-rock stars Mogwai infuse “Down” with rawer energy by piercing the song with feedback and garbled beats, along with playing hide-and-seek with the melody. Bravecaptain places a cosmic glint to “Down” with cascading synth work and live, rolling beats that is all sublime until the band gets cute by singing the song title. Elsewhere, Her Space Holiday turns “Spanish Song” into a song that could play on an in-store video at The Gap, and Swedish post-techno maven Dwayne Sodaberk steals the show by radically mutating the melody from the gentle guitar ballad, “King of Harm” into a rampaging, post-punk dirge that resembles an Interpol b-side. Sodaberk’s remix is brave as hell for risking utter failure—God knows what he would’ve done with “Heartbeat.”

Tigerbeat6 / 126
[Cameron Macdonald]

October 27, 2005

Ricardo Villalobos - Achso

Only Ricardo Villalobos terms a four-track fifty-minute mind-melt an EP. That last hypenation, though, is the key. No mere 12” is going to actually melt minds. Sear it, maybe. Opener “Ichso” comes close—placing a bassline and murky echo pattern underneath two competing flamenco guitar (?) lines. “Duso” takes the beat up for its length, and pushes the melody far below the surface, instead focusing on the infinite possibilities created by miniscule droplets of watery delay. “Erso” reminds of little else besides Autechre’s most recent excursions into complete abstraction while somehow maintaining an eye on the dance floor , while “Sieso” may be as close as he’s come to another “Dexter” since its release. Is there a more fascinatingly dense artist working in dance music today?

Cadenza / CADENZA 08
[Todd Burns]

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