September 11, 2007

Tussle - Alphabet Series R

Tussle have indie cred: Kit Clayton mastered their album, Rong music released their early EPs, and now Tomlab (home of Deerhoof & the Books) have offered a spot in their “Alphabet Series” of seven-inch EPs to the creative kraut/rock/frotting quartet. On the A, things start in a vein familiar to Trans-Am’s cosmically-inclined moments (like the opening to “Futureworld”), with a motorik jamathon that gathers steam and gradually gets ahead of itself.

It’s nice, but not as cute/irritating as the Yacht remix of “Second Guessing” on the flip, which takes a dosed-up kids choir and subjects them to a raucous attack of cut, paste, and loop. This being a 7″, both sides are pretty short, but Tussle have followed the injunction of Robert Plant and made it “every inch of their love”. To the metric among us, that’s 35.6cm of musical pleasure at stake here.

Tomlab / tom 89R
[Peter Chambers]

September 10, 2007

San Serac - Professional

It often seems that the sincere ones are the most susceptible to disappearing in the future. Is that ironic or realistic? I think back to the half-remembered NYC indie/new wave group My Favorite, who channeled and built upon the literate poetry and angst of The Smiths and New Order better than any other group I’ve heard. But there wasn’t anything flashy or shockingly innovative about My Favorite’s music, and the fact that they always wore their earnestness on their sleeves eventually sealed their fate to obscurity.

I bring up My Favorite in relation to San Serac because Professional makes a case for the two groups being kindred spirits (not to mention that SS did do a remix for My Favorite’s swansong, The Happiest Days Of Our Lives). However, San Serac, fitting more into the growing indie-dance community, has a more marketable flash in his pan to overcome tags of “sophistication” and “maturity”.

That flash comes from an deeper set of musical influences than your average Ed Banger types, moving beyond the standard Daft Punk aping and post-punk racket to also include a sincere love of ’80s R&B, Funk, Freestyle and, dare I say it, Yacht Rock. The slightly peevish vocals from SS mastermind Nat Rabb may not sound too different from a standard !!! or LCD Soundsystem record (even if he can do a good Bowie impression), but you never get the feeling he is putting you on, even as he is namedropping Luis Buñuel films, rhyming “commission” with “extradition”, and describing his plans for nihilstic love. This unbridled affection manifests itself in small ways throughout the record, but one of the key tip-offs is “The Black Monolith”, a rather heartfelt quiet storm number that could’ve easily been played for raised eyebrows and theatrical pastiche.

If there’s one criticism I might throw at Professional, its that some of the arrangements might be a bit overcooked for dance floor play, a qualm that is actually resolved by the CD’s addition of four dubbed out tracks (billed “for DJs only”) that follow the album proper. For the most part, San Serac has me excited about a fusion of indie rock and dance that is more sophisticated than the Modular or Kitsuné template. Garish and more distorted blog-house artists will get more words written about them, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a classier indie-dance record in 2007 than Professional.

Frogman Jake / FMJ 23
[Michael F. Gill]

June 26, 2007

Turzi - Seven Inch Allah

Three pretty different tracks from this French act, though they all could have ended up on Optimo’s Psyche Out cosmic/dance/kraut mix from two years ago had they existed then: the uneasy trans-european chug of “Amadeus” whose sixteenth-note pulse recalls the pinprick synths on Delia and Gavin’s “Rise” (a Psyche Out track itself); the blast of surfrock punk in “Are You Thinking About Jesus” which could have pinch-hit for any number of Tarantino soundtracks (and any number of directors QT aped in the process); and “Hippy Heart”, a downtempo demo of Turzi’s “Afghanistan”, and something you might confuse for a Beastie Boys instrumental or, if you’re feeling generous, a grittier Serge. I hate the namedrop review as much as you do, but it’s worth noting that all of these descriptors are very good things.

Record Makers / REC 39
[Nick Sylvester]

June 5, 2007

Michoacan - 2 Bullets (Glimmers/Ray Mang & DJ Harvey Remixes)

I confess, I haven’t heard the original, so I’ll avoid some kind of specious contextualising and cut to the record. First listens find me flinging clichés around: “going for broke”, “everything but the kitchen sink”. Closer ears and repeat recitals find smaller (but not lesser) rewards – neat edits, muppet noises, and a strangely effecting counterpoint of vertical layering and spacious horizontal unfolding. Neither the Glimmers nor Ray Mang deserve all their coolsie hype, but this is a remix to be reckoned with, sublimating a good-old “boots and pants” (that phrase again) rhythmentality to a fun-loving, effect flinging melodicity that comes up with more than enough bounce to the ounce to please kidz and headz alike.

Harvey’s mix drags us out of the ebony/chrome/fluoro-pink disco universe of the Glimmer/Mang version into some kind of swampy, headfuck psychedelica, somewhere between a German jam band and early Funkadelic warming up (just as the acid starts to settle in). Are you DJ enough to like this? You’ll get cred for trying. There’s something to like here in the woefully, wilfully purple passages – where’s the original? Where are the kidz? What happened to the dancefloor? You’re not my mother. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore here. Whether it’s a good trip for you probably depends on the colour of Eddie Hazel’s teeth, and whether they’re sharpening as you try to focus on them, to no avail.

Grayhound / GND 053
[Peter Chambers]

June 4, 2007

Justice - D.A.N.C.E.

I’m sure that there are moments of brilliance in the very hip French filter-metal-disco scene (see: “Killing in the Name Of” simultaneously killing a dancefloor and [possibly] killing a movement), but as I just let loose in the parenthetical above, I sincerely doubt this thing’s got more legs. Justice’s upcoming album proves that much in short order and, if it weren’t for “D.A.N.C.E,” I’d predict their downfall for sometime in mid-2008.

But here it is and I’m forced to point out that it’s kinda structured like a song (a feat for these guys), is much lighter than their previous speaker-blowing plod-fests, and actually bounces along like something that an actual human being might dance to. It’s as if someone got a hold of these guys after they made the track “Phantom,” which appears here as a B-side, and told them, “You know what would be cool for those DJ gigs you guys’ll be going to soon? Music that girls actually like. Music that has a tension between hard and soft. Music built for the floor - and not the blog.” Thank God they listened.

Ed Banger Records / ED 017
Because Music / BEC5772071
[Nina Phillips]

May 31, 2007

Prinzhorn Dance School - Up! Up! Up!


Prinzhorn Dance School sounds like an innocuous enough name. The group might reject the typical publicity blitz, offering just the barest décor of a website, shadows instead of profiles, and are missing the 21st century business card - a myspace page. But leave it to the U.S. government to make your little hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Now accompanying their rejected Spring tour visas, Prinzhorn’s Sussex sneer and militant drumming suddenly have taken some terror-ridden overtones – “you are a space invader” indeed.

Which makes the new single, Up! Up! Up!, sound even funnier and more tragic in context. Prinzhorn certainly don’t go out of their way to strike the ominous pose that they could get away with given their last couple months. Instead, the retro-riding boy-girl two-piece gets road weary on the title track. Left with hoarse throats, the group’s chants become screams while they spend their days watching cockroaches and fishes. Somewhere along the way, Prinzhorn’s minimal no-wave blueprint gets stretched into a landscape. It’s only amplified by the weak toss-off of a b-side, “Hamworthy Sports And Leisure Center” – a song that reveals how Prinzhorn teeters on the edge of failure with every step. But with two great tracks under their belt (”Up! Up! Up!” & “Space Invader”), it’s time to bring on the album.

[Nate DeYoung]

May 10, 2007

Passions - Emergency

From the onset, Passions’ debut single doesn’t have much going for it: a one sided 12″ from the new kid at Kitsune, a shared name with a dying NBC soap opera, and an “emo” tag signifying genre on MySpace. Despite these set-ups for failure, Passions (a.k.a. Mathhead of NYC’s Trouble and Bass crew) manages to succeed on some level. He cops a take-no-prisoners attitude from Kitsune’s most driving singles, using Ed Banger-ish bass (funny how both of these labels are becoming interchangable in sound) and fiery electro squelches to keep the bottom-heavy track moving. Sassy lewdness in the vein of Fox N’Wolf keeps the vocal samples on target, and add a heaping dose of Alter Ego’s “Rocker” and you’ve got your first single from Passions. While it’s got a general lack of direction, and the hooks become kind of repetitive by the end, the brash funkiness of “Emergency” makes it hard for one to completely dismiss it. Judging from this single and his remixes for the Teenagers and C.L.A.W.S., I’ll still be looking forward to hearing more from this enthusiastic guy.

Kitsune Music / KITSUNÉ 051
[Peter Lansky]

May 3, 2007

In Flagranti - Intergalactic Bubblegum

I once read an interview where one of the In Flagranti dudes said he spends literally as much time as possible rooting through old junk at flea markets, thrift stores, and the like. It shows in all the ancient porn they use for their sleeves, and the vintage disco samples that so many of their singles are based around. Vocalist G. Rizo teams back up with the duo for “Intergalactic Bubblegum,” and she channels ESG ca. 3000 for her elastic, sci-fi raps. Based around Amii Stewart’s “Knock On Wood,” the sticky-sweet, bass-infused beat shuffles hard, with phasers at full blast. Chunks of broken robotic drums plunge from the sky, while ascending oscillations of synth carry her into orbit like a Cylon hooker on a mission to fuck.

The remaining two tracks carry the astronautical theme but aren’t quite as successful, seemingly directed more towards the bulky robots from ‘50s b-movies than the sexy, sleek replicants of the future. “EFX 10-11″ is an icy-cool raver whose bleeps, bloops, and hand-claps groove is too affected by its many starts and stops to really gain momentum. It also has what sounds like samples from an old-school instructional record, which I have a very low tolerance for after years of abuse by inferior DJs and producers. B-side “Bipolar” is a rather unremarkable exercise in Kraftwerk-styled italo synth grooves, and while it carries on for seven minutes, it leaves as smoothly and airily as it arrives. Stick to the title track (pun intended) and let’s hope In Flagranti have some more grooves and better b-sides planned for the year.

Codek / CRE 012
[Peter Lansky]

May 2, 2007

Chromeo - Fancy Footwork Remixes

Chromeo’s music makes for appealing remix material thanks to its elasticity and simple lushness. It’s one-third rollerscootin’ boogie, one-third spazzy electropop, one-third bedroom production job (in both senses of the word), but the clean lines and bouncy pads of their tracks make for bendtastic bliss in the right hands.

The original “Fancy Footwork” is an up-tempo spank-n-shimmy jam in the mold of “Needy Girl,” though a bit more busy and cluttered with wonderfully corny special effects like the single chiming note timed to match Dave 1’s exhaled “ah.” That original is far in the distance on these three takes, however. Glossy wobblectro is on the menu for the remix by Turbo in-house artist D.I.M, who makes pouty faces at the original like a funky glitch bandit with a trunk full of French filter records. I’ve yet to meet the dancefloor I’d want to punish with the charmingly-chaotic results, but I’m sure they’re out there.

Thomas Barfod (Tomboy) mangles all the sheen out of the original for a squelchy, stripped-down take that improbably combines minimal and acidic touches with his own disco-dub style, yet retains room for a weird Beyonce-in-Step-class breakdown in the middle. For the last take, Surkin adds a riotous crime-scene sample and then whips up mere milliseconds of the original (and what sounds like a sped-up bite from “Needy Girl”) into a rave-o-licious breakbeat frenzy. An odd batch for an odd bunch.

Turbo / TURBO-038
[Mallory O’Donnell]

May 1, 2007

Junior Boys - Dead Horse EP


A lot of people might say that the remix is nothing new—and in a sense, they’re right. But what is new is the emphasis, and the excitement. Where in the “old days” a remix was a way of disco-nizing a pop hit or letting the studio heads show off their skills, these days, the remixes are often not only more anticipated (and fascinating when they do drop), but also a way of establishing connections between talented artists, and showing the points of condensation and digression among and between various mutations of music. Hot Chip (and the Knife, with less success) have grasped this shift in the logic of (re) release and presentation, driving completists mad with a vast array of remixes, many of which are offered with multiple colours on the cover art. Junior Boys were always the third in the holy trinity of highly rated electro-pop releases last year, but unlike the Knife and the ‘Chip, this is only the Boys second remix EP, after 2006 gave us Smoke’s beautifully calming mix of “In the Morning” and Morgan Geist’s disappointing crack at “The Equalizer.” But here—wow, talk about big guns… oh no, did somebody say zeitgeist again?! Carl Craig, Kode 9, and Hot Chip all on the one piece of wax. So? What’s it like, you ask?

Well, fantastic, in a word. Fantastic, with a big “but” (I’ll get to that). Hot Chip pull out all the stops here for a typically heart-strings yanking electro-pop anthem, adding (as they often do on their remixes) their own new lyrics over the top. The vocal harmonies of the original become a background choir, and in the front is a big, fat, and warm rave synth that drives the mix along. Like their wonderful version of Steve Malkmus’ “Kindling for the Master,” the group manages to not only add, subtract, or re-arrange, but to multiply the songs melodic elements into something wonderful, touching, and entirely new. Marsen Jules’ pop-ambient offering (for obvious reasons the least in-your-face of the bunch) is likewise a transformative effort that brings the original’s vocals close to some of the work on Panda Bear’s great new album Person Pitch, with its own heart-on-sleeve remembrance of beaches and boys of yore.

Carl Craig’s re-work reduces in order to enlarge (for the big room), turning “Like a Child” into “Like a Bad Weekend.” It’s too easy a criticism to say “it’s too long,” but there’s something not “un” but undersatisfying about the track here. It’s definitely Carl Craig, but by the book, if not by numbers. There’s no button being pushed here that hasn’t been pushed better, harder, and more passionately elsewhere. Kode 9’s mix here brings us back to the grimy, alien/zombie-filled landscape of the dubstep imagination. No doubt Hardwax thinks this is the best mix (and it is neat) but it’s a whole lotta Kode 9 and very little of the Junior Boys—is there any overlap between the black, paranoid, science-fiction imagination of Kode 9 and the white, floppy-boy romantic snow-borne sorrows of Junior Boys? That would be a negative. Ten Snake’s mix goes for a spacey/italo/electro rendition, which jars with the other offerings here, though it does have its own discrete charms.

The big “but” after this long description is that, with the possible exception of Hot Chip, none of these admirable mixes comes close to the aching beauty of the original tracks. I finished listening to all these tracks…and I just wanted to hear the album again.

Domino / RUG251T2
[Peter Chambers]

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