August 2, 2007

Jupiter Black feat. Fred Ventura - Hold Me


Kudos to the people over at Clone and Viewlexx for bringing ’80s Italo vocalist Fred Ventura out of retirement. He re-appeared last year on a new version of Alden Tyrell’s “Love Explosion”, and then recorded a bunch of his old hits live with Tyrell and I-F for a limited edition 12″ on Viewlexx. Like those releases, “Hold Me”, his latest single with Jupiter Black, is not going to raise any eyebrows outside the italo community, but it’s a quality synth-pop number, not too different from your average mid-to-late ’80s italo record. Needless to say, if you found stuff like Ryan Paris, P. Lion, Ken Laszlo, and Eddy Huntington to be pure parmesan, you probably won’t be into this. And even if there’s an instrumental version included, it’s not really tracky enough to have the kind of hipster cache DJs want from their italo these days. Still, this is an authentic and enjoyable sounding throwback, hopefully bound for a mixtape somewhere.

Clone / CLONE# 49
[Michael F. Gill]

June 19, 2007

Dopplereffekt / Los Angeles TF / Mike Dunn - Gesamtkunstwerk / Magical Body / So Let It Be House


Three more italo, electro, and house nuggets from Clone’s reliable Classic Cuts imprint, and the hits just keep on coming. First up is Dopplereffekt, the well-known Detroit electro collective featuring Gerald Donald of Drexciya. Gesamtkunstwerk is a reissue of a compilation that Gigolo put out in 1999, made up of all the vinyl sides from the group’s own Dataphysix Engineering label. It’s got all the hallmarks you’d expect to find on an electro record (sci-fi/technology themes, bleakly monophonic synths, precise/robotic beats) but with a consistency and a pop sensibility that the genre often lacks. The sleazy female vocals deadpanning on tracks like “Pornovision” and “Pornoactress” also predict what Adult’s Nicola Kuperus (and in turn, many electroclashers) would be doing years down the road. Great stuff.

Second up is a reissue of Los Angeles TF’s electro-italo smash “Magical Body” from 1983, sounding amazingly pristine here in a new remaster by Alden Tyrell. I wasn’t originally sold on the vocal version, where singer Taffy (of “I Love My Radio” fame) seems to over-emphasize the end of each phrase (”Magical! Magical! Is your bod-EE!”), but the tracky instrumental on the B provides immediate gratification, and shows why so many nu-italo producers were inspired to do what they do.

For the third helping, we get another EP of vintage acid house from Mike Dunn. Clone boss Serge was so scared to damage his vinyl copy of Dunn’s “So Let It Be House” he’s gone out and secured this reissue of it, along with two superior b-sides. While the press releases gushes about the title cut’s rareness, and frames 1980s Chicago as this exotic, magical place, to these ears it’s an overly sparse acid track with another “Birth of House Music” speech. It may be the weakest of this trio of releases, but I sort of get the cross-continental appeal. I’m never going to be a intimidating black man from the streets either.

Clone Classic Cuts / C#CC 004/005/006
[Michael F. Gill]

May 24, 2007

Sneak Thief - G String Orchestra

We love this guy. With a preponderance of I-T-A-L- (ah, you know where I’m going) knockoffs on the market today, the Thief is no plagiarist, but a cunning crafter of iridescent, original dance hybridizations. Opener “My Sullen Mistress” is reason enough to get on board, a near-perfect synthesis of smiley synthers like N.O.I.A. with tougher, more electro-indebted edges. The swelling of the electronic orchestra mid-way through unveils the Sneak Thief agenda - a weaving of threads so thick the end result is furry, rather than difficult to unravel. “Robinsons Funk” is a limber little aphrodisiac that shows his fetish for crisp string lines, in this case used as garnish on a sexy-spooky jeep beat. Finally, the title track goes full-throttle with a Yello-like assault of vocal samples, plucked basslines, lightsaber synths and a wobbly lead easily mimed by the human voice. OK, Mr. Morin, this is great. Now where’s the album?

Klakson / KLAKSON 15
[Mallory ODonnell]

May 1, 2007

Unit Black Flight - Where Is Carlos


Those familiar with the oeuvre of Legowelt and his Clone cronies will immediately recognize this five-tracker as yet another reliable slab of beatbox-n-analog zombie brain-eater soundtrack techno-blues. This time our cover star is apparently an Indianapolis-based producer, but I wouldn’t discount the possibility that it’s just Legowelt, under another one of his Scheherazade-like veils, especially considering that the two remixes here are by him and Franz Falckenhaus (also him). The three original compositions all lurk rather evilly in that dark wood where John Carpenter barely dares to intrude, but the strongest is probably the last cut, “The Art of Survival,” which shakes off a few moldy old leaves to let a little light into the undergrowth. It would be perfect for the will-they-make-it wind-up to an Argento finale.

The Legowelt remix of “No Turning Back” gets murkily cosmic, losing a bit of the punch of the original but adding a bit more texture. Likewise his remix (as Franz Falckenhouse) of “Masking,” which might be the best moment on the record, is a kind of downtempo version of Black Devil that’s complex enough to rise above the horror-soundtrack genre tag. A decent enough release all around, but one showing more promise than tangible results.

Strange Life / SLR 010
[Mallory ODonnell]

April 25, 2007

Black Devil Disco Club - Black Sunshine


Black Devil Disco Club, an ancient French one-off project that many thought was a prank played on eager dance completists, resurfaced after many moons with an album in 2006, and now this set of variant takes. Discogs and iTunes seem somewhat at odds as to whether these are remixes or collaborations, but the former feels likeliest. Quiet Village (Matt E. of Rekid and Joel Martin) present the amazingly-titled “I Regret the Flower Power” as an ambient-trance chiller, all about the floss and shimmer. It’s a bit epic and a bit minimal at the same time, if that makes any sense. It doesn’t, so we use it to set the mood while people start filing in and move on to “The Devil in Us” (remixed by Elitechnique), which brings the old acid-laced Italo-cheese fondue to a rapid bubble. Bring a fork, as it’s mighty delicious, a bit like something Kano might have come up with if they’d been produced by Bobby “O.” Last up, “Coach Me” pairs BDDC quite naturally with neo-italicists In Flagranti, for an orthodox performance that could easily have been stuck on the original album release in between “We Never Fly Away Again” and “Follow Me.” A bit lopsided to be sure, but still desirable to Italobscurophiles who’ve turned the original release into a “19 members have this, 127 members want this” type of rarity.

LoEB / LoEB 003
[Mallory ODonnell]

April 11, 2007

Bobby Davenport - Time (Has Come Today)

The Belgian Label Flexx has chosen a perfect time (sheesh) to reissue this spacey ‘83 oddity, an eight-minute disco cover of the Chamber Brothers hit from 1968. Although “cover” is a loose term hereits rallying cry vocal would certainly have had quite a different context fifteen years down the road, especially when run through all that vocoder. But it’s lovely, loopy, and adventurous, working in a strident synth, searing proto-acid squeaks, and some insane, funky hand-percussion atop the electronic rhythm. All of this and three minutes shorter than the original!

The original “Instrumental Universal” and “Special Disco” mixes have aged quite well, perhaps due to their blatant eccentricity, but it would be interesting to see what a Maurice Fulton or Ewan Pearson could do if they got their hands on it. In the meanwhile, this should be an excellent selection for the more discriminating and adventurous dancefloors.

Flexx / Flexx 006
[Mallory ODonnell]

April 2, 2007

Knight Action - Single Girl

One of those missing link-type tracks you’ve heard about or just plain intuited to have existedone of those synthpoppy bridges from Moroder-ripping disco to early house’s heavy jackthis “Single Girl” reissue (the original’s from ‘84) could just as well fit into recent vintage bedroom electro-pop/-clash stuff internet people tend to like: really flimsy drum sounds, Chic rhythm guitars tucked away into the back, a tempo that’s a tad too slow for peaktime, some chick with a foreign-sounding name singing about how awesome it is being single and partying all night. It’s as if this track invented the very sweetspots you’re looking for; it probably did and you didn’t even know it. Bonus: If you want to know what Juan Maclean’s great first twelve “By the Time I Get to Venus” sounds like, check out the b-side.

Clone Classics Cuts / C#CC04
[Nick Sylvester]

January 26, 2007

Beatzcast #16: Michael F. Gill


The Dancing Therapy mix started off as a sort of self-help mixtape for myself, but later evolved into a generally uplifting set of vocal oriented italo/synth-pop hits….

01: International Music System (I.M.S.) - Dancing Therapy - Bellaphon, 1984
No better way to start off than with this, the impetus for starting this mix. The seemingly naive lyrics about using music to escape from your troubles take more of a poignant turn here. “Fusion to the beat really clears my mind” sums up a great amount of dance music’s appeal in just one line.

02: The Creatures - Believe In Yourself (Special Remix) - Full Time, 1983
Not to be confused with the Siouxsie Sioux side-group, The Creatures’ biggest hit is a bouncy, heavy-synth number with endearing dorky vocals extolling self-esteem with perhaps too much zeal (the opening line being “Boy, don’t be so shy!”).

03: Taffy - I Love My Radio (European Mix) - Emergency, 1986
Probably my favorite latter-day Italo track, it hits many of the overblown hallmarks of the mid ’80s (faceless vocals, huge synth-drums, chipper keyboards) while refusing to remain grounded to the template. Plus as a night owl myself, I can relate to the rather silly lyrics proclaiming love to a midnight radio DJ.

04: Brand Image - Are You Loving? - Il Discotto Productions, 1983
Il Discotto Productions were a high profile Italo label that briefly catered to the sci-fi/robotic side of the genre before moving more towards the candy-sweet pop end by the mid ’80s. One of their big releases was “Are You Loving?” by the little-known Brand Image, which continues this mix’s focus on defiant/strong vocals and aggressive keyboards.

05: Alden Tyrell feat. Fred Ventura - Love Explosion 05 - Clone, 2006
“Love Explosion” was a cult hit for Alden Tyrell in the neo-italo/electro circuit ever since its release way back in 1999. It gained its popularity as an instrumental, so when Alden finally released his debut album Times Like These last year, he re-recorded it as a vocal version with well-known italo vocalist Fred Ventura. Tyrell is one of the very few neo-italo composers whose productions could nearly pass as vintage, and the fact that the vocal version is nowhere as sleek, icy, and chic as the instrumental is testament to this.

06: Fokewulf 190 - Body Heat - Market Records, 1984
“Hey! You! Take a look at me! Look me in the eyes, there is something new.” The second cut in this little trilogy of Fred Ventura tracks finds the dear Italian vocalist in a near desperate wail. While most lyrical subjects in Italo are lightweight and superficial (following in the Eurodisco tradition), the tortured passion of Ventura is very much an anomaly. I have no idea how well-known “Body Heat” (or as Ventura says, “Badi hit”) was before it ended up on one of the C-B-S Top 100 lists, but it surely is one of the most angsty and lyrically sound italo tracks I know.

07: Flexx - Love Theme From Flexxy-Ball - Hole, 1983
“Love theme” is so close to the sound of “Body Heat” that it begs to be mixed in as the final Ventura vocal track in the trilogy. It’s a bit more on the uplifting side, and is probably responsible for naming the disco-friendly mail-order site Flexx.

08: Gary Low - I Want You - CAT Record, 1983
“I Want You” was a big hit among gay clubgoers in the ’80s, and was recently heavily sampled by Miss Kitten and the Hacker for their Mental Groove single “The Beach.” It’s definitely got a summertime feel, and even if the cheeseball vocals take a while to warm up too, it remains a perennial club favorite.

09: Pineapples - Come On Closer (Extended Club Mix) - Danse, 1983
What can I say about this recently reissued track, probably one of my favorite singles of all-time, and one of the most beloved, uplifting italo tracks around? Its likely that the bizarre cocktail lounge croon of Douglas Coop elevates it from perky synthpop to a feel-good anthem, but explaining the rest of its magic is impossible: you just have to hear it for yourself.

10: Trilogy - Not Love - Il Discotto Productions, 1982
Another Il Discotto Production, and another favorite of mine that seems to be overlooked. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the vocal version of “Not Love” used over the instrumental. It’s a shame, because the vocal really buys into the melodrama of the arrangement, and nearly seems confrontational.

11: Ottawan - D.I.S.C.O. (Instrumental) - Carrere, 1979
Ok, OK, the original is a total novelty (and even uses the same bassline of their previous hit, “Hands Up”) but I was surprised how much calmer the instrumental version is after hearing it. It also provides a nice vocal break until the next track…

12: Jimmy Ross - Fall Into A Trance (Remix) - Quality/RFC Records, 1982
…where the vocals are back to being zealous again. Jimmy Ross was one of the few italo vocalists who put more of an American soul influence in his music, so it sort of helps that his English is so slurred and heavy handed: it often makes him sound out of breath with emotion. “Fall Into a Trance” was his second biggest hit next to the boogie disco of “First True Love Affair,” which was later remixed by Larry Levan. There’s a compilation CD on Unidisc of Ross’ entire work that is recommended if you want to hear more.

13: Alexander Robotnick - Intro for Live Performance - Creme Organization, 2005
Mr. Robotnick has been going through a revival lately, with two rarities compilations coming out in the past few years. “Intro for Live Performance” is from the second volume, put out last year by Creme, and while it may seem odd for someone to walk onstage to anything this noir-ish, it’s probably one of the most minimal tracks in his oeuvre.

14: Ministry - I Wanted To Tell Her - Arista, 1983
Ministry might be a surprising name here, but their first album “With Sympathy” was a dead ringer for a lot of the Human League-esque new wave going on at the time. “I Wanted to Tell Her” combines this upbeat synth approach with a bit of the funk A Certain Ratio was doing, and has a great vocal to boot

15: Memory Control One (MC1) - Basic - Crash, 1984
This 1984 synth-pop single by the newly-feted Beppe Loda and Francesco Boscolo always sounds so triumphant to me, like it should soundtrack an athlete’s victory lap or the end of a sports movie. Hence, I’m placing it here as something of a coda to the mix, a sort of stand-alone resolution to the theoretical therapy of all the previous tracks.

December 22, 2006

2006: The Year In Review

Welcome to the Beatz By The Pound year-end roundup for 2006, a veritable smorgasbord of lists, thoughts, and reflections about the current state of dance music. And while all of our writers handed in very diverse ballots, we were able to come to a consensus on a couple of key releases, producers, and labels. Let the madness begin


December 8, 2006

Rude 66 - Strings of Death


Rude 66 (aka Ruud Lekx) has made a name for himself over the last decade producing dark acid and vintage machine electro for the Dutch label Bunker. “Strings of Death,” his latest single, sharpens his pop edge a bit, with two vocoder tracks that play heavily into the mystique of sci-fi italo and disco. The sickly sweet “Break the Silence” could probably only be made in such a conscious era of revivalism, but taken as is, it’s the best Daft Punk/Data 80 hybrid I’ve heard all year, with a transparent sheen that rivals the best production work by either of those two artists. Balancing things out is “A Message from Heaven,” where an industrial-like gloom enclose a speech by a preacher in South Carolina warning everyone to repent and prepare for the second coming of God. What’s peculiar is this preacher naturally speaks in very even segments, rarely altering the tone of his voice, and tells his message in such a methodical way you’d think he was just reading it out of a book. How appropriate though, for an EP focused on robots and machines.

Vynalogica / Vynalogica 09
[Michael F. Gill]

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