October 4, 2007

Soul Capsule - Waiting 4 A Way

For their first single as Soul Capsule in six years, Thomas Melchior and Peter “Baby Ford” Adshead deliver not so much a set of DJ tools but something similar to an “open source code” of minimal techno. It’s wonderful to hear an EP that builds out of its own heritage, bringing the warm waves straight out of the depths of the circuits they’ve been coursing through for almost fifteen years.

Like a lot of his recent solo tracks, Baby Ford’s voice comperes the whole event he’s a quiet master of ceremonies who murmurs, whispers, and coaxes you through the auroral atmosphere like some kind of positively charged Leonard Cohen. As evidenced on the long and winding title cut, Ford’s influence on Melchior’s style is akin to the flattening of a wiggling arc - he basically gets Tommy to turn the brightness of his space-dusted melodies inwards. B-Side “Beauty and the Beat” brings the sound closer to the epic, deep minimal techno explored at length on Ford’s Sacred Machine a machine that wills the eternal return of a perfectly pitched and filtered kick drum. A repetition without gravity. Welcome back, guys.

Perlon / PERL 63
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[Peter Chambers]


September 21, 2007

Ricardo Villalobos - Fabric 36

Fabric 36announced years agohas become the venerated mix series’ most anticipated disc. But in the announcement, Ricardo slipped in that he “prefers for it to be treated like a normal mix CD, with no hype.” Sure. Right. But, then again, take a quick listen to it: because despite the inevitable hype and a cover only a goth could love, Fabric 36 sounds almost carefree enough to actually live up to his modest hopes.

There’s been no lack of swipes at Ricardo Villalobos’ self-indulgence (cue this review’s gratuitous mention of Fizheuer Zieheuer), but Villalobos may be trying to save “self-indulgence” from derogatory connotations one release at a time. In his latest, what’s difficult to miss isn’t that he scraps the DJ mix as an outpouring of free publicity (for other artists) but that the mix is the rare modern entity that forces you to listen to an album as a whole. Fabric 36 has highlights but no singlesa series of tracks with only one order. And as imposing as that sounds, it only becomes an obvious fact when you try to listen to parts outside the mix itself.

Thankfully, it’s easy to get lost in the actual mix of the CD. There’s a lightness of touch throughout, leaving sections where Villalobos can transition from the introductory yelps of “Farenzer House” into the taut bass stabs of “Mecker” without batting an eye. In the midst of that section, there’s also a nudging synthpad that fleshes itself out five minutes later in the anthemic pop-rush of “4 Wheel Drive.” With Fabric 36, Villalobos has refined the volatile tangents of “Achso”tracks are just as rambunctious and twisting, but also ebb with a purpose and destination.

That’s also a pretty apt description for this year’s earlier “album-mix” from False. But 2007, despite its breadth of textures, sounds one-note compared to the variety of rhythm and idiosyncrasies here. If 2007 was busy stumbling and scraping itself on concrete sidewalks, then Fabric 36 is a drunken party-host that introduces herself as “Moist.” And she’s not alone on the album’s centerpiece, “Andruic & Japan.” Accompanied by a personal Japanese drummer who blows his nose through a harmonica, she spouts anecdotes (about marriage, dead chickens, etc.) to either invisible guests or to herselfit depends on how demented you think she is.

Either way, she, like Villalobos, doesn’t seem to take herself too seriously here. Ricardo doesn’t ham it up on Fabric 36, but with tracks like the joyful splinter of “You Won’t Tell Me” and the celebratory finale of “Premier Encuentro Latino-Americano,” he sounds all but ready to throw away his cultivated mystique for something a little more pleasurable. And I’m still ready to indulge him a little more.

Fabric / FABRIC 71
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[Nate DeYoung]


September 5, 2007

Trio of Five

Here’s some recent Beatz-related reviews from the main Stylus site:

Tobias Thomas - Please Please Please (Kompakt)
Kaito - Contact to the Spirits (Kompakt)

Nina Phillips: Thomas is too busy crafting to see the dancers looking back at him from the floor. No wonder this was mixed livein an empty dance club in Cologne.

V/A - Grand Cru 2007 (Connaisseur)
V/A - Rekids One (Rekids)

Nina Phillips: If you build bangers, they will come.


Wiley - Playtime Is Over
(Big Dada)

Chris Gaerig: Playtime Is Over proves that Wiley truly does run the grime game. Hell, hes the only one left.


August 23, 2007

Will Saul & Lee Jones - Hug the Scary

Best served with a sigh, the “micro-epic” genre is as microscopic and widespread as a virus. It’s an oxymoron, but if I’m allowed to be so blunt, such fucktard names are known to have staying power (hello IDM!). And that doesn’t account for the reserve force of progressive house rejects like James Holden and Minilogue, who lovingly craft odes against the law of normal distribution - think minimal and maximal squashed together.

If there’s one image and tone that seems to inspire these folks, it’s that of looking straight up either as becoming bubble-laden dolls stuck in bathtubs or fluorescent skies. The latest of these neck-breakers comes from Aus label-boss Will Saul and Lee Jones (of My My fame). While “Hug the Scary” might have the bleary-eyes to run into flowers, the track also has a gravity that won’t allow it to expand and contract as far as pulling muscles.

I’d be hard pressed to mistake “Scary” for cotton candy despite its flickering arpeggiator and billowing melodies. Instead there’s a grace to the track that hits tempered minor keys as well as blistering swells without sounding disjointed for a second. Which is as good of a description as any for Partial Art’s recent single, “Trauermusik.” Partial Arts, aka Ewan Pearson and Al Usher, do not derail the momentum of the title cut, but they streamline it and add enough fizz to leave you hiccupping.

Aus Music / AUS0707
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[Nate DeYoung]


August 23, 2007

Pikaya - Cambrium

I recently rediscovered my CD copy of Gescom’s Minidisc. To those who are unfamiliar with the album, it’s comprised of eighty-something short tracks: rhythmic loops; spooky atmospheres; crunchbeats the building blocks of an Autechre album laid bare, and a view onto the unarranged organs of a functional set. It was originally designed to be played on shuffle with a minidisk player, which meant that the album never played the same way twice, producing thousands of combinations of mixes. iTunes has given this album a new lease on life, because not only does it randomise the tracks and mix them gaplessly, it can also fade them into each other, resulting in both amazing and awful mixes. The only problem is the arrhythmic flam that you get when one beat crosses another out of phase…but once Apple releases a version of iTunes that can beat match, it’s bye-bye DJ.

I’ve done a similar thing with my collection of Cadenza EPs, which I play in a similar fashion, leaving the 4.6 hours worth of material on at low volume in the background and letting them randomise and waft into each other. The open structures and aleatory nature of Cadenza’s tracks (avowedly so in the case of Digitaline) mean that the music seems to take pleasure in its own meandering. Needing no intervention, it scribbles and squiggles away the afternoon in its own way. It’s my very own automatic etch-a-sketch, and it draws monochrome flowers.

The playlist is evolving with every Cadenza release, and with the addition of this new Pikaya EP, it’s grown in dub and daub, adding ornamental flourishes and deep-thrown effects to the labels’ prototypical boom-click/plip-plop skeleton. Pikaya’s debut on Cadenza came with “Grne Raufaser” the b-side on the split they shared with Andomat 3000 and Jan’s more boisterous and successful “Entr’acte Music”. It was a track that always hinted at introducing a major theme, but never really delivered on this tease. Both “Fango” and “Jedi” offer the similar sense of imminent drama (which never quite materialises, it’s stuck teetering on the verge), and at high volumes they provide useful tension as foregrounding tracks to be mixed in before “Mr Big Hooks”. At low volumes (when the tracks return to being my living room wallpaper) this also works as part of the overall Cadenza strategy. This is not house so much as the ivy that clings to it.

Cadenza / CADENZA 17
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[Peter Chambers]


August 14, 2007

The Chemical Brothers - Do it Again (Remixes)

Recently, my sister decided to through a ’90s retro party, something that has only become conceivable in the past few years. Until about 2004, the 90s, with all its big hair, baggy trousers and bad colour combos (lime green and tangerine?!) was still too fresh a scar, too painful a memory to be safely retro. Planning the programming for the party, something emerged the ’90s feels like two eras with a brief threshold in the middle. For me at least, the ’90s begins in 1989 with acid-house and early techno crossovers, hip-house, New Jack Swing, “rap” (prior to its being hip-hop) and the last of the Stock, Aitken, and Waterman hits. 1995 feels like the threshold “respectable” electronica like Autechre and Aphex Twin finds its way onto the cassette comps of indie kids and groups like the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers suddenly sit comfortably beside the Smashing Pumpkins and Tool on the rotating platters of 5CD mini-systems at teen parties. My sister and I pulled out all our old ’90s comps and gave some of the classics a rinse. The Prodigy still have brutal energy and addictive hooks, Fatboy Slim sounds even more irritating than it was, and KLF’s The White Room is an unqualified masterpiece. The Chemical Brothers’ albums get worse and worse as the nineties climb to the highpoint (lowpoint?) of “pre-millenium tension” Exit Planet Dust is still their best work, while by 1999 the tracks rely on bombastic impacts to the detriment of groove and flow.

As if conceding the need to ride the coat-tails of the swiftly departing zeitgeist, the Brothers have enlisted the talents of Oliver Huntemann and Matthew Dear (here in Audion guise) to overcome redundancy. Huntemann’s track is lacklustre and dull it takes little of the original version’s hyperactivity and replaces it with your typical Huntemann/Bodzin big rolling synth. The Audion version is actually closer to recent False material in style, but unlike the tracks on the outstanding 2007 record (a record that actually is 2007), this re-touch is relatively bland, with none of the compelling spookiness of the twisted medleys in the murk. The last song on the Brothers’ new album is called “The Pills won’t Help you Now”, and I can’t help but think this is a self-reproach (or maybe it should be) but on “Do it Again” the lyrical content suggests the opposite. It details the misadventures of some hapless drugged punter in a way that seems to celebrate the very thing it’s condemning; this is probably not what they were aiming for, and the overall impression is “who cares?” more than “do it again”.

Virgin / Astralwerks / 3941480 / ASTR 92726
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[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


August 8, 2007

Argenis Brito - Micro Mundo

Chileans must have techno intravenously injected in their blood from birth. The Chilean-gone-techno-superstar not only accounts for instant deities like Ricardo Villalobos and Luciano, but has also been a clich going on five years strong. You might remember Argenis Brito’s contributions to the Chilean project Monne Automne, and it’s frequently brilliant album Introducing Light and Sound. So the prospect of Brito coming out with his debut album on Chilean ex-pat label Cadenza doesn’t sound surprising at all. Which might be the biggest detriment to Micro Mundo its mythology overshadows an album that’s too modest to be noteworthy otherwise.

It won’t be too long before the wrinkles of warm bass that adorn tracks like “Disconet” and “Amplified” will be forever lost among the sea of German minimal techno. There’s also many cuts like “Sensorial”, which is something that could provide a nice bridge mid-set, but for the life of me, I can’t hum the main motif even though I’ve heard it at least 20 times. This sound-over-substance quality hides the few small surprises collected herein, like “Cepe”, an accomplished and laidback production that starts to build towards a climax when the bare bass and hi-hats swirl into an unexpected spoken vocal. A similar resonant effect can be heard on “Espejismo”, but for an album that never wavers and is never quantifiably bad, such highlights feel underwhelming on the whole. With Micro Mundo’s highs never too far away from its lows, the Chilean techno drug is no longer as potent as it used to be.

Cadenza / CADENZA 16
[Listen]
[Nate DeYoung]


August 8, 2007

Various Artists - Death Is Nothing To Fear Vol. 2

Whereas the first volume of Spectral Sound’s latest compilation series featured a side-long groover from the label’s biggest star, Matthew “Audion” Dear, the follow-up isn’t dominated by one act at all. The four tracks here are uniformly excellent and of enough variety to keep even the most OCD listener satisfied, driven as they seem to be by genuinely, um, “spectral” sounds (or perhaps “ghostly” is a better description).

Spectral mainstay James T. Cotton’s “2 Keys” leads things off with more of his familiar funky-acid-by-numbers action, but hey, acid isn’t exactly built on the idea of diverse sounds, so you can hardly be surprised. Jonas Kopp remixes Plan Tec into a building, percussive nightmare with inspired (and masterfully restrained) use of some very cool horrorshow effects and knob-tweaking, and you might swear that Geoff White’s minimal popper “Apartmental” is a long lost Daniel Bell cut, bugged out and bouncing along.

The cream of this particular crop, however, is Mikael Stavstrand’s “Can You See Through My Eyes,” a clattering, spooked-out ride full of inspired textures and percussive tricks that rumble over the track’s spine like a skeleton being dragged on a bumper. The Cotton track may be a little samey, but three out of four winners these days is a mighty fine ratio. Oh, and bonus points for the cute skull-&-hearts cover motif.

Spectral Sound / SPC-043
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[Todd Hutlock]


August 7, 2007

Adam Craft / Grindvik - Catch Me / NAND-Grind

Pr Grindvik’s “Casio” was the underexpected treat of the first Death Is Nothing To Fear comp on Spectral a bubbling, blunt-grinding house track with the reduced booty feel of a lot of the 7th City material by DBX and his cohort of microboompty rump disciples. Here, on Grindvik’s own label Stockholm Limited, you get the expanded version of the same template.

Both sides by Grindvik and Adam Craft manage to be three things at once: percolating jack tracks, bumpy minimal house, and peaktime techno bruisers. It’s a tough tightrope to wangle wiggling on, but they pull it off. Kraft’s “Catch Me” sits much closer to a M_nus-variant of the theme, and would fit comfortably in one of Magda’s super-loopy sets next to a JPLS track. Grindvik’s meanwhile is bigger, meaner and a touch more old-school, coming closer to pre-raygun Audion or James T. Cotton, with a long series of tearing, filtered percussion loops and a bucking, waving bassline. Solid stuff.

Stockholm LTD / STHLMLTD 9A4C
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


July 31, 2007

Italoboyz - Viktor Casanova

There’s nothing like the sight of crisp tuxes and sleep-deprived ravers rubbing elbows. With a taciturn twirl, Shut Up and Dance! Updated dotted the first lines between high-art and minimalism a month ago. Composed as a soundtrack for the esteemed Berlin Staatsballet, the compilation’s seriousness was momentarily punctured by the stumbling detour de force of Luciano’s “Drunken Ballet.” And now that we’ve come across the first response of high-art digested by a minimal-machine (and fueled on clicks and cuts), there are surprisingly few hiccups in Italoboyz’s “Viktor Casanova.”

Instead, we’re introduced by the lull and hum of a soft-focus Ingrid Bergman conjuring “As Time Goes By.” It’s a sample so bleeding obvious and ghostly that it can’t help to be unsettling. Which, according to a choice pull-quote by Ricardo Villalobos, shows the most important thing about a good track is the idea behind it something I’ll tentatively agree with. Especially since Villalobos’ recent work is a perfect opposite of “Viktor Casanova.”

So I’ll enjoy the sights of “fucked up girls trying to imitate the opera singer“ as much as hearing the minimal percussion which delicately avoids overshadowing or under-lighting the track’s main attraction. But what I enjoy most is that “Viktor Casanova” can be as earnest or glib as you want and still be incredible. On the remix front, Samim’s pleasant retooling come with a nagging sense of being superfluous, while Lee Curtiss’ radical and dark mix flourishes under the weight of the original’s instantly iconic composition.

Mothership / MSHIP 001
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[Nate DeYoung]


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