September 21, 2007

Ricardo Villalobos - Fabric 36

Fabric 36—announced years ago—has 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 singles—a 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 herself—it 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
[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 live—in 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, he’s the only one left.

September 4, 2007

Andy Stott - Fear of Heights


Aside from relentless bleakness and a highly developed sense of minute sound-design, the hallmark of Andy Stott’s music is its continual restructuring. As a child, I used to build my Lego castles as per the instructions, but only the first time. The subsequent re-builds would slowly deviate, riffing around the structures of the original but adding, subtracting and supplementing elements, to the point where my later creations were unrecognisable as mutants of the original. I don’t mean to give myself airs by saying “I once owned a castle” or that my childish re-builds were in any way as creative as Stott’s music. I mention this to emphasise that, perhaps more than any other contemporary techno artist, Stott has mastered modularity with a playful, seemingly effortless ability to build completely novel structures into every track, despite the fact that each one is made out of similar sounds.

“Fear of Heights” takes the woofer-busting bass from “Handle with Care” and throws it over a new rhythm, with sharp, reverbed hats and a haunting melody where the rising call of one synth is met by the reedy fall of the other. It’s mind is Mancunian gloom, but the physical parts are precious high-gloss Dial darkness. “Made your Point” follows the rhythmic template of Claro Intelecto’s Warehouse Sessions, but, as is the norm now, the “student” outdoes the master, playfully rendering the Modern Love sound several shades darker in colour and lighter in touch. Again, the bassline is massive – this one rumbles just below the reach of small speakers, only to come humming out of a large system like the sudden presence of a heretofore un-named ghost.

Modern Love / LOVE 37
[Peter Chambers]

August 31, 2007

False - False

There comes a time when a musician is capable of shitting gold and Matthew Dear has released an album titled 2007 to mark his. It takes a certain grace to make defecating metal sound like a talent, but it’s the same grace that makes Dear’s missteps sound just as captivating as full-strides. Thankfully, 2007 is full-stride, especially when placed next to the scattershot Asa Breed. Working under his minimal moniker, False, must be a liberating change of pace for Dear—2007 has none of the gratingly earnest pop-impulses (found under his birth name) or earnestly abrasive big-room techno (as Audion). Instead, 2007 is all burned-out ambience—the sound of a post-metropolis slowly ebbing away.

2007 is not just an album. It’s not just a mix. Somehow it gets to be both—it’s made up of all new material from Dear and fashioned into one giant smorgasbord. There’s none of the pomp you’d expect from an actual album and none of the tastefulness that you get from a mix. 2007 is a sleight of hand. A magic trick that begins off in the horizon with the rumble of distant cars (”Indy 3000″) and ends with a way-out-of-body blur of voices (”Forgetting”). To describe how 2007 travels between those points should include an important tangent—Dear sees his music under the False moniker as “clinical and mysterious.”

Which are an evocative pair of words and ones that describe a chunk of 2007’s label, M_nus. With their finely-honed textures and considered slabs of minimal techno, “clinical” could be as succinct of mission statement as M_nus deserves. Although 2007’s drizzle of percussion has been quantized good and proper with M_nus’ weapon of choice, Ableton, Dear’s compositions still find a way to drift, wallow, and entropy. It makes sense that 2007 is the result of a spring cleaning of Dear’s hard drive. Songs are an accumulation of forgotten tidbits and 2007 is an unwillingness to let dust lie.

And there’s little dust left in the nooks of the album mix—from Dear’s swallowed gulps of “shout!” on “Dollar Down” to the fidgeting synth that bridges “Timing” to “Alright Liar,” Dear isn’t able to stay still for long. Which is a welcome surprise from Dear’s last mix for Fabric—something that could charitably be described as static. Dear freely ditches rhythms for swaths of fuzz on “Disease/George Washington” and peaks with a swarm of bees on the single “Fed on Youth.” With each of album’s sixty minutes, there’s a compulsion that drives the mix with no hint of a resolution around any corner. For an album as porous as 2007, each track sounds opaque, calcified.

With those shards, Dear captures the sound of a city worn down not by time, but by disuse. Recurring throughout 2007 is the Doppler effect of cars racing past and sandpaper kick drums. Both sculpt an uncompromising environment of main drags and barren lots. But as willfully dark as Dear makes 2007, there are glimpses, like the low-lit chimes of “Face the Rain,” that make the album live-able if not understandable. And for an album as obtuse as 2007, the fact that it can be loved instead of just respected is reason enough to follow Matthew Dear like a gold claim.

M_nus / MINUS 55 CD
[Nate Deyoung]

July 24, 2007

Tiger Stripes / Solomun - Hooked / Jungle River Cruise

200712"House • Liebe Detail • Minimal/Deep

It started with just a gnaw – something a little too coy to bring on déjŕ vu. The synth pads smack dab in the middle of Solomun’s “Jungle River Cruise” were too obvious to ignore and too diffuse to pinpoint. Like their hint of friction and immediate release, it didn’t take too long until I realized that yes, once again, the sky must still be quite pink. Solomun wears the hat well though, tipping it and moving on, while others are too busy staring at themselves in the mirror (I’m waving my finger at you, Stephan Bodzin).

What it comes down to is that “Jungle River Cruise” is comfortable in its skin despite the minimal clichés - the prog-house builds, the “as far as we’ve never been” rhythm, the drugged, wafting vocals. They’re the clichés that only become more ingrained with Tiger Stripes’ “Hooked.” I guess the phrase “if you can’t beat ‘em fuck ‘em” isn’t flippant anymore – deep house and minimal are becoming a more deep-seated and synergizing affair each and every day.

Liebe Detail / LD 017
[Nate DeYoung]

July 18, 2007

Len Faki - Rainbow Delta/Mekong Delta Remixes

Like a lot of people, my first sensible reaction to hearing Len Faki’s Rainbow Delta/Mekong Delta was, “Holy shit!” Some tracks grow on you, but Faki’s pounced. But this is no panflash superstar – both sides of the EP still get a regular caning six months down the spiral. I have the same prolonged reaction to both Tobias EPs, and find a need to not only fit them into any mix (regardless of fitness) but even to structure whole mixes around a dramatic presentation of their treasures.

Its just such a dramatic presentation that Adam Beyer’s remix here has attempted, and it’s half successful. The kicks seem over-filled though, too compressed. There are moments here where you could be listening to some dire Mauro Picotto mix, hearing the wriggling tads of some “hard house rubbish” haunting the dark shadows by the bassbin. In another way though, this is a fun piece of hard techno…if I hadn’t heard the original, I might like it more.

Jerome Sydenham’s mix likewise goes for a big, fat kick and a whole lotta balls, but focuses more on getting the whole thing to tunnel into an unstoppable, rushing flow. It sort of works in a way, but it’s a kind of taming, levelling out – Faki piped through Sydenham’s circuits. Faki musak. The great little tear-outs, the microdramas, they’ve all gone missing in a great surging wash of beats. In a way, it might have been better for Faki to get someone totally unexpected to do a remix, or a person who would have guaranteed a complete renovation. I can’t help but think that the Kompakt boys, especially Mayer, Koze, ‘Pitcher, or Wolfgang Voigt, would have done the best job with this material, and would have understood how to handle its delicate, powerful emotions without sapping, scaring or overpowering it.

Ostgut Tonträger / o-ton 08
[Peter Chambers]

July 17, 2007

Simon Baker - Plastik / Jitters

“Repetition changes nothing in the object repeated, but does change something in the mind which contemplates it.” It may be redundant to apply David Hume’s famous idea to a specific track – this is dance music, after all. But just like some people’s nudity is more naked than others, some repetitions are somehow more repetitive than others, while others are seemingly less repetitive, more transformative. Basic Channel is a case in point – and how many people’s lives (let alone musical universes) have been transformed by those sublime repetitions?

Maybe this is reaching too high for Simon Baker – “Plastik” ain’t that fantastic. But the use of repetition here works wonders somehow. The whole track consists of one repeated riff that attacks, fades, and modulates relentlessly (now a little rougher, now a little flatter, now a little heavier, now a little lighter). Some recent Redshape smashers have tried this same approach, and its also been a staple of many Planet E classics, not least Gemini’s “Crossing Mars”, which turns the act of looping into a type of cosmic transport.

“Jitters” is the tense other to “Plastiks’” unbridled compulsion; on the verge of unleashing the urge, it contemplates intensity again and again with a touch of menace and lots of little microrythmic garnishes around the main groove. Just like the A, it effectively features a short-tempered synth bassline with a penchant for timbral variation (attack, retreat, yell, whisper, repeat). Reaction to this whole caper among my technoid geek friends has been mixed, but what the hell would they know? This is deadly simple, fun, and effective. Or, to put it another way, there’s a joy in repetition.

Playhouse / PLAY 137
[Peter Chambers]

July 12, 2007

Dennis Ferrer - Son of Raw (Locodice Remixes)

The synthetic alliance between smooth rolling NY deep-house and its continental variations is in full effect with the ascendancy of Connaisseur, Mobilee and the like. It’s not a new bridge, strictly speaking - people like Glowing Glisses and Steve Bug have been showing sides of this style for years, or hinting around it. But now it’s explicit. Jerome Sydnenham has appeared on Liebe Detail, remixing ex-Pokerflat-er Argy. And now LocoDice (with Martin Buttrich ghosting him at the controls) is remixing Sydenham on Kerri Chandler and Dennis Ferrer’s Sfere sublabel Objectivity. This is but a condensation point, rather than the whole story, but it gathers the formative planks.

It’s an easy alliance, one that fits like it sounds - like so much of Loco (and Buttrich’s) work, there’s a very low friction aesthetic which allows tracks of “very little, almost nothing” to glide along for minutes on the home system…but then you get to the club and hear the sub-bass written into them, watch the crowd digging it, and say “Now I get it.” For the price of admission (or maybe just a file transfer), you get two totally Loco interpretations, the “Brooklyn Roll” (a mere pop song at 5:54) and the “remix” (a full clip of beats at 10:32). The latter is definitely for the floors, bringing that big drum feel that LocoButtrich do so nicely, then adding lots of stabbing sound events, the odd snippet of the original’s vocal, and a gathering stormfront of atmospheres rolling overhead. At times it verges on Radioslavery, but there’s less of the macho heavyheavy that abounds in Edwards’ big tracks and things are kept moving along - ten minutes doesn’t feel overlong. The samizdat track running through here seems to a very toned down version of DJ Pierre’s “Turn It Up”. Is LocoButtrich the king of mild pitch house? The Brooklyn roll shortens things, for DJs (or crowds) who bore easily. I’m not sure how this will age, but right now this is a neat track that will serve its dancefloor well.

Objektivity / OBJ 004
[Peter Chambers]

July 12, 2007

Henrik Schwarz - Walk Music


If seeing is believing, hearing is disbelieving. It’s a fact that might’ve been founded by the musique concrete godfather Pierre Schafer more than fifty years ago, but still leaves more than a few of us lost in what it actually means. How about this one - when reversed, how can you listen to a sound that ends before it’s created? The latest artist playing in these sound riddles is Henrik Schwarz, who left his own breadcrumbs with “Walk Music” a couple months ago. For an artist responsible for one of the best DJ mixes of 2006, the response to Schwarz’s return to Moodmusic was not only unfounded, it was bizarre – “Walk Music” was completely ignored.

On paper, the cricket-laden response might be hard to explain. On vinyl, though, the lost and reversed voice that pierces through the ether of “Walk Music” makes perfect sense. The single doesn’t seem to belong to a release date – cemented by the 2003 version of “Walk Music” here that’s been lost and found. The uncanny cinematic burn of synths on “Walk Music” only enhances the track’s abject vocals, reminding you that horror not only has an ability to torture but also to haunt. Even the melodic sprinkle that begins the 2003 version has few comforts - it’s ends up being just the damp underbelly in which the rest of the song festers. But despite all of that, here’s the kicker: upon hearing Walk Music, it’s impossible to look away. Hearing really is disbelieving.

Mood Music / MOOD 51
[Nate Deyoung]

July 2, 2007

Prosumer / Murat Tepeli - What Makes You Go For It?


Well, to me this is shaping up as a vintage year for techno (if you still call it that). There seems to be a glut of subtle, surefooted records being made at the moment by producers whose unformed foundational years are behind them. It’s often difficult not to feel you’re drowning in the sea of new releases. For my own part, I gave up trying frantically to cram in a rinse of everything that flickered fancily past. And in a sense, I feel like this might be happening with the music. There’s a period of settlement upon us, and now nearly-veteran people (though this is just my anecdotal impression) seem to be producing fewer and better tracks than three years ago, when the “medicore minimal” glut seemed to peak.

To me, the label that seems to have condensed this idea is Ostgut Tonträger. They don’t release much, but everything is solid gold: from the moment you first see the beautiful sleeves to the final aaah you get on a floor once the dragging needle’s signal drops at full volume. This is proper techno, made by people who love, understand, and care about their music. Listen to Len Faki’s Mekong Delta or Ben Klock’s Czeslawa/Warzsawa EP from earlier this year, and get an Ostgut lesson in how to “do” techno properly. Yet both Faki and Klock’s contributions are full-bore, main-floor, peaktime numbers, delicate though they may be in detail. They’re Berghain. Prosumer and Murat Tepeli’s “What Makes You Go For It” on the other hand is every inch the upstairs/backroom (or even bedroom) incarnation. They’re the Panoramabar.

The title track is somewhere between the blue, raw, and pink beats of the old Trax tracks, but with a vocal trip describing a one night stand that’s equal parts philosophical and carnal, leading to automatic comparisons with Chelonis R Jones. But there’s a definite Ostgut quality at work, too. It bangs, it swings, it’s a great track with a big metallic bell clanging all over it. Prosumer’s vocal sits nicely in the mix – he doesn’t overstretch chords or overstate words: she’s got a boyfriend, they’re fucking, where will it end up?

Tepeli’s “Jaws” is much closer to the housey end of Mobilee’s sound, with matte-finish percussion and a sleek, fat bassline whose physicality wiggles widely, in neat contrast to a very chic string synth over the top. Like the lyric on the A, there’s a nice tension between the forward-pushing needs of the body and the inwardly reflective eyes of the mind. But it’s Prosumer’s “Vise” that really puts the icing on this ambivalent cupcake, for me at least. I could swear Prosumer has borrowed My My’s patches to write the melody here – the tone, the dynamics, and the break are all redolent of Jones & Höppner, with just a touch of Rest-era Isolée. All three tracks here stand on their own, but as a trio they make an outstanding EP.

Ostgut Tonträger / o-ton 07
[Peter Chambers]

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