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 Buuel 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 Kitsun 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 19, 2007

Baldelli / Dionogi - Cosmicdiba 2007

Long-serving Italian cosmic disco survivor Daniele Baldelli re-emerges with a perfectly apt partner in the Gomma crew. And while he might be an old-school warrior, don’t expect a crusty retro showcase here. Opener “Dark Flies” is pounding case-in-point, a two-fisted electro-house stomp that edges into aggro, especially in the brief, husky vocals and pummeling drum breaks. The touches of kosmische cascades of noodly synth-frizz and an overall rocket-liftoff vibe - do little to detract from the meaty thumping at work. “Funkfibrilla” mixes up tempos and ropes in chunky robo-bass to pilot a smoldering course between post-Kraftwerk Teutonia and iridescent filter-house. “Dyprion” winds things up with a stabbing tandem of keys and rotorized bass, whilst oscillating textures somewhere between heavenly and loopy wash your battered body to shore. Don’t concern yourself with the past: Baldelli’s still doggedly stuck in the future.

Gomma / 094
[Mallory O’Donnell]

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]

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 10, 2007

Kavinsky - 1986

1986? I’ll say. Kavinsky shuffles together sounds straight from the blueprint electro/new-wave records of the era, but updated with forceful, modern production and propelled by an aggro agenda more akin to big beat than Hi-NRG. “Wayfarer” is a punchy little wanderer indeed, with a rollicking and insistent synth figure undercut by dirty grunge growls and scalpel-clean licks, followed by “Dead Cruiser,” the track sounding most like a recently-unearthed relic on the spookier / noodlier side of Belgian EBM.

SebastiAn’s mix of “Testarossa Overdrive” is the sleekest monster here, recalling Daft Punk a bit with its shiny robot disco breaks. “Flashback” provides an interesting sidetrip, little more than a news report about a crashed Ferrari with some Miami Vice synths and sound effects tickling through it, while “Grand Canyon” continues the soundtrack vibe with icy arpeggios and beefy nouveau-vintage beats. A strong and not completely unimaginative pastiche, recommended for those who enjoy the poppier end of the Clone and Bunker labels.

Record Makers / REC 37
[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 19, 2007

YMO - Solid State Survivor

YMO (aka Yellow Magic Orchestra) have always been blocked into history as the Duplo to Kraftwerks Technicsthe Technicolor toy version of the Kling Klangs more adult, high-minded man-machine constructions. A glancing listen to Solid State Survivor might do little to remedy that impression, with the first two tracks sounding for all the world like the theme tune for a second-rate 70s anime. But listen closer, listen againthe whimsical surface belies undeniable pop smarts and a keen ear for song craft that beavers away at your humorless notion and leaves you realizing that, far from being some second-rate kitsch mensch-maschine thieves, youre actually hearing the coming out of one of the most innovative, playful groups in technos history.

Yes, techno, thats right. Although it might be a mistake to say that any individual invented techno (Id give the title to the quiet hands of Roland Corp. or Leo Theremin), but if you do subscribe to a musician inventor theory, youd have to say that YMO may well deserve the title1983 might have been the year of Kraftwerks unreleased Techno Pop album and YMOs Technodelic, but the word finds an earlier home as Technopolis, the fourth track on Solid State Survivor, a track that is itself already fully fledged techno, albeit in pop form.

Not only does Solid State Survivor constitute a landmark in the emergence of techno, but the album itself is a joyously, sweetly disrespectful romp through its various frames of reference. In a recent interview, Uwe Schmidt, whose most recent Seor Coconut album Yellow Fever re-worked the trios classic materials into his vision of electro latino, explained that for him, YMO were far more important than Kraftwerk, simply because of their willingness to leap whole genres in a single bound and gather the ecstatic treasure in trash with as much reverence as youd give to Bach. Solid State is bursting with enthusiastic genre-bending and stylistic pastiches that borrow as heavily from advertising jingles as enka.

Technopolis sounds like the promotional music from Expo 1980 or any number of incidental tunes still doing the rounds on NHK. Absolute Ego Dancer is a fully-fledged bubblegum techno rocket and the high point of the sugar rush. But its the moodier numbers such as the pop ambient Castalia (emphatically Sakamotos song, judging by the mood) and the mixed weather of Behind the Mask (later covered by Eric Clapton) as well as a hilarious, bent cover of the Beatles Day Tripper which really amaze. In the space of less than 35 minutes and only eight tracks, YMO nailed out a hyperactive manifesto whose garish reverberations can be heard across the poptronic spectrum, from Devo, through Daft Punk, Mouse on Mars, and right up to the more boisterous moments of microhouse.

[Peter Chambers]

December 1, 2006

Mysterymen - Infrared

Gary Numan is hard to pull off. The Mysterymen are trying, really they areand this is both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, this could pass as vintage Numan, caning the wonderful melodies and fat, fuzzy synth chords that made his early work so fantastic. On the other end, The Mysterymen have taken the riffs and run with them over dance music distances, which leaves time enough for DJs to redeem a drink card or make it to the facilities and back before the next mix, but leaves us poor home listeners hanging for more of those wonderful melodies, more of Numans interesting lyrics and more pop structure. If only theyd taken a bigger hunk of Gary, or less. Either that, or its a well-executed rationalisation of a classic sound.

Lektroluv / LL2
[Peter Chambers]

November 3, 2006

MAS 2008 - Alles Klar?!

2007 Prediction: EBM is the new old shit. Industrial’s chrome-scented revival may take a bit longer, though cuts like “Waters of Nazareth” imply that it will arrive hotly-tipped when it does. For now we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with New Beat-flirtations and genre exercises like those of MAS 2008. These boys have spent their studio hours well, whittling away at that perfect ‘82 drum sound, and emerged with Alles Klarsix wickedly good excuses to strap on paratrooper boots and shave your head like Travis Bickle. “Blicke” crunches and churns like Legowelt, “Memories” brings the synthpop flavor ala Soviet, and “Beatin’ Faster” could easily soundtrack your next experiment with leather restraints. What else you need to know?

Electronic Corporation / ELCO 14.0
[Mallory ODonnell]

August 11, 2006

Rub N Tug - Better With a Spoonful of Leather

Rub N Tugs previous mixes were recorded live, complete with shitty mixing, fuzzed out sound, and skull-fucking EQthe good stuffbut this one takes a different approach, possibly because a third disc with corny mixer FX would be one too many. Instead we get a pristine and minimally mixed set of electronic disco 45s slowed to 33, including Gino Soccio, Soft Cell, and err, King Crimson. The tracks are less chopped and screwed than edited and cosmic-fied: its bad pills, not heavy syrup. At its best, beats string loosely together like solar systems, with reverb draped around them like rings; drawled out sax lines might as well be monophonic synths and guitars sound like beached whales. At its worst you might be begging to push the pitch control back to zero. Overall, this is one for those gross, sweaty nights post-clubbing where the only way to get through it is to make ones-self feel worse. Im sure weve all had some of those.

aNYthing / ANY006-CD
[Patrick McNally]

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