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
[Peter Chambers]

August 6, 2007

G-Man - Quo Vadis


Like Baby Ford and Mark Broom, Gez Varley is one of the few British producers from the dawn of the era who has continued to make interesting, relevant minimal music that still adds something to the original template he helped formulate. I first heard “Quo Vadis” on Richie Hawtin’s 1995 Mixmag compilation, a mix that has aged remarkably well and is still definitely worth a rinse, especially in light of recent directions in house-influenced minimal techno. Given the survival of the track in this context (or, more generally, the fact that it’s never really stopped being played), who better to re-release the classic than Styrax Leaves, a label who are (thankfully, actually) stuck in the best bits of ’90s techno, a place of patchy perfections at the best of times.

The drum sounds themselves are as dated as you’d expect, but it’s the subtle seductions of their patterning that help this release retain the breath of life. Stripped, deep, and long, the themes rise out of a flat gas of beats, repeating and slowly mutating through the addition, reduction, or substitution of one simple element. With nothing more than plodding, dogged repetitions, these tracks lumber forward, only allowing the slow revelation of a timbro-melodic theme to happen “in the fullness of time.” It’s a strategy that gave rise to a lot of exceedingly dull records, but Varley knows exactly which tone-pots to touch, and how. Listen to these puppies and dream of candyflips in a sweaty bunker, consoled only by the natural warmth emanating from the rhythm machines. It’s enough to make you slowly bug out.

Styrax Leaves / strx leaves 005
[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]

June 14, 2007

Motorcitysoul - Kazan (Exit Cube)

Peter Chambers: Somewhere between the buzzswept soundplanes of Playmade and the introspective headroom of 240 Volts lies Aus, a label dedicated to the clean percussive lines and deep-sunk washes of dub-tech-house. It’s all a matter of “taste, not waste” (to purloin a phrase from Losoul), and it’s on full display here, polished smooth and flowing forward in full effect. Like Estroe’s recent hit “Driven” or older gear on Poker Flat, Motorcitysoul’s “Kazan” glides forward on the soft push of its lush melody, which blossoms over four minutes into a long, slow, lean break which holds just enough back. Classy gear for warming up cool-hearted floors.

The My My remix on the flip does little for the overall effect of the long, linear build which makes the sheen shiny in the original. It’s the musical equivalent of cubism, breaking the planes of the original into diamond-shaped shards – then re-fitting the split facets together in the frame with lots of clever-clever edits that amp up the complications but detract from the overall effect.

Colin James Nagy: The original is a Detroit-inspired big room tune that tastefully touches on classic influences while embracing modern tones and production qualities for a near-perfect hybrid of old and new. A heavy heeled kick drum anchors layered synths, dropping into a nice, soft ambient lull before building back up again. The track doesn’t try to do too much, or get bogged down in unnecessary complexities. It just works.

Just about anything My My lay their hands on lately warrants a listen, and their remix on the flip is no different. They inject slightly more funk and swing to the track, also altering the structure and breakdown slightly. It’s not a major overhaul given the strength of the original, and speaks to their increasing talent as remixers - knowing when to leave well enough alone, while still leaving their own mark on a cut.

Aus Music / AUS0706

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]

March 27, 2007

Andy Stott - Handle with Care / See in Me 10”


Marge Simpson’s quote about wanting to see the Japanese take on the club sandwich (“I’ll bet it’d be smaller, and more efficient”) can be perversely re-badged for a lot of Andy Stott’s work in its developmental stages—the guy had an unmatched talent for “Lexusing” the classics of Detroit, minimal, and dub techno, re-casting them in a form that seemed to run smoother, go further, and work better than the originals it “imitated.” But Merciless, and the other recent, magnificent Replace EP saw Stott breaking out of imitative molds and leaping off on sonic lines of flight, developing a sound signature that finally offered not a rationalization, but a sublimation of its influences.

If Handle with Care does have an inspiration, then it’s in the echo-chamber dub-techno of Basic Channel, Chain Reaction, and Deadbeat’s less melodically “Jamaican” works. There’s an undercurrent of other sound continuums here too, a little taken from car sound system culture with the sub-rattling bassline that seems written to test the chest hairs of the gruntiest woofers, or the sound of dubstep heard through the floor of the apartment above. But to me at least, it’s the fragile melody that appears atop the mountains of bass just for a moment, then disappears that marks this as Stott’s work. It’s a real personal touch. “See in Me” again pits an enormous sub-bassline against haunting atmospheres and front-to-back percussive patterns which embed the melody which, unlike the A, progresses to a resolution, suggesting a kind of hope amid all the gloom. This is beautiful, haunting work—but more disquieting still is the thought that Andy Stott has only just found his unique voice. Which means the best is probably yet to come.

Modern Love / Love027
[Peter Chambers]

February 9, 2007

Len Faki - Rainbow Delta / Mekon Delta


The immediacy and impact of both sides here remind me of Roman Flügel’s banging techno alias, “tracks on delivery.” Faki is another delivery man, and his productions hand over the goods by using contemporary sound design to classic effect, conjuring the hard banging big room sound of a decade ago, but with delicacy. In fact, Faki’s sound is almost an inversion of the saying “an iron fist in a velvet glove”—what’s obvious from close listening is that, underneath the hard exterior, there’s a skilled hand in touch with the soft and subtle intricacies of the track—the “gentle art of dancefloor devastation,” if you will. “Rainbow Delta,” the A-side, uses drum sounds reminiscent of sleeparchive: blunt, wooden, dry hits which attack in formation. The drums are constantly shifting timbres, and new loops keep fading in every few bars. But things quickly get wild and woolly, with swirling, delayed melodies that, again, seem to mark the mood as a homage to ‘90s club techno. Elementally, it’s nothing compelling or novel, but it’s executed with such finesse that it manages, somehow, to sound fresh and it gusts up a floorburning storm over an immense ten minutes. The B (“Mekon Delta”) starts out dry as dust, but goes straight to your warehouse heart with big rave signals and a descending, delayed organ loop that slowly builds into a monster, with the help of some hyperdramatic tear outs and tight programming. There’s something gratuitous, almost parodic about this EP—but it’s saved from comedy by some of the most subtle beat work I’ve heard in a while. Big room techno for the new school, with a heart pounding for the old.

Ostgut Tonträger / o-ton 04
[Peter Chambers]

January 19, 2007

tobias. - Street Knowledge

It was a sweet inevitability that once computer technology plateaued in plug-in heaven, increasingly large groups of nerds, purists, idiots, and visionaries would run for or cling to their old gear. Street Knowledge, produced by Cassy’s partner and NSI half Tobias Freund, shows that there’s good reason for the flight into obsolescence. Street Knowledge is one of those brilliant deep EPs that stay put in your box for years. The title track is one of the funkiest, deepest, driving-est tech-house grooves you’ve heard in ages—the kind yo mamma warned you about.

As with his NSI release on Cadenza, Freund proudly displays all the gear used for the music on the back cover of the EP, so I can tell you that the bass on this puppy was generated by a Studio Electronics se 1 (defunct in its original form, of course). Man, it’s the business. This track just rolls along, with the bass overshot by short horn stabs, and 808 claps, shots, and cowbells (real 808, of course.). “Solid State” appears to have been composed from the same arrangement of machines, and while not as obviously killer as the title cut, it’s a groover with the same quietly classic mood, movement, and presence that marks the EP as a whole. “Bayside” on the B is another winner, a slightly more sober, gliding record that skims to a calm halt right in the middle, then spins off into the clouds. Ah.

The gear sounds great, but it’s Tobias’ intuitive use of all the sounds available here to generate a record that sounds “just right” that’s so inspiring. It’s about the touch. With barely a fat lead or a farty bassline in sight, Freund has created an incredibly attuned, proper EP that won’t go platinum, but may well become a classic.

Logistic / LOG055
[Peter Chambers]

December 22, 2006

2006 Year In Review: Individual Writer Lists

As a companion piece to our 2006 year in review, here are the individual lists/charts from each of our contributors. Happy reading…


November 17, 2006

Tantra - The Double LP

A release scooping up most, but not all, of the Italo group Tantra’s output, The Double LP revolves around two side-length epics—the A-side “Hills of Katmandu,” and the D-side “Wishbone.” I first heard the former (in truncated form) on the Idjut Boys classic Saturday Night Live, Vol. 2 mix, and if it blew me away then, it’s even more potent in its full 16-minute-plus glory. Exotica and “orientalist” touches were always a feature of Italo, and “Hills of Katmandu” deftly weaves such fare into a monster of rumbling percussion, weaving analogs, and swaying female vocals. The sweet little nugget of disco fantasia that interrupts at the 6:30 mark is both unexpected and cheesily delightful. “Wishbone,” on the other hand, is funkier and more mesmerizing—the odd female vocals are paired with echoed tribal percussion to a mystical and almost eerie effect, with a sitar-like lead making the odd appearance. It’s the mirror of “Katmandu,” but an unsettlingly purist one—making absolutely no concessions towards any but the most tripped-out of dancefloors. If I could find the crowd that would happily vibe along with me to all of its 15 glorious minutes I would never bloody leave.

Normally this would constitute a full and rewarding album, but in between these two leviathans is sandwiched another two full sides of goodness that interweaves primal and futurist elements. The B-side unveils two strong Eurodisco stompers: “Get Ready to Go,” which could’ve soundtracked any number of early 80’s prime-time buddy-cop TV shows, and “Top Shot,” a track that pushes all the gay disco buttons it can find and then digs around for some more. The C-side, on the other hand, starts with “Su-ku-leu,” a traditional African-flavored number that still kicks out on its disco heels, combining the chants and ethnic percussives with synth pops and sweeps, which blends right into “Mother Africa,” a T-Connection-esque stomper with a delicious percussion break that sets the stage for the most stereotypically “disco” of their tracks, “Hallelujah.” Side closer “Get Happy” points an arrow towards boogie, and could be a Chic b-side, with its warm syn-strings and chimes. It’s the very spirit of disco’s unabashed joyfulness, and a fine place to rest.

The Double LP is that great disco rarity—not just a classic album, but a classic double, and as such it demands a proper remix and CD release. Until then… keep those needles fresh!

Importe/12 / MP-310
[Mallory O’Donnell]

— Next Page »