September 18, 2007

Basteroid - Upset Ducks

At first it’s hard for me to imagine Upsets Ducks being used for dancing. I mean, I’ve felt that alchemy before, where physically encountering the music at proper volume in a dark and sweaty room consecrated to moving your ass makes even the most unassuming jams take on dimensions you couldn’t imagine in your most feverish headphone dreams, but Sebastian Riedl’s long-playing debut under the Basteroid name is too captivating in its insular, rough-and-smooth way to imagine listening communally, let alone dancing. The opening “16 Steps Away from the Stars” especially soft shoes its could-be-huge raft of interlocking burbles, melodic stabs, and static washes into something that seems to be continually turning away from the listener into somewhere more private and inaccessible; sure enough, having to be the pursuer just makes the attraction of the track fiercer.

Which isn’t to say at all that Basteroid sounds difficult or obtuse or dull; each track here packs all the “cloudbursts, breakdowns, and big hooks” that Peter Chambers summed up as the hallmarks of Areal’s sound in Beatz semi-recently. The artist and record that Riedl’s work here summons unavoidably to mind for those of us who are happy observers but not necessarily devotees of techno is The Field’s From Here We Go Sublime. But as good as that record is, the title is maybe even more appropriate for Upsets Ducks (although I wouldn’t want to lose Riedl’s sense of humor); Axel Willner’s opus opts for the in-your-face sparkle that makes his name so appropriate (think field as ground versus object, not plot of land) whereas the sneakier apogees of Basteroid get to the same heights by rougher, subtler, more sublime means.

Once Riedl hits the late period trifecta of “Pulsador de Alarma”/ “Allright” / “Un Dos Windows” it’s clear that although he’s not so headphone-pointillist as Willner he’s at least his match in crafting snarky movers that don’t so much burst at you as slyly insinuate themselves into your hindbrain. Like a lot of listeners normally so devoted to the Word, or at least the Voice, I can’t say I can actually hum any melodies even after weeks of devoted (obsessive?) listening, but I do find its steady, building pulse threading its way into more and more of my waking life.

Even as the construction of this album apparently disturbed the waterfowl outside his studio (especially the buzzy, grainy “Attention: Upsets Ducks,” I’d imagine), Riedl was crafting a near seamless 70 minutes that deserves to rival Willner’s big debut for the affections of those who normally listen to things with guitars in them.

I lack the technical or genre vocabulary to communicate to the diehards the difference in technique between, I can only talk about emotion: The Field is more like the sensation of sunshine on your face, a train ride to a new city, leaning in to kiss someone; Basteroid evokes instead the feeling of finally leaving work for the day, walking alone through your city late at night, falling asleep to the muted sound of the party next door. That the former is more obviously, maybe even aggressively ‘good’ as a set of signifiers is true, but there’s at least as much space (if not more) in my life for the latter. Riedl is definitely still capable of tearing up a dancefloor but he along with his contemporaries have finally learned the hard lessons of techno’s rich history of trying to make albums: how to craft an experience beyond that of getting up and moving, while still allowing the latter response. The result is rich and compelling enough to warrant repeated listens even from the neophytes.

Areal / AREALCD 6
[Ian Mathers]

May 23, 2007

Robag Wruhme Als Rolf Oksen - Bart Eins

Since I fashion myself as Beatz’s token hack, I spend my fair share of time poring over press releases to find out what music means when it doesn’t have lyrics to spell out those things we all like to obsess over - love handles, the “are two prunes too few or three prunes too many” debate and so on. Robag Wruhme might have cloned himself with the same sci-fi ether as Areal’s finest blurbs, but his alter-ego, Rolf Oksen, has an uncanny knack for self awareness that Areal might have missed when they described themselves as “advanced tech-electronic minimalism.” Rolf, as we’ve been introduced by the press release, “is so drunk, as drunk as a skunk! He has lost all control, and now his alter-ego Robag has to take control” (italics added for those keeping score on the sideline - we’re talking about an alter-ego’s alter-ego here).

Aside from the charming text, there’s something missing musically in this vodka-drenched haze. Blame it on the alter-ego, doppelganger, or your friendly neighborhood schizophrenic, but the shimmy drums of “Dopamin” are totally lost on the song’s threadbare hook. I can’t put my finger on it, but its too slow, too meandering, and its excessive glimmers makes the narrow scope of “Hakkatzen” feel like a virtue. There’s no reason to give “Hakkatzen” a backhanded compliment, though; its the highlight here, nuzzling like a sweater - prickling in all the right places as it expands and contracts. Rounding things off are three tracks of ambient found-sound which are more interesting in theory than practice. I spend enough time hearing the same cellphone buzz from telemarketers, so no thank you very much. Listening to “Rolf Auf Seinem Ausgukk,” the best of the ambient trio, I can only picture alter-ego Rolf, passed out on a train with his live recorder running, using the piece as his aural breadcrumbs back home.

Freude Am Tanzen / FAT 030
[Nate DeYoung]

April 3, 2007

Metope - Braga/Breep

Metope was always the least melodically interesting artist on a label (his own!) full of buzzing beautiesAda has always been a skilled songwriter in Electribe drag, but even Basteroid and Konfekts trackiest moments were full of cloudbursts, breakdowns, and big hooks. But where Metopes tracks really shined was in their timbral richnessyou can tell this guy really, really loves the sounds of his machines, which works to the detriment of the song when it becomes a repetition-compulsion (or sounds like a beautifully tuned engine at idle, depending on your point of view).

But Areals colorful past seems to have faded, and the label, with the release of this EP, appears to be announcing a new, techier (trancier!) direction. Gone are the big melodies and tear-outs, replaced with more growling, buzzing, and swarming drones. Braga, the A-side, seems to be showing the transition between the Areal of old and the Areal of the new. But its Breep, the B-side, which really shows the new direction. Its trancey, but in the hypnotic sensetheres no moments of euphoric melodic resolution herethe only melodies sound like the cries of lemmings flung from the speeding mothership. Which is a good thing, trust me. When the cries of little critters sound this good, their deaths are not in vain.

Areal / Areal041
[Peter Chambers]

November 10, 2006

Dibaba - The Truth Blending Consortium

Plong! has always released interesting, irritating music, so Dibabas EP fits right at home on the label. The title track hints at an anthem-leaning Areal number or one of Denis Karimanis electro-dirt disco destroyers, until the 80s pop-vocal comes in and gives proceedings a strangely conflicted feel. The net result sounds like the disquieting mash-up of a computer-games theme music and a forgotten 87 crooner hit, and for all I know, it is. Like Mark Twain once said about Wagner, Its not as bad as it sounds. Anders Ilars remix lifts the Scandinavian sad-sack out of the usual glummery of his icy outings. Its not only the happiest sounding thing Ilar has laid his knobs to, it also reins in some of the more irksome elements in the title track. The B-side reaches for the now well-worn farty basslines (see: Human After All) template common to lectro lovin clubbers to create a club-functional track with a growly ass. It hums and grinds, but doesnt really buzz me.

Plong! / Plong! 22
[Peter Chambers]

October 13, 2006

Metope - Kobox

In my opinion, Metope was always the least interesting artist on Areal. His tracks, while possessing the same Machinedrum and Nord barbarity as his label mates, never contained any satisfying melodic shapes or rhythmic structures, repeated too much and developed too little but hey, he runs Areal and gave Ada her break, so maybe I should do him the same favor. Sleeparchive has swarmed all over the originallike all his own recent productions, this mix is a fuzzfest, full of air and static. Increasingly, his techno seems to be utilizing distortion as a constant presence, like a sitars javari or a shamisens sawari. Theres something magical in his subtle understanding of drum machines and their resonances, and this cut, whilst hardly in dialogue with Metope, shows why he has a closer affinity than almost anyone else with his own circuits: he seems to be able to faithfully translate what the machines themselves want to say but cant. Adas mix displays her usual gift for melody and structureshe takes his track and turns it into a song. After all the intimations on her amazing Blondie album, I think its time for Ada to come right out of the pop closet and make a fully blown pop album. Basteroids contribution here is a real disappointment. Far from the tech-electroid perfection of Against Luftweiderstand or the fist-pumping rushes of Sympathy for Disruption or Sonnenbrilliant, this mix noodles around without focus, looping irritating sounds into an ungainly, annoying hodge-podge.

Areal / Areal039
[Peter Chambers]

September 15, 2006

Misc. - B_Movie 6:00 AM

Peter Chambers: Sender have always been the hard-edged moon to Areals messy sunbeams and within the labels imaginary, Misc. represent the warm force of jet-propelled acceleration, the heat of a turbines exhaust switched to rave-mode and turned on the dancefloor. At their best, Christopher Bleckmann & Hannes Wenners work is devastatingtheir brittle percussion and knarzing basslines will growl and stab mayhem out of even the most indifferent dancer. B-Movie 6AM is simply the latest update in this tried and true trickdont expect to hear any tones or textures you havent. But even if no grounds been broken, the floors still shaking. The title track is the biggest winner, with (surprise) a B-movie sample right in the middle that hints at the existence of a humour that the gravity of this serious body music might otherwise indicate. If the best bits on this EP dont approach the highs of Rocket Control or the versatility of their fantastic Trash Talk EP, it functions nicely as another hit in the knarz-addicts arm.

Hector Rodriguez: Although a tech house record in name, Misc.s latest bears a striking resemblance to much of the harder edge of Detroit techno from the preceding century. Despite the hard and bracing edge of many of the sounds, there is an understated refinement to the proceedings. In an earlier time this might have been considered techno funk and filed with Sterac or Drexia but today as the multiplicity of subgenres continues to grow, a gem like this gets lost in the space between. The title track is a gloriously dark banger perfect for a 3 AM spin on the dance floor where you can get lost in the saw tooth bass line and menacing beats. Among Thieves complements the EP as well: still dark, but without the menace of the title cut, its sure to get the booty bumping.

Sender / send059


August 25, 2006

Treplec - The Moon Doesnt Exist

If minimal (or mnml) means as little as possible, Lucianos bastard offspring have by and large offered an interpretation which changed the formula to: As little as possible, for as long as possible. Thats fine, provided youve got (no) ears. Listen very closely to Lucianos tracks, or go back the formative works of this sub-genre such as Voigts Studio Eins, Vainios Shk releases or any of the Basic Channel/Chain Reaction records and listen: its music where almost nothing happens, but that little something is everything. It doesnt seem to be a lesson that Treplec have learned, and to these ears, four ideas over twenty five minutes doesnt cut the earwax unless theyre far more compelling than those being pimped here. Am I the only one sick of endless soft synths, compressed bass drums and punctuations of squiggly sound FX? Is that really satisfying any of you out there? Orsi Schreck begins promisingly with a haunting, Satie-ish piano line, which it begins to warp and fuck up. Its the best minute of the track, the other fourteen are taken up with a monotonous percussion workout thats perfectly functional but utterly unexciting. The title track is more interesting, weaving a spooky guitar ditty around a drum kick and some more squiggly noises. Its reminiscent of some of the earliest Areal releases, but without the mentalist sense of invention. All in all, a great example of everything thats dull and lifeless about B-grade minimal in 2006.

Philpot / PHP 018
[Peter Chambers]

August 11, 2006

Ada - Call the Tune

If Ada’s last 12 began as an ode to asphalt, it certainly didn’t end that way, with a conclusion of rising chimes instead of a driving backbeat. “Call The Tune” ends no differently. Beginning with a billowing Carpenters-esque sound-bed, Ada charms the song out of its inertia, weaving see-saws into tightly-wound cathedral bells and lucid sirens. Her light touch leaves the cacophony refreshing instead of overwhelming and a similar feeling also graces the B-side. Build around a lawn sprinkler hi-hat, “Living It Up” splashes tinkling synths, cascading distortion, and an odd ball of fuzz to make sure you’re still paying attention. Straddling the gap between electro-pop and electro-shlock, Ada makes sure not to touch down fully on either side.

Areal / Areal038
[Nate De Young]

February 24, 2006

Basteroid - I, The Schnitzelmachine

Tellingly, the first thing I thought when I heard that Basteroid was releasing a 12 in tribute to the Wiener Schnitzel was, I cant wait to see what ridiculous heights the press release will go to this time. True to form, the press release was a detailed six-step recipe on how to prepare a Schnitzel dinner. Luckily, Areal has yet to reach a Morrissey-type situation where the song titles and press information is more interesting than the actual music. Schnitzelmachine is actually a bit of a departure for Sebastian Riedl (aka Basteroid,) whos always been the most delightfully obnoxious producer of Areal when it comes to squelching beats and pure overdriven melodic assault. On both tracks, the edges of tension are now much more sleek, stark and agile, and remain mostly unresolved. Compared to the relative messiness and viscerality of Riedls earlier releases, I, The Schnitzelmachine, is like a formally tumultuous person trying to learn to express himself more efficiently without resorting to his once familiar tactic of full-on venting. In that respect it makes this release equally enveloping and frustrating, but overall worth hearing.

Areal / 035
[Michael F. Gill]

January 27, 2006

In The Mix: Nate De Young

Following the release of a recent study done by the University of Leicester that found that digital music and downloading causes listener apathy, my Stylus colleague Nick Southall probably ran to the nearest soapbox to proclaim, did you see what I wrote there? For the rest of us, this might not be an epiphany but it does cement the idea that music burnout probably wont get easier any time soon. Especially within dance culture and the sheer volume of singles released each month, its practically ensured that apathy can be found on that next series of thump-thump-thump-thump minimal recordsif youre willing to seek it out.

So for my Beatz by the Pound mix, I decided to document my response to burn-out. That is, by limiting intake and squinting my ears as frequently as possible. Most of these tracks come from labels that found a spotlight or two in 2005 and are regulars to the Beatz by the Pound columnAreal, My Best Friend, Border Community. But if songs like Adas swinging 8-bit I Love Asphalt or Fairmonts soothing Gazelle are any indication, then these labels definitely deserve some undivided attention now and again. As for squinting my ears, Motiivis 1939 and Tim Paris Edges of Corrosion have both forced me to consider how I hear music. Both Motiivis paradoxical expansive claustrophobia and the Paris endless series of melodic crevices question dichotomies that I presume steadfast far too often.

1. Tim Paris - Edges of Corrosion (Marketing Music)
2. Digitalism - Zdarlight (Kitsune)
3. Mateo & Ganteimi Meets Miss Anacoe - Danseur (My Best Friend Ltd)
4. Motiivi - 1939 (Freundinnen)
5. Ada - I Love Asphalt (Areal)
6. Daso - Daybreak (My Best Friend)
7. Fairmont - Gazelle (Border Community)


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