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
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[Ian Mathers]


September 18, 2007

Supermayer - Save The World

Remember the supergroup? It was a big conceptual thing a few decades back, but it still pops up every now and again. Here’s how it usually worked: a bunch of high pedigree rockers would get together, proclaim that they really “dug each other’s music,” book a bunch of studio time, get stoned out of their gourds, and more often than not, release an album of half-baked ideas and poorly executed jams that proceeded to shift millions of units based solely on the reputation of the players. Sometimes the idea actually workedsee Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and Derek & The Dominos. Sometimes it wouldn’tsee pretty much everyone else.

Diehard fans of the musicians in question usually lapped this stuff up, but somewhere in the back of their minds, they still felt somewhat let down more often than not. The problem was squarely on themtheir expectations were simply, inevitably too high. No matter how great one of these supergroups sounded on paper, they couldn’t possibly live up to that sort of hype on record. Blaming the musicians, on the other hand, was a futile exercise. After all, they just wanted to hang out with some friends, play some music, and enjoy themselves. Can you really blame them for that?

Which brings us to the case of Supermayer, a supergroup-style collaboration between two of Kompakt’s biggest names: Michael Mayer and Superpitcher. And while the collaboration has more in common with the above than notthis is nothing if not a “fun” recordthis is most certainly not a bad thing. If anything, Save the World is just the kind of project that Kompakt needed, given the (somewhat inexplicable) backlash the label has been taking of late. Too many have complained that Kompakt has taken to making records by numbers; Save the World is anything but your (stereo)typical Kompakt fare.

Just as the grooves of those ’70s albums are laden with artists just trying to have a good time and vibe with each other, so does Save the World exude a palatable sense of smiling, laughing musicians just having some fun and getting down, and most importantly, encouraging the listener to do so as well. Look no further than the first proper track on the album (after the spoken intro “Hey!”), “The Art of Letting Go”the lyric tells the story of the album in a simple idea: over a grooving bass, chunky guitar chords, and some decidedly un-Kompakt sounds (are those horns? Melodica perhaps?), the gauntlet is thrown, “Let’s get to it / Relax / Let me go.” This is a first-class party record, assembled by two of techno’s foremost minds, and if the instruction is followed, you’ll have just as good a time listening as they obviously did making it.

With their mission statement firmly established, Supermayer proceed to circle the universe, capes flying, in search of the magic note, and while they never quite find it, the thrill of discovery is clearly the intent for our heroes (there’s even a comic book insert). There’s atmospheric dancefloor techno, there’s some light techno pop, some swinging indie bouncers, there’s vocals, there’s ambient interludes, there’s horns, there’s even a fucking gong. “The Lonesome King” is Martin Denny in Ralf and Florian’s studio; “Please Sunrise” recalls 808 State and YMO; “Two of Us” is a classic floor-filler laden with peaks and valleys; closer “Cocktails for Two” is a late-night comedown complete with shag carpeting and a disco diva perched on the love seat waiting for an afterhours tumble. It’s a gloriously unorganized mess, but all of it is so lovingly and skillfully done that it sounds far closer to some sort of mad genius.

Save the World is not a work of high art like The Magic Flute and it’s certainly not a pretentious epic like Kid A. It lives in its own skin and its comfortable there. The key to saving the world according to Supermayer is simple: lose the pressure and enjoy things for what they are, not what you expect them to be. There is an art to letting go, and they seem to have mastered it here, at least as much as such a thing can be mastered. They might not have saved the world, but Supermayer might just have saved your next house party.

Kompakt / KOMPAKTCD 61
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[Todd Hutlock]


September 17, 2007

Modeselektor - Happy Birthday!

Actually Modeselektor are excited to become cartoons. The group’s last couple of album covers are giddily aware of it. Inside the cover for Happy Birthday! and on its portly made-for-CD running-time, Modeselektor pound away with ACME anvils and beep beep through open rangescovering the distance between bangers and ballads. Or, to be fair, it’s just bangers and ballads. That’s it.

Let’s not take away from Modeselektor’s strengths though, the pair is also good at bastardizing genres and music scenes. Their debut album wasn’t named Hello Mum! for no reason. Happy Birthday! just begs to be described in a pragmatic word like “chock-full,” but here’s an overlooked factoidit’s the first album to be graced by one Thom Yorke which isn’t worried about being tasteful with a capital T.

Being tasteless suits the band just fine. With “2000007,” it also lets them out-prefuse Prefuse 73. Not stuck explaining their exquisite band name or racial politics must be fun, because it definitely sounds a helluva lot more brash and exciting than what Scott Herren is doing these days. The track might be in the genre-netherworld between glitch-hop and euro-crunk, but it’s definitely an unabashed sequel to group’s last album opener with the French rap group TTC.

Modeselektor continue to gleefully plunder their own past as well as others for inspiration throughout the 18 tracks. One notable choice is Scooter and their Teutonic happy-hardcore schlockfest, “Hyper Hyper.” The original isn’t waiting to be rediscovered anytime soon, which makes Modeselektor’s locked-jaw and straight-faced cover even more perfect. Enlisting Otto Von Schirach for the vocal role of Wizard-gone-Return to Oz, with a couple flying monkeys in tow, “Hyper Hyper” is bound to make another generation of kids yell for hardcore all over again.

When the tempo slows, the duo is wise to make their music just as sonically juicy and epic. On their collaboration with Apparat, “Let Your Love Grow,” the group let a field of bulbous synths and trip-hop drum patterns sprout around Paul St. Hilaire, ending up with a dead ringer for Massive Attack. The track is a highlight but one that’s sure to be trumped in notoriety by “The White Flash.” The group’s best contribution to “White Flash” is to let Thom Yorke do what he does best (i.e. play lost angel in our dystopia and moaning into the abyss), and Yorke is perfectly laconic in returnhe even twists the euphoric “you have all the time in the world” into something preciously fleeting.

Happy Birthday! constantly reminds me of something Vitalic said in an interview”I like people screaming in the sound with explosions.” When Modeselektor don’t try to fit every scream and explosion into its folds, the album sags. Tacks like “BMI” and “The Wedding Toccata Theme” sound dull when set against the cartoon-ish extremes of a song like “The First Rebirth,” which comes alive by being chopped and crunked before your ears. Luckily, most of Happy Birthday! finds Modeselektor being so busy being loony tunes that there’s little time to sit still and be bored.

Bpitch Control / BPC 159CD
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[Nate DeYoung]


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 Dear2007 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 ambiencethe 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 bothit’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 tangentDear 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 mixfrom 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 Fabricsomething 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
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[Nate Deyoung]


August 9, 2007

Henrik B feat. Terri B - Soul Heaven

You know, I could carefully describe “Soul Heaven” to you. And tell you how it’s a cover of a seven-year-old house track by The Goodfellas, one that was comped on bigtime labels like Ministry of Sound, Hed Kandi, and Azuli, not to mention the UK label named after it. I’d also want you to know how well Henrik B., formerly a producer of schranz-style techno, has moved into loved-up funky house (check out the difference between “Airwalk” and “The Wound”).

But there’s a reason why these big Ibiza and funky house cuts don’t get written up critically: they can be a bit brainless. So often they are all about the euphoria of the moment, and their broad and obvious strokes fall apart under any closer inspection. It seems futile, even silly to say things like “hmm, the original mix could almost be a Ame/Sydenham production, if they were trying to be Joey Negro,” or to rave about the Fonzeralli remix being “the crossover anthem Rex The Dog will never have.” All I know is that I feel pretty giddy after listening to it, which is a hollow sentiment that doesn’t serve you well, fair reader. So let’s act like this review never happened. But considered yourself informed.

Boss / BOS 067AB / 067CD
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[Listen]
[Michael F. Gill]


August 1, 2007

Ilya Santana - Quasar

200712"Neo-Disco

A few months ago, I had this to say about Discotized, one of Ilya’s last EPs: “You could locate this record somewhere between the Emperor Machine, Daniel Wang and Norwegian space disco, but what escapes that is the sedate, comforting groove here - no big ‘whoosh’ noises, no ‘frantic congas or tiresome solos’ - ‘Holding You’ is seven minutes long, but contains nothing superfluous.”

And, comfortingly perhaps, not much has changed here on Quasar, except the speeding of the proceedings. Maybe it’s all the slow-mo/po-mo Harvey disciples Santana is marketing his tracks at, but Quasar has definitely taken the BPM and the intensity down a few clicks. Play this at -8 and you could probably even mix it with Severed Heads’ “We Have Come to Bless this House” at the monged speed Harvey himself plays it at.

But as fun as “Quasar” is, to such a talented artist this is treading water. There’s no innovation going on here…the same old (albeit enjoyable) formulas are in full effect. But hey, nobody criticises AC/DC for being formulaic, do they? Interestingly, the B-side, which is initially far more arresting, ventures into the very territory that Daniel Wang derided I don’t know about tiresome solos, but there’s more than a few frantic congas being brought to this particular party. But before you can say, “oh no, psytrance hippies”, Pete Herbert (he of Reverso 68) saves his side with a funkin’ bassline, a whole lotta wiggle, and a neat melody. Like the bellhop in Some Like it Hot, this track is “the way I like ‘em big ‘n sassy.”

Disciple of Groove / DOG 002
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[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]


July 30, 2007

Burial - Ghost Hardware

200712"Dubstep

Why the urge - I ask guilty of it myself - to contextualize the songs we hear, to categorize them right away, to do anything beyond talk in terms of the surprises we encounter in songs, the moods they put us in, and the reasons these might be so? The dialogue between rhythm and sound is so simple, yet we consistently overthink it and insist on making things more difficult for ourselves, whether to make stupid word counts (but never words count) or to obscure music’s basic sensuality with histories to be understood, discographies to be devoured. Anybody that tells you this gig is like dancing about architecture is a worthless writer and an absolute fool.

This 12″ is the follow-up to Burial’s self-titled “dubstep” LP from last year. These three songs feature unsteady rhythms that roll like banged-up wheels of hip-hop steel. It’s infuriating to listen to this metallic syncopation at first, because it’s so averse to headnods, and the accents are hard to pinpoint. The beat in “Shutta” is somewhere between 8/8 and 17/8 - I can’t tell - and there’s a series of three soft snare cracks in “Ghost Hardware” that seem to come out of nowhere again and again, just a split-second off from where they seem like they want to be. It’s not violent but it’s uncomfortable.

You don’t get a vocal hook anywhere either, or at least a complete one, so there’s not much of an anchor in this mess of rhythm. Instead Burial cuts up vocal tracks into short snippets (an Aguilera-like “Love you” and a Whitney-like “Yeah”) and orphans them in a fog filled with crackles, sizzles, and interminable echo. If you can imagine yourself cooking bacon in a forest somewhere at night, and every so often just shouting a bit from “Genie in a Bottle” because you thought you heard a motorcycle engine in the distance, you’re halfway there: alone but not yet lonely, fearful but not entirely hopeless.

The “love you” snippet stuff seems like such a self-imposed challenge for Burial too, i.e. How can I not make this sound too saccharine or cloying. I don’t know why it doesn’t bother me more, but I’m guessing Burial’s mixing has a lot to do with it: his kicks are never too pronounced, and the occasional turbo-skids of bass are always faint, hinting at something greater but never winding up front and center. Some sounds refuse to bring attention to themselves, others don’t have the energy to do so anymore, but try in vain regardless. Bleak stuff. Is it possible to mourn a sound?

Hyperdub / HDB 004
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[Nick Sylvester]


July 19, 2007

Avus - Furry Hat / Spnkr

A pleasant surprise is rarely a bad thing, being both enjoyable and unexpected. Cynicism is just as bored of itself as it is the world. A dash of cynicism can save you from later shames, but even a dash too much makes the sweetest puss sour. Going record digging, the strange vicissitudes of wet/dry and gush/clench really influence your obsessions. How many of you have had a “buy on sight” label that, based on a string of disappointments, you’ve written off totally? I confess I was just about to put Border Community into the ignore and disparage basket, but then along comes Avus to right my wrong-headed skull.

“Furry Hat” is warm, with a da-dudding bassline that’s nicely trancey, grounding the whole thing in BC’s fargone past at a summer field, way back in some psilocybin dreamtime. A little like some of Jesse Somfay’s work, Avus here manages a nice contrast between the lighter, granular elements written over the top and the deep, warm presence of the lower frequencies. The “Feedbackapella” stands on its own as an ambient track, and is just long enough to highlight the composition’s glassy high tone crescendo before the boredoms arrive. “Spnkr” continues with the “da-ga-da” bassline sound, but this time pairs it with some sandpaper-dry snares and a fairly tight, high-pitched kick which is then doubled as the track goes on, giving you twice the bass for your face. Like all the Border Community releases (and in homage to their prog/trance roots) the EP is totally modular, full of tools ready to be looped, cut, re-edited and arranged a la carte. It’s on this tip that the “Acid Paddle Tool” version of “Spnkr” comes into its own. Loopy, useful and kicking, it oddly ends up as my favourite track of the EP.

Border Community / 16 BC
[Listen]
[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
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


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