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 30, 2007

Burial - Ghost Hardware


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
[Nick Sylvester]

July 9, 2007

Peter Visti - Dolly


If kitsch weren’t such a discredited term, we might be tempted to apply it to Peter Visti’s remix choices here, consisting as they do of one wan blues whitey, Dolly Parton, and the mostly forgotten disco-bowtie charlatan Taco. Luckily, Visti is so kitsch he’s beyond kitsch, especially when his nimble fingers grace the source material of our last two subjects. Parton’s “Jolene” becomes almost unrecognizable in Visti’s context, transmogrified into an unlikely underground disco smash you’re certain you heard one stoned night at the Gallery. With bass-driven meanderings and pungent synth swells supporting a filtered guitar strum, it seems Dolly can ride the analog waves as well as any old diva.

Chris Rea’s “Josephine” sounds much more true to form, although I must confess my ignorance with regards to the original track. It’s loads more atmospheric, almost to a fault, and could be any one of a number of innocuous ’80s soundtrack cuts, left out to drift in the realm of the dollar bin. Thankfully, Visti comes back with another surprise, turning the bland swing-disco pabulum of Taco’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” into re-edit gold, morphing the groove into something that’s equal parts Kano and Nitzer Ebb. As though the cast of Fame got choked-up on crystal meth and Baudrilliard’s critical theory, the track resolutely (and brutally) demands you to get your kicks on, lest you suffer the groovy, post-modern consequences. Highly recommended for the not-so-faint of heart.

Mindless Boogie / Mindless 006
[Mallory O’Donnell]

June 5, 2007

Michoacan - 2 Bullets (Glimmers/Ray Mang & DJ Harvey Remixes)

I confess, I haven’t heard the original, so I’ll avoid some kind of specious contextualising and cut to the record. First listens find me flinging clichs around: “going for broke”, “everything but the kitchen sink”. Closer ears and repeat recitals find smaller (but not lesser) rewards neat edits, muppet noises, and a strangely effecting counterpoint of vertical layering and spacious horizontal unfolding. Neither the Glimmers nor Ray Mang deserve all their coolsie hype, but this is a remix to be reckoned with, sublimating a good-old “boots and pants” (that phrase again) rhythmentality to a fun-loving, effect flinging melodicity that comes up with more than enough bounce to the ounce to please kidz and headz alike.

Harveys mix drags us out of the ebony/chrome/fluoro-pink disco universe of the Glimmer/Mang version into some kind of swampy, headfuck psychedelica, somewhere between a German jam band and early Funkadelic warming up (just as the acid starts to settle in). Are you DJ enough to like this? You’ll get cred for trying. Theres something to like here in the woefully, wilfully purple passages wheres the original? Where are the kidz? What happened to the dancefloor? Youre not my mother. Were definitely not in Kansas anymore here. Whether it’s a good trip for you probably depends on the colour of Eddie Hazels teeth, and whether theyre sharpening as you try to focus on them, to no avail.

Grayhound / GND 053
[Peter Chambers]

May 31, 2007

Prinzhorn Dance School - Up! Up! Up!


Prinzhorn Dance School sounds like an innocuous enough name. The group might reject the typical publicity blitz, offering just the barest dcor of a website, shadows instead of profiles, and are missing the 21st century business card - a myspace page. But leave it to the U.S. government to make your little hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Now accompanying their rejected Spring tour visas, Prinzhorn’s Sussex sneer and militant drumming suddenly have taken some terror-ridden overtones “you are a space invader” indeed.

Which makes the new single, Up! Up! Up!, sound even funnier and more tragic in context. Prinzhorn certainly don’t go out of their way to strike the ominous pose that they could get away with given their last couple months. Instead, the retro-riding boy-girl two-piece gets road weary on the title track. Left with hoarse throats, the group’s chants become screams while they spend their days watching cockroaches and fishes. Somewhere along the way, Prinzhorn’s minimal no-wave blueprint gets stretched into a landscape. It’s only amplified by the weak toss-off of a b-side, “Hamworthy Sports And Leisure Center” a song that reveals how Prinzhorn teeters on the edge of failure with every step. But with two great tracks under their belt (”Up! Up! Up!” & “Space Invader”), it’s time to bring on the album.

[Nate DeYoung]

May 17, 2007

Selway and Vincenzo - Dream Stealer

The first-ever formal collaboration between New York/Berlin resident John Selway and veteran producer Vincenzo Ragone finds the two longtime friends delving into deep and hypnotic territory with the appropriately titled “Dream Stealer”. The original is a driving slab of techno that builds off of a tight, techy bass groove which eventually swells into a hypnotic beast as its watery synth arpeggios grow more and more caustic. The Joel Mull remix is significantly less twisted and clearly intended for a different context. It discards the darkness of the original bass line and the overall sense of fluidity, opting instead for a bouncy house feel while tastefully preserving some of the original synth tones and dynamics. I’m opting for the original, but both sides are playable and come recommended.

CSM / CSM 014
[Colin James Nagy]

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]

March 13, 2007

Narcotic Syntax - Provocative Percussion

Id always thought that Narcotic Syntax was nothing more than Marcus Nikolais silly sidethe kind of tracks that might have resulted when the dentist/label owner reached for his sampler not a moment after taking his snout out of the gas mask. I mean, Reptile Sweat Accelerator? Muff Diver? Whose madness is this? Punning Germans? Really?! Well, as it turns out, Narcotic Syntax is actually Yapacc and James Dean Brown, with the ribald puns being the work of the latter. Narcotic Syntax have been popping up on the Superlongevity compilations since the word go, and their Latinized, percussive microhouse jumped a zany inch out at you after the sometimes flatlining funk of other berminimal trackmakers.

Provocative Percussion takes you from this context to where the title would suggest, with four drum swamped tracks that would work wonderfully well as tools, provide the raw materials for a whole batteria of loops, or carve things up on their own. Blast Excavation sets the agenda, with a slow building heave of hits which add, conjugate, and multiply as the track unfolds. A background listen lends the impression of a straight-ahead barrage, but closer ears expose endlessly proliferating layers of grooves, breaking down, breaking apart, reforming, but always marching onward.

Descarca Narcotica is a re-presentation of their track Ping Pong Voodoo from Superlongevity 3 which introduces the old versions groove to the melodic equivalent of a leopard-skin couch in a mondo cocktail lounge. While somehow not as directly satisfying as their work incorporating vocals (check the hilarious Raptors Delight), this is an engaging and useful EP for anyone who wants to add more than a pinch more drums to their box.

Wir / WIR 005
[Peter Chambers]

December 15, 2006

Mocky - Extended Vacation

I’m glad I gave myself another week with this one, because all my initial gripes about Mocky’s cloying, overstuffed whiteboy soul shtick (much like his boy Jamie Lidell’s) and the song’s bah nod to the “mile-high club” (somebody didn’t get that memo) have turned into mucho respect. This is great songwriting-really concise, really compressed, borderline neurotic details-wise-but Mocky’s big brilliant stroke is that his concise, compressed, neurotic bustle of a song is all about how he needs an “extended vacation.” I agree, man! Go to Spain or something! Once you crack that nut (i.e. the song’s form vs. the song’s content), the Radio Slave and REKID mixes will seem far less leftfield: RS and R’s slowburners more or less signify Mocky’s extended vacation. Radioslaves mix is an expansive, colorless, Pong-like paranoid vamp not unlike all his other expansive, colorless, Pong-like paranoid vamps, which beyond making for an awesome track is also kinda funny in context. REKID meanwhile turns the original into this laidback downtempo hiphop jam that’s better than 80% of Made In Menorca and 90% of laidback downtempo hiphop jams in general. Mocky’s anxious vocals are now but a blissful, forgetful slur.

Four Music / FOR 82876883831
[Nick Sylvester]

October 20, 2006

Melchior Productions - Different Places

Melchiors got the sneaky freaky deeky goin on. Nothin to see / Hear, folks, well, no gimmicks at least. These are tracks, not tricks. Either by accident or through some deep, machinic symbiosis, the shuffle function on my pod selected two tracks after listening to this that contextualise it nicely, Luomos Synkro and Portables Liquid Crystal Displayand just as with those tracks theres the sense that both of Melchiors extensive workouts need their enormous palette to work out and work through the combinations of grooves. Both Different Places and The Phantom are extended excursions, and they take their time leading the willing through the fullness of their landscapes before returning to where they began. The A starts with a moody, looped melody that blues the vocal refrain I get lonely in different places, but then the track seems to leave the thought, rambling into twinkle-toed terrain characterized by a nice descending bassline, squiggling/malfunctioning noises and a whole lotta repetitions. You get so lost in listening that by the time the lonely returns, you wonder where youve been. To the unattenuated ear, this is the quintessence of the dreaded minimal, uneventful music that goes nowhere. But theres no muddling, or even meandering involved. Tell your ears to shut up and listen, and maybe theyll hear.

Perlon / PERL 58
[Peter Chambers]

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