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 7, 2007

Deepchord Presents Echospace - The Coldest Season

2007CD/AlbumTechnoDub

Dub techno is a bit of a challenging listen, much in the same way, say, free jazz is. On first listen, the genres are practically opposites, but in approach and execution, they are remarkably similarit isn’t about the melodies, it’s about the sounds and the feelings. The “challenge” in free jazz is to follow all the different parts down their winding paths and to see the craft and invention in its rendering. The “challenge” in dub techno is the opposite, to find the excitement and movement in what at first sounds like a static and unmoving piece.

Since dub techno was pioneered by the Basic Channel camp in the early ’90s, casual listeners might not even have noticed much progressionafter all, the template is basically the same concoction of deep, muted, echoing chords, subsonic bass lines, compressed hi-hats, and lots of tape hissand much the way that Ornette Coleman might sound just like Anthony Braxton to the untrained ear, so might Maurizio sound just like Thomas Brinkmann. Dig a little deeper into either genre, however, and the subtleties and nuances become more and more apparent, and ones appreciation deepens. The devil may be in the details, but so are the thrills.

Detroit native Rod “Deepchord” Modellhe and Chicagoan Steven “Soultek” Hitchell are partners in Echospace, also a labelhas been operating as a shadowy entity for some time now, unleashing limited-run singles over the years that fetch crazy sums on eBay. Now with this, their highest profile and best-distributed release to date, the pair have stepped up and released their masterwork. Judged on its own merits, The Coldest Season should stand as one of the best electronic releases of the year, and one of the best dub techno releases in the last decade.

Certainly, one can appreciate the music here on strictly a background level. The album definitely conjures a mood, and played at a low level, it creates a suitably laid-back, chilled atmospheredownright icy, in fact. The beats don’t kick in on opener “First Point of Aries” until well past the three-minute mark, giving the swirling, hissing synths plenty of time to work up some steam (or frost, if you will). The tracks tumble and roll into each other through the entire first half of the album, each track morphing into the next, but distinct in themselves, and listening to these transitions, admiring the little differences from track to track, is half the fun of the dub techno experience. “Ocean of Emptiness” is nearly 12 minutes of beatless space; “Celestialis” is a shuffling, almost funky drive through the big city at night. Tiny trails of melody drift, barely audible, through “Sunset,” while “Elysian” ups the percussion and twists and turns the mix actively throughout its, almost aggressive. The biggest and best thrills are saved for last, however, as the closer “Empyrean” is the most inventive and downright catchy thing here, with a percolating rhythm track, spooked-out organ stabs, and a truly inspiring drop out. If anything here makes you leap for the repeat button, it’s this. Otherwise, just playing the entire album on a loop will do just fine, thanks.

With all this in mind, anyone going into The Coldest Season expecting some sort of radical departure from the dub techno style that has proceeded it will likely be disappointed. Basic Channel effectively invented the wheel of this genre, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t admire the latest models to roll off the modern assembly line. There are enough new wrinkles and, yes, thrills here to appeal to devotees and newbies alike.

Modern Love / LOVE 33CD
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[Todd Hutlock]


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]


July 18, 2007

Various Artists - Sasomo EP

Hi! I’m back from a dream where I had a brief look into the future. Here’s the news for you: eternity is dulled, but she remains resolutely horizontal. So, with the world remaining indifferent to my personal peaks and valleys, why not have my music be the same way? During its twelve minute duration, Matt John’s “Soulkaramba” consists of three plucked bass notes, some dried out percussion run through damp effects, live-sounding drum skitters, the occassional idle chatter, and a recurring synth drone on one note. It goes nowhere, it does nothing, and sounds nonchalantly cheerful while doing it. I empathize with it a great deal. I could write a short story and walk through a street festival while listening to it on loop, such is my comfort level towards its tender indifference.

The other two cuts here aren’t so bad, but lucid and undisturbed they are not. With “Elevator”, Phage and Daniel Dreier appear to have slightly lifted their head out of the minimal kitchen sink, but both of their ears remained submerged. There’s still too many restless percussion fills cluttering up the track by itself, but these Bisy Backsons remain great cannon fodder for minimal DJs who play out. Audio Werner is also on hand with “Kabarett”, a more low-key techy affair with a recurring motif of grainy, synthetic plucks that never really let the groove settle in. These two b-sides feel like escapism or distraction compared to John’s side of straight up reality. And I can’t help wanting to continue walking down the endless straight line of the latter.

BAR25 / BAR25-2
[Listen]
[Michael F. Gill]


May 31, 2007

Maximilian Skiba - Beginning

Six months ago I’d never heard of Maximilian Skiba. I chanced upon him in a record store, when I picked up a curiously scribbled-on EP with the suspiciously eccentric title “Apple of Disco” (see review here). My inquisitiveness was quickly rewarded with one of the kookiest, most interesting of EPs I’ve heard lately, fashioned through a form of electro soundscaping that moved between references, emotions, and structures more times within the space of one track than some mnml labels have in their whole back-catalogue. Without being a slavish Moroder/Carpenter cribber or dogmatically retro (*cough* Legowelt *cough*), Skiba laid out a ruggedly individual imprint that screamed “talented eccentricity” through a Moog Vocoder and a disco breakdown.

But this is something else. Gone is the hyper reverential work, in its place, tooth-loosening machine electro that kicks harder than a methed up drag queen in a burst of jealous rage. “Transphormer” spreads its muscular legs all over the A, galloping along at 45 with plenty of pressure for the peaktimeand in fact, the perfect “scene” for this record is a catfight between the aforementioned drag queen and his/her unfortunate partner. Sydney Roy (sounding very close to Siegfried and Roy) revs things up for his remix with a dose of “boots and pants”, reigning in the quirk and losing the great touch of Skibas original in the process. The B2 is another gem, “Bye-Bye c64″ it’s one of those tracks you fall into, come down with, or break up to like Todd Terjes “Eurodans” or Closer Musiks beautiful “Maria”, this is a real sentimentalists treat. Eyes on the young Pole.

Eva / EVA 006
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[Peter Chambers]


May 30, 2007

Booka Shade - Tickle

The definitive low point of this year’s Winter Music Conference was standing outside the venue for the Get Physical event and being told that Booka Shade were about to wrap up their live set and the door fee had just doubled to $40 a head. At 4:30 AM. This almost makes up for it, though.

“Tickle” could be an addendum to last year’s amazing Movements LP, with those itchy little tapping sounds and swooning ethereal pads the duo favor so much. Their use of percussion in particular seems to have gotten even richer, with oscillating drumrolls and filtered beats sounding both metallic and static-fringed. Tickle? Indeed it does. Even sweeter to these ears is “Karma Car,” balancing a crunchy sawtooth undercurrent with chime and bell-like tones. The wood-circle faerie dance of alternating melody lines that starts close to the two-minute mark gets even tastier with the addition of finger snaps and one of the boys singing wordlessly along. It’s rare to find a track that combines a clean, ultra-modern aesthetic with a great sense of humor, but this is definitely one of those moments. Simultaneously classy and joyous, as we’ve come to expect from this lot.

Get Physical Music / GPM 0706
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[Mallory ODonnell]


May 17, 2007

Skatebard - Vuelo

200712"Neo-Disco

Way back in 2004 when I didn’t know techno from the sounds my backside makes after a night of too much hummus, Skatebard was an ultra-obscure contributor to Erlend ye’s DJ Kicks outing, with a four-on-the-floor high-treble UR-like banger called “Metal Chix.” In 2006, the Nordic producer gave us Midnight Magic, which was mostly chillout music and mostly a letdown. Tempo-wise Vuelo splits the difference, but this might be Skatebard’s best outing yet: two tracks of forlorn italo-disco, one track of Lindstrm-like downtempo space music (”Celluloid Mirage”), and one massively rhythmic, melodically impressionistic techno track akin to Booka Shade or Gui Boratto (”Holidays On Ice In Space”). The italo tracks are tops: understated melodies over the standard italo bubble, percussion underneath either going through various tweaks to reverb and modulations (”Vuelo”) or just overwhelming the lines with massive claps and more twittering hi-hat sounds, all of it dissipating upon contact (”June Nights South of Siena”). Makes me wonder whether I would have liked that Sally Shapiro album more if there was, cough, less Sally Shapiro.

Radius / RAD 012
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[Nick Sylvester]


May 14, 2007

Battles - Atlas

Perhaps the greatest irony of all was indeed that Alanis song in its praise was not ironic. An arguably lesser but still significant irony is that math rock, as a genre, a sound, a stance dedicated to remorseless intensity and rhythmic, timbral, and harmonic experimentation, has become, twelve years later, one of the most conservative and unchanging of all musical scenes (which of course they would disavow being on both counts). In a parallel to the drumnbass scene, perhaps anything with such a particular sound and intensity is bound to attract two groups of people: those keen for the new, and those mad for the sound. Where the former engorge themselves on the signifiers and grow full and tired before sleeping it off and moving on, the latter seem to have an almost inexhaustible desire for that sound and nothing but that soundforever.

So I suggested to two (still) math-rocking friends that Battles’ new single marked an exciting new direction for a genre that had gone from being merely stagnant to somehow embodying the very essence of stagnation. But they both hate Battles, ever since they “turned electronic”. Nothing, apparently, will ever equal the heights of Don Caballero. To them, What Burns Never Returns is not a title but the site of worship, of mourning and of an unquenchable repetition-compulsion.

So Atlas is a kind of a betrayal and promise by a group who seem to want to actually enact the originally progressive spirit of Touch-and-Go. What is it? It riffs like a Thorogood beast, howls like The Knife, but schaffels with a vengeance. Its a fantastic rock epic and a great track. But thank God for the Koze mix on the flip. Its more than a matter of 1 + 1 = two good sides. Like all good EPs, theres a quality-multiplying factor lent by the proximities of creative differences-in-common. Kozes mix presents his typical “touch” based approach to sound, with twee melodies not unlike recent International Pony work but a structure and mood that conjures Aphex Twin. The two tracks seem to wind into each other, not so much remixes as silent halves of the other that mutually intimate, stroke, and ground. The diehard math-rockers will hate it, and its too weird for the functionally-obsessed dancefloors of the world, but thats (also) why its one of the more interesting EPs of the year so far.

Warp Records / WAP219
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


April 5, 2007

Claude VonStroke - The Whistler (Remixes)

Like some troubling convergence of Tiga and the most recent Lilly Allen filmclip, my partners kid brother spends all day in his room (doing what, exactly?) listening to the stuff you hear in clubs. Being twenty, and without a clear idea of the genealogies that led to his preferred musical forms, he started by listening to Van Halen, 2 Live Crew and ended up losing his shit a year later in a club listening to the Presets Are you the One? For him, the perceptual barriers between rock and booty loose themselves in walls of grinding saw-wavesfor a minute, until he skips to the next track (back to his cherished Ass and Titties). Vonstroke seems well clued into all this, judging by the choice of remixers for his Whistler track (this being a guy who begun his career as a producer by writing a PhD on electronic music). I dont mean to suggest this is a cynical release, but this EP strikes me as being cheekily designed to achieve a certain response from a certain set of ears, to position itself as some of the stuff you hear in clubs.

Diplos mix is easily the most entertaining of this admittedly enjoyable bunch (but why do I feel nudging tads of guilt admitting that?). It keeps the drums high and dry and builds around a synth roller-coaster that gets wild like an unhanded garden hose. Vonstroke and Agnellis remix meanwhile takes dark stabs at a reverb-soaked, rave referencing spook-a-thon, with shades between Audion and Bodzins big room sound. DJ Assaults mix is exactly what youd expect, which is both the pleasure and the limitation. As with all his tracks, a minutes worth achieves the desired effect, and after that, meh. Jesse Roses mix is (by contrast) too subtle by half, relying on a big kick and a slow braiding sample of the originals melody, and takes more than two minutes to develop (by which time Diplos mix has already chased its listeners around the yard a few times). When I close my eyes, I can see big papa Derrick Carter housing the audience by mixing this one through two other kick-heavy tracks. Am I showing my age? Or does this show that both my partners brother and I can find something to love in this EP?

Dirty Bird / db009
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


March 31, 2007

The Week In Review: 2007, Week 13

Faze Action - In The Trees (Juno)

Nick Sylvester: Especially with the crowd that space-discos drawing at the moment, you cant go wrong re-releasing what in retrospect sounds like an accidentally seminal cut. Speaking of accidentally seminal cuts, dont be surprised to find, as I did, the Carl Craig remix in otherwise aggravating neu-rave Franco-filter-metal sets happening in Lower East Sides near you.

Andy Stott - Handle with Care / See in Me 10 (Modern Love)

Lusine - Podgelism / Podgelism Select Remixes (Ghostly International)

40 Thieves - Point to the Joint (Smash Hit Music)


Tobias - Dial EP (Logistic)

Peter Chambers: In every way the sequel to Street Knowledge, Dial is the second part of a manifesto that lays out the unmistakable patterns of an incurable machine romance.

Mad Mike - Hi-Tech Dreams (Underground Resistance)

Patrice Bumel - Just Electricty (Trapez)

Justus Khncke - Justus Khncke vs Prins Thomas (Kompakt)


Jacek Sienkiewicz - Good Night & Good Luck (Cocoon)

Michael F. Gill: As good as Six Feet Above and Double Secret Life were, Goodnight & Good Luck sounds like a breakout release, straddling high-clarity minimal techno with a set of winding trance-esque melodies a la Orbital.

2007 Winter Music Conference Coverage: Day Three, Night Three

Weekly Staff Charts
Beatzcast #25: Nativespeaker (Peter Chambers) - dysappearance


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