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
[Todd Hutlock]

August 7, 2007

B12 - Practopia / Slope

UK duo B12 (Mike Golding and Steve Rutter) were a prime mover in Warp’s Artificial Intelligence movement in the early ’90s alongside acts like Richard James’ Polygon Window, Black Dog Productions, and Autechre. 1993’s Electro-Soma was their definitive statement. Fusing lush European sounds with Detroit-derived rhythms to great effect, it was fathoms deep and foot-tapping all at once. The five-track Practopia dates from 1996 and is just now getting a proper release (the original only made it to white label at the time), but still sounds like it sprung from some sleek Blade Runner-like futuristic society. Much like Kraftwerk’s timeless style, the classic melodic lines, Derrick May-inspired rhythms and sense of…space…place it firmly in the retrofuturist mold. The infamous cover of the original Artificial Intelligence comp features a robot chilling out in an easy chair with headphones on. This could easily have been what it was listening to.

The newly recorded Slope three-tracker, cut from the same template of sounds, is an altogether more bouncing and aggresive affair, built more on layered percussive elements than drifting keys and ambient washes. It’s good stuff and still distinctive, but lands closer to the Plus 8 sound than the original B12 recipe. The robot just might leave its chair for this one.

B12 / B1215 / B1216
[Todd Hutlock]

June 14, 2007

Argy - 1985

200712"House • Liebe Detail • Minimal/Deep

If we are, as Peter Chambers notes, in the midst of the “Year of the Remix”, there’s going to be more than a few virtual hecklers in the back row pointing out that P. Diddy must be avant these days. So what would make 2007 any different than the past 25 years? It’s a question that could hole up a think tank of monkeys for days, but the optimist in me likes to believe that they’re now seen as less of a shrewd marketing technique and more for their collaborative potential. Well, that and it’s still a shrewd marketing technique.

Which makes Spezial, the new imprint for Liebe Detail, a bit more interesting than just diversifying brand. After beginning with two remix EPs, Spezial’s first proper artist single also makes sure to include one of the best remixes of the year. Argy, jumping from his Pokerflat ship, gives “1985″ a chunk and a half of organ stabs set around enough sirens and cymbal breakdowns to fill the strictest of hands-raised seizure quotas. It’s good, but feels too compartmentalized, too precise for you to let go. Which isn’t a problem for the Sydenham and Rune remix. They duo act like they’re unable to color inside the lines, but in the best possible way, smearing all the organ stabs in every life-affirming direction.

Liebe Detail Spezial / LDS 003
[Nate DeYoung]

April 24, 2007

Reverso 68 Especial


Reverso 68’s new single is somewhat of an anomaly: a disco burner with a rather refined sense of character. Rather than just focusing on one element and turning it up to 11, like an acid synth freak-out or intense barrages of drum programming, Pete Herbert and Phil Mison take each individual instrument and set it to “stun.” The result is an even-keeled, sleek, and shimmering slab of disco that slowly but surely set fire to the dance floor.

Whereas last year’s “Tokyo Disco” read like a groove-infused Kraftwerk, music for the distracted dancers of the future, “Especial” is much more happy to stick it out and debase with abandon. Combinations of popping bass, ricocheting synth lines, stabs of electric guitar, and celebratory chanting all mesh together nicely without over-doing it.

If the A-side is about the party, B-side “Take Me Back (To Yours)” is entirely concerned with the after-partyin the bedroomand everyone plays it cool. The drums and bass sit back and dig deliberately into the beat, the guitar stands in the corner and chucks along, and the darker synths throb underneath while the track shimmers in and out of consciousness. All the while you can hear the results, a female’s enthused affirmations echoing throughout, climaxing with the repeated mantra, “it feels good on your lips.” And as the last note reverberates into oblivion, theres a feeling that Reverso 68 have soundtracked one of the best nights out of the year so far.

Eskimo Recordings / 541416 501598
[Peter Lansky]

December 22, 2006

2006: The Year In Review

Welcome to the Beatz By The Pound year-end roundup for 2006, a veritable smorgasbord of lists, thoughts, and reflections about the current state of dance music. And while all of our writers handed in very diverse ballots, we were able to come to a consensus on a couple of key releases, producers, and labels. Let the madness begin


December 1, 2006

From the Desktop to the Hilltop (via the Pill Drop)

A few weeks ago I put forward the proposition that clubland has become a drug culture that uses music, instead of a music culture that uses drugs. Im still not sure if I agree. But the reactions of my nocturnal f(r)iends to the rant has been more interesting than my unresolved doubts: the beer monsters and stay-at-homes mostly agreed, saying (surprise, surprise) that the disco was too late, too hard, too loud, too taxing. The hedonists conceded a point, but felt that Id overstated things: it isnt just thata partys all about the people, the venue, the atmosphereyou cant blame the essence of the problem on a substance, or separate it from the crazy tangle of elements that makes an event. But what was really interesting was the number of people who argued a combination of these two points:

a) It didnt always used to be like that [historical]
b) Its not like that in {Hawtingrad} [geographical]

I scanned the dark recesses of my own discotheque memory tapes for confirmation of both assertions, and found that yes, it had been true. Im not old school, so I cant speak for the spirit of 89, but I do remember where it was possible to go and see Laurent Garnier play for six hours to a room full of adoring fans and the best sound system you could imagine. Ah, Tokyos old Liquid Room, RIP. Sure, it cost the equivalent of forty US dollars to get in, but it was the business. But this is rare anywhere, and perhaps only metropolii that have the critical mass of both people and objects in circulation can make it happen. Tokyo of 2006 has Unit, Offenbach has Robert Johnson, Berlin has the Panorama Barbut these places are the exception, rather than the rule.

The Rule is Rex. I have this wonderful/terrible memory of seeing Isole play at Rex in Paris. Isole was bringing his set to its crescendo with a speaker-blowing rendition of Face B, and there in the audience was this utter penis and his two mates, shirts off, fanny packs strapped across their fronts. I thought it was fist pumping. I thought it was praise. But no, these mofos were heckling the good man. They werent losing their shit, they were giving him shit. Now, I dont speak much French, but it was pretty obvious what this guy was saying. Ill offer what is probably as accurate as a machine translation:

Cmon you pulsating glowstick, pump it up! I paid hard euro for this!
My pill is kicking in, you German pigdog!
Cant you see my prune is pulsatingplay Gehts Noch!

Below said ecklers in a small semi-circle were the discerning few, smiling that smile, dancing that dance, blowing that smoke, and all that jazz. Behind that were everyone else, not really dancing, just kinda nodding along. We could not have been listening to the same music, and yet there we all were…

All over the world (with the exception of the exceptional places mentioned), the same scene seems to be repeated. Is it Abletonitis? Is it the perennial sigh of the misunderstood artist casting his pearls before swine? Is it the fact that the nightclub and its needs are fundamentally at odds with the appreciation of, well, music? Maybe Isole played his next set to an adoring, appreciative crowd the following Saturday somewhere in Hawtingrad, but my experience at Rex was typical of what I saw in Europe outside of the handful of truly great clubs.

Its not just the drugs, boredom, or booze. The real enemy here appears to be habit. We need habits, no question. Repetition is our only defence against something disappearingyou wanna build something, you wanna make something happen? Youre gonna have to do it again. Try building a house, try being a drummer, try making a baby. Maybe life itself is nothing but the transformation of this repetition compulsion into pleasure, and our fear of death is simply a fear of breaking the habit of living.

But the problem with habits is that they brook no breakageonce established, their inertia will outlive common sense, boredom, even the end of the organism itself. Like Matthew Dears lyric from Dog Days: Tell another story to your body so it makes sense / The reason for this story is to give away your last chance. Indeed. And clubs, being what they are, are the final resting place of our deepest habits, the zenith/nadir of our bodily needs wanting to step on the good foot and do the bad thing again and again and again. Its good that we have a space for our habits to prance about, but the problem for creativity is that habit will have its needs met, and nothing else. The drinkers want to keep drinking, the DJ wants to keep playing, and the dickhead hassling Isole well, he just wanted to go off in a timely fashion. Theyve paid hard euro, they came to get wasted, and your job is to satisfy their urges. Hey, they work all week, this is their only outlet, have some compassion! Point is, we may never give up our habits, but the thing we need to cultivate, more than anything else, is a sense of the exceptional.

The Greeks had the Dionysia, the Romans the Bacchanalia, the Haitians have Voodoo rites, and if youve seen Borat you know that even evangelical Christians get to freak out and speak in tongues for a few moments every week without guilt. Maybe we can leave the serpents, satyrs, and bloodlettings for another barbecue and just take the lesson that all these events dip their lid to a seemingly immutable human need to lose it without the fear of guilt or recrimination. It seems to me that weve inherited a potentially fantastic idea from Jamaica in the form of the sound system. Monsters and misfires aside, from Coxsone Dodd through the Wild Bunch to rave kidz and their rigs, a mobile sound system retains the greatest potential as a spacemaker. Alls you got to have is a kick-ass PA, some great DJs, choose your space carefully and imaginatively, and make sure you invite the good peepz. Mix, stir, and voila: instant party. Kids, if youre listening, consider getting access to a sound system and throwing your own parties. It sure beats bitching about other peoples or does it?

[Peter Chambers]

November 3, 2006

Sans Soleil - Asprovalta


Michael Trommers first releases were on Derrick Mays seminal Transmat label, and Mays sonic fingerprints are all over this classy three-tracker. The title cut goes sans drums for the first two minutes or so, building up a groove reminiscent of the classic beatless mix of Mays Strings of Life. When the beat does kick, it launches a smooth Detroit groove that keeps that familiar spacey vibe firmly intact. The two tracks on the flip are more of the samelong on ambience, complex multilayered programming, and funky yet laidback rhythms. With Detroit long since having moved on to other sounds, this is a refreshing step back. Those looking to reminisce, or simply looking to groove around in a state of bliss with their eyes closed should most definitely check this one out.

Truffle Music / TRUFFLE03
[Todd Hutlock]

November 3, 2006

Justus Khncke & Dirk Leyers - An Ounce of Memories

If you were silly enough to pay money for Kompakts latest overblown mediocrity (Total 7), your listening adventure would have begun with a wonderful understatement: Dirk Leyers and Justus Khnckes magnificent Grey Skies to Blue, a track which evoked the spirit of classic melodic minimalism that made both Kompakt veterans previous gems like Maria, Departures, 2 After 909, and Jet so outstanding. Heres more of the same/difference, but with vocals. Releasing the EP with an instrumental and vocal version of the same track seems to suggest three things: that the track is strong enough to stand on its own; that both versions offer a unique listening experience; that people will either definitely want OR not want to hear An Ounce of Memories with its vocal. Fact is, the track does stand on its own without the vocaldoes that make it extraneous? In instrumental form, An Ounce of Memories conjures that wonderful open sky feeling that Leyers pulls from his mesmeric melodies. Its harder to hear Khnckes sound signature, or at least, Leyers contribution bleeds the cheese out of Justus disco, leaving a whimsical, light-minded tug that pulls the track into the light. With Eric D. Clarks (Whirlpool Productions) vocal added, we get a pale version of Jay Hazes wonderful Soul in a Bottle or Schwarz, Ame, and Dixons Where We At, leaving these heartstrings thoroughly untugged.

Firm / FIRM 20
[Peter Chambers]

October 13, 2006

Lexx - Sirocco


Not to be too gimmicky about this, but I was searching for this twelve in my iTunes like a sec ago, and instead of typing “Lexx” I wrote “Lindstr?m,” weird little “?” and all. So that’s my touchstone, i.e. this is as dense and smooth and hooky-not-hooky as any mid-tempo Lindstr?m disco cut, though the guitar scraps on “Sirocco” are closer to “Mr. Magic” and early R&B-influenced smooth jazz than anything Balearic. At the moment I like the b-sides more: the same-tempo “Slow Burning,” and a Mudd remix of the track that’s really more of a dub?given its politeness. Mudd’s fattened-up bassline sticks to the original’s suggestive one-note thump, and the firm synths have a buoyancy that puts the track way ahead of otherwise verbatim space-disco. After Oorutaichi’s “Misen Gymnastics,” this may be the best weirdo-disco twelve Bearfunk’s put out to date.

Bearfunk / BFK 020
[Nick Sylvester]

September 8, 2006

Dntel - Jukebox Series #10


Precious little jewels! In two tracks and less than eight minutes, Dntel and Mia Doi Todd re-affirm their reputation as two of the most interesting talents working in the strange, difficult gaps between indie and electronica. Like a lot of the work on Life Is Full of Possibilities, both Rock My Boat and Everythings Tricks require close, repeated listening to surrender a portion of the quality crafted into them. Theyre both much larger than their run-time, and require repetition to unpack fully. The reward for your efforts is a beautiful pop song and a wonderful instrumental, both of which blend found sounds, samples, synths, beats, and instruments together into a delicately balanced mlange thats only shy of giving itself up for knowing its got so much to offer. If you enjoyed Dntels earlier work, this is (as they say) a must have.

Aim Records / 100-10
[Peter Chambers]

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