September 10, 2007

San Serac - Professional

It often seems that the sincere ones are the most susceptible to disappearing in the future. Is that ironic or realistic? I think back to the half-remembered NYC indie/new wave group My Favorite, who channeled and built upon the literate poetry and angst of The Smiths and New Order better than any other group I’ve heard. But there wasn’t anything flashy or shockingly innovative about My Favorite’s music, and the fact that they always wore their earnestness on their sleeves eventually sealed their fate to obscurity.

I bring up My Favorite in relation to San Serac because Professional makes a case for the two groups being kindred spirits (not to mention that SS did do a remix for My Favorite’s swansong, The Happiest Days Of Our Lives). However, San Serac, fitting more into the growing indie-dance community, has a more marketable flash in his pan to overcome tags of “sophistication” and “maturity”.

That flash comes from an deeper set of musical influences than your average Ed Banger types, moving beyond the standard Daft Punk aping and post-punk racket to also include a sincere love of ’80s R&B, Funk, Freestyle and, dare I say it, Yacht Rock. The slightly peevish vocals from SS mastermind Nat Rabb may not sound too different from a standard !!! or LCD Soundsystem record (even if he can do a good Bowie impression), but you never get the feeling he is putting you on, even as he is namedropping Luis Buuel films, rhyming “commission” with “extradition”, and describing his plans for nihilstic love. This unbridled affection manifests itself in small ways throughout the record, but one of the key tip-offs is “The Black Monolith”, a rather heartfelt quiet storm number that could’ve easily been played for raised eyebrows and theatrical pastiche.

If there’s one criticism I might throw at Professional, its that some of the arrangements might be a bit overcooked for dance floor play, a qualm that is actually resolved by the CD’s addition of four dubbed out tracks (billed “for DJs only”) that follow the album proper. For the most part, San Serac has me excited about a fusion of indie rock and dance that is more sophisticated than the Modular or Kitsun template. Garish and more distorted blog-house artists will get more words written about them, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a classier indie-dance record in 2007 than Professional.

Frogman Jake / FMJ 23
[Listen]
[Michael F. Gill]


July 31, 2007

Naughty - World EP

Recently, I feel like I’ve been overpraising records. A niggling brain loop returns to me for the nth time, saying “You should pan something, you’re losing your critical faculty.” But then, what should I pan? Maybe it’s a sign of narrowness, of only listening to what you like of course you’re gonna give it a positive spin. Or maybe, just maybe, the releases of late have been solid gold. No doubt there’s elements of all of the above floating around in the mix, but I can say for certain (as certain as any provisional judgement can be) that Naughty has come up with one of his best, which (given his standard) makes it a shoe-in for one of the better tracks of the year so far.

The EP’s songtitles are likely a wordplay based on Double’s “Woman of the World”, an old 1983 track that has had a recent caning after inclusion, first on DJ Harvey’s Sarcastic Disco mix, then Ame’s Mixing, the Permanent Vacation compilation, and the extremely popular (and highly accomplished) DJ Kicks mix from Henrik Schwarz. “World of a Man” (nominally the B-side) opens like a very “big” Ananda track, slowly unfurling with rhythmic synth stabs and a blunt kick dug in below. In fact, the Ananda comparison holds throughout there’s a definite nano-trance undertow pulling the whole kaboodle out into a sea of dance. It’s a nice track, but it’s not why you should buy this EP…that would be the A-side.

“The World of a Woman” proclaims itself from the first bar, looping four bars from the grounding groove of “Woman of the World”, but quickly twisting things in a very Naughty direction, using a soft rounded pad with a three note ascending melody to contrast with the sawtooth bassline. But what a melody! There are shades of old-school Luciano (like the sparkling Capricciosa EP on Bruchstuecke) in the melodics, but with big, trucking rhythms. There’s elements of Italo, Balearic, and early 90s house, but it’s all so beautifully harmonised. I’ve been listening to this several times a day for the past week or so, and remain entranced.

Moodmusic / MOOD 053
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[Peter Chambers]


July 26, 2007

Luciano - Fourges et Sabres

Just after the fifteen minute mark, a strange thing happens while listening to Luciano’s new epic “Fourges et Sabres”. It fades out. That in itself is hardly strange, I suppose. What is odd is the sense of disappointment because the track feels cut short. Truncated. Abridged. FM radio stations (understandably) do this to Guns n Roses’ “November Rain”, but even then, the full version is less than nine minutes long. And you hardly feel “cheated” when it finishes. Luciano, unlike Guns n Roses (there’s a first time for every comparison), has achieved that rare thing, a track which almost totally suspends the sensation of time passing, which thrusts you into a soundworld which is propulsive and immersive.

Like Prins Thomas’ glorious twenty minute remix of “Hatchback”, this is partially achieved through unhurriedness. These tracks don’t feel like epics, they sound like songs unfolding at their own pace with a stride that’s (naturally) long and loping. Able to leap minutes in a single bound. Users of Reaktor might be familiar with some of the “autopoietic” synthesizers you can download you just fire them up, and they randomise, differentiate, and “make music” for as long as you let them. There’s a strong element of that here, although it’s mixed with an all-too-human command of the rhythm structures that bespeaks a knowledge of floors and dancing. Under all the ovoid chimes and fluff and hum there’s a big, warm bassline, and a fat kick.

“Back to Front”, the B, is not quite as successful (or effortless) in achieving a similar effect. The more conventional of the pair, it relies on a sax sample that stabs itself into the mix, urging the whole kaboose down the line along with some vocoded mutterings. This is a fantastically light, listenable EP that’s bound to layer and mix well (like most of Luciano’s recordings), but at the moment I’m still sort of dumbstruck by the qualities of the title track. If only life could be so effortless and endless…

Perlon / PERL 62
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[Peter Chambers]


July 6, 2007

Theo Parrish - Sound Sculptures Volume 1

200712"CD/AlbumHouseDetroit

Like most well-known Detroit techno producers, Theo Parrish is as much a shrewd marketer as he is a talented musician. Since so much of what comes out of Detroit is shrouded in mystery, one needs to be really clued-in to all the limited edition vinyl, homemade CD-Rs, and mail-order labels to try to make some sense of what is going on in the scene. Having talked about this with people from the Detroit area, I get the sense that this protectiveness often stems from a demand that the listener take the music seriously. But there’s a reason why someone like Omar-S, with his handwritten vinyl sleeves, 12 inches that play inside-out, and one-sided white labels, has created a stir in techno geek circles the past couple years, and it ain’t just the music.

If you’ve been following minimal and techno the past year or so, you’ll have noticed that house and soul have been turning up more and more as an influence (or as a no-longer-latent fetish). What with Antonelli naming his last single after Bobby Konders, Efdemin’s “Just A Track” based on a Chicago styled preachapella, Ame writing “WILD PITCH I LUV U” on the back of their singles, the growing ubiquity of Schwarz/Ame/Dixon’s “Where We At”, Carl Craig remixes, and Larry Heard’s “The Sun Can’t Compare”, as well as the popularity of openly Detroit/deep house themed labels from Europe (Innervisions, Philpot, Delsin, Styrax), demands for jackin’ are high.

It’s the perfect time then for Theo Parrish to release this new triple LP on his own Sound Signature label. With the residual love from Carl Craig’s remix of “Falling Up” still coming in, Sound Sculptures Volume 1 arrives with high expectations, and a hefty import price if you live outside the States. The extra exposure might explain why Sculptures sounds like a more streamlined and accessible version of Parrish’s music, although you can’t really say it’s watered down. As always, the vibe here is as much mechanical as it is soulful. No matter how organically jazzy or funky the music gets, it’ll always be stymied by some hard-boiled drums and extremely tight programming and editing. What’s missing on these nine tracks is Theo’s wild sense of vocal juxtaposition and gratitutious use of live EQing, the stuff that often works miracles in his live sets, but can be more frustrating to plow through on his studio albums. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has problems listening to Natural Aspirations (released by Parrish’s collective group The Rotating Assembly), where vocals either sit too high or low in the mix, and are set against music which seems completely incongruous.

Listening to Sculptures in comparison is a piece of cake: everything here goes down smoothly and easily. The first three sides are actually pretty concise, almost song-oriented. “Second Chances” open things up strongly with vocalist Monica Blaire impressively soloing and vamping around a four line refrain and some subdued piano/rhodes lines. “The Rink” is very similar to Theo’s Ugly Edits series, where a couple of very short soul/disco samples are chopped up, put against each other, and then looped for five or six minutes. The final three sides are all extended eleven minute workouts, including album highlight “Soul Control” (another vocal showcase, this time for Alena Waters) and the rather straightforward acid-tech groove of “Synethic Flemm”, which was engineered by the aforementioned Omar S.

As far as a potential crossover release goes, Sound Sculptures does its job. It’s representative of Theo’s sound, it’s consistent from front to back, and there are some great standout tracks. For long time fans, it may feel a bit redundant, a bit safe. To me, there is still enough of a distinctive “soulful” (for lack of a better word) quality to this music that comes across as tangible, even when motifs are being heavily repeated. I’d almost even equate such a feeling to eating corn on the cob: it’s hard to not walk away from the experience with some flavor stuck in your teeth.

Sound Signature / SS 026 / 027 / 028
[Listen]
[Michael F. Gill]


July 3, 2007

Syncom Data - Beyond the Stars Remixes

200712"TechnoDub

It seems wrong to call Speedy J a stalwart, because that suggests the guy’s still making average records, despite being “hard at it” for more than a decade. If at times his production (however brilliant) goes a little bit off the hard/deep end for my delicate ears (I spook easily) - with an incredible live show and a few seminal albums behind him, you’d have to say the guy’s an innovator. And an undermentioned one. Maybe the problem with him, the reason why he never became a Craig or a Hawtin, was just that he’s singular - there’s something inimitable about his style that has deterred disciples, and his deep, textured, powerful music has remained a cul-de-sac or an appendix, albeit a beautiful one.

But when he pulls one out, he really pulls one out: this remix of Syncom Data is one of the most powerful, expressive, deep, and interesting tracks I’ve heard all year. Like some of the contributions on the Shut Up and Dance compilation as well as some of Monolake and T++’s more epic workouts, this is more freestyle/deepscape than techno pure and proper; their cylinders are too large, and there’s two much gas in them for this to be a bog-standard four-pot burner. Damn, it’s is just…fantastic (gush alert).

Oh yeah, and there’s two other remixes here too, which are both great in their own way, although not nearly as grand as the A. SD’s remix is much more digi-dub (similar to the Burialmix & ~scape sound), taking a melodica into delayed terrain with some heavy beats which move all the textures around. Meanwhile, Legowelt comes out with one of his best tracks of late, opting for something which (as always) is both steeped in his ‘85-’95 passions/influences and is in possession of an eccentric expressivity that’s solely his own. This one also goes bang around the two and a half minute mark, with a massive kick that puts the whole kaboodle into peaktime orbit.

Syncom Data Records / SD05
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


June 14, 2007

Motorcitysoul - Kazan (Exit Cube)

Peter Chambers: Somewhere between the buzzswept soundplanes of Playmade and the introspective headroom of 240 Volts lies Aus, a label dedicated to the clean percussive lines and deep-sunk washes of dub-tech-house. It’s all a matter of “taste, not waste” (to purloin a phrase from Losoul), and it’s on full display here, polished smooth and flowing forward in full effect. Like Estroe’s recent hit “Driven” or older gear on Poker Flat, Motorcitysoul’s “Kazan” glides forward on the soft push of its lush melody, which blossoms over four minutes into a long, slow, lean break which holds just enough back. Classy gear for warming up cool-hearted floors.

The My My remix on the flip does little for the overall effect of the long, linear build which makes the sheen shiny in the original. It’s the musical equivalent of cubism, breaking the planes of the original into diamond-shaped shards then re-fitting the split facets together in the frame with lots of clever-clever edits that amp up the complications but detract from the overall effect.

Colin James Nagy: The original is a Detroit-inspired big room tune that tastefully touches on classic influences while embracing modern tones and production qualities for a near-perfect hybrid of old and new. A heavy heeled kick drum anchors layered synths, dropping into a nice, soft ambient lull before building back up again. The track doesn’t try to do too much, or get bogged down in unnecessary complexities. It just works.

Just about anything My My lay their hands on lately warrants a listen, and their remix on the flip is no different. They inject slightly more funk and swing to the track, also altering the structure and breakdown slightly. It’s not a major overhaul given the strength of the original, and speaks to their increasing talent as remixers - knowing when to leave well enough alone, while still leaving their own mark on a cut.

Aus Music / AUS0706
[Listen]


June 5, 2007

Oto Gelb / Daniel Wang - Magical Yellow Sound From Germania / Look Ma, No Drum Machine!

20071990s12"HouseDisco

It’s likely that over the past year or so, “disco edits” have been clogging up the new releases page on your favorite vinyl retailer’s website. Now that any chimp (let alone human) can freely acquire an editing programming like Audacity within a few mouse clicks, we are all that much closer to being exposed to Rising Disco-Tech Producer #56 extending the introduction to a favorite or obscure disco/new wave track by four minutes, and paying for the privilege to hear it. All together now: “And then I was discouraged by YOU!”

At their best, disco edits reveal hidden potential in otherwise imperfect tracks, and/or turn you on to a new set of tracks to dig for. The Idjuts Boys’ series of re-edit CDs on Noid takes this one step further by adding in new material, overdubbed effects, and wilder arrangements to the original source material. But it’s negligible how many edits actually need to be released on vinyl, especially when the original artists/tracks are rarely credited.

Daniel Wang seem frustrated at this state of edits too, and seemingly in a response to raise the level of re-arranging discourse, has reactivated his Balihu label with two edit-friendly releases of his own. The first is a new release of disco edits under the name Oto Gelb, with a press release that justifies itself by saying “[this is] music you just can’t make on a laptop, and that’s why it’s so good.” I hate to be an equally bitter pill, but there is not much to get excited about here, unless the idea of disco versions of Bach and Debussy tick your novelty sensors. This version of Bach’s “Air On A G-String” does give me a suave and sentimental feeling though, as if I was visiting Dimitri from Paris in an old folks home twenty years from now.

The second release is a reissue of Wang’s debut EP from 1993, Look Ma, No Drum Machine, which is one of his most highly regarded works, thanks to “Like Some Dream (I Can’t Stop Dreaming)” being a long time staple of disco and house DJs. And the track still works a treat, pasting an emotionally tense vocal snippet from Sleeque’s “One For The Money” onto a blank disco drums canvas, effectively flattening the tension into some kind of detached wonder. Actually, the entire EP is made up of sampled disco records, and while it was a common practice at the time for deep house records to work off a disco sample, Wang’s material here has more of a raw and homemade feel to it. On the b-side, “Gotta Get Up” is as fine a disco-house number as you can get without using a bassline, “Warped” falls a little flat if you’ve heard “Time Warp” from Disco Not Disco 2, and “Get Up, Get Up” locks into a more soulish loop a la Theo Parrish’s Ugly Edits.

While both of these records feels more “angsty” than necessary, Look Ma is still worthy of your time, and should put Daniel back in the public eye with both DJs and MP3 bloggers, just in time for his upcoming full-length album.

Balihu / BAL 016
[Listen]
Balihu / BAL 001
[Listen]
[Michael F. Gill]


May 29, 2007

Various Artists - Shut Up And Dance! Updated

All too often when I admit my passion for techno music to someone, the image that they conjure up is far from my own perception of it. To them, the word seems to imply a sound of hard and infinitely spiralling industrial loops; in short, music for drugged up idiots with their shirts off. This stigma that seems to stem from the more aggressive side of 90s techno has proved hard to shake from the everymans psyche, and is one of the main reasons why minimal has proved such a popular term for DJs, producers, and fans alike as they desperately try to distance themselves from the boorish connotations that many people draw with the genre.

The minimal techno (no matter how “minimal” a lot of these so called tracks are) scene seems to have manufactured an image for itself that suggests an intelligence behind the music and its creation, whilst simultaneously being extremely danceable and able to assert transcendental experiences on the dancefloor through innovative sound design. Some of the more rockist critics may scoff at this supposed ideology, writing it off as yet another excuse for hedonists in their twenties to go out and take as many drugs as they can get hold of, but the same criticism could be levelled to almost any other style of music. Would they say, for example, that punk meant nothing because a high proportion of the audiences were high on speed? Another argument aimed towards techno as a mindless, pedestrian form of art focuses on its simplistic rigidity of structure. Whilst its true that 99 per cent of tracks share uniformity through their 4/4 time signature, it is this theoretical canvas that allows producers to concentrate on the finer details and layers within the music, in addition to maximising the benefits that stem from using patterns and repetition to absorb the listener into the sound.

Electronic evangelists such as myself may even stick their necks out on the line to say that modern techno music is high art at its peak of visceral effectivity; marrying artistry and craftsmanship with sheer functionality to create an end product that is capable of stirring the minds, hearts, and feet of even the most casual observers. Obviously there are exceptions to this sweeping statement, but there are many stables of artists that almost certainly subscribe to this way of thinking. The prime example of this would be Berlins Ostgut Ton label; an anomaly in todays scene as its owners are also the proprietors of the infamous Berghain club. The club itself can even be seen in an artistic light; the unused power station being the perfect structural homestead for the machine music that inhabits its interior, whilst the Panoramabar upstairs hosts a painting by Turner prize winning German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans.

The labels latest venture, Shut Up And Dance! Updated, sees them consciously attempt to bring techno music closer to being accepted as a form of high art by creating a project that merges the music with a form of dance that has been part of the high art status quo for centuries ballet. The highly regarded Berlin Staatsballet are the chosen collaborators, and Ostgut have roped in an equally elite cast of producers to provide their soundtrack. me, Luciano, NSI (aka Tobias Freund and Max Loderbauer), Sleeparchive, and Luke Slater (as The 7th Plain) are the chosen few that were cherry picked to submit compositions, and all of the artists were given no instructions as to how the music should sound.

NSI open up the body of work with their effort, entitled “Bridge and Tunnel People”, which is possibly a comment on the suburban ballet fans travelling to the industrial locale of Berghain to sample the delights of the citys vibrant techno scene (read more about the phrase here). The track begins with a section of typical orchestral instruments; a delayed harp, looped string section and a cascading piano, slowly building in intensity until the sounds are enveloped by rumbling bass and chaotic synth stabs that usher in the beat. The fourteen and a half minute piece continues to develop throughout, delicately segueing between and merging the sounds generally associated with both the techno and ballet worlds, and as such, is a perfect opening gambit for what is to come.

After the turbulent synergy of the opener, Sleeparchive contributes what is (as youd expect from him) the most resoundingly minimalist track of the five; conjuring up a slowed down techno track that works its way from low frequency throbs and buzzes to wonky high frequency synth loops, removing them a minute from the end to give the music a sense of spaciousness that is only amplified by the low tempo. Sleeparchives sparse ending provides the perfect ending to flow into the compilations centrepiece, mes seventeen minute long cosmic micro-houser “Fiori” (Italian for “flowers”). Foreboding arpeggios and subtle whooshing percussion set the tone, before other elements are slowly introduced to the mix. The rhythmic bassline gives some bounce to the delicate beats, and warm yet melancholic synths are washed over intermittently to provide some relief to the intensity that is only increased by the strengthening of the percussion just before the halfway point. As proved with Carl Craigs ubiquitous remix of Delia & Gavin on DFA, the 4×4 kick is a a very powerful tool when its employed midway through a track, but “Fiori” also demonstrates the efficacy of its removal; reintroducing the introductions ingredients now provide respite to the toughened middle section.

Lucianos contribution, “Drunken Ballet”, injects some much needed humour and light-hearted quirkiness to the aphotic productions that precede it. The usual organic swing that underpins his work is accompanied by an intertwining vocal (simply consisting of a male and female oohing and aahing) that gives it a childlike, yet strangely sexual feel. Things are neatly rounded off with Luke Slaters “Symphony for the Surrealists”, unconsciously continuing Lucianos theme of infancy with a lush, ambient introduction accompanied with bleeps and xylophones that bring a childs music box to mind. As the title suggests, its this track that has the most in common with traditional classical music in both structure and aesthetics, the typical orchestra being replaced with ebbing and flowing synthetic sounds. Slaters use of intermittent percussion, radio static, detached voices, and eerie electronics throughout the thirteen minute epic is astounding, and even though only the most adventurous after-hours DJs will be playing it, it definitely marks itself out as one of the best electronic tracks of the year so far.

At a time of the year where everyones looking to individual artists for 2007s top electronic album, this release definitely shouldnt be swept under the carpet. Its certainly very ironic that by collaborating with an organisation thats as exclusionary as the Staatsballet, Ostgut Ton have created a body of work that will appeal to a much wider range of people than the usual club-based techno album. Whilst it almost certainly wont be enough to make Berlins older ballet crowd journey back to Berghain for one of their usual debauched parties, if it makes a few of the more open minded classicist and rockist listeners think differently about techno, then its done its job. One things for sure, itll make a lot of electronic music fans very happy indeed.

Ostgut Tontrger / ostgut CD03
[Listen]
[Richard Carnes]


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
[Listen]
[Nick Sylvester]


May 13, 2007

The Week In Review: 2007, Week 19

Pepe Bradock - Rhapsody in Pain (Atavisme)
Genre: Leftfield

Peter Chambers: Youre not going to have a lukewarm reaction to this compositionI love it, but that might be a reflection of my overdeveloped sense of the ridiculous. Im so happy people are making fearlessly individual, expressive music like this, experimenting with the idiom of groove to make something perverted, pervertingyet still funky.

Ilya Santana - Discotized (Permanent Vacation)
Genre: Neo-Disco

Force of Nature - Sequencer / Afroshock (Mule Musiq / Headinghome Records)
Genre: Neo-Disco

Nate DeYoung: It takes a grown man to acknowledge when he goes out of his way to find dishwashing music and this timelike alwaysForce of Natures Afroshock (Broken Rule Mix) just fell on my lap.

Toby Tobias - Daves Sex Bits (Rekids)
Genre: Neo-Disco, Balearic

Shed - Remixes In Four Parts 2 (Soloaction)
Genre: Techno, Detroit

Oliver $ - Hotflash Vol 2 (Grand Petrol)
Genre: Electro-House

Nick Sylvester: When [Oliver] grooves for a few seconds on a hiccup of filterhouse, I suddenly remember how infuriating glitch can get. I want that hiccup to last forever, a hiccup that comprises the best moment on the whole twelve-inch, but Olivers already moved on.

Baby Ford / Benno Blome - Smoke Machine (Sender)
Genre: Minimal/Tech

Passions - Emergency (Kitsune)
Genre: Indie-Dance

Move D - Ac1D (Modern Love)
Genre: Minimal/Tech, Techno

Weekly Staff Charts
Beatzcast #32: Crambe Repetita

Nina Phillips reviews MIA’s Bittersss

Michael F. Gill talks about the process of a creating a DJ mix on Modyfier


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