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
[Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


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
[Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


August 29, 2007

Osborne - Outta Sight

200712"HouseAcidSpectral Sound

For a guy who has done slice-n-dice jungle under the name Soundmurderer, Todd Osborn doesn’t seem to be possessed by much rage on “Outta Sight.” In fact, this single shows he’s more likely to be throwing down some loved-up house vibes than fragmented epics. I’m all for it though - if we’re heading into the last days of summer, then by all means let it be soundtracked by shimmering piano-house.

The individual ingredients on “Outta Sight” aren’t the most innovative - you could dine on the flirting piano melodies, Latin rhythms, over-enthusiastic bassline, and sampled vocal quiver for your next assembly-line meal. But Osborne teases each out, making such potentially hackneyed elements sound current for 2007. Along with Sly Mongoose’s “Snakes and Ladders” and the forthcoming single from Still Going, “Outta Sight” makes a great case that there’s a piano-house revival afoot. On the flip, “L8″ (produced with Tadd Mullinix) provides the necessary jacking foil - 303s, cowbells, and 909s need not apply, as there’s more than enough to go around.

Spectral / SPC-45
[Listen]
[Nate DeYoung]


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
[Listen]
[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 23, 2007

Jahcoozi - Reworks

200712"HouseLeftfield

Yet even more sweets for 2007’s remix piata. I’m not too familiar with Jahcoozi’s glitchy dub-pop stylings, but the “name” remixers piqued my interest here, and deliver three eargrabbing pieces of lively and stripped down house music. Leading things off is the nicely titled “Robert Johnson 6AM X-Ray Italo Rework” of “Ali McBillls” by Playhouse boss Ata and Moodmusic’s Sasse. It starts off a bit like an old MRI or Force Tracks record (dubby stabs on 2 and 4), punctuated by a heavily flanged snare at the beginning of each measure. As it progresses, things get slimier, with some disco-dub effects, pulsating eighth-note synths, and posh female vocals (”My Daddy’s rich but I don’t admit it”). There’s a line about Ally McBeal which is a bit cringeworthy, but thankfully it’s not so much a deterrent but a reminder of the fact that there are finger smudges in this chic pudding.

On the b-side, Arto Mwamb’s “Bubbles In The Bathtub Shake” remix of “Shake the Doom” is more straightforwardly housey, with simpler kick patterns and a two-note bassline. Arto maintains the interest level with an ever-shifting arrangement of staccato vocal chunks, colorful cymbal timbres, and a sneaky little chord progression revealed at the end. Cassy, Miss Panoramabar herself, remains in fine form with her own take on “Shake The Doom”. Similar in sound to her recent single with A Guy Called Gerald, this is a cyclic minimal house cut in love with its taut, old skool sounding drum rhythms. Yet it doesn’t feel flat or indulgent to me, as there’s a lot of spring to this remix’s step. Maybe I have a soft spot for drums that sound like they are made of rubber (i.e. they feel very flexible, yet still give a strong attack), but Cassy seems to get endless mileage out of this drum sound with only one vocal and keyboard loop laid on top.

Careless / LESS007
[Listen]
[Michael F. Gill]


July 11, 2007

Pharoahe Monch - Body Baby Remixes

200712"HouseR & B

90’s Rawkus hip-hop hero Pharoahe Monch has returned, and he’s unexpectedly packed a whole lot of rugged organic house into his trunk for his first single. “Body Baby” is begging so hard for uptempo remixes that it practically provided them itself, centered on a 21st-century gospel-dance pomp that Pharoahe rides exceedingly well over. “Body Baby,” bouncy as it is, demands an aggressive but not overzealous reworking, so the kid-sized gloves are somewhat in order. Count of Monte Cristal and Sindin seem to have missed the point, however, treating Monch’s slight vocal as SP-1200 fodder, flanging phrases ad infinitum to sculpt something more fitting of a Beyonce trance voyage than an underground hip-hop remix.

Optimo, typically, have a much more cogent take, bringing out the gospel and deep-house elements of the source material. Escalating the bass kick, piano fills, and chorus vox, they build up the original into a dancier, more upbeat track that still retains the hip-hop feel of the original, albeit pumped-up to a more D&B tempo. The Optimo Dub take goes classic dub, running the rap through filters to achieve ultimate freak-house action. Lastly, the Vicious Circle remix gets a bit over-ambitious, attempting to cram the best of both worlds. Playing the hard-house breakdowns of the Cristal remix against the gospel-ized organic grooves of the Optimo remix, it’s laudable in terms of intent, but leaves something to be desired in the end result, making you wonder who exactly would dance to it. This single is a mixed bag to be sure, but one worth investigating, especially for those in search of rap / house crossovers that take chances, rather than skating to the easy route.

Island Records / 1736972
[Listen]
[Mallory O’Donnell]


June 20, 2007

From The Archives #2

From The Archive is a selection of dance related articles and reviews from the archives of Stylus Magazine.

Sami Koivikko - Salmiakki (Shitkatapult)

Todd Burns: Quite simply, tennis has become less of a game of finesse and more of overpowering menaces that demand respect less because of their innate ability to outthink the other player and more because of their ability to stifle any response. For a long time, this was the state of German techno…

Various Artists - Inflation (Mu Label)

Michael Heumann: This is, in short, a remix album where the source material is inaudible and the artists must use these inaudible sounds to create audible music.

Monobox - Molecule (Logistic Records)

Todd Burns: The true highlight of the album comes with “The Diamond Age,” which oddly enough sounds much more like early Autechre or Posthuman than any other obvious antecedents to Robert Hoods brand of minimal techno.

On Second Thought: Thomas Brinkmann’s Studio 1 Variationen / Concept 1:96:VR (Profan / M_nus)

Todd Hutlock: In the liner notes to the release, Brinkmann explains his system (which one can assume he used on both releases) in detail: “I used a self-made turntable with 30 kilo plate, and two SME 309 Tone Arms utilizing both Ortofon and Van den Hul moving-coil pickups. The interventions with the actual vinyl are few: I slowed down the speed of the record and used the left pickup (arm) for the left channel, and the right pickup (arm) for the right channel. It’s possible to hear a melodic displacement between the channels. With a little intervention and displacement of elements, the Concepts are sounding different. The same information they had before, but two times present. Like the idea of cloning and twins: still Richie’s DNA with a little mutation. A different groove.”

On Second Thought: Pete Namlook and Dandy Jack - Silent Music (Fax)

Dane Schultz: Silent Music could be seen as a stylistic pastiche of the entire FAX catalogue.


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
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[Nate DeYoung]


June 4, 2007

Justice - D.A.N.C.E.

I’m sure that there are moments of brilliance in the very hip French filter-metal-disco scene (see: “Killing in the Name Of” simultaneously killing a dancefloor and [possibly] killing a movement), but as I just let loose in the parenthetical above, I sincerely doubt this thing’s got more legs. Justice’s upcoming album proves that much in short order and, if it weren’t for “D.A.N.C.E,” I’d predict their downfall for sometime in mid-2008.

But here it is and I’m forced to point out that it’s kinda structured like a song (a feat for these guys), is much lighter than their previous speaker-blowing plod-fests, and actually bounces along like something that an actual human being might dance to. It’s as if someone got a hold of these guys after they made the track “Phantom,” which appears here as a B-side, and told them, “You know what would be cool for those DJ gigs you guys’ll be going to soon? Music that girls actually like. Music that has a tension between hard and soft. Music built for the floor - and not the blog.” Thank God they listened.

Ed Banger Records / ED 017
Because Music / BEC5772071
[Listen]
[Nina Phillips]


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