September 21, 2007

Ricardo Villalobos - Fabric 36

Fabric 36—announced years ago—has become the venerated mix series’ most anticipated disc. But in the announcement, Ricardo slipped in that he “prefers for it to be treated like a normal mix CD, with no hype.” Sure. Right. But, then again, take a quick listen to it: because despite the inevitable hype and a cover only a goth could love, Fabric 36 sounds almost carefree enough to actually live up to his modest hopes.

There’s been no lack of swipes at Ricardo Villalobos’ self-indulgence (cue this review’s gratuitous mention of Fizheuer Zieheuer), but Villalobos may be trying to save “self-indulgence” from derogatory connotations one release at a time. In his latest, what’s difficult to miss isn’t that he scraps the DJ mix as an outpouring of free publicity (for other artists) but that the mix is the rare modern entity that forces you to listen to an album as a whole. Fabric 36 has highlights but no singles—a series of tracks with only one order. And as imposing as that sounds, it only becomes an obvious fact when you try to listen to parts outside the mix itself.

Thankfully, it’s easy to get lost in the actual mix of the CD. There’s a lightness of touch throughout, leaving sections where Villalobos can transition from the introductory yelps of “Farenzer House” into the taut bass stabs of “Mecker” without batting an eye. In the midst of that section, there’s also a nudging synthpad that fleshes itself out five minutes later in the anthemic pop-rush of “4 Wheel Drive.” With Fabric 36, Villalobos has refined the volatile tangents of “Achso”—tracks are just as rambunctious and twisting, but also ebb with a purpose and destination.

That’s also a pretty apt description for this year’s earlier “album-mix” from False. But 2007, despite its breadth of textures, sounds one-note compared to the variety of rhythm and idiosyncrasies here. If 2007 was busy stumbling and scraping itself on concrete sidewalks, then Fabric 36 is a drunken party-host that introduces herself as “Moist.” And she’s not alone on the album’s centerpiece, “Andruic & Japan.” Accompanied by a personal Japanese drummer who blows his nose through a harmonica, she spouts anecdotes (about marriage, dead chickens, etc.) to either invisible guests or to herself—it depends on how demented you think she is.

Either way, she, like Villalobos, doesn’t seem to take herself too seriously here. Ricardo doesn’t ham it up on Fabric 36, but with tracks like the joyful splinter of “You Won’t Tell Me” and the celebratory finale of “Premier Encuentro Latino-Americano,” he sounds all but ready to throw away his cultivated mystique for something a little more pleasurable. And I’m still ready to indulge him a little more.

Fabric / FABRIC 71
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[Nate DeYoung]


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 17, 2007

Modeselektor - Happy Birthday!

Actually Modeselektor are excited to become cartoons. The group’s last couple of album covers are giddily aware of it. Inside the cover for Happy Birthday! and on its portly made-for-CD running-time, Modeselektor pound away with ACME anvils and beep beep through open ranges—covering the distance between bangers and ballads. Or, to be fair, it’s just bangers and ballads. That’s it.

Let’s not take away from Modeselektor’s strengths though, the pair is also good at bastardizing genres and music scenes. Their debut album wasn’t named Hello Mum! for no reason. Happy Birthday! just begs to be described in a pragmatic word like “chock-full,” but here’s an overlooked factoid—it’s the first album to be graced by one Thom Yorke which isn’t worried about being tasteful with a capital T.

Being tasteless suits the band just fine. With “2000007,” it also lets them out-prefuse Prefuse 73. Not stuck explaining their exquisite band name or racial politics must be fun, because it definitely sounds a helluva lot more brash and exciting than what Scott Herren is doing these days. The track might be in the genre-netherworld between glitch-hop and euro-crunk, but it’s definitely an unabashed sequel to group’s last album opener with the French rap group TTC.

Modeselektor continue to gleefully plunder their own past as well as others for inspiration throughout the 18 tracks. One notable choice is Scooter and their Teutonic happy-hardcore schlockfest, “Hyper Hyper.” The original isn’t waiting to be rediscovered anytime soon, which makes Modeselektor’s locked-jaw and straight-faced cover even more perfect. Enlisting Otto Von Schirach for the vocal role of Wizard-gone-Return to Oz, with a couple flying monkeys in tow, “Hyper Hyper” is bound to make another generation of kids yell for hardcore all over again.

When the tempo slows, the duo is wise to make their music just as sonically juicy and epic. On their collaboration with Apparat, “Let Your Love Grow,” the group let a field of bulbous synths and trip-hop drum patterns sprout around Paul St. Hilaire, ending up with a dead ringer for Massive Attack. The track is a highlight but one that’s sure to be trumped in notoriety by “The White Flash.” The group’s best contribution to “White Flash” is to let Thom Yorke do what he does best (i.e. play lost angel in our dystopia and moaning into the abyss), and Yorke is perfectly laconic in return—he even twists the euphoric “you have all the time in the world” into something preciously fleeting.

Happy Birthday! constantly reminds me of something Vitalic said in an interview—”I like people screaming in the sound with explosions.” When Modeselektor don’t try to fit every scream and explosion into its folds, the album sags. Tacks like “BMI” and “The Wedding Toccata Theme” sound dull when set against the cartoon-ish extremes of a song like “The First Rebirth,” which comes alive by being chopped and crunked before your ears. Luckily, most of Happy Birthday! finds Modeselektor being so busy being loony tunes that there’s little time to sit still and be bored.

Bpitch Control / BPC 159CD
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[Nate DeYoung]


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 similar—it 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 progression—after all, the template is basically the same concoction of deep, muted, echoing chords, subsonic bass lines, compressed hi-hats, and lots of tape hiss—and 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 one’s appreciation deepens. The devil may be in the details, but so are the thrills.

Detroit native Rod “Deepchord” Modell—he and Chicagoan Steven “Soultek” Hitchell are partners in Echospace, also a label—has 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 atmosphere—downright 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 31, 2007

False - False

There comes a time when a musician is capable of shitting gold and Matthew Dear has released an album titled 2007 to mark his. It takes a certain grace to make defecating metal sound like a talent, but it’s the same grace that makes Dear’s missteps sound just as captivating as full-strides. Thankfully, 2007 is full-stride, especially when placed next to the scattershot Asa Breed. Working under his minimal moniker, False, must be a liberating change of pace for Dear—2007 has none of the gratingly earnest pop-impulses (found under his birth name) or earnestly abrasive big-room techno (as Audion). Instead, 2007 is all burned-out ambience—the sound of a post-metropolis slowly ebbing away.

2007 is not just an album. It’s not just a mix. Somehow it gets to be both—it’s made up of all new material from Dear and fashioned into one giant smorgasbord. There’s none of the pomp you’d expect from an actual album and none of the tastefulness that you get from a mix. 2007 is a sleight of hand. A magic trick that begins off in the horizon with the rumble of distant cars (”Indy 3000″) and ends with a way-out-of-body blur of voices (”Forgetting”). To describe how 2007 travels between those points should include an important tangent—Dear sees his music under the False moniker as “clinical and mysterious.”

Which are an evocative pair of words and ones that describe a chunk of 2007’s label, M_nus. With their finely-honed textures and considered slabs of minimal techno, “clinical” could be as succinct of mission statement as M_nus deserves. Although 2007’s drizzle of percussion has been quantized good and proper with M_nus’ weapon of choice, Ableton, Dear’s compositions still find a way to drift, wallow, and entropy. It makes sense that 2007 is the result of a spring cleaning of Dear’s hard drive. Songs are an accumulation of forgotten tidbits and 2007 is an unwillingness to let dust lie.

And there’s little dust left in the nooks of the album mix—from Dear’s swallowed gulps of “shout!” on “Dollar Down” to the fidgeting synth that bridges “Timing” to “Alright Liar,” Dear isn’t able to stay still for long. Which is a welcome surprise from Dear’s last mix for Fabric—something that could charitably be described as static. Dear freely ditches rhythms for swaths of fuzz on “Disease/George Washington” and peaks with a swarm of bees on the single “Fed on Youth.” With each of album’s sixty minutes, there’s a compulsion that drives the mix with no hint of a resolution around any corner. For an album as porous as 2007, each track sounds opaque, calcified.

With those shards, Dear captures the sound of a city worn down not by time, but by disuse. Recurring throughout 2007 is the Doppler effect of cars racing past and sandpaper kick drums. Both sculpt an uncompromising environment of main drags and barren lots. But as willfully dark as Dear makes 2007, there are glimpses, like the low-lit chimes of “Face the Rain,” that make the album live-able if not understandable. And for an album as obtuse as 2007, the fact that it can be loved instead of just respected is reason enough to follow Matthew Dear like a gold claim.

M_nus / MINUS 55 CD
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[Nate Deyoung]


August 23, 2007

Pikaya - Cambrium

I recently rediscovered my CD copy of Gescom’s Minidisc. To those who are unfamiliar with the album, it’s comprised of eighty-something short tracks: rhythmic loops; spooky atmospheres; crunchbeats – the building blocks of an Autechre album laid bare, and a view onto the unarranged organs of a functional set. It was originally designed to be played on shuffle with a minidisk player, which meant that the album never played the same way twice, producing thousands of combinations of mixes. iTunes has given this album a new lease on life, because not only does it randomise the tracks and mix them gaplessly, it can also fade them into each other, resulting in both amazing and awful mixes. The only problem is the arrhythmic flam that you get when one beat crosses another out of phase…but once Apple releases a version of iTunes that can beat match, it’s bye-bye DJ.

I’ve done a similar thing with my collection of Cadenza EPs, which I play in a similar fashion, leaving the 4.6 hours worth of material on at low volume in the background and letting them randomise and waft into each other. The open structures and aleatory nature of Cadenza’s tracks (avowedly so in the case of Digitaline) mean that the music seems to take pleasure in its own meandering. Needing no intervention, it scribbles and squiggles away the afternoon in its own way. It’s my very own automatic etch-a-sketch, and it draws monochrome flowers.

The playlist is evolving with every Cadenza release, and with the addition of this new Pikaya EP, it’s grown in dub and daub, adding ornamental flourishes and deep-thrown effects to the labels’ prototypical boom-click/plip-plop skeleton. Pikaya’s debut on Cadenza came with “Grüne Raufaser” the b-side on the split they shared with Andomat 3000 and Jan’s more boisterous and successful “Entr’acte Music”. It was a track that always hinted at introducing a major theme, but never really delivered on this tease. Both “Fango” and “Jedi” offer the similar sense of imminent drama (which never quite materialises, it’s stuck teetering on the verge), and at high volumes they provide useful tension as foregrounding tracks to be mixed in before “Mr Big Hooks”. At low volumes (when the tracks return to being my living room wallpaper) this also works as part of the overall Cadenza strategy. This is not house so much as the ivy that clings to it.

Cadenza / CADENZA 17
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[Peter Chambers]


August 20, 2007

Beatzcast: Freestyle Essentials 01

Mixes2007

VARIOUS ARTISTS - FREESTYLE ESSENTIALS 01
Mixed by Michael F. Gill

“People called it Latin hip-hop, but the pop producers didn’t want to use that term because hip-hop had negative connotations. So they started calling it freestyle.”

01. Shannon - Let The Music Play - Emergency Records 1983
02. Jellybean - The Mexican - EMI 1984
03. Lisa Lisa - I Wonder If I Take You Home - Columbia/CBS 1984
04. Nayobe - Good Things Come To Those Who Wait - Fever Records 1986
05. Amoretto - Clave Rocks - PKO Records 1986
06. Sa Fire - Love Is On Her Mind - Cutting Records 1988
07. Cover Girls - Show Me - Fever Records 1986
08. TKA - One Way Love - Tommy Boy Music 1986
09. Cover Girls - Inside Outside - Fever Records 1988
10. Nayobe - Please Don’t Go - Fever Records 1984
11. Alisha - All Night Passion - Vanguard 1984
12. Company B - Fascinated - Atlantic 1986
13. Expose - Point Of No Return - Arista 1985
14. Nocera - Summertime Summertime - Sleeping Bag Records 1986
15. Information Society - Running - Tommy Boy Music 1985
16. Debbie Deb - When I Hear Music - Jam Packed 1983
17. Debbie Deb - Lookout Weekend - Jam Packed 1984
18. Nice N’ Wild - Diamond Girl - Atlantic 1986
19. Judy Torres - No Reason To Cry - Profile Records 1986


August 14, 2007

The Chemical Brothers - Do it Again (Remixes)

Recently, my sister decided to through a ’90s retro party, something that has only become conceivable in the past few years. Until about 2004, the 90s, with all its big hair, baggy trousers and bad colour combos (lime green and tangerine?!) was still too fresh a scar, too painful a memory to be safely retro. Planning the programming for the party, something emerged – the ’90s feels like two eras with a brief threshold in the middle. For me at least, the ’90s begins in 1989 with acid-house and early techno crossovers, hip-house, New Jack Swing, “rap” (prior to its being hip-hop) and the last of the Stock, Aitken, and Waterman hits. 1995 feels like the threshold – “respectable” electronica like Autechre and Aphex Twin finds its way onto the cassette comps of indie kids and groups like the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers suddenly sit comfortably beside the Smashing Pumpkins and Tool on the rotating platters of 5CD mini-systems at teen parties. My sister and I pulled out all our old ’90s comps and gave some of the classics a rinse. The Prodigy still have brutal energy and addictive hooks, Fatboy Slim sounds even more irritating than it was, and KLF’s The White Room is an unqualified masterpiece. The Chemical Brothers’ albums get worse and worse as the nineties climb to the highpoint (lowpoint?) of “pre-millenium tension” – Exit Planet Dust is still their best work, while by 1999 the tracks rely on bombastic impacts to the detriment of groove and flow.

As if conceding the need to ride the coat-tails of the swiftly departing zeitgeist, the Brothers have enlisted the talents of Oliver Huntemann and Matthew Dear (here in Audion guise) to overcome redundancy. Huntemann’s track is lacklustre and dull – it takes little of the original version’s hyperactivity and replaces it with your typical Huntemann/Bodzin big rolling synth. The Audion version is actually closer to recent False material in style, but unlike the tracks on the outstanding 2007 record (a record that actually is 2007), this re-touch is relatively bland, with none of the compelling spookiness of the twisted medleys in the murk. The last song on the Brothers’ new album is called “The Pills won’t Help you Now”, and I can’t help but think this is a self-reproach (or maybe it should be) – but on “Do it Again” the lyrical content suggests the opposite. It details the misadventures of some hapless drugged punter in a way that seems to celebrate the very thing it’s condemning; this is probably not what they were aiming for, and the overall impression is “who cares?” more than “do it again”.

Virgin / Astralwerks / 3941480 / ASTR 92726
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[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


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]


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
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[Peter Chambers]


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