July 18, 2007

Various Artists - Sasomo EP

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

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

BAR25 / BAR25-2
[Michael F. Gill]

June 28, 2007

Studio - Life’s a Beach! (Remixes)


Along with Finland’s Uusi Fantasia and Sweden’s Bjorn Torske, Studio are one of the groups whose sounds and sympathies orbit the cosmos of Prins Thomas’ imagination of space/disco/dub. Its “not disco” though, or not as we know it, but a form busted open by eccentric tastes and open ears. In a recent interview I did with Prins Thomas, he explained how the relative marginality of Scandanavia (and especially Norway) has kept things prised open, and open things prized. “On the one hand,” he explained, “I could have lived anywhere and made the music I do but the isolation is important. I think that’s one of the reasons why there’s a lot of diversity here. We’re open to a lot of styles and it’s been an important part of generating our open approach…you have to work hard to please everybody when you play here there’s no sub-genre nights or anything like that. You can’t afford to be a genre fascist in Oslo.”

Prins’ remix of “Life’s a Beach” opens with an appropriately stomp-paced cosmic bassline with all sorts of shifting Balearic textures thrown over it, slowly rising to full swing alongside spills of space delay. Then, at the five minute mark, by the strange and welcome intrusion of a very 8-bit sounding note, the track reaches its peak (which only sounds once!), after which the whole thing just drifts away on congas and beachy spume. Meanwhile, back at the disco, Todd Terje turns tables on the tracks, rendering “Beach” nocturnally capable with some chunkier percussion, altering the mood from giddy to “giddy up”. Terje likewise uses the same 8-bit note at almost exactly the same point in the track, then opts for the a similar long outro, re-done in a more late-evening fashion. Oddly similar, the two mixes here are sun and moon to each other. Ah, so much good music.

Information / INF 003
[Peter Chambers]

June 27, 2007

Andomat 3000 and Jan - L Delay


About eight months ago, I had this to say about Andomat 3000 and Jan’s “big hit”:

“Entr’acte Music has got a grinding, slightly big-room and (dare I say) ‘tribal’ feel to it. It’s a little staid, but very effective.”

I think I was half right, as usual. Hearing the track dropped in between Deetron’s “Life Soundtrack” and Len Faki’s “Mekong Delta” (see review here) on Radioslave’s recent (and decent) Misch Masch compilation made me “hear” it properly for the first time. Here was a track with ass and teeth whose housed-up signifiers could freshen the deadened beats of any crabby old techno monster.

So here they are again, back to do battle with boompty basslines against the unhoused (homeless?) creatures who inhabit the mnml microverse of Cadenza, a sub-sub-genre that a half-sympathetic DJ friend calls “martini microhouse”. If we’re gonna ride those cocktails, then, to wit, these puppies are in the process of shakin’, with a Cajmere sweater and hot pants toned down a shade for jaded Swiss eyes. There’s a heavily reverberated horn stab and a fulsome kick on “L Delay” that sounds like it’s been sampled from wadaiko drums it’s nice, it works. “Frost”, the B, takes a wiggly bassline and makes it roll to a clap, getting things rocking enough so when the congas want to get in on the action, the kick drums don’t mind. Toolish over time and sparse within space, “Frost” seems to want to do more, as if it was in search of a nice vocal. Maybe Green Velvet rapping about aliens or porno would do the trick? Anyway, the drums go boom, the kidz go aaah and if you’ve a troublesome vocal to mix out of, this rather plain track could save your fretting DJ ass.

Cadenza / CADENZA 15
[Peter Chambers]

May 30, 2007

Crowdpleaser & St Plomb - 2006 Remixes 1

My God, has it really been three years since the “plugin acid” revival ran its course? Remember all those Dalhbck and Dahlbck records? Actually, they were pretty good, I thought. But maybe its wrong to ever talk about acid as a “revival”, when its never really gone away for more than a moment. Like the Blues Brothers, acid seems to be as revoltingly effective as it ever was, now matter how much of a caning it gets.

Little wonder though, when you hear a record like the “Jackin Freak” remix of Crowdpleaser & St. Plomb’s wonky floor-warmer “1,2,3″. This track manages to bottle the psychopathology of an entire lost weekend in the space of six minutes, starting out quite politely, bugging like a pair of Rodney Dangerfield eyes for a moment, then calming right down—just in time for your neat segue into the low-slung scape of the Daschund mix of “Zukunft”, which echoes and eddies its way into a party mood (in a very mnml way), with lots of splashing granulated textures, and that “sleazy bee” melody retained from the original version. Und (remember “Fox in the Box”—now that was a polarizer) brings her love for out-of-place-vocals and her ear for melody to bear “Today”, coming up with a nice A to B microhouse record, replete with strange intrusions, crowing cocks and toy machines.

This is a great EP that manages to do what remix EPs should—complementing the spirit of the original and introducing new relationships, new proximities that suggest both the source and an inspiration. Hot on the heels of Crowdpleaser & St Plombs album and the recent Kate Wax reissue, Mental Groove are (just quietly) shaping up to be one of the truly great labels.

Mental Groove / MG.LTD.016
[Peter Chambers]

May 10, 2007

Move D - Ac1D

Being both a sucker for Modern Loves polished, neo-classical adult contemporary listening techno AND Move Ds deep, lovely jazz influenced, IDM-inflected deep/minimal/tech/house vibrations, I was doubly determined to give Ac1d as unsympathetic a listening as possible. If we are to spurt praise, let us at least align and aim the gush cannon, as it were. Yet spurt I must, or squirt at leastonce again David Moufang has dug deep and offered up two subtle, satisfying pieces of dubbed-out tech-house.

Ac1d, the A, moves through a repeating, decaying padded acid groove, whilst rich, textural elements (bleeps, vocal snatches, snipped squelch effects) are flung by. Were close by the Luomo of Vocalcity here, where straight beats belie hidden depths that surge out at large volumes, or intimate strange feelings if left in the background. Sheffield Dance is a little more retro and less effective, beginning from a waddling bassline and building toward an emotional release that curves too slowly and releases too littlebut works well as an ebbing, fading track, slowly dying away like five AM.

Modern Love / Modern Love 028
[Peter Chambers]

April 9, 2007

Kathy Diamond - Over


Genius is one of those words that gets flung about and ends up bruised for the flinging. Theres always the value gap between labels of praise and the objects theyre stuck onits something thats too easy to say, and too difficult to be. Or (to mix metaphors), peel the label and youre left with a sticky residue that gathers dirt. So, having framed and disclaimed Maurice Fulton by implication, lets just sayits really good that such a multi-talented producer has found in Kathy Diamond a vocalist whose chords sympathize with his key qualities. Both the first fantastic All Woman EP and, now, Over intimate a collaboration that could see one of the years most accomplished syntheses of house, funk, disco and 80s-inflected pop.

Over harks far further back to its 70s roots than the former single, which swung off a slapping bassline and a big funk clap. Here its all organs and hall-size reverb, which lend a soaked stage for Fulton to let rip. Diamonds vocals seem to get a little lost in the big roomanother sound/effect in the overall instrumental. In fact, whether with or without the vocal, neither mix reaches the heights of the funky lowdown on All Woman. Yet between these two singles there exists a range of sounds and directions that begs for exploration and suggests the imminent arrival of something truly great. Thats all Im going to say.

Permanent Vacation / PERMVAC 008-1
[Peter Chambers]

March 13, 2007

Visions of Tomorrow - Galaxy


Not the War tune, but a lost gem of disco-boogie unearthed by the aptly-named Past Due label, wherein silly-spooky spaceman vocals and a ripe analog wiggle grace bar-band funk with nicely understated horns. The re-edits, courtesy of Charles Webster and Francois A. (cue joke about the K. being already taken) do the do, both elongating and tarting up the original for consumption by modern dancefloors. The Webster Edit is the most sympathetic to the original, slightly wack vibe, in that he seems mainly concerned with lengthening, strengthening, and exposing a bit more separation in the constituent parts to give it a more minimal/less retro feel. Francois A. is more interested in revisionism, and takes “Galaxy” into the uptempo house dimension in a big ole hurry. Strangely, it actually kinda worksI don’t know what he’s done apart from speed it up and ditch the vocals, but it reminds me of the halcyon days of filter-house, and that’s enough to ask. For now.

Past Due / PASTDUE001
[Mallory ODonnell]

February 9, 2007

Claude Von Stroke - Who’s Afraid of Detroit (Remixes)

Mallory O’Donnell: A thing like this should just arrive on the doorsteps of all techno devotees with a big black stamp on the mailer proclaiming it an “EVENT RELEASE.” Von Stroke’s anthemic non-anthem gets tarted up for the party by Audion, Tanner Ross, and… Kevin Saunderson?! Kev, what up, how you doing, it’s been what… two years? Three years? Afraid of Detroit? No sir! What follows all the fuss and excitement is as best as could be expected, which means it’s quality achieved by playing to the strengths of the remixers, rather than taking any big chances. Starting us off, Matthew Dear / Audion does his thing with the rubberized freakbeat baton for eight minutes of squeaks and creaks. I recommend playing this as loud as possible, preferably while doing something like showering or quietly running in place, but the key is LOUDjust to hear all the little nuances and revolving circular nipple-twisters of sonic nutriment Dear’s installed in his refit. Tanner Ross stays pretty close to the original, which is fitting, because nobody knows who the hell he is. He’s actually done more of a smoothing job than a remixing oneif the original was straight-up double chocolate fudge this is more of a peanut-butter / mocha swirl. Nice enough, but not really needed. Last but surely not least, Kevvy Kev throws down a classy-as-fuck version to show these young whippersnappers how it’s done. The word here is LUSHit’s basically a big band swing tune masquerading as roots techno, sympathetically warm, grooving and brassy. Naturally, the jaggedness of the original has been lost, but Saunderson’s scorched it away by applying a soulful fire to the canvassomething added, something taken away. Pick it up.

Nick Sylvester: For not being too sold on the original, I’m pretty psyched how these remixes turned out. Audion goes way sleek, way minimal, emptying the track of its middle so he can pingpong and hiccup and squelch the VonStroke’s rubber synth hook until it accrues those trails of clean reverb I can only describe as Audionesque. Sometimes when he does that, it really derails the track’s momentum; not here. The opening puddle-splasher-type vamp on Kevin Saunderson’s sounds more Juan Atkins than KS, but when the beat drops, everything mellows out into that muted mid-heavy funk I get out of E-Dancer and Reese. The other remixer, Tanner Ross, I’d never heard of until now, and he’s by far the most respectful of the three, just making what sound like EQ tweaks here and there, adding an additional squelch in the bottom, etc. But then all the sudden he starts deploying vocal cut-ups as rhythmic accents, then all these really fast-cut swells and Luomo-like swoops. Man to watch maybe?

Dirtybird / db 008

January 26, 2007

Beatzcast #16: Michael F. Gill


The Dancing Therapy mix started off as a sort of self-help mixtape for myself, but later evolved into a generally uplifting set of vocal oriented italo/synth-pop hits….

01: International Music System (I.M.S.) - Dancing Therapy - Bellaphon, 1984
No better way to start off than with this, the impetus for starting this mix. The seemingly naive lyrics about using music to escape from your troubles take more of a poignant turn here. “Fusion to the beat really clears my mind” sums up a great amount of dance music’s appeal in just one line.

02: The Creatures - Believe In Yourself (Special Remix) - Full Time, 1983
Not to be confused with the Siouxsie Sioux side-group, The Creatures’ biggest hit is a bouncy, heavy-synth number with endearing dorky vocals extolling self-esteem with perhaps too much zeal (the opening line being “Boy, don’t be so shy!”).

03: Taffy - I Love My Radio (European Mix) - Emergency, 1986
Probably my favorite latter-day Italo track, it hits many of the overblown hallmarks of the mid ’80s (faceless vocals, huge synth-drums, chipper keyboards) while refusing to remain grounded to the template. Plus as a night owl myself, I can relate to the rather silly lyrics proclaiming love to a midnight radio DJ.

04: Brand Image - Are You Loving? - Il Discotto Productions, 1983
Il Discotto Productions were a high profile Italo label that briefly catered to the sci-fi/robotic side of the genre before moving more towards the candy-sweet pop end by the mid ’80s. One of their big releases was “Are You Loving?” by the little-known Brand Image, which continues this mix’s focus on defiant/strong vocals and aggressive keyboards.

05: Alden Tyrell feat. Fred Ventura - Love Explosion 05 - Clone, 2006
“Love Explosion” was a cult hit for Alden Tyrell in the neo-italo/electro circuit ever since its release way back in 1999. It gained its popularity as an instrumental, so when Alden finally released his debut album Times Like These last year, he re-recorded it as a vocal version with well-known italo vocalist Fred Ventura. Tyrell is one of the very few neo-italo composers whose productions could nearly pass as vintage, and the fact that the vocal version is nowhere as sleek, icy, and chic as the instrumental is testament to this.

06: Fokewulf 190 - Body Heat - Market Records, 1984
“Hey! You! Take a look at me! Look me in the eyes, there is something new.” The second cut in this little trilogy of Fred Ventura tracks finds the dear Italian vocalist in a near desperate wail. While most lyrical subjects in Italo are lightweight and superficial (following in the Eurodisco tradition), the tortured passion of Ventura is very much an anomaly. I have no idea how well-known “Body Heat” (or as Ventura says, “Badi hit”) was before it ended up on one of the C-B-S Top 100 lists, but it surely is one of the most angsty and lyrically sound italo tracks I know.

07: Flexx - Love Theme From Flexxy-Ball - Hole, 1983
“Love theme” is so close to the sound of “Body Heat” that it begs to be mixed in as the final Ventura vocal track in the trilogy. It’s a bit more on the uplifting side, and is probably responsible for naming the disco-friendly mail-order site Flexx.

08: Gary Low - I Want You - CAT Record, 1983
“I Want You” was a big hit among gay clubgoers in the ’80s, and was recently heavily sampled by Miss Kitten and the Hacker for their Mental Groove single “The Beach.” It’s definitely got a summertime feel, and even if the cheeseball vocals take a while to warm up too, it remains a perennial club favorite.

09: Pineapples - Come On Closer (Extended Club Mix) - Danse, 1983
What can I say about this recently reissued track, probably one of my favorite singles of all-time, and one of the most beloved, uplifting italo tracks around? Its likely that the bizarre cocktail lounge croon of Douglas Coop elevates it from perky synthpop to a feel-good anthem, but explaining the rest of its magic is impossible: you just have to hear it for yourself.

10: Trilogy - Not Love - Il Discotto Productions, 1982
Another Il Discotto Production, and another favorite of mine that seems to be overlooked. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the vocal version of “Not Love” used over the instrumental. It’s a shame, because the vocal really buys into the melodrama of the arrangement, and nearly seems confrontational.

11: Ottawan - D.I.S.C.O. (Instrumental) - Carrere, 1979
Ok, OK, the original is a total novelty (and even uses the same bassline of their previous hit, “Hands Up”) but I was surprised how much calmer the instrumental version is after hearing it. It also provides a nice vocal break until the next track…

12: Jimmy Ross - Fall Into A Trance (Remix) - Quality/RFC Records, 1982
…where the vocals are back to being zealous again. Jimmy Ross was one of the few italo vocalists who put more of an American soul influence in his music, so it sort of helps that his English is so slurred and heavy handed: it often makes him sound out of breath with emotion. “Fall Into a Trance” was his second biggest hit next to the boogie disco of “First True Love Affair,” which was later remixed by Larry Levan. There’s a compilation CD on Unidisc of Ross’ entire work that is recommended if you want to hear more.

13: Alexander Robotnick - Intro for Live Performance - Creme Organization, 2005
Mr. Robotnick has been going through a revival lately, with two rarities compilations coming out in the past few years. “Intro for Live Performance” is from the second volume, put out last year by Creme, and while it may seem odd for someone to walk onstage to anything this noir-ish, it’s probably one of the most minimal tracks in his oeuvre.

14: Ministry - I Wanted To Tell Her - Arista, 1983
Ministry might be a surprising name here, but their first album “With Sympathy” was a dead ringer for a lot of the Human League-esque new wave going on at the time. “I Wanted to Tell Her” combines this upbeat synth approach with a bit of the funk A Certain Ratio was doing, and has a great vocal to boot

15: Memory Control One (MC1) - Basic - Crash, 1984
This 1984 synth-pop single by the newly-feted Beppe Loda and Francesco Boscolo always sounds so triumphant to me, like it should soundtrack an athlete’s victory lap or the end of a sports movie. Hence, I’m placing it here as something of a coda to the mix, a sort of stand-alone resolution to the theoretical therapy of all the previous tracks.

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


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