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
[Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


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]


May 11, 2007

Charts: May 11 2007

Mallory O’Donnell
Soft Cell - This Last Night in Sodom [Some Bizarre]
Mysterymen - Everything But an Answer [Disko B]
Brian Eno - Ali Click [Warner]
Meat Glove - Meat Glove EP [Hardwood Floor]
Sneak Thief - G-String Orchestra EP [Klakson]
Ilya Santana - Discotized [Permanent Vacation]
John Cale - All My Friends [EMI]
Move D - AC1D [Modern Love]
Doug Lazy - H.O.U.S.E. [Atlantic]
Junior Boys - In the Morning (Hot Chip Remix) [Domino]

Michael F. Gill
Voice Farm - Elevate [Systematic Records]
Asha Puthli - Right Down Here [Columbia]
Willow Band - Willowman [Epic]
Company B - Fascinated [Atlantic]
Tumblack - Caraiba [Island]
Marlow & Delhia - Movin’ (Marlow’s Movin Bassline Mix) [Moon Harbour Recordings]
Kelley Polar - Rosenband (Instrumental) [Environ]
John Daly - Sky Dive [Plak Records]
Burial - Unite [Soul Jazz]
Solomun & Stimming - Eiszauberv [Diynamic]


March 23, 2007

Spread the Love - Om Party @ Y Ultralounge (WMC, Night One)

ultralounge-crowd.jpg

Om Party @ Y Ultra Lounge, Thursday Night:

First of all, the Y Ultra Lounge is huge. It’s actually three clubs (plus a restaurant through a fenced-off lobby): Y Ultra Lounge (why? because we love you…). Tottem and Tottem Gardens. Trying to find friends was a mistake. The only thing to do was ride the butter churn into the next room, and over the course of a an hour we began to establish a rough map of this labyrinth. Or so we thought - attempting to leave actually led us into the largest areas of the club, especially the great Tottem Gardens, which have a great Tiki Party vibe and plenty of space. Not to mention close access to the $3 hot dogs and $6 burgers. I’m sure the drink prices were out-of-hand, but I didn’t ask. Luckily, the crowd was thick as stew and the music was excellent. To be fair, I was a bit wary- while I love some of the artists on Om, their roster is large and diverse enough that some of it (like most any larger label) has slipped through the wack crack. Two artists, both new to me, that played during the time we were there hooked us in and wouldn’t let go.

bassnectar4-headbanging.jpg

First up was Bassnectar (yeah, I know). As we entered, chunky electro breaks slapped us right across the cheeks with bold, up-front basslines and pounding drums. A whip of hair thrashes over the DJ deck as a wiry figure bounces infectiously to the beat of his own drum. Bassnectar looks like somebody you might buy windowpane from outside the Phish concert (fittingly, he broke through at Burning Man). He sounds like someone from his own damn planet though - raw, bass-dominated tracks that draw from dub, electro, hip-hop, jungle, you name it, all re-edited and tweaked by himself, then burned to CDr. As a pan-cultural purveyor of bust-your-shit-open beats, Bassnectar delivered with enthusiastic elan.

ChuckLove1.jpg

As we attempted to exit, we found ourselves in the fab Tottem Gardens - man-made streams, bridges, white fabric tents and the lingering aroma of hash competing with the heady scent of grilled pork. Edging through the crowd towards the dj booth, we were lulled in by a really suave and sensuous jazzy house record, only to find out that the bossa-style guitar draped over the beats was being played by an actual human being. It took a few shouted times to get his name right, but the name is Chuck Love (not Josh Love as I bemusedly first heard). Anyone who thinks so-called “deep house” is a dinosaur ought to check the man out. Over soulful, funky beats, he sings and plays guitar, flute, trumpet, and melodica (pictured above), Chuck Love makes some seriously funky and uplifting shit. The live-instrumentation is far from a gimmick- that and his boundless energy and positivity make him an artist worth watching, someone who brings the crowd somewhere and keeps them there. I’ll accept and endorse Om despite a million crap compilations if they keep unearthing gems like Chuck Love. Who, of course, was followed by Collette. Who I predicted would be entertaining for precisely five minutes. I was about two minutes off:

collette.jpg

The only genuine disappointment of the evening was the one which cut into my most anticipated event -the Get Physical showcase at Studio A. Well, not so much cut into as decimated - by the time (4 am) we’d made it down to 11th St., the entry price (this event was not WMC-affiliated) had gone from $10 to $20 to $40. As much as I’d really love to see a four hour M.A.N.D.Y. DJ set and the last fifteen minutes of a live Booka Shade concert, $40 is $40.

So instead we get an impressionistic shot of the very beginnings of sunrise:

dawn-on-the-beach.jpg

[Mallory O’Donnell]


February 9, 2007

Marcellus Pittman - Come See

200712"Detroit

Marcellus Pittmann’s music works in the tradition of the Detroit House of which he is the “third chair.” The sound borrows its melodic tastes from ‘70s soul and jazz, and its rhythmic sensibility from the stiffness of elderly drum machines. Moodyman and Theo Parrish (chairs one and two) have always had a considerable talent for extracting pathos from nothing more than a wonky drum loop, a soul sample, and a lot of repetition—and likewise with Pittman’s work here, it’s all about the indefinable atmosphere of the track and the poignant heart that beats beneath an underwhelming surface. “Come See,” the A side, uses a naďve drum groove which bumble-shuffles along under a mesmeric, mechanic riff and Pittmann dropping in some keys every few bars. The B is much more classically “jazzy” sounding, but has the same lumpy, humpy rhythms below it that make the whole thing sound quirkily endearing.

Unirhythm / AR-13354
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


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…

(more…)


December 8, 2006

Roy Davis Jr. - This Is How We Do It (House Music)

200612"House

Can you say “Dad-house?” I’ve long been a fan of Davis’ soulful, often spiritual Chicago house, but here he seems a bit creatively spent, detouring towards the lounge with an abundance of smooth jazz saxophone, tepid percussion, and easy, nagging hooks that repeat without much sense of development. This is a bit surprising considering Davis’ recent albums Water for Thirsty Children and Chicago Forever found him comfortably easing into a mature mix of uplifting R&B, soul, and house. What’s worse: if one were to listen to this single blindfolded, you’d surely think the included Andre Harris remix was the most authentic Davis production of the bunch.

Large Music / LAR-107
[Listen]
[Michael F. Gill]


November 10, 2006

Greg Wilson - Hardcore Boogie

200612"Disco

Last year’s Credit to the Edit was, for many, one of the reissues of the year, as long-time Manchester DJ Greg Wilson served up some of his finest disco, funk, electro, and boogie re-edits. The three tracks on Hardcore Boogie are Wilson’s own, created using the same techniques as his re-edits, but with more layers of different source songs and various vocals thrown on top. In other words: bootlegs. “Hardcore Boogie” cuts in some orgiastic female panting and a vocoder-ized Bambaataa over a roller-disco loop. “Chocolate Factor” is an unqualified masterpiece—nearly fourteen minutes of Chocolate Milk’s “Who’s Getting It Now” atop a mesmerizing set of funk bass and stabs. The result is an early-morning danceathon that’s the essence of boogie—spare enough to be ageless, forceful enough to keep the dedicated groover in total body-lock. The last track, “DD & Rakim” mixes Eric B & Rakim’s well-worn “I Know You Got Soul” and a James Brown grunt scratched at 45 (from Dubble D’s “Squelch”) to create an almost introspective, broken beat-esque jazzscape. Essential productions from a living legend.

Redux / REDUX001
[Listen]
[Mallory O’Donnell]


October 20, 2006

Charts: October 20 2006

Mallory O’Donnell
My My - Songs for the Gentle [Playhouse]
Trentemoller - The Last Resort [Poker Flat]
Tussle - Telescope Mind [Smalltown Supersound]
Lil Louis - Blackout Phase 3 [Mathematics]
Hot Chip - Colours (Fred Falke Remix) [Astralwerks]
Lindstrom & Prins Thomas - Tempo Tempo [Eskimo]
Tony Allen - Moyege (Mark’s Disco Dub) [Honest Jon’s]
Brennan Green - Divisadero [Modal]

Ronan Fitzgerald
And Again - To The Moles and the Masses [Sender]
Heckmann and Kaufelt - Kookaburra (Knarz Mix) [AFU-Ltd]
Alland Byallo - Buckets [Liebe Detail]
Pascal Feos - Timeless [Synaptic]
Reynold - Over There (Donato Dozzy Mix) [Montrose]
My My – Moneybowl [Aus Records]
Alexis Tyrell - Rebecca Loos [Weave Music]
Daniela Stickroth - Ghost In The Attic (Dan Berkson and James What Mix) [Meerestief]
Chaton - Précis 2 [Plak]
Shonky - Solar [Substatic]

Todd Hutlock
Ric Y Martin - Sini Est [Perlon]
Andrew Weatherall - Edie Eleven [Rotters Golf Club]
Tony Allen - Moyege (Mark’s Disco Dub) [Honest Jon’s]
Matthew Dear - Dog Days (Pantytec Interpretation) [Spectral Sound]
Six Cups of Rebel - Arp She Said [Feedelity]
Plastikman - Plink Plonk [Minus]
Terrance Dixon - Minimalism [Utensil]
The Infiltrator - I’m In [Underground Resistance]
Renegade Soundwave - Space Gladiator (Dub) [Mute]
Shane Berry - Fillertet 2 (Gabriel Ananda Remix) [Trapez LTD]

Michael F. Gill
Was A Bee - On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever) [Schema]
Jesse Rose feat. Solid Groove & Jamie Anderson - Nice & Slow [Front Room Recordings]
Citizen Kain - Above The Influence (Oliver Koletzki Remix) [Regular]
Logistics - Call Me Back [Hospital]
Lady Saw - Sweetest [Soul Jazz]
Breeze - Get Back [Heartbeat]
Underground Resistance feat. Yolanda - Your Time Is Up [Underground Resistance]
Minimal Vision - Vertigo [Vibraphone]
Raven feat. Jocelyn Brown - So In Love [Silver Cloud]
Convertion - All I Want Is You [Sam Records]


October 13, 2006

Tetine - A Historia De Garcia

If there’s one thing London based Soul Jazz Records knows, it’s how to keep their collective fingers in a multiplicity of pies. Though best known for insanely high-quality compilations of classic and obscure reggae, funk, jazz, and soul, over the past few years they’ve been quietly building a stable of solid artists of their own—the great Matt Edwards project Rekid, awesome electro from Bell, and afro-house from Osunslade are just a few of the acts that have seen release. Tetine are a Sao Paolo-based duo that were instrumental in both the recent Mr. Bongo Funk Carioca compilation and the outstanding Brasilian post-punk collection The Sexual Life of the Savages. “A Historia De Garca” draws more on the latter sound than the former, with a slight, almost menacing down-tempo groove that cuts swathes of unease before breaking into a clean 80’s DX-7 synth lead that evokes the mid-period sound of Cabaret Voltaire. Though the gurgling bassline is cold Northern minimalism at its finest, the drums are a pure shot of baile funk. A startling combination of influences and ideas that I’m still working out. Definitely one to watch.

Soul Jazz / SJR 150-12
[Listen]
[Mallory O’Donnell]


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