July 6, 2007

Theo Parrish - Sound Sculptures Volume 1


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
[Michael F. Gill]

June 15, 2007

Beatzcast #37: Crambe Repetita


Stylus editor Todd Burns presents a mix of electronic music…

01: Beanfield Feat. Bajka - Tides (Ripperton Mix) [buy]
02: Simon Baker - The Fly [buy]
03: Argy - 1985 (Sydenham and Rune Mix) [buy]
04: Stereotyp - Keepin’ Me (Fauna Flash Mix) [buy]
05: Hatchback - White Diamond (Prins Thomas Mix) [buy]
06: Chymera - Arabesque [buy]

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May 25, 2007

Thinking Out Loud: Physical vs. Digital

Thinking Out Loud developed from a series of open-ended email conversations and ruminations between Beatz staff members. In this article, Michael F. Gill and Peter Chambers discuss the merits of dance music on vinyl and MP3.


February 9, 2007

Beatzcast #18: Michael F. Gill

Mixes2007DiscoR & B

I recently picked up a bizarre, very bootleg-ish compilation of 80s Canadian funk and dancefloor R&B called Funk & Boogie from the Great White North. Unfortunately, most of it, filled with clunky synthetic drums/bass and primitive Fairlight/DX7-style synthesizers, has not dated well at all. Yet there is something endearingly weird about these tracks, as they were trying to follow the poppier footsteps of Jam & Lewis while still having a foot in the post-disco club scene, all on a very minimal budget. I decided to make a mini-mix to showcase some of these oddities, the majority of which I could find nothing about (not even a Discogs listing).

I do know that all of the tracks come from the Musicworks and Street Level imprints, two labels in the early 80s that were based in Montreal, although did a lot of recording in Philadelphia with prolific disco engineer/producer Herb Powers. As for the artists, James Carmichael is likely the same singer who once headed the group Instant Funk (of I Got My Mind Made Up fame), Kim Covington was a New Jersey soul/theater singer who now lives and records in Paris, and the Little Dabs were the two children (aged 4 and 6) of the drummer from the group Gypsy Lane, who did all the music for the Village People. Speaking of the Dabs, their Spielberg-inspired single E.T. (Every Time) was a big enough hit in Canada that it got European distribution through the Belgium label BMC. I sadly know little about Jahmilla, Tara Laine, Jacki, or Dee Dee T, but the Jahmilla record did get European distribution through the Dutch label Rams Horns. To close this mix off, theres Mac Macs male answer/response track to Lisa Lisas freestyle hit I Wonder If I Take You Home, produced by someone called Grandmaster Cash. Hope you enjoy
[Michael F. Gill]

Montreal Misfits
01: James Carmichael - All Of My Love [Expansion/Musicworks]
02: Jahmilla - Pillow Talk [Street Level, 1985]
03: Tara Laine - You Made Me Believe [Street Level]
04: The Little Dabs - E.T. (Every Time) [Musicworks, 1982]
05: Kim Covington - All Of My Love [Street Level, 1983]
06: Dee Dee T - We’ve Got All Night [Unknown]
07: Jacki - Don’t Break My Heart [Unknown]
08: Mac Mac & Jamalot Kingdom - Let Me Take You Home (Lisa Lisa) [Musicworks, 1985]

December 22, 2006

2006 Year In Review: Individual Writer Lists

As a companion piece to our 2006 year in review, here are the individual lists/charts from each of our contributors. Happy reading…


March 10, 2006

Socks and Sandals - Shatter

Already releasing tracks on the Foundsound and Microcosm labels, Socks and Sandals Shatter EP is actually the groups first solo release, but theyre definitely not willing to sound like it. By burrowing into the vogue realm of Herbert-ian flavored micro-sampling and coming out with unexpectedly vivid results, the groups original conception as a strictly live band seems all the more criminal by the day. Instead, Socks and Sandals sound like they lived with the title track until they cleaned out every tic, cough, and white-noise-fuzzball they could find. Unwilling to focus on the crevices, the group also sculpts droning swirls into a long lost realm of Frank Gehry sonic architecture for Found in Space.

Microcosm / 011
[Nate DeYoung]

December 22, 2005

2005: The Year In Review

A look into the year that was in electronic musics…

Top 10 Albums

Matthew Herbert Plat du Jour
Audion Suckfish
Vitalic OK Cowboy
Ark Caliente
Dandy Jack & Junction SM Los Siete Castigos
Marc Leclair Musique Pour 3 Femmes Enceintes
Pier Bucci Familia
Who Made Who Who Made Who
Lindstrom & Prins Thomas Lindstrom & Prins Thomas
Alex Smoke Incommunicado

This young Glaswegian producers debut came on like a shock: marrying a heady combination of electro, old school techno, minimal, and an innate pop sense. A collection of tracks that were just as liable to make you stop dancing in wonder, as it was to get you on the floor

Top 10 Singles

Booka Shade Mandarine Girl
Spare Time - Lazy
Luciano Bomberos
Donato Dozzy & Exercise One - Skarciofen
Common Factor That Was Then
Unai Oh You and I
Royskpp feat. Karin Dreijer What Else Is There?
Daso Daybreak
Patrice Baumel Mutant Pop
Stefan Goldmann Blood

After previously appearing on the smaller Classic and Ovum labels, Goldmann steps up to the plate for Perlons 51st releasethree enormous monster tracks of clicks and bass that start out with the most modest of intentions

Top 5 DJ Mixes

Dominik Eulberg Kreucht and Fluecht
Ewan Pearson Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi, Vol 1
Annie DJ Kicks
DJ Clever Breakbeat Science 5
DJ Naughty One Naughty Night in Berlin

Showcasing the vocal-end of electro-house, while throwing in classic disco and Italo to boot, DJ Naughty further pushed the dirty disco sound to its limits on this mix from the Eskimo label

Top 5 Producers

Jesse Somfay
LCD Soundsystem
Putsch 79
Nathan Fake

Finding himself on seemingly every single DJ mix released this year, Fake had a massive year on the residual effects of the classic The Sky Was Pink, Traums 2005 crown jewel, Dinamo, and the white label of Silent Night

Top 5 Remixers

Ricardo Villalobos
Abe Duque
Switch / YES Productions
Robag Wruhme
Stuart Price

Almost made the Killers listenable. No mean feat.

Top 5 Labels

Get Physical

Located strategically across the road from Kompakt HQ, the Traum family had its best year yet with strong entries from known quantities (Steve Barnes, Dominik Eulberg, Jeff Samuel) and a whole host of new producers (Alex Under, Jesse Somfay, Noze, Patrice Baumel)

Top 5 Reissues

Keith Hudson The Hudson Affair: Keith Hudson and Friends
DJ Shadow Endtroducing
Luomo Vocalcity
Prince Douglas Dub Roots
AFX Hangable Auto Bulb

Richard D. James formerly ultra-rare drill n bass template sounds as fresh as ever, showing why betting on jungle in 1995 was the best decision he ever made

Top 5 Compilations

Cybotron Motor City Machine Music
V/A Spectral Sound, Vol. 1
Senor Coconut Coconut FM
Robag Wruhme & Wighnomy Brothers Remikks Potpourri
Greg Wilson Credit to the Edit

The first time that this dance music pioneers work has been collected. If you were going to clubs in the 1980s, Greg Wilson was your soundtrackextending and tightening the tracks that you liked and turning them into the epics that you loved

Words: Todd Burns
Voting Contributors: Todd Burns, Nate Deyoung, Michael F. Gill, Cameron Macdonald, Derek Miller, Mike Powell, Will Simmons

June 16, 2005

Profile: American Microhouse

American microhouse? The essential problem, I think, is that the country is just too big. Whereas parties in Cologne and Berlin perhaps focus the energies of those scenes, the drive to other cities is almost oppressive in allowing sounds in the Midwest and the West to form properly. Thats why the self-run labels Ghostly International (and its dancefloor leaning subsidiary Spectral Sound) and Orac are so important towards the creation of a truly American aesthetic. Just dont ask me exactly what the hell it is.

Slavery When Wet
Orac / ORAC16

Mossas first 12 for the label seems to be as representative as any: Slavery When Wet is a cut-up house cut that boasts vocal tics, slivers of dub, and sundry bells and whistles inside of its glitch moments. Its all laid out by the one-minute mark and, by the time you reach five, it all seems a tad more repetitive than most. Ben Neviles mix of the song immediately dispels any qualms, as his faster-paced take runs through all of the possibilities of the song, rarely overdoing any one portion throughout the length of the song, which is incidentally the exact same as the original. The B-side, Gastrula, stretches out its arms and moves in the same arena as its predecessor, but does so more confidently. Its counterpart, Gastrula (Crushed), hammers the song into nearly half of the original and is a highly abstract joint that only really gets going two minutes in and doesnt really ever find its step completely. Some mixed feelings on this one, but Gastrula is definitely a keeper.

Bruno Pronsato
Silver Cities
Orac / ORAC09CD

You could hardly find anyone with a bad thing to say about Pronsatos Silver Cities full-length last year, which is why I tried to stay silent on it. That being said, Wuorinen reminds me much more of Pronsatos DJ sets, about which I have nothing but kind things to say (Go see him live, you wont regret it.). The song is first-rate microsurgery-house, intersplicing elements that only begin to make sense later on, but never take away from the moment. And its funky as hell. Jackmates remix is stellarexactly the sort of smooth rejoinder to the semi-schizophrenic original. Its Live in Cascadia that I keep coming back to, though, which takes the best elements of both tracks that come before it for an epic B-side of dubby micro-house that shouldnt be missed.

The Return of Caro
Orac / ORAC14CD

At the very least, you should get a good look at the cover for Caros first album for his own label. It features, presumably the label head himself, atop a pony and looking quite dapper. For a genre increasingly fond of humor, its a brilliantly pompous image that cant help but make you smile. Music-wise, the album veers over and says hello to just about everything imaginable: acieed, Italo, down-tempo, minimal house, and jazz. Heavy Wheel does one of these synthesized moments best, working a Keith Jarrett piano into a fascinating duel with acid bass. Of course, the previously released My Little Pony is a highlight, but honestly that tracks adherence to the one genre that Orac can be accused of favoring (cut-up house) is the exception and not the rule here. Cant Tell Why, for example, moves straight from dubby techno into a fierce jacking beat, for example, hardly stopping along the way. Caros The Return of Caro sounds exactly like what you might expect from the guy that is credited with helping create software called Jitter for Cycling74, but thats hardly a bad thingitll keep you on your toes throughout.

Geoff White
Spectral Sound / SPC-29

Labeled sketches, intended to show off his incredible production diversity, Etsche is Whites second 12 for Spectral in a series started with Ince. Unlike that more natural outing, Etsche finds White mining the more techno side of his personality, instead of the langorous ambient guitar side best exemplified by Aeroc. The closest he comes is Guitarjacked, which is too indebted to Steve Reich and Hurley to make much of an atmospheric impact. But Whites music, especially gem B-side Scillecta, never gets too hard That track rides bubbly synth pads and melodies, and a severe lack of low-end, into mid-set bliss.

Brian Aneurysm
Das Element Des Menschen
Spectral Sound / SPC-31

No lack of low-end on this, Brian Aneurysms initial entry onto the label. In fact its probably the hardest song that the label has ever put out. Ostensibly an ode to water, the A-side crackles with intensity and purpose, throwing out stabs along the way that pierce rather than comfort. Similarly, the B-side Unwanted is a single-minded slab of vinyl that doesnt let up. Otherworldly voices, shifting blocks of rhythm, and a melody built from a simple four-note bed distract but momentarily from the ferocious beat. James T. Cottons mix of Das Element Des Menschen turns on the acid and throws the vocals through a variety of effects changing the tenor of the song rather drastically, but keeping the high level of quality.

[Todd Burns]