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 8, 2007

Argenis Brito - Micro Mundo

Chileans must have techno intravenously injected in their blood from birth. The Chilean-gone-techno-superstar not only accounts for instant deities like Ricardo Villalobos and Luciano, but has also been a cliché going on five years strong. You might remember Argenis Brito’s contributions to the Chilean project Monne Automne, and it’s frequently brilliant album Introducing Light and Sound. So the prospect of Brito coming out with his debut album on Chilean ex-pat label Cadenza doesn’t sound surprising at all. Which might be the biggest detriment to Micro Mundo – its mythology overshadows an album that’s too modest to be noteworthy otherwise.

It won’t be too long before the wrinkles of warm bass that adorn tracks like “Disconet” and “Amplified” will be forever lost among the sea of German minimal techno. There’s also many cuts like “Sensorial”, which is something that could provide a nice bridge mid-set, but for the life of me, I can’t hum the main motif even though I’ve heard it at least 20 times. This sound-over-substance quality hides the few small surprises collected herein, like “Cepe”, an accomplished and laidback production that starts to build towards a climax when the bare bass and hi-hats swirl into an unexpected spoken vocal. A similar resonant effect can be heard on “Espejismo”, but for an album that never wavers and is never quantifiably bad, such highlights feel underwhelming on the whole. With Micro Mundo’s highs never too far away from its lows, the Chilean techno drug is no longer as potent as it used to be.

Cadenza / CADENZA 16
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[Nate DeYoung]


July 31, 2007

Italoboyz - Viktor Casanova

There’s nothing like the sight of crisp tuxes and sleep-deprived ravers rubbing elbows. With a taciturn twirl, Shut Up and Dance! Updated dotted the first lines between high-art and minimalism a month ago. Composed as a soundtrack for the esteemed Berlin Staatsballet, the compilation’s seriousness was momentarily punctured by the stumbling detour de force of Luciano’s “Drunken Ballet.” And now that we’ve come across the first response of high-art digested by a minimal-machine (and fueled on clicks and cuts), there are surprisingly few hiccups in Italoboyz’s “Viktor Casanova.”

Instead, we’re introduced by the lull and hum of a soft-focus Ingrid Bergman conjuring “As Time Goes By.” It’s a sample so bleeding obvious and ghostly that it can’t help to be unsettling. Which, according to a choice pull-quote by Ricardo Villalobos, shows the most important thing about a good track is the idea behind it – something I’ll tentatively agree with. Especially since Villalobos’ recent work is a perfect opposite of “Viktor Casanova.”

So I’ll enjoy the sights of “fucked up girls trying to imitate the opera singer“ as much as hearing the minimal percussion which delicately avoids overshadowing or under-lighting the track’s main attraction. But what I enjoy most is that “Viktor Casanova” can be as earnest or glib as you want and still be incredible. On the remix front, Samim’s pleasant retooling come with a nagging sense of being superfluous, while Lee Curtiss’ radical and dark mix flourishes under the weight of the original’s instantly iconic composition.

Mothership / MSHIP 001
[Listen]
[Nate DeYoung]


July 26, 2007

Social Being - Free Your Mind

A few weeks ago I reviewed a DJ Harvey remix of Michoacan with a very swampy, swirling, early-Funkadelic feel to it. This time, these “Social Beings” (aka Ricardo Villalobos and Jay Haze) have gone the whole hog and plonked Eddie Hazel’s amazing solo from “Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts” right onto their EP.

I tried doing this myself, years ago. If you haven’t heard the song, you should – I think it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music, well, ever. Full stop (or “period” as Americans say). So I got the solo and I chopped it in an editing program, and then I fiddled with it in Audiomulch for a few hours. No matter which way I mangled it, it was almost totally destroyed by the fiddling. It really wanted to be left alone. It didn’t want to be part of my silly loop orchestra. Nor did I.

I get the feeling that Jay & Ricardo realised this themselves, somewhere along the way. Villalobos has been sampling a lot lately, from his Floyd-cribbing number “Frank and Hennes” on that Bruchstuecke compilation a few years back to Fizheuer, the original version being found by some nerd and quickly blogged. With Fizheuer, Villalobos put the sample front and centre, making those horns rise out of the system like a revelation to machine-tired ears. But here, Hazel’s licks (and even the huge stream of feedback) are kept in the background, mostly unedited, in a gesture which seems to realise that the integrity of the original is best left alone. As it is, the guitar part is like a memory, like the raw acoustic riffs struggling against the walls of digital feedback in Fennesz’ Endless Summer.

Rhythmically, this is the straightest thing that both artists have released in a while; Haze’s influence recalls Villalobos to “808 the Bassqueen”-era patterns, and that ain’t no bad vibe. I’m tempted to think, in six months hence, Haze will brag in an interview that he wrote the whole thing (just like he did to Samim after the Fuckpony album). But hey, maybe he did for all I know. Anyhow, this EP is not quite the success it could be, given the confluence of talent and source material it marshals. All the same, it’s a very worthy, useful, and blissful track for the wrong side of the morning.

Tuning Spork / TSXTRA 001EP
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


July 17, 2007

Lee Douglas - New York Story

200712"Neo-Disco

It takes a special kind of artist to make you slap your head in stupid realization. My introduction to Douglas Lee (and his Lee Douglas “pseudonym”) gives him a free pass to that group. Although I’ve been a fan of Lee for more than a year, I finally listened to his music a couple months ago. In the passing time, his illustrations and high-profile motion graphics work left me drooling. His ability to make psychedelic and neon-tinged illustrations feel new again is as good start as any to see what this artist-musician is capable of. With the Lee Douglas moniker, Lee might sound as mature as any, but he’s only given us two singles to hold, coo over, and cherish.

So let me coo for a bit because Lee or Douglas’ latest single, New York Story, is worth it. The title track begins with a Loose Joints strut of a bassline, adds a Trans New York Express synth, and caps it off with a balearic synth that bleeds out onto the summer sun. The song has a life of its own from all the oxymorons – a pummeling track that also swirls, it’s wide-eyed and effortless as a wind-up toy but packs 500-lb chimes straight out of Blondie’s “Rapture”. None of this accounts for the cowbell fest of a b-side, “Ramv”, which makes sure that Liquid Liquid won’t get the last laugh with “Optimo.” But that’s the beauty of Lee Douglas’ oh-too-tiny body of work: he’s too busy smacking you with glee.

Rong Music / RONG 20
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[Nate DeYoung]


June 13, 2007

DJ Koze - All The Time

In all his work, DJ Koze’s sense of humour tends toward an overdeveloped, lo-fi sense of the ridiculous, and it’s not something limited to the picture you see above: the madness is also in the music. Listen to any of Koze’s tunes, and there’s a sense of willful perversity to the crazy twists, the pleateaus, the digressions, and the timbral sleights-of-hand. Like his often amazing DJ sets, he’s always toying with you as he plays with himself in sound – relentlessly, recklessly, joyfully. The recent (brilliant) remix of his own Naked (with Sheldon “Pan/Tone” Thompson) was a case in point.

“All the Time” hits all the familiar sweet spots by defamiliarising idioms of melodic minimalism and house (off the deep end). The A harks back to early Kompakt, with shades of Dettinger and Reinhard Voigt, but again re-fashioned into something utterly Koze. It bleeps, it squawks, and it grooves like hell, taking you into the shadowy parts of the thicket where the creatures only come out at night. But it’s the B, “Cicely”, that makes this EP. Starting off with a long (maybe overlong) intro, the track drops in what sounds like a stretched ‘n’ pulled guitar sample, before lifting things off the ground with a rising attack of gulping drums contrasted by another, higher pitched guitar sample. The track just keeps building and unfolding, introducing a third swirling loop (a la the Superpitcher of yore) and then letting the whole she-bang fall away for a moment, leaving the drums to climb their way out of the darkening ebb. Great stuff.

Philpot / PHP 024
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


May 25, 2007

Beatzcast #34: Crambe Repetita

Mixes2007

Stylus editor Todd Burns presents a mix of electronic music…

Tracklist
01: Shemale - Untitled [buy]
02: Lindstrom and Solale - Let’s Practise [buy]
03: Trusme - Nards [buy]
04: Miguel Migs - So Far [buy]
05: Voom Voom - Sao Verought (Marcus Worgull Mix) [buy]
06: Booka Shade - Karma Car [buy]
07: Baby Ford and Zip - Morning Sir [buy]
08: Minilogue - Inca [buy]
09: Crowdpleaser and St. Plomb - Zukunft (Dachshund Remix) [buy]
10: Tiesto feat. Julie Thompson - Do You Feel Me [buy]
11: Nid and Sancy - Give It Up for Sound [buy]

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Subscribe to Beatz By The Pound.


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.

(more…)


April 25, 2007

Lopazz - Share My Rhythm

Peter Chambers: Lopazz has always positioned himself (or been positioned) between the airbrush-smooth electro-house that Get Physical mastered (and transcended) and its others: Trevor Jackson’s cool-hunting Output inprint, and the spectre of Playhouse, first with the Villalobos remix of “Migracion,” and now the inclusion of an Isolée remix.

There’s always a danger to having a gifted freak remix your work, even if you are one yourself (witness Villalobos’ showing Beck up on the stellar “Information” remixes). “Share My Rhythm” is a case in point. The original version is a lovely, sparkling electro-disco-house number with that “greet the sunshine” vibe that Metro Area or Danny Wang managed to infuse their tracks with. You listen to it, you don’t think you’re missing out on much: “This will do nicely,” I thought. Then I heard the Isolée remix… It’s just like the original, but all the frequencies are stuffed full of that magical squawk, fuzz, and grit that he seems to have an inexhaustible supply of. Every sound has been lovingly treated in such a way as to bring out both its personality and Isolée’s (sigh). I’m gushing, I know. It’s unbecoming. “Gimme Gimme,” the B, is another serviceable track in the same sound-vein. Again, it’s tidily produced and sounds nice, but after hearing the Isolée mix, it sounds like a thin approximation of something far richer, deeper and more interesting.

Mallory O’Donnell: While it might be tough to pin down the Lopazz sound, it’s oh-so-easy to enjoy. “Share My Rhythm” is no exception to this, boasting a starry, sparkling melody coupled with a stiff tech-house beat and warm, swirling pads. It plays a perfect middleman to introspective and deep-house styles, having a bit of the best of both worlds to offer, with none of the genre-inclusive traits that tend to drag. Isolée turns in a typically fine remix, drawing out the bassline and dubbing up the accents blacker than dread. It’s definitely a chilly take, but one that’s refreshing, like a skinny dip in Autumn waters, rather than the numbed-senses bath of the minimal icebox. B-side “Gimme Gimme” ups the thunkability quotient considerably yet retains the sensuous elan of the title track. A complex, well-rounded EP from an artist who we’ll continue to expect big things from.

Get Physical / GPM 064
[Listen]


April 19, 2007

Jürgen Paape - Speicher 47

Jürgen Paape, one of the several founders and owners of the Kompakt empire, is something of a slow mover. His split release with Tom Pooks on Speicher 45 and now this two-tracker constitute his first new music in roughly five years. Perhaps its quality control; “Fruity Loops 1” and “Fruity Loops 2” are extremely intense yet well-mannered productions, no matter how strong the connection is with the popular downloadable software of the same name.

The first version is an iceberg, pummeling you with strident, mechanistic tech-house beats above a chilly oceanic swirl, while the more thawed-out second version sports one of those elusive Kompakt almost-melodies to great effect. The gorgeous balance of shimmer and sway dovetail nicely for a perfect Teutonic trance excursion: ethereal enough to be dreamy, physical enough to break a sweat.

Kompakt Extra / KOMEX47
[Listen]
[Mallory O’Donnell]


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