German composer Marcus Schmickler gives us this album of tones and bleeps mangled in a vortex. I think this is music for an insane robot asylum, or perhaps music made in an insane robot asylum by broken clown robots. On mushrooms. The tracks swirl tones and notes into patterns and shapes, making waves out of waves, playing out of tune scales and tripped up drones. It sounds very digital, discordant, and schizophrenic, though not invasive.
I absolutely love this album. Tech House / Deep Techno with bits of IDM and ambient and just the right amount of glitch. 5 tracks here are aimed squarely at the dancefloor, with big, chunky beats and driving basslines amid glitched out samples, almost trance-like progressions and melodies. The second half of the album is more ambient and laid back. The parts stand in contrast to itself and seem to work as a whole. For me, the techno tracks here are the stand-out pieces on the album. They’re so intense, so deep, and infectiously danceable. The production is impeccable, but the sound is so thick, overdriven and filthy. I cant remember the last time I enjoyed techno this much – these tracks absolutely crush through the subs.
Matt Davignon’s “The 3am Music” seems pretty aptly titled. An album of ambient and noise that evokes the sounds your house might make as it creaks when you’re trying to fall asleep. This is on the more mellow and palatable side of the genre; quite minimal and benign, it doesn’t have the punch of some other noise artists; but what it lacks there it makes up in curiosity and strangeness. Analog organs, acoustic bass notes, plucks and tears, the sound of spiders walking across water, pulsating and carried tones and drones.
Lithuanian artist Antanas Jasenka’s 2004 release is electronic musique concrete. There are elements of ambient and drone, lots of manipulated vocals, cut up samples and digitally generated tones. At times it almost borders on industrial, but never really gets too harsh. There are times where the sound can kick you in the face, but it’s not (entirely) overwhelming. Well made, conceptual, and artistically executed.
This debut album from Brooklyn’s Octo Octa on 100% Silk is a very clean, polished house album, which seems to be it’s biggest criticism. The producer has honed in on a formula which seems to work for him and is exploiting it quite well. There are no huge surprises or anything outstandingly original here, but it’s not quite derivative. A few tracks are little too dancefloor oriented and syrupy for my tastes (“His Kiss”) and maybe a bit more vocals than I’d like. “Come Closer” treads pretty close to progressive (why are there so many notes in this?” but there are a couple of very choice tracks as well. The deep “Fear,” with oscillating drums and reverbed techno stabs, the New York garage sound of “Uneasy” and the chilled out “Who Will I Become” make the album worthwhile for me. I can bear a bit of sweetness to get to the heavy stuff here, and even if it’s isn’t 100% up my alley, I cannot say that the production is not impeccable and I can certainly appreciate the aesthetic, even if I’m not completely into some of the tracks.
Electronic, digital noise and drones from Melbourne-based Robin Fox. Complex and ranging from subdued and introspective to hit-you-in-the-face harshness. The digital shadows of the collective unconscious. Digital manipulation, oscillation, tearing, scratching, pulsing; deconstructed and mutated strings. Heavily processed and cerebral, this is an album for noise connoisseurs.
X-Ray Pop’s “Pirate! The Black K7: The Dark Side of the X” was originally released in 1985 as a limited edition of 100 cassette tapes. Re-released on Finders Keepers, this is a collection of minimal electro synth breaks. Self described as “micro-kosmic domestic-synth-pop, pocket punk, French funk ultra rarity,” this release is just… bonkers. Totally home brewed electro, jittery and spastic drum machine beats, simple basslines , analog synths and vocals; and while my french is pretty rusty, the lyrics seem really out there. Great early 80s electronica that is simultaneously a throwback, yet sounds totally fresh and really original in the context of today’s overproduced pop electronica.
The third compilation volume of re-released a Drexciya material, “Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller” focuses on the group’s work between 1992 and 1997. The group was staunchly against commercialization of techno and shunned mainstream media attention, maintaining high levels of secrecy and remaining completely anonymous throughout their recording career. Underground even by electronica and techno standards, Drexciya was active until 2002, when James Stinson passed away and identified posthumously as one of the members. Gerald Donald is supposedly the other member, who still records under a number of aliases, although this has not been proven. The group recorded underground Detroit techno, focused on 808 beats and synths with electro, acid and breakbeat influences. The group explored undersea and outerspace narratives with an undercurrent of Afrofuturism. “Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller” contains two previously unreleased tracks. It still sounds underground, if maybe a bit dated. This is a great piece of techno history from a legendary Detroit group some choice cuts.
Marcus Fjellstrom’s “Epilogue-M” is quite an amazing piece of work. While staying mostly within the ambient / dark ambient genre, the BPM is all over the place. It’s spooky and haunting, cerebral and involved; it seems to have an ability to send piercing chills down your spine with precision stabs, while at other times completely engulfing the listener in a wall of ambient noise. It’s difficult to describe exactly, but if you listen to this at a higher volume, the music envelops you completely and takes you to its own strange, dark recesses of consciousness. It’s quite orchestral, in the sense that it creates huge open spaces, and then fills them entirely without ever resorting to using harsh elements, hard percussion or any overuse of what one would consider typically “dark” samples. Film samples, dreamy synths, piano harps, tympani drums and clever use of filters – Fjellstrom’s use of instrumentation and ambient electronics to create expansive moody soundscapes is quite brilliant.
This 2001 release from Siouxsie and the Banshees bassist Steven Severin is an collection of dreamy, cerebral electronica. For the most part, I consider this an ambient / downtempo album, with a few notable exceptions – the fast and drum and bass influenced “Sometimes” sounds like it could have been used on David Bowie’s “Earthling,” while “I Persuade You” is a cover of Throbbing Gristle’s “Persuasion,” and “Sometimes” is certainly a window into Severin’s past. The opening track, “Typhoid Mary” sounds a bit out of place on the album, and parts of this feel like unfinished outtakes at times. However, overall this is a very pleasing album and the ambient/downtempo tracks are quite good.
Part techno, part minimal, part ambient, 100% awesome. Fantastic minimal release from Function on the Ostgut Ton label. This album showcases a detached, dark ambient take on minimal techno, while taking notes from trance and progressive in tracks like “Counterpoint” and “Incubation,” without ever really getting too deep into either genre. The album begins with the slow, lurching “Voiceprint,” which is reprised later as a techno piece. There are some hints of minimal/avant house in “Modifier” and “Inter,” and again fading out into a trancelike state with “Gradient 1.” This is a great listen for fans of german house, techno and minimal. I cant wait to see what Ostgut Ton brings next.
This is a 1998 collaboration between Alec Empire and Techno Animal. There are some pretty typical and expected elements here from a DHR release – a very noisy and industrial sounding album with experimental tones. Elements of hardcore, breakcore and noise from a post-Atari Teenage Riot Empire; plenty of hard breaks and distortion, but it’s a far slower bpm than what one would expect from DHR. The tracks here are in the 70-90 bpm range, creating an apocalyptic industrial soundscape of spaced out, distorted hip hop and downtempo. This is most likely suitable only for the headstrong fans of harsh noise and breakcore – not for the weak or timid, you will find no shelter in these beats.
Tan Ru was a techno moniker used by Eon, aka Ian David Loveday in the late 90s and early millennium. He had gained popularity as a “rave” producer in the early 90s, having been one of the bridging artists between early techno and breakbeat. This 1997 EP is techno, breakbeat and 2 step. “Bam Bu” is the outstanding track here, a slow 2step roller. “Sit On” on side A is a four-to-the-floor techno track, which to me is a very concise example of 90’s warehouse techno.
2008 release from Japanese electronic artists NHK. This is a somewhat harsher album than what we are used to from the typically abstract duo, with fast techno beats and gritty samples. Dabbling in industrial, glitch and darkcore, heavy digital bass, this is faster than your typical techno tracks, with “Entire Set 2” crossing over from techno into hardcore. This album is perhaps not very user friendly, but rich and rewarding.
Roman Flugel (AKA Alter Ego and Sensorama) is here as Eight Miles High with this 2002 release. This is a collection of tracks from the mid 90s to the early 2000s. On the whole, this is an album closer to the minimal and IDM side of techno, feeling like the child of Danny Breaks and Arovane. The album starts out with a downtempo track using a drum and bass break, sounding like a deconstructed jungle track. A lot of the tracks could be construed as downtempo, but they all have a very minimal and techno sounding aesthetic. There are a few 4/4 tracks that are more danceable, including the minimal “Im Schatten” and the pure techno track “Ride Em.” I like this album more now that I’ve listened to it a few more times – the ambient and downtempo IDM styled tracks are very well produced, and realizing that most of the tracks are 15+ years old makes this a nice history lesson of how IDM grew up andused to be. I thought that the straightforward techno tracks seemed a bit out of place and not really in tune with the rest of the aesthetic, but it is a collection, after all. A nice, quiet and introspective listen.
This February 2013 release from Prurient is a three track techno album, with metal influences and elements of noise and darkwave. Prurient provides his own whispered vocals, describing the album as “Music to listen to at night, in the hills, watching as headlights approach.” I read this described as “doom techno,” which I suppose is as accurate description as any. The 17 minute title track is pounding, yet subdued four to the floor piece with subtle nods to doom/black metal and noise. “You Show Great spirit” is a resolution to the tension built by “Through the Window” and the much shorter “Terracotta Spine.” The first two tracks build a dark, oppressive atmosphere, while the final track is more progressive, with a lighter atmosphere. This is a rather pensive, introspective release that I enjoyed quite a bit.
Double CD collection from electronica powerhouse Kompakt, celebrating 20 years in business. This is by no means a definitive collection, but it’s a good start to what Kompakt has been into during its lifetime. For the most part this is a house and techno album, with a few exceptions like Pluxus’ “Transient.” Deep and soulful, light and funky at times, there are some very mellow tracks here that seem more suitable for a grown-up dinner party than the club, but there are a few bangers as well. There is a lot of what I would categorize as progressive, which, though not my cup of tea by far, it’s representative of what was happening in the German house techno scene of the late 90s and early millenium, before the return of the Berlin club sound, the London bass scene and their counterparts in New York, LA and SF in the later 2000s. There is some really left field stuff here, like Gus Gus doing a super proggy/trancey track with a vocal, some choice minimal cuts from DJ Koze and Gui Boratto, and the absolutely face-melting “Unstable Condition” from John Tejada. It’s a pretty big and expansive collection, and I expect that we will see several more to celebrate the 20 year anniversary. You may not love every track on here, but you will certainly feel some tracks in a very real way, if you have a personal connection to this music.
2012 was a busy year for Burial with 4 releases, including collaborations with Four Tet and Thom Yorke (but we won’t fault him for that). This double EP is a combination of 2011’s Street Halo and 2012’s Kindred. It’s a haunting, emotional, like looking at a rain-worn polaroid through a chainlink fence under an oppressive gray sky. All his signature sounds are here – the distant vocals, the breathy synths, hissing vinyl and rain drops. Unmistakably, this is Burial – and though it has so much in common with earlier releases, it’s still fresh and new, always pushing new directions. Street Halo is the most “accessible” track on the album. The rest of the album treads along minimal techno, 2step garage, speed garage, downtempo, broken beat and future dancehall. I’m continually amazed by how innovative his sound is, and yet how it all fits together, as if pieces of a big melancholy tapestry; he knows exactly how to create a groove, add and subtract elements and leave the listener with a desire for much more. The “Street Halo” half is more melodic, mellow and straightforward while “Kindred” seems to be a logical follow up of the “Truant/Rough Sleeper” split; it’s darker, moodier, and the tracks seem to evolve and change in a similar way. Throughout you get hit with detached female vocals and these epic synths that feel like the heyday of 90s rave, but you’re immediately pulled back to earth, to a certain dark reality. This music incredibly emotional and very beautiful.
The second full length album from Danish composer/producer Anders Trentemoller is drastically different from his dancefloor releases and remixes – you won’t find saw-tooth basslines or pounding drums here – but that’s just fine. The album takes a moodier, more introspective approach, dabbling through garagy house, downtempo and ambient and collaborations with vocalists. There are even elements of surf here – once in the form of a dick dale-ish drum and bass tune, and several times with reverbed out, chris isaak styled downtempo guitars. If “The Last Resort” was a more mature side of Trentemoller, this is a logical continuation. A bit older, a bit darker, but still playful. I’d be surprised to hear any of this stuff played at a club, but it’s an absolute delight for bedroom listening.
This is the 2012, and final release from electronic/ambient trio Emeralds, who are no longer together as of 2013. This is an album combining electronics and live guitar and other instrumentation. Some of the tracks are pure ambient pieces, others like “Adrenochrome” recall the days of early 90s trance. Some tracks have a beat and are quite fast, verging into dance territory, though maintaining a somewhat introspective and shoegaze aesthetic. Sounds like a soundtrack for a cloudy coastal California summer day.
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