Another bedroom producer enters the electronica sweepstakes and comes out a winner. Solvent is one Jason Amm from Toronto, but beyond that I can offer no personal details. His debut release is a playful and melodic excursion through analog and digital soundscapes. Many of the tracks have a childlike quality to them, echoed in song titles like “shifty uncle giggles,” “googly eyes,” or “nuf si gnippiks.” (Think about it.) Jason would obviously rather be playing with his electronic toys than hanging out with the guys and for that we can all be grateful.
Wow! Under the bootleg-quality exterior of this album lies one of the GREATEST documents of the post-punk era from original riot grrls The Slits. At the time this live album was recorded, the band had progressed beyond their original punk sound into a sparser, reggae/dub groove under the influence of legendary producer Dennis Bovell. Bovell was obviously on hand for this tour, as evidenced by the startling dub effects here. In addition to several original tunes, the album features solid covers of “Man Next Door” (John Holt) and “Fade Away” (Junior Byles), plus a near-definitive rendition of “(I Heard It Through the) Grapevine.” Vocalist Ari Up is a true original; with hardly ANY technical proficiency, she yelps, yodels, whispers, moans, and shrieks, coaxing every last ounce of character out of her chosen instrument. Unfortunately The Slits broke up after only two studio albums. Ari went on to sing with New Age Steppers.
Elliott Sharp is certainly one of the most prolific and eclectic members of the New York “downtown” scene. While he’s released everything from blues to orchestra works, his Tectonics series (of which this is the third) focuses on more electronic sounds. This album appears to be a one-man show, with E# multitracking his 8-string guitarbass, processed saxophones, and computer-generated sounds. At times it all sounds incredibly intricate, at others it sounds like his equipment is shorting out. This is a most interesting hybrid music, though, which may sound completely different depending on the musical context in which you play it (i.e., what music surrounds it).
Two drum’n’bass excursions from Saigon, the more experimental sublabel of No U Turn. “Control” is a moody, minimalistic, late-night kind of affair, punctuated by electronic bleeps, far-off sirens and snippets of voices low in the mix. “Stimulant” is of course the opposite, a jittery, over-amped hip hop track that features those roaring synth lines we’ve come to expect from No U-Turn.
Another minimalist dub-house experiment from Germany. The A-Side features spoken word from Savage, in a thick Jamaican patois, about how we should all be happy and love one another. (Right.) The B-Side features two VERY abstract instrumentals. This stuff is DEEP, man. I mean REALLY deep. This is the music from 20,000 fathoms. And minimal. So minimal it makes Philip Glass sound as ornate as J.S. Bach. Did I mention how deep it was?
Very mysterious CD we have here. No credits, no track titles, no album title…nothing except “The Remote Viewer” to identify this release from the Leeds-based label, 555 Recordings. So what are we dealing with? Apparently it’s another bedroom producer from the UK, offering up ten tracks of mid- to-downtempo electronica. Most tracks are based around melancholy, somewhat ambient melodies, upon which are laid rhythms of a coarser texture. While the rhythms are often repetitive, it’s the melodies that really keep the tracks moving along. Autechre is an obvious reference point, for the quality of warmth that’s present here, but at times I even imagined a Pink Floyd influence. This is a splendid debut CD that gets better with each listen.
In late 2002, Germany’s INFRACom! label marked their 100th release by commissioning acoustic jazz versions of some of their more memorable electronic club tracks. A jazz trio was formed, led by Matthias Vogt (aka DJ Matt and Motorcitysoul), a variety of special guest vocalists and instrumentalists were invited to participate, and the resulting band was named [re:jazz]. One of the goals for that project, according to the label, was to eliminate the barriers and/or apparent contradictions between “real” jazz and computer- or sample-based music. Well, here comes the [re:jazz] (re:mix) project to blur those barriers even further! Yep, [re:jazz]’s acoustic cover versions have now been remixed by the cream of modern jazztronica: Nicola Conte, Russ Gabriel, Swell Session, Dublex Inc., and many more. The end result is an astoundingly varied and melodic collection of jazz-flavored SONGS. No deconstructionist knob twiddling to be found here; just a thoroughly enjoyable beat-driven excursion through a variety of contemporary dance styles. One of my favorite releases of 2004!
Random is the latest incarnation for San Francisco’s Jon Drukman (aka Bass Kittens, Skeptix, and Spinyl). Jon has been around the SF rave scene for many years, collaborating with the Hardkiss Brothers on their earliest (and best) records. Here he tries on his drum’n’bass hat, and the result is a CD of many textures and tempos. Just like peanut butter, it’s sometimes crunchy and sometimes smooth. Meat Beat Manifesto is an obvious reference point, as these tracks are constructed as much for the headphones as they are for the dancefloor. A fine domestic drum’n’bass CD to hold up against the continual deluge of imports.
Push Button Objects is one Edgar Farinas, resident of Miami, Florida and part of the local Schematics/ Chocolate Industries axis of electronic artists. Having released previous EPs on both those labels, as well as on Skam in the UK, this latest six-track EP finds him moving away from the hip-hop flavor of his previous work and into more abstract terrain. At times minimal, and at other times almost industrial in texture, this is a record that should appeal to fans of Autechre, Funkstorung, etc.
This is one of those “old school” ambient electronic releases, like back in the day when Fax Records was pumping out a new release every week. There’s not much in the way of melody or rhythm here, just tone and texture. It’s not pretty enough to be “new age,” nor dark enough to be “industrial.” Think of it as an ambiguous musical canvas upon which you can let your imagination run wild.
Viennese artist Gerhard Potuznik (aka Gerhard Deluxxe, or GD Luxxe, for this release) seems to be channeling the spirit of New Order on this six-track EP of electropop. The vocal on “Minds,” in particular, sounds uncannily like Bernard Sumner. If that doesn’t appeal to you, check out the gurgling instrumental “Hydraulic Buildings,” or the short-but-funky “Angels,” which ends in a locked groove.
Plaid’s latest album finds the ex-Black Dog duo of Ed Handley and Andy Turner expanding their electronic musical palette in all directions. From moogy Jean-Jacques Perry -isms, to hip hop beats and scratching, to orchestral pieces and more, this album jumps about restlessly but always manages to entertain. Plaid have ably reinforced their “major league” status in the electronic arena.
Recorded three years after The Black Dog’s Peel Session, doggie duo Ed Handley and Andy Turner return (minus Ken Downie) to the Peel studios in their Plaid attire. This time the result is far more exuberant, with beats taking priority over melody. From the opener, an energetic reworking of the latin-flavored “Scoobs in Columbia,” to the propulsive, minimal techno of the closer, “Cold,” this four-track EP successfully balances rhythmic complexity with shifting electronic textures. Another fine entry in Warp’s “Peel Sessions” series.
One of the few women in contemporary electronic music returns for her third, eagerly-awaited release on the Mo’ Wax label. Following the “Melodious Thunk’ and “Rocking Chair’ EPs, this 10” finds Ms. Parker venturing into more abstract/experimental territory with two dark exercises in electro-dub. ‘Ballbreaker’ begins minimally and rather aimlessly before being focused by a heavy, stabbing synth pattern and some skittery, Autechre-ish beats. Eventually the whole thing decomposes at the end. “Some Other Level” uses similar textures but adds what sounds like an electric bass and strings for a fuller, and even funky, sound. Like its predecessor, this track too decomposes at the end. Parker is certainly widening her palette with this release and it makes her forthcoming album even more eagerly anticipated.
If you have an hour to spare between the next two Bill Laswell releases, you might want to check out this eclectic new project from Joe Goldring and Doug Scharin. Incorporating elements of dub, jazz, post-rock, ambient and ethnic musics, this mostly-instrumental album is by turns hypnotizing and exhilarating. Guitarist Goldring (Clodhopper) and percussionist Scharin (HIM, Directions in Music) anchor the sound, but the album is clearly a studio overdub creation, peppered with hauntingly beautiful strings and guitar textures, turntablist sounds and samples, bass and more bass. (One track even has three bass players!) The album starts and ends with two ambitious tracks of 15+ minutes that define the breadth of the group’s sound; in between are three shorter tracks which explore specific ideas. There’s much to admire in all of them.
Nocturnal Emissions is the alias of industrial music pioneer Nigel Ayers who, like Richard Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire, has tirelessly continued to explore his own electronic landscapes for the past 20 years. Ayers says his music evolves out of “a desire to create sounds which are outside the ‘normal’ listening experience – sounds that evoke dreamlike states or the exploration of strange realms.” Well he has certainly succeeded with this disc. Perhaps the most uncharted realms here for Nigel are the junglist rhythms which show up on several tracks,”Earthlights” being the most successful. Elsewhere we slide back into an almost subterranean ambience, with the occasional hint of birds or insects or…some totally alien life forms.
Wow. This is one absolutely GORGEOUS electronic album, probably the best I’ve heard all year! No. 9 is the pseudonym for one Joe Takayuki, and MICRO FILMS is his third solo release. Primarily electronic, the album also incorporates some acoustic guitar and environmental field recordings to convey a warmer, more organic vibe. At times it echoes the jazz sensibilities of Four Tet, the playfulness of Mice Parade, the rhythmic complexity of Squarepusher, the cut-up techniques of Herbert, the pastoral ambience of The Orb, and so much more. But that’s not to say it’s a pastiche or copy of anything else. It’s a truly original work by an original artist that I hope will be around for a long time to come. Time to join the No. 9 revolution!
Norwegian rockers Motorpsycho team up with the Jaga Jazzist horn section for another in the series of experimental EPs recorded “in the fishtank” at Konkurrent Studios, Amsterdam. The first two tracks here follow a post-rock template, quietly melodic and reminiscent of bands like Isotope 217. By track three, the horns start to dominate and you get a more downtown NYC kind of vibe: it’s jazz, but with a strong rock backbone. Track four is a pretty ferocious cover of the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s “Theme de Yoyo,” which finds both Psychos and Horns at their best. The final track is a 20-minute percussive jam that builds slowly, from a shimmering whisper to a cataclysmic scream. A truly successful collaboration that, like other releases in this series, just leaves the listener wanting more.
Arto’s fourth solo excursion into Brazilian-flavored pop is every bit as stylish and perhaps a bit more dissonant than past efforts, with those patented guitar distortions creeping even further into the mix. I really like the contrast between the smooth vocals and the shredding guitar…here’s hoping Arto continues along this path. Lyrics are in English and Portuguese, and just as impressionistic as ever. Guest appearances from Eyvind Kang, Vinicius Cantuaria, and former partner Peter Scherer, among others. Judging by the amount of label-hopping Arto’s done (Rykodisc, Bar/None, and now Righteous Babe), I gather these albums aren’t realizing their full “commercial potential.” Too damn bad.
Lexaunculpt is SoCal resident Alex Graham, and his “Double Density” EP is the first release on a promising new SoCal electronic label called Orange Records. Six tracks of subtle beauty and meticulous programming. Hippity-hopping beats and gorgeous melodies underscore this effort, while all manner of split-second sound textures keep things interesting throughout. Based on this release, I’d rank Lexaunculpt right up there with the very best electronic artists on the scene today.
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