Matthew Mercer, Seattle 2014
Photo by BABA / munchiesmedia.
Matthew Mercer, Seattle 2014
Photo by BABA / munchiesmedia.
Presk: Babou (Something Happening Somewhere)
Pieter Willems’ as Presk starts off with “Babou,” equipped with a straight up distorted kick and a brassy synth lead, stark and to the point. Its syncopated open fifths give it a mid-00s vibe to me, but its punchy rhythm section feels more rooted in early techno nostalgia, a nice splitting of the difference with a crisp sense of space that would lend it to contemporary dancefloors with its anthemic refrain.
There are nods to second and third wave Detroit in breezy pads and synth leads, particularly the the Carl Craig drive of “Sink Shift,” accented with dubby, filtered chords.
He continues the trend on “Gomero,” with a weirdly infectious organ hook and chunky snare slap to it, but I prefer the denser groove of the Single Point Edge remix, which is built largely around a disembodied vocal synth that stutters in time with its mid-tempo kick and airy pads. All four cuts are solid, likely to appeal to both techno and tech house fans with some tight production working in their favor.
Matthew Mercer: “Double-Barreled” (2014)
Some new, more aggressive sounds evolving out of the same work sessions that have yielded so many dense and bending drones lately.
Erdbeerschnitzel: The Ample Waters (Delsin)
Erdbeerschitzel made a lasting impression on me with his last Delsin release, the Cushion EP. With The Ample Waters, he strikes gold yet again, perhaps even more so. “The Ample Waters” runs long, over eight minutes, with an infectious, squirmy, taut disco feel about it. Its tempo is quick, but its sonic palette is aimed at lower fidelity house music, with synth marcato strings and a jaunty sing-song lead that carries the track.
This track alone is well worth the price of admission, but thankfully he continues to shine across the remaining three cuts, too. “Never Tilt” is a slower groove by comparison, with a chunkier drum track, some wise use of cowbell, and loungy electric piano chords. It goes down smooth, a nice complement to the bouncy clip of the first cut. “With Level Hopes” is another tightly crafted, strident techy house track, with a little bit of lo-fi dustiness to it that lends it a different spirit than comparable tunes from his contemporary Lone. The bassline is funky as hell, a nice filtered low end that channels vintage disco in the best possible way. Rounding out the EP is a languid R&B jam called “Yet Unfulfilled” which struts leisurely alongside a warped, manipulated vocal and chunky midrange chords. But what then of the surprising Autechre-esque epilogue at the tail end?
What an odd and yet somehow perfect way to end this set of transmissions. All four cuts are worthwhile and especially work well together as a whole. Erdbeerschnitzel is a talent to keep an eye and ear on — more, please!
Clark: “Open” (Iradelphic, Warp 2012)
I’ve really been enjoying going back and listening to Chris Clark’s excellent 2012 album Iradelphic, especially his collaborations with sometimes Tricky and Massive Attack vocalist Martina Topley-Bird.
Apalusa: Ghost Notes (Low Point)
Ghost Notes is the third album from Nottigham-based musician Dan Layton. It starts with a faint hum, like a radiator quietly sighing across a large room. Its five tracks build from there, but Ghost Notes lives up to its name in the sense that Layton seems keen on subtracting layers and capturing the essence of sound or its resonance without the immediacy of something to focus on or hold onto. But this shapelessness doesn’t define everything here; “A Million Billion Miles,” the longest track, builds and loops and swells into a rather grand cloud of sound, combining synth drones, guitars, and effects in a dense fog of obscured beauty. But my personal favorite is probably the opener. “Revoke”’s restrained minimalism makes it a stark highlight to me, slowly building on its initial murmur into a cloud of piano reverb and decay. “The Sherpherd”’s hushed opening of a dusty old-time record recalls the haunted vibes of Leland Kirby’s The Caretaker project, but it soon shifts focus into a fantastically hazy cloud of guitar waves, rippling slowly over time and recalling the most sublime shoegaze atmospheres of Labradford and Bowery Electric in their prime. It’s this combo of opening tracks that really makes Ghost Notes a success, with subtle but compelling maneuvers through alternately minimal and dense sound. The overall trajectory of the album is quite nice, starting small and eventually expanding into something expansive.
Its final track, “It All Ends Here,” seems to combine the best of both worlds, starting with a drowsy drone that gradually shifts shape into something bigger, more lush, more elaborate. Even as this last track dissipates, it’s clearer than ever that Ghost Notes is indeed a perfect name for this collection of music, with its sound lingering almost like an inverted after-image rather than an immediate impression. And just as I start to make it out those images, it fades away fully, demanding another listen.
Buy it: Bandcamp
Matthew Mercer: “Antaeus Rising” (2014)
This time-lapse clip shot by BABA is a nice accompaniment to this recent minimal ambient track of mine.
Anonymeye: “Federation” (Anontendre, 2011 Someone Good)
Andrew Tuttle’s dreamy folk stylings are the perfect companion to a grey Pacific Northwest Sunday morning.
Various Artists: Kompakt Total 14 (Kompakt)
Anyone who’s read this blog for a while now or knows me well ought to know by now what an influence Kompakt has been on my taste and music over the years. When I heard their first couple of round-ups in the late 90s (starting with the Köln Kompakt 1 disc on Profan and then Total 1 on Kompakt a year later), it really struck me just how new and different this stuff sounded. Severely minimal, fearlessly restrained, and almost alien compared to most of the electronic music flourishing in the mainstream for that brief period (America’s brief love affair with “electronica” and the jazzifying of drum & bass, to name a few trends). Every year since, Kompakt has trotted out a memorable selection of both annual highlights and some new exclusives, initially with a single disc and then, starting with Total 6, two full CDs (unmixed). Kompakt skipped a year between Total 13 and Total 14, and I think they’re better off for it. Despite their spike in popularity about 10 years ago, being namechecked by Pet Shop Boys or Thom Yorke in major music publications or DJ mixes, Kompakt’s relevance remains primarily where it started, on the dancefloors of the underground. But Kompakt is not the more severe entity it presented itself as 15 years ago, and the music here touches on pop music and lush house more than ever. Their roster has expanded to include both their core founders (Wolfgang Voigt, Michael Mayer, Reinhard Voigt, Jürgen Paape) as well as more pop-oriented newer acts like Coma, GusGus, Damh, and Terranova.
Disc one starts off strongly with a smart choice from one of the best Kompakt 12” releases of recent past, “Lydia” by Dauwd. It’s a clear standout even here, well worth a listen for anyone who missed it the first time around. Coma’s “Atlantis” is the logical choice as a single cut but I much prefer the B-side on that EP (a small complaint, as it’s still good), a Balaeric disco track that fits in neatly alongside tracks from DJ Tennis or Maceo Plex (whose “Conjure Superstar” is a highlight as well). But there are some cleaner techno tracks here as well, such as the tightly wound “Horacio Delirium” from Saschienne (the latest project of Kompakt veteran Sascha Funke) or Sébastien Bouchet’s dark burner “Broken Heart” (wait for its totally crazy cuckoo-esque refrain about halfway through). House music fans will likely be pleased to hear some vocal tracks mixed in, such as the insistent “Headache” by Terranova (featuring vocals by Stereo MCs’ Cath Coffey) or the drowsy gallop of GusGus’s “This Is What You Get When You Mess With Love.” Of the new tracks, Superpitcher is probably my favorite, with a nice melancholic groove in “Delta.” It channels all of the best qualities of his dancefloor tracks and skips his own vocals this time in lieu of using a vocal R&B sample sparingly.
There are a few curveballs, as is often the case with these Kompakt compilations, and sometimes I like them while at other times I don’t so much. “Something” by Weval is a really stylish ending to the first disc, with its plodding downtempo kick and looping vocal phrases, a wistful respite before starting the second half. Some of the Kompakt heavyweights turn in both reliable and unexpectedly fun tracks, with Tobias Thomas and Michael Mayer collaborating on the rousing “Unter Hölzern,” Thomas Fehlmann galloping gloriously on an exclusive Total edit of “Eye” (reminding me precisely why he’s such a legend), and Voigt & Voigt’s seemingly endless looping of “Tischlein Deck Dich,” which falls a little flat to me despite its spiritedness. The only real dud for me is from Jürgen Paape, an unfortunate finale on the second disc which is full-on oompah, “Heuriger,” sounding like a cumbersome MIDI polka jam instead of pastiche.
Despite having some less successful moments, there are over 20 quality tracks to be found here, including others I haven’t mentioned by Gui Boratto (taken from his new album), Kölsch, Blond:ish, The Modernist, Justus Köhncke, The Field, and more. It’s well worth a listen for seasoned fans as well as newcomers, serving up a heaping helping of what Kompakt is all about in 2013-14.
Trentemøller featuring Low: “The Dream” (Lost, 2013)
Generally I preferred Anders Trentemøller’s music up to the point that he started steering his attention far away from the dancefloor; his 2005 album The Last Resort is still one I like quite a lot, especially when considered with its bonus CD of vinyl techno cuts to complement the more downtempo and atmospheric album tracks. I haven’t heard much of Lost, his 2013 album that comes several years after shifting focus toward something more band and song-oriented, but any collaboration with Mimi and Alan from Low is likely to perk up my ears. Reliably, they deliver another total beauty here.
Gui Boratto: Joker Remixe (Kompakt)
Brazilian techno producer Gui Boratto returns to Kompakt to throw down a straightforward dancefloor burner with “Joker,” built around an insistent Moroder-esque synth pattern and nice clean low-end until it blossoms into more of a proper dancefloor anthem.
It splits the difference between his more minimal workouts for Kompakt’s K2 imprint and his more pop-tinged excursions that helped him cross over into the mainstream. What I think I like best about “Joker” in its original incarnation is that it’s no-nonsense, infectious, and quantized in time perfectly — there’s no shuffle or swing to be found here, just straight up synths and drums used to good effect. It’s a tasty teaser for his new album Abaporu (which I haven’t yet heard at the time of writing).
On the heels of his great 12” Palmaille, Dave DK turns up to remix the track into a much gloomier, sleeker workout, dropping most of the arpeggio and sequenced synths and instead opting for swooning pads and atmosphere. It’s a handsome complement, cashing in on the emotive underpinnings of the original without the Moroder-esque immediacy. And rounding out the release is Michael Mayer, turning Boratto’s original into something much more decidedly Kompakt in tone, with a stabby, fat bassline and syncopated stabs of sound, remaining faithful to the endless arp of Boratto’s original but pushing it into deeper and more epic territory. He’s thrown in some really prolonged dropouts and snare rushes to get the floor moving and amped up and I’d be hard pressed to think it wouldn’t get the job done.
All three variations are well worth it, representing so much about what continues to make Kompakt relevant and worthwhile after all this time.
Armand Van Helden: “Work Me Gaddamit (Remix 1)”
Dapayk Solo: Break Thing (Mo’s Ferry Productions)
“Break Thing” is misleading at first, because it starts off as a pretty minimal looper of a vocal sample and drums, and it seems like when its snarling bassline kicks in that it’s fully bloomed. However, patient listeners are in for a treat, because about halfway through it expands into something much bigger and more fully formed. It’s refreshing to hear Dapayk flirting with EDM trends and sounds but turning them on their side and appealing to the more minimal sensibility and technical precision he’s honed over the years.
On the flip is the buoyant “Oobax,” with its alternately stabby and elastic bassline that works to great effect. Its got a little extra swagger in its stride, putting the house in tech house, even if the precision of Dapayk’s technique pushes it more toward techno. It’s tight as hell on both tracks, another strong showing.
Vladislav Delay: “Musta Planeeta” (Tummaa, 2009)
A particularly meditative one from Vladislav Delay, sounding alternately serene and twitchy by way of electric piano and unpredictable effects.
Jon Porras: Light Divide (Thrill Jockey)
Jon Porras is perhaps better known as one half of the drone post-rock project Barn Owl. With Light Divide, Porras shifts his focus away from the often gloomy guitar-focused personality of his Barn Owl collaborations and instead turns his attention toward icy electronica. It’s a sharp deviation compared to 2012’s Black Mesa album, which sounded much more like it evolved out of Barn Owl’s aesthetic. Instead, most of the sounds in Light Divide’s five excursions are cool and synthesized, eschewing the guitar all but completely for a chilly, electronic pulse. While “Apeiron” has a propulsive, deep throb to it that feels grounded in the world of dub techno at first, otherwise many of these tracks are more abstract, with flourishes that suggest dub’s sense of space and depth but without overt nods to pastiche or mere nostalgia.
Instead, Porras seems to really embrace his new toolkit to evoke a completely different mood, one that’s crisp and cool instead of the warmer, more organic and acoustic sounds of his previous material I’ve heard. “Divide” is cool like a faint breeze over moonlight snow, recalling some of the hazy wonders of Tim Hecker’s earlier albums like Haunt Me Haunt Me Do It Again. Fans of that arctic ambience will find much to like here, with most of Light Divide gliding by smoothly like an iceberg. It is the smoother, gloomier underbelly of Barn Owl, without the electroacoustic tension or fury. Instead, Light Divide finds Porras at his most understated and sublime.