Ear Influxion

Various Replicas: VA7 (Various)
Various Production: Shed / Opus / Worse / Rush (Various)

Just as they originally surfaced several years ago, Various Production continue to quietly release tracks and EPs as isolated stand-alones. Here’s a round-up of a handful of their releases over the last year or so… “Opus” is a bit closer to what fans of the project’s 2006 album, The World Is Gone, might expect.

It’s anchored by a languid beat and a tiny, percolating acid bass phrase, but it’s mainly about the prolonged tension of its drones and an airy female vocal.

"Shed" feels more distinctly of the moment, with its clipped delivery of breakbeat patterns and references to drum & bass without ever fully falling in line. It’s much more musically exciting to me compared to "Opus"; its skittering, manipulated beats and patterns turn the jungle / drum & bass resurgence on its side in a way that’s distinctly different from the slowed down style of Modern Love or Andy Stott releases.

The collective’s offering, “Worse,” reminds me of the fun spirit of Millie & Andrea’s Daphne 12”s (some of which appeared on their recent Drop the Vowels album on Modern Love), mainly in the sense that it piles on references to all sorts of dance music trends without being fully rooted in any one of them. There are rave stabs, deep brown-sound booms, James Brown samples, and a truly fantastic ping-ponging between swing time and ordinary sixteenths. Side-stepping the usual anonymous umbrella of Various Production slightly is the VA7 EP which comes credited to Various Replicas; no doubt the name change signifies some shift in personnel behind the music, because the sound is fairly different. The most immediately dancefloor compatible track of the bunch is “12seven,” a really slick hybrid of current trends, including a staggered kick, jaunty syncopation, and effective use of samples. Its house kit gives it a dancefloor compatibility that many of VP’s other tracks don’t necessarily have, so it’s probably my pick for the best of the litter. Its slightly disorienting refrain of repetitive synth sounds reminds me of some of Villalobos’s more blissed out early tracks (“Panpot Spliff” on Perlon comes to mind). On the flipside, “Key” is more downtempo and dense, a moody electro-R&B crossover instrumental. Its crisp claps provide a nice contrast to the reverberated pads and synths that otherwise characterize it, a handsome accompaniment to the much more upbeat A-side. The Rush single has two tracks instead of being a one-off, so it already feels more diverse. “Rush” is quite different from all of these others, with a breathy female vocal and a jaunty arrangement that seems to fuse footwork with 2-step and garage sounds. Its flipside, “01110100-01110010-01110101,” may contain the least memorable song title of recent past, and yet it’s somehow deceivingly infectious as a chorus. It slows the beat down into more of a trip-hop sort of groove, though its synthy arrangements still feel fresh. Each of these offerings is interesting in its own way, like facets on a complex gemstone, showing off different strengths and shades and luminescence. 

Buy: iTunes | Boomkat | Bleep

Stars of the Lid: “Down 3” (The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid, Kranky 2001)

For at least a full year, my roommate at the time and I would crank SOTL’s Tired Sounds album on high volume to help fall asleep (we shared an open loft storefront near a busy street in Chicago at the time). As a result, there is indeed something drowsy about hearing these tracks now, though I no longer use it as a sleep aid but rather reveling in its ambient splendor. “Down 3” is a bit of an odd man out on the double-album, but it’s no less great. One of my favorite albums of all time.

Diamond Version - Were You There? (with Neil Tennant)

Diamond Version: Were You There? (CI, Mute 2014)

An upcoming collaboration between Diamond Version (Carsten Nicolai aka Alva Noto, and Olaf Bender aka Byetone) and Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys. It will appear on Diamond Version’s first full-length album on Mute, CI, due out in June. It’s an unlikely colliding of worlds, but I’m digging it!

Leon Vynehall: Music for the Uninvited (3024)
Leon Vynehall’s mini-album for Martyn’s 3024 is a really fantastic foray into deep house tunes that look to the past for inspiration. There’s a dusty cabinet element to Vynehall’s aesthetic that feels warm and familiar and almost stately, a reverence for the house music around the turn of the 90s. It should come as no surprise that one of its many solid tracks, “It’s Just (House of Dupree),” references Paris Is Burning in its sound byte samples.

Vynehall clearly has a deep respect for that music and its context, and it comes through in his handsome productions. Disclosure’s Settle was a surprise hit last year, touching on vintage acid house, rave, and early house sounds with an allegiance that was shocking spot-on (considering how young its members are), and Vynehall’s tracks here aren’t so far off that mark, either. But Vynehall’s tracks are deeper, more lush, less concerned with pop hooks or guest vocalists, less angling for the charts. And so there’s something refreshingly easy about playing through this whole thing again and again, feeling both familiar and exciting at once.

The best thing about Vynehall’s music, in my opinion, is his refusal to overly quantize everything with perfect precision. So beats and basslines hit slightly off from one another at times, sounding more handmade and human. That quality is reflected in the actual sound as well, with frequencies that might not be flawlessly mastered or mixed, but it sounds unconcerned with perfection (again, in a way that feels easy rather than sloppy) and more personal as a result. Adding a string quartet to the mix on the sly opener “Inside the Deku Tree” and the tail end of “It’s Just (House of Dupree)” only amplifies the human side of the music, with “Christ Air” offering a nice respite from the house sensibility of most other tracks in the final quarter of the release.

Its sound is closer to the spacious patience of Airhead, and it’s a nice complement to the more dancefloor-friendly sounds found elsewhere here. But the heart and soul of this release is in Vynehall’s lush arrangements and warm production, working just as vibrantly on a set of good headphones as it would on a nice system.
Buy it: Boomkat | iTunes | Bleep | Amazon

Leon Vynehall: Music for the Uninvited (3024)

Leon Vynehall’s mini-album for Martyn’s 3024 is a really fantastic foray into deep house tunes that look to the past for inspiration. There’s a dusty cabinet element to Vynehall’s aesthetic that feels warm and familiar and almost stately, a reverence for the house music around the turn of the 90s. It should come as no surprise that one of its many solid tracks, “It’s Just (House of Dupree),” references Paris Is Burning in its sound byte samples.

Vynehall clearly has a deep respect for that music and its context, and it comes through in his handsome productions. Disclosure’s Settle was a surprise hit last year, touching on vintage acid house, rave, and early house sounds with an allegiance that was shocking spot-on (considering how young its members are), and Vynehall’s tracks here aren’t so far off that mark, either. But Vynehall’s tracks are deeper, more lush, less concerned with pop hooks or guest vocalists, less angling for the charts. And so there’s something refreshingly easy about playing through this whole thing again and again, feeling both familiar and exciting at once.

The best thing about Vynehall’s music, in my opinion, is his refusal to overly quantize everything with perfect precision. So beats and basslines hit slightly off from one another at times, sounding more handmade and human. That quality is reflected in the actual sound as well, with frequencies that might not be flawlessly mastered or mixed, but it sounds unconcerned with perfection (again, in a way that feels easy rather than sloppy) and more personal as a result. Adding a string quartet to the mix on the sly opener “Inside the Deku Tree” and the tail end of “It’s Just (House of Dupree)” only amplifies the human side of the music, with “Christ Air” offering a nice respite from the house sensibility of most other tracks in the final quarter of the release.

Its sound is closer to the spacious patience of Airhead, and it’s a nice complement to the more dancefloor-friendly sounds found elsewhere here. But the heart and soul of this release is in Vynehall’s lush arrangements and warm production, working just as vibrantly on a set of good headphones as it would on a nice system.

Buy it: Boomkat | iTunes | Bleep | Amazon

Ocoeur: Memento (n5MD)
Franck Zaragoza’s newest EP as Ocoeur (phonetically from “Au cœur” = “to the heart”) shows off his production skills in spades with three completely gorgeous new originals paired with two handsome remixes. Ocoeur’s sound is rich and dynamic, mixing pure electronic sounds with more electro-acoustic sound design and lush, cinematic arrangements. The closest comparison I might draw is some of Jon Hopkins’s most luscious tracks and arrangements, but Zaragoza’s hand is more delicate, less coarse. That much is immediately noticeable in “Fusion,” the gorgeous opening track. It bristles with quiet tension as tremolo drones hold steady under its otherwise tragically beautiful piano and strings. An added layer of manipulated textural noise adds another thin layer of tautness to a strong first showing. The second track, “Memento,” begins with a layer of bubbly noise before it shifts shape into a squirmy, textural pattern of rhythm. This then serves as the backdrop for another beautiful arrangement of delicate sounds, feeling like a lush re-interpretation of all of that crunchy beat-laden IDM circa 1999-2000. “4.16” continues the streak of beauty with its sparkling music-box melodies over a winding bass synth and a crunchy electro-acoustic rhythm track. Zaragoza’s talent for manipulating what appears to be organic concrete sounds into beats and other patterns is noteworthy, providing a detailed and technical layer of complexity where I often find myself wondering what sounds are “real” or fully synthesized. While their end results are very different, he has this knack for sculpting sound in common with Amon Tobin (whose Isam album remains one of the best experiences in sonic fidelity I can recall in the last decade).

The remixes of “Light,” the original version of which is on his previous n5MD album, Light as a Feather, stand strongly alongside his new originals. Ben Lukas Boysen (of Hecq) contributes a stunning rework that emphasizes piano (prepared or otherwise manipulated) over all else, with a different sense of drama from the original. Recent n5MD signing Elise Melinand also contributes a handsome rework, drawing inspiration from the spaces between and prolonging them into a haze of drones of strings, electronics, and voice. Halfway through it takes a more obvious turn, layering strident percussion over some nice, deep bass to give it more of a pulse. Both treatments offer nice alternatives to Ocoeur’s original, and all three versions are equally good in my opinion. In my backlog of new music, this had nearly slipped through the cracks. It was released back in December quietly as a digital-only EP, and it’s well worth your full attention.
Buy it: n5MD | Boomkat | iTunes | Amazon

Ocoeur: Memento (n5MD)

Franck Zaragoza’s newest EP as Ocoeur (phonetically from “Au cœur” = “to the heart”) shows off his production skills in spades with three completely gorgeous new originals paired with two handsome remixes. Ocoeur’s sound is rich and dynamic, mixing pure electronic sounds with more electro-acoustic sound design and lush, cinematic arrangements. The closest comparison I might draw is some of Jon Hopkins’s most luscious tracks and arrangements, but Zaragoza’s hand is more delicate, less coarse. That much is immediately noticeable in “Fusion,” the gorgeous opening track. It bristles with quiet tension as tremolo drones hold steady under its otherwise tragically beautiful piano and strings. An added layer of manipulated textural noise adds another thin layer of tautness to a strong first showing. The second track, “Memento,” begins with a layer of bubbly noise before it shifts shape into a squirmy, textural pattern of rhythm. This then serves as the backdrop for another beautiful arrangement of delicate sounds, feeling like a lush re-interpretation of all of that crunchy beat-laden IDM circa 1999-2000. “4.16” continues the streak of beauty with its sparkling music-box melodies over a winding bass synth and a crunchy electro-acoustic rhythm track. Zaragoza’s talent for manipulating what appears to be organic concrete sounds into beats and other patterns is noteworthy, providing a detailed and technical layer of complexity where I often find myself wondering what sounds are “real” or fully synthesized. While their end results are very different, he has this knack for sculpting sound in common with Amon Tobin (whose Isam album remains one of the best experiences in sonic fidelity I can recall in the last decade).

The remixes of “Light,” the original version of which is on his previous n5MD album, Light as a Feather, stand strongly alongside his new originals. Ben Lukas Boysen (of Hecq) contributes a stunning rework that emphasizes piano (prepared or otherwise manipulated) over all else, with a different sense of drama from the original. Recent n5MD signing Elise Melinand also contributes a handsome rework, drawing inspiration from the spaces between and prolonging them into a haze of drones of strings, electronics, and voice. Halfway through it takes a more obvious turn, layering strident percussion over some nice, deep bass to give it more of a pulse. Both treatments offer nice alternatives to Ocoeur’s original, and all three versions are equally good in my opinion. In my backlog of new music, this had nearly slipped through the cracks. It was released back in December quietly as a digital-only EP, and it’s well worth your full attention.

Buy it: n5MD | Boomkat | iTunes | Amazon

Atom™: “Ich Bin Meine Maschine (Linear Remix)” (Ich Bin Meine Maschine, Raster-Noton)

One of three exclusive remixes of this cut from Uwe Schmidt’s outstanding album from last year, HD. Other remixes on the EP are from Function and Boys Noize and are both also quite good. But this one seems to be the best intersection of Schmidt’s original and the Raster-Noton aesthetic while still working as a cool track in itself.

Millie & Andrea: Drop the Vowels (Modern Love)
Andy Stott and Miles Whittaker once again don their female pseudonyms for this debut full-length, coming some years after a rather intriguing set of 12” singles on the Daphne imprint. While a couple of those tracks have also found their way onto the lineup here, most of the album is new, recorded in the last year or so, it would seem. The opening track, “GIF RIFF,” is more of a palate cleanser than delivering on expectations from anyone familiar with the duo’s other output; it begins with a curious sample of indigenous chanting before turning into a syncopated, spacious set of rhythmic sounds not unlike the more industrial side of Nurse With Wound. Miles Whittaker proclaimed in a recent FACT magazine interview (well worth a read), “Too many people are really too serious about what they’re doing. And in the end a lot of music’s just fun to make.” Strong words from one half of Demdike Stare, an outfit that’s made traditionally uncompromising and often difficult, sprawling music over the last several years. Andy Stott also is not an artist I’d associate with casual or flippant humor in his music. He’s been exploring curious terrain for several years now, shifting focus from the streamlined techno of his Unknown Exception compilation of previously released tracks and instead diving headlong into music that sounds like drum &  bass or dance music trends slowed down and turned sideways. His Luxury Problems release in 2012 remains one of the strongest leftfield dance albums of the past decade. What made those early Daphne 12”s most memorable is that they have a rather fun spirit about them, even if the music itself isn’t necessarily joyous or bright. The duo are clearly mining dance music’s checkered past, through references to breakbeat, jungle, rave culture, and more, though experienced through each artist’s rather particular musical lens. “Stay Ugly” is the first proper rhythmic track after the opener, living up to its name with an almost unnecessary layer of bass-heavy distortion. If not for that coarse surface treatment, the track otherwise is almost jaunty, with swelling pads and clattering mid-tempo breakbeat patterns.

In that sense, it’s perhaps perfect that the third track is “Temper Tantrum,” originally released in the first run of singles in 2009. Its jerky broken beat and donk bass, in combination with skittering fills, smooth pads, and tiny disembodied vocal samples, feels like a love letter to the dance music of the past while also being a fresh document of the here and now. Perhaps that is my favorite thing about their collaborations, that they make all sorts of inside references to the music of their youth and the past without it feeling cloying or overly ironic, or even fully necessary to notice in order to appreciate the tracks for what they are. In the end, good dance music stands on its own, and these tracks are no exception. “Spectral Source” follows as another previously released track, again flitting across several micro-genres without any allegiance to one in particular; there are tinges of burgeoning trends of bass music of the time (2009) with a genuine spirit of playfulness and curiosity. It shouldn’t be surprising that “Corrosive” is a newer track, with a sound that is a tad darker, picking up from its respective creators’ darker, more distorted, more recent lexicons. There are shades of Miles’ harsh and distorted works on his recent Faint Hearted album and its Unsecured companion EP, and the weird lo-fi slowdowns of Stott’s Luxury Problems finds its way into the mix here and there, but it is the homage to dance music’s past — in this case, late 90s sputtering hardstep — that provides the most entertaining element in this track. That stop/start sample triggering continues on the title cut, the most overtly rhythmic and least melodic cut on the album, with almost no supporting elements aside from an occasional stark pad sweep. “Back Down” combines the rough edges of “Stay Ugly” or Demdike Stare’s recent Test Pressings series with elements of old school techno and some of the swirling slow-motion sounds of Andy Stott’s recent album. The album doesn’t overstay its welcome at eight tracks, ending with the beatless, languid forms of “Quay.” The contrast of swooning, looped phrases and grimy digital surface noise is effective, reinforcing the sense of contrast that informs most of the album in a more serene way. Like the solo music of its creators, these tracks reveal their personality and appeal over time, making it an album that wasn’t an instant love affair for my ears. But several listens in, I can appreciate the magic in their collaborations. I applaud their respective successes (Miles and Demdike Stare on the one hand, Andy Stott on the other) but am glad the two were able to put their heads together with some new perspective to keep the project alive and better than ever.
Buy it: Boomkat | iTunes | Amazon

Millie & Andrea: Drop the Vowels (Modern Love)

Andy Stott and Miles Whittaker once again don their female pseudonyms for this debut full-length, coming some years after a rather intriguing set of 12” singles on the Daphne imprint. While a couple of those tracks have also found their way onto the lineup here, most of the album is new, recorded in the last year or so, it would seem. The opening track, “GIF RIFF,” is more of a palate cleanser than delivering on expectations from anyone familiar with the duo’s other output; it begins with a curious sample of indigenous chanting before turning into a syncopated, spacious set of rhythmic sounds not unlike the more industrial side of Nurse With Wound. Miles Whittaker proclaimed in a recent FACT magazine interview (well worth a read), “Too many people are really too serious about what they’re doing. And in the end a lot of music’s just fun to make.” Strong words from one half of Demdike Stare, an outfit that’s made traditionally uncompromising and often difficult, sprawling music over the last several years. Andy Stott also is not an artist I’d associate with casual or flippant humor in his music. He’s been exploring curious terrain for several years now, shifting focus from the streamlined techno of his Unknown Exception compilation of previously released tracks and instead diving headlong into music that sounds like drum &  bass or dance music trends slowed down and turned sideways. His Luxury Problems release in 2012 remains one of the strongest leftfield dance albums of the past decade. What made those early Daphne 12”s most memorable is that they have a rather fun spirit about them, even if the music itself isn’t necessarily joyous or bright. The duo are clearly mining dance music’s checkered past, through references to breakbeat, jungle, rave culture, and more, though experienced through each artist’s rather particular musical lens. “Stay Ugly” is the first proper rhythmic track after the opener, living up to its name with an almost unnecessary layer of bass-heavy distortion. If not for that coarse surface treatment, the track otherwise is almost jaunty, with swelling pads and clattering mid-tempo breakbeat patterns.

In that sense, it’s perhaps perfect that the third track is “Temper Tantrum,” originally released in the first run of singles in 2009. Its jerky broken beat and donk bass, in combination with skittering fills, smooth pads, and tiny disembodied vocal samples, feels like a love letter to the dance music of the past while also being a fresh document of the here and now. Perhaps that is my favorite thing about their collaborations, that they make all sorts of inside references to the music of their youth and the past without it feeling cloying or overly ironic, or even fully necessary to notice in order to appreciate the tracks for what they are. In the end, good dance music stands on its own, and these tracks are no exception. “Spectral Source” follows as another previously released track, again flitting across several micro-genres without any allegiance to one in particular; there are tinges of burgeoning trends of bass music of the time (2009) with a genuine spirit of playfulness and curiosity. It shouldn’t be surprising that “Corrosive” is a newer track, with a sound that is a tad darker, picking up from its respective creators’ darker, more distorted, more recent lexicons. There are shades of Miles’ harsh and distorted works on his recent Faint Hearted album and its Unsecured companion EP, and the weird lo-fi slowdowns of Stott’s Luxury Problems finds its way into the mix here and there, but it is the homage to dance music’s past — in this case, late 90s sputtering hardstep — that provides the most entertaining element in this track. That stop/start sample triggering continues on the title cut, the most overtly rhythmic and least melodic cut on the album, with almost no supporting elements aside from an occasional stark pad sweep. “Back Down” combines the rough edges of “Stay Ugly” or Demdike Stare’s recent Test Pressings series with elements of old school techno and some of the swirling slow-motion sounds of Andy Stott’s recent album. The album doesn’t overstay its welcome at eight tracks, ending with the beatless, languid forms of “Quay.” The contrast of swooning, looped phrases and grimy digital surface noise is effective, reinforcing the sense of contrast that informs most of the album in a more serene way. Like the solo music of its creators, these tracks reveal their personality and appeal over time, making it an album that wasn’t an instant love affair for my ears. But several listens in, I can appreciate the magic in their collaborations. I applaud their respective successes (Miles and Demdike Stare on the one hand, Andy Stott on the other) but am glad the two were able to put their heads together with some new perspective to keep the project alive and better than ever.

Buy it: Boomkat | iTunes | Amazon

Ellen Allien: “Data Romance (TokTok Remix)” (BPitch Control 2001)

In combing through my old vinyl I’m falling in love with early Ellen Allien tracks and remixes like this one. There really was an odd magic to the convergence of techno, electroclash (or whatever you want to call it), electro, pop, italo, and IDM in really interesting and fresh ways. BPitch Control was really on the vanguard of that as far as I heard it, with nearly every single record being reliably great for years.

Nooncat: “Take a Deep Breath” (Treibstoff, 2004)

Plumbing through my stacks of vinyl to rediscover some of these early 00s tracks — it’s the period when I was buying up the most wax by far, so my collection is weighted heavily on minimal techno and tech house from this time period. I’m still a firm believer that good music doesn’t expire, so enjoy this rather nice track from Alex Meshkov.

Echaskech: Origin (Just Music)
Echaskech’s sound is lush and large, with a strident pace and full electronic arrangements that would make Apparat proud. Origin works well as a musical narrative in sequence, with crests and valleys in dynamics to match its moody disposition. “Scanners,” “Ash Fallen,” and “Metic” are each big, full of drama, swelling with grace and smoldering with a deep glow. “Paper Scissors,” by contrast, has an almost elegiac quality to it, with warbly melodic leads that recall the light haze of Boards of Canada amidst the crisper rhythm tracks that are more distinctly their own in sound. Some of the tracks have an epic feeling that recalls heavier handed acts like the Glitch Mob, but Echaskech’s sonic palette feels more delicate and harks back more to 2000-era beatmaking for me. That combination of intricate rhythmic detail and emotive, evocative melodic arrangements feels simultaneously like a throwback to IDM’s post-Tri Repeatae golden age and like a nod toward to emotive genre-mashing that artists like Apparat, Telefon Tel Aviv, and Trentemøller are exploring.

There are tinges of that flirtation with post-rock that an act like Tycho has also recently more fully embraced; “Anomie” closes out Origin with a more human touch of guitar over its aspirational arrangement. In writing, I find it hard to describe Origin without dropping names and other references, but rest assured that for me the result is far better and greater than the sum of its parts. From start to finish, it’s excellent. Instead of merely looking back at the grooves of the past, Origin seems to draw inspiration from there just as much as from the present, with an eye on the future.
Buy it: Just Music | Bleep | iTunes | Amazon

Echaskech: Origin (Just Music)

Echaskech’s sound is lush and large, with a strident pace and full electronic arrangements that would make Apparat proud. Origin works well as a musical narrative in sequence, with crests and valleys in dynamics to match its moody disposition. “Scanners,” “Ash Fallen,” and “Metic” are each big, full of drama, swelling with grace and smoldering with a deep glow. “Paper Scissors,” by contrast, has an almost elegiac quality to it, with warbly melodic leads that recall the light haze of Boards of Canada amidst the crisper rhythm tracks that are more distinctly their own in sound. Some of the tracks have an epic feeling that recalls heavier handed acts like the Glitch Mob, but Echaskech’s sonic palette feels more delicate and harks back more to 2000-era beatmaking for me. That combination of intricate rhythmic detail and emotive, evocative melodic arrangements feels simultaneously like a throwback to IDM’s post-Tri Repeatae golden age and like a nod toward to emotive genre-mashing that artists like Apparat, Telefon Tel Aviv, and Trentemøller are exploring.

There are tinges of that flirtation with post-rock that an act like Tycho has also recently more fully embraced; “Anomie” closes out Origin with a more human touch of guitar over its aspirational arrangement. In writing, I find it hard to describe Origin without dropping names and other references, but rest assured that for me the result is far better and greater than the sum of its parts. From start to finish, it’s excellent. Instead of merely looking back at the grooves of the past, Origin seems to draw inspiration from there just as much as from the present, with an eye on the future.

Buy it: Just Music | Bleep | iTunes | Amazon