Reviews: Benoit B – Japonaiserie (Berceuse Heroique); Dawl and Sween – Rise Of The Humanoids (Klasse Wrecks)

Benoit B – Japonaiserie (Berceuse Heroique)

I’m not sure if Berceuse Heroique’s output has mellowed in recent months, or whether my usual base level of rage has been dialled significantly up to the point where anything other than skin-flayingly harsh electro and jungle has a difficult time getting in past my own on-board censor, but Japanaiserie really, kinda, feels very much like a departure of sorts from the label’s usual fare.

It’s not so much of a departure for Benoit B, however, with the producer having created a tapestry of work where subtle dynamics and strange angles collide in loose, ambienty house and IDM-ish workouts, and here the basic format is shifted towards the far east, its influences drawn from Japanese electronic music and art. The results are airy and gently mellow, barely breaking from below gossamer sheets of silk, and almost all of the seven tracks circle a central theme where the feel and mood of the influences are held tight.

It’s a pretty record; gentle touches of melody unfold unhurriedly over delicate mists of tone and form and it’s evocative of a more distant tradition and meaning (or, at the very least, a sympathetic western interpretation of them). Occasionally, such as on Electric Town, or the beatless Compression And Release it ventures beyond that remit, coaxing elements of 80’s synth-pop, or free roaming sound experimentalism, to come to the fore. For all the prettiness, though, it skirts here and there with the edges of pastiche, some of the more haunting moments arching towards a colder knowingness than was perhaps intended. It is not, I suspect, a record for the depths of winter, when you need more warmth than is delivered on a whispering breeze, but as the days lengthen into spring I imagine its languid sense of hope and serenity might find a more fitting backdrop.

Dawl and Sween – Rise Of The Humanoids (Klasse Wrecks)

The music that Klasse Wrecks champions has tended towards a very modern vision of a resolutely old-school sound where the genres which were once the soul and heart of the burgeoning scene – rave, acid, breakbeat – have been re-explored and old ideas subtly altered. Often there is a new emphasis on the playfulness of the original music, and other elements, such as melody, are given a more rounded role, perhaps becoming the focus itself. Occasionally there has been the feel that some of these new takes have lost something of the hunger and drive which were such important factors of the older sounds, as if a slight detachment has crept in where once things were inescapably in-your-face.

It’s a complaint which can be partly levelled at Rise Of The Humanoids, where a similar Klasse-wreckian taste for the bouncier elements of the old school is very much on show at the expense of some of the original, attendant, innocence. What holds the interest beyond the day-glo initial hit, though, are the threads of something a little deeper which unspool around the finely crafted rhythms.

It’s a vibe most evident on Blast Our Way Out where heavy, morose, pads weigh down on the bleeping machine stomp before a twisting, discordant lead tangles you up. Rise Of The Humanoid itself rolls in with sweeping acid breakbeat but heightens it, lightening the load but cooling the mood until cracks show in its sure-footed bullishness. All Systems Down cracks like a thundering battle-cry. It’s as much a nod to the exuberance of big-beat as to the pillars of a long forgotten underground, and is tempered with a popiness which is hard to quantify but which directs the music into a different direction than the one you might have expected.

Although Rise Of The Machines does suffer a bit where, as on Transmitting Noise, it focusses too heavily on the forms and shapes of the old-school, and misses something of the actual meaning, it still manages to bring something far more contemporary to the party. It’s a widening, I think, of the basic idea, and one where mood is allowed to shape the beats far more than would have happened in the past. The result is a record which is at its best when it keeps its distance from the things that made the older sounds so important for their own time, and instead uses the energy to empower its own, brand new, ideas.


Review: Lab Rat XL – Mice Or Cyborg (Clone Aqualung)

Like everyone else, I’m a sucker for anything Drexciya related, but I’ve begun to grow a little anxious about what could possibly be described as the ‘Drexicyan Heritage Industry’ over the last year. While it hasn’t quite hit the same level of recycling you see with some big-name rock bands, where every demo and out-take is lauded as evidence of burgeoning genius, you might still be forgiven for wondering whether there is really that much more which is worthy of being dug out of DATS and released in a pretty sleeve. Some of it for the third time.

Like I said though, if it’s Drexciyan related I’m probably gullible enough to buy it. That hasn’t really been a problem so far; the quality of most of the re-releases has been as high as you might expect. There has been the occasional number which remains more interesting for the background it provides (a bit of the ‘Burgeoning Genius’ syndrome) such as James Stinson’s Hyperspace Sound Labs as Clarence, but mostly we have been pretty well served.

It isn’t the record’s first time under repress – it was last spotted in 2008, with the vinyl being followed a couple of years back by the digital version – but it has arrived at a time when there is a lot of great electro getting another day in the sun, and interest in the genre’s past is on the increase. Lab Rats XL’s Mice Or Cyborg carries some added interest for being work by the actual duo as opposed to solo work by one of the two, and forms a neat triangle with their Abstract Thought, and L.A.M projects, falling somewhere between in terms of tone and mood.

Let me get this said: Mice Or Cyborg is a decent record. It displays a breadth of nuance and ideas in a way which has perhaps become a little rare in the genre today, and it does so without losing sight of a central and overarching ethos, one which guides and glues everything together. It also weaves its experimentalism deep into the fabric of the music, making it feel as integral to the tunes as the beats or the grooves, instead of relying it to provide a meaning all by itself.

I’m not sure that’s enough, though, to make it a great record. If this had been released today by a new act we’d maybe be hailing it as pretty special. Unfortunately Stinson and Donald’s work as Drexciya colours the reaction. Whether or not that’s fair is a difficult question to answer, but it’s difficult to avoid the comparisons. This works in both directions, however, as some of Lab Rat’s issues are also to be found in Drexciya. With both there is a tendency, at times, towards the meandering, to locking down a movement for just a little too long, pushing it into that region where the heat begins to dissipate. With Drexciya it’s rarely an issue; often it tightens other ideas up, and provides a genuine springboard from which they can push outwards and upwards, but here it occasionally betrays, warming a suspicion that maybe some of the material is a little lacking in anything else.

It’s not that the tunes feel unfinished, more that they haven’t quite reached that level where they can be left to guide themselves to a truly meaningful ending. Lab Rat 2, for instance, wobbles out into the world upon a squat 4/4 beat and a finely worn bass line, but it never seems to have enough energy to propel itself beyond an initial judgement, the delicate chords which should tone the piece forever swamped by the repetitive insistence of the bass. Similarly, Lab Rat 5 frustrates and not only with the irritatingly stop/start nature of the rhythms, but also in the way it feels as if it has been designed to be obtuse, constantly feeling on the verge of pulling everything together before once again yanking away any sense of completeness.

There are elements to the music, however, which saves the album from falling too far out of the light. Its way with melody, the way it lies at the heart of the most potent moments, allows a glimpse not so much of burgeoning genius, but growing maturity. It tempers even the rawer moments, and often combines with grooves in ways which surprise. Likewise, the whole of Mice Or Cyborg is filtered through an air of introspection, giving a sense of lived-through world-weariness and adding a warm sense of soulfulness which helps bind things together.

And when these elements combine, the album becomes much more interesting; even more so when it seems to be deliberately sidestepping any solid comparisons with Drexciya. Lab Rat 3 is a beauty of a track: a long, drifting paean to a far more Kraftwerkian take on electro than we tend to expect from this pair of minds. A long machine hymn which returns time and again to simple motifs and movements, layered with a lazy, quiet, charm, it evokes a rare sense of serenity and gentle wonder. There is a sense of Stinson’s Other People Place work at the root of it all, but it remains woozier, less inclined to douse its robotic soul with more human touches.

The strongest tracks are found right at the start, where the mood of exploratory mischief is at its strongest. Lab Rat 1 defies easy categorisation in the way it brings its submerged grooves together with melodies that are sometimes jazzy, sometimes strangely alien, like creatures calling over a silicon landscape. Lab Rat 6 feels closest to the Drexciyan ideal, lithe and stark, breathless and compressed, it is darkly affecting, and quickly draws you into to its grasp.

Is Mice Or Cyborg essential? No, probably not. Originally envisioned and released as the last part of their ‘Drexciyan Storm’ sequence, Mice Or Cyborg doesn’t really feel like a logical end-point. None of the six tunes really feel like a final word, and even the good ones can’t quite escape the thought that their better qualities had been echoed previously, and to better effect, elsewhere across the duo’s insanely exemplary oeuvre – both together and in solo work. Does it remain an interesting and important record? The answer is yes, mostly, although some of the lustre which could be present in that answer is scuffed by the fact that this is not an album from their early and formative years, but from right at the end when they should have been at their peak. It doesn’t really come close to the highs of Dopplereffekt, or The Other People Place, and it doesn’t even begin to suggest anything of Drexciya’s off the scale majesty.

For us Drexciyan geeks it will always carry an importance far beyond the reality of its offerings, but for anyone wanting evidence of Donald and Stinson’s talents, there are far better places to be looking. Buy it for what it is, definitely, but be prepared to search elsewhere for what it isn’t.

The Maghreban – Pots and Pans (Zoot); 6D22 – Dragon’s Path (Midnight Shift)

The Maghreban – Pots and Pans (Zoot)

It’s been quite a while since I last reviewed anything by the Maghreban, but I’ve tried to keep an ear on whatever Ayman Rostom has been cooking up. The former hip hop producer’s track record with house has largely been a great education on what house music can sound like when it really does come from the left-field, instead of claiming to do so just because it uses tape saturation.

What has always made Rostom’s take on the genre so listenable is the way it barely seems connected to any academic concept of what house is supposed to be. Frequently revelling in strange and expansive moods, the music is often a tapestry of alien qualities which accent Rostom’s taste for oddball skank. What has always elevated it away from the hordes of cookie-cutter outsider house producers, though, is the way he brings with it a fuzzy humanism which tempers the esoteric vistas he creates.

Pots and Pans further enhances this reputation with three tracks which duck and drift through some warm sonic landscapes. In some ways the tunes on offer hold a similar vibe to Barry Adamson’s sonorous, post-modern, soundtracks to non-existent movies. This is particularly true of both Elka and Martha where the beats are shepherded by a fat bass you can imagine being thrummed out by some heavy 70’s dude replete with thick moustache and royal-blue polo neck. In actual fact, the grooves on both pieces work in a subtlety different manner than you might expect. It’s less about moving the body, but the imagination, and both rock with a heady air of drama, evoking a strange landscape where the deep fog is more of a physical presence than the ground it rolls across. Martha is perhaps the more effective of the two; a slow mover, it takes a good while to really get itself into place, building up a tight, claustrophobic atmosphere before the broken, maudlin, occasional, melody of a piano cuts a path back towards the fresh air.

Pots and Pans itself is more upbeat and less concerned with the minutiae of mood as it works up a lather with clipped polyrhythms and simple, unfettered joy. It does little more than circle itself, and offers no more than it has to give but it comes out the other side feeling like that is more than enough. A great, smiling, little tune which should help see you through the long, cold nights of turkey ahead.

6D22 – Dragon’s Path (Midnight Shift)

If I’m remembering correctly, I opened this year’s Pattern Burst with a review of Giorgio Luceri’s 6D22 project so it seems weirdly fitting that the last review of the year goes to him too. Back then, it was his Istar release on Zeinkalli we were discussing. This time he’s on Midnight Shift with a collection of tracks inspired by the far east.

Firstly, it’s easy to see why Luceri has been a bit of a fixture on Jamal Moss’ Mathematics Recordings over the years. Dragon’s Path combines a resolutely old school techno flavour with something a little more detached and cerebral, and a lot of the time it evokes a sense of that point when balearic beats began to give way to something that would eventually become trance.

But just as there is an old school techno feel, it works a similar trick with those trancey moves. It’s closer to Jam and Spoon in execution – a sense of house music which has gone off on a tangent, drawing in a heavy mood of strobes ‘n’ ice, and building towards a vast heaven through simple melodies and rhythms built upon each other.

The three original tracks are bigger tunes than you might at first expect. Tianlong and Huanglong on the A side are a pair of shimmering climbers, both of which lock down their moods and movements early on and rise upwards relentlessly. Tianlong bleeds away excess energy towards the end, swapping it for a more delicate sense of tone and texture. Huanglong really pushes the early 90s big room vibe towards a logical conclusion. It’s all thunder and whispers; coaxing one moment, the next pushing you forward with both hands towards a bleary, hyper-real sunrise.

Longwang is from a similar place, but slower and more content to blur the motion with a feel of mysticism and some profoundly trancey 303s which bubble away seductively behind the veil of the melody. Once again the mixing of house like movement and techno rhythms provides a foundation for Luceri to build some tight complex sounds on top off, and the pulsing strength of the combination pushes towards some very old school hands-in-the-air moments.

Longwang’s remix comes from the fertile mind of the one and only Heinrich Mueller. Yep, That Heinrich Mueller. And, as you’d expect, it’s just about as far a deviation as you’d be able to get. Heinrich Mueller has created bit of a thing over the last few years from creating tunes that aren’t really tunes, where their obtuseness, their de-constructed qualities, have begun to drag the music of in strange, sometimes awkward, but often exciting directions. And he does that again here, transforming Longwangs effervescent brightness into a minimal, internalized stab of serrated, compact madness as if he’s taken the original’s nervous system and mounted it outside its skin. As most of you probably know, I’m not that fussy for remixes unless it something new or unexpected. This is a pretty good example of the art. Borderline terrifying and bleak, it’s as if the ghost in Longwang’s machine has crawled out of its mouth and gone on a rampage. Truly demented, excellent stuff.


Pseudopolis – Pseudopolis EP (Redstone Press)

A new label, from my neck of the woods in the Scottish highlands, and therefore I’ve an idea of the way the hunger for new music and the wonkiness of relative isolation can feed into the mindset. In my day, it was mostly metal which was the music of choice for Highland youth, morphing slowly over the years into happy hardcore and the more straight up forms of bangy techno. Not that this debut EP is either, and I admit to be being pleasantly surprised by the tunes here. I’ll go ahead and say it – this is great stuff.

What leaps out of the music straight away is that it refuses to limit itself to a particular direction. Instead it veers closest to the sort of wild invention and killer jams which Bristol folks have been slamming out for a while now, and there is a similar disregard for hard genre limits on show. Pseudopolis exhibit a profound sense on adventure across the three tracks, taking in bits of house and techno and using them to colour the bones of something which really lies closer to dubstep, jungle, and even a wee bit of dance hall, in vibe. The result is a strong release which has a gleeful sense of doing something right by doing it wrong. Really, it shouldn’t work as well as it does, but it ends up tight and brilliantly alive. The grooves flourish under a procession of chunky, occasionally day-glo moods and energies which ramp up both the sense of fun and seriousness. At Last bubbles with a seductive cheekiness, mainlining all those dry ice and strobe moments which are burnt into your subconsciousness. We Can All Groove slows everything right down and wraps up the movement with thick darkness.

Tracer is the definite standout; a joyous, rhythmic, burst of bright colour which hits up all the spots suggested by the other two tunes, but takes it further and makes more of a particular tribal heft which was only hinted at elsewhere. There is a kindred vibe to The sort of stuff Randomer has been working out his system over the last few years – nods to garage and dark, crunchy, house are filtered through a palpable sense of drama, and encapsulates a lot of what’s good in current UK electronica away from the big room beats.

It’s always interesting when a new label or a new act come out of the gates without doffing their caps to what everyone else it doing. And while there might be more Bristolly influenced stuff kicking around than there used to be, that’s still got to be better than yet another collection of tunes making their pilgrimage to Detroit, Chicago or New York. Check it out.


Best of the Represses – Nov 2017

So I’ve been away in India for a bit. Not so much ‘finding myself’ as avoiding getting run over by psychotic bus drivers, motorised rickshaws, and camels, whilst eating twice my own weight in garlic naan. And although I’ve come back home with one of the meanest colds I’ve ever experienced, I’ve also returned with an unwillingness to give the benefit of the doubt to this whole repress malarky anymore. Seriously, label folks: this is about the third month in a row I’ve had to scrape around to avoid writing about endless disco edits and re-releases of watery 90s deep house. My brain, feet, and other less remarkable bits of my anatomy demand old school sonic fun and it just ain’t happening. It really isn’t. And with that, here’s the cream of a very, very, slender crop:

Model 500 – No UFO’s – Metroplex

Metroplex’s anouncement that it was going to start repressing some it’s classics was pretty much acclaimed by everyone with ears. Unfortunately the whole project seems to have gone off the boil a bit, with a number of scheduled bangers failing to appear. Even worse, the long-awaited repress of No UFO’s does that currently fashionable dirty trick where the original’s full arsenal has been ransacked to make room for stuff that, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, really isn’t all that great. In this case, both version’s of Future’s screwy, sleazy funk have been tossed out and replaced with remixes of the title track courtesy of Moodyman and Luciano. Both are unwanted and unneeded. While the Moodyman version is just -just- about passable, it tries too hard to straighten out the unstraightenable and turns in something fairly limp but bearable if you squint at it enough in low lighting. The Luciano version, though, is gash, and seems designed to be played in a god awful wine bar setting at 6.30 on a Wednesday night. For shame. I mean, if you hate Juan Atkins that much, why not just kick him in the nuts and leave the rest of us out of it? Luckily, the original versions of No UFO’s still sizzle with the same cyborg electrofunk energy they always have, their sense of fun, adventure, and machine-mysticism undiminished by being more than 30 years old. Buy for these two examples of effervescent genius and pretend the rest of it doesn’t exist.

Cube 40 – You Make Me Function – Was/Is

Although I’m not entirely sure of what came first, I think it’s safe to describe Cube 40 as a side project of Air Liquide’s Cem Oral and cocreated with his brother, Cam, way back in 1995. This is actually one of two Cube 40 represses which came out recently but, strangely, this one appears to have been a limited edition. The other, Bad Computer came out on another label and should also still be available.

You Make Me Function is, simply, a bunch of fun that really doesn’t try to do anything other than shift its arse around a wee bit. There is a really strong vibe of very early Relief records here, and its funk-slinging dumbness also works up a bit of a Dance Energy sweat which is all the more interesting because it predates the whole darn massive ghetto house DM explosion thing by a year or two. But even though bumptious Chicago second wave house is the obvious influence there is a bit more to it than that – little slivers of sound from Plus 8 and early European experiments in the genre tie it all together. I think Fun House on the B side is actually the better of the two tracks, kicking it out with the sort of wobbly acid shuffler that entire nights out once built themselves on. Maybe not the classiest thing you’ve ever heard, but if you can listen to it without smiling you’re dead inside. Dead. And you probably really like the Luciano remix of No UFO’s too. Get out of here, you bum.

Microthol – MicroKosmos (Anniversary Edition) – Trust

I wrote a bunch last month about the way in which Bandcamp was on its way to becoming a great resource and archive for all sorts of old music no longer available. I had planned to write a bit about some dinky Fastgraph stuff I found on it a while ago, but it seems to have been removed for God knows what reason. Never mind, because DJ Glow’s might Trust has supplied us with an even better option in the shape of Microthol’s debut album from 2006.

This is simply spiffing; a mix of vibes, atmospheres, and energies which take in a number of genres. MicroKosmos locks down a heavy mass of invention and sophistication with some potent grooves – some delicate, some prowling. While the electro forms the core of this collection, it reaches out towards EBM, Detroit flavoured techno, acid and all manner of gorgeously synthy madness. Comes complete with some excellent additional remixes from Dynarec, Marco Passarani, Alexander Robotnik, and Old Man Glow himself. While each of them is great, the Passarani and Robotnik reworkings really hit the spot. Just superb. Get it now.