A Couple Of Record Reviews Via The Scenic Route

No matter how comfortable, a prison is still a prison. There is a window which looks out upon a scruffy tree and a concrete wall, and the room, small but not tiny, contains everything I might want for my work; note pads and an ancient computer, piles of records and books. The door leads to an airless corridor of peeling paint and scuffed linoleum. At one end is the bathroom with a small, high window through which you can sometimes hear snippets of distant conversation. At the other is the one door which leads to the outside world. It is never locked, and I can leave any time I want. Except, where would I go? and what would I do? Somehow that makes my sentence worse.

I sit at the desk and patter out loose words which describe the way I imagine the people who make the music want me to feel. I suspect I’m rarely right but I don’t really care because once the music’s in the wild, the only interpretation which matters is the one each listener brings to it. You can love your children, but once they leave the nest they are the only ones who can define themselves.

Once a week the doorbell will ring and I’ll swear, drag myself to my feet and shuffle down the corridor to let in The Archivist. He will lope past me; black jeans and a blacker mood, a stab of the eyes letting me know to leave him well alone. I am the scribe, and he is the archivist and so our work goes on.

He’s only ever happy when drifting through the shelves and the piles on the hunt for records. He seldom looks it though, and in this I think we are the same. I am only ever happy when I am writing but I will do my damnedest to avoid doing any. I will pull books apart to find out what makes them tick; I’ll construct cunning excuses with the same level of effort it would’ve taken to have written a novel; I’ll dilly and I’ll dally; I’ll hide, I’ll fuck about. The only thing I won’t do is work. Not until I’ve run out of every other available option.

There is a telephone in the room with The Archivist and I. They had it installed years ago and it’s an ugly thing of thick, moulded plastic the colour of over-ripe avocado, and with a handset so large and heavy it strains your hand to hold it for more than a minute. They got it from the reception desk of an A+E ward which was being closed down, and They smirked at the irony that something so essential could end up serving something so ephemeral. I hate phones at the best of times, but this one, this hideous thing, I despise. And of course, it senses when I have finally started to write because it begins to ring, it’s anxious, fussy trill filling the room. I try to ignore it, knowing I won’t be able to, and out of the corner of my eye I can cam see The Archivist glaring at me; He’s holding a battle-worn Jeff Mills EP and he hisses “Aren’t you going to answer it?” I shrug, knowing full well all that will do is piss him off.

I pick up the receiver before The Archivist blows his top, and say hello. There is nothing on the other end but silence and static at first, and I wonder briefly whether they are screwing with me. Eventually, just as I’m about to hang up, a voice, tiny, tinny and far away, says “have you heard it yet? Did you listen to it?”

I say nothing, letting he voice continue. It develops a slightly maniacal edge, pleading, and then demanding, I listen to the record it’s talking about, an anonymous 12″ by an unknown producer on a label called Keep Your Mouth Shut.

“I think it’s the Aphex Twin,” It says. “I think it’s him. There is an Aphex Twin sample on it. It would be delightfully ironic, wouldn’t it?” I Look over at The Archivist. I had put the phone onto speaker and now The Archivist is standing there, shaking his head at me.

“Sure, “I say. “Ironic.” And it would be, wouldn’t it? The Aphex Twin, once famous for his obtuse remixes which left not a trace of the original producer, identified as an unmarked, unknown artist, purely from a sample culled from his best known work. Ironic. Yeah. But I don’t know whether it’s true. I doubt it. It’s probably someone vaguely known to those of us who haunt the edges of The Music. Either that or a huge star harvesting easy kudos and their ticket back to the underground. Maybe. The rest of the record doesn’t really sound anything like him. The first track, for instance, is really just an average, middle of the road bumper that doesn’t go anywhere. Inoffensive, but lacking anything identifiable or unique. It could, literally, be anyone. It’s an American label too, not that it means anything in this day and age, but the clues are often found in the most unlikely of places.

The rest of the tunes are pretty good. No, scratch that. They’re excellent.

“I hope it’s not the Aphex Twin,” I tell the voice on the telephone. “I’d be much happier if it turns out to be a genuinely unknown artist. That second track with the AFX sample is a killer, but the B side – wow!”
“A strong release would you say?” the Voice enquires.
“As strong as it gets.”

In this I’m right. While the first track is OK, and the second, with its sample taken from AFX’s remix of an ancient St. Etienne song, is a deep well of lively nostalgia reworked into a hard and energized groove, it’s the other two tracks which really kick it into the next level. Track 3 with its heavy, slow breakbeats, wonderfully languid melody (another AFX sample?), and shadowy touches rises above the day-to-day and brings depth and imagination to a style that often locks itself down in a single direction. Track 4, a radioactive dose of cosmic craziness, neurotic and acid burned fluidity, is one of my favourite tracks of the year so far. I’d find a place for this gorgeous hit of wistful darkness in every set I’d play if I could ever get out of here.

“You don’t think…..” The Voice tails off, as if teasing.”you don’t think there is something to it that’s a little bit, well, old-fashioned? A little too set in the early nineties?”
“That’s why he likes it!” Hoots the archivist. “He can’t see that he automatically favours new music that reminds him of when he used to have some sort of a life!”

I give him the V’s and take the record off the deck, placing it on top of a pile of books and papers out of The Archivist’s reach just to annoy him.
“I can’t find a sample of it online to link to,” I moan. “I don’t like it when I can’t find a sample to link to.”
The Voice giggles. “Never mind. I’m sure they’ll get the gist from your amazing descriptive powers.”

The doorbell rings again, and The Archivist shuffles off to see who it is. He returns a moment later with a box of records he lovingly, carefully slices open with a craft knife. He doesn’t let me do it any more, having seen the way I tear at the card and the glue.

He holds up one of the fresh records. “You should review this. I think it’s going to be very popular.”
“Who is it by? what label is it on?” He reads the names.
“Oho! It’s them! I wondered why they’d been Liking so many of my posts on social media! Kiss arses! Brown Nosers! Trying to smooth me up after they ignored me for months!”

The tiny voice on the telephone speaker chimes in. “Calm yourself you dingbat, you dilettante. You’re paranoid. The pressure is getting to you. I’m sure they’re not kissing your arse. I’m sure they’re just admiring your writing.” The Archivist and The Voice break up into hysterics. I slam the receiver down and glare at The Archivist who stares back. We square up over a pile of filthy Dance Mania records. The phone rings again and I pick it up, dumping the handset on the desk as I press the loudspeaker button. I reach over and grab another one of the new records from The Archivist. A different one. “What about this one? It’s on Happy Skull, isn’t it?”

“Charnel House by Bass Clef,” he mutters. “You like Bass Clef.”
“Some of his stuff, Yeah. Didn’t go for that last one on Trilogy Tapes though, did I?”
“Neither did I.” Says the voice on the telephone.
“Who asked you?” I snap. “We don’t even know who you are. Maybe you’re from that arsekissing record label, maybe you’re that guy on social media who told me to go read a book! Maybe you’re the bastarding Aphex Twin. Maybe this is all just one of your marketing ploys!”
“Chill out, you oddly cynical illiterate.” The voice chided. “How do you get through a day without falling apart?”
“He doesn’t” snickers The Archivist. He takes the record off me and slides the vinyl out of the sleeve. “Shall we give it a listen?”

I drop into my knackered chair, sulking, as the archivist puts the record on the 1200 and places the needle.

“What’s this one called?”
Charnel House” The archivist sits down on his stool by the window and lights a rollie, taking heavy draws and staring into space as his head bobs along with the tune’s fat, wonky, rhythms. I’m not so sold on it, not at first anyway. It seems like a beat and a bass quacking out a rudimentary melody. But when it ends I signal for The Archivist to roll it again. He does and he quickly locks down in time with the groove. It’s growing on me too. Something about its simplicity, the way it blends a certain tongue-in-cheek Super Nintendo vibe with a particular rawness begins to do a job on my brain. Before long we’re all quacking along with it.

“Nice,” I say, and cadge a rollie from The Archivist.
“I liked it too,” The Voice interjects.
“Nobody asked you!” The Archivist snaps. I grin and give him the thumbs up as he turns the record over.

This one, Acid Hearse, feels less knowingly daft but more exploratory, as if it spends the first couple of minutes trying to stake out its territory before it gets going. When it does, though, it fuels itself with a pleasingly early ravey mood that weaves in and out over the top of the breaks. There’s a little flurry of dub techno-ey reverb somewhere in the background. I mention that this is the best way to do dub techno. The Voice on the phone sounds a bit piqued. The Archivist gives me a look.

“This isn’t dub techno.”
“I know that. I never said it was. I said that there’s something a wee bit dubby now and again.”
He shrugs. “That’s your opinion. I like it.”
“I like it too. It’s got a bit of cheekiness to it without losing sight of something a bit more meaty. It sounds fresh.”
“Fresh.” Something in the way The Archivist intones the word gets my hackles up but I stay quiet. So does The Voice, strangely.

“Shall we do another one?” Asks the Archivist.
“Nah. I’m tired now and it’s getting dark. I’m hungry. Let’s order a curry.”
“I’d rather have pizza.”
“What about me?” The Voice whines from across its infinite distance.
“Nobody care about you” We both shout at the same time. I hang up the phone. The Voice doesn’t call back.

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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.

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.

Review: Cignol – Hidden Galaxies (Computer Controlled Records)

Although it might seem as if Computer Controlled Records have a dedication to keeping the flame of a particular form of old school techno and acid alive, it’s not really something that bears up to close scrutiny. Although the label are unlikely to give the likes of Lobster Theremin or LIES stiff competition in terms of quantity, each of the their records so far have certainly helped define and strengthen a place within the current scene where rawer and differing forms of house and techno can flourish. I think this is partly possible because the music, far from being simple facsimiles of stuff you would have heard in late 90s clubs, takes the basic sounds and reforms it into something that understands standing still isn’t really an option, that the music has to evolve in order to retain both its relevance and its potency.

It’s a tricky thing to ask of a producer, and even more tricky to pull off. Irish producer Cignol’s d├ębut on the label is one which, at first listen, seems pleased to deliver a straight up dose of acid techno. But it doesn’t take too long for other forms to start unfurling underneath the 303s.

Essentially this is acid which has been subjected to a concerted blast of information, opening its eyes to the wider possibilities of the changing sonic world. Although the acid provides a true foundation for Cignol’s increasingly complex take on the genre, it never becomes dominant – which is an interesting fact in itself given the ubiquitousness of the little silver box across the EP’s five tunes. Tracks like Final Approach, or Galway Acid Are imbued with rolling acid lines, and certainly hark back to the mix of techno, acid, and trance which was once to be found in some of the wider ranging and less frenetic Harthouse releases. But what makes things different here, and adds a deepened, widened, take on the genre is that interplay of icy, gossamer melody. At times, especially on Galway Acid where a certain suggestion of heavy energy weights the tune towards a particular breed of classic Chicago acid, it loosens up the tight, compressed grooves, shuttling mood upwards and unlocking a sense of grainy, introspective drama.

In fact, it’s this which is the dominant theme, and it’s well partnered by Cignol’s sense of movement which makes great use of a much lighter touch than we typically find in acid house of any era. For all the little genre hallmarks which are scattered around, Hidden Galaxies has more in common with the likes of Versalife, Morphology, or – in particular – ERP: artists who have taken techno, electro and IDM and sliced out many of the more obvious approaches and added a cinematic sense of place and time to the music.

It’s particularly evident on the gracious, swirling and break beat powered electro of No Reply From 806 – a deep, noirish tune which folds in on itself and lets little light escape. The grooves hatch from the half-space between the acid lines, but draw their energy from the dizzy roll of the cold, lost pads. Submerged Aegis is a note harsher – a crushed rave anthem falling through time, but propelling itself towards a frozen dawn. It’s a gorgeous and unsettling fantasy; the 303s kept slowly coiling around the flickering melody and the beats rising to fill the emptiness.

Anyone looking for solid acid bumpers are going to come away feeling a little lost, a bit out-of-place. Hidden Galaxies isn’t a record which plays to the genres strengths. It does quite the opposite. It takes certain elements and sends them scurrying and hunting towards a far larger, and colder, horizon. It stops short of breaching the barriers of IDM perhaps, but this is a good thing I think. It remains recognizable in tone and texture, but almost effortlessly shows how the music can find a new place amongst the vistas of a much larger world if it’s allowed to stretch it body and its mind. Excellent, sublime, and unexpected acid house from a dark and haunted future.

Posthuman Ft Josh Caffe – Preach (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams)

Posthuman Ft Josh Caffe – Preach (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams)

After a few releases where DABJ seemed to be moving on into new pastures the label reverts to something close to the sound they first started out championing. Posthuman’s first release for the Glasgow label has already drawn comparisons to Paranoid London’s deep and haunted acidic skank, and there are certainly elements common to both which bring out the best of the little silver box’s history without delving too far into the mire of homage.

Where Preach departs from its peer’s music is in its mix of the dirty and the sensual. The 303s are more restrained, playing a central role in forming the prowling grooves without ever dominating the otherwise stripped down and lean tunes, and the extra leg room is spent in allowing the fine, rubbery, rhythms and perc a moment in the sun.

The leading pair of tracks, Preach and Temptation, square themselves up in classic territory; a core of stone-cold funkiness moves them more into house territory than pure acid, partly through the way they make wonderful use of Josh Caffe’s sleepy vocals, allowing his voice to bloom and blossom across the empty expanse above the marshalling 303s growling and precise assault. Preach is the more compressed of the two, a tight yet flighty number which ties its acid down into something with an almost tribal ruffle to it, and shifts its arse with an energy sadly rare in a lot of modern house. It’s a mad wee groover, working over feet and ears almost equally. Temptation loosens up a bit, but spirals upwards and outwards with Caffe’s vox accenting the proceedings and directing your attention like a ringmaster in a particularly funky circus before the introduction of some scarlet, shimmering synths opens an unnoticed gateway and the whole thing just spills out, expanding into every nook and cranny previously untouched.

Last tune, Exit Drums (Extended Mix) shimmeys in a touch of experimentation, which pulls apart the foundations of the previous tunes with a 303 which curls and flickers around the wonky, scattered throw of the beats. It remains acid house, but only just, and breaks open the music to allow a sense of playful misadventure not always evident in such a rigorously curated genre. The other two tracks with – probably rightfully – will draw most of the interest and the plaudits, but it’s Exit Drums that will likely reward both many, many listens, and DJs willing to kick beyond the typical will find its cheeky pop a smart move out to a brilliantly alien tangent. A potent record which reworks many classic elements into something deeply modern. It turns in some of not only the fiercest, darkest, acid grooves of the moment, but adds to it a flare of clever sensuality which provides a sharp edge not often found in contemporary acid.