More Little Reviews Featuring Bruce And Ioannis Savaidis

Another week, another Bristol release. OK, in actual fact this one came out a few weeks back but I’m still clearing the stack and finding things I’d actually forgotten about. That’s not really on in this case because Bristol lad Bruce has tapped into a rich vein of form this year and has become pretty difficult to avoid for long.

Not that you’d want to. I’m Alright Mate (Timedance)is another left field and thoroughly individual take on a techno sound which owes almost as much as to an exploration of themes and internalized mood as it does to raw sound. His last release, The Trouble With Wilderness on Idle Hands evoked an aura of deep melancholy, dripping with a rainy ambience, and bringing everything together with an understated sense of melodic invention. While I’m Alright Mate steps away from the previous record’s cold dreaminess, and gives the proceedings a bit of a boot up the arse, it remains very much in hock to Bruce’s increasingly sophisticated sense of emotional space and distance. The title track itself might well be a shifting slice of 4/4, but those pretensions serve more as a climbing frame so that the unsettling threads of growling mood and snakelike grooves can climb up there and tie your poor brain in knots, rather than allowing the tune to cater to the dance floor.

Post Rave Wrestle on the flip is even more demented, hitting things up with a deliciously broken piece of utterly deconstructed bonkers rave which kind of makes me think of Andy Weatherall getting lost and worried inside his own dreams. Somewhere out in the wilds there’s a communist era Czech cartoon that needs this as it’s soundtrack. This is techno that generally doesn’t give a damn, and that means it very techno. Disturbingly lush.

While it would be pretty wrong to suggest that Ioannis Savaidis’ NSA Trusted Networks on Lower Parts hails from a similar part of the psyche as the Bruce record, I think it shares a border. Primarily unfolding as a collection of ambient pieces, it nevertheless contains much that stretches it away from the more chin-scratching locales. I don’t have a great track record with ambient stuff. Most of the ambient I’ve ever given a stuff about has, in fact, pretty much been normal techno with wibbly bits. I don’t think I’ve got the patience for it, if I’m honest, and secretly think it appeals to the same people who love to tell me David Foster Wallace was a genius. I get nervous when there are no drums, and start fretting about how droney the drone sounds are. What can I say? I’m a barbarian.

And, at first, I’ll admit that NSA Trusted Networks had me thinking of the old music for schools programs from the early 80s. In fact, that isn’t really meant as a slight because the thing ..Trusted Networks shares with that earlier styling lies not in the sounds, but in a certain form of orchestration – something I often find to be missing from a lot of ambient music. Without it, it becomes a marsh, a swamp of aimlessness which is fine enough for brief interludes but patience-testing over the longer distance.

Beyond that, the four tunes offered up here cross over from pure ambient to steal facets of IDM’s depth and synthwave’s use of percussive melody, and indeed NSA Trusted Networks shares a great deal of DNA with synthwave’s retro-aimed feeling of place and time. Thematically too, it isn’t that far removed. This is a record of slowly billowing alien sounds, the singing of the wind across lakes of liquid heavy metals, the slow erosion of exo-worlds. But those images are to fool you, because they exist only in the minds of those trapped by the constraints of the modern world. They’re prison fantasies of freedom because, under the pastel hues and winding melodies, there is the feint but unmistakable sense of everything being slightly off-kilter; a nervous paranoia which porpoises through the half-light of the pads and incandescent percussive touches and, paradoxically, reaches its most unsettling point on the otherwise gentle title track right at the end.

Uneasy listening is seldom so easy on the ears. Although I still find myself praying for a hand clap, or break of snares, even I can appreciate that the complexity of emotion and themes is seldom as straight forward as I pretend. Somehow I don’t think Savaidis needed to be taught that.

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Review: Drum Machine – Space Suite (Lower Parts)

While the craze for true analogue jams seems to have receded a fair bit over the last year or so (or, at the least, finally settled into its own real niche), there is still a certain amount of romance attached to the idea of the lone producer, head down in a room lit only by flashes of LED light, coaxing all manner of weirdness out of racks of tortured machines. Greek producer Drum Machine, part of the Thessaloníki based collective Anopolis, has a reputation as a serious gear-head and indeed its the sound of collapsing electronics which dominates his new release on Lower Parts.

While the music is coloured with the distorted warmth that goes hand in glove with most modern hardware work, it doesn’t simply kick everything into the red and have done with it. Underneath the noise there is a fine techno mind at work, drawing out grooves which, although hard, never let go of an air of experimentalism and sense of adventure. At it’s most straight forward, such as on opener Jungel where the beats are thickened to the point they almost blur together and the rest of the tune appears only as a heat haze above the rhythm’s molten flood, it can get a bit crowded; a vortex of sound which sucks up everything around it and leaves you elated but exhausted.

But Jungel is by far the most conventional of the tracks. A better sense of drive and purpose on offer is to be found on VCO Ship where Drum Machine finds a natural balance between abrasiveness and a finely honed atmosphere of unraveling emotion. The beats still char the bones, but the ghostly pads and loose, simple riff hold in place an echoing moodiness which elevates the tune far above that of a simple electronic work out and teases out an implausible prettiness.

The collaboration between Drum Machine and Mituo Shiomi, Acute Angel, drives things further away from sanity, drowning the brain with the feeling of things really going off the leash, but using that madness to build a scatter shot monster that seems destined to fall apart even though it slowly reveals itself to be in complete, precise control. The beats rarely sound as if they’ve ever met each other before, so urgent are they in moving around, but as the track unfolds it reveals a demented sense of popiness and light which lends it something bubblegum and cheeky.

The tune I keep coming back to time and time again though, Space Wave, cuts away everything that it should need to make it work and leaves only a single vast and percussive riff behind. Space Wave distills Drum Machine’s penchant for tone and mood wrapped up in heavy sound, reducing down to a burst of rainbow frequency which drags influences of house, techno and day-glo big room rave out of hiding, guiding it with little clatters of metronomic clicks and the riffs own sense of purpose and direction, shining a bright and exhilarating playfulness across it. An explosive finale, and a fitting one for a record that veers between different facets of a common sound.

Favourite Tune of 2015: DJ Stingray – eRbB4(Kon001 Mix). A Friday Night Tune Special

Choosing a favourite tune from all the tunes released in a single calendar year is a stupid thing to do. It is almost as pointless as teaching quantum physics to cats, as twice as hard as herding the little feline buggers into the lecture theatre in the first place. In 2015 there were literally hunners of tunes I fell in love with. Some of that – the larger amount – were infatuations that burned away in a few hours or days. Others were longer affairs, the tunes settling into my hears and head for a brief honeymoon. Very few, though, lasted the course.

Some of them weren’t from 2015 at all, and were actually rediscoveries of tracks I had once loved and all but forgotten about or older tunes I was hearing for the first time. I hadn’t heard Blake Baxter’s Our Luv  for maybe 10 or 12 years before Goodhand played it at the Numbers/Mystec party in September. It was a similar story with a host of old electro records from the likes of Spesimen, Third Electric and I-F. Others were new to me but still old. If it’s possible to wear out a FLAC through overuse I’ve just about done it with Boris Divider’s 10-year-old Clone Factory.

As for the tunes of 2015, they were there in thick bunches, and many of them seemed to be by Luca Lozano. Almost every record he released this year was a cracker whether it was a solo effort or in collaboration, with Gun Fingers and Dripbox standing out particularly brightly. Shanti Celeste’s SSS blew me away when I heard its deep, Detroitish tones, as did DJ Overdose’s Vinca on UTTU. Arcanoid’s Acto 2 from La Cólera De Los Débiles on Odio also smashed my tiny brain when I first heard it – such a loose jam; always close to falling apart yet just about managing to keep it’s fantastic vibe flowing. Peverelist’s Undulate came out of nowhere and just floored me, as did Florist’s endlessly spacious, Basic Channel invoking Final Bounce of All Caps.

There were two tunes in particular which seemed to keep dragging themselves into my consciousness with the nagging enthusiasm of their own brilliance. I hadn’t really paid too much attention to Adesse Versions in the past even though I have most of the releases. Somewhere along the line, and I’m not sure why, Pride just started cropping up whenever I was doing a mix. A lot of house music just now seems to get me down. Predictably comfortable shapes and sounds, an over reliance on it and discos past and the increasing suspicion of its growing musical conservatism got to me. Pride, from his release on Numbers, isn’t like that, though. Its sleazy, debauched and darkened air is sharpened by focus, and brought to life when the vocal eventually kicks in with the wild force of a drunken ex turning up on your doorstep at three in the morning. I seem to play it at +8 a lot, which is possibly why the tune’s sultriness morphs into something even more purposeful. It’s one of those rare tracks which seem to straddle the line, equally at home in a big club, playing to a big club crowd as it does a tiny, grimy place on a humid Friday night. I made no conscious effort to get to know it and yet it got itself in there. If that isn’t the mark of a great tune I don’t know what is.

DJ Stingray’s Cognition EP on Lower Parts was one of a couple of great releases for the veteran producer, and his best moment was the KON001 remix of eRbB4. I don’t know who KON001 is, whether he’s connected to the label or the guise of someone well known, but he turns in one of the very best reinterpretations I’ve heard in a long time. I’m not a major fan of remixes. Too often they seem to bring little to the table to make the effort worthwhile, or they totally rebuild to the point you might as well have just written something from scratch. KON001 retains the tough but wistful bustle of Stingray’s original but burns away its laidback air and Model 500 touches allowing a deeper, haunting, and quite beautiful piece of unbelievable electo-soul to bloom instead. It takes an age to get going, but when it does it can’t help but bowl you over. It’s a dusky autumnal masterpiece, taut with slowly unfurling drama and warmed ever so slightly by a playful charm that makes it’s presence increasingly felt when the little fragments of Detroit’s heritage begin to glint in the turning light. The more I listen to it, the more I love it. If this doesn’t get full Classic status from the European Commission For Banging Tunes it will be an injustice. If you don’t hunt this down you’re making a mistake. The best of the year? In my ears yes; it really is that special. Outstanding.