Clearing The Decks: Part 2 In A Sort Of Occasional Series.

Wait, what do you mean there’s more? Nah mate, I’ve just written one of these and now you want me to spaff on and on about Kon001, Ultradyne, Binaural, and Sweely? Are you mad? OK then, let’s get it going. Can I do this from the pub?

Ultradyne – Ocular Animus (Pi Gao Movement)

The Detroit electro outfit return with their first release in going on three years – not counting last year’s repress of the Antartica album. While it would be nice to see them being a bit more active, you can pretty much forgive all that the moment a new record arrives in your hands because, simply, there is no one else who sounds quite like them. This is another master class in slightly cracked but utterly compelling Detroit fuelled electro. It seems prudent to give the warning that it might not be for everyone, though, particularly the sprawling, de-constructed, winter beauty of Reflex Movement No. 4, a tune which seems less like music and more like a sonic rorschach test. The other two tracks are moderately more sane, with the beguiling, spinning, Suicide Relay stripping away all of contemporary electro’s baggage to reveal the genre’s glowing soul. Please buy it now. It’s one of the best this year so far.

Binaural – Mescla (Dream Ticket)

Binaural have been around since the late nineties, making their debut with the highly regarded Unison on the legendary Djax and following it up with a body of work sooooo slender it pretty much becomes invisible in strong light. They unexpectedly reappeared last year with the excellent Prisms LP and seem to be ramping up their presence with this, their first EP in 13 years. It orbits a similar mass to Radioactive Man, or Sync24, in the sense that this is electro of a particular vintage where extraneous fluff is blown away to better reveal the tight rhythmic workouts which lie at the heart of every tune. Occasionally, though, this approach does leave the tracks a bit sparse in terms of emotion, as if they lack an obvious centre beyond the bounce of the beats. Even so, Mescla wears its heart joyously on its sleeve. Director’s deceptively potent mix of Dopplereffekt style grooves and old school story telling lends it a moody sense of emotion, but it’s Qwerty’s empty, wrong-side-of-midnight, scamper which raises the game – and the atmosphere – to unexpected heights.

Sweely – Les Chroniques De Monsieur Montana Part II (Concrete Music)

I’m always a little bit suspicious of music which elicits an immediate liking, as if there is something in its willingness to please which suggests there might not be much beyond first contact to hold your attention. Of course, this is largely because I’m a bit of an arsehole who sees disappointment beyond every corner, but it’s an occasionally useful strategy for separating the pretenders from the real deal. A good record will blow you away, but a great record will still blow you away years down the line. Les Chroniques De Monsieur Montana Part II is a bit of a mix; electro, house, jazz, funk, and little thrills n fills from elsewhere are condensed into a slick pack of prowlers which echo with a sense of homage for a music that never really existed. Straight of the bat, it delights in its winding takes and sensual grooves in a way that occasionally recalls fellow French genius/legend St. Germain, particularly on the languid Ambassadors Of The Jungle. Elsewhere Sweely sidesteps what, in other hands, may have been the temptation to dive into the lazy world of dull, chunky, disco to colour the music with true deep night, lounge-house textures which open up the sound to a wider, far more interesting world. More Love rolls with a coy, heartbreaking vibe that’s all understated chords and throbbing bass. No More Salad goes even further, latching onto a deliciously tight, cheeky groove which reminds me of Neneh Cherry for some reason. Lovely. So, yep, it’s a pretty good record. If you want to know whether it’s a great one though, check back in three years time and I’ll let you know.

Kon001 – 65489 CETO (Pulse Drift Recordings)

Confession time: I’ve had this kicking around for a while by mistake, having stupidly convinced myself that I’d already reviewed it. Such is the danger of being a one-idiot operation who relies heavily on scribbling things down on the back of unpaid leccy bills and hoping that counts as living an ordered life. What the content of that non-existent review was, I couldn’t tell you, but if I was writing it now (which, you know, I am) I’d point out that Kon001’s mix of Stingray’s ERBB4 was my tune of the year a while back, and was a gorgeous, accessible, reimagining of what was a wonderful but fairly obtuse tune. I’m not entirely sure, but this would appear to be Kon001’s actual, full début, and it’s somehow not what I expected on the back of that one, miraculous, remix. On first listen I thought it too slick, too ready to sacrifice rhythms and grooves for melody and straight-ahead structure. On successive listens that feeling alleviates somewhat – although it’s never entirely laid to rest – and once your ears realign to the dominant frequencies it develops a fierce sense of itself. While it’s very much electro in tone, it frequently dives away from that to wrap itself up in Detroit techno as much as anything else. The truth is that 65489 CETO is a record which does put the melody of emotion, mood, and tone, ahead of a more pugnaciously rhythmic heart, but in doing so it evokes a type of deep-space soul which we don’t hear quite as much of as we used to. While UW Colony XY70S’ harder electro-funk may be the one that us grumpy old purists gravitate towards first, the real meat on the EP is best summed up in USO’s sedate, wide-angled investigation into collapsing melodies and bigger-than-life motifs. The big moment for me, though, is in Project Lyra 705’s oort cloud bop; a tune that feels as if it was shot into space in the late 70’s and it only now broadcasting back to an Earth. When it stops trying too hard, and lets the music breathe instead, 65489 CETO is a pretty good record.

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Clearing The Decks. Part 1 of God Knows How Many

Jeez. You wonder off into a haze of jadedness, boredom, and football for a few weeks (months) and when you come back there’s about a thousand things piled up and howling for your attention. I don’t know about you, but when I haven’t been watching the World Cup, or sweltering in the most unScottish heat I can remember I’ve pretty much been listening to Mr De and Erotek on repeat. It’s had an effect on how I see all other music now, but it’s also been a very useful palette cleanser. I’ve got no beer and a really bad headache so let’s get down to deck clearing. Hold on tight, we’re going to move at a clip here.

Historical Repeater – Scientific Calculator (Earwiggle)

First up is Scientific Calculator by Historical Repeater, a collaboration on Earwiggle between Ctrls and Solid Blake that manages to sound exactly as you might expect while consistently stepping past your preconceptions. Essentially, this is the sort of scuzzy, forward aiming, techno that provides a much-needed counter-point to the hordes of identikit and boring sounds currently embarrassing the genre. It’s barbed, groovey, and all fuzzy on the outside. You’d probably expect me to alight on Flashdrive’s growling, industrialized electro stomp, but the real winner here is the expansive, funky, Say Nothing which draws out subtle melodies and a sense of motion from the darkness.

Vertical67 – Out Of The Void (Vortex Traks)

Vertical67 lands on Vortexs Traks with Out Of The Void, a record that builds up some interesting ideas, but unfortunately never quite gets them working together. The result is something bordering on lounge-smooth, although the glimmer of darker mood tends to stop it falling too far into the saccharine depths. Opener Out Of The Void carries it off best by simply keeping the groove locked into a tight snarl and coming up with something fluid, menacing, and noir-ish. Unknown Territories comes close to convincing you that there is still some worth in deep electro with a flair of emotion and vulnerability, but a little to much of the fragility seeps into the groove.

Hissman – Revenge EP (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams)

Fabio Monesi’s Hissman Project slams into DABJ at high-speed with a bumping chuckle of warehousey blangers. The Revenge EP is an immediate sugar-hit of noise, distortion, and general oomf that’ll make you feel like the most alive person in the room until the crash comes and you sit in a corner crying. First impressions suggest tracky madness, but really there’s a bit more going on. It’s a bit uneven – Revenge itself, and Forest Wave talk a big game, but are overly content with wobbling around the starting line. Fragment, though, is a solid slice of dirty techno nonsense – a kindred spirit to the Historical Repeater stuff (look upwards!), and the sort of tune that passes for peak time in my fever dreams.

Silicon – V981 (V-Max)

I’ve loved Heath Brunner’s work as Silicon since I first heard him many years ago, but V981 on his very recently reactivated V-Max Records was a difficult one for me to parse. I struggled up and down with it because essentially I’m a fanboi. The fact is I don’t think this is classic Silicon;V981 feels lacking in energy. It’s too well-mannered, and content to use flourish where there should be spirit. Even so, Brunner still has more funk than a James Brown clone factory. Lost To The Void swirls with moodiness and tight, hungry rhythms. Rx17 is maybe the standout, and captures something of the sophisticated electro-grace which made Silicon one of the real stand out producers of the last couple of decades.

DJ Glow Presents Populist – Psychometric Profiling (Trust)

DJ Glow is back on his own Trust label, with Psychometric Profiling and under the Populist guise which he hasn’t used in a while. It’s a likeable EP which gets stronger as it goes on, and there is a feeling of different shades of electro being brought in to illuminate the darker recesses of Glow’s mind. At first it lulls you into thinking it might be a slab of run-of-the-mill acid-tinged breakbeat wonkiness, but as the record unfolds the overarching atmosphere is brightened (and, importantly, darkened when the occasion presents itself) by little touches of drama as the music veers between straight-up modern electro, and something which I guess you could call more Warp influenced: a sheen of IDM which teases out strands of mood and texture from behind the beats. A solid record but the two big keepers are Electromagnetic’s compressed Jovian skank that sounds like the bastard offspring of Chaos and Spesimen, and Simulation City, a tune of clipped Stingray-esque beats and cascading light.

Well, that’s it for today. I’ve a million other records to get through so join me again soon for the next episode of All Work and No Play Makes Jack Question His Life Choices.

JEM – Daisy Cutter (Sheik N Beik)

JEM – Daisy Cutter (Sheik N Beik)

First release – I think – for Joe Europe, a fellow scribe who might be familiar to you if you read the Ransom Note, and it’s not what I was expecting. To be fair, I don’t know what I expected; we music writers are a starkly talented bunch, but when it comes to cooking up a batch of our own jams we tend to run towards the ‘difficult’ end of the wedge as if to show the world that we really do know better than the rest of you (which is usually true so stop crying,) even in that means dousing the music we love in clever, sour-faced, experimentalism.

Daisy Cutter goes off in another direction. Rendering a number of relatively familiar influences and moods in unexpected ways, the record sidesteps the above malaise by the simple act of delivering four tunes which amplifies a feeling that the EP is, in some ways, a history tour which takes in not only JEM’s own musical experiences, but one that seeks to link together various ports of call through house and techno’s past.

It isn’t as complete as that, of course, but instead offers an interesting and alternative journey through the music’s history, one that is slightly off-centre compared to the usual route. Opener Daisy Cutter offers up a vision of Detroit that owes a great deal to Robert Hood’s original minimalist take on the city’s sound before it loosens off into a more slanted funk. Temple evokes the collision between hard, machine tightened, acid house, and techno which fuelled the music that used to flow out of Radikal Fear and early Djax. While it doesn’t lean on the floor as hard as some of those old records did, it builds a tight groove with a lighter touch.

Elements of Daisy Cutter, in fact, are smoothed with that lighter touch, rougher edges patted down even when the music is a little more expansive. The fractured, dreamlike Neb carries itself on an insect-call like 303, but relies on the delicate engine of its percussion to move, and little synth stabs to flutter at the mood and let the light in.

Semiotic tries to mix Daisy Cutter’s examination of mood and atmospheres with a more straight ahead approach but it doesn’t quite fit together, with neither part managing to move itself ahead. Even so, its cocky playfulness lends it an unexpected charm that sets it well with the rest of the record.

And, unexpectedly, it’s Semiotic’s playfulness that actually ends up, in some ways, defining the whole of Daisy Cutter; it’s in the way influences have been taken apart and cleaned up, put back together in slightly wonky and interesting forms, and in an understated delight at the way the new, mutant forms go their own ways. Ultimately, the deconstruction unlocks a sense of sly mischief and fun within the music that holds the interest even once the initial thrill of discovery has passed.

Review: Victor Valiant – V Is For Victor (Asking For Trouble)

V Is For Victor is the first collaboration between Keith Tenniswood – AKA Radioactive Man – and Freerotation resident Suade Bergemann, and from the off it feels a wider take on electro than we have recently been used to. Whether this is intentional or not I don’t know. Collaborations can take even the most singular musical vision of one of the participants away on a tangent, first time pairings even more so.

In some senses Victor Valiant echoes and learns from lessons presented by older music and artists, such as James Stinson and his work as The Other People Place. While V For Victor never departs traditional electro to anywhere near the same extent as Stinson did on Lifestyles Of The Laptop Café, it taps at a similar seam. The tunes on V For Victor exhibit a looseness and warmth, and an almost downtempo vibe, that is rare in the genre, and a little eye-opening when considering Radioactive Man’s recent canon of molten, mutant, stormers.

But more interesting is the soulfulness which sits at the heart of the record. It tugs on the direction of the tunes, and scoops out space for itself between the beats, lending the sense that this records true influences were to be found in crackly old funk and rare groove records rather than technobass or hip hop or rave.

Even the parts of the album which are very much ‘proper’ electro, like Anti-Flash, or Conway, tip their hats to the prevailing mood. Anti-Flash drags a slithery bassline through a complex street map of beats and rogue tones, occasionally putting you in mind of a fractured and tripped-out Boris Divider. Conway strips everything down to the beats and wobbly riff for the sort closed-eyes workout that could make itself at home at any point over the last 20 years while remaining very contemporary indeed. Its slowly building sense of malice, its snake-hipped movement, and its quiet restraint, mark it out as one to keep an ear on.

If we’re being entirely honest, though, it’s the other half of the album which elicits the most interest. Influences are opened up, rhythms loosened. On Dragonfly we’re shepherded down tight, midnight streets by jaggy, swaggering, acid funk, dipping into a bag of psychedelic fun as we go. Tanker further widens the gulf between V Is For Victors two parts with a jazzy, groove infused high-tech boogie that dances with the ghosts of genuine old-school electro while Mike Banks watches on.

Olympus is in another place entirely. Languid, dripping with little touches of colour, Olympus is a slender tune coiled around a massive, wandering, bass and coaxing shapes and textures into being. It falls somewhere between future-dub and some sort of deep-space noir dreamt up in the early 70s. Even the occasional flutter of vocodered lyrics drift into just the right place. Deep and genuinely woozy, it’s a highlight on an album that takes delight in stripping electro down and rebuilding it into something that feels as old as it sounds new.

Review: DL-MS – Exit Ghost (Trust)

DL-MS – Exit Ghost (Trust)

Quieter year so far for DJ Glow’s Trust label, but it looks as if they’re getting into their stride now with a new release by DL-MS, a follow-up to last year’s Rogue Intent and one that in a wonderful display of synchronicity shares its title with a fine novel by the very recently departed Philip Roth. I demand more electronic music with literary pretensions – it’s the way forward for sure.

And Exit Ghost itself is pretty forward leaning, which is interesting because the general feel of the music is very much old school. The electro is textured not only with the now ubiquitous filaments of IDM, but something weightier and more alien: a luminosity which recalls the wide open spaces of classic ambient techno, where the tripiness of the journey is carried by the fluidity of the grooves and the beats.

Both Tides and Honokida have that dichotomy at the heart of their DNA. Honokida in particular dives into a deep well of electronica, retrieving the movement of ancient Detroit from the sediment at the bottom, and using it to inform a gliding, haunting, paean where the thick, serpentine bassline winds around mournful pads and little touches reminiscent of Rhythim Is Rhythim at their most visionary. Tides is dirtier; less interested in the clouds it keeps itself rooting through the undergrowth, propelling itself with tricks borrowed from tech-step and a quiet, subtle sense of exploration. Yet both tracks share a common aspect regardless of how high they climb or how low they dig, a strength of mood and an understanding of the way influences interplay with each other to create something new.

Of the flip side’s two tunes, Exit Ghost is perhaps the less immediately intimate but the one more likely to draw you back time and again to explore its layered mysteries. There’s something about it – the aggressively up-front yet entirely louche weave of its groove, or the growing rush as the chopped down, pulsing bass grows in importance, which keeps it always slightly beyond the familiar. By the time the tune brings the different parts of itself together, it has already dialled down into a midnight land-cruise, all shadows and glints of sodium light. As much D&B and Carl Craig as it is recognizably electro, Exit Ghost is proof that the genre is changing, altering itself for the future (something I hope to shed a few words about sometime soon). Perhaps in unfortunate comparison to its immediate sibling, Terminal Din A feels disjointed and less complete, particularly for the first couple of minutes – although that is soon offset by an unexpected warmth which slowly morphs into a gentle wistfulness that finally gives the tune the meaning it was missing.

Electro is changing, and not even in the ways we might have expected a couple of years ago. There is a new-found confidence in exploring other influences and Exit Ghost is a fine example of this blossoming ethos. There will be a few strange directions taken on this new journey, you can be sure of that, but if some of the destinations are as interesting as this, it’ll be worth it. I don’t know whether Big Phil Roth would have been a fan of new-generation electro but I like to think he would have allowed his feet a wee shuffle to Exit Ghost even while he said something beautifully, perfectly, cutting about it.