Wee Reviews – Posthuman and Marquis Hawkes.

The snow has gone, and the clouds are doing interesting things beneath patches of blue sky. The trees are beginning to blossom and while the black dog isn’t exactly back in his kennel he’s at least napping in the sun. Well, mostly. Sorry I haven’t been around: stuff and that. On the plus side there’s a pile of records and what-nots sitting here beside me. On the down side there is a pile of records and what-nots sitting here beside me. Let’s see what we have….

Posthuman – The Damocles Syndicate (Shipwrec)

Posthuman take their squelchy, acidy, wobble across the sea to Dutch label Shipwrec with this two tracker. It’s a good fit, seeing as how both parties have a skill for retooling older sounds until they have a more contemporary feel. While it’s maybe not as gloriously messy and dark as the last Posthuman release we covered (last year’s Preach on DABJ), The Damocles Syndicate still delivers a heavy and stinging burst of future-acid.

The Damocles Syndicate moves itself with a slow swagger, knowing it doesn’t have to shift itself for anyone. It’s a slow, grand, unfurling of biting 303s and drums barely held together by a rumour of velocity as it peels itself apart to reveal the twisted, de-constructed, rave entity at its core. Netflix and Kill accelerates the party into a kinked bop and holds the acidic overtures at arm’s length while the tune builds itself silly before letting the bass burrow into your head. A very nice addition to a genre that sometimes struggles with invention these days. Smart, deep, and heavy, this is next-gen acid with its eyes open to the rest of the world.

Marquis Hawkes – The Return Of Marquis Hawks (Dixon Avenue Basement Jams)

It’s been an eternity since Marquis Hawkes last dropped anything on DABJs, which is a shame because his four previous on the label are still amongst his (and the label’s, in fact) best. In the invtervening period there have been controversies about cultural appropriation, a handful of records under his Juxta Position handle, and a slew of Hawkes releases across several other imprints that never quite seemed to reach the same level of heat as he managed with the Dixon Avenue gang.

While I don’t think The Return… is up there with Cabrini Green, or Higher Forces At Work, it’s still a pretty banging and convincing slice of noisy house, drawing on the spirit of Dance Mania and Relief – which always scores extra points around here.

In particular, Rush Hour Traffic and Bodywork draw on a strong, tracky, mid nineties Chicagoan spirit to add heft to the tunes’ acceleration. Rush Hour Traffic is a pure bred, peak time hammer of tongue-in-cheek funk and slapping drums which carries off a slightly knowing attitude with aplomb. Bodywork is less in-you-face about itself, but deepens the same basic formula, adding the tang of a big-room jacker to the mix.

It’s the slower and understated Moonmin that steals the limelight though. Deeper but wider in scope than the relatively straight up tunes which form the rest of the EP, the track curls around some truly grimy bass and drums, and feels as if it gets looser and looser as the track goes on. It strips out the house colour from elsewhere and draws the curtains, leaving only the suggestion of dawn breaking over the rest of us as it gets on with the night’s heavy business.

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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.

Reviews: Cosmic Garden – Sealaconda (Happy Skull); Karim Sahraoui – Alpha & Omega (ARTS)

Karim Sahraoui – Alpha & Omega (ARTS)

When Derrick May reactivated his Transmat label back in 2014 after a few years break, it was to French producer Sahraoui he turned for a pair of well received EPs. Although the records never really garnered quite the attention you might have expected of something bearing the Transmat label, they did a decent turn in deep techno, simultaneously recalling something of Detroit’s gentler, moodier moments whilst pushing themselves towards a slightly more contemporary take on the genre.

Sahraoui reappears here for his second release on ARTS, bringing with him the same diffuse form with which he’s made his name. The three tracks are nice, swinging away under the light of their own neatness, and replete with a sense of quiet, rather unassuming drama which unfolds with a nod to the sort of warm, languid techno which, for all the currrent trends for deepness, isn’t often heard these days. Water and Life and Land Of The Promise mesh grooves, strings and moods together into gentle summer storms; they accent their forward momentum with dappled light. Land Of the Promises, in particular, shows clearly why May has lent Sahraoui so much support, with its Rhythim Is Rhythim styling, and crystalline strings stinging and caressing in equal measure.

Once We Are There gets its head down straight away in a more direct burst of symphony and funk, less prone to wandering flights of aural fancy than either of the other two tracks. While it doesn’t quite have Land Of the Promises sunrise majesty, it builds into soulful odyssey of rolling chords and cloudy pads. While Alpha and Omega is occasionally a little bit too whimsical for its own good, a little to prone to building pretty shapes for no other reason than because it can, it still manages to captivate with a sense of freedom and movement which sets it apart from so much of the trending deepness currently doing the rounds.

Cosmic Garden – Sealaconda (Happy Skull)

While it might not seem so at first listen, Cosmic Garden’s d├ębut EP on Bristol outfit Happy Skull shares a little DNA with the Sahraoui record above. But while both records are heavy eyed with a dreamy energy, Sealaconda is far more willing to explore beyond the edge, and drapes that vibe over a harder heart. It’s smart music too, trawling shapes and textures from the late 80s and early 90s but refusing to let them douse the subtle heat which is so prevalent throughout the record.

Those 80s and 90s touches are less verbalized than you might expect too – although the shape of a tune such as Sealaconda warms itself in the glow of the sort of early house which has largely been relegated to supporting chapters in the Great Story, the edges are gloriously frayed; rougher than much of the genre is these days, but perfectly in keeping with the ethos which pushed the original music the first time around, and the sliding melodies prime a lovely wide-eyed euphoria. The pair of remixes on the flip, courtesy of Creta Kano, soak both original tunes in the depths. Sealaconda is loosened and slowed, but fractured and loses too much of the original’s delicate joy, letting it burn off at the expense of paler hues. His mix of Preoccupata, though, is a lesson in shade and groove, and displays a lightness of touch and firmness of direction which gathers feathery pads together with a supremely understated acid bass and little else before slanting it towards the distant ocean floor.

Preoccupata itself rules the roost. Once again those nods to the past are in place, but they’re far more overt, although never detracting from the strangely (and effective) solemnity of the tune. The vocal, threading its way through the sparkle and glimmer of the melody, perc and beats, adds a lilting and intense edge to the music, moving it from ‘simple’ house music into something more primal and experimental. It’s a classy peak on a record which displays an interesting and excitingly fresh refraction of older ideas. A subtle, smart record that’ll reward much listening.

Review: Diffuse Arc/Arcanoid – Constant Pulse (Caustica Waveform); Neil Landstrumm – Extreme Pleasures (The Vinyl Factory)

Diffuse Arc/Arcanoid – Constant Pulse (Caustica Waveform)

Diffuse Arc and Arcanoid have had a fruitful few months, with a great pair of split EPs on Odio bringing a reshaped view of modern electro to the world and blending it with techno and other, wider influences. The two reappear here on Diffuse Arc’s own Caustica Waveform label to deliver a third volume of a productive partnership.

Constant Pulse puts another spin on the sound, however. Both the previous records supplied electro tempered with touches of drum n bass, Drexciyan atmospherics and Kraftwerkian machine forms. Constant Pulse moves away from that, creating an experience which is more accessible but seems all the more experimental for it. Arcanoid’s soul offering here, a roughed up, acidy Funky Heroes mounts a swinging groove on top of some loose, soulful funk. While it’s a fun, knockabout tune though, it occasionally meanders too far from the point and lacks the potency of some of his other recent releases.

The bulk of the record is from Diffuse Arc himself, and the tunes build up out of a similar old-school funk to the Arcanoid track. The difference is that the three tracks are fattened by the warmth of production which tips its hat to the era of big time, radio-friendly house so common in the 80s. There is lushness to them that ties the shuffling grooves together, and plays up the sweetness of the bass lines and pads. Set It Out in particular stands out, feeling like a lost gem from one of those Brilliant Jack Trax compilations; it grips with a quiet moodiness, working a proper chill into the music that removes it from the clutches of homage and renders a very contemporary feel. Unexpected and very, very nice.

Neil Lanstrumm – Extreme Pleasures (The Vinyl Factory)

Neil Landstrumm has most recently been down our way to scare the neighbours with his Modini colab with Hostage on DABJ and Hypercolour. While those records dealt damage with sleazy funk and a large dose of not taking themselves too seriously, Extreme Pleasures slings itself straight towards the jugular.

Although this isn’t Landstrumm entirely embracing the current vogue for hardcore and rave, he still dolls out the old-school blows, even though he injects a burst of knowingness to the proceedings which holds back the tide of techno-sentimentalism. The harder tracks, Live Slow Die Anyways and Silent Forces, kick out serrated and warped riffs with abandon, marshalling them with cold, robotic beats and letting dark side mischief hold court, even when the music veers between proper moodiness and sunny giggles.

It’s the other two tracks which really do the business though. Both A Girl Is A Gun and Night Comforts cut the murk right out and deliver a pair of late night, totally dialled in floor mashers. A Girl Is A Gun is the star though, cranking up the seductive heat, turning out every light in the house except the lasers, and slicing off every unnecessary piece of fat that gets in the way of its dirty, nasty, snaking groove.

Reviews: 214 – Lyle At Dawn (Frustrated Funk); Gramrcy – Ruffian (Ancient Monarchy)

214 – Lyle At Dawn (Frustrated Funk)

Ahead of his North Bend double album (which should be out now) Dutch electro warrior 214 fires off this warning shot to get us all in the mood. Heavy in the European tradition this is an EP which sounds like warfare between the sky and the earth. Thunderous beats build a buckling backdrop for the tunes, but as is so often the case with modern Euro electro, it’s the richness of ideas spread out elsewhere which really tell the whole story, creating a captivating narrative that shows just how far the genre has evolved since it New York Kindergarten.

It’s not just the continental sound that 214 is indebted too, though. Lyle At Dawn uses the pummelling beats and some fiercely gravelly bass to open a pathway inwards. The slowly rising symphony of Detroity strings and chirped 303s add an undeniably Drexciyan movement to the tune, especially in the latter stages. Time For, a looser and more thoughtful piece, is gentler – at least to start with – creating a playful groove chalkful of cloudy sunshine and smiles, gradually tweaking elements until the fine funk of the beats find their feet, hooking you on-board until it ends with a burst of dubsteppy bass. Ektes reverts to a more classically Dutch feel with a tune that would sound as if it is on the run from Murder Capital if it wasn’t for the guttural bark of a bass so thick you imagine it would have to have been pasted onto the grooves of the record as it descends into a tight, half speed industrial shaker.

214 hits the right feel across the EP, locking things to the ground but keeping an ear on the celestial. As an appetizer for the album, and in its own right, it’s a pretty good example of where Electro is going in 2015. If this doesn’t whet your appetite for North Bend, I don’t know what will.

Gramrcy – Ruffian (Ancient Monarchy)

One of the more interesting aspects of the continuing fragmentation of house and techno is how exciting some of the shards have become when seen in isolation for the first time in years. 2015 may well be the year in which ‘new age house’ garnered the most acclaim, but when we look back it will be those artists currently unlocking the seedy thrills of 92 era breakbeat who will, perhaps paradoxically, be seen as trying to do something new.

Gramrcy’s debut on Berceuse Heroique sub label Ancient Monarchy is a cluster bomb of ideas and fun that, for all the twisted ravey chaos of the title track, never falls too far into blind homage for a long gone time. This is at the root of the record’s strength, I think: Old threads rewoven into very modern fabrics. Ruffian itself is a heavy, virulent piece of breakbeat nastiness that soaks itself in a nutrient bath of bleak psychedelic industrialized frequency. Bargain Jam cuts out the extraneous noise, rendering the psycho leanings down into a lean slice of claustrophobic neo-rave experimentalism that is perhaps even more unsettling.

The two remixes, courtesy of Hodge and Bruce are pretty special in their own way, both adding something new and vital to the originals. Hodge’s take on Bargain Jam is a stomping, loopy pop of demented UK house that doesn’t outstay its welcome. Bruce perhaps gets the harder job, with Ruffian, but manages to out nut-job the original by twisting its funk and half drowning it in sheer experimentalism. It’s the perfect way to take on something that can’t be taken on. An excellent, and very nasty, EP of modern UK madness.