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This week I return to bring you a strong trio of electronic gems, as usual in the categories of an official release (album or EP), a DJ mix from the week, and an unofficial, free, or bootleg track, hopefully available to download. There is clear overlap between these three selections, something I make no apologies for—I like what I like, but the influences coming in on these artists music are notably varied, and connecting those dots will, I hope, be the fun part. 

FaltyDL - You Stand Uncertain (Planet Mu)

Brooklyn a la London producer Drew Lustman a.k.a. FaltyDL put out his second LP for the Planet Mu imprint this week, the follow-up to his 2009 debut Love Is a Liability. What was clear from that record—and a series of EPs he put out leading up to that release—was that 2-step and UK garage were the focal point of Lustman’s rhythmic palette. But despite the obvious nod to these sounds in his productions, they always seemed to be informed greatly by avant-garde jazz drums and hip-hop, two great reasons to choose New York as your jumping off point, and even greater reasons to flesh out a UK breakbeat already greatly indebted to hip-hop and its roots.

by Daniel Ross

24 Feb 2011


The Acorn (Rolf Klausener, middle)

With their latest LP, No Ghost, Canadian folk-poppers the Acorn have done a strange thing: scaling down and de-glorifying their craft (after the immaculate Glory Hope Mountain from 2008), making it seem like a wonderful progression towards a woodsy, utopian breed of rock. There is an awful lot of joy in the record, as if time spent recording it in the wilderness—they retreated to an isolated cabin to piece the tunes together—was as freeing an experience as it should be, and the heaviness of Glory Hope Mountain had been lifted. Rolf Klausener was on hand to curtly and efficiently answer a few questions about No Ghost and shed a little light on its gestation.

+++

No Ghost—first things first, it’s not a concept album. In fact, there aren’t really any large themes drawing it together as such. Did you want to move away from the scale of Glory Hope Mountain?

In short, yes. The process of writing and recording No Ghost had little planning being it other than the location. Writing GHM was an all-encompassing affair which, creatively, dominated the better part of two years. For better or worse, we wanted No Ghost to be a lot less premeditated and commit to whatever came out of the cottage sessions.

To pair Jamie XX’s interest in this territory with a musical figure like Gil Scott-Heron makes even more sense than perhaps the original conceit of I’m New Here. On Jamie’s official, Scott-Heron-approved remix record poignantly titled We’re New Here, Jamie bring Scott-Heron’s voice into the underground in the spirit of Heron himself. The breakbeat sounds of dubstep, hip-hop, and UK garage are at work here, and their relevancy to Heron’s spacious, spoken-word jazz material is essential.

Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX - We’re New Here (XL Recordings)

Last year poet, proto-rapper, and avant-garde jazz pillar Gil Scott-Heron returned to the fold with his first album in decades. Released on Richard Russell’s inimitable XL Recordings imprint I’m New Here is a collaborative affair between Russell and Scott-Heron that saw the revolutionary artist in the context of a sparse pastiche of 21st century electronic sounds. The result seemed to celebrate Scott-Heron’s legacy with a dose of nostalgia at the same time it launched Scott-Heron’s graying, monolithic voice into the future. The title said as much, re-casting Scott-Heron as a timeless figure, his visionary soul as new and fearless, as it was old and wise.

I’m New Here was undeniably Scott-Heron’s record, despite the musical crafting by Russell, and yet the potential for exploring the tensions between Heron’s legacy and his relationship to the underground of today could be mined even further.  Enter Jamie XX of breakout London R&B rock outfit the XX. Jamie is the band’s principal producer and supplier of the group’s electronic elements, and has—since the group’s meteoric rise—been making a name for himself as a member of the UK’s underground “bass music” scene.

Despite frequent outings for someone who’s barely 20, nothing could prepare Nicolas Jaar’s admirers or the general listening public for what he’s done on Space Is Only Noise. House is hardly anywhere to be found here, techno neither, though some of Jaar’s synth lines could certainly qualify. The tempos Jaar are working in are owed largely to hip-hop, and the rest of Jaar’s soundscapes are perplexing, disarming, and utterly dreamlike.

Nicolas Jaar - Space Is Only Noise (Circus Company)

As James Blake is gushed about by the critical cacophony, a different young wunderkind will likely be overlooked. Twenty-year-old Nicolas Jaar is at least as deceptively related to the electronic music community as Blake, his affiliation lying with house and techno rather than dubstep.  Each has taken bold sonic risks within these genres, and Jaar in particular is drawing on a musical palette that is noticeably rich with influences.

To help figure out what “Born This Way” is, let’s first rule out exactly what it’s not.

First off, it is not the modern day “I Will Survive”, as Elton John so giddily claimed in his recent Rolling Stone interview. As tempting as it also is to write it off as a modern update of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” (as Rob Sheffield does here), it also doesn’t fill that role precisely, because its context is notably different (although, musically, it bears an unabashed similarity). 

Instead, what Sheffield does get right is that “Born This Way” finds its power and its force by digging deep into the heart of American disco: shamelessly straightforward pop music with only the slightest wink of self-importance. This is an empowerment anthem to be danced to, inclusive to all, specific to no one.  It will set clubs ablaze for the rest of 2011, soar to the top of the charts, and have an extravagantly over-the-top video as we’ve come to expect from Miss Gaga.

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