[10 December 2008]
True to its desired status as progeny of New Order, Cut Copy’s lyrics are not its strong suit. Yet listening to the refined electro jewels of dancefloor bliss on its sophomore album, In Ghost Colours, you’d be hard pressed to hold that against them. Refracting off the ever-strobing disco ball on the album’s 15 tracks are the teensiest shards of EDM-proper’s history—new wave, freestyle, acid house, Swervedriver/ Chapterhouse style shoegazer, neo disco, ‘ardkore, and on back to electroclash and synthpop again. Written and recorded using all of producer/DFA co-founder Tim Goldsworthy’s vintage equipment (though it’s definitely a product of the digital age), the album is a glut of quality music, almost too much for one album. Its shorter pieces like “Visions” or “We Fight for Diamonds” function like introductions to the album’s numerous club bangers, but even these constrained edifices stand alone as miniature amulets and forces of cosmic good for the world. For an album daubed with ghost colours and with a track called “So Haunted”, it’s vibrantly alive in a way that 2008’s culture of entropy desperately needed.
Though it ended with a tinge of hope, 2008 was mostly a year of dread. Big dubby natty dread. Lest we ever forget or get nostalgic for the horrific blaze-of-glory ending to the Bush saga, we have the Bug’s appropriately panicked and paranoid summer jam London Zoo: a frenetic MC album by Kevin Martin, who has been frequently seen partnering with Justin Broadrick in God, Techno Animal, Ice, the Sidewinder, and a few others. Martin’s vocal collaborators (Warrior Queen, Ricky Ranking, Spaceape) are perfectly suited to his vision, delivering acidic tongued machine-gun dancehall verse that rides in tandem with the flux of gigantic distorted beats. Its breadth is pretty astounding too. If Roger Robinson’s soulful croon on “You and Me” is an extended meditative shiver, “Jah War” with Roll Deep’s Flowdan is recorded in military time, assuming a pose not unlike what you might expect of Dubstep’s hypothetical Public Enemy. The whirr of broken sirens and tripped-out alarms sound off all over the album, as if the conceptual whole of London Zoo was trying to warn us of some kind of impending socioeconomic disaster that would plunge the first world into the same dregs to which it had willfully bound the third world for some time. The album’s Ballardian apocalypticism is shouldered throughout by a massive wall of subwoofer, the kind that makes cars shake and institutions collapse. To call it an earth-shattering release all on its own might be a bit hyperbolic. But sometimes there are albums that connect so perfectly with their times, they seem like a historical inevitability. This is one of those.
Dave Tipper’s got a bad back (one that forced him to cancel his North American tour this year) and it’s easy to understand why when you hear Wobble Factor, his eighth breakbeat long-player, give or take. The man’s mastery of chunky, elastic lower frequencies is unparalleled. One can’t help but jive a wiggle down the backbone so hard as to slip several vertebrate. That’s not the sum of his skill, though. He’s a stereo dynamo (and occasional 5.1 ninja) whose technical control of every minute, twittering bleep can give the impression of living, breathing surround sound created fresh every time you hear it. Granted, sound design was never Tipper’s greatest strength and many of the noises on Wobble originally appeared in pieces throughout just about every album he’s released thus far, but they are never presented remotely the same way twice. In an era where Ableton Live loopers are mistakenly given widespread cred, Tipper’s superlative nanosecond tweaking is the one-eyed man in a blind kingdom. In 2008, he reigned supreme.
—Filmore Mescalito Holmes
The cognoscenti may have been onto Hercules and Love Affair by late 2007, but for the rest of us, this DFA debut came as a shockingly coherent blast of unexpected “euphoric disco”. That it’s as much about the songs themselves, the way they build and twist away in odd directions, as on the ‘70s/‘80s, horns-and-glam vamp of “Blind”, e.g., makes this special. Andy Butler has his own theme song, and it’s way cooler and way messier than your theme song. The project couldn’t possibly be so successful without Butler’s years-accumulated experience around New York’s amorphous dance music scene; and Hercules and Love Affair is as much Tim Goldsworthy (who gives the album its crisp, ultra-clean beats) and Antony Hegarty (who lends his incomparable voice to five of the ten taut tracks) as Butler himself. Like last year’s Italians Do It Better comp and Sally Shapiro albums, Hercules and Love Affair prove that dance music needn’t be muscular to be compelling—but yes, it’s still corporeal. Still Frankie Knuckles-savvy, still House-bound in the most straightforward sense. Escort, Baby Oliver, Holy Ghost!—if more people care now about this music than back in February, it’s because Hercules and Love Affair made it again OK to lose yourself in messy horns and unhinged glamour. In the end, it’s Arthur Russell’s gentle ghost that most completely hangs over Hercules and Love Affair—a benevolent referent, who’d likely agree that this debut’s something truly exciting, and very nearly perfect.
There was nearly a decade of silence between Leila Arab’s last release and Blood, Looms and Blooms, and the record sounds like a chronicle of such an elongated period of reflection and reinvention. Leila possesses the same eccentric spark that made her a crafty addition to Björk’s live act in the mid-‘90s, only this time the moods are more melancholy and contemplative. Like Alice in Wonderland, Blood documents a whimsical being overcome by fantastical darkness. The cover art alone, featuring a miniscule Leila on a bike, hiding within a larger scene of trees, glass sculptures, and an eerily placid-looking crescent Moon, is a clue of what’s in store.
Blood is the kind of album that reveals its secrets best in a hushed, personal setting. Try curling up in bed with a copy and see if the jazzy chime-spiced trip-hop doesn’t work as good as the most imaginative novel, inspiring conceptions of a world that is simultaneously infinitely expansive and yet warmly intimate. Brief respites from the darkness, such as the sing-song child voices on “Little Acorns”, are the protagonist’s allies on a hero’s journey in which Leila addresses loss (including that of both of her parents), but also finds strength and comfort in the collaborative musical process. Featuring guest appearances from Martina Topley-Bird, former head Special Terry Hall, Leila’s sister Roya (kindred in lovely dark spirit to Portishead’s Beth Gibbons), among others, Blood is a triumphant tapestry of the intersection of the real and magical properties of life.
Haven’t seen the site visit stats over at the Hood Internet, but my bet is that interest is on the decline. See, there’s mashups –- a perennially failing genre –- and then there’s Girl Talk. Though his work no longer has the shock of something mostly unfamiliar, former Pittsburgh biomedical engineer Gregg Gillis continues crafting strangely lasting constructions out of pop’s flimsy recognition. Overall Feed the Animals, which was released in July in a pay-what-you-want scheme similar to Radiohead’s In Rainbows, plays lighter and more straightforward than Night Ripper. It’s more visceral, less intellectual; more perfectly calibrated for house party soundtrack, and ultimately, more coherent. But Girl Talk’s now signature super-smashed-together style throws up again moments of such exquisite pleasure you wonder how everything fits just so. The Yael Naim song from the iPod commercial with Bubba Sparxxx, or the excruciating pause as “Drink n My 2 Step” approaches in “Still Here”. It may be cliché at this point, but even more than on the album that won him widespread acclaim, Girl Talk makes a persuasive argument for reconsidering familiar pop music in a new context. That context’s now firmly Girl Talk’s own (the guy’s shows get covered on the homepage of the New York Times). In a world ever more bombarded by blog-circulated remixes and one-off A vs. B gimmicks, the only thing left is to sit and wait for a time when this frenetic, joyous cacophony comes to seem ascetic –- as packed as it is, a still album-length journey full of unabashed and gleeful association.
To date, the UK’s Ghost Box label has yet to find an American distributor, making its catalogue as arcane in the U.S. as the fetish items of British culture—institutional media, library music, vintage television –—that the Advisory Circle’s Other Channels finds eerie precedent in. Like most of the output of Ghost Box, Other Channels is comprised of an attic’s worth of record needle syringes for the vinyl junkie. It’s the label’s most menacing compendium today, a nightmare vision of half-remembered banal television dreams as videodrome to the fragmented future. Rather than co-opt or replicate its inspirations, the album reverently surfeits the future-past prototype for brave new constructions, be they dark moogy incantations à la Bruck Haack or the late Mort Garson’s Lucifer project, incidental BBC Radiophonic SFX, erotica/thriller string sections, terrified screams, a Dadaist one minute telplay, a PSA about children falling through the ice, or numerous sinister atonal electronic pulses. The overwhelming sense of general malaise on the album reads like culture’s subterfuge, the realization of 40 years of post-McLuhan media’s inscription onto your subconscious. As the album pans through, it repeatedly explodes into psychedelic annihilation before returning to run the test card tones.
Nearly a decade after R-Kidz and Noize started releasing singles, still little is known about the mysterious masked nu-skool breaks duo Lawgiverz. Interviews are a rarity and, in all that time, Data Treat was their first EP, let alone album. This much is certain: their glowing mask jewels beam their music directly from their cerebral cortex into the auditory centre of the brains of listeners lucky enough to see them live and this EP was well worth the wait for those who aren’t. Almost like Steve Reich in their unpredictable alignment of rhythm, Lawgiverz proved themselves to be the cutting edge of intelligent breaks with four bouncy, liquid exploding elf machine originals intricate and expansive enough to take you to a Terence McKenna plane of existence without the use of powerful hallucinogens, yet bass oriented enough to keep feet moving in relative time.
What’s more, their remix of Matinee Club’s “Sometimes” reconstitutes genuine ‘80s synth pop into dark, mutant, throwback house with a stuttering beat, one that often breaks four hits into three bars in 4/4 time. Believe me, that is no easy feat to achieve so flawlessly. If they ever manage to get an album together, it’ll probably invert the phase of the vibration of matter and suck the universe into limbo…actually, I guess it’s for the best they max out at EPs. It’s an immeasurably heavy yet manageable dose.
—Filmore Mescalito Holmes
It’s about time for another Detroit Techno resurgence. Ghostly Intl. has some good artists, but for a fix of the pure stuff, it’s great to see Carl Craig’s Planet-E label back in business. And what better way to resurface than with some new fire from Kenny Larkin, Craig’s second-wave Detroit contemporary. Larkin remains one of techno’s more compelling personalities, and I use the word purposefully—contrasted with the iconic facelessness of contemporaries like Underground Resistance, Larkin lets his personality and sense of humor in on the music act. He’s a passionate techno alien, and a goofy, spiritual guy, all of which comes through on Keys, Strings, Tambourines.
Lead single “You Are…(Light)” is Kenny Larkin 101, adrenaline-pumping synth-stabs, adorned by his own engaging monologue, delivered halfway between exhaustion and exuberance. That the words come from the quick-buck promises of unfortunate literary phenomenon The Secret is something else entirely, but Larkin is being sincere nonetheless. Keys demonstrates mastery of the secrets of funky stiffness in 4/4 electronic production, while deftly interweaving elements of jazz, chillout, and dub with the techno formula. A triumphantly sweaty return.
The secret to the Orb’s success is that it can be so seriously goofy—meticulously crafted pieces of echo-laden ambient dub, featuring silly samples that range from Reading Rainbow to children’s books. 2005’s Okie Dokie It’s the Orb on Kompakt, and its accompanying series of EP releases on the venerable German label, was an interesting change of pace, retaining the dub influence and heavy reverb, but tightening the ship to restricted beats and more directed and repetitive themes. No doubt, Orb member (and Kompakt solo artist) Thomas Fehlmann had a heavy hand in the scale-back on Okie Dokie.
The Dream, then, is an album from the Orb’s central ever-pulsating Ultraworld brain, Alex Paterson, joined by old friend and collaborator Martin “Youth” Glover, formerly of Killing Joke. With zero credits to Fehlmann, The Dream returns to the jolly acid-eater excursions of old, even going so far as to reuse the vocalizing from the classic “Blue Room”, on “The Truth Is…” The Dream inevitably alienated fans of the progressive minimalism of Okie Dokie, the truth being that both are excellent records, and let’s not forget that Fehlmann is equally capable of bouncy sample-driven fun (see: “Outlands”). The Dreamis a wildly colorful collection of unbelievably fun ambient dub techno; in essence, a lovely, rubbery Orb record.