μ-Ziq: Chewed Corners

Chewed Corners
Planet Mu

Electronic music has long been associated with forward-thinkingness and youth, such fruitful output the product of defiant pluck and a desire to push both boundaries and buttons alike. Yet thus far this year, the sprawling genre’s most buzzed about albums came courtesy of some of its grayest practitioners, the respectively respected duos Boards of Canada and Daft Punk. Add onto that 2012’s reinvigorating Ufabulum LP from Squarepusher, and it seems that the sometimes shadowy patriarchs of such sounds are enjoying a renaissance instead of suffering through a midlife crisis.

Some time before the contemporary likes of Deadmau5 and Skrillex came along to ensnare us in Spring Break foam party quicksand, a clutch of pubescent weirdos, oft bearded and bespectacled, toiled and experimented, finding unlikely favor well outside their comfort zones and niches. Mike Paradinas was part of a mid-to-late ’90s wave of electronic artists whose music made it to America’s shopping malls and chain stores thanks to distribution deals with select major labels and larger indies alike. (Trent Reznor, for example, leveraged his success into a licensing deal with England’s progressive Warp Records that found stateside releases for Autechre and Plaid, among others.) Paradinas, however, signed directly with Virgin Records and released a handful of albums under his μ-Ziq moniker through the Astralwerks imprint. Though on the surface this “hearts and minds” campaign may have proved comparatively more fruitful for artists like the Chemical Brothers or Fatboy Slim, it nonetheless positioned Paradinas’ clever and confounding music in front of an audience that — without the liberties of the Internet at their disposal — took actual risks in making purchasing decisions. Royal Astronomy, fortunately, was its own reward.

Unlike many of his contemporaries both great and small, Paradinas has not only kept his finger on the pulse over the years but quite frequently regulated the heart rate. Originally a perk of his Virgin deal, the now enduringly independent Planet Mu label has played a major role in both microtrends and monolithic movements. You can’t even discuss breakcore, dubstep, grime, or footwork without bumping into one of Paradinas’ hand-picked artists, which include Starkey, Traxman, Venetian Snares, and Virus Syndicate.

Such curatorial prowess, however, has deprived us of regularly appearing μ-Ziq releases. Released nearly six years ago, his last full-length Duntisbourne Abbots Soulmate Devastation Technique wordlessly told a story of a relationship in collapse, the disquietingly somber tone and solemnity of the music drawing from Paradinas’ real life personal woes. Though not quite 303s & Heartbreak, the record deftly avoided mawkish traps even as it occasionally indulged in some apparent name-calling. It also made a perhaps unintentional point, dispelling notions that electronic music was inherently cold, emotionless, and unserious. It was a downer, but still an arresting listen.

“Taikon”, which initiates the exquisite new album Chewed Corners, somewhat continues in the vein of its saturnine predecessor. While the slow-paced track simmers with cinematic pensiveness, pulchritudinous swells and melodious trills emerge throughout. “Christ Dust” too, at first, follows a similar path, though the filtered bassline seems to drive ever closer towards something brighter and beautiful. All of a sudden, Paradinas is playful again, softening the edges of dubstep on the shimmering “Twangle Melkas”, dabbling in bubbling synthpop on “Melting”.

Unable to restrain himself any longer, Paradinas at last puts an end to the charade at the album’s midway point. Driven by some glorious stabs and accented with comely pads, “Houzz 10” is revelatory rave, the sort of nuanced nostalgia that only someone who was there “back in the day” could conceive of. Chewed Corners, then, is less a return to form than it is a return to innocence, an informed recreation of a time when one might have found oneself in some warehouse illegally trespassing to incomprehensible white label records under the indefatigable influence of drugs. None of today’s rave-aping artists like Unicorn Kid are capable of anything as authentic and subtle as this.

Those who remember those days or the classic Artificial Intelligence compilations know what euphoria means in this context, and Chewed Corners, its title now imbued with meaning, constitutes a complex chemical high from which there’s hardly any reason to come down. The frizzled funk of “Hug” and “Smooch” complements the pillowy chillout of “Mountain Island Boner”. “Tickly Flanks” is acid house heard from inside the bathroom, its percussive pulses throbbing outside the door, while giddy standout “Weakling Paradinas” builds a sonic tower of transcendent trance that soars above the dancefloor, the town, the city, everything. It is perfect and wonderful and yes the stuff is really kicking in now you can feel it yes yes yes.

The inevitable serotonin crash comes upon realizing Chewed Corners embodies a regression back to a critically assailable superficiality — by rockist standards at least. However, some 20 years since μ-Ziq‘s Tango n’ Vectif, Paradinas has pushed enough envelope filters to have earned the right to make something this uncompromising yet delectably palatable. A landmark record in a nonpareil catalog, this is Paradinas’ finest work in over a decade and arguably superior to those recent offerings of his vastly more publicized peers.

RATING 8 / 10