Music

Svarte Greiner: Kappe

Deaf Center's Erik Skodvin resurfaces as Svarte Greiner with a doom ambient masterpiece, seductive in its melding of sensuality and terror, and already one of the best records of 2009.


Svarte Greiner

Kappe

Label: Type
UK Release Date: 2009-03-03
US Release Date: 2009-03-03
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Svarte Greiner's Kappe put me back in touch with, of all things, a computer game: Roberta Williams' live action horror attempt, Phantasmagoria. I spotted it sitting on the shelf in an Office Depot when I was all of 12, and, lured by the promise of blood, gore, and possible nudity, I bought it behind my parents' back. The anticipated sex and violence scenes were rare and gameplay was no great shakes -- too plodding and obvious -- but what I was left with still haunts me now, likely to the delight of Sierra Entertainment: an unforgettably frightening atmosphere, creepy as hell and absolutely breathtaking. Williams revisited the tired cliché of the haunted house, blew it up, and slathered it with intimidating opulence. Rooms led to other rooms that led to hidden spaces, whose aberrance and grandiosity beckoned me toward them like a moth to the flame. How wicked it seemed that the mansion's most gorgeous locations (a stone chapel, a velvety, cavernous living room, a Victorian parlor) were also the most dangerous.

Interestingly, I don't much remember the music, but Norwegian multi-instrumentalist Svarte Greiner (real name Erik Skodvin, one-half of Deaf Center) would have been a stellar choice to man the soundtrack. On Kappe, his second effort after 2006's Knive, he does on an album what Williams did in a game: stirring together beauty and diablerie in a way that makes the "benefit" of experiencing beautiful music and the "cost" of hearing evil incarnate essentially indistinguishable. Music can't physically hurt us, but the challenge of how far we can venture into Greiner's world without freaking is still a thrilling one. Indeed, the dominant force Kappe exerts over us is that of being pulled into increasing blackness. Greiner has been likened to some musical neighbors in the past, but let it be known that Kappe's rich, dark sensuality is not the meditative stasis of Gas, nor is it the black metal doom-and-gloom of Sunn 0))). Where Knive borrowed from sources like Acid Mothers Temple, the No Neck Blues Band and Greiner's own Deaf Center, Kappe swallows up reference points in its vacuum and nullifies them as if they never existed. Just as it's meant to swallow you.

Kappe begins with "Tunnel of Love", a euphemism if ever there were one. It's more like a slow descent to the bottom of a 700-foot well, the beginning of a journey we wouldn't want to be taking if it weren't so weirdly seductive. Sounds of swing sets, footsteps, bells, and banshee wails, all of them warped and distant, turn in on themselves and cohere into a kind of death susurrus. They're the ghosts of things we've worked to suppress but that God or whoever is pulling the ropes forces us to confront again. After a minute and a half, a sepulchral drone of disembodied horns and strings signifies a fundamental changing of the atmosphere and a setting in of reality: We aren't escaping. Infused with the filigree of percussive rattles, the drone becomes chilly and thick, gaining intensity as we continue moving deeper underground. And then, suddenly, Greiner muffles the noises and reveals a vast space for us to breathe and move around in for the first time since the track began seven minutes prior. But the darkness is now so omnipresent we can hardly see the hand in front of our face.

Where are we? Good question, and Greiner probably figured we'd ask it, because the next track is called "Where Am I". It doesn't give us an answer; instead, we spend the following 12 minutes tiptoeing through wherever we are in terrified exploration. The song's base is the intermittent roar of a guitar, smeared and stretched. It sounds like a gong hit with the impact clipped off, and for some reason that I can't identify, that metallic texture lends it a sinister quality. When it flares up it resembles the resined light of a lantern, casting shadows on stone walls. When it retreats, back into the void we go. I'm reminded of Vincenzo Natali's indie sci-fi film Cube, in which a handful of people find that their universe has become a giant cube whose rooms are either harmless or fatal. So they'd throw one of their shoes into the next room over to see if it would leave the shoe alone or slice it into bullion cubes. "Where Am I" invokes the same idea of testing the environment on the assumption that something lurking out of view is inimical to us, through Greiner's careful calibration of alternating density and expansiveness. Each guitar yowl is a reluctant step forward, yet the stunning production values make the walk impossible to resist.

That Greiner has suspended our disbelief up to this point is a rare achievement, and it would have been enough, but those two tracks prove only to be an introduction to the jaw-dropping main act. The key difference between the 17-minute "Candle Light Dinner Actress" and what's come before it is that we've now arrived somewhere and at something. Even the title refers to an object that's substantive and present, rather than open zones through which to travel. The image of a candlelit dinner actress (I picture a young Lauren Bacall, sitting at a table with a candelabra in whatever godforsaken cave we've found ourselves in, fingering a glass of garnet-colored wine) is not, in and of itself, threatening. But watching enough horror films and dreaming enough nightmares has associated this tableau with morbidity for us pretty effectively.

And that's where Greiner meets us musically: in a place both elegant and supremely creeped-out, like a jewel-encrusted dungeon, where something important is happening. The guitars' melody is less noticeable than their tonal attributes, which range from deep and hollow to steely and nerve-wracked and everything in between. They lunge and expand, shriek and cower, twist around helically and repeat. A third of the way in, they're joined by a guitar that could be someone's voice rising out of the underworld, pained and malformed from years of being locked away. (Only Greiner and a few others could pull this off without an ounce of camp.) Two thirds in, the sounds completely dissociate from their sources and swirl around the cavern, leaving atonal vapor trails behind, until, in the last minute, they scream their final screams and leave us to be. A stunning synthesis of atmosphere and action, "Candle Light Dinner Actress" is more powerful a justification for the doom ambient genre as a going concern than you're likely to hear all year. The secret ingredient is the ambiguity of imagery, like the actress herself. Where Sunn 0))) might have given it all away, Greiner makes us sit with the tension of not knowing what anything means (other than that it's B-A-D), or what is going to happen next.

"Candle Light Dinner Actress" is so beautifully conceived and so masterfully executed that the final track, "Last Light", really doesn't have to do anything to cement Kappe as one of the best records of 2009. And indeed, it doesn't do much beyond what we've heard already. But this story calls for an ending, and the guttural drone of "Last Light" has an unmistakable note of finality, and for us as characters in a twisted world, the sense of being finished off. In some respects the most "typically" doomy of Kappe's four pieces, it consists largely of a groaning guitar depleted of sexiness and hope. High-frequency strings and wispy keyboards enter the picture as the guitar continues to rumble like a slumbering monster, before all of them disappear uneventfully into infinite darkness. And that's it. Game over. The best of this stripe of music makes you believe that it can relinquish your power for the sake of its own. And if you should place your faith in Kappe, it can be both transportive and transformative. Transportive in the way that it drops us out of the blah and into the exciting, terrifying unknown, and transformative in the way that it turns whatever once frightened us but has since become lame with age -- a ride, a "Goosebumps" book, a certain computer game that received middling reviews -- scary again, as if we were facing it, trembling, for the first time.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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