The five best records you missed in August

(Well I don’t actually know if you missed them, for all I know you’ve been bumping Lee Gamble in your jeep at all the cookouts I just don’t get invited to.)

jameshoff

James Hoff
Blaster
PAN

I did not know that James Hoff was 1) a “conceptual artist” – scare quotes very much intentional – or 2) that this album was made by infecting an 808 with a computer virus or something. It’s kind of a miracle then that the results are listenable in their own right, at least by my definition of listenable. I’m sure my neighbours wouldn’t agree. But that’s what you get for living next to a guy who enjoys fiery blasts of digital distortion seemingly spat out at random. Blaster is oddly musical in that way only noisy stuff can be – it gets your back up with the obvious affrontery of the genre, but then your brain starts looking for the stuff around the edges of the noise, around the relationship with the other musical elements, and you find yourself settling in for something like a pleasurable experience. I say bring it on.

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Total 14
Kompakt

I vividly remember the moment when I fell in love with Kompakt’s Total series. I guess I had read about it somewhere, and I made one of my awkward visits to a specialist DJ shop where the guy behind the counter looks at me flicking through the two racks of albums and not looking at the singles on the wall, and wondering what the hell I was doing there. This one was in a basement near Queen West and Spadina, and I recall checking out several tracks – gee buddy, I thought, how come your ‘new’ albums are out of the plastic and being handed over to n00bs like me to hopefully not scratch them with one of these turnable needle things I’ve heard of? – and being smitten enough to fork over an obscene import price that probably wasn’t even particularly marked up.

I still have that copy of Total 2, and digital copies of all the Totals since floating around various hard drives, and they are never, ever disappointing, which is frankly amazing. Kompakt has always escaped the boring-minimal-techno trap by embracing pop elements like vocals and layered melodies, and there are too many great examples in Total 14 to list. But extra credit has to go to striking cuts like Voigt & Voigt’s beat-pop workout “Tischlein Deck Dich,” Dawud’s slinky “Lydia” and The Modernist’s “Die Fette Gazelle and the Hidden Six Pack,” which is so perfectly paced it could be an Elmore Leonard novel.


monopoly

Mono/Poly
Golden Skies
Brainfeeder

You don’t see a lot of releases from the old guard — and I use the term advisedly — of instrumental beatsmiths these days, certainly not as much as in the earlier part of the decade. But it’s not just longevity that makes Mono/Poly such a key figure in what’s left of the scene. Golden Skies is as richly textured and inventive as records like these get, with layer upon layer of dreamy melodic material over beats that gently propel the tracks along. “Alpha & Omega” is a highlight, all arpeggiated synths drifting off into space over a beat that sounds like a ping pong ball stuck bouncing in a vending machine. (In space.) If the frigid string swells and warm pads in “Night Garden” don’t make the hairs on the back of your neck do a little dance, you may in fact be dead.

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Lee Gamble
KOCH
PAN

I feel like I get sent a lot of techno singles made up almost entirely of clanking noises, white noise, pink noise, brown noise and a fascist kick drum banging away for six minutes. It’s nice to hear a record – a full length, no less – that has all of those things, and a soul to boot. I can actually listen to KOCH all the way through without forgetting it was on, and feeling the urge to check the health of my refrigerator. It helps that Gamble plays the spare melodic elements off each other rhythmically in a way that sounds like a language that makes sense together, rather than someone just stacking drum machine patterns on top of each other until the track can take no more. (Can you tell I feel like whining about the state of techno?) Admittedly I could do without the purely ambient tracks, which lack Gamble’s deft rhythms to offset the slightly plain textures, but they make nice palate cleansers before the next slammin’ groove invades the ol’ ear canals.

flugel

Roman Flügel
Happiness Is Happening
Dial

OK this came out September 1 but who’s keeping track? It might have slipped by me anyways if i hadn’t listened past the odd first track, which feels like it was left off the end of a shoegaze album the mastering engineer was doing before opening the Happiness Is Happening folder on his desktop. But that’s more a testament to Roman Flügel’s range of material than a weakness, veering from the Kraftwerk-ish electro pop of “Friendship Song” to the Cybotron-like rising arpeggios and stadium-sized handclaps of “Parade” in the course of just a few tracks. Invention is the order of the day, and nowhere else is it in sharper relief than on “Stuffy,” whose chameleonic drum patterns and jittery synths hold onto a consistent mood while throwing the listener into a tumble-dryer of a track. It’s good fun from a stalwart figure who deserves more attention than he sometimes gets – being hard-to-pin-down isn’t a great marketing strategy but it certainly makes for a fun album.

 

Albums: Teebs, SBTRKT, Ekoplekz and more

estara

Teebs
Estara
Brainfeeder

I’ve pretty much given up trying to find acts that are in the Flying Lotus vein – I thought there must be a whole untapped community of freaky beat wizards out on the coast, and as it turns out, there were maybe five. Listening to Teebs’ first album was kind of like listening to the crop of “next Amy Winehouse” candidates, in that I realized just how much I was setting myself up for disappointment comparing artists to FlyLo. Sure, the textures were pretty, but where was the boom-bap? If I wanted drippy background keyboard business with hushed vocals, I’d listen to Sigur Ros. Funnily enough, E S T A R A is basically even more Sigur Ros like than Ardour was, what with the acoustic guitars and the echoing percussion and the bells and the ethereal choirs (yawn, gag etc). But since I got myself a decent subwoofer, I realized that Teebs’ music relies to some extent on the tension between the beatific sounds in the treble and mids, versus the ruffneck business in the bass. There ain’t nuttin nice in the big fat kick drum driving “Hi Hat” or the Zepplinesque break powering “Shoouss Lullaby.” More than before, he finds ways of marrying the sublime and the sub-frequency-violence that add up to more than their parts. Recommended.

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SBTRKT
Transition.
Young Turks

I don’t entirely get why people go nuts for SBTRKT. Is it the mask? It can’t just be the music, which is interesting but hardly worth going all gasp-and-drool over. Most footwork producers churn out tracks with similar textures and programming skill, only unlike this guy they pump out dozens of them every three months. “Kyoto” is admittedly a triumph of layering thin textures on top of each other until you can hardly stand it. But when he gets closer to “trap”, I lose interest. Is this another thing we can blame on Drake? (YOLO?)

phonica

Ten Years Of Phonica
Phonica

Record stores are your friends, people. The first time I hit up Phonica in London, I confessed to the guy behind the desk that I was having trouble finding fodder for this blog, and did he know any artists maybe I had missed? An armload of records later, I vowed to add the place to my must-visit list. This disc shows that I’m not alone, since presumably artists like Legowelt, I:Cube, Joe Claussell et al don’t just license their best tracks to comps by people they don’t like. The elusive Trevor Jackson (Playgroup) and Henrik Schwarz both contribute subtly simmering tracks, while Steve Moore’s remix of Iori and Juju & Jordash pitch their curve balls from way out in leftfield. But the real highlight is Raudive’s “Health” with its perfect balance of tribal and techy.

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Ekoplex
Unfidelity
Planet Mu

I’m an unabashed Nick Edwards fan, and not just because his Gutterbreakz blog was a crucial and singularly illuminating part of the music blog 1.0 revolution I covered in the early part of my career. Unfidelity is an uneasy listen, even if you’re merely focusing on the early-industrial-meets-sci-fi-soundtrack textures, all dystopian metallic percussion and dry mechanical drum machine brutalism. It’s hard to make that engaging for three minutes, never mind an album, but Edwards’ collection here is like watching a 70s techno thriller eg. Alien or The Andromeda Strain – you want to switch it off even as you’re admiring its aesthetics and claustrophobic mood, but every time you reach for the remote, the realization that you’ll have missed whatever lies around the corner makes you hesitate.

analoguecops

The Analogue Cops
Heavy Hands
Restoration

I like minimal stuff – really minimal stuff. Drone? Sure. Tape loops? Where do I sign up? I also like some of Analogue Cops’ singles, at least to work into DJ sets. Things that are track-y are not necessarily dull. But this …is just dull. I appreciate the brute force of a good long drum loop and/or whooshy noise as much as the next person on epic quantities of drugs. But this… Nope. Just nope.

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Kassem Mosse
Workshop 19
Workshop

It’s rare, in my experience, to listen to 52 minutes of music and not have strong feelings about it one way or the other, but somehow Workshop 19 manages that underwhelming state of equilibrium. Some tracks are just clashing assemblages of interesting textures; others are neatly arranged sets of poorly chosen synth patches. I seriously wanted to say something more interesting than “I wish he hadn’t used that farty horn sound on track B2”, but I wish he hadn’t used that farty horn sound on track B2. MEH.

Why Ras G is the hottest in the game

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Make no mistake, there are a lot of red hot producers out there right now in the LA beat scene, or whatever you call it. The Shigeto album is killing. Teems, Dimlite, Om Unit, the list goes on – all over the world there are cats making subwoofer-melting boom bap-derived ear candy. But in terms of mystique, of prolific genius, of straight-up neck-snapping goodness, nobody holds a candle to Ras G. The eccentric beatmaker likes to lace his raw jawns with bone-dry snares and vocal samples scored from reggae classics and science fiction movie oddities. There are clickity-clack percussion loops, roughly assembled collages a la Madlib and wobbly basslines that’d loosen the bowels of even the hardiest dubstep aficionado. The spirituality of his work is what makes me come back to it over and over, though. A devotee of Sun Ra, the man from Saturn exerts a huge influence over Ras G (or “Cool Raaaaaass” as his ever-present signature sample drop would have it) from dialogue samples to album art. And as blasphemous as it might be to jazz heads, nobody else is carrying Le Sony Ra’s torch the way this beat brigadier is on his new album for Brainfeeder, Back On The Planet.

Lesser ears might be put off by Back On The Planet’s title track, a loose assemblage of noises and free jazz freakouts. But the beat is never far away. Heads may start with “OMMMM…,” which makes a melody out of white noise like it was the most natural instrument in the world. There’s a vaguely Dilla-like sense of time in his tunes, but there’s none of the late Detroit don’s R&B slickness in the beats, which often sound like they were unearthed from under a pile of dust taller than Dikembe Mutombo. “CosMic Kisses” is light on the low end, hanging close to a barrage of handclaps that are funky enough to be a song in themselves. But be careful with your subwoofer settings by the time you get to “Culture Riddim,” lest you knock the crockery off the wall; from “Been Cosmic” to “Injera Lentils and Kale” and the afrocentric-tao-of-Sun Ra-sampling “Natural Melanin Being”, there’s enough bass business to put a new face hole up in your cheek.

“G Spot Connection” is a particular highlight. The otherworldly chipmunked vocal samples and reggae drops bash up against hand percussion in a gloriously molasses-like slog, making it among the sludgiest tracks Cool Raaasss has ever dropped – and given his prolific nature, that’s saying something. Personally I’m holding out for a Jeremiah Jae/Ras G collab album — come on FlyLo, make it happen –, but Back On The Planet is to that dream as Bitches Brew is to the rumoured Miles/Jimi Hendrix collab: even if the latter never comes into being, the former has still ruptured the space-time continuum and let a whole new kind of ramshackle funkiness come tumbling out.

Peep an interview Frank Mag did with the man himself.