The one question I ask myself more than any other when reviewing (well, other than “just how sober do I need to be for this task?”) (Short answer: not very) is, ” what is this music for?” Not strictly in the sense of what it was purpose-built for, but what kind of record is it and where and when would I listen to it?
I don’t have an answer for In Colour, which is usually a bad sign. Some of it fits handily into DJ mixes, if only their mellower bits. “Sleep Sound” I’ve already put to the test, and the churched-up handclap stomp of “The Rest Is Noise” would certainly qualify. But the rest is vague – the drum sounds are indistinct, anything in the low end is muddy (almost certainly a deliberate choice, but does that make it defensible?) and the tracks’ development is minimal. It doesn’t really make sense as a bedroom record – it’s not varied enough, it’s too fuzzy, it sweeps through your ear holes like a light breeze and leaves little trace. But I can’t imagine busting out something as mopey and dull as “Loud Places” at an actual gathering of limb-waving humanoids.
In short, In Colour feels like a painting or a photograph that you have to squint to see, that doesn’t look quite right from any angle. What is there to do but sigh and stroll on?
The Hydrangeas Whisper
Maurice Fulton is not a name I paid a ton of attention to in the past, even though his Mu project with his wife Mutsumi Kanamori was broadly salivated over in the dance press. Regrets, I have a few – after hearing this latest Fulton album, under his Boof alias, I wonder wtf I’ve been doing with my dance-music-listening life. The Hydrangeas are Whispering “get your ass onto the discotheque floor,” where tart, twangy guitars and fat electric bass (as opposed to digitally programmed) parts bump and hustle their way to the ultimate summer soundtrack. If it wasn’t for the corny Dave Brubeck rewrite of “Emi’s M” I might be temped to use the word “perfect,” but even with that blemish, this is still one of the more beautifully entrancing records of the year.
I was thrilled at this record from about five seconds in, which suggests I was already well predisposed to like it. White music blogger adores first legit (read: on a Western label) release by non-white cult hero vaulted out of obscurity by music press? Nozinja certainly ticks all the boxes; only time will tell whether we’re on to the next one by the time his second record comes around. (A booster of both Congotronics and Funk Carioca hangs his head.) So I go into this latest round of praise with a certain wariness about where my ears are leading me, and a warning for those who haven’t been riding the hipster taste merry go round for all that long.
And yet, I love this record and I want other people to hear it. It’s the perfect antidote to the all-consuming melancholy of trap over the last few years – in that, and in its frenetic drum programming, it shares some of the appeal of footwork, but a better comparison might be soca – this happens to be bursting at the seams with melody. Despite the fact that a lot of it is in minor keys, the energy jumps out of the speakers, throws Mardi Gras beads around your neck and pulls you into the dance. Where things are more sinister than they seem.
The centerpiece, from this perspective at least, is “Baby Do U Feel,” with its adrenaline-charged marimba-chords and echo-laden rave-style vocal samples. It feels like there are about six records going on at once, only it’s more fun to listen to them this way than to slow it all down and figure out what’s going on. The sensation of being overwhelmed – which I used to think only breakbeat science could deliver – here comes from all sides, thwacking at your ears with relentless glee.
F O R M A T
The Vinyl Factory
The dark time arrived with the word “electroclash,” something that arguably was more loathed then even than “EDM” is now. Amid the trucker hats and the tedious college-rock indie-dance came Playgroup, Trevor Jackson’s attempt to harness some of that cultural energy for some actual music. After a decade or so making fleeting appearances, Jackson’s new album feels instantly timeless, which is to say it sounds like the best bits of the 80s distilled into a powerful, blunt exilir.
Minimalism might be in the doghouse right now but Jackson makes it new with his unwavering focus on the dance floor, even with very few bits with which to move the crowd. “Nowhere” might as well be called “No Music” given how much of it consists of just two ribcage-rattling bass notes, a rimshot and a slightly tweaked kick drum. It, and “Voodoo Racist,” are haunted by lingering traces of acid, while “OCP” is marked with the scarlet letter of aggressive tech-house. But Jackson rejuvenates cliches with a kind of stubborn obliviousness – why shouldn’t I do something interesting with guitars (“Icaro”) if I can make it good, he seems to mutter? Why not indeed.
This was another random eMusic discovery, a process that most often leads me to dance albums that don’t fit any existing dance subgenre. Pretty sure this Ricardo Tobar disc fits squarely in the tech-house camp, and yet, I hesitate to describe it as such. He does moody four-on-the-floor exceptionally well – see the panoramic synths over chugging drum patterns in “Invierno” or the faraway yearning of “This Is Pop” – but there are enough feints and waves in the direction of bedroom-tronica that I didn’t know where to put songs like “Blue Mint” with its whimsical synth-brass wobbling away. The cumulative effect is a gauzy distance from the active listener, though maybe the title is an acknowledgement that you’re not supposed to listen to the whole thing at once. In truth, it shines most brightly if you don’t.