August 24, 2012
Eric Lahham, one third of the now-defunct Lexington, KY kosmische-slop unit Caboladies, presents his first LP under his given name, and it’s a glitchy, warped little number that’s decidedly out of step with the current crop of synth-obsessed fare that makes up a good chunk of the US underground right now. Released on Spectrum Spools, (John Elliot’s boutique sub-label of Editions Mego) it harkens back to the sounds that made the label famous almost 20 years ago.
I should start with the obvious: this is a difficult record. No two ways about it.
Last year, I managed to glimpse a live set by Palmetto Moon Electronic Group, one of Eric’s solo incarnations, and was subjected to 20-odd minutes of extreme sample abuse, rhythmic and otherwise. He whipped up walls of unsettling crash-bang carnage from ghostly snippets, with only a second’s tense silence peppered throughout.
The secret to that (mind-)set was his intimate knowledge and general shredding of an Elektron Octatrack, a piece of cutting-edge digital gear that’s just about as high-brow as a sampler can get. He was definitely on some Araab-level man/machine tip, and I can’t say it wasn’t impressive.
While the aforementioned piece of gear is hard at work throughout this LP, this ain’t some tech demo. This record is both meticulously composed and thoroughly cracked, and it seems to indicate that Lanham’s brain has been irrevocably digitized. Past solo cassettes as both Moon Palmetto Electronic Group and Carl Calm have flirted quite successfully with more overt IDM tropes, with wistful melodic motifs and through-composed percussion wash, but this one is different. It’s a whole-hearted embrace of turn-of-the-millenium digitalisms (instability, digital silence, quantum sonics), and falls quite comfortably into the genre formerly known as “Glitch”. There was a year or so in my personal timeline where I lived for the genre, gobbling up compilations on labels like Tigerbeat6 and the venerable Mille Plateaux, so I’m happy to revel in the sounds of digital alienation on display here.
Though each track is most definitely unique in palette and execution, the album is best digested as a whole. Throughout the LP’s 40-odd minutes, the listener is alternately pummeled by torrents of sonic detritus and abandoned in fields of plaintive emptiness. The sonic palette feels laptop-eque, with very few “analog” sounds making the cut, and most VST-d beyond recognition. Rhythm plays a role at a near quantum level on most cuts, though a few do dabble in a more linear version thereof. The more “sensitive” tracks are quite affecting, where the irregular tumble is paused in favor of icy pulses, wavering bell-tones, and meditative, keening arcs of digital haze. Traces of signature IDM melancholy are woven through, and a nice smattering of humour, too. Even when things really start roiling, as on the raucous title track, there’s a bit of levity to the proceedings, and you come away with a pleasant numbness once things die down.
Overall, I’m deeply impressed with Lanham’s commitment to new (old) forms, but I wish there were more space for the twisted sonorities to breath. The LP’s (amazing) Robert Beatty-designed cover conveys perfectly the time-lapse mutation that takes place on the wax, but only covers about 5 seconds of any given track. The hairpin turns and tumbling clouds of sound are an effective aesthetic motif, but the more spare moments become the most memorable. Though Lanham is definitely chasing down an aesthetic of his own devising, I can’t help but find myself missing the endurance-test minimalist discipline of SND or the hollow atmospherics of Sutekh. An impressive vinyl debut, and an exciting career turn for this young explorer. Looking forward to further refinement of his unique brand of entropy.
August 16, 2012
A bizarre and exciting new 12″ from this Michigan duo of synth-tickling oddballs, whose membership includes longtime noise mug Nate Young (AA Records, Hatred, Wolf Eyes, et al) dialing down the mutant paranoia, and finding love in a hopeless place.
The titular track takes up all of side one (approx. 9 minutes), and it’s a fucking trip. Things start out noisy and woozy, as keening synth arcs waver and detune. Less than a minute in, a loop of dankly filtered percussion clank bubbles up from the muck, eventually erupting into a surprisingly committed tech-house bounce, while a swarm of bizarre, noodling lead lines vie for dominance. A growling blown-speaker bassline brings an unheard-of level of funk to the mix. Gritty, sweaty, and thick as molasses. Around the half way point, everything dies down for the forehead-slapping payoff: a thin, looping snippet of the Cramp’s titular riff. Things swing back into full force, everything tumbling, grooving, swooping, and disintegrating into a totally satisfying mutant murk.
The two shorter tracks on the flip follow a similar formula, adding shuffling claps n hats, bubbling arpeggios, and lyrical echoplexed synth passages. More filtered percussion loops and irresistibly tasty bass riffs. They’re undeniably catchy experiments in soulful club indulgence, with instruments set to “fucked”.
On the whole, its an undeniable slab of rough n rugged synth bangers, definitely on a more upbeat vibe than past releases, executed with a mind-blowing amount of melody and groove. Whereas earlier tracks from this subterranean duo were plodding and dark, (and yes, absolutely amazing) this slice takes the fight from the sewers to the club. The only real touchstone I can muster is Mr. Oizo’s incredible first album Analog Worms Attack, which hefted a of similar pile of synth slime and half-serious funk onto dance-floor frameworks. Other than the thoroughly deranged recording quality and obtuse set of reference points (peep the incredible macho sci-fi artwork of this and past releases), its hard to imagine this emerging from the burned mind and fingertips of one of american noise’s great talents. Obviously though, that’s what makes it so damn impressive.
Although he definitely took the long way around, this stuff might be a bizarrely logical combination of the alienated, bass-heavy blues of Nate Young & John Olsen’s Stare Case and the basement-dwelling synth slime of Nate’s solo LP, Regression II. The tool set is the same (synth, tapes, boxes, echo), but the implementation begins to border on the downright marketable. An instant classic of whatever the fuck this genre might be.
The 12″ is available now from LA super-crew Not Not Fun, who consistently prove that Real Heads Know The Deal.
In true basement-dweller fashion, nothing from either official release exists on the net (this from the band that brought you a cdr and tape of completely different recordings with the same artwork and title), so enjoy instead their latest soundcloud missive, for a decidedly sedate take on their slime-house sound.
August 10, 2012
A duo of brothers hailing from parts unknown (rumors of Beijing are unsubstantiated), Hot & Cold have dropped a thoroughly engrossing debut LP of minimal-wave for the biker set, including tracks from past tiny-run releases on Night People and Rose Mansion Analog.
The name of the game here is lower-case paranoia, with a simple palette of one-riff basslines, burnt organ, and deadpan vocals. Underneath, shuffling PCM drum machine motoriks propel things forward, steering well clear of the dance floor. The 12 tracks here range from 2 to 5 minutes of jilted blues throb, sounding on the whole like a sunburnt Young Marble Giants with a sedated Mark E Smith at the helm. There’s more than a few post-punk moves peppered throughout, with occasional shouted diatribes and heterodyning organ shrieks to keep things interesting. When fully revved, they approach a Chrome-y level of low-tek alienation, like Suicide re-located to the painted desert.
The duo’s extended technique shines through on tracks like “Test Tower”, as the synth and organ tones turn crisp n squiggly, and the detached vocals chant vaguely scientific mantras. To me, Hot & Cold encapsulate what made a whole generation of home-made post-punk so great, without falling prey to useless lo-fi tropes. Simple, unaffected vocals, insistent but low-contrast drum programming, and just enough white funk swing. Infinitely listen-able paranoia without the melodrama. The perfect soundtrack to your next strip-mall peyote trip.
August 3, 2012
I’m a relative newcomer to the world of minimal techno, having only seriously started buying the stuff about a year ago. The impresarios of this scene within a scene typically follow a narrow set of rules down infinite fractal-like rabbit holes of minute variation. The tweaking of a tiny set of skillfully curated electronic sounds into hyper-repetitive compositions proved an almost perversely alluring concept. I can’t resist the pull of any sub-sub genre that forces me to question my sensibilities, and minimal techno has definitely helped me in that regard. Sloppily executed, the whole idea is almost completely dismissable, as a worthless 12 second loop would have a hard time winning anyone over by the 10th minute. But when done right, the results are hypnotic, suspenseful, and even psychedelic, in the tradition of masters like Reich, Riley, and Basinski, but with an urgent, cybernetic thrust.
My favorites of the sub-sub genre are in the dark, atmospheric vein, pioneered by Berlin labels like Tresor and Downwards, and the enigmatic LA-based Sandwell District, which has hosted several excellent releases by the equally enigmatic Rrose over the past 2 years.
This 12″ explores the missing link between the academy and the dancefloor, presenting a long-lost gem of pre-digital avant-gardisms by Bay Area electonic pioneer and activist Bob Ostertag with two distinct re-workings by Rrose on the flip.
“The Surgeon General”, Mr. Ostertag’s original, is a mid 70s composition for flutes, violin, tape echo, and buchla modular synth, unearthed especially for this collaboration. Built around a solitary train-whistle howl, and swelling, wavering tones, the piece has a desolate, breathy atmosphere. Occasional Echoplex-ed string clusters and modular drippings leak into the mix, evoking cinematic cues. Music for a foggy Samurai battlefield, or perhaps the afterlife itself. The piece is monochromatic, but eminently listenable, captured in a perfectly warm, saturated fidelity.
Things get quite a bit chillier on the flip, as Mr. (Ms?) Rrose immediately ushers in that terse, syncopated techno throb I’ve come to know and love, with whisps of Ostertag’s atmospherics filling the gaps seamlessly. It’s a surprisingly full mix, while staying firmly rooted in the “minimal” tradition. Noteless bass arpeggiations and sheets of reverb simulacra round out the track with paranoid insistance, and a tasteful lack of EDM build/release cliches. On the last cut, things get even colder with a beatless reworking of Ostertag’s already spooky piece. It somehow comes off even more aloof and alienated, a formless collection of impossibly distant atmospherics with more consistent modular effluvia, sharpened with digital tools.
While the content isn’t earth-shattering, the conceptual layer of these pieces is laudable. In some ways a love letter to another generation of innovators, this release mainly serves to give Ostertag’s admittedly obscure body of work a larger audience, and does so with reverence and wit.
July 25, 2012
It’s true. I’m reviewing a record that has been awarded Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” accolade this week. While I have mixed feelings about the ever-expanding hype conspiracy that is modern music journalism, I’m making an exception, ’cause Hudson Mohawke is the shit. I’ve been a fan of HudMo’s cracked bigbeat sound since “Butter”, which somehow combined bad taste FM stabs, glitchy drum loops, and noisy sample-jamming into soaring epics. He sharpened his total vision on the “Satin Panthers” EP, fusing a more overt hip-hop influence with truly bizarre sonic choices. Best of 2011, no doubt.
In the last year, Hudson’s been comparatively quiet, though the little that did leak was above and beyond. He proved he’s the Elton John of this trap shit on his spirit-lifting remix of Gucci Mane’s “Party Animal”, and his unbelievably dope island-crunk fantasia “Jumanji” with Azealia Banks is my summer anthem.
So obviously I was pretty damn excited when I heard tell of his upcoming collab with Canadian bass upstart Lunice (who I’ll admit to knowing nothing about), which is the 5-track EP reviewed here. First off, I’ll state the obvious: TNGHT is a terrible, terrible name. Just when you thought it was safe to include vowels, these chokers decide to remind us all that MGMT existed. Other than that, this mini-album is a solid 15 minutes of what can only be described as “Ludicrous Future Slaps”.
The first track starts with some darkness & ambience, all Tom Clancey’d out, until a haunted vocal gets juggled into a looping hook. From here, trapped-out snares are sprinkled across a sparse landscape of bass maneuvers, pairing wooden kickdrum thuds with resonant bass charges. Short and a little dry, can’t help but seem like a throwaway. The next one lightens things up a bit with a post-carnival lead layered on “we will rock you” stadium claps, and drum corps snare rolls. Despite the goofball quotient, this one ends up going for a serious “Stomp the Yard” vibe, and hits pretty hard. On “Higher Ground” (ostensibly the “single” off the record), low bitrate claps keep the beat for a cut-out bin diva vocal, which verges on annoying throughout. The saving grace is the roided-out horn blat of the track’s bassline, which is pure Dirty South gold. Up next is a Timbaland-referencing snap-track, soaked in overblown reverb. The wonky lead line keeps it on that goofy tip, goin’ dumb with watery drips & drops, sci-fi wipes, and skittering hat-tricks. The last cut cranks up the doofus/thug dichotomy, and plays like a Three Six video set in one of those old wiggly-ass cartoons. Breaking glass, gunshots, and tear-the-club-up hollering play counterpoint to a goofy broken-funhouse hook.
Much of the album’s dynamism comes from that tried n true formula of pushing tinny, wonky leads and drums towards outrageously based drops, while it thankfully avoids the tired-as-hell muscle flexing that drags down so much UK Bass music. Dispite a lack of the non-linear progressions and meticulous arrangements that make Hudson Mohawke’s solo output so stellar, it’s solid record, with plenty of shoulder-lean shit to keep the real heads interested.