armchair dancefloor 029: Burial, FaltyDL, Addison Groove, Ellen Allien, Ekoplekz, Pearson Sound...
The year’s release schedule is warming up nicely. Without further ado, here are the records that have been constantly soundtracking recent weeks. There are quite a few of them, it’s been a good few weeks.
Ekoplekz – Memowrekz [Mordant Music]
Bristol’s Ekoplekz has been a fixture in the city’s electronic music scene for years now, originally as blogger/commentator and now as an integral musical component. But where his contemporaries and friends (the likes of Peverelist, Pinch and Appleblim) are digitally futurist in their outlook, he instead works with half-broken analogue equipment, using its intrinsic design quirks to write music that explores technlogy’s potential to generate chaos. The result is a dubbed-out and coolly melodic stew that recalls Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle as much as it does Vladislav Delay and Rhythm & Sound.
It’s appropriate that this sprawling full-length is released on Mordant Music; Ekoplekz’s melding of past and present dovetails perfectly with the label’s aesthetic, right down to its physical release on a pair of cassettes and its cheeky pun of a title, Memowrekz. Crucially, though, it’s uniformly excellent. It might initially seem surprising that music so abrasive can be accessible, but a keen melodic sensibility and careful structure – individual tracks are almost insignificant, a series of sketches to the whole album’s finished work – lend themselves to immersive listening. It’s difficult to pick out individual highlights, but the choral backing of opener ‘Visions Of Purdown’ and the dystopian glitch of ’77 Steps’ both stand out on initial listen. The latter in particular recalls Warp, as experimental and as beautiful as anything recorded by Autrechre, AFX or Clark. Further listens send you deeper down the rabbit hole, with addictive results. Both abstract and deeply affecting, Memowrekz is the best experimental album this year’s produced so far.
Burial – Street Halo/NYC/Stolen Dog [Hyperdub]
Okay, okay, so it’s probably a slightly pointless exercise reviewing the new Burial 12”, given that anyone reading this will already have either bought it or rinsed the YouTube links by now. Still, it feels as though it’d be doing this column a disservice not to give it at least a cursory mention. ‘Street Halo’ is the most aggressive and muscular track he’s written since his self-titled album, muffled in hot, distorted sub-bass. ‘NYC’ is the highlight: by slowing the tempo he loosens its two-step beat, allowing the track to brim with space, carried by a slinky Untrue vocal.
‘Stolen Dog’ (he does have a way with melodramatic titles) is a gorgeous little thing, closest in tone to his contribution to the Hyperdub boxset, ‘Fostercare’. But there’s a sense of humour here that his earlier music often lacked, as the cartoonish “okey dokey” sign off can attest to – a crucial inclusion, as with such serious music it’d be almost too easy to descend into self-parody.
Burial’s achieved a level of fame and popularity that’s rare for someone producing such uncompromising music; for all their melodic content, his productions remain the results of a singular and self-contained vision. It’s just a happy coincidence that they’ve struck a nerve with such a wide range of people. In that sense he appears to have acquired, by accident, an equivalent role to Radiohead’s in rock music (appropriate, given his recent Thom Yorke collaboration) – that of the quiet musician, working out the public eye with little interest in pandering to his audience’s expectations, but attracting an explosion of attention each time he sticks his head above the parapet.
FaltyDL – You Stand Uncertain [Planet Mu]
Drew Lustman’s music is becoming ever tougher to place on maps of both geography and genre. While his audible interests in classic UK ‘nuum styles (jungle, garage, hardcore) have taken his earlier records by storm, lending their cosmopolitan, neon-lit atmospheres a nervy edge, on second full-length You Stand Uncertain they are further absorbed into a far broader tapestry. Most obvious are the retrofuturistic visions of classic Detroit techno - especially on tracks like opener ‘Gospel Of Opal’, all bristling pads and gauzy vocal - but the record’s generally slower pace and groove-oriented rhythmic inflections bring it neatly in line with the house music heritage of his New York home.
The heavily swung percussion that has always been a FaltyDL signifier is still present and correct, but far more carefully controlled, more likely to enthuse than confuse on the dancefloor. On the whole it lacks the fresh-faced exuberance of his debut Love Is A Liability, but that’s instead replaced by further compositional and emotional sophistication; the fits-and-starts structure of ‘Open Space’ and wheezing hardcore tribute ‘Lucky Luciano’ mark among his most impressive achievements to date.
Pearson Sound/Ramadanman – Fabriclive.56 [fabric]
Pearson Sound – Deep Inside/Let Me See What U Workin’ With [Night Slugs white]
David Kennedy’s profile has skyrocketed over the past eight months or so, off the back of a devastating series of releases as both Ramadanman and Pearson Sound that show little sign of letting up. The packed launch party for his excellent addition to the patchy Fabriclive series was convincing evidence – it was nigh-on impossible to wriggle into Room 1 to catch his set, but once in there it became swiftly apparent just how far his DJing has progressed recently, bolstered by a seemingly endless stream of his own new productions. His Fabriclive.56 CD is one of the series’ best for a while, and reads like a condensed map of current ‘what u call it’ bass styles, featuring everyone from Burial and Mala to Addison Groove and S-X. The real treats are a few unreleased tracks and mash-ups though – the long awaited appearance of ‘Woooo-Glut’ and Joy Orbison’s glowing ‘GR Etiquette’ sit seamlessly alongside classics like Pinch’s ‘Qawwali’ and the techy weight of his own ‘Stifle’. Well balanced for newcomers and long-term heads alike.
After a glut of R’n’B refixes in the last year or so (culminating with Local Action’s very decent Cassie compilation), it’s interesting to note that Kennedy is able to do more with a single vocal snippet than most can with an entire track’s worth of stems. While the two remixes on his new Night Slugs white label aren’t taken from R’n’B originals, the way Kennedy takes a dubwise approach to source material, stripping away extraneous elements to leave little but drums and bass (the music’s skeleton), is a distiller’s approach many lesser producers would do well to take note of – especially given that the final results retain the original tracks’ intrinsic character, despite their radical structural shifts.
Instra:mental – Resolution 653 LP Sampler [Nonplus]
Boddika – You Tell Me/Breezin’ [Nonplus]
Addison Groove – Work It/Sexual [Swamp81]
Om Unit – The Timps [Civil Music]
Electro’s angular, stammering grooves have been insidiously creeping their way into UK bass music’s DNA over the last year or so, both on the dancefloor (Addison Groove’s ‘Footcrab’; Boddika’s punishing ‘Boddika’s House’) and off (the skeletal poise of Actress). But with a raft of new releases and a sudden resurgence in the noxious squiggle of acid, that stylistic collision appears to be developing into something new again. It’s certainly been devastating club crowds as of late - its gonzo pulse carries far more momentum than dubstep’s halfstep trudge but maintains the same all-enveloping depth, a trick that current hype anthem ‘Sicko Cell’ pulls with particular ease.
In particular, a blaze of armour-plated new material from the Instra:mental camp looks set to own dancefloors (and armchairs) for the foreseeable future. Their upcoming Resolution 653 album charts the location of a hitherto unexplored node, bridging the gap between sci-fi noir, Drexciyan myth and deep, dubbed-out dread. In the run up to its release, the two track advance 12” contains one of its highlights, the devastating ‘Thomp’. Riding off blunt percussion that thuds like a headache, its seasick momentum is suddenly sucked through an airlock into total vacuum and left drifting though fizzing curtains of space dust. The sliced ghettotech vocals of ‘When I Dip’ on the flip recall footwork, but are shorn of that genre’s suspenseful agony in favour of a far more direct, floorworkin’ approach. As one of half of Instra:mental, Boddika’s music falls squarely within the same region, but his first for Nonplus is more considered than his recent Swamp81 12”. You could almost describe it as (whisper it) pretty; ‘You Tell Me’ submits a six note motif to the whims of chaos over its six minutes, allowing it to distend hideously around the midsection, but slimming again towards the end.
Until this month Addison Groove had only released the ubiquitous ‘Footcrab’; a new 12” for Swamp81 now allows two of his earlier tracks to finally see the light of day. And it’s about time. Considering they’re over a year old, both show off distinct and disparate sides of his sound, ‘Sexual’ a sultry take on frantic ghetto house, and ‘Work It’ a merciless slab of corrosive electro, its chanted vocal less invitation to dance than steely command. While he’s quick to cite juke/footwork as the major influence on his sound, these tracks (and forthcoming AG music on Tectonic and 3024) avoid copyism, resulting in a deadly and sinuous hybrid that sounds very little like anyone else producing at the moment.
Om Unit’s The Timps EP is different in that it feels less concerned with integrating a number of existing styles than with exploring already well-mined territory. That’s hardly a criticism, as it’s powerful stuff. The title track juts out at jagged angles, all muscle and sinew, and ‘Prawn Cocktail’ suits its name, drifting off into the sort of aquatic cyberspaces explored by Gerald Donald’s Japanese Telecom project.
Gerry Read – Last Time/Patterns [Dark Arx]
Koreless - 4D/MTI [Pictures Music]
It’s difficult to feel particularly excited about a lot of the overly polite, static-ridden material that’s been emerging post-Blake/Kimbie. Most ‘post-dubstep’ (eurgh), while well produced and often very pretty, is just a little too bloodless and sedate to carry the same visceral appeal as its rougher older brother. There are occasional exceptions though: Gerry Read’s new 12” on Dark Arx, with its crunchy two-step grooves and lurching synths, works with the same elements but uses them to craft a pair of lovely, soulful rollers. ‘Patterns’ sounds constantly on the verge of breaking up entirely, its slightly rigid percussion tense against the fluidity of the track’s other elements. ‘Last Time’ hijacks Groove Theory’s ‘Tell Me’ vocal - just like a recent effort by George FitzGerald – but sets it adrift in a jittery loop, lending the track an anxious edge that serves it well.
Koreless' debut EP on Pictures Music is similarly addictive. Like Blake's album and some of Kimbie's quieter moments, it continues to sever its links with the rudeness of UK-borne dance music, and in doing so loses a great deal of its parent genres' sensuality, in favour of melodic indie-friendliness. But it stands up very well as an entity in its own right - '4D' sets the requisite wordless vocal to a steppin' house beat, but amps up the sense of detached stasis, and 'MTD' flickers like a particularly warm take on the stark juke hybrids recently infecting bass music. Both are reminders that, at this point, it's definitely worth taking these offspring of the dubstep scene on their own merits, separate from the sound that inspired them.
Outboxx – Kate Libby’s/Bertie’s Groove [Immerse]
Among the interesting new developments currently bubbling away in Bristol, the resurgence in house and techno within the city’s confines is long overdue. Of course, with its reputation as a bass hub, most of it is in some way informed by dubstep and its offshoots. Hodge, one half of duo Outboxx, is a good example, as is Artifact – they’re both producing supple broken house tracks that subtly reference Shackleton, UK funky and classic Detroit. Outboxx’s tracks are different, in the realms of straight-up deep house but with extra soundsystem heft. This debut 12” for Immerse is great: ‘Kate Libby’s’ has a bit of a disco thing going on, but its loose keys are reminiscent of the jazzy broken beat of Neon Phusion. ‘Bertie’s Groove’ drives forward with extra momentum but with the same far-out, sex funk’d feel.
Lowtec – Wonderkidd/Looser [Nonplus] - Given that his Workshop co-conspirator Kassem Mosse joined Nonplus’ roster last year, it’s appropriate that Lowtec has now followed. Both work slowed down, dusty house hybrids that, despite their decrepit feel, fit perfectly alongside the label's future-centric experimentalism. Lowtec’s are more immediate than Mosse’s though – where the latter’s ‘Hi Res’ drifted, ‘Wonderkidd’ drives. ‘Looser’ starts as brooding mood piece, before picking up pace and transforming into lopsided, clicky techno.
Ellen Allien - Dust Remixes [BPitch Control] – It seems a shame to reduce such a comprehensive remix package to a short snippet of a review, but such are space demands. This set of reinterpretations of Ellen Allien’s Dust album veers from inspiring to ordinary, but tends towards the former – Ripperton’s opener is ethereal and understated, Tim Hecker offers an airy deconstruction, and Kassem Mosse’s closer trumps the lot with an uncharacteristically pacey burst of retro energy.
Lapalux - Many Faces Out Of Focus [Pictures Music] - Hot on the heels of Koreless, Pictures Music's next release is a limited cassette from Lapalux. In keeping with the label's general aesthetic it's a bassy blend that alternately recalls the submerged R'n'B of How To Dress Well, Kimbie's fuzzing ambience and some of Warp's poppiest exports, all wrapped in a thin haze of decay. It's not particularly groundbreaking, as many contemporaries are currently exploring similar strung-out avenues, but lovely nonetheless.
Black Chow – Wonderland [Jahtari] – The Bug/King Midas Sound’s new Black Chow project further deepens Kevin Martin's links with dub culture, with a series of versioned tracks featuring ghostly vocals from Kiki Hitomi. Deliciously foreboding.
Neat & Submerse – Close [Airflex Labs] – Lovely striplit garage styles from Neat & Submerse, shot through with flickering ghosts of melody. Jack Dixon’s remix is hazy like Sepalcure, but FaltyDL’s makes the package essential, all awkwardly pitched vocals and NYC cool.
Memotone – Multicolour EP [Black Acre] – Memotone’s warped hip-hop is strangely pastoral despite its synthetic tone, recalling country lanes and moorland. Lukid’s remix carries the same atmosphere but muffles the sharper edges in a fog of reverb.