December 22, 2006

2006 Year In Review: Individual Writer Lists

As a companion piece to our 2006 year in review, here are the individual lists/charts from each of our contributors. Happy reading…

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December 22, 2006

2006: The Year In Review

Welcome to the Beatz By The Pound year-end roundup for 2006, a veritable smorgasbord of lists, thoughts, and reflections about the current state of dance music. And while all of our writers handed in very diverse ballots, we were able to come to a consensus on a couple of key releases, producers, and labels. Let the madness begin…

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December 15, 2006

Disco Down, H-Town (Part One)

Cities and “scenes,” like the human beings that (partly) make them up, are mottled, confused things. Houston is, of all the places I’ve lived, worked and played, the most jumbled and the most vibrant. The cultural makeup here is more diverse than any northeastern city, but laid out in striated patterns not dissimilar to its sprawling architectural limbs. (It’s like a thrashing monster with the downtown nexus as its heart.) Given very little other than crappy weather and a flat surface for its nature, nurture here has been given almost free reign. And, like the lack of zoning laws that allow cozy neighborhoods to reside in the shadow of huge apartment blocks, the action in H-Town is spread across an impossibly wide canvas—a club or bar with a dance event is as likely a tenant in any building or shopping mall as a seafood restaurant, lingerie shop, or the ever-ubiquitous tanning salon. Extend this pattern across more than 600 square miles, with a population (the fourth largest in the US) that has huge Mexican-American, African-American and Asian-American communities and, well… you get the picture.

I relocated here and have been here now for nearly three months (already?), and I hardly feel as though I’ve dipped a toe in the proverbial waters. But what I have found has been outstanding enough to excite my interest in plumbing the depths.

Of course, the most prominent scene in Houston (as your Aunt Judy could probably tell you by now) is the hip-hop one, which has gained enormous national attention in recent years. As a result, there are two kinds of specifically “dance music” events here—the ones that have a hip-hop element and the ones that don’t. Clubs such as the excellent, always free a38 have a loose “no hip-hop” policy and cater to those seeking a variety of house sounds. A number of regular events bring a classic retro feel—the requisite 80’s night, but also old-school garage and funk nights, classic hip-hop and disco-funk, etc. On the more eclectic tip, Rockbox! at the Proletariat (which also features possibly the most entertaining Karaoke night I’ve ever attended) and Danseparc at Numbers are the place to hear dancey rock, classic house, rap, old-school funk and disco—Sister Sledge rubbing up against Bowie and Kraftwerk, T.I. rapping over Metro Area while Justin brings the sexy back, etc. These type of freewheeling, anything goes events have become popular in most big cities of late, but there’s a real sense of looseness to the aesthetic in H-Town that keeps the events fun for the very mixed crowd they often draw.

The overwhelming virtue of Houston’s dance scene is one that can be found at any event: the casual, unpretentious attitude towards throwing a party that I’ve found sadly missing from too many clubs. There is very little focus placed on technique, a real off-center avoidance of the kind of “micro-scene” attitude to be found with many DJs, and almost no unnecessary stressing of “timeliness.” Unlike the been-there, done-that attitude of a lot of even the most eclectic parties in, say, the New York or DC area, people in the H, even the nebulous “hipsters,” don’t stress an overfamiliar 70’s disco cut or a played-out filter-house track (think Modjo’s “Lady”), an attitude I find deeply refreshing—in fact, it’s helped in many ways to cure me of my own eye-rolling habits (which, luckily don’t run that deep).

And, yes, that means in the last two months I’ve heard both “Losing My Edge” AND “House of Jealous Lovers,” and you know what? I was on the dancefloor for both of ’em.

(To be continued…)

[Mallory O’Donnell]


December 15, 2006

The Orb – Blue Room

12"1990sAmbientCD/AlbumDubReanimation

With longer singles coming back into vogue again, a glance back at the longest chart single in UK history seemed in order. Cleverly timed at exactly 39:58 to get under the 40 minute limitation on UK singles chart entries at the time—it reached number 8 in the summer of 1992—Dr. Alex Patterson and Co.’s “Blue Room” stands as a monolithic signpost for the ambient house movement and remains surprisingly listenable today. It may seem odd to refer to a 40-minute track as anyone’s finest “moment,” but if the moon boot fits…

In direct comparison to the Villalobos’ track, which concentrates on working a single basic idea into an infinite amount of mutations and permutations, “Blue Room” is a relative explosion of musical textures and spaces. If “Fizheuer” is a journey to the inner spaces of one’s mind via beat transmogrification, “Blue Room” is a trip to the dark side of the moon and back, complete with all the sci-fi noises and relevant vocal samples and sound effects you might expect. The track isn’t tight in the least—it’s a free-flowing mélange of sounds (Steve Hillage’s spaced-out guitar licks and bubbling percussive sounds chief among them) and textures, but it’s tethered down by the rock-solid anchors of Jah Wobble’s throbbing bass groove and the gently popping backbeat. The rhythm tracks start around the 6-minute mark, giving the track enough time to establish a mood but not to reach boredom threshold, and Patterson mixes things up from there. With such a wide palette of sounds to mix up and years of experience in this modified ambient-dub style (check back to the KLF’s masterful Chill Out album to hear Patterson cutting his teeth on a similarly long-form piece), “Blue Room” never gets old, never sits still, never blows its cool. It honestly doesn’t sound a second too long. And that bassline… oh, that bassline. It makes you see trails. The sonic detritus is interesting enough to maintain the ear’s interest; the groove is strong enough to keep heads nodding and toes tapping. “Ambient house” may have been coined a few years prior, but one could argue that this single track should play on the term’s Wikipedia page, perhaps over a shifting kaleidoscope of colors and astronomical images.

“Fizheuer” and “Blue Room” take very different paths to get where they are going, and outside of the length, there is very little in common between the two recordings on the surface—in fact, the comparison is a study of contrasts. While the Orb leave more space in their track, they also use far more sounds. While Villalobos uses only two basic pieces to construct his track (horns and drums), he is just as much of a manipulator and his track actually sounds far more dense. While criticisms may abound about both (generally from those with short attention spans), you’d certainly never hear “Blue Room” referred to as an overgrown DJ tool. Still, examining how two very different producers tackle epic-length electronic tracks can be a fun and enlightening exercise, assuming you have an afternoon to kill. Get comfy.

[Todd Hutlock]


December 15, 2006

Manmade Science feat. Halder Laegreid – Just Tell Me When

12"2006DiscoHouse

The Larry Levan influence is present here not just in the name of this German label but also within the grooves of “Just Tell Me When”. Manmade Science supply a brand of disco-house that’s been somewhat lacking in this year of darker sounds. The vibe is funky deep house, looped and spun bits of bass, with Chic-esque guitar scratching that calls back to the heyday of French House but it updated with a chilly Teutonic sheen. The B-side “Difunkt” is a bit sloppier and funkier, with nice organic drum sounds writhing and coalescing around a simple bassline and synth-wriggle. Nicely old-school but not outdated, this is a fine release all around.

Philpot / PHP 020
[Listen]
[Mallory O’Donnell]


December 15, 2006

Insect O. & Sören Matschiste – Dschoanna

12"2006HouseMinimal/Deep

Another solid German four-tracker from a new label – is there no end to this? Though distributed by Kompakt, Etui is an unknown to me, and these spooky-yet-warm dubs slide somewhere in between the trancier end of Kompakt and the graceful tones of the Traum / Trapez axis. The A-side consists the shuffling title track and its’ slightly crunchier rework, “In Bed With Dschoanna,” a dark, pounding piece of subtly-hued minimal trance. The flip heats up considerably on “Da Ist Noch Sand,” adding more defined drums and a wobbly bassline, yet retains the delicate aura (especially on the tickling, bright synth line woven through the midsection). “Sommer and Sprosse” ends things on a bright, early-80’s-inflected note, contrasting solid kicks with slurred pads and funky layers of percussion. The slight vocal samples scattered across the EP assist the deep, humanistic electronics in justifying Etui’s slogan of “emotions for the dancefloor.”

Etui / ETUI 004
[Listen]
[Mallory O’Donnell]


December 15, 2006

Mocky – Extended Vacation

I’m glad I gave myself another week with this one, because all my initial gripes about Mocky’s cloying, overstuffed whiteboy soul shtick (much like his boy Jamie Lidell’s) and the song’s bah nod to the “mile-high club” (somebody didn’t get that memo) have turned into mucho respect. This is great songwriting–really concise, really compressed, borderline neurotic details-wise–but Mocky’s big brilliant stroke is that his concise, compressed, neurotic bustle of a song is all about how he needs an “extended vacation.” I agree, man! Go to Spain or something! Once you crack that nut (i.e. the song’s form vs. the song’s content), the Radio Slave and REKID mixes will seem far less leftfield: RS and R’s slowburners more or less signify Mocky’s extended vacation. Radioslave’s mix is an expansive, colorless, Pong-like paranoid vamp not unlike all his other expansive, colorless, Pong-like paranoid vamps, which beyond making for an awesome track is also kinda funny in context. REKID meanwhile turns the original into this laidback downtempo hiphop jam that’s better than 80% of Made In Menorca and 90% of laidback downtempo hiphop jams in general. Mocky’s anxious vocals are now but a blissful, forgetful slur.

Four Music / FOR 82876883831
[Listen]
[Nick Sylvester]


December 15, 2006

Jeff Bennett – Surface Diving

12"2006HouseTechno

Jeff Bennett brings a little ray of synthetic sunshine into your speaker stack with this great EP of melodic tech-house that works its wonders with ass and class. The original mix foregrounds a sparkling melody which grooves along above a dubbed out background. The beats are a little weak, but the tune is so lovely you hardly mind. The Qbical remix is the overcast afternoon to the originals’ morning sun, until two intertwining arpeggios entwine and bring the party back. Jeff’s “Minimix” version is another gem, and remedies the “weak bottom” of the original with a big, compressed kick and push, while retaining the twinkling, starry melody. Quality house rockets for all.

Manual Music / MAN 005-5
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


December 15, 2006

Africans With Mainframes – Mogadishu

12"2006AcidTechno

Sometimes you wonder why he releases his weaker material, but when he’s on it, Jamal Moss is the heir apparent to the jack masters of old. These four amazing, jammed, slammed, jacking machine workouts with Noleian Reusse are doing acid in your ear. This is “proper” techno, made the old-school way, for the pure pleasure of the resonance and the wildness of the frequencies, as “lo-fi” as they may objectively sound. This is the hot, wet response to sleeparchive’s cold, dry machine drum beats, or the dark cousin of Tadd Mullinix’ wilder journeys into the freq as JTC or TNT. The goodness begins with “Faso”, which tumbles through a sea of snares and a filtered, low pH melody until it finds the floor with a flood of toms, and then brings the boom. “Djbouti” starts with everything delayed to buggery, conjuring the groove up from a series of beats which come thuddering back in the loop one on top of the other. “Yaounde” rolls with a massive, flanged out melodies and a tweaked up, seasick groove that nearly looses its lunch somewhere in the effects chain. Are drum machines animal? These ones are.

Crème Organization / Crème 12-28
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


December 15, 2006

Beatzcast #14

2006Mixes

Download

01: Kevin Gorman – DMX
02: The Whip – Trash
03: Africans with Mainframes – Djibouti
04: Kevin Gorman – Riddim
05: Krikor – No More
06: Fox ‘n’ Wolf – In Yr Underwear
07: Broke – Overhat
08: Jeff Bennett – Surface Diving


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