January 26, 2007

Beatzcast #16: Michael F. Gill

2007ItaloMixes

The Dancing Therapy mix started off as a sort of self-help mixtape for myself, but later evolved into a generally uplifting set of vocal oriented italo/synth-pop hits….

01: International Music System (I.M.S.) – Dancing Therapy – Bellaphon, 1984
No better way to start off than with this, the impetus for starting this mix. The seemingly naive lyrics about using music to escape from your troubles take more of a poignant turn here. “Fusion to the beat really clears my mind” sums up a great amount of dance music’s appeal in just one line.

02: The Creatures – Believe In Yourself (Special Remix) – Full Time, 1983
Not to be confused with the Siouxsie Sioux side-group, The Creatures’ biggest hit is a bouncy, heavy-synth number with endearing dorky vocals extolling self-esteem with perhaps too much zeal (the opening line being “Boy, don’t be so shy!”).

03: Taffy – I Love My Radio (European Mix) – Emergency, 1986
Probably my favorite latter-day Italo track, it hits many of the overblown hallmarks of the mid ’80s (faceless vocals, huge synth-drums, chipper keyboards) while refusing to remain grounded to the template. Plus as a night owl myself, I can relate to the rather silly lyrics proclaiming love to a midnight radio DJ.

04: Brand Image – Are You Loving? – Il Discotto Productions, 1983
Il Discotto Productions were a high profile Italo label that briefly catered to the sci-fi/robotic side of the genre before moving more towards the candy-sweet pop end by the mid ’80s. One of their big releases was “Are You Loving?” by the little-known Brand Image, which continues this mix’s focus on defiant/strong vocals and aggressive keyboards.

05: Alden Tyrell feat. Fred Ventura – Love Explosion 05 – Clone, 2006
“Love Explosion” was a cult hit for Alden Tyrell in the neo-italo/electro circuit ever since its release way back in 1999. It gained its popularity as an instrumental, so when Alden finally released his debut album Times Like These last year, he re-recorded it as a vocal version with well-known italo vocalist Fred Ventura. Tyrell is one of the very few neo-italo composers whose productions could nearly pass as vintage, and the fact that the vocal version is nowhere as sleek, icy, and chic as the instrumental is testament to this.

06: Fokewulf 190 – Body Heat – Market Records, 1984
“Hey! You! Take a look at me! Look me in the eyes, there is something new.” The second cut in this little trilogy of Fred Ventura tracks finds the dear Italian vocalist in a near desperate wail. While most lyrical subjects in Italo are lightweight and superficial (following in the Eurodisco tradition), the tortured passion of Ventura is very much an anomaly. I have no idea how well-known “Body Heat” (or as Ventura says, “Badi hit”) was before it ended up on one of the C-B-S Top 100 lists, but it surely is one of the most angsty and lyrically sound italo tracks I know.

07: Flexx – Love Theme From Flexxy-Ball – Hole, 1983
“Love theme” is so close to the sound of “Body Heat” that it begs to be mixed in as the final Ventura vocal track in the trilogy. It’s a bit more on the uplifting side, and is probably responsible for naming the disco-friendly mail-order site Flexx.

08: Gary Low – I Want You – CAT Record, 1983
“I Want You” was a big hit among gay clubgoers in the ’80s, and was recently heavily sampled by Miss Kitten and the Hacker for their Mental Groove single “The Beach.” It’s definitely got a summertime feel, and even if the cheeseball vocals take a while to warm up too, it remains a perennial club favorite.

09: Pineapples – Come On Closer (Extended Club Mix) – Danse, 1983
What can I say about this recently reissued track, probably one of my favorite singles of all-time, and one of the most beloved, uplifting italo tracks around? Its likely that the bizarre cocktail lounge croon of Douglas Coop elevates it from perky synthpop to a feel-good anthem, but explaining the rest of its magic is impossible: you just have to hear it for yourself.

10: Trilogy – Not Love – Il Discotto Productions, 1982
Another Il Discotto Production, and another favorite of mine that seems to be overlooked. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the vocal version of “Not Love” used over the instrumental. It’s a shame, because the vocal really buys into the melodrama of the arrangement, and nearly seems confrontational.

11: Ottawan – D.I.S.C.O. (Instrumental) – Carrere, 1979
Ok, OK, the original is a total novelty (and even uses the same bassline of their previous hit, “Hands Up”) but I was surprised how much calmer the instrumental version is after hearing it. It also provides a nice vocal break until the next track…

12: Jimmy Ross – Fall Into A Trance (Remix) – Quality/RFC Records, 1982
…where the vocals are back to being zealous again. Jimmy Ross was one of the few italo vocalists who put more of an American soul influence in his music, so it sort of helps that his English is so slurred and heavy handed: it often makes him sound out of breath with emotion. “Fall Into a Trance” was his second biggest hit next to the boogie disco of “First True Love Affair,” which was later remixed by Larry Levan. There’s a compilation CD on Unidisc of Ross’ entire work that is recommended if you want to hear more.

13: Alexander Robotnick – Intro for Live Performance – Creme Organization, 2005
Mr. Robotnick has been going through a revival lately, with two rarities compilations coming out in the past few years. “Intro for Live Performance” is from the second volume, put out last year by Creme, and while it may seem odd for someone to walk onstage to anything this noir-ish, it’s probably one of the most minimal tracks in his oeuvre.

14: Ministry – I Wanted To Tell Her – Arista, 1983
Ministry might be a surprising name here, but their first album “With Sympathy” was a dead ringer for a lot of the Human League-esque new wave going on at the time. “I Wanted to Tell Her” combines this upbeat synth approach with a bit of the funk A Certain Ratio was doing, and has a great vocal to boot

15: Memory Control One (MC1) – Basic – Crash, 1984
This 1984 synth-pop single by the newly-feted Beppe Loda and Francesco Boscolo always sounds so triumphant to me, like it should soundtrack an athlete’s victory lap or the end of a sports movie. Hence, I’m placing it here as something of a coda to the mix, a sort of stand-alone resolution to the theoretical therapy of all the previous tracks.


January 19, 2007

YMO – Solid State Survivor


YMO (aka Yellow Magic Orchestra) have always been blocked into history as the Duplo to Kraftwerk’s Technics—the Technicolor “toy” version of the Kling Klang’s more “adult,” high-minded man-machine constructions. A glancing listen to Solid State Survivor might do little to remedy that impression, with the first two tracks sounding for all the world like the theme tune for a second-rate 70s anime. But listen closer, listen again—the whimsical surface belies undeniable pop smarts and a keen ear for song craft that beavers away at your humorless notion and leaves you realizing that, far from being some second-rate kitsch mensch-maschine thieves, you’re actually hearing the “coming out” of one of the most innovative, playful groups in techno’s history.

Yes, techno, that’s right. Although it might be a mistake to say that any individual invented techno (I’d give the title to the quiet hands of Roland Corp. or Leo Theremin), but if you do subscribe to a musician inventor theory, you’d have to say that YMO may well deserve the title—1983 might have been the year of Kraftwerk’s unreleased Techno Pop album and YMO’s Technodelic, but the word finds an earlier home as “Technopolis,” the fourth track on Solid State Survivor, a track that is itself already fully fledged techno, albeit in pop form.

Not only does Solid State Survivor constitute a landmark in the emergence of techno, but the album itself is a joyously, sweetly disrespectful romp through its various frames of reference. In a recent interview, Uwe Schmidt, whose most recent Señor Coconut album Yellow Fever re-worked the trio’s classic materials into his vision of electro latino, explained that for him, YMO were far more important than Kraftwerk, simply because of their willingness to leap whole genres in a single bound and gather the ecstatic treasure in trash with as much reverence as you’d give to Bach. Solid State is bursting with enthusiastic genre-bending and stylistic pastiches that borrow as heavily from advertising jingles as enka.

“Technopolis” sounds like the promotional music from “Expo 1980” or any number of incidental tunes still doing the rounds on NHK. “Absolute Ego Dancer” is a fully-fledged bubblegum techno rocket and the high point of the sugar rush. But it’s the moodier numbers such as the pop ambient “Castalia” (emphatically Sakamoto’s song, judging by the mood) and the mixed weather of “Behind the Mask” (later covered by Eric Clapton) as well as a hilarious, bent cover of the Beatles “Day Tripper” which really amaze. In the space of less than 35 minutes and only eight tracks, YMO nailed out a hyperactive manifesto whose garish reverberations can be heard across the poptronic spectrum, from Devo, through Daft Punk, Mouse on Mars, and right up to the more boisterous moments of microhouse.

[Peter Chambers]


January 19, 2007

Pigon – Little Albio Street

It’s funny how these things become entrenched, isn’t it—those unwritten rules within genres: try having a coolsie guitar band without “The…” in the title (hey, “The Titles,” that works). It’s an equally impossible feat to be a German producer without pseudonyms, alter egos, and aliases, it seems. Pigon is Efdemin’s straight shooting dark techno cousin, with bigger balls and bells and less tears, for your dancefloor delectation.

“May in Little Albio Street” is still waiting for those darling buds to burst forth, by the sounds of things. Pigon’s vision of the place has one track imagining 90s Detroit imagining deep space and the other few bouncing through loops full of driving melancholy. It all works well enough, but there’s a touch of the empties about the rigid corners, and not enough of those sweet, smoky memories that Efdemin’s best work evokes. The B-side “November in Little Albio Street” suffers from the same stiffness, but with a plug-in borrowed off Lawrence’s desktop for the main melodic motif, and could almost be a Peter Kersten co-write. Like the A, it’s a nice ride that putts along, but never really soars.

Dial / dial 33
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


January 19, 2007

Jacek Sienkiewicz & Marek Raczkowski – Warsaw for Beginners

Jacek Sienkiewicz has, slowly but surely, been nailing the craft. Recent releases on his label Recognition have reached sublime heights of mean, moody, and magnificent techno, full of interlocking parts, sudden bad moods and noodling string pluck melodies capable of tugging even tautly tuned heartstrings. Late 2005’s “Double Secret Life” found its way onto both Tobi Neumann’s fantastic Fliederlieder mix and Lawrence’s Groove compilation as the crescendo selection, and with good cause.

Given the incredible polish (ahem) that Sienkiewicz has managed to achieve of late, it’s odd that he would choose to release “Warsaw for Beginners” (co-produced with Marek Raczkowski). Why weird? Simply because, despite a wealth of inventive ideas and odd combinations of almost “Guru Josh” piano lines, boisterous digitechno rhythms, and delicate au Harem textures, this feels like a strange sketch, a study for a far greater and more interesting EP that wasn’t quite realized. I keep waiting in vain for “it” to happen—maybe this music needs new ears that are still growing. Give me time on that one, but for the moment, this is an eccentric, promising cacophony that doesn’t quite hit the spot.

Recognition / r-epo019
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


January 19, 2007

Escort – A Bright New Life

12"2007Disco

As with their last two twelves, one of which was Beatz’s #1 of 2006, this one’s just too well done to deny. On the a-side, Singer Zena Kitt dwells on various personal uncertainties in the verse over a spare synth octave thump and rich, long strings, but when the chorus approaches it’s like every sound starts getting really cagey, and when it finally does come the empty space is filled with cheeky chicken-scratch guitars, a healthy dose of horn stabs, and (naturally) “a bri-yut newww li-i-ife.” The songwriting’s smart, the stylized diction is perfect, the instrumental buildups and breakdowns are taut, no note’s out of place, no smirk’s in sight. Just awesome. For his remix, Morgan Geist subdues everything—even the volume is lower—and after a new bassline and lots more space and just enough reverb, we’ve got something of a Metro Area track, the instruments taking turns soloing in the lime.

Escort Recordings / ESCRT-003
[Listen]
[Nick Sylvester]


January 19, 2007

Aroy Dee – Embrace

12"2006Detroit

Eminently listenable throwbacks from techno’s second wave sonically, these benefit from hindsight too: none too ravey breakbeats, no overblown overly chromatic hooks (i.e. stuff that sounds like the Mortal Kombat soundtrack), the grind felt, not heard. Part of its success comes first from Aroy Dee keeping more insistent rhythms soft in the treble, which reminds me of Gottsching’s unrushed hi-hat sixteenths in E2-E4, and second from drizzling the synths onto the ear rather than dropping them like knives. Modern parallel: Juan Maclean’s “Dance With Me,” but without that track’s lovesick subtext. The track “Embrace” has a Morr Music-like comfort food quality to its longtoned lullabied progression, but the palette is totally food-and-arts-era Carl Craig, subdued analog, legitimate warmth. Like I said, really easy on the ears, and, serving tradition well, second b-side “Shade” makes for a nice beatless chaser.

MOS Recordings / mos0005
[Listen]
[Nick Sylvester]


January 19, 2007

Kiki – Trust Me

Kiki’s streamlined techno, with its graceful interpolation of EBM, electro, and darkwave elements, has occasionally suffered from being a bit too well-mannered. One thing it never fails to do, however, is provide a sense of motion. “Trust Me” gurns along at the steady altitude of a night flight across the Atlantic, split between a “Super Dub” to placate those seeking only depth and texture, and a “Cowboy Mix,” which introduces turbulence in the form of a menacing theme and some reverbed effects, hee-ya! So, sure, we’re traveling, but where the hell are we going? On to the next track, then the next, then so on. This is a well-crafted set-builder for the early evening, more interesting for the direction its motion implies than anything that actually happens. And we’re just fine with that.

BPitch Control / BPC 141
[Listen]
[Mallory O’Donnell]


January 19, 2007

Sessomatto ft. Carolyn Harding – Movin’ On

12"2006House

Many are the things we here at Beatz By the Pound never tire of, when adequately deployed—a radiant sunrise after an exhausting night of dancing; that sound that goes whap-whap and the one that goes wrrw-wrrw-wrrw; the first bars of our summer jam being mixed into whatever is playing right now; a little bump of something to get us through the night; a diva vocal with gospel touches telling us something great about “our love.” All of which stand and deliver during the course of Joey Negro’s 2006 Sessomatto single (and aforementioned summer jam) “Movin’ On.” I’m all for beardy meanderings, minimal midnight assignations and space-disco dust, but come four in the morning I want a song exactly like this one—crazy peaks and valleys cranny-crammed with every trick that’s worked a thousand times on a thousand house twelves and enough collective upliftment to raise a boat full of ravers to the top of Mt. Etna. Call me old-fashioned.

Z / ZEDD 12 084
[Listen]
[Mallory O’Donnell]


January 19, 2007

Martinez – Restructured Layers

Cophenhagen-based Martinez is behind the mix on his Out of Orbit label’s first CD release, and he’s chosen to use the imprint’s back catalog as his template, including Lowtek Sounsystem, Robert Babicz, Trentemøller, and many tracks by Martinez himself. But rather than simply mixing things up in a traditional style, Martinez goes the DE9 route and cuts the tracks into loops and bites, sewing them together to make a new whole, playing as many as eight tracks at one time. If you’ve heard Hawtin’s work in this vein, you can guess that the results don’t sound much like the original tracks—how could they?—but still retain the flavor and tone of the label’s general output, making this an ideal entry point for new listeners, as well as a new experience for those who already know and love the label. This mixing style may be a bit too clinical and emotionless for some, but it’s a well-executed project and the label’s clean tech-house style lends itself to the process.

Out Of Orbit Recordings / ORB CD001

[Todd Hutlock]


January 19, 2007

Shane Berry – Fillertet 2 / To There

Todd Hutlock: South African producer Berry made a big splash in 2006 with three twelves (and a remix single with takes by Dominik Eulberg and Gabriel Ananda) and a download-only EP, but it was this, his debut release, that still sounds the strongest to these ears. On “Fillertet 2,” a series of rhythmic typewriters, ticks, phasers, and God knows what else assemble themselves into marching formation and bubble and twitch their way into your synapses and feet simultaneously, until suddenly your needle starts to buzz and malfunction. Is there a short in your cartridge? No, but the buzz keeps growing and growing, flitting between the speakers, increasing in frequency and fluttering to a gentle landing, leaving you breathless. By the time the break is over and the beat comes back in, you’ll be a sweaty pile of nothing on the floor. Gawd-DAMN! On the flip, “Polytet 3” is a similar sort of twitchy boogie with charms all its own, the buzz replaced by a steady, sinister hum and a shuffling static burn, but the dynamic on the A is what will keep you coming back for more and positively wrecking any dancefloor that can stand it. One of the best cuts of 2006, cursed by being released the first week of January in a genre that turns over faster and faster every year.

Todd Burns: Something changes halfway through Shane Berry’s “Fillertet 2.” A vacuuming nearly all-encompassing static takes over the track and begins to fill all available space. It then eventually envelopes the casual beat and melody to the point that they fade away and disappear and are replaced by a deep bass tone, only to return after the static has completely washed away any memory of the opening two minutes of the track. It’s an amazing trick, but one that makes me wish the entire song had been composed of it. That same static menaces at the edges of “Polytet 3” and then once again takes center stage halfway through in a similar fashion, riding, this time, at the periphery. The static takes a backseat on Berry’s second 12” for the label, released in March 2006, but remains a part of each piece in some way: on “Sigh” it adds color to the edges of each snare hit. It’s an odd affect, one that doesn’t always work (“For a Moment” seems like a retread)—but when it does, like on “Fillertet 2,” it adds a sort of millennial dread that works wonders on the decks.

Trapez Ltd 040 / 042
[Listen]


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