April 30, 2008

Heat Index: January-April 2008

With a third of the year down, Michael F. Gill lists and rates his favorite and not-so-favorite releases of 2008.

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December 18, 2007

2007: Year In Review, Part One

Welcome to part one of Beatz By The Pound’s year-end roundup for 2007, containing the staff’s favorite dance singles, albums, mixes, producers, and labels of the year.

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July 10, 2007

DJ 3000 / Gerald Mitchell / Ellen Allien – Alia / Geloshai 1862 / Retina

12"2007DetroitTechno

The fetish releases from the Motor City continue as DJ 3000’s (aka Frankie Juncaj) Motech label releases two limited-edition (at a mere 100 copies each) one-sided singles, capping the relative flurry of activity from the label in the last couple of months after a long layoff. Juncaj’s style fuses the sounds of his ancestral and birth homes: soulful keys and string sounds of classic Detroit mixed with tribal percussion inspired by the native music of Albania. It’s a rather unique mix, but on the first release here, the signature sounds are washed over a bit by Juncaj’s collaborators.

Gerald Mitchell (a fellow member of the UR/Los Hermanos family) adds a bit more techno thump than is necessary to the remix of the pair’s recent Alia single, effectively smothering its flavor; the addition of Diametric’s spoken word bits on “Geloshai 1862” add some color, but not enough to make things memorable. Thankfully, Juncaj’s own remix of Ellen Allien’s “Retina” is full of the elements that make his best work so memorable. Led by a dramatic looped violin sample and laid over with his signature layered percussive elements, Juncaj makes the tune his own and then some. Anthemic, kinetic, and percolating in all the right ways, its a fantastic remix deserving of a much, much wider audience. Best of luck finding a copy, but if you do, clutch it with two hands.

Motech Limited / MT-LIMITED-1 / MT-LIMITED-2
[Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


July 6, 2007

Theo Parrish – Sound Sculptures Volume 1

12"2007CD/AlbumDetroitHouse

Like most well-known Detroit techno producers, Theo Parrish is as much a shrewd marketer as he is a talented musician. Since so much of what comes out of Detroit is shrouded in mystery, one needs to be really clued-in to all the limited edition vinyl, homemade CD-Rs, and mail-order labels to try to make some sense of what is going on in the scene. Having talked about this with people from the Detroit area, I get the sense that this protectiveness often stems from a demand that the listener take the music seriously. But there’s a reason why someone like Omar-S, with his handwritten vinyl sleeves, 12 inches that play inside-out, and one-sided white labels, has created a stir in techno geek circles the past couple years, and it ain’t just the music.

If you’ve been following minimal and techno the past year or so, you’ll have noticed that house and soul have been turning up more and more as an influence (or as a no-longer-latent fetish). What with Antonelli naming his last single after Bobby Konders, Efdemin’s “Just A Track” based on a Chicago styled preachapella, Ame writing “WILD PITCH I LUV U” on the back of their singles, the growing ubiquity of Schwarz/Ame/Dixon’s “Where We At”, Carl Craig remixes, and Larry Heard’s “The Sun Can’t Compare”, as well as the popularity of openly Detroit/deep house themed labels from Europe (Innervisions, Philpot, Delsin, Styrax), demands for jackin’ are high.

It’s the perfect time then for Theo Parrish to release this new triple LP on his own Sound Signature label. With the residual love from Carl Craig’s remix of “Falling Up” still coming in, Sound Sculptures Volume 1 arrives with high expectations, and a hefty import price if you live outside the States. The extra exposure might explain why Sculptures sounds like a more streamlined and accessible version of Parrish’s music, although you can’t really say it’s watered down. As always, the vibe here is as much mechanical as it is soulful. No matter how organically jazzy or funky the music gets, it’ll always be stymied by some hard-boiled drums and extremely tight programming and editing. What’s missing on these nine tracks is Theo’s wild sense of vocal juxtaposition and gratitutious use of live EQing, the stuff that often works miracles in his live sets, but can be more frustrating to plow through on his studio albums. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has problems listening to Natural Aspirations (released by Parrish’s collective group The Rotating Assembly), where vocals either sit too high or low in the mix, and are set against music which seems completely incongruous.

Listening to Sculptures in comparison is a piece of cake: everything here goes down smoothly and easily. The first three sides are actually pretty concise, almost song-oriented. “Second Chances” open things up strongly with vocalist Monica Blaire impressively soloing and vamping around a four line refrain and some subdued piano/rhodes lines. “The Rink” is very similar to Theo’s Ugly Edits series, where a couple of very short soul/disco samples are chopped up, put against each other, and then looped for five or six minutes. The final three sides are all extended eleven minute workouts, including album highlight “Soul Control” (another vocal showcase, this time for Alena Waters) and the rather straightforward acid-tech groove of “Synethic Flemm”, which was engineered by the aforementioned Omar S.

As far as a potential crossover release goes, Sound Sculptures does its job. It’s representative of Theo’s sound, it’s consistent from front to back, and there are some great standout tracks. For long time fans, it may feel a bit redundant, a bit safe. To me, there is still enough of a distinctive “soulful” (for lack of a better word) quality to this music that comes across as tangible, even when motifs are being heavily repeated. I’d almost even equate such a feeling to eating corn on the cob: it’s hard to not walk away from the experience with some flavor stuck in your teeth.

Sound Signature / SS 026 / 027 / 028
[Listen]
[Michael F. Gill]


June 27, 2007

Underground Resistance – Electronic Warfare 2.0

“I AM/UR/WE WILL/RESIST!”

It’s been a while since the Underground Resistance crew have let their militant fangs show, but with the double-12 plus 7-inch Electronic Warfare 2.0 release (finally following up the classic original double-pack, released way back in 1996), and the above quoted rallying cry, they show there is some unrest left in those machines yet. Chanted, yelled, and spat out by some angry men credited simply as “The People” over a stripped-down electrofunk breakbeat and some grinding, industrial-strength noise bursts, “I AM UR” (note the all caps) lays down the template here with a definitive call to arms. Not only is this the first track of the fiercest things they’ve done for ages, it’s also one of the best, a power grab that UR have been sorely missing over the last few years. They’ve shown some flashes for sure, but this is the real deal, crisp and sizzling with attitude. Those looking for the next “Windchime” or “Jupiter Jazz” can turn their ears elsewhere. This is strictly “Seawolf” territory. No cheese allowed.

Over the six sides, the electromenace stomps through a variety of tough-minded analog instrumentals and vocal tracks, all of which are tight, minimal, funky-as-fukk, and thoroughly aggressive. I assume that “Kill My Radio Station” (also on the bonus 7-inch in an acapella version for extra mixing fun) is aimed at Detroit locals, but in these days of ClearChannel, et al, it could easily apply just about everywhere on earth. Then there’s “Kut (UR Heavy Analog Deployment),” kicking out one of the illest fuzz riffs ever over some snapping live drums and punctuating grunts. Uh! Mm! Uh! Mm! Uh! I’m a pretty mild-mannered dude, but this shit made me want to punch some oppressive fucker in the face! Uh!

Simply put, UR have dropped some serious artillery here, kicking that sissyfied techno back into the European disco it crawled out of. Black bandanas are optional but recommended. (Need more ammunition? There’s a separate four-cut single Electronic Warfare 2.1 available exclusively from Submerge mail order, as well.)

Underground Resistance / UR-072
[Buy]
[Listen 1/ Listen 2]
[Todd Hutlock]


May 17, 2007

John Daly – Sky Dive

12"2007DetroitTechno

John Daly’s Sky Dive EP is probably as good as any release to bring up the fact that 2007 has ushered in a rethinking of the role of minimal labels. The transition from a curator that reworks the boundaries of minimal with each release into a stockbroker whose strength lies in the diversity of its portfolio might be reflected only subtly in the music so far. But it’s hard to see that staying the case for long. While early ‘00s stalwarts like Perlon and M_nus have maintained brand identity of their music to this day, marquee upstarts like Mobilee and Get Physical appear to be totally oblivious to genre allegiances. Which brings us back to Daly landing on Plak Records – a Swiss label that might talk about themselves as deep and bouncy minimal, but more often sound like they buried their equipment in the garden for a couple weeks to hear what rotted sounds they could dig up.

Sky Dive can run among the best minimal/techno singles of the year so far, but the reason it’s so good might also be counterintuitive from what you’d expect from Plak. Sure, the title cut is built around a squelching hiccup that’s par for the Plak course, but the Irishmen Daly is far from the Swiss gardens. Invoking the best of Moodyman with the locked loop of slow chimes, submerged bongos and handclaps, “Sky Dive” is a deep and bouncy revelation for the label. And the b-side “Broken Juno” isn’t too far behind. It was enough to encourage me to take a closer look at Daly’s earlier records (quick primer – search for Freak Out or Get Out and destroy Solaris). The shift to more diverse portfolios may bring scoffs from the purists but it definitely is treating Plak well here.

Plak Records / PLK 14
[Listen]
[Nate DeYoung]


May 9, 2007

Shed – Remixes In Four Parts 2

12"2007DetroitTechno

Detroit is dead. Long live Detroit. So seems to be the case with the new generation of producers gathering around the signifiers of Motor City’s glorious, melancholy high-tech funk. In hindsight, Cassy’s Panoramabar mix of last year gave the best gloss on this new (not new) trendency within groove music. Cassy’s mix deftly revealed the sometimes overt, sometimes covert, sometimes inchoate connections between the neo-minimal soundworlds of Mathias Kaden and Liebe est Cool, the old classics of Rick Wade and DBX, and the neo-classic techno of Redshape and Shed, whose glorious “Well Done my Son” brings her mix to a wonderful, glorious crescendo.

Shed (whoever (s)he may be) and his/her label Soloaction has been one of the vital producer-connectors in this new constellation of affinities, and this remix EP offers the best of the progeny back to the forefathers of the funk for a re-blessing. Hearing the first bars of Echoplex’s remix of “Cityslicker” was like remembering something. “Ah, this is how it was,” my brain says. Classic, but not retro, the mix freshens the link with the past to suggest a fresh examination of deep space. Old hand Shawn Rudiman likewise provides some of that classic feel—but here’s where this interesting new exploration is in danger of becoming a retro/revivalist trend. The track ticks all the boxes, but is not nearly as compelling as Echoplex’s mix.

Netherlands newbie (in relative terms) MBC opts for a high-pressure, galloping percussive loop to push the sounds towards you, coming across as something not unlike Stephen Brown’s work on Transmat, although never quite reaching those ecstatic heights. (Un)surprisingly, Brown crops up on Shed’s next remix EP. If you’re new to the Shed sound, I’d suggest checking out some of his/her own releases first, but if you’re already digging the vibe, then this EP is worth it, just for the Echoplex mix.

Soloaction / SOA1210/2
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


May 2, 2007

Moodymann – technologystolemyvinyle

12"2007DetroitHouse

Maybe it’s wrong to say that there’s been a stirring of the Detroit house old-guard—after all, both moody bastards Mann and Theo have been releasing consistently throughout the 2000s. But at the same time, there does seem to be an awareness on their part of their growing esteem and re-appraisal within the Continental community as part of this whole resurgence in deep house.

What’s offered here is a one-sided EP titled (topically for a reviewer listening to an MP3) “technologystolemyvinyl.” For the price of admission, you get a very Moody outing, fusing jazz drums, keys, and trumpet with Dixon Jr’s deep, driving house grooves. As with a lot of his old material, the track is mixed like a sound collage or DJ mix that crossfades between the jazz track and it’s house other, while adding field recordings of an audience of dancers whooping, clapping, and generally carrying on.

It’s an old formula, but is it an old dog—or just old hat? Is novelty your bag? Any question of judgment in this case would have to weigh the relative values of novelty and innovation with the pleasing presentation of a tried-and-true method. And that depends on your sympathies, I guess. But to me, neither the jazz arrangement nor the housey parts are spectacular enough to warrant re-visiting this old ground without an alibi.

If you’re new to Moodymann, skip this and get your ears around A Silent Introduction and Forevernevermore. And if you’re not… ? The irony might be that this is worth downloading, but not buying. Oh dear.

KDJ / KDJ 35
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


April 16, 2007

Theo Parrish – Children of the Drums

12"2007Detroit

Theo Parrish is (by all accounts) a real character, an impassioned curmudgeon who spouts strong opinions, demands outrageous appearance fees, and produces highly idiosyncratic deep house that (likewise) oozes a deep self-assurance. Maybe the spirits are helping him, who knows? But there’s a righteousness to the man and his work that infuses even the wonkiest of his tracks with an undeniable, irrepressible energy. Even when he’s making seemingly counterintuitive production decisions, it’s obvious that he really means it, and time has largely endorsed him—classics like “Ebonics” and “Overyohead” are still as exquisite as when they were released almost a decade ago. It’s something that’s seen Parrish (rightly in my view) elevated to the status of a key innovator in the deeper strands of reduced house and techno and namechecked by Henrik Schwarz, Lawrence, and others as a godfather figure of sorts. CC’s mix of “Falling Up” becoming a smash can’t have hurt, either.

And here, folks, is a timely re-release of two classic Parrish cuts, just in time for the continental re-discovery of deep house that appears to be going on at the moment. “Children of the Drum” contains all those elements that make Parrish’s music tick—a descending mesmer-melody that’s used as backdrop for rolling percussion (beautifully played by Jerry the Cat), a vocal very high in the mix, and these crazy drum machine patterns in the distant background somewhere—bongos going quietly bonkers. Deliciously bent deep stuff. “I Am These Roots” is infused with the same great “feel,” and while the arrangement isn’t quite as interesting as the A-side, there’s nonetheless that same intangible “thing” that keeps you coming back again and again. I think they call it… soul?

Sound Signature / COD1
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


April 5, 2007

Lazy Fat People – Pixelgirl EP

12"2007DetroitPlanet ETechno

Wherein Ripperton (and Lazy Fat partner Mirko Loko) meets Carl Craig on the dancefloor and a rumble is on. The 11-minute “Club Silencio” stars on one side and works a stripped and tripped percussion groove into a fine powder designed to get asses, well, stripping and tripping, I assume. Mission accomplished, then. The b-side, however, is where the real fun happens, as the title track appears in the original and C2 mixes, showing the two producers going head-to-head (sort of).

Ripperton’s original is a modulated beast that flanges its way through its first three minutes with a one-note riff and lots of knob-turning, unashamed of its near nudity. Then, suddenly, the groove snaps into focus and all hell breaks loose and the sizzle finally hits the steak, before some nice mellow washes at the end. Craig’s mix is loose’n’fonk-ee, with a truly ill hi-hat/scratch loop ushering in a deep and pong-ing analog riff, each part multiplying itself and sending chills up and down your spine, eyebrow, elbow, whatever. If you can’t move to this shit, you’re dead. Buy it now. Period.

Planet E / PE 65289-1
[Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


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