February 27, 2008

Bits & Pieces: Jan/Feb 2008

Michael F. Gill runs through 20 choice tracks from the past couple months, with soundclips…

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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 30, 2007

Burial – Ghost Hardware

12"2007Dubstep

Why the urge – I ask guilty of it myself – to contextualize the songs we hear, to categorize them right away, to do anything beyond talk in terms of the surprises we encounter in songs, the moods they put us in, and the reasons these might be so? The dialogue between rhythm and sound is so simple, yet we consistently overthink it and insist on making things more difficult for ourselves, whether to make stupid word counts (but never words count) or to obscure music’s basic sensuality with histories to be understood, discographies to be devoured. Anybody that tells you this gig is like dancing about architecture is a worthless writer and an absolute fool.

This 12″ is the follow-up to Burial’s self-titled “dubstep” LP from last year. These three songs feature unsteady rhythms that roll like banged-up wheels of hip-hop steel. It’s infuriating to listen to this metallic syncopation at first, because it’s so averse to headnods, and the accents are hard to pinpoint. The beat in “Shutta” is somewhere between 8/8 and 17/8 – I can’t tell – and there’s a series of three soft snare cracks in “Ghost Hardware” that seem to come out of nowhere again and again, just a split-second off from where they seem like they want to be. It’s not violent but it’s uncomfortable.

You don’t get a vocal hook anywhere either, or at least a complete one, so there’s not much of an anchor in this mess of rhythm. Instead Burial cuts up vocal tracks into short snippets (an Aguilera-like “Love you” and a Whitney-like “Yeah”) and orphans them in a fog filled with crackles, sizzles, and interminable echo. If you can imagine yourself cooking bacon in a forest somewhere at night, and every so often just shouting a bit from “Genie in a Bottle” because you thought you heard a motorcycle engine in the distance, you’re halfway there: alone but not yet lonely, fearful but not entirely hopeless.

The “love you” snippet stuff seems like such a self-imposed challenge for Burial too, i.e. How can I not make this sound too saccharine or cloying. I don’t know why it doesn’t bother me more, but I’m guessing Burial’s mixing has a lot to do with it: his kicks are never too pronounced, and the occasional turbo-skids of bass are always faint, hinting at something greater but never winding up front and center. Some sounds refuse to bring attention to themselves, others don’t have the energy to do so anymore, but try in vain regardless. Bleak stuff. Is it possible to mourn a sound?

Hyperdub / HDB 004
[Listen]
[Nick Sylvester]


March 14, 2007

Mundo – Still Stand Rasta / Hear Dis

12"2007Dubstep

Dallas (and Houston, actually) had a strong rave scene back in the day, but it’s surprising to hear of a sound as introspective and (dare I say it) un-American as dubstep comin’ straight out of a town most people still associate with rich hicks high on oil money. Yet this fusion of ragga, two-step garage and dub has won enough converts down here that Mundo can have his own music, label, and club night, so something good must be going on. This double-A sider is pretty ample proof of the why, if not the how. “Still Stand Rasta” is a disorientating journey through a cauldron of bubbles, bouncing and careening off each other to the tempo of a skittering flanged-out beat. The flip, “Hear Dis,” is just as tactile but a bit less engaging—a drawn-out and manipulated skank played against a bit of bwoyish nonsense. The most interesting thing going on is the space between the elements, but it’s not enough to drive the tune out of neutral.

Dub Assembly / DA 001EP
[Listen]
[Mallory O’Donnell]


March 2, 2007

Mala – Bury Da Bwoy / Hunter

12"2007Dubstep

I know next to nothing about dubstep, but the little I’ve heard is nothing if not hypnotic. Sometimes to a fault: Burial hypnotizes me right to sleep. Mala (of the Digital Mystikz) avoids that neatly with variations of elements cycling in and out of the kind-bud haze, different hands reaching out and grabbing alternate parts of your anatomy. The effect is slightly unsettling, but in an enjoyable way. Of the two tracks, “Hunter” is a bit closer to what the mind would categorize away as “dub,” though the huge distorted bassline remains somewhere off in the distance, never threatening your speakers. Instead the eccentric staccato clicks and dry thumping of the drums dominates, while a perplexing film sample intrudes twice. “Bury the Bwoy” is slightly more dizzy and creepy, jazz on goofballs rolling into the wrong part of town at the wrong time of night. Forward-thinking and elegantly disturbing material.

DMZ / DMZ 011
[Listen]
[Mallory O’Donnell]