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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October 17, 2007

Ewan Pearson – Piece Work

The case of Ewan Pearson poses an interesting conundrum. He has never released any original music to the public under his own name, yet there are enough remixes available to compile this double CD set, all billed to him. So when do we consider a remixer to be an artist in his or her own right? Does Pearson do enough with these remixes to forge something that should be considered his own “work” despite the fact that he didn’t technically compose any of the music on it, at least in the traditional (and the music publishing) sense? Does the identity on the front of the label affect the way we react to the music inside? Are we at the point where we can consider remixers to be artists in the traditional sense of the word?

Well, while the voices may sound familiar in spots – the Flaming Lips (with the Chemical Brothers), Goldfrapp, Franz Ferdinand, Pet Shop Boys, and Depeche Mode among others – Pearson does lovingly make each track his own. His trademarks – beats that propel rather than overpower, deep beds of spaced-out keys and echoing effects, a strong sense of melody – are all here in spades. Every track buzzes with energy to spare, and each individual piece goes towards forging the larger whole of the ARTISTIC STATEMENT. Except, it’s a remix collection. See the rub?

Whatever brings you to Piece Work, there’s plenty here to keep you coming back, from the sinister S&M sax frenzy of Playgroup’s “Make It Happen” and the New Orderisms of Franz Ferdinand’s “Outsiders,” to the utterly sublime flotation of Cortney Tidwell’s “Don’t Let the Stars Keep Us Tangled Up” and the epic disco journey of Goldfrapp’s “Ride a White Horse.” But the overall feel and the sound and the real music here is Pearson’s and Pearson’s alone. Over the course of these 21 tracks, Pearson’s musical identity unfolds before your ears, and as a remixer and as an artist, there is no higher compliment to be paid.

I would argue yes, we can and we should consider the remixer the “artist” here, and I think most dance music enthusiasts have come to a similar conclusion over the years. However, to the vast majority of listeners, the name in lights is the only one that matters. Pearson’s work here can stand as Exhibit A in the court of public opinion on the matter, and thanks to the big names here, maybe this collection will make a dent in the public at large. Pearson’s particular brand of mutant tech house-cum-space-disco is easily identifiable on a four-track remix 12-inch – hearing it all together just reinforces the quality and consistency.

K7 / 221
[Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


September 18, 2007

Basteroid – Upset Ducks

At first it’s hard for me to imagine Upsets Ducks being used for dancing. I mean, I’ve felt that alchemy before, where physically encountering the music at proper volume in a dark and sweaty room consecrated to moving your ass makes even the most unassuming jams take on dimensions you couldn’t imagine in your most feverish headphone dreams, but Sebastian Riedl’s long-playing debut under the Basteroid name is too captivating in its insular, rough-and-smooth way to imagine listening communally, let alone dancing. The opening “16 Steps Away from the Stars” especially soft shoes its could-be-huge raft of interlocking burbles, melodic stabs, and static washes into something that seems to be continually turning away from the listener into somewhere more private and inaccessible; sure enough, having to be the pursuer just makes the attraction of the track fiercer.

Which isn’t to say at all that Basteroid sounds difficult or obtuse or dull; each track here packs all the “cloudbursts, breakdowns, and big hooks” that Peter Chambers summed up as the hallmarks of Areal’s sound in Beatz semi-recently. The artist and record that Riedl’s work here summons unavoidably to mind for those of us who are happy observers but not necessarily devotees of techno is The Field’s From Here We Go Sublime. But as good as that record is, the title is maybe even more appropriate for Upsets Ducks (although I wouldn’t want to lose Riedl’s sense of humor); Axel Willner’s opus opts for the in-your-face sparkle that makes his name so appropriate (think field as ground versus object, not plot of land) whereas the sneakier apogees of Basteroid get to the same heights by rougher, subtler, more sublime means.

Once Riedl hits the late period trifecta of “Pulsador de Alarma”/ “Allright” / “Un Dos Windows” it’s clear that although he’s not so headphone-pointillist as Willner he’s at least his match in crafting snarky movers that don’t so much burst at you as slyly insinuate themselves into your hindbrain. Like a lot of listeners normally so devoted to the Word, or at least the Voice, I can’t say I can actually hum any melodies even after weeks of devoted (obsessive?) listening, but I do find its steady, building pulse threading its way into more and more of my waking life.

Even as the construction of this album apparently disturbed the waterfowl outside his studio (especially the buzzy, grainy “Attention: Upsets Ducks,” I’d imagine), Riedl was crafting a near seamless 70 minutes that deserves to rival Willner’s big debut for the affections of those who normally listen to things with guitars in them.

I lack the technical or genre vocabulary to communicate to the diehards the difference in technique between, I can only talk about emotion: The Field is more like the sensation of sunshine on your face, a train ride to a new city, leaning in to kiss someone; Basteroid evokes instead the feeling of finally leaving work for the day, walking alone through your city late at night, falling asleep to the muted sound of the party next door. That the former is more obviously, maybe even aggressively ‘good’ as a set of signifiers is true, but there’s at least as much space (if not more) in my life for the latter. Riedl is definitely still capable of tearing up a dancefloor but he along with his contemporaries have finally learned the hard lessons of techno’s rich history of trying to make albums: how to craft an experience beyond that of getting up and moving, while still allowing the latter response. The result is rich and compelling enough to warrant repeated listens even from the neophytes.

Areal / AREALCD 6
[Listen]
[Ian Mathers]


September 12, 2007

Lopazz – Fuck Me!

A contemporary quandary: if a piece of music isn’t on Discogs, does it exist? I’m beginning to wonder the same thing about myself: without the mirror of myself on Facebook or Myspace (I refuse, I refuse), it’s easy to forget that you “are”. But here is Gigolo #211, a three track EP not noted by Discogs (likely because it’s an internet-only release,) but written by Lopazz in collaboration with Deafny Moon and Savas Pascadilis.

In moving to Gigolo, Lopazz has done the expected and grown in sawteeth and electroid muscles, producing three different tracks that attack the need to groove from three distinct angles: one spooky, one rumble-buzzing, and one poppy. “Fuck Me!” represents the first of the three takes for a dark Ivan Smagghe-ish electro-pop number where the lyric “hold your hand” could easily be mistaken for “gland” in the back room of some seedy nightspot. “What Should I Do” meanwhile rolls over itself like a clumsy polarbear tripping over Metope’s Nord Micromodular, while “Watermelon Man” takes Savas Pascadilis’ voice for a ride into the foolish world of slap-bass minimal disco, creating something not unlike pre-neotrance Schaben and Voss. This is all good stuff, but there’s some intangible factor missing for me to really recommend it. And judging by the high standard set by Lopazz’ recent material, this single is likely to be of middling interest. If indeed it does exist.


International Deejay Gigolos
/ Gigolo 211
[Listen]
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


August 23, 2007

Will Saul & Lee Jones – Hug the Scary

Best served with a sigh, the “micro-epic” genre is as microscopic and widespread as a virus. It’s an oxymoron, but if I’m allowed to be so blunt, such fucktard names are known to have staying power (hello IDM!). And that doesn’t account for the reserve force of progressive house rejects like James Holden and Minilogue, who lovingly craft odes against the law of normal distribution – think minimal and maximal squashed together.

If there’s one image and tone that seems to inspire these folks, it’s that of looking straight up – either as becoming bubble-laden dolls stuck in bathtubs or fluorescent skies. The latest of these neck-breakers comes from Aus label-boss Will Saul and Lee Jones (of My My fame). While “Hug the Scary” might have the bleary-eyes to run into flowers, the track also has a gravity that won’t allow it to expand and contract as far as pulling muscles.

I’d be hard pressed to mistake “Scary” for cotton candy despite its flickering arpeggiator and billowing melodies. Instead there’s a grace to the track that hits tempered minor keys as well as blistering swells without sounding disjointed for a second. Which is as good of a description as any for Partial Art’s recent single, “Trauermusik.” Partial Arts, aka Ewan Pearson and Al Usher, do not derail the momentum of the title cut, but they streamline it and add enough fizz to leave you hiccupping.

Aus Music / AUS0707
[Listen]
[Nate DeYoung]


August 14, 2007

The Chemical Brothers – Do it Again (Remixes)

Recently, my sister decided to through a ’90s retro party, something that has only become conceivable in the past few years. Until about 2004, the 90s, with all its big hair, baggy trousers and bad colour combos (lime green and tangerine?!) was still too fresh a scar, too painful a memory to be safely retro. Planning the programming for the party, something emerged – the ’90s feels like two eras with a brief threshold in the middle. For me at least, the ’90s begins in 1989 with acid-house and early techno crossovers, hip-house, New Jack Swing, “rap” (prior to its being hip-hop) and the last of the Stock, Aitken, and Waterman hits. 1995 feels like the threshold – “respectable” electronica like Autechre and Aphex Twin finds its way onto the cassette comps of indie kids and groups like the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers suddenly sit comfortably beside the Smashing Pumpkins and Tool on the rotating platters of 5CD mini-systems at teen parties. My sister and I pulled out all our old ’90s comps and gave some of the classics a rinse. The Prodigy still have brutal energy and addictive hooks, Fatboy Slim sounds even more irritating than it was, and KLF’s The White Room is an unqualified masterpiece. The Chemical Brothers’ albums get worse and worse as the nineties climb to the highpoint (lowpoint?) of “pre-millenium tension” – Exit Planet Dust is still their best work, while by 1999 the tracks rely on bombastic impacts to the detriment of groove and flow.

As if conceding the need to ride the coat-tails of the swiftly departing zeitgeist, the Brothers have enlisted the talents of Oliver Huntemann and Matthew Dear (here in Audion guise) to overcome redundancy. Huntemann’s track is lacklustre and dull – it takes little of the original version’s hyperactivity and replaces it with your typical Huntemann/Bodzin big rolling synth. The Audion version is actually closer to recent False material in style, but unlike the tracks on the outstanding 2007 record (a record that actually is 2007), this re-touch is relatively bland, with none of the compelling spookiness of the twisted medleys in the murk. The last song on the Brothers’ new album is called “The Pills won’t Help you Now”, and I can’t help but think this is a self-reproach (or maybe it should be) – but on “Do it Again” the lyrical content suggests the opposite. It details the misadventures of some hapless drugged punter in a way that seems to celebrate the very thing it’s condemning; this is probably not what they were aiming for, and the overall impression is “who cares?” more than “do it again”.

Virgin / Astralwerks / 3941480 / ASTR 92726
[Listen]
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


August 9, 2007

Henrik B feat. Terri B – Soul Heaven

You know, I could carefully describe “Soul Heaven” to you. And tell you how it’s a cover of a seven-year-old house track by The Goodfellas, one that was comped on bigtime labels like Ministry of Sound, Hed Kandi, and Azuli, not to mention the UK label named after it. I’d also want you to know how well Henrik B., formerly a producer of schranz-style techno, has moved into loved-up funky house (check out the difference between “Airwalk” and “The Wound”).

But there’s a reason why these big Ibiza and funky house cuts don’t get written up critically: they can be a bit brainless. So often they are all about the euphoria of the moment, and their broad and obvious strokes fall apart under any closer inspection. It seems futile, even silly to say things like “hmm, the original mix could almost be a Ame/Sydenham production, if they were trying to be Joey Negro,” or to rave about the Fonzeralli remix being “the crossover anthem Rex The Dog will never have.” All I know is that I feel pretty giddy after listening to it, which is a hollow sentiment that doesn’t serve you well, fair reader. So let’s act like this review never happened. But considered yourself informed.

Boss / BOS 067AB / 067CD
[Listen]
[Listen]
[Michael F. Gill]


July 31, 2007

Naughty – World EP

Recently, I feel like I’ve been overpraising records. A niggling brain loop returns to me for the nth time, saying “You should pan something, you’re losing your critical faculty.” But then, what should I pan? Maybe it’s a sign of narrowness, of only listening to what you like – of course you’re gonna give it a positive spin. Or maybe, just maybe, the releases of late have been solid gold. No doubt there’s elements of all of the above floating around in the mix, but I can say for certain (as certain as any provisional judgement can be) that Naughty has come up with one of his best, which (given his standard) makes it a shoe-in for one of the better tracks of the year so far.

The EP’s songtitles are likely a wordplay based on Double’s “Woman of the World”, an old 1983 track that has had a recent caning after inclusion, first on DJ Harvey’s Sarcastic Disco mix, then Ame’s Mixing, the Permanent Vacation compilation, and the extremely popular (and highly accomplished) DJ Kicks mix from Henrik Schwarz. “World of a Man” (nominally the B-side) opens like a very “big” Ananda track, slowly unfurling with rhythmic synth stabs and a blunt kick dug in below. In fact, the Ananda comparison holds throughout – there’s a definite nano-trance undertow pulling the whole kaboodle out into a sea of dance. It’s a nice track, but it’s not why you should buy this EP…that would be the A-side.

“The World of a Woman” proclaims itself from the first bar, looping four bars from the grounding groove of “Woman of the World”, but quickly twisting things in a very Naughty direction, using a soft rounded pad with a three note ascending melody to contrast with the sawtooth bassline. But what a melody! There are shades of old-school Luciano (like the sparkling Capricciosa EP on Bruchstuecke) in the melodics, but with big, trucking rhythms. There’s elements of Italo, Balearic, and early 90s house, but it’s all so beautifully harmonised. I’ve been listening to this several times a day for the past week or so, and remain entranced.

Moodmusic / MOOD 053
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


July 3, 2007

Zander VT – Dig Your Own Rave

Redshape’s remix of “Then and Before” is one of those heavily touted tracks that makes me wonder if I’ve become the grump that cries wolf. Doused in the best tricks that Carl Craig has to offer, “Then and Before” has the build-build-build formula that storms dancefloors as well as offers a few head rushes along the way. But to me, it mistakes a “willingness to please” for pleasure. Each breakdown just sounds so amiable when it should bite, every string swoons when it should chop.

With my prickly attitude towards Redshape’s remix, I wonder how I can give a free pass to a song named “Dig Your Own Rave.” Zander VT’s title cut here does wobble in the mid-frequency pleasure-center – the spot that makes kids go wild for dance music in places where the kids don’t typically go wild or dance to music. But “Dig Your Own Rave” doesn’t hit that spot hard enough. It caresses, gives room (or air) to expand and contract, to breathe. And when it expands, with cubist handclaps and just the slightest touch of schaeffel, every flourish is not just earned but sounds necessary. Since all of this is coming from me, I’d like to point out that even liars tell the truth sometimes.

Memo / MEM06
[Listen]
[Nate DeYoung]


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