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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November 26, 2007

Shit Robot – Chasm

12"2007DFAIndie-DanceNeo-Disco

For all the cock-rock expanse of the “Wrong Galaxy / Triumph” single, you could at least count on one thing – Shit Robot (aka Marcus Lambkin) wasn’t willing to paint in dollops of rock star excess. “Triumph” shared the blunted cosmic vibe that sunk Map of Africa’s album, but SR never sounded weighed down by the size of their tom-ticks and choirs – in fact, they sounded unusually limber.

The brood that opens “Chasm” doesn’t make it any easier to pin Lambkin down. Leaving the swarm of bees in the distance and shying away from the menacing shortcuts found in Vakant’s VST-patch-a-ya-ya, Shit Robot’s menace and melody sound absolutely ornate and anthemic, as the track vamps on a tin-drum, acid gurgles, and an arpeggiator set to the “Heater” shimmy. The B-side “Lonely Planet” sets its sights lower and recaptures the wide-eyed motorik expanse without resorting into bland homage. While neither side of Chasm will get the same tongue-wagging that has accompanied recent DFA signees Still Going and Holy Ghost, Lambkin might be even more deserving – his follow-up is a rung higher than his debut.

DFA / 2183
[Listen]
[Nate DeYoung]


September 11, 2007

Tussle – Alphabet Series R

Tussle have indie cred: Kit Clayton mastered their album, Rong music released their early EPs, and now Tomlab (home of Deerhoof & the Books) have offered a spot in their “Alphabet Series” of seven-inch EPs to the creative kraut/rock/frotting quartet. On the A, things start in a vein familiar to Trans-Am’s cosmically-inclined moments (like the opening to “Futureworld”), with a motorik jamathon that gathers steam and gradually gets ahead of itself.

It’s nice, but not as cute/irritating as the Yacht remix of “Second Guessing” on the flip, which takes a dosed-up kids choir and subjects them to a raucous attack of cut, paste, and loop. This being a 7″, both sides are pretty short, but Tussle have followed the injunction of Robert Plant and made it “every inch of their love”. To the metric among us, that’s 35.6cm of musical pleasure at stake here.

Tomlab / tom 89R
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


September 10, 2007

San Serac – Professional

It often seems that the sincere ones are the most susceptible to disappearing in the future. Is that ironic or realistic? I think back to the half-remembered NYC indie/new wave group My Favorite, who channeled and built upon the literate poetry and angst of The Smiths and New Order better than any other group I’ve heard. But there wasn’t anything flashy or shockingly innovative about My Favorite’s music, and the fact that they always wore their earnestness on their sleeves eventually sealed their fate to obscurity.

I bring up My Favorite in relation to San Serac because Professional makes a case for the two groups being kindred spirits (not to mention that SS did do a remix for My Favorite’s swansong, The Happiest Days Of Our Lives). However, San Serac, fitting more into the growing indie-dance community, has a more marketable flash in his pan to overcome tags of “sophistication” and “maturity”.

That flash comes from an deeper set of musical influences than your average Ed Banger types, moving beyond the standard Daft Punk aping and post-punk racket to also include a sincere love of ’80s R&B, Funk, Freestyle and, dare I say it, Yacht Rock. The slightly peevish vocals from SS mastermind Nat Rabb may not sound too different from a standard !!! or LCD Soundsystem record (even if he can do a good Bowie impression), but you never get the feeling he is putting you on, even as he is namedropping Luis Buñuel films, rhyming “commission” with “extradition”, and describing his plans for nihilstic love. This unbridled affection manifests itself in small ways throughout the record, but one of the key tip-offs is “The Black Monolith”, a rather heartfelt quiet storm number that could’ve easily been played for raised eyebrows and theatrical pastiche.

If there’s one criticism I might throw at Professional, its that some of the arrangements might be a bit overcooked for dance floor play, a qualm that is actually resolved by the CD’s addition of four dubbed out tracks (billed “for DJs only”) that follow the album proper. For the most part, San Serac has me excited about a fusion of indie rock and dance that is more sophisticated than the Modular or Kitsuné template. Garish and more distorted blog-house artists will get more words written about them, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a classier indie-dance record in 2007 than Professional.

Frogman Jake / FMJ 23
[Listen]
[Michael F. Gill]


June 26, 2007

Turzi – Seven Inch Allah

Three pretty different tracks from this French act, though they all could have ended up on Optimo’s Psyche Out cosmic/dance/kraut mix from two years ago had they existed then: the uneasy trans-european chug of “Amadeus” whose sixteenth-note pulse recalls the pinprick synths on Delia and Gavin’s “Rise” (a Psyche Out track itself); the blast of surfrock punk in “Are You Thinking About Jesus” which could have pinch-hit for any number of Tarantino soundtracks (and any number of directors QT aped in the process); and “Hippy Heart”, a downtempo demo of Turzi’s “Afghanistan”, and something you might confuse for a Beastie Boys instrumental or, if you’re feeling generous, a grittier Serge. I hate the namedrop review as much as you do, but it’s worth noting that all of these descriptors are very good things.

Record Makers / REC 39
[Listen]
[Nick Sylvester]


June 5, 2007

Michoacan – 2 Bullets (Glimmers/Ray Mang & DJ Harvey Remixes)

I confess, I haven’t heard the original, so I’ll avoid some kind of specious contextualising and cut to the record. First listens find me flinging clichés around: “going for broke”, “everything but the kitchen sink”. Closer ears and repeat recitals find smaller (but not lesser) rewards – neat edits, muppet noises, and a strangely effecting counterpoint of vertical layering and spacious horizontal unfolding. Neither the Glimmers nor Ray Mang deserve all their coolsie hype, but this is a remix to be reckoned with, sublimating a good-old “boots and pants” (that phrase again) rhythmentality to a fun-loving, effect flinging melodicity that comes up with more than enough bounce to the ounce to please kidz and headz alike.

Harvey’s mix drags us out of the ebony/chrome/fluoro-pink disco universe of the Glimmer/Mang version into some kind of swampy, headfuck psychedelica, somewhere between a German jam band and early Funkadelic warming up (just as the acid starts to settle in). Are you DJ enough to like this? You’ll get cred for trying. There’s something to like here in the woefully, wilfully purple passages – where’s the original? Where are the kidz? What happened to the dancefloor? You’re not my mother. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore here. Whether it’s a good trip for you probably depends on the colour of Eddie Hazel’s teeth, and whether they’re sharpening as you try to focus on them, to no avail.

Grayhound / GND 053
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


June 4, 2007

Justice – D.A.N.C.E.

I’m sure that there are moments of brilliance in the very hip French filter-metal-disco scene (see: “Killing in the Name Of” simultaneously killing a dancefloor and [possibly] killing a movement), but as I just let loose in the parenthetical above, I sincerely doubt this thing’s got more legs. Justice’s upcoming album proves that much in short order and, if it weren’t for “D.A.N.C.E,” I’d predict their downfall for sometime in mid-2008.

But here it is and I’m forced to point out that it’s kinda structured like a song (a feat for these guys), is much lighter than their previous speaker-blowing plod-fests, and actually bounces along like something that an actual human being might dance to. It’s as if someone got a hold of these guys after they made the track “Phantom,” which appears here as a B-side, and told them, “You know what would be cool for those DJ gigs you guys’ll be going to soon? Music that girls actually like. Music that has a tension between hard and soft. Music built for the floor – and not the blog.” Thank God they listened.

Ed Banger Records / ED 017
Because Music / BEC5772071
[Listen]
[Nina Phillips]


May 31, 2007

Prinzhorn Dance School – Up! Up! Up!

12"2007DFAIndie-Dance

Prinzhorn Dance School sounds like an innocuous enough name. The group might reject the typical publicity blitz, offering just the barest décor of a website, shadows instead of profiles, and are missing the 21st century business card – a myspace page. But leave it to the U.S. government to make your little hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Now accompanying their rejected Spring tour visas, Prinzhorn’s Sussex sneer and militant drumming suddenly have taken some terror-ridden overtones – “you are a space invader” indeed.

Which makes the new single, Up! Up! Up!, sound even funnier and more tragic in context. Prinzhorn certainly don’t go out of their way to strike the ominous pose that they could get away with given their last couple months. Instead, the retro-riding boy-girl two-piece gets road weary on the title track. Left with hoarse throats, the group’s chants become screams while they spend their days watching cockroaches and fishes. Somewhere along the way, Prinzhorn’s minimal no-wave blueprint gets stretched into a landscape. It’s only amplified by the weak toss-off of a b-side, “Hamworthy Sports And Leisure Center” – a song that reveals how Prinzhorn teeters on the edge of failure with every step. But with two great tracks under their belt (“Up! Up! Up!” & “Space Invader”), it’s time to bring on the album.

DFA / DFAEMIDJ 2170
[Listen]
[Nate DeYoung]


May 10, 2007

Passions – Emergency

From the onset, Passions’ debut single doesn’t have much going for it: a one sided 12″ from the new kid at Kitsune, a shared name with a dying NBC soap opera, and an “emo” tag signifying genre on MySpace. Despite these set-ups for failure, Passions (a.k.a. Mathhead of NYC’s Trouble and Bass crew) manages to succeed on some level. He cops a take-no-prisoners attitude from Kitsune’s most driving singles, using Ed Banger-ish bass (funny how both of these labels are becoming interchangable in sound) and fiery electro squelches to keep the bottom-heavy track moving. Sassy lewdness in the vein of Fox N’Wolf keeps the vocal samples on target, and add a heaping dose of Alter Ego’s “Rocker” and you’ve got your first single from Passions. While it’s got a general lack of direction, and the hooks become kind of repetitive by the end, the brash funkiness of “Emergency” makes it hard for one to completely dismiss it. Judging from this single and his remixes for the Teenagers and C.L.A.W.S., I’ll still be looking forward to hearing more from this enthusiastic guy.

Kitsune Music / KITSUNÉ 051
[Listen]
[Peter Lansky]


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