February 27, 2008

Bits & Pieces: Jan/Feb 2008

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


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.


December 7, 2007

Bruno Pronsato – At Home I’m a Tourist

It started as a curiosity – something you might or might not hear if you squinted your ears just right at the speakers. Steven Ford (aka Bruno Pronsato) once played drums for a punk-rock/speed-metal band. Against the steady rate of singles for minimal labels like Orac, Philpot and Telegraph, that fact might have stayed a footnote in the producer’s biography. But Bruno’s latest work for Hello?Repeat has seen the musician ebb back wholeheartedly into the groove. His debut for Hello?Repeat, “Wade in the Water, Children,” was a track blown apart and left to see how sparse minimal techno could go, held together by the barest drawl of a bassline. And there’s little hyperbole to that description – try dancing to it.

With “At Home I’m a Tourist,” the first single from Bruno Pronsato’s upcoming album Why Can’t We Be Like Us, he takes the opposite approach: the drums are front & center, percussion is cascading from every corner, and there’s a drone not too far from the one you hear out of movie-theater speakers over-cranked during a horror film. There are handclaps too, but they’re all gauzed and disoriented, and as far away from the DFA snap as you could get.

It’d be tempting to describe the track as funky or loose – and neither adjective would be technically wrong – but they’d still be entirely wrong in spirit. Instead, “At Home I’m a Tourist” is full of blemishes – little creases, tics and wear in a genre that is all too willing to erase traces of humanity. It might be littered with the abject sigh of reversed strings but what’s actually eerie is how easy it nuzzles into your head without a proper melody in sight.

Hello? Repeat / HELLO 009LTD
[Nate DeYoung]

A brief interview with Steven Ford about “At Home I’m a Tourist” follows. (more…)

November 9, 2007

dOP – Between the Blues

For a group that seemingly keeps both hands on the plow, dOP’s shamble-house is pretty sure-footed on “Allo Boom Boom.” Not wasting a second for atmosphere, the group gives one perfunctory chime and horn-swell before burrowing into their twisted drum-circle of a bassline. It’s tempting to call the rest of the track whimsical, as its quirks and builds disappear before your ears like a cosmic sandwich with less drugs. This is pretty much the type of humor and sound I expected Cobblestone Jazz to have before I, you know, actually heard them.

And with dOP’s background in hiphop, it’s easy to pair Between the Blues with another hip-hop-turned-house irreverent, DJ Koze. But let me offer a key difference – while Koze was figuring the most ergonomically sound way to stuff a tongue in his cheek, dOP were cracking up over jokes that begin with “like a mouse on a nipple…strolling.” And let me say, the trio have grown up to become fine gents because of it. Point in fact: I’d already worn out “Allo Boom Boom” and the sea-sick wallop of the Noze-assisted “Dopamen” well before the time I actually got around to listening to the predictable come-down of the title track.

Circus Company / CCS 022
[Nate DeYoung]

October 15, 2007

Trentemøller – The Trentemøller Chronicles

Anders Trentemøller’s second full-length release follows in the footsteps of his first (The Last Resort on Poker Flat) in that it too is released as a double CD set. As the name suggests, however, this is mainly previously released material: one disc is a mix of Trentemøller’s tracks (and one remix of a track by Klovn), including some new and exclusive songs, and the second is a collection of key remixes of other artists, including The Knife, Robyn, Moby, and Mathias Schaffhäuser. While longtime followers may be frustrated by the lack of new material, the convenience factor of the CD format and general quality of the tracks seems to be a pretty even trade.

Trentemøller may be treading water with this release, but at least he can’t be accused of offering up the dregs; his mix ebbs and throbs with his organic fusion style, melding live instruments with clanging electronic sounds, beats, and lots of ambience for a spacious, yet danceable experience that works equally well in the big room/cabinets and the easy chair/headphones. Moving from the chilly to the frenetic and back again, this mix is perhaps the most accurate large-scale musical statement Trentemøller has made to date, moreso even than Last Resort, which for all its appeal still got lost in the trees on occasion.

In the relatively propulsive format of the mix CD, however, Trentemøller keeps things moving and shaking with enough inertia so as to not encourage fast-forwarding, yet still provides enough tempo and stylistic changes to maintain interest. Bouncing effortlessly from the funeral-paced, Cure-esque “Blood in the Streets,” to the sultry, pulsating “Moan,” to the purist techno of “Killer Kat” and “Rykketid,” Trentemøller clearly knows how to weave his own catalog into an appealing package, as well he should. Maybe he should mix all his albums from here on out.

As expected, the remix CD doesn’t hang together nearly so well, but the tracks are unified by Trentemøller’s hand at the production wheel. He selected well, choosing tracks that represent the different sides of his style well – Schaffhäuser’s “Coincidance” is a sleek, steely beast; the Knife’s “We Share Our Mother’s Health” is twisted industrial disco; Filur’s “You and I” is Basic Channel fronted by a house diva; Robyn’s “Konichiwa Bitches” is a girl-group electro beatdown. Trentemøller doesn’t shy away from vocals either, retaining a lot more of the original songs’ feel and identity – another example of his collaborative mindset that led to his trademarked sound. The result is more like a well-chosen compilation than a cookie-cuttered vanity project.

For as wonderful as much of the material on Chronicles is, it is rather frustrating to be made to purchase an entire two-disc set just to get the few new cuts and a (admittedly rather nice) mix; the option of a separate vinyl EP with the new cuts would have been nice for fans and collectors, but this is a minor complaint. Those looking for living, breathing dance music with some real depth and genuine tunes will undoubtedly be charmed by much of what’s on offer across this set.

Audiomatique / AMCD 02
[Todd Hutlock]

October 8, 2007

Cobblestone Jazz – 23 Seconds

Techno and jazz. On the face of it, it’s two genres of music that have little to do with one another. But ever since techno emerged out of Detroit in the late ’70s and early ’80s, artists have been trying to combine the two. Carl Craig’s Innerzone Orchestra project featured Francisco Mora, Craig Taborn, and Rodney Whitaker to name but a few, while Underground Resistance has proffered the idea of Hi-tech Jazz as their update on the form. To these ears, however, it’s always been hit and miss (with the focus on the latter). There’s something inherently awkward about grafting genres onto one another – and when it’s done properly it usually ends up being called something else entirely.

So leave it to three white Canadians to do it right, eh? Mathew Jonson, Danuel Tate, and Tyger Dhula are childhood friends from Vancouver, who have seemingly figured out what’s eluded producers for years – how to mix improvisatory live elements with a booming four-to-the-floor beat. It’s simple, apparently. Take filtered synth basslines, a few mutable elements that work within an easy harmonic framework, and a steady drum to wrap it all around.Those mutable elements are usually what each track lives and dies on: for “W” the trio works with a vocoder and a percolating synth line, while “Lime in Da Coconut” utilizes a rapidly evolving melody that sounds like the aural equivalent of a “Stars” Windows 3.1 screensaver. “Slap the Back” and “23 Seconds,” however, repeat past success to diminishing effect near the album’s end. It’s a tightrope: the frequently employed vocoder that makes “Peace Offering” sing weighs down “Change Your Apesuit” and the indelible groove of “Saturday Night” is almost entirely absent from “Hired Touch.”

As a long-time fan, it’s hard not to count 23 Seconds as a bit of a disappointment. The trio’s singles on Wagon Repair have been of such high quality that anything less than excellence seems unthinkable. When the trio find an uninspiring theme to work around for seven or eight (very long) minutes or so, it’s a taste issue, rather than a talent one. Cobblestone, as you might expect from the lengthy songs and minimal amount of elements to each, are a powerful live experience and that’s still the way they’re best heard. 23 Seconds is just a reminder – and a handy collection for those who still fear vinyl and mp3s.

K7 / 223
[Nina Phillips]

October 4, 2007

Soul Capsule – Waiting 4 A Way

For their first single as Soul Capsule in six years, Thomas Melchior and Peter “Baby Ford” Adshead deliver not so much a set of DJ tools but something similar to an “open source code” of minimal techno. It’s wonderful to hear an EP that builds out of its own heritage, bringing the warm waves straight out of the depths of the circuits they’ve been coursing through for almost fifteen years.

Like a lot of his recent solo tracks, Baby Ford’s voice comperes the whole event ? he’s a quiet master of ceremonies who murmurs, whispers, and coaxes you through the auroral atmosphere like some kind of positively charged Leonard Cohen. As evidenced on the long and winding title cut, Ford’s influence on Melchior’s style is akin to the flattening of a wiggling arc – he basically gets Tommy to turn the brightness of his space-dusted melodies inwards. B-Side “Beauty and the Beat” brings the sound closer to the epic, deep minimal techno explored at length on Ford’s Sacred Machine – a machine that wills the eternal return of a perfectly pitched and filtered kick drum. A repetition without gravity. Welcome back, guys.

Perlon / PERL 63
[Peter Chambers]

September 21, 2007

Ricardo Villalobos – Fabric 36

Fabric 36—announced years ago—has become the venerated mix series’ most anticipated disc. But in the announcement, Ricardo slipped in that he “prefers for it to be treated like a normal mix CD, with no hype.” Sure. Right. But, then again, take a quick listen to it: because despite the inevitable hype and a cover only a goth could love, Fabric 36 sounds almost carefree enough to actually live up to his modest hopes.

There’s been no lack of swipes at Ricardo Villalobos’ self-indulgence (cue this review’s gratuitous mention of Fizheuer Zieheuer), but Villalobos may be trying to save “self-indulgence” from derogatory connotations one release at a time. In his latest, what’s difficult to miss isn’t that he scraps the DJ mix as an outpouring of free publicity (for other artists) but that the mix is the rare modern entity that forces you to listen to an album as a whole. Fabric 36 has highlights but no singles—a series of tracks with only one order. And as imposing as that sounds, it only becomes an obvious fact when you try to listen to parts outside the mix itself.

Thankfully, it’s easy to get lost in the actual mix of the CD. There’s a lightness of touch throughout, leaving sections where Villalobos can transition from the introductory yelps of “Farenzer House” into the taut bass stabs of “Mecker” without batting an eye. In the midst of that section, there’s also a nudging synthpad that fleshes itself out five minutes later in the anthemic pop-rush of “4 Wheel Drive.” With Fabric 36, Villalobos has refined the volatile tangents of “Achso”—tracks are just as rambunctious and twisting, but also ebb with a purpose and destination.

That’s also a pretty apt description for this year’s earlier “album-mix” from False. But 2007, despite its breadth of textures, sounds one-note compared to the variety of rhythm and idiosyncrasies here. If 2007 was busy stumbling and scraping itself on concrete sidewalks, then Fabric 36 is a drunken party-host that introduces herself as “Moist.” And she’s not alone on the album’s centerpiece, “Andruic & Japan.” Accompanied by a personal Japanese drummer who blows his nose through a harmonica, she spouts anecdotes (about marriage, dead chickens, etc.) to either invisible guests or to herself—it depends on how demented you think she is.

Either way, she, like Villalobos, doesn’t seem to take herself too seriously here. Ricardo doesn’t ham it up on Fabric 36, but with tracks like the joyful splinter of “You Won’t Tell Me” and the celebratory finale of “Premier Encuentro Latino-Americano,” he sounds all but ready to throw away his cultivated mystique for something a little more pleasurable. And I’m still ready to indulge him a little more.

Fabric / FABRIC 71
[Nate DeYoung]

September 5, 2007

Trio of Five

Here’s some recent Beatz-related reviews from the main Stylus site:

Tobias Thomas – Please Please Please (Kompakt)
Kaito – Contact to the Spirits (Kompakt)

Nina Phillips: Thomas is too busy crafting to see the dancers looking back at him from the floor. No wonder this was mixed live—in an empty dance club in Cologne.

V/A – Grand Cru 2007 (Connaisseur)
V/A – Rekids One (Rekids)

Nina Phillips: If you build bangers, they will come.

Wiley – Playtime Is Over
(Big Dada)

Chris Gaerig: Playtime Is Over proves that Wiley truly does run the grime game. Hell, he’s the only one left.

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
[Nate DeYoung]

Next Page »