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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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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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 19, 2007

Smith N Hack – Space Warrior

12"2007Neo-Disco

Space is techno’s key fantasy. From Detroit to Moscow (via lower earth orbit), this is a music whose bedroomed machines have relentlessly beat out rhythms that dream of comet tales and gas giants. Starship Smith-N-Hack hits hyperspace blur right at this point, just as an eight bit melody rings out, and proceeds to do battle with the space invaders in a ship that looks like the Death Star gone disco – Darth’s daft mirror ball turned planetary assault machine.

“Space Warrior” begins with an ascending/descending eight-bit synth line which breaks into a pixelated rhythm just as the neon pads hit. When I play it loud, it makes the neighbour’s tomcat mewl in a way that suggests (as some have suspected) that cats are aliens after all. Or just horny and confused. Then the bassline grounds everything, colouring everything three shades more Italo for a moment until the lo-fi shenanigans of the “rayguns” start blasting away. There’s a touch of Legowelt at work in the madness, but none of the ironisation apparent in the work that Danny Wolfers relegates to the comments he makes around his music

If you can’t get the local felines going with “Space Warrior”, try them on the “Scratchapella” – without the drums holding all those rayguns carefully in place, the effect is the techno/laser-beam equivalent of an unmanned garden hose set to stun. “Falling Stars” begins very much like Roman Flügel’s remix of Audion’s “Just Fucking”, but quickly traverses any sexual fantasy to find itself among distant heavenly bodies. It glides beautifully, making it right across the galaxy in a little over nine minutes. Not bad for two geeks and their machines, is it? Forget all that new age twaddle, if you want to experience astral travel from the comfort of your own headphones/nightclub, this is just the (space) ticket.

Smith N Hack / Smith N Hack 03
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


September 18, 2007

Supermayer – Save The World

Remember the supergroup? It was a big conceptual thing a few decades back, but it still pops up every now and again. Here’s how it usually worked: a bunch of high pedigree rockers would get together, proclaim that they really “dug each other’s music,” book a bunch of studio time, get stoned out of their gourds, and more often than not, release an album of half-baked ideas and poorly executed jams that proceeded to shift millions of units based solely on the reputation of the players. Sometimes the idea actually worked—see Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and Derek & The Dominos. Sometimes it wouldn’t—see pretty much everyone else.

Diehard fans of the musicians in question usually lapped this stuff up, but somewhere in the back of their minds, they still felt somewhat let down more often than not. The problem was squarely on them—their expectations were simply, inevitably too high. No matter how great one of these supergroups sounded on paper, they couldn’t possibly live up to that sort of hype on record. Blaming the musicians, on the other hand, was a futile exercise. After all, they just wanted to hang out with some friends, play some music, and enjoy themselves. Can you really blame them for that?

Which brings us to the case of Supermayer, a supergroup-style collaboration between two of Kompakt’s biggest names: Michael Mayer and Superpitcher. And while the collaboration has more in common with the above than not—this is nothing if not a “fun” record—this is most certainly not a bad thing. If anything, Save the World is just the kind of project that Kompakt needed, given the (somewhat inexplicable) backlash the label has been taking of late. Too many have complained that Kompakt has taken to making records by numbers; Save the World is anything but your (stereo)typical Kompakt fare.

Just as the grooves of those ’70s albums are laden with artists just trying to have a good time and vibe with each other, so does Save the World exude a palatable sense of smiling, laughing musicians just having some fun and getting down, and most importantly, encouraging the listener to do so as well. Look no further than the first proper track on the album (after the spoken intro “Hey!”), “The Art of Letting Go”—the lyric tells the story of the album in a simple idea: over a grooving bass, chunky guitar chords, and some decidedly un-Kompakt sounds (are those horns? Melodica perhaps?), the gauntlet is thrown, “Let’s get to it / Relax / Let me go.” This is a first-class party record, assembled by two of techno’s foremost minds, and if the instruction is followed, you’ll have just as good a time listening as they obviously did making it.

With their mission statement firmly established, Supermayer proceed to circle the universe, capes flying, in search of the magic note, and while they never quite find it, the thrill of discovery is clearly the intent for our heroes (there’s even a comic book insert). There’s atmospheric dancefloor techno, there’s some light techno pop, some swinging indie bouncers, there’s vocals, there’s ambient interludes, there’s horns, there’s even a fucking gong. “The Lonesome King” is Martin Denny in Ralf and Florian’s studio; “Please Sunrise” recalls 808 State and YMO; “Two of Us” is a classic floor-filler laden with peaks and valleys; closer “Cocktails for Two” is a late-night comedown complete with shag carpeting and a disco diva perched on the love seat waiting for an afterhours tumble. It’s a gloriously unorganized mess, but all of it is so lovingly and skillfully done that it sounds far closer to some sort of mad genius.

Save the World is not a work of high art like The Magic Flute and it’s certainly not a pretentious epic like Kid A. It lives in its own skin and its comfortable there. The key to saving the world according to Supermayer is simple: lose the pressure and enjoy things for what they are, not what you expect them to be. There is an art to letting go, and they seem to have mastered it here, at least as much as such a thing can be mastered. They might not have saved the world, but Supermayer might just have saved your next house party.

Kompakt / KOMPAKTCD 61
[Listen]
[Todd Hutlock]


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 28, 2007

Future Loop Foundation – The Sea and the Sky

12"2007HouseNeo-Disco

The introduction of the operatic to the electronic is invariably a mixed moment. For Mark Barrott (aka Future Loop Foundation), this moment may tremble full of horns, strings, and soaring spirits, but it also shivers in the fear of past monsters, which the same arrangements of instruments and intentions often produce. Heaven and hell: think Moby. Think BT – late career BT. Are you inspired, or afraid?

Speaking of inspiration, the writer Paulo Coelho also seems to be a latent influence here, as there is something in Barrott’s music that strives to “overcome adversity”, “discover its true self”, and “become one with the infinite spirit,” all in the space of nine or so overblown minutes of symphonic dance. I remember a co-worker (who happened to be a BT fan) lending me a copy of Coelho’s The Alchemist. He kept badgering me: “What did you think? Didn’t you think it was wonderful?” I found myself at a loss. I thought it was one of the worst novels I’d ever read, but I also understood this as being in no small measure due to my hard kernel of cynicism and atheism, and I could also see just how much the book meant to him. “It was…good,” I said, “I think it taught me something new.”

Likewise with The Sea and the Sky: somebody’s going to get…something from all these swooshing strings and bombastic drum breaks. The original twists and builds to a rousing climax, like a sunburst (in extremely poor taste) that makes you think, “It’s coming, it’s coming!” Ashley Beedle’s remix re-structures matters within an epic house frame, offering patterns and repetitions that would make it the perfect incidental music for one of those highlight montages sports programs show during the Olympics. The Padded Cell remix dries things out a bit with a spare electro-disco re-slap, which, once the choir and the horns comes in, is the manic bearded other to Tolga Fidan’s depressive, clean-shaven horrorcore minimal. It’s actually not bad. Finally, TG’s “Angry Trucker Mix” offers up a very prog/minimal mix, replete with metallic tear-outs and a mids-heavy bass riff.

So, what can I say? Do you like BT? Do you like Paulo Coelho? Do you like your house painted in Wagnerian strings? Well then, maybe this one’s for you.

Louisiana Recordings / TAT 004V
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


August 1, 2007

Ilya Santana – Quasar

12"2007Neo-Disco

A few months ago, I had this to say about Discotized, one of Ilya’s last EPs: “You could locate this record somewhere between the Emperor Machine, Daniel Wang and Norwegian space disco, but what escapes that is the sedate, comforting groove here – no big ‘whoosh’ noises, no ‘frantic congas or tiresome solos’ – ‘Holding You’ is seven minutes long, but contains nothing superfluous.”

And, comfortingly perhaps, not much has changed here on Quasar, except the speeding of the proceedings. Maybe it’s all the slow-mo/po-mo Harvey disciples Santana is marketing his tracks at, but Quasar has definitely taken the BPM and the intensity down a few clicks. Play this at -8 and you could probably even mix it with Severed Heads’ “We Have Come to Bless this House” at the monged speed Harvey himself plays it at.

But as fun as “Quasar” is, to such a talented artist this is treading water. There’s no innovation going on here…the same old (albeit enjoyable) formulas are in full effect. But hey, nobody criticises AC/DC for being formulaic, do they? Interestingly, the B-side, which is initially far more arresting, ventures into the very territory that Daniel Wang derided – I don’t know about tiresome solos, but there’s more than a few frantic congas being brought to this particular party. But before you can say, “oh no, psytrance hippies”, Pete Herbert (he of Reverso 68) saves his side with a funkin’ bassline, a whole lotta wiggle, and a neat melody. Like the bellhop in Some Like it Hot, this track is “the way I like ’em – big ‘n sassy.”

Disciple of Groove / DOG 002
[Listen]
[Peter Chambers]


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]


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