The first monthly round-up of all things electronic. In order to keep up to speed with the wealth of great music being released, it made sense to corral a selection of reviews into one handy feature. There’s no order of preference or style, just the good old fashioned alphabet technique. Enjoy!
Adverb ~ Periferico
Smooth techno music that brushes up against the minimalist tag on occasion (“Que Veo” being the most obvious example before the extra percussion kicks in), although the kick drum often feels a touch too woolly to be effectively compelling in the dance environment. I hope I’m wrong about this, incidentally, even on a decent stereo or pair of headphones it isn’t always easy to tell how a track will sound pounding out of a club’s PA at punishing volume, which is where Adverb’s music should be heard. The rest of the sound – washes of synth, undulating basslines and the occasional snare (or equivalent) – is well assembled around the 4 to the floor beat that the techno audience demand. No alarms, and no surprises here, then, just four tracks of pleasing efficiency.
Ambinate ~ No Matter EP
Ambinate’s name is a bit of a misdirection, unless I was the only person who assumed Adam adopted the name because he was making ambient music. There are two tracks of chilled-out calm, which are blissful and floaty enough to be compared favourably to the techno-ambient sounds of the Rising High label and are ideal to drink tea to. But these are the filling, for opening and closing the EP are a pair of “Sight” tracks, the first much more up-tempo, with strident beats and a confident manner, the latter slower but possessing more vitality than the middle pair. Both “Sight”s bring a further sense of familiarity to the listening experience, which is no bad thing at all; if you liked the sound originally, No Matter will fit neatly alongside your other electronica. If, on the other hand, you are too young to remember, then this is a crisp, well-made primer that whilst influenced by the past, doesn’t seek to Xerox it. Ambinate may draw on the past for this EP but he should be well worth following in the future.
EAU-DC ~ Nr2
Now, this is properly minimalist electronica, one can almost sense the way anything extraneous was carefully shaved off each track to render a near-perfect balance of co-existing sound and silence. Even the track titles had to give up some of their vowels. This is sleek techno in the tradition of Basic Channel, although less dubby; it seems that the duo of Jens Fischer and Thorsten Polomski have tended to pick their favourite electronic genres and strip them down to their barest essentials. Sensibly released in January, its mood fits the weather of the northern hemisphere superbly; the sounds within wear a suitably icy demeanour, not so much chill-out music as freezing cold. As such it is ideal for wrapping up warm and crunching through the snow to. The only caveat is “Rsme” where the duo attempt a minimalist jungle track and fail, which kind of spoils the hermetically sealed feel that the rest of the album engenders – all is made right by the subsequent track, closer “Estuthat”, though and if you want to risk taking your fingers out of their mittens, you can always skip a track.
Kostoglotov – Louis Althusser Knows Why My Heart Is Asunder
Louis might be aware of Kostoglotov’s malady but having died in 1990, the French philosopher isn’t really in a position to say. The music on this tape captures a mood of ineffable sadness though, so we are definitely aware that hearts are asunder, even if we’re not sure exactly why. Opening with the mournful arpeggio of an analogue synth, he gradually introduces layers of texture into the arrangement; a drone, a bassline, the clang of percussion, which reaches a swell of sound before swiftly dissolving. The second side unveils a puttery keyboard pattern that seems to be playing the rhythm, but not the tune of “The Gonk” from Dawn of the Dead, before splitting amoeba-like into multiple synths which eventually coalesce into a beat and a swirling cloud of atmospheric texture. The tape takes us on some journey, for despite remaining fairly downbeat and introspective throughout, it’s an immensely pleasurable listening experience. If you love cassette releases, grab this now, to these ears it’s an early contender for tape of the year.
Lexlabs ~ The Carpentry EP
OK, it’s pretty obvious from the title and cover what this is going to sound like, but Lexlabs is at least upfront about it, and overall makes a pretty good fist of capturing that elusive John Carpenter sound. This is his first release, having been making music for only about a year, and it’s a mighty promising start. In fact, somewhere along the line, any notion of his influences weighing too heavily on the music is forgotten and the listener can just enjoy the ride; this is simply electronic with a retro feel to it. Yes, maybe the producer behind it has watched Escape From New York more times than is healthy, but actually that doesn’t matter – Lexlabs is very clear minded in embracing his influences, and he is very successful at creating a sympathetic mood, and let’s face it, he’s much better at this than a number of his contemporaries.
Thursday Afternoon-esque tones, footsteps crunching through the snow… you know the drill, although, like Lexlabs above, Mark Ward manages to transcend his influences in fairly short order with the tasteful addition of field recordings (percussive bangs, birdsong, the strings of a piano or harp being plucked) and an experienced ear. For the main difference – beyond the actual sound – is that Ward has a few years on young Mr Lexlabs, although pleasingly they are making their first forays into electronic music at the same time. Ward has been playing guitar ‘for decades’, he says, but has only recently moved into the musica electronica thanks to his discovery of Ableton Live. He’s happiest with the opening “The Whole Rainy Stony Earth”, but second track “From Sea To Sierra” catches the ear more, being more of an active ambient piece with a guitar-sourced drone dominating the delicate splashes of synth work. But all four pieces have their merits and there’s an underlying sense of discovery that pervades the EP – I suspect that having had his Damascene moment, Mark Ward will be making up for lost time, and it’ll be worth dropping in to see where he goes next.
Samantha Glass ~ Rising Movements
As much of the finest electronic music has been produced by women recently, among them Julia Holter and Laurel Halo, it seems that there’s a few men trying to jump onto the bandwagon and get in touch with their feminine side. Samantha Glass is one such, a pseudonym of Beau Devereaux whose pretence lasts up until the moment he starts singing on the second track, in a John Maus-y timbre that is submerged amongst the analogue synth action. The five tracks on this tape are label as movements, with the idea presumably being that one track informs the next, or at the very least they are variations on a theme, which could well be a John Foxx B-side from the early 80s. But this approach means that all the tracks sit well next to each other, the standout being the attractive melody of “Movement 3” and the motorifik bassline on “4”. Let’s hear it for the boy!
Sculpture ~ Slime Code
Listening to the Sub Rosa compilations on the history of electronic music, though educational and informative, can be a touch time-consuming – so it’s good of Sculpture to compress the entire genre into – finally! –two sides of vinyl. I’m not sure whether that was their intention, but it certainly feels that way, with the result being a more rugged version of John Cage’s “Williams Mix”, with added bleeps. Sculpture’s method of putting these tracks together seems a touch eccentric (recorded live to 8-track, then dubbed onto tapes, then subjected to careful editing), but it’s remarkably effective, the different sounds merging – perhaps oozing is a better word, given the title – into each other to make a satisfying whole. Skipping merrily from the sound of a vintage jazz big band to contemporary ear-blasting industrial music via some lost voices plucked from the ether, it’s a record that should be heard on vinyl, as it really is incomplete without surface noise.
Various Artists ~ Percussion Lab: Cambio
Percussion Lab is a website you might already be familiar with, as they host DJ mixes, downloads, and all manner of other material from electronic producers. Running a free resource isn’t cheap, and the costs do mount up – fortunately Percussion Lab has a host of friends willing to contribute unreleased tracks to this album which, they hope, will ease the financial burden a bit (there’s also a contribution for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts). As is usually the way with electronic compilations, the overall result can be summed up as ‘variable’, but it’s a good cause and worth some of your hard-earned, especially if you ever visit the site. Here’s the general rule of thumb for these deals, though: the better known artists, Machinedrum, Daedelus and the like, will dust off a file that’s been sitting around for a while and send that in, confident that their fans will be queuing for a new track. Meanwhile, the relative unknowns – XI, Handshake; basically artists who share a name with an obscure 80s metal band – will bring their ‘A’ game, knowing that there are a whole bunch of new listeners ready to be won over. And so it proves, with only Sepalcure‘s “All You’ve Got To Lose” being the exception to the rule – one of the set’s headliners with a track to back it up, although it’s not as good as bottom-of-the-bill Archie Pelago‘s jazzy “Brewer’s Reflection”. If anything, though, it’s a crash-course in contemporary electronic music, and it’ll definitely introduce you to a few new musicians, as well as helping out a useful resource – until Wikipedia releases an album, this will do nicely.
Happy listening! (Jeremy Bye)