First it was the piano EPs, now the electronic EPs; this has been the year of the short releases. We received dozens of these in the first quarter, and here we highlight seven of the best.
The advantage of waiting a little bit is that it gives us time to see what stays in our iPods and what fades over time. We also have the advantage of receiving releases early, as much as a season ahead. It’s been quite some time since we received Andrew Cosentino‘s Country Western Star, but it’s been impossible to forget. It’s a cozy set, filled with soft beats and samples; Cosentino says “it’s a bit quiet; bought cheese instead of getting it mastered.” But the mastering is actually quite clear; even in the slightly muddled spots (“Variety Show”), the music sounds like a dubbed cassette, which is the right feel for this kind of release. It’s also ironic that this is the one he didn’t master, since it’s his best set to date, from the soothing, soft-hued hymn “Magpies” to the piano-and-whistling closer “Jeans Go With Everything.” The presence of unusual instruments (qinqin, hulusi, kalimba) lends the EP a distinctive flair, and the subtle use of dialogue samples assures that the EP can be played numerous times without any single impression dominating the ears. Love will last forever, intones a pastor on “Late Greats;” that’s a message we’d like to remember.
On a similar tip we find Shadow Blister‘s crackling EP V1. The Winnipeg artist obviously didn’t spend a lot of time on the cover (a gremlin in a Flintstones tunic) or the title, but the fact that the EP is called V1 means that we can expect more. Yet it’s similarly clear that the artist spent a lot of time on the music, a smooth blend of plunderphonics and beats. “Across the Stream” alone includes whistling (again!), flute, backwards masking, world music, and a talk show sample, setting the pace for what is to come. “Ferdinand” introduces orchestral and vocal loops, and sounds like a lost seventies track uncovered from a landfill. Multiple layers are present in every moment, and the cutting from sample to sample is spot-on. And when it comes to the one-minute, seven second “Journeys”, it’s all about the horns and bass. Would this translate well into the mainstream? Just ask Mark Ronson. All Shadow Blister needs is a snappy video, sample clearance and a slightly longer song. We’re happy with the way this artist is progressing and we’re already eager for V2.
Our third sample-and-beats EP hails from Sydney, Australia and is the debut work of Tonberrie, with exemplary album art from Mushroom Scientist. For many, listening to Post Black will be like listening to music from one’s childhood, albeit with more modern beats. A 70s vibe is apparent throughout, especially in the languid bass and textured strings. Wordless vocals are a common presence, but on “June” the phrase “to fall in love” seeps in, another retro musical theme, but perfect for spring. The time signature of “Time” is awkward in context of the other pieces, but it’s only 58 seconds long and as such can be overlooked. The title track is the go-to piece, beginning with a lovely piano loop and building into head-nodding bass inflections. But “June” is not far behind, and “Walk” is creeping up on us as well. It’s the most understated track on the EP, but it helps to solidify the mood, and with a short work such as this, mood is often the message. After eleven minutes, one’s spirit will be lifted; what more can one ask of an EP?
Next we come to the first of two pristine EPs from Hush Hush Records, both released this spring. Hue is the first EP from NY/LA producer Eaves, and it’s a memorable one. An industrial influence is apparent in the slow, menacing beats, rolling bass, and metallic samples, which include the raising and crashing of chains on opener “Florescent”. Inspired by architecture, these four tracks are powerful and precise, with crisp edges and sharp corners. Lead single “Hue” is the obvious highlight, marked by deep bass, rapid drums and a repeated loop of disturbed birds. The calculating manner in which the materials are used is a clear nod to the construction of a building; call this the math rock of the electronic set. While any of these tracks could be longer, Eaves knows when to cut them short; nothing is extended past its breaking point, and as a result, the listener is left wanting more. The cleanest cut, “Projector”, even includes micro-seconds of silence, honoring its title. We suspect this producer won’t remain silent for long.
Our second Hush Hush EP comes from Madrid’s Antonio Campos de Orellana (Hykuu), and like Hue, Keep Dreaming is marked by a creative use of samples. Opener “Escape to Paradise” contains a use of ocean wave as percussion, which is not a technique we’ve encountered before; the dueling high-low vocal snippets and shouted exclamation, “Go!” add harder textures. Lead single “Puzzle” makes the most of a popped can top, and although we have heard this before, it’s done particularly well here. The combination of ocean, pop-top and beat screams summer, and although it’s still a bit early for the beach, listening to this EP is like staring at the bikini on the wall, motivating us to get ready because it’s almost here. This happy anticipation is echoed on the colorful cover, an antidote to all the grey and white we’ve seen in recent months. While this may not be one’s soundtrack to Ibiza, it’s a lock for the backyard barbecue. Hykuu’s 13-minute EP, like the poetic form of haiku, may seem short on the surface, but creates a lasting impression. (April 20)
It may only be two tracks long, but Khaos‘ Nausea is one of the EPs that sticks in the mind long after it is played. Khaos is the new name for Kid Khaos (on his Soundcloud page, thatkidkhaos), a London producer who has been producing dark electronic tracks for years, including last year’s murky, haunted Nightmare EP. His new work for Hallowed Ground represents an upgraded accessibility: a little less gothic, a little more Portishead. He’s onto something here, a step beyond dubstep, post-industrial in nature, with the hard beats of those genres melded to the thick textures of drone. The slowed-down and sped-up sample of the title track is unnecessary, but the dark choir fits; the less obvious the studio intrusion, the more effective the track. “Dark Sea” succeeds with subtlety: a recessed female vocal, a chillwave echo and an extremely slow tempo. The background screeches and mid-piece strings drench the track in shades of noir. More EPs are expected from the artist later this year, all on Hallowed Ground.
The Arboretum label launched last year with Drøp’s deep and disturbing Vasundhara. Those who liked that EP will love Mogano‘s Sycomore. As a co-founder of the label, Mogano is in a perfect position to reflect its core interests, and Sycomore is doubly, inspired by Sumerian mythology and the Tree of Life. As such, it sounds more like mythology than trees: dark, mysterious, lurking. It’s the subtlest EP of our current batch, drawing on world music and even modern composition for its wide range of timbres. On “Retama”, ancient instruments provide the impression of primitive cultures gathered around a deep-rooted tree, dancing in ritualistic fashion. While watching the Spirograph mandala of the video (seen below), the viewer is drawn in like a worshipper. But “Annunaki” (also found here in a Kerridge remix) brings the modern drumbeat to the foreground, bridging the gap between the centuries. Digital bonus track “Dukkah” breaks the mood, shifting from deliberate to frenzied; it’s a fine track, but better as a bonus. With upcoming releases following the botanical theme – Fabio Perletta’s album will include a set of Japanese Sakura seeds – we’re excited to see where the label heads next. (April 14)