Beats Per Month: March 2014
In our BPM column, we review a clutch of the most intriguing electronic music currently on offer. This month, Louise Brailey on EeOo, Evian Christ, Minor Science, Planningtorock, Untold and the new compilation from Power Vacuum.
Title: Workout EP
Label: Unknown to the Unknown
Format (release date): 12-inch/digital (March 7th)
UTTU have always been tricky to locate on the map, the label’s stylistic jump cuts from one release to the next almost analogous with the label’s first incarnation as a YouTube channel. Still, this EP by Dubliner EeOo, aka Ian McDonnell who’s also one half of Lakker, has moments which could lay claim to being some of strangest music released under the UTTU banner. Whereas McDonnell’s first EeOo EP had track titles like “Haunted Dancefloor” and a propensity for garage syncopations and drifts of synths that sounded like the wind whistling through long-abandoned clubs, opener “Calc” sees McDonnell shift his archeologist’s eye to the less voguish era of tear-out Belgian rave imports. The result is splendid, chewing up the Anasthasia riff and gobs it out as putty to be slackened and mangled over crippled breakbeats and silvery slithers of helium vocals. That the track devolves into breathless hoover spasms and squealing stabs is, by the laws of EeOo’s odd world, perfectly natural.
By contrast, “Workout” has few obvious reference points: a spasming, dry kick wading through powdery smear of white noise and synths that squeal like fingers on wet glass. These reduced adornments are barely enough to keep it from sputtering straight back into the static after five awkward but brilliant minutes. While the rest of the EP is more reigned in, there’s still devillish detailing: “Battery Baby” and “We Are All the Same” are both beligerant house tracks, the latter applying spidery, Zomby-esque synths tweaking like unexpected fingers on exposed flesh, the former collapsing into chest cavity wobble bass. Stay freaky, EeOo. The freakier the better.
limited edition vinyl/digital (March 17th)
In 2011 Evian Christ was a publicity shy producer with a YouTube account and a singular, arctic strain of bass music that borrowed liberally from ambient, juke and Tyga. Now, having been headhunted by Kanye for Yeezus, the man we now know is Joshua Leary is ragging on Burial with piss-take selfies and taking the maximalist route that’s bound to get those TNGHT comparisons flowing. Fame eh?
“Salt Carousel” self-consciously opens with the kind of tundra soundscape that defined Kings and Men before launching into a knotty scree, all chest-beating vocal samples, burnt rubber synths and busy tones lost deep in the mix. “Fuck Idol” dials things back down, an ascending synth figure and snare fills that seem strangely out of place against the otherwise minimalist production—an attempt to nail the earworm minimalism of something like Hudson Mohawk’s “CBat” or, more accurately, “Bugg’n”. While “Propeller” is easy to overlook, Leary finds his teeth again on “Waterfall”, a punch-drunk and mangled piece of chrome-plated weaponry that could almost come out on Fade To Mind—give or take point where the metal yard yammering cracks open to reveal Dustin O’Halloran-style piano. It’s a startling piece that reminds you why Evian Christ is so special, and that the chill that has radiated from his work is still very much there, albeit more cocaine than polar.
12-inch (available now)
Minor Science is EB writer Angus Finlayson and no, we won’t make a joke about music writers rarely being great music makers as that’s already been done. However, we will say this debut release, out on Trilogy Tapes, gives the lie to the thing we won’t say. To be honest, we were sold with the draggy rework of “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin, (given away free but now removed) but this is a far more grown-up and strange affair. Central to this EP is “Hapless”, a louche piece of condemned house which occupies similarly toxic terrain as Opit’s Milyoo. Like a lot of this decayed house music, it pivots on splintered joints: a tripped out pitch and swell of Plastik-y snare rolls provides uneven footing for a Barry White sample. “Silence”, with its mangled pitch-bent jazz runs lives by its own alien gravity while “Foggy Situation” is little more than a humid sketch. Elsewhere “The Beckoner” vacillitates with the kind of swing that once might have been attributed to Magda of all people, but it’s relatively clean lines are quickly crowded with snatches of disembodied vocals and handfuls of deep house keys which, here, have the effect akin to opening the curtains while the party’s still going. With Noble Gas you get the impression that Finlayson wants to prise the planes of house apart and work against the grain, often shifting perspective as he goes. Yes, there’s a lot to take onboard, perhaps a little too much—the wealth of effects do begin to fatigue. Even so Noble Gas is mesmerizing.
All Love’s Legal
digital (March 3rd)
In its original guise “All Love’s Legal” sounds like “Wondeful Life” by Black as reinterpreted by the local anarcho-queer community theater troupe and for that I applaud it wholly. There’s always been something accessible about Jam Rostron’s songwriting, even at its most offbeam; an observation you can see borne out live when people sing along with the instrumentals. The remixes packaged with the single take the original and explode it outwards. Young British deep house hope Mokadem finds give where there previously wasn’t any and reimagines it as a downtempo number, the “fall in love with whoever you want to” lyric morphing into a mantra over glassy synths. That it’s either an intentional gesture towards vaporwave or a cheesy as hell paean to the chill-out space is a moot point. Berlin-based outfit Kool Thing use their remix to screw things right down before rebuilding it from scratch, a junkyard orchestra providing a resolutely funky spine but never breaking a sweat. Best of all is the rework from Toronto band Trust, a band who clearly have some affinity with the androgynous pop. Here Robert Alfons lays down a gothic stomp that sounds like Ace of Base smothered in eyeliner and shrinks PTR’s vocals to fit, those ever so camp keys stepping the original’s cabaret aspirations up into full-on melodrama. And for anyone carping on about the heavy-handed sloganeering of all this, well, when people complain about the number of lesbians at a fucking Planningtorock gig, you gotta concede that Rostron has a point.
Black Light Spiral
CD/digital (available now)
Following his 2012 trilogy Change In A Dynamic Environment Untold’s Jack Dunning has been increasingly drawn to take-no-prisoners techno. Like many Brit producers, it smacked of 8am epiphanies on Berghain’s sofas, an effect only heightened by a Resident Advisor podcast which pooled fellow dubstep refugees Pariah and Blawan with Sleeparchive and Ugandan Methods. Yet it always seemed Dunning was approaching 4/4 from an angle that was slightly off, never quite able to shed ideas of space—of pits and hollows and cavernous stereo fields—that made “Anaconda” or “Stop What Your Doing” feel so damn nauseous.
On Black Light Spiral the effect is one of sickness—of body, of mind, with overtones of society, too (the cyclic drone of police sirens which open the record becomes a theme throughout, giving the impression that you are, quite literally, spinning out). It’s is an oppressive record; “Sing a Love Song” in particular, pairs a martial kick with a sample that’s so chopped and phased that you begin to hear the titular phrase as aural hallucination. The residue of Dunning’s newfound interest in techno is demonstrated in highly original ways too—“Strange Dreams” is so distorted as to give you impression you’re hearing it from inside a club toilets, the bass channelled through concrete walls and rattled fittings and only the high end—a desperate battle cry—piercing that desensitized coating you find yourself with when you enter your sixth hour in the club. If Black Light Spiral didn’t feel so closely aligned with an impressionistic experience of raving—and the inevitable, disgusting burnout—you’d swear it had something profound to say about the human condition.
12-inch (March 18th)
Power Vacuum is a Berlin-based label run by Milo Smee, who, before he was making filthy, scarred techno as Bintus, headed up the orchestral prog outfit Chrome Hoof. The stink of burnt-out hardware long since replacing lamé gowns, this split release, like much of PV’s recent output (Mark Broom, EDMX) conjures up a feral version of hard techno. It’s certainly a vision that aligns itself far closer to the original mission statement of acid carnage and free parties than your average Blawan knock-off. Marquee name Objekt leads the way with clumpy acid jam “Balloons”—very droll—that’s all rough edges and saber-sharp nicks until a sinkhole of bass yawns open. Demonstrating the same constricted aesthetic as recent release “Agnes Demise”, the way the metal-on-metal clamor and piston kick grinds to a halt, causing the momentum to back up and drill in on itself before suffocating amidst a high-pitch shriek, is wholly disconcerting.
Berlin’s Lee Douglas (flexing his An-i guise which has also found a home on Minimal Waves’ Cititrax) follows up his lairy hardware freak-out “The Verge”, itself a collaboration with Smee for UK techno label Brothers with “Convo”. A square wave bass drum and stinging hi-hat is the only through-line between dense electrostatic interference and shimmers of sheet metal, the moments where the 4/4 thrash sticks or powers down completely only emphasizing the head-threshing industrial concréte. By contrast, Joe Farr and J.Tijn craft a refreshingly dry “Mustard Sucker”, which kicks all the more harder for the lack of reverb, while Ukranian hard techno producer Positive Merge makes the most of his economical sound palette, all down-to the-nub kick and stinging toms. All the better to batter anyone still standing into rightful submission. ~
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Published March 04, 2014. Words by Louise Brailey.