Beats Per Month: October, 2013
In our BPM column, we review a clutch of the most intriguing electronic music currently on offer. This month, Angus Finlayson on Dopplereffekt, FKA Twigs, Jam City, Lotic, Slackk, and Tessela.
Label: Leisure System
Format (release date): 12”/download (out now)
Gerald Donald has undertaken a handful of remixes and collaborations in recent years, but no original material has appeared under his legendary Dopplereffekt alias since 2007 LP Calabi Yau Space. The Tetrahymena EP, then, released through Berlin label Leisure System, marks something of a renaissance for the former Drexciyan. In more ways than one, too: while that album (and its predecessor, 2003’s Linear Accelerator) decoupled Detroit electro’s stark machine-futurist vision from a danceable pulse to explore more distant corners of the cosmos, this EP makes a triumphant return to the ‘floor.
Its track titles tackle the usual scientific (in this case biological) concerns, making reference to single-celled organisms and their behavior—“Tetrahymena”, “Zygote”—and the rather sinister-sounding process of “Gene Silencing”. There are no classic Dopplereffekt-style ludic monologues to flesh out these concepts but, as usual, Donald’s views on his subject matter—some heady mixture of fascination and fear—suffuse the music. “Tetrahymena” and “Gene Silencing” are both melancholic bombs, their steely percussive chassis infused with a sort of grand cinematic dread. In “Zygote”, meanwhile, Donald subtracts the beat to leave metallic drones howling grimly over a single menacing arp. In all cases, a welcome reminder that Dopplereffekt represent electro’s steely apogee.
12”/download (out now)
FKA Twigs is that rare thing: an exceptionally hyped artist who has, to date at least, lived up to expectations. A string of tracks gathered on a self-released EP last year outlined a sound equally indebted to nineties trip-hop and the recent spate of post-Weeknd alt-R&B. Its follow-up, EP2, appears through electronic crossover label Young Turks, and more than delivers on that initial promise. This is in no small part down to the involvement of producer Arca—last heard on Kanye’s Yeezus and an excellent solo mixtape—whose stringently abstract, web-age take on hip-hop supplies just the shot of the future needed to elevate Twigs’ songs from intriguing to stunning. Structures form and dissolve along bewildering vectors, often concealing fascinating strangenesses in their depths; through it all Twigs’ voice is an engrossing presence, processed to various states of disfigurement or atomized and scattered to the digital winds.
“Water Me” and “Papi Pacify” are the standouts—the latter a bracingly weird anthem, the former more quietly seductive. In both cases, Twigs tackles standard themes of desire and loss with a lurid, unsettling intensity (a theme compounded in “Papi Pacify”’s captivating video). In “How’s That” she outlines just a handful of disjointed phrases, allowing gorgeous, horn-like chords to take center stage. “Ultraviolet” pivots almost too severely between murky confusion and glimmering R&B jubilance—but since it’s the risk-taking that makes this EP so thrilling, we’ll allow Twigs a minor misfire.
Club Constructions Vol. 6
12”/download (out now)
There’s a case to be made for Jam City being the most influential Night Slug at this point, with his Classical Curves LP remaining one of the most singular and admired UK dancefloor-related albums of recent years, and the sparse angularity of his music exerting an influence on a slew of new grime producers (Logos and Mumdance being the most obvious examples). Classical Curves’ strength was in the freewheeling nature of its structures, liable to launch into taut ambience as often as percussive frenzy. By contrast, the producer’s contribution to the Club Constructions series is tilted squarely at the dancefloor.
Each of these five tracks features Jam City’s usual menagerie of sounds—sampled breaths and yelps, strangled metallic synths—suspended in airless space over rolling kickdrum patterns reminiscent of ballroom house and Jersey club. In places—“The Raven”, for example—that’s pretty much all there is to it. But elsewhere Jam City cools off the mix with delicate chord-wafts, like a sudden air-conditioned breeze on a low-ceilinged dancefloor. It’s by no means groundbreaking, this juxtaposition of salty and sweet, but the effect is wonderful—particularly in “500 Years”, which drifts off into aqueous repose in the breakdown before snapping back to martial attention.
Sci-Fi & Fantasy
download (out now)
Speaking of Jam City’s influence, parts of Lotic’s Fallout EP—the scattershot beats at the opening of “Dust”, say, or the syncopated kickdrums underpinning “Fractures”—suggest that he may be a disciple. But the latest EP from this Berlin-based Texan, a net savvy potpourri of ballroom house, techno, R&B, and plenty else besides, isn’t so easily attributable. At times, it sounds similar to the spaced-out almost-grime constructions of friend and fellow Houstonian Rabit (“Amygdala Hijack”’s brash semitonal synth lead could be a direct nod to London), at others the output of US avant-gardists Fade To Mind (the mournful digi-vocals and bell-like tones in “Seared” aren’t so far from Fatima Al Qadiri).
What binds it all together is Lotic’s taste for leaden, dissonant synth melodies that wouldn’t sound out of place in some bleak sci-fi-horror, and the restless rhythms, suspended uncomfortably between halftime and doubletime. “Fractures” is the highlight—largely because of its vintage Plaid-style chords, a welcome glimmer of warmth in these subzero temperatures. But the whole thing is fascinating, showcasing a jumbled hybrid style that might just be on the cusp of something entirely new. For now, precisely where Lotic is headed isn’t clear, but Fallout is a solid waymarker.
12”/download (out now)
Slackk is perhaps best known as an outspoken champion of grime. But his own music is noteworthy too, and easily the equal of his peers in the genre’s upstart generation. Since the London-based Liverpudlian segued from making grime-indebted house to grime proper with last year’s Raw Missions EP, his productions have showcased an increasingly bold, refined melodic sense—a style of which Failed Gods is possibly the apex.
Take, for example, the unashamedly glossy “Empty Bottles”, or closer “Jackpines”, whose majestic synth line is left to turn icy pirouettes in beatless space. Brooding earwormer “Silk Robe” snaffles its chords from that most brazenly romantic of sources, Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtrack, while “Room Made Vague” is the latest evidence of a virulent sinogrime streak in Slackk’s output. It pushes the form to bizarre extremes however, its queasy bassline tracing asymmetrical shapes down below while uncanny bell-tones drift past in the middle distance. “Shogun Assassin” is the outlier, a bombastic string-led number whose sampled man-roars could be a nod to Spooky’s 2010 smash “Spartan”—though the gloriously gauche, squiggly lead line that soon swaggers into view is Slackk through and through. Only “Algiers”, a slightly ponderous squarewave number, feels less than essential.
12”/download (out now)
Tessela has already produced one of the UK dancefloor anthems of the year in “Hackney Parrot” and, alongside Paul Woolford, can take most of the credit (or perhaps blame) for reintroducing good old fashioned jungle-style breakbeat choppage to the dance music ecosystem. That track, with its precise cross-rhythmic syncopations, stuttered diva cries and juddering sub-bass, was audibly indebted to a previous generation of innovators. Nancy’s Pantry, the producer’s debut release for rejuvenated rave imprint R&S, may still tip the odd nod to the likes of Pearson Sound, but reveals Tessela to be increasingly coming into his own.
The title track is the chief attraction here. Its thunderous kickdrums and abstracted breakbeat snippets will be familiar, but they slip into a halting, irregular-meter groove over the drop—a technique last heard on Objekt’s “Unglued”. As if that weren’t discombobulating enough, the whole thing swiftly grinds to a halt before reconfiguring as a thunderous rave-techno romp in the Shed vein—a groove which is ridden gleefully into the ground over the ensuing three and a half minutes. “Horizon” works with an almost identical sound palette, but in a rather less surgical manner. “Gateway”, meanwhile, is far more minimal (and all the better for it), centering around nostril-quivering bass stabs so intense they threaten to cleave the mix in two. ~
Published October 10, 2013. Words by Angus Finlayson.