Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Claro Intelecto-Neurofibro
Label: Ai
Street Date: 28th April 2004

Neurofibro-- A techno-appropriate album title if ever one existed. However, Mark Stewart struggled with the genetic nerve disease of the same name throughout the recording of his debut record. While only a handful of house/techno artist albums are coherent pieces from start to finish—think Villalobos’ Alcachofa or Carl Craig’s More Songs…many are simply a collection of unrelated 12s. To the contrary, Neurofibro is something sincere; a cohesive offering of highly polished and varied techno that updates classic sounds. The album ebbs and flows freely, with changes in tone, tempo and emotional content. Songs range from the ethereal and uplifting “Chicago,” to the clunky microsampled “Back” with its restrained 303 acid squiggle. “Peace of Mind” features crisp hi-hats dancing in regiments over sad piano chords, leading to a stirring string piece. It can be said that some of the most pure, focused art in any medium comes from times of pain and hardship, and this undoubtedly applies to Stewart’s highly moving debut. (CJN)

Monday, March 22, 2004

With just about every electronic music aficionado seeking a turn behind the decks, it increasingly helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Norwegian Erlend Øye, of Kings of Convenience fame, seems to have found one that works. Øye takes the microphone out of the hands of the MC and adds his unforgettable croon to instrumental tracks. Though the thought of a singing DJ might conjure up visions of mobile discos and Bar Mitzvahs, it works well in this context. His taste in music isn’t half bad either; the tracklisting features gems from Jurgen Paape and Ricardo Villalobos. The mix doesn’t dwell on one genre however-- The Rapture bring the punk-funk revelry and Morgan Geist brings immaculately produced downtempo to wind things down. Highlights include Øye’s emotive acapella of The Smiths' “There's a Light That Never Goes Out” over Silicon Soul’s remix of “Poor Leno” by Royksopp and Erlend’s own track, “Sheltered Life.”

Here Comes Love

Forthcoming on prefixmag.com

Superpitcher (aka Aksel Schaufler) is best known for his prolific string of warm, emotive and often melancholic singles and remixes on, among others, Cologne’s Kompakt label. Here, he releases his debut album; a perfect fusion of techno, pop and perhaps the most emotion of any electronic release this year. It’s a strong testament to the possibilities that exist when techno comes up for air and into the sun, while retaining a bit of its dark, intense edge. Kompakt has been doing it exceptionally well as of late (ie: Heiko Voss, etc), and this record can be seen as the crown jewel of said subgenre.

The album opener, “People,” starts with a warm vibraphone loop, interspersed with crunchy synth stabs over a stomping 2/4 beat. Best described as dark tech pop, it’s warm and lush, contrasted with undertones of paranoia and isolation. Schaufler’s vocals over the track take the undeniably strong groundwork and round things off perfectly. “The Long Way” is the album standout -- its crisp, slightly off kilter schaffel beat and acoustic guitar loop continues for several bars before a lovely piano line takes over. Towards the end, the drums drop out and the track gradually builds in intensity as strings swell and Schafler breaks out of verse.

The album’s strength, aside from just how well-produced and beautiful the tracks are, stands in Schauflers’ masterful embrace of various styles, whether its the aforementioned schaffel, downtempo on “Sad Boys”, or ambient, as is case on the heavenly second half of “Angels.” As noted electronic music writer Philip Sherburne puts it so well, “[Here Comes Love] is like moonstomping in a mattress factory while every steeple in town chimes out the hour.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Colder Interview
forthcoming in prefixmag.com

Colin James Nagy

Take away press releases and other background information and you’d be hard-pressed to find a music enthusiast that would have pegged Colder’s Again as a debut record. Parisian Marc Nguygen Tan has culled influences from postpunk and other genres, updated them with a clean, modern glisten and added his own detached and often haunting vocals. Because of the mature production sound and uncluttered arrangements, it’s as if he applied his artist’s eye for clear, uncluttered visual composition to an audio context, producing a debut that doesn’t sound the part.

The album is a blend of influences, notably Cabaret Voltaire, Can, Suicide, Joy Division and New Order, with some bass lines seemingly stolen from Mani from the Stone Roses’ notebook. When pressed for further inspirations, Tan self-consciously said, “They’re numerous and would be boring to list,” suggesting that the influences on the record are more than meets the eye and not so readily identified as being overly reverent to the aforementioned bands.

Before producing Again, Tan’s musical background was decidedly informal, limited to childhood piano lessons. He spent his teenage years “listening to music rather than making it,” never playing in a band. However, he was always actively listening to a variety of bands, building points of reference to build upon.

At age 20, Tan started producing music on his own as a hobby, without any specific ambitions or goals. When asked if there was a particular catalyst that pushed him toward this, he said, “I clearly remember when I first listened to Einsturzende Neubauten's first record, Kollaps.” He called it “a great moment,” and alluded that it brought the first urge to create his own music.

This moment for Colder’s musical debut came unexpectedly. A new media artist by trade, Tan was originally supposed to spend two months working on a multimedia project commissioned by a friend. When the plans fell through, the spare time allowed him the opportunity to start recording his own material.

“That moment in my life was very special,” Tan said. “For the first time, I was getting more and more bored with my work, and music brought me all that I needed and all I was expecting. I have great memories of that period.” Using a spartan bedroom setup -- a laptop computer, guitar and a bass on loan from a friend -- Tan started putting together the album.

The entire record was recorded in a shockingly fast month and a half. Upon its completion, Tan sent a demo to Output Recordings boss and renowned graphic artist Trevor Jackson. “(Trevor) got in touch with me three weeks after with a very nice e-mail, and we met in Paris two weeks after that, deciding it would cool to work together.”

The changes from the initial recordings were minor -- two tracks on the record were shortened slightly, by eight or sixteen bars. Jackson’s biggest contribution on the record was the accompanying DVD. “He was the one who really insisted in having it done,” he said. “At the beginning, I wasn’t feeling that confident in doing it, but he really supported me along the way.”

Trevor’s lobbying resulted in a DVD of abstract visuals packaged with the record, something increasingly being used as an incentive to buy a record instead of downloading it for free before the release date. The days of gatefold cover art may be gone, but added digital mediums add extra value to a release.

“It's something that comes as a bonus,” said Tan. “The work it featured has no specific purpose ... it’s just an expansion of the music through abstract visuals. Sometimes when I listen to a record I like, I wish I could have a massive video projector and watch images that don’t intend to promote anything, but just relax my mind and allow me to immerse a bit more into what I’m listening to.” It’s an appropriate sentiment from an artist who works with visual mediums professionally and started creating music as an aside.

Again’s first single “Crazy Love” is a choppy funk rhythm with a driving bass line and Tan’s vocals floating over the track. The testament to the song’s strength comes in the form of an acoustic version courtesy of Tan’s friend, Luke Innes. It’s a cover rather than a remix and breaks everything down to a decidedly somber tone, with subtle synth whispers and acoustic guitar.

Innes’ version is a far cry from the original, but an excellent interpretation, indicative of how many permutations can be made if the original ingredients are good enough.

“Luke is the ex-boyfriend of a very close friend. We met in pub one day and started talking about music for ages,” said Tan. “I never listened to what he was doing but I felt he could do something sincere and interesting. A month after that I received a CD with its own cover and thought it was really wicked.”

The other remix on the single comes from Rework, creating something with the complete opposite effect: A 4/4 dark and sexy stomper for the dance floor.

The forthcoming single release, “Shiny Star,” is dark, synth-tinged dub, bringing to mind moonlight shimmering on a black sea. It twists and builds into a kick and snare crescendo at the end, all the while featuring Tan’s characteristic vocals, this time delivered in a slightly more staccato fashion.

Tan has some ideas regarding the remixes, but no confirmations yet. “I'd like to keep the balance I had with the “Crazy Love” single, having close friends work on it,” he said. “I've also asked for cover versions instead of traditional remixes.”

Having produced the album in such a short period of time and on minimal equipment, the transition to a live performance would predictably be a tough one. Tan asserted that this transition was helped along by the fact that the band members are close friends. That doesn’t eliminate first-gig jitters, however.

“The first time we played I couldn't sleep for two or three nights, and then spent three weird days at my apartment,” he said. “I was not depressed or hysterically happy, I was just feeling strange. Now [performing] is still scary, but the big difference is that we like it even if there are many things we have to improve.”

After a stunning performance at the Output/DFA records showcase in New York last fall, Colder has played in Europe, mainly in Spain and the U.K., but also in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan with electronic stalwarts LFO and Underworld.

Tan is anticipating U.S. gigs in the future, as Output increases its presence stateside. In the meantime, he's finishing “what could be an eventual second album for Colder,” and plans to take care of the visual side of the live performances from April to August, further adding his own interpretations to the music, and satisfying his insatiable audio/visual creative urges.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Thrill Jockey

The first studio album from Vienna-based trio Trapist, Ballroom, is improv jazz first, electronic music second. The musicians — bassist Joe Williamson, Radian's drummer Martin Brandlmayr, and the prolific guitarist Martin Siewert — laid down the original tracks live, with no predetermined structure, and then went back to edit and overdub. What's notable about the recordings is the degree to which texture is made audible: a drumstick scratching back and forth over the snare drum head, the dull ring of a hand-muffled ride cymbal, perhaps even the creak of the drum stool. Silence is almost as important as sound, as evidenced by the vast, empty spaces of "Time Axis." Spacey yet restrained, chaotic yet rhythmic, Ballroom argues for the symbiotic relationship between electronic music and improvisational jazz. (CJN)
Kiln- Sunbox
Ghostly International
A version forthcoming in prefixmag.com

A light used to replicate the sunshine, colloquially known as a sunbox, is often used to treat problems such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It's characterized by depression in the winter months and said to be related to seasonal variations in light. Kiln are a trio hailing from Michigan, a state that’s no stranger to inclement weather, and their sound can best be described as an aural prescription for grey days of the mind.

Kiln's latest record, on the excellent Ghostly International, can be characterized under the broad swath that is downtempo electronic. More specifically, Sunbox is a subtle masterpiece of warm textures, crackles and gentle melodies ideal for headphone consumption. Intricate glitches dance left to right, from background to foreground, over layers of slightly distorted synth tones. The record constantly engages the listener, divulging more with every play; a characteristic of the most cerebral electronic releases. While Kiln have produced a record of intimate music constructed under grey Michigan skies, it is a perfect soundtrack to sunrises viewed from airplane windows.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Freerange Records Colour Series: Yellow 01
Release 23rd February 04
US distribution: Groove

London-based Freerange is best known for its releases of immaculately produced broken beat, spacey house and downtempo tunes. Recently, the label has reached into their archives to produce Yellow 01, the first compilation of rare and previously vinyl-only releases. On the record, label co-owner Jamie Odell's Audiomontage project is prominently displayed with “Movin' On,” a rich, bubbling disco groove with lingering atmospherics and crisp drum programming. Landslide’s remix of Hanna’s “Faceless Emotion” takes soft piano notes and echo, adding thick broken beats punctuated by quirky synth chirps and a fluid, bending bassline with tinges of mid-tuned toms for added rhythmic element. Label stalwart Shur-I-Kan’s “Generations” offers perhaps the most floor-friendly tune with tinny snare snaps and complex, yet uncluttered percussion building into a lush synth line washing over the track. The compilation is unmixed to allow for several different genres and does an excellent job introducing the clean, atmospheric, yet delightfully percussive Freerange sound.
Reviewed for Turntablelab.com

Having recorded for labels du jour Perlon and Playhouse, Soulphiction (aka Jackmate, Michael Baumann) brings a 5 track EP to Germany’s Freude Am Tanzen imprint. Though much is being made of the minimal sounds emanating from Deutschland, this is on the deep and jazzy tip in the vein of Theo Parrish or Moodymann. The standout track is White Ropes featuring the blues-inspired vocals of Ben Harper. The tune is an otherwise understated affair, clocking it at around 122 bpm with mid-tuned tom percussion and a simple but effective synth arrangement. It’s not doing too much in the background, allowing for the vocals to do their trick, and it works like a charm. Black Woman is some spoken word over a lagging beat with a dark and choppy synth bass, gradually adding the hats and some other percussive effects. Whats Your Name starts with a off kilter, dusty horn sample and gradually brings in the kick, as more and more crate-dug jazz samples fill in the spaces, building with some warm synth in the background. Towards the middle, the din of the samples fall out, leaving a rich, bubbling groove with a super-filtered synth that sounds like it was dropped down the stairs into the pool. I love it, due to the fact that the track started rather predictably and went in a direction that caught me completely off guard. Fantastic.

Generations 12’
Freerange records

With this release, Tom Szirtes aka Shur-I-Kan illustrates the increasing cross-genre might of Freerange Records. His original broken beat version of Generations on the 12 is undoubtedly my pick—there’s an unbelievably high amount of detail buried within the fluid, expressive drum programming. On first listen, pitch the tune down significantly to see what I mean, as when played at proper speed, it’s a lot to take in at once. Tinny snare snaps, random hi-hats and complex yet uncluttered percussion build into a wash of ambient tones that then lead into a lovely nu-soulish vocal part. Muffled trumpets, flutes and other horns float in and out of the mix and just when you thought the vocals were the highlight, a light funk keyboard line comes in and steals the show for a moment. Jimpster’s house mix takes a basic kick snare pattern and pulls the synth funk bassline from the original, putting it way out in the front of the track—excellent for a bottom heavy system. He retains the hi-hat arrangement, some of the percussion and light keys from the original. The Unabombers mix is more of a peak time tune, cribbing small edits and samples from the vocal line, adding a few male vocal bits and a new bassline with a razor sharp midrange synth. It’s got the most locked and focused groove of all the mixes, building and building in tension. I was expecting a drop of some sort—nothing came, so this might be a good building block to bring things elsewhere. All in all, its two dead solid mixes, and one shining star. A must listen for fans of broken soul.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

A version forthcoming in prefixmag.com:

Colleen- Everyone Alive Wants Answers

Everyone Alive Wants Answers is the debut record from 26-year-old Parisienne Cecile Schott, who records under the Colleen guise. Following a seven-inch release of the track Babies on France’s Active Suspension label, Schott caught the attention of London-based Leaf, home to esteemed Japanese minimalist Susumu Yakota. The resulting LP contains music that effortlessly transcends time and frequently contradicts itself, sounding from 1950s and 2004 simultaneously; music produced by a group of musicians or lovingly assembled alone. This is a record brimming with emotion and it evokes subtle images that resonate heavily within-- visions of childhood and memories of times past.

The overall sound of Everyone Alive Wants Answers can best be compared to William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops and is indicative of where his recordings might have meandered if stretched beyond the confines of two bar repetitions. …Answers shares the submerged, distant and slightly unnerving aesthetic, contrasted by the sense of warmth and comfort created in the analogue-sounding recordings. However, The Disintegration Loops stem from organic origins while…Answers was created on a laptop, alone, and with modern composition techniques. To Schott’s credit, her debut doesn’t sound even remotely machine made. Rather, it is a record tinged with subtle imperfection; fiercely intimate textures sewn together with a personal, narrative feel.

The songs on the record are emotive, fragile tones coming together in a very human fashion. A gentle, childlike naiveté seemingly papers over the cracks, concealing something slightly sinister below. It’s the way you felt when you first listened to Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children, only instead of vintage synths and beats, think dusty piano loops, ancient-sounding xylophones, strings and glockenspiels.

The title track conjures up images of springtime in the country, viewed by holding film negatives up to the light. Delicate string plucks mingle with samples of birds and lay amidst the pops and hiss of the tape. Ritournelle is a cinematic-sounding loop that, with a simple key change, manages to convey more emotion than infinitely more complicated works. The only distinct rhythmic element on the record appears with a distant heartbeat sample on Carry-Cot. The submerged tone, seemingly pulled straight from the chest cavity, anchors a haunting sample of a child’s enthusiastic banter mixed with the angelic strums of a harp. It’s the sound of memories; antiquated childhood recordings stashed in the attic only to be discovered after maturing.

Regardless of the images the songs suggest, the listener is blanketed with a sentiment that runs much deeper than the compositions on the surface. Though a few tracks are forgettable, Everyone Alive Wants Answers is an overall rewarding experience and one of the most stunningly different ambient records of the year. It is also a very promising individual release from a pool of talented female electronic musicians including Mira Calix and Mileece, who bring warmth and emotion to a genre sometimes criticized as cold and lifeless.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Nitrada- We don’t know why but we do it
Label 2.nd records
Release date: 23.02.04

With his soundtrack of subtle electronic glitches, strings, and guitar-driven melancholy, Christopher Stoll aka Nitrada has created a reclusive-sounding and introspective record. “We don’t know why but we do it” originated from Stoll’s basement studio in Hamburg, but to brighten up his self-imposed solitude Stoll drafted a series of collaborators from across the European continent. The result is Stolls’ basic outline augmented by fresh external ideas and mixed on an ancient analogue desk, adding warmth to the largely electronic compositions. “Old Love, New Idea” is reminiscent of Squarepusher’s Port Rhombus—frantic, syncopated breakbeats floating over a layer of sweeping, cinematic strings, creating a challenging but functional contrast. “Fading away” features the near-whispered vocals of collaborator Kaye Brewster over layers of subtle pops, glitches and anchored by a faint guitar line. The album concludes with the lovely “Start Today,” a melancholy guitar piece gradually intensifying with layers of strings, showing a sliver of restrained optimism to puncture the grey Hamburg skies.

Forthcoming in The Fader:

You’re no doubt tired of the music mashups and bootlegs, but ever wonder what your Planet of the Apes DVD would look like mixed with some creepy Czech stop motion animation? Stoner inquisitions aside, if you have an extra seven grand, wonder no more. Pioneer has released DVD turntables modeled after their successful digital CD models. The decks allow for real-time digital video scratches, loops and instant cues, allowing you fluid edits on the fly. It’s a far cry from the conventional VJing methods of two video sources, a mixer and a projector due to the intuitive interface. So skin up, sync up and don’t let it get played out like a Darkness/Lil Jon boot.