In any genre, there are moments when it feels like all of the new albums are cohering around a unified sound—see last column’s rich seam of grime and grime-infused beats—and other moments where it feels like everyone is operating according to their own playbook. That’s the case this month, which offers techno-dancehall, electro-dub, Afrobeat-house, drum & bass, algorithmic post-classical, and velvety beats that exist somewhere between hip-hop and house. There’s also no shortage of noisy, wonky, and wonderfully weird one-offs.
It’s one of dance music’s great mysteries why, when the rest of the world moved on from the “mnml” techno sound of the ‘00s, Romania—out in the southeastern corner of Europe on the Black Sea coast—decided to remain true to its template: lengthy tracks, easygoing tempos, subtle changes, ample crackles and clicks, and songs that require total immersion in order to make sense of them. That’s still the norm in the country. But crucially, Romanians still do it really, really well. This 11-minute jam stands out because it embraces funk. Tiny snippets of wah-wah guitar chords, a periodic “playground for the new power generation” voiceover, and a deep, deep bassline that bounces along joyfully through the whole thing keep things fun as the music gently shifts and flows around you.
Muhammad Ali EP
Given the strong influence that Jamaican dancehall has on the various club and bass sounds that orbit around the Hyperdub label’s strange attractor, it was probably inevitable they’d release a full-bore dancehall vocal EP. Lady Lykez is a virtuoso North London lyricist, best known for her aptitude in grime and hip-hop, but here she’s amping up her Caribbean heritage—and her energy levels. Because this is Hyperdub, nothing is quite normal. Three of the four tracks here are produced by label stalwart Scratchclart (aka Scratcha DVA, and a dozen variants besides) and his rhythms are full of unexpected turns, flicking from syncopation to a steady techno kick, or piling on the clattering drums to the point of chaos as on “Dramtic.” The way the lyrics lock into his unorthodox beats, though, is glorious, and the title track—with Lykez’s patois bouncing off Lioness’s more standard London rap verses—looks set to be a crossover success.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Allien has been the queen of Berlin techno for a few decades now, and shows no sign of losing her appetite for the rave. The tracks here don’t mess about: they’re distinctly old-school in flavor—like, early ‘90s old-school, when technno and trance were still indivisible—with pounding kickdrums, rushing two- or three-note acid melodies, and huge swooshing and steam-escape noises designed to cause tingles. The track titles give it all away, frankly: “Electronic Joy,” “Stimulation,” and, well, “MDMA.” The music here isn’t concerned with hipness, or being the cleverest conceptual piece on the block: it just wants to make you feel sweaty and discombobulated, and it does all the right things to facilitate that.
This kind of music—low and slow, soulful, a bit J Dilla, a bit Moodymann—seems perfectly suited to the beat tape format. Snippets drift in and out, the short songs hang like smoke in the air; it feels nonchalant, yet it can cram a remarkable amount of thought and passion into deceptively simple forms. Criminally underrated producer Kay Young from Lewisham, Southeast London, is amazing at music like this. None of the six tracks here is over three minutes long, and several are considerably shorter; yet in this tiny package, you get rich emotional moods, Young’s own velvet voice crooning and half-rapping-half-talking, slo-mo house grooves, hip-hop beats that elegantly somersault over themselves, and complex jazz soul chords. She executes all of them as easily as breathing, and the results are just as easy to listen to.
Columbus, Ohio’s Kevin M. Kenedy, aka FBK, is a techno militant: politicized, polemical, and absolutely focused on preserving the values of underground music. More recently, he’s expressed this musically in more restrained forms, as in his beautiful recent album for Radio Slave’s Rekids imprint. But these two self-released EPs hark back to his Midwest rave roots, and pull no punches. While some tracks are distinctly minimal, the overall mood is of having your brain sandblasted. Every surface of every sound is rough and raw, the tempos are high, the repetitions are relentless and brutal. This is music for those still standing after four-day parties, or for those having out-of-body experiences amid strobes and smoke. But that doesn’t make it mindless. Quite the opposite, in fact: amid all the noise, you feel like you’re in contact with a fierce intellect, and the experience leaves you refreshed and enlightened.
Cement Block EP
Much has been made of the fact that electro has come back into fashion in the last couple of years, but who cares about bandwagon jumpers or purer-than-thou gatekeepers, when records as good as this one by relative unknown Bonka are being made. From the Drexicyan bounce of “Pootek” (a collab with Lebanese New Yorker Solpara) to the sparse head-nod groove of “whendialupbecomeform” to the fully horizontal stoner space travel of “dosheepdreamofandroidelectrics”—the rhythmic chassis is familiar, the sound selection and production is fresh as anything, and most crucially of all, the funk dominates.
Fibonacci Sequence EP
The title says it all: this is drum & bass as mathematics, strikingly beautiful in its geometrical complexity. Darren “dBridge” White’s EXIT label is generally associated with half-tempo, melancholic, spacey variants on d’n’b, but Ashley Tindall, aka Skeptical, has always kept the energy levels high. These four tracks certainly have acres of space in them, and there’s no bashing, crashing, or roaring: everything is under the tightest control, with bass throbs appearing and disappearing, and every drum appearing like pinpricks or glitches in space. But give the volume a boost, and you’ll see it’s as hard as anything out there, locking your heart and mind into structures that unfold around you like hallucinatory, scientific diagrams.
Liff Up EP
A very different sort of drum & bass here, the kind that looks to the past—specifically, the high jungle years of ‘94-’95—rather than to the future for its aesthetic. But these three tracks by Breakage are every bit as finessed and innovative as the ones by Skeptical. Although the sounds—reggae/dancehall vocal and drum roll samples, breakbeats chopped up into intricate patterns, deep dub basslines, even record crackles—are super familiar, the production here renders them uncanny and exciting in new ways. Breakage has a huge discography under his belt, from stadium-sized, mainstream-leaning tunes to aggro underground ones, but here it feels like he’s just doing it for pure pleasure. But where others often replicate jungle reverently, he’s having fun, bringing all of his technical abilities to bear on making the genre sound fresh for 2019.
Dego McFarlane is one of the true legends of the U.K. underground: he’s covered a dizzying array of sound—whether on his own or with Marc Mac—from ‘80s hip-hop to rave, jungle, and the expansive orchestral jazz and broken beats of later 4Hero. His 2000 Black label is a showcase for extraordinary talent. This track, by 18-year old producer Marvin Jupiter, is broadly house, but keeps slipping into shimmying Latin-sounding triplet patterns and other rhythmic tricks that continually recontextualize its funky little vocal snippets, sounding totally celebratory at every turn. It’s so crisp in production that every sound just pops out of the speakers at you. Dego himself, together with Matt Lord, take away the house regularity completely, adding guitars and a shuffling ‘70s Afro-funk feel, without ever losing the vivacity and modernism of the original.
Morning Sickness EP
Filthy, dirty, vile, and brilliant—this live techno EP on a new Glasgow label will tear the top of your head off and make soup with the contents. It screeches, it blurts, it whistles, and it roars. Above all, it crashes and clangs like a dancing mech warrior, crushing all before it. What more do you need to know?
So much that gets tagged as “club” these days—let alone “deconstructed club”—verges on being too clever for its own good: a kind of art school IDM, its jagged rhythms archly daring you to say you don’t get it. Not so Mr. Mitch’s latest. The Londoner is a polymath—as adept at hard hitting grime as at sensitive R&B or peculiar electronica—and here he’s created a very distinctive mood in the nicely sprung rhythms, bass undulations, and elegant bleeps of these two tracks. It feels inquisitive, relishing the moment, almost suspending time, like those special junctures in the club where you realize you don’t know what time it is, but you don’t care. You’re just content to be among all the movement, sounds, and lights.
Edge of Everything
Given that she’s been making great music for around 18 years, and has remixed everyone from The Prodigy to The Knife and Peaches, it’s somewhat astonishing that this is Paula Temple’s first album. She’s stepped up to the plate, delivering a record that is not only super coherent, but absolutely boggling in its scale. It is, in essence, hard and fast techno with some ambient interludes—but that’s like saying that the Duomo di Milano is “a church with some pointy bits.” Temple’s use of contrasts—fuzzy muffled bass versus pinprick percussion, quasi-random patterns versus rigid rhythms, high density noise versus huge diffuse sounds—creates a sense of enormous scale, and the structures unfold in complex abstract narratives that could be psychological horror, space opera, and political intrigue all at once. This is a mighty album.
See U in My Dreams
London’s impossibly prolific DJ Haus—as a DJ, as a producer, and as the boss of the Unknown To The Unknown label—specializes in fantastically functional house, techno, and rave. UTTU is releasing three EPs of electro-funk this month alone—from NYC’s FaltyDL, Belfast’s Cromby, and Sydney’s Jensen Interceptor—plus rock solid house records from Skatebård & Lauer and Eliza Bee. On top of all that, there’s this luscious slab of analogue house from the man himself, gurgling and warping in all the right places, with a rolling rave remix from Lone that bubbles with rubbery funk synths.
Ricky “Kromestar” Kalsi is one of the most important producers in dubstep, dating back to the days when it was a tight-knit scene of a few dozen Londoners. He’s no slouch at grime, hip-hop, or more abstract electronic styles, either. He’s always been a shadowy, reclusive figure, but his existence one step removed from normal scene dynamics seems to have given him impressive longevity. On the evidence of these four tracks, he’s still firing on all cylinders, from regal levitation to crushing brutality, gangsta menace to complex emotional expression.
Since the mid 20th century, the composer Ernstalbrecht Stiebler has explored drones and microtones with unforgiving focus. As you might expect, the reworks here tend towards abstract soundscapes—certainly Frank Bretschneider and Bérangère Maximin create extremely meditative pieces which you might almost call ambient, and Phonosphere deliver sonic twists and shocks. But there’s also the algorithmically glitched work of Jasmine Guffond and her MAX/MSP patches, and the way, way out-there post-rock-free-jazz-electronica freakout from Kammerflimmer Kollektief, which demands to be blasted at full volume—although it may terrify your friends and neighbors.
Holiday in Panikstrasse Part 1
His name sounds Italian, the EP title is German, but Cosmo Vitelli is actually a Frenchman: Benjamin Boguet, who has been producing for many years now in consistently unpredictable styles. There’s a heavy Bohemian synth rock feel to this EP—which you might even feel is peculiarly Gallic, as it has distant echoes of countrymen Joakim and Zomby Zomby. The brilliance is that each track is wildly different from the next, yet it maintains a coherent personality throughout. The lead, and most electronic, track “A Brand New City” is particularly wonderful, the decadent sounding spoken vocals of Fantastic Twins echoing through scampering bleeps and bloops that almost feel alive.
On The Threshold
2 x Vinyl LP
Plenty of people bring nostalgic sounds of retro rave into modernist club music, but few do it with the laser focus and intellectual coherence of Anthoney Hart. Also a producer of grime mutations as East Man and Imaginary Forces, he uses Basic Rhythm for his most directly club-focused tunes. On his third album in this guise, he creates a sonic world that’s very much his own. The rhythms are consistently jagged, and there’s nothing here that allows you the moments of relaxation that, say, Mr. Mitch’s tracks do. But where others might be angular for angularity’s sake, Hart breaks up the sounds of jungle, garage, and grime like a cubist painter. So, as each track progresses and its patterns unfold, the disjunctions and seeming illogicality make absolute sense—and in purely functional terms, so does the groove.