Irish indietronica, history-mining Detroit soul, cosmic Philly ambient, hypnotic Siberia-via-Berlin techno, velvety Milanese Balearica, slamming South African club deconstructions… on it goes, the musical connections around the planet growing richer and stronger. If there’s a running theme this month, it’s the inseparability of mind and body; while there are quite a few straightforward hip-twitching, gut-punching grooves to be found here, almost all do their thing with their intellect fully switched on. It evokes those magic moments on the dancefloor where the rhythmic hypnosis of movement locks together with free-associative thinking, and we feel just a little more real.
Ten Toes Down EP
2 x Vinyl LP
Waajeed, aka Jeedo, has makes some of the most direct and to-the-point soulful house around, and his winning streak continues with this new EP. The vocal tracks “Heavy” and “Deeper Into Blue” featuring Candi Lindsey—aka former Wu Tang Clan vocalist Blue Raspberry—reveal depth of history is folded into house music, with blues, soul, jazz, and cabaret swing all co-existing at the same time. On the instrumental “Too Black,” Waajeed achieves something similar using hand percussion and tiny samples of brass, commingling with the singers’ voices.
At the start of the 2010s, Oil Gang was one of the few labels that flew the flag for instrumental grime on vinyl—right around the time when it had been eclipsed by its first cousin, dubstep. They continue to release the very best productions from London’s scene stalwarts. East Londoner—and frequent Terror Danjah collaborator—D.O.K has been revered in grime since his first release in 2004, and seems to be on the top of his game here. “06” is a juddering pile-up of glitched micro-samples, beeps, rewinds, and calm robot voices that’s both manic and hypnotic. “Look Uno” places grime firmly in the soundsystem tradition, heavily referencing ‘80s dancehall reggae, its chiming single chord providing a shockingly effective hook. Both are brutally simple and repetitive, but they’re also inimitably powerful—whether as backing for MCs, or simply as straight up rave tunes.
Stranno Stranno Neobjatno
So much of Nina Kraviz’s energy is dedicated to DJing and curating her own labels, it’s easy to forget sometimes what a great and distinctive producer she is. While her DJ sets often go hard and high-impact, her tracks, both here and on her earliest releases, are about small-hours atmospheres, spacious simplicity, and tripped-out narrations. But within that, she constantly finds variation and inspiration. Her genius is knowing what to leave out, and as she mutters and purrs her way through these long, linear, ticking techno dreamscapes, the eerie spaces she creates with her restraint will set your imagination roaming.
Jumping Back Slash
The “deconstructed club” sound is hard to pin down, but it tends to be heavy on high definition sounds, big bass, jagged rhythms, and international influences. It also seems to map back to various scenes in the huge part of the planet described as the “global south.” British-born but South Africa-raised producer Jumping Back Slash epitomizes the multitude of sounds springing from this area. On “Untitled Darknezz” and “That Mampara,” he nods towards the claustrophobic drones of Durban’s gqom sound; but it’s “Mantlapa En Litsiroane,” with the chanted vocals of Morena Leraba riding over cavernous spaces, bolstered by vast subsonic kicks, that’s the real dark masterpiece here.
Daddy’s Gone EP
Danny Native, aka Altered Natives, is best known for bass-heavy house music, but his background is in London’s broken beat scene. He’s returned to those jagged, hyper-syncopated beats here—and then some. On these four tracks, he takes Chicagoan footworking as a template but uses it as a palette to paint fascinatingly personal interior landscapes. These are still club tracks—if DJs are daring enough, anyway—but on the stripped-bare “Daddy’s Gone” and “Always Sunny” they feel like a vivid and visceral trip through someone else’s psyche.
Various Artists/Hot Mix 5
Sweet House Chicago
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Quite simply some of the very greatest house music ever created. In 1988-89, Chicago house was blowing up all over the world, and Chicago radio and club stalwart Mickey Oliver decided to capitalize on its popularity with a couple of compilations for his Hot Mix 5 label. The 1988 Acid LP—also just rereleased on Jerome Derradji’s Still Music—is rightly revered, but this follow-up from 1989 is even better. With production from the likes of DJ Pierre, Larry Heard, Ralphie Rosario, and Oliver himself, it draws together acid mania, the churchy soul vital to the city’s spirit, Latin grooves, and the sheer delight in pushing rudimentary technology to its limits, creating a sound that became the heartbeat of the world’s clubs for decades to come.
Vexxy & Jato
“Night Shift” / “Nylon”
The “wave” sound—broadly speaking, narcotic post-trap instrumentals aimed at wavy dancefloors—which grime/dubstep OG Plastician has championed on his Terrorhythm label, remains a specialist concern. Its producers and fans are spread out around the world in various outposts. But it shows no sign of creative abatement, as this remix swap between two young Brits ably demonstrates. Both lean heavily towards the bleeps and hefty drum hits of U.K. grime, especially on the original of Vexxy’s “Night Shift,” but there’s plenty of high drama game soundtrack atmospheres and hip-hop swagger here as well.
Eyes on Me EP
Fusing jungle and juke/footworking with a half-time undercurrent that allows hips to move to the bassline is hardly a new innovation. But there’s still endless juice in this wild combination, especially if—like this Croatian-British producer—you don’t try and get too clever with it. Just give every drum hit and bass sound a direct, visceral kick—the kind that hits the emotions and the body at the same time. Which is not to say that this isn’t clever music. But Morwell remembers that, for all the complex lines of cultural and technological influence, this is electronic funk first and foremost, and he never lets go of that principle.
EMAUZ is Portuguese producer and fashion designer “living between Lisbon and Tokyo,” releasing music on a Parisian label, with a Liepzig artist providing the visuals. And the sounds Mariana “EMAUZ” Valdetaro makes are simply gorgeous, meandering through the space between recent lo-fi house and turn of the millennium IDM, playing games with fizz and hiss around ultra elegant house and electro rhythms. This manages to be very clever and very instant at the same time.
As It Should Be
Philadelphia’s King Britt is one of those rare producers who still seems as hungry decades into his career as was when he started. Having excelled at house, neo soul, hip-hop, and many genres in between, he’s lately been making the music of his life in more abstracted spaces: strange broken beats and multi-layered ambient, all of an exceedingly cosmic bent. This collaboration with British singer Roba, last seen singing for the sorely underrated jazz-trip-hop-soul collective Attica Blues, is possibly his most cosmic—and most beautiful—release to date. You can hear everything from Sun Ra to My Bloody Valentine, Ryuichi Sakamoto to Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith; but most of all, you can hear great intergalactic swaths of soul—as much in the instrumentals as in the vocals.
“Sweat It Out”
Another month, another clutch of releases from DJ Haus’s Hot Haus and Unknown To The Unknown imprints, all of which casually straddle the mass appeal/underground credibility divide, and all of which will make people sweat. Big trance from EJECA, raw DJ tools from Willie Burns, and lively electro from Oushe all come correct. But it’s this single from Los Angeleno producer/vocalist Amber Giles, aka Mija, that really stands out. It layers sultriness upon sultriness with electroclash-style narration over an expensive-sounding, loping house beat. It perfectly captures the small hours/big crowd fusion of adrenaline and dreaminess. An “Onsen Dub” remix by Frankfurt’s Ludwig A.F. Röhrscheid turns it into lower, slower, sparser funk for more intimate gatherings.
Fabø and Aninha
“Filter Cuts” / “Sunny Breaks”
It’s quite remarkable that, 28 years into its existence, not only is NYC’s Nervous label still running, but it’s still putting out house music that bumps as hard as anyone else. That comes from both well-established names—Murk’s Oscar G, Masters At Work’s Little Louie Vega—as well as newcomers from all over the world. The lead track on this release from Brazilian duo Fabø and Aninha, as its title suggests, is fairly straightforward cut-up filter disco—nothing you haven’t heard a thousand times before, but done with panache and full of summertime vibes. It’s “Sunny Breaks” that’s the real winner: its mid-tempo electro-boogie with subtle acid modulations sneaks up on you and gets you moving before you’ve even noticed it’s happening.
There’s a special production trick that few can master, which makes everything sound glossy yet diffuse at the same time. Moodymann is a master of this in funk and house, and veteran Milanese producer Sebastiano Urciuoli, aka Robotalco, has achieved a very similar effect with his zoned-out poolside Balearic aesthetic. All the classic Balearic ingredients are here: synthpop, dub reggae, super early hip-hop and house, echoes of German “kosmische” experimentation. But for all the familiarity of the parts, when they’re put into Urciuoli’s sampler and encased in his sonic satin, they’re rendered as new and magic in the moment as a kiss or caress.
Need For Mirrors & MC DRS
“Bobby” / “Fleeky”
Of all the OG hardcore and jungle producers, 31 Recordings boss Doc Scott seems to have the greatest desire for the new. His label consistently delivers new electronic innovations, even as it sticks to the 170bpm of drum & bass. This album from Joe Moses, aka Need For Mirrors, and the always introspective and lyrical MC DRS is no exception. There’s significantly more bass than drum here—the clean, crisp, and precisely placed percussion functions mainly as a punctuation to the juddering bassline wobble and vocal cartwheels of DRS. On “Bobby,” with its string synths hanging in the air, DRS has the shallowness of social media culture in his sites, while “Fleeky,” with its repetitious rhymes and detuned funk, is more like a parallel universe take on a jump-up party track. Both are entirely unique.
Bitflower Bb is the dreampop alias of Dublin producer and Red Bull Music Acadamy alumnus Jenn Moore, aka Dreamcycles. In this guise, she delivers some of the most exquisite detail you’ll hear all month. There’s a hint of the folktronica of the early ‘00s in the way natural sounds, like wind and flowing water, along with acoustic instruments and chimes and abstract electronics, come together to create a unified framework for her murmured and crooned musings. It all evokes mist rising at dawn, mossy gardens and broken brickwork, and all the other things you only appreciate when brain-chatter and the demands of the mundane are left aside for a few minutes.
It’s Hard to Say EP
London-based producer Sane has already featured in this column for some notably raw hardcore techno. There’s more of that here, too; but while all the sounds here are rough around the edges, there’s immense variety over these six tracks. As well as the four-to-the-floor banging, there’s some chattering electro-acid, lengthy half-tempo sections that suggest a broken robot trying to reinvent dubstep from first principles, and best of all, the bruised romanticism of “Tell Yourself I Told You So,” which sounds like the sunrise electronica of the early ‘90s.
Stay Let’s Together
There’s a particular sound from Bristol that has continued to brew and mature through the 2010s. It’s the sound of Idle Hands and Livity Sound labels, and also of Facta and K-LONE’s Wisdom Teeth label. It’s the sound of woody percussion, monumental bass, and rhythms that almost—but never quite—settle into techno regularity. It’s the sound of smoky, friendly dances, where heads nod happily as big speakers create force fields around the crowd. And it never really seems to get old, or stops providing opportunities for exploration. This is in some ways more of the same, but each of these three tracks is distinct and fresh.
Live in Oakland
The history behind this record is dramatic. Among various other roles, Bay Area musician Dax Pierson is an affiliate of the Anticon collective—he was in Subtle with Adam “Doseone” Drucker and Jeffrey “Jel” Logan. In 2005, he was severely paralyzed following a road accident on tour with that group. His work since then has been an experimental process of finding out what he can do with his limited movement, using iPad apps and other tools, and this extraordinary document shows just how sonically ambitious he’s become in those intervening 14 years. He references this history directly on the record’s opener, which revolves around a layered voice intoning, “Don’t take your physical abilities for granted, for you can lose them with a snap of the neck,” before building up an orchestra of disjointed sounds. And through the following seven, mostly lengthy, tracks he creates a very personal vision through drones, distorted hip-hop beats and disembodied voices; clearly, this is a talent that can’t be contained.