It’s all about high production values this month. From soulful Detroit-meets-Bristol deep house to slick Dutch drum & bass, from retro rave to dubwise U.K. garage, the tracks gathered here demonstrate just how big, bold, and bright electronic music can sound. And if that’s not enough, there’s also broken beat, dancehall, cosmic soul, L.A. sleaze, Nashville acid, and plenty more.
Detroit to Bristol
“Dance With Me”
As we’ve said here before, the soulful side of Detroit isn’t just about Moodymann and Theo Parrish; there’s a rich seam of artists exploring the spaces between neo-soul, downtempo, and house music, and Malik Alston and Javonntte Garrett are among them. On this track, they’ve teamed up with Andy Compton from Bristol, U.K., whose equally soulful Peng label is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary. There are five mixes here: one by Alston, one by Alston and Garrett together, and three by Compton. All five tracks utilize the same elements—Alston’s smooth vocal, Fender Rhodes licks, talkbox, filtered guitar, and a super soulful harmonica line. But each track teases out new elements as they unfold, making it possible to listen to the whole EP in one go and never get sick of the endless groove.
This is an utterly extraordinary album of outernational jazz, krautrock experimentalism, and dreamy bliss from Clever Austin, the drummer of Haitus Koyote. The presence of the mighty Georgia Anne Muldrow on the high drama hip-hop soul of “You Are All You Need” is enough to let discerning beatheads know this LP is worth their time, but the quality weirdness here is remarkable. From the staggered abstraction of “Dime Head” to the cosmic percussion and poetry jam “Mother Ship Strip” to the swooning and surging Alice Coltrane strings of “Ark,” it’s one long, deeply spiritual trip.
Mask On Riddim
There’s quite the backstory to this one: the hard drives and laptops that contained the deliciously sophisticated dancehall rhythm by NYC producer Epic B were stolen in a gunpoint robbery. Thankfully, a single mixdown survived, and thanks to Manchester’s Swing Ting, it has been remastered and given voclas by four brilliant artists: Alozade and Kemikal from Jamaica, Eddie Hill from Brooklyn, and, best of all, Manchester’s own Lady Ice, who finds a perfect sweet spot between grime, dancehall, and hip-hop. Her voice moves from whisper to fearsome confidence, perfectly complementing the mixture of spooky subtlety and big bass.
From the heart of Berlin, this is the sound of the very biggest house and techno clubs—immense in scope, and delivered with real panache. Tim Van de Meutter launched his career with Scuba’s Hotflush label in 2012. He has since released music via big-time house/techno labels like Turbo and Kompakt, but for Sunset Service, he’s returned to Hotflush. It’s a big, bold record; though it often seems subtle in its repetition, there’s always a big, shiny riff just around the corner, and every track brings together the most effective tricks from the biggest dance genres with military efficiency and effectiveness.
Jabru is a producer from the rural English West Country. His early work had its roots in the U.K. hip-hop scene, but lately he’s begun branching out in all directions—house, dubstep, footwork, and more. He’s also worked in collaboration with an impressive roster of names including Optimo, Zed Bias, Hackman, and Throne Of Blood. Though he’s been releasing music as Jabru for about six years now, this is his first proper album—and it’s a consolidation of all the sounds he’s worked in so far. He’s particularly adept at producing for vocalists, and the rappers, poets, and soulful singers here are all given beautiful platforms to show their abundant personalities. Yet despite the cascade of different rhythms and voices, Ill Conceived coheres. Dubwise space, a distinctive sense of syncopation, and a real depth to every pattern and flourish make it killer from start to finish.
Thanks to his affiliation with the Canadian label King Deluxe, U.K.-based Alphabets Heaven has mainly been known for creating off-kilter, beatsy stuff, not too far removed from the Flying Lotus school of psychedelic funk. But here, he’s gone full alt-R&B—providing his own vocals, to boot—and it’s pretty gorgeous. Where some music of this ilk can over-rely on fizz, fuzz, and reverb as a substitute for soul and songwriting, AH keeps things crisp, and lets this gentle, Prince-y song be the star, even as his beats sparkle and crackle around it.
Whether it’s EBM (“electronic body music”), industrial, the harder end of Italo disco, Belgian new beat, or coldwave, the darkly sexual pre-techno sounds of ‘80s Europe are as in vogue now as they’ve ever been. There’s been revival after revival over the years, starting with DJs like Trevor Jackson, DJ Traxx, and Terrence Fixmer in the late ‘90s and going all the way through to new-schoolers like Debonaire. With labels like the Bay Area’s Dark Entries digging up and reissuing the most astounding sounds from the original era, there’s a wealth of material to be discovered and rediscovered. Los Angeles’s Sharooz Raoofi, aka Principleasure, operates squarely in this milieu, but he is no nostalgist. His sounds are as big and shiny as modern studio technique can allow. As a result, the low down and dirty electro of his debut album stands out from more obvious attempts to ape the past, creating all kinds of scenes on dark and smoky dancefloors.
Of the recent crop of Metalheadz artists, Dutch producer Teije van Vliet, aka Lenzman, is by far the smoothest. He operates squarely within the niche of drum & bass known as “liquid”—simple, high-velocity funk drum patterns that constantly roll forward, with clean bass sounds and soul-jazz chords forming full-on song structures. On his second album for the label, he may not be breaking any boundaries, but the whole thing oozes class. His choice of vocalists are impeccable—notably, the poet laureate of deep drum & bass MC D.R.S., and Manchester rap/soul duo Children Of Zeus—and his cinematic piano licks and eerie swooshes are always just the weirder side of tastefulness. There’s also the old-school rave roller “Old Song,” with rattling “Think” breakbeats that indicate Lenzman knows where he’s coming from.
“Operation Wolf” b/w “Rogue”
For a little more than a decade, Graham Luckhurst, aka Greymatter, has been releasing consistently fascinating records that exist on the fringes of the U.K.’s house, broken beat, and generally jazz-inspired music scenes. As his artist name suggests, his approach is more than a little cerebral, with complex chords and a highly evolved sense of narrative. But that’s never at the expense of the pleasure principle, here as much as ever. “Operation Wolf” sounds a bit like the soulful Detroit house of Moodyman and Theo Parrish have been given both a techno edge and an undercurrent of drum & bass. “Rogue” is the real gem: a super slo-mo groove, not unlike Andy Stott or Claro Intelecto at their best; it messes with your sense of scale and time, dragging you into alternate dimensions where the air is syrupy and the body and mind get jumbled up.
Erika Glück is country as hell: she grew up in a deep rural setting without electricity or running water. But there’s nothing down-home about her music—although it definitely sounds like outdoor raves, specifically those of the ‘90s golden age of rave culture in the American Midwest. Her base sound is acid techno—high velocity, with extremely resonant, liquidy synths, tripped-out subliminal sounds, and vocal snippets hovering around the fringes. But there’s plenty of variety within that, and when she drops the tempo down, as she does on the creepy, mossy-sounding “Without Fault,” or brings in sounds like the glassy tinkling of “Window,” she shows that she’s anything but a one-trick pony.
Chris Moss Acid
The principle is very simple: for this EP on the Balkan Vinyl label, longtime affiliate Chris Moss Acid has gone back to the purest rave elements of 1992. Four-to-the-floor kicks with breakbeats over the top, big riffs, hovering chords, absolutely no unnecessary messing about. Every single element is as familiar as the flicker of a strobe or the smell of smoke machines. But somehow—particularly with the sustained sounds that whirr and thrum and writhe around the outside of everything else in the tracks—he brings a psychedelic originality that renders it all fresh.
It’s easy to think of the dark techno of Berlin labels like Dystopian as being samey, and certainly the title track here is pretty generic, with its minor key riff, endless kickdrum, and hovering clouds of drone. But the contrast with the other three tracks is dramatic, and shows how much variation it’s possible to get within a certain sinister sound set. Everything is swathed in cathedral reverb and full of atmospheres and super-simple patterns that shift only in the subtlest ways. There’s a real emotional weight to the distant industrial clatter of “Mufon,” and the broken-apart beats of “Inner Reduction” and “From the Method” build momentum even more impressively than the straight-ahead pounding of the other two. “From the Method” in particular steadily builds into a gorgeously, terrifyingly intense mood.
It’s beyond perfect that Rian Treanor is the son of Mark Fell of SND: his sound feels like a more youthful and turbocharged version of his dad’s club music. Throwing electro, garage, and bass music into a digital blender, he rebuilds the pieces into something fearsomely focused and instant in its appeal, even as the rhythms constantly confuse and wrong-foot you. This, his debut album, is a righteous reminder of how extreme experimentalism needn’t be detached from a connection to dance music’s prime purpose.
Peder Mannerfelt Produktion
Life Without Friction
Is there anyone currently dismantling the dichotomies between hi- and lo-fi, and between art music and dancefloor immediacy, as well as the Swedish producer Peder Mannerfeld? On these four tracks for Modeselektor’s Monkeytown label, gritty techno pulse veers into irregular rhythms, but there’s also an absolutely thrilling sense of rave energy and ecstatic warmth. This music is truly unhinged, but it’s also absolutely fun; it’s no wonder that he is rapidly moving into the superstar league.
It’s extremely welcome that veteran producer Noodles has returned to the U.K. garage sound where he excelled—and heavily influenced the birth of dubstep—20 years ago. He’s also resurrected his Groove Chronicles alias, with Nigel “Dubchild” Ford taking the place of his former creative foil Lewis “El-B” Beadle. And he’s in stunning form on three new individual tracks released this month. There’s dubwise two-step on “You Got my Mind” and the strong original “Upset.” But it’s “Bad Man” that’s the winner. It’s a brooding beast of a tune, with the drive of a giant four-to-the-floor kickdrum contrasting with the slow river of undulating sub bass and a sweetly menacing male vocal sample pitched perfectly between R&B and roots reggae in tone, perfectly suiting the U.K. soundsystem vibes.