Tag Archives: Electronic

Album of the Day: Helm, “Chemical Flowers”

In the music he makes as Helm, Luke Younger has always seemed dedicated to exploring the grotesque. There were moments on his 2012 high-water mark Impossible Symmetry that didn’t sound like music so much as Younger lowering a tiny microphone down his throat and into his stomach, and recording the ambient gurgling and bubbling. By that metric, Chemical Flowers represents something of a shift to the middle: opening track “Capital Crisis” may kick off with a shriek of Pendereckian strings, but it soon settles into a kind of placid ambience, with a warm bed of synths topped with what sounds like the lulling rhythms of a train. Like 2015’s Olympic Mess, Chemical Flowers is meant as a meditation on urban decay and late-stage capitalism, and as such, the songs feel more mechanized, factory-like, and robotic: the bug-zap crackle and speeding-car synths that occupy the foreground of the contemplative “Lizard in Fear,” the CB radio static that twists its way through “Body Rushes.” Younger remains one of the most gifted collagists in electronic music, but here, he puts that talent to work in songs that are more interested in subtly disquieting the listener than outright disgusting them.

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Beyond Italo Disco: The Sounds of Neapolitan Funk

Italo-disco-1244.jpg“Italo disco is not a genre. It’s everything made for the discotheque in 1980s Italy,” says Dario Di Pace via Skype from his home studio, West Hill, outside of Naples. Di Pace, who makes music as Mystic Jungle, is chainsmoking as he speaks. His longtime friend Raffaele Manny Arcella, aka producer and DJ Whodamanny, is beside him. “When you get the people dancing to these Italian records, you get them dancing all night long,” says Arcella, with a bit of self-assured bravado.

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Electronic Duo LAL Foster Community With Their Toronto Venue, Unit 2

LAL

LAL, photo by Kevin Jones

In Toronto, Canada, as in many other cities throughout North America, higher costs of living are forcing artists to relocate and smaller venues to close. DIY space Unit 2 is a rarity in this environment, a space that’s managed to exist so far through 12 years of gentrification and displacement. Unit 2 is run by 20-year veterans of the city’s music scene Rosina Kazi and Nicholas Murray, who perform together as LAL. In the space, Kazi and Murray have found an anchor not only for themselves and their music, but for a greater artistic community.

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Fértil Discos Brings Indigenous Andean Folk to the Dancefloor

Fertil Discos

An ancestral genre called “canto con caja”—song with handheld drum—is currently traveling the world, as reimagined by the ears and hearts of a collective of Argentinean electronic DJs and producers.

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Album of the Day: Mourning [A] BLKstar, “Reckoning”

Cleveland Afrofuturists Mourning [A] BLKstar describe their music as “genre and gender non-conforming,” and their songs back up that assertion. On Reckoning, they continue the project they began on 2017’s The Possible, and continued with 2018’s The Garner Poems, unpacking the emotional spectrum of the African diaspora in songs that are equally adept at paying homage to Aretha Franklin as they are to J Dilla. Even in the context of their past work, Reckoning has a wide thematic and stylistic breadth. Led by producer RA Washington, the band shift seamlessly between classic and contemporary sounds, and between subject matter that’s both heartbreaking and life-affirming. They lament the loss of Harlem as a center of black art over a swinging funk tune, conjuring the era before the neighborhood gentrified; they set lyrics about sexual dynamics over a smoky groove, the modern pulse of triggered samples, and sparkly electronic sequencing. Classic soul instrumentation backs pleas for a lover to return on one song, and chopped soul samples underscore tales of intergenerational racial violence on another.

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Olivia Neutron-John’s Playful, Pointed Experimental Pop

Olivia Neutron John

Photo by Jen Dissinger

“When you don’t fit into any specific category, you make your own,” says Anna Nasty, aka Olivia Neutron-John, over the phone. “I use language as it suits.” Nasty describes Olivia Neutron-John’s music as “post-bro,” and if that, or the project name itself, doesn’t give it away, they’re very interested in artistic playfulness. But while wordplay and being clever are important, Nasty’s music and artistry is serious. Olivia Neutron-John combines Nasty’s Casiotone—used for synth melodies and drum patterns—with incisive lyricism, and fuses noise, post-punk, and synth-pop into one singularly delightful sound.

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Album of the Day: Big Bend, “Radish”

Big Bend is the songwriting vehicle of Ohio keyboardist Nathan Phillips, who unveiled the moniker four years ago with the release of instrumental electronic album, Hunched. Now, he returns with Radish, a collection of tracks culled from largely improvised recording sessions featuring a revolving door of musicians—including Clarice Jensen, Laraaji, and Susan Alcorn—that hugely expands on the machinery-meets-the-avant-garde minimalism of his debut.

A daring arranger, Phillips assembles various sonic trinkets into stunning, nonsensical concoctions. Take the programmed, muscular percussion slaps that power “Before,” juxtaposed with delicate, wailing Eastern-style guitar. Or Shahzad Ismaily’s offbeat kick drum on “Can’t Get Around,” which is matched with some pretty piano chords. Nothing in these arrangements feels like they should fit, and yet Radish is completely compelling. Phillips has a created a patchwork of dueling patterns that begs you to deconstruct each track, so you can examine each and every component.

The biggest divergence from Hunched is the addition of sung vocals. Phillips’s singing voice actually sounds a bit like Sting—that is, if the famed Police man had fallen into a totally different line of work. The gentle vocal of “1000 Ways” flows as an internal monologue interwoven with sanguine metaphors for feelings pulsing deep inside: “When I looked I knew I had to find / Where it hit my blood I had to know.” Other lyrics skew more simple and sobering; in “Floating,” he frames life as the act of “Floating in a cloud and getting old.” But even when Phillips’s words scan as the thoughts of a fallen angel, his radiant arrangements pierce through the gloaming, rather than perpetuate it. The cover of Radish depicts a blurry figure, sure—presumably Phillips, about to be consumed with darkness—but this is an album where light eventually triumphs over all.

-Dean Van Nguyen

Suzi Analogue Doesn’t Want to Be Normal

Suzi Analogue

On the 2010 track “What U Look Like” (tucked in the first third of groundbreaking release NNXTAPE), Miami-based singer, songwriter, and producer Suzi Analogue established a sound and philosophy that hinted at the future of her work. Set to a dizzying instrumental flying by at 160+ BPMs, Analogue’s slick and understated vocal references Gucci purses, Purple Label Ralph Lauren, and a “minimal, modernist/Americana steez.” At first glance, the song scans as a fashion anthem for the contemporary young creative class. But its soaring chorus turns that assumption on its head, revealing a deeper, central theme of connectivity: “I’ve been to many places around the world / Seen the cream of the crop and the haves and the have-nots / We all breathe the same air now.”

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