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White Noise: February 2013

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Call Super – The Present Tense

Label: Houndstooth

After a spot of unusual viral marketing, Fabric finally launches its new Houndstooth imprint with an intriguing EP courtesy of Berlin’s Call Super, aka JR Seaton. With Rob Booth on board for curatorial advice, Houndstooth’s mission statement is to venture further from the dancefloor, and its first release is a polished and intriguing mission statement. Opener Threshing Floor, which many will remember from Ben UFO’s recent Rinse mix, seems to have its feet firmly planted in the club, but few will find this a problem. It’s a slow build; bedded wooden kicks are assaulted by washes of static and frayed scifi synthwork for a good four minutes before the 4/4 comes out in full force, the energy levels mounting steadily with an uneasy buzz and aggressive snares that play over the track’s final minutes.

Threshing Floor / Leosengor / Siglo Gray Vision / No City of Choice

While the opener is certainly a good techno track, listeners may be wondering whether the less dancey material promised by the press release is really going to materialise. It does; the rest of The Present Tense is occupied with deep, discursive meditations on techno tropes which emphasise Seaton’s knack for textured sonics and careful structure. Leosengor creates a curious atmosphere with pliable, fleet-footed synthwork and staccato drum patterns along with a host of keen details that create a real hypnagogic experience. Siglo Gray Vision, which opens the B-side, takes things a step further. Here the producer’s skill at structure and detailing comes to the fore, beginning with a run of subtle drum work and hypnotic, lilting synthwork. These elements slowly take on a menacing aspect, leading the listener down the rabbit hole into a world where the sounds of the first half return semi-recognisable; twisted into new, unsettling shapes.  

This structural trick is repeated to still more impressive effect on closer No City of Choice, where a bed of burbling synths and clockwork hi-hats are suddenly overwhelmed by a rugged beat pattern and laser synth streaks. Despite the canny midway shift, it’s the details that you’ll keep coming back to: the muted cowbell, tinkling chimes and the great broken glass sample that announces the track’s transformation. It’s an impressive ending to an intriguing and individual EP,  and should leave the listener curious for more material not only from Seaton but from Houndstooth too. With forthcoming releases promised from the likes of Al Tourrettes and Δkkord, listeners can feel assured that The Present Tense is just a taste of what’s to come.


Read this review in context at Inverted Audio

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Monday, 25 February 2013

Benjamin Damage – Heliosphere

Label: 50Weapons

Benjamin Damage’s debut LP for 50Weapons, the excellent They!Live collaboration with Doc Daneeka, showed last year exactly how a dance album should be made: with care and craft, a razor-sharp eye for mood and details, and a sense of narrative coherence that still manages to evade most dance producers on their debuts. While it offered little music that could be described as revelatory, it was a confident, immensely listenable success. For his first solo outing Damage pulls off the same trick again, albeit with a stronger techno bent, offering a gorgeous album which, while it may not feel hugely innovative, martials its influences into a slick package that’s a perfect LP for the dance-heads when they’re at home.


This emphasis on home-listening, providing an interesting arc for the listener to follow rather than disjointed singles, is where Damage really excels on Heliosphere. The low-key cuts outnumber the dance tracks, a selection of impressive and sonically varied atmospheric pieces which draw unlikely parallels with the likes of Boards of Canada or Luke Abbott as well as the expected references to the Berlin techno set. Opener Laika’s sunken kick and drowned snares are only an anchor to the deep ambient wash and syrupy synths that create a vibe grounded in mood rather than propulsion. Later on Light Year's colourful synths streak across a bed of increasingly aggressive percussion, filtering bass switches and dubbed-out claps building to a solid groove of hard snares and sharp synth accents that all comes together in an intoxicating fusion of styles.

Damage’s willingness to experiment with different sonic textures is the most notable success here, hear the barely-there kick and analogue hiss of album highlight Spirals which is then accentuated by a threatening acid line that becomes more viscous as the tracks wears on. The analogue sounds are continued in fine radiophonic style on follow-up End Days, where shifting synths are applied like thick treacle over a restrained set of textured percussion.

LP Clips

While They!Live showed a clear talent for combining powerful rhythms with emotive melodies, on Heliosphere Damage proves himself more than capable of tackling each independently to achieve impressive results: while the ambient cuts offer moody, hypnagogic melodies for the soul, the album’s front-end is loaded with tough rhythmic work-outs for the body. These come in several flavours: Delirium Tremens is a rugged scifi techno workout, bridging the genre’s past and present with a sure-footed knack for the groove. Penultimate track Swarm (released late last year as a single) abandons melody even further, taking shape as a Shed-referencing no-nonsense slice of big room techno. Damage’s experimentations within the area of club techno are also interesting: Extrusion takes shape as a spare, twitchty stepper, with mysterious noir chords referencing grime and the Keysound stable before a serrated android bass swipe takes centre stage.

That Damage is at his best when combining these influences is clear on the album’s excellent standout, 010x. Here a standard techno build is masterfully subverted by ringing house chords, more dream-like than euphoric, which are a natural fit for that driving 4/4. It’s an imaginative and impressive statement, as is the majority of the album. By the time the syrupy, meditative closer Heliopause is reached, the listener has been taken on a real journey by an artist with a confident voice and an uncommon ability to lend an album real narrative without resorting to drastic genre changes or surprise collaborations. Nothing on Heliosphere is going to change the face of dance music, but this is partly its charm: it remains a modest, impressively polished gem that will keep listeners coming back just to take it all in.


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Saturday, 23 February 2013

Dadub – You Are Eternity

Label: Stroboscopic Artefacts

Daniele Antezza and Giovanni Conti (aka Dadub) not only have a steady place within the hallowed roster of Lucy’s impeccable techno imprint Stroboscopic Artefacts, they actually master all of the label’s releases. That they are dedicated to experimental techno is obvious, but the most telling aspect of Dadub's dual role is the pair’s devotion to sound itself: its power, its nuances, and its ability to convey genuine meaning and emotion. After a promising series of EPs that hinted at something more, the duo now ready their debut album where sound is an obsession: the twelve tracks are mixed, forming a continuous sonic experience (à la Voices From The Lake) that takes the listener on a journey where industrial techno stomps are fluidly melded with moody ambient cuts steeped in dread and distant spirituality.

You Are Eternity doesn’t offer much in the way of melody, but an emphasis on tension, sonic density and space results in a powerful experience that offers a rich variety of frequency and tone despite its monochrome hues. Opener Vibration sets the scene perfectly: a minimal construction that conjures sonic density through subtle atmospherics, evoking exotic pagan rituals and humid claustrophobia. Meanwhile later ambient experimentations are just as successful; the emotive Death melds timestretched vocals and motionless strings while Unbroken Continuity’s scifi bleeps and ominous water effects border on the meditative.

LP Clips

On the other end of the spectrum are the hard percussive workouts that are reminiscent of the duo’s famous live sets. Third cut Life offers a momentum to parallel its counterpart’s inertia; the same ominous low-end here playing host to an unfathomably propulsive tribal rhythm which drives alongside serrated bass sweeps and sifting synth textures. The album’s movement reaches a peak with the double-punch of Transfer, with Ninja Tune’s King Cannibal, and Arrival. The former explodes into life with crushed kicks and breakneck snares; the unremitting stomp of broken machinery subject to staccato stops and starts which only increases the unease. Arrival lulls the listener into a false sense of security as the atmosphere settles, only to lay the ground for another all-consuming percussive assault.

It’s easy to split the album into two halves, but this simple division doesn’t do You Are Eternity justice. Not only does the mixed format make the intermittent momentum feel more cyclical than repetitive, but through tunes that walk a steady middle-ground, such as the lush rainforest workout of Existence or the hissing lope of Path, the pair actively reject simple binaries. To listen to the album as a whole is to be taken on a journey of contrasts; walking a line between silence and noise, black and white, the rainforest and the darkened, industrial dancefloor. Lush closer Iridescent Fragment finally lets the light in, encouraging the listener to think back on what they’ve heard: beautifully textured music that communicates through driving force as well as introspective ambience, speaking powerfully to both the body and the mind


See this review in context at Inverted Audio.

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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Youandewan – Disarray

Label: Hype Ltd

Though the year is still young, there has been a strong trend of great releases hovering on the border between dance music and home listening, particularly on the foggy spectrum between house and bass music. The likes of Leon Vynehall and ∆ ∆ have already offered some great variations on this hazy middle ground, and the latest release on Hypercolour’s low-key sister imprint seems set to continue these deeper explorations with style. The new addition comes courtesy of Ewan Smith, an assured purveyor of deep sounds whose sporadic release schedule has been outpaced by a series of notable DJ sets and great remixes. Disarray is the young producer’s first solo release in over a year, and the restrained elegance of these almost-club tracks should assure fans that it was worth the wait.

Disarray / Awn / Undrstnd / 0500

The EP kicks off with title track Disarray, where Youandewan’s textured beats sink beneath melancholic synth washes and sensuous, half-heard vocals. A soaring 303 bassline takes centre stage here, snaking through the soundfield and adding a subdued emotive drive to the track. Second cut Awn is similarly impressive, a more energetic variation on the theme where another subtle beat pattern holds down drowned RnB vocals and an uneasy synth wash. The sounds here are spare but expertly applied, showing a keen attention to space, while each sonic element is textured and rich, from the growling basslines to the organic drum samples.

Undrstnd starts as another languid number, introducing sunken vocals and blue synth notes before a swollen bassline breaks the pattern, introducing sharp technoid hi-hats that shake off the chilled-out atmosphere of the A-side. Closer 0500 is another more propulsive number, anchored by a sharp kick-clap combo that allows the mid-range to explore shimmering synth work and more ghosted vocals. Although Disarray keeps up its melancholic tone and doesn't contain any radical variation, Youandewan has a knack for mood and restraint that many of his contemporaries lack, making this EP one that you’ll keep returning to on and off the dancefloor.

See this review in context on Inverted Audio

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Monday, 18 February 2013

Various Artists – Talking House Vol. 1

Label: Local Talk

With all the hype surrounding the 90s New York and Jersey house revival scene over the last year, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the upbeat, timeless sound never really died. Prefiguring the trend by a couple of years, Swedish imprint Local Talk have steadily been putting out top quality house tunes since their inception in 2011, building up an enviable catalogue of bangers as well as deeper cuts that are all sure to put a smile on your face as well as a shuffle in your step. Having clocked up 26 releases to date, labelheads Mad Mats and Tooli have brought out the highlights in this superb compilation which is sure to please all but the most sombre techno-heads.

Referencing house’s golden age from Masters At Work to Rhythim is Rhythim, the cuts on offer come in a variety of flavours, unified by an all-smiling, all-dancing house sound. Fulbert’s First Time House is a great mission statement; warm pads leap energetically over an onslaught of detuned vocals and echoing handclaps. Later HNNY’s For The Very First Time is an equally powerful mover, an iridescent three-note synth motif reigning supreme over a great vocal that’s sure to get the ‘floor jacking.

Full LP Stream

For those looking for something a bit tougher there’s enough to keep busy; Dirtytwo’s majestic Moody is a deep, powerful cut, that takes 10 minutes to build over a simple bassline to a blissful acid crescendo (though some may say that it’s shorter, tougher Butt Jackin’ Mix would have been a more worthy inclusion). Later one of the rawest takes comes (unsurprisingly) courtesy of Gerd, whose NY Stomp remix of Mateo & Matos’ MAW Basics is a textbook example of the Jersey sound, a swung-out 4/4 anchoring powerful synthwork and deep rolling bassline. The basic elements are so strong that it’d be easy to overlook the details on these tunes but they are there; for example the crystal-clear handclap rhythm that lies distant in MAW Basics’ first breakdown only to emerge in its full glory for the second. Local Talk fans will know that the roster have a talent for for breakdowns, and these tunes show some of the finest build-and-release mechanics currently on offer in the house scene.

Although all the tracks stick to the warm house formula, there’s enough variation on offer to keep the listener interested across the twelve tunes. Wil Maddams’ superb Stand In For Love makes for a surprising highlight, with a warm, syrupy breakdown that takes it’s time to build up to a dusty, clattering pay-off. It’s only one of the tunes to make great use of live instrumentation, the other notable choice being Kyodai’s powerhouse Breaking, where live drums lend a soulful vitality to the whirring synths and singsong vocals.

There’s something genuine to Local Talk’s output that overshadows recent me-too efforts at the 90s sound. These tunes sound real and vital, and it’s gratifying to hear that these artists aren’t afraid to toy with the retro sound and bring it up to date (something the UK’s retro-fetishists could learn from). Obviously not every tune can stand out; tunes from Willie Graff and DJ Steaw can feel a little light compared to the high quality of the rest of the compilation. But even these more low-key cuts work well when the compilation is played as a whole, allowing the listener a breather from all the high-energy numbers. One could say that it’s a shame to not have any exclusives for the fans, but then again few compilations that include exclusives are as good as Talking House Vol 1. In general Mad Mats and Tooli have done a great job picking the best from their formidable back-catalogue, and the compilation is deftly sequenced to ensure it never gets too samey.

Talking House ends where Local Talk began, with Bassfort’s anthemic Moon Shadow, which builds a deep groove of burbling synths and a descending bassline for a good three minutes before coming out with a magnificent piano line that dominates the latter half of the track. Even listening to this track for the fiftieth time, that special, nostalgic euphoria that the piano conjures reminds you of the unique, vital power of real house music. It’s a feeling that Local Talk keep up with style for the entire length of this compilation, and with great recent releases from C.R.S.T., Anaxander and Kyodai this year, it’s hard not to start getting excited for Volume 2.


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