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White Noise: June 2015

Monday, 29 June 2015

Unknown Artist - Uniile 1

Label: Uniile

It’s become a cliché in recent years for a new label to put out a limited-run record by an anonymous producer and sit back as the hype and discogs prices soar. There are many tiresome aspects to this, which feed into wider discussions of the double-edged sword of exclusivity and the questionable priorities of label-heads, yet frequently relatively little attention gets paid to the music. Too often labels are criticised of using anonymity and mystery to sell records rather than quality music. Thankfully the first release on French label Uniile is a clear exception. This EP of faded house tracks is, yes, by an anonymous producer (who doesn’t seem to be doing a great job of keeping in the shadows), but it's a gorgeous collection which transcends the vortex of hype and counter-hype which birthed it.

A Jazz Thing

Each tune here plays with a different flavour, but the general vibe is muted optimism, house coloured by loose-limbed percussion, jazzy melodies lit by a sunny haze. Opener What Up sets the tone as relatively gentle, with twinkling synths and smooth keys over ricocheting percussion which propels through strange squeaks and half-heard vocals. Une Ile is more robust, with a chugging rhythm section and croaked vocals which sound pleasantly dated, like an old photograph.

You Got The Funk brings in a more direct retro feel, with a sinuous bassline and filtered strings in fine disco style, but snapping snares and a light acid line keep it fresh. The most surprising cut on here is A Jazz Thing, which entirely abandons dance music for smoky saxophone licks and crisp live percussion, like a jazz group playing loops for mellow ravers. It’s an effective tune that could be put to deadly use in the mix of a bolder DJ. Uniile’s first release shows that if you’re going down the anonymity route but have the great music to back it up, the whole debate is rather besides the point. This EP kills, as simple as that.


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Thursday, 25 June 2015

Lifted - 1

Label: PAN

There’s an interesting tension that exists in the world of dance music between the ideal of innovation and its execution. As heavy consumers of electronic and dance music, we tire of hearing the same thing and long for something that feels new and exciting, yet in general our expectations of ‘new’ and ‘exciting’ fall within a very narrow margin of musical possibility – we still want our sturdy beat pattern and arresting melody, just with the variables tweaked in a fresh way. Ultimately the difference between critically lauded ‘forward-thinking’ dance music and the most generic tech-house imaginable is a little like the genetic difference between a human and a banana – absolutely crucial if you happen to be a human (/banana) or a dance-head, but rather minor if you’re looking at the situation from the outside. Example: would one of your friends who doesn’t listen to dance at home but casually enjoys it in the club actually hear a huge difference between your favourite underground house jam and the latest David Guetta single?

This is why, in a sense, when we encounter true innovation it first seems baffling rather than dazzling, given that it doesn’t conform to our very strict expectations of what ‘our music’ should be. Lifted’s debut album '1' is just such an example. Granted, this wouldn’t exactly be called dance music, and while the broader electronic music tag includes some sounds which could be distant relatives to this LP (perhaps Oneohtrix Point Never and Holly Herndon as second cousins, twice-removed), the fact that Lifted is in fact a collaboration of some of our dance scene’s most brilliant minds makes it a worthy inclusion to the debate.

Lifted is an artistic project in the truest sense. Future Times’ endlessly compelling Max D (Andrew Field-Pickering) has teamed up with Co La (Matthew Papich) to create an album of material which is damn near uncategorisable, enlisting the help of Jordan CGZ and Gigi Masin on the overdubs. The music, all sent remotely between the group with little physical contact and released on Bill Kouligas’ reliable PAN imprint, shows the team breaking free from the fetters of the 4/4 and conformist dance music, shooting joyously into the sky with a rush of featherweight free-jazz and synthwork.

The music of '1' is so removed from points of reference that it defies easy description. It’s slippery, and on first listen may prove challenging, hard to grab on to. But once the listener gets used to the album’s internal logic it’s a thrilling piece that feels genuinely liberated, experimental music which soars with a light playfulness not often found in music which so overtly defies convention.

There are two key ingredients to Lifted’s sound. One is its chaotic rhythms, more free jazz than house. Whether the drums are hyper-filtered on Intoo, tumbling beyond rhythm on 3D or occasionally courting the ghost of a 4/4 on Total Care Zero, the effervescent percussion provides a nimble base for the range of melodic experimentation that is the album’s other crucial ingredient. The synths glide like chrome on Intoo, drift opulently on the gorgeous Mint or sketch future-grime figures on album highlight Bell Slide, constantly giving something new to the listener. 1 even briefly comes down from its lysergic rush on a couple of lush piano pieces, Lift a gentle celestial voyage and Silver more earthy, evoking a hushed loss.

Lifted’s debut is the rare album which feels purely next-level, like music beamed from an idealised future. And on its best moments, like Mint or the sparkling chill of closer Medicated Yoga, that future is very jazzy indeed. The sound that the group have created is like an unstable chemical: constantly mutating, joyously effervescent. So few artists who chart fresh electronic terrain manage to do so with such lightness and joy in their sound. Because Lifted do, you won’t just follow them willingly – you’ll do it with a broad smile on your face.


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Monday, 22 June 2015

Mark Barrott - Bush Society

Label: International Feel

Mark Barrott’s musical career has been a rather interesting and unusual run. Starting out in the 90s producing ambient-indebted DnB and Jungle as Future Loop Foundation, he has utterly reinvented himself over the last few years helming the International Feel label from his home in Ibiza. I-Feel has been on particularly good form of late, putting out a killer reissue and even wrangling Call Super into a rare remix gig. Meanwhile his own music took a sharp left-turn into Balearic and new age (two styles whose cool factor is on the cusp of uncurdling), putting out dreamy sunset electronica under a series of aliases and now seemingly settling on his birth name. His output has been rich and fine, but only this most recent release has made us at White Noise really sit up and take notice.

Barrott’s recent releases, particularly last year’s Sketches From An Island LP, have been pretty but sometimes failed to hold our attention. On Bush Society he has come up with a more winning sound that is utterly consuming. These two tracks swap dusky beaches for a rainforest bristling with life, a veritable sonic ecosystem with all manner of fascinating wildlife on display.

The core sound is a combination of sky-gazing new age synthwork and a set of distinct (though somewhat vague and generic) African rhythms and instrumentation, corralled into a mesmerising and coherent whole. Bush Society is the meat, beginning with a lullaby improvised on a thumb piano and genuine Amazon field-samples. Barrott does an excellent job of populating his rainforest with both real (sampled) and sonic wildlife – the melody like a cry of monkeys in the trees, the predatory growl of the lurking bassline, the varied percussion of the feet of a thousand beasts, even the ominous shake of the rattlesnake’s tail. It’s busy but never crowded, a particular talent in Barrott’s production, and utterly immersive as its ten minute runtimes unfolds.

If the title track is the epic, B-side Saviours Or Savages is like a diamond glimpsed on the forest floor, where the textured percussion and 80s synths return, here joined by a beautiful crystalline melody which totally steals the show, unspooling opulently with a real emotional tug. The nagging issues we had with Barrott’s latest output haven’t really been changed – it’s still all a touch gritless and can slip a little too easily into the background – but Bush Society offers so much more when you delve into its lush sonic world, a sound not just mellow but also somehow alive.


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Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Nicolas Jaar - Nymphs II

Label: Other People

Nicolas Jaar commands a rare adoration in the electronic music world – a crossover success, loved by fans and critics, always pushing outwards towards something strange and new. While Jaar’s music has always charted between worthwhile and genuinely revelatory, his output has slowed significantly in recent years. Between his extraordinary debut album in 2011 and this new single, Jaar has formed then disbanded his group Darkside and launched a label which now charts over thirty releases. That’s a long time for fans to wait.

Yet Jaar is a dependable producer, and if there’s one thing he always manages to do it’s give listeners something they didn’t know they wanted. The narcotised disco of his early singles gave way to the tactile electronica of Space Is Only Noise, and now Nymphs II shows Jaar sculpting sound in long-form, more delicately and impressively than ever.

The two consuming tracks form a single suite, grooves and motifs gliding in and out of earshot across the fifteen minute runtime. The long intro to The three sides of Audrey and why she’s all alone now sounds like forms emerging from a pool of still water, supple and flexing, an intricate ballet of shifting strings, slight chords and strained celestial vocals. A toybox melody introduces the dense Latin-inflected rhythm at the halfway mark, building to an otherworldy finale as everything comes together, only to fade into a beautiful synth coda heavy with longing.

No one is looking at U has more of a distinct pulse, its rhythm in place throughout, again showing Jaar’s unique knack for making compelling work from such a subdued soundfield. A star-gazing melody helps the track lift off towards the close, before the arrangement dissolves back into a glistening web of treated vocals and effects.

Both tracks here are growers, requiring time to unlock the intricacy of their design. But like Jaar’s best work they showcase one of his most remarkable traits as a producer. He always gives the listener a big satisfying melody or rhythm which lifts the soul, but Jaar focuses just as much care into crafting the build-up and deconstruction of these dramatic moments, making each song a powerful trip. It’s to his immense credit that it’s tough to call which of the two parts is more compelling.


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Saturday, 13 June 2015

May Roundup 2015

As ever, there's been more great music than we could possibly write about last month. The May roundup collects some of the best tunes that our radar has caught over the last few weeks. We start sketching some house and disco sketches figures, Nebraska's ace filter-disco, a lovely reissue of Vincent Floyd and some ace material on Text, Future Times and the intriguing new Uniile imprint. Darkness falls midway through the playlist, with Galcher Lustwerk's long-awaited Parlay, a lovely edit from Caribou as Daphni and two stellar cuts from J. Albert, who's got our trophy for the most exciting new artist this year. We end with some spaced-out trips courtesy of Nicolas Jaar, JMMF and Lifted, with Minor Science's dangerous bass flex accompanying the curtain fall.

Paxton Fettel - Afloat on a Sea of Nothing feat. Takuya Matsumoto
Nebraska - Emotional Rescue
Unknown Artist - A Jazz Thing
Mosey - Tuff Times
Joe - Thinkin About
Vincent Floyd - Get Up
Creta Kano - Skyway Motel
Panama Brown - Theme From Panama Racing Club
Cherushii - Wild Abandon
Galcher Lustwerk - Parlay
Daphni - Usha
J. Albert - Kiss The Ground
J. Albert - Vertigo Contracto
Luca Lozano & Mr. Ho - Dripbox
JMMF - Paraesthesia
Nicolas Jaar - The three sides of Audrey and why she's all alone now
Lifted - Bell Slide
Farbror Resande Mac - Stockholmsnatt
Mark Barrott - Saviours Or Savages
Minor Science - Closing Acts

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Friday, 5 June 2015

Dwig - From Here To There

Label: Dwig

Sometimes you hear an album and you just know it isn’t going to get the attention it deserves. Perhaps it's a case of timing, publicity, or trends, but all too often superb LPs fall through the cracks. This bittersweet success story seems the sure fate of From Here To There, a truly remarkable deep house longplayer from Giegling affiliate Ludwig Völker, aka Dwig.

Dwig is an acronym for Die Wiese Im Garten, ‘the meadow in the garden’, an image which aptly evokes both the tranquillity and the dislocated otherworldliness of his music. Across his second LP, Völker proves himself a consummate sculptor of deep house music, drawing in accents of jazz and hip hop while blending acoustic and synthetic instruments with an elegant and deliberate touch.

The album’s front end is loaded with the kind of warm deep house that has made Giegling and Smallville such success stories, promoting the ideals of subtlety and hypnotism. True Story gives us the first glimpse of how deftly Dwig mixes unexpected sounds into a gorgeous whole. Here there are scuffed kicks and aqueous synths, a slide guitar and clinking glass, fashioned into music which blooms and recedes as gently as the deep breath of sleep. Gentle Memories is one of the album’s most wistful moments, its keening synths and garbled vocals rooting us in a bittersweet nostalgia trip, an easy saxophone sliding into the close. Meanwhile Little Boy turns up the funk, riding out on a mellow key riff, synths served up filtered and chopped, a bassline wandering down in the deeps.

From Here To There

Yet even the best deep house albums can run aground by doing too much of the same. Thankfully Dwig is fully in control of the album’s pacing and variety, and the moments when From Here To There diverges from the deep house template are among its strongest. Opener Spring flirts with hip hop rhythms, tuning up the sounds which will appear across the LP, and the cruelly short Morning Break is the finest Saturday morning jam, with a light shuffle and brass straight out of a black and white movie.

But it’s in the album’s last three tracks that Dwig really steps up a gear, backloading the LP with all of its best tunes. Different Days is a superbly moody hybrid, moving at the pace of hip hop with the mechanics of house. Here tension and release are subtly managed with a blossoming vocal sample, and you can again hear how carefully each element is selected and arranged – the brass, piano and synth flutters each set off a pleasure chain reaction in the music cortex. Lost Telegram is particularly adventurous, ruled by a rapidly filtering synth that hums like a looming UFO, set over a surprising 2step beat pattern that lends an addictive shuffle to the groove. Another joy of the pacing is how Dwig keeps his best traditional deep house tune for the end. The title track is fathoms-deep house par excellence, where melancholic keys are locked against one of Völker’s simplest, most emotive basslines.

From start to finish From Here To There is a deep house masterclass. It’s immediately accessible yet generous to the attentive listener, excelling in the mesmeric capabilities of the genre while pushing a varied, refreshing palette. If there’s any upside to the fact that this graceful album is unlikely to sell out or chart on critics’ lists at the end of the year, it’s that those few listeners who caught it and engaged will forge a more intimate relationship with this music, unhindered by hype or popularity. For theirs is an album of rare substance and beauty, something to treasure for them and them alone.


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Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Project Pablo - I Want To Believe

Label: 1080p


Classic disco’s unashamed love of major-key melodies
47 minutes of chunky house beats (with a pinch of live bass)
A casual nod to the scorching future-funk of People’s Potential Unlimited

Mix well in a creative hotspot (Vancouver or similar)
Vary texture with dreamy new melodies and the occasional vocal, evenly spaced throughout

A perfect house cocktail for the summer
Serves 9 tracks
Best served chilled

Vancouver is on fire at the moment. Between 1080p and Mood Hut, Canada’s coastal city has got the modern house game all sewn up. Such scenes form when the stars align just right, and Vancouver’s two primo imprints have embraced a contemporary blend of ambient, funk and house at just the right time. 1080p in particular always has a busy schedule, and the best of their recent crop is surely Project Pablo’s debut LP ‘I Want To Believe’, a sublime confection of warm, jazzy club tracks not afraid to make us feel good.

Pablo, co-owner of Montreal’s ASL Singles Club imprint, served up two capable EPs on Hybridity last year that hinted at the sound this LP encapsulates, but both lacked the inviting personality of the material we’ve got here. After a brief (and hilarious) vocal sample, opener Sky Lounge lays out the sound that dominates I Want To Believe. The beats crunch and shuffle, lush pads drift like smoke, and the basslines are summoned straight from a 70s funk record. Then there’s the rising melody, hitting the perfect balance between hope and introspection. With this first track, Project Pablo hits a wondrous note which he sustains across the album without a single misstep.

These tracks are all cut from the same cloth, each beckoning the listener to shuffle on over, but I Want To Believe is not lacking in diversity. Early highlight Movin’ Out is more club-centric, a supremely chilled sax wafting over soupy chords and a tougher rhythm section, Always twins a didgeridoo-like bassline with kaleidoscopic keys, and later The Feeling adds swooning strings and bright flashes of modern house synthwork. Nor is every track quite so upbeat: things get pensive with the animal calls and wriggling melody of In The Mat, while The Fuss adds a rare vocal to oversee the dialogue between a tumbling block melody and a growling bassline, pure funk without threat.

The nine tracks on I Want To Believe’s cassette are golden: bouncy live-style jams drawn with clean lines rather than the excessive fuzz that many of his contemporaries use to drown their grooves. The collection taps a similar vein to Jack J’s memorable outing on Mood Hut last year, and it’s the ultimate soundtrack for a sunny day. Listening to I Want To Believe, faces seem happier, objects prettier, and all those pesky problems seem like they might just work out okay, after all.


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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Pender Street Steppers - The Glass City / Golden Garden

Label: Mood Hut

The inexorable rise of Vancouver’s Mood Hut and its associates has been one of the most striking narratives in the last year or so of dance music. On paper it’s strange - here is a group who push no sonic boundaries, their music a slow brand of house soaked in boogie and disco, whose tracks never move at a pace faster than a gentle meander. Yet they’ve captured the attention of DJs, home listeners and critics in a fashion generally reserved for the trailblazers of an exciting new scene (the likes of which we haven’t seen for a few years now, all things considered). The quality of music, if you’re into warm, lazy house excursions, isn’t really up for consideration. They’ve definitely got something. The more interesting question is why so much adoration has been poured on such an unshowy, ostensibly backward-looking sound.

The output of the collective has been satisfying and coherent, from the Steppers’ first two playful singles Bubble World and Openin’ Up to Jack J’s gorgeous solo record (which spawned one of last year’s very best tracks) via the blunted house explorations of Hashman Deejay, all generally released on Mood Hut or close affiliates Peoples Potential Unlimited or Future Times. Theirs is a breezy Sunday afternoon music, composed of warm live-style drums that rarely break a sweat accompanied by bulky square basslines and soft unhurried melodies that drift serenely by.

On their latest single Pender Street Steppers have delivered exactly what we all wanted, more of what only they can do. The Glass City is a confection of gentle percussion including a tambourine, a guiro and a cheeky tom fill, steered by a fluttering melody and a broad bass bounce. Golden Garden plays on the same themes to different effects, slower and busier, accompanied by birdsong and loving details to reward the careful listener, such as the subtle doubling of the flute melody or a momentary skip in the rhythm which adds a very human touch.

Disco edits and lofi boogie house are a dime a dozen these days, yet there is a certain cynicism that often comes with these forays into the past, something opportunistic and incongruous about welding these liberated disco melodies and vocals to the mercilessly quantised beats of modern dance music. If they don’t go for a computerised update of euphoric divas and strings, today’s producers often come up with disco loops which add nothing to the re-salvaged originals, resulting in a growing glut of indistinguishable feelgood bangers.

This is where Mood Hut seems to significantly differ from their peers. There is no digital gleam to their sound: it is well-worn, evoking the tired smiles of a group of friends who can do nothing but sway after a long night of dancing. Yet their sound is clearly set apart from the current onslaught of disco remakes in its minimal approach to musicality. Here there are no soaring strings or euphoric piano lines. The Hut plays with flutes, muted brass and curious foundsounds, resulting in something which sounds neither new nor old but rather outside time, not overly reverent to their inspiration nor wildly innovative. More than anything, their sound is genuine, its good vibes shorn of scepticism, put out just to light up faces and put a tingle in the feet of mellow dancers. 


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