[keep your headphones on]
a series of posts regarding music, technology and the meeting points between. thoughts on the current state of music, the sharing of and other methods of distribution. suggestions leading the reader towards wonderful music that has been newly released or sadly overlooked. all in a simple, non-seizure inducing page format.
sasha inovlved one more time.
Sasha’s new Involver record, the third and apparently final* in the series, is a very complex, beautiful album. Though thoroughly danceable, accessible and characteristically Sasha, the cutting edge element here, are the surprising use of vocals. Now, if you go back, you’ll notice that vocals are present throughout all of the Involver series, including the wonderful “Talk Amongst Yourselves” by Grand National (a lovely band in their own right) and The Engineers last collaboration ever on Involver 2, “Sometimes I Realise”. But on those records, the manipulations and profound production style that is Sasha’s trademark was on the instrumentation, the use of analog synths in Involver 2 and the freshman excitement of experimentalism found throughout the first release.
Here, as contrast, some of the most incredible moments are the subtle programming and edits of the vocals, or how they are framed in the mix, a la “Small Talk” by Ultraísta and the directly preceding “Battleships” which is a collaboration between Benjamin Damage & Doc Daneeka & featuring Abigail Wyles. In both cases, the mix is heavily vocal driven, the accompanying sounds- backbeat, bass and synths- providing a chassis to a thoroughly smooth overall sound emphasizing unforgettable vocal edits and melodies.
There are also lovely bits of texture in the sound, random over-washed percussion providing a cloak of dingy, forbidding darkness, as if walking though late 19th century Whitechapel on a cold fall evening.
The final theme I find most interesting is a true harking back to a house, almost disco mentality for all of the music present here. As said above, the record is very danceable, extremely club centered (and this is a very good thing), but where Airdrawndagger and even the first Involver could have been thought of as a thinking man’s album, here the emphasis is clearly on movement. And with a welcome minimalism that harks back to a fresh faced disco scene, or the early San Francisco house scene in the 90’s. Scott Hardkiss passed away only a week ago as I write this and Sasha’s latest effort seems to pay unintentional homage to this early progenitor of the modern dance music sound**
I enjoy this record thoroughly, mainly for its surprises, the brilliant mixing duties and the beautiful range of sounds, songs that were employed and gorgeous, almost tragic feel to the whole record. I have enjoyed each entry to the Involver Series as it may now be called, but this one has a certain permanence, a feel of timeless style and really a lot of heart put into it. I have been a fan of Sasha as a DJ and producer for a very long time, but this one has a distinct atmosphere to it, a room with a view as it were. I highly recommend listening to this wonderful album and I strongly suggest listening as a continuous mix as the individual tracks have distinct replay value; you may never get past track 6, and of course, you really should get to the end.
On a final, practical note, I do highly recommend purchasing the CD- as with the entire Involver Series- mainly because of the exquisite and conceptual album art available throughout. Beautiful work on all fronts, Cheers to Mr. Coe and his team for doing such a wonderful job. Hats off to all the original artists as well, the talent shines through even with the lens of Sasha’s sound further articulating their music.
Keep your headphones on.
* Sasha is interviewed in the album liner notes, discussing the creative process and the lengths gone through to make this album happen and, in the final sentence states, “Yes this is the last one.” I must say, I’m a bit sad for this news.
** Of course Sasha is he himself an early progenitor of the sound, it is very possible I am being overly romantic here.
The XX weirds me out. At first I thought they were from Paris, absolutely convinced the female singer Romy Madley Croft was French. Maybe they were from Manchester, as the guitar and the song style seemed to resemble Martin Hannet’s mile-away mic’ing. The pitch black darkness of all the songs make you feel like the songs need to be listened to with the lights off, eyes shut tight.
I can’t stop listening to angels.
I keep thinking the song style should fall apart mid-listen, the songs are so deceptively simple and loose. But the message and emotion is clear and beautiful.
"Coexist" feels like Burial & Four Tet had a hand in the beats, the backbeat is just gorgeous work and Jamie really shines here. Thom Yorke should come in on the vocal, honest to god it captures that wonderful south London sound in electronic music. The album feels like a dark night at the disco.
But then, I can’t stop repeating angels.
The first record seemed joyful, childish (in it’s optimism, not the song writing), and I was fascinated by the rhythm and the minimalist melodies. Nothing felt contrived, the music seemed to have just enough to be perfect and absolutely nothing more. “Coexist” is lush and markedly passionate, poignant even, a line drawn in the sand for the songwriters; “this is what we feel.”
The guitars are so dead simple: a gibson les paul, with vintage-ish plate reverb, possibly an echo box. Oftentimes guitarists rely heavily on an effect (or effects) to create a sound, a la The Edge. Here, The XX have established a signature that is unmistakably them, with mere garage-band effects. In that, they are quite similar to Edge, the utter simplicity of the “Unforgettable Fire” using the Memory Man Echo Box almost entirely for- what would become- his signature sound.
Again the XX just leave me confused, they shouldn’t work. No one should buy into any of these songs, it’s just too good to be true. The beats reek of Brooklyn hip hop and nights at the old Twilo dance club on 27th street. The vintage feel, their whole style is absolutely foreign, wonderful and nearing unbelievability. Yet, here they stand, immutable… The Uncanny XX.
Which record is better? I’m going to say “Coexist”. There are blood stains miring the first record due to firing of a certain band member and the sound of the second record seems to be a bit purer, having a clean, danceable, house-inspired backbeat. And the bass is just damn sexy throughout the whole record, sounding more professional, simply better.
keep your headphones on.
burial, not truant.
A long time coming this post, I apologize for lack of updates dear reader, I have only myself to blame.
But, it is 2013 and this long forsaken blog needs some dusting and updates. Therefore, I will start with some relatively old news, but exciting stuff all the same.
Burial has released another EP called “Truant” which is also the name of the first track, spanning 12 minutes or so. What I found to be so curious about this release is the continued evolution of the “Chapter” theme I discussed in the “Kindred EP” review so many months ago. Though Burial continues to rely on the minimalist tone of vinyl noise and South London rain, he is also creating melody that is hauntingly beautiful. And, in an extremely interesting move, self sampling old sounds and running them through yet another gamut of effects and his characteristic, endless tweaking.
The finished product is truly an interesting listen, one with a great deal of semblance to the “Kindred EP” in flow and feel, but there are some- dare I say- almost joyful moments in the record. There are crescendos that build slightly but are then washed away by vinyl skips and sandman-esque bumps in the night. I find this EP a rather moving release; with some moments that are so surprisingly beautiful it seems Burial is expanding his emotional palette, not just his extremely creative sound design skills. It’s just a lovely continuation of his current work, but I truly wish for him to release a complete record, though at this point, I imagine it would be just one continuous track, randomly named and a fearsome thing to behold. I would buy a physical format for sure.
The release is beautiful and the best deal for it is on hyperdub’s website here for a measly 3 pound 49 (approximately $5.67 at today’s exchange). Though I normally suggest acquiring through Beatport (which you can do of course), this release is easiest to purchase from those lovely blokes at Hyperdub. By far the least expensive and the direct support of such a wonderful label is a truly good thing.
keep your headphones on.
the smashing pumpkins.
The Smashing Pumpkins can be credited with being the most important american grunge band for the massive contribution they made to the style and frankly, the fact that they were and remain better musicians than Nirvana ever were.
Sadly, Nirvana is often said in the same breath (as I did above) with the Pumpkins, but for truly iconic, beautiful songs, alongside aggressive, abrasive and frankly hard tracks, the Pumpkins were much more successful. Mellon Collie was arguably one of the best records of the 90’s and it still holds up remarkably well, mainly because of Billy’s prolific song writing at that time and Flood’s brilliant production abilities. Siamese Dream is also bolstered by the startlingly loud mixing work of Butch Vig. But technicality aside, “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”, “1979”, “Zero”, “Tonight, Tonight” to name just a few are found on a single album… most bands can’t get two consecutively successful singles in a career, yet Mellon Collie had 5 and the entire record was delectable, from start to finish. The singles were so successful, they were packaged together on the amazing, iconic, beautifully designed, “Aeroplane Flies High” box set. The B-Sides, included on each single were- if I may continue to gush- gorgeous, including a lovely cover of Blondie’s “Dreaming”, the haunting “Set The Ray to Jerry” and the gorgeous “Cherry”. What’s so amazing about this era of music for The Smashing Pumpkins was that they had already released 3 albums that had been successful in their own right; Gish, Pices Iscariot and Siamese Dream, let alone the beautiful “Drown” on the Singles Soundtrack. This one period of 2-3 years of singles, album and touring, though marred by the heroin overdose of their touring keyboardist (RIP John Melvion), was a universe onto itself, a level of success that most musicians would pray for to have, even with all that the Pumpkins have done before and since.
That epoch then certainly passed and “Ava Adore”, though a beautiful record, seemed a half hearted followup to Mellon Collie, but how do you follow up such an incredible album? Even Machina, the spiritual successor to Mellon Collie, just felt slightly off, save for the incredible “Everlasting Gaze” and my personal favorite “Stand Inside Your Love”. Even with Auf Du Mar’s metric ton bass work and the return of Jimmy C on the drum kit, the songs could not bring back that experience of Mellon Collie. I think it was Billy trying to as hard as he could to close pandora’s box; he’d gone so far with gargantuan melody and over the top arrangements, many of his listeners couldn’t go back to the four piece band that could yell louder than God. This post punk style had been what the Pumpkins did for so long and still do so very very well, but Corgan had taken the band to different places, they simply were not that kind of outfit anymore.
Most people, after seeing their own band fall apart (but still unified enough to release the notable fuck you of “Friends & Enemies of Rock & Roll”), doing the soundtrack for “Stigamata” and so forth, most people would just call it a day. The band had done a VH1’s Storytellers, which again suggests finality in a band. And I think a great deal of pumpkins fans did believe the band was over, what with a greatest hits release on the Tower Records shelves, D’Arcy and James Iha publicly being rather uncouth in their depiction of Billy Corgan*, the pumpkins appeared completely over. Billy even released his first true solo effort, TheFutureEmbrace after ZWAN’s short-lived superband status.
Billy himself seemed to go off the deep end, becoming deeply religious- the hallmark of forthcoming failure and career tragedy- thanking “the virgin mary and all her angels” in the liner notes of Zeitgeist. And of course, Zeitgeist came out, with some brilliant, hard-as-a-coffin-nail riffs but again, just not really all the way there. Even Chamberlin’s (now truly and fully sober) top notch drum work could not make the record complete, like past SP records had been.
So, I even let it go, gave up hope, waved the white flag and just kept listening to mellon collie or siamese dream (expertly remastered in 2011 FYI) in a form of remembrance of that band that for me was one of the most important and sentimental of the 90’s. But today, for my lack of following any updates or updaters of SP, I found that Oceania was released 3 days ago (6-19-2012). This record, with a completely fresh faced crew backing Billy Corgan (the bassist is actually one of the children photographed in the Siamese Dream cover!), we get to hear something… well something new, something, that appears rather ambitious.
I will confess, when “Today” first broke on MTV, I was confused by the grunge style and, with my brother’s forced musical education, I did not enjoy this new, looser, not as precise sound that was becoming popular. It was not until Mellon Collie that I was truly sold on SP and then I realized my own horrible misjudgment. I promptly went through the strikingly wonderful Siamese Dream and loved it so very much. But my point being is that often, Billy’s songwriting style does not always render an immediately addictive track, often Smashing Pumpkins records are really the music you never knew you needed. And Oceania is that, some challenging listens, but then, some absolutely incredible new sounds, a really sophisticated use of synths and some beautiful replies to the past, especially on “The Chimera” which has a nice “Geek USA” styled opener.
I am so fond of records like this, the ones that appear to be the artist’s “coming home” record, where they are able to respect how to they got here, use it and inject what they’ve learned along the way to create something lovely and new. Billy’s personal life has also been quite rocky as of late, and though I hate to say it, that’s often a good thing for songwriters. This record, for it’s remarkable pedigree, demands a full listen through and a thorough listen, especially with how clean Billy’s vocals are, the drummer’s wonderful adherence to the SP “Sound” with Jimmy’s use of heavy shuffles and breaks. But the guitars are so very very Billy. They’re just so big, so loud and screaming and that great heavy midrange warmth that we loved so much in the grunge era.
I’m just so happy that not all the legends have died. Cheers to SP for making something new and tough and beautiful. One more really nice feature of this album, it’s available on the SP site is that you can buy the record via your preferred codec, all for one price.
Keep your headphones on.
* Sadly, those two forgot their careers hinged so much on Billy, that they would always and only ever be known as part of Billy Corgan’s band, so their vitriol was a rather childish.
** Also of note, the current Smashing Pumpkins website has an absolutely complete list of their music and a real reverence for the past. It’s a really well designed site.
underworld, 100 days off (£0)
In 2002, Underworld, still trying to understand their identity as a duo sans Darren Emerson, released a record called a hundred days off.
Beaucoup Fish, their previous album, had been a difficult record to produce and altogether had not been their best release. Subsequently, a hundred days off, as the name states, was delayed for months, leading the public to believe the group was over, that they had lost something, or simply run their course.
A hundred days off was one of those records; there was a brooding darkness, discussions of solace and unrequited love, but then also, a wonderful ginsberg style spoken word, both by Hyde and the mysterious “Juanita” (we’re never given any other information than that), with some joyful small-talk interspersed throughout the record. The music goes from cold mechanical techno to really deep and melodic chill, with some guitar twang mixed in for kicks. Hyde does his first experimentation with the long chanting melodies in his vocal, instead of just his standard, near military cadence. There are beautiful moments of textural synthesis and a very hook oriented song writing style, where the past records, especially their earliest, were much more about the journey of the song. The bass is, as always with Underworld, thick and fast and omnipresent, which I will never grow tired of.
Though, the two songs I find the most interesting are Dinosaur Adventure 3D and Luetin, which are probably the most dissimilar tracks on the album, but are truly beautiful, interesting songs with a real sense of place and identity. Where the record’s own wonderful flow makes many of the songs congeal into a single, enjoyable whole, those two songs speak the most to me and remain individual moments.
The production, though showing minor signs of age, is still top notch, per the usual with Underworld, what we have come to expect and we as listeners have never really been let down.
Up until this record, Underworld had been an unknowable geometry for me; a hard to understand group that wrote songs which occasionally floored me, and then other times left me wondering what I had just listened to. After this record, I felt I finally understood their sound and enjoyed it, instead of just privately worshiping “Cowgirl” and “Rez”. Be it that this record was more accessible, or the confusing styles were all Darren Emerson’s doing*, I don’t know, but I highly recommend giving this beautiful record a solid listen, as I have been doing so today.
Another reason, aside from the record being a beautiful cornerstone of modern EDM, is that the boys from Essex have kindly made the album a free download today, due to this day marking 100 days off of the 2012 London Olympics, which Underworld are kindly providing the soundtrack to.
Do listen here
keep your headphones on.
* No disrespect to Emerson at all, he is a brilliant DJ and Producer. I however, was always curious if his songwriting style and production was what kept me from unconditionally loving Underworld prior to a hundred days off. His two Global Underground mixes (20 & 36 respectively) on the other hand, are amazing releases and I highly recommend them.
continued reverence for the departure
Burial, once again, has been kind enough to come out of hiding in South London quickly enough to give us thirty minutes and thirty-eight seconds of truly beautiful music.
I must say, I did not know what to make of the Kindred EP at first, it’s lonely and truly challenging, even for burial. Where his first record was a true education in minimalist production techniques, his new, crisper sound has also given way to a more destroyed sonic palette; even the consistency of playback is victim to his constant tinkering, leaving odd, tape or vinyl like stops. I will be honest, there were multiple stops and clips I thought were originally due to me listening to the songs on Hyperdub’s website, which had been absolutely brutally attacked with purchases for the new Burial EP and its bandwidth was suffering for it. There are breaks and off beat stoppages of the songs so random it seems mistaken.
To the uninitiated, this could sound fantastically annoying: a record replete with small gaps and interruptions in the detail and structure of the music the artist is presenting.
The uninitiated would be soundly forgiven.
The Kindred EP is Burial’s new brand of songwriting, one profoundly driven by a chapter like sense of progression. Where most song writing is single subject, only varying slightly from a given theme, Burial will wholly abandon the current scope of music and take on a completely new set of instruments, beats and mood. Also, these chapters, though certainly “visible” in the musical sense, are extremely disparate. For example, pianos are visited at the end of Ashtray Wasp, a song begun with an extreme, paranoia inducing pitch bended melody, sided with Bevan’s signature effected vocal samples and easily one of his fastest beats. His use of side chaining is as well, new and falling in slightly with the rest of EDM, where that production technique has become common place. However, Burial insists upon using it to his own ends, and his own way, again to produce extreme points of mood and isolation.
No matter whom you are with when you listen to this record, you become markedly alone.
Remarkably however, this new style works, to incredible effect.
Where the Street Halo EP was experimenting with the “open roof” of volumes in digital music production, Kindred appears to be experimenting with the boundaries of continuity and what is indeed the core sound of Burial, what moves him to create music. Experimentalism, or marked departures from previous styles are dangerous territory. Artists are guaranteed to lose some fan base (see my previous posts on Cut Copy for example). However Burial seems to be outside of this rule, as if he has his own set of physics to adhere to. His style is change, his growth is what makes me listen to him and nearly beg for a new record from him regularly.
I do not know how William Bevan managed to completely change the rules on us, but, here we are, always asking to be surprised by his music and not ever being let down.
Oh and most importantly, listen all the way to the end of each track, do not skip ahead. Oftentimes the gifts that Burial leaves for us to hear are at the end of the track. I will confess to not enjoying the first track, for which the EP is named, as much as the next two, Loner & Ashtray Wasp, but still, an amazing record all told.
keep your headphones on.
back to roots: trance & a&b.
Most people have a starting point for the music they obsess about, electronic music fans most of which. For a format of music so diverse in genre and style, EDM listeners can often trace where the sound first got to them, when in their lives it happened, their first rave and how they got to now. It’s a right of passage in dance music; you have to know where you started to explain where you are.
For me, this was trance and progressive. Yes the uplifting, often embarrassingly beautiful and piano whoring style that lots of 90’s kids discovered via movie soundtracks or random nights out in the city (for me, it was the former). First discovering BT, then to Christopher Lawrence, Robert Miles, Tiesto, Oakenfold (back when he actually cared about the scene he helped create), Paul Van Dyk, Richard Humpty Vision, Tall Paul, the list is as long as an NYE party’s billing. However, as my tastes evolved, I stepped away from trance almost entirely, viewing it as kid’s stuff, the fluffy, sweeter, less spicy, even dumbed down version of electronic music, trading it for the dance music that was happening in the less popular booths and clubs. I’ll be honest, I felt a bit above many trance listeners, figuring they’d at one point “figure it out” and head more towards progressive house, breaks, dnb, glitch, chill and experimental like it seems that everyone does. And maybe, back then I was right. Paul Oakenfold had gone from genuinely distributing exciting house and trance via mix tapes and releases on his label Tranceport, to using trance as a vehicle for money and notoriety, singlehandedly destroying a lot of the legitimacy created at the tail end of the 90’s that electronic music had built for itself in American ears.
But thankfully, even after he’d rehashed his old hits*, made “electronic” and “techno” a dirty word in music, Paul still couldn’t destroy it all. It seemed, as the cheesy trance went on spinning itself right into the ground in a rumpelstiltskin-esque fit, some producers were trying to figure out where- if anywhere at all- trance fit into the modern, legitimate voice of EDM. Of course the old stuff would remain, easy to digest “pop” dance music labeled as trance, but what about something new, a retooling of the old gated sounds, strings and pianos?
In 1999, two gentlemen, Jono Grant and Paavo Siljamäki, whilst attending University in Westminster, started working on music together, calling themselves “Dirt Devils,” “Freestate,” “Anjunabeats” and others. At one point they released a track called “Volume One” on their own newly created label, called Anjunabeats. Later on, a promoter and producer Tony McGuinness joined the ranks as they cowrote a remix. Together, they agreed upon a new name, “Above & Beyond” and proceeded to release mixes, singles and remixes on their Anjunabeats label. Though originally just a vehicle for their own releases, Anjunabeats became an all important voice in the reformation of trance and the gathering of a great deal of musical styles into the modern perspective of progressive trance, including electro elements, progressive house, breaks and techno.
I however, was a bit late to discover Above & Beyond, or rather more accurately, to give them an honest, objective listen. But I will give credit to iTunes, via the early iTunes Genius project called “Just for You” I was suggested to give a look to the Anjunabeats 100 mix, a cross section of the first 100 releases on the Anjunabeats label, celebrating that landmark. I was, at the time, relying a great deal on public transportation and as a result, I had time to give this release a few serious listens.
What I found was that trance, what I had thought was a stagnant style of music, had been growing, developing and extending itself into other genres. Trance was dynamic, evolving and no longer the kid’s stuff, cotton candy sweet silliness of DJ Sammy (which always struck me as more happy hardcore than trance anyway). Above & Beyond had apparently- whilst ruffling quite a few feathers-supplanted all of the old guard of trance royalty and become the Kings of the style, both in it’s proliferation, via their label and their astoundingly powerful releases. It’s rather profound how these three gentlemen have, along with the artists they’ve given pulpits to, given a genre new life and new legitimacy.
The reason for this entire article, is “Anjunabeats Volume 9” which is relatively hot off the presses, just released last November. And contained herein is an amazing scope of music, impeccably mixed, using a really incredible selection of tracks. The first disc is modern trance, huge synths, huge buildups, reverbed so that they sound miles across. The especially wonderful track by A&B, “You Got To Go” is expertly remixed by Kyau and Albert to stunning effect, and really the only vocals in the first disc.
The second disc is much funkier, techier and mechanical. But also, mixed in are gorgeous vocals, some darker elements and a lovely few bits of piano. All of it, every track is listenable, enjoyable and downright fist pumpingly good. I adore this release, from beginning to end.
I don’t care that it’s trance, I don’t even feel like I have to explain myself anymore, because trance isn’t what it used to be. It’s just dammed good and excitingly new. It’s like I just heard “Flaming June” for the first time, or “Fable”. Trance is again, all brand new.
keep your headphones on.
Paul Oakenfold’s release of “Not Over” on the Lively Mind record in 2006, is in fact a rehashing of a track Paul, Steve Osborne and Dominique Atkins wrote, called “Not Over Yet” released in 1993. A strong stench of sloth is smelt when opening the album’s jewel case.