April 2010

Michaelangelo Matos is the rootin’est, tootin’est, shootin’est person east, west, north, and south of the Pecos. When he isn’t getting outsmarted by rabbits, he’s listening to techno, house, dubstep, ambient, downtempo, and every other kind of electronic music each month for Beat Connection, The A.V. Club’s guide to dance music, etc. Then it’s back to shooting up saloons and dealing with long-eared varmints.

RHYTHM AND SOUND. Deadbeat’s Radio Rothko (The Agriculture) is an early contender for mix of the year. Comprising tracks either from or heavily indebted to Basic Channel/Chain Reaction’s late-’90s heyday, it moves like a dream, each track expanding or contracting the sound field just enough to nudge things sideways without breaking the long, limber line the DJ constructs. If you have ever wanted to be convinced about just how lovely and involving it can be when minimal techno and dub meet, give it a try. If you already know, this is a feast. 

PRIDE IN THE NAME OF LOVE. Ewan Pearson’s third official mix-CD, We Are Proud of Our Choices (Kompakt), is really good at commingling the cozy and the discomfiting. Granted, he takes his time getting there. Pearson, an Englishman in Berlin who runs a well-written blog and is an in-demand producer (The Rapture, Tracey Thorn) and remixer (see his sterling 2007 collection, Piece Work), begins Choices with color-dappled beauts by Lemonade (remixed by Gold Panda), Lusine, and Kink & Neville Watson. But the set reaches a creepy apotheosis with Xenia Beliayeva’s “Analog Effekt,” a snarling electro-tinted number that seems to lurk in the shadows. Soon after, Al Usher’s “Silverhum (John Talabot’s Wilderness Remix),” a hands-in-air anthem complete with handclaps, comes up like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Whatever their tone, Pearson’s selections were all chosen for maximum glide, but even the glossiest stuff is purposeful and memorable. 

GEARING UP. Things are so accelerated in dance music now that Paul Rose, a.k.a. dubstepper Scuba, has released a mix CD and an album within two months of each other. Triangulation is the album, and it starts smooth and slow-rolling before getting up to speed, with the hard snare beats of “On Deck” typical of Scuba in firing form. But once it’s up, he’s never afraid of making the music sound drenched: “Three Sided Shape” has a slippery feel as reminiscent of vintage aqua-jungle as anything else on his label, Hotflush, which released the album. Sub:Stance (Ostgut Ton) is the mix, named for Rose’s night at the legendary Berghain club. Rose is a native Londoner who’s lived in Berlin for three years now, and the slate-grey timbres of the city’s techno appear in his work. That’s one reason a number of major anthems from recent months—Joy Orbison’s “Hyph Mngo” and “The Shrew Would Have Cushioned the Blow,” Pangaea’s “Sunset Yellow,” Joker’s “Psychedelic Runway”—don’t feel like a mere parading of crowd favorites: The mix is too dark and elegant for that.

BANG A GONG. Jason Forrest deserves as much credit as anyone for the surge of bangin’ house music of the last few years. As DJ Donna Summer, he’s gleefully trashed techno sobriety in favor of the manic and smart-alecky: the name of his label Cock Rock Disco says it all. But in spite of the snark, Forrest still likes to make people dance, and the new Raw EP (Cock Rock Disco) is no exception. It’s his “bass music” release, five tracks circling dubstep (“Raw” is his “wobble” track, for instance), and four remixes by Bok Bok, Sonido Del Principe, Noise Floor Crew, and Hostage that take things further. The whole thing is well made, highly listenable, and able to move a crowd. 

FROM THE JAZZ SIDE. When jazz players dabble with electronic music, things can get awkward. Jazz is about melodic improvisation; techno and its neighbors largely focus on shifting arrangements. Trumpeter Gabriel Johnson started as a jazz prodigy and film composer for Clint Eastwood, but lately he’s swerved hard into programming and beats, and what’s more, he’s good at them. Fra_ctured (Electrofone) doesn’t merely serve Johnson’s trumpet on a laptop platter, it embeds the instrument into its surroundings. Johnson doesn’t provide the clarion call Miles Davis did on his slower electric recordings, though they’re Fra_ctured’s obvious antecedent. So is mid-’90s downtempo at its darkest. Just don’t play it first thing in the morning.

HAUNTED HOUSE. The Ghostly International label, originally in Michigan, now in New York, has been at it for nearly a decade; it likely has something big planned for when it turns 10 next year. By contrast, Ghostly Essentials: Rarities One (Ghostly International) is a free nine-song, 40-minute download available here. Its modesty is part of its appeal: It isn’t just a sampler of the label’s current proclivities, it’s a well-chosen and well-sequenced collection. The highlights come from lesser-known acts. On The Sight Below’s “Blown,” insistent house drums kick along a severely stripped-back ambient-scape that can sit comfortably alongside My Bloody Valentine’s “Soon.” And Ben Benjamin’s “Desk Has Been Tabled” sounds pretty damn close to early-’90s New Order, if that's your kind of thing.

REISSUE OF THE MONTH. The digital-only Reinforced Presents Doc Scott: The Early Plates (Reinforced) is only 10 tracks long. It’s drawn from a handful of EPs, and stops near the start of his development. But it’s valuable anyway, as the early work of an artist with a unique niche. The Coventry DJ, born Scott McIlroy, spent drum-and-bass’ frenetic mid-’90s on a style that was maturing rapidly. Even early on, Doc Scott was a serious motherfucker: His defining 1992 classic “Here Come the Drumz” (as Nasty Habitz) runs on a bass line so rudimentary that it would be cute, if the low end weren’t threatening everything in its path, and a remix from the same time straightens out the clattering breaks, but actually winds up with something funkier. Even here, Scott is using the huge bass drones that later proved a major inspiration to D&B’s techstep school, but he used them with devil-may-care vivacity rather than just leaning on them. With luck, other labels will unveil their own Scott compilations so we can get a fuller view.

ON THE WEB. On March 1, Autechre streamed a 12-and-a-half-hour mega-DJ set live on its website. Needless to say, MP3s of the entire thing were available within 24 hours. (Here is the broadcast, available in 13 chunks of about an hour each; this has the entire thing in one go, if you’re like the first Chinese brother, who could swallow the sea.) I’ve always found Rob Brown and Sean Booth’s music rather chilly, but this endlessly unwinding gambit was an wonderfully inclusive social event, a game everyone could play, dropping in or out anytime during its duration, following along on message boards or Twitter. It brought people together, however fleetingly or virtually. We can use all the unity we can get, and I thank them for it. 

I caught the last four hours or so, beginning with a Public Enemy track, and it sounded thoroughly superb, though I haven’t replayed any of the MP3s yet. That’s one reason it isn’t in the monthly Top 10 mixes below. It’s also too big to argue for as anything but an event, a monument. I’m looking for mixes that can be returned to, in the manner of an album or EP or single. That’s one reason this month’s list includes more podcasts and edited mixes than live club sets. This list took more honing than usual—a lot of good stuff out there. 

JAK, Repercussions (posted Feb. 20)
A hectically paced minimal techno set from a Portland, Oregon producer-DJ, this is both no-frills and pretty come-hither, thanks to the rounder edges of cuts by the likes of Pan-Pot, Len Faki, and Speedy J. 

Thompson, RA.195 (download) (posted Feb. 22)
A Barcelona favorite who prizes “quite organic tracks,” Thompson (a.k.a. Javier López García) specializes in fruity, tropical funk, disco, Latin, and jazz, showcasing ’70s favorites The Crusaders, Roy Ayers, Sylvia Striplin, and the Salsoul Orchestra, not to mention a pair of Masters At Work-associated cuts and Trus’me’s opening “Can We Pretend.” It’s pretty yacht-y, which is its charm. 

Anja Schneider, Bodytonic Podcast 071 (posted Feb. 23)
To celebrate the fifth birthday of her label Mobilee, Anja Schneider delivers a tour de force: a neat, 10-track history of deep house with classics from Moodymann, Ricardo Villalobos, Romanthony, and Josh Wink getting personal with newer work from Schneider and Deniz Kurtel’s spooky, brilliant “Yeah.” Ten years ago, I’d have paid import for it.

Modern Love, Dagnut Mix 1 (posted Feb. 27)
Listening to this mix is like watching a series of abstract black-and-white photos flicker by in leisurely order—it has the mesmeric quality of a smart gallery installation. It drifts and relaxes, but “ambient” undersells it: A lot of intense thought clearly went into this.

Sheldon Drake, Promo Mixes 003: Abstrakt Wave (New York City, US – 1996) (posted March 2) 
Promo Mixes, you might remember, is monthly fanfic DJ sets evoking specific clubs during specific years. Sheldon Drake is the first participant to have DJed at his club (and year) of choice: think of this as an illbient master class. Yes, illbient: Drake melts down 74 tracks and spreads them across 135 minutes for an epic of pure wooze, all to memorialize one of the strangest time-place continuums in nightclub history. 

Donnacha Costello, LWE Podcast 46 (posted March 15)
Thumpin’, pumpin’, jumpin’, lumpen: the head of Minimise Records goes back to his roots, swapping the genetic material of jacking house and upbeat techno via oldies-but-goodies from Chaz Vincent, Neil Landstrumm, Paul Johnson, and Model 500, among others. Big fun.

Mike 2600, Minneapolis Mix (XLR8R Podcast 128) (posted March 18)
Minneapolis is my hometown, and I like plenty of its music, but beyond proprietary interest, this is genuinely a lot of fun, with lots of lovingly deployed drop-ins (let this mark the first and final appearance of Garrison Keillor in this column), as well as a sharp, rap-heavy track list and a flawless transition from the Litter’s “Action Woman” into The Replacements’ “Left Of The Dial.” I also dig Mike 2600’s own “Now Here’s a Funky Beat,” which does freaky things with the Beach Boys’ “Wild Honey.” 

Fiedel, Wax Treatment Podcast #008 (posted March 21)
A dubstep set from a Berlin podcast series, this is a fair match for the Scuba mix-CD above, but more straight-ahead and less tricky rhythmically, with bionic, wobbling bass very much the rule. What it lacks in invention, it more than makes up for in power, without sounding like a self-parody.

Girl Unit, Mix 2010 (posted March 22)
Free-and-easy genre-splicing is seldom deployed so seamlessly as it is here. There are elements of everything from dubstep favorite Ikonika to South Africans Sekta and Spoek Mathambo to Detroit ghetto-tech kingpin DJ Assault to the instrumental of Justin Timberlake’s “My Love” to Chicago juke from DJ Deeon, but the whole thing comes out naturally as if the London DJ (a guy, in spite of the name) had just spun one thing for an hour. 

Jam City, Faux Mixtape #002 (posted March 22)
This new series from the British website Faux Magazine has brevity as its selling point: The mixes are all 10 minutes long. That’s welcome in a world of endless-in-every-way free sets, and Jam City’s boiled-down dubstep-and-friends style is compact, but still has room to breathe.