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December 2009

CAMERAS READY, BEGIN TO FLASH: If you have issues with so-called “blog house”—the largely French style epitomized by Daft Punk’s Human After All and the Ed Banger label—I understand completely. Even for someone who enjoys Justice’s Cross just fine, coarse is one thing, blaring and tedious another. But the man who arguably started it all, Pascal Arbez-Nicolas, a.k.a. Vitalic, with 2001’s Poney EP (on International Deejay Gigolos), is still the greatest. Flashmob (Different/PIAS) works more variations on its seemingly limited formula than you might imagine. “See The Sea (Blue)” matches a dirty acid line with gurgling, treated vocals to surprisingly lovely effect; the title track stomps all over a playful oscillating tune; “Your Disco Song” throbs and fizzes and never stops undulating and/or giving. Many of these songs would be just as effective if they were played straight and pretty, but thankfully, they’re not.

JAZZ NOT JAZZ: Danuel Tate
is best known as a member of Cobblestone Jazz, the Vancouver trio as committed to on-the-fly creation as to the never-ending groove, but I’m even more diverted by his friskier solo work. There hasn’t been much of it—the four-song Pushcard EP of 2007 and now the new five-song 12-inch Doesn’t Like You Back (Wagon Repair)—but he’s already got a singular style, jazz-tinged and squiggly, with an emphasis on garbled Vocoder and cool, stretched-out horns on “Careful Mind,” “Remember Me,” and “La Boite,” whose rhythm programming expands into a playful early-jungle throwback. The standout is also the least jazzy track: “She Like You?” mocks a would-be dance floor Lothario over rubbery bass and kazoo-like horn slivers.

has made his name with some of the growliest dubstep around, primarily for the now-resting Skull Disco label. Three EPs (Perlon) finds him venturing away from straighter beats than the clanking patterns of dubstep, but this is every bit as bottom-heavy as before, and its feel fits right in with the rest of Perlon’s deliciously avant-garde output. Both ends stretch toward the middle quite clearly on “Mountains Of Ashes,” which sounds like the soundtrack to a martial-arts-movie funeral turned manhunt, and “Let Go,” with its eerie hand drums and shaman-gone-cyborg vocal line over a bassline that thrums like a frightened heart. 

SHINE A LIGHT: On the complete opposite side of Shackleton, mood-wise, is Chilean producer Luciano with his aptly titled Tribute To The Sun (Cadenza). Most of these lengthy tracks are ecstatic exercises in Day-Glo Afro-Latin timbre and texture, with the opener, “Los Ninos De Fuera,” hanging on a double-Dutch-quick chant; “Celestial” building to a rapturous peak with layers of soprano ululations over a grounded bassline and a melody taken from Keren Ann’s “Liberty”; and “Africa Sweat” making like its title, with Senegalese vocalist Ali Boulo Santo deep in a swirling mix of handclaps, percussion, and West African instrumentation. The album does lose steam as it goes on; the tracks become barer and less memorable. “Metodisma” could be any one of a hundred anonymous 12-inch B-sides from the mid-’00s “mnml” wave. But for those who don’t suffer from a knee-jerk distaste for anything that smacks of “world music,” there’s plenty to enjoy here. 

WOBBLE, WOBBLE, TOIL AND TROUBLE: Caspa, the London DJ/producer born Gary McCann, is one of dubstep’s most divisive figures. Live, he throws down one gut-churning bassline tune after another—explosive in short doses, tiresome and tacky in longer ones. Everybody’s Talking, Nobody’s Listening! (Fabric) varies the tempo and feel considerably from his live sets, and offers a ponderous take-me-seriously intro from veteran British DJ David Rodigan. (“Are you listening? Because Caspa’s playing.” Thanks for clarifying.) But ironically, when Caspa is at his most overtly cartoonish—namely, on the whiplash low-end vacillations of “Marmite” and “Low Blow”—the album rises above tedium.

The Circus Company label—co-owned by weirdo duo Nôze and producer Sety—has put out some of the most gleefully screwy dance music of the last few years: highly danceable house with a cheeky sense of adventure. The double-CD compilation Snuggle & Slap demonstrates that the label’s more outré tendencies are tied up with its more formally approachable ones, even as it’s divided into squirrelly “Snuggle” and more straightforward “Slap” halves. On the former, Homewreckers’ “Chicago Urban Blues (Live at Café Bohemia)” is limpid, edge-of-parody lounge-house (“There is no Chicago urban bluuuueeees”); on the latter, Le K’s “Rahan” and Oleg Poliakov’s “Keep Blooming” are blurry, percussion-heavy, and glitchy, but never stop moving. 

ON THE WEB: I have a simple rule with web mixes: If I get bored, I turn them off. So it says something that the mp3 floating around of Parisian DJ Jennifer Cardini’s Live at Rex Club 31.10.2009 kept me going for its entire 114 minutes. Cardini runs through a wide range of tracks, from bass-heavy monsters (the most delicious of which comes in around 37:00) to pert electro-pop to a sensuous track by Everything But The Girl’s Tracey Thorn closing it out, as casually as you’d put on a coat. In spite of its length, it draws me back. 

If you’re reading this, chances are you also read London’s FACT Magazine, and if you aren’t, you should. (Full disclosure: I’ve written for it.) One big reason: its twice-weekly podcast, up every Monday and Friday. Two recent offerings are among its (and the year’s) best, and both make most “eclectic” DJ sets sound as dime-a-dozen as they usually are. dÉbruit's FACT Mix 90, from October 9, has a beguiling, intuitive internal logic whose axis is the kind of synth-funk redux that’s been all the rage this year (Dâm-Funk, Shafiq Huseyn, Dorian Concept, dÉbruit himself) but whose satellites spread out to Kurtis Blow, Konono No. 1, and Yo La Tengo’s great version of Sun Ra’s “Nuclear War.” The tracks bump hips, spill their drinks, slap each other on the back, and go home with smiles on their faces. (FACT mixes stay up for three weeks, so Google this one.) The Village Orchestra’s FACT Mix 102, from November 20, is more linear and goes further, beginning with dark experimental tracks by Coil, V/VM, and Signal and gradually settling into a groove, powered by classics like Jamie Principle’s “Baby Wants To Ride” and newer cuts like Hot City’s “No More,” with plenty of friction in it.

Based on the “Hyph Mngo” 12-inch on Hotflush alone, Joy Orbison would be one of 2009’s most notable new names, but subsequent singles like “BRKLN CLLN” and “J. Doe” are nearly as striking. There’s no full album yet, but find his 21-minute set on Mary Anne Hobbs’ BBC Radio 1 Show, from September 24, which features all three tracks as well as four more, including a couple as-yet-unissued, including a remix of Home Park’s “Beatdown.” Hobbs’ breathless intro and outro (“This is your time—step up [intense whisper] Joy”) are a bit much, but the mix is plenty convincing.