This month’s roundup of new albums and mixes by electronic artists is heavier than usual on disco and post-disco boogie. That’s where club music has gone over the last couple years on vinyl, with CDs beginning to catch up. I didn’t aim for that to be the case, but I can’t say I’m sorry it is.
CUT CREATOR. Mark E’s Works 2005-2009: Selected Tracks & Edits (Merc) is an eight-song overview of the English DJ whose re-edits—and original tracks built off samples chopped up further than on the re-edits—are the crème de la crème of dance music’s recent so-called disco revival. His strategy is simple: long, drawn-out intros that build surely to florid, overwhelming peaks, with a tingly sensurround sensuousness infusing everything. “You (Full Vocal Mix),” his reworking of Diana Ross’s 1978 “You Were The One,” is the most dramatic, and also the most recent. “Sun Shadow,” the Labelle cut-up that leads the album off, is something like David Mancuso, of original disco the Loft, warming up an early-’70s crowd with a comedy record. (“I ain’t got no lips / Won’t be able to eat no more hamhocks and collard greens!”) And 2007’s classic “RnB Drunkie,” which turns Janet Jackson into the disco robot of a dance fan’s dream, convinces me that she should hire Mark E to produce her next album.
BANG ON. Motor City Drum Ensemble’s Raw Cuts Vol. 1 (Faces) collects nine cuts—six from 12-inch, three new—from the alias of Stuttgart, Germany producer Danilo Plessow. It also adds a two-sided single from a new signing to the MCDE label, Jayson Brothers, whose “All My Life” is grinding, mid-tempo disco with dubby bass and heavily filtered handclaps. Plessow’s own funk, soul, and disco-infused sample-heavy tracks have a frisky energy: The bobbing hi-hat, sweater-warm keyboards, and casual “Yeah, all right?” vocal sample accompanying the drums of “Raw Cuts #3” are easy and alert, and when Plessow mixes in more polyrhythmic guitar and vocal snippets, he makes it irresistible to move along to.
A MATTER OF TRUS’. In the Red (Fat City) by Manchester producer Trus’Me came out in December, but I like it enough to try to sneak it into 2010. Shhh. It’s a short album—eight songs, under 40 minutes—but it’s wide and expansive, ranging from a breezy soul cover of Bill Withers’ “Can We Pretend” to collaborating with synth modernaire Dâm Funk on “Bail Me Out” (another cover of Was (Not Was)’s canonical punk-funk song “Wheel Me Out”) to the glowing deep-house of “Need A Job.” All of it sweeps by effortlessly, yet it’s still enveloping enough to sink into.
CLEAR YOUR SINUSES. Corporate sponsorship is commonplace in dance circles, but nevertheless, it’s easy to be suspicious of Silke Wilhelm I.: Audiovisual Couture Vol. 1 (Conte De Conteur), a two-disc DJ set mixed by Kowesix to accompany Silke Wilhelm I’s new perfume. Sure enough, the first disc is sometimes a little airy—moody stuff by Tricky, Elliott Smith, Moonbootica, the Cinematic Orchestra, and Terranova that wouldn’t be out of place on a late-’90s Quango Records compilation, down to it being wan in places. But the second disc has much dancier stuff—and Kowesix’s frosty selection is as good a showpiece as I’ve heard of the last couple years’ worth of Norwegian ice-house (Sally Shapiro’s Lindstrøm-remixed “Time To Let Go”), DFA disco throwbacks (Walter Jones, Still Going), and indie-crossover (Aeroplane ft. Kathy Diamond’s “Whispers”). Even if you’re sick of some of these records, they’ve never sounded so fetching.
MESSING WITH THE KID. You can’t be a whiz kid/enfant terrible forever, and when that storyline exhausted itself for Miguel Depredo, a divisive figure as IDM went from the ’90s to the ’00s, people basically quit paying attention to his work as Kid 606. But he’s never slowed down, and he’s still likely to skewer styles from dancehall to happy hardcore to jungle. Dance With The Chorizo EP (Tigerbeat6) isn’t really an EP: It incorporates five new tracks and five remixes by associates such as Cex (a spacy electro take on “Under Everywhere”) and Eats Tapes (sand-in-Vaseline techno on “Hello Serotonin, My Old Friend”). “Another One Bites The Dubstep” is cartoony, happy hardcore stomp over an interpolation of Madness’s “Too Much Pressure.” “Gratuitous Baltimore Birthday Jam” runs Altered Images through a Baltimore club rhythm track. But the closing “You Still All Break My Heart” alleviates the obnoxiousness in favor of a wailing diva filtered into ether over a rushing beat; it’s powerful rather than simply bracing.
MIDDLE GROUND. Whenever I put on Nick Chacona’s Love In The Middle (Moodmusic), I veer between wanting the song and end or hoping it won’t, a couple of times each, within the same track. That’s an odd feeling, especially because Chacona is obviously skillful at what he does: pumping house with obviously wide appeal. But it’s also a little bland, even when the material is good—the Kathy Diamond feature “The Fear,” and the synth-splintered “Be Like Olive” are particularly strong. Chacona contents himself with showcasing the basics, but the bolder he gets, as on “Olive,” the better he sounds.
IT TAKES THREE. It’s hard not to see Hamburg’s Wareika as part of a recent lineage that also includes the Moritz Von Oswald Trio and Cobblestone Jazz. Like them, Wareika is a trio that’s evidently indebted to improvisation as a primary compositional method—something that’s clear in the rambunctious psychedelic disco of Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas and Mungolian Jet Set as well. There are many sonic differences between all these acts, but their congruities don’t just exist on paper. Wareika’s debut, Formation (Tartelet), is full of leisurely grooves that fit any number of aural types. “Ascending/Descending” crosses a Scandinavian airiness with Steve Reich-like patterning, while “Baracuda” spoons Middle Eastern horns onto its popping little beat without overdoing the blare the way so many other producers do. They even jam out a 10-minute version of The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm.” Long buildups and breakdowns are common in techno, but it’s clear that members Jakob Seidensticker, Florian Schirmacher, and Henrik Raabe delight in bouncing ideas off one another even as things are winding down. It’s equally clear that they’re patient enough to let things build a bit before moving on to the next one. Smart.
REISSUE OF THE MONTH. Bob Blank wasn’t a performer, he was a producer and engineer who ran Blank Tapes Studios, a hub of New York’s disco, Latin, and post-punk activity. The Blank Generation: Blank Tapes NYC 1975-1985 (Strut) is a teeming collection of some of the best tracks Blank helped birth, from an unissued mix of Sun Ra’s “Where Pathways Meet” that resembles the groove of Aaron Neville’s breakbeat classic “Hercules” to the Latin-flavored big-band funk of Exodus’ “Together Forever” to Lola’s Arthur Russell-produced weirdo post-disco “Wax The Van (Jon’s Dub).” If there are already too many really good New York disco-and-beyond compilations, it doesn’t matter while this one is playing.
ON THE WEB. Some crazy person deserves our thanks for putting online, to download or stream, every episode of BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix. The show has presented weekly two-hour mixes from just about every big-name British DJ (and beyond) since October 30, 1993. Barring the occasional repeat episode, there are well over 900 mixes to try out, covering 17 years. Even for really picky listeners, it’s a feast. I’m daunted by it, and welcome recommendations in the comments. Meanwhile, here are 10 mixes I liked over the past month-plus, in order of posting:
Miss Dinky, Berlin Is Flaking Ambient Mix (posted Jan. 13)
Weirdo insomniacs rejoice: the Chilean producer has prepared your 4 a.m. mood music. The mix includes four of Miss Dinky’s own tracks, as well as three by Aphex Twin and two by nsi., and it ends with the birth of the entire ambient idea, Brian Eno’s “Music For Airports,” keeping just off-center enough not to relax you too damn much.
R1 Ryders, FACT Mini-Mix (posted Jan. 15)
This West London duo (DJ-producer Karnak, MC Skeelo) melds harder techno sounds to the peppery, soca-ish groove of UK funky. They call it “funkitek,” unfortunately, but this 20-minute taste offers a thuggier answer to the post-dubstep melting pot: pitched up, harder edged, a ways from the Caspa-led wobble sound; not groundbreaking, but ’ard and ’avin’ it.
Toby Frith, Bleep43 Podcast 159 (posted Jan. 28)
The Bleep43 Podcasts are usually two-hour radio-show-format showcases for new tracks and guest mixes. But this one is a solid, brilliantly paced 86-minute mix that explores the line connecting electro and house. Apart from a vinyl skip five minutes from the end, it moves in an unwavering line between obvious oldies such as Hall And Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That” and Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence,” and recent goodies like Walter Jones’ “I Am Loved” and Traxx’s “Parametric Melody.”
Chrissy Murderbot, Week 36—Italo Disco (posted Feb. 1)
This starts unpromisingly—wow, RAF’s original version of Laura Branigan’s “Self Control,” how historical—but soon this cheap-jack Euro-cheese from 1979 to 1985 gathers strength and builds up a luminous edifice.
Jubilee, XLR8R Podcast 122 (posted Feb. 4)
For an hour, Brooklynite Jess Gentile plays the exact same mix of electro, London/L.A./Glasgow beat-blat wooze, house, grime, old two-step garage, and uncategorizable remixes that so many other DJs play lately, and throws in something on Planet Mu. It’s great.
Bass Clef, FACT Mix 121 (posted Feb. 5)
I considered leaving this out, simply because it’s so tangential to the electronic music covered here. But I’d be lying if I said this loving selection of ’70s and ’80s African tracks from Kenya (D.O. Misiani & Shirati Jazz), Nigeria (King Sunny Ade), the Congo (Nyboma), Mali (Zani Diabete), and more wasn’t my favorite mix of the month. It starts way up and never stops jumping, and Bass Clef’s segues are as ear-catching as the songs.
Geeneus ft. Katy B, Tippa Mix (posted Feb. 8)
Geeneus is the head of London’s leading grime and dubstep pirate radio station, Rinse FM, which has spun off a stellar official DJ-mix series. Still, it’s exhilarating to hear him whip out 45 minutes of gleaming new tracks, especially when he mixes in verses from Katy B’s upcoming album, co-produced by Geeneus and Zinc.
Petre Inspirescu, RA.193 (posted Feb. 8)
A sinuous 90-minute excerpt from a November appearance at London’s Fabric that, along with The Agriculture’s forthcoming Deadbeat mix (reviewed next month), makes house and techno’s micro-minimal impulses sound more voluptuous and enticing than they have in a while.
Anthony “Shake” Shakir, LWE Podcast 42 (posted Feb. 8)
Daunted by that (awesome) triple-CD retrospective on Rush Hour (reviewed last month)? This mix, 45 minutes on the nose, is nearly as good an introduction: variable, sly, relentlessly throbbing house and techno from a Detroit great.
Kowton, SUM Podcast 003 (posted Feb. 15)
The brevity of this slithering house mix—10 songs in 37 minutes—only concentrates its impact. Kowton slows the BPMs just enough to give tracks like Space Dimension Controller’s “Love Quadrant” and Moody’s “Freeki Mutha F*cka” even more of a viscous feel. It went up right after Valentine’s Day, but its twisted romanticism would have fit the holiday.