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Picks 11/25/2012

November 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Music, man. It’s been a good week for records. Next week is looking to be even better.

Pulled from an order from Chemical Records.

Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (Modern Love, 2012)

Things are really picking up for Andy Stott. His incredible Passed Me By and We Stay Together EPs regularly work themselves onto my turntables and itunes a year after their release, while his new album has captivated everyone from Pitchfork to Spin, Resident Advisor to Vogue (above). On last year’s EPs, his syrupy dub-techno/house productions were intriguing and different, but not miles away from the electronic dust of Basic Channel or Actress. What really separated the work was how the dense soundworlds conveyed a visceral impact while retaining a deep sense of groove beneath all the layers of fuzz and bass. To say that Stott’s full length was highly anticipated would be insufficient in describing my budding relationship with the album. If I have yet to make it clear across these pages, I’m pretty opposed to vocals in the music I listen to. I’m not one for melody, and I’m not one for bad lyrics. Thus, I felt a pang in my musical heart when I heard Luxury Problems would prominently feature a vocalist.

Numb” was the first single, and is the first track on the album. Frankly, the track is a fitting introduction to the album; it begins softly, with whispering vocals and dark ambient tones carrying it along. A hihat is introduced and the tension begins to build as the vocals sway and overlap, the tones begin to meld, and then it all clears away for a moment. Stott has a nice way of building tension, but an even stronger talent of releasing that tension through industrial jacking rhythms, through all-encompassing bass, through sunken soundscapes. The track is immediately accessible; it’s grimy, heavy, yet curiously beautiful. It reminds me of hearing Burial’s “Archangel” for the first time – a mesmerizing mash of romance and darkness. Stott cites early 4AD records, especially Cocteau Twins as a major influence over this album and it’s steadily apparent. In the same way Cocteau Twins fused dark, groovy sensibility with forlornly precious vocals, Andy Stott is taking this sound out for a deep warehouse vibe, crafting music that is innately accessible, but yet still dark enough to keep casual listeners away.

Stott explores more explicit pop tendencies on “Hatch the Plan,” capturing a lilting, beautiful melody that seems more fitting for a “chillwave” song, and through the first few enrapturing minutes I wouldn’t blame anyone for confusing this for something from the TriAngle label. The track is buoyant – a restrained, slow, jacking rhythm keeps the listener in forward momentum while Stott manipulates the samples to angelic proportions. This is an easy recommendation for those who normally aren’t invested in this style of music. The marriage of pop, dance and darkness is best heard on “Luxury Problems,” where the seductive rhythm and cooing vocals whisk you away, but short blocks of strange color seem to disrupt everything, yet hold it all together, offering a perspective outside of Stott’s traditionally colorless world.

With last years EPs, if any of the tracks were played at 45rpm, the sludgy too-slow-to-dance track would transform into a prickly, aggressive, eyes-down techno bomb. Due to the vocals and already mid-paced tracks, this simply isn’t possible with Luxury Problems – but a problem it isn’t. These songs groove and jack in their own way, riding along at a comfortable speed, and frankly resemble hip hop tempos. Tracks like “Lost and Found” suggest dancing, but I’m not sure if it would work anywhere else other than a candle-lit late night party where the last blunt is being smoked and the last drop of wine being drunk. The suggestion continues, as on “Up the Box,” where Stott resuscitates the Amen Break, leaving us with a sluggish, pitched-down jungle track that is gone before you can even find the groove.

I’ve had this record since Tuesday, I’ve listened to it over and over, yet I don’t feel like I’ve made much progress. While not as complex and inaccessible as last year’s EPs, Luxury Problems is a lot like peering into a dark room and trying to make sense of it. I’m sure this record will be hanging out near my turntables for the next few months. And again, this is one for quality headphones/speakers. For more Andy Stott, check out his amazing live set on Boiler Room.

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Mickey Pearce – Numb Nut/Socks Off (Swamp81, 2012)

Swamp81 is truly on top of their game, achieving a status that maintains quality over hype – although the label is no stranger to hype. Rising above their peers in regards to curation (Joy Orbison, Falty DL, Addison Groove), design (Ashes57), quality mastering and a devotion to vinyl, its easy to see how I love this label. Mickey Pearce is apparently being pushed forward as the new posterboy for the label, with an album in the works for early next year. His prior singles for Swamp81, Ramp and Ten Thousand Yen have been good, but not entirely there. This latest single really changed my mind about him as it provides two fun, functional, and distinct tracks that are among the best work for both the artist and label. Exploring influences from UK funky to footwork to industrial techno, this 12″ is a bit unique in its sound despite the hyped genre tags.

“Socks Off” (above) is the track that sold me. When I first heard the track I feel in love immediately – the detuned tom melody, the deep bass hits, the endless tense organic percussion, the cheesy samples – it’s all absolutely perfect. The vibe on this track is strong and it never fails to bring a smile to my face. It has a very functional and accessible bounce to it, with a tongue-in-cheek darkness that propels the intensity. Focusing on primarily fantastic sounding percussion (rubbery toms, bright blocks, inverted claps) the track excels in being funky without being overtly “tribal.” That being said, it does land in an area where UK Funky is seen through the eyes of Night Slugs or Fade to Mind, which makes it dark and tense, but in a way that has a brilliant larger-than-life quality to it. It’s this relationship of anxiety, playfulness and excitement that have me playing this track over and over. It is going to work great mixed with more raucous house cuts (here), or slipped into an En La Noche set @ MOLAA. Huge thumbs up on this one.

The flip “Numb Nut (Soft Brain)” also strikes the funky influence with lots of bright percussion and jeering vocal samples. Deep bass rubs ground the track and really add a tough intensity that would be unbelievably satisfying if heard out on a good system. The rhythm is a half-time juke banger with both rhythms being very easy to follow, adding to the linear carnival tradition of the funky style. With each listen I become more attracted to the song as it is, again, a fairly linear percussive track that plays little attention to much else other than functionality. But that’s not to say it is simple, as it is plain to see that Mickey put a lot of focus on his tones and timbres, crafting a thick dark sound palette that is mindful of the current attention towards Berghain techno or the work of Joy Orbison/Boddika, yet remains unique in implementation. The vocal samples are really tools that add a sense of melody and excitement to the track while remaining vague and unintelligible, as if cut in from old tape or worn vinyl – perhaps a nod to soundsystem culture from the days of street dub. This tune has only one aim, and that’s to make people dance.

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Trackman Lafonte & Bonquiqui – Trackman Lafonte & Bonquiqui (Creme, 2012)

This is the first 12″ of surfer house by the dastardly duo of Legowelt and Xosar. These two really crack me up in their whole persona/relationship/whatever, but their collaborative musical output has been really strong. I find Legowelt to be fairly cheesy at times, while Xosar isn’t always as propulsive as she could be, but their surfer house exploits have been great. This is tongue-in cheek music made on cheap, outdated synths, probably recorded to tape and mixed to sound flat and hazy. It’s functional in some contexts, but I rather enjoy it as a nice listen, as it has lots of cheery tones with a slick groove underneath.

The Feeling, The Force” is featured on my latest mix, and if I had to pick a favorite track from all the records I picked up this last week – this would be it. The groove is very tight, jacking, yet with a bouncy swing, madd hi-hats and deep MK-style raise-your-hands chords. I love how vibrant and colorful the track is, I want to be playing on the beach or skating or at a party getting wild. On this track or on “Fortunes of the Lord” (above) it becomes obvious that this is real deal, fun, party music. No bullshit, just jams. These tracks are engineered to get you grooving, get you out and help you get down.

The pair get a little deeper on “Fascinating Facts,” reaching for a space where mythical forest dreams and techno correlate – the mood is a bit more serious, the vibe is eyes-down, but the execution is no less formidable. Overall, we have four essential tracks from one of 2012’s most interesting and consistent partnerships.

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V/A – Autonomous Africa (Autonomous Africa, 2012)

This is a REALLY great compilation record curated by the esteemed JD Twitch of the Glasgow based, Optimo parties. All proceeds are being donated to charity, and thus the music is difficult to find streaming online. No matter, I will do my best to convince you to buy the damn thing regardless.

Of the four tracks, only one is available for full stream and that’s Auntie Flo’s edit of Atakoru Manu’s “Bebo Ne Komo” (above). The track begins with some bubbling bass, and the dread begins to swell as the percussion fills the air, keeping the rhythm fully focused and in front. A twinkling synth tone sneaks in, like the sun rising over a mountain, the rhythm takes a breath and all at once the mood has changed. Once the vocals come in there is no looking back, the simple sing-chant is captivating, while the synths continue to bubble and float, letting the rhythm now feel weightless – all leaving the dancer caught up in a trance. Unlike a lot of other edits out there, this one is extremely cohesive and it’s difficult to tell exactly where the Auntie Flo/Atakoru Manu divide is. Not exactly a banger, but without a doubt this track will find itself in my sets.

The high point of this compilation is the opening track, JD Twitch’s edit of Sofrito’s edit of “Tabou for the People” (it’s the last track on my newest mix). The vibe is a rough African-Disco with beautifully dusty hi hats and very deep lowend. Wah guitar quickly opens up the hatch, ushering in a definite sense of party. Boasting vocal samples persuade: “I know you like Tabou No. 2, man” while the precise woodblock ensures a frenzy. From start to finish, this is a wonderfully executed edit that should be able to make anyone dance anywhere anytime. It’s one of those tracks that’s too good for words, and just may be the best edit I’ve heard yet. I mean, listen to the timbales/trumpet  solo and tell me that this isn’t your groove. Tabou for the people, man.

Categories: 2012, africa, House, video

Picks – 11/4/2012

November 4, 2012 Leave a comment

I’ve had a busy week. I’ve got a new mix out, it’s been a while. Hope it was worth it. Dancer’s only.

Pulled from trips to Amoeba and Fingerprints, and an order from Chemical Records.

Ronnie Foster – Two Headed Freap (Blue Note, 1972) PICK!

Madlib’s “Mystic Bounce” has been a staple in my DJ sets since the very first day I got turntables. I love that slinky bassline, the soulfulass keys, and that deep bounce. Somewhere along the line, I realized that it was a reworking of Ronnie Foster’s “Mystic Brew” (above), but for some bizarre reason I’ve passed on Ronnie Foster’s souljazz masterpiece for years.  As I’ve been slowly inching my way back into jazzland, I decided that was now was finally the time.

Starting off as nerdy as possible, the little research I did credits Foster as playing “organ,” but this doesn’t sound like the greasy B3 that Jimmy Smith was known for. Foster’s sound is crisp and slightly compressed, his notes dance smoothly, yet sometimes allowing himself to succomb to the shyness of a rookie. The trepidation doesn’t last, and as he eases into his zone, his biggest benefactor is the tight rhythm section keeping the funk afloat. “Two Headed Freap” is a brilliant example of this; the heavy latin rhythm holds the forefront as Foster eases himself into the track, the rhythm then slows down, the bass becomes languid, and here Foster shines with a post-Sly Stone gutbucket funk that will take anybody to the dancefloor. It’s a mixture of jazz-chops, youth, and musical misadventure that really separates Foster from his peers, whether they be Herbie Hancock, Lonnie Liston Smith or Sly Stone.

As is typical with most jazz albums of this time, the record features a few contemporary r&b covers. Usually this is a huge detriment to an album, as so much focus is played on the melodies of the chart-toppers, such that all sense of jazz is either lost or contrasts too sharply. Foster’s covers of “Lets Stay Together” and “Don’t Knock My Love” steer clear of the usual trappings, as the group deftly moves through and passed the themes of the originals, instead re-purposing the music to fit the group’s artist expression. The inclusion of fuzzed out guitar on the “Don’t Knock My Love” cover is excellent and provides a level of sonic depth rarely felt in jazz at the time.

Now for “Mystic Brew.” I had the pleasure of playing a jazz set last Monday at the Virginia Country Club, and to my surprise the sound in the room was absolutely unbelievable. The venue has high, vaulted ceilings, wood everything, and a big pro soundsystem that I’m sure never gets put to proper use. One of my opening tracks was this Ronnie Foster jam, and it really set the tone for the remainder of my set. From the entrance of that warm, acoustic bassline the tones just vibrate with a deep sense of cool. Foster’s spaced-organ sounds spliff-stuck, as it gently opens up the groove. The air is thick with atmosphere, the vibes are warm and heavenly, and when Ronnie Foster comes back in, he returns with the energy and showmanship of a man who simply wants to compel you with his groove.

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Xosar – Nite Jam (Rush Hour, 2012)

This has been a really busy debut year for Xosar. Nite Jam is her third EP under her own name this year, along with two collaborations with Legowelt as Trackman Lafonte and Bonquiqui – with a third due out soon as Xamiga. Legowelt has really lent a benevolent hand to this beautiful, young producer from the Bay Area. It’s immediately present that she is incredibly talented, with a fully focused musical vision. With full knowledge of the contemporary musical climate, Xosar crafts nocturnal, analog, Detroit house/techno that is both familiar, yet absolutely fresh.

Nite Jam” is a wide, sprawling, dubbed-out production that appeals to a wide range of scenes; anywhere from dub techno to “bass music” to Omar S’ twisted homage/vision of classic Detroit. The production is excellent, it is lush and full, with virtually endless, minute elements adding curious futurisms to the mix. The track is propulsive and hypnotic, just the way I like.

The flip, “Elixir of Dreams,” is an awesome foil to the tough sound of the a-side. “Elixir” must be referring to syrup, as the codeine fogged, slow-mo vibe is thick on this light hearted, early-morning techno track. Aside from the whoosh of high hats, this track is essentially weightless, reminiscent of many things pleasant, yet intangible, further purposing the oneiric lean. Synths twinkle and float, the kick suggests rather than dictates, and organic percussion adds immensely to the ambiance. The attention to detail, as well as the careful construction of vibe, is a strong character of Xosar’s work as an artist, and I am very much looking forward to see her progress.

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Sano – Chupa! (Cómeme, 2012)

I have been unsure whether to include this as one of my picks. The sound is dark, dense and fairly aggressive. Yet, below the murky vibes are gloriously funky rhythms, primed to induce movement. But as many times as I have listened to this record I felt that it was just too rough, too dark – I had no real frame of reference for this music. Then, yesterday morning, I watched Matias Aguayo’s RBMA Lecture, and the portion where he discusses his Cómeme street parties really opened up my eyes. DJs who were typically involved in the club-oriented music world were taking party vibes to various, spontaneously chosen, Latin American cosmopolitan parks and public squares, in which most of the audience would have little knowledge of “dance music.” The DJs began to create music specifically aimed for these parties, delving for a sound that would induce children, old people, and the random passer-by to stop and groove for a minute. The sound has come into it’s own, with the label having a unified vibe to it, rather than a unified genre tag. Far-reaching in its influence of the Latin American musical diaspora, yet undoubtedly modern in its execution, Sano’s Chupa!  fully embodies the spirit of the label and party.

This marks Sano’s, of Medellìn, Colombia, first official release and it shows the work of someone who has a natural talent. The rhythms here are all fully-powered, hard driving, metallic clangs and fuzzy synth tones. This is not introspective music, this is 100% dance music. Although each track could fall into the house/techno tradition, the influences of salsa, cumbia, freestyle and electro are heavily present. Title track (and recent feature in my latest mix), “Chupa!” is a wonderfully dumb freestyle/ghetto house banger with heavy use of dirty, nonsensical vocals. And that’s exactly what reaches out to me about this record – it’s this amalgam of all the best parts of dance music. It’s the energy, it’s the sense of rebellion, it’s youth, it’s fun.

Disco Noche” is Sano’s other high point, and was the track that turned me onto this record in the first place. The track is an eerie, 4am latin boogie banger that would be the perfect soundtrack to so much nastiness. The rumbling congas, the bouncing bassline, the squelching theremin, all move together harmoniously in order to get you to move. This record came to me at a perfect time, as I’ve recently started to feel a little stale with music, but Sano, as well as Cómeme,  is reminding me that it’s all about the groove.

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Vis a Vis –Obi Agye Me Dofo (Ambassador/Continental, 1977/2011)

If you’ve been reading these posts, or if you’ve ever seen me DJ, you know that I have a weakness for dark, groovy music. In fact, those are probably the only underlying traits that govern my record collection. This record by the Ghana legends, Vis A Vis, does not betray either of these descriptors. Continental Records (a sublabel of Secret Stash, I believe), has been issuing a lot of great records from the African diaspora recently and this LP is exemplary in both its sound and design quality.

The A side opens up with one of the deepest tracks recorded to tape, “Obi Agye Me Dofo,” with dripping wah guitar, thundering percussion, and an absolutely grimy, funky synth tone that George Clinton would go nuts for. Less in tune rhythmically, with other African styles, the first side is made up of two epic Afrobeat burners. Where “Obi Agye” is the definite party starter, “Kankyema” is a bit more spacey and searching, yet no less funky. If you haven’t heard this music before, please do yourself a favor and give it a listen, as there is no other sound in the world quite like this. The music is subtle and repetitive, the melodies are haunting and trancelike, the vocals filled with desperate emotion.

The B side draws more from the High Life tradition, a style which I feel can be very cheesy. The mood is substantially more joyous and overblown, to the extent of banal island muzak, but it must be remembered that this is one of Ghana’s top bands doing their funky thing, so its never really bad music. The standout track here is “Susan Suo,” which reminds me more of mbalax than high life, as the groove is more of a focused percussive, driving jam with vaguely narrative vocals. It’s actually a track that I can see myself using as a bridge between worlds.

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Bohannon – Gittin’ Off (Dakar, 1976)

Everytime I see the name Bohannon my heart skips a beat, I quickly pull out the vinyl to make sure there aren’t party marks all over it, and then I begin the difficult task of trying to remember if I already own the record. As most of Bohannon’s records have a very consistent sound to them, so do his album covers – typically adorned with his sly, longing gaze, and perfectly pressed hair. Gittin’ Off comes close to being my favorite release by the ubiquitous sleazefunk man.

Interestingly enough, it is my understanding that Bohannon’s influence was felt most in the alternative gay/disco/punk scene of late 70’s, early 80’s New York. Arthur Russell, Liquid Liquid and the Talking Heads have all cited Bohannon as a big influence on their music, and it’s curious to see how the repetitive guitar riffs, deep pocket drumming and Bohannon’s high-pitched whine so easily found its way into that scene. Sexually ambiguous seduction tracks like “Gittin Off” are perfect for dancing, partying, being young and getting in trouble. The track is riffy, so it appeals to the rockers; yet its got a firm and funky groove, so it works for the gays and ladies; but it also has a catchy refrain, so it sticks in your brain. This is carefully crafted, wonderfully executed dance music. Further appealing to the NY art crowd is the track “South Africa 76” which picks up a ska rhythm at breakneck boogie tempo, and throws in vaguely political lyrics. The lyrics are not important here, or anywhere on this A-side, as it is just another element in the propulsion of the track.

Despite the simplicity, Bohannon is not short of creative elements in his work, as he intriguingly uses a deep rumbling synth on “Feel Good At Midnight” (above) that must have certainly been a nod towards DJs who would have been able to fully purpose the subtle dread on a quality soundsystem. The track is a fairly simple, light-hearted disco/boogie track, but that ominous synth tone unsuspectingly creeps into the mix, employing heavy low-end on an otherwise fairly light album. On a standard home system, the bass does nothing but add some atmosphere to the mix, but in a real system the rumble would set the tension til the whole place is gittin’ off.

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Maya Jane Coles – Hummingbird (Hypercolour/HypeLtd, 2010/2011)

Maya Jane Coles is currently enjoying being one of the more celebrated young producers in the dance music world. She makes smooth, catchy, house music that is both nostalgic, yet timeless. Utilizing her own vocals more and more, she has seen herself rise in stature releasing across labels such as Hypercolour and 20:20 Vision, compiling a DJ Kicks compilation, doing a split with Miss Kittin, as well as just last night, doing a set at the Day of the Dead Hard festival. This single features some of Coles’ earlier work, but these tracks carry a lot of the developed character and forward-thinking attributes that make her a quality artist.

Both of her tracks on the record feature prominent use of vocals, sampled and her own. The implementation of voice further gives her tracks a song-like quality, which comes off as very natural. “Nobody Else” (above) hits especially hard, with it’s big new-jack swing influenced production, and subtle r&b vocals. It’s really a surprise to me that this song wasn’t absolutely huge, as despite the moody atmosphere, the groove is so deep and the inertia is unstoppable, especially as the vocal refrain refuses to quit. Of the same ilk, but not as soul-less as the Hot Creations label, this slinky house track works great whether at an afternoon bbq, a sweaty club in the middle of the night, or on your ipod early in the morning on the way to work.

Looking to the title track, “Hummingbird” opens with a care-free, garage skip; evoking an oneiric quality with the warm synth tones and lush haze. And then the Nina Simone sample comes in and  takes the track farther out than could have been expected. The track is not particularly ground-breaking as a production; it does not employ any revolutionary techniques, but in it’s ability to perfectly capture a vibe, to suggest a mood, through a cohesion of elements is remarkable. And as Nina continues to intone “But there is nothing,” let yourself be carried away by the same lightness that keeps a hummingbird afloat.

Categories: 1972, 2012, africa, colombia, disco, Ghana, House, jazz