a shamefaced confession, and more recent electronics

April 8, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Posted in musings, new music | Leave a comment
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Oh dear – I have a confession to make.  Despite my assurance that I would desist from such disgraceful behaviour, a couple of weeks ago I indulged in a semi-discriminate binge during which I greedily amassed a pile of free stuff.  A promo in The Guardian offered £21 of no-strings credit to spend on mp3s as an incentive to sign up to emusic.  This got bounced up to £26 by the bonus fiver I was offered the first time I tried to cancel, then doubled when, *ahem*, ‘my wife’ also signed up using a different credit card.  That is some shameful shit right there, eh?  And how did it feel as I sat on my arse in the mud watching the wagon I’d just fallen from trundling into the distance?  It felt good, unfortunately…  I will be having a stern word with myself later but, in the meantime, here are some thoughts on a portion of the booty.

Actress – Splazsh

Buy here

First a few words on the above.  What you get for the money is a couple of fully realized tracks surrounded by a lot of unfinished sketchiness, no coherent identity as an album, nothing emotionally engaging, nothing particularly forward looking.  Much of this could have been recorded by any number of artists at any time during the last twenty years.  It isn’t that it’s bad, it’s just, y’kno: OK.  “Why am I even bothering to type this up?” you may be wondering.  Well, it’s because I’m bewildered at the plaudits that this release has garnered: it was The Wire’s album of the year and got medal positions in lists elsewhere.  The verbiage has been baffling.  Oh well: one of those mysterious moments where critical consensus anoints the mediocre as divine.  Anyway, on to the good stuff…

Nicolas Jaar – Space is Only Noise

Buy here

This is more like it.  Jaar has created a collection of strangely involving almost-songs employing a carefully controlled musical palette.  Traditional instrumentation is used amongst the electronics, not in a tokenistic or gimmicky way, but to complement and enhance the feel.  Motifs are repeated (it is top-and-tailed by variations on the same theme) and as such it really coheres as an album despite containing much to intrigue and surprise.  I suppose some of it could be accused of pretentiousness, if you were feeling uncharitable, but I’d argue instead that this is clever, that it has integrity, that it rewards repeat listens and that it makes me smile and nod my head.  This music is melancholy, wryly comic and expansive – often all at once.  Lovely.

Various singles

I find myself well into mp3 singles.  One track may not be enough to form an opinion on, but two is a statement of intent.  Especially if those two have been previously deemed worthy of the time and expense of a release on 12″ vinyl.  Shows some faith in the work.  There is a thoroughness to the format too.  A 12″ allows for 7-8 minutes to really work through the ideas contained in a track, but you can only do that twice: side A, side B.  The throwaway two-minute squiggles that artists like Actress flabbify their albums with have no place here.  On a more prosaic note, another reason for digging mp3 singles is their cheapness.  All these releases can be had from Boomkat for less than two quid (links above) or for as little as a laughable 84p as part of an emusic subscription.  84p is just a few pence more than I was paying in the mid-1980s for ex-chart 7″ singles in the Woolworth’s bargain bin.  Crazy.  Anyway, enuff about the medium – what of the message?

The New Life EP by Claro Intelecto continues Mark Stewart’s unswerving mission to filter everything extraneous from the interface of house and techno and present us with the purified results.  Nuanced, disciplined and beautiful – as ever.  Scuba are playing in another corner of the same ball-park but with a bass-heavier, steppin’ swagger.

The stuff by Pangaea and Untold just slays – especially ‘Won’t Hurt’ and the remix of ‘I Can’t Stop This Feeling’ which have rhythm lines that are breathtakingly pummelling and throw-down funky and ‘Stereo Freeze’ which weaponizes the kick drum/hand clap combo.  This is really smart, innovative stuff and totally feet-friendly too.  The remix of ‘Stop What You are Doing’ by James Blake (another decent enough artist getting inexplicably extensive press adulation) is a monster: utterly alien but somehow so right it is almost… cuddly.

The pick of the bunch, however, is the relatively unsung Koreless.  Two tracks that both use expansive bass, snapping percussion and vocal samples clipped and looped into a delirious glossolalia.  They share the complicated atmosphere of nostalgic euphoria that I imagine I’m hearing in other recent dance music.  I like this very much.

Next: enough of this hipness, RFM returns to the hand-crafted artifacts of the no-audience underground.

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