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Hyperspecific

A New Column: The Finest In May's Electronic & Dance Releases
Rory Gibb , May 26th, 2011 07:20

The Quietus is delighted to bring you the first instalment of Hyperspecific - the first in a monthly column from Rory Gibb on the finest dance, electronic and experimental music currently doing the rounds

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On a site with as broad a range as The Quietus, it's inevitable that some records will end up falling through the gaps a little – especially in a world as seemingly insular as that of underground dance, electronic and experimental music. So this is the first edition of a monthly column designed to try and fill in the gaps a little. Less aimed at being comprehensive, Hyperspecific is more about trying to uncover some of the month's best and most interesting (for reasons both good and bad) records that fall within that wide remit.

Andy Stott – Passed Me By [Modern Love]

There's something quietly understated about everything Manchester's Modern Love label releases, even when as in-your-face as Andy Stott's Andrea tracks, which veer between old school hardcore, techy dubstep and labyrinthine Chicago juke. Stott's new record Passed Me By couldn't be more different if it tried, its sub-100 bpm crawl a dramatic shift from his early music but delivered with the same modest attitude. When I interviewed him lately he described its inception as almost accidental, like he'd simply stumbled upon this new sound: beats stripped to almost nothing, synths atrophied to the point that they spill out across the music's surface in a rush of static and dust. Which seems appropriate somehow, given that these rusted surfaces appear not to have been touched by human hands for aeons – the forlorn 'New Ground' sounds like it's been entombed for several thousand years before shuffling into the harsh light of day. And the title track's muted kickdrum becomes gradually submerged in mud and crude oil; dancefloor music this is not.

If we're throwing around superlatives (which, it would appear, we are), even with its short runtime Passed Me Byis Stott's masterpiece so far. Its heartbeat-slow house pulse brings to mind the darker sides of Kassem Mosse and Kowton, but if anything it's closer in mood to the occult-ish samplescapes of Demdike Stare and T++'s Wireless EP from last year, with which it shares a certain reanimated undead charm - not to mention very similar artwork. But it doesn't explicitly sound like anything else; he may have stumbled upon it inadvertently, but with Passed Me By Stott, already an excellent producer, appears to chanced upon a sound completely his own.

LV & Joshua Idehen – Routes [Keysound]

London trio LV have always remained among Hyperdub's more enigmatic associates, although admittedly that's a pretty difficult statement to quantify for a label whose successes include the ever-elusive Burial and the serially facetious Zomby. Their music is pleasingly prone to mutation, even by the notoriously radioactive standards of the UK's bass music scene, a fact that might well have something to do with its tendency to crossbreed: since those first few tracks, most of their releases have been collaborations.

Like last year's 38 EP – and also released on Martin 'Blackdown' Clark's Keysound label – their debut full length Routes is voiced by spoken word poet Joshua Idehen, whose buoyant personality lends it an infectious energy. But where on its predecessor Idehen's vocals were allowed free storytelling rein, here LV tear them to shreds and use them as percussive components. That approach is most obvious on 'Melt', whose bleep melody immediately calls to mind last year's insanely catchy 'Boomslang', and where short vocal stanzas are woven into indecipherable infinity loops.

There's still more than a semblance of narrative here, though LV are quick to downplay anything so specific as a London Transport theme (despite the album's title, and 38's concept, which revolved around the events of a single bus journey). Idehen's storytelling side is allowed ample space, especially during the final few tracks. And while specific locations are rarely invoked – save the jokey banter of 'Northern Line' (sample lyric: "What you know about Moorgate?/I don't know anything about Moorgate") and 'Murkish Delights's "I live in Hackney/On the right are the junkies, silence and the night breeze" – it's still unmistakably an album of and about London. The music itself is the trio's best yet; evocative of the city at night, it carries itself with the distinctive swagger of the capital's urban musics. But a melancholy edge adds depth, overly synthetic tones exuding a lonely glow like the corona around a street lamp, bringing to mind the title of Burial's recent 'Street Halo'.

Vessel – Nylon Sunset EP [Left_Blank]
Vessel & El Kid – VeElSkiSiEdL [Astro:Dynamics]
TEETH – Shawty [502 Recordings]
Xander Harris – I Want More Than Just Blood [100% Silk]

It seems a wasted opportunity to write this section without a Bristol angle, so here goes. The city's long been known for its bass associations, and in recent years has become synonymous with dubstep. That sound's still undeniably present there, but of late splinters have begun to peel away, reflecting dubstep's dissolution countrywide. Recent developments have been centred around house music, with producers like Kowton, October, Hodge, Vessel and El Kid often dismantling its core tropes and reconstructing from the ground up. Vessel's Nylon Sunset EP is one such beast, made all the more enjoyable by its low-key nature. It's quietly confident for a debut; his tracks don't so much play in the linear sense than morph, each constantly shapeshifting across its runtime to disorienting effect. But there's no hype here, just four great tracks – the Hessle-ish 'Ton' is all sliding-scale percussion; 'Blushes' and the title track are both tremendous pieces of supple house. And Peverelist is perfect as remixer, his woozy, rolling take dovetailing neatly with Vessel's already distinct sound.

Those with eyes peeled will have noticed convergences of aesthetic over the last couple of years between certain regions of the UK bass contingent and the US' retrogazing lo-fi community. It's been obvious both sonically and in terms of presentation, with 502 Recordings' colour saturated promo vids and the re-emergence of cassette mixtapes. Vessel's second release this month, a split EP with fellow Bristolian El Kid entitled VeElSkiSiEdL, fits both categories. It's released on cassette, and the music within conveys the same feeling of dream-consciousness – especially El Kid's contributions, which are wonderfully melodramatic in places. Vessel's contributions, meanwhile, sound like his Nylon Sunset tracks with most of the harder edges pared away; entirely a good thing.

Speaking of 502 Recordings, their latest 12", from Finnish producer TEETH, is their best yet. The hot haze of its 80s-worshipping video fits the lead track perfectly, half-broken house pitched up to dubstep tempo, punctuated by depth-charge drum machine kicks. Its dull low-end thud is enhanced by seasick synths near the upper end of the register, and of course the requisite R'n'B vocal – though in this case twisted until resembling something approaching tortured cry. FaltyDL's remix meanwhile leaves the core intact, but sends percussion spraying all over the shop like blood in a bad eighties splatter flick. Forget Salem and their mates laying claim to a genre when their music's got fuck all to do with it: if witch house really existed, it'd sound like this.

Or like Xander Harris' I Want More Than Just Blood, the latest transmission from 100% Silk, the new dance(ish) label set up by Not Not Fun's Amanda Brown. This 12" follows up his appropriately titled Urban Gothic album with a more readily dancefloor friendly stew, somewhere between the neo-Detroit schlock horror of Gatekeeper and eighties cop film themes. Again more cinematic references, but it's inevitable given the debt Harris owes to John Carpenter. They've taken a while to take full flight, but Not Not Fun's club ambitions are starting to shape up nicely.

The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World [History Always Favours The Winners]

Despite its beguiling tranquility, James 'The Caretaker' Kirby's new album proves inappropriate mealtime music. It confused my mother the other day over dinner – she struggled to understand why I'd be listening to something that sounded like 1930s ballroom music, especially when so coated in grit and grime it might as well be played off a broken record.

"Why would you want to listen to something that sounds like it was recorded around the time of the war, played off a broken record?"

It's hard to say exactly, except that it's really quite beautiful in its own right, especially when the jaunty ballroom rhythms disappear into the shadows and leave little but the harsh scrape of needle through vinyl groove. That broken sound is kind of the point, otherwise it would just be ballroom music.

"But it's covered in static. And it's the same sort of sounds, over and over again, for an hour."

The surface noise and static is supposed to represent the breakdown of memory over time, the idea that our knowledge of our past crumbles as we move further away from the event, leaving certain sections particularly vivid and others almost entirely absent. Many track titles refer to memory loss via dementia ('I Feel As If I Might Be Vanishing', 'Mental Caverns Without Sunshine'), as does its melodically cyclical structure. Over its forty-five minute runtime the same motifs emerge over and over again in slightly modified form, making it easy to end up completely absorbed within. Just like 2009's Sadly The Future Is Not What It Once Was (under his Leyland Kirby alias), although fragile on the surface An Empty Bliss Beyond This World's quiet intensity and gravitas make it that little too involving to leave running as background music.

Emptyset – Altogether Lost (Remixes) [Caravan]
Szare – Volya/Action Five [Idle Hands]

More Bristolian goodness, a pair of releases that mark both growth and dissolution: while Idle Hands is swiftly becoming one of the city's best labels for outré house variants, this month sees the last release from Caravan, which has played that role for the last few years. Signing a pair of tracks from Szare is a bit of a coup for Idle Hands – his releases on Horizontal Ground in the last twelve months have been consistently essential, slow and supple pieces of funky techno whose beats appear moulded from elastic. These two are no exception, though 'Action Five' is unusually contemplative, its melodic heft limited to discrete bulbs of sub-bass and quasi-industrial synth drones that recall mid-period Autechre. 'Volya' is more like his coolly anthemic 'Snake Cave', a masterclass in how to generate palpable tension and release using as few elements as possible, bringing a whole new meaning to the tired idea of 'minimal' techno. Fantastic artwork as well.

Caravan's final 12", a trio of remixes of Emptyset's shockingly intense 'Altogether Lost', end the label on a high. Scuba's SCB's remix finds him erring ever-closer to hulking techno of the Berghain variety, with predictably full-on results, and Bristolian duo Behling & Simpson offer a loping slow-house groove. The real gem is Peverelist's remix though, a dizzying mesh of interlocked rhythms and tiny glimmers of melody that interlock like the backbone of a Steve Reich piece. While it's sad to see the label end, Caravan boss October's new label TANSTAAFL promises to pick up where it left off, with its forthcoming first release a pair of jacking analogue house tracks from John Osborn. The beat goes on.

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