A Month In Electronic Music: Raime, Floating Points, Soundstream & More
, November 28th, 2011 10:54
Rory Gibb takes a scan through some of the month's best dance music releases, including a stunning new EP from Floating Points, new club-ready 12"s from Soundstream, Equalized and Outboxx, and some bleak stuff from Raime
Hello, and welcome to another edition of Hyperspecific. It's likely to be the year's last straight-up reviews version of this column, barring a sudden rush of releases come late December (unlikely, given that release schedules usually wind down for a couple of weeks around then). So it feels good to be seeing this year's lot out in style. Today's column features the heftiest missive so far from London soul/funk/house prodigy Floating Points, some floor-destroying music from Bristol, London and Berlin and more dark abstractions from Actress and Raime. Watch this space for our next instalment.
Floating Points - Shadows EP [Eglo]
It's been a pleasure to follow the ongoing development of Sam Shepherd's music - what's so striking about his output as Floating Points is that it's been hyper-focused and deeply individual right from the get-go (if you require a case in point, cast your ears backward to 'Vacuum Boogie', one of the most arresting and emotionally involving house tracks in recent memory).
Shadows is Shepherd's most expansive release to date, and cements his reputation as one of the UK's most adventurous producers. At 37 minutes long, its five tracks span more stylistic ground than many full-length albums - between them they draw in Theo Parrish-style machine funk, garage-infused house and the sort of nocturnal soul he's recently been producing for Fatima. While the connection to US house especially is apparent enough, Shepherd's music is distinct in its involvement with our own dance music history. His rhythms are elastic and swung, buffeted by chunky pulses of sub-bass. Opener 'Myrtle Avenue' immediately invites Parrish comparisons - a single overarching theme is drawn out and explored over ten minutes. 'ARP3' has been slaying London dancefloors recently in the hands of Shepherd himself, Ben UFO and Joy Orbison: a natural sequel to 'Vacuum Boogie', it's a glorious, near-transparent nine minutes of house music, repeatedly set rolling forward, adrift on rough, churning clouds of low-end.
Soundstream/Soundhack/T.S.O.S - Sound Sampler Vol. 1 [Hardwax]
Equalized #5 [EQD]
Thank fuck for Frank Timm, and his varying projects that find him slicing, dicing and reconstructing disco and funk samples into booming house and itchy, tracky collages. His release schedule has worked a little like clockwork for a while now - towards the end of each year we're gifted with a new 12" of his Soundstream productions (his outlet for swirling, seventies-tinged house). His latest gathers together a few of his pseudonyms into something approaching a resumee. Sound Sampler Vol. 1's stunning opener 'Just Around' falls firmly in the Soundstream camp - it's one of those immediately recognisable Timm productions that slowly blossom over several minutes before hitting their stride in a spine-tickling rush of strings and chuckling guitar. Like the sweetest of his Soundstream tracks ('Makin' Love, 'Dance With Me'), when it finally reaches full flight everything peaks, pulses and blurs together, as though you, the listener, have suddenly been trapped inside the distending speaker cone, or transported to the middle of a packed 3am dancefloor.
Soundhack's 'Vintage' again is typical of that psuedonym - its jabbing bursts of melody press in on the ears even as the spaces between offer fractions of seconds' worth of respite. The EP's third track proper and fourth, a barebones DJ tool, are credited to a new name: T.S.O.S. Lacking either Soundhack's jarring edge or the silken comfort of a Soundtream tune, they're somewhere in the middle - texturally closer to the former, on 'Over & Over' a staccato bassline is allowed to percolate slowly downward through a tight, crunchy rhythm.
Fellow Berlin resident Shed's music under his Equalized alias drives, and drives - and drives. Though EQD's focus has always remained firmly on club-ready techno tracks, they're delightful because they lack none of the attention to detail that makes Rene Pawlowitz's music so consistently involving. His great skill lines in his ability to shift a listener's attention between different elements of the track with only the slightest change. At a couple of points on the A-side, a churning warehouse techno monster, the metronomic tic of hi-hats appears to stand out in sharper relief than normal, dragging the ear with it. The B-side is one of the highlights of Pinch's forthcoming Fabriclive mix, a reminder of Shed's versatility, as well as his underlying interest in dubstep and sub-bassy UK music. With its core melody sounding soaked in some acrid chemical, and with its convulsive motion spattering great gobs of corrosive gunk through the mix, it might just qualify as my favourite of Pawlowitz's EQD tracks so far.
Raime - Hennail [Blackest Ever Black]
The Blackest Ever Black label's none-deeper, none-darker aesthetic (I mean, just look at the name) has been gaining momentum this year, off the back of its own releases and music in a similar vein from Pinch & Shackleton, Perc, Ekoplekz, The Haxan Cloak, Cut Hands and the Sandwell District label. Oh, and not to mention the remastered reissue of Throbbing Gristle's back catalogue, one of the earliest influences/reference points for the light-starved, strung-out feel of a lot of 2011's best music. More specifically, then, the last couple of years have found several artists picking up where the noisier ends of post-punk and early industrial left off. It's proved a rich seam - perhaps in part because it accompanies the insidious sense of 'We're all fucked' that's been steadily growing in the wake of several rounds of savage, self-interested government action.
With their newest EP Hennail Raime hopefully ought to fully escape the rather inaccurate dubstep associations that accompanied their debut 12". There's certainly a great deal to link their music to people like Shackleton (who, to be fair, is at best a genre outlier anyway), but the connection remains more thematic than it is sonic. Hennail's landscapes are pockmarked by bomb craters and punctuated by the odd twisted metal wreck (an interpretation the duo's audiovisual installation at Unsound Festival this year certainly played up to, all black & white imagery of gutted buildings and frayed steel). Here the sharpened digital clarity of their earlier releases has given way to a far woodier, more organic sound, especially with regard to percussion. For both tracks, Raime seem content to set up an atmosphere and a sense of place then languish there, exploring its nooks and crannies. Both feel like snapshots of far longer pieces; it's hard not to imagine that somewhere, out of earshot, the rising ritual drums of 'You Will Lift You Frame Clear' play onward forever. There's something righteous about this record. It's certainly the duo's best work so far.
Outboxx - Aporia/Cromwell [Idle Hands]
Kowton & Tom Dicicco [Project:Squared]
Kowton - Dirty Little Bomb [Teal]
El Kid - Hypnosis [Left_Blank]
Sam Kidel - String Loops [A Future Without]
More great music from Bristol. Outboxx's third 12" this year, released through Idle Hands, is their best so far. Both tracks on here are more sumptuously produced and carefully detailed than anything that's yet emerged from camp Outboxx: 'Aporia' layers thick dollops of melody upon one another until the track's low end can barely support their weight. 'Cromwell' is better still. Its great strength is that it doesn't do an awful lot, simply seting up a thick groove above which Matt Lambert's keys and thick clouds of synth can skate free of restriction.
A couple more releases from Kowton this month crown a busy year. 'Dirty Little Bomb' has been bothering my stereo for several months now, its clanging kitchen-sink percussion and thick, elastic tentacles of bass providing the backdrop for a typically moody, depth-charged house track. As a former dubstep producer (and aficionado of the genre), he approaches making house tracks with the same attention to space and weight as someone like Loefah, the key cause of his music's tense, urban feel and striking physical force. A split 12" with Tom Dicicco on Project:Squared highlights his very individual approach. Though Dicicco's contributions are fine, dub-flecked techno, especially his grainy, shockingly funky 'Untitled' remix, Kowton's two contributions - swung, shuffly and unsettling - are the EP's best.
I raved about El Kid's debut 12", the Immerse-released 'Le Corbusier', a few months back. His new Hypnosis EP on Left Blank picks up where its predecessor left off, in the heatshocked rattle and fuzz of the title track, which repeatedly rouses itself into action before slumping backward and disappearing in the murk. Like a lot of his contemporaries making worn-out, serotonin-depleted house music (Vessel, Andy Stott, Kowton, Gerry Read) when listening on small speakers or headphones it can be tough to imagine Sam Kidel's tracks having enough propulsive power to work on a dancefloor. But actually hearing this stuff through a massive system is transformative: 'Mud', the most upbeat thing here, floats along on a thick, foamy raft of chest-rattling bass. Besides, their composition betrays a keen and adventurous musical ear - something emphasised by Kidel's new tape release under his own name. String Loops accurately describes its contents - three clattering, disintegrating loops akin to something Philip Jeck or William Basinski might play around with, it thrashes around for just over ten minutes before burning out.
Throwing Snow - Pyre [Local Action]
With no shortage of mediocre drum machiney tracks coming out of UK dancefloors lately, it's such a relief to hear the sound palette given the love and respect it deserves. The tracks on Left Blank co-head Ross Tones' new Throwing Snow 12" all sound very vital indeed, despite their ingredients - bulbous, 808-flavoured kicks, pitchshifted vocals, synths that gather around drum hits like tendrils smog - being used and abused on such a regular basis. The title track sets a pretty tough benchmark for the rest of the EP to follow: 'Pyre' is intensely propulsive despite using a bare minimum of percussion, and its darting vocal fragments and deep blue tones are frostily affecting. It's a deceptively simple track yet stands up very well to repeated listens, which is more than can be said of many of Tones' contemporaries. 'Equuleus' files away the sharp edges, shuffling from a hip-hop-tinged opening into two-step as transmitted from a drowned London, and 'Too Polite' tears out with rough, bumpy jungle, but really it's all about 'Pyre'. Which is fine and dandy, thank you very much. See also: Tones' equally great 'Shadower', which was released a couple of months ago on Sneaker Social Club.
Zhou - I Remain/Noboru [Punch Drunk]
Actress - Rainy Dub/Faceless [Honest Jon's]
While Bristol duo Zhou's debut is far more firmly lodged in dancefloor territory than the majority of Actress' music, their debut 12" bears more than a little resemblance to the Werk Discs boss by virtue of its bloody-minded individuality. At a time when most adventurous dubstep producers have abandoned the form for slower tempos and house grooves, it's a strong statement to put out a 12" of cavernous, 140bpm brain/body music. The muted arpeggios that rustle through the autumnal expanse of 'I Remain' (a track whose percussion and overall mood bring to mind rustling leaves and hollow, chill wind) are also reminiscent of some of Actress' more mood-based material; the beatless 'Noboru', meanwhile, revels in the silence of midwinter, beginning on a shingle beach before delving beneath the waves.
Actress himself returns to Honest Jon's this month for the first music he's released through the label since last year's singular Splazsh album, which rewired fragments of techno, house and musique concrete into a scuzzy blend genuinely unlike anyone else. This new 12", Rainy Dub/Faceless, continues to cement Darren Cunningham's reputation as a one-off. A preview of his third full-length (due for release next year), it continues in the vein of his Splazsh advance 12" 'Paint, Straw & Bubbles' in that it gathers together a pair of his more darkly abstract tracks. Like the rest of his output, you can practically taste the frustration and skunk paranoia running through 'Rainy Dub's veins. Like 'Paint, Straw & Bubbles', it's tempting to imagine it less as 'music' per se than an angular polyhedron, hanging in stasis in midair, inviting you to twist it around and view it from every angle. 'Faceless', meanwhile, is a metallic, brittle electro groove pockmarked by bursts of static and long, melodic drones. Beautifully confounding, as ever.