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Rory Gibb's Second Electronic Music Round-up Review Column
Rory Gibb , July 6th, 2011 11:09

The second Hyperspecifc column sees Rory Gibb look at new releases from falty DL, Bass Clef, Peverelist & Kowton, Arkist, Baobinga & co., Clams Casino, LA Vampires, Hype Williams, Emptyset, Sigha

The last month's been a bit of a techno-heavy one, what with the release of Perc's coolly brilliant Wicker & Steel and, as this month's column can attest to, no shortage of cavernous four-to-the-floor styles. Slightly peculiar, given that the arrival of the summer doesn't exactly fit dark and dubby music, so the arrival of warm new grooves from Floating Points, Bass Clef, Baobinga and FaltyDL helps tip that balance a little.

Sigha – I Am Apathy, I Am Submission [Blueprint]
Sigha – The Politics Of Dying [Our Circula Sound]
Sigha – SighaEP [Hotflush]

So first of all, head-on into some of the most comprehensively muscular, back-breaking dance music we've come across in ages. After his first few releases on Hotflush flirted with sub-bass, broken beats and acres of space, there's been a general assumption that London's Sigha remains in thrall to dubstep. This, despite the fact that last year's Shake and Over The Edge EPs were heading further towards his own distillation of Ostgut Ton's booming warehouse styles. Either way, these three new releases in quick succession ought to finally dispel any attempts to wrongly pigeonhole his sound: Sigha makes techno, and he's bloody good at it.

His latest four-tracker for Hotflush is striking for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it's certainly the heaviest thing the label's released to date, dwarfing label boss SCB's comparatively graceful takes on a similar sound. Secondly, it's the first time we've heard Sigha squeeze all the air out a track – where before the defining factor of his music was the sensation of boundless space, here everything has tightened, allowing an element of claustrophobia to creep into opener 'A1'. It works; each component shifts in and out of phase above a metronomic pulse, building to a devastatingly direct, acidic rattle of a track. 'A2' and 'B1' are more open, and 'B2' is beatless and windswept, like last year's 'Light Swells (In A Distant Space)'. It's less interlude than doomed respite, after the sheer force that preceded, as though the listener's been sucked out of an airlock.

Of the three, the tougher I Am Apathy, I Am Submission is perhaps the least involving, though that's a relative measure – the title track, sharp as a hypodermic, is the harshest thing he's ever produced. Sigha's saved the best for his own Our Circula Sound imprint though - The Politics Of Dying is hands down his most accomplished yet. The title track's sheer simplicity is its strength – a three note repeat motif hangs weightless while everything else – razor sharp percussion, vaguely rhythmic seas of static - remains in a state of constant flux. As a result, it fully unlocks techno's potential to lull the listener into a semi-catatonic state. The Shifted version of 'Over The Edge' pares away all the edges to leave muffled, amniotic softness, cut by the heartbeat thud of a bass drum.

Emptyset – Demiurge [Subtext]
Emptyset – 'Altogether Lost' [Ben Klock/Ripperton Remixes]

With their last album steeped in techno (albeit stripped away to extremes), Bristolian duo Emptyset's recent material remains in thrall to it, but takes its central tenets even further into the abstract. The album's tone lies in its brief, clinical titles: 'Departure', 'Plane', 'Tangent'. And if the shocking intensity of its advance single 'Altogether Lost' wasn't clue enough as to the contents of second album Demiurge, the abrasive acid wash that makes up opener proper 'Void' is a harsh reminder. This is techno as purging flame, licks of hot static and feedback having already burned away any semblance of a beat from the majority of its length. What's left is a hollow shell, with certain exceptions: 'Sphere's rhythm is taut and springy, the surprisingly emotive highpoint of a largely austere album. It would be inaccurate to describe Demiurge as anything other than bracing – with its unrelentingly dark tone and harsh textures, it's akin to scorched earth left in the wake of some unimaginably destructive war. But it's a fascinating and involving reminder of techno's close links with extreme music, even if it really requires a massive system for full physical impact.

The final remix 12” for 'Altogether Lost' more explicitly reconnects Emptyset with techno, thanks largely to Ben Klock's pair of remixes. They're very similar, the major difference being the presence of silken melodic textures scattered across the surface of the 'Glowing Pad Mix. Ripperton's 'Underground Kingdom' remix is a more comprehensive rework, alight with the sensual fluidity that tends to define his tracks, and possessed of a beautiful breakdown, led by Cornelius Harris' poetic musings.

Hype Williams – Kelly Price W8 Gain Vol. II [Hyperdub]

Even before ever-contrary London/Berlin duo Hype Williams signed to Hyperdub, they'd seemed a perfect match: the subtle undercurrents of sub-bass, those woozy, glowing synths reminiscent of the label's 2007-2009 output, their elusive tendencies - all reaching a pinnacle with this year's One Nation album. So there's no cognitive dissonance involved in hearing their music 'fit in' to the label's aesthetic (as if they'd ever want to do that). Kelly Price W8 Gain Vol. II's opener, 'Rise Up' is a house tune that moves at the speed of skunk, muted synths like an ancient orchestral symphony recording slowed to 7 RPM. Above it, Inga Copeland's vocals, begging for 'a break 4 love' sit almost uncomfortably close to the listener's ear.

'Boss Man' and 'Farthing Wood Dub' are short, almost sketches, but the latter in particular is gorgeous, managing to make that perennially irritating instrument, the melodica, sound like the lovesick keen of synthetic brass. And 'Badmind's spoken word – similar to that of One Nation's blank 'Untitled' – is set to keys that lock into one another with subtle and delicate intensity, occasionally spilling over into dissonance. That the duo's refusal to 'play the game' has led to a certain degree of confusion is perhaps an indicator of our net-enhanced need to know everything about our musicians, all the time. At times it's certainly hard to tell whether they're straight-faced serious, or creased up behind their instruments. The answer is probably a little bit of both, and either way it does very little to dull their music's peculiar and resonant majesty.

LA Vampires Goes Ital - Streetwise [Not Not Fun]

Not Not Fun have had a great year thus far, what with the launch of sister dancefloor label 100% Silk, excellent albums from Maria Minerva, Psychic Reality and Xander Harris and an in-depth expose by Simon Reynolds in The Wire. So this latest transmission from label head Amanda Brown (in her LA Vampires guise) unsurprisingly continues that run of form; it's the latest in a series of collaborative records that's also seen her work with Zola Jesus and Matrix Metals. Given that Ital's previous releases have been comparatively direct, that Streetwise's production is almost impossibly dense suggests that Brown's involvement stretches to far more than simply providing vocals; all four songs here share the same glammy haze and dubwise sensibility that made her Matrix Metals collaboration, So Unreal, such an involving listen. Her vocals again provide a focal point around which tracks are anchored, but for the most part the worlds they inhabit display a Lynchian taste for the seedy underbelly of Hollywood. 'The Chic Shall Inherit The Earth' is lounge music flipped inside out, guts exposed, the occasional brush of sleazeball guitar washed away in a vortex, like water draining down a plughole.

Clams Casino – Rainforest EP [Tri Angle]

Where Clams Casino's recent instrumental mixtape showed off his more direct, beat-driven side (as originally backing tracks for the likes of Lil B and Soulja Boy), this new EP for Tri Angle does something a little different. Turning down the beats to a shadow of their former selves, the foreground is instead occupied with unintelligible vocal snippets and yawning walls of melodic distortion. The effect is characteristically soporific, tracks washing over the listener rather than necessitating physical engagement. That's both a blessing and a curse – with their indistinct composition, they occasionally recall the likes of Salem, whose approach to similar ideas was tinged with unappealing detachment and occasionally downright cynicism. But for the most part they transcend any inadvertent parallels, and 'Waterfalls' is a highlight, its pitched-down voices buffeted in storms of static interference. Rainforest is certainly an apt title: the music here is hot and humid, and its emphasis on mood over structure certainly does justice to the current excitement surrounding Clams' productions.

Peverelist & Kowton – 'Beneath Radar' [Livity]
Baobinga & co. - Joint Ventures [Build]
Arkist – 'Rendezvous'/'Fill Your Coffee' [Apple Pips]

Punch Drunk boss Peverelist's new joint white label 12” with slowed house explorer Kowton is one of the best records Bristol's produced in a while. Both starting with the same set of basic sounds, the differences between tracks highlight their differing approaches to composition, which makes for genuinely interesting comparative listening. After his Vessel remix (covered in last month's column) proved he was capable of retaining his distinctive rhythmic tics at a far slower tempo, Pev's take here further cements that notion. His great skill lies in constructing rhythms that at once give the illusion of great speed and of total stasis: the high end tends to be cyclical and slightly lopsided, locked in an inescapable loop, but is then set above rhythms that drive forward with overbearing force. His 'Beneath Radar' is no exception; lacking his usual shimmering synth drones, it's an exercise in pitch-black percussive mastery. Kowton's take is ostensibly very similar, working with exactly the same sound palette, but in keeping with his own music it's slower and moodier: where Pev's take jitters, his broods, dropping out totally after a minute before slamming back into action at twice the force.

Kowton also appears alongside Baobinga on his new compilation, with the spiraling, half-dilapidated 'Proper'. As well as being co-author of the city's esteemed bassmusicblog, Baobinga is one of Bristol's more prolific producers and a serial collaborator. Joint Ventures, as its title suggests, is a collection of collaborative tracks, and features an impressive line-up of local talent as well as some from further afield. While Baobinga lacks a completely distinct sound of his own (except, perhaps, particular affinities for sub-bass and toxic synth-work), his music prefers to remain magpie-like in nature, and his presence alongside other producers tends to act as a focusing device. So 'Anything For Now' with Hyetal brims with the pliable synthetic textures that made the latter's early singles so compelling; 'Hard Hands' casts Geiom's fiendish rhythms in stainless steel; and stunning opener 'Heartburst Riddim' sees Ginz leave his Joker collaborations in the dust with a three-minute long burst of fluorescent harmony. While its seems a reductive tag in many other situations, 'bass music' feels perfect as a descriptor here: Joint Ventures' contents run the gamut from sub-120bpm house to R&B-tinged dubstep (sci-fi epic 'Ballin', with Guido) and drum & bass (Jack Sparrow collab 'Transpennine Express'). And all delivered with an eye constantly on the dancefloor. It's far from being dumb fun, but it certainly could fill that role if needed – a smart-as-hell feat in itself.

Arkist has been comfortably beneath the radar for the last couple of years, honing production techniques as diverse as Baobinga's. His latest 12”, for Appleblim's perpetually enjoyable Apple Pips label, is stylistically split. 'Rendezvous' is a luminous house/garage hybrid in the vein of George FitzGerald, and the excellent 'Fill Your Coffee' is what certain parties might have called 'wonky' a few years back – essentially hip-hop at dubstep tempo, it carries itself with an arrogant swagger that makes it a delightful curveball on a dancefloor.

FaltyDL – 'Make It Difficult' [All City]
Floating Points – Marilyn EP [Eglo]

London's Floating Points and New York's FaltyDL are shapeshifters in the most enjoyable sense, rarely sitting still on a single style long enough for it to stagnate but retaining their own character within everything they produce. These two new singles, both of a house persuasion, are no exception. FaltyDL's 'Make It Difficult' might well be the most direct dancefloor record he's produced yet, but it's still torn to shreds by his usual dizzying work with percussion, flickering cymbals and stray snares giving the odd sensation of old school UK hardcore overlaid onto a cosmopolitan house track. 'Jack Your Job' is more straightforward (just), working established house tropes (the fervent preacher; the mid-range dance of garage drums) into a frantic whirl. Both are unsurprisingly brilliant.

As is Floating Points' Marylin EP. But where Falty's tracks give the impression of constant flux and gradual acceleration, thanks to their absorption of influence from jungle and two-step, here Sam Shepherd's music remains content to languish, lazily, at extra-slow tempo. 'Marylin' is a distant cousin of his stargazing 'Vacuum Boogie', but lacking that track's ever-escalating crescendo it's distilled instead into a series of interconnected moments – the sudden emergence of a thick pitchbent melody several minutes through; the way soft vocals drift, dreamlike, to the surface. 'Farukx' is more closely related to the soul tracks Shepherd has recently produced for Fatima, its shuffling beat so light-footed it sounds as if it might float away at any moment into the surrounding ether.

Bass Clef – Inner Space Break Free [Magic+Dreams]

Perfectly timed to accompany his recent 'Rollercoasters Of The Heart' single, for his new album Ralph Cumbers has, to put it crudely, taken a trip down memory lane. Inner Space Break Free, as its name suggests, is an authentic love-letter to rave, written as usual on analogue gear for a vintage sheen. But what prevents it from being a simple clone is the hindsight with which it's written. It's interesting that the use of sonic signatures from UK hardcore within current bass music tends to elicit an intense melancholy, and these tracks are no exception. For all its dancefloor weight and brain-frying intensity, there's a weepy-eyed lucidity to Inner Space Break Free, at least in part down to the fact that it's impossible to separate the idea 'rave' from the idea 'ecstasy'. The whole album plays like the chronology of an affair with the drug, from the moment the first pill kicks dizzily in ('I Think You Are Ready Now For The Eternal Point Of No Return') to mid-dancefloor epiphany (YrHeartMyHeart'), temporary promises of utopia ('Still No Government'), the point at which it begins to jar slightly (the ferocious 'North London Fire') and a comedown like slowly falling out of love (the lovely seven-minute 'Everyone I Know'). The album's cassette-only release makes sense in its context – as with many US underground artists, it ties the music very directly and physically to the past, to mixes taped off the radio, to the magic in never being able to recapture a particular moment. It's also available digitally from label's website, and comes seriously recommended.