It has been a little while since I last ventured into record reviewing territory, so my apologies to anyone who missed that aspect of this journal. To be sure, this isn't for a lack of records to talk about - quite the opposite. Some were even handed to me in person by their creators, as was the case when Graham Lewis graciously gave me copies of his latest Editions Mego releases during intermission time at a performance at Sweden's Berwaldhallen (a story all unto itself, seeing as it involves Russell Haswell performing on the same bill as a symphony orchestra.) Others have come to me anonymously, but are no less interesting for that fact - and don't worry Graham, I will have some reflections on your (very good) discs in this space soon.
This time I want to set my sights on some new electronic-oriented labels being set up by artist-producers, as it seems like there's an ever-intensifying flurry of activity in that area.
First up is the inaugural effort on Cosmo Rhythmatic Records, Centaure from Frank Vigroux.Its guiding concept of "rhythmic noise" is one that may not be any more "popular" than it was in the halcyon days of Esplendor Geometrico, but it seems to be gaining more cultural legitimacy - and why not? Aversion to this style has, it seems to me, always been more a matter of people fearing certain mordant aspects of the 'industrial music' visual presentation than it was a matter of people disliking the actual sounds. To be sure, the full-blast percussive fusillade of record is still not for everybody, but it will be a joy to behold for fans of Mika Vainio, emptyset and likeminded purveyors of sculpted static.
In a way it is a 'tighter' or more restrained variant on the styles of those artists, and is certainly not an unconsidered copycat effort: the opening cut '2024' is a (dare I say it) fun romp through a sense-saturated new world, greeting the listener with a percussive breakdown that gives the impression of a head being bounced rapidly between two facing walls. Overall the cut sounds like the soundtrack to a documentary on being pulled into black holes (look up the term 'spaghettification' at your own risk), with a dramatic quivering synth lead fighting for its life against the seemingly indomitable structure of staccato, distorted bass kicks. The next few pieces - all Vigroux originals with the exception of a Shapednoise remix - keep up this manic pace, with the title track (and closer) 'Centaure' deploying the well-known 'hoovering' bass and siren effects without a hint of cliché. After a careful listen, the EP's cover image - a monochrome shot of seats in an empty theater - seems like a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of the music's power to send audiences running for the exits. At the same time, though, it's an invitation for less easily frightened souls to occupy those empty seats and bask in the cold lucidity of this music.
On to the concept of dub techno in 2014, which is becoming a very 'easier said than done' proposition: while its basic elements are familiar enough that seemingly anyone with some programming skill can craft a decent track in this style, it hasn't been possible for a long time to make a distinct track with these elements alone. Blow's "Monochrome" is an exceptional new record bearing all the hallmarks of the genre - a tactile bass pulse, prominent but non-aggressive percussion, a strong contrast between elements 'near' and 'distant' - but it brings an uncanny narrative quality to the table which is missing from too many dub techno platters. The A-side stretches itself out over thirteen minutes, and none of those individual minutes is boring: focusing on the wide variety of incidental noises hidden underneath the bass feels like eavesdropping or perhaps tuning in communications from another planet. Sure, this "epic" scope in itself may be "nothing new," but it is much different in character from similar lengthy missives by Basic Channel and company - changes in timbre, rhythmic composure and the 'temperature' of the ambience overtake the listener without being noticed at first, making this as much a simulation of dream logic as a stimulus to dancing. Ferlin's B-side interpretation of this journey is just a touch more propulsive, with some extra percussive accents and funhouse mirror distortions to give it a slightly more mischievous edge. A great debut that, while not 'from out of nowhere,' is still a very welcome surprise. By the way, for discographers, "Blow" is both an emergent label AND the artist responsible for the record under review here.
The last item in this brief rundown is the first in a new series rather than the first entry from a new label altogether (this being Oscar Mulero's contribution to the new "Pattern Series" of WarmUp Recordings. Artists like Mulero and Regis make records that some might call "stark", "unforgiving" or some other such unflattering term - for myself, these same records are quite positive in their impact. Quite simply, they are music for those who have survived the death of faith in technological salvation. Call it techno-realism if you like, or just an acknowledgement that our shared present is often so brimful of uncanny 'sci-fi' concepts that we no longer need to use techno music solely as a rough sketch of the 'future.'
But how does this all sound, exactly? Mulero's inaugural entry into the new Pattern series of 12"s provides one key example - sharp mid-range tones that act as percussive embellishments rather than as melodic content, and a patient accretion of little intensities that works far better than an 'everything-at-once' mixing approach. Mulero also shows how the most infinitesimal of tweaks can de-familiarize the obvious, as when the insistent attack of a dulled handclap on "Gravity" makes you second-guess whether that is really what is being heard. Where sound sources are completely obvious - as when the same handclap reappears on "Particle Repositioning" - they are no less meaningful, as Mulero uses them in counterpoint with less didactic elements. The shivering trails that can be heard following that track's kick drum are another adjustment, initially imperceptible, that works as a tool for perceptual re-orientation. On that note, it is no accident that the EP's opener ("Epley Maneuver") is named for a type of treatment against vertigo.