While preparing for another lengthy journal posting about - gasp - a topic other than music or related technologies, I have been lucky to once again have the company of some good records to make sure the fountains of my thought remain unstaunched. Yes, it's another 'round-up' of EDM and 'techno' records, since that is what my friends in the shadowy vinyl syndicates keep graciously floating my way, but as always these are records that I genuinely enjoy (remember that records I DON'T enjoy simply do not get reviewed unless they irritate me in such a way as to be educational or somehow transcendent.) Here are some items released in the last couple months, or on the cusp of release, that should help you to keep your focus and a bit of sanity in the remaining days of this nasty, war-soaked summer.
Junctions is Wata Igarashi's maiden voyage on Midgar Records. While not ensnaring your attention immediately, it proves again that such an effect is not always necessary for ultimately beneficial listening experiences: there's still something to be said for the dramatic potential of 'emergence time,' something that the capable producer exhibits with the perfectly arc-ing long tones on the record's first two cuts, and with stealthily deployed acid basslines. Oh, and regular conversation partners of mine already know that I've soured on the 'acid' sound of the Roland TB-303 and its software clones, so my compliments here carry even more weight to them. The B-side of Junctions takes a turn towards the more tense, with 'The Summon' retaining the atmosphere of undistracted hopefulness from the first two tracks, as well as a concurrent feeling of entranced levitation - that feeling is something that carries over quite well into a tune that inspired by the Japanese 人魂 [hitodama] or floating, visible manifestations of souls. Igarashi skillfully crafts a sonic equivalent to the fantastic sight of azure orbs glowing in the depth of night, blending the eerieness of 1950s sci-fi film soundtracks with the insistence of 21st century dance music.
The last few years have seen a slew of strong releases that seemingly re-envision the forest floor as dancefloor (with at least one label, the nascent Arboretum, solidifying this connection by including plantable seeds with forthcoming releases.) Whether this trend has a longevity that matches that of the trees themselves seems irrelevant for the time being, especially when it is leading to rejuvenating releases like The Magnecian's latest. The trio of tracks comprising the Medea EP unite an unerring chthonic pulse with earthy accents and gnarled melodies (see especially the morphing leads on "Your Suffering is Mine"), in a way that celebrates the imaginitive fertility of darkness. When all of these sonic cards are played at once, the result can practically be tasted - a cross-sensory experience that, more often than not, denotes a high quality listen. From the multi-part (yet seamlessly blended) intrigue of "Nostalgia" to the convulsing bass sequences of "Deleterious," the Magnecian takes us to that secret refuge far beyond the realms of the average and the ordinary.
Sendai's previous releases, like the full-length Geotope, have put them in that small club of producers whose music seemingly demands a completely different listening environment to be built for it. Their determination to squeeze the utmost detail from rhythmic and textural elements makes them an uneasy fit at full-on parties, yet at the same time encourages more physical activity than an enforced 'deep listening' session. Unsurprisingly, they have secured the 18th entry in Stroboscopic Artefacts' 'Monad' series, a line of recordings that welcomes simultaneity of action and contemplation - Sendai are right at home here.
Not pulling any punches, they greet the curious listener with an eight-and-a-half minute of aural cinema, "Isobaric": for this track, formations of nanobots run rings around the listener's headspace while he or she attempts to move in lockstep with the imperatives of deep, rolling bass. Meanwhile, melodic synth fragments unfold like metallic origami, yet fold in on themselves again before any sense of intimacy can develop. This tantalizing effect continues on the shorter follow-up, "False Entities," although with less spaciousness, more devious whimsy, and a bit more grit. Lest it seem like this recording will turn into a head-scratching Rubik's Cube puzzle for the listener, as so many of the more overloaded "IDM" releases have done, "Directive" enters with gently quivering percussive hits and lush, overlaid washes of organ and bass, an anxiety-melting rush of 'sound as incense' that fully justifies an even longer running time than "Isobaric." In a sly bit of track sequencing, Sendai than strike at the passive target with the record's hardest-hitting rhythm before boiling everything down to a precis of all the foregoing elements. All told, it's as alchemical and inspiring a record as any in the Monad series, or as any record that any electronic label is currently promoting.
In my never-ending quest for alluring ambiguity, I find myself alighting upon more records that ignore either pole of accessibility or alien weirdness, but let the illusion of conventionality persist for just long enough that new ideas and moments of sonic adventurism are assimilated so easily as to go almost unnoticed. DVS1 is a producer who can certainly achieve this effect: his new 3-tracker for Ben Klock's Klockworks may use as its chassis the most recognizable of 'house' rythmic elements and melodic features (see especially the bittersweet chord stabs of "Black Russian"), but there is always the feeling that some undefinable bit of 'otherness' is lurking within these mixes. It's no wonder that the track titles all seem to have something to do with furtiveness or espionage (the other two cuts are "Creeping" and "Spying.") The latter track is particularly strong at enveloping the listener with a sense of mystery; with its climbing mid-range synth tones and bouncing kick all echoing in such a way as to evoke the thrill and / or unease of pursuit. "Creeping" as well benefits from a focused simplicity and rich, not overly effected production that betrays a similar air of suspicion.