Both Rod Modell and Stephen Hitchell have kept themselves very busy since the release of the last Deepchord presents Echospace album on Modern Love, 2007′s The Coldest Season, and the evidence of their individual journeys is writ large all over the grooves of Liumin, the duo’s latest collaborative effort. If The Coldest Season was the soundtrack to a deep-dive into the sub-oceanic space beneath the largest glacier imaginable, Liumin warms things up considerably with much more active and aggressive grooves built on top of field recordings made on the streets of Tokyo (the field recordings themselves are available on a bonus disc, Liumin Reduced, included with the first pressing of the CD). The results are definitely still informed by dub — Modell and Hitchell aren’t making a complete 180 here — but are distinctly updated, conjuring aural images of rolling through the world’s most high-tech city at night, still full of old-world wonder but hypermodern all at once.
Opener “In Echospace” sets the tone with nary a beat in earshot, as deep, rolling waves of sound splash by in slow motion, peppered with sharp bites of static and disembodied voices cutting through the ether, ghosts of old radio broadcasts pulsing their way to the surface. The track melts away into the bullet train-intro of “Summer Haze” and the beats make their appearance at last. Percolating and lively but just shy of aggressive, this is the classic Echospace sound perfected, with swirling, looped chords and layers of echoing percussion fading in and out of the mix in a hypnotic blend that Modell and Hitchell must be thinking about copyrighting by now. Aside from the organic feel of the field recordings, that percussive base is the other way in which Liumin sets itself apart from its predecessor: where The Coldest Season was content to move in giant, monolithic swathes of rhythm, Liumin is active, even danceable.
“Sub-Marine” thumps along at a pretty good clip with some insistent rattles and funky low-end notes thrown in to move some asses, while “Maglev”‘s bass bubbles and snapping hi-hats are deep house played through a busted-ass speaker cone to surprisingly great effect. “BCN Dub” on the other hand, shambles along like an outtake from Hitchell’s stellar Intrusion project, wearing it’s Jamaican influence proudly as a spectral horn melody drifts through on a distant transistor box that just gets dirtier and dirtier as it repeats. Lesser artists may have reduced dub techno to its base elements and produced cookie-cutter tracks that ape the style set forth by Echospace and their sonic predecessors, but with Liumin, Modell and Hitchell prove that they are no one-trick ponies, evolving musically just as surely as they have maintained their distinctive sound. If you think you’ve heard everything that the dub techno genre could possibly throw at you, Liumin will prove you ain’t heard nothing yet.]]>
Luke Hess is apparently determined to escape any and all pigeonholing that may come with his being a techno producer from the fabled city of Detroit. By infusing his streamlined Detroit techno with various elements of dub, field recordings, and, ahem, Jesus, Hess shows it’s possible to emerge and flourish from under the mighty shadow (and baggage) of the Motor City.
Light In The Dark, Hess’ debut full-length and first outing for Echocord proper (with previous releases for the label’s offshoot, Echocord Colour) achieves a certain symmetry and cohesiveness, effortlessly flowing from one track to the next with nary a bump in the road. While in lesser hands, this might result in a rather static listen, Hess manages to keep things varied enough to alleviate boredom. When the beat gradually falls out of time on “Self-Control,” for example, it isn’t an overwhelming change, merely something subtle and unexpected. The smoky atmospheres of “Reel Life” give way to a stealth rhythm and finally some deep analog chords, but it all sounds a bit like some serpent swimming around the dark misty waters on the album’s cover, just poking its head up often enough to remind you it’s there. Every track resembles the track before it and the track after it, but each one has that little something to differentiate it from the pack, mutating ever so slightly from the set template.
There’s nary a tune or really even a melody in sight, just lots of “feel” — rhythm, noise, and nature, acting together in some sort of harmony, united by the echoic dub effects that Hess hangs throughout. The missing earworms allow the sound to simply cascade over the ear, as tracks tumble and roll into each other. But it’s the little details that keep things interesting: a surprising extra-dubbed-up effect here, an atmospheric nature sound whistling low in the background there, and just enough rhythmic invention to keep listeners guessing.]]>
After an uncharacteristic period of inactivity from the end of 2008 through the first couple months of 2009 (previously the label had been issuing new releases about every six weeks like clockwork), Cadenza took the unusual step of putting out five releases basically on top of each other. On one hand, the approach makes a big splash in the marketplace and keeps the label’s name in the headlines a bit longer and more prominently than it might otherwise be. On the other hand, the glut of releases tends to dull the impact of the music as the already fairly uniform Cadenza sound can’t help but get repetitive in such large doses.
This is somewhat of a shame, because while the quintet of releases definitely contained some rote, Cadenza-by-numbers material, Ernesto Ferreyra’s debut EP for the label really shines. Available as a two-track vinyl single or, in another Cadenza first, a four-track download exclusively from Beatport, Ferreyra breathes new life into the label’s formula, fitting seamlessly into the roster while showing some funky new moves of his own. “Hunted”‘s sticky shuffle engages some dub techno-style deep chords and mixing techniques in its percussive attack, while the vinyl flipside “Caleza” pops with polyrhythms that echo around as if being pounded out on a massive log at some cosmic luau. The peak, however, comes with the digital exclusive “Copina,” a ten-minute monster building up from a percussive base to a shimmering-star melody beat out on what sounds like a delayed marimba, only to get more jacking and intense as it goes. This whole minimal-with-ethnic-percussion thing has become Cadenza’s calling card over the years, but Ferreyra proves that there is much life in the style still to be unearthed.]]>
When used as an adjective to describe music, “deep” means different things to different people. While the exact definition has proven to be elusive and subject to some contentious discussions in the dance community, most agree you know a record is “deep” when you hear it. Case in point: the original version of Linkwood Family’s “Miles Away” is deep. The debut release on the Firecracker imprint that found its way into the crates of everyone from Derrick May to Moodymann started with a mournful Miles Davis-esque trumpet solo over some lonesome keys and moved into a late-night house bounce and a vocal line bordering on torch song territory. Soulful, jazzy, warm, and melancholy, “Miles Away” featured all the hallmarks of a “deep house” record and then some.
Now, some five years after the original release comes a limited edition white vinyl remix single from Intrusion (aka Stephen Hitchell of Echospace fame) that brings things to a whole new level of deepness while taking an entirely different route to get there. Maintaining the haunted trumpet and bits of the vocal melody from the original, Intrusion’s “Sunrise Dub” drapes these distorted elements over a loving made bed of ambient keys and an active, yet entirely laid back bubbling percussion and scratched guitar line. If the original conjured up images of 3 a.m. at an underground jazz club at the end of Lonely Street, Hitchell takes us up to street level on a billowing cloud of bliss with just enough spring in our steps to see the sun coming up on a new day, full of optimism and a bit less heartbreak. On the flip, the “Sunset Dub” is a bit more traditionally dubbed out: echoic, skeletal, and percussive, but no less effective and all-encompassing, losing much of the ambient wash and swapping it for pure space. Both Intrusion dubs deftly manage to turn the original on its head while still maintaining a definite vibe, a common thread of, well, you know.
All this just goes to show that “deep” is nothing more than a feeling, really, a feeling obviously shared between Linkwood Family and Hitchell, and now, thankfully all of us. Debate all you like about the labels and adjectives, but if you don’t feel it after hearing these records, you might want to check for a pulse while you’re at it.]]>
By 1992, the spiritual kinship between the cities of Detroit and Berlin had existed for years. But despite the invisible conduit of ideas and inspiration flowing back and forth between the world’s electronic dance music capitals, there was precious little actual collaboration to show for it — just a handful of tracks, really, though a symbiosis of ideas and a definitive kinship was in full flower. 3MB was the German half of the equation, featuring Moritz von Oswald and Thomas Fehlmann who would go on to produce pioneering music of their own. The pair worked the previous year with Detroit techno pioneer Eddie “Flashin” Fowlkes, though the group only truly collaborated on two tracks on the double LP released under their names. By all accounts, however, the work between Atkins, von Oswald and Fehlmann was a true melting pot, the music showcased on the group’s self-titled double LP released by Tresor in 1993.
Though all seven of the tracks are strong — this could easily be a column about the greatness of “Die Kosmiche Kourier” — one stands above the rest: “Jazz Is The Teacher.” Issued as the A-side of single vinyl versions featuring select tracks from the album on Atkins’ own Metroplex imprint and NovaMute, “Jazz Is The Teacher” may not have been the first Detroit/Berlin collaboration, but it certainly resonated the deepest. Bubbling with the propulsive energy of the Motor City and artfully splashed with sleek and sophisticated European synths, “Jazz Is The Teacher” doesn’t sound like jazz at all — but it didn’t sound much like anything that had come before it either. You can hear bits and pieces of each hand in the mix: Atkins’ driving, crashing hi-hats, snares and funked-up bass bounce; von Oswald’s percolating and echoing bubbles; Fehlmann’s ambient washes and textures. They blend seamlessly, yet also seem perpetually at war with each other, as if each piece is trying to show off for the others. The pulses change and warp throughout, folding into one another to craft a masterpiece that has yet to be equaled.
Detroit and Berlin may have spiraled off into separate directions and gravitated back again in the many years since “Jazz Is The Teacher” brought them together on wax. There hasn’t been a more definitive musical statement of the unique musical harmony felt between the two cities before or since.]]>
Stefan Kozalla has been on a roll for an unnaturally long stretch of time in the mercurial dance music community. His particular take on house music is generally full of humor, energy, and some of the most killer earworms in existence, and his first single for 2009 is no exception. “Mrs. Bojangels” kicks off with a bang, riding a bed of relentless percussion clatter and a flanged riff into near oblivion, but still tethered to earth by the gritty vocal samples and steady rhythmic pulse. A revelatory organ bursting like sunshine through the clouds at around the three minute mark leads to a glorious breakdown, but it doesn’t last and you don’t want it to. Everything is woozy, unbalanced, and slightly hallucinogenic like all of Koze’s best work, but the rough and ready percussion that winds throughout the track is just enough to keep it from drifting too far into the ether. The combination of the surreal and the gritty make it utterly irresistible and a must for repeat listens — I guarantee you missed something the first time through.
If “Mrs. Bojangles” displays a raggedly tough edge, flipside “Dr. Fuck” leaves it looking like a Burl Ives ditty. With a demented-sounding voice over and what sounds like a seriously treated accordion riff over some kitchen sink pings and bongs and Space Invaders noises, this is Koze at his most acidic, but with enough bizarro touches to make it more than a mere Chicago homage. It all seems to be held together with scotch tape and spit, but somehow it works, even with the beat disappearing for minutes at a time and some truly odd sounds that appear precisely when they’re least expected. It takes a special skill set to tread the line between madness and genius so delicately, and Koze does it here with style points to spare.]]>
Like death and taxes, Jeff Mills is something of an inevitability. Restlessly creative and prolific even now, more than 20 years after his first release, Mills shows no signs of slowing down, and may just be learning some new tricks at this late stage in the game. Always a vinyl purist — Mills’ famed three-turntable DJ sets are legendary — the Axis and Purpose Maker label boss has recently signed a deal with Beatport to make his tracks available digitally for the first time, even taking the opportunity to issue unreleased bonus tracks (somewhat irking his fellow vinyl purists, of course). With his embracing of today’s technology at long last, Mills’ legendary obsessions with sci-fi and futurism are appropriately on full display on his first release of 2009, “The Good Robot.” Which, of course, is not available digitally.
The five-track EP displays all of Mills’ best characteristics in spades: beatless ambient tools (the orchestrated “Replicant” and the shambling “Visage”) sit side by side with relentless, driving loop-driven techno that’s at once minimal in movement and dense in construction (thus the term “Millsian minimalism”), begging DJs to buy a spare copy for the crate to mix the two styles. Even though the EP relies on what has become somewhat formulaic construction for Mills, it is still capable of thrilling the ear. The hyperactive clanging bells and swooping/reversed noises that punctuate “Things To Know About Your Robot” are stunning, as are the pulsing phasers in the tune’s breakdown, the bleep-bloopy percussion riffs and hidden countermelodies of the title track, all deftly evincing that Mills hasn’t taken to resting on his laurels just yet. Closer “A Reluctant Compliance” brings Mills’ two styles together, as mellow digital tones and a skittering, echoic, low-profile beat combine in a musical expression of the cold, clinical beauty of robotics in smooth, efficient motion. If you haven’t checked out Jeff Mills’ music in a while — or ever — you’re missing out on a true master at work. He hasn’t yet lost a step.]]>
It’s been a quiet beginning to 2009 for the esteemed Perlon label. In fact, they haven’t been heard from since the October 2008 release of the CD version of Ricardo Villalobos’ Vasco project, itself made up mainly of material previously released on vinyl. Blame it on the economy if you must, but there’s no questioning the musical landscape has shifted during Perlon’s silence as the dance universe moves further and further away from minimal tech-house of the last few years in favor of other sounds: dubstep, deep house, and others. While the label’s (and Matt John’s) first release of 2009 certainly won’t bring about any sort of widespread revival, it slips on like a comfortable old shoe or worn-in sweatshirt and reminds us what a reliable and quality label Perlon is.
“Radio Self” bounces along to a straightforward tech-house beat-and-bass combo and soon peppers in various loopy analog riffs that recall classic Chicago acid work. A simple riff heading straight at your head here and a de-tuned hi-hat there go a long way, and the various pieces and parts rest comfortably next to one another as they gain momentum towards no particular payoff whatsoever: an ascending keyboard run turned unnaturally loud in the mix is the closest thing the track gets to a climax. This may be a club track in the most basic way, but its infectious parts and always-surprising deployment of sounds keep it from being a boring, strictly tracky affair. On the flip, “Sacing” fuses a bubbling bass line with finger-poppin’ rhythms and a handful of overlapping vocal loops to come a bit closer to a deep-house sound, again in the vintage Chicago mold. There are definite Windy City influences at work here, but ultimately these are Perlon tracks, deftly skating between house and techno with space and style. These tunes certainly don’t reinvent the wheel, nor do they try to, but they show that in the hands of gifted producers, minimal tech-house has some life left in it yet.]]>
While some might have expected the mysterious Ornaments label to follow its breakthrough smash (Moodymann’s stunning remix of Sascha Dive’s “Deepest America,” one of 2008′s defining deep-house moments) with further big names and big-room floor fillers, the imprint has instead followed it up with a couple of low-profile releases, first from Mod.Civil and now Sven Tasnadi, not exactly well-known commodities. Despite his relative low profile (which includes 12”s for liebe*detail, Smallville and Cargo Edition), Tasnadi’s “Our Destiny” definitely has a way with smooth, sleek tech-house, working mellow, spaced-out pads and a crisp, active rhythm track into a warm lather that gets thicker and more intense as it progresses. It’s a subtle track with a definite Detroit influence, multiple mini-breaks, a late-deploying jazzy vibraphone riff and the kind of detailing you notice with repeat listens.
Sven Weisemann’s “Shuffle On” mix, however, is noticeably more amped, despite working with the many of the same basic elements. True to its name, Weisemann’s mix adds a shuffling beat and a deeply resonant bass thump to the mix, making the lighter elements of the original stand out against the darker backdrop. The new cross-rhythms are dizzying and groovy, creating new patterns in their wake and popping harder than the mix’s stealthiness might initially suggest. I can’t say I’m very familiar with either of the Svens here, but their work here is sneakily effective without clubbing you over the head. These Ornaments guys, whoever they are, sure do have ears for talent.]]>
Certain schools of thought believe the highest achievements of dub techno have been long ago attained by the likes of Maurizio and his Basic Channel/Chain Reaction cohorts. However there is no denying the stunning addendums from the likes of Quantec, Rod Modell and Stephen Hitchell et al. have furthered the legacy of the deep, dubby sound. Hitchell has been carving out a name for himself since the early days of the millennium with his stunning twelves and EPs under various guises and now marks his debut foray into the full length album stakes as Intrusion.
There are other producers of this sound who have made their own mark with rich, palatable offerings of dub-wise bounty, some steeped in the blueprint of those who came before them, others presenting a more modern slant. For my money though the refined sound-sculpture of Intrusion captures the essence of this music’s past as well as staying true to the ethos of dub being a future gazing sound. This becomes more and more apparent throughout listening to The Seduction Of Silence, especially on repeat as the frayed textures weave in and out of the atmospheric hiss and tape noise, that sonic grit itself punctuating the notes through various filters and gates.
This is not just a well realized and cohesive album, but also one displaying an encompassing approach to dub techno, from the spatial, languid grooves on “Montego Bay” to the more upbeat, faster paced “Intrusion” and “Tswana Dub” (the latter even sound checks its own history with a nod to the disco zaps of the 70′s era Brentford Road producers). For every peak of intensity reached a more sedate, gloriously downbeat moment follows, the apex reached via the ten plus minute instrumental sounds of “A Night To Remember,” which is about as heady and trance-inducing as dub techno gets. Things start winding down with “Little Angel,” quite fittingly featuring the heavenly vocals of Paul St. Hilaire, the Dominican with a long associated history within the genre. More commonly St. Hilaire’s lyrics are songs of praise or rastaman’s lament; “Little Angel,” though, is a love paean through and through and marks an exit towards the ambient rub of “Under The Ocean.”
Where other albums represent a more clinical or detached take on this oeuvre, Hitchell’s heart is in the analogue gear he uses, giving The Seduction Of Silence an unbridled human warmth that is the very pulse of emotion. It’s this feeling — all at once melancholy yet hopeful — that keeps this album on continuous loop on my system and surely makes it worthy of consideration as as an early contender for album of the year.]]>