Illustration by John Borowicz
At this point, I almost don’t want to have to do the spiel explaining this whole non-dance-dance music thing, but it bears noting that Daniel Martin-McCormick’s — of Black Eyes and Mi Ami fame — Ital alias is partially responsible for starting the whole “movement.” He debuted the label that would soon spearhead the sound, Not Not Fun’s 100% Silk, and his “Ital’s Theme” was hungrily snapped up by nearly everyone, including this publication, where it was voted our #9 track of 2011. And why not? McCormick’s music definitely had a bit of a choppy, DIY slant to it, but it was unrestrainedly joyous, energized, and infectious, a standard kept up by further releases on the label as well as his own Lovers Rock imprint.
Fast forward to 2012 and McCormick releases his first full Ital album on Planet Mu, the UK powerhouse that released some of last year’s defining and most fearless full lengths in the form of efforts from Machinedrum, Kuedo, and DJ Diamond. McCormick’s sound hasn’t drastically changed for its new home, though it has gotten shinier: in part self-credited to a switch from Audacity to Logic, Hive Mind is easily the most confident and complete Ital statement yet, a competent move to the album format that achieves cohesion without losing vitality or edge. In fact, these tracks are even more winding and complex, convoluted — but rarely cluttered — webs of samples and pop culture references arranged in kaleidoscopic bouquets of aural data that somehow cohere to form recognizable beats.
Hive Mind is an appropriate name for a record that feels like it’s attempting to dissect and pry apart a world’s worth of Internet information overload, an overwhelming sensation that establishes itself from the outset with “Doesn’t Matter (If You Love Him),” perhaps the one moment of clutter on the album. A cavalcade of repeating Lady Gaga samples trip over each other as a thick, mid-range-y beat attempts to sputter from underneath, and the whole thing sounds rickety, unstable, and deeply out of time. But as the track limps along it gains its own sort of curious momentum, escaping its own messy sprawl in spite of itself.
The rest of the album tends to streamline itself from there: recorded in chronological order, each track seems to take ideas from the last and further primp and preen itself, until we’re left with something almost sleek and lithe in the closer, “First Wave.” Even its heat-warped disco samples and phased percussion recall a less hectic version of last year’s “Culture Clubs.” That feeling of morphing deformity, of constant melting and transience, is what makes McCormick’s beats so attractively mercurial and fascinating: “Floridian Void” layers synths upon synths of weepy, drippy melody, melodies that can’t help but shift colors even when standing still, creating something that’s just as psychedelic as it is functional on the dance floor. Things get really experimental for the choked weed haze of “Privacy Settings,” which sounds like jungle slowed down to 16 RPM, but things pick back up with the jaunty, bass-heavy “Israel,” which manages to get asses shaking even if it sounds like it’s molting new layers of excess skin with every bar.
It’s not quite the Cinderella transformation to house-music princess that would have nicely completed the Ital narrative, but that wouldn’t have been very exciting either. Instead, Hive Mind takes the ecstatic quirkiness of his early material and marries it to a template that sounds more accomplished but no less idiosyncratic. It’s even a little confrontational: the first few minutes of this record are bound to turn off way more listeners than rope them in, but those who can sustain the barrage of Gaga samples are in for a treat. Ital’s debut album is easily one of the high points of early 2012, and does a fine job of continuing a hot streak of innovative and impressive albums from Mike Paradinas’ long-running label. It doesn’t even feel like “DIY dance music” anymore — it’s just Ital, and it’s pretty great.