It’s hard to categorize the music made by Phillip Sollmann, best known as Efdemin. Ostensibly it’s some kind of deep house, until you hear the chilly repetition and careful attention to silence, space and reverb. On Decay, the German producer’s third album, this aspect of his work is clearer than ever, unclouded by the merry jazz stylings which characterized Chicago, or the shiny, very-2007 sounds of Efdemin.
Accordingly, it’s also his starkest work to date. The melodies here are just as beautiful and well written as anything before, but you have to dig right down into each composition’s brooding depths to find the fractal chords which divide, combine, and blossom there. Tracks like “Parallaxis” and “Solaris” best exemplify this quality, while at the same time showing off Sollmann’s stated Axis and M-Plant influences. If you want to understand the inherent beauty of repetition, these are good places to start.
At other times, Decay sounds like a typical Conforce subterranean excursion, icy synths quivering through the gloom with superb attention to detail (“Subatomic”). Tracks like this are almost unbearably pregnant in contrast to the more pounding numbers, like “Decay.” Its deadly sense of pursuit recalls Recondite’s Hinterland LP, as does the feeling of delicate nature in “The Meadow,” where a simple piano loop has much more impact than it should.
Despite such similarities, the album could only be a Sollmann creation. Whenever things get too serious, they’re tempered by whimsical or playful samples. “My body isn’t listening to me,” teases the first song, before engaging its pared-down bells and radiant drones. “Solaris” ends with a German woman enthusing over the music, and with its light-footed percussion and weird, spiraling synths, “Track 93″ is just plain fun. It’s a reminder of his talent that Sollmann is able to tie all these things together into a coherent whole. As a result, Decay offers a subtle, seamless ride from start to finish, but with a diverse sense of intricacy that will keep you coming back over and over.]]>
Light and dark. Those are the best words to describe Tony Scott’s first LP as Edit Select. Like fellow kilt-wearers Slam, the Glaswegian has been on the scene since the mid-90s. It’s only in the past five years, though, that he’s settled down with his newest moniker and begun to feel truly comfortable with himself. As much as anything, Phlox‘s 11 ying-and-yang excursions feel like instruments of this ongoing discovery, Scott reaching out to grasp at the distant, darkened corners of his musical vocabulary and committing the results to record.
Which is not to say that Phlox is rife with wild experimentation. He may be part of the same sub-scene as guys like Mike Parker and Oscar Mulero, but even at his most difficult, Scott sounds conventional by comparison. In the past, that’s been by choice. “I don’t even really like broken beat,” he said in 2011, lamenting its lack of dance-floor potential. Clearly, something’s changed since then, because not only does Phlox‘s first half contain broken rhythms, it downright thrives on them. Here, and back in more familiar 4/4 territory, Scott feels supremely assured, as his sleek, practiced techno gradually gathers steam.
Whereas artists like Perc and George Lanham have frequently used broken beats to emphasize sheer brutality, Scott’s pattering, light-threaded cuts are more like foreplay, building tension before the main event. Appearing second and third, “Survivors of the Pulse” and “Receptor” do brilliantly in this regard, gradually tightening the album’s grip after the floating phosphorescence of the ambient opener, “Blissfully Unaware,” has gently faded away. This track’s particular pastel hues never truly disappear, even as they degenerate into niggling, anxiety-filled drones in “Phlox” or desolate echoes in “Bauer Reprise.” This juxtaposition of light and shade gives even the album’s meatiest cuts an easy sense of balance.
Apart from that, the benign overlays impart a cinematic sheen to the whole experience, as we saw with Function’s Incubation LP last year. It’s funny: Phlox is far from Scott’s first album, but it feels touched by the same excited, veteran hand as Function’s 20-years-in-the-making debut. Their shared understanding of pacing and contrast would seem the key. Only “Asperity,” the digital-only) stomping final track, feels a tad unnecessary. With that vestigial tail lopped off, Phlox becomes a cliché home-listening album, bookended by pleasant but largely generic ambient. It’s the eight tracks in between those two ends that make a real splash, though. When you’re craving some harder drums, “Receptor” brings them. When you’re ready for pillowy swathes of melody, “Circling” is there. And when you need just one final groove to carry you to the finish, the warm, incessant thrum of “Bauer Reprise” steps in. It’s almost as if Scott can read minds. With this quality backing it up, Phlox is a mostly exquisite listen, which fans of hypnotic techno will rightly devour.]]>
Since Wrong Shirt, his 2010 debut, Till Krüger has been mostly quiet. He’s had just three records since, in fact. Put it down to the demands of getting his architecture degree, or something else, but it seems likely he’s still struggling through the creative funk he and I discussed in a 2011 interview. After all, his field—early Detroit techno and its European incarnations—has been extremely well-plowed. But where so many producers have recognized this and moved to more fertile grounds, the young German stubbornly remains.
If coming up with fresh, Detroit-styled ideas is tough, Krüger does have one thing going for him, though: a great ear for melody. Whether entwining several disparate synth lines or just letting one sequence breathe, he has a knack for making it sound natural. On “Skew,” this quality is especially apparent. Its five sequences—count ‘em—range from insistent bass to neon-glazed pad, and move together beautifully. Unless you’re particularly jaded, it’s a track which will fast make you forget the many similar ones which have come before it.
Taking a simpler tack, “Trends” and “Good” aren’t quite so thrilling, but they remain products of the Krüger approach to melody. The former rides on a cushion of fat digital bass and liberally dollops bell-like melodies on top. The latter’s many shades of pastel are more comforting than anything, as if describing a pleasant daydream. Again, neither of these cuts is groundbreaking—and not every track has to be—but they’re ample evidence techno’s earlier forms still have some legs yet.]]>
Vocal samples have an uncomfortable history with dance music. At times, they’ve been used tastefully, with great success. Talented producers find a zingy lyrical snippet, creatively re-purpose it, and a hit is born. Then there’s the times where hacks decide to rip an entire Martin Luther King Jr. speech and slap it over a beat. There are stops between the two extremes, of course, but the fact remains that sampled vocals can be dangerous. It’s interesting, then, to see Oskar Offermann tackling the issue with his latest record, Distance Is Depth. Over the past five years or so, the German has amassed a gem-packed discography, most of it made up of instrumentals, and including the criminally overlooked Do Pilots Still Dream of Flying? LP. He clearly doesn’t need to lean on samples the way average producers are often tempted to. And yet, just once, it feels like Distance Is Depth does exactly that.
The very first sound in “4th Dimension” is a cheesy stanza announcing, “It’s like I’m in the fourth dimension.” As it repeats, it threatens genuine monotony. Displaying his usual talent, though, Offermann lathers the sample into a strident rhythm with the help of big, fuzzy kicks before washing it all away with a gorgeous string melody. The sample in “Here Before” feels almost as arbitrary, but the track’s fizzing colors dart across the spectrum with such vibrancy and repetition that the stark words end up a welcome counterpoint. Strangely enough, the only place where Offermann seems to have missed the mark is the title track. Its musical credentials are no less impressive than the other cuts, but they’re overshadowed by a tedious discussion about quality and competition in the music industry. It’s not quite as painful as the ubiquitous MLK speech, but it’s close. Distance Is Depth is a great record, so long as you can remember not to drop the needle on this middle track.]]>
Rivet is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get. Since re-branding himself back in 2011, the artist formerly known as Grovskopa has been faithful to just three labels: Naked Index, Kontra-Musik, and Skudge Presents. His music, though, has been far more diverse than this information would imply, trading in such things as saw-wave funk (“Grifter”), fragile elegy (“Sleepwalker”), and neo-rave (“Driftwood”). In his past life, the Swede was an experimental techno artist, pushing stylistic boundaries. Rivet may be a more straightforward project, but its aims are no less demanding: to make every track from scratch, even if it means deleting favorite samples or VSTs.
Bear Bile, the project’s sixth 12″, showcases the continued success of this ascetic approach. It’s a rather neat summary of Rivet’s breadth thus far, as well. “Pt. 1″ sees him continue on the aforementioned neo-rave path, blasting impassioned vocals through clusters of fat beats but gradually winding things down to an unusual (i.e. really interesting) cinematic close. “Pt. 2″ sharpens the drums up for a more modern finish and curdles the mid-range with all sorts of nasty synthesis. These sides of Rivet are accomplished and great, clearly. But my favorite times are when he lets his heart run wild. The cheerful and psychedelic “Pt. 3″ might be the best yet. Matched by a slow, steady rhythm, its acidic undercurrent lacks the tense edge the 303 usually imparts, and its syrupy hooks are utterly addictive. It’s not chocolate so much as it is a fructose-loaded syringe. In true Rivet style, though, it somehow feels neither cloying, nor out of place next to the heavier cuts.]]>
For a country of just over 6,000,000 inhabitants, Ireland seems to punch well above its musical weight. It has several renowned labels, for starters: Feel Music, Lunar Disko, All City, and [NakedLunch]. While it hasn’t quite achieved the same status, Kenny Hanlon’s Apartment Records is as credible as any on the list. After all, Hanlon was a contributor at the late-and-great Infinite State Machine blog. Accordingly, his label has tended to trade in classically informed house, techno, and electro. Apartment Six, the label’s first compilation, doesn’t break the spell.
New Jackson kicks off the record in fine style, rubbing away the grime that obscured Tr One’s 2013 track “Viceroy-9c.” His interpretation is a more lucid one, where the track’s energetic bass and flurries of classic toms can better shine. It really lifts, however, when a snaking synth line enters in the final quarter, to helm an elated crescendo. The remaining three tracks are slightly more downbeat, aiming for melody over momentum. Slowburn’s “Riders of the Sea” uses its woozy chords just to tease, slipping them in-and-out of earshot but never quite offering an easy grasp. One can’t help but pursue them to the song’s end. The Superior Inferior shoots for the opposite with the unashamedly retro “A Bit Much Confusion.” Thankfully, though, there’s not a hackneyed Chicago bass line or Roland drum sound in its lead-driven duration. The track’s rigid snares and gaudy choirs instead pay homage to the Kraftwerk and Moroder era, in tasteful fashion. Last, and perhaps most interesting, is The Cyclist’s noise-swept sketch, “Crax.” Its warm chords and spare drums would have been pretty strong on their own, but the decay he plasters upon them adds a whole extra dimension, like a majestic, sci-fi city gone to ruin. This cut in particular highlights the breadth and adventurousness of Apartment, which, like its country of origin, continues to punch well above its weight.]]>
[Crime City Disco]
As I’ve noted in the past, Crime City Disco’s mission to release “deep, slow, and disco-influenced” house is hardly unique. And yet, the Berlin-based outfit has continued to carve out a decent niche for itself, thanks to the quirky predilections of its Swedish owner, Tobias Gullberg. In the hands of someone else, the label might have gone super serious, but it instead remains lighthearted and fun. Record eight, Vintergatan, (“Galaxy”) sees this merry outlook trained further skyward than anything since Nils W’s “Bladerunner Soul,” back in 2011.
The result doesn’t feel too much like house or disco, really. “Sjörök” in particular shares more in common with the work of artists like Dominik Eulberg and Extrawelt, and their ethereal, modern takes on techno. Like those producers, though, third-time collaborators Johanna Knutsson and Hans Berg exercise enough restraint that their swathes of trickling arpeggios and cosmic chords sit just right, rather than succumbing to proggy bombast. The cut’s gentle, spaced-out currents are all the more potent for this understatement.
Aiming for a more driving sound, “Vintergatan” strips back the fetching complexity of “Sjörök” for a simpler chord progression. A little too simple, perhaps. While the final quarter is well lifted by more of those colorful arpeggios, it seems like even just a few bars of them could have had a real effect elsewhere, without detracting from track’s overall propulsive vibe. Despite this small point, there’s a very tangible sense of unself-conscious fun on display. In both cuts, actually. Maybe it’s just me, but fun and simplicity triumph easily over the tracky, pseudo-sophistication cultivated by so many of Crime City Disco’s peers.]]>
After more than 20 years in the biz, you could forgive Vince Watson if he started to run out of steam. After all, his club-oriented work has rarely left the sleek, melodic boundaries he established with early records like the popular Mystical Rhythm EP. As his latest missive faithfully advises, though, It’s Not Over. Somehow, the Scotsman frequently seems able to make new records even more lush and elegantly intricate than their predecessors. And really, in this domain, few names can match him (Kirk Degiorgio, perhaps). It’s clear he has plenty more to say.
The title track rests on a knife-edge between overblown sentimentality and genuine poignancy. As in the past, though, Watson keeps it on the right side — just — evoking powerful nostalgia with a long, lazy chord progression and simple beat. Music writers sometimes talk about getting “lost” in a song, and “It’s Not Over” is a prime example — it’s awfully hard to tell where the melody begins and ends, and all that’s left to do is surrender to its gentle peaks and troughs. “Freq” is more upbeat, employing a niggling, similarly infinite chord sequence to shake off the nostalgia, and push to a patient crescendo. Compared to some past work, both sides are relatively simple in this respect, each featuring just one main motif. With soundtracks and more traditionally musical projects occupying more and more of Watson’s time, it seems like perhaps he’s keen to strip down his club work a bit — consciously or unconsciously. While this still makes for some very pleasant tracks, It’s Not Over can’t quite match the multi-layered splendor of tunes like 2011′s “Atom,” or 2012′s “Love in F Minor.”]]>
Context is a funny thing: it can totally change our tastes and expectations, if only temporarily. For example, Peach opened last July with a pleasant 12″ from Cromie & Sage Caswell. Kyle Hall delivered a great remix on the flip. Enter record number two, Earth House Hold’s See Through You. People seem to like it plenty, despite the fact that it’s more or less a bland incarnation of progressive house. Maybe it’s just a good record. Or maybe — and this is more plausible — people liked the first 12″ so much, they wanted to like this one too, before they’d even heard it. We’re all guilty of that to some extent, right?
The tracks aren’t bad, really — just plain. Earth House Hold, aka Brock Van Wey, averages about four ambient albums a year as Bvdub, and in both tracks’ melodic sections, that influence is evident. “Back Where I Belong,” for instance, revels in breezy Balearic vibes, letting them wash over a big room beat for 12 minutes. Austin Cesear did something similar with “1 Year,” but where his sunny overtones escalated nicely, Van Wey’s barely get out of the blocks. It’s a shame, because they’re quite pretty. The rhythm section follows the same pattern, varying little and keeping time more so than creating interesting swing. Matthew Dekay and Lee Burridge’s “Lost in a Moment” did something similar, and both suffer for it. Finally, limp vocals deliver lines like, “Last time, you said that you’d always be there, so tell me, tell me, how you expect me to care?” “Little Late For That Now” shoots for a quieter dance-floor moment, but despite its pastel-chord charms, the beats again feel leaden and the vocal performance uninspiring. Peach may yet have great things ahead of it, but this record, which feels eternally poised for take-off, isn’t it.]]>
[One Track Records]
It’s been four years since John Daly started One Track Records so he could release his own music. At face value, the concept seems a bit gimmicky: one original song per record, with various reworks (e.g. beatless, dub) to back it up. With the Irishman’s sharp arrangements, though, the label’s nine records to date have rarely felt padded. The alternate versions are often as enticing as the main mixes, in fact. Though the catalogue` is clearly aimed at DJs, you don’t have to be one to find good value within.
On number 10, Solar Sailing, that statement doesn’t fully ring true, even if all the versions are great. The “Full Tide Mix” is a spring-loaded catapult to the cosmos, where majestic nebulae slide by in blissful slow motion. The thing might be underpinned by a pretty deadly kick/bass combo, but its huge swathes of melody make it feel more like Detroit’s typical version of utopia than anything. “The Deep Mix” plunges even further into the narcotic space fog, golden strings singing out through the void and moving the track’s musical center of gravity upwards, slightly away from the feet.
Plenty of artists release single-sided 12″s, on the proviso that just one track is strong enough to carry the whole record. That’d probably work here too, but the sheer similarity of the “Full Tide” and “Deep” mixes feels more like a wasted opportunity than anything. This fact is highlighted by the “Rhythm Section,” which strips away all the melody, resulting in a pretty robust tool. Of course, the last cut has limited home-listening appeal, but in spite of this and the similarity of the other two, the elegant Solar Sailing is worthy 10th record for One Track.]]>