to eleven


Review: Toomorrow – Wagon Christ
April 12, 2011, 10:13 am
Filed under: Electronic, Review | Tags: ,

Wagon Christ - Toomorrow

Warm wax. Sweet business. Tough bass. Heavy breaks.

So says a Speak’n’Spell MC on Luke Vibert’s seventh album under his Wagon Christ moniker.  If you know Wagon Christ, you will buy Toomorrow immediately.  If you don’t and you enjoy what the Speak’n’Spell describes, you should buy this and at least a few of the previous six.  It is this simple.

Back when I reviewed the last Autechre album, I mentioned that it was like they combined everything they’d learned in their many previous albums.  Luke Vibert does that with basically every Wagon Christ album, even pulling in elements here and there from his more acid-focused or, um, hawaiian-focused (I love Stop the Panic) albums under his own name.  The samples, the breaks, the grooves, the goofy sense of humor; it’s all in there, building on itself record after record.  Always maintaining a groove in weird and wonderful ways.

A new Wagon Christ album is like a meal at your favorite little chef-run restaurant.  Chef Vibert seeks out only the funkiest ingredients and brings them to your (turn)table to create something consistently satisfying.  You may enjoy meals more experimental, more indulgent, or more finely wrought, but you’ll always go back to your favorite.  And Chef Vibert will always be doing something a little bit new for you.

Available everywhere, pretty well.

– Matt



For Your Listening Pleasure: Loscil
April 8, 2011, 10:11 am
Filed under: Ambient, Electronic, For Your Listening Pleasure | Tags:

I like Jayson’s deal of pointing out music that is not just-in-stores new, but is worth attention.  Music that he finds that he wants to tell other dudes about.  So with that:

Endless Falls by Loscil

I have been of an ambient state of mind recently, and in trying to expand my horizons a bit, I made one of those personal discoveries that makes me wonder if I’m the last person to catch on.  What I am talking about here is Loscil and his eight or so albums over twelve years.  If this music is not new to you, dogg, why did you not tell me?

It’s pointless to try to do a review of an artist’s whole back catalog, so I’ll just state that this is uniformly ambient electronics of high-grade quality.  It is sonically rich and emotionally varied.  You have Submers, which skews toward dark and cosmic with cold, Basic Channel-like techno undercurrents.  And you have his latest Endless Falls, which feels organic, but with a sense of otherworldly detachment.  Some of it is even beat-driven in a sort of Aphex Twin Selected Ambient Works I kind of way.  It’s the kind of ambient music that got me into ambient music in the first place; music that I can listen to for listless hours.

Physical copies are available at Kranky Music, or digital copies are to be had at amazon, probably among other places.



Review: Loka – Alexandre Navarro
April 5, 2011, 10:12 am
Filed under: Ambient, Electronic, Review | Tags: , ,

Alexandre Navarro - Loka

It was a strange experience listening to Alexandre Navarro’s second album on SEM label the first time.  I was fairly stoked at the prospect of more of the elevating ambience we got on his first album, Arcane, which totally took me by surprise.  So I found the right time to settle into a dark room with my headphones and take Loka in, expecting familiarity. Once again I got surprise.

I went back to Arcane again, trying to collect what stylistic and elemental changes had been made, but honestly, I found very few.  Sure, Loka actually includes a minimal dose of percussion in places, but we’re still talking about music made of the same stuff and with the same sensibilities.

But despite the similarities, somehow Loka takes me to a completely different place and so that is really the only way I can describe it.  It feels more urban — not in the hip-hop euphemism sense, but in that it evokes the city.  It is the kind of feeling you get driving through Los Angeles at 2am on a Wednesday night.  In fact the only musical comparison that kept leaping to mind was to Terje Rypdal, who contributed pieces to the soundtrack of Heat (along with others like the Kronos Quartet and Moby) — a movie that captured that aspect of LA perfectly.  Navarro’s Loka is quieter and more contemplative than most of Rypdal’s guitar work, but a Tangerine Dream remix of one of his quieter tracks might get you close.

There is a kind of cool, subdued longing here that is rare.  It is well worth an extended listening or two on a lonely night.

It is available digitally or on vinyl at SEM label’s webpage:

http://semlabel.com/loka/

– Matt



Review: Richard Rich & Max Tannone – Selene
March 17, 2011, 10:14 am
Filed under: hip-hop, Review | Tags: , , ,

Hip-hop, for all its popular reputation for being the music of gangstaz and pimps, has a seriously geeky undercurrent.  If you scratch it deep, it bleeds kung-fu, comic books, and science-fiction.  Even when it’s not as explicit as the Wu-Tang clan, MF DOOM, or Deltron 3030, the themes are often there:  alienation, conspiracy, identity, good vs. evil, and rising above one’s origins.  So even though we’ve seen things like RZA’s swaggering samurai hip-hop soundtrack for Ghost Dog, maybe it’s surprising that we’ve never gotten hip-hop directly inspired by an existing film such as Max Tannone’s Selene, inspired by 2009 hard sci-fi film Moon.

Moon is the right basis for the project, as it’s a kind of hip-hop mashup in its own right.  Seriously, if you’ve seen it, hang with me here.  (If you haven’t, you may want to skip forward to avoid spoilers — or just go watch the damn thing now; it’s good.)  Moon is very much a mashup of the style and themes of other hard sci-fi films, notably 2001 and Solaris (the more recent Soderbergh one).  The clean style comes from that 2001 vision of the future, but with a corporate twist, and a little bit of Alien mining ship grime.  Gerdie is a corporate-designed HAL, with a Korean emoji face in place of all-seeing red eye, that has fixed the mission-first homicidal bug — and has that fact used against it.  The intertwined themes of cloned identity and love explored in Solaris are flipped 180 degrees here and become less about what it means to love someone as it does what it means to be someone who is loved.  And tying all this together is the Sam Bell character(s), rising above his intended role, fighting the company that would enslave him for profit.  Hip-hop as hell.

All of those elements from other sci-fi are, in Moon, flipped and recombined to make something new and more than just a collection of references, much like Tannone’s approach to mashup music.  With Selene, Tannone pulls from the single source of Moon — musical elements of the soundtrack, and thematic elements used for the basis of Richard Rich’s original lyrics — and creates something that’s more of a companion for the film than an alternate soundtrack for it.  Any of the songs here could run over the credits as an emotionally appropriate way to play you out of the theater.  The lyrics drift between Sam Bell’s plight and more general exploration similar situations and emotions through the eyes of others.

At some points, I’m not sure the tracks are completely successful on their own, although the first track You Are Here is fully proper.  But as a meditation on the film, it’s an overall compelling piece of work that I’ve found myself listening to more than once.  I think that’s pretty remarkable, and a tribute to the unofficial union of hip-hop and sci-fi.

You Are Here

Download it here.

– Matt



Review: Tom Caruana’s Okayplayer vs. Bollywood
March 4, 2011, 10:23 am
Filed under: hip-hop, Review | Tags: , , , ,

Max Tannone’s Selene, his hip-hop EP made from elements of the movie Moon, recently came out and I’ve wanted to approach a review of that with the proper respect.  But while waiting for that mood to strike, I got word that Tom Caruana had a new thing available to download — Okayplayer vs. Bollywood.  Indian cinema and one of the realest hip-hop labels on this earth. Hm.

You might remember Caruana’s Magical Mystery Chambers mash-up album, combining the Beatles with the sounds of the Wu.  It came out around the time of Max Tannone’s Jaydiohead and both albums hit hard, proving to me that mashups didn’t have to be novelty listening.  They respected the source material, elevated it, and offered something new in the combination.  With that history I might have expected that Okayerplayer vs. Bollywood would be solid, but I couldn’t help but imagine Bollywood silliness with some standard beats and rhymes dropped on top. That is not what we have here however, and it is fairly banging.

The best tracks here lift Bollywood elements so effortlessly and weave them so tightly into a new production that the result is completely without seams.  If you’re not familiar with the rhymes from the Okayplayer back catalog, there isn’t any sense at all that the result isn’t as it was always intended.  Calling this a Bollywood mashup album is kind of like calling The Chronic a funk mash-up album.  In the near future, you very may well be at a party and hear some dude chatting up a chick, saying that “Bollywood-style music really is just hip-hop in another socio-historical context” and citing this album as proof.  I hope not, but prepare yourself.

Okayplayer – The Bollywood Remake – Intro

So as before with Magical Mystery Chambers, go forth and download. http://teasearecords.net/okaybollywood.cfm

– Matt



Gtronic Radio
February 22, 2011, 1:37 pm
Filed under: Credibility, hip-hop, Radio | Tags: , ,

Remember netradio? Shortly after ripping your CDs became a thing and dial-up internet was relegated to your grandparents checking their hotmail, netradio was in.  Stations proliferated and they streamed curated, niche playlists for free.  Then legal questions about royalties were posed, hackles were raised, many stations went to paid subscriptions, and people realized that most stations were kind of lame anyway.  Sure, it was better than your eighteen local Clear Channel top40 stations, but it still was one-way thing — not very web2.0.  Pandora, last.fm, Grooveshark, and one thousand other smart streaming services were invented, and the world moved on.  Why listen what somebody else thinks you should hear?

But today I tell the hip-hop lovers (and those open to new love) that you should be listening to what Gtronic Radio (http://www.gtronicradio.com/) wants you to hear.

The thing that the one-way, old school, curated radio format had going for it was that if you got the right curator, it worked.  Growing up in LA, I remember all these late-night radio shows created and hosted by dudes with opinions about what good music meant.  New releases, old classics, and unknown B-sides, they played the good shit.  You were there for an education;  you liked what you heard and you wanted more.  Today technology has given us myriad ways to listen to our own music and to listen to whatever we want.  We’re basically at Star Trek: The Next Generation level of music access.  But it’s like cooking with every ingredient, utensil, and recipe at hand — great, but without some trusted cookbooks to expand your horizons, you’re going to end up just making the same chicken cacciatore over and over.

That’s what Gtronic is about for hip-hop.  If you’ve ever heard someone say “I listen to hip-hop, but it’s not what you hear on the radio — it’s the good stuff”, Gtronic is the best way to hear what they’re talking about.  If you’re already down, you will not believe the depth of the playlist; I’m one of those nerdy white dudes who collects and talks about hip-hop albums like classic jazz, and I’m constantly hearing stuff for the first time or having tracks I’d forgotten about brought back to mind.

This is the sound that makes the head nod, 24/7.  Listen, enjoy, and then donate because I don’t want this netradio station to vanish like the radio shows I grew up on.

– Matt



Matt’s Top 5
December 24, 2010, 12:27 pm
Filed under: Lists | Tags: , , , , ,

I figure I’m barely half a contributor here, so rather than the traditional top 10, I’m doing a demi.

The Roots – How I Got Over

I believe firmly that The Roots are one of the most talented and consistent musical groups living today.  That said, I have to admit that for me their albums of recent years, while strong, had a certain experimental focus that pushed aside the effortless depth that drew me in originally.  How I Got Over, much like Autechre’s Oversteps this year, seems to take everything they’ve learned in recent years, and pulls it together with more clarity — an album that, if I’m honest, is the first since about “Things Fall Apart” that reaches into my brain and pulls my levers.  Just fully brilliant hip-hop.

Red Sparowes – The Fear is Excruciating, But Therein Lies the Answer

I’ve become a quick fan of the Red Sparowes, and their latest has a narrative maturity and emotional range that sets it apart even from their previous outstanding work.  On the post-rock front, I nearly had to give the year to Souvenir’s Young America on harmonica-based grounds, but in the end the Sparowes was one of a few albums that helped get me through a rough patch this year, so it’s going on the shelf of particular respect.

Super Galactic Expansive – Supersensible Science

I kind of went on about these guys this year, and it’s still an album I come back to over and over.  Momentum and flow, momentum and flow, tight tight electronic sounds, and momentum and flow.  Comparisons can be made, but really it doesn’t sound like anything else; no album got me as excited by its pure freshness this year.

Tipper – Broken Soul Jamboree

I meant to do a proper review for this, but events intervened.  The short version:  Tipper reminds me a bit of Photek from back in the day.  Photek came in at the height of drum’n’bass popularity and dropped a bunch of albums and singles that took this deconstructed, surgically precise approach to the formula.  It had obsessive attention to production quality while still creating atmosphere and raw power (see his Ni Ten Ichi Ryu).  Tipper has been doing very similar things with a range of electronic music, from IDM to breaks to glitch-hop.  His album “Surrounded” was, in turns, cinematic and squelchily electronic — experimental and cohesive — organic and so precise that he offered a DVD-Audio version that was, Dark Side of the Moon-style, mixed into discrete surround sound.  Broken Soul Jamboree picks up where Surrounded left off and truly takes it to eleven.  It’s lush, lush stuff.

Ninjatune XX Box Set

This has to be on my list for delivering the full package — music, art, and information packaged in a way that conveys real appreciation for you the listener.  This was the piece this year that made me feel like a music purchase was an event, not just a CD rip.

Special bonus, one album that was kind of a disappointment this year:  Gorillaz – Plastic Beach

I always like the Gorillaz and I was sure I’d like this.  I bought the special edition deal.  It caused me to discover Little Dragon, which I dig quite a bit.  It has an intro with Snoop Dogg, and Stylo is a properly great song.  But I just do not like this album.  Like, it’s all cool getting Bobby Womack and the National Orchestra for Arabic Music, but 90% of this sounds like the funky eclectic intro and outro tracks to what I hoped this album would be.  I do really like Stylo and Little Dragon though.

– Matt



Review: Ninja Tune XX Box Set
November 3, 2010, 10:25 am
Filed under: Electronic, hip-hop | Tags: , , ,

Ninja Tune has earned hell of respect over the years.  They started as Coldcut’s pet label but have built a name as discoverers of solid talent among knob-twiddlers and rhyme-sayers.  They do turntablism — they do electronic — they do hip-hop — and they did trip-hop/acid-jazz before, while, and after people called it that.  These days they’re even diving headlong into the glitch-hop/dubstep sound, picking up some of the better artists of the genre.  And even that doesn’t really capture the eclecticism you get with a label that seems to sign artists just because they’re doing something undeniably head-nodding.

So when I heard about a limited-edition Ninja Tune 20-year anniversary box set with 6 CDs, 6 7″ers, a hard-bound book, and membership to some sort of insider’s club, I noticed I was already looking at an order confirmation screen.  Shortly thereafter I got a brown cardboard box imprinted with the Ninja logo containing an enormous glossy tome of music, art, and honest swag.  It’s a big box, which is why I’ve got six more paragraphs here.

This is a case study in how to publish music in the 21st century in a way that makes people care.  It’s the Phaidon Design Classics of record label box sets, such is the quality.  As much as I support physical music media in general, this deal took me back to when buying a couple of CDs wasn’t just obtaining music, it was entertainment for the evening.  The hardcover book isn’t just stuff they slapped together, it’s actually an interesting collection of behind-the-scenes stuff, artwork and history all wound around the landmark albums in the Ninja back catalog.  And I’ve got mad stickers and posters I need to figure out what to do with.

There is actually music in here too.  Truth be told, I haven’t even listened to the vinyl — either the 7″ers in the box or the 12″ I got in the mail the other day as part of the club membership — because I sold my turntable a while back.  Don’t judge.  But back to what’s included, you’d expect with this kind of anniversary comp that it would be all about nostalgia, but they chose to go another way.  Here’s a rundown:

The first 2 CDs, called “Exxclusives”, are all new tracks done for the XX box by as many Ninja artists as they could pull together; interesting for sure, but is going to be low on cohesion.  It starts off soulful and smoove-style, moves through a couple of solid Bonobo pieces, starts to drift to the hip-hop end of things… and then by the end of the first disk you realize you’re listening to a completely silly Qemists drum’n’bass number and the last two tracks have been straight house.  You get oddities like curious remixes of Dark Lady, a Chali 2na and Roots Manuva tag-team, an arbitrary King Cannibal glitch-hop track, and a bit of dirty scratch-blues from Kid Koala. Mad different methods.

Then the next 4 CDs are the “Remixxes” (although about half the tracks are just assorted or unreleased songs), which are now available outside the encyclo-box and form the meat of the thing.  As with the Exxclusives, it’s pointless to try to draw any generalities here, given the diversity of tracks.  This isn’t like the mixed comps Ninja Tune is famous for, like Cold Krush Kuts or Funkungfusion, which had discs of thematically similar tracks sewn seamlessly together.  It’s like an enormous and elaborately detailed cross section of the Church of What’s Happening Now at Ninja Tune.  Just to give you a flavor, you’ve got:

Fools – a raging glitch-hop number by Two Fingers

It’s On – a Roots Manuva track that’s as good as anything he’s ever done

Cloudlight – a damn nice, fuzzed-out track by up-and-coming Eskmo

A passel of Bonobo tracks, all strong

Eight Sum – Amon Tobin brings his guitar riffs and angry drums sound, which I still dig

Post Suite – a live and soulful jazz piece by Floating Points Ensemble, who I know nothing at all about

Skeng – an Autechre remix of a The Bug track that’s some intensely bleak and paranoid hip-hop

Volcano – Four Tet remixes the Antipop Consortium track, basically laying the lyrics atop a new composition that is flat-out beautiful and drops rhythm like stainless steel

Although it’s not in the box, they couldn’t resist also giving you the retrospective mix that you’d expect.  A download code gives you access to The Way of the Ninja, a mix that covers the history of the label by King Cannibal.  This guy is half of Buddy Peace & ZILLA, who also did the damned outstanding Watch & Repeat Play mix CD for the Warp DVD video collection a while back.  The formula is the same as the WARP mix, with each “track” forged from the component parts of around 10 back-catalog songs each, but it’s less successful here purely because there’s just too much stylistic ground to cover.  But it’s still a wheel barrow full of good music and could probably be used for a track-spotting drinking game.

I write this not so much for you, the listener, but for music makers and publishers.  Behold what Ninja Tune has wrought, and judge thyself.  Love the music, love the presentation, love the listener.  It’s on.

– Matt



Review: Super Galactic Expansive – Supersensible Science
June 15, 2010, 3:14 pm
Filed under: Review | Tags: , ,

So my guilty daily indulgence these days is glitch-hop records.  I just turn Pandora loose with Glitch Mob and Eskmo and I get down to business. One day, as the story goes, I heard a song there by Kilowatts and it was good.  I ran that lead to ground and found out this guy, Jamie Watts, has been quietly making completely solid electronic music for years as Kilowatt, as well as exploring other avenues in various collaboration projects. I’ve been sleeping.

One of these projects, working with Anand Petigara on MC duties, is Super Galactic Expansive, and I’m going to boldly state that these dudes have something. It’s been a while since I’ve heard an album where I can hit play on any track and receive this kind of head-nodding mental stimulation. Take the funkier “Tip-Hop” end of Tipper’s dense glitchy production, add a little Plaid-like melodic sensibility, and then lay on some vocals that Jayson pointed out heavily displays Deltron3030-like flow — this is not a bad thing in the least.

King James is an outstanding example of the thing, with a lot going on, but nothing that’s not in the service of a tight tight rhythm and flow — this music has momentum.

The album is available free of charge on 1320records.com, but the dudes in question have just gotten in CDs and I must encourage you to support this enterprise because I want some more. Email them at kilowatts@gmail.com and they’ll give you a paypal address to use (nice actually being able to give my money entirely to the people making it happen for once).

– Matt



Review: Alexandre Navarro – Arcane
June 9, 2010, 9:52 am
Filed under: Review | Tags: ,

My occasional contribution as guest reviewer here means I get to only review stuff that I enjoy — mostly stuff that I enjoy enough to want to tell people about it.  The SEM label, which Jayson pointed me at because he knows his shit, does the kind of thing I want to enjoy:  music, artwork, even a website that speak to a certain particular aesthetic sensibility. But stuff like this can also go very wrong if it’s all concept, but the product is not dope.

Arcane, however, is excellent. It sits very comfortably at the intersection of electronic, spacey post-rock, and Eno-style ambient. Guitar melodies, light but not lite, float and loop with lazy vibrato above just the right mix of electronic textures and incredibly subtle organic samples. It is high ambience, but not in the least monotonous or thin.  You get tracks that involve something like a block flute, or surf crashing on a beach, but it never comes off as gratuitous, like a CD you’d see at Brookstone with a title like “Mystiq Emotions vol. VII”.

It is a thinking man’s music for contemplation.

Alexandre Navarro – Arcane available as a download on the SEM Label.

– Matt