Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lucky dip: compilations

A last post rounding up some recent compilations before a few weeks of belated summer holidays. And fear not, Cabeza de Vaca is coming, only once I get back. The technicians were away on vacation, so the final fixing of the first show has been delayed, but we will be on air soon.


Various – Jerome Derradji Presents: 122 BPM - The Birth of House Music [Still Music, 2012]


Another retro-house compilation to sit alongside Rush Hour’s “Gene Hunt presents…” from last year and the recent “This Aint Chicago” on Strut (see below). Don’t need another one? Well maybe this one is worth it, especially for the history buffs. Collecting together the prime cuts from the catalogues of Mitchbal Records and Chicago Connection Records, it tells the story of Nemiah Mitchell Jr. and his son Vince Lawrence and their contribution to the genesis of house. The rather quaint liner notes tell the story of Mitchell acquiring a PA and recording a New Wave track under the name Mitchbal, half for Mitchell and half for [Dave] Baldwin, one of Mitchell’s label signing and fellow musical contributor. While the track was a moderate success for his fledgling label, it was his son who really bridged the gap to the clubs like the Warehouse, Power Plant and Music Box where the seed of house would germinate. Lawrence, recording as Z-factor, followed up the also-New Wave track “(I like to do it in) fast cars” with “Fantasy”, made with the help of Jesse Saunders who’s subsequent “On and on” is widely considered the first house track. However, if the notes be believed, “Fantasy” was recorded earlier and its release only delayed, but nonetheless the two tracks appeared at around the same time in 1984 and the rest is history. An important feature of the compilation is that it gives a more practical insight into the shift from New Wave electronic pop, to the more austere and functional dance floor sound that we now know, something that not many compilations have managed to do. The vinyl version has only 8 tracks, whereas the triple CD has 32 tracks, but even on the vinyl there are plenty of gems beside the aforementioned tracks, though “On and On” is not included, presumably because it came out on the Jes Say Records label and wasn’t licenced. Mitchbal and Larry Williams “Do dat stuff” is a cracker, Jeanette Thomas’s “Shake your body” easily seduces whereas the mythical track “The Jackin Zone” by Risque Rhythum Team adds an air of mystery and essentialness.


Various – Richard Sen presents This aint Chicago: The underground sound of house and acid 1987-1991 [Strut, 2012]


While the house sound on this set does stray more towards acid, there is still not a whole lot of difference between the music here and the other Chicago-esque compilations around (see also above). That is not to say it is derivative or without interest historically, but perhaps it arguably reflects a less critical moment in the genesis of dance music, while still being essential for capturing the broader changes in dance culture and importantly the view from within the clubs. Indeed, the excellent liner notes by Dave Swindells give an enlightening first hand impression of the historical context and an inside view of the clubs themselves, working as a nice companion to several of the early acid house documentaries.


Music wise, the CD/digital version has the peculiarity of actually being a bit too long. There are one or two tracks in there that could probably be stripped out as they don’t really add much except quantity. This is perhaps the first occasion where I am happier that the vinyl has less tracks than the CD. This is one of my gripes about buying vinyl, as well as different run orders between vinyl and CD scuppering any idea of artistic “work” in a fixed sense. In any case, your entry fee for the vinyl will get you the acid mix of SLF’s “Show me what you got”, which is easily the stand-out track, Julian Jonah’s “Jealousy and lies” and Julie Stapleton’s “Where’s the love gone” are refreshingly down beat and decorated with elegant and catchy vocals. Ability II’s “Pressure dub” is also another killer, almost a nascent IDM sound and spread over 10 minutes it’s a languid, hypnotic bomb. The compilation also sees the welcome return of Baby Ford’s “Crashing”, a bona fide classic.


Tangent: New Order’s “Blue Monday”


One of the CD/digital only tracks of this selection is Jail Break’s “Mentality” originally released on the Catt Records label in 1989. While not a particularly outstanding track, it does nonetheless have the distinction of being a late 80s house take of New Order’s “Blue Monday”, originally released in 1983. This version lacks something of the dynamism of the original, but is a curious side show.




This of course isn’t the only version of “Blue Monday” doing the rounds. This week a choir version of the track was recorded by the Brythoniaid Male Voice as part of a commission for Festival No.6. The video is set in the Portmeirion, in wales, location for Festival No.6 and once the site were the mythical TV show The Prisoner was filmed. Another festival might not be exactly what the world needs, after the recent disaster of the Bloc Weekend  at London’s Pleasure Gardens and the restructuring of All Tomorrow’s Parties (ATP).



The rock/pop line-up looks decent enough, with New Order (of course), Spiritualized, Jessie Ware and Primal Scream, but the electronic side of things seems a bit old fashioned with Derrick Carter, Andrew Weatherall and Francois K.


The other day I also heard one of those awful café versions of the track, done in one of those now ubiquitous hipster jazz styles. God knows how many of those CDs there are now, your whole record collection turned into lame cocktail jazz for the ironic and bored youth. The novelty wore off a long time ago.



I am also reminded of a story from many years ago. I was on my summer vacation in the sleepy fishing town of Jurien Bay, about 300km north of Perth in Western Australia. We used to go there several times a year as my mother’s partner was living there at the time. The beaches are nice, but the wind comes in too early, earlier even than the Fremantle Doctor that comes knocking like clockwork every afternoon in Perth. It’s always windy and the drinking water came from a huge rainwater tank on a nearby hill and tasted disgusting. I was in my teens and there with my sisters and mother. Probably it was 1988, maybe 1987. The local hall next to the pub had been converted into a teenage Blue Light Disco, essentially a soft-drinks only police-run daytime disco. They used to hold them in the suburbs of Perth as well, but for country kids like these, where there was not much contact outside town and still only four TV channels, limited or no internet and no mobile phones, they were probably the only chance to experience anything remotely connected with dancing and popular music in a group setting. The pub there was not even putting cover bands on.


There had been a strange little buzz around the town before the disco started. All the kids you met riding around on your bike would ask each other if they were going. Everyone was. Apparently.


My sisters and I cycled there sometime after it was half over. We had chickened out of going inside in the end, like most of the kids, and we remained on our bikes out the front, parked with some other kids and grandparents. Most of the people inside seemed no more than 13 years old, many younger still jumping around with their parents. The DJ was playing some kind of standard 80s rock or pop track and at the end of one track he started to fade in New Order’s “Blue Monday” or the “Beach” as many of us also knew it by, in reference to the remix.


As soon as the squelchy synth and drilling kick drum intro began the kids began to boo. We watched them walk away from the dance floor. The DJ tried pumping and raising his arms to lift the crowd, but they weren’t having it. “Blue Monday” had cleared the floor. Barely was the introduction over and the DJ wisely slipped over to something else, probably something like Poison or Cheap Trick. My sisters asked what the song was.


“The Beach” I said. I thought of my school chums who had started to play it alongside Joy Division. What were they doing for their holiday back in the city? I wondered. “Let’s go to the beach,” I said to my sisters and we rode off leaving the kids to dance again.


Various - Fame: Jon Savage's Secret History of Post-Punk 78-81 [Caroline True Records, 2012]


This release, alongside Trevor Jackson’s “Metal Dance” set of industrial and EBM classics (see below) is another essential release for 2012. There are plenty of obvious artists here, like Wire, Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire and the like, but the choice of lesser known tracks alongside more obscure gems make it a less predictable journey than it would seem. In addition, the jumps in fidelity between tracks and the wide shift in instrumentation add to the thrills. Thus, despite being a diverse compilation, it somehow feels more like a manifesto whose message has not dimmed with the passage of years. Stand out tracks are all-women Swiss group Kleenex and their simple, but thrilling angular punk hit “Aint you”, A.C. Marias’ atmospheric “Drop” resembles the music of current starlets Lucrecia Dalt and Julia Holter and Maria Minerva. The Method Actors “Do the method” is also a classic early indie guitar gem. The presence of Pere Ubu and their magnificent “Heart of Darkness” and Chrome who had a recent run of re-releases on Russian label Lilith is always welcome.




Caroline True have generously provided a mix by none other than Jon Savage himself.


It is also worth checking out your news stand for the latest issue of Mojo which features a Jon Savage penned article about the influence of electronic music, in particular Krautrock, in the development of David Bowie’s sound from “Low” to retirement. The issue also comes with a CD of tracks selected by Mute label boss Daniel Miller. While as always with commercial magazine samplers, there is a certain bias towards the more palatable side of the things (LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing my edge” and Moby’s “Honey”, for example), you also get early Photek drum n bass (see my last post!), Pan Sonic, DAF and the incredible last track, the confronting and dangerous “Total War” by Boyd Rice’s NON.



By coincidence I am also reading Jon Savage’s exceptional “England’s Dreaming” history of Punk music. I was struck by one description of the conditions in England at the time:


“The postwar economic boom that had provided the foundation for this fantasy had ground to a halt as early as July 1966, when a six-month wages freeze was instituted and the pound devalued. The economy began its long decline: by 1972 inflation was running at thirteen per cent, and in January of that year unemployment went of the 1 million mark for the first time since the 1930s.”


It sounds very familiar to now and one wonders when society will at last start to produce our punk music.



Various – Trevor Jackson Presents Metal Dance - Classics & Rarities 80-88 [Strut, 2012]


Like Jon Savage’s set above, this one also crosses some pretty rough and bumpy ground, but it’s a ride that’s well worth it.

Even though the two time periods cross over, there is clearly a bigger bias for electronic sounds on this compilation, compared to Savage’s more pop and protest collection. The influence of disco and dance music can clearly be heard on classics like Severed Heads' “Dead eyes opened”, Cabaret Voltaire (again), Jah Wobble and Alien Sex Fiend who’s “Under the thunder (ignore the dub)” samples from Australian entertaining legend Rolf Harris and a track that also had some influence on Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom as it was included on the "Space Lines" compilation. If anything, the sound of Metal Dance is not quite as Industrial as you might like it to be, in that there is less approaching the heavier sound of the Wax Trax label, for example. The biggest gripe of the compilation is again the difference between the vinyl and the CD versions. The double CD is definitely the way to go as the vinyl misses key tracks, while to get John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s disco excerpt from the “Escape from new York” soundtrack you also have to fork out for an additional 12”.



Sunday, August 19, 2012

Rumble in the jungle: Drum n bass watch

We predicted here in the end of year round up that 2012 would see the return of drum n bass to the consciousness of dance music. While it hasn’t quite been the second coming yet, there has been plenty of murmurings and rumblings from the genre in several media outlets. Now all we need is that one killer album to open the floodgates. While we wait, a quick roundup of some of the recent activity.

One of the coups of the year may have been FACT magazine promoting and streaming Photek’s “Modus operandi” set from the recent Hidden Depths of Hospital Records night held at XOYO in London at the end of July.

While the streaming of Photek’s set does not appear to be archived yet, a promotional mix for the event can be found here:

The FACT website subsequently ran an extensive feature on Photek and the recording of the 1997 Classic album with an excerpt from a classic interview from back in the day.

As well as some promotion for the new single “Levitation” which was one of the new and exclusive tracks from Photek’s otherwise disappointing "DJ Kicks" mix on !K7 from earlier this year. The above interviews promise a new album, but from all the recent singles it is unlikely to be drum n bass, although Photek’s productions still transmit enough character and quality to suggest it may still be a classic.

Over at RA there have been several features and reviews to also stoke the fires a little bit.

Those following the RA Exchange podcast series will have heard RA editor Todd L. Burns talk up the qualities of New Zealand “drum n bass” producer FIS  (Olly Peryman) in the mid-year round-up. However, here, DnB is used rather loosely, with Todd himself confessing that the genre association is more by default since he encountered FIS through DnB channels, but the music often bears little resemblance. FIS received a fascinating Breaking Through feature earlier in the year. Sound wise, the names Burial, Actress and Shackleton are thrown around, whereas I would also tend to add in Emptyset and Frak as well: a fierce, heavy metallic sound dominates rather than the lither sculptural creations of Actress, for example, but still, it’s not DnB as we know it.

Keeping the New Zealand connection via the Samurai Red Seal label was the recent album “Out of sync” by prolific and diverse producer James Clements aka ASC who we recently bigged up for his ambient album “Decayed society” with Sam KDC. The album is another master class of sound design, but as well as pure ambient noise, Clements throws into the mix a menagerie of beat styles, from IDM, to techno and of course some skittery 21st Century drum n bass.

Also getting a feature article was producer Thomas Green aka Rockwell who has just signed a deal with Shogun Audio to release his debut album. Rockwell has already demonstrated some serious production ability on his earlier singles including his much celebrated “Aria EP” which combines classic drum n bass tropes with more leftfield IDM. What takes it to the next level is a rich sense of progression within the same track away from the ordinary: spidery production becomes heavy kicks, while sinister moods become dormant aggression.

As Rockwell says himself in the interview: “I obsess over micro-genres in music outside of drum & bass and that's where I get my influences from.” This has been something of a critical dogma for the reshaping of DnB in general, as it has been the rules and regulations governing the sound and its presentation that have limited it for several years. Andrew Ryce even lays this idea down straight in the opening gambit of the article

“It's understandable if you don't view drum & bass as the most forward-thinking or experimental dance music genre anymore. It's become an insular scene largely dominated by the same big names who held sway 10 or even 15 years ago, governed by formula and convention.”

However, whether Rockwell’s upcoming album due for 2013 release will be the crossover DnB is waiting for remains to be seen. He himself confesses “The album's not really sounding very drum & bass right now. I've probably got about three downbeat housey things. I've got a lot of stuff which is about 85 BPM, Eskmo sort of vibes but with bass line. I'm going to be working with a lot of vocalists and there's going to be a lot of song structures in there as well.” Much like FIS, perhaps it is the distortion of the periphery that will allow space for changes to occur at the core.

Young producer Stray aka Jonathon Fogel also had a Playing Favourites feature dedicated to him. Music wise, Stray has had two 12” s this year, the first on the acclaimed Critical Recordings and the most recent on Heath Looney’s Warm Communications.

Review wise, there has been little else. Fracture’s “Get Busy” with Dawn Day Night and its kooky zombie video received a great score and a lot of attention. It seems to make more sense the more it goes on, with the cry “Get busy” inculcating as it is applicable to the frenetic programming.

One album that didn’t get a review at RA at least was "Fabriclive 63" mixed by Digital Soundboy System, a rough and ready mix of drum n bass, dubstep and reggae-influenced styles.

Arguably the man who delivered one of the best Fabric mixes and a drum n bass one at that was Marcus Kaye aka Marcus Intalex who has been getting a lot of attention everywhere lately for his house project Trevino, but sadly not as much for his drum n bass which is perhaps indicative of the obstacles still facing. Nonetheless, Intalex’s Trevino Eps have enjoyed some excellent critical reviews and appear in the type of critics charts that you would trust, as opposed to the generic DJ charts you can find around.

Incidentally, this is not Intalex’s first foray into house of course. This leads us back to the beginning and Hospital Recordings and Intalex’s fantastic cut “Taking over me” with S.T. Files from 2000.


One thing I forgot to add in when posting yesterday was also to flag the excellent Resident Advisor Exchange with drum n bass legend Doc Scott (Scott McIlroy). Scott comes across as refreshingly honest and positive and his tales of the early days and what it was really like cutting dubs make it an essential listen for anyone who wants to get a bit closer to the history.

One of Doc Scott’s first releases was this tasty nugget of hardcore on the Absolute 2 Records label.

A year later he was still toying with hardcore sounds while gradually bringing the breaks to the fore on his first release for Reinforced.

After a short production hiatus, but intensive DJing, McIlroy returned in 1994 on Metalheadz firmly entrenched in the drum n bass scene where he would go on to become one of the greats.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ricardo Donoso: The morning criminal

A short post this week redirecting to a longer work, an interview I did with Brazilian-born, US-based musician Ricardo Donoso for Cyclic Defrost while he was in town for Sonar. Was great to have a few beers with him as well after the show. The article focuses on all his different projects, but for various reasons I will just flag up the more electronic side of his work.

Ricardo’s debut solo work for Digitalis, “Progress Chance” was an extended, beatless techno work out inspired by the memories of beach trance raves in Brazil. A follow-up is due imminently and keenly awaited as “Progress Chance” really satisfies a certain hunger for more hypnotically-edged electronica as we saw recently with a post  about Donato Dozzy and Neel’s album “Voices from the lake”. “Progress Chance” is almost the perfect bed partner for this album, although given the different time signatures I am not sure if they would be easy to mix. Ricardo even confesses that the music confuses people and promoters: booked to play more a club setting and people won’t dance, yet in an ambient/experimental environment people dance too much. Certainly the crux of the music is like an endless drug pinnacle in a club, an extended break down where one can imagine dizzy clubbers waiting endlessly for the beat that will never come.

Thanks as always to Bianca de Vilar for great photos.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Summer dreams – Deep House rises

The beginning of the year seemed a strangely quiet time for the major quartet of deep house labels Drumpoet Community, Freerange, Dial and Smallville. Of course there were a few scattered releases, but it wasn’t until clocks changed to summer time and May warmed up with the first promises of festivals and beaches that the releases started to flood out on all labels. Perhaps just as surprising is that some of them slipped through the cracks of the usual channels for whatever reason.

John Daly – Sunburst [Drumpoet Community]

Of all the releases getting covered here, it is perhaps Irish producer John Daly’s fourth album and first for Drumpoet Community that best sums up the hunger of deep house for summer. Strange, as I don’t remember much sun in Galway, but a run through the track list suggests that “Sunburst” is a kind of concept album for outdoor parties. The names give the game away, as does the consistent medium tempo that runs from beginning to end, perfect for grooving without breaking too much of a sweat on long hot nights. Ironically it is also the consistency that tends to reign in the album as a whole, especially when stacking it up against Manuel Tur’s more uninhibited album discussed below. This is not to say that it is a poor effort, not by any means, merely that as a listening experience it can lack a jolt or a run of curves and hills to wake you from the hazy dreams it so effortlessly invokes. More so since all the tracks seem aimed at the floor rather than the stereo. There’s no ambient filler, no down tempo tracks, no experimental leanings, just suave and catchy house. In many cases this might not work at all and could be just a tedious dirge, like a beautiful woman who talks too much without saying anything. But Daly’s strength are in seductive melodies that are never overblown or overused and, just as importantly, his dub leanings give him plenty of dynamic range and textural spaces to play with even when working with a relatively narrow palette of synths and pads. The stand out track is the appropriately named “Deep heat” though honourable mentions also go to the tougher rumble of “I got bells” and “All night”, both of which use vocal samples and epitomise the labels signature sound.

Manuel Tur – Swans reflecting elephants [Freerange]

Manuel Tur’s 2009 debut album “0201” for London’s Freerange was a disjointed affair and was something of a letdown after such a long run of great singles that has still gone unabated. His latest full-length “Swans reflecting elephants” is perhaps the album everybody had wanted, elegant and also eccentric, drawing inspiration from surrealist Salvador Dalí not only in the title, but, in a way, also in the stylistic shifts from track to track that make it such a fascinating listen. But why it should have failed to make a mark on the usual websites is also strange. Perhaps one reason is that so far it has only been released as a CD and download, with no vinyl or lead singles to stoke interest, only a single 12” of remixes. In any case, “Swans…” opens with the charming, but almost girly pop of “Back to me” that could be a dangerous sign of things to come if it was not directly followed by “Phantom ride”. Here, the fragile innocence of the female vocals become the inner voice caught in a circular question, tormented by a heavier kick drum and clusters of high piano notes the rattle over a menagerie of menacing sounds. So from track one to two you have an abrupt shift in style and psychology. By the time the powerful drive of “High needs low” kicks in you realise that Tur has really opened himself up on this album and that there is plenty to be afraid of. The rest of the album ranges from the dark piano licks of “Feel”, to the vocal-driven disco drone of “Maybe next time” and the beautiful down beat crawl of “Just love” with vocals by Elina Monova. One final highlight is the melancholy and exotic ambient piano vignette “Mirrors” which is also a track that further emphasises the differences between Tur and Daly’s albums, in that Tur sacrifices some of the party mood for something altogether unexpected.

If you want more, check out the excellent compilation of tracks collected under the “Fingerprints” title on Manuel Tur, Dplay and Langenberg’s Mild Pitch label.

Small People – Salty days [Smallville]

There was one deep house long player that DID get a review  and ironically, for me at least, it was probably the weaker of the three. Small People is the duo of Julius Steinhoff and Just von Ahlefeld and their “Salty days” debut on their own Smallville imprint bares more than a similarity to Moomin’s “The story about you” and arguably its predecessor “Asper clouds” by Christopher Rau. Here, maybe the issue is not so much that they sound familiar, but they feel familiar and even share a template to some degree. This is not surprising since they all come from the same label, but for me at least, I find it hard to get caught up in the hype that seems to engulf these releases, elevating Moomin to near the summit of last year’s album polls (position 12), for example. My criticism of the music goes not so much against its quality, but its homogeneity. “Salty days” and “The story about you” are both great releases, especially for DJs. Faultless in the sense that they have no dud tracks, no cringeful moments and they drift along just fine. Yet in a blind test I would find it hard to pick them out of a crowd or extract them from the flow of a set. But give me John Daly and I would tell you who it is. Give me Manuel Tur and I would want to know who it was. I mention feeling and here the depth of feeling seems muted sometimes in favour of control and a sort of dressy ambience. Indeed, one of the biggest problems with Small People and some similar artists is that they sometimes seem to wear the same clothes: they use samples and a palette that doesn’t stray far enough from the safety zone at the centre as if they were all buying their clothes in the same mall. The high hats on this album for example, sound just like high hats and follow traditional patterns. There are a few gurgling bass lines that sound Chicago enough, but don’t really threaten to break the mould. Perhaps one reason for this is that they prefer not to let loose, giving you little to distract you from the details. In fact, the spaciousness of the music asks you to look at it and this is where the problems lie. In fact, the two highlights of “Salty days” work in the opposite way, giving you something to unburden the pressure on the mechanism of the music. “And you and you” is easily the most atmospheric track of the album, working the wistful synth line into a lost moment of recollection. “Black ice” seems to have been most people’s favourite and for good reason, with a more rugged tangle of bass and high hats, and a moody synth line that demands you watch over your shoulder for surprises and not stare into the music. This is perhaps a harsh criticism to make of ostensibly a solid album, but given the sheer volume of dance music, it sometimes seems a bit unfair to take attention away from the innovators, the ignitors of the flame, and give it only to those who keep it burning.

Bon and Rau – Morning funk [Smallville]

Speaking of Christopher Rau, he has had a relatively prolific time of late, releasing the “Cat litter” EP on Japan’s Mule Musiq, “Just love baby” on Brooklyn’s Thema, a track “First haza” on split 12” for new label Ava. Last but not least was the “Morning funk” single on Smallville as Bon and Rau with Jacques Bon. The latter is of interest if only for its sampling of Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember’s spoken word introduction to “How does it feel?” from Spacemen 3’s “Playing with Fire”. The track itself doesn’t really stand out as a classic otherwise, just a decent lazy day house track full of cosmic synths and bustling, crisp rhythm section that does the job.

John Roberts – Paper frames EP [Dial]

Far more interesting is the new 12” from John Roberts on Dial. Silent since the critically acclaimed album “Glass eights” in 2010, also on Dial, the return of Roberts is something of a second coming given the material on offer. The four tracks on two sides are all short; two of them would be almost incidental if they weren’t so interesting. “Untitled II” is almost like Gamelan music the way it is arranged. Piano and percussion mix with stabs of string and less recognisable sounds. “Untitled IV” is similarly dissonant and more spacious, the melancholy piano brought directly to the foreground and the overlapping noises breaking the introversion like a thought that cannot be erased. The two remaining tracks aim more for the dance floor, but still clock in at around 5 minutes and work from similar palettes. The title track weaves chimes and jazzy samples with crunching break beat percussion that couldn’t be further from typical deep house if you tried. The longer “Crushing shells” works a similar avant-garde angle, cutting and pasting different plucked string and more chimes and cello into a fractured melodic landscape all underpinned by an off kilter four-four beat. Everything on this release is a little striking, making it one of the most original releases of the year so far.

B.D.I. Paper tears [Running Back]

B.D.I.’s “Decoded message of life and love” is already nailed on as one of the tracks of the year despite sneaking out in the cold light of December 2011. His follow up single for Gerd Jansen’s Running Back label is quite a different affair, however. Not as heavy or industrial, it fits more the quieter label aesthetic of Running Back than “Decoded…” would have. Indeed, the fractured vocal neatly merges with the almost synth pop textures, making it almost a John Talabot-style track. Yet B.D.I.’s mark is all over it: sounds coming in and out of focus, repetitive drums that are given just enough EQ to bring them up or pull them down and a lasting dizziness after it has all gone. The “Tribal tears dub” is a nice contrast too, bringing the polyrhythms and veiled ethnic elements to the fore.

R.A.G. – Black Rain EP [M>O>S. Deep]

Delsin’s new house label seems to be struggling a bit, having been unable to garner many overtly positive reviews so far without ever having delivered a real turkey, although Andy Vaz’s new single did get a caning. However, Aroy Dee’s label M>O>S Deep which is essentially feels like a Delsin sublabel at times seems perpetually able to find a winner. R.A.G.’s “Black Rain EP” is certainly a case in point. Opener “The Fog” sounds bleepy and in many ways retro, with the Ghosts and Goblins-style theremin and the hazy production that gives it that, well, foggy edge. Put another way, it is an almost Workshop sound on offer, which is no bad thing. The ambient and analogue remixes of the title track are also sublime. The latter lays down a traditional Chicago house back bone and then smears it beneath menacing analogue noise and more retro horror movie sound effects. The ambient mix takes the same and strips away the rhythm section, but its inherent tension gives it a lot of potential for creative DJs to weave it into a mix. This release may straddle the line between techno and house more than the other releases here, but worth a mention for quality and originality.

Bicep & Ejeca – You [Aus Music]

Playing off old rave archetypes now seems one of the most staid features of “modern” dance music, with faux rave sounds and post-Burial stretched vocals seemingly everywhere. However, Northern Ireland duo Andrew Ferguson and Matthew McBriar with collaborators Ejeca and Omar Odyssey show that there is still life and freshness in this blend on their latest 12” for Aus Music. “You” in particular is a slow burner, not jacking the house, but simmering and drifting like a lost flame. The vocals in particular cut both ways, at once hopeful and mournful. Steffi’s remix picks up the pace a little, but without losing the ethereal qualities while the second track “Don’t” is a little more straightforward, with a heavier, spongy beat and nice dub decals to decorate. 

The Reboot Joy Confession – Absolute II Way Harmonious Enterprise [Philpot]
This is perhaps one of the most surprising albums of the year for a lot of reasons. Foremost amongst these is its arrival from way out of left field. This is a genuine headcase of a an album, eccentric, diverse and very self-conscious, forged somewhere between DJ Shadow’s “Entroducing”, classic deep house, more experimental house a la Mathematics and goofy break beat. Its spread over two records with each side lovingly sequenced into a greater collage with humourous and surreal interludes, field recordings and weird electronics. That’s not to say its all superficial entertainment without genuine sentiments. There is a bit of everything here, but always leaning towards the unexpected or less obvious sounds. This album teaser gives some idea of what to expect and features the track “Awake or sleeper” from the second side.

House wise, there are a few little pearls here, like “The Rise” from the first side and “Bless you so high” which opens the third side in classic Philpot style. The album is also interesting for what it suggests about the geography of house music. Although Philpot is a German label, the sound is more distinctly “American”, like Mathematics, with links into spiritual and transcendental jazz being very important. The ancestors may be Chicago, as always, but they are not the neo-Chicago favoured by the Dutch artists. The aforementioned skeletal deep house of Dial and Smallville has brushes with jazzy sounds, but more cocktail and cool jazz than jazz with religious connotations. Drumpoets Community almost feels like a strange exception then, being somehow more overtly “electronic” than either.