Friday, April 29, 2011

The Weeknd - House of Balloons

1. High For This
2. What You Need
3. House Of Balloons / Glass Table Girls
4. The Morning
5. Wicked Games
6. The Party & The After Party
7. Coming Down
8. Loft Music
9. The Knowing

Less than two months ago, few of us had ever heard of the Weeknd. Then, as soon as the creepy R&B tracks from this free mixtape began to circulate, the hype engine revved up. There was the Drake cosign, the album art that looked like Spiritualized crossed with Tumblr art-porn, the missing vowel, the stylish samples, and the project's creators hiding in the shadows. You can't buy buzz like this, and the Weeknd's quick rise to Internet fame, both in indie circles and in parts of the mainstream, raised fascinating questions about the blurrier-than-ever lines between those two audiences and the underground's newfound embrace of R&B. (see also: Frank Ocean, Tri Angle Records, How to Dress Well.)

These are very interesting topics that have already spawned some good thinkpieces around the web, but set all that aside for a moment and you're still left with an album, same as always. And this album happens to be very good. The work of Toronto singer Abel Tesfaye and producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo (Drake producer Noah "40" Shebib, is not, as has been reported, involved in the project), House of Balloons is a remarkably confident, often troubling debut that excels at both forward-thinking genre-smearing and good old-fashioned songcraft. Take for starters the track "What You Need": with Burial-style vocal samples, techno scrape, and a sticky pop chorus, it's far from your average R&B number.

Of course, the Weeknd are not without forebears-- producers from Rodney Jerkins to Static Major and recently The-Dream have been pushing the sonic boundaries of R&B for some time now. Where the Weeknd differ, though, is that their source material pulls from the leftfield (the title track re-purposes Siouxsie and the Banshee's "Happy House", two songs here ride mutated Beach House samples), and their approach is more about building vibe and atmosphere. They're great at rich, woozy compositions that send Tesfaye's aching falsetto through the mix. An example is "The Morning", which feels at first like a spacey synth instrumental before a stuttering digital drumbeat announces this massive, swaying chorus that enters your brain and refuses to leave.

The group's penchant for druggy atmospherics is mirrored in their lyrical content, which is overtly sexual, narcotics-focused, and occasionally downright frightening. Debauchery is obviously nothing new in R&B, but this takes it a step further-- the drugs are harder, the come-ons feel predatory and lecherous, and the general feeling is self-hating rather than celebratory. On opener "High for This", Tesfaye handholds a partner through some strange sex act, singing, "Trust me, girl, you wanna be high for this." "Glass Table Girls" is pretty clearly about doing coke. Because we don't know these guys, it's hard to say whether these are real-life tales or imaginative storytelling-- you want to think the latter, but ultimately the anonymity makes it seem more disturbing.

What makes this whole thing work in an album context is that all the thematic and sonic pieces fit together-- these weird, morning-after tales of lust, hurt, and over-indulgence ("Bring the drugs, baby, I can bring my pain," goes one refrain) are matched by this incredibly lush, downcast music. It's hard to think of a record since probably the xx's debut (definitely a touchstone here) that so fully embodies such a specific nocturnal quality. And even though the image of nightlife painted by the Weeknd isn't a place you'd ever want to live, it's one that's frankly very hard to stop listening

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Kevin McPhee - Get In With You

1] Get In With You
2] Bridges (4:24)
3] Get In With You (LV Remix)

Kevin McPhee is the latest foot soldier to march out of the increasingly interesting and promising bass scene in Toronto. Unlike the rolling acrobatics of Egyptrixx or the increasingly psychedelic output of XI, Kevin McPhee's tracks are highly intricate and intimate: late-hours whispers of hushed vocal samples, strung-together breakbeats and colour-drained synths. It's a vampiric aesthetic that would turn to dust in direct sunlight, and thus McPhee's nocturnal rumblings find a natural home in the Irish label [nakedlunch], following similarly dark offerings from Scuba and Instra:mental.

"Get In With You"'s muffled, thudding beats trace out a ramshackle foundation for the song's dual chorus of sensual chipmunk murmurs and delicate, careful-footed piano. Technically in dubstep time, the track's slurred movement feels too slow to either be dubstep or Burialesque neo-garage (with which it seems doomed to endless and oversimplified comparison). London duo LV bring the track out into harsh hospital lights for a hypnotic, bass-heavy groove punctuated by horn stabs and a thick, squelchy bassline.

More recently McPhee has been moving in a more house direction, on a forthcoming release for Bristol's Idle Hands and a steady stream of new material making its way onto dubplate. It's a move nicely predicted by the b-side "Bridges." The mournful track glides on the ghost of a 4/4 thump, and the lagging beat, detuned synth and heavily distorted vocals depict a numb, depressive world lifted up only by the insistent clatter of the homemade percussion. His debut figures him as a strong newcomer with a distinct voice: Tracks as accessible, emotional and memorable as these don't come around too

Sunday, April 10, 2011

K-S.H.E - Routes Not Roots

01. Down Home Kami-Sakunobe
02. Saki-chan (Pt.1)
03. Hobo Train
04. Fuck the Down-Low
05. B2B
06. Stand Up
07. Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair
08. Double Secret (Dub)
09. Saki-chan (Pt.2)
10. Crosstown
11. Head (In My Private Lounge, My Pad)
12. Infected

Terre Thaemlitz's Routes Not Roots was only released five years ago, and yet here we are with a reissue at the tail end of a comprehensive campaign by French label Skylax Records. Maybe the premature revisionism is appropriate in this case: the kind of sprawling, deconstructive house statement laid out on Routes Not Roots is decidedly pre-internet in the time it takes both to unfold its carefully layered tale and to properly invest in the mammoth album. Originally released on Thaemlitz's Comatonse platform, it was, until now, out of print, and admittedly Skylax have done a service in giving the album a second go after the wave of new interest in Thaemlitz following his 2008 album Midtown 120 Blues.

Stylistically, Routes Not Roots is the logical precursor to Midtown 120 Blues, spacious deep house built from the ghosts of New York house and garage and the disquieting technological anxiety of Tokyo. Though crafted with a more diverse set of samples and moods, Roots features embryonic iterations of the luscious deep blue depression that would come to define Midtown 120 Blues; Roots is rawer, redder and more volatile. The most obvious connection is "Hobo Train," where acoustic guitar, claustrophobic drum loops and dark, discordant piano form a whirring, propulsive rhythm that itself doesn't sound unlike a rocketing train. The track utilizes the same memorable speech sample as Midtown's "Sisters, I Don't Know What This World Is Coming To," which on that album was a synth-heavy aural landscape subverting the manic-depressive hope of "Train" into near-hopelessness.

That comparison sets the crucial difference that colours this album: Routes is lively and unpredictable. Here, Thaemlitz sets his ever-active conceptual sights on sexuality and "complicating origins," exemplified in its use of samples taken from country songs (making "black" out of "white" according to Thaemlitz). "Crosstown" stretches out over thirteen minutes, a chorus of excitable drums, shakers and shimmering chords, but the somewhat festive mood is dampened by the disturbed identity politics that circle repeatedly in the form of an unforgettable vocal sample. "You my bitch!/Nuh-uh, we are bitches" sounds defeatist in the context of overwhelming cultural oppression and suppression, the kind of intra-musical critical thought Thaemlitz is known for.

Routes Not Roots largely lives up to its mission, playing with and obscuring the origins and constructions of deep house music. The all-important house piano is plastered over the album, but it's always dark, dissonant and dreadful, staining the stimulant-addled shake of "B2B" and stomping unceremoniously over the gorgeous melody of opener "Down Home Kami Sakunobe." With the stream of lengthy house workouts interrupted by tense spoken interludes and ambient meanderings, Roots is also a transparent self-portrait of Thaemlitz, exorcising and fearlessly exhibiting every aspect and facet of his personality as it pours out in awkwardly sized, uneven chunks.

But that's what Routes Not Roots is all about: Thaemlitz makes his audience feel things, channeling every bit of pain, deprivation and release that led to house music's birth into what sounds like a rebirth, an idea he would go on to focus and perfect with Midtown 120 Blues. Even if it's a little meandering at times, imperfections or not, Routes is about one of the most unique and affecting house albums you'll ever

Friday, April 8, 2011

Blawan - Bohla EP

1. Bohla
2. Kaz
3. Lavender

The R&S renaissance continues with three uniquely lethal tracks from one of the UK's most exciting young producers. Like Untold before him, Blawan respectfully infuses his hardcore swung rhythms with a sound most commonly associated with the label, the good 'ol 303. It forms an integral part of each track, from the chirruping squiggles smudged into the loping swingjack groove of 'Bohla' to the detuned gurgles eating into complex tribal polyrhythms on 'Kaz' or dissolved into the bass-sunken new world jack of 'Lavender'. Aside from sounding fiercely technoid and alien, his use of acid sequences with swung or broken patterns exposes a vital connection between Belgian and UK hardcore dance musics, where tribal febrility meets cybernetic reality in a marriage of exotic

Jacques Greene - Another Girl

01. Another Girl
02. Holdin' On (Braiden Remix)
03. The Look (Mark Flash UR Remix)

LuckyMe drop one of the most anticipated dancefloor 12"s of the last 12 months, backed up with remixes of tracks from 'The Look' by Rinse FM's Braiden and UR's Mark Flash. There's no need to bang on about 'Another Girl', it's straight anthem material combining ohrwurming vocal, a a rolling emotional topography and dancing neon melodies in beautiful style. Flip it and Braiden gives a tough rework of 'Holdin' On', full of titanium cowbells, rampant R1 Ryders style bass revs and chopped vocals, but UR's Mark Flash steals the show with a Hi-tek, carnival-killing remix of 'The Look'. Very large 12"!!!

Maurice Donovan - Babeh / Satisfied

a. Babeh
b. Satisfied

The 2nd SSSSS release heralds the much anticipated return of Ramdanman's fictitious Chicago alter ego, Maurice Donovan. He recently cropped up on a slick remix of Julio Bashmore's 'Everybody Needs A Theme Tune' but this time he's fully in control. On the A-side we get the horny holler of 'Babeh', a big, bad swinger with ass-pummeling bottom-end bobulations and teasing crescendos to give you a rush you'll remember. Flipside, 'Satisfied' takes Lil' Louis' girl and gives her something to moan about while churning up robust toms and ass-slapped snares to make you go for it. Bad-to-the-bone!!!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Boddika - You Tell Me / Breezin

a. You Tell Me
b. Breezin

Supremely dynamic, Technoid futurism from the studio of Boddika aka Instra:mental's Alex Green. Boddika is the name he uses to exercise those areas of his production palette which are possibly too freaky for his better known alias, so here we get the dazzling architecture of 'You Tell Me' with its highly individual torsion and detuned lead riff, while 'Breez'in' jams on a fruity House tip, albeit a fruity flavour spiked with genetically modified enzymes and programmed two steps ahead of anyone else you'd care to mention. This label is hard ON IT at the moment!

Julio Bashmore - Batty Knee Dance EP

01 Batty Knee Dance
02 Ribble To Amazon
03 Grand National

Following his all-taking 'Everyone Needs A Theme Tune' session, Señor Bashmore drops two uplifting 'floor charmers, delivered through Martyn's boutique 3024 imprint. 'Batty Knee Dance' is a warm and fluid deeper House groove with added plump-bummed bass and 'floor sating vocals, but 'Ribble To Amazon' is the one you need, elevating any space it's played in with surging disco filter tricks applied to a criss, cowbell-lead electrohouse rhythm, kinda like a loved-up inversion of Instra:mental's recent

Cosmin TRG - A Universal Crush

01. A Universal Crush
02. Negligee
03. Magnetic Bodies
04. Sirop

Cosmin TRG continues his trajectory into deeper House and Techno grooves on his third release for Rush Hour's Direct Current series. The title track begins with a cascade of strangely tuned strings before becoming consumed by driving 4/4s, while 'Negligee' views Detroit from a distance with zig-zagging bars oscillating between pitched strings and squirming bleeps propelled by thick, padded bottom end. Magnetic Bodies' takes the vibe somewhere more romantic with fluttering synths and cannily uplifting chord progressions alloyed to firm but supple rhythm programming and 'Sirop' elevates the energy levels for a finely filtered construction fusing NYC Garage and Chicago House sensibilities.

Hard Ass Sessions: Volume V

1. Kingdom -Stadium Pass
2. Poirier - Vivendo Juntos
3. Bert On Beats - Bassy Baile
4. Pocz & Pacheco - Tuki Love

Four new cats contribute to the fifth edition of Enchufada's fierce 'Hard Ass Sessions'. OG NYC badboy, Kingdom drops the broad-shouldered swagger of 'Stadium Pass' in his signature style, while Poirier ramps up an infectious Soca burner on 'Vivendo Juntos'. The oddly named Bert On Beats sweeps clean with the rugged Ghetto bounce of 'Bassy Baile' and Pocz & Pacheko curl off a dippin' Cumbia cracker on 'Tuki Love'. If you've got a party to please, buy the whole series and you're set! Big tip for followers of L-Vis, Melé, or Ramadanman!