Slow Dakota : Rumspringa

Last year PJ Sauerteig, under his musical moniker Slow Dakota, released the elegant and elegiac The Ascension Of Slow Dakota. That album was an aged musical narrative about people and the things that people do. It was part prolific chamber pop and part poetry in motion courtesy of spoken word segments strewn throughout. It was a magnificent musical statement that begged you to pay attention and fill your brain with what that album had to offer.

Slow Dakota has returned with the EP Rumspringa. Rumspringa takes that urgency of Ascension and has turned it into a bit of a dance floor jam. Chamber pop has been replaced with seductive beats and early New Order and Depeche Mode vibes. Each track is a tale about different odd characters that may be living among us in the Midwest. Or, they may have sprouted from Sauerteig’s imagination. Either way, it’s a fascinating character study with a hell of a beat.

“Abram, Indiana” announces itself as something separate from what came before in the Slow Dakota canon. Its groove and airy demeanor feels like glorious dance floor freedom. Subtle piano and synth touches bring elegance to the proceedings, while the drums make you want to get up and move. Lyrically it brings visions of open fields and toiling away the day in small towns, wondering what’s beyond the property line. “Elijah Yoder” has our subject leaving the small town life for the big city lights and reminiscing about those simple days, all the while a heavy electro beat and New Order feels carry the song along. More subtle regret permeates the world of “Cherry Mary Michigan” as she laments “Helicopters watch me through my window/Helicopters watch me close the blinds”, ending that thought with “I don’t know any of my neighbors’ names”. “Jebediah Iowa” talks of a young man telling his father he sees his future in the kitchen and not the courtroom, to which is father replies “Look into the future, then,” He told me hard and slow,/”And tell me if you’re happy there”/”Paid in pastry dough.”

Sauerteig recorded and wrote Rumspringa over his first year of law school. The EP was produced by Sahil Ansari, and mastered by the legendary Greg Calbi. The EP as a whole has a vibrancy of movement, which fits perfectly with the stories here. Stories of finding new soil to root in, but looking back and wondering if you made the right choice or not. The decision to go with a more electronic feel this time around works well to tell the tales of these characters. It shows new layers of sonic depth for Slow Dakota.

There seems to be a back and forth on this EP that Sauerteig seems to be fighting with, which is in order to follow your dreams you must leave behind what made you you. Trading the comfort of home for the unknown of finding who we can and will be can be exciting, but lonely. When miles are put between us and our past there’s a melancholy perspective that comes over us. In art we can look back and find a humanity and empathy towards characters we grew up with that couldn’t be found if we just “stuck around”. Sauerteig has done that here on Rumspringa and it’s a fascinating listen.

Grab a copy of Rumspringa or The Ascension of Slow Dakota over at https://slowdakota.bandcamp.com/

 

Nine Inch Nails : Add Violence EP

Say what you will about Trent Reznor, but the guy over the last four years has been in constant creative motion. Nine Inch Nails’ 2013 return with Hesitation Marks was met with equal parts cheers and jeers. Cheers for a guy coming out of a 4 year NIN shutdown to a solid return to form. Jeers for folks that felt he was softening and repeating old motifs. Me? I liked the album. He never came across to me as some poet laureate, so I could forgive the average in the lyrics department. But his compositional, arranging, and studio skills were as tight as ever. From there he scores three films with Atticus Ross(Gone Girl(2014), Before The Flood(2016), Patriot’s Day(2016)), becomes some mogul/music wizard dujour at Beats and helped curate Apple Music, and at the end of 2016 he and Ross put out the NIN EP Not The Actual Events. The latter was released with the promise of two more EPs to follow later in 2017, making it a trilogy of sorts. That EP was promising, with some biting NIN aggression and experimental twists and turns that while wasn’t mind blowing was a welcome addition to the NIN discography(while wetting the appetites of NIN fans everywhere.)

We’re in the middle of 2017 and that second EP has arrived. Add Violence dials down the angst and turns up the oscillation a bit. It feels better conceived and fluid than its predecessor, while still retaining the wily spirit of classic NIN.

Opening track “Less Than” gets all early 80s bouncy synth with the help of some catchy keyboard lines and synsonic-sounding drums. It’s like Reznor dropped the needle on Black Celebration and Power, Corruption & Lies and got heavy-handed with the Kahlua he was pouring into his protein shakes. This is the loosest and most fun NIN has sounded since Year Zero. “The Lovers” is the best track on here. It’s dark, brooding, and yes, sexy. Jittery rhythms, Pong-like synth notes, and menacing piano zig zag through the mix as Reznor turns up the longing in his vocal spots. This track feels like the very best of Reznor and Ross’ creative power. It builds; ascending then descending like a menacing tower on the horizon. I imagine playing Tetris on a grainy black and white TV with this as the soundtrack. Odd, but fitting. “This Isn’t The Place” has an electronic swing to it. It’s decent, but seems to meander a bit too long. “Not Anymore” sounds like a cross between Suicide and the Art of Noise, but with Reznor ad-libbing lyrics over a distorted bass line. The song goes into a frenzied explosion of fuzz in the chorus. “The Background World” moves along for nearly 12 minutes. First opening with a smooth, familiar groove that you easily fall into. Soon enough you notice something becomes slightly off. A skip in the song. As the track moves along it slowly falls into a deep distortion as that skip becomes more prominent. The track falls into an abyss of white noise before falling into some other dimension.

Add Violence resonates more than its predecessor. It feels more cohesive, like Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross sat down and mapped out some songs with a sonic thru-line. They kept it more of a blippy, electronic affair with a healthy dose of their rich atmosphere. The result is a sweet shot of electronic urgency.

7.9 out of 10

 

 

Jon Kennedy : Ha! EP

Jon Kennedy is a man about the world. He travels the globe leaving scorched dance floors as a DJ extraordinaire, and just for kicks hea0152258569_10 remixes tunes of all color, shape, and size. He’s a rhythm man at heart, calling home behind a drum set. Basking behind the real thing and as a programmer of hazy electronica, he lays down serious beats wherever he drops his drum stool.

I’m not sure, but I think he might be MI-6, too.

I’ve been following Kennedy for some time now and he never fails to impress. He’s released so much music over the last 15 years or so that catching up would be a daunting task, but you should try. Here’s some starting points: Useless Wooden Toys, Strengthen The Roses, and Corporeal. Jon Kennedy is readying a new album called Ha!. In lieu of jumping into the sure to be tasty batch of beats and samples Kennedy has dropped the Ha! EP. It’s 7 remixes of the title track, plus an EP exclusive track. It’s a nice teaser for what’s sure to be a woozy chunk of electronica.

“Ha!” on its own is a soulful number, with great vocals by Adjua. The album version is mostly just vocals with some tasteful noise going on under the proceedings. After that we’re treated to a plethora of remixes by the likes of AOTOA, Rogan, and 6blocc. Mr. Bird does a nice take on the track that gives it a Boards of Canada vibe. Something off the earlier EPs, like Twoism. Michal Menert gives the song a trip hop vibe, deconstructing the soul edge and giving it a cool, detached feel. Static Structures goes full Fruity Loops, complete with buzzes and beeps and adding in some acid jazz textures.

Not into remix albums? Well sorry for your loss. But hey, grab this thing for the album version of “Ha!” and the EP exclusive “The Lord Tarries” featuring Coreysan. It’s a blissful shot of indie techno.

Even if Jon Kennedy isn’t James Bond, I still think the Ha! EP is a nice place to get acquainted with the British musician/producer. Give it a spin, and keep your eyes open for the new LP soon.

7.3 out of 10

Richard Pinhas : Reverse

Richard Pinhas is what you’d call a pioneer of both electronic music and experimental rock. His early years were spent recording withpinhas first Schizo, then space rock pioneers Heldon, as well as releasing records under his own name. He doesn’t shy away from dissonance and extended stays in musical pieces that seem to go on forever. That’s really the beauty of his work, or at least his method. He took a six year break in the 80s before returning to perfect form in the 90s. Since then he’s collaborated with luminaries in experimental music such as Merzbow, Yoshida Tatsuya, Oren Ambarchi, Barry Cleveland, and Wolf Eyes.

On Pinhas’ newest album, Reverse, he’s going full-on space rock. Buzzing synths, motorik beats, and a feeling of being set adrift into the confines of cold, dark space. It’s a heady trip, and one you won’t soon forget.

Reverse is a collection of four pieces, titled “Dronz 1 – Ketter”, “Dronz 2 – End”, “Dronz 3 – Nefesh”, and “Dronz 4 – V2”. With titles like that you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect. With the exception of “Dronz 2”, these are monolithic pieces of ethereal synths, buzzing guitars(courtesy of Oren Ambarchi), and in some cases seriously heavy drumming(courtesy of Arthur Narcy and William Winant on percussion), the tracks evolve into musical monoliths. “Dronz 3” begins buzzing and churning before opening up into an all out space rock epic. “Dronz 2” may be the shortest track coming in just over 7 minutes, but it comes together nicely and feels like it’s just the right amount of existential bliss. “Dronz 4” buzzes beautifully like a digital swarm of notes and noise. “Dronz 1” greets us at the beginning of the journey, and at nearly 16 minutes is the grand epic statement of the record. It sounds like a spatial symphony. Like a cross between Miles Davis at his headiest in the early 70s with an affinity for Hawkwind and Amon Duul instead of Jimi Hendrix and the psych scene.

At 65 years old Richard Pinhas shows no signs of burning out or losing his edge. He’s as noisy and prolific as he’s ever been, and he seems to be matched with some equally prolific musicians that help paint his grand, galactic sound oblivion.

7.8 out 10

Ulrich Schnauss & Jonas Munk : Passage

The newest collaboration between Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk, titled simply Passage, is a heady mix of intellectual ambient andbiz-passage euphoric electronic. You get Schnauss’ synths layered with Munk’s liquid guitar lines, sometimes with drum programming and sometimes on their own. The result is a complex and engaging record that offers the best both musicians have to offer.

If you’re at all familiar with Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk, then you should know this isn’t just another in a long line of electronic records. Schnauss is an accomplished electronic musician and composer who’s been creating beautifully ornamented electronic albums for over 20 years. His 2001 album Far Away Trains Passing By is a classic in the genre. Since 2014 Schnauss has been an official member of the iconic Tangerine Dream. Jonas Munk is an accomplished musician/producer in his own right, making electronic records under the name Manual, as well as playing guitar for the Danish rockers Causa Sui. He’s also released two records under his own name, first Pan in 2012 and Absorb Fabric Cascade in 2014. Back in 2011 these two got together for the first time and released the ethereal Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk. Six years later they have made a sequel to that collaboration. Passage does not suffer from the “sophomore slump”. In fact, it surpasses its predecessor.

Schnauss and Munk know how to make a heady mix of ambient tones and daydream-y vibes. Tracks like “Amaris”, “Genau Wie Damais”, and “Anywhere But Here” cascade like technicolor falls on some distant world. The noise coming from the speakers is hypnotic but not hallucinogenic. It’s an all-natural high that bubbles and swells from a song like the mysterious “Intervention: Sol”. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where Schnauss’ synth ends and Munk’s guitar begins. “MST” brightens up with an early 80s electronic vibe thanks to some boisterous drum programming. “Intervention: Mane” gives us plenty of woozy vibe that takes us from the dance floor to floating in space.

A great thing about this album is that these guys don’t rely on atmospheric swaths of noise alone to carry them. There are moments of blissed-out ambient, but there are also moments of almost dance floor vibes that make the album all the more engaging.

Side two’s “Ao Hinode” feels like some sort of spectral light shining down on us mere mortals, while “Spellbreaker” has an almost mid-80s Cure vibe. This track seems to morph into a million moods before we even get to the halfway point. It’s an elegant shock to the system. “Intervention: Stjerner” is a beautiful and bubbling ride of synths that seems to owe a bit of debt to Schnauss’ other gig Tangerine Dream. It’s hypnotic bliss. “Caffeine Blues” shows Munk in top form with some exquisite guitar, while Schnauss backs him up with some heady sounds. “Coastal Path” ends the album on a sun-soaked drift of cascading clouds and road trip-worthy vibes.

Passage shows two musical masters at the top of their game. Each are front and center, but never feel as if they’re vying for our attention. They come together, synth and guitar, to paint good vibes and heady, existential bliss. Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk serve only one master here, and that is the song. They follow the muse wherever she takes them. The musical mind melding of Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk, so far, is the best thing to hit my ears in 2017.

8.3 out of 10

 

King’s Filth and Other Love Songs

Le Matos.

A French Canadian synth band from Montreal. I’m not sure how to describe their music other than to say it’s a boisterously uplifting kind of electronic. It’s techno, heavy synth, house, and just plain hard-driving music. It’s what you’d have playing as you’re cruising the digital world in your Tron light cycle. It’s 100 mph music as you cruise along the Autobahn. I see lots of neon, flashing lights, and people wearing chrome suits touching inappropriately in the back of gravity-free interstellar night clubs. That’s the vibe I get when I listen to Le Matos.

fullsizerenderI first became aware of Le Matos when I picked up their soundtrack to the great little indie sci-fi throwback film Turbo Kid early last year. I ended up watching the movie with my son and we were instantly fans(and yes, I may have had a crush on the wonderful Apple.) That movie made me feel like a kid all over again, bringing to mind so many movies from the 80s I loved and watched over and over(Explorers, Goonies, The Last Starfighter, Karate Kid, Krull, etc, etc.) Though many of those films weren’t similar in story line, they all were about outcasts that stand up for themselves against bullies, aliens, monsters, and just plain bad dudes. There was also the endearing love story between Turbo Kid and Apple that made me think of, oddly, Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend. For a film that was so severely panned the love story in that movie really struck a chord with me(I’d love to see Craven’s original edit of the film, before WB executives had him destroy it.)

fullsizerender-2Anyways, the soundtrack for Turbo Kid by Le Matos was amazing. Such a great 80s synth-inspired musical work. It totally captured that 80s synth sound. That brazen and vast sound that brings to mind post-apocalyptic expanse and a sort of broken world wildness. Dark grey horizons and scorched earth hopelessness that the music works to build some kind of drive for the characters to survive despite the world seemingly coming to an end. Around a month ago I grabbed their debut record, Join Us, courtesy of the fine folks at Death Waltz/Mondo. It’s yet another brash and exemplary musical statement by the Montreal band that makes you want to groove and lose your mind in their beats and synth explorations.

I think what I love so much about Le Matos’ songs are that they’re long. Really long. They’re long so you have time to get sucked into their musical worlds. “King’s Filth” and “Interceptor” take up the whole of side A and they’re absolutely stunning. I imagine traveling at the speed of light through space as these tracks play. Produced exquisitely by the band which is composed of Jean-Nicolas Leupi, Jean-Philippe Bernier, and Maxime Dumesnil, the drums and synths pop and crackle with life throughout. You could be just as enthralled listening to this on the dance floor or riding through the bitter wasteland of a crumbling planet. “Overdog” and “58 Minutes Pour Vivre” fill out side b, and it almost sounds like there’s a sample from Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys in “58 Minutes Pour Vivre”, but I could be mistaken. Whether it is or not, it’s a hell of a track. Side C has a great collaboration with Electric Youth on the song “Light Again”. Le Matos worked with Pawws on the Turbo Kid S/T with the track “No Tomorrow”, giving us a wonderful slice of 80s synth pop. With Electric Youth they do the same, as “Light Again” is a hell of a track(check out Electric Youth’s track on the Drive S/T, “A Real Hero”…it’s a keeper.) Side D closes the album out with the tracks “Sarah”, “The Stuff”, and “La Mer Des Possibilities” and they’re standouts, all of them.

I can’t recommend Le Matos enough. Unlike a lot of electronic music, there’s a definitive beating heart in the center of all the analog commotion. These guys drop names like Vangelis, John Carpenter, Goblin, and Tangerine Dream as influences and drives for them to make music. Those names and echoes of their art certainly haunt Join Us, but in more of a Casper The Friendly Ghost sort of way, or The Ghost and Mrs. Muir sort of way. Not like an Insidious or The Conjuring kind of way. They seem to be an integral seasoning in the Le Matos stew, but not enough to make you think there’s too much.

Join Us is an outstanding album that will make your groovy side very happy, as well as your nerdy sci-fi side equally thrilled.

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New Age Music For Androids

Tim Hecker is a name I’ve heard quite a bit over the last three or four years. Ever since I fell into the musical wormhole that is Oneohtrix Point Never I’ve taken quite a bit more notice of electronic artists. Hecker’s Virgins was an album I’d jumped into and found interesting but it never quite took. I’d found the darker sounds of The Haxan Cloak to be more to my liking, though Hecker’s work meandered in my subconscious. On a post-Christmas suicide mission/shopping trip to the state capital we stopped at one of my favorite record stores, Luna Music, and I perused the soundtracks and their most impressive electronic collection. They didn’t have Virgins, but they did have Hecker’s 2016 release Love Streams. I snagged it and we were off for dinner.

Love Streams, from what I’ve read, is decidedly a shift in Hecker’s usual style. From what I remember of his previous work the sound was kind of glitchy with dreamy patches of sound and texture. It was reminiscent of Daniel Lopatin’s work, though maybe more ghostly. Love Streams is unlike anything I’ve heard. Hecker’s mix of real instrumentation with digital corruption gives the impression that you’re hearing something that is slowly disappearing into the ether. His use of voices on this record is eerie and beautiful all at once. He enlisted the help of Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson to arrange the choral parts(if you’re not familiar with Johannsson, check out his amazing score for Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival.) The voices elevate the work into this almost heavenly perch, if Heaven could be psychedelic and woozy.

dsc05135“Obsidian Counterpoint” opens the album with a feeling of liquid rushing through some peculiar tunnel. The splashes of sound give off this impression of light coming from some unknown place. “Music Of The Air” is dreamy and beautiful. There’s a sense of mystery that encapsulates this song. Hecker seems to be working in some other realm. The voices seem detached, like spirits pushing through to the other side. The buzzing and drone have a lulling effect. It’s like the peace of letting go. “Bijie Dream” feels like a continuation of “Music Of The Air”, though the end of some sort of emotional resolution. “Live Leak Instrumental” opens quietly before sounding as if you’ve come across some other world. “Violet Monumental I &II” are these beautiful collages of space-y sound. They’re really rather hard to describe.

dsc05136I listen to an album like Love Streams and I’m amazed at how easily they draw me into their worlds. You feel as if you can float around inside an album like this and always find something new you didn’t notice last time. I’m also amazed at the process by which these songs are created. It’s not your typical songwriting. Where does one begin to create a song like “Up Red Bull Creek” or “Castrati Stack”? I thought that quite a bit when I first heard records like Oneohtrix Point Never’s R Plus Seven and The Haxan Cloak’s Excavation; as well as earlier records like Terry Riley’s A Rainbow In Curved Air and Morton Subotnick’s Silver Apples Of The Moon. They seem at first to be these random noise occurrences that somehow make sense together. But after repeated listens they reveal a very intentional evolution of sound, space, and emotion. Yes, despite the lack of some sort of lyrical narrative to tell you where to go and what to feel, these albums are rich with an emotional drive. What does that say of me? That as I’ve gotten older I connect far more viscerally and emotionally with a record like Love Streams, as opposed to Rubber Soul or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot? I seem to be able to connect on a spiritual level with bleeps, blips, and swaths of dense synth more so than I do with the verse/chorus/verse scenario.

Maybe I’m a replicant.

dsc05142Regardless, I’m just happy I can still connect to music in such a deep way. Whether it’s voices singing clearly “There are places I’ll remember/ All my life, though some have changed”, or if they’re detached and ghostly sounds digitally bathed, I’m feeling them and they’re moving me. Love Streams is operatic in scope and ethereal in sound. New age for androids. Do androids dream of electronic new age? I don’t know, but if they did and it existed it might sound like Love Streams.