Music, dance music especially, operates on emotion and intuition, it exists to generate reactions that writing and rhetoric cannot. Music, again, dance music in particular, is also profoundly contextual. A record that is written for loud clubs and late night dance floors may not exactly click when heard through earbuds on the subway, but, when listened to in its proper context, feels like a masterpiece.
Most of the time, when we at DA are reviewing an album, we listen to it alone, through headphones. sitting at home. Listening to music in this context invites analysis, invites rationalization, and can trick us reviewers into thinking that it is our duty to explain an album. We mention this because First Landing, the debut LP from Ajunadeep star Moon Boots, is an undeniably accomplished piece of music, but a difficult one to write about. It’s an album that isn’t looking to be explained. It’s meant to be danced to.
First Landing, although decidedly its own entity, is rooted deeply in the long disco tradition, and its greatest strength is its ability to deploy the techniques of old school disco, R & B, and soul, without losing its contemporary, current sound. Moon Boots demonstrates a prodigious understanding of tonality on this record, evident everywhere from the lush, complex chord progression that introduce the first song, “Fortune Teller,” to the melodic runs that bridge phrases in the album’s closer, “Red Sky.”
Like all great songwriters, Moon Boots both upholds and subverts our expectations of musical convention to maintain interest and hold our attention. Note the stair-stepping bass line that propels the verses of “Keep the Faith,” its elliptical syncopation, the way it runs through scale tones without ever settling on the note it seems to be leading to. Then, when the chorus hits, it gets right in step with groove, emphasizing chord roots and giving the choruses a richness and fullness that contrasts wonderfully with the counterpoint of the verses.
The album is full of deceptively clever uses of counterpoint, of divergence, that pervade it with a dynamism and complexity that more than make up for the predictable schmaltziness of the written-for-radio lyrics. The cast of guest vocalists all do a fine job, but it doesn’t really matter what they’re saying. Moon Boots treats the vocals as just another instrument in his arrangement, and seems, above all, interested in the timbre of the voices, in their harmonies and phrasing.
In its own way, First Landing is dance music at its most elemental. its interest lies only in its pure sound, and the response that sound evokes in the listener. It’s rhythm and melody, point and counterpoint, not in the service of something greater, but for their own sake.
First Landing is worth a listen, even if it’s through cheap headphones on your commute. But we think that a better way to listen to it would be somewhere you can dance, somewhere with lots of people, and speakers loud enough that you can feel the beat in your core. In that context, it might just sound like a masterpiece.
The 80s are back in Neon Tiger‘s debut album titled Paperback Sunset, as the album artfully combines Indie Rock with electronic music to create a unique blend of genres. Neon Tiger is an indie-electro hybrid spin off from Australian DJ/Producer Maarcos. Paperback Sunset brings lyrical emotion to the fore, with songs like “Neon Rose” and “We Can Run” telling stories of love. “Summer”, along with some other tracks on the album, also feature Neon Tiger as a vocalist. Other vocalists featured throughout the album include Coyle Girelli, Sunsun, CONWAY, Color Drive. Norman Doray, and Barbara Tucker.
Paperback Sunset features 14 tracks, and if you purchase the album on iTunes, you receive a free digital booklet as an extra.
It’s a question that musicians, critics, and fans alike have pored over throughout the artist’s brief, but momentous musical tenure. Once dubbed by the masses as the “female Gesaffelstein,” Isabelle Rezazadeh has since transcended this reductive – albeit, highly laudable – characterization, to create a style that is entirely her own.
“People used to compare me to Gesaffelstein, but we don’t sound alike at all in my opinion,” REZZ told us in a conversation earlier this year. “There are some similarities… we both make dark music.” The 22-year-old producer further noted that she’s outgrown the phase of her career in which it is necessary, or even accurate to liken her music to that of other artists: “I find that as of late, I’m the one being compared to. I find that lately people are saying, ‘You sound like Rezz.’”
“I like simplicity in everything.”
Today, August 4, marks the biggest milestone of Isabelle Rezazadeh’s career to date, as she releases her debut album, Mass Manipulation. And, while she’s far past the point in her career when she was consistently – and inaccurately – referred to as “dark queen of techno,” the eight-track mau5trap LP puts forth her innate, authentic sound with greater strength and clarity than ever before in her career.
“I make this music in such a pure, real, could-not-be-more-authentic of a place in my brain and so it’s so natural and real for me. so for people to be saying it sounds like me means a lot to me because… it’s literally a part of who I am.”
Like any true artist, REZZ arrives at her signature sound through adhering to an intangible, but indomitable vision – one which comes from a psychedelic headspace that she describes as “almost inhuman.”
“It’s this part of my brain that I just can see and hear a certain vibe of music and sounds… and I’m really inspired by that,” she asserts. “I want to get as much music out of that part of my brain as I can.”
To attempt a reduction of REZZ’s music into typical genre stereotypes is to wallow in futility. In the producer’s own words, her music is “all very slow paced and chill and vibey, and [it] sucks you right in. It’s almost like a [hypnotic] void… you’re gone, but you’re all there, all at the same time.”
“That’s how I feel, that’s how I want other people to feel, and that’s what I’m inspired by,” she continues. “That’s the main thing i’m super inspired by, just getting my vision out there in the most accurate way possible.”
In terms of her modus operandi, it still makes sense to liken REZZ to Gesaffelstein. The vision which drives her necessitates that she integrate her authentic musical inspirations with her live show and overall aesthetic – arguably, her own sort of Gesamtkunstwerk. And, like Gesaffelstein, a major way through which REZZ achieves this mission is through an emphasis on raw minimalism.
“I love simplicity in music. I think it can be very heavy hitting and to the point… obviously complex tunes can be cool too, but I like simplicity in everything,” says Rezazadeh. “Simplicity in mindset, simplicity in clothing, simplicity in the way you present yourself. It’s totally a lifestyle.”
“ I feel like I’m making music that is telling people how to feel.”
Throughout Mass Manipulation, REZZ achieves her vision, in part, by channeling her passion for psychology. The artist acknowledges that her interest in cognitive science has made her “aware of [her] feelings, why [she reacts] to things a certain way, and why other people react to things a certain way.” A knowledge which, when harnessed properly, has allowed her “to evolve as a person and a producer, stay focused and motivated, and not lose track of [her] vision.”
Thematically, Rezazadeh’s album pinpoints the nexus between expressing her own feelings authentically and determining her audience’s reaction to their musical manifestation on a visceral level. “ I feel like I’m making music that is telling people how to feel,” she says. “I just want me, my music and everything about my brand to be based around hypnotizing the masses through my music,” she says. And, from the album’s hauntingly mesmerizing opener, “Relax,” the artist successfully endeavors to do just that.
When prompted to tell the story of Mass Manipulation in her own words, REZZ states, “It’s more of a reaction or commentary to modern consumption habits. We trade more in ideas and media than tangible things, so this is my intangible idea of how existence looks – or could look.”
“I just want… everything about my brand to be based around hypnotizing the masses through my music.”
Those who follow REZZ religiously are already well-versed in the canon of her debut album. In a fervently-followed album rollout, the artist provided her first impressions on “how existence looks” by released the first half of her album.
Over the course of the past month, Rezazadeh’s newly-released album singles – “Relax,” “Diluted Brains,” “Premonition,” and “Drugs!” – have become as important a facet of her musical catalogue as any other songs released in the past three years. Meanwhile, hitherto unreleased songs such as “Green Gusher” and “Synesthesia” have been staples in her sets for quite some time.
As a whole, the album traverses REZZ’s aforementioned musical vision, from the sinister psychedelia of “Drugs!” and “Green Gusher,” to the quaking minimalism of “Ascension” and “Diluted Brains.”
Additionally, the album plays host to what very well may be the most virulent production of Rezazadeh’s career thus far, “Livid.” In this maniacal, menacing track, REZZ has arguably achieved her most memorable output since 2016’s “Edge,” and has, once again, demonstrated the true breadth of her abilities.
With the thoughtful construction of Mass Manipulation, and with the visceral draw of songs like “Livid,” Isabelle Rezazadeh has proven that she’s far past the leap from “rising star” to dance music icon. Yet, despite her swift evolution to this artistic phase, the artist’s recruitments on the album indicate that she is still in touch with her inner bedroom producer.
More vocally than most of her peers within the industry, REZZ has used her highly-publicized album as a platform to highlight dark horse producers. She invites up-and-comers Knodis, 13, and Kotek on “Premonition,” “Drugs!,” and “Ascension,” respectively. By prominently including the aforementioned as collaborators, rather than featured (or uncredited) artists, Rezazadeh aims to offer these artists a similar opportunity in their nascent careers to that which deadmau5 provided her in the not-too-distant past.
In stark opposition to the “ensemble cast” collaborations which permeate much of today’s dance music climate, REZZ states, “I don’t care how big or small artists are, it’s all about the music to me.”
“People would be surprised how many talented unknown names there are out there,” she coyly adds, though she is quick to dispel any rumors of creating her own imprint in the near future. “I have thought about it but I’d rather put all my focus on my own music as that’s what keeps me sane & what I’m most passionate about.”
After full consideration of Mass Manipulation and Isabelle’s inspirations, we get a better sense of the previously-posed question, “How does one define REZZ?”
The Canadian producer can’t be defined according to her connection to a specific style or sect of ancestral artists. Nor should she ever again be lauded for being a tremendous talent “at her young age”; indeed, Rezazadeh is far past the stage of her career wherein focusing on her precocity doesn’t inadvertently detract from her deeply-conceived trajectory.
REZZ is at the forefront of a new movement. Hers is a mission which bridges the gap between commercial and underground dance music, and one which eschews formulaic success strategies for unique concepts and authentic sounds.
There’s a reason that hundreds of thousands of fans fervently flock to their fondly-dubbed “Space Mom.” Infiltrating an industry in which commodification strengthens its grip every day, REZZ is one of the rare producers who is strictly putting forth art.
And, in doing so, she’s creating an alternative blueprint for the new age of dance music
Much of the music that we listen to is so vocal-driven, with the spotlight shinning resolutely on singers and their performances, that when we do encounter instrumental music we can feel a bit adrift. We train our ears to follow vocal lines so naturally that, in their absence, it takes us a minute to figure out what’s important in the song, and what to focus on. Instrumental artists can’t rely on the accessibility of catchy lyrics or the charisma of a great singer to keep listeners interested; they have to find ways of keeping our attention using only the abstract and hard to verbalize tools of rhythm, harmony, and sound. This can lead to its own traps and overindulgences, a common one in electronic music being a sort of hyper complexity, whereby producers, for fear of being boring, stuff their mixes so full of layers, sounds, fills, edits, glitches, and automations, that the end result is distracting, rather than dazzling, exhausting rather than engaging.
To its credit, this is a trap that Com Truise’s Iteration avoids, albeit narrowly. There’s an awful lot going on in this record, often so much so that the listener is unsure where the focus is supposed to be. But this is an abundance that seems a great deal more intentional, and a great deal more sincere than the typical throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach of most pop and commercial EDM. Rather, Iteration takes the fundamental sounds and tropes of its synth wave genre DNA and pushes them to their logical extremes. It takes thick, warm bass and makes it as thick and warm as it can possibly be. It takes retro sounding synth patches and makes them drip with color and texture. It extends its technicolor soundscapes into both the rigidly synthetic and deeply fragile, to the point that, on several occasions, it literally decays in our ears. And it transforms genre-drums already known for being big and pounding into a percussion section that’s so concussive, so forward and immediate in the mix, that it sound as much like gun shots as drum samples.
The album’s greatest achievement is in finding some cohesion among these extremes. There are moments, most notably the overcrowded ‘Memory,’ when Iteration gets buried in its own commotion. But by and large, the complexity of the album allows the listener to facilitate their own engagement with it, to govern their own experience. Rather than stumbling through the complexities, looking for focus, one can let their attention wander through the soundscapes Com Truise creates, overlooking the sounds that aren’t interesting and lingering over, really feeling the contours of those that are. This makes Iteration are very subjective album, with reactions dependent upon how one listens to it, and what one listens for throughout its course.
Iteration is also a very physical album. Though ostensibly tied together with a narrative concept, there are only sporadic attempts made to communicate that concept through buzzing, robotic bits of dialogue haphazardly slapped into the bookends of several tracks, and the album neither needs nor benefits from their presence. There are a few moments – such as in the arcing melodies of “Usurper” or the surprisingly bracing energy of “Ternary” – where the album achieves some real evocative emotion. However, most of the album’s interest lies in its celebration of the tactility of sound – its shape and texture. The sounds that make up the album feel very tangible, and the soundscapes they assume feel navigable and firmly grounded.
Iteration is many things. It is bright, loud, full, and complex. Yet, it is also far from perfect. The LP is often safe, frequently repetitive and occasionally redundant. Nevertheless, it is one of those albums that we kept thinking about after we heard it, if for no other reason than to wonder what it would feel like to hold one of those bass notes in our hands.
It’s been two years since Maceo Plex revealed his plans to release his Solar. The drawn-out creative process of Eric Estornel’s sophomore album is further emphasized by the amount of time that’s passed since his debut LP, Life Index, was released on Damian Lazarus’ Crosstown Rebels imprint in January of 2011. Six years constitutes an eternity in the dance music realm, but the necessity for the time lapse between albums is thoroughly evident in this new work.
Named for his son, Solar is a thoughtful, deeply personal project for Maceo Plex which eschews the confines of the club-oriented music which he has indisputably mastered (including the ubiquitous confine of instant gratification). With his new album, Estornel has verbally encouraged fans to “Think beyond the dance floor,” Indeed this sentiment is a requisite for listeners who wish to experience the album in a purposeful fashion.
Solar finds its home on Lone Romantic, the artist’s recently-formed record label which sets its focus toward experimental, rock-influenced music rather than the slick house and techno which is consistently minted by his well-established Ellum imprint. Speaking with NPR, Estornel addresses the significance of his 2-year old son, Solar, to the artistic direction of his new label, album, and overall musical outlook:
“Being a father changed the way I looked at my music. I needed depth… Sure, exceptional dance tracks can last forever, but so many of them don’t have a real story to tell. These producers say, ‘Oh, my music tells a story,’ but when you listen to it it’s really just a beat and some hi-hats. Rock music tells a story.”
Estornel’s search for narrative depth doesn’t mean that he’s abandoned the dance music which helped build his career as Maetrik, and later, Maceo Plex. “The Tesseract,” which was previously released in an eponymous EP, is acutely-suited for an after hours club set. So, too, are the mellifluous, yet industrial-tinged instrumentals “Sparks of Life” and “Lucid Dreamer” (though both of these tracks would stand out as strikingly experimental on a dance-floor).
Throughout the rest of the album, however, Maceo Plex’s standard fare recurs in whispers of synthesis amid a cheer of stylistic deviation. Estornel’s aptitude for composing dazzling melodies is apparent in “Kepler’s Journey,” just as his acuity for crafting dark, chilling tones is in “Eternal 808” and the album’s deeply haunting conclusion, “Swan Dive.” Yet, the structures of these pieces are stark aberrations from the artist’s Ellum productions, veering away from house and techno and into the realm of downtempo and IDM.
Perhaps most notable, however, is the focus which Estornel places on vocals throughout Solar. The stirring falsetto Duncan Jones (or DNCN, as he’s credited) pervades the album as a definitive component of “Polygon Pulse,” “Solar Wind,” and the aforementioned “Eternal 808.” The brooding, drawn-out “Indigo” is about as far from Maceo Plex’s established style as possible, but stands out as a highlight of the album, thanks to Jono McCleary’s wistful croons.
Solar, as a whole, is less danceable than any of Eric Estornel’s prior releases. However, it’s also, arguably, his most engaging work to date. Speaking with Billboard, the artist opines:
“Dance music is awesome, it’s awesome to make, but it’s for dancing and life isn’t dancing… Do you connect more with the last amazing dance record you heard, or with Dépêche Mode? When you write some listening music with a proper concept and message, it’s a deeper connection to the people.”
Though Estornel’s above statement risks alienating some fans, his take on dance music is more objective than it is hot. The currently thriving dance culture (in which he himself thrives) is a powerful vehicle to express emotions, but it’s also a limited one. There are concepts and sensibilities which can’t be conveyed by even the most thoughtfully-produced club hit. While this notion doesn’t denigrate dance music, it does emphasize the importance of veering out into different influences in order to innovate, avoid stagnancy, and communicate an evocative narrative.
Prior to this point, Eric Estornel’s canon has deservedly stood the test of time. However, with Solar, Maceo Plex proves to the world that his music may very well become timeless.
Tube & Berger have never been ones to assimilate to the status quo musically. Its members, Arndt and Marko, found each other at a young age through punk rock and quickly bonded under their shared ideology of defying trends and forging their own forward-thinking path.
Throughout their storied career, which began well over a decade ago, the two have since been working toward a unique vision which bridges the gap between their roots in live music and contemporary electronic. They began by redefining house music into their own mold, creating their Kitball imprint and releasing records rife with instrumental elements that fit perfectly into both their DJ sets and into their groundbreaking performances as a band.
“Rock n Roll isn’t dead. It just found a new home.” – Tube & Berger, 2015
Never has their general philosophy been more present sonically than within their sophomore album, We Are All Stars. It steps beyond their house-leaning debut LP Introlution, venturing into a more alternative, indie realm where classical training and the ability to play an instrument takes precedence. We’re introduced to the raw essence of their artistry as a result.
A good portion We Are All Stars was written organically, through jam sessions together and with their collaborators – a more traditional route which played a significant role guiding the body of work’s overall aesthetic. It’s rife with retro influence, capturing the moments in music’s timeline that have driven Tube & Berger’s musical development to where they are today.
They pay homage to the 1980s in a good deal of their selections, for example. In their titular single “We Are All Stars,” they weave disco into a contemporary foundation by way of funky guitar riffs and an equality-driven mantra, “We are all stars under the sun.” Likewise, “Lucky Shot” and the highly emotive “In The Name Of” also make great use of these vintage sounds, pairing guitars with stylized vocal edits and analog synth melodies that amount to records whose timeless nature would have made them just as good as tracks today as they would have been if they were made several decades ago. Furthermore, the emphasis on such classic instrumentation points to Tube & Berger’s readiness to transition further into the live direction they’re currently seeking with their productions.
“Musically we wanted to try and tie our two sides – the rock and the electronic dance – together. Even on the pure club grooves we tried to not go down the cliché dance lyrics route.”
Numerous collaborators on We Are All Stars further enhanced its avant-garde atmosphere. Famed British band co-created “Quiet Time,” one of the more far-out songs on the roster – a perfect fusion of indie and electronica that feels like it was written for a by a band rather than a DJ/producer. Richard Judge was also a key player on the album, providing vocal assistance to three very diverse arrangements. On the rock-centric end comes the appropriately titled “Rock N Roll Until We Die,” while on the opposite end lies “Dust Feel,” a grooving cut whose moving, synth-driven topline complements Judge’s pained vocals and the track’s bassy undertones nicely.
Meanwhile, “Automatic People” is easily one of the farthest departures outside Tube & Berger’s usual sonic imprint, adopting a subtle, dubstep-inspired foundation to accent RBBTS’ voice. It captures the bassier sound that is becoming more prevalent throughout the electronic world without being tacky, and remains artistic as ever in its approach.
Though We Are All Stars touches upon their earliest roots and desire to move in a less DJ-oriented direction, that isn’t to say Tube & Berger ditch the housier stylings that they build their careers on completely. “Ruckus,” the third Richard Judge track on the LP, ties lush percussion and forlorn guitars together and inserts them into a deep house canvas. Soulful vocal samples and fluttering kicks line “Fetzen,” while the dark, scintillating “International Corporate Motherfuckers” is built for the peaktime. The aforementioned song’s tense feeling and angry connotations speak to alternative, punk nature embedded in Tube & Berger’s psyches.
The boys summate all the themes present in their new album with its closer, “Loyando.” It opens with intriguing baby samples before transforming into a mature piece bursting with far-out melodies and distinctive sample which traverses through multiple zones of house and breaks.
Ultimately, We Are All Stars is perhaps Tube & Berger’s most well-balanced work to date, harnessing their prowess in production and prior musical training to present a tidy and cohesive package of compositions that will guide them smoothly into the new, live-focused era of their career that they envision for themselves.
Ferry Corsten is undoubtedly one of the most prominent, catalyzing forces behind the trance genre. The veteran Dutch producer seems to have been around forever, with an illustrious career spanning almost three decades – a tenure which can feel like three lifetimes in dance music years. Over time, Corsten’s evolution as a producer has been evident and fluid, with each passing album serving as a landmark in his journey. However his latest LP, Blueprint, is perhaps his most ambitious undertaking to date, as it aims to transcend the barriers of traditional trance confines and deliver a more wholesome, well-rounded package to fans.
Beyond the concept and execution, what elevates Blueprint even further is the way in which the record serves as a portal into the seasoned producer’s psyche; a true labor of love that showcases his willingness to constantly innovate despite having no compulsion to consciously push himself to such lengths.
What instantly distinguishes Corsten’s latestLP is the album’s astute usage of voiceover intros/outros for most of the tracks. Not only does this serve as a major differentiating factor with concrete marketability, but also gives the album a definite story line, making the process of listening to Blueprint a significantly more immersive and enjoyable experience.
Another highlight within the album’s complexion is the theme chosen by Corsten. A sci-fi setting for the collection’s narrative allows the author to tether humanity’s collective fascination with the final frontier to get his subliminal message across in a sophisticated, and inventive manner.
In examining the actual music, an intriguing aspect of Blueprint is how each song is anchored to a mood. A feeling is cemented within the listener by use of expertly constructed audio dialogue, courtesy of acclaimed screenwriter David H Miller. The album’s introductory track, “Reception” is the perfect illustration of this. The mysterious cinematic music is capably matched by an equally enigmatic monologue, immediately invoking a motif of suspense. This concept is a bit of a masterstroke in itself, sparking the listener’s imagination and curiosity and thus ensuring audience engagement as the album progresses.
Corsten has paid evidently close attention to nailing the album’s other-worldly sound design, perhaps best exemplified in the album’s titular track “Blueprint.” The meticulousness weaved into the drums and chord progressions is immediately apparent, making the tun supremely enjoyable and easily one of the record’s strongest offerings. Another high point across the 17-track collection is “Vee’s Theme.” Its uplifting undertones are capable of raising the energy levels of any dance floor; a sonic characteristic mirrored by “Trust” as well.
Blueprint also features its fair share of powerful, driving, instant-classics inspired by old-school sounds. A quintessential trance cut, “Wherever You Are” falls into this category, featuring a heavy bass line and quintessentially Trance, high-pitched synths, perfectly suited for large, open venues due to its infectious energy and atmospheric bass. But the most energetic track on the album is “Drum’s A Weapon,” a hard-hitting tech-trance beast with a dark, warbling bass line, vigorous 138 bpm beats and unmistakably evil synths; a throwback to a forgotten time where such music was the norm in Trance festivals worldwide.
While majority of the tracks are Trance, Ferry Corsten has strategically placed a few tasteful future bass tracks in the mix as well namely, “Here We Are,” “Piece Of You,” and “Reanimate.” Intriguingly, Blueprint also features a progressive house single, “World Beyond,” that clearly takes a leaf out of the legendary Deadmau5’s production book in both its configuration and sound design, delivering nine minutes of pure tranquility.
After listening to Blueprint, it’s apparent that the LP has a rather beautiful split personality- on one hand it can be viewed as a perfectly well produced album with serene music and well thought out, interactive dialogue and lyrics. On the other, it is a message that highlights and attempts to solve the glaring problems faced by humanity. Ferry Corsten has managed to communicate ideals of tolerance, love and peace – ergonomically packaged in the form a serene love story between Lucas and Vee.
After two decades of constant touring and prolific production, it would make sense if the members of Infected Mushroom were starting to show signs of exhaustion. Many long-time fans of the band have pointed to some of their recent work as evidence of them losing their innovative edge. Then again, when has any artist or band ever changed their sound and not had doubters?
With their latest album, Return to the Sauce, they aimed to show their avid worldwide fan base that they don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
Interestingly, the first track of the album, “Flamingo,” lands square in the mid-tempo range, which is not exactly the “sauce” that listeners might expect. For good reason, the legendary production team of Erez Eisen and Amit “Devdev” Duvdevani decided to use the first two tracks to ease the listener into the maws of psytrance, as coming in right off the bat into intense 140+ bpm can be jarring to many.
Additionally, Infected Mushroom’s best work is about the journey, not simply spewing the loudest, quickest beats possible – though they are certainly capable of doing that. It can be said that the energy of psytrance is something that, in order to be understood and appreciated, must be built up – exactly what the first two tracks accomplish.
The title track, as the name suggests, steps it up a notch, leading the listener into psytrance territory. The staccato bass that has been a staple of Infected Mushroom tracks for decades holds down the fast groove with fervor, which continues on throughout the remaining six tracks.
The album, along with a host of new psytrance songs, offers variances of two tracks from the large Infected Mushroom repertoire: a revamp of their 2000 remix of Xerox’s “Gravity Waves,” and a psytrance version of “Demons of Pain,” a downtempo vocal track from their 2015 album Converting Vegetarians II. Combining the old and the new, these two remixes represent a span of 15 years of history – an eternity in the entertainment industry.
One of the skills that has, and continues to, set Infected Mushroom apart from any other artist or band is their ability to tell a story with each piece of music and keep that story interesting for a very long time. The longest song on the album, “Milosh,” clocks in at almost eleven minutes of play time, although when listening it doesn’t feel long or drawn out.
Similarly, the structure of the last two tracks on Return to the Sauce, “Nutmeg” and “Liquid Smoke,” give a nod to classics such as “Cities of the Future,” “Heavyweight,” and “Deeply Disturbed.” In each of these, Infected Mushroom drives a constant progression that weaves multiple themes, each with its own section of rhythmic and sound design elements that could easily be complete songs on their own.
If anything can be taken away from this album, it’s that Infected Mushroom never strayed too far from psytrance. It was their innovation in the sub-genre that turned them into one of Israel’s best-selling artists of all time. As mentioned above, it is true with any band that’s been around for decades that there will be naysayers at every corner. However, Return to the Sauce is a reminder that Erez and Duvdev mastered the art and science of production long ago. Thus, they can easily bring back the signature sound and style of Infected Mushroom’s “golden days,” andthensome.
There’s a common series of complaints leveled against electronic music- that it all sounds the same, and that it takes little skill to create. While these types of comments are enough to make those of us invested in the scene see red, one has to acknowledge that these complaints do have a undercurrent of truth to them. The possibilities and ease of use of modern DAWs have opened up the process of electronic music making to the masses; one need no longer spend years training and honing their craft to get a record contract when they can turn out radio-ready tunes with a free Soundcloud profile and a 15 minute Ableton tutorial video.
Largely, this democratization is a good thing; more opportunity means more diversity and creativity in the scene, allowing more voices to be heard. But, all too often, the same tools that are used by one producer to break barriers are used by others as a crutch, a way to fill the space where talent and vision should reside. Thankfully, if there’s one thing that Bonobo has demonstrated over the course of his nearly 20-year career, it’s that he is, without a doubt, in the former category. The electronica producer, real name Simon Green, is one of the brilliant minority of producers that is always moving forward, and always pushing his sound in new and interesting ways. Green’s latest album, Migration, show no signs of slowing down.
Migration is Bonobo’s sixth LP, and with that kind of career, most artists would be content to rest on their laurels, to settle on the sound that made them popular and resist change. But Bonobo has steadfastly refused to be complacent, and on his newest album, his style has evolved to its most tightly-coiled and intelligent form yet. A truly innovative producer, Green treats all of sound as his instrument, and he plays it with a confident, refreshing virtuosity.
The title track opens the album with gentle piano notes the rise out from a bed of colorful evolving textures, filling out with layers of vocals chops and gleaming cymbal hits and eventually growing into a radiant, ambient beat that wouldn’t be out of place on Tycho’s Epoch. “Kerala” takes simple harp and vocal samples and plays them backwards and forewords on top of each other to otherworldly effect. Even when the album overplays its hand, like on the overstuffed 8-minute odyssey “Outlier,” the result is never boring. A bit distracting and noisy, perhaps, but always changing, always moving.
The guest vocalists on the album manage to be effective and impactful without drawing attention from the main attraction. Rhye’s Milosh is airy and serene on “Break Apart,” while Hundred Waters’ Nicole Miglis is the perfect addition to the dreamy, echoing “Surface.” Even the newly christened Nick Murphy (formerly known as Chet Faker) brings a delicacy and affect to “No Reason” that he often reaches for on his own songs, without giving in to the melodrama that occasionally plagues his solo work.
As consistently interesting and technically compelling as Migration is, it isn’t perfect, at times seemingly afraid to be as adventurous as it would like. The best parts of the album are those when it embraces its weirdness, and branches out eagerly into peculiarity. The delightfully off-kilter “Grains” comes to mind, which opens with a stuttering chorus of modulated vocal cuts, and builds tension with distorted strings and halting, irregular percussion. It’s a strange song, engrossing and exciting precisely because it’s so different.
“Bambo Koyo Ganda,” likewise makes the unusual marriage of Moroccan gnawa music and a funky house beat an infectious success, and the album’s highpoint, “Ontario,” manages to bring together a lush chords, skittering drum rolls, buzzing sound effects, and a sitar melody into one congruent, delirious soundscape. But even at its most nonsensical, Migration feels slightly tempered, a bit restrained. Its sonic experiments, its departures from convention, are what make this album interesting, and one is left wishing that it had embraced this more, that it had taken more risks, and jumped head first into the bizarre, kaleidoscopic vision it hints at in its best moments.
But these complaints are relatively minor, and perhaps particular to the listener. There are no real weak spots on the album, just places for improvement, and the sheer technical scope of it is admirable in and of itself. Migration is Bonobo at the height of his powers, the culmination of a long careers worth of progress, success, and evolution. It’s a vivd and complete album, well thought out and executed with style. Not even the harshest of critics could say that it is unoriginal or unimpressive, and we cannot wait to see what Bonobo does next.
When The xx emerged on the scene with their self-titled debut album in 2009, they did so with a sound and vision so perfectly suited to what it sought to express that they came across like a band that had been fine-tuning their craft for decades. That album, and its 2012 follow-up, Coexist, proved that the London trio were the real deal – undisputed masters of their own signature brand of delicate, almost painfully intimate indie pop. But even a sound as expertly constructed as The xx’s can grow tired if it doesn’t evolve. Thankfully, The xx have evaded the potential of stagnation with their dutifully developed third LP. I See You is a work of such remarkable sound design and flawless execution that, if any doubts remained as to the band’s longevity, they have been emphatically been silenced.
The album’s opener, “Dangerous,” signals the trio’s stylistic evolution from its very first notes. Bright, crisp horns give way to a surprisingly buoyant house beat that may be the most club-ready thing the group has produced to date. Where previously they would build a mood with sparse, skeletal harmonies, I See You finds The xx thickening their sound, writing more complex arrangements out of larger, fuller components. This choice pays off spectacularly, thanks largely in part to the efforts of percussionist and producer Jamie xx, who turned heads and made his mark as a solo artist with 2015’s sparkling In Colour.
The stylistic diversity and technical acumen that made Jamie’s solo record such a triumph find more of a home in I See You than on previous band releases. The production on I See You is every bit as deft and inspired as its creator’s solo work, pumping new life and warmth into Oliver and Romy’s pristine melodies. The band’s previous efforts were so spare and crystalline that they might have shattered if grasped too hard, but this newest opus is anchored in heavier layers, intricately textured, and vividly alive.
The xx have always dealt in the ethereal. Their best songs are often their most simple, as if the emotions they’re trying to convey are so complicated, vast, and profound that they can only be communicated in the faintest of whispers. At their best, The xx make every single note seem essential and inevitable, and they conjure a sense of vulnerability so affecting that listening to it almost feels like an act of violation. Longtime fans need not fret – the atmospheric melancholy of I See You is as potent and haunting as anything in their catalogue. On “Performance” in particular, Romy’s guitar sounds like its echoing through an empty cathedral, her voice flutters over trembling strings with the remarkably contrasting character of blissful heartbreak.
These soft-spoken ballads would be more than at home on either of the two previous xx records, but their presence on I See You, juxtaposed with the broad richness of the album’s more energetic cuts, makes them, and the album as a whole, that much more impactful. The measured stomp of ‘Lips’ and limitless crescendo of ‘A Violent Noise’ are even more powerful in contrast to each other than they would be taken alone, or if the album were more structurally rigid. This album has conflict, motion, variation, and a sense of playfulness that was lacking from the band’s earlier output. It uses its complexity to cover a wider spectrum of color and feeling, and by doing so each moment is felt more deeply.
I See You is so harmonious and assured that it comes across as a work of consummate collaboration. No one sound, sentiment, or band member upstages another. Instead, the fully collaborative work offers up a succession of dualities: presence and absence, heartbreak and hopefulness, ambition and restraint, and reflection and levity. Over the album’s course, these dichotomies proceeds to play each off the other until the borders blur and, ultimately, dissolve. Every facet, from the drum beats to the vocal harmonies, fit together in effortless unity. Any listeners capable of extracting themselves from the end product’s gravity will find that the sheer technical brilliance of the songwriting alone enough to evoke pure wonderment.
I See You is a good album. It’s the kind of good that is readily called great, and aspires to perfection. Premature and impulsive though it undoubtedly is to say, it’s the kind of work that will likely come to be called a masterpiece. So effortless is it, so emotionally engaging and unfailingly, achingly human, that it transcends the time and place of its origins and reaches for the eternal. Only two weeks in to 2017, The xx have delivered what, in all likelihood, will be a contender for the year’s best album.