03/19/2006: "musique nonstop."
It should probably come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I'm big into music. I spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to keep up with every new release that comes out. I listen to music during about 75% to 90% of my waking hours. Seriously--my shower plays Triple R Selection 4. There's not a moment when I'm not thinking about music. Once, when I was a miserable graduate student, I tried to stop listening to music for 24 hours in an experiment that you can read about here, and it felt so weird and horrible that I was literally counting down the minutes until the experiment was over. Pure torture.
I keep up with everything that's happening in Berlin by remote control. How do I do it? Well, there are a few blogs and websites, and then of course there's ILM and my browser's "reload" button--I realized recently that I've been posting to ILM for six years, which is eons in interweb-time! I check Groove and De:Bug online, especially for the DJ charts and the reviews section, but it's not as good as getting the magazines off the stands the way you can in Germany, and they don't update fast enough for me. Also Groove comes with a good CD compilation every month that's free with the mag; I wish they could put the mp3s on their website!
Then every week I go to the Hard Wax website and read about all the new 12" releases for the week. Christ you don't know how hard this is. The Hard Wax website gives you one hilarious sentence of information about each release--they're very minimal--and it always reads something like this: "Upbuilding atmospheric tech-house -- TIP!" or "Crispy groovin' clicks'n'cuts -- TIP!" or "DJ-friendly bleepin' 909 driven techno -- TIP!" or "Drum and bass flavored dubstep -- KILLER!" In ten years, if all the publications I write for keep slashing the word counts the way they have been, all music reviews will look like this. Anyway, then I figure out what sounds good, and try to get my hands on it somehow--I get some promos and fill in the rest of the blanks using other methods. Forced Exposure, which distributes a lot of German labels, is a lifeline in the US for music obsessives like me, along with Boomkat and Phonica in the UK.
Hard Wax, based out of Berlin, is one of the best record stores in the world by my reckoning, if you dig the music that goes thump in the night. I've been there in person several times, but to be honest I usually feel too intimidated to shop there. First off, I'm a girl and I don't see many other girls in there like me. Then, I get sad because there are so many amazing records and I don't have the money to buy more than one or two of them. But also it's because every famous DJ shops at Hard Wax, and I'm no Ricardo Villalobos, with an assistant to carry my purchases and the rights to get baked while I shop--I'm not even a DJ! The atmosphere feels really hallowed and German and serious--it's like a church in there, the Basic Channel temple to techno music--so every time I'm there I always try to crack a joke to loosen things up a bit. One time I asked the guy working the counter if I could have the Underground Resistance shirt he was wearing because I thought it looked cool. He said no, but not before informing me gleefully that he had two of the exact same shirt! Man, don't fuck with Berlin and the diehard, intense passion those guys have for Underground Resistance. Sometimes I think there are more Underground Resistance fans in Kreuzberg than there are in the entire United States of America. But that's what's cool about Germans--they totally appreciate the stuff that most of America doesn't give a shit about, even though we make the stuff! Take Environ, for instance. Beautiful music, wonderful label--it makes me proud to live in New York. I've met people in Germany who worship Environ, who track every release and think that Morgan Geist is a supergod. It's touching in a way--they care about Detroit techno as much as Juan Atkins or Kevin Saunderson does; at Hard Wax, shitty original paper-thin pressings of amazing old Trax records from Chicago hang on the wall like priceless museum paintings; Los Angeles is important not because of Hollywood but because minimal-techno hero John Tejada lives there; when you say you're from New York they ask you with wide-eyed awe if you're into Nu Groove, as if it was still raging today (By the way, Best of Nu Groove Vol. 1 got released on vinyl last week and it rules -- TIP!)
T.I. - What You Know About That [Big major label]
Brilliant and life-affirming hip-hop tune that sounds like what would happen if Atlanta merged with Border Community to make the ultimate crunked-out trance anthem. After a diet of pretty much nothing except '60s jazz, German techno, and disco and house instrumental and dub versions, the ungainly, angry lyrics, the big, lumbering Americanness of it, and the way T.I. says "r" in words, with that hard, heavy "r"--"But you's a scary dude/Believed by very few/Just keep it very cool/Or we will bury you"--hit like a heavy punch to the stomach. Majestic, pathos-drenched synth strings padding the lyrics make everything sound over-the-top heartbreaking and emotional in a huge, widescreen way. The most gay hip-hop anthem that's come out of the Dirty South in forever. For fans of Lil Jon and the Pet Shop Boys.
John Tejada - Asanebo [Poker Flat]
In twenty years, when I'm eating astronaut ice cream and beaming myself into extra dimensions, I hope that "Sweat (On the Walls)" is what's playing on the spaceship's oldies radio station. This guy is inspiring--if I knew how to make techno, I would try to make music that sounded something like this. 'Asanebo' is the B-side to 'Big City Music', which came out last month on Poker Flat. Tejada is billed as 'minimal'--whatever--a lot of the stuff he does is the most intensely maximal, musical, anthemic stuff I've ever heard. I found 'Big City Music' a little boring; it's a big banger with a hard, looping riff that sounds tailor-made to rock both the minimal-techno and the electro-house party. But if 'Big City Music' is ready-to-wear, 'Asanebo' is haute couture--a lithe psychedelic techno number that shimmers in all the right places, with shades of Luciano, Steve Barnes circa 'Cosmic Sandwich,' and Superpitcher circa 'Fieber.' Go buy this now.
Ricardo Villalobos - Que Belle Epoque 2006 [Frisbee Tracks]
I'm still shocked by how much this guy can rock when he's thinking about the floor instead of getting lost inside the cavernous recesses of his brain. This is about as straight-up anthemic as Villalobos is likely to get--enjoy it while it lasts! That said I loved the Achso EP (especially 'Sieso') but I can't imagine moving to it (even though Luciano's new Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi Vol. 2 mix presents convincing evidence otherwise.) But this--this has diva vocals! (Granted, they're not in English and they sound like they're from space, but still!) And it has something vaguely approaching a normal oonce-oonce-oonce-oonce!
Allez Allez - Allez Allez (Lindstrom and Prins Thomas remix) (unreleased)
Ah, Lindstrom and Prins Thomas. Those wonderful space-disco heroes...actually, you know what? Fuck you guys! Damn you for releasing so many records and remixes and being so good! I don't know how to keep up with their burgeoning oeuvre without becoming a full-time Lindstromologist. I have this same problem with the Wighnomy Brothers and with Dominik Eulberg. Seriously, you guys, just stop, take a break, go take a walk in the park or something! No one can keep up with you!
Pier Bucci - L'Nuit (Dominik Eulberg remix) [Crosstown Rebels]
Speaking of Eulberg, that wonder boy from Bonn has remixed so many people now that I almost invariably end up ending all of my sentences with the words "(Dominik Eulberg remix)." Like, what did you have for lunch today? Oh, I had some pasta (Dominik Eulberg remix). How was it? It was good (Dominik Eulberg remix). I've had mixed feelings about this guy as of late -- his new collaboration with Gabriel Ananda has some good ideas, but on the whole it's pretty boring and cluttered, I think -- but this is awesome! Graceful without being precious, plip-ploppy without being slight or dull, spaced-out without being distant, groovy without being predictable--but most importantly, it totally slams in high gear. The world needs more Eulberg/Bucci tracks and it needs them now.
Booka Shade - Mandarine Girl (Konrad/Troy/Heartthrob remix) [Get Physical]
The original 'Mandarine Girl' is tremendously bouncy and upbeat, relying on a big, jubilant major-key riff; this remix, masterminded by Konrad Black and two M-nus minimal techno producers, surgically removes the riff and makes it darker, weirder, and more abstract. At first I read it as, ha ha, we're so cool and minimal, we're going to kill all the "pop music" in this song, and I hated that. Then I gradually warmed up to the remix; now I think it's great. It really is almost a completely different tune, and it really starts burning up about three minutes in. Very nice.
Sleeparchive - Radio Transmission EP [Sleeparchive]
Modeselektor - Hello Mom! Remixes [Bpitch]
Awesome Full-length Albums:
Luciano - Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi Vol. 2 [Soma]
More on this later!
Aphex Twin - Chosen Lords [Rephlex]
More on this later!
Best of Nu Groove Vol. 1
Anthology of Noise and Electronic Music Vol. 4 [Sub Rosa]
Wish this was higher on the "noise" than the "electronic music," but this double-CD set, featuring stalwarts like Ligeti and Reich and Lucier alongside current art-world faves like Stephen Vitiello and less obvious picks like Ratkje and Vivenza, is hard to argue with. Plus, Disc 2, which is completely eclipsed by the bonkers psych-punk-noize onslaught of a 1977 live recording of Les Rallizes Denudes, reminded me--powerfully--that Les Rallizes Denudes were the greatest band of the 1970s (next to Chic, of course.)
I Don't Really Like This
Tomas Andersson - Copy Cat [Bpitch]
I dunno, a single or two aside, this guy always sounds like a wannabe Vitalic to my ears. Sometimes I think he has a synth with one patch on it labeled "BIG CRUNCHY ELECTRO-HOUSE--BANGIN'". In this post-"Rocker" era, there's been a rash of producers who seem to have realized that looping a riff that sounds like a mobile-phone-ringtone for six minutes over a clomping 4/4 beat is the way to go. So back to the Vitalic comparison. I think Vitalic is a genius. In his best tunes--"La Rock 01", "Poney Pt 1", "Poney Pt 2", etc--he relies heavily on tools of conventional songcraft. He organizes his techno tracks like great rock songs, with a verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure and tightly controlled breakdowns. This is why Vitalic, judging by my firsthand observations at least, crosses over well between the rock and the techno crowds. I think I wrote in my Vitalic review for the Voice way back when that hearing a Vitalic tune in the middle of an otherwise lifeless DJ set is like dunking your head into a bucket of ice water while getting zapped in the chest with a defibrillator. You can't not respond to them. Even with tracks like "La Rock 01" which are pretty much all chorus--all sugary icing, no cake--he never just loops a riff and then presses stop after five minutes, and never relies completely on that tried-and-true trick that Andersson and other producers cane to death, which is to loop the main riff for eight or so bars and then loop the same riff one--or if you're being especially cheeky, two--octaves higher, sending the crowd into predictable euphoria. This is why Andersson is boring and Vitalic isn't. Incidentally I saw Vitalic do a live set the other night and he was predictably fantastic, and "La Rock" (which he extended for about ten minutes) still sounded fabulous even though I've heard it about five thousand times since I first heard it in 2001.
Dominik Eulberg/Gabriel Ananda - Harzer Roller [Traum]
Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass is Always Greener [Monika]
Axel Bartsch - Redlight [Kompakt]
I don't know--this just sounds so generic, pro forma Kompakt to me. It's like a seamless combination of all the most obvious Kompakt stylistic elements -- that studied Kompakt glide, the steely yet spacious Reinhard Voigt-style neo-trance, the darkly romantic quality of Superpitcher. Any potentially colorful elements in the mix get homogenized into something indistinguishable and monochrome. My favorite thing about Kompakt right now is the Orb!
Worst Tune of 2006!
Nicky Siano - Kiss Me Again (2006 full original version)
Dinosaur's 'Kiss Me Again'--originally produced by Arthur Russell and Nicky Siano--is, hands down, one of the best disco songs of all time. The musicians on the track included Arthur Russell on cello, David Byrne on guitars, dudes whose names escape me on drums and bass and a woman named Myriam Valle on the sublime vocals. There are plenty of odd mixes of this song but none of them are as shameful and horrible as this new one, in which Siano remakes 'Kiss Me Again' into 'how it was meant to sound', using some original elements but re-recording others to make a dreadfully cluttered, unlistenable thirteen-minute horror-medley of clashing sonics. The most egregious error was re-recording the original vocal with a dreadfully over-the-top and melisma-ridden larynx workout, replete with ornate new flourishes and a slightly altered melody, that irreparably ruins the song. Part of the genius of the original tune is that, as beautiful and sad and celebratory and desperate as the vocal sounded, it doesn't rule the song--it's one sonic element along with many other sonic elements, and every person jamming on the track has their turn. The original tune is so generous, so endlessly giving in its riches, that I don't suspect I'll ever get sick of it, and don't suppose I ever will. As for this tragic 2006 reworking--Jesus wept!
Second worst tune of 2006!
The Prodigy - Wake the Fuck Up
I don't understand why the Prodigy is still around. The last Prodigy album I bought (soon after it came out!) was Music for the Jilted Generation in 1995, so I can't claim I've been following the Prodigy closely since then, outside of the obvious MTV singles. But this...this sounds like what Limp Bizkit would do if they had meth and a copy of Reason 3.0. Apparently this tune makes its unsightly debut on the new Liam Howlett 'Back to Mine' disc. Errr....