We're back with our periodical single and EP column, with a fine selection of recently released vinyl extended play records, in impeccable editions and meant for DJs and lovers, in this case, of techno and house. Cream, crop.
September is usually fetish month for dance music lovers. After the August draught, the bins in the record stores fill up with new fixes for the vinyl junkies. However, choosing becomes more painful a process, what with all the abundance of releases, so being able to separate the great from the essential is more important than ever. In comes this column, which we'll finish by the end of the month, with a second part about the crop of the coming two weeks, or simply the titles we couldn't fit into this chapter (told you September is a month of abundance in record releases). So let's start our quest with two slabs of wax that will most likely be on the highest spot of the upcoming end of year lists, and we'll finish with a much-needed reissue. In between is a highly varied selection that takes us from the rawness of Delroy Edwards to the exuberance of North Lake, from new values like Inkswel to household names like Theo Parrish, and from the rediscovery of doomed geniuses like The Trash Company to a new encounter with a Mathew Jonson on top form.
Blawan: “His He She & She” (Hinge Finger, HINF8674, 12”)
In its first year, Hinge Finger have now released two of the most anticipated records of this year. After Joy Orbison's much-awaited “Ellipsis”, the platform directed by Will Bankhead and Joy O himself is now releasing Blawan's “His He She & She”, an EP that has had people drooling ever since the Briton played two of its tracks at the Boiler Room. The songs in question are “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage” and “His Money”, two monsters on which he takes his oppressive and mechanical vision on techno to the next level. In both cases, the key is in the manipulation of vocal samples taken from Fugees' “How Many Mics”, which add a disturbing, dehumanised component to the sinister constructions of relentless rhythms and asphyxiating bass lines. “And Both His Sons” follows he same line, but this time it connects the dots between the spirit of jacking and Berghain at peak time. And just when you think things couldn't get more twisted, in comes “His Daughters”, a deconstruction of all of the above, on which Blawan takes away the beat, but doubles up on the drama. As a whole, this EP is like taking a stroll through the mind of a blood-thirsty madman; you know you'll probably find some unpleasantness on your way, but you can't help but sniff out all of its dark corners. One of the EPs of the year, that much is clear.
Bicep: “Visions Of Love” (Feel My Bicep, FMB001, 12”)
2012 is a big year for Bicep. The final confirmation, however, comes with this “Visions Of Love”. With this title, they're premiering their own label, Feel My Bicep (named after their highly recommendable blog, by the way), stressing what they already pointed out with their release “$tripper”: if anyone convincingly represents the Jersey house revival, it's them. Though the formula is well-known, the Belfast duo's secret is in the balance between the evocation of the classic spirit on the emotional side, and a production that is sharp enough not to sound simply retro. The title track is the paradigm of this idea; garage-like rhythms, Korg M1 pianos, and perfectly assembled vocal samples; simple and devastating, as the best house has always been. On the flip, two cuts on which Jersey house is even more accentuated, with “Keep Keep” following the wake of aforementioned “$tripper”, and “ Getcha Boi” featuring some quite brilliant trumpets. They're not doing anything new, but they do it so fantastically well that you simply must leave your money in the store and your soles on the dance floor.
Delroy Edwards: “4 Club Use Only” (L.I.E.S., LIES015, 12”)
If there's anything that characterises the music released by the increasingly prolific L.I.E.S. Label, it's, apart from an analogue sound, raw energy. First-timer Derloy Edwards feels right at home in this environment. His Soundcloud page is full of productions that simply ooze ghetto rawness, whether their juke or house, but with the particularity of being slightly emo (Frank Ocean edits, song titles like “Heart And Soul” and “Loves Goes On and On”). This juxtaposition of sensibilities is what we hear on his first EP, “4 Club Use Only”. Distorted 909 beats and super sharp hi-hats live together as one with deep pads and tinkling melodies, resulting in a brand of deep-ghetto that aims to destroy the dance floor and be deeply evocative at the same time. Delroy, we want more.
Heatsick: “Convergence” (Rush Hour, RHD-004SICK, 12”)
With the excellent “Déviation EP”, Steven Warwick, alias Heatsick, a veteran on the underground noise scene, took a turn towards a colourful and blurry kind of deep-house. Now, with “Convergence”, on Rush Hour, he's confirming his wish to make dance music. In order to do so, he's using drum machines for the first time (i.e. apart from those incorporated in the synthesisers) and feeds his tracks with a more raw energy, yet still maintaining the naive-exotic melodies. It makes songs like the title track and “The Juggler” sound like Legowelt situating one of his conceptual projects in a theme park. “Benelux”, on the other hand, is the most convincing and DJ-friendly cut here, especially halfway through, when the vigorous bass and crazy pianos take control.
The Trash Company: “Having Fun” (Peoples Potential Unlimited, PPU-041, 12”)
The story of Max Monroe, the brains behind The Trash Company, is one of those between myth and misfortune that underground music knows quite a few of. Born on a highway between Baltimore and Richmond, suffering from synaesthesia (having a fellow patient in Aphex Twin), he recorded one single at the end of the 70s. Since then, however, he's kept on recording music, and recently, PPU (who else?) brought him back into the limelight with the release of the 7” “Pluto”, his first release in 30 years. Now, the Washington, DC label is presenting “Having Fun”, a 12” featuring the two tracks from that single, and three new Monroe productions. His music sounds alien and lo-fi, sometimes cosmic ( “Pluto”), sometimes tremendously shy and pitch-black ( “For The Hook”, “Bigga Man”). Others are expansive and radiant ( “Having Fun”), and, in cases like “I Don't Mind”, strangely catchy. Top class psychedelic funk all around.
Inkswel: “Unthank004” (Unthank, UNTHANK004, 10”)
We know little about Inkswel, apart from the fact that he's one of the agitators of the club scene in his native Melbourne. We do know he's crazy about all thinks funk, boogie, disco and house. He confirms so himself on his releases for labels like Boogie Bash (highly recommendable: last year's “Glass Tear Groove”) and Superior Elevation. His next 10” on Unthank, subsidiary label of Firecracker, is possibly his best release to date. Opening track “Do It” is a dark boogie piece on which the drum machines sound so sharp, they're more reminiscent of the rawness of Chicago house than of disco. On “Tu Machito”, he embraces some Latin exoticness alongside Chico Mann, shaping a track on which electro and Afro-Cuban sound go hand in hand, to very convincing results. On the other side, “LFO Bounce” returns to the boogie, this time on a more psychedelic tip. A lysergic component reinforced on the remix by the always spot-on FunkinEven, who stresses the beat and bass lines, and adds his own guttural vocals. As said, recommendable from the first groove to the last.
Mathew Jonson: “Panna Cotta” (Itiswhatitis Recordings, IIWII015, 12”)
Itiswhatitis was the compilation of Mathew Jonson's first productions from the early noughties. That's when he released, among others, “Typerope”, the track that launched him to fame. That was 2003, the label closed its doors in 2007, and now Jonson has brought it back to life, as the sole owner. The first result of this new chapter is the single “Panna Cotta / Passage to the Other Side”. However, to be honest, the last term that comes to mind when you put the needle on the record is “new”. And the label confirms it; these two tracks were recorded in Vancouver in 2003, before our man moved to Berlin at its most creative, the time when monster tracks like “Decompression”, “Behind The Mirror”, and the immortal “Marionette” came out. In fact, “Panna Cotta” is reminiscent of that pearl of collective hypnotism. Of course, it's not as magic (it wasn't discarded for nothing), but it's still one of the best tunes Jonson has released in years. On the other side, “Passage To The Other Side” echoes tracks like “Folding Space”, a re-encounter with his trademark endless unfoldings, and those unmistakable, almost sinister melodies.
Theo Parrish: “Hand Made” (Running Back, RB036, 12”)
Theo Parrish is not prone to releasing original productions on European labels. In fact, Running Back gets kind of stuck halfway, as “Black Mist”, the main track on this “Hand Made”, already appeared on “Sketches”, which Parrish released on Sound Signature in 2010. This, though, is an extended version of eight minutes, which makes it all the more psychotic and obsessive. Built around a relentless beat and a dusty bass line, it's not one of the Detroit master's most brilliant tracks, but it will do a very fine job on the right dance floor. Because, in spite of it being somewhat monolithic, it maintains Parrish's trademark vivacity. Something we can't say about “Pop Off”, where its revolving around a funk sample guided by a piano becomes somewhat insipid, if you compare it to his usual sample mastery. Inspiration comes back on “Wild Out”, a highly experimental piece woven from what seems to be a synthesiser on the verge of exploding, and driven by rhythms like an abstract version of the beefy ghetto house beats.
North Lake: “Journey To The Center Of The Sun” (Resista, nr.005, 12”)
So far, the Resista label, owned by the Phonica record store, has been specialising in edits and remixes with an Afro flavour. But its fifth title is by Detroit producer North Lake, who also changes his sound for the occasion. While until now his productions had been focusing on a brand of techno between minimal and dub, this time he slows things down, and gives us two compositions that sound much more organic. The key is in “Journey To The Center Of The Sun”, an exuberant track which, through its lethargic tempo, cacophonous strings, submerged vocals and lush melodies, sounds like an obscurantist version of the neo-Balearic psychedelia of people like Gala Drop. On the flip, “Insomnia” goes a bit faster, and sounds like a claustrophobic and even sandier version of Four Tet. All in all, one of the most pleasant surprises of this late summer.
The Nathaniel X Project: “E.P.” (Slow To Speak, COR E.94.P/Q, 12”)
While we started with a fine recreation of the Jersey house sound, we're finishing with an original EP from that era. Continuing on its quest to unearth gems of American house history, Slow To Speak is reissuing the first EP by The Nathaniel X Project, aka James. N. Tinsley. While not very prolific (three releases in twelve years), his first two records (this one, and his “Resurrxion EP”) are essential for any follower of warm and refined deep-house. What we find on these four tracks is explained by the producer himself on “ Free Yourself”; “deep jazz chords and a smooth bassline over a danceable rhythm”. The recipe is repeated over the course of the four songs, all similar to one another, in their forms, but most of all in their seductive power. As usual with Slow To Speak, this is a high-quality reissue, mastered from the original DAT tapes, and pressed on heavyweight vinyl. This also means that its price is somewhat higher than your average EP, but it's well worth it.