Recommended EPs: Ten Titles You Should Have In Your Collection

A new column dedicated to the wonderful world of vinyl (and digital) EPs, full of new goodness.

Is the monthly dose of EPs we offer you here not enough for you? Do you want more? Well here's a new column that will give you more good shit, ten pieces at a time.

Hello. This is a new PlayGround column about EPs, that is, about records that are released (mainly on vinyl, but also on digital, and sometimes on CD, cassette or more extravagant formats) but become snowed under by the avalanche of new titles reaching the stores week after week. There's so much, a man just has to do some filtering, there's no other option. Of course, regular readers will say, and with reason, that I shouldn't be a drama queen about it, as we publish EP reviews on a daily basis. Well, yes, but even so, many titles are left out every day, for lack of space and time. Therefore, because we feel that the EP should be treated with motherly love, here are ten extra shots of recent, daring, quality electronic music for your record shelves or hard drive.

As well as being a new column, it's also irregular, in the sense that it's not bound to any schedule. It will be written when there's material to comment on, more or less every two weeks, in order not to miss a trick when it comes to the tiny (but important in the long term) movements in the deep underground. So if you want EPs, take these brothers and sisters, may they serve you well.

Blawan: “Long Distance Open Water Worker” [Black Sun Records, 12”, BSR05]

Jamie Roberts had a busy 2011, with five singles released under his name (from the electroid “Bohla EP” on R&S to the very toxic “Getting Me Down”, with the acid trip of “What You Do With What You Have” in between), and we were already starting to miss him in 2012. It's a good thing Mary Ann Hobbs took him out of his silence and guided him to Sónar, coinciding with the release of “Long Distance Open Water Worker”, another techno assault that will leave you flabbergasted because of a) the brutality with which Blawan unleashes the beats and then pisses streams of 303 all over them ( “6 To 6 Lick” even adds a bit of blood to the brew), a reason to call him Dave Clake's legal heir, and b) the dirtiness of the sound, all filthy, opaque and meant to cloud your ears ( “Grafter Gets A Home” is like torture with electrodes, and “Breathe Them Knees In” is like a hard and blunt object up the derrière). I don't want him in my neighbourhood, but he's welcome on my turntables.

Perc: “A New Brutality” [Perc Trax, digital, TPT053]

Speaking of unwanted people in the neighbourhood, Alistair Wells is another one: judging from his sound, he must be the kind of guy who stores handsaws and jerry-cans of industrial solvent in his basement, and a couple of rolls of plastic, just in case. And to think there was a time when Perc Trax was a progressive house label, following in the footsteps of Border Community (their second title was Avus' “Fancy Arse”, with a tremendous acid remix by James Holden). That has changed. Now, Perc Trax is releasing rusty, dog-faced techno, defined by two essential records: the recent one by Forward Strategy Group, “Labour Division”, and “Wicker & Steel” by Perc himself. “A New Brutality” is a kind of epilogue, formed by dry and icy kick drums, like from a frozen Sahara desert. “A New Brutality” (rather self-explanatory a title) rubs up against gabber, “Cash 4 Gold” is a counterpoint of stainless steel beats alongside atonal dissonance, and “Boy” is a trepanation the Lord of Bad Vibes, Regis, would kill for. “Before I Go”, to finish the job, annihilates the beat and stays behind with just some dramatic, digitally processed guitars and noises, like footsteps in the gravel: something funny is going on inside this man's head.

Ricardo Villalobos: “Any Ideas” [Perlon, 12”, PERL91]

Save the odd tune here and there, mostly on split efforts with friends like Los Updates and Jacek Sienkiewicz (not counting, of course the occasional remix and non-dance projects, such as the ambient re-creation of the catalogue of jazz label ECM on “Re: ECM”, alongside Max Loderbauer), it turns out “Any Ideas” is the first (dance) vinyl by the Chilean since the hazy days of “Enfants” (Sei Es Drum, 2008). It's also a prelude (not advance track) to his new album, “Dependent And Happy”, the follow-up to “Vasco” (Perlon, 2008). Four years is a long time, but things don't seem to have changed all that much: long tracks – “Any Ideas” and “Emilio (2nd Minimooonstar)” reach the 13 and 14-minute mark) that evolve with Villalobos' trademark dizzying production, like a floating house jam sprinkled with random sounds whirling during the moments of silence. A howl, a note on the run, a sigh, an old lady's voice and electro-acoustic fragments; his formula is inimitable and mature, even though he doesn't surprise us anymore like in the days of “Alcachofa” and “Achso EP”.

Aster: “Danza” [Hivern Discs, 12”, HVN014]

Sampling Gregorian chants in house music is as old as the first Enigma record from 1990, or the remixes released shortly after that, of the Benedict nun Hildegard Von Bingen. It's always been something a bit cheesy, though sympathetic. The sympathy is there on “Assis”, a wrapping deep-house track, almost Balearic, even though that's an ugly word: reminiscent of the happy days of early 90s European house, in the tradition of 808 State. What's not there is the cheese. The Barcelona duo are looking for their own sound and are close to finding it in their devotion to analogue equipment (which gives the music warmth and an organic quality), and in their non-dogmatic tribute to the music of the golden age: cosmic techno, flashes of acid, organic percussion, even a whiff of idyllic disco. “Lamento Castellano” has all the ingredients of their absolutely free house and “Danza” finds that moment of carefree lightness at which techno goes flying. But the gem on Aster's single is Ital's eight-minute remix of that same “Danza”, with a fuller, fatter, and more epic sound, reminiscent of early The Black Dog, or Stasis. Mark this one for when we have to talk about the 90s revival; it's just around the corner.

Jack Dixon: “You Won’t Let Me EP” [Apollo, 12” + digital, AMB1202] Submerse: “They Always Come Back EP” [Apollo, 12” + digital, AMB1203] Gacha: “Remember” [Apollo, 12” + digital, AMB1204]

The title of the new EP by Submerse (Robert James Orme, who released several singles on Fortified Audio and Project:Mooncircle) sounds revealing: “They Always Come Back”. If he's referring to the golden age of electronic music, then yes: it's coming back, little by little. The resurrection of the Apollo label, which we spoke about in the review of the Synkro single, is a symptom to keep in mind. The ambient sub-label of R&S Records has been reactivated as if nothing has happened, as if 15 years hasn't gone by since its heyday; every new title is a reason to dust off the old Sin Electric, David Morley and Biosphere records to set it down next to them. Of the three most recent ones, the winner is the one by Jack Dixon, a kind of calmer version of George Fitzerald, or a Joy O without all the house stuff. It radiates positivism in its four pieces of oneiric psychedelia, as if Scuba had recorded for the old Internal label. Which doesn't mean we can discard Gacha Bakradze's debut (the two cuts on “Remember” are good downtempo, drenched in amniotic fluid), nor the imaginary meeting of EZ Rollers and Hudson Mohawke conjured up by Submerse in his breaks symphony.

Julio Bashmore: “Au Seve” [Broadwalk Records, 12”, BW001]

He hadn't released one single in 2012, not even a single remix: Julio Bashmore had us on water and bread, something which we wouldn't have minded in any other case, but not in that of the biggest personality in present house. Each production by the Bristolian is a marble structure in honour of a style that doesn't want to get old, and which has been back in recent years, strong and proud, knowing that all dance music rests on its pillars. And Mathew Walker has the gift. He wasn't born in Chicago, he's not black, and he's still a post-adolescent with acne, but the boy's producing some tracks that would have veterans like DJ Pierre, Little Louie Vega and DJ Sneak jump up from out of their wheelchairs. “Au Seve” stings like a thousand scorpions, with a rubbery bass line that grabs you by the hips, and a booty-melting beat. Meanwhile “Troglodytes” is another hypnotic stomper with a beat that is all Larry Heard, whilst “Track 3” is the unexpected finish (with traces of boogie and downtempo, for the hot moments) that confirms Bashmore knows when to give it all he's got and when to hold back. He's boss, today.

Vatican Shadow: “Operation Neptune Spear” [Hospital Productions, cassette + digital, HOS-341]

Back to the bad vibes. Dominik Fernow has been putting out hard stuff and it looks like he's more bothered with his material as Vatican Shadow (his 'techno' project) than that as Prurient - even though he's released two tapes under the latter this year, on which he returns to the brutal, infernal noise. “Operation Neptune Spear” is a cassette as well and it's far removed from the refined sounds on “September Cell”, a record that, because of the tidiness and violence, sounded like his answer to Regis' “In A Syrian Tongue”. This, however, is vintage Vatican Shadow: perforating brutality, filth, and un-clean sound splinters that are most damaging to the ear. The first part of this triptych is like a parasite infection: a steamrolling, dirty beat bordering on Esplendor Geométrico and SPK-like rhythm’n’noise. Then, a second part with a toxic and tense atmosphere, which leads to the final part, twelve minutes during which Vatican Shadow sounds like a lo-fi gangrenous version of Techno Animal's “Re-Entry”. Bile and pus.

Lil Silva: “Club Constructions Vol. 2” [Night Slugs, 12”, NSCC002]

Clenching his teeth with a rage that makes him sweat like a pig, Lil Silva reappears on Night Slugs with his dirtiest EP to date. With each year that goes by, his music becomes more skeletal, moving away from the breaks (also naked, but sexy) that made him one of the stars of the UK funky underground, and becomes darker, more dangerous, with knives shining in the dark. On “Club Constructions Vol. 2”, he's one step away from grime territory, as if Lil Silva wanted to be the new Terror Danjah (there's still a tiny space left for groovy rhythms, with a faint trace of the old sensuality, that London summer feeling, smelling of cement and onions). However, it's a decidedly dirtier sound, brutal like a plough, hitting your head with a bat, first with soft blows, but breaking your skull in the end.

John Roberts: “Paper Frames” [Dial, 12”, dialrec 64]

Those who say they haven't missed John Roberts over the last two years are lying (at least those who were lucky enough to taste the sweet honey of his tremendous “Glass Eights”, an album that turned techno into a crystal surface, fragile and clear, not made for everyone). The American producer based in Berlin is one of the rare species who understand music as an extremely malleable material, as if they could shape the liquids with the touch of their fingers. That record on the Dial label showed that he was in a very different league from the rest, producing dance beats with a level of detail typical of a post-rock composition. “Paper Frames”, in fact, sounds like the union of two styles that lie far apart: the music of early Tortoise (with abundant xylophones, mechanical rhythms and textures on the verge of silent disintegration), and the teary, almost evaporated house of Lawrence and Pantha Du Prince. John Roberts delivers four cuts on this EP: “Untitled II” and “Untitled IV” are short interludes, techno lullabies on a rainy day, whilst both “Paper Frames” and “Crushing Shells” perfect his beauty ideal with wooden and glass textures for his trademark muffled beats.

Rudi Zygadlo: “Melpomene” [Planet Mu, 7” + digital, ZIQ319]

Rudi Zygadlo is not for everyone: nobody from the English bass and IDM scene is as ambitious (and sometimes pedantic) as this Glasgow nutter, who seems to want to connect the dots between Autechre and Steve Reich, judging from some of the moments on “Great Western Layment”. His breaks are like hard to unravel tangles, Gordian Knots of broken electronica to which he, in a twist that can both enchant and get on your nerves, adds some whispering melodies: that's what “Melpomene” sounds like, the A-side of this 7” anticipating his upcoming album, “Tragicomedies”, due out on 17th September. The flipside is even sicker: “Arrows” is why many compare him to Frank Zappa: an ironic falsetto, loony-bin pop supported by bass lines that bubble like bowels on the verge of running. But the best track, it has to be said, is on the digital version: the bonus remix by µ-Ziq of “Melpomene”. The track keeps the original, dreamy melody, and blurs it in a prolonged and humid note, over which Mike Paradinas lays a beat alongside a cascade of chimes and a curtain of celestial noise. Ah, and the sleeve: another mirror game and what looks like a Tintoretto angel. Venetian post-dubstep? Fuck yeah.

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