The most astonishing thing about HeTCA is the fact that frontman Kurt Wagner is known to work with his hands. He is a shirt-sleeved, baseball cap wearing former floor tiler: A prototypical man of the middle classes. On stage with his longstanding alternative country and indie band Lambchop, he promotes this not only via his clothes, but also by his unassuming and unpretentious demeanor. As if saying: I am making honest music for honest people. That, of course, is only halfway true, as he has long been one of the darlings of the more cultivated music critics, and you could not really imagine him having too many fans in common with, say: Springsteen or Dave Matthews. Wagner and Lambchop have always been a bit too odd or too complicated for the really, really honest man.
This week, Wagner will throw another curve ball our way via Merge Records, in the form of his new electronic project HeCTA. Some parts of debut album “The Diet” are so very much different from the slow, orchestral and quiet sound of Lambchop that long standing fans will be taken aback for a second or two. A hard beat and a shouting voice dominate the opener “Till Someone Gets Hurt”, and it takes a while for the song – and the listeners ear – to settle into it. But the song, and the album as a whole, soon reveal that Wagners strength lies in creating intriguing melodies and deliciously subtle chord changes – and that it doesn’t matter which genre he chooses to wrap them up in.
The beats on “The Diet” sound a bit hollow at times, and you can’t shake the impression that they tried to do the best with their dilettante knowledge at best. But looking back at the beginnings of Lambchop, that amateur attitude was part of the charm. And there is enough finesse to build upon here, so who knows to which heights of proficiency HeCTA will propel themselves in the years to come, should this turn out to be more than a one-time thing. They have done it before, and they can do it again. After all, Kurt Wagner is a hard working self-made man, if anything.
Listen to the pre-release stream below.
Do your dreams include Marimbas and Panflutes, too? Korallreven‘s do, this author’s do, and so do Michael Silver’s aka CFCF’s – at least judging from the high point of his lastest album “The Colours of Life”, released two weeeks ago via 1080p. Although the album is one continuos mix and should be listened to in one go from start to finish, it contains twelve distinct parts or movements – and “A Real Dream” more than halfway in deserves to be called its climax. Not only this one dreamy “movement” has panflutes, xylophone, sax and generally cheesy CR-78 drum machine sounds: The whole album is one eighties TV movie soundtrack.
It is choreographed as to be a “Departure” from this world and a “Return” to it at the end – similar to a drift into sleep and back again. There is a name for that mental state at the edge of sleep, called hypnagogia, and you may remember the music genre named after this state – hypnagogic pop – which was pushed around several blogs a few years back. It turns out, hypnagogic pop held back its best work until now. Because Silver has been working on this album for four years, as he writes in a statement accompanying the album release. He claims to have been inspired by Phil Collins, of all people, to start working on it. The song he refers to, Hand in Hand from 1981, is a great peace of music and may be Collins’ best work. And yes, it is cheesy, but also very easy to underestimate because of it – and so is “The Colours of Life”. If you give yourself to it sincerely, it will reward you with a perfect, relaxing journey into your own mind.
Glasgow producer Rustie has chosen to stream his new album “Green Language” in a nowadays not-so-new, but still fun way – as a browser-game. You run through a nineties-style pixelated landscape and activate separate tracks off the album by reaching certain pylons. “Up Down” is playing while you have to jump from platform to platform, you fly to the track “Raptor” and have to find your way through a maze to “Let’s Spiral”. Every time you touch a new pylon, the last song stops and the next starts, and what seems like an annoyance first, is basically what the album itself is like. Fade-ins and changes, emerging sounds and rhythms, tries, errors and successes.
Just like with any soundtrack, it is hard to shake the images and the experience of the mini game from the sounds afterwards – which is extra value, of course, but it makes reviewing the sounds on their own that much harder. Anyway, if you know Rustie’s debut “Glass Swords” from 2011 or his BBC Essential Mix, you basically know what you are getting with “Green Language”, too: Everything. Sweet synth melodies, bass thumps, guest singers and rappers (including Danny Brown, below), experimental drafts, ambient sounds, 8bit bleeps and trap hooks. His first album didn’t invent anything new, and this does neither, but once again, he get’s the mix right. In a very charming way, “Green Language” doesn’t want to be more than it is, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and thereby is thoroughly enjoyable. It is the underdog among Warp‘s fall releases by Aphex Twin, Hudson Mohawke and Flying Lotus. But so far, I am rooting for the underdog.
In case you missed Philippine newcomer Eyedress so far, let me tell you that the 23-year-old Manila resident – real name Idris Vicuña – released one of the most interesting albums/mixtapes of 2014 this spring. The debut “Hearing Colours” contained 30 minutes full of Chromatics-like italo-disco and lo-fi synth crooning, and now there are 16 more minutes on Soundcloud, as he uploaded his new EP “Egyptian Night Club” today. And just like the album, he has announced that he is going to give it away for free. For now, listen on his Soundcloud, below.
Chairlift have always made left field synth pop. While the band mostly stressed the pop part, the solo project of front woman Caroline Polachek as Ramona Lisa, now out on Terrible Records, concentrates on the left field side of the spectrum. The album was mostly recorded in a studio in Rome, but also in public places like airport waiting areas. Polachek described the liberating feeling of accepting the stares of random people around her singing into her laptop and abandoning the whole idea of creativity being a reclusive, intense and ardous endeavour. The album has the charm of imperfection and a very personal, open feel to it – most likely because of those production terms.
“Arcadia” is another example of what is possible regarding laptop production these days. It is the new lo-fi, oftentimes preferable to larger recordings in terms of experimentation and creativity. That being said, the album has its more accessible tracks in the first half, with “Backwards And Upwards” being the hit on an album full of non-hits. Later on, Polachek drifts further into Julia Holter’s territory, ending with a closer that shed most of pop’s conventions, or song conventions in general. It is almost as if Polachek started off in well known Chairlift surroundings and travelled somewhere random and unknown. So if you are looking for a new Chairlift record, this isn’t it. But what it has to offer is a mostly quiet, emotional and personal journey through an experimental electronic production trial-and-error learning process of one Caroline Polachek.
Sometimes all it takes is finding the right label. Barcelona duo Downliners Sekt had some bad luck in the past, and although Fabrizio Rizzin and Pere Solé have been making electronic music since the start of the millenium, they never got the attention they deserved. Frustrated with the industry and their lack of success, they even started to give away their music for free on their website. Until now, that is, because the Paris InFiné label has taken them in and is doing a fine job promoting their first properly released LP, out next week.
The duo is making “the other dubstep”, which sounds a lot like the original dubstep à la Burial, but has been developed independently, as they claim. One can’t help but seeing connections in broken beats and dark atmosphere though. Thumping bass lines, distorted synths and sampled house vocals dominate the album. In an interview with FACT some years ago, they used two very strong images to describe their music, and they so perfectly fit their style that they are worth repeating. One was that of a train station at the border between France and Spain, where the French ravers traveling back from Barcelona have to wait for the trains to change. The other one was that of a club full of dancers accidentally high on Ketamine instead of Ecstasy: A “sect of ravers trapped in oblivion”, as Downliners Sekt described it.
Silent Ascent is music for the early morning hours in the club – dark, bleak and somehow exhausted. But you can’t help but dance on. The beats are direct and all-pervasive, confused and confusing, familiar and inhumane at the same time. This leads to Silent Ascent feeling random and alien, but inescapable and meaningful nonetheless. Something changes in yourself in the very moment on the dancefloor, when you realize that you don’t belong here, but know that you have nowhere else you’d rather be just now. Maybe the drugs are a good comparison: You are full of sensations, but it never really fulfills you. So, remember to go home at some point! But stay just a bit longer.
Silent Ascent can be streamed over at XLR8R in full until it drops April 7/8th.
One of the most anticipated albums of 2014 so far is due to be released on Amsterdam’s Field Records next week. The video to his great song “Numb” caught our eye last year, and now, close to one year later, the debut album of the British producer Max Cooper finally drops. “Human” can be streamed via Pitchfork Advance beforehand.
Cooper tried “to use a concept of the human condition, and to make each track try and communicate something that we all have in common”, as he wrote on his Facebook page. The concept could be seen as a deliberate challenge, as Cooper deals with the most mechanistic of beat structures. His previous club tracks, as well as those featured on the record, sound delicately precise and with a force and effortless drive of a well greased machine. But the effect of Cooper’s technological prowess is only hightened by the human elements, so to speak – like the warm textures and female guest singers he occasionally uses – and they barely coat the wheels and wires. It would be a shame if they did indeed, because in the end, the mechanics are the real wonder here.
The record starts off slow with the ambiance strings and guitar picking and piano on “Woven Ancestry” and “Adrift”. But in the middle section, the album is steering into more punchy material – with a slighty defused album version of “Numb” and the aptly titled “Impact”, before abruptly falling into the clicks and clatter of the pre-released “Empyrean”. The juxtaposition of the slow swelling and evolving static with a string section on “Potency” finally is one of the most experimental moments on “Human”, and the point of reference of the whole release: Past and future, man and machine, substance and form, all harmoniously merged into each other.