In the 23 years that he’s been releasing music, Robert Hood’s output is truly remarkable. Though it’s only been four years since his last full-length, the Detroit minimal techno forefather has nonetheless put out seven 12-inch singles and three EPs in the meantime.
His latest LP, Paradygm Shift, which collects some of the aforementioned material, is impressive in that Hood still manages to sound fresh and inventive. Returning to the sleek, hypnotic beats that defined his early work, Hood bridges the gap between the skeletal feel of early techno and the thick production style of modern electronic music. Over nine tracks and 52 minutes, Paradygm Shift finds Hood in an inventive mood, giving each track a distinct personality while giving a nod to techno’s splintered genres. “Idea” works off of a restrained minimal funk beat, while “I Am” and “Solid Thought” blend into each other with a thumping house beat and busy BPMs, while “Pattern 8” adds industrial and noise elements into his techno sound.
Although Hood’s not reinventing the wheel on Paradygm Shift, he is attempting to reinvent his wheelhouse, keeping things interesting both for himself and for listeners. (Dekmantel)
While it took ’90s lo-fi heroes like Lou Barlow and Elliott Smith years to gain a following with their self-released four-track recordings, Alexander Giannascoli — formerly known as Alex G and now going by (Sandy) Alex G — quickly became a big deal among underground indie circles with the help of music streaming site Bandcamp. But it’s also this deft method of distributing his music that’s allowed (Sandy) Alex G to freely experiment with so many varied sounds and genres without wasting precious studio time or vinyl pressing costs.
Perhaps that’s why Rocket, G’s purported foray into “country” music, comes across so damn confident and well conceived. Celebrated since day one for his sharp and inventive melodies, he mumbles his way through album opener “Poison Root” while still managing to craft something engrossing and emotional. But although he manages to throw honky-tonk piano (“Proud”), cascading fiddles (“Bobby”), and autoharp (“Witch”) into the mix, it’s clear that the Philly musician merely treats these sounds as reference points in order to properly delve into his own brand of sonic deconstruction. To prove this point, G fills the middle third of his album with some of his more shapeless but nonetheless excellent material, producing ear-splitting noise pieces (“Brick”), and effects-saturated vocal exercises (“Judge”).
Alex G then ends the 14-track LP with some of his most focused and honest material to date, just to show that he’s not fucking around. Rocket is a true tour de force that cements (Sandy) Alex G snugly in the company of indie rock’s great auteurs. (Domino)
When Greg Dulli and John Curley reformed the Afghan Whigs for their strong 2014 comeback LP, Do to the Beast, fans and critics were quick to point out the group’s moody and restrained sound. On their equally terrific follow-up, In Spades, it seems that the Cincinnati six-piece are back in full-retro Whigs mode.
Much of the unbridled energy the band exude on LP number eight seems to stem from the fact that In Spades was recorded right in the studio in a full band setting, as tracks like “Arabian Heights” and “Copernicus” play off thudding, driving polyrhythms that once fuelled classic Whigs tracks like “Gentlemen” or Miles Iz Ded.” In addition, the thoughtfulness that aids tracks like the soul-searching “Demon in Profile” and the bouncy anthem “Light as a Feather” feel like they benefit from the album’s swift conception and short recording session.
The Whigs never feel complacent on In Spades: “Toy Automatic” is bedazzled by a rubbery Kamasi Washington sax breakdown, while “Oriole” moves from emaciated acoustic strumming to woozy string symphonies and electric guitar squeals in just four minutes. At 51 years of age, frontman Dulli comes off tremendously tuneful, energetic and exploratory across the album’s ten tracks, a fact best exemplified on closer “Into the Floor,” a track born from an onstage jam that the band would often close shows with.
Dulli and company manage to elatedly deliver everything long-standing fans crave in an Afghan Whigs album — and they do so in spades. (Sub Pop)
Although the Belleville Three (Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson) are known for inventing Detroit techno, it’s second-waver Carl Craig that’s acted as the genre’s true ambassador, creating the modern electronic music festival (DEMF) alongside his tireless globetrotting touring schedule. So, it would make sense that when it came time for Craig to release a career-spanning collection, he would choose to include musicians from around the world to help re-shape his best-known tracks.
Born from a live performance at Paris’ La Cité de la musique, Craig recorded Versus as a collaboration with Les Siècles orchestra (lead by French conductor François Xavier-Roth) along with German producer Moritz von Oswald and Luxembourgian experimental pianist Francesco Tristano. Released nine years later, the 14 track LP is part live document, part remix album and part new release, as many of Craig’s compositions are given a fresh makeover.
After a trio of sullen ambient mood-pieces, including the orchestra-led 2004 single “Darkness,” Versus truly kicks into gear when Craig and his guests raucously reshape his immortal hit “Sandstorms,” which finds the Detroit and German musicians interweaving their spacey electronics with Tristano’s resourceful piano and Les Siècles’ brooding accents. Although Craig’s bigger tracks are covered — “At Les,” “Desire” and “Domina” among them — he also fills the 65-minute LP with lesser-known fare like “Barcelona Trist” and “Technology” to help give the performance a precise shape and narrative.
Although Versus is certainly not a place for casual Craig fans to start, nor is it designed for the dance floor crowd, it’s an achievement that appropriately showcases one of Detroit’s finest exports. (Planet E)
Returning to the nation’s capital for the first time since their sparsely attended slot at last summer’s Ottawa Bluesfest, Preoccupations appeared redeemed, as fans packed themselves into the city’s Zaphod Beeblebrox nightclub.
Opening the festivities was Ottawa’s the Yips, a five-piece garage rock outfit who derive much of their charm from vocalist Kerri Carisse’s powerful yet reigned-in delivery, alongside the band’s impossibly tight playing.
Next up were Haligonian band Walrus, promoting their upcoming debut, Family Hangover — a pristine slice of Elephant 6 pop zen. But in a live setting, the band came off something like Real Estate with the rhythm section of a Primus cover band after watching a stoner rock documentary. Although the quintet sounded quite shambolic and vacillated in their delivery, there was nonetheless a sonic charm that made their set undeniably watchable and original.
By the time Preoccupations hit the stage, Zaphod’s dance floor was swamped with mostly twenty-somethings, eagerly ready for the band’s fabled high-octane live show. Kicking off their set with “Select Your Drone” from their self-released 2013 cassette, the band used the track’s building progression to further amp up the energy of the room, and the crowd erupted into a combination of pogo-ing, moshing and bro-hugging.
Playing only two songs from last year’s Preoccupations LP (“Memory” and “Zodiac”), the Calgary band rather focused on their older, more primal material, as guitarists Scott “Monty” Monro and Daniel Christiansen crafted solid beds of sound to allow bassist/vocalist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace to loosely attack their instruments. As Flegel snidely mentioned that they would have to get off the stage early to make room for Zaphod’s dance night, his band launched into a condensed version of regular set closer “Death” — a track that normally finds the band pushing the bridge into a 10 to 20 minute single-note breakdown.
It’s no secret that the usual Preoccupations performance is punishing and tense, but the band sadly missed their opportunity to capitalize on the venue’s untamed energy, seeming rather bored and uninspired throughout their insultingly short 50-minute set. When Preoccupations left the stage, the once-unbridled crowd immediately returned to their regular, reserved Ottawa selves. The audience had obviously given Preoccupations every ounce of vivacity they could muster, and the band returned the favour by giving the crowd a standard, basic set. No more, no less.
Although Wolfgang Voigt has put out countless albums under countless monikers over the last three decades, it’s safe to say that his work as Gas has gained him the most attention (and possibly more attention than anything on his eminent record label, Kompakt). Blending sometimes-spacious, sometimes-dense minimal techno that helped define the microhouse genre, Voigt (as Gas) put out four game-changing albums in five years, the last being the undisputed masterwork Pop in 2000.
Seventeen years later, Voigt has resurrected his beloved nom de plume for his latest, the fittingly titled Narkopop. Collecting ten dawdling and druggy tracks across over 75 minutes, album number five from the Cologne artist is nothing short of extraordinary in its ability to sound both exploratory and focused, a true rarity for minimal electronic music. Although many of the album’s tracks still feature building and cascading drone movements, Voigt focuses more heavily on texture, reverberation and layers, allowing tracks to flow together brilliantly, even when he fluctuates pace and space from moment to moment. At one point, Voigt is riding upon feathery looping electronic blips; the next sequence, he’s pushing through throbbing, claustrophobic mood movements, right before injecting the a stunning chamber suite, only to disappear then reappear in a slightly different form.
Not only is Gas’ Narkopop a top candidate for best microhouse album of 2017, it may also be the best drone album and the best classical album — and possibly just the best album you’ll hear this year, period. (Kompakt)
As co-keyboardist, co-vocalist and co-founder of Hot Chip, Joe Goddard has been responsible for bringing in a tangible house and pop music aesthetic to his British band’s celebrated blend of emo indietronica. With his second solo LP, Electric Lines (and first since 2009’s Harvest Festival), Goddard dives head-first into these sounds — albeit without taking the temperature of dance music’s current atmosphere first.
Although there are some strong tracks featured here — including the earnest, R&B-influenced “Home” (featuring Michigan up-and-coming vocalist Daniel Wilson), the wistful, proggy slow-burner “Children of the Sun” and the gentle, polyrhythmic “Truth Is Light” — most of this 10-track LP comes off rather patchy and passé. For example, UK electro musician Jess Mills delivers a killer performance on album opener, “Ordinary Madness” and closer “Music Is the Answer,” but Goddard’s production and melody lines come off much too breezy to match her vocal passion and finesse.
As Goddard wildly leaps across multiple genres, it becomes clear that je sounds most comfortable and confident (and therefore, best) when his songs resemble his work in Hot Chip, as on “Lose Your Love” and the title track. On Electric Lines, Joe Goddard shoots for something eclectic and exciting, but settles for something sporadically enjoyable at best. (Greco-Roman)