Fort Romeau- Insides

In so many genres of music, visual art, film, and fashion we can in this day and age observe a rising trend of looking to yesteryear and beyond for inspiration. In many parts of art and creativity, the whole “full circle” idea appears to be real. It is particularly prevalent in electronic music, especially with the current “house revival” we are experiencing, which in my opinion is fast reaching its peak, with little left to really return to using a “throwback” emphasis. Frequently one can read on a blurb of album descriptions pertaining to a return to basics, an echo from the old-school, inspiration from the classics, and so on. Actual attempts to follow through on these aspirations are often non-existent and miss the mark entirely. The little bit of info on Fort Romeau’s “Insides” album when it arrived in the KZUU office was unassuming, with no real attempts to make bold statements. It is, after all, just a small blurb. But if there was ever an album in recent years which in its music used subtlety and a minimalist approach to achieve loud statements, it would be “Insides.” Fort Romeau​’s “Insides” may be the first album in a while which accurately and fully achieves an honest attempt at echoing yesteryear sounds and vibes of house music.

From the get-go, it is abundantly clear that Fort Romeau is attempting to preserve and cherish the synths, drums, progression, bass and waspy vocals typical from the early days of electronic music. The simple progression, the loops, haziness, the frequent switching between warmth and coldness, it’s all there. The album has captures the calm excitement that the entire genre and scene seemed to have. The many, often old-school sounding synths evoke such a wonderfully vintage vibe that makes the very polished and beautiful album simply so special. The minimalistic approach allows for the listener to bind the sounds and vibes together to hear either a warm full-bodied or chilly stripped-down sound and this varies throughout. The album starts small and homey, but by track three, “All I Want” will whip you around to a very strict four on the floor, very dancey house track. The title track “Insides” is a hazy concoction of a variety of cosmic and spacey sounds with an inquisitive nature, which is counteracted later by “Lately” which is forthright very german-esque sounding minimal/tech-house track, with it’s slow and repetitive loops and beats snaking their way along. The cold, steely, frigid nature of this song is oddly the most emotive track on the album, if just in a more subtle and rigid way. It is without doubt my favourite track on the album

What makes this album great is its completeness. For eight tracks it does not drift into more experimental approaches, or other genres. No, “Insides” is a solid eight track album of nothing else but house music with echoes and inspirations from the past. This is not to say that they all sound the same (quite the opposite) but in terms of aim and point of the album, it is crafted so exquisitely well. Indeed, in a period where many electronic releases carry on about a return to basics and vibes from the past, “Insides” stands above the rest. It could be the most important release of the year, if only because of its well-produced result of actually evoking this old-school vibe, but also because Fort Romeau is the first to accurately achieve such a product, entirely that which he aimed to do. This is a true celebration of classic house music, the development of electronic music as a whole, and the moods and emotions a producer can evoke from a piece of music alone.

– Nick

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Donky Pitch releases “Remixes” compilation

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Donky Pitch started as little club night in Brighton, England back in 2009, but now in 2015 the label has become a force of a label. Delivering wonky club driven music, Donky Pitch is label with no equal, simply because the diverse range of artists and styles brought to the table. From a string of singles and even two amazing albums by Lockah and The Range, this label has a lot to draw from. This smorgasbord of musicians plays well on the labels newest release, Remixes.

As the name would suggest, Remixes is a compilation of edits and mutations by label mainstays as well as outside names. The mixture of woozy and gleaming synths with rumbling bass provides for a fun ride through this collection of remixes. Only one of the remixes appears to be previously unreleased, but coinciding with the five year retrospective released last October, it seems like a good companion piece.

Cuts like Obey City’s remix of The Range and Mount Bank’s VIP of Starfoxxx seem to present the more downtempo and chill side of the label. Synths flow while subtle bass and drums seem to fill out any open space. But that doesn’t mean the remixes can’t take it to the dance floor. Lockah presented an excellent remix of LiL Texas’ “My Love” that absolutely takes the vocal sample to new euphoric heights. Tokyo Hands remix of Tel Aviv’s VesperTown starts with a hard four to the floor kick, eventually giving way to skittering hi-hats and wonderful stabs that sound like a sugary coated rave, which would play well with labels like PC Music.

The biggest winner on the compilation might go to their very first release from back in the fall of 2010. Mweslee’s remix of Slugabed’s “Donky Stomp” falls near the end of this 8 track compilation, but the wait is worth it. The opening synth glitches don’t prepare the listener for a fluid bass line, hard drums, and clicks of chimes that are soon to appear. By the time the vocal sample comes in, the song mutates into something like a neon version of early James Blake.

Remixes by Donky Pitch is available now on Bandcamp at a name your own price point.

Lxury – Into The Everywhere

Lxury, a.k.a. Andy Smith, made himself heard with his collaboration with college-mate Guy Lawrence from Disclosure J.A.W.S, and it would appear that since that release, Smith has been striving to quasi-distance himself from that “Disclosure” sound, in an almost dizzying way, with each release building interest and expectations, and Smith largely meeting each one, usually with a different approach and not keeping to a mold.

Lxury’s latest album “Into The Everywhere” [Greco-Roman] is a splendid release which weaves its way through all sorts of sounds, emotions, and progressions. An essence of washy, echoey, but “big” sound appear to the emphasis in many of the tracks. Think “wall of sound.” Above all, however, there is a warmth in the music of this EP that underlies every song that surrounds the listener. This warmth is present from start to finish, in different ways, atmosphere, and intensity.

The opening track “Pick You Up” is a whirring and whirrying track with a loving atmosphere expressed by the vocals. “Equals” follows with a more stern, very high-street sounding track that would find it’s way well to a catwalk. I like the long intro how one can hear the various bits and pieces coming together slowly to create the entire basis of the track in a long drawn out form. Depford Goth contributes vocals to the following track “Square 1” a thick and slow-dancey R&B pop ballad. Depford Goth’s deep and tense tone works well with Lxury’s warm music. Things pick up the pace again with “World 2” with finicky drums snapping their way through the happy yet oddly creepily dark tone of the music, with “could have been my lover” repeated ominously throughout the song by a wistful voice. “Neighbour” is a lovely blend of natural drum, pipe and piano sounds in a thumping party track that is hard not to dance to, all mixed together with hazy vocals. The heat here is not a comforting one for cold evenings, rather a humid, wet, heat, that you simply dance through to ignore. The album is capped off by a very interesting unique slower track “Everywhere” that catches you a little of guard, especially after the nature of the previous song. It is soppy, and gives off a sense of reflection and control, and gives off an utterly euphoric yet mature emotion.

These are all wonderful tracks that aren’t strictly house tracks and yet could be played at any dark club. The use of a warming sound in various ways in all tracks, be it intentional or not, is wonderful and makes the whole album. The earnest nature of the music gives it some personality that we all can at times relate to; We want to simply be, stopping intermittently for a bit a fun, before returning to a state of mind that is the most comforting to us.

To me, this is the first great release of 2015.

Arca – “Xen”

There are few albums which can fully contain and express a figure of imagination, a picture, or story through each and every piece, each track adding another vital aspect and slant to the desired product. Though all music strives to be some form of human expression, few can accurately present a piece that accurately evokes emotion to similar to that of the human soul, even fewer the feelings and events that a person lives through.  With Arca’s first album “Xen” a persona is expressed so brilliantly you begin to feel as if you are listening to the motions and emotions of someone in your presense, rather than simply music itself. You might even catch yourself thinking you even understand this person, but quickly another level of confusion, another variant in life affects both the person and with it your perception of them. The inner demons and complexities of personalities add to many variances and changing atmospheres throughout the album. This soul is experienced and a cautious one too. “Xen” isn’t pretty, but for some reason attractive, with every tone drawing you closer and further along.

The ferocious and volatile beats which are commonfound in “Xen” command you to pay attention, and you will. You will listen to every “word” storied to you and every sentiment which underlines every story expressed. It’s easy to find yourself doing so multiple times, as I am writing this review very early in the morning after repeated attempts to understand “Xen” as I attempt to try and explain this phenomenally creative and wonderful release. The vicious synths, snapping drums, and wistful bass continuously hurtled at you will hit you repeatedly, as if to hammer in a notion that you simply will never comprehend, but have to at least try. Some will stick, others will bounce back as you watch them trail away. You won’t ever know what’s coming next, or when.  It’s this uncompromising and unpredictable nature of this album, that makes it’s so great, so genuine.

The few moments of calm in “Xen” are cold, for example in “Sad Bitch” and “Wound.” Sure they are warming sounds of strings, and basslines that will throb your heart, but it’s the feeling expressed which has yourself in a deep and dark confine which chill you to your bone.

Arca describes Xen as a genderless alter-ego he describes having spiritual ties to, and according to frequent collaborator Jesse Kanda in this very intimate and utterly fascinating Fader article, Arca, a.k.a Alejandro Ghersi, will often become Xen, a spiritual being embodying a more feminine side of Ghersi who rejuvenates herself through creativity and exploration.

Despite Kanda’s interpretation, Ghersi himself explains to the Guardian,

“Xen is a genderless being. It’s about resisting labels and integrating different sides of ourselves. The complicating of one and the other is very fertile, emotionally and creatively. I’ve been thinking a lot about Native American tribes who saw homosexuals within their tribe as those who could see things in two different ways. [Their sexuality] could have a practical use, spiritually.”

It’s a relatively messy album, with spontaneous and sporadic movements being the underlying attitude of the entire work, but it also works very well and in a shocking, but harrowingly beautiful way. In “Xen” the listener becomes the confidant.

– Nick

Christopher Willits – OPENING

Fresh off the Ghostly label line comes this very ghostly-esque album from multi-talented photography, producer, and musician Christopher Willits, filled with faded, droney, ambient, slow, intertwining harmonies. This is the kind of music that slows you, and everything around you way down. It’s great for the incoming cold weather too. The atmosphere and emotions evoked in “OPENING” are superb. It’s also got an accompanying film which is great to behold. This video is of travels captured over four years in Japan, Thailand, Hawai’i and California by Christopher Willits himself, and is the inspirational source for the music on this album.

“Opening” is easily a front runner for being placed high in 2014 album rankings, at least for me. It meanders through various forms, like the varieties found in nature, from the simple, vast, and seemingly endless, to more complex, intricate, and flowing landscapes. It’s hard to gauge what the focus in each song is, or the album itself, but maybe this is the point, as it is this approach that to me is refreshing, especially in a widely involved and varied genre that seems to have many releases aiming to center on one key element, as opposed to the much larger sphere of things.

As Willits remarks, regarding “OPENING” and the accompanying film,

“There are no actors or dialogue in this film. The audience and their perception is the main character, and everyone’s imagination is going to create some meaning that’s relevant to their own experience. My intention is to create a space where people can open up and expand into, relax and recharge.”…”For me, OPENING is about transformation, the experience of changing oneself to be more of who you know you can be, and, ultimately, the joy that comes with that change.”

This isn’t an album to jam too. I wouldn’t even say this is an album to vibe to. To call it an “experience” is overdone and a characterless way to explain albums like these. Just listen to it. Be amongst it.

– Nick

Fatima Al Qadiri – “Asiatisch”

Born in Senegal, raised in Kuwait, and presently splitting time between London and New York City, Fatima Al Qadiri could be seen as world traveler. Her debut album Asiatisch, being released on Hyperdub, takes the listener to what is described as an “imagined China.” It’s clear from the start it’s a China as taken from the perspective of Western Culture, the sonic explorers  she’s associated herself with, namely labels UNO, Fade to Mind, and Tri-Angle (under her Ayshay alias) as well as bass futurists Nguzunguzu and J-Cush of Lit City Trax, whom Al Qadiri has collaborated with as Future Brown.

Nothing introduces this imagine China better than the opening track “Shanzhai (for Shanzai Biennial).” The song, as the title suggests, was born from working with art collective Shanzai Biennial, but what the title doesn’t tell you is that it’s a muted, a soulful reworking of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Instead of being kitschy, it comes away hooking you in.

The idea of the “imagine China” plays out into the next few songs. Where the opening track soundtracks a nice landing into the airport of Asiatisch, the following three songs take you on a hover-taxi ride through the sprawling Utopian cities that inhabit the China of our mind. Ice cold synths in “Szechaun” give way to the sharp percussion and warped vocals of “Wudang.” The end of the first half, “Hainan Island” features skittering percussion, with just enough sadness in every hit.

The second half starts strong with the proto-grime tune “Shenzhen.” The synths have now gone from being ice cold, to completely frozen over. The sparse percussion and subtle vocals dance somewhere in the range of anxiety and paranoia. “Dragon Tattoo” might be the best song on the album, with all the parts previously explored on the albums coming to a head. A rich kick drum and bass, reverberatingbackground vocals, liquid synths, and a subtle gong hit that might be missed. The main vocals are an interpolation of “We Are Siamese” from Lady & the Tramp, and instead of posing it as the stereotypical joke, it’s posed as a menaching R&B jam.

Fatima Al Qadiri’s Asiatisch is released on May 5th Hyperdub Records

Do Androids Dance With Electric Sheep?: An Examination of Music For And By Robots

Recently Squarepusher released an EP called “Music For Robots” on Warp Records. The EP featured typical Squarepusher tropes: frantic breakbeats, virtuoso jazz bass and guitar, and those melancholy chords. What makes this Squarepusher EP so special is that while it was written by Squarepusher, the EP was performed by The Z-Machines, a trio of robots. “Music For Robots” wasn’t just for mechanical men, it was also by them.

By now Squarepusher has said he wanted to challenge the perspective of how we view music with this EP. The idea was that music played by robots could still be emotionally engaging is the idea spurred out of this, but let’s be honest, it still had a human touch. The writing was done by a human, specifically Squarepusher, but played by robots who are essentially giant sequencers. As Squarepusher pointed out in an interview with NPR, it’s not much different than when he used drum machines on his 1997 album Hard Normal Daddy, these drum machines just hit real drums.

Furthering this, the younger generation is presently obsessed with electronic music, which often lacks the traditional instrumentation that gives the “human element” to music. So the real question is why does a distinction matter? Sure, the music you might hear your favorite DJ playing is coming from their laptop or CDJs, but that doesn’t make you any less likely to dance than say a full band running through funk classics.

Consider Tycho for just a second. His last two albums Dive and Awake are sun drenched and sand covered trips to the coastline that evoke more emotions than a bland generic band with your typical bass, guitar, drums setup. So why does Squarepusher feel it necessary to try to make a distinction between music by robots and music by humans? Would it be any different than Tycho programming a drum machine through MIDI because someone doesn’t “actually play” an instrument? While Squarepusher and The Z-Machine’s “Music For Robots” is a fun project, it really isn’t causing waves in a technological generation.