Azari & III, Lost Express (Get Physical)
There aren't many acts that have traversed an unlikelier path through dance music's underground, middleground, and overground than Azari & III. Let's recap: They debuted in 2009 with a pair of slow, moody vocal house cuts — "Hungry for the Power" and "Reckless (With Your Love)" — on, respectively, Cosmo Vitelli's coldwavy I'm a Cliché label and Munich's disco-inclined Permanent Vacation. They moved to Tiga's Turbo for their next couple of EPs, and Turbo also put out their self-titled debut album in North America before Steve Aoki's Dim Mak scooped it up for a digital reissue in 2012 — despite the fact that the group's soulful, vintage house vibes couldn't be further from Aoki's dayglo cake-to-the-face aesthetic. Then, this fall, another surprise in the form of a pair of mixes for Get Physical's Body Language series, in which they eschewed that label's Ibiza-ready tech-house crowd-pleasers in favor of charcoal-streaked techno and burbling oddballs from Shed, Barnt, Daphni, Plastikman, and Planetary Assault Systems.
If you didn't see all that one coming (and who could have?), you'll be equally surprised by Lost Express, their new EP for Get Physical. Gone are the vocals, gone are the dusky chords, gone the sultry atmospheres. In there place are clammy basement vibes, sullen bass arpeggios, and keening, detuned synth leads. The title track splits the difference between Giorgio Moroder and Basic Channel, while the tougher, surlier "Extinction Event" and "The Worker" tip their hats to old-school minimalists like DBX and Robert Hood. On the remix, Hood himself dresses down "Extinction Event" in typically stone-faced fashion, while Tiger Stripes keep the party people on their toes.
JTC, "Valley Road (We Are 1)" (Spectral Sound)
Sure, it sucks that Dabrye has put out all of two new songs in the past five years, and he hasn't done a new album in seven. But consider it a fair tradeoff, because while Tadd Mullinix has put his vacuum-sealed hip-hop project on hold, he's vastly accelerated his output as JTC (James T. Cotton). His latest for Ghostly's Spectral Sound sub-label offers two radically different takes on house and techno. "Alpha Helix" is acid house with a writhing robo-samba pulse; it's all about disappearing into the groove, from stray arpeggios that pop like soap bubbles to the whisper-chant of "No-body… No-body…" The title track, on the other hand, emphasizes presence, from the vocal loop ("Together we are / We are one") to the interlocking breakbeats, drum machines, and filliping chords that close around you like a firm-but-gentle fist. It's a feel-good house jam par excellence, with just enough grit that you'll barely notice the fleeting sax solo. The ever-dependable DJ Qu, meanwhile, takes the track spelunking down storm drains.
Anthony Parasole & Phil Moffa, "Pressure" (The Corner)
Anthony Parasole and Phil Moffa take their cue from Carl Craig on "Pitched Black," the B-side-that-shoulda-been-the-A-side of their new single on Parasole's The Corner label. The sawtoothed ostinato that goes tearing through the thick of it is a dead ringer for the one that Craig used in his remix of Theo Parrish's "Falling Up," right down to a rising tremolo that pulls the note apart like a centrifuge separating blood cells. But where "Falling Up" resorted to grand, sweeping melodic strokes, "Pitched Black" hones in on a tight, three-note arpeggio that bounces nervously in place, its agitation growing as the track soars into a full-blown epic. (That term gets overused, but let's allow it here: Soaring eagles, slow-motion rocket takeoffs, ziplines from here to the horizon — any of those would be worthy comparisons to the song's sense of grandeur.) "Pressure," on the other hand, is all about stillness; instead of jagged, lightning-strafed peaks, it's a picnic in a shaded valley. It's still techno, of course, with thundering four-to-the-floor kicks and knife-edged hi-hats, but it's also unusually weightless, in a sort of Basic Channel Meets Robert Hood in an Uptown Isolation Tank style. Drawing out that idea to the fullest, the beatless "Pressure (Reduction)" is nothing but three-plus minutes of dubby, pulsing chords, soft as wisps of boiling rose water.
Borrowed Identity, Leave Your Life EP (Mistress Recordings)
Minneapolis' DVS1 comes from a similar place as Anthony Parasole and his New York cohort, with a take on techno that's tough, steely, and yet strangely buoyant. The first release on his new Mistress label comes from the Romanian-German producer Borrowed Identity. The pinging "Painted Clouds (XIII)" is the most technoid of the four cuts here, and the least distinctive; it's fleet and springy, but we've heard those chords before, a million times. And "Step Out," with its parallel harmonies and wafting scraps of vocals, doesn't step quite far enough out of Moodymann's shadow, perhaps. "Leave Your Life" and "Ruhephase in D-Moll," on the other hand, are quietly stunning. Balancing bare-bones thump, one lovingly filtered chord, and a single strand of voice, "Ruhephase" feels almost sculptural; "Leave Your Life" proceeds along similar lines, carving static synth loops, soul vocals, and machine-shop drums into long, undulating shapes enlivened by a muted acid line with a mind of its own.