Katy B, "I Like You" (Ammunition / Sony)
Katy B arrived at a time when dubstep needed fresh voices to help tip it into the pop sphere, and she did just that with her appearance on Magnetic Man's "Perfect Stranger" and her own "Katy on a Mission." Beyond the strength of her voice itself, flitting between reggae declamation and R&B's whispered intimacy, she had a savvy sense of how to ride dubstep's beats, bobbing above its lurch and providing a familiar through-line for listeners still coming to grips with the form.
But the pop landscape has changed quite a bit since 2011 — dubstep is long gone, and house is in the ascendant — and Katy has done her best to adapt. The Geeneus-produced "What Is Love Made Of" put a peppy, Disclosure-like spin on pumping, Strictly Rhythm house; the recently premiered "5am," due out November 5, tries something similar, but for bigger rooms and lower stakes, with anodyne synth stabs that have the curious effect of making her voice sound thinner and less agile than it really is. The B-side's "I Like You," produced by the Hotflush label's George FitzGerald, is more successful, with hissing hi-hats and an unruly low end creating the kind of urgency that brings out the beast in the singer, who uses the song's bass stabs as props in a tightly controlled gymnastics routine. The lyrics aren't exactly profound, but she somehow manages to make "I like you a little bit / More than I should" sound dramatic and even a little bit dangerous.
Mosca, A Thousand Years' Wait (Ann Aimee)
The Delsin sub-label Ann Aimee launched in 2003 as an outlet for the deeper, sometimes wispier, generally more abstracted side of Dutch house and techno, but over the past few years, its output has gotten beefier and more mean-spirited — just see, for instance, 2011's excellent Inertia series, in which Conforce, Mike Dehnert, Delta Funkionen, and Skudge, et al, turned out dizzyingly austere takes on basement brutalism. Given Mosca's track record making supple, garage-inflected cuts for labels like Night Slugs and Numbers., he's not the first name you'd associate with Ann Aimee, but these three tracks definitely fit the profile. Gone are the 2-step flourishes, sampled breakbeats, and organ stabs; gone are all the bubbles and iridescent tones. In their place: Cold, metallic percussion; swollen, bruise-colored low end; the deadweight thump of bodies hitting the floor. Faint bleeps (echoing DBX's live-wire minimalism) provide dim illumination, just enough to accentuate the bulky wallop of all those lumbering bass stabs; instead of hooks or melodies, all three tracks derive their energy from carefully balanced percussive tones that have been hammered into long, steely arcs. It's ironic that techno this claustrophobic could actually signal an artist breaking free of what he's typically known for — and that music this grim could sound so refreshing.
Pittsburgh Track Authority, Haywire EP (Work Them Records)
In just two years, Pittsburgh Track Authority have put out a veritable slew of releases, the standard of which belies the trio's short time stamping its name on records. For the most part, it's been classic (but not retro) and catholic in its tastes, drawing variously from synth-soaked Detroit techno, soulful New York house, broken beat (particularly where it fades into U.K. garage), and R&B (just check their divine bootleg of Jennifer Hudson's "Spotlight"). Their new EP for Berlin's Work Them flips the script considerably, particularly on the title cut, which rolls out a rolling, grinding drum-machine groove perfectly in keeping with the group's railroad-inspired name — a winding winter journey in all greys and whites, marked by the occasional explosion of chugging snares or cloud of foggy reverb.
Reminiscent of Levon Vincent's work, it's minimal techno in the truest sense of the term, with just two tuned toms lending the illusion of melody, and everything else accomplished by the careful sculpting of timbre and space. They get back to their usual sensitive selves on "Treated" and "Obverse": The former sounds like a more technoid version of Soundstream's "Julie's Theme," with coolly filtered chords fizzing above foggy ostinato chords, while the latter puts offbeat accents and stately piano in the service of sidewinding acid at its most relentlessly expressive. Keep an eye on PTA: While most of the American underground is in a post-everything phase, these guys are proving that there's plenty of life left in classicism. And keep an eye on the Work Them label, too: Their next release comes from Young Male, of the rising White Material collective.
White Visitation, Ancestors (Styles Upon Styles)
Halloween's as good a day as any to talk about Ancestors, the new EP from Mexico City's White Visitation.There's no mistaking these three dubby, house-infused tracks for Forest Swords or the Tri Angle label, but he evokes similarly spooky, ethereal vibes, whether it's the eerie clarinet buried deep inside "Blood Revision"'s clanging echo chamber, or the way "Home"'s colliding delay chains suggest the presence of powerful forces looming just out of earshot. "Permanent Swing," meanwhile, is a particularly spectral take on dub techno, like a glass-plate negative fogged with white shadows. Equal parts clammy and humid, Ancestors pushes Balearic dance music into the paranormal realm.
Ricardo Donoso, As Iron Sharpens Iron (Digitalis)
There has always been a strong rhythmic undercurrent lurking beneath Ricardo Donoso's pulsating ambient music, and with his new EP, he inches that much closer to making actual techno. With their tangled sequences and contrapuntal churn, "Affirmation," "The Sphinx," and "Diagonal Environment" are techno, basically, with only one caveat: no drums. "The Sphinx" is poised somewhere between Petar Dundov's cosmic disco and Haxan Cloak's dreadnought wave-carving; "Diagonal Environment" is part Laurie Spiegel and part Black Devil Disco Club. "The Old Straight Track," slow and ragged, offers an alternate take on space disco, de-funked and heavily fogged. If there's ever a sequel to Drive that involves hovercrafts, this should be the soundtrack.