Dance Tracks of the Week: Pan Sonic’s Mika Vainio Rips Techno a New One
Plus: Footwork mutations, retro loopholes, and sax house that doesn't suck from Addison Groove & Sam Binga, Osborne, Hodge, and Archie Pelago
Mika Vainio, Kilo (Blast First Petite)
Sorry, noise-techno dude/ttes, but I hope your state’s unemployment benefits are generous, because Mika Vainio’s new album has just made you redundant. OK, that’s harsh, but Vainio has been whomping out low-end-intensive industrial throb for close to 20 years, and his mastery of the form is self evident. In contrast to the sizzling drones and subtle dynamics of recent records like FE3O4 and Life (…It Eats You Up), Kilo loops back to the full-body blast of his duo Pan Sonic. It’s an avalanche of bass, a full-metal racket that isn’t afraid to cross over into Sunn O)))’s scorched-earth territory. It’s the first time in a long time that I can remember Vainio working with drum machines, or at least foregrounding them this way. An echoing snare drum gives “Wreck” the feel of early Swans run through the digital ringer; his kick drums — wet, flat, hard — take on the consistency of blood-slicked paving stones. The album was reportedly inspired by shipping containers and port commerce, but the immensity of the sound gives titles like “Freight,” “Weight,” “Scale,” and “Rust” an almost existential heft. Brutal.
Addison Groove & Sam Binga, BS3 EP (50 Weapons)
Addison Groove flirted with juke and footwork on last year’s SPIN Essential Transistor Rhythm, his debut album under the alias; like his breakout single, “Footcrab,” the speedier cuts combined Chicago’s quick-stepping rhythms with a bass-heavy palette more in keeping with dubstep and its descendants. Much of the record, though, moved in the other direction, sliding the tempo deep into house music’s traditional stomping ground. His new EP with collaborator Sam Binga (Baobinga) is +8 all the way: Frenetic, relentless, and rushing along at upwards of 160 beats per minute. But, if anything, the footwork hallmarks are even less pronounced here. Compared to the choppy, rock-tumbler rhythms of RP Boo or the loopy ecstasy of DJ Rashad, DJ Spinn, and Traxman, Addison Groove and Binga pursue a linear groove that feels more in keeping with drum and bass, and even techno.
That’s not to say that lines have been drawn in the sand; Rashad has been working with jungle breaks for the past year or so, and part of what makes this EP so exciting is the generous give-and-take between tropes from different genres. Tempo seems to be the motivating idea here, rather than hard-and-fast genre templates. On “Thr3id,” that means grafting the gnarled acid lines of early Aphex Twin onto stop-and-start breakbeats fleshed out with 808 rattle and dub clang. “11th,” with its chopping-block percussion and crystalline finger-snaps, sounds like Photek projected through the prism of Southern rap. And a lot of the time, the whole question of genre is all but obliterated by the force of the sound itself. “Rzor” takes counterpoint glissandos moving in opposite directions and flips them into a pummeling approximation of the Shepard tone, resulting in a tone that feels like nothing but an endless build and an endless breakdown superimposed upon one another, to vertiginous effect.
Osborne, “Hold Up” / “All Night” (Spectral Sound)
Todd Osborn has been kicking it old school since most of the current generation of retromaniacs was in short pants. That goes for his jungle project, Soundmurderer, and also the house/disco/boogie bent of his Osborne alias. He is, fortunately, just about the classiest classicist we have, capable of making even the most shopworn motifs sound fresh and polished — not “polished” as in “slick,” but “polished” as in, “I had no idea there was this beautiful, perfect thing buried beneath all those layers of fuzzy memories and gummy cliché.” He has it easy on “Hold Up,” if only because Joe Goddard’s voice sounds so unmistakably modern; I don’t know if it’s a trick of production or just something about Goddard’s delivery, but this is not a voice you would have heard two or three decades ago. The song makes no secret of its debts: The flat, echoey kick drum that opens the song comes with its very own layer of vinyl hiss, treating nostalgia as readymade. But once Osborne gets going on the keys, you really don’t care what year it is, or what year the song wants it to be. The same goes for “All Night,” which baits you with a canonical vocal sample, and then reels you in by the force of the playing and programming alone.
Archie Pelago, “Breezy Whey” (Archie Pelago)
New York trio Archie Pelago makes house with saxophones, but fortunately, the result has nothing in common with sax house, that reedy abomination, that blight upon the very notion of taste. (I’m sorry for even typing the words “sax house,” given that you are now probably imagining a shirtless bozo astride an Ibizan DJ booth, fingers rippling as he delivers endless variations upon “Careless Whisper” over an oonce-oonce beat. That was not fair to Archie Pelago, and it was not fair to you.) With that strawman (reedman?) out of the way, we can focus on what Archie Pelago do so wonderfully. On “Breezy Whey,” the new single on their eponymous label, layered horns serve as a soft, buoyant cushion for the kinetic flex above. Wooly tone clusters flip back and forth like a knot being tightened and loosened, tightened and loosened; multitracking amplifies the sensation of breath into a ragged gust of white noise. All that billowing softness stands in contrast to the hard edges and quick action of the song’s plucked arpeggios and snapping 909; the whole thing rattles and tilts like a wind-powered pinball machine.
Hodge, Holographic Prose (Well Rounded Housing Project
“What to increase? What to reduce? What to maintain?” That’s a cue from Eno’s Oblique Strategies; as it happens, the very card I selected after finding myself at an impasse while trying to write about Hodge’s new EP for Brighton’s Well Rounded label. And damned if it doesn’t actually speak with surprising accuracy to the Bristol producer’s own approach, particularly on this quiet, curious record. Balance seems to be the key imperative here — between the soft and loud, the quick and sluggish, the bright and tarnished, the mechanical and the randomized. The title track’s dry hi-hats and mercurial synth settings set it alongside Four Tet’s recent work, and the filtered, boxy rat-a-tat also recalls the work of Hodge’s pals Peverelist and Kowton. Even turned up loud, each element feels soft and cloaked in hush, and Hodge exploits that sense of intimacy by leaning in on the volume at key moments, enveloping the listener in rich chords with no warning. “Pressure” plays the limpid ambient feel of early R&S/Apollo records against sub-bass and boxy drum hits more in keeping with drum and bass. “Monster”‘s bit-crushed dub sounds like a U.K. take on old Urban Tribe; only the final “Slowing Behaviour” sounds slightly pro forma, as though he got the balance down a little too pat.