Michael Mayer, Mantasy Remixe 2 (Kompakt)
A good seven months since the release of Michael Mayer's Mantasy, do we really need new remixes of it? As it turns out, we do. Agoria, Robag Wruhme, and Will Saul and October's reinterpretations are wildly divergent — from each other, and from the source material. You could almost call them counterintuitive. Saul and October take the Moroder-flavored "Mantasy," whose defining feature is its robo-disco bass line, and refashion it into a cosmic techno epic with virtually no audible bass line whatsoever, just aching pads and clattering woodblocks underpinned by subsonic swells. "Baumhaus," an eccentric, low-key number that frames shuffling rockabilly (sax bleats, bass twang) with pastoral harps and chimes, turns into a masterfully melancholic (and surprisingly forceful) dance-floor meditation in Robag Wrume's hands, with echoes of Ricardo Villalobos' "Easy Lee." And Agoria converts the lilting, slightly ridiculous piano house of "Good Times" ("No hesitation / No obligation / Sweet temptation / Let's just have a good time") into a feel-good anthem that nevertheless lives up to what Mayer once told me about Kompakt: "We're pro- sadness on the dance floor." It's all wrapped up in rich chords that feel almost foamy, like waves rolling in, which seems fitting, given that it would be hard to come up with a track better suited to sunset beach parties.
The best thing about the package is the way that it sent me back to Mayer's album to puzzle over the links between the original songs and their reworks. In hindsight, it feels almost as though the album has been quietly developing in the months since I last listened to it; the parts that felt slight have more depth, and elements I had initially written off as jokey now seem more cryptic. It's humbling — and refreshing — to realize that maybe you'd been wrong in your initial assessment of an album; props to Mantasy's remixers for persuading me to listen again.
FCL, "It's You" (Defected)
One of last year's most coveted — and unlikely — house anthems has been reissued by Defected, the same label that plucked Tensnake's "Coma Cat" from underground obscurity in 2010 and turned it into one of that summer's biggest crossover hits. Recorded by the Belgian duo FCL (Red D and San Soda), "It's You (San Soda Panorama Bar Acca Version)" — a cover of a song by the early house duo E.S.P., released in 1986 on the D.J. International sub-label Underground — stands out in large part for what it's not. The beat is reduced to a wispy hi-hat/clap pattern, and there's no kick drum at all; every now and then, a lone synth bass adds a hint of low end, but otherwise it's almost entirely a cappella, with the singer Lady Linn tracing a breathy melody against rising and falling background harmonies from Hercules and Love Affair member Gustaph. Bewitchingly minimalist, its floating-on-air qualities are reminiscent of Joe Smooth's 1988 house classic "I'll Be There (Percahouse Apella)." Heard at home, it might not immediately seem like a floor-filler, but anyone who has experienced it in a packed club will know otherwise. (Just check out the rapturous reaction when FCL played played it in June, 2012, before most folks even knew what it was; watching the dancers' expressions and hearing whistles rise from the dance floor, it's as though you could witness the melody rewiring people's synapses in real time.)
The single-sided 12-inch, pressed up in an edition of 150, was initially sold only via the duo's We Play House website and at the Music Mania record store in their home town of Ghent; copies of the original pressing have sold on Discogs for as much as $233 (and are currently listed for between €130.00 and $700, making some of those RSD eBay flips look like peanuts in comparison). Defected gave the tune a digital reissue in February, and this week the label released new remixes from Italy's Flashmob, David Morales, MK, and house legend Mr. Fingers (Larry Heard). They're all perfectly serviceable reworks, giving new legs to a track that's been hammered to death in recent months, but none comes close to the weightless euphoria of San Soda's "Panorama Bar Acca Version," a song that will still be tugging dancers into the stratosphere long after the dust from the current hype has settled.
Pearson Sound, REM (Pearson Sound)
Skrillex took a virtual-reality spacewalk at NASA yesterday, but that's nothing compared to Pearson Sound (David Kennedy, a.k.a. Ramadanman), whose new EP sounds like the London producer is already floating in zero-G. Pearson Sound's recent releases — particularly the sublime "Untitled"/"Footloose" 12-inch on his eponymous label, from last summer, and his recent "Quivver," for Boddika's Nonplus label — have been drifting further and further from club convention, connected to the dance floor by a tenuous tether of slow-motion breakbeats. "REM" makes it sound like he's holding on by a thread. In contrast to virtually all dance music ever, there's no kick drum at all. There's plenty of movement in its twitchy hi-hats, which tap out coded rhythms before swiveling backwards with the elegant jerk of a remote-controlled device, like vintage Photek made even more robotic. Mainly, though, it just hangs in space, dub delay leaking out like air through a deadly pinprick.
"Figment" is an ambient sketch for plucked string pads, blissfully open-ended, halfway between a ringtone and a mantra; it would make an excellent soundtrack for an advertisement for Quietus, the suicide drug in Children of Men. But with "Gridlock" and "Crimson (Beat Ritual Mix)" he digs back into the messy here and now, balancing half-speed breakbeats against square-wave sub bass and pitching down his snares until they begin to come apart in dry, heavy flakes, like mica, or dead skin.
Baba Stiltz, "Sometimes" (Born Free)
In the Ultra-vs.-Boiler Room era of EDM metastasis and underground retrenchment, the line separating the two cultures sometimes feels like a brick wall (and not just because of differing attitudes towards side-chain compression). But Sweden's Born Free label, despite its subterranean bona fides — lo-fi Italo-disco homages, cassette releases limited to 50 copies — doesn't seem too hung up on the narcissism of small differences. On the label's fifth release, the mysterious Baba Stiltz (a.k.a., albeit unhelpfully, the Betlehem Beard Corporation and Mrs. Qeada) flips the Etta James sample popularized by Avicii's "Levels" into a lovably schlumpy slo-mo house jam fleshed out with Kerri Chandler chord-pump and Mark E machine thump. Too soon? It's hard to say, honestly; Pitbull may have ruined that one for years to come. But the dissonance that Stiltz wraps around the vocal is enough to make you think twice about it — indeed, about the very nature of musical provenance and guilt-by-association, obscurity and accessibility. (Perhaps for that reason, founders Sling & Samo are the rare L.I.E.S. artist you'll hear speaking sympathetically of Swedish House Mafia.) It helps that other recent releases on the label, from Hound Love, Cos/Mes, and Sling & Samo, do a fine job blurring the line between pop and cult, as though Justus Köhncke had taken the reins at 100% Silk.
Ex-Pylon, "Shakes" (Studio Barnhus)
After six minutes of frosty synths, filtered disco licks, and lashing hi-hats, Ex-Pylon's "Shakes" feels like it's ready to come to a close. The fizzy chords have already peaked and faded; the boxy snares and lagging tambourine broadcast a sense of exhaustion. Most DJs would probably be on to their next track by now, but they'd be missing out, because Ex-Pylon is just getting going. For the next six minutes, the French Touch signifiers fall away, supplanted by skeletal drum track and stacked fifths so roughly panned and weirdly compressed that they leave you feeling light-headed. Since Ex-Pylon first appeared on Sweden's Studio Barnhus label two years ago, fans have tried to figure out who it might be; Nathan Fake called him "an old pal of mine from norfolk college dayz" in a Myspace post way back in 2008, but from the sound of the gleaming, grinding "Shakes," it's not hard to imagine it being Fake himself, that faker.