Plus: New records from Throne of Blood, Skudge, and more
After a few weeks of loosely themed columns, this week's Friday Five goes back to the grab-bag approach. Out of the untold hours of promos, purchases, and SoundCloud surfing that constitute my listening every week, these five records jumped out. If you were to look for a common theme, you could say that most of them have a certain ruggedness to them: They're tough, bumptious, full-on — sometimes a little surly, sometimes sunshine-besotted.
Grown Folk "The Boat" / "Keep Few Near" (Icee Hot)
San Francisco's Icee Hot party takes a catholic approach to dance music; their guests have run from Jeff Mills and DJ Stingray to MK and Todd Edwards to Ben UFO and Oneman. The Icee Hot label seems determined to keep things similarly varied. After exploring tightly wound techno and broken-down house on records from Ghosts on Tape and Lando Kal, they stretch out into dulcet electro-pop with their third release, from Montreal's Grown Folk. "The Boat" is a slow-motion house shuffler poised somewhere between New Order and Hot Creations; "Keep Few Near," which sounds even better, injects the same chiming keys and swirling whispers with a crucial extra jolt of energy, and comes across like John Talabot with a fat, viscous Reese bass beneath him. Ghosts on Tape wraps the track's elements in bronze and sandpaper on tough, distorto-house remix that you'd never recognize as being related to the original, and the Dutch producer Gerd, who's on a real hot streak of late, delivers the record's master stroke with his "The Boat" remix, all minor-key acid complaint, butcher's block percussion, and hypnotic "Work it" chants. When this "Boat"'s a rockin', don't stand around idly staring at your smartphone — isn't that how the phrase goes? In any case, there's not much risk of that.
Bohemian Groove "High Jinks" / "Low Jinks" (Throne of Blood)
Throne of Blood, the Brooklyn label helmed by James Friedman and the Rapture, kicks off its year with the debut EP from Bohemian Groove, a Berlin-based trio with roots in Helsinki and Toronto. For listeners in search of deeper vibes, but tired of identikit deep house, this record offers plenty of options. "High Jinks" goes in hard on cosmic-disco vibes, with great, yearning synth pads smeared over chunky, rock-inspired drumming and a knotty funk bass line draped in slap-back reverb. It's got a definite Versatile (I:Cube, Chateau Flight) vibe to it, so it's only appropriate that Versatile's own Gilb'r turns up on the remix, finessing the rhythm into a slightly housier shimmy and adding a dizzy little Theremin lead. "Low Jinks" is darker and more subdued, with industrial-inspired huff and clang offset by lush synths; stylistically, it falls somewhere between Simian Mobile Disco and Severed Heads. The song's EBM undertones come to the fore in a remix from Lisbon's Photonz, who avail themselves of New Order's "Perfect Kiss" robo-congas and dissonant rave stabs that have Belgium 1991 written all over them.
Wax No. 50005 (Wax)
René Pawlowitz (Shed, EQD, WK7, et al.) returns with the fifth single under his Wax alias, and it sounds, well, very much like a Wax record, with crisply snapping Roland drums, balmy chords, and a fine mist of ride cymbals. I'm not sure that either tune quite measures up to the heights of 2009's No. 20002 or 2010's No. 30003; "50005A" feels particularly slight, in fact, with a rhythm that lacks his customary bite and chords verging on the pro forma. "50005B," however, has much more character, with a sullen, grumbling bass line giving way to fizzy chords sent ricocheting down the delay chain. A rare fusion of Basic Channel dub techno with 2-step swing, it bounces like a grasshopper on a trampoline.
MRSK "Venger" / "Image Ctrl" (Skudge)
After last year's "Pink Man"/"Twirl" 12-inch, Sweden's MRSK (Martin Skogehall) returns to the Skudge label with another devastating two-tracker. With every record, MRSK shows us a side we haven't seen before; it's hard to believe that the trance-inducing arpeggios of "Venger" are from the same artist that gave us the shuffling, heads-down house of "Black Keith" and "Close to Me" on his 2010 debut for Rush Hour. The piano stabs of "Image Ctrl," meanwhile, are an unexpected throwback to the '90s, but don't let that put you off. What remains consistent is MRSK's rich, swollen sound design, with percussion that thumps you sternly in the sternum, and bass and synths pushed so far into the red that they practically leave bloody footprints on the dance floor.
Teebs "Pianomess" (Unreleased)
Los Angeles beatmaker Teebs posted a new track to his SoundCloud page this week, and while the description ("demo crap..mess..etc") perhaps doth protest too much, we'll take it as an encouraging sign that he's hopefully got more on the way soon. "Pianomess" is much in the vein of Teebs' excellent 2010 album Ardour: whether it scans as "hip-hop" or "ambient" will have much to do with your mood, and perhaps the context in which you hear it. (Unfortunately, for the moment, you can only hear it on Teebs' SoundCloud, but let's hope it starts turning up in DJ mixes soon.) Over a beat that rattles like a paper bag full of wooden blocks, piano glissandi drizzle steadily down; the whole thing feels like a slow-motion pillow fight in a dandelion field at dawn.