Spine-tingling tracks from Julio Bashmore, Untold, et al.
"Anthem" is a funny word. In dance music, there's hardly any higher praise; it signifies the elevation of a song to something nearing universality — a social fact. But in the more traditional sense of the word, anthems are awkward, embarrassing things; at worst, they're propaganda; more often, simply pompous. (Who actually enjoys singing the American national anthem?) But perhaps that's partly the point: Anthems, by definition, preach to the converted; the same people going apeshit for Avicii's "Levels" aren't likely the ones drooling over Julio Bashmore's "Battle for Middle You," and vice versa.
All five of this week's selections play, in one way or another, with epic scale and anthemic status, but they do so from a position of ambivalence. The results range from sly and tongue-in-cheek to breast-beatingly visceral.
Julio Bashmore "Troglodytes" (Broadwalk Records)
Julio Bashmore was responsible for one of the mega-jams of 2011, "Battle for Middle You" (PMR Records), which boasted swollen synth riffage and the chanted call to arms, "People get up! Let's get down." A year and a half later, you might expect its force to have faded somewhat, but no: If anything, its instant-recognition factor, paired with the promise of an ecstatic payoff, makes it even more powerful on the dance floor. "Troglodytes," a free track that Bashmore is giving away as a teaser for "Au Seve," the inaugural release on his own Broadwalk Records, doesn't rank quite as high on the soul-exploding scale, but its impact belies its demure exterior. Over a stripped-down 808 groove, Bashmore floats a synth-flute melody in Ennio Morricone's high lonesome style, and he pairs it with an improbable sample from the Jimmy Castor Bunch's 1972 novelty disco-funk song "Troglodytes". Perhaps Bashmore's song qualifies as a novelty, as well, but that doesn't make it any less endearing.
Jonathan Boulet "This Song Is Called Ragged (Dro Carey Remix)" (Modular)
Australia's Dro Carey has been putting out records since 2010, when he was just 18 years old, and his style has developed rapidly. His records for labels like Ramp Recordings and the Trilogy Tapes represent a unique fusion of house, grime, footwork, and electro—familiar touchstones for bass music, perhaps, but no one else makes them sound quite like he does. He told Resident Advisor that "loneliness and humor" are the driving forces behind his music, and you can hear those elements in his remix of Jonathan Boulet's "This Song Is Called Ragged." The original is a chiming, yearning indie-pop anthem with the kind of massing vocal harmonies that will likely have it soundtracking smartphone commercials before long. Not so Carey's remix, which reworks the vocals to sound more like a vintage recording of Christian hymns sung by an African choir. That's the lonely bit, chilling and strung out; the low-key humor comes in the form of whoops rearranged into a cartoonish counterpoint over a lumpy, sticks-and-stones rhythm. This song is called ragged, indeed.
Sensate Focus "Sensate Focus 5" (Sensate Focus/Editions Mego)
A few years ago, I never would have expected Editions Mego to publish a house-music sub-label; for that matter, I also wouldn't have expected Mark Fell to turn his hand to such unrestrainedly ecstatic fare. In the duo SND, Fell created some of the most stripped-down, anhedonic fare ever to wear the tag of "microhouse," and his distrust of simple pleasures even led him to tell an interviewer, "I'm far more comfortable with an audience reacting negatively to what I do." Here, on the second release under his Sensate Focus alias, he dives headfirst into the visceral with chopped-up cries, swollen synth pads, basso growls, and well-lubed house grooves that flutter like a racing pulse. But he's still parsimonious with his money shots, though: His alias alludes to Masters and Johnson's technique of emphasizing holistic sex over mere orgasm, and this track's structure is well-suited to the conceit, privileging an extended state of climax that never comes down from its cloud.
Untold Change in a Dynamic Environment Part 2 (Hemlock Recordings)
A few months ago, I wrote about Jack Dunning's Change in a Dynamic Environment Part 1, a gargantuan two-tracker of slowly unfurling industrial techno; next week, the sequel comes out, and it's even more powerful. Again, he avails himself of seven- and eight-minute running times in order to accentuate the vastness of the music. On "Breathe," that means a muted shimmer of chords imbued with the motion of a great, galactic sigh; the swinging, tech-house groove is just a foil for meandering, harp- and bell-like melodies that peal like the music of the spheres. (Structurally, it's similar to Ricardo Villalobos' recent "Emilio [2nd Minimoonstar]," but it's about a million times more immediate.) Where "Breathe" hangs infinitely in mid-air, "Caslon" repeats the precipitous rise and fall of the previous EP's cuts, beginning with an understated bass arpeggio and steadily ramping up to a vertiginous peak — octaves jumping, cymbals crashing, engines thrown into "blast off" position &38212; before deflating, just as steadily, into a spent skin of plucked tones and pitter-pat drums. Sci-fi doesn't get much more wide-screen than this.
Sandro Perri "Changes"/"Love & Light" (DFA)
I've already written briefly on the video premiere for Zongamin's "Changes" remix, but this EP deserves a little extra attention. Sandro Perri's Impossible Spaces (Constellation Records) was one of my favorite records of 2011; a long way from his disco and dub-techno roots, it suggested an attempt to re-imagine the legacy of Arthur Russell in the context of a jam band. Here, four remixers offer radically different reworkings of the Steely Dan-like "Changes" and the jazzy, winsome "Love & Light." Eluvium, opting for billowing chords over a 4/4 thump, achieves a transcendent glow reminiscent of the Field's luminous loops, while Zongamin funnels squirrely guitar soloing into an electro-funk dub with the rock-steady vibe of an old Arthur Baker B-side. Mickey Moonlight's "Love & Light" remix makes the most of Perri's heavenly falsetto, magnifying its scope with cathedral-sized reverb and accenting its intimacy with a beat built from huffing breath that gradually blossoms into a shuffling breakbeat; it sounds a little like Jamie Lidell remixing Bon Iver, and I mean that in the best way possible.
My favorite of the four mixes comes from Max Gross, a.k.a. Toronto's Craig Dunsmuir, Perri's collaborator in the duo Glissandro 70, which released an indispensable album of low-key Afro-disco in 2006. Here, he plays up Perri's debt to Arthur Russell — in 2005, Perri released "Kiss Me Again and Again," a tribute to Dinosaur L's "Kiss Me Again" — with a dirge-like series of moans that immediately recall the bluesy vocals of Russell's Another Thought. The groove samples shakers and hand percussion, resulting in a kind of tumbling, accidental funk that approaches B.D.I.'s tribal industrialism for the Rush Hour and Running Back labels. Some wag in my Twitter feed recently suggested that we should never trust anyone who wears his Arthur Russell references too openly, but in this case, the intensely private, home-spun quality of the song is more than up to the task.