Plus: Mind-melting new releases from Barnt, Photonz, This Heat's Charles Hayward, and more
Autechre's latest album, Exai, unexpectedly appeared for sale on Bleep and iTunes today, nearly a month before its previously announced release date; call it the m b v effect, maximizing listeners' attention by catching them off guard. I'm exaggerating — I doubt that Booth and Brown actually decided to unleash their new LP early because of anything that Kevin Shields did. (For one thing, it's only been three years since the last Autechre album, so there's really no competition there; if you average m b v's running time over the long span since Loveless, it took My Bloody Valentine that long to come up with just six minutes' worth of their new opus. Autechre can write whole new synthesis platforms in the time it takes My Bloody Valentine to change chords.)
But m b v's impromptu online release party had me thinking of Autechre anyway. The last time I had the sensation that a quorum of people in my virtual circle was tuned into the same frequency was back in 2010 when Autechre took over Resonance FM for a remarkable 12-hour DJ set. I tuned in late, only alerted to it by a tweet — Derek Plaslaiko's, if I recall correctly. And even then, I only stayed for a couple of hours. But for the time I hung around, the music was so engrossing, the flow so unpredictable, there was nothing to do other than gasp and gawp in 140-character intervals, and vibe off the similarly flabbergasted responses in my feed. I never figured out if they were actually there in the studio, mixing records and three tabs deep, or if the whole thing had been arranged in advance, assembled in Ableton and uploaded via whatever file-sharing service can accommodate a 12-hour MP3. It hardly mattered; that sense of community turned fleeting sound into something else. The ephemerality of the broadcast, accentuated by a delay-chain of RTs, just made real time feel that much more real.
Barnt "Tunsten" (Cómeme)
"The new Barnt record is easily the most insane dance track I've ever stuffed in my ears, it will cause hysteria at high volume," tweeted Swag's Chris Duckenfield earlier this week. That might sound hyperbolic, but once you hear "Tunsten," you'll likely agree with him. It starts off unassumingly enough, blissfully purposeless, with a lanky drum-machine groove that shuffles along like 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning when you haven't even begun to think of leaving the party. And then, whoa, Nelly: Is that subway rumble? Your stomach growling? The sound rises from deep beneath the floorboards and takes hold of you, octave by octave, from kneebone to neckbone: Suddenly it's a police siren; now it's a dog whistle. Cue the scary-movie graphics: It's coming from inside your head! The squeal becomes a motif, kind of — a series of notes, anyway, before it melts back into its squirmy, mercurial shapelessness, twinkling like a circus carousel that's been stuffed down an IV drip. It could have been the worst thing in the world, all that woozy up-and-down; there's nothing more depressing than music whose only purpose is to play its listeners like marionettes. But there's nothing programmatic about the tune's pitch and yaw. It lasts eight minutes, and it probably took no more than 30 to make. It's utterly bonkers, an unpredictable (and irresistible) roller-coaster ride of clenched jaws and clenched fists, of crescendo and crouch. Ladies and gentlemen, we have our new "Rock Lobster."
Millennium Q&A (Greco-Roman)
2013 is shaping up to be a great year for off-kilter vocal tracks. A few weeks back we had "No Time to Waste," a bewitching collaboration between Joakim Bouaziz and Kindness' Adam Bainbridge, a.k.a. Everyone; now the Berlin singer-songwriter Norman Palm and Renaissance Man's Ville Haimala team up as Millennium to deliver a curious little EP in a similar spirit to Everyone's single. Palm's a smart lyricist, untying knotty little conceits like the chorus of the title track: "Lover of mine, tell me the rhyme that goes with me / Thought we were prime, like five, seven, thirteen, and three." But his voice itself is just as captivating — soft, a little squishy, with a charming hint of a Continental ESL drawl; his vowels sound like he's rolling a marble on his tongue, and the way his inflection droops from note to note is almost plaintive, but kind of hopeful, too. It's the kind of voice where the intonation expresses as much as the words, if not more. Haimala's production is a world away from the bumptious house music of his Renaissance Man project, favoring delightfully cheap-sounding string stabs layered with rumpled percussion and jewel-toned keyboards. It's a small sound with a big heart.
Photonz "1551" (Unknown to the Unknown)
Photonz' new single for the Unknown to the Unknown label sounds both playful and dangerous, like a plastic toy with sharp edges and brittle protuberances. As usual, the Lisbon duo pushes its machines deep into the red, resulting in swollen synth leads and rough, chapped handclaps. But there's a sweetness to their particular brand of rickety, rudimentary house music, even if it's filtered through the cartoonish menace of old rave tunes; there's a sense of longing that transcends the music's retro-leaning reference points.
Pev & Kowton "Raw Code" (Hessle Audio)
Peverelist and Kowton are both masters of marrying toughness with sensuality, and they demonstrate it again with a new single for Pev, Pangaea, and Ben UFO's Hessle Audio label. The resinous string synths of "Raw Code" have a similar heft to those from Kowton's strident "More Games" and "Des Bisous," although here they're slightly less inclined to tear your scalp off; rat-a-tat snares beat with the steady intensity of a woodpecker, only slower and deeper, while plunging toms and metallic clatter lend the impression of chopped-and-screwed EBM. A low, churning drone sounds like it might have come from a Sunn O))) record; it grounds the music with an ominous pedal (to the metal) tone.
Charles Hayward "Smell of Metal" / "Lopside" / JD Twitch and Maxmillion Dunbar remixes (KEMAΛ)
From what I can gather from its SoundCloud page, KEMAΛ is a relatively new label, maybe Greek? Its debut release was by an artist named ANAΣΤΕΝΑΡΙΑ and included remixes from Vatican Shadow and Pete Swanson; it seems to have an affiliated label called Berceuse Heroique, whose debut (and only?) release is by the brilliantly twisted Dutch techno producer Gesloten Cirkel. If those names mean anything to you, right off the bat you can see that we're in interesting territory. Now it gets more interesting: the label's second record is a reissue of two tracks by This Heat drummer Charles Hayward, originally released on his 1990 album Skew-Whiff – A Tribute to Mark Rothko. Where many of Rothko's admirers tend to render his supersaturated wash of color into diffuse ambient tones — think of Bernhard Günter, say — Hayward clearly hears other shapes and structures bristling beneath the reds and blues. Both "Lopside" and "Smell of Metal" move with supple, muscular grace, folding together tropes from post-punk and dub and metal and disco; there's a smattering of vibraphone, electric bass, and incidental percussion, but the drums take the lead here, and Hawyard makes them sing. (If I'd known about this record in 1990, I might not have been so gung-ho about Tortoise.)
Optimo's JD Twitch tackles the first remix. (Of course he does — remixing artists like Charles Hayward is precisely what he was born to do.) His "Lopside (A JD Twitch Optimo Espooio Version)" doesn't change much about the original; leaving the drums intact, it piles on quavering synthesizers and channels the spirit of Italian horror soundtracks from the '70s. Maxmillion Dunbar, on the other hand, goes for old Mo' Wax vibes with his "Smell of Metal" remix, looping boom-bap breaks and sleigh bells beneath glistening Rhodes, and availing himself of Hayward's tricky timekeeping to add an extra dose of skittering and wriggling movement. Anyone could have just chopped that shit up and made something serviceable out of it, but you can tell that Max D really listened to the ripples between the beats, his ear pressed close against the surface of Hayward's skins.