I still remember the day I first heard Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy, in a record store in Portland, Oregon. It was 1985, I was 14 years old, and I had never heard music that sounded simultaneously so sweet and so fucked-up. I asked the clerk if the store’s speakers were broken. I no longer recall exactly what he said in reply, but I’ll never forget the look he gave me; it was as though he had summoned every last iota of condescension in the universe and focused it on me in a single, laser-like beam.
Naturally, I bought the cassette, and not only out of a sense of shame. What I learned that day is that, done right, there’s nothing better than music that sounds wrong. Fortunately, techno’s margins are full of that stuff right now; here are five, upcoming records that play fast and loose with the rules of hi-fi.
MGUN The Near Future (The Trilogy Tapes)
For all the nation’s unemployment woes, handymen should continue to have steady work for years to come. That’s one takeaway, anyway, from The Near Future, the new EP from Detroit’s MGUN (Manuel Gonzales). Forget about space-age marvels like jetpacks and personal hovercraft; Gonzales’s vision of the future is a panorama of peeling paint, frayed wires, and all-consuming rust. These six grungy tracks sound like they may have been recorded to micro-cassette; it’s hard to tell where the lo-fi FX end and the line noise begins. With one exception, they’re all just two or three minutes long, but they feel crammed with more information than your average sketch. “The Race,” the EP’s centerpiece, is a corrosive techno dirge comparable to Container’s work for Spectrum Spools; “Shamen” sounds like Kraftwerk’s “The Model” being eaten by a tape deck. “Tiles,” a two-minute, 140-BPM blast of shuffling bleep techno, is a testament to the pleasures and terrors of being quick in the mix, while “Flutters Brother” lingers lovingly over the opening chord of New Order’s “Procession” amidst a swirl of muffled drum machines and mumbles.
A Made Up Sound “Ahead” (AMS00X)
There’s always been a broken-beat sensibility to Dave Huismans’ A Made Up Sound project, the house/techno counterpart to his bass-music alias, 2562. Not as in “broken beat,” the nu-jazz variant, but in the figurative sense of rhythms that sound like, well, broken machines. He reached a new extreme with the fractured polyrhythms of last year’s “Malfunction (Despair)” (50 Weapons), and now he puts the same techniques in the service of an all-out club anthem, complete with chanted vocals and brassy synth stabs. Finding the downbeat in Huismans’ field of colliding funk breaks can feel like a drunken game of Whack-a-Mole, but the disorientation is half the fun.
Vester Koza Vester Koza EP (Maslo)
At its most compelling, lo-fi asks more questions than it answers. It masks the provenance of its sounds; it makes you wonder if what you think you’re hearing is just an illusion, a ghost note, the accidental product of two elements rubbing together and throwing off sparks. The London producer Vester Koza’s debut EP doesn’t beat you over the head with its lo-fi qualities; instead, it sucks you in. On “Mosquito,” a chorus of chirping crickets marks the wavering downbeat; elsewhere, the crackle of skipping vinyl enlivens the groove with glancing syncopations. The record’s best cut is “The Pagan Groove of San Francisco,” which matches a skipping, distorted house rhythm with chords that seem to freeze in mid-air. There’s no obvious hook, no “Eureka!” moment — only the sense of unknown forces churning away beneath the surface. Proof that the veil is more seductive than the reveal.
Call Super, The Present Tense (Houndstooth)
The first time I put on “Leosengor,” from the Berlin-based producer Call Super’s new EP, its incidental rhythms led me to wonder if I’d left a YouTube window playing in the background. Nope: Those colliding rhythms are all right there in the track, with rimshots ricocheting through fuzzy, haphazard loops as though the stylus were caked in fluff. There is a groove here, if you listen for it, but it’s more like a rope bridge that’s missing most of its slats. The track has the quality of a colored-pencil drawing that’s been attacked with a gum eraser. The other tracks on The Present Tense, the debut EP on Fabric London’s new Houndstooth label, are made of tougher stuff — particularly “Threshing Floor,” with its dramatic pads and insistent claps — but all four tracks feel like they could come apart at any moment.
Powell, Untitled EP (The Death of Rave)
The first release from the Death of Rave label was a vinyl pressing last year of the soundtrack to Mark Leckey’s 1999 video installation, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, a hallucinatory meditation on nostalgia pieced together from found footage of ravers, Northern Soul dancers, and football casuals. The label returns with a new EP from Powell, the British producer behind the Diagonal label. His music is more focused than Leckey’s associative sprawl, but it shares an interest in no-fi warble and analog abstraction, and it’s similarly haunted by the ghosts of subcultures past. Amid a backdrop of thumping toms and electrical interference, there are echoes of Suicide, Tones on Tail, rockabilly, Pan Sonic, no wave, even silvery African guitar and errant funk bass. It hangs together like a mood board culled from yellowed clippings and private obsessions. (Listen to “Oh No New York” here.)