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Friday, February 14, 2003

++ Bread And Milk

++ World just keeps speeding up, or at least it feels like it, hurtling toward global crisis even as Major Tom disappears in an explosion of his own tragic banality and, closer to home, a MUNI truck in San Francisco plows into a crowd, killing a 4-year old girl. The latter's not the kind of thing that should bother me, but watching the fake (i.e., local) news last night I couldn't help but be slapped with a sense of all-encompassing catastrophe, neatly summed up in one pointless death standing synecdochically for the whole human mess. Meanwhile, acceleration sucks me into a whirlwind of deadlines and multi-tasking stasis until I end up circling my chair like a dog chasing his own tail, pulling up doc after doc onscreen in some strange dance of compositional limbo.

Ironically, then, I'm still stuck in the last gasps of 2002, caught up as I am in the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll (hint: read the essays, skim the list, and then skip straight to the hopscotch game of jumping from fave release to fave release through individual critics' lists — though you won't get far linking from mine, since my taste seems hermetic at best) and the interminable ruminations (mostly by said critics, myself included) at the I Love Music bulletin board. Hell, if the world's going to end (though Christgau reassures us it won't: "It will just get worse"), at least I can enjoy a cordial shouting match to drown out the countdown.

There are a lot of things to love about Rhode Island, but one of my favorites is the way that every winter storm brings a rush on bread and milk at every local store, from the grocers to the gas stations — as though starch and steamers alone could stave off blizzards. With the Feds urging us to stock up on weatherizing plastic and duct tape in the event of a bioterror attack (another popular item on the fake news, thanks to the suspicious dinghy spotted speeding beneath the Golden Gate Bridge), it seems to be bread-and-milk time again. (Note to hydration fanatics: Noe Valley's Shufat Market, by some strange twist of imports, is stocking Güitig, Ecuador's national mineral water, which is kind of like a more proletarian San Pellegrino, and highly worth the trip to my weird little neighborhood.) So in the spirit of the great hunker-down, I present a handful of releases to accompany your duck-and-cover drills. Note that they have little in common, besides being the soundtrack to my own private idle hole-up.

++ The first of, course, has got to be Madlib's Blunted in the Bomb Shelter Mix, if only for the title alone. As I noted last week in the flavorpill mailer: Trojan Records, a crucial layer in reggae's rocksteady bedrock, ships Madlib's entire back catalogue — he's one of indie hip-hop's most talented producers, also known as Quasimoto and Yesterdays New Quintet (sic). Madlib, with the schizo touch he's used to freak a host of assumed identities (including the five members of YNQ, each of whom is reportedly working on a solo joint), holes up in his Bomb Shelter studio and gets duplicitous with the dub and the dutchie. The result? A psychedelic tour of reggae's golden years, where tracks from I-Roy, King Tubby, Prince Jammy, The Upsetters, and more swirl together in a skanky, skunky dustup. Trad riddims get laced with the rat-a-tat of cheesy machine gun effects and the whine of sirens as Madlib pushes every button on the console, a true-sticky-fingered kid in the candy store. Half island languor, half hip-hop frenzy, Blunted is an homage to the original studio scientists — by one of this decade's prime movers of the mixing board.

Far more sedate but no less stoned are a number of new microhouse CDs that provide a lush, foamy cushion, in case you'd like to adopt the Bubble Boy approach to bunker living. Third Ear Recordings (home of the excellent Detroit Beatdown double CD of tracks from Theo Parrish, Mike Clark et al.) delves into the spongy terrain of vintage Bionaut albums with the third release from Tread, AKA Take Kitahara and Hiroshi Watanabe. Watanabe's best known as Kaito, responsible for the buoyant blissout of Kompakt's Special Life and Special Love. Tread is less resolutely housey (indeed, more than a few commentators have noted that Kaito verges on the classic trance of Speedy J), restricting itself to the barest shuffling drums to anchor its billowing sails of strings, electric piano, and spectral synth pads. It's not for the faint of cheese: some of the more noodly passages veer dangerously close to smooth jazz or New Age, but there's a redeeming emptiness at the center that keeps its melancholy from sliding into bathos.

On Germany's Onitor — responsible for the excellent Hagedorn album — You Dee (Stefan Wust, Sven Rieger, and Peter Hansen) play sleight-of-hand tricks with clicks and hollows, turning what at first seems to be a slight experiment in repetition and tone into an engrossing study in moiré patterns. Across a baker's dozen of tracks so short they could get radio play, thin organ chords unfold and fogbanks of fuzz part beneath whiny wiper blades. Echoes of Dettinger, Fennesz, and even Stereolab can all be heard lurking in the mix, as well as My Bloody Valentine, whose tombstone seems to have served as the surface off which these pigment-rich rubbings were made.

++ I've always thought of Ladomat 2000 as the goofy cousin to Kompakt, thanks to Turner's good-natured pop leanings, but the debut longplayer from Lawrence — previously responsible for singles on Kompakt and Dial — shuffles dreamily forward, too lost in thought and motion to crack a smile, much less a joke. That's not to say it's grim going — there's joy in the airy chords and quirk in the garage-for-spoons clinks and plonks. Fehlmann's overblown pads and triplet harmonies are both in evidence, as are the glacial progressions of Gas. What else is there to say? It dares you to put a fix on it, slipping away in a cascade of clicks. Uncomplicated and totally absorbing, it's ambient house at its finest.

Where Lawrence pursues the massing sound, Ware Records takes a more literal approach in its collaboration with Wiesbaden's Tape 10, a gallery devoted to large-scale photography. On Tape 10 10 artists (Laub, Markus Güntner, Decomposed Subsonic, Losoul, Mathias Schaffhäuser, et al) provide the soundtracks for images by such young photographers as Adrian Bischoff, Jens Görlich, and Kai Peters. In the vein of Thomas Struth, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and Andreas Gursky, the majority of the images are large-format landscape shots, portraying loading docks, ultramodern architecture, and domestic interiors in a surfeit of detail and a paucity of emotion. As is often the case in projects like this, the relation between music and image sometimes feels especially arbitrary, although occasionally the collaboration works marvelously, as with the pairing of Decomposed Subsonic's underwater gurgles and clicks with Thomas Balzer's still life with fish tank and Thermos. And even the less obvious linkages can inspire flights of narrative fancy: Schmidt & Herzer's oddly suspenseful bleeps and bass bestow a cinematic quality to Dirk Brömmel's "Heiderhoff," suggesting that any minute now a figure may emerge from the overgrown shrubs flanking a glass-sleeved building and slink back out of the frame. In any case, given the collapsing economy and the fact that you'll never be able to afford the 9,000-euro price tag on one of these wall-sized photos — that is, if you could fit it in your safe room in the first place — the compact booklet affords a teasing glimpse of the outside world, as seen through some of Germany's keenest eyes. (Just don't tell Dubya — he and the Germans aren't getting along so well these days.)

++ Finally, if you just need to let your hair down — whether you're a stir-crazy Rapunzel with no evacuation plan or just bloody sick of the low-grade hysteria of CNN — Daniel Bell follows up his 2000 Globus Mix, Volume 4: The Button Down Mind of Daniel Bell (Tresor) with The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back I, on France's Logistic Records, a techno mix so damned good that it made me go back on my promise never to write about another mix CD again. The mix is nothing fancy, beyond being ridiculously tight, and flip-flopping occasionally into a Jacob's Ladder game of competing downbeats. Despite his origins as the king of acid bleeps (as DBX, recording for Accelerate and Klang), Bell's current crate is a who's who of shimmery, jittery microhouse hooligans — Cabanne, Akufen, Ricardo Villalobos — fleshed out with Chicago house (Stax, AKA Abicah Soul Project), acid (The Drug Punks, on Subliminal), and even a smattering of broken beat, courtesy Neroli's Nutmeg and Stephane Attias. From the levitating meditation of Closer Musik's "123 — No Gravity" to the transcendent French house of Pepe Bradock's "Ghost," Bell's come up with the perfect mix — and the perfect vehicle for dancing your cares away after a long day contemplating regime change.


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