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Friday, October 17, 2003
++ Microhouse Puts On Weight For The Winter
++ No one could possibly feel more attached to the term "microhouse" than I, but increasingly, it's becoming a misnomer. That's not to say that no one's making "micro" tracks any more. The Paris label Circus Company continues to put its club-footed spin on the reductionist style with several new EPs; Seattle's Orac imprint runs Luomo sultriness through the Pantytec wringer on a fine new single from Bruno Pronsato; and Perlon's third installment of the Superlongevity compilation series proves that there's still life left in the atomized aesthetic. But increasingly, the most exciting tracks to come out of the German post-techno continuum are fat, throbbing monsters, trailing guts and goo, informed by '80s keyboards and a healthy dose of pop songcraft.
++ Ricardo Villalobos' new album, Alcachofa (Playhouse), is full of piecemeal pleasures the dissolving handclaps on "Bahaha Hahi," the deboned acid fillets on "I Try to Live," the aerated hiccups on "Fool Garden (Black Conga)" and "Theogenese." Rhythmically, he's as tricky as ever, setting up beat decoys and then knocking them down with a surprise kick drum, resetting the downbeat as though twisting a Rubik's Cube. But the real meat of the record is to be found in "Easy Lee" and "Dexter," the album's two most melodic tunes. "Easy Lee" finds Villalobos singing through a vocoder over a bucking, rambunctious rhythm track that sounds like a table-tennis tournament set in an airplane hangar. The only tonal elements are the voice, broken into prismatic fourths, and a single, hollow recorder tone that follows it; but by implication alone, the tune puffs up like a sponge. "Dexter" makes less of a secret of its anthemic aims, copping a descending melody line from Depeche Mode's Violator playbook and twirling around and around the penance of an absent-minded mourner condemned to wrapping his woe around his finger.
++ Sascha Funke's "Forms & Shapes" (Bpitch Control), a single off of his excellent new album Bravo, raises the pop quotient several orders of magnitude. Stripping the rhythm down to the simplest one-two punch and anchoring everything with a three-chord progression of acidic squelches, Funke directs all his attention upward, like a worshiper contemplating the upper reaches inside a Gothic cathedral. Huge, massing chords fused from multiple and clashing analog tones drift upwards; a two-bar pause mid-song silences everything but a pair of plaintive bell tones; and Funke's endearingly amateurish voice imbues his abstract lyrics with all the melancholy he can muster. (For an '80s antecedent to the kind of trembling, off-key depth Funke attains, look no further than the Human League's "Seconds.") For an indicator of how immersive the song is, consider this: I've had the single for two months, but not until today did I even bother to listen to the remixes from Ellen Allien, Lawrence, and P. Kalkbrenner. They're all lovely, with Ellen Allien's the most faithful of the lot, but none come close to touching the original.
++ Seemingly separated at birth from Funke's song is Eedio's remix of Agoria's "Kofea." It employs the same rock-based beat, hard on the one and three, the same heat-wave chord clouds, even the same sort of ambient breakdown. (It's also in exactly the same key, which makes the two perfect mixing fodder. In fact, "Easy Lee," "Forms & Shapes," and this song comprise the first three songs of a recent mix I did for the Beta Lounge, in case you feel like following along.) I don't know much about France's Agoria, except that his own productions are remarkably more straightforward than remixes for him from the likes of Eedio and Michael Mayer. Where they billow and bray, Agoria sticks to electro- and trance-tinged melodic techno. (Beware playing out the tune "Snake Hips": the way it sets a burbling acid line against a shuffling drum break, it's a one-record train wreck in the spirit of Pantytec's "Elastobabe.") But techno's secret softies will find the Eedio mix indispensable.
++ Kompakt's Superpitcher might just have the bleedingest heart of all the New Romantics, as evidenced by singles like "Heroin" and "Tomorrow," as well as his blustery blissout mix of Dntel's "The Dream of Evan and Chan." (And why, oh why, wasn't he tapped to remix the Postal Service? Sub Pop owes us an answer!) But for his dreamiest work yet, we have to go back to 2000 and his remix of "Stuck" for Contriva's Club Hit EP (Monika). (Viva filesharing: I only recently discovered this tune on the P2P networks, and promptly got hold of a proper vinyl copy. Check Forced Exposure for availability.) Sharing the same foursquare rhythm with the rest of the records in this column, the real action is in the voicing. A synthetic oboe worries the same four-note melody over and over while a host of strings and melting guitars chime in. Before long, everyone's brooding and the no-nonsense bass line is making for the door only to find it locked, condemning it to pace the same steps until the end of time. Everything's gone bleak, but at the heart of the thing there's a hint at redemption that hasn't been heard in dance music before or since.