Our monthly round-up of electronica albums that must make it into your playlistAlbums, New Music, Reviews January 24, 2014
Burial – Rival Dealer EP
It’s been a year since we heard this reclusive British prodigy release new material, and if his EP Truant/Rough Sleeper was a departure from style, that’s only because we didn’t know what Rival Dealer EP had in store. This December release sees Burial forsaking his roots almost entirely, with only the trademark snap of crumbling tape keeping him company.
Never content with focusing on a sub-genre, he chooses instead to master them all. Keeping with his recent tradition of roomy, free-fall compositions that make up entire halves of his albums, the brunt of his heavy lifting is on “Rival Dealer” and “Come Down To Us.” The title track starts with a frenetic rave attack (a first surprise of many) that bursts into broken hip-hop bass the man has come into an immense club sound.
Burial’s greatest gift is in injecting emotions into spaces where, by all rights, there ought to be none. Over the stirring final act of “Rival Dealer,” he wields spoken words, hushed echoes and ambient backgrounds with a moving authenticity. He is devilish in his detailing: an example being when a simple “this is who I am” breaks into a short burst of flute, or how easily the track morphs into “Hiders,” a piano ballad that suddenly turns into an autotuned dance ritual. “Hiders” is his first radio-length masterpiece since “Street Halo” (2011).
The eerie “Come Down To Us” (the title hinting at UFO sightings, if the dialogue sampled toward the end of “Rival Dealer” is to be believed – Burial’s music sometimes cross-references and recycles samples) starts with a frightened voice: “excuse me, I’m lost.” Symphonic hooks fall into place over fractured vocals, laced through with a fascinating stringed loop. Amazingly, halfway through, we’re in the midst of jangly 80s pop, an upbeat end to a solid record. The final sample, an address by American filmmaker Lana Wachowski about what it means to be transgendered, is the single most directly meaningful – and hopeful – message that the artist’s ever expressed.
Despite repeat listens, it’s dauntingly difficult to understand exactly how Burial pulling such disparate elements into each other without ever sacrificing that distinctive touch.
This is some of the best that modern electronic music has to offer: it would be very wrong to ignore the Rival Dealer EP.
Alight – Iridis EP
As a producer, it is easy (and presumably fun) to switch monikers between two projects that sound only vaguely dissimilar (does anyone even keep track of what name Aphex Twin is releasing music under these days?). A ‘side project,’ no longer of secondary importance, is quickly becoming archaic nomenclature.
With Alight (aka Throwing Snow aka Ross Tones, the male half of Snow Ghosts) having been impressively endorsed by the likes of Bonobo and Thom Yorke, it comes as little surprise that he makes some left-of-center music. Iridis EP clips elements of jungle onto spaced, dreamy sighs and dark techno stabs, but melds genres in the best possible way – it doesn’t intend to break deliberately out of them, it simply stops through because the song demands it.
Still, “Obelisk” isn’t a perfect opener – the build over background static is involving until the tech-house beat jumps in, lending the track a hint of monotony – “Darqa” too suffers on much the same account.
The show-stealers here are the title track “Iridis” (a faded chant loop welded via kick-drums into button-mashing bass) and “Caligo.” The latter herds heartfelt violins into the deep fuzzy end of a crescendo, all with the gentle nudge of a muted bass.
Ziro’s remix of “Obelisk” improves upon the track greatly: his version is distinctly alien and mechanized, a menacing edge to an EP otherwise devoid of such.
bEEdEEgEE – SUM/ONE
“So, at least to begin with,” says the opening sample on SUM/ONE, ”I would recommend closing your eyes.”
Aptly enough, it is this very blind faith that propels the listener through the hip-hop and TRAP and house snatches caught helplessly between tracks on this solo side project. As bEEdEEgEE, Gang Gang Dance member Brian DeGraw’s influences are like a rich man’s clothes, quickly worn and easily discarded. A loose framework usually holds his music together and culminates in some spectacular synth and vocal flourishes, but sometimes (as on the chiptune bearing “Like Rain Man”) the best parts seem accidental.
The songs that do get it right are massive, however. Although it’s difficult to imagine ‘earnest’ applied to music by a Gang Gang Dance member, “Empty Vases” is a sprawling composition replete with anguished vocals (“I won’t hold on to this thing anymore”) and wistful guitars, and merits the adjective.
But it’s “(F.U.T.D.) Time Of Waste” (the acronym stands for the latter half of “all I want to do is fuck up the day”, a lyric sung by Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor – and one that you’ll find yourself humming indefinitely courtesy this song) that is bEEdEEgEE’s definitive calling card, campy 80s synths and all. “Flowers”, with its French house artist Kavinsky-like build and hazy disco beats, is a close third.
“Bricks” and closer “Quantum Poet Riddim” are both experiments cluttered with far too many ideas, and are questionable inclusions. All in all, SUM/ONE can be an uneven debut, but its highlights warrant repeat listening.
Kele Okereke – Heartbreaker EP
If your immediate reaction to a trans-genre crossover by an otherwise solid musician isn’t horror, you’ve probably never been introduced to Dee DeeRamone’s rap side-project, or Lil Wayne’s rock Rebirth. At first, the incarnation of (Bloc Party’s) Kele Okereke as a house producer seems laughable, but then you realize that it isn’t so far removed from being a reality and might actually amount to something – after all, Bloc Party is as close to electronic production as rock came in the ‘00s, and Crosstown Rebels is a respectable home for house music, one usually trusted to sign quality acts.
Indeed, the title track develops into an earworm over repeat listens, merging two-step with dull, lazy bass and then sliding in hand-claps over Bobby Gordon’s sparse vocal track to top it all off. It manages to be good without being different. “God Has A Way,” however, is a staid plod along the build and drop structure that was once a timeless classic, but got monotonous over the years.
The most dance-worthy vessel here is Berlin techno producer Recondite’s version of the title track, relevant and urgent, straining at a far-away club call.
My biggest complaint with Heartbreaker EP is that it performs adequately but never really breaks out of its mould. Kele obviously has the sensibilities of a long-time disciple of the genre, but in trying to prove that he’s good enough at making it himself, becomes just that – good enough.