Basscadet is a monthly column from Gary Suarez, combining thoughts about current trends in electronic music with short-form reviews of recent releases.
In certain mysterious ways, electronic music is about communication, maybe to a subtler extent than most genres but no less important. As a broad genre that’s wordless more often than not, it eschews the poetics of hip-hop, the directness of punk, the narratives of country. But nonetheless the messaging invariably exists, maybe encapsulated in a song title, sample, or simply via the sorts of feelings the track conjures in a listener.
Rarely, though, does an electronic album sport so obvious an agenda as Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories did in 2013. Disco thrills begat disco indoctrination and prog reprogramming. Among its takeaways was the elevation of guitars as a tool for producers and songwriters now as it had been in the days of Chic. Not that Ratatat needed a couple of French cyborg cosplayers to tell them guitars were cool to use in dance music again.
While Mike Stroud wasn’t the first of the gang with an axe in his hand, he lacks the apparent pomp and pomposity of neo-Gainsbourg galoots. Where the Versaille gents of Phoenix seemingly arrived to be crisp, tailored pop stars, the Brooklyn boys of Ratatat came out of the gate like the Second Coming of Foghat. Lyrics weren’t important, but evocative, arena-filling riffs were. Stroud and Evan Mast’s first records together pivoted between enticement and clobbering like all good classic rock does.
Even if not the intent, Magnifique serves as a handy response to the gimmick-laden bloat of Random Access Memories, a “Sweet Home Alabama” corrective to counter Neil Young levels of self-righteous smugness. It’s the latest in a subliminal, intercontinental conversation between the duos, one that started curiously enough with 2004’s Ratatat only to be answered the following year by Daft Punk’s somewhat similar yet still deeply misunderstood Human After All.
Communication, naturally, happens from track to track within the confines of the same album. “Drift” is an aloha spoken by a woebegone droid, yet when the same swaying returns later on “Nightclub Amnesia”, it’s more upbeat and unapologetic. On “Supreme”, things get wistful again on a Roy Orbison tip. But they’re all connected, and the commendable cohesiveness of the entire album suggests these aren’t the last five years’ scattered keepers reluctantly compiled to appease Ratatat’s contractual overlords.
Though described in standard PR boilerplate as a return to form following the more liberal LP3 and LP4, Magnifique doesn’t exist in some vacuum. Ratatat’s genre-hopping albums inform their latest one, albeit with distinct new outcomes. The tavern tears of “I Will Return”, the boombox hustle of “Cold Fingers”, the hold muzak of “Countach” — all of these are but a game of telephone, mutating the original message into ever more creative interpretations of what could’ve been a rather limited template. More straightforward, “Cream on Chrome” satisfies more rockist cravings.
Click ahead for a roundup of the rest of July’s major electronic releases.
Christian Tiger School – Chrome Tapes [Tommy Boy Entertainment]
Apart from some song titles and rapper Okmalumkoolkat’s standout feature on “Damn January”, there are few cues provided to indicate that this music comes out of South Africa. At a time when exciting and innovative electronic music seems to be gushing out of the country, Christian Tiger School finds a way to be both left field and conservative at the same damn time. An often unpredictable album, Chrome Tapes presents gonzo tech (“Chorisolo”, “Handmade Mandorin”) and headless boom bap (“Star Search Phezulu”) as neighbors. The LA beat scene influence looms over their “Demamp Camp”, a gauzy bauble encrusted with crackles. Unlike genre records that give producers some necessary mooring, this one suffers from too much free association and the insular delights of tinkering with sonics. A most egregious example, everlong finale “Cinderella Rocafella” warbles and parades aimlessly, too enamored with the sound of its slightly out-of-step rhythms.
Greeen Linez – The Calm [Diskotopia]
As Jamie xx and Shamir can tell you, retro sells. Refurbished rave-ups, tonsillectomy garage, South Beach jazz, and, well, that’s about it, await listeners on Greeen Linez’s latest album. A decidedly toothless outing, The Calm, as it were, wants for a little bit of storm. Supremely safe and squinting with irony, these 11 instrumental tracks rarely if ever rise above the motif. There’s no shortage of lush keyboard work here; rather, there’s an excess bursting from the sonic silos. Cluttered cuts like “Clutch” and “Secrets of Eden” could benefit from a fresh mixdown, with parts hemorrhaging all over each other. More overt oversteps like the rocksteady R&B of “Findings” and the ‘80s soap operatic ballad “Australasia” appear to be parodying rather than paying homage. Up until the smooooooth flute synth comes in, “Family Law” sounds a lot like some second-tier Factory Records act’s discombobulated attempt to write a new Baywatch theme.
High Tides – High Tides [Rad Cult]
Despite some fairly obvious ambitions, psychedelia seems to have eluded these Black Moth Super Rainbow cohorts on this most un-savage journey to the heart of the Americone Dream. Instead of partaking in the supernova swirl, the duo cruises through a dustbowl of new wave and new age, buoyed by a perpetually woozy and downtempo pace. From the replicant dub of “The Beach Elder” to the gummed-up hip-hop of “Ripped Tide”, High Tides resonates more for its palatable familiarity than the bright and uncertain wonders of a genuine trip. Regrettably, roughly every other song reworks a Thomas Fec track, including an exfoliated take on Tobacco’s “Face Breakout”. This curious decision artificially stretches out what would’ve made for an EP’s worth of good material suitable for a Nicolas Winding Refn feature. And what a far-out EP it might’ve been, with the cosmic head nods of “Coastal Cruise ‘86” and “The Sunset Tanz”.
Nervo – Collateral [Ultra]
Aussie twins Miriam and Olivia Nervo arrive with a respectable resume of songwriting credits for major label pop artists, though it’s their role in creating “When Love Takes Over” with David Guetta and Kelly Rowland that separates their own full-length debut from so much of what’s circling the conveyors at the EDM tripe factory. At first glance, hands-in-the-air anthems like “Oh Diana” and “Reason” appear to be Nervo’s specialty. With an arsenal of guest vocalists on deck, the duo can construct an impressive festival set solely of their own tunes. But it’s the Kylie Minogue meets Jake Shears meets Nile Rodgers wham bam disco slam of “The Other Boys” that makes them worth following. Still, Nervo can be as schmaltzy as any of the other big room goons, as made abundantly clear on the cringeworthy running monologue of “Haute Mess”. The trick works much better when rapper Kreayshawn and pals are on the assist for kiss-off “Hey Ricky”.
Click ahead to read about July’s smaller blips on the electronic scene.
Dan Bodan – SOFTY SOFT Vol. 3 [DFA]
With an arresting voice not dissimilar to Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall, this quirky, Berlin-based brooder yet again gives over his sentimental tunes for an eclectic set of transformative remixes, including Howie B’s dramatic boudoir dub and Low Concept’s disorienting energy flash.
Celestial Trax – Vaxxilate [Rinse]
Much like the tenebrific bass junkies of the Tri Angle roster, this Brooklynite keeps these four new tracks cartilaginous and cavernous, each designed to shake the room with volume and scarcity.
DJ Dino – Udino Loh [Townshiptech]
The young Durban resident’s gqom productions sound as though they were gasping for air inside a hermetically sealed trap house.
Douchka – Joyful [Nowadays]
Francophone Moog maximalism and exaggerated trap demonstrates the overwhelming brightness of this artist’s palette, regrettably more so than any ability to convert all those day-glo colors into particularly memorable club tunes.
Galantis – Peanut Butter Jelly Remixes [Atlantic]
Jacques Lu Cont sprinkles some of that old Darkdancer dust over the Jaxx-esque cut, but the rest of these remixes fundamentally lack the original’s magic.
Florian Kupfer – Explora [Technicolour]
From the title track’s overwrought obsidian techno thump to the blown-out B-movie creep of “Headpiece”, this protracted four-tracker plays at Plastikman but comes out like plasticine.
Meat Beat Manifesto – Kasm02 [Kmas]
Too often overlooked for his pioneering earlier work, the incomparable Jack Dangers connects with the legendary Skam’s fresh sublabel for a mostly diverting EP of electronica throwbacks slathered with a fresh coat of paint.
Venetian Snares – Your Face [Planet Mu]
Breakbeat raconteur Aaron Funk cranks up his Pandoran music box of dirty tricks, unleashing acidic squiggles, glass armonica melodies, snappy rhythms, violent choral refrains, and dolphin calls in about as much time as it takes to watch a prime time sitcom.
Paul Woolford – Orbit/MDMA [Hotflush]
Continuing his worthwhile run for Scuba’s imprint, the “Erotic Discourse” producer switches here between whooping red-alert techno on one side and a serotonin-blasted rave-up on the other.
Gary Suarez is a writer born and raised in New York City. He tweets.