This months edition of Basal Sounds comes with a bit of a twist. Muttley assumes the role of Marty McFly taking us back and forth in time...
With the onset of, in non-technical terms, apathy towards checking music I don't already own, and not wanting to own more than I already do, it has been difficult bringing you the last 2 instalments of Basal Sounds, and by March's edition I had already started mixing the old with the new. But I think this is essential to growth of healthy perception – the academics call it referencing, I call it getting a decent grip on what I really want out of music. The modus operandi of Basal Sounds has always been music that hits you in the chest, and July 2014's book-extending batch is no different in some ways!
ASC – The Sci—Files / Truth Be Told LP / Time Heals All LP (Auxiliary / Silent Season)
First a blast from the pre-Autonomic past from ASC. The "Sci-Files" were released on his previous (and first) label Covert Operations starting February 2008. Covert eventually encountered distribution problems as companies downsized their roster. These tracks were made for vinyl truth be told (more on that in a minute) and mix the latent space and intoxicating reverbed warmth of early Plaid and Autechre with Aphex rhythm smarts – a nice blend, and coterminous with all tracks on this re-released version. "Datura" for me is the most wanton, validating drum beats with a half-time times normal-dnb-time chronic juxtaposition. Sweet stuff for soul travelling.
What belongs in the genre-moving Basal Sounds column is still open to audience questioning, but as bass resonates on so many levels with ambient and drone music, and there's interrelated axis' with "Sci-Files", it feels warranted to mention ASC's two most recent ambient LPs, including the universally-acclaimed "Time Heals All". It earned ASC a spick and span Resident Advisor feature by Andrew Ryce, where subverting formulas are discussed. Reinventing the wheel makes up a large portion of ambient music as a genre. To experiment in ambient is to say, "well, I've got other instruments or I've just got synths and samples. I've got Feng Chui and then I've got what makes me feel good. I can either make the best of what I've got, creating malleable arrangements that shift attention back, then I've got formulating an intentionally messy atmosphere that sounds like a blur of VSTs all in a mixing pot". For James Clements, aka ASC, the latter isn't actually where he succeeds, as the last track doesn't conjure as much from its more complex layering pattern. For the other 8 pieces though, it's pure bliss.
Fact Mix 448: Throwing Snow (June 2014)
The first time in Basal Sounds I'm commenting on a mixtape, as it's more of a sound collage akin to the category sound art, is from Throwing Snow. After a small vocal and drone section which sounds like the lovechild of Natasha Khan (Bat For Lashes) and Liz Harris (Grouper), a choppy air raid siren, scything synth crackles capriciously over an irregular bass pattern to stimulating effect. Needling in the climate of post-Autonomic and Auxiliar-ite posturing, like a crystal harvest to a Command And Conquer gamer, conquering is what this brevity becomes, taking you on a white knuckle ride of stop/start percussion, elusive and illusory time-games, added with a sprinkle of bass music salt and seasoned with a cocktail of experimental spices. The tidal, groaning pull at ten minutes reminds of Vector Burn's atmospheres on Warm Communications, mixed with Art Of Noise. Taken without a tracklist it's a much more enlightening listen, and even with one (available on the FACT site) the brain is left buzzing after-listen that this 67 minutes were well spent.
Infest – Observer / Dak – Nutcase (Counter Intelligence 12', played at 33rpm)
Returning to the pure bass end of things, and setting up Om Unit and company's "Cosmology" LP and Jim-E-Stack's "Tell Me I Belong" LP reviews next month (August 2014), this 12', released in 2005 is packed with positive moments. Like Om Unit and Boxcutter's contributions to "Cosmology", and Jim-E's more percussive efforts, Infest pleases on first listen. A 33rpm speed play of "Observer" is a supermarket trolley dash through slow-fast attributes in relation to jungle rhythm. At breaks/dubstep tempo, the snarling menace of the reece and syncopation sounds fresher than anything I've heard in the dubstep pool recently. "Nutcase" by Dak eludes to techno and techstep merging together. The plinky piano keys paint an immersive, detached sound world that is alien because of its foreseen lack of impulse. Slowed down to around 125 BPM, Mixmag's Single-Of-The-Month-ers DAAT are comparable for their cold, calculated assault on the soundsystem you play this on. Essential purchase – contact CI through SoundCloud or search Discogs.com for more.
Tenebre – Poison The Machine / Bright (Tenebre Audio)
Out 1st September 2014
Tenebre's techno is about controlled relentlessness. Throughout the rasping and revving sound palette lies two tracks that are teeming with life. "Bright": one of the highest quality pieces of orgasmic bassline techno I have heard in quite some time. The repeating analogue synth motif engages with, as the title suggests, bright atmospherics, pushing a kind of look-in-the-mirror, aging effect that holds the listener's feet down on the dancefloor. At 6 minutes it's not lightweight, but is concise, precise and says what it needs to say in double quick time. "Poison The Machine" is more rigid in outlook to start with, then probed with shuffling hi-hat patterns and gabba bass. The amorphous synth contours re-imagine Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" vocal patterns in its bassline, and manages to make that tune interesting with reference that goes somewhere else. Tenebre Audio as a project is said to be inspired by the urban sprawl and frantic pace of the producer's home city, Seoul, in France. "Merci" to the madness.
Lav – Plant Intelligence (Dewtone Records)
You don't get many releases like this one, and the fusion of ambient drum & bass and dub techno is in short supply. Coming out of the Dewtone Records camp, which is primarily an ambient label I discovered in 2012 from its "Looking Back" compilation, Lav spins cobwebbed synths on "Neurological Landscapes" while the light beats provide a pulse from the combination of old school repetition and hardcore reinvention. They walk over the composition like a house spider. That sense of homeliness and need of mood restoration – a wishing for release - is given ample room through the peaceful chord patterns that are spectrally absorbing. You can feel at great ease when listening to this.
"Symbiosis", the next track, half the length of the former, combines Autonomic space with percussive delicacy, a neat knife and fork drum timbre sound reshaped into Origami. The positioning and mixdown is pleasant yet not without a yearning sensation on this listener's part when slotted with the C chord ascent/descent of the pads. The repetition could become tedious to those wanting a wanton experiment in genre meshing, so you'll have to look elsewhere if that's your wanted recipe from Lav. Personally this type of narcotic hypnosis is perfect for a sunny summer afternoon.
The last track on "Plant Intelligence", – "Transcendence", brings it all together for several interpreters of the work. Instead of a pad pattern driving the piece, bass notes connect with the more widescreen vision of these melodies to posit a notion: music not driven by dance structure can only transcend when bass is made integral. Otherwise the music drifts into dissolution. At 13 minutes and with an uneven breakdown schematic, the track reminds me of Polar on Certificate 18 if he were to chat over Camomile tea with Rod Modell one late summer evening. So, a fittingly summery release from Dewtone, and not exactly like anything I've heard before.
Synthetic Mind Decay -Time Will Be Your Friend But First, It Will Be Your Enemy (Vacant Twelve)
Doomy and dense in atmosphere yet containing a cool aura, like a marble corridor in a dungeon, Synthetic Mind Decay is one of many aliases of the US' Mike Waller. With a cult fan base and who makes music for fun, and for his own sense of therapy, the granular, disorientating pulse-ambient and abstract bass music of "Time Will Be" is not for the squeamish. Unlike comparable artists in the ambient field including the antidepressive Steve Roach and the peaceful eerieness of Low Point's Kyle Bobby Dunn, Waller is world-weary in his approach, gelling hum's ultramundane existence into a personal travelogue.
In the last 5 years there has been a tendency in drone for artists to consonantly try and break down the music into more songwriting-based forms. Netlabels like Earth Mantra and the download end of Rural Colours have breached this tendency. And what stands for dark ambient – well, it makes its own legacy in Waller's music. Contrary to the alias, Synthetic Mind Decay's only album has more paranoid tics than a star pupil worrying about what to write on a dark ambient exam. What sounds like something fresh and new? What replaces block-thick walls of terrifying sound? The key to the examination Waller is placed under is to, for one, defy time, and make it his own enemy. Second, he implements rustic shades of cinematica in his synths, those on "As Tension Builds" taking off the major line of Vangelis and plummeting it 1000 feet. Four minutes into the disconcerting turnover the crop fissures with a blast of nautic drum loops that eddy back and forth.
The piece precedes a mind-warping 55 minutes, and despite the schizoid nature of the tracks, everything is very enjoyable providing you're prepared for it. As the record builds Waller wallows less, as if the drum work has lynched him into a parallel, pagan universe. These beats are tribal rib shots and have rimshot, and they sound great, especially on "This Is Time, Your Enemy", where staccato whistling percussion layers carve out a space of their own amidst the darkness.
DJ Ren – Live At Dzsungel Konyve (MixCloud Stream)
The main trouble with liquid in any form is that it overflows. In context of the liquid drum & bass subgenre, where major players today like High Contrast and Netsky avoided their previous experimental streak to craft trance-friendly sounds that earned them Fabric Room 1 residencies, jungle's scattergun sample pillaging and funk/reggae roots resurrection instead sees innovation deeper underground in other countries where the music is fresh. The rhythmic diversity of Hungarian DJ Ren ever since 2005 has paved a different path out of the Hungarian drum & bass subculture, showing it to be selective of interesting future/past.
Alongside the once-prolific and multi-talented Hungarian producer ICR, who Ren has a close friendship with, English liquid funk aficionados like Halogenix & Eveson, with their half-time drunken android love lurch on "Baby" have adapted the broken musicality of footwork and juke into a more romantic, hardcore-euphoria form. But this set is exciting more than being a sugar rush. The low end wobble of Lung's "Chromatic" recalls Dillinja's Capone alias and his "Friday" on Hard Leaders, kicked into shape like a Muay Thai specialist. Ren mixes in on a brazen offbeat is "Just Can't Take (feat. MC DRS)" by Metalheadz-signed Lenzman. These tracks, framed in a new era, yet not a new format (the DJ mix) take on a refreshed quality as much as they do as if they were played at the wrong speed.
This is all because there's a wider array of formulas ripening now that are popular in jungle and drum & bass. And the attention paid to the genre positions it closer to more aggressive but soulful genres like hip hop and Detroit techno. In 54 minutes Ren manages to shrink the despair of two-step repetition, contortioning breakbeats and moods so they become enticing, and cuts out the saccharine fix in the vocals to prove Hungarian-leaning liquid drum & bass may be overflowing well, but it's a needed stream for the drinking.
Agree with my selections this month? Anything I've missed, or anything that I should be checking out for next? Get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me at @MuttleySV on Twitter.