Thursday, February 2, 2012

Beyond Beats Vol. 4

2012 is still fairly young and strictly speaking, musically there hasn’t that much going on till now, the year is kicking off rather slowly this time. However, the coming months will bring a lot of exciting stuff and there already is enough mouth-watering material to sift through.

First of all, allow me to make a probably bold prediction. After Olde English Spelling Bee shaping 2010 and Hippos In Tanks and Tri Angle conjointly dominating the last twelve months, 2012 is going to be the year of RVNG Intl. At least it could become their year (in that tiny niche of the universe we’re examining here, that is), as it seems the Brooklyn label has made quite a few right A&R decisions as of late. First, there’s Oberlin alumni Zach Steinman and Sam Haar aka Blondes. The duo’s long-awaited proper debut is set to arrive with a breathtaking compilation of remixes, and the two discs combined will surely be considered one of this year’s most essential efforts of experimental dance music. The self-titled LP will hit the stores on February 6th.

But as I’m not exactly entitled to talk about beat-centred music here, let’s quickly move on to two other forthcoming RVNG records that really excite me. First in line is the second proper album by Julia Holter, Ekstasis, the follow-up to one of 2011’s most stunning LPs, Tragedy, the album for Leaving Records that simply can’t be appreciated enough for its breathtaking complexity and flawless beauty. Now the classically trained (virtually no one ever fails to mention that, so why should I?) artist has already finished the successor, and you only need to listen a couple of seconds into album opener “Marienbad” to be reassured that more likely than not it’s gonna be another masterpiece. The song itself is named after the 1961 French movie L’Année dernière à Marienbad, which is famous for its oneiric and enigmatic structure, more than a mere hint that we’re again dealing with heavily referential and deep topoi here – after all, Tragedy was a take on Euripedes’s epic Hippolytus from 428 BC. Listen closely: if “great art takes us to a place that is between Earth and Utopia, between the ‘real’ and the ‘unreal’”, as Adam Harper asserts in his monograph on John Maus, then Holter surely is a great artist. But the most amazing thing about her utterly complex and sophisticated work is that no matter how much profundity she puts into it, the result invariably is pop music that sounds effortless and almost weightless. Ekstasis will be out March 8th.

Julia Holter - Marienbad from RVNG Intl. on Vimeo.

Finally, RVNG Intl will continue its terrific FRKWYS series which pairs contemporary artists and their progenitors by way of remix, reinterpretation, and original collaboration. The ninth instalment has brought together our beloved Cameron Stallone aka Sun Araw and his mate M. Geddes Gengras with The Congos in the latter’s hometown in Jamaica. The psych and dub-heavy result Icon Give Thank won’t be out before April 9th, but I thought the thrill of anticipation wouldn’t hurt, so here’s “Happy Song”:

Enough with RVNG Intl. for now and back to those labels whose output is the default material for this column. Sometime next month, Not Not Fun is going to drop the second full-length by Indiana’s finest synth-wizard Dylan Ettinger, Lifetime of Romance. This highly anticipated LP is however not New Age Outlaws Pt. 2, which might be a disappointment for those who’ve been waiting for more thrilling stories about the NYC ex-police officer Gordon. On the other hand, it’s also not 2009/2010 anymore, and the hypnagogic diction has lost its original momentum, so from an artistic standpoint it almost feels inevitable to move on, or rather move back to actual songwriting, as Ettinger recently told Tiny Mix Tapes. Lifetime of Romance now marks a creative turn towards heavy and mind-blowing classic synth-pop, something the exponents of early eighties cold wave would have been proud of to accomplish. Ettinger’s voice is mostly slightly distorted and rather distant in the mix, giving way to lush, exuberant excursions with his synthesizer of choice, the Moog Rogue, and highly propulsive rhythms, as perfectly exemplified by the first single “Wintermute”. The record’s true standout track however clearly is “Maude”, an eight-minute, crystal-clear wave banger that in a way blends the artist’s more song-based concept with the otherworldly, soundtrack-informed synth meanderings of New Age Outlaws, all put on a whole new level with the help of the stunning, eerie saxophone work by a friend. A highly recommended record and a huge creative leap for Dylan Ettinger.

WINTERMUTE // DYLAN ETTINGER from Melissa Cha on Vimeo.

There are also exciting things happening over at Software Recordings, the Mexican Summer subdivision that we’d already dealt with briefly the other day. Brooklyn’s Bill Gillim used to be better known as one half of synth pop duo Tigercity, together with Joel Ford (now one half of Ford & Lopatin). Now I don’t know what has happened with Tigercity, but it honestly doesn’t matter anymore since I’ve come across some of Gillim’s latest solo material under his Megafortress guise. His forthcoming self-titled LP on Software is pure bliss, a slow and mesmerizing listen that almost entirely relies on the artist’s masterful vocalization, a fragile falsetto in countless layers that is only sparsely supported by restrained, gloomy instrumentation. The truly astonishing record will be out January 31st.


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