Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
When I first bought this album nearly two years ago, I had almost instant buyer’s remorse. How can you justify paying money for this when there are albums by David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, or Bob Dylan that you haven’t even heard? And how utterly disposable this album sounds! An insult to “proper” music of any form, possibly plagiarized from other chiptune artists, and played by two of the most grotesquely stereotypical hipsters on the “scene” today, Crystal Castles seemed unlikely to endear or endure, and yet I keep coming back to it, rediscovering it every six months or so. The album is a sweaty mess that bleeds the heathen pleasures of summer, but driving past my neighbors’ homes this week, draped with icicles reflecting my headlights, it sounds just as appropriate in our lonely, cold, dead winter nights. Have the digital blips of Game Boys and Nintendos supplanted the analog waves of the Moog as the new sound of “retro”? Will Crystal Castles be this generation’s Add N to (X)? I’m really hoping a new album will answer those questions soon.

Anton Zap – Take it as it Comes
This four-track EP came out late last year, I just discovered it last week and it’s been in heavy rotation ever since. I don’t mean to say I’m a hot shit cratedigging DJ or anything, I just downloaded it and listen to it while I’m doing my Microsoft Office homework. Jetsetting deep house that reminds me of John Daly’s stuff from last year. Fantastic.

Ethernet – 144 Pulsations of Light
Warm ambient drones over gentle, pulsating beats; Tim Gray probably owes a big debt to Wolfgang Voigt but who doesn’t? Really one of the better takes on this sound that I’ve heard in a while, mellow but forward-thinking enough to dodge the dreaded “new age” tag, although I’m not even sure that’s a bad thing anymore. He also makes music for “meditation and sound healing,” the sort of thing I used to roll my eyes at while I was shelving CDs at Borders but would probably love if I could get over the pretentious reputation of it all. But I’m loving this album so I guess I’m already halfway there.

Cosmin Trg – Now You Know
House that’s little bit funky, a little bit wonky, this isn’t the sort of thing that I usually seek out but in this case it’s too fun to resist. A potent shot from the fertile, always-shifting UK dance scene.

Four Tet – There is Love in You
After the successful techno indulgences of 2008’s Ringer EP, Kieran Hebden’s newest album arrives to scene that’s blurring lines like never before, perfect for his blend of genre-blending, anything-goes patchwork approach to music. Once again, he mixes cutting-edge digital sound with organic instrumentation, making for a very chilled-out record with a vibe all its own. Vocals are more prominently tossed into the mix this time, chopped and looped to great effect, the title track sounding like a slowed-down Kanye West jam (which I guess is what “Smile Around the Face” from Everything Ecstatic was, come to think of it). “Love Cry” is a stunner, but oh, just wait until you hear the Joy Orbison remix.

Monolake – Silence
Listeners with SAD might take a hint from the album’s cover and steer clear of this one, but despite being a seriously bleak and chilly affair, it’s also extremely engaging. Dark and twisting, for sure, but the it’s hard to deny the foreboding rhythms at work, which resemble the sounds of an abandoned construction site: empty buildings littered with sheet metal, barren and stairless basements strewn with gravel, stripped wires, and plastic tubing. A domicile stripped of all its comforts might be hazardous, but we’re still inexplicably drawn to tresspass and explore it. The stillborn twin of Autechre’s Draft 7.30?

Underworld vs. The Misterons – Athens
A nice compilation of jazzy, groove-centric tracks from past and present, not a true “mix” as I had hoped but a good primer to a lesser-recognized sound that’s always been a part of the Underworld aesthetic. Side one feels like Herbie Hancock jamming with Tortoise, an analogy that listeners already steeped in jazz fusion and funk might find a little misleading or superficial but could draw in others who’ve been less than taken in by Underworld’s dark and driving take on electronic pop. They also work in songs from Moodyman, Roxy Music, and Laurent Garnier, as well as a collaboration with Brian Eno that, well… kind of sucks, but the rest of the album is good.

Shuttle 358 – Type Radio Mix
Classic mix from the onetime member of the Type Records roster. I found this back in 2005 or so and I feel like it’s informed my listening since then more than any other single collection or piece of music. Quite possibly, it’s shaped my personality to a certain extent as well, or at least reflected some inner feelings that I’ve never been able to articulate in words. In a more universal sense, this is a good introduction to modern ambient music with a distinctly Japanese edge to it. Dan Abrams even sneaks in some recordings of Japanese trains and a Yoko Kanno piece amid the pastoral electronic tunes. That’s the extent of any anime connections, but it’s not a stretch to reimagine this as a “Dark Side of the Rainbow“-esque alternate soundtrack to a Makoto Shinkai film. A perennial favorite that I keep coming back to more than almost any musical find in the last five years, it’s no longer hosted on the Type Records website for some reason. Read about it here, then download it here.

Bundy K. Brown – Bird & Whale mixes
Tortoise bass player Bundy Brown offers up six disparate mixes in a variety of different styles. Bouncing from jazz fusion to IDM, post-rock, hip-hop and more, these aren’t “mixes” so much as mp3 bundles but they make for great introductions into their respective genres, while being deep enough for longtime fans to find new delights within. They’re all free and can be found here. Much like the Underworld mix listed above, these provide a good rundown of the influences that helped guide the Tortoise sound to what it is today. Good stuff.

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