Johannes Heil – 20,000 Leagues under the skin (2003). This is simply, really really solid techno. The production is pretty much flawless across the whole record, and everything is perfectly balanced – nothing too banging, nothing that drags, all the elements are working seamlessly in their place. Even though all the tracks are purely ‘instrumental’ they each have their own distinctive mood and sound. I fear I may have already used this phrase before, but this record is a flawless exercise in restraint. Johannes works tracks that are fully euphoric, epic, melancholic (all the good stuff of emotional uplifting techno) just by manipulating a few simple elements. Can’t really fault this.
James Shinra – Vital Heat (2018). I’ve had this in heavy rotation since discovering it a few weeks ago. Some of the slickest new electronic music I’ve heard in a while. I can imagine this sounds like mid 90s Aphex and Mu-ziq might have sounded back then. The production is flawless – the tracks positively glimmer with production sheen and they’re chock full of badass beats and emotional melodies. I’ve been exploring so much ‘old’ music for so long I decided it was time to put my head over the parapet and see what’s actually going on now. This album was rated as one of the year end favourites on Watmm for 2018 so I thought it was worth try. I had thought Braindance was long dead and gone but I guess this is what Braindance sounds like in 2018/19. Banging – highly recommended.
Actress – AZD (2017). Actress may be the archetypal ‘grower’ artist for me. There was so much hype, and critical praise lavished on his previous albums that I felt I was missing out on something by not making an effort to see what the fuss was about. I started with RIP a few years and then went backwrads in his discography to Splazsh, which is marginally more accessible – though we are still talking about fairly cerebral music here. I don’t think there was a particular ‘lightbulb’ moment, but I definitely found myself enjoying Splazsh more and more (Maze is an absolute gem of a track), which took me back to RIP.
Every now and then I’ll have a bit of a ‘whoa’ moment listening to Actress – when everything seems suddenly imbued with profundity. For each of those moments, there are moments when I find myself listening to crackle and hum and an intentionally ‘basic’ plinky-plink melody and thinking maybe Actress is taking the music world for a laugh. Something keeps me coming back for more though. Maybe it requires getting to that stage of familiarity with the music, so that on repeated listens the tracks penetrate deeper layers of your consciousness – you get away from that plinky-plink feeling and the track becomes something more like a musical Zen Koan.
So anyway…AZD. This is very much a continuation of the Actress sound. (I haven’t listened to Ghettoville, which apparently is even more lo-fi and spectral than RIP). So yeah we’ve got drip-drip raindrop keyboard lines, crackly ambience; the suggestion of techno, maybe coming from a club round the corner, or from your memory, ringing in your ears as you wake up to a rainy comedown Sunday. And maybe also some instances of pure transcendence, when you look through the smoke on the dancefloor and see a face from your past…someone you once knew…but no, just a stranger…and you wake up…not in a club at all but on the nightbus home with the tinny sound of someone else’s headphones playing nearby.
Neil Landstrumm – Restaurant of Assassins (2007). Bass-heavy wonkiness – is how I’d describe this. Definitely a ravey one. Perfect for traversing the city streets at night and passing through the underbelly of society. I’ve tried some of his ‘straight up’ techno releases and haven’t found myself coming back for repeated listenings – very cold, dank, harsh stuff. And I’m no stranger to cold harsh music. It’s certainly not bad techno, far from it – I think it just doesn’t make much sense outside of a warehouse at 3am. Anyway – this album is a banger. Not techno proper – it’s wonky, bassy, fidgety, dubby, ravey stuff. Music your parents would hate. It’s so wonky and bassy I actually struggle to parse the different elements in each track – it just sounds like a big impressionist painting of a filthy warehouse rave. Individual faces are blurred but you get the vibe. Imagine 8 hours of pirate radio compressed into 45 minutes: ragga samples, sirens, whomp-bass – all wobbling out together.