Saturday, September 15, 2018

Record Roundup: Electronic Excursions

Elsa Hewitt’s blend of assured song craft and handmade electronic textures put her most recent album, Quilt Jams, on my top 25 records of 2018 (so far), but that’s hardly the only place I’ve been turning to for excursions into the heart of synthetic sound. Here are a few more that are keeping me plugged in.

Good Luck In Death - They Promised Us A Bright Future, We Were Content With An Obscure Past Did you ever pretend to know more than you did about an artist, whether in front of an sneering record store employee or a musical mentor? I can admit that I have, at least in my younger years, tried to appear more in the know than I am. But no longer: I’m going to come right out and say that I did not recognize a single artist in the press packet for this debut from GLID, which is a collaboration between Paul Régimbeau (electronics, analog synths, mixing) and Charbel Haber (electric guitar). The former is apparently also known for his work as Mondkopf in the world of extreme metal and the latter is from Lebanon and a leading light in the “new pan-Arab psychedelia” as well as a member of The Bunny Tylers, Scrambled Eggs and Johnny Kafta’s Anti-Vegetarian Orchestra. Who? What? If I can ever tear myself away from GLID, I might have time to explore all those avenues. 

But for now I will continue to revel in the sleekly textured, deeply immersive sound world created by Régimbeau and Haber. Even without such evocative titles as Fire Dreams And Reveries and Unforgettable Cabaret Nights, the four tracks on They Promised Us... would immediately draw you in. There are no beats to speak of, and it’s possible that most of the work shaping the compositions was done in post-production. But even so, there is a sure narrative drive to each piece. Fire Dreams, for example, begins with a slightly burred drone, over which seemingly random scraping sounds gradually resolve into a pattern that grows smoother and more dimensional over time. A cicada-like whine emerges over the top and it’s like an aerial shot of mountains dropping away into valley as the camera swoops and glides overhead. The cicadas turn into chainsaws - or a barbed-wire string quartet - as drama builds in an imperious manner. The buzzsaws fade into a series of bells, a childlike pattern that settles the matter. 

Hopefully this isn’t just a one-off for Haber and Régimbeau, but if it is I can always track down all their other projects. Either way, the strength and self-contained perfection of this album may just be the catalyst for that bright future to emerge out of their obscure past.

I-VT - BLOC This is another established artist’s side project, in this case Adam Cuthbért of slashsound, the composer collective behind Return, last year’s brilliant album by the New Music Ensemble at Grand Valley State University. Cuthbért’s compatriot Daniel Rhode is here as well, along with other collaborators young and old, including Phong Tran, whose first album Initiate came out last year, and Juma Sultan who played percussion with Hendrix at Woodstock.

In contrast with the pastoral (if sometimes ominous) images conjured up by Good Luck In Death, I-VT puts you in a claustrophobic, urban setting - an abandoned subway station repurposed for an intense party comes to mind. Dance beats come and go, sometimes spare and sometimes brutal, as on TEMPLAR (Viberous Remix), which gives Trent Reznor a run for his money.  Wordless vocals are also put into the mix, which only adds to the evocative, emotional depth of the music. 

Some of what Cuthbért is doing with I-VT is reminiscent of the dawn of electronic pop, like early Mute Records releases, but the difference is that instead of using everything available at the time to make sounds and songs, he’s consciously stripping down and selecting from a vast array of knowledge, both technical and compositional. Whatever the process by which he and his cohort arrived at the final tracks for BLOC, the result is a series of miniature mind movies that I’ve enjoyed watching over and over again. And, in HIPSTER SLUDGE, they’ve surely arrived at one of THE song titles of the year. 

Novelty Daughter - Cocoon Year While Faith Harding's glorious voice and gift for labyrinthine melodies would be compelling in any context, the jewel-like tracks she sings over are usually exclusively synthetic, as on this EP of "six songs about metamorphosis." These range from the bright and bouncy Emily, with one of her best vocals to date, to A Reading From The Crack-Up, which features her treated voice, presumably reading from the F. Scott Fitzgerald essay, over a hazy cloud of sound. O Wonder! uses pings and pongs to assemble a catchy tune, to which she adds a samba-esque rhythm and then sings over it all in a relaxed fashion, a space-age Peggy Lee. Like that iconic singer, Novelty Daughter is a cool customer who uses her reserved nature (as an artist, anyway - her Instagram feed is another thing entirely, and delightfully so) to draw you in as you try to decode her emotional landscape. Even if I never get all the answers, it's a place I like to visit often.

For more plugged-in sounds from 2018, keep up with this playlist - and let me know what I'm missing!

You may also enjoy:
Best Of 2017: The Top 25
Best Of 2017: Electronic
Record Roundup: On The Cutting Edge
Record Roundup: Eclectic Electronics
Novelty Daughter: Up From Underground
Best of 2016: Electronic
Channel Surfing With TV Girl

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