Monday, 18 August 2014

user703918785 [James Ferraro]: SUKI GIRLZ 18

Ferraro's SUKI GIRLZ is little more than a collection of loops of sketches, or sketches of loops, sounding like offcuts from Cold or NYC, Hell 3:00am. It doesn't get more beats than SUKI GIRLZ really, and the instrumental Ferraro still feels underrated in the shadow of his earlier releases. Yet as ever there's a lot you can read into his sounds, culturally, if you want to. 'SUKI GIRLZ 18' is one of the stranger tracks in the collection, its samples heavy with (beige leather) baggage. I first heard it at sunset while trespassing through this environment, which couldn't have been more appropriate. I wrote this in the platinum piece: 'Its sparkly bell tree blossoming as if unveiling some spectacular luxury product on a slowly rotating pedestal, while android voices provide inscrutable commentary.'

It's one of those tracks that's the perfect union of understanding and not understanding. A hymn-like hush behind a kick drum with a lumpy, breathless quality, like a skipping heartbeat or a faltering, exhausted trudge. It kicks up clouds of gold glitter within which ecstatic voices and whistles curl upwards. And as if to label this image, inscrutable voices are superimposed onto it, not warm but insistent, and calmly, fatalistically logical:

m... m... m... ambi...
m... m... m... ambi...

Saturday, 16 August 2014

M-O-R-S-E: Keep Me

track down pillared marble halls,
silk hangings whisper in that a.m. dark,
the subjects are asleep or dead and the king is still on the throne.

Only the finest.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Dutch E Germ: Nami Nami

Another platinum-plated beat: of all of the releases covered, Dutch E Germ's In.Rak.Dust is one of the most varied, because ensconced within its hard-edged casing are several ethnic musics derived from areas that are currently a focus of Western anxiety. 'Black Sea' might be sampling something like the Ukrainian lira, 'Elephant' is a lurid hologram of China, and this one, 'Nami Nami,' can't be sure where the sample comes from but it appears to be an Arabic lullaby popularised by Tehran-born American singer Azam Ali. Alongside the cybernetic percussion, the whole album has an air of tension and ominousness, as if sounding out potential future conflicts in all their hi-tech sublimity. Yet as this track best exemplifies, there is also a balance of elegance and beauty to it.

Friday, 8 August 2014


So I'ma do a series of tracks coming out of the piece on gleaming grey / platinum beats. First up, strong newcomer bine☃ (h/t Hi Hi Whoopee, thanks :D).

Ringing glass tubes, each containing a rising executive elevator. Postmodern chandeliers twinkling. Underpinning it all, though, sad to say, that thug heart. Delicate luxury elegance riding in an armoured car.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

System Focus: Gleaming Grey

The cover of bine☃'s IT HURTS 2 INHALE
The next System Focus is here, and it's on a new wave of gleaming grey, platinum beats (click here to read). It looks at producers such as bine☃, DYNOOO, Dutch E Germ, M-O-R-S-E, Sentinel, Subaeris, Weed Konducta, and James Ferraro on his new SUKI GIRLZ, and how their music is made of metal, glass, tasers and luxury. I'll post some of the best tracks from it and relevant to it up here in the coming days.

Beat-making is typically a low-concept process, and such styles emerge organically like storms over the sea. In the past few months, and in many ways over the past few years, one has emerged with a particular brooding, hi-tech, alienated feel, spanning hip-hop and more experimental forms. It’s marked out by metallic or glassy sounds, spurts of cybernetic hi-hats, atmospheric synth pads washed in reverb, a downcast, captivated, sometimes almost depressive mood, and the vague but provocative suggestion of luxury and distant climes...
 sentinel's hybrid
If these beats were made of something, it might be platinum, the most precious metal. Platinum is the gold beyond gold... Like a symbol for a kind of empty wealth addiction, platinum is a lonely, joyless metal, somehow more inhuman than all the others. It’s highly unreactive, but that’s just another way of saying it won’t tarnish, remaining intimidatingly perfect. Like the music of Drake, The Weeknd and Kanye on Yeezus, platinum beats bring the golden bling associated with some more straightforwardly entertaining hip-hop beats styles into a grim, heavy, flawless, extreme, post-human and, eventually, downright weird greyness...
 DYNOOO's These Flaws Are Mine to War With
In any case, there’s certainly a lot of metal in these tracks, clanging and gleaming between the struts of percussion like commodities laid out all nice in a window display. But these tracks also suggest cars on the assembly line, pieced together by the stop-start movements of robotic arms. Tuned metal percussion (or ‘metallophones’) has been used by both Ferraro and Al Qadiri since 2011...
M.E.S.H's Scythians
Glass (at least traditionally) is what screens are made of and it’s been a popular office-block building material lately, it divides and shields people from the outside world—or the inside world. Glass can be both beautiful and dangerous, it’s delicate, precarious; hitting it, even for music, is asking for trouble. Or maybe the glass sounds are really diamonds. In any case, it’s often difficult to tell the sonic difference between glass and metal, so musically speaking they merge into the same substance: hard, cold, inorganic, mirror-like...
 M-O-R-S-E's Empty
Rather than using it as just another beat-making tool, these producers really seem to understand the inherently strange qualities of this percussive structure. It’s a thin, rapid-fire sound that at first seems too pervasive and mechanical to be pleasurable, but soon makes a compelling contrast to the smoother material beneath it. The sound’s technological connotations are many—it could be a robotic hummingbird, a detailed manufacturing process using a tiny drill or jackhammer, a money-counting machine, or even the taser that police forces and militaries all over the world are now armed with...
Something else that marks out this style, underlining but complicating its theme of luxury, are the hints of ethnicity that run through it, adding a dimension of globalisation to its darkness... Ferraro reflects the globalisation of luxury lifestyle on SUKI GIRLZ (the word ‘Suki’ has many different significances across Asia), many of its tracks (for example, “2″ and “19″) opening with synthesised female voices boasting simultaneously with Asian accents or in Asian languages about their status and decadent appeals, as if they were talking commodities made bilingual for sale to the travelling business class...
James Ferraro's SUKI GIRLZ
DYNOOO’s brilliant tape These Flaws Are Mine To War With is particularly rich in this way, each track a cyborg concatenation of fragments—not so much a beat as a bouquet of loops—that, like beats by Karmelloz, nonetheless suggest a coherent viewpoint, maybe that of an algorithmic science probe on the surface of an alien(ated) Earth. Alongside airy and glassy tones, DYNOOO places the cries of eagles, synthesised speech, laser guns, and what could be torn pieces of film music. The suggestion is of an intelligence that has great power but, frighteningly, is nouveau-information-riche and not yet fully mature...
Dutch E Germ's In.Rak.Dust

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

voltex: firefly

Voltex's dazzling, exploratory tracks are just as unique as tac_'s - again, pseudo-primitive and drawing on vocaloid as a colour among many rather than a centre-stage source of The Vocals, but this time with techy synths alongside. As if composing purely by textural contour rather than harmony, the vocaloid leaps up and down, landing on a different spot each time, like an over-excited whippersnapper. This is part of a framework that seems to echo footwork, but is by no means adopting or conforming to its formulas - footwork approximated by a computer intelligence, or, indeed, a vocaloid. Difficult to pick a best track since they're all different consequences of more or less the same process, but I love that Windows 95 timbre in 'firefly,' from the recent S/T, melting quizzically downwards. 'night scene' is brill too (nice chordal weft), and 'beautyful moon light' and 'blue flower garden' are my favourites from the previous album spring.

tac_: little_courage & my_magic

Someone else I touched on in the voice piece, Japanese artist tac_ has been doing some interesting things with vocaloid - chief among them being making them seem old-fashioned. Or perhaps not old-fashioned... perennial. Like the Polygon Prompt track, this one is dissonant, but only subtly - thin golden circles going gently in and out of alignment, both naively and according to Nature's cosmic design. tac_ threads the vocaloid like a vine into various grandma and grandpa instruments - organ, a mellotron and xylophones. The whole album explores similar combinations (the sequel I found a little too full, maybe), and suggests fairy kingdoms nestled and glowing in the hulls of old rusty tech. Here's what I wrote:

Then there’s tac_ for whom vocaloids are a perfect element gently woven into dainty, elfin compositions. Another sound tac_ frequently uses is that of the mellotron, which in many ways is the forerunner of the vocaloid, being an analogue sample-based synthesiser where keys were attached to tape loops featuring recorded instruments such as strings and flutes (you might know it from the opening to “Strawberry Fields Forever”). Both dolls designed to emulate more organic musics, the vocaloid and mellotron complement one another not as fake, insufficient, robotic entities, but as toys that have run away to a miniature fantasy kingdom where they can now be loved only by history and nature.

Alongside the mellotron, the vocaloid becomes a velveteen rabbit, fleeing from revulsion and supercession and becoming magically real among the fireflies, brambles and dark blue evenings.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

polygron prompt: avarice

Sorry for the mp3-blogging pause. Gonna upload a few of my favourite vocaloid tracks (in the wake of my piece featuring em). This one, 'Avarice' by Polygron Prompt, is from 2011, but it really got me, bringing out the strange, fragile quality of the medium. It's Hatsune Miku, and she's singing against a techy jungly beat that suggests a futuristic computer game circa 1998, all its constituent elements propelled forward and spread out into mystique diffusion as if in search of bots to frag. The kicker is the tangibly dissonant way Miku sits on top of it, especially at the ends of her phrases. Intended or not, it's the perfect setting for vocaloids' technocratic uncanniness.