Ki Oni - Eliphas (Inner Islands, 2015)
Verdant and lush, the looping upper-register synths, buried vocal samples and sharp, birch-twig dry beats on Eliphas exists somewhere in the nexus of nostalgia and I-can-take-on-the-world exuberance. While beat tapes often can take their cues from dense, grimy passageways of urban centers, Ki Oni's samples and loops trade decaying brick for the thick, sunlight-filtering canopy of the forest. Beautifully delayed and reverbed-out guitars echo back over uncannily organic sounding beats and keyed-up choirs replacing the omnipresent hum and drone of tree-dwelling insects. Completely engrossing and transfixing, a beat tape for walks through deep woods in the (real) world or through the unfolding valleys of the mind.
Blondes - Persuasion (RVNG Intl., 2015)
Slow-building jams until everything-not-yet-sound becomes sound. All body is an ear and Persuasion is something you feel as much as hear. Pulsing, bubbling synths roil adjacent to each other until the 4-4 beat of techno of yore slams right through your solar plexus and the fuck-all of early dancefloor hedonism is resurrected in both club and mind. Blondes are a New York City duo whose laser-guided melodies are a vex and a foil to maniuplative electronic music. Persuasion exists outside of intentional music. Rather, it is a river flowing alongside examined living, inviting listeners to casually dip a toe in, and, if it feels right, to jump in and be completely submerged in the current of focused, sweaty early-House beats and clanging auxilliary percussion, cicada synths and calling, yearning siren-like vocal samples for 25 minutes until it spits you out back into your life - a bit wiser and a little tired. I've never started this EP and not finished it.
Flatliner - Black Medicine (Holodeck, 2015)
"Composed like a horror soundtrack yet produced like a compilation of pop anthems". Flatliner's debut EP makes a case for the two not having to be mutually exclusive. Flatliner can make classic tropes that we have come to associate with the classic 80's synth scores of John Carpenter or Giorgio Moroder come alive and crackle with 2015 high-frequency sheen and dancefloor readiness. Flatliner, and most of the Holodeck stable, is known for creating music that appeals both to obsessive gearhounds by creating music on rare, vintage instruments and for the masses who respond to forward-thinking electronic music filtered through a figurative approach to synthesizers-as-nostalgia. Flatliner's approach takes on this bifcurcation by creating uptempo, shapeshifting drum machine programming with minor-key synth arpeggios that are underscored by a sub-bass that hits with the force of a subwoofer blowing out the windows of Honda Acura of that kid who spent waaaaay too much money on his system. Black Medicine is what it would sound like if the producers of Drive scored Mad Max, or Spy Hunter was made into a dystopian movie directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Blasted Highway to infinity.
UTA Trax/Burnin' - UTA Trax & Burnin' (Hel Audio, 2015)
A split between two incredibly talented SLC-based producers, this tape gives a peek into the world of a Utah scene creating music that is as insular as it is dancefloor ready. UTA Trax is the alter-ego of Hel Audio founder and visionary behind OK Ikumi, Karl Jørgensen. The Trax side was created out of Jørgensen's deep study of 80' Acid House and is full of modulating basslines and propulsive rhythm pushed to the front of the mix. Compared to the Burnin' side side of this compilation, UTA Trax sounds downright confrontational. Burnin's contributions are lush, understated passages full of looped synthesizer lines and resonant bass lines that mirror each other like fighter jets held in a deeply poetic dance of human reaction and technical wizardry. While not as locked-in as UTA Trax, Burnin's side finds a groove that, when it finds itself, never lets go, no matter how mutated it gets. Fantastic beat tape out of SLC.
Bollywood Life - Manya (Shoeboxx, 2015)
Seeing Bollywood Life at this year's Goldrush Music Festival was a bit of a revelation. Using a effects pad and a throwing his entire body into the stuttering groove created thereby, Anton Krueger creates sweaty, heady dancefloor anthems that are chopped, screwed and seem to run against a sense of intiutive rhythm. Working with, rather than against that feature, Krueger is able to coax wonderfully mutating and modulating synth patterns and keyed-up samples before a fat, resounding keyboard lines pierce the veil of Krueger's compositions to wash the entire thing a powerful golden hue of sine wave perfection. Perfect, short introduction to a budding Denver talent.
Savant - Artificial Dance (RVNG. Intl, 2015)
Sounding completely contemporary in the world of outré experimental dance music, Savant’s Artificial Dance is a commanding follow-up to RVNG Intl.’s a-star-is-reborn retrospective of avant-garde dance music producer Kerry Leimer. Leimer’s Artificial Dance (under the moniker Savant) is born out of sessions with several Seattle-based post-punk musicians who Leimer assembled for the sole purpose of creating intentionally awkward, exploratory music by asking each member to play an instrument outside of their expertise. In these takes, usually only given loose musical guidelines, small miracles emerged. Chance, aleatoric pairings and the joy of discovery that comes from the beginner’s mind began shaping these compositions that sound, even today, incredibly prescient. This record comes to strike a chord somewhere between the NYC dance-rock revival of LCD Soundsystem, !!!, and the late-great Out Hud, with Cage-ian and Reich-ian principles of chance and minimalism. Thrown in there are crawling, near-ambient soundscapes with adjacent, rolling percussion, off-kilter electro-funk basslines with wonky electronic percussion and synthesizers that weave and wind their path through the track’s ever-unfolding rhythmic shape-shifting. Early reviews of this record have compared it favorably to David Byrne & Brian Eno’s sampler’s-paradise of a record, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Here, vocal samples are given minimal treatment, folded discreetly into the record and nearly absent in most tracks. Songs like “The Neo-Realist” and “Knowledge and Action” utilize bizarre spoken word passages that find immense returns from being both completely unscripted as well as heavily scripted. Compare: the ramblings of a schizophrenic man to the reading of a missive about the Apartheid-era political alliances from a foreign policy journal. But herein lies the beauty of this record. Something so scripted can sound wildly experimental while off-the-cuff ramblings fit right at home in the album’s hard core. Minus the dated references to the ANC being a guerrilla government in exile, this record stands outside of time or place. Timeless, but notated.