MAGIC MIX

Electro . Synthwave . Electro-pop

WEEK STARTING 1 Sep

Genre pick of the week Cover of In Decay by Com Truise.
"In Decay" provides a fascinating alternative roadmap for the idiosyncratic journeys of New Jersey producer Seth Haley - aka Com Truise - through the history of electronic music. A compilation of unreleased, early recordings, "In Decay" encompasses 13 tracks that have previously been either only available as demos online or are entirely unheard tracks dating from before Haley's official releases - his debut "Cyanide Sisters EP", its follow-up full-length "Galactic Melt", and 2013's "Fairlight EP".

While the 80s-influenced synth sounds, rubbery basslines and sci-fi flavours that inform Haley's later work are in full effect here, they're assembled in manners different enough to make this both a fine record in its own right, and also a fascinating insight into the development of the distinctive Com Truise sound. It also finds the producer exploring a number of facets of that sound, from 8-bit influenced experimentalism to distinctly danceable beats - often within the confines of the same track.

"Controlpop", for instance, announces itself with an intro that sounds like a Commodore 64 being hit with a hammer, but resolves into slow liquid synthfunk that recalls Galactic Melt highlights like "VHS Sex" and "Flightwave." Its slow-urning dance vibe is shared by several other tracks - "Colorvision" and "Yxes", amongst others - while elsewhere, Haley drops the tempo and channels the psychedelic cosmic meanderings of forebears like Tangerine Dream and Popol Vuh. "Dreambender" sounds like it should be soundtracking a voyage into uncharted digital innerspace, while "Video Arkade" cruises along on a woozy rising-and-falling synthline that's like drifting on some sort of virtual reality rollercoaster. Like all Haley's work, it's like stepping into a strange, digital parallel world - a place constructed out of sounds both immediately familiar and yet somehow rendered thoroughly fresh, and a place that's worth staying for quite some time.


'Dark Pool' is the new studio album from Black Rain, the project’s first in 18 years. Produced in New York City by Stuart Argabright, Black Rain’s founder and figurehead, 'Dark Pool' is a work of hard-edged sonic fiction rooted in cyberpunk's quintessential neo-noir cityscape / dataspace but projecting into a farther future of biotechnological advancement and alienation. Partly inspired by the writings of Philip K. Dick protégé K.W. Jeter (particularly 1996’s 'Edge Of Human', which picked up where Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner left off), and Paolo Bacigalupi’s 2009 novel The Windup Girl, a vision of 23rd century Thailand plagued by genetic and economic terrorism, 'Dark Pool’'s humid dystopia is also acutely Ballardian in its vision of manmade and natural worlds encroaching upon each other: a vivid psychogeography of half-submerged high-rises and hidden jungle laboratories.

Stuart Argabright first landed in New York in 1978. By day, he worked as a landscape gardener for the upscale likes of Rock Hudson and Bob Dylan, while at night involving himself in all manner of subcultural activity. He co-founded seminal no wave minimalists Ike Yard (whose early 1980s work has been cited as an influence by the likes of Kode9, Young Echo and Silent Servant), collaborated with the late Rammellzee in futurist hip-hop outfit Death Comet Crew and as Dominatrix scored a bona fide club hit with the downtown electro classic ‘The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight’ (1984).

In 2013 Black Rain released an EP of live recordings, 'Protoplasm', on BEB. Three of the EP’s four tracks appear here on 'Dark Pool' in radically revised and expanded form: the stuttering ribofunk of ‘Endourban’ is now anchored by ominous string pads faintly redolent of Argabright’s labelmates Raime, while ‘Data River’ revisits the accelerated beat-stream of 'Black Rain'’s 1996 album Nanarchy, and the low-slung ‘Protoplasm’ has evolved into a sprawling, syncopated techno epic - the sound of red dawn rising on an illegal replicant rave. A further seven new productions feature. ‘Burst’, its title perhaps a nod to Sogo Ishii’s 1982 biker gang saga Burst City, harks back to the scrap-metal-banging brutalism of 'Black Rain' mk.1; ‘Xibalba Road Metamorph’, the album's angry, anguished centrepiece, externalises the sadness and self-loathing of Jeter’s oppressed post-human workforce. ‘Night In New Chiang Saen’ reimagines dub as the viral product of one of AgriGen’s morally suspect scientific initiatives in The Windup Girl, before ‘Who Will Save The Tiger?’ calls upon spidery, Metalheadz-esque breakbeats and wailing guitar drones to summon a 23rd century Ark. Vocals (on 'Profusion' and 'Profusion II') from Zoe Zanias (Keluar), and a brief spoken intervention from Sean Young (who of course played Rachel in Blade Runner) are simply the most audible manifestations of a dejected feminine presence that haunts the entire album. For all its textual references, 'Dark Pool' is a visceral and straight-talking affair: its bodyhammer rhythms and brooding sound design require no explanation for their impact to be felt.

Roman Flugel

Happiness Is Happening

    An album by Roman Flügel is always a sensation. That holds true for his countless monikers and collaborations as it does for his 2011 Dial debut 'Fatty Folders'. Being the first of its kind under his own name, the long over-due association of Hamburg's cerebral label and its group of off-centre house and techno individuals with Frankfurt's favourite electronic music producer for the thinking man and woman, proved to be a seminal one.

    Now, that sort of Happiness Is Happening again. Roman Flügel's follow up on Dial takes off, where 'Fatty Folders' landed: on a runway that acknowledges the roots of house and techno as well as its fruits, but leads to a different location. Exempt from the burden that a concept album can lay on its author, Flügel seems not to be concerned with the current trends, retro fashion or a pre-conceived topic. Free-wheeling and with a freshness akin to morning dew, he rather takes us by the hand and through ten tracks that sometimes feel like songs without a voice.

    Having said that, the strongest point of 'Happiness Is Happening' is that it has a voice. The voice of a maker who is not afraid to mix joy and pain, ambient textures with remnants dancefloor euphoria, quiet spaces and loud places. So you have an almost Depeche Mode-like ballad that the ”Friendship Song” is, next to the techno city ghost story of “Occult Levitation”. Slow-motion robot disco (“Wilkie”) appears as much at home here as the bulky “Stuffy” or the sudden impact in “We Have A Nice Life”. That list goes on and on. The most startling fact about Roman Flügel's tour de force is that its sum is as great as its parts. Nothing feels superfluous, ill-paced or forced here. Its the end result of a life that has been spent in techno, house and its various mutations and archetypes with a sensibility for pop music, a consciousness of indie culture and an affinity for the avant-garde as such.

    'Happiness Is Happening' is like a concept album without a concept. A testament to the fact that the concept of an album that works within the realms and boundaries of “electronic (dance) music” can be so much more than a loose collection of 12"s or just an exercise in style: it can be, after all, a piece of art and at its best comparable to a successful singer-songwriter album without words. Especially, when the creator of all his seems to be truly comfortable with himself and at his best. Then, 'Happiness Is Happening', indeed.


    Finally, a new deep cut from Melbourne’s visceral post-punk band Total Control. Typical System, their second LP, was written, recorded, created over the past two years and is set for US/Worldwide release via Iron Lung Records
    .
    Total Control emerged from Australia’s dynamic punk scene in ’08, releasing a succession of 7”s that developed from an aggressive post-punk band sound to studio forays into electronic forms from minimal wave to house. Their debut LP, Henge Beat, was commended as one of the few records released in 2011 that evaded the ease of classification and competent tribute act status of most modern bands.

    Subsequently, they have released three very different records: a split 12” with Thee Oh Sees, a 7” single on Sub Pop and a house remix 12”. Typical System develops on the incongruent demands of their debut LP and ensuing releases, a further development on their continually evolving sound.


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