Datassette: Cagney Xor Lacey- If you’re looking for the next thing to put on while you’re working in the studio then you should check out Datassette’s latest release, Cagney Xor Lacey. The electronic sound is busy and excited but overall smooth and chilled out, allowing one to slowly nod their head to the fast pace. The opening track, ‘Cagney Xor Lacey Part 1’ is very reminiscent of the Four Tet aesthetic with its repetitive drive, psychedelic synths, intensely microcentric rhythms, and tasteful samples of things like chop-and-screwed vox. Be warned, these songs are not for the listener whose short attention span peters out after three minutes; 3 out of the 4 total tracks surpass the 6 minute mark with remarkable ease. Not to diminish any of its finer qualities, but the opener is essentially a loop with small varying elements which lasts nearly 9 minutes.
While keeping the pace at a high intensity, the second track, ‘Helvetica Calcium’ shifts the tone from mysterious and alien to warm, nostalgic, and, eventually, badass. The chords and rhythms sound like something straight out of Jacob 2-2’s latest album, ‘Herbivore’. In fact, the instrumentation and style are so similar that I’m wondering if there is more of a connection to this circumstance. What makes this song stand out from the others is that there is more attention to structure and the arrangement of sections, whereas in the previous track there was little to no delineation of significant changes. At 1:30 into the song we’re introduced to a new section with different chords that alter the mood to one that is more vigorous and bustling. It could work as the soundtrack to a scene set in a neon-lit laboratory involving a chemist who is hurriedly mixing a variety of glowing chemicals to create a new complex mixture.
‘Vacuform’, the third track, also functions along this same course of organization. There are never any huge changes, rather, everything is dependent on the layered introductions and omissions of instruments throughout the piece (this can be said for a great deal of the electronic music that’s out there) which is highly repetitive in nature. The instrumentation is much more digitally inclined, using synths that are styled after many 80’s film scores. What sets this track apart from the others is the simple percussion: a straight rhythm with snare on beats two and four and nothing too fancy going on overtop of it.
The final track, ‘Cagney Xor Lacey Part 2’ leaves us on a melancholy note. Side-chain bass, loop samples of a jangling cowbell and pastoral settings, dark sounding synth chords played in the low register. The coolest part of this song is right at 1:39 when the whole loop trips a beat by way of a quick meter change, giving permission for the rest of the fast auxiliary percussion to make its entrance. It happens a few more times throughout the track when you least expect it.
If you like music that’s smart, rich, and still easy to get lost in, Cagney Xor Lacey is definitely for you. As much as I enjoyed this short EP, Datassette’s ability to create incredibly detailed tracks is at times as overwhelming as the music itself, but the trick might be to keep a wide focus… 8/10
Thee Oh Sees: Drop – There’s nothing more disappointing than digging through the discography of the artist whose flawless song is incessantly stuck in your head only to find that everything else they’ve written sounds like a slightly-worse version of their Trojan-Horse hit. Some call these bands one-hit wonders, but I think that term implies that the band has achieved a significant amount of success and their egos (and new producers who are probably renowned for their work with Foo Fighters) get the best of their expressive curiosity, whereas what I’m referring to is more an artistic negligence or closed-mindedness, or an inability to let go of the perfect formula for songwriting.
And then there’s San Francisco’s surrealist psych-power-pop quartet Thee Oh Sees, who manage to disgorge piles of fresh scuzz on the yearly, as John Dwyer’s distinctive insect-witch vocals and erratic spider-fingered guitar shreddings are the only common denominator throughout their busy history. With a trademark cartoonishness that often sees their albums borderline on twisted kids’ music, Thee Oh Sees have spent the past decade testing the boundaries of their idiosyncratic instrumentations, and have yet to breach their creative parameters or retrace their ever-wandering steps. Solidifying their status as Earls of the Eccentric, Dwyer and company let plunge their first record, Drop, since announcing a temporary ceasefire from the Sees choir, which is sort of like the cast bowing at the end of the first act. Like, half an hour after the end of the first act.
As a crash course to the brash force of Oh-Seechedelia, Drop condenses their past three albums into an eventful thirty minutes, recapturing specific moments that made the last few years so memorable. But from the perspective of a long-time Oh See devotee it’s hard to approach Drop as anything more than a glorified single with eight b-sides attached- and while each of ‘Penetrating Eye’s’ b-sides provide unmistakably Theematic elements of any Oh Sees release, they all seem like backup cuts that were recycled during the recording processes of LP’s eight, nine, and ten (subjective, of course, to your definition of “Thee Oh Sees”).
‘Penetrating Eye’ introduces the album’s impending paradoxical stoneristic energy as deceivingly boisterous, as the toe-cutting, thumb-busting single fills the role of Drop’s autonomous barn-burner impeccably. In a long tradition of strong openers, ‘Eye’ penetrates both ears and psyches, while earning sore-thumb status due to its being the only track on the album boasting Damaged Bug’s cosmic pulls. ‘Encrypted Bounce’ ensues, portraying the sweeping epic blue-ballser so keenly crafted on Carrion Crawler. Everything appears to be running smoothly until it becomes evident that ‘Bounce’ lacks the rising actions usually following the Dwyerly yelps and the ultimate blissful catharsis returning said proverbial balls to their natural hues, rendering the track’s plotline uneventfully flat.
Similarly, ‘Savage Victory’ isn’t all that it claims to be, as it flourishes in concept but lacks in execution. By now we’ve come to expect at least one explicit display of bizarre sounds from each Oh Sees release as if it was the endlessly-entertaining surprise at the bottom of a box of Lucky Charms, yet the monotonous bass and sputtering guitar Dwyerrhea of ‘Victory’ are less than a triumph and more of a gloomy combination of pseudo free-form jazz and drone. If anyone could find a way to make this odd combination work it would certainly be Thee Oh Sees, but like much of the rest of Drop, ‘Victory’ feels a bit hollow. Of course neither track is necessarily skippable, but at this point it almost feels as if the band is pulling the rug from beneath us, causing us to stumble onto another rug of slightly lesser quality.
The band’s OhSeeDee appears to kick in on the stripped-down ‘Put Some Reverb On My Brother’ which is neatly tailored with hearty acoustic guitar and prodding horns. ‘Reverb’ marks another creative peak on Drop, recalling the relative sparsity of Putrifiers later heard again in the quasi-regality of the schnoz-thumbing ‘King’s Nose.’ The ghost of Putrifiers lingers throughout Drop, yet these two tracks specifically embody its minimal tolerance for distortion so uncharacteristic of the forefathers of modern lo-fi.
As the album closes with the entirely less-daunting kid brother to Floating Coffin‘s ‘Minotaur,’ it begins to become clear why Dwyer suddenly put the provisional kibosh on Thee Oh Sees: simply put, they sound tired. Based on the rate at which they spew recordings, it may seem like a year could be enough time for them to replenish their creative juices, but considering Dwyer’s unfathomable creative outflow this century, now may be the time for a longer intermission. My initial response to Drop was that it sheds light on the band’s alternative blue-pill, Foo-Fighters-producer fate, as most of the tracks lack the progression expected from a Dwyer product. But taken in the context of a posthumous Record Store Day release, there seems to be no threat of repetition in the band’s unclear destiny, and Drop may provide just enough stimulation to please Sees fans for the indefinite future…7.9/10
Circuit Diagram: Motown – It’s easy to box krautrock as music for machines to come alive to once every rusty red moon, and make unintelligible love to mind-gnomes. Listening to Can and BEAK>, the last thing on my mind would be, “Where’d I put the dancing shoes?” but Circuit Diagram incorporates the genre into their electronics and sampling in a way that explodes that narrow conception into a million shards of mirror, and deftly reassembles them into a pulsing disco ball, all in the same movement. Their Motown EP makes an excellent addition to the libraries of krautheads, afrobeatists and synth enthusiasts alike, as a mesmerizing melding of analog and digital approaches that combines the best of both.
Circuit Diagram is the synth and drum duo of Kris Alert and Nicolas Sheikholeslami, respectively, and no offense to Alert in any way, but the percussion is the undisputed highlight of the album. His funk/disco-inflected style is nimble and furious in a way that recalls the sepia-and-gold glamour of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories in terms of stylistic ancestry and virtuosity.
The two compose by setting up a basic loop and drumbeat, after which they gradually graft synth lines and samples into the musical helix until their beast of choice emerges. Where Alert colors the luxurious coat and puts the gold in its pupils, Sheikholeslami molds the muscle that lets it canter, feint and plunge across their synthetic sonic plains. Builds and releases are timed to torturous precision, and snap beautifully at every bridge’s breaking point. Percussion is central to the mesmerism of krautrock and of course puts the beat in afrobeat, and so Circuit Diagram succeeds in both approaches, thanks in large part to Sheikholeslami. And if you’re wondering, he’s just as good live.
Not to leave Alert out in the cold — he definitely delivers the goods as well. Motown has an impressive breadth of moods and textures thanks to his synth tinkering; track two, ‘Evi’, sets out with a bass line out of the murk of ’70s Italian horror soundtracks, and is gradually joined by shimmering vocals, deft handclaps and phantom keyboards. The result is appropriate for nightclubs and gothic hallways alike. He’s an incredibly economic musician, which adds to the kraut feel of the duo and to the deliberate quality and confidence that let you know your party is in capable hands.
The EP ends on Ed Davenport’s mix of the opening track, which is simply epic in scope. It’s a bit more meditative at the start, with more of a focus on Touchy Mob’s breathy, intoxicating vocals. But that incessant bass synth starts to pulse with an unpredictable vivacity that keeps threatening to spill from its membrane, and when it hits critical mass mid-song, the breaking point oozes with an understated satisfaction. Circuit Diagram seeks to enmesh you in these line-and-circle blueprints of sound, and you’ll find yourself wishing never to break free…8.6/10
Muscle: The Pump - Full disclosure, when I got a hold of this EP, I was expecting nothing but pure kitsch. It’s easy to poke fun at ’80s gym culture, and as I’ve said before, the imagery is distinctly retro and perfect for many a synthwave producer’s needs. So, going into Muscle’s The Pump, I expected a lot of corny clichés.
To my relief, I was very, very wrong in my expectations. The Pump is full of quality, originality and catchiness that conveys a deeper talent and respect for the genre that I really admire. The EP kicks off with ‘Feel the Steel’. It’s a mid-tempo four on the floor track with a bit of jazzy melody thrown in, peppered with growling vocals encouraging us to, you guessed it, “feel the steel”.
Following that, the title track is a quick shift in direction to something a little more fun, sassy and sexy. This vocal track is easily the catchiest on the EP, full of attitude and innuendo. It’s definitely something you’ll want to listen to with that special someone when you want to make your intentions clear. If it doesn’t happen for you by the time the guitar solo kicks in, it probably isn’t meant to be.
‘Our Bodies in Heat’ is a satisfying track in the sense that it gets really interesting halfway through with some catchy and cool synth riffs and shimmering keys. Just when you begin to wonder where the song is going, Muscle lets the music blossom. Evoking imagery of a lone road warrior fighting his way across the desert, the guitar-heavy ‘All My Ex’s Died in Texas’ is a piece more akin to what I was first expecting. Full of machismo and dashes of gunfire, it’s packed with ’80s action hero attitude.
My favorite track on The Pump is ‘IL Stallone’. This is probably me just projecting, but there’s something about it that reminds me of Trans X’s ‘Living on Video’ and I’m hit with flashbacks of my nights spent in poorly ventilated, dark night clubs. But there’s a moment about halfway through where Muscle drops all the synths and the beat just carries me for a moment. A piano melody kicks in and I’m overcome with a fine sense of serenity before the track reignites for the finale.
Muscle ends The Pump with ‘Sexin’ in the Steam Room’ and some choice words from our favorite bodybuilder/action star/politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He apparently really enjoyed “the pump”, so to speak. Overall I really enjoyed the experience front to back. Muscle is able to address themes and achieve powerful imagery without beating our heads in with nostalgia or cliché. A little flexing goes a lot further than boastful chest thumping…8.6/10
Camille Corazón‘s first official single as a solo artist, ‘XXVII’ is further proof of her collaborative efficiency. Somewhat of an EDM producer’s darling, Camille Corazón has proven her vocal efforts on collaborations like ‘Black Crown‘ (with Silent Rider) and ‘Walking on Ice‘ (with Jamie Jones) among others. With co-production by Corazón herself and mixing by Cristiano Nicolini, her music sensibilities certainly play well with others. An ode to the ’27 Club’ (an idea brought to Corazón by co-producer 1984 aka Mat Sherman), Corazón solemnly strides through the downtempo chillstep beat with a gracefully blunt acknowledgment. The lyrics gather punch as she gets to the wry question at the center of the song, “was it really your vice that was rolling the dice?” Nicolini’s mixing smartly brings Camille’s understatedly charismatic vocals to the forefront, never bringing into question whose song it is. With a promising first single and great collaborations to back it up, Camille Corazón is one to keep tabs on.