Basscadet is a monthly column from Gary Suarez, combining thoughts about current trends in electronic music with short-form reviews of recent releases.
Summer is here, and with it comes another spate of seasonal musical festivals meant to draw euphoria from our bodies like so many Scientological thetans. It’s time to emerge from the artificial lights and dim corners of our musty dance clubs and out into the green fields and sun-soaked concrete slabs of open air Electric Daisy carnivals and Mad Decent block parties.
Yet, as you and your poorly hydrated and barely clothed pals make your way to the festival nearest and dearest to you, what shall you listen to? You’ve got lots of options, but if you happen to care about what you’re listening to, prepare to be underwhelmed. Though EDM remains an incredibly popular and equalizing movement, major label electronic albums by and large amount to little more than disposable downloads of fleeting populism with limited shelf lives. Despite its declaratory title, Alesso’s featherweight Forever seems as though it’ll barely survive the summer in terms of listenability. Giorgio Moroder’s new comeback LP has been so poorly received by critics that it might not last the month.
In this recent crop of would-be single-stacked compilations, Galantis probably fares the best. Though much of it sounds prepped for licenseable commercial interstitials or extreme soda jingle jingoism, Pharmacy [Atlantic] benefits from having an experienced Europop veteran in the ranks. Christian Karlsson, of Bloodshy & Avant and the related Miike Snow project, makes up half of this Swedish bikini team, bringing to Pharmacy the life lessons learned from working with Britney Spears. Playing to the cheap seats, Galantis is Salvador Dali as celebrity, that prolonged phase that continued well past his own artistic resonance.
Unlike the Artist Featuring Artist model so often employed on similar EDM records, the vocal guest list here has largely been concealed. Deliriously catchy hit single “Runaway (U & I)” apparently features songwriting careerist and onetime dance-pop queen Cathy Dennis on the verse, a slapbang reunion of two of Britney’s “Toxic” co-conspirators. At times, even the genders of these various vocalists become unclear, which in a way feels refreshing after decades of dancing queens and swarthy baritones. Plastic soul progenitor and erstwhile androgyne David Bowie would no doubt have a little smirk at that.
Like so many drugs available only by prescription, all of the tracks from this Pharmacy promise to lift you up and make you feel so, so good. Of course, results may vary, as on generic refills “Firebird” and “Water”. Galantis’ ethos is one of perpetual sonic celebration, ending only when one dares to allow it. Like a so serious Basement Jaxx, they muster up a sort of absurdist take on contemporary dance pop and sweating out the Ibiza musk on “Forever Tonight” and disco ducking through “Peanut Butter Jelly”.
High Wolf – Growing Wild [Leaving]
No doubt drawn to the thrilling electronic music scenes of the Eastern hemisphere, this French producer taps the African continent for this hard-to-classify album for this Stones Throw sibling.
Opening epic “Wild at Heart” sprawls out into Shangaan sonics and rapturous mbira, occasionally disrupted by DSP manipulations. “Exploratory Impatience” and “Savage Beasts Be Wise” blend roiling rhythms with turbid bleeps and unidentifiable samples. There’s something quasi-psychedelic about High Wolf’s approach, though the tracks are far too busy for anyone to achieve anything akin to a psychotropic trance (“Girls, Amen”). That’s no small strike against Growing Wild, given that the dance-floor applications are rather limited. Sure, one could dance to “1314” the way one might attempt to get down to a Muslimgauze track, but the plodding “Life Don’t Care” seems so caught up in its own squirming it never notices how far gone it’s become.
Kone – Yellowstone [New Los Angeles]
Back when trip-hop wasn’t a dirty word, the subgenre amounted to so much more than innocuous, vaguely European background noise fit for idling in odiferous boutique hotel lobbies. It was music you could really groove with, with studio and bedroom producers alike wielding its relaxed tempos to broaden the scope of sample-based electronic music. Not to be confused with the abandoned Phil Western pseudonym, this Kone slots in nicely with that old, warm feel without coming off too terribly dated. A few years removed from his respectable Alpha Pup releases, Yellowstone represents the wide-ranging LA beat scene without digging too deep in its jeans pocket. He’s less interested in overtly degrading sound than highlighting it, as demonstrated on the accordion shuffle of “Wandering” or the Laurel Canyon vibes of “The Battle”. Early standout “Dig Two Graves” fuses Badalamenti jazz with Boards of Canada vocoder pop for curiously effective results.
Legiac – The Faex Has Decimated [Tympanik Audio]
As half of Funckarma and Quench, Roel Funcken has played a significant albeit underappreciated role in that delicate space between braindance and post-industrial music. With prior releases on labels like Skam and Schematic, he’s pushed envelopes even when this brand of intelligent dance music fell increasing further out of favor. Teaming here with Cor Bolten, this both makes for Legiac’s second album as well as its first as a duo. (2007’s Mings Feaner had also included Don Funcken in the mix.) A dystopian soundtrack without a corresponding film, edgy electro breaks, ethereal pads, and give The Faex Has Decimated much of its pseudo-cinematic charm (“Bizoid Stroke”, “Row Glodation”). Aerated ambient mood setter “Conazol Ketamind” drifts towards the subsequent fractured hop of the title track. But not only has all this been done before, it’s been done far better by Funcken himself. Next to modern beat wreckers like Arca or Evian Christ, Legiac’s take sounds almost quaint.
Lockah – It Gets More Cloudy… [Donky Pitch]
Amid electroclash’s vapid burn, it became all too easy to deride and dismiss its influences, namely the earnest synth explorers of new wave pop like The Human League and Yaz(oo). But scenester recoil aside, adjacent acts like Dam-Funk and Jimmy Edgar subsequently liberated and legitimized electro pop, freeing us up to just have fun with it. Despite making his mark on the bass scene via Diplo’s Jefree’s imprint as well as his own Tuff Wax, Lockah sidesteps that style on this spirited new full-length. From the keyboard funk of “You Suckers Don’t Even Cut Corn” to the freestyle breaker “South Bronx Parasite”, this ambitious album instead aligns him with fellow Scottish maximalists Hudson Mohawke and Rustie. On the genre-bending “Heate Legend”, he takes garage back to its unrealized ‘80s New Order roots, a sound more obviously adopted on “Help Helped a Little Present in Mine for Me”.