Son Raw has never broken a social scene.
Young Echo – Young Echo
Young Echo’s latest is like a musical rorschach test. If you think they sound like The Pop Group with the last remnants of rock purged out, you probably grew up on post-punk. Rap fans might assume they’re following in the footsteps of early Anticon. Meanwhile, electronic music fans might assume they’re merging trip hop sluggishness with industrial grit and texture. Ultimately, the now 11 member collective draws from all of the above, but also miraculously manages to keep things cohesive on this second album. Think Broken Social Scene, but for music that doesn’t suck.
The common threads keeping everything connected are an emphasis on vocals and a bleary dedication to the most monochrome of timbres. Though far from a pop album by contemporary standards, one of the five vocalists speaks, sings, or raps on most tracks, usually delivering abstract leftwing poetry over tracks that sound like the world collapsing around them. Rider Shafique’s “Bigger Heads” is the obvious standout here, as his dub poetry feels downright accessible next to the more obtuse English poetry. Ultimately however, this is a record that rewards a deep dive with spliff in hand, with bits that might seem a bit too geared towards art students on their own coalescing nicely into the album’s resin caked 24 track package. It’ll probably confuse a few fans of Kahn & Neek’s dance-oriented releases, but for fans of Young Echo’s weirder moments, this is a must cop.
East Man – Red, White, & Zero
Anthoney Hart’s East Man project’s debut album comes with vocals by grime artists YGG, Darkos Strife, Killa P, and Kwam, and liner notes by cultural theorist Paul Gilroy*. It’s a callback to grime’s earliest days, when Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in da Corner was winning his Mercury Prize while being fêted on Blissblog as a leftwing black response to capitalism, a powerful idea that nevertheless felt like wishful projection considering grime’s street level capitalism. Never mind the ideology though: If you like your grime albums raw, your emceeing pirate radio inspired, and your beats sparse, East Man is the perfect soundtrack for the grime winter months.
Hart has dubbed the project “Hi-Tek,” a micro-genre seemingly merging grime’s early minimalism to more polished, D&B level mixdowns. Unless I’m missing something, I’m not entirely sure it’s an idea that merits an entire subcategory, but there’s no denying that the beats bang and the emcees deliver on the mic. Saint P and Lyrical Strally both slay their tracks with youthful energy, and Killa P and Irah both add a strong dose of raga, a crucial ingredient often missing in contemporary grime. At a time when grime is seeking to cross over by increasingly leaning towards US and Afroswing influences, Red, White, & Zero feels like a much needed dose of uncut realness, no pop additives needed.
*I actually read Gilroy in college, and though I tend not to mix my music and politics, he’s worth diving into if you’re into the heady side of academic criticism.
Martyn Bootyspoon – Silk Eternity
Jason Voltaire AKA Martyn Bootyspoon has been a fixture in Montreal club land for a hot minute both behind the decks and on the floor. I’ve seen him at everything from mainstream techno parties to afterhours underground raves, so I honestly had no idea what exactly he had in store for the world with his debut release on Fractal Fantasy. As it turns out, he’s bringing sexy back to house, injecting some much needed sensuality (and humor!) to a form I often think of as abandoned to a limp, mainstream middle ground.
Taking cues from the ghetto house and vogue scenes and merging their carnal concerns to state of the art bass music engineering, Silk Eternity is an outstanding rebuke to the interminable stream of “deconstructed club” records that exist mostly on the internet, and proof that you can’t substitute a real understanding of funk for a couple of glass crash samples and a birdcall. The whole EP is worth a listen, but Steam’s afterhours atmospherics and “The Grid’s” over the top vocals are definite standouts.
Hodge – Beneath Two Moons
Of all of Bristol’s post-dubstep techno futurists, Hodge is undoubtedly the most prolific, and in his case, quantity comes with quality: Nary a season passes by without another slam-dunk release merging the UK’s love of bass to continental linearity and sound design. Beneath Two Moons is definitely 4X4 centric, usually the mark of death for yours truly, but “There is a Storm Coming” balances the slightly obvious drum programming with fantastic synths straight out of Blade Runner (original or GTFO) and “Don’t hold Your Breath” somehow reminds me of nothing less than an early Kate Bush instrumental reimagined as techno. Throw in the required ambient track in “All is Not Lost”* and it’s an intriguing new direction, from one of the rare ones doing techno right.
*Honestly, I’m not sure how much more ambient music the world needs in 2018, but at least this is a genuinely interesting track instead of your average techno EP’s tacked on sonic wallpaper.
Last Japan ft. Prynce Mini – “Wrong One”
Speaking of Blade Runner, Coyote Records has progressively evolved from a straight up grime label to one with a clear identity built around transforming squarewave synth lines into something altogether more otherworldly than your typical banger. Last Japan has been a cornerstone of this transition—”Ascend” with AJ Tracey might be the label’s single brightest moment—so his return alongside Prynce Mini on “Wrong One” is a cause for celebration. The standout from Last Japan’s forthcoming Luna EP, “Wrong One” makes room for Mini’s contemporary dancehall vocals, resulting in something altogether different from your usual roughneck grime/raga banger. Instead, the vocals are smoothed out, practically melting into the track on the autotuned hook.