Ghost in the 404: The Best Dance Music of April, 2018

Ghost in the 404 returns with words on Kate NV, Arca, and more.
By    May 16, 2018

Sam Ribakoff wrote this for 18 musicians.

Kate NV– “дуб OAK”

One of the best stories to come out of the experimental music world is the often repeated tale about how OG minimalist composer Steve Reich almost caused a riot at a performance in Carnegie Hall in the mid-’70s. Reich’s big breakthrough was stumbling on the “phase” technique, where two or more instruments, or samples, start a piece off playing the same chord or melodic line exactly in sync. But as the piece goes on they drift apart, creating weirdly enticing and hypnotic rhythms and harmony (If you want to read more about it, Trump’s ghostwriter inserted an inaccurate story about how Reich came up with the idea of the phase technique in Think Like a Champion. Figures.)

Four Organs is one of Reich’s many phase pieces. It consists of four organs, and one maraca player, slowly going in and out of sync while expanding the duration of a series of chords for 16 minutes. Apparently at a performance at Carnegie Hall, the repetition and intensity of the piece caused audience members to try to stop the performance. One woman supposedly ran to the stage, banged her head against it, and yelled, “I confess!”

Moscow’s Kate NV, takes a lot of inspiration from Reich on “дуб OAK,” with marimbas repeating a phrase throughout the song that then gets replied to by a mossy synth phrase. The track builds in a series of instruments over its four minute run time, repeating these Reich like phrases. But unlike Four Organs, Kate NV’s track runs with a persistent mellowness that kind of sounds like being stupidly blissed out at the bottom of an Ikea ball pit.

Arca– “Fetiche”

As much a short DJ set and musical flex as a single track, on “Fetiche” Arca swings from a beautiful melancholic piano melody into chopped up moaning vocals, straight into an ear pummeling distorted club freakout, into something that’s parallel to danceable ballroom voguing music. And that’s only half of this almost 11 minute track. While it’s definitely not as enjoyable as the songwriting on Arca’s last album, or even the gleeful noisey debauchery of Arca’s previous albums, it’s always exciting to eavesdrop and participate in all of Arca’s idiosyncracies.

Kush Jones– “Humility”

In the early 2000s, Ghostface Killah mastered the art of juxtaposition. By playing with the cognitive dissonance of rapping about the grit and grime of living and surviving in New York City over sweet soul samples and loops, Ghost’s lyrics became just a little bit more beautiful, and those sweet soul samples took on a little dirtier, more ominous hue. On “Humility,” Kush Jones plays with the same kind of juxtaposition in a footwork/juke music context, sampling a sweet soul loop, and repeating a vocal chop of a monotone voice saying “you ain’t shit” over it. Having low self confidence has never felt so good.

Steven JulienBloodline

In the era of data dump albums, well sequenced albums—with the order of tracks highlighting an emotional or tonal narrative—really jump out among the riff-raff. Steven Julien’s latest project for his own Apron Records is one of those really well sequenced albums. Starting off with “Hunt,” an almost John Carpenter-esque spooky synth track, Julien increases the melodic complexity of his music as the tracks move forward on the album. While the second track, “Roll of the Dice,” updates acid house’s spewing intensity with a little grit and tone that sounds influenced by L.A. beat makers like Flying Lotus and Samiyam, the third track, “Bloodline,” is where the album really lifts off.

Starting off as another solo drum machine acid house track, “Bloodline” smoothly brings in heartwarming synth patch chords until the track sounds like something Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis would have produced for Janet Jackson in the mid-’80s. But it’s later on in the album, on “Queen of Ungilsan,” that Steven Julien really succeeds in crafting his own unique sound, patching together freestyle music, house, techno, and R&B into beautifully euphoric dance music.

TRAX RecordsThat’s What I Call Trax! Volume 1

Legendary house music label TRAX records came through with the one data dump record that the culture needs right now. Over the span of 15 long tracks, TRAX spills out some classic sounding new diva house records, with some of the best coming from the queen of house music vocals herself, Screamin Rachael. While the compilation does try to present TRAX as honoring its past while moving into the future, with tracks like footwork producer Londy’s “Jack’s Groove,” the real magic is in those classic sounding house records that TRAX is known and loved for.

Felicia AtkinsonCoyotes

If you want to know what Felicia Atkinson’s music on Coyotes sounds like, the first track on this album, “Lighter than an Aquarium,” does a good job of letting you know off rip. This is experimental ambient music that floats by like brightly colored tropical fish in the aforementioned aquarium. Various acoustic and electronic pianos, pinging synths, and ASMR style whispered words, come in and out of the mix on both tracks on the album, always in the service of providing a calming, but evershfitng landscape to chill out in, but never get bored with. It’s like laying on your back watching the stars in the country, noticing new constellations and patterns everywhere you look.

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