Ghost in the 404: This Month’s Best Electronic and Dance Music

Ghost in the 404 returns with new tracks from Loraine James, Julianna Barwick, and more.
By    August 14, 2020

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Sam Ribakoff uses new age music to unwind.

Disclosure and Fatoumata Diawara – “Douha (Mali Mali)” and Salute – “Glamour Loop”

Disclosure is the fast food spot close to your place. When you’re off the clock and exhausted, actual good food is just a couple of blocks away, but the fast food spot is right there. Plus, sometimes all you want is something high in trans fat and delicious to get you through the night. “Douha,” is that audio trans fat you need. After the ad soundtrack ready giddy high pop-house of 2013’s Settle began wearing off, Disclosure released a whole album, then an EP, then a bunch of loosie tracks of just boring, muddled, gentrified pop-house — picking off ideas from Black and Brown, and much better disco, house, future bass, and UK garage music producers.

The best parts of Settle were when Disclosure surrendered to this reality and didn’t try to hide it and let vocalists lift their mediocre beats into campy anthems, like Sam Smith on “Latch” or AlunaGeorge on “White Noise.” “Douha” repeats that recipe with Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara’s earthy vocals absolutely gliding over a medicare Euro-house beat, uplifting it to what should have been this summer’s outdoor party soundtrack, if we actually could have parties this summer.

If you’re looking for the kind of glittery pop-house made by young people of color that Disclosure wishes they could make, look no further than Manchester UK’s Salute. With only a few Bandcamp releases to their name, Salute’s already come up with this mesmerizing blend of pop, r&b, house and UK garage sound that sounds like red and purple lights reflecting off of glitter on a packed dance floor in an anime movie. “Glamour Loop” revolves around what sounds like a sped up r&b singer, chopped up and reassembled into a wordless chorus where all you can make out is these kind of melodic inflections, looping, while glittering synth chords and pads vibrate over a funky two step garage beat. It’s pop-house, but pop-house that’s facing and in dialogue and in the lineage with dance music of the past.            

100 Gecs – “Money Machine (A.G. Cook Remix)” and Loraine James – “Hmm” 

At the end of last year 100 Gecs, a duo originally from St. Louis, but now based in both Chicago and L.A., got a wild amount of press attention for their noisy pastiches of pop and gabber music that tenuously nodded towards black metal, Memphis rap, and noise music. Kids like it, critics like it, but man, it just sounds like novelty music to me. But maybe I’m just old. P.C. Music head A.G. Cook’s remix of 100 Gec’s most well known song, “Money Machine,” doesn’t convince me otherwise, but it does trace an interesting lineage between PC Music’s bubblegum noise club music and whatever the hell 100 Gecs do. Cook strips the original track of it’s constant spastic Tik Tok binge energy and reassembles it to provide brief moments of beautifully ethereal choral ambience until ultimately giving into a distorted club deconstruction dirge.

It’s obvious Cook likes and cares for 100 Gecs and “Money Machine,” from the way this remix elevates and expands on the original track. 

London’s Loraine James is nothing like 100 Gecs, but she is into warping and weird club deconstruction rhythms. James’ debut album, last year’s For You and I, garnered a lot of praise in the dance music press for it’s glitchy, dubby grime and techno sound. Since then she’s released a bunch of small projects on her Bandcamp page, like a really out there EP of grime remixes called Bangers and Mash. On her most recent project, Hmm, James further goes down the trail of out there, wonky, grime inspired techno. The title track starts off with a pretty standard grime rhythm and video game soundtrack noises, but it quickly begins to wobble off axis, meandering around while the snares and hi hats try out another rhythm while the video game coin sounds get louder, and stranger, before ultimately the rhythm returns and everything meshes back into place. It’s those almost free jazz movements when James gets loose from the framework of dance music, and the grid of a software program, that her music really gets interesting.  

Chino Amobi – “Disney Girls 2020” and Mucho Sueño – “Cuando Volvamos Al Sur”

In 2015 Richmond, Virginia’s Chino Amobi co-founded the amazingly weird and revolutionary NON Worldwide collective with artists and activists from around the world, and put out some of the wildest and most experimental electronic music, like South African duo Faka. In 2017 Amobi dropped Paradiso, one of the best albums of that year, an album of apocalyptic poetry and startling violent beauty that reflected the American nightmare of then, and now. Since then, he’s been pretty quiet. “Disney 2020” is hopefully a first hesitant step back into an experimental electronic music world that desperately needs him. Over what sounds like a placid exotica soundscape from the 50’s, Amobi sings like a monotone lounge singer about lobotomies, the crumbling economy, and blood stains while gunshots ricochet around him. It’s not the best thing he’s ever done, but Amobi’s ability to balance beauty and violence, ambience and noise, and humor and dead seriousness, while coming up with the wildest and most experimental ideas, is a head space that’s sorely needed, and a a breath of fresh air, in the experimental and electronic music scene.

As their name might suggest, Mucho Sueño makes chamomile tea dreamy ambient techno, with hints of South and central American rhythms. “Cuando Volvamos Al Sur” is all warm ambient synths languidly falling over each other, like the bittersweet memory of someone, or finally getting to the end of a Final Fantasy game.

DJ Milton – Ghetto Get Down and Jessy Lanza – All The Time

Who doesn’t need 24 tracks of raw, dirty, pulsating Chicago ghettotech now? Born out of the bulging bass lines of Chicago acid house, the hard digital crack of Detroit techno and electro, and the playful sexuality of Miami bass, ghettotech is all about open hi hats and snares cracking against each other and repetitive, sexually explicit, phrases looping ad infinitum, where the best DJs know just how long to keep a track going, and just when to transition to the next one. DJ Milton is an old school Dance Mania DJ from the 90’s who knows exactly how it’s done, and exactly how to lift you up and free your mind through the sheer power of ass shaking, all you have to do is accept him, and this album, into your life to reach that salvation and enlightenment.   

Other than anyone other than maybe Kelela, Jessy Lanza is the pop/r&b singer with the closest eye fixed on underground dance music, and the best taste for what’s good and what’s not in the genre. In the past Lanza has played with footwork music, and collaborated closely with DJ Rashad and other members of the Teklife crew, made reupped Benedek style electro boogie, and made classic Chicago Trax era house inspired pop/r&b somewhere in between Ariel Pink and Control era Janet Jackson. On All The Time, her third album, Lanza siphons all those influences through her own Hamilton Canadian self and comes up with a more refined, sleeker, shinier,  more hi-def, picture of her electro r&b sound that honors her influences, but doesn’t try to copy or replicate them, but instead lets them speak and be heard through her own voice and sound.

Actress – 88 and Model Home – Rev/Flesh

British producer Actress is back, and hazier than ever. Presented as a kind of appetizer to an upcoming full length album, 88 consists of what sounds like a bunch of Actress’ demos and rough sketches for tracks stitched together, sometimes awkwardly, but always interestingly. If you’ve heard any other Actress album before, you know the vibes of this record, Robert Hood style minimal techno smudged and blurred with a distinctly British post-industrial haze, and post web 1.0 market crash digital feedback and static, paired with some really beautiful somber Vangelis style ambient synthscapes. It can be a difficult sound to get into, really minimal, and all about the texture and tone of tape hiss and dying electronics, but when you do get into it, only Actress tracks will be able to scratch that itch.     

Model Home is Pat Cain and NAPPYNAPPA, two dudes from Washington D.C. that make music live from the rubble of the empire. On the two tracks on this EP, the group creates alienating, sputtering, dubby, industrial rhythms that sound like Mark Stweart and King Midas Sound jamming next to a burning federal building.    

Jon Hassell – Seeing Through Sound and Julianna Barwick – Healing is a Miracle

In 1980, experimental trumpeter Jon Hassell made an album with Brian Eno called Fourth World: Possible Musics which was supposed to usher in the genre Hassell and Eno coined called “fourth world music,” where ancient rhythms and musical modes from around the world were supposed to be fused with new electronic instruments and processes. It never really took off, but while Eno took off to go make some more ambient music and produce U2 albums, Hassell spent decades refining his ambient-jazz experimental cosmic amorphous blob of a sound that he keeps refining with every album, even now at 83 years old. On Seeing Through Sound, Hassell creates ambient interstellar soundscapes using what sounds like overly manipulated tape experiments of water and old Hong Kong movie dramas and ghost notes from steel drums that are invariably punctuated with an edge by Hassell’s eerie, squeaking, phase shifting trumpet playing.

This isn’t ambient music to relax too, this is ambient music you want to be enveloped in, taking in every textural tick and minute sound. Music to close your eyes and get lost in for a while.

Julianna Barwick is an ambient producer who probably listens to more Enya and 12th century French choral music than Brian Eno or Laraaji. Barwick builds towering amber colored clouds of music by overdubbing her own wordless vocalizations on top of each other and drenching them in reverb and echo until they build into otherworldly choruses of pure, flowing, musical texture. In the past she’s played with adding and subtracting synths into her solo choruses, on Healing is a Miracle, the synths are there, but a lot subtler, adding in touches of bass rumblings under the choruses, and even some muted drums on “In Light (featuring. Jonsi)” and “Nod (featuring. Nosaj Thing),” but those are just extra spices in the Julianna Barwick special sauce. Like all of her records, the focus here is on the transcending power of the human voice, especially her own.

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