THE KARMINSKY EXPERIENCE INC. THE POWER OF SUGGESTION (Eighteenth St. Lounge Music)
In the Global Disco, it's less about where you're from than whom you're with. In other words, The Karminsky Experience Inc. could hail from almost anywhere on the planet, yet their internationally influenced cocktail lounge spy theme music could only be at home on one record label: Thievery Corporation's Eighteenth Street Lounge Music. Martin Dingle and James Munns actually hail from London, and The Power Of Suggestion uses the mid-east as its backdrop ('Assignment Istanbul,' 'Belly Disco', 'The Wayward Camel,' etc.). Once they've worn this theme into the ground they fall back on some universally safe sounds the trip-hop beats of the single 'Exploration', the vaguely cinematic 'Audio Sonic.' Nothing on The Power of Suggestion is remotely groundbreaking, but as confirmation of a quietly booming international sub-genre, it serves its purpose just fine.
HIGHLIGHT: 'Shall We Dance?' turns a tabla-like pattern into a mid-paced modern rumba, conjuring up hallucinogenic images of Bugs Bunny as Ali Baba on the dance floor.
GABY KERPEL CARNABAILITO (Nonesuch)
Curious and complex combination of Argentinean folk and global electronica from the classically trained composer of the high-wire interactive performance piece De La Guarda. (Read my review of De La Guarda here.) For his first solo album, Kerpel recorded traditional instruments live: the Argentinean flute dominates many songs, and there's also the erhu, a Chinese violin, and the Brazilian guitar-like cavaquinho. Kerpel then cut up the results and digitally redistributed them, sometimes in a modern fashion ('Herias sin Herir'), sometimes embracing far eastern patterns ('Toritos'), and occasionally, as on 'Gabytok,' leaving them entirely unaccompanied. Heavy phasing and distortion effects on Kerpel's vocals serve to give them a distant, yearning feel, one matched by lyrics - sung in his native tongue though translated on the insert - that primarily concern loss and heartache.
HIGHLIGHT: 'Xplicamelo' ('Explain It To Me'), with its cut-and-paste trip-hop drums, funky guitar lines and other-wordly vocals, is the most likely to resonate on both dancefloor and radio.
WINE? This is traditional Argentinean music brought up to date and made internationally available. So try the indigenous Argentinean wine Torrontes from Santa Julia, available across the globe for a pittance.
KLUTE LIE CHEAT & STEAL/YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED (Breakbeat Science)
British drum and bass, you may pause to consider, is currently about as fashionable as the cassette tape. That's not totally unsurprising: there were only so many directions the music could take before finding itself boxed in, and besides, British trends move so fast that no young streetwise producer would be caught dead jumping last year's bandwagon. So, although Tom Withers' alter ego Klute does his valiant best to justify his relevancy throughout Lie Cheat & Steal (I'm not the world's biggest drum and bass fan, but this is as mature an album in that genre as I've heard all year), one gets the feeling that few are listening. And that's a shame. Because tucked into the package is a second CD of timeless sublime techno, You Should Be Ashamed. Mostly indebted to Detroit ('Machines Do The Work'), with a little of London (PolyStyrene sampled on 'Artificial Sense') and bits of Berlin ('Overchoice'), it confirms in my mind that techno has greater longevity and more room to musically maneuver than does drum and bass. But it also establishes that, as Klute, Withers resolutely refuses to be pigeonholed, an artist who should not be filed under Forgotten alongside LTJ Bukem, Goldie and crew.
HIGHLIGHT: 'Wishing.' Archetypal four-to-the-floor techno. Crank it up.
LAIBACH - WAT (Mute)
Everyone's favorite Slovenian Wagnerite industrial art terrorists return with their first collection of all original songs since
God knows when. (The title, by the way, is an acronym of the song 'We Are Time,' a suitably grandiose claim.) In some ways, nothing has changed over the years - the operatic elements are all still in place, and so are a number of rhythms that hark back to the prime industrial rock era of the late 80s yet the overall sound is refreshingly contemporary and surprisingly commercial. Many of the lyrics are much as you would expect foreboding couplets like "The rising of the Century did not bring salvation," and "We are no ordinary pop group
we are not here to please you." But where would Laibach be without some controversy - for the provocatively totled 'Anti-Semitism' is sung in what I presume to be Slovenian. Translation, anyone?
HIGHLIGHT: Achtung! It's so shamelessly clichéd it's an archetype.
PLASTIKMAN CLOSER (NovaMute)
Whereby Richie Hawtin, recording his first Plastikman album in five years, reaches new lows in minimal techno: there are times that Closer is so quiet and uncluttered it almost fades into the ether. But turn it up, play it alone (or, I imagine, listen on headphones) and Closer declares itself a master exercise in drawing the most in human emotion from the least of electronic music. And don't be put off by the fact that first single 'Disconnect' features the shock! horror! sound of Hawtin's own voice: only techno anoraks could get so worked up about the fact that an instrumental producer would dare to speak on his own records, let alone that he should question his purpose after a decade of unrelenting output. Closer is not all introversion; it gradually warms up as it progresses, and occasionally even thinks about dancing - quietly, though, and without exerting itself too emphatically.
HIGHLIGHT: 'Headcase' is the centerpiece. The sparest of synthetic 303 sounds are twisted ever so slowly until, six minutes in, they're approximating a proper rhythm and Hawtin can't resist adding an electronic handclap. A minute later, the handclaps disappear and the techno groove is stripped to its absolute minimum. Soon after that he adds hi-hats, then seems to think better of it, as if unwilling to let loose. Finally, ten minutes after such teasing began, he segues into the song 'Ping Pong'. Would that all our heads could sound so simultaneously imaginative and uncluttered.
T. RAUMSCHMIERE RADIO BLACKOUT (Novamute/Shitkapult)
You might imagine an artist with a name lifted from a William Burroughs novel, an album sleeve featuring a skull and crossbones, and a record label called Shitkapult would be just a tad uncompromising. But Marco Haas's Radio Blackout is surprisingly friendly and certainly humorous, a mostly up-tempo synth-based rock-out. Instrumentals like 'Monstertruckriver' and 'Querstromzerspaner' blend the techno dancefloor with the hardcore simplicity of purpose that Novamute artists are famous for, while But Haas likes playing with expectations. 'A Million Brothers (blah blah blah)' slows the pace for MC Soom T to rap, and the finale, 'MuSick Boy' is confrontational aggrotronica. Of the four videos included with the package, the heavily manipulated samples of 'Rabaukendisko' suggests that Raumschmiere sees itself as more of a rock'n'roll act than a techno experiment in the first place. And should my review fail to sufficiently describe the album, there's always the online one-minute megamix.
HIGHLIGHT: 'The Game Is Not Over,' on which Miss Kittin jettisons her usual ironic cool for some forceful shouting set to a glitter-rock synth stomp. Think Add N To X on holiday with Gary Glitter in the German forest.
DJ SOUL SLINGER PRESENTS ECO SYSTEM THE BRAZILIAN JOINT (Liquid Sky)
Drum and bass has always sounded better when combined with non-western rhythms and instrumentation, so I wasn't surprised to find the genre thriving when I visited Brazil this spring. And DJ Soul Slinger has played a major role in the music's development in that country. A native of Sao Paolo, he spent years in New York (where he founded Liquid Sky, arguably the city's first jungle label) and now lives in Arizona, but has maintained close ties to his homeland throughout. The Brazilian Joint is both soundtrack and souvenir for his eco-festival in the Amazon this past August: a continually mixed compilation of Brazilian productions, its best tracks here are not surprisingly those which confound expectations and use jungle more as a framework than a rule book. Sao Paolo's Drumagick does so with finesse, incorporating a brassy spy theme motif on 'Malandragem' and a vibrant vocal loop on 'Latinos'.
HIGHLIGHT: Ramilson Mala's 'Madelena' is a particularly exuberant combination of bossa nova rhythms, lusty Brazilian vocals and pure jungle beats.
VARIOUS ARTISTS MANA MEDICINE (CyberOctave)
A compilation culled from the Dragonfly label owned by uber-producer and Killing Joke bassist Youth, Mana Medicine takes us back a decade to the pioneering techno-dub of the Orb and the ambient dub craze that followed in its footsteps for a while. It's a music that's been sorely missed, and it's by nature an international sound Mana Medicine features acts from Israel, Australia and Japan. But OTT could only be south Londoners to have come up with the title 'Escape From Tulse Hell,' which sounds like something remixed from the Studio One catalogue. Other UK acts, Grey Beard with 'Aushadhi' and Noodreem with 'Cosmic Jam' each mix global styles with tripped-out ease. The most delightful element on Mana Medicine is that of the lead guitar lines, both acoustic and electric that waft effortlessly but intricately above the rhythm: is Steve Hillage back in the house? With all those languid rhythms and hypnotic bass lines, I could listen to this music until I fall asleep and sometime I have.
HIGHIGHT: 'Infusion' by Canadian act Drift: a simple drum rhythm is run through the effects mill while a couple of interweaving lead guitar lines twist and turn blissfully on their way upward toward the heavens.
LUKE VIBERT YOSEPH (Warp)
Given his roots in Cornwall making music alongside Aphex Twin, his workaholic habits, his various pseudonyms (Plug, Wagon Christ) and catalogue of remixes (you name them, he's worked with them), it's astonishing that YosepH should be Luke Vibert's debut release for Warp. Consider it a homecoming of sorts, and a much-needed reminder for the pioneering record label that experimental techno doesn't need to be introverted. For YosepH is a friendly, almost cheeky reflection on the 303 and all things acid - though as befits a man who's been making music for a decade, it's less about getting you dancing than keeping you twitching. And while the occasional track comes with a deliberately warped title 'NokTup' and 'StanD'infamy' most of this music is sparsely arranged, concisely formatted armchair techno of purposefully timeless variety, with immediately engaging titles ('Acidisco,' 'Countdown' 'Snapdance' and 'Harmonic') to match. Of special note: the sample of 1988's 'We call It Acieed' by D Mob tucked into the title track.
HIGHLIGHT: 'I Love Acid,' a mid-tempo, spacious tribute to the music that shaped a generation, with Vibert's vocodered vocals rendering it something close to a pop song. Ace little video too.
ZONGAMIN ZONGAMIN (XL)
Of all the face-less techtronica albums I've played over this past year, Zongamin is the one I keep coming back to. Susumi Makai's debut for XL Recordings is simultaneously clever yet whimsical; it puts one foot on the dance floor without every quite leaving the bedroom studio. At its most consistent as on 'Spiral' and 'Painless' it's positively exuberant, with funky guitars over easy going mid-tempo beats. At its most hardcore ('Make Love Not War' and 'Whiplash') it parries with punk. Only occasionally 'Street Surgery 2' is the most obvious offender does Susumi explore his Warp-ed tendencies to the detriment of the music.
HIGHLIGHT: 'Serious Trouble' twitches like it's carrying a disease. (A desirable disease, it should be noted.)