The Great Eight
Forget the chocolate coins, Grandpa. The shiny discs your brats really want are CDs! (That stands for compact disc, not certificate of deposit, a difference I actually had to explain to my grandparents one year—I'm not even trying to teach them about MP3s). Here are eight nights worth of recent electronic releases to get your shopping list started.
Marco Carola, Fabric 31 (Fabric) Now that minimal has achieved some degree of genre dominance, it's no shock to see any odd DJ joining the party (insert maximum-capacity joke here). Naples-based DJ/producer Marc Carola joins the esteemed ranks of the Fabric mix series with a finely blended, but unsurprising, mishmash full of utilitarian beats, slinky synth squiggles, and curbed bass lines. It's not a monumental Fabric disc, nor is it a career-defining moment for Carola, but if you subscribe to the Fabric mix series (which you should) it's pleasant enough.
Cappablack, Façades & Skeletons (~scape) Cappablack make hazy glitch hop in the style of Prefuse 73 or Dabrye—it's largely instrumental, full of stuttering drunk beats, half-enunciated vocal samples, and digital tones. Guest MC Emirp's rushed Japanese rapping is slightly harder to understand than, say, a syrupy southern drawl, but Cappablack's tracks are stuffed with familiar enough sounds and samples to translate.
Gregor Tresher, Neon: Works in the Mix (Datapunk) This release does double duty as both a debut of some of Tresher's new tracks and as a career-spanning DJ mix of the producer's work. Tresher's older material shows some electro-clash scars—monotone vocals, cheesy darkness—while his newer works have more in common with the acerbic techno of Audion. Buzzing saw-tooth synths and busy drum programming that dominate even these tracks make for an enjoyable hour of imagined raving.
Jeff Samuel, Step (Trapez) Expatriate Seattleite Jeff Samuel settles into his new home in Berlin, and his new label Trapez, with an album of microscopically funky techno full of buoyant bass and bright melodies. Samuel's varied melodic work gives each of these 11 tracks unique emotional resonance to complement their relentless kinetic energy.
T. Raumschmiere, Random Noize Sessions Vol. 1 (Shitkatapult) T. Raumschmiere's breakout album, Radio Blackout, appealed to some dormant NIN pleasure center in my brain with its brutally bit-crushed synths, industrial rhythms, and snarling vocals. Well, as with Reznor, Marco Haas has a fragile side to counter his gothic bombast and it's cataloged on this dauntingly titled collection. The album is almost entirely ambient drones and subtle percussive explorations, with the only exception being the pulsing bass and looping tubular bells of single "Die Alte Leier."
Various artists, 8-Bit Operators (Astralwerks) This fun concept album presents chiptune covers of the insanely influential Kraftwerk. Chiptune, music made using vintage gaming consoles such as Gameboy, Commodore, and Atari, speaks to a deeply encoded Nintendo-generation nostalgia, and this compilation proves that its seemingly limited musical engines are capable of producing rich and varied sounds. The covers are lovingly faithful, and truer to the spirit of the originators than the likes of Señor Coconut's cheeky versions.
Various artists, Pop Ambient 2007 (Kompakt) Brian Eno would be proud. Once again Kompakt's stable of multitalented artists has assembled a collection of tracks that more than fulfill Eno's command that ambient music "accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular" and "be ignorable as it is interesting." The disc is fairly light on the pop side of things, but some tracks stand out despite themselves, such as the pulse and whispers of the Field's "Kappsta" and the breaking waves of Marsen Jules's "Ou La Nostalgie Habite."
Robert Henke, Layering Buddha (Imbalance Computer Music) Last year's hippest musical novelty gift was FM3's Buddha Machine, a meditative antiPod that played only preset ambient loops varying in length from 2 to 42 seconds. As one of the developers behind Ableton Live, Robert Henke (AKA Monolake) has some experience with revolutionary musical innovation. With Layering Buddha, Henke stretches, manipulates, and, yes, layers the discreet sounds of the Buddha Machine to create frozen, linear compositions every bit as ambient as the originals but not nearly as cute or inventive.