Late last year, the reigning emperor of minimal techno, Ricardo Villalobos, turned heads by releasing a 37-minute-long single, "Fizheuer Zieheuer," with a B-side, "Fizzbeat," almost as long (obviously no actual sides of vinyl records are involved here). So, having collapsed the distance between the album and the track, the next natural step for the Chilean-born, Berlin-based producer would seem to be to break down the walls between the artist album and that pillar of the electronic music world, the DJ mix; with his entry into Fabric's venerable mix series, Villalobos has done exactly that. Fabric 36 is a continuous, DJ-style mix, but all the tracks are new Villalobos originals or collaborations, making it both a deep mix and a new album of sorts.
The mix begins with a minute of typically insectoid percussive chatter before the pulse beat and acoustic fills of "Perc & Drums" (how's that for an apt, utilitarian name?) joins in. On "Moongomery," the microscopic clicks give way to unintelligible dream whispers. Funky bass lines, evolving drums, faint melodies, electronic toms, and tweaked effects weave in and out of tracks. Vocals appear on "4 Wheel Drive," and halfway point "Andruic & Japan" drags lightly drugged crooning across 12 minutes of hushed bass pops and shifting percussion. Things mellow into the organ hum of "Prevorent," and the mumbling "Fumiyandric 2" until "You Won't Tell Me" revives the beat for the street-party anthem "Primer Encuentro Latino-American," a reworking of a Latin folk song. Things end with the ecstatic fade and teasing keys of "Chropuspel Zündung."
Throughout, Villalobos exercises the graceful placement and production that he's known for. But what's most interesting about Fabric 36 is how hard it is to pick out separate, wholly formed songs. Some tracks seem like works in progress, just a simple beat or a groove that Villalobos might one day extend into another epic single. Sonic elements thread in and out in a way that both exposes the production process and plays with the listener's expectation for discrete songs and fixed compositions. It's more than a DJ mix, more or less a new album, all made from building blocks that don't quite amount to songs, and it's as satisfying as it is intriguing. ERIC GRANDY
SATURDAY LOOKS GOOD TO ME
Fill Up the Room
Pop music has always had the reputation of being shallow: too many la la las and not enough substance. But it's pop's oh-so-smooth surfaces that allow sly musicians to indulge the public's sweet tooth and subvert its expectations at the same time. That's exactly what Fred Thomas—chief songwriter, singer, and musician for Saturday Looks Good to Me—does on the band's new album, Fill Up the Room.
The la la las are definitely present throughout the album, especially on opener "Apple," which sounds like a 1950s ballad recorded in a closet with some drunken friends. Thomas gets more ambitious, however, with "(Even if You Die on the) Ocean," a perfect amalgam of hummable chord progressions, ebullient choruses, and uneasy lyrics that illuminates a clever songwriter at the peak of his powers.
Another standout track on this subtly powerful album is "Make a Plan," the story of Jenny, a theatrical depressive who would "lose her mind a sentence at a time," all told to a bouncy, sing-along melody. Thomas oscillates between fast and loose, 1960s-tinged summer pop and slower, more contemplative tunes like the simple, sweet "Peg" and the stripped-down but lyrically complex "Come with Your Arms," a duet in which Thomas's rough edges are rubbed smooth by the ethereal voice of Betty Marie Barnes.
In a recent New York Times interview, Bruce Springsteen described pop as "the longing, the unrequited longing for that perfect world." That failure to find the perfect world is where pop asserts its depth. It's true that these pretty songs aren't ultimately going to change the world that Thomas calls "the hardest place I've ever been." But the force of their powerful longing transports listeners—even if only for minutes—to a different world, still imperfect perhaps, but profoundly beautiful. CHRIS McCANN
Let's just get this out of the way—Matthew Dear is not a great vocalist or lyricist. He is, however, a great producer, and his latest full-length under his own name, Asa Breed, succeeds despite his weaknesses, confidently occupying the intersection of techno and pop.
Dear's 2003 debut, Leave Luck to Heaven, dabbled with similar territory, surprising many with the inclusion of his own vocals. "Dog Days" was the easy standout track, highlighting Dear's deep, almost robotic monotone over bouncy techno backing. But since then, the bulk of Dear's attention has been on Audion and False, his more straightforward techno guises.
With Asa Breed, Dear moves beyond his previous flirtations to put pop music in a full-on, techno-armed bear hug. The result is surprisingly accessible, but it's done without pandering to some lowest common denominator. The beats are mechanical, only barely humanized by Dear's voice. This results in songs steeped in detachment, resignation, and an overarching sense of ennui, such as lead single "Deserter."
In stark contrast, the album's second single, "Don and Sherri," picks up the tempo and optimism, marking the sonic variety that keeps the album interesting despite Dear's lack of vocal range. "Will Gravity Win Tonight?" features distorted, layered vocals over what would make a stellar minimal techno release, while "Midnight Lovers" will inspire searches for a TV on the Radio credit in the liner notes.
Despite all of this breadth, Asa Breed isn't the future of techno or pop. It's something entirely more interesting—a record that shows how the two genres can play well together. DONTE PARKS
Matthew Dear's Big Hands play Sat Oct 20 at the Crocodile.