Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like Pearson Sound’s releases have trickled down to a slow drip over the past two years. I’d chalk it up to an increased touring schedule, but either way, the announcement of a new EP—self-released like last year’s “Untitled”—in 2013 is bound to create a pretty excited ripple effect. Looking over David Kennedy’s last twelve months, he’s only gotten stranger—he followed the business-as-usual “Untitled” with three stark grime-inflected skeletons on Hessle Audio, collaborated with Boddika and Joy Orbison on the epic and noisy “Faint” and released the unnerving “Quivver” on NonPlus+. All of those tracks saw Kennedy at his most willfully weird, unhinged from structure and indulging himself in the strangest sounds he could create.
There’s something about “R.E.M.” that feels distinct from everything else he’s done recently—it’s at once more discrete, and more meaty. That’s not to say there’s much more to these tracks than Clutch, but they’re less of a single mind. The title track is Peverelist-style dub chaos, like he loosened the screws on “Clutch”—the hip-hop percussion careens around screeching basslines, bouncing around in an echo chamber like it could break loose any second. “Gridlock” leans more towards syncopated UK sounds, a simple drum loop underlined by elastic low-end feedback and drums filtered á la the filter fetishism of “Faint.”
The flipside is a lot more meditative, and leans even more towards what you might find on Punch Drunk these days. “Figment” isolates the synth blasts of the Clutch EP into gorgeous liquid. Standing alone, the bassline is only there to accentuate the melody, and gorgeous bits of synth fall away like melting stalactites. Closing with the symphonic breaks omen of “Crimson (Beat Ritual Mix),” it seems like Kennedy is playing with various eras of his career, combining all his identifiable (and extremely idiosyncratic) tics into a melting pot and making new material out of them. It’s a rare David Kennedy release that isn’t superlative in itself, but R.E.M. shows that his well is far from running dry.
Vester Koza is a rare case of an artist who reached out on his own armed with excellent and fully-realized music. His debut, self-released, self-titled EP was a stunner in part because of how unassuming it was. The tracks were off just slightly; not enough to be “outsider house,” but nevertheless possessed something that made them more intriguing than just factory standard deep house. His second EP Out of the Blue sees him receding further into smoky depths, finding more character in the progress.
“Beauty” is textbook Koza: its dragging-feet drumbeat feels like it’s sweeping the floor rather than driving the groove along. The fluid chords lurk underneath instead of defining it, a jazzy melody that would feel precocious if it weren’t so meek. “Far Away Dub” sounds like it could have drifted across the Atlantic from Jus-Ed’s Connecticut studio, all smudged chords and tracky drum machine sounds, but at the same time it’s too wide-open and expansive to bear too much resemblance to that deep house magnate.
Much of Koza’s brilliance lies in soundstaging: he uses vintage machines to generate musty, old-fashioned textures, but rather than stick to lo-fi aesthetics he places them in a deep echo chamber with a horizon bigger than most deep house. Something like “Far Away Dub” feels so much larger than the sum of its parts, reveling in the reverb and decay of the sounds as much as the rhythms themselves. The title track almost allows Koza’s luxurious sound to unspool itself, with a skippy, uneven rhythm that that can barely hold the track’s array of generously daubed washed-out synth.
Out of the Blue is out on June 3rd through Koza’s Maslo imprint.
Of all the producers to jump on the footwork thing when it exploded, Romare had one of the best outsider takes on the genre. With his 2012 EP Meditations on Afrocentrism, he explored the sound from an external place but through the perspective of its roots, and the mix of African music with jerky Chicago rhythms was as irresistible as it was fascinating. He’s made a return on Black Acre, with an understatedly brilliant EP.
This one’s called Love Songs Part One (here’s hoping for Part Two), and Romare’s focus has shifted across the Atlantic to America—soul and funk rock are at the heart of this one. Despite its footwork foundation, “Your Love (You Give Me Fever)” is less a gatecrasher than a gentle crawl. At its halftime speed, the clouds of dislocated bass serve to keep the earthy vocal samples afloat rather than push the track in any direction. Over its six minutes it morphs from a banger to a plaintive ballad and back again, weaving in different chunks from its source material with deceptive ease. He pulls the same trick in the smouldering “Jimi & Faye,” where searing guitar compliments an even gentler beat and samples duel with all the delicate interplay of a jazz quartet. Roving all over the hardcore continuum, “Taste of Honey” brings in jungly breaks (think “Hackney Parrot”) and proves that even these can sound warm and reassuring, before the EP ends with the two minute “Hey Now,” more an edit than a real track. Experimental dance music with all the warmth of your favourite Stax 45.
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Michael Red was one of the first artists I was introduced to in the Vancouver scene. He’s long been one of the most intriguing. A ringleader of sorts for LiGHTA!, the behind some of the city’s best events in the mid-late 2000s, his own music took the physical assault of dubstep and suffused it with the sensuality of R&B and the covert engineering of someone who actively studies audio and the effects frequencies can have. But he’s never done much in the way of releases, a relatively leisurely worker—I’m still waiting on him for a mix for a series I started back in 2010. With the launch of his new Low Indigo imprint, it seems as if the wheels are finally moving. The first release is a long overdue four-tracker which unapologetically burrows into the deepest and darkest corners of his live sets.
I imagine this one’s going to ruffle some feathers. The first new release from Kode9 in what feels like ages is straight-up footwork. Where Black Sun and related material put UK funky in a blender with all the disparate ends of the Hyperdub catalogue, these two tracks are straight-up dance sides… at a time when Hyperdub seems to be moving farther and farther away from “dance.”
The good news is they aren’t exactly “straight-up” dance, despite their rhythmic onus. The two are what you might imagine Hype Williams making uptempo music to sound like—dazed and overheated in spite of its own speed. “Xingfu Lu” hits immediately with whip-crack percussion and pale chords before its sickly synthesizer refrain takes over. Corroded drums and dizzyingly shifted passages make for a disorienting ride, especially during the intensely repetitive bridges; think DJ Nate sans vocals. “Kan” is even more antagonistic. Emphasis on the high frequencies, with glass sound effects and uncomfortably resonant drum sounds squaring off against an ear-piercing sci-fi whistle, and later, a gurgling arpeggio, the most vibrant thing on the entire EP. The EPs titles and its artwork signal Kode9’s increasing interest in China, and even if the musical form is hardly Chinese, if his mission was to capture the world’s biggest metropolis in all its chaotic, confusing and polluted glory, by god, he’s done it.