by Michael Mercer
Life’s been more hectic than usual, and that can only mean one thing: we (the Mercer household) are living in absolute chaos! We’re in the midst of a move and my wife has been battling a terrible illness for months. This ain’t no plea for sympathy by the way, but it’s stress factors like these that usually lead me to try and discover new music. And by new music, I mean anything that’s unfamiliar to me: artists, albums, concert footage of bands I don’t know. I’m on a sort of sonic treasure hunt. In times of great stress I also typically reach for electronica. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but I do know part of it is because of all the innovation happening there. In the last ten years, it’s split into so many sub-genres that it’s impossible to keep track. Nonetheless, the two records below represent fresh perspectives from within the EDM (electronic dance music) scene. I sincerely hope you find them as interesting as I did!
You ever catch yourself with a particular sound in mind that you wanna hear, but you can’t quite identify what that sound is? I’ve been in that situation often lately. I find I’m craving new sounds, but I can’t figure out what those damn sounds should be! Just when all hope was lost, and I’d rifled through all my vinyl, my digital library, and Spotify, along came The-Drum‘s Contact via MOG (the streaming service)! What I heard was unlike anything I’ve experienced in years. It was alien, and it was captivating.
“Heat” opens with sonic imagery: rainfall, followed by footsteps leading into an amalgam of futuristic sounds. A door opening, the sounds of cyborg gears and bleeps, followed by a robotic voice welcoming the listener into the record. Literally, the robot voice said “welcome” and some other future-type lingo I couldn’t make out. What followed really caught my attention. Airy synths punctuated with liquid, hard-hitting bass pads and stabs. A vocal sample breaks the beat up, leading to a bottom-heavy, funky breakdown. Things ping from all around the soundstage. Next thing I know, I’m in the midst of dark tribal rhythm on “Sirens”, complete with jungle drums and pounding bass lines. Things build to a fever pitch on this track. I feel like I’m at an underground warehouse party in Brooklyn. If you’ve heard of John Creamer & Stephane K (underground tech house producers/artists) – that’s the vibe captured here. It’s dark and wide-open tribal madness. Capped with stomping kick drums and chopped vocal samples.
“Sim Stem A”, like I have a clue what that means, is a late-night clubby chugger. It’s a bit of drum-n-bass with a dash of synths and other ethereal sounds. The background stays dark, making this whole album more of a late-night listen anyway. I tried listening to it in the early morning hours (like 4:00AM). That was perfect! Anything later than that and the sight of Mother Earth coming to life grows into this stark contrast to the album. It’s like Yin and Yang. “Narco” sounds like a compositional collision of Thompson Twins pings and bleeps, Ferris Bueller’s infamous “Oh Yeah” and eighties Peter Gabriel (minus Gabriel’s vocals of course). Contact gets ambient on “Sense Net.” It sounds like an Eno and William Orbit collaboration. Transition into an atmosphere that I can only describe as what a dark and dingy night looks like on a scary video game. Voices bounce from all over, intertwined with breezy synths and black soundscapes. The wide-open eeriness continues into “Sim Stem B”. But then, bang: These vocal stabs are sliced, diced and gated with velocity that hits like percussion, leading into a cacophony of other vocal samples, blending like a chorus from outer space. “Narco”, fittingly, starts a synthesized groove that’s very Beverly Hills Cop. Like a modern interpretation of “Axel F” folded in these oddly triggered vocal samples. “Arcadia” is an airy ambient track, wide with subtle pings and other transient sounds. It’s like a wonderfully spacey collage of Bladerunner and Aphex Twins Selected Ambient Works Vol. II. Then a wispy vocal and a sick bass line drop and it’s back to outer space.
“Switch” tosses in some wind chimes for good measure. Alongside the chimes came more unexpected samples that all triggered images of taped NASA footage and other space movies presently compartmentalized in my brain. It’s a truly remarkable sonic achievement as well as a musical one. I mean, I’m writing this based on a stream from MOG (at redbook CD quality) feeding a MYTEK Stereo-192 DSD DAC. So there are purists out there who’d say the physical release will undoubtedly be better. I simply couldn’t wait that long to dig into this wondrous musical journey of springs, creeks, bleeps, bings and pops. Not to mention some robotic imagery. It’s almost as if you’re listening to Pink Floyd’s b-sides from their Dark Side of the Moon days!
Alix Perez, Chroma Chords
Chroma Chords is one of those preciously strange albums that just wash over you. Some would call it dubstep, others drum-n-bass. For the sake of this review, since both genres have become so broad, lets just call it experimental electronic music. Or maybe we shouldn’t try to classify it at all. Maybe that’s where the magic in the music gets lost or goes to die: Over-Classification. We need to label things in order to understand them. I get it. However, hearing the liquid-like bass lines and velocity of the percussive madness throughout Chroma Chords leaves me reaching for new language in order to describe it. The usual classifications just don’t seem to fit. And isn’t that a mark of a great album? Better yet: I’ve been listening to this album for months thanks to Alex Rosson at Audeze (who turned me onto the record) and it’s so freakin’ good that every time I sit down to listen and review it I forget to write! I just get lost in the music.
“Crystals” opens the record with these synthesized pads that sound like a hit hat or a cymbal in reverse: zip! These make way for insane bass that flows over the soundstage like an audible waterfall. But the waterfall is not continuous in its orientation. It doesn’t just flow down from its source. It moves around; back-n-forth, creating this intense low-end energy. It’s a musical earthquake with Rastafarian vocals samples, light airy synths, and a kick drum that hits you in the gut. The bassy breakdown is so f’in groovin’, I get the head-bobs every time I hear it. “Broken Heart” utilizes vocal samples as percussive elements. They slam with the same authority as the kick drum. It’s a wash of bass and synth stabs. But there’s a funky sway to the music. I can’t help but move to this too. The title track is mind-bendingly cool. It almost sounds like an homage to the height of eighties synth pop. But the homage kicks you in the ___. Alix Perez is extraordinarily good at this particular sonic trick: The way some of his elements are triggered causes them to sound like they’re advancing towards you and then recoiling. It’s a wild sensation, especially when listening to the record on a great set of headphones like my Sennheiser HD800’s or Audeze LCD3’s.
“Move Aside” is tough. If you use a term like “system on blast” with a Rastafarian accent for your chorus you better bring the sickness — and Perez delivers in spades. The sound is menacing and captivating at the same time. It’s a fist-pumper for sure. Plus the kick and bass line becomes one in this maddening thrust of bottom-end noise. It’s seductive for a bass-head like myself. “Warlord” continues the same formula, but brings out more Rastafarian lyrics, giving this more of a song vibe than a track. It’s like a gorgeous collision of dancehall reggae and dubstep. “The End of Us” is lighter in color than the title suggests. Quite lighter actually. It’s a deep house track! A total departure from the rest of the album, it almost sounds as if Perez recorded this at another point in his career, and tossed it in here for intermission. Or maybe he’s trying to tell us that deep house is dead? “Monolith” sounds, in the beginning, just like its title; as strange as that may seem. But only for thirty seconds, as hovering synths are surrounded by radio dial-type noises. Then the kick drops and it’s a hard-core hip-hop track. The lyrical delivery in on-point and the whole thing just sounds rough as nails. Topics covered range from the chase for money and materialistic dreams to throwin’ up a “middle finger to the man.” Yeah I can bump this in my car all day long. “Burn Out”; the albums’ closing track, is an amalgam of disjointed sounds (abrupt starts and stops), pink noise, and more of those insane bass lines.
Chroma Chords is a must-own for any drum-n-bass, hip-hop, or dubstep fan. Perez shows off all his chops, and the kid’s got something special to behold. He can handle hard-hitting underground-sounding hip-hop, deep house, and dubstep with such fluidity it’s masterful to hear. I can’t give this record a higher recommendation. Get on Spotify or MOG and check it out right now.