Fully tooled

Fully tooled up with a big old bucket in one hand and a shiny audio shovel in the other, Kris Needs wanders off in search of lesser-spotted waxed wonders so you don’t have to get your hands dirty

White Hills
‘Stop Mute Defeat’
(Thrill Jockey)

There’s a wave of great electronic-based music currently billowing out of New York. Dave W and Ego Sensation, aka White Hills, first manifested as psyche space rockers with a krautrock twist but, continuing the arc from the deconstructed post-punk of 2015’s ‘Walks For Motorists’ (recorded in a remote Welsh studio), the duo’s latest episode draws from the panic and shock lapping at their own doorstep to produce an industrial strength statement of boiling New York rage that’s being compared to Primal Scream’s ‘Xtrmntr’. Mixed by Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Eno, Bambaataa), the Hills unleash a potent barrage of brutal drum patterns, guitar blizzards, heavyweight bass, ominous drones and distorted vocals. Wire-jagged barrages including ‘A Trick Of The Mind’ and ‘Attack Mode’ are crowned by the juddering skyline title track. A masterclass in using electronic battle weapons to rail against 21st century plagues.

Meredith Monk
(Tompkins Square)

Still in New York, but 46 years earlier, released for Record Store Day as a faithful replication, ‘Key’ marked the recorded debut of hugely-influential New York composer, vocal innovator and director/choreographer Meredith Monk. ‘Key’ unlocked Monk’s brave new world using tracks recorded at events and galleries; as she explains, each song dealing with “a different vocal character, landscape, technical concern or emotional quality.” On ‘What Does It Mean?’ Monk tattoos a proto-house keyboard riff on electronic organ over which her treated voice gabbles like an enraged chipmunk. ‘Under Street’ predicts Kate Bush (spiked with dodgy acid) before the fluctuating operatic sigh draping ‘Fat Stream’ and ‘Do You Be’ deploys the descending doom chords later used by Suicide on ‘Che’, while the subterranean tribal call of ‘Dungeon’ flies similar airways to Yoko Ono. Fearlessly ground-breaking stuff that still sounds startling.

‘Jungle Jezebel ‘
(Cherry Pop)

And New York again, this time we’re embroiled in the dance-crazed 80s with Divine, the world’s most famous drag queen making his long-playing debut in 1982 with an album scoffed at by the cognoscenti, but loved in the clubs. Divine, aka Harris Milstead, looked like an overweight bruiser in drag and sang like a trucker, which made for a memorable ‘Top Of The Pops’ appearance. Featuring music created entirely electronically by Bobby Orlando and heavily indebted to Giorgio Moroder, tracks such as single ‘Native Love (Step By Step)’, ‘Shoot Your Shot’ and ‘Kick Your Butt’ saw Divine bellow simple lyrics about dancefloor lust over crashing drum machines and squirtatious synthesised disco. The original six-track album is joined by extras such as new ES theme tune ‘T-Shirts & Tight Blue Jeans’ and a second disc of remixes by Mark Moore, Jon Of The Pleased Wimmin and others. Another fine Big Apple artefact.

Tomohiko Sagae
‘Vicious Circle III’

“This is not a love song,” says the blurb, while this Japanese producer is described as “dark, industrial and dangerous” on his Discogs page. His third onslaught for Steve “Makahito” Bailey’s heavy duty Rodz-Konez imprint is nothing short of brutal. After a coruscating wall of sheet metal racket and wall-shaking electronic rumbles, Tomohiko throws down a relentless heavyweight war drum then shags it senseless with a dense pile-up of mangled guitar riffs and hellish distress calls from the abyss. It’s aptly called ‘Out Of Control’. The B-side’s ‘6204c3p5’ reins in the drums to a bludgeoning 4/4 juggernaut stomp slashed with another impenetrable barrage of machine-spew detritus, genital-savaging sonic excrement and rogue bison flatulence. As hard and dark as techno gets, it harks back to when such trouser-blasting senses stomping and cranial annihilation was a crucial dancefloor ingredient.

‘Animal Imagination’

As I said last issue, some of the most challenging yet rewarding musical explorations is belching forth from the Hubro imprint. They keep on coming and this return of Espen Sommer Eide to the alias he first used in 1998 could be the furthest out yet. “I started hammering the keyboard with my paws… There was no composition or reasoning, just the beating of blood in my ears. I was finally making music like a dog” he proclaims in the liner note for his unearthly bombardment of abstract ambience and the kind of sonic experiments he’s been carrying out in European art galleries and museums, performed on his self-invented instruments and software. Sometimes Terry Riley springs to mind as dense loops loom then morph into walls of pulsating globules. Drones are rife and, as on ‘The End of All Things’, ‘Sunrise On Bear Island’ and mischievous ‘Untime Me’, the effect can be shatteringly evocative. Certain to perk up the ears of any passing dogs.

Various Artists
’15 Years Of Motech’

Back in the world of high grade techno, it seems like only last week DJ 3000 was celebrating 10 years of the esteemed label he initially started to give embattled Detroit a new techno outlet. Now hitting 15 and still in rude health, this latest set presents a stellar cast and some faith-restoring tracks that make you want to whirl your Y-fronts round your head and cry, “Oh Lawdy, yes!”. The roll call reflects how 3000’s original roster has grown to embrace cutting edge producers from around the world, for example Detroit ghetto-tech legend DJ Nasty and awesome new blood Mazepa joined by LA’s Esteban Adame, whose ‘Political Gain’ builds from a gauzy clanker to urban symphony. Highlights include Lionel Weets’ delirious ‘Love Is The Key’ and Veronique Page’s shimmering ‘Metropolis. DJ 3000 himself unleashes an old school floor-scorcher called ‘Just Work It’, with exhortations supplied by Paris The Black Fu.

Max Cooper

Digital only, but this month’s exception to the physical rule. Audio-visual artist Max Cooper follows his ‘Emergence’ project with an EP that continues to explore blending scientific research and music to deeply evocative effect. Inspired by Babraham Institute DNA research, he’s forging what could be called biological techno. ‘Chromos’ enters on a glistening bed of marimba-like tones and cut-glass frequencies and ‘Coils Of Living Synthesis’ starts with further washes and microscopic quivers before a slow-mo house groove kicks in. ‘Molten Landscapes’ sets up a simple plink-plonk tech-house pulse; ‘Four Tone Reflections’ rides a shimmering 12-minute groove that defines the set’s mix of gorgeously mind-blowing beauty and sonic boundary-shoving. Finally, Cosmin TRG transforms a glassy loop from ‘Chromos’ into a pummelling techno heaver garnished with UR strings before the original’s underlying loom from the undergrowth.

Kris Gietkowski
‘Three Of A Kind’
(Fruits De Mer)

Without a doubt this month’s most bonkers project has to be Polish multi-instrumentalist Kris Gietkowski remaking the debut albums by prog pioneers Egg, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster as devoted instrumentals. During his Polish adolescence, Kris didn’t have access to normal sound equipment so made his own out of old radios and plugged in his keyboards. He managed to upgrade when he moved to the UK a decade ago and commenced diving into the wonderful world of computer software too. The Arthur Brown is of particular interest as ‘Prelude-Nightmare’ was the first 45 I ever got back in 1968. I know every nuance and, although instrumental, Kris does it proud. Even madder is the fact that the Atomic Rooster disc seems to be entirely composed of drum tracks, although Egg’s complex jazz-flavoured prog gets a more faithful replication. This is the sort of thing that keeps making sound alive and fun.

‘Prime Time: The Epic Anthology’
(Soul Music/Cherry Red)

Guilty pleasure time again. This overview of US soul maestros Mtume has to be here for the handful of tracks that soundtracked an amazing time that started in the Ladbroke Grove flat I shared with Youth, and ended up in New York, where they were hammered on the city’s radio stations as harbingers of exquisitely-crafted funk and soul. This two-disc set straddles the five albums they made between 1978-1986 after being formed in Philadelphia by James Mtume and Reggie Lucas, who met while playing in Miles Davis’ band. A number of tracks merit ES attention, with a refinement of electronic instruments to play main melodies on the like of the magnificent ‘Juicy Fruit’, love triangle beauty ‘You Me And He’, P-Funk-derived ‘Green Light’ and the deliciously playful ‘Would You Like To (Fool Around)’. Topped by the honey-dripping vocals of Tawatha Agee, electronic bedroom soul just never got better.

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