Our latest look at dusty
instrumental hip-hop, techno and bass includes Martyn (pictured above), HTRK,
Walls, I Break Horses, and more.


By Dominic Umile


nuances and textures meet in a distinctive manner on several recent records
that have had me thinking about what music I’ve been drawn to in 2011 overall.
Just as the dour noisepop of Belong’s Common Era or Andy Stott’s stark,
shadowy techno on Passed Me By presents a challenge to categorize other
than “I’ve really been blown away by these,” the releases discussed
here – their repetition of colorful sonic themes, matched with a fusion of
electronics and sampled instruments – aren’t easily articulated in
conversation. And there are similarly heady, much chatted-about albums on the
horizon: M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming sees an October release; a
“next level” Nathan Fake album is in the can, according to James
Holden’s interview at
and Kompakt’s catalog of
experimental techno grows with albums from Gui Boratto, The Field, and,
mentioned below, Walls.



In an
unlikely mesh of lo-fidelity production and gripping headphone playback, HTRK (pronounced “hate rock”) explores muddled electro/organic noise on Work
(Work, Work)
. Vocalist Jonnie Standish partly talks, partly sings, with
both configurations coded in watery delay on this droning, comely Ghostly
International release. She’s backed with dub-referencing basslines, old drum
machine pops, and fraying guitar. The latter fizzes and peters out often, while
the space between shitty beat claps on tracks like “Work That Body”
grows miles wider by the second. Closer “Body Double” is crowded with
the patter of snares and wafting organs. It’s dark, lingering, and beautiful,
while Standish, avoiding clarity at all costs, sings only when she feels like

HTRK – Eat Yr Heart by ghostly



Walls has a similar preoccupation
with delay pedals. The act’s 2010 debut is loaded with blurry, equal doses live
and machine-driven moments like HTRK’s record, but members Alessio Natalizia
and Sam Willis went for blissful techno on Coracle ala Border Community
stuff or the forest-rave vibe of Caribou’s Swim. With a punchy stomp
taking shape midway through “Il Tedesco,” this tune stuns as a
two-parter. It’s disorienting and strewn with bits of feedback, while the
beatless end of Coracle is executed with similar tact. Check
“Vacant” for just as colorful an arrangement of swells, soaring
guitar fuzz, and a coda that sounds like early Pink Floyd. Elsewhere, potent
kicks work to steady a sun-streaked record that feels light enough to dissolve
on the turntable. 


“Sunporch” By Walls by Kompakt



of keyboards and vocal layers produce a disorienting effect on Hearts,
the debut full-length from Swedish duo I Break Horses on Bella Union. The
battle is getting the weightless vocals from singer Maria Lindén further up
into the mix – or does it matter? The title track feels like one sweeping
buildup, as thick and overdriven guitar is matched with synths over a tense,
unchanging rhythm. I Break Horses is shamelessly wed to the oft-cited My Bloody
Valentine opus that had Creation’s Alan McGee “tearfully pleading with
(Kevin Shields) to deliver the record before the whole enterprise went bankrupt.”
On the impenetrable Heart, Lindén and Fredrik Balck come off like Loveless devotees indeed, as if Serena-Maneesh dialed back noise on No. 2: Abyss in B
for a more ambient end-product locked into dance music as much as it
is to shoegaze. “Load Your Eyes” has Linden’s slow verses floating over stuttering
kicks, with nuances pulled out and tossed back in for cerebral effect. It works
well, but a driving, acid-ridden “Wired” kills when it’s dramatically
impeded, as if the tape ribbon is backed up and snaking all over the floor. The
beats (and tambourine) stay in place, but all of the syrupy tones are wound way
down, yielding a stammering mess of choral bits and indiscernible instruments.


I Break Horses – Hearts by Bella Union



everything is prevented from advancing too quickly on Alec Koone’s Wander/Wonder,
a set of hallucinatory, deep-swinging beats issued under the producer’s Balam
moniker. These eight static-rife instrumentals knock back and forth,
each one swelling with sparkling loops and chilling vocal samples that seem to
have been pulled from a place similar to the one tapped by Holy Other for With
, released earlier this year on Tri Angle. Koone hasn’t ventured far from
the spooky, lush hip hop/techno combinations on his See Birds EP, though
Wander/Wonder is a more evolved set that sounds like it took careful,
obsessive tinkering to finish. It incidentally only outplays his Tri Angle
debut by 17 minutes or so.   


Balam Acab – Motion by TriAngleRecords



Max Cooper’s tech house cooks gradually with bewitching flourishes. On
his Empirisch EP for Cologne,
Germany’s Traum
Schallplatten, “Echoes Reality” is layered in chimes, with screeches
and an evocative melody that eventually engulfs the track. Its unpredictable
flashes and speaker-cycling ticks are matched in “Qualia” (worked
into an early slot on recent jarring live set “Loom”), if in a bit
more clinical fashion.


Max Cooper Live – Loom (free download) by Max Cooper



tones are quite clean on Chris “Tropics” Ward’s jazz- and
house-tinged jewel Parodia Flare on Planet Mu. Twinkling guitars line
its cotton edges, dressed in little more than vibrato. The already warm keys on
“Going Back” are padded with vocal harmonies, which slip cozily into
a mellotron-rife backdrop on “Wear Out.” But the record could use
more juice on the percussive end. Churning glitch is welcome on
“Figures,” where even the dense swirl of whispered choruses can’t
much soften the growl of the engine beneath it.   


Wear Out (From Parodia Flare – Out Now) by Tropics


no shortage of drum barrages, Martyn nailed it on Ghost People, a
hard but intricate record for Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label (see my  recent rundown of TOKiMONSTA’s
). The Dutch producer found an artful home on his Great
for techno, dubstep, and more in a way that no one had managed
before 2009, at least not on an LP. Ghost People isn’t as mysterious as
Martyn’s Great Lengths, but it’s rooted in similar ground and is as
urgent as his recent Fabric 50 mix, a series standout. Aimed at the DJ
booth, Martyn’s sophomore album burns fast. Jungle breaks tunnel under siren
synths on “Popgun,” a rave banger loud enough to summon Bomb Squad
noise collage references, making it a good candidate for segues into hip hop
records during recent FlyLo live sets
. Boxcutter-edged chords dart
between vocal samples on “We Are You in the Future,” but none of
those ubiquitous, pitched-up MC bits land on these tracks. The voices sewn into
Ghost People‘s convulsive party cuts sound like they’re coming from
behind you on the club floor, as if nearby conversation is competing with the
snare shots in the monitors. Fat chance, though – it’s doubtful that anyone is
going to be talking when this record is on.


Martyn – Popgun by 3024world




BLURT contributor and blogger Dominic Umile lives, writes, and drinks in
Brooklyn, NY.
Follow him on Twitter: @DominicUmile



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