Alex Zhang Hungtai, the artist formerly known as Dirty Beaches and currently known as Last Lizard, recently posted a declaration of intent on Facebook: to “write music and be a human being” outside of the industry machine. His latest project, Knave of Hearts—which collects tracks from the “Europe years” (2012-2015) with recordings made in his current home, Los Angeles—plays like a companion piece to this declaration. About the album, he writes, “In the form of unsent letters and postcards, the idea of ‘before’ and ‘now’ becomes irrelevant. Instead, it's a silent testament that endures the weathering and perversion of time, forever enclosed on a meridian between ‘before’ and ‘now.’” Tape highlight “Oranges In Bed” unfolds along this meridian. Its slowness registers as a graceful rejection of the continually accelerating pace of the promotion/tour hype cycle. Each note and chord lingers, unhurried, domestic, and tender.
In a video of a live performance at Shanghai’s Rockbund Museum, sound and performance artist Pan Daijing crawls toward a mess of gear, her head masked by a tight black covering, a chain linking her arms together. She is at once restrained and powerful, supplicating and menacing. These dynamics course through her recent work, “The Executioner’s Song,” a primordial rumble laced through with trembling drones. The piece feels channelled, pulled from the universe through the sieve of Daijing’s subjectivity. In an interview with Red Bull Music Academy, she emphasizes the importance of “presenting sound that already exists in nature and machine, that’s bigger than me,” which she describes as a form of sacrifice. In this sense, the title of “The Executioner’s Song” could describe Daijing’s process, the ultimate giving over of self to another force.
The Astral Plane stands as one of the most dedicated resources on the amorphous genre known as “club music,” covering and promoting everything from Jersey club to kuduro to grime with nuance and context. Moreover, throughout the last year or so, the blog has expanded its scope of operation to include a stellar mix series and two compilations. “Acheron” comes from the site’s first single-artist release, an EP of the same name by Lausanne, Switzerland-based artist SHALT. The track—which takes inspiration from the idea of technologically-enhanced human longevity and its consequences, as explored by sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson in his Mars trilogy—deftly combines conceptual focus and dancefloor functionality. The song’s sound palette is cold, almost strangled, evocative of a hyper-prolonged life span. Yet it’s that heavy bass that, reverberating deep into the body, most effectively blurs the line between human and technology.
That travel changes by way of repetition is a principle that applies as much to exploratory music as road trips. Repeat a phrase or sound so many times, and all its fluctuating idiosyncrasies will become apparent. Both as one half of German kosmische duo Phantom Horse and as a solo artist, Niklas Dommaschk realizes this lesson again and again to revelatory effect. On “Spell,” which begins his side of a split between his Shapes alias and fellow Berlin-based artist Melfi, he follows the gentle, probing momentum of Phantom Horse—as heard on this year’s Different Forces—into darker territory. Dommaschk’s interlocking synths initiate the type of trance that descends on a driver late at night, a haunted, hallucinatory theater of reflection and recollection that, like headlights on the ever-changing road, dances infinite variations.
The tapeis out January 6 on Umor Rex, alongside a tape by M. Geddes Gengras and a collaboration between SR Hess (Pan-American) and RM Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek).
Chilean-born producer Imaabs, one of the principal producers and DJs in Latin American label and collective N.A.A.F.I., has had a strong few years. N.A.A.F.I. is one of the most exciting crews in club music, and his Distancia EP—released through the label earlier this year—marks a highpoint for his dark, pneumatic club constructions. Now, just in time for Friday the 13th, he and Her Records’s MM offer their take on NYC label/clothing line Purple Tape Pedigree’s excellent Body Horror series, which challenges producers to stay within 90 to 120 bpms. "Clinamen" closes out Imaabs's side of the EP with a hypnotic sway. Reverb-heavy sitar and cascading bells ride a slapped tresillo rhythm that blooms in the song's second half into a hip-hop thumper remniscient of Timbaland's best beats, until you remember Tim probably borrowed some of his ideas from this track's direct ancestors.
Back in July, we listed J’Kerian Morgan’s second EP as Lotic, Heterocetera, as one of our favorite releases of the year so far. Across four tracks, Morgan cemented his twisted take on club music first put forth on 2014’s DAMSEL in DISTRESS mixtape. Now, he follows it all with Agitations, forthcoming on Janus, the label/club night/collective of which he’s a central member. Morgan writes that the tape—born out of his alienation with the music industry and club culture—is “a reminder of ambition, a reminder that there is great strength in having the outsider's perspective.” “Carried,” the first single from the tape, embodies these concerns. It’s permeated with precarious sounds, anxious sounds, but ones that surge and churn with force and clarity. Like the album art by Kyselina, it presents the strange and foreboding as rippling with power.
“Suggestion” is mischievously named. The track, which kicks off the B-side of Matt Weiner’s most recent EP under his TWINS moniker, is better understood as a demand, screamed at the top of the lungs. Gone is the synthpop of Nothing Left, the Atlanta-based producer’s full-length from earlier this year. Never Know Yourself is a return to the basement, the warehouse, and “Suggestion”—a whirligig of blown out drums and squalls of noise—is its token banger. Still, “Suggestion” has a seductive verve. Weiner has a beautiful sense of build-and-release that makes the song, while also totally pummeling, kind of a tease.
In 2012, Dekorder released Phantom Horse, the self-titled debut of Hamburg-based duo Niklas Dommaschk and Ulf Schütte. It’s a patient, strange, shimmering album, one that channels the spirit of kosmische explorers Cluster and Harmonia. Now, the pair follows up that album with a new full-length Different Forces, out on the always-excellent Mexico City label Umor Rex. The teaser video finds Dommaschk and Schütte resuming their travels through sonic space, digital sun flare glancing off the windshield as they hurtle-- softly, slowly-- through fields of blue and black Koosh balls. The song, like the video, pings outward from a single point, blooming into a kaleidoscopic array of interlocking parts. It’s a glimpse of another galaxy, swinging from one end of a porthole to the other and then disappearing.
Nkisi is the London representative of NON RECORDS, a collective of African artists from the diaspora and the continent who, in their own words, aim to create “sound opposed to contemporary cannons.” As such, it follows that, Nkisi would meditate on community and all that comes with it in her work. Disruption, identity, protection, inheritance, the end of the world. These themes repeat, loop, and mutate across the stream of songs she’s released via NON RECORDS or posted to her SoundCloud. “ANOMALY,” tagged #DOOM, wavers at the cusp of menace and tenderness. It’s a light touch that could go either way. The celestial pads that float in toward the end feel freighted with something. The question remains whether it's a rain of absolution or destruction.
Brooklyn-via-Omaha musician Darren Keen (The Show is the Rainbow, Touch People) is a relatively new convert to dance music. Still, while his recent music breaks from his more pop-oriented projects, a throughline of irreducible, vibrant oddness runs through all of his work. Keen is upfront about his supplicatory position with regards to footwork’s founders, yet the genre’s frantic, colorful energy echoes Keen’s own in many ways. “The Way I Look”-- the first single from his forthcoming debut full-length under his own name, He’s Not Real-- is a strange animal. Its constituent vocal samples and rhythms separate and fuse in myriad subtle and kaleidoscopic ways, creating a deceptively sparse sound world that continually reconfigures itself. It's the type of thing footwork does so well, but it also serves as a metaphor for Keen's musical identity, a sly rejection of pinning himself down.