Digital/Divide is a monthly column devoted to any and all genres and subgenres in the great big beautiful world of electronic and dance music.
Ask an Aphex Twin fan to name his best album and a number will likely name Selected Ambient Works 85–92. Released at the tail end of that titular date range, his full-length debut lacks the legacy of intellectualized overthinking comparatively granted to its successors, no doubt a function of its relative structural simplicity. Less of a manifesto than it was a manifest, SAW lured the varied sounds of the rave into the confines of the bedroom, a place where they could be both degraded and adored. Beautiful moments like “Xtal” cozy up to the acidic “Green Calx” while later haunted by the warehouse echoes of “Hedphelym.”
A product of its time, SAW’s legacy remains an inspiration for several producers, apparently including Tryphème. The Lyon-based Tiphaine Belin seems to draw from that era for her full-length debut Online Dating [Central Processing Unit]. That influence first seems to arrive on “Les Yeux De La Grandesse,” a sumptuous number characterized by compressed breaks, spacey stabs, and vocal mischief. Though notably less indebted to surface noise than AFX, Belin’s finds comfort in the same phylum of analog sequences one might have found on classic Rephlex release. She whispers over the string-like pads and crumpled arpeggios “Labyintique” and then again inscrutably amid the yawning waves of “Idem.”
Far from a retro clone, Tryphème accomplishes a great deal from her jumping off point. “Away From Prying Eyes” has an epic quality that transcends its utilitarian electro rhythm, while “French Kiss On Sapphire Scenic” transmutes new wave and rave into a jubilant display. Gothier moments like “Light Light Light” and “Melo-dramatique” provide infusions of new blood for those left exsanguinated in the absence of Chris & Cosey.
Inspired and altered by the South African artist’s time in Berlin, Johannesburg, and New York, three different cities of import in contemporary electronic music, this EP both lives up to and exceeds the inherent strangeness of creator Adrian Martens’ insectoid moniker. Like many operating in the industrial margins of bass, Dasychira builds networks of beats and sequences that lurch and sputter with otherworldly allure. Percussion comes in with fleeting jackhammer intensity on “Reliquary,” an intro that sets the mood for the melodic post-trap of the succeeding “Caduceus.” A Saint Vitus Dance for praying mantises, the springy title track makes for a suitable centerpiece, one populated by pseudo-Eastern vibes, skittering beats, and the occasional urban radio fragment. In keeping with the globetrotting spirit of Immolated, Brooklyn singer Embaci adds a much appreciated humanity to “Vipera,” her voice an ethereal presence over the gasp and gulp of Dasychira’s bugged electronics.
The pop charts are significantly more friendly to dance music now than they’ve ever been, a kind of new normal evidenced by the current Billboard Hot 100 presence of the Chainsmokers, DJ Snake, and Zedd, among others. While this Los Angeles based producer seems less likely to climb to the heights of the singles chart, that has more to do with his lot with an independent than his demonstrated ability to craft a catchy tune. Rafa Alvarez’s skilled ear for pop lends well to the bright and shiny “Lost Profit” as well as more balladic Different Sleep cuts like “Artillery” and “Paintings.” On “First To Say,” shuffling garage rhythms and trance leads buoy chipper vocals from guest singer Vanessa Elisha, while Jarell Perry’s “No Time” add an urgency to the proceedings. Closer “Therapy” matches some of what Bon Iver’s last record accomplished, albeit in a more sensible and subdued manner.
A veteran of respected imprints, Mark Clifford comes to his latest project nearly two decades removed from his best known work with Seefeel, as well as his solo efforts as Disjecta and notable partnering with Cocteau Twins. Yet in the duo Oto Hiax, he conducts a radical demonstration fitting the modernity of generational successor Oneohtrix Point Never. Ambient only in the sense that it lacks a percussive thump, this self-titled full-length clatters, rattles, and buzzes with activity, as on the busyness of “Dhull” or the soft, engulfed drone of “Littics.” Clifford and his collaborator Scott Gordon do more with treated and found sound than others less capable would, turning divergently natural and alien sonics into pulsating, at times breathtaking soundscapes. Some like “Eses Mitre” stretch into the infinite, with clinking and digital decay melding into something strangely harmonic. Others bear a more purposeful brevity, their departure leaving one yearning for an extension.
Toru Koda has been recording on-and-off for Kode9’s shapeshifting imprint for some ten years now. One of the first signees to wean Hyperdub off the prevalent the dubstep sound it helped to define, he remains liberated from any one sound or style on his latest set of tracks. Those who know Quarta330 for chiptune or video game electronica will thoroughly enjoy the retro gamer aesthetic of "The Fairies Homecoming," with its dubwise Super Mario bleeps and chopped amen break. He mines similar territory on head-nodding “Yatagarasu,” its title a playful reference to Japanese mythology and its reappropriation into aspects of the country’s pop culture. Koda veers from that musical palate for “Digital Lotus Flower,” a hazy shade of footwork with beats like magnified popped bubbles and submerged breakbeats. The laid back hip-hop boom bap of “Resonate 3” subs out a lyricist for lush synthesizer melodies with considerable bass weight.
Born, raised, and still living in New York City, Gary Suarez writes about music and culture for a variety of publications. Since 1999, his work has appeared in various outlets including Backstage, Billboard, Complex, Deadspin, Four Pins, High Times, Pitchfork, and Noisey, among others. His Digital/Divide column appears monthly on Vinyl Me, Please.