Digital/Divide: The Best Electronic Music Of April, Reviewed

On January 31, 2018

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.

An oft overlooked legend of electronic music, Thomas Fehlmann has lived a life of techno. Though he may have been born in Switzerland, the producer and DJ has been a vital part of Berlin’s scene from its hallowed beginnings through its highly respected present. Founded in the late 1980s, his Teutonic Beats imprint put out records by the likes of Moritz von Oswald, Westbam, and, incredibly, fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier. His on-again, off-again collaborations with Alex Paterson yielded some of the best music The Orb ever released, and his solo work for labels like Kompakt and Plug Research have kept him relevant for decades.

Two techno traditions come together for We Take It From Here [Tresor], an exercise in the spirit of Fehlmann’s intercontinental 1990s work with Motor City’s own Juan Atkins and Eddie Fowlkes as 3MB. With him on this latest excursion is Terrence Dixon, another seasoned Detroit talent with extensive credits including works for Metroplex and Tresor. Fehlmann’s discography has often demonstrated an affection for and the influence of Dixon’s hometown, that hallowed home to the genre. Unsurprisingly, the high quality and quirky nuances of this admirable pairing embody the best of both cities.

Abstract yet functional techno defines the bulk of these half dozen cuts from the distant Berlin-Detroit duo. Minimal yet melodic, “The Corner” slams with body music basslines and a thrilling machinist thump. Tech-house groover “Patterns And Senses” swings with restraint, while “Strings In Space” adds a certain woozy charm to its urgent build. Ambient closer “Landline” benefits from Dixon and Fehlmann’s sound design, providing an atmospheric and elegiac end to this veritable master class.

Boothroyd: Pure Country [Fnord Communications]

Nearly four years since his debut on the industrial strength indie Tri Angle, Mancunian producer Peter Boothroyd at last follows up his EP of crunchy tech. In the interim, his sonic style has shifted away from the haunted grind and grime of Idle Hours and into something far more beauteous and distinctive. The lines between minimalism and maximalism become irrelevant across Pure Country, a strange bird of a record that ostensibly seeks to wed American twang with British dance. Boothroyd’s honky tonk trance falls somewhere between The The and The Orb, expertly and ascetically executed in guitar strums, harmonica blows, and elegant synth leads. An exemplar of his approach, “Jeep” evokes the sort of peak time club epic without the indulgence of kicks, weaving in wistful blues harp. Most of the percussive elements on the album are implied more than they are invoked. The results include the ambient astrogaze of “Balearic Horse" and the rich arpeggiation of “Rinsed.”

Doon Kanda: Luna [Hyperdub]

A visual artist best known for his work with Arca, Bjork, and FKA twigs, Jesse Kanda has spent years making his artistic aesthetic known to fans of leftfield electronic music. His imagery typically draws beauty and horror out of its subjects, often humanoid in form with gender fluidity and sheer physicality as seeming constants. His own compositions as Doon Kanda moniker first appeared on Hyperdub, and this follow-up matches his vision aptly. Free to explore a sonic palate without the expectations of his prior higher profile partnerships, he holds tight to the avant garde. Opener “Bloodlet” recalls both Boards Of Canada and Tangerine Dream, its retro synth sparkle and dry hiss suggesting something both curious and ominous ahead. That approach persists on the broken dancehall of “Molting” or the pure boom bap of “Lamina.” Kanda’s ear for pop is tuned differently than most, but the off kilter melodies on the title track charm in their own way.

Ras G & The Afrikan Space Program: Stargate Music [Leaving]

One of the most compellingly cool artists in the Los Angeles beat scene, this Sun Ra devotee made his name with a number of rhythm doctored head trips distilled into cassettes. Yet those approaching Ras’ latest project expecting more in the hip-hop vein of his Raw Fruit series will likely find themselves lost in the wonderment of his newest record. A respite from that approach as well as a departure from an artist already known for taking wild liberties on record, Stargate Music expertly upends notions of what was expected from the producer, from dancefloor cuts like “The Great Return” to the malfunctioning “Heaven Is Between Her Legs.” “The Arrival” throbs with a monochromatic kick and a looped wordless vocal, its background further populated by space age tech. The minimalist introductory passage of “Quest To Find Anu Stargate” inevitably allows warmer synth tones that hold back and a disembodied vocal sample.

Alison Wonderland: Awake [EMI Music Australia]

Though her choice of moniker recalls something off the flyer for 1990s psy-trance warehouse rave, this Sydney-based DJ/producer/songwriter couldn’t be more contemporary. Her affinity for arena-ready bass and radio-ready dance helps explain why Wonderland has grown to become one of the brightest stars of whatever we’re calling the post-EDM scene. No sophomore slump, her second album exudes grandiosity and grandeur, its opening number “Good Enough” showcasing her talents as a classically trained cellist before delivering a rather satisfying drop. Lush, poppy productions like “Church” and “No” jibe with the sound of now, that ooey gooey nexus point of earnestly delivered lyrics and impossibly polished grooves. That Wonderland herself takes the mic as often as she does sets her apart from her peers, yet her vocal guests impress as well. SoundCloud sensation Trippie Redd doles out yearning emo laced with promise on “High,” while an invigorated Chief Keef bops his way through the airy chords of “Dreamy Dragon.”

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Gary Suarez

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.

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