July's Best Electronic Music Reviewed in Digital/Divide

On July 28, 2016

by Gary Suarez


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.

A key part of what makes the kuduro-techno amalgams coming out of Portugal so spellbinding stems from its humanity. From its Detroit beginnings, electronic dance music attempted to speed up the future, one driven and directed by machines in true sci-fi fanboy fashion. Yet the Angolan influences on Lisbon’s transcendent contemporary club sounds keep much of the music grounded in the now, its polyrhythmic foundations a worthy counterpoint to the wicked British and American producers gleefully embracing auditory ruthlessness and sadism.


A Lisbon native, DJ N.K. has been an active and pioneering participant in this vibrant scene for some time. His overdue debut full-length DJ Do Ghetto [Lit City Trax] is actually named for the crew he joined some ten years ago which also featured future stars DJ Marfox and DJ Nervoso, among others. Both artists join their compatriot on respective collaborative cuts, the former on the stuttering mission statement “Ghetto Sound Of Lisbon” and the latter on the honking “Hoy.”

Peppered with succinct namesake drops, DJ Do Ghetto’s contents include a dozen of N.K.’s priceless productions crafted by a seasoned practitioner of the craft, from the straightforward gallop of “Zuguza” to the more outré options of “Urban Mafia” and “Punched Horn.” The furious tempos of “Matumbina” and “Orixas Groove” capture the urgency of the best in techno without sacrificing melody. “Tribalistic Face” hustles towards a beatific beatless breakdown before quickly picking up the pace and adding further organic instrumentation to the balmy mix.


GNL, TS012 [Templar Sound]

This intercontinental duo’s cold storage approach exists somewhere in the stark techno fringes previously occupied by the likes of Surgeon and Pan Sonic. Opener “MO” eerily resembles the latter’s aseptic sound from the period between Kulma and A, the amplification of perpetually sterile machines. While Laurens von Oswald and George Nicholas may not be the next Mika Vainio & Ilpo Väisänen, they nonetheless execute with a similarly academic accuracy and painstaking precision. Only a smidgen less ominous, “LTR” opens up the template further, its trembling kick drum further improved by undulating white noise snippets and rushing hi-hats. The distant distorted grind and omnipresent drone of “TRO” eventually yields space to a looping megalithic thud. Yet it’s the spartan dancehall riddim of “RR” that brings TS012 to its throbbing zenith, accomplishing so much with so little.


Mistress, Hollygrove [Halcyon Veil]

When it comes to post-apocalyptic tremors and industrial vibes in electronic dance music, few producers are operating at Rabit’s level of bass darkness and sonic depravity. The latest release on his must-watch imprint comes from this likeminded New Orleans act who first came to the attention of many with the destructive Dreadfile, a radical DJ mix of his own jarring works up against those of rappers like Migos and Young Thug. You can hear that hip-hop affinity quite clearly on the John Carpenter-esque crawl of the title track. Another seemingly light-deprived take on the maximalist DJ Mustard template, “Kanagawa Homicide” taps into footwork with piston potency. Compared to Rabit’s scorched earth tendencies on wax, Mistress seems content to enjoy the smolder, favoring slivers of brightness on “Behemoth.” Given today’s comic book movie ubiquity, it’s hard to say if the crackling electric charges and bassy pulses of “Mjolnir” are more indebted to Norse mythology or Chris Hemsworth’s blockbuster charms.


Frankie Reyes, Boleros Valses y Más [Stones Throw]

Paying homage to the music of his Puerto Rican grandparents’ generation, Gabriel Reyes-Whittaker dons this pseudonym for a dozen covers of what can best be described as Latin American standards. Befitting that his familiarity with the originals comes from his childhood, the music produced by his Oberheim synthesizer sounds like a Nintendo lullaby. Removed from the sweetness and sorrow of their context, songs like “Espinita” and “Alma Adentra” and might feel slight or even chintzy. But Boleros Valses y Más is not some novelty, but rather a pure expression of sentimentality and pride in one’s roots. Achieved by considering songs that originate across a number of nations, the inclusiveness of the material and the artistic asceticism of the instrumentation joins traditions together in a sweeping yet subtle manner. Every ending gives emotional release, with pointed brevity on “La Flor De La Canela” and with heartfelt flourish on “Lamento Borincano.”


SKY H1, Motion [Codes]

For a record apparently dealing with themes of grieving, this breathtaking release from a hugely promising Brussels-based producer on sounds truly positive and uplifting. Operating in that wondrous sweet spot between classic and contemporary, SKY H1 permits melancholy to be a subtle layer in her sonically stacked tracks of lush, intelligent melodies and liberated rhythms. Tracks like “Air” and “Land” embrace elements of grime, trance, and R&B, yielding something comfortably familiar yet not tethered to any one genre. The effervescent “Hybrid” builds a protective cocoon of warm pads and percussive charges around its spare, echoing vocal, while the ambient “Night/Fall/Dream” does the same with a sweeping keyboard routine and a bit of well-timed bass. Closer “I Think I Am” imbues a sense of hopefulness amid its persistent synthesizer bank variations, culminating in something oddly both cacophonous and captivating.

Gary Suarez is a music writer born, raised, and based in New York City. He’s on Twitter.

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