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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.
With an extensive catalog full of pseudonymous works, Kevin Martin continues to kill it after decades in the game. Following years of partnership with Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick, his rise to prominence as The Bug made him a formidable force both in the U.K. and abroad. Few can wield bass the way Martin does, typically in the form of dancehall and reggae forms. His live sessions regularly push the limits of even the finest soundsystems, not to mention human eardrums.
A key part of Martin’s work as The Bug relies on collaboration. Early records like 2003’s Pressure found him with Jamaican talents like Daddy Freddy and Wayne Lonesome, while more recent pairings include Dylan Carlson of drone metal act Earth and post-dubstep darling Burial. By default, these endeavors have always seemed to place him on an even footing with, or more prominently billed than, the other performing artists. Perhaps then, this explains why this new album spotlighting Israeli vocalist Miss Red feels so momentous and different.
Known previously for her contributions to Gaika’s Security EP and The Bug’s Angels & Devils album, her unpredictable voice rings out across K.O. [Pressure]. Vacillating between sinisterly subdued and righteously boisterous, Miss Red’s delivery devastates every time. Icy and ominous, she lords over “One Shot Killa” and “War,” two of her record’s highlights. And yes, with all due respect to The Bug, this is her showcase. From the opening brutalism of “Shock Out” to the danceable dynamics of “Come Again” and beyond, Martin’s riddims recall piston strength and precision, a testament to his craft. But Miss Red deserves her star turn here, dazzling on the digital “Clouds” and the dystopian “Memorial Day.” Dancehall devotees and novices alike ought to catch her wave of mutilation.
Not surprising given their association with worldly avant guardian Bjork, this Houston-born and Berlin-based artist brings tradition to the untraditional for this long-awaited full-length. One could be forgiven for overlooking Lotic’s love of Texas marching bands while listening to the industrial rhythms of “Distribution Of Care” or the title track. They pack and unpack a great deal throughout Power, with gender and racial identity very much at the fore. Their whispered refrain on “Hunted” gives chills as diligent machinery and synth riffs provide a tense atmosphere. What they accomplish with a rather straightforward formula of melody and noise snubs genre and exceeds expectations, crushing dancefloors into ketamine dust on “Resilience” and the whiplash-inducing “Heart.” For an album thematically focused on empowerment, tender moments like “Fragility” present valuable and much appreciated time for reflection on the statements and sonics elsewhere on the record. Closer “Solace” channels their Icelandic pal’s weird brilliance with grating ballad teeming with hopeful sentiments.
While the chosen moniker for this project suggests something unseemly and unlistenable, Ratgrave has more in common with the likes of Thundercat than Cattle Decapitation. Their eponymous outing caps a three year electronic jazz journey for Max Graef and Julius Conrad, Berlin-based artists with respective releases on labels like Ninja Tune and Tartelet Records. No matter how fun and cheeky it gets, Ratgrave rarely feels like schtick, a spectre that always seems to loom over contemporary records harkening back to fusion’s funk and soul immersion. “Fantastic Neckground” gallops atop its bassline, while “Blizzard People” bounces along with cheery Hammond organ before fizzling into Boards Of Canada bliss. Discounting the goofy names, there’s something genuine in the experimentation of “Big Sausage Pizza” and “El Schnorro,” not to mention the kitchen sink opener “Icarus.” Even if Conrad and Graef really are just goofing around, their obvious talents nonetheless make this a nice addition to the new canon alongside Thundercat’s Drunk.
A curious thing about Kavain Space’s discography for the footwork-friendly imprint Planet Mu is its predominantly archival nature, with prior full-length releases like 2015’s Fingers, Bank Pads, & Shoe Prints more akin to compilations in spirit than albums. So the arrival of his latest set, the exclamatory I’ll Tell You What!, deserves attention for its singular focus on the new. As one of the genre’s originators, he could hardly be faulted if this fresher material felt in any way slight next to the rest of the RP Boo catalog. Thankfully, these dozen tunes stand up both to the godfather’s underground classics and those of the scene’s current stars. The disorienting quality of “At War” keeps him connected to footwork’s more experimental tendencies, while the Stevie Wonder splicing “U-Don’t No” demonstrates the absolute beauty possible in sample-based music. Whether he’s doling out soul on “Earth’s Battle Dance” or testing your speakers’ bass response on “Bounty,” RP Boo consistently captivates.
One of the best trends of this part of the 2010s is the constant erosion of boundaries between R&B, hip-hop, and experimental music, largely though not exclusively via the amorphously urban world of bass. In this still-broadening field of producers, you can trust Sinjin Hawke and Zora Jones to pick a winner, and their latest release from label signee Xzavier Stone proves it. A clubby set for a certain mindset, his album switches between the aggressive (“Po It Up”) and the futuristically funky (“Roll 2 Tha Door”) with skill and style. A series of squiggles, snaps and breathy demands, “Give Me Sum” sounds like Oneohtrix Point Never trying his hand at trappy EDM. The lilt of synthesized strings on “Chokehold” segues smoothly into the piano-driven “XLYT.” Processed at times into extraterrestrial tones, Stone’s vocals play a significant part here, adding both message and texture to “CCW” and “Oud.”
Stubborn stooges might frown upon this collaborative outing like many did with Lou Reed and Metallica’s far more radical LuLu. Those who refrain from knee jerk reactions to their favorite artists branching out late in their careers will find Iggy Pop having a lot more fun dancing with the Underworld gents than he did jamming with Josh Homme. The punk godfather has done the performance poetry bit before, notably on his 1999 solo record Avenue B. When motorik-techno opener “Bells & Circles” presents Iggy with a innocuous hypothetical, he responds with reminiscences of missed connections, liberal democracy and old cigarettes. He does his best Alan Vega impression over the Suicide-esque “Trapped,” a cyberpunk ditty driven by repetition. Karl Hyde and Rick Smith give the elder’s deep voice plenty of space on “I’ll See Big,” his ruminating on friendship and relationships of varying sorts coming off like soused wisdom. “Get Your Shirt” comes closest to the Underworld aesthetic, jubilant and epic through and through.
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 Forbes, High Times, Rolling Stone, Vice and Vulture, among others. In 2020, he founded the independent hip-hop newsletter and podcast, Cabbages.