Digital/Divide: The Best Electronic Music Of March, 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.

One of the harshest critiques levied at electronic music has to do with its impermanence. With subgenres and microtrends constantly pushing things forward, last season’s hot dance single turns to the subsequent season’s room temperature trash. New technology makes even slightly older instrumentation feel dated and quaint before its time, leaving some to plant flags around novelty or build half-believed manifestos around ancient analog. Listeners demand the next thing and then the next and then the next, an inadvertent byproduct of decades of seamless DJ transitions.

Few producers end up like Mark Pritchard, a veteran of multiple musical movements over a couple dozen years that just so happens to be making some of the best music of his entire career right now. The man behind monikers like Global Communications and Harmonic 313 shed the pseudonyms formally with 2016’s absolutely brilliant ambient broadside Under The Sun. Lush with complexity and flecked with rewarding nuance, the record came replete with a multimedia installation in partnership with visual artist Jonathan Zawada, who constructed gorgeous landscapes to marry with Pritchard’s grand arrangements.

A companion volume to that endeavor, The Four Worlds [Warp] amounts to more than Under The Sun’s sonic scraps. Eleven minute opener “Glasspops” shatters expectations by dropping an immediate 4/4 beat, with the rhythm carrying through to the entrancing track’s close. Pritchard seems to have fun here, its diverting bounce obscuring the moody and sometimes grave content soon to come.

Transitions occur within transfixing passages. Drawing from Gregory Whitehead’s ‘80s work, the meditative “Come Let Us” opens with uneasy pads and ends with soft digital chirps. Similarly retro, Pritchard reaches for intergalactically inclined cult artist The Space Lady to add poetic depth to the panning church organ mimicry of “S.O.S.” Both vocal performances indicate urgency, suggesting something ominous ahead to avoid at all costs. With that context in place, one can’t help but shudder at the voicelessness of the succeeding trio of tunes, a nine minute grouping that ends with the title track’s distant alarm calls and dystopian drone.

Doja Cat: Amala [RCA]

A passive, casual listener might mistake this Los Angeles native for a Rihanna or DRAM clone. Such a careless dismissal of Doja Cat’s not infrequent tendency towards certain vocal tics and flows would be their loss, as her bubbly electro-R&B full length reflects a unique execution with loads of gratifying goodness. Beginning with “Go To Town, Amala’s opening ode to oral sex, her chipper yet bosses delivery magnificently coats bright beats that make for a confectionary pop delight. She drops Pokemon references for the nerds and pops ginkgo biloba while pitching woo for the romantics, capably endearing around the screwed refrains of “All Nighter” and “Wine Pon You” or the bouncy house of “Game.” Unlike most modern millennial R&B records, there’s a candy gloss to the production by Troy Noka and Yeti Beats that provides delectable contrast to Doja’s voice, which finds itself manipulated upwards on “Morning Light.” The euphoric trap rave of “Down Low” captures the project’s essence perfectly.

Gangus: Anti-Self [Dome Of Doom]

Too often when we think about the beat scene we fixate on Dilla, Madlib, and their acolytes. Yet with hip-hop diversified into multiple subgroupings, it seems silly for anyone to limit the scope of this enduring instrumental community’s range. Rest assured, Denver based producer Christian Emmett can do the boom bap thing, and he does a fine job of it on “Condensed Soup.” Yet that’s only one part of Gangus’ aural arsenal, which includes the kuduro meets footwork meets trap amalgam of “Hypomania” and the squelchy bass banger “Heavy Rotation.” For “On The Internet On Acid,” he strolls through YouTube for a whimsical sampling of Macka B’s “Cucumber” clip made even more weird, while a Reznor-esque metallic din abuts abstract hip-hop on the schizophrenic closer “Palo Santo.” L.A. bass head Tsuruda makes a pair of appearances, first on the booming “BackDatBack” and then on the comparatively woozier “I’m Broke.”

HIDE: Castration Anxiety [Dais]

For the longest time, industrial music had a bad rap. Despite being hailed for its innovations in electronic composition from the late ‘70s through to the ‘90s, the aftermath of the millennial turn’s accessible metallic boom left the scene feeling dated and out of step to many. As with so many styles that fall out of favor for a time, the opportunity for revival remained in the persistent periphery. Fusing the ethereal dissonance of Chris & Cosey with the cold Belgian EBM of Klinik, HIDE catches the current wave of dark minimalist retro. Vocally driven, the duo’s unsettling Castration Anxiety throbs like the classics, embracing the past on menacing numbers like “Bound/Severed” and “Wear Your Skin.” Heather Gabel’s detached monotone brings a consistency to the record, her gothic commitment fulfilled amid the buzz and burn of “Come Undone.” Guitars play a subtle role throughout, a self-aware nod to the genre’s former mainstream moment.

Madeaux: Burn [Fools Gold]

Club music and trap have fused together so well in EDM’s diffusive twilight that, even in that effortless aether, draws exciting and nuanced executions from more refined practitioners, a category in which Madeaux certainly qualifies. While the feature-heavy Burn marks his album debut, the diverse outing never feels like rookie fare, instead marking the long-awaited arrival of an artisan. With artists like Migos dropping chart-topping double albums like it’s nothing, there’s something refreshing about a tightly constructed dance record. None of the tracks here top four minutes, though in cases like “Heaven” and “The Wave” you’ll likely wish they did. The potent bass of “Look At Me” gives New York rap god Cakes Da Killa a techno platform to spit his fiery truth, however briefly, while OG Maco adds a special touch to the wondrously dramatic “Lights Low.” Vancouver spitter Vials threatens to dominate “Phantom,” yet its a LH4L-infused production offers the twists to match her moxie.

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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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