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.
Kevin Martin is the king of bass, or, failing that, an archduke. From his days of ruthlessly dismantling hip-hop alongside Justin Broadrick in Ice and Techno Animal to his solo dancehall devastation as The Bug, the British native holds a place of low-end royalty, threatening sound systems wherever he goes. Club owners tremble at his live sets, rightfully fearing physical damage to their equipment and venues while facing possible legal liability from the introduction of tinnitus to their patrons. Exaggerations these may be, but only by degrees, as anyone who has experienced Martin’s industrial-strength vibes can attest.
Following his cataclysmic and dubwise work on last year’s Miss Red album, Martin revisits one of his more idiosyncratic projects for his first strike of the new year. King Midas Sound first came to life about a decade ago via Hyperdub, the post-dubstep imprint run by similarly woofer-obsessed producer Kode9, and last appeared in collaboration with experimental music maestro Christian Fennesz. Four years have passed, and while the erstwhile trio has since scaled down to a duo of Martin and vocalist Roger Kiki Hitomi, ** Solitude (Cosmo Rhythmatic)** has only gotten more unsettling over time.
Considering Martin’s grand discography, the new album’s aberrant dearth of bass weight comes as a genuine shock. In its place, the producer brings restrained percussion, downwardly spiraling pads and scraped drones, recalling somewhat his J.G. Ballard-influenced album with Earth a couple years back. Though some critics might be quick to lob the word DYSTOPIA at it, a qualifier that Martin assuredly must tire of seeing affixed to his work like a supermarket sticker, the nature of Solitude is very much grounded in the present, albeit in emotional exile.
Robinson’s spoken word delivery reads like a dire diary, the musings and memories of a man burdened by his past. Loss hangs like a millstone from his neck on “Alone” and “In The Night,” a pervasive topic spilling from his lips in mutters and prose. Benefitting from his deep vocal tone, the jilted narrator turns paranoiac before long, piecing together the life of a former significant lover on the disquieting “Who.” As the monologue moves further inward, he takes bitter stock of himself on “The Lonely” and “X.” Whenever Robinson ceases speaking and Martin’s soundscapes are left to churn on their own, as on “Missing You,” the mind conjures new words in the absence and make one’s imagination a nightmare zone.
A dance music veteran and internationally renowned DJ, Oscar Gaetan has played a defining role both in the studio and behind the decks for decades. Both with and without cohort Ralph Falcon, he has produced Billboard-charting hits under a variety of monikers, including Funky Green Dogs and Murk, as well as remixes for stars as big as Madonna and Pet Shop Boys. House, in its many splendored forms, governs his latest artist album, which comes both in mixed and unmixed formats. Whether it’s the tribalism of “Moros Y Cristianos,” the Miami bass sleaze of “Bounce That Ass,” or the Afro-electro snaps of “Omi Yeye,” Gaetan brings the warts-and-all authenticity of the club to this roughly hour-long endeavor. He liberally samples an uplifting Obama speech on the throbbing “More Free” and lets loose a squiggly keyboard riff over the progressive thump of “Synth Tartare.” Bookending the project are a pair of tunes with singer Katiahshé, both of which serve as euphoric highlights.
As the drummer for seminal shoegaze act Slowdive, including on key records like Souvlaki, Simon Scott knows the sustaining power of sound. Created in part in various hotel rooms while on world tour with the reunited group, Soundings presents compositions derived from field recordings and imbued with modular synths. A continuation of the work on 2015’s Insomni and the following year’s live record Floodlines, the results here make for an enveloping ambient mix of natural and manmade sonics, a beauty tempered with rumble and babble. Birdsong chirps pepper the warming noise of “Mae” and feedback pulses emanate through the “Baaval” mist. “Nigh” unfurls cinematically, its stringlike strikes and swells bringing complex emotions to the fore. Scott devotes the final 15 minutes of Soundings to “Apricity,” a neoclassical composition of breathtaking aural vistas that provide hope and tranquility.
While trap, grime, dembow and other such contemporary hip-hop styles dominate on the airwaves and at streaming platforms, so rarely is sufficient attention paid to producers over rappers, the former doing a disproportionate amount of work in soundtracking the latter’s words. In a step toward rectifying that disparity, this trio of talented professionals bring techniques and tricks employed from their main gigs in sound design for films and video games to the evocative bass structures of their full-length debut. Tom E Vercetti, Chemist and Lovedr0id draw from urban modernity as they construct with the future front of mind, from the barely muted South London bursts of “Bowman” and “Feeling Blu” to the Kuedo assisted water whippin’ of “Split Matter” and “Taste Of Metal.” A brooding bit of leftfield neo-perreo, “Bloom” glides with reggaeton swagger and programmed shimmer like Blade Runner rebooted in San Juan. Nearer to the end, “Thorns” washes over all that came before with warm, foamy waves of colliding synth pads.
Also known for his work on Opal Tapes and Spectrum Spools as Prostitutes, James Donadio returns to Powell’s consistently compelling Diagonal imprint for another round of StabUdown dance music. Where some contemporary producers might drag thing out, he values and chooses concision across Strange Rabbits’ 10 tracks of fringe techno and house, with only a couple even reaching the four-minute mark. In keeping things brief, however, he makes the listener desire so much more, more of the glistening breaks of “Totally Coral Reefer” and the shuffling sendoff “Koln Alone.” Donadio’s tendency here toward updating trippy throwbacks will dazzle generations of listeners, his diverse approach more subtle than others who attempt such winking concepts today. “Wizard Upholstery” recalls the sort of acid test mischief that Psychic TV partook in during Fred Giannelli’s late-1980s tenure, while “Neu Ogre” evokes a certain retro charm in its step sequenced deep house groove.
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.