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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.
Steven Ellison rarely steers us wrong. The goodwill banked as Flying Lotus over the years is amplified even further thanks to his curatorial ear for talent. No vanity label, Ellison's esteemed Brainfeeder imprint went from proffering the L.A. beat scene's brightest to making jazz cool again with Kamasi Washington and Thundercat.
And then there's Lapalux. Despite being one of Brainfeeder's most enduring and longest-running acts, British producer Stuart Howard has never quite fit in with his labelmates’ respective camps. An outlier on a label full of leftfield talents, his music adheres closer to the likes of Warp Records dancefloor maximalists Hudson Mohawke and Rustie. Prior releases like 2015’s Nostalchic and 2015’s Lustmore showcased his overt love of warbly synth textures and mangled pop/R&B sensibilities.
Not surprisingly, Ruinism [Brainfeeder] doesn’t deviate all that much from those earlier works. Yet it does seem that those recordings were perhaps building up to this moment, the most realized version of what Lapalux should sound like. The album reflects a near mastery of sound design while still besotted with the idea of more conventional song structure, a tough balance to maintain. There’s an epic quality to “Data Demon,” a cinematic rush of wonderment that glides through a series of emotions in just over three minutes. The acidic “Essex Is Burning” reminds of Luke Vibert sans kitsch, a testament to the endurance of the 303. Prominent vocal cuts like the tense “4EVA” and the snappy post-industrial garage of “Petty Passion” glow incandescent, while “Running To Evaporate” rely more on the texture of voice for added brightness.
Anoraak: Black Gold Sun [Endless Summer]
Nearly a decade ago, well before synthwave became a bloghousehold name, Frédéric Rivière’s electro-pop project emerged with the enchanting Nightdrive With You. A self-described mini-album, it came as part of a then-nascent French music movement in electronic music that drew from ‘80s sonics and aesthetics. Though Anoraak didn’t land on the Drive soundtrack like contemporaries College and Kavinsky, a rising tide lifts all ships. A decidedly song-driven effort, Black Gold Sun continues and expands upon Rivière’s neon vision. Compared to the icy, subdued monotone present in earlier work, his vocals are now cleaner and more confident on the vaguely tropical “Outcome.” Guest singer Lydmor bestoys a more contemporary pop sensibility to the glassine “Evolve,” a track reprised at the end with a taut remix by Valerie Collective’s own Maethelvin. Beyond these cuts, Anoraak stick with plush instrumentals like “Last Call” and “Skyline” that showcase a tremendous knack for multi-tracked and melodic momentum-building.
Ikonika, Distractions [Hyperdub]
A staple of Kode9’s Hyperdub roster since 2008, Sara Abdel-Hamid has recorded almost exclusively for the imprint during her fairly prolific run as a resilient boundary pushing bass practitioner. Ikonika’s artistic scope both spans and snubs style, resisting emulation while drawing influence. 2013’s full-length Aerotropolis embraced the 8-bit without becoming another predictable retro set. Distractions strangely straddles both accessibility and unfamiliarity, a post-genre panoply that squints and winks at the known world from a veritable higher plane of consciousness. There’s a palpable distance present on tracks like “Manual Decapitation” and “435,” full of echoes like transmissions traveling through space, all scrambled shimmers of London club scenes and R&B radio hits. A Kraftwerkian quirkiness pervades “Love Games,” while “Not Actual Gameplay” infuses a slickness with its electro foundation. Despite the perils of venturing too far from Earth, humanity prevails via Londonite Andrea Galaxy on “Noblest” and grime spitter Jammz on “Sacrifice.”
LCC: Bastet [Editions Mego]
Like Jlin’s recent opus Black Origami, this Asturian duo’s sophomore album for the esteemed Editions Mego draws inspiration from Ancient Egypt in the creation of a definitively modern work, though their aesthetic differs considerably from the footwork seneschal. Low, rumbling synth drones and percussive flourishes define LCC’s exceedingly ominous homage to the titular goddess. Opener “Ab” rises and falls and rises again, ending with a tumultuous crescendo that eases into the muted air raid opening of “Ib,” the first track to include musical elements overtly in line with the album’s theme. Some of their work recalls that of Boyd Rice’s NON, albeit without the winking teutonic fetishism. The steady, ritualistic throb of “Ka” and the nearly ten-minute “Ba” respectively induce trance while the latter’s jazz-like unpredictability defies the modern temptations of passive listening. More overtly electronic sections like the choking arpeggios of “He” and the discomfiting trembles of “Aj” keep senses heightened as LCC proceed to shatter ambient norms.
Various Artists: Firma Do Txiga [Principe Discos]
In recent years, Lisbon emerged as one of the world’s most exciting cities for electronic music and has shown zero signs of fatigue. The Principe imprint serves as a beacon for the dazzling techno-kuduro hybrids coming out of Portugal, and this latest 7” triple pack shines brightly on three such acts. Though not at the level of international recognition as, say, DJ Marfox, the trio of participants should be familiar names to anyone who caught Warp’s Cargaa 12” series a few years back. K30 stuffs four brief tracks into his sides, ranging from the springy, temperamental thump of “Uma Ve(z)” to the bassy minimalism of “Sistema.” DJ NinOo’s platter consists of slow-mo syncopated “Ambientes Leves” on one side and timely tropical house blueprint “Saudades Do Russel” on the flip. The cheekily monikered Puto Anderson brings warehouse techno industrialism to “Eh Brincadeira” and a more fractured approach to “Gritos Do Infinito.”
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.