Digital/Divide: March's Best Electronic Releases Reviewed

On March 31, 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.

Whether or not they say or even realize as much, everybody online wants to go viral. We communicate and broadcast and share via blogs and social media platforms because we want to be heard, perchance to be understood. In music, this is a driving principle, getting those SoundCloud play counts up and hopefully parlaying that into the sort of hit that throttles an artist into lucrative stardom.

Baauer knows what's it's like to shout HELLO from the other side of virality and receive a response. In his case, it was a deafening one, as his single "Harlem Shake" went from EDM banger to cultural touchpoint, inspiring video upon countless video of amateurs performing the titular dance move to the best of their often limited abilities.

While no slouch before this moment, Baauer no doubt saw the good and bad of being elevated by a big hit. A white male, he was accused of appropriation directly by some and indirectly by proxy. So by all rights his debut album Aa [LuckyMe] can be viewed as a response to both the acclaim and the criticism.

Or maybe not. Maybe that's just a convenient critical narrative to affix to an album to make for a tidy review. Sure, Baauer's taken considerable moves in working with collaborators of global diversity, including MIA and G-Dragon on the nü grime reorientation of "Temple" and American rap dominants Future and Pusha T for the superlative "Kung Fu." TT The Artist's boastful delivery on "Make It Bang" might be the most full-throated example of Baauer's post-shake weightiness.

Even still, inclusiveness is not necessarily a statement in and of itself. Baauer may simply be leveraging his current position to work with great talent. On his own, he’s doing great things as well, as demonstrated by the MJ Cole-esque risqué garage vibes of “Way From Me,” the upscale trap EDM of  GoGo!" and UK maximalism of "Day Ones." He shows restraint on tracks like "Sow" and melds ethereal breaks and ghostly pop on "Body.”


DJ NJ Drone, Syn Stair [Purple Tape Pedigree]

The revolutions and revelations of bass have opened startlingly experimental avenues for contemporary electronic music producers, with many taking full advantage of this veritable liberation from the formulaic constraints of club music while still gearing tunes for the dancefloor. With one of the more creative monikers in recent memory, DJ New Jersey Drone appears interested in testing the bounds of this brave new world. While hardly an Arca-level extremist, he clearly takes joy in the unexpected and unpredictable. The panning warp and subwoofer shaking drops of “Syn Stair (No Fountain)” maddeningly secrete the beat, withhold satisfaction while cranking up anticipation. Back in the day, DJNJD cuts like “Sharp” and the cavernous “10 Cones” might have been lumped in with the IDM trickery of Aphex Twin’s Rephlex discography. Indeed, he reveals a possible affinity for Marc Acardipane-style hardcore thump on “Spectral Future Loop,” which to other ears might hew closer to contemporary Jersey club stylists like 4B. Regardless, Syn Stair is a robust record through and through.


Mikron, Warning Score [Central Processing Unit]

Judging by tracks like “Ask Me” and “Black Sands,” it’s not surprise that Warning Score comes via CPU, a Sheffield UK record label known primarily for high-quality electro throwbacks. Yet the duo that comprises Mikron accomplishes more than mere classy genre retread on this album, a panacea for those seeking fresh takes on snappy coldwave breaks and 303 acidity. Pairing analog warmth with synthetic chill, several of the tracks build new and interesting original structures while utilizing the same or at least similar sounding tools. “Re-Entry” shrouds its teutonic techno funk in overwhelmingly lush synth pads flecked with digital detritus, while “Out Of Body” stretches out its sinewy sci-fi threads over nearly eight uplifting minutes. With its sonic parallels to projects like Arpanet and The Other People Place, Drexicyan enthusiasts will likely find “Amn’t I” and the title track to be giddy little thrills. At any given moment it’s hard to tell if we’re in utopian or dystopian territory here, which actually makes the album even more compelling.


Sasha Jan Rezzie, All My Dreams [1080p]

From their succinctly conglomerated moniker down to the meat of these succulent tracks, his trio of New York collaborators engage in delightfully microaggressive subterfuge of house music for the always left-of-center 1080p. From the Ibiza balminess and surprise amen breaks of "Thinking Out Loud" to the factory funk of "Noah's Ark," Sasha Jan Rezzie deftly produce palatable dance music with umami undertones, if you’ll forgive the food pun. They sneak a subtle acid line into the airy Kompakt-esque tech house of "Play Infinite" and coat the title track's garage with a sheen of shoegaze. While only a half hour long, there’s so much to explore here on repeat listening. The glorious strangeness that initiates "Wild Heart" soon reveals a crackling euphoric clubbiness. Rarely has a new project arrived so fully formed with a debut release. By my count, they're already halfway to a absolutely terrific full-length album, one that could potentially break the group out in a big way.

Sami Baha, Mavericks [Planet Mu]

One of the most forward thinking curators in the music world, Mike Paradinas rarely if ever misleads. His Planet Mu imprint continues to operate simultaneously at the forefront as well as the fringes of electronic style, its history of signal boosting fresh new sonics from nascency. Dubstep and footwork fans owe Paradinas a great deal, but in return all they really need to do is consistently stay glued to the new artists he puts on. A London transplant straight outta Istanbul, recent signee Sami Baha isn’t necessarily mapping out a new genre so much as staking a position for himself within a larger one: trap music. Yet while EDM world beaters too often take a reductively big-headed approach to these sounds, Baha favors nuance and melody on muted instrumental bangers “Dough” and “Still.” He understands the implicit looming violence at the heart of the music, adding dark industrial edges to “Chunk” and a martial flair to “Mavericks One.” Breaking from the soloist norm, he teams with Mu mainstay Kuedo for the Eastern bass vibrations of “Cataphract.” You can download this here.


Underworld, Barbara Barbara We Face A Shining Future [Caroline]

When you’re as far along into a career as Karl Hyde and Rick Smith, whatever’s popular no longer matters. For more than three decades, the duo have made music together, their fruitful partnership yielding classics both heralded and unsung. Underworld’s endurance beyond member Darren Emerson’s relatively brief stint remains a living testament to the potency of the Hyde-Smith creative core even as electronica gave way to EDM. What they do on tracks like the shuffling “If Rah” and “Motorhome” call back to the looser definitions of what it meant to make electronic music since 1980. What separates an Underworld song from the rest of dance music is that je ne sais quoi, something experienced in that melodic strike of a synth chord or that zenith in the track which just breathes tremors into you. As usual, vocalist Hyde employs his oft dispassionate word jazz approach, muttering and moaning limited mantras over the atmospheric progressive house of “Low Burn.” A sign of their maturity or perhaps fatigue with club fare, it takes until closer “Nylon Strung” for the gents to loosen up and let go a little.

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