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Digital/Divide: May’s Electronic Music Reviewed

Jlin And Cashmere Cat Headline This Month's Electronic Releases

On May 31, 2017

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.

When footwork first emerged from its local Chicagoan revelry and into the global stage, it seemed to some unprepared ears fairly straightforward and template-ready. The swift tempos and chopped vocal samples felt more like a smart extension of the familiar as opposed to a timely revolution in clubland, one largely driven by producers of color such as DJ Earl and Traxman.

The untimely passing of the pioneering DJ Rashad three years ago proved the community's deepest personal tragedy, yet his peers and followers press on as if in his honor. And what glorious works they have wrought, delivering wave after wave of permutations as progressive as they are compelling.

Arguably, calling what the celebrated Jlin does footwork is a blunder tantamount to calling Burial a dubstep artist. Then again, distancing her from such the vital, fertile genre unintentionally serves to artificially deprive this vibrant African-American musical movement of one of its luminaries. A liberating listen, her latest full-length *Black Origami* [Planet Mu] propels footwork further into beatific beat magnificence.

An Eastern spiritual sensibility reigns here despite Jlin's grounded Midwest bonafides. Named for the female Egyptian pharaoh, "Hatshepsut" brings a drum line to the desert. A fragmented vocal echo bursts through "Holy Child" like a ghazal, imbued with poetic beauty and indoctrinating low end. "Carbon 7 (161)" makes like Muslimgauze, a frenetic chatter abutting urgent percussive matters.

Of course, Black Origami isn't some orientalist dalliance. Instead, it reveals an artist seeking to bridge musical influences and traditions in fresh ways without giving up on her roots. The ominous Resident Evil sample on "1%" sends us roaring back to our current budding Western dystopia in a cascade of hot buzz and alarm calls. Dancefloor-bound banger "Never Created, Never Destroyed" jerks and grinds around fleeting Tarantino flick tropes. Yet when the hemispheres seamlessly merge on closer "Challenge (To Be Continued)," Jlin's visionary status receives due confirmation.

Bola: D.E.G. [Skam]

While not as universally known as Aphex Twin or Autechre, this Manchester artist sports a discography admired and beloved by IDM devotees. After a decade without new material, Darrell Fitton returns both to the Bola moniker and the Skam imprint for this latest, long awaited endeavor. Unlike some of the ‘90s more diabolically mathematical nerds operating in electronica's fantastic fringe, Fitton's work consistently kept things tuneful even while embracing the weirdness. This continues here, in the trippy carousel hop of "Herzzatzz" and the downtempo torpor of "Kappafects." A subtle jazz nuzzle opens "Avantual," which soon thereafter shifts into shadowy computer funk. Fear not, breakbeat faithful; that snappy yet tough electro Bola does so damn well returns on "Landor 50X2," an album highlight. The three-part "Pelomen Vapour" suite makes a lovely centerpiece that feels somehow strangely adjacent to some of today's more uplifting pop-trap productions.

Cashmere Cat: 9 [Mad Love / Interscope]

Despite being the messiest of all Kanye West's albums, last year's The Life Of Pablo admittedly has its bright spots. Cashmere Cat features on "Wolves," a gonzo erection of positive pop proportions. Those who begged ceaselessly online for its fixing will find few flaws in the Scandinavian producer's delightfully demented showcase. His maximalism recalls that of Hudson Mohawke, yet the destructive streak he subjects his mostly mainstream vocalists to puts him closer to Oneohtrix Point Never than one might suspect. He makes mincemeat out of the Weeknd on "Wild Love" and undermines returning champion Ariana Grande on "Quit" with disruptive background tweaks. Ty Dolla Sign sounds especially stressed throughout "Infinite Stripes," a quiet storm dismembering. But this is precisely what these folks signed up for: the privilege of being toyed with by electronic music's mad misfit genius. 9 could easily have been a safely commercial distillation of his style, as hinted at on Selena Gomez X Tory Lanez's slinky "Trust Nobody." Instead, his uncompromising expansion into further strangeness makes Cashmere Cat a rogue worth trusting.

Video Salon: Video Salon [Not Not Fun]

A welcome Russian-American collaboration in these otherwise treasonous times, Video Salon pairs Galya Chikiss’ oral trance with the desolate grimness of Brian Pyle, a Northern California-based producer known in some circles for his releases as Ensemble Economique and in Starving Weirdos. Together, the two harness the strength of old Chris & Cosey records with these five mostly elongated tracks. It takes nearly six minutes before Chikiss’ voice shifts from wordlessness to verbosity on “Shimmer Without Heat,” her tone icy and deliberately breathy in these impossible cold dub environs. “Blue Flowers” tempers disquieting noise with ambient drone, while “Shift East, Half Moon On The Rise” leads with echo chamber singing into its glinting metallic void. Immersion is the mission, and Video Salon intend to make listeners uncomfortable while they simultaneously lull them into a submissive state. Thus, when closer “Stars Reflecting” produces a surprisingly more melodic and accessible destination than anticipated, it proves the most sinister aspect of all the album’s ominous cues and clues.

Profile Picture of Gary Suarez
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 Forbes, High Times, Rolling Stone, Vice and Vulture, among others. In 2020, he founded the independent hip-hop newsletter and podcast, Cabbages.

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