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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.
Film soundtracks rarely get the respect or attention afforded to so-called proper albums. From bloated comic book blockbusters to painstakingly precious indies, rarely does a producer or composer's score garner praise outside of the handful of yearly Oscar nominees. Given the number of electronic or ambient albums that purport to soundtrack imagined films or are otherwise lazily described in music critic shorthand as cinematic, modern listeners ought to embrace proper score releases for actually doing the damn deed. All the while, record labels of varying credibility are out here making tidy sums off of vinyl reissues of yesteryear scores, particularly though not exclusively in the horror genre.
Nearly two years since the ungodly, Cronenberg-esque body horrors of Garden Of Delete, Daniel Lopatin returns to the Oneohtrix Point Never moniker with his awe-inspiring score for the semi-buzzy New York crime flick Good Time [Warp]. While assuredly aligned with his last batch of self-described cyberdrone, Lopatin's latest lacks the contextual grossness of that prior outing. Instead, his work here feels more atmospheric than organic, from the magisterial maneuvers of the opening title track to the evocative final plunge of “Connie.” The temptation to draw comparisons to legends Tangerine Dream must be suppressed like rude gas, since Lopatin remains an auditory visionary in a class all his own.
Even without the corporeal goop of Garden Of Delete, a different sort of physicality reigns here, one perilously tense, built on blood oaths and amid bloodied noses signified by rushing synth arpeggios and glowing pads. (In a vague way, the music of Good Time recalls that of the timed Run Lola Run.) One need not to have actually seen the movie to absurd the impact of "The Acid Hits," all dramatic cacophonies and urgently programmed drama cut down by a stunning midpoint of subdued beauty. Cuts like “Bail Bonds” and “Entry To White Castle” twitch with anxiety, while "Romantic Apocalypse" feels purpose-driven, determined for better or for worse. Apart from aging stooge Iggy Pop’s plaintive contributions to the dolorous “The Pure And The Damned,” the only other recognizable voices come from the actors, their dialogue mutated in the mischievous manner Lopatin sometimes indulges himself.
Exemplified by the likes of Khalid, Partynextdoor, SZA, and Jamila Woods, to name but a few, the sonic diversity of contemporary R&B demonstrates that the genre--much like its kissing cousin hip-hop--has the range. It's no fluke that this particular singer and not-infrequent rapper happens to be signed to A-Trak's still-ascendant and rather eclectic label. Released in the wake of labelmate Bosco's deep album debut earlier in the month, Trinity adheres to a hypnotic, dancefloor-friendly trap-pop aesthetic not unlike Tinashe’s underrated Nightride. Leaf exudes her characteristic confidence over the woofer rattles of “I Don’t Like You” and “Woo.” Produced by Sonny Digital (of Makonnen “Tuesday” fame), the luxurious "Call Me" opens her up to a specific suitor with booming synth bass straight off the Drive soundtrack. An understated 90s dance pastel brightens "Coming Down" without oversaturating her perpetually cool blue vocal, while a Troyboi remix of non-album single "Money" percolates like old Timbaland and Missy cuts used to.
As electropop and synthwave predictably mine and amplify obvious 1980s indulgences, some artists thankfully are approaching--and subsequently plundering--the era with more subtlety. With releases for respected experimental indies 1080p and Opal Tapes, Yari Malaspina offers up more aural out-of-body experiences on this set of hissing atmospheres, sparse synths, and resplendent guitar solos. It’s that latter characteristic that makes Amarcord so unique and accommodating, its title track matching the assumed epic aims with aesthetic precision. “Virtual-K” affectionately recalls a Satriani wannabe demo, dutifully noodling into an almost literal aether. Still, Oobe does more than axe work, displaying a diversity in the gothic splendor of “Unknown Journey” and the nuclear waste blasted R&B of “Crush Mind.” Elsewhere, “Highway Paradise” comes closest to the synthwave du jour, though it demonstrates restraint. The warbly vocal and dissonant snare of “1989 Summer” shows he could go full blown retropop if he wanted.
Though banal to most folks, the phrase laptop café means a great deal to a certain subset of electro / techno enthusiasts. Yes, this project has Drexicyan DNA, its contents attributed to departed producer James Stinson and directly associated with his Other People Place. The latest in Clone’s archival Aqualung series, this mini-album comes mere months after the vinyl reissues of that moniker’s Lifestyles Of The Laptop Café and companion 12” Sunday Night Live At The Laptop Café. Though credited to Jack Peoples, the name matters far less than the material’s origins. Drawn from the Lifestyles sessions, these immensely gratifying songs provide a further glimpse into the mythical underwater world Stinson envisioned and evoked. True to form, “Song 02” one thumps and snaps with sci-fi squiggles while “Song 04” swells with warm pads not unlike those of New Order. Closer “Song 05 Vocal” takes us back to the Detroit surface with some DJ speechifying that would be less remarkable were it not delivered, presumably, by Stinson himself.
Almost immediately, it sounds like a mistake. Or rather, a series of mistakes sequenced together purposefully and made newly perfect. Truly, Pariah marks more than merely the overdue full-length debut from a seasoned Chicago DJ. From its stuttering start, "Midline Shift" trembles from its own bass weight as its inherent glitches form hypnotically sloping loops. This defines Jana Rush's method, one that both bedevils and bedazzles the ears, concocting a spectacular long con meant to make memorable something so utterly disorienting. From the graceful warble of "Divine" to the twin percussive and vocal assaults of "Break It," the somber brutality of her productions proves pervasive. What seems incidental on the jazz-inflected "??? ??" is anything but. Footwork and juke types won't be disappointed by the playful "Old Skool" or the restrained “Chill Mode.” Still, Rush's album bucks genre by introducing and eradicating foreign entities, exemplified by the counterintuitive 303 deconstructions of "Acid Tek 2" and "No Fuks Given."
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.