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Friday, July 19, 2002

++ More Essential Electronic Comps For Summer

Last week I railed against the compilation as a threat to the artist album, signifier of electronica's confused market strategy, cause of record store glut, and sure sign of the rapidly accelerating decline of Western civilization. And then I grudgingly admitted to being pretty darn excited, when all is said and done, about a handful of recent comps to slide across my desk. In continuation of last week's column, here are five more collections that escaped the Amoeba Records buy-back counter. Three are label-specific comps, one tackles the idea of "nu-dub," and one highlights the best in underground hip-hop while spotlighting the A&R skills of an astute fellow scribe.

++ Urban Renewal Program (Chocolate Industries/Ninja Tune): There's a guy in my neighborhood that blasts hard rock from his bright orange Camaro as he rolls down sleepy, residential streets. And while I'm not above chuckling a little bit — I mean, come on, the guy's straight out of Heavy Metal Parking Lot — I also appreciate his aesthetic sensibility. Not only is the muscle car absolutely boss; the guy's a welcome deviation in a neighborhood full of well-heeled couples pushing strollers. Columbus, Ohio hip-hop producer RJD2 must have a similar fixture in his hometown, because his track "True Confessions" sounds like a tribute to my very own Noe Valley Camaro jockey. Atop pounding, DJ Shadow-styled breakbeats and soundtracky segues, RJ whips up a windstorm of a metal solo. Like Z-Trip, it's hip-hop for heads that aren't afraid to admit that they once owned a Scorpions record or two.

"True Confessions" is just one of 19 tracks on Urban Renewal Program, a compilation exploring various facets of urban culture and expression. Around every corner there's another vista: Prefuse 73, presaging his own move to Barcelona, throws up some fantastical facades reminiscent of Gaudi's surreal tilework. Tortoise lays down a jerky electro track that plays tricks on your perception like flickering streetlights late at night. Cibo Matto's Miho Hatori finds an unexpected garden oasis on the lush "Night Light." And of course Aesop Rock, El-P, Mr. Lif, Mos Def, and Diverse all drop the kind of unrelenting rhymes that could only have been bred by the asphalt and blur of the naked city.

++ Opensource.code (Source): Not to be confused with the French label (and Astralwerks affiliate) of the same name, Germany's Source Records, run by David Moufang, keeps a low profile; its output, always of the highest caliber, is less stylistically cohesive than many labels', but tends to stick to the outskirts of the "post-techno" realm. Opensource.code is a collaboration with Ableton, the German software company whose application Live is quickly becoming a favorite tool of laptop techno producers. Such artists as Akufen and Ricardo Villalobos are increasingly using Live to make loop-based music more dynamic, and however the tool was used by the players on Opensource.code, all the tracks here play with this kind of restless repetition, teasing long, multicolored strands out of what at first seems a uniform tangle of fiber. Akufen's pulpy beat puree is actually one of the more conventional cuts, for a change, as is Sutekh's punchy (and very Akufen-like) contribution. What distinguishes the album are the cuts from S.E Berlin, Robert Lippok, Move D, Robert Lippok, and Jan Jelinek, all of which fuse largely acoustic sound sources (vibraphone, Rhodes, drums, etc.) into shuddering, semi-regular progressions that take their rhythmic inspiration from techno and their textural cues from jazz, dub, and even chamber music. A lovely, contemplative album, and a fine introduction to a woefully undervalued label.

++ More Dub Infusions (Best Seven/Sonar Kollektiv): Yet another member of Berlin's Sonar Kollektiv consortium, Best Seven is dedicated to the dubbier side of the future jazz spectrum. What's refreshing about More Dub Infusions, the follow-up to the 2000 compilation Dub Infusions, is how broadly it defines dub. The opening "King in My Empire," pairing Rhythm & Sound's tech-roots production with Cornell Campbell's sweetly devotional singing, establishes the balance between tradition and technology that's essential to any contemporary concept of dub. On a purely stylistic level, that track's one of the album's most traditional inclusions, though Etienne de Crecy's "Prix Choc," a far cry from his usual filtered house, offers a fine interpretation of roots vibes, and the Butch Cassidy Sound System's rollicking "Brothers and Sisters" sounds far older than its 2000 vintage. Scribbled in the margins of dub's textbook definition are more abstract contributions from Die Fantastischen Vier, with a lovely acoustic samba dub; UK hip-hop MC Roots Manuva, with a laser-strafed dub of his "Witness (One Hope)"; and even Gus Van Sant and William S. Burroughs, with a 1985 fusion of Burroughs' trademark growl and Van Sant's echo-soaked acoustic strumming. The standout, of course, is Recloose's "Absence of One," a gorgeous amalgam of jazz fusion, Detroit techno, and hip-hop scratching, all fit to reggae's backbeat template.

++ Constant Elevation (Astralwerks): For many listeners, 1997's Deep Concentration (Om) announced a new moment in hip-hop, shining a spotlight into the murky subway tunnels where turntablism and indie MCs had been experimenting with weird new twists on the old rap recipe. Now Constant Elevation, also curated by New York music writer Jazzbo (AKA Joseph Patel), offers a much needed head-check for '02. In some ways the underground is much better exposed today than it was five years ago; this time Jazzbo's contribution is in roping together classic ensemble rapping (like the Freestyle Fellowship's "Crazy") with scratch-heavy instrumental gems (from This Kid Named Miles' acid-jazzy "Slight Amnesia" to El-P's country-fried "Day After the Day After") with the kind of ish that most heads wouldn't even acknowledge as hip-hop (like Anti-Pop Consortium's bleepy "Crab Lice"). Recloose's "Chiqwanga" also falls in the latter camp — on its own, it's (yet another) example of brilliant future soul, but in the context of the comp, the track assumes its place in the history of electro, a history which rightly claims hip-hop as its own.

++ Day by Day (Delsin): Delsin is another one of those labels that deserves much more exposure than it currently enjoys — if only it weren't so hard for Dutch techno imprints to find ink and airtime in North American markets! Strangely enough, Delsin does have connections with the American Midwest: if Detroit Techno can be called a diaspora, the Netherlands is one of its primary hubs abroad, and Delsin's output is an exquisite rendition of Motor City electronic soul. From 1997 to 1999, the label released a scant four 12-inches — from Peel Seamus, Cellvoice (AKA Sandor Caron and Richard van Kruysdijk) and deFocus artist CiM — but picked up the pace in 2000. Its discography now numbers almost three dozen releases. Day by Day, Delsin's second compilation, captures the label's trademark sound, but it also documents its range. A certain chill is probably Delsin's defining quality, whether it's the deadened vocals of Optic Nerve's "Another Plain" or the bloodless pads and empty-room echo of Dimension 5's "Music Box." But artists like Aardvarck and Sandor Caron (brother of David Caron, of Mo' Wax fame) also display a debt to jazz in their augmented chords and uneven breakbeats. It's here, in the collision of skeletal electro and fleshy fusion, that the links between classic Detroit techno and contemporary West London broken beat are made clear; Delsin is one of a very few imprints (along with Archive and Rush Hour) to exploit this connection so successfully. As if all this weren't enough, Day by Day is a must-have if only because it includes newworldaquarium's "Trespassers," a stunning 11-minute twirl of filtered keys and rippling congas. With only the barest of elements, the track pulls off that rarest of achievements: the complete suspension of linear time.


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