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New Music Reviews: Tensnake, Hardkiss, Liars, and More

June 30, 2014

While Darren Cunningham’s (aka Actress) previous releases expressed beat-riddled dubstep (Hazyville), experimental R&B (Splazh), and beat-less religious allegories (R.I.P.), Ghettoville retreats into skeletal beats and cryptic melodies. As if scrounging a graveyard to create his own private Frankenstein, Ghettoville is all chopped vocal samples, beats submerged in oil and dough, and children’s melodies tossed off like candy wrappers. “Corner” seesaws over a squishy beat, while a vocal mumbles below. “Contagious” sounds like a contagion roaming the city, horror-show synth lines hovering above 808 drops and a beat so gelatinous it oozes. Just when you think it couldn’t sink lower, “Image” prances fawn-like, its broken gurgles and Playdoh bass boings bringing the dance floor home.


The debut full-length from Hamburg, Germany-based DJ/producer Marco Niemerski offers deep house that’s equal parts late-’70s Italo-disco, EPROM-era drum machines, melody-washed prog-house, and of-the-moment melancholic funk-led groove. Panning reverb-flanked percussion, dilating cutoffs, splashing bitcrushed fragments around sultry chords and pitching down vocals, Tensnake seats collaborators Nile Rodgers, Jamie Lidell, Jacques Lu Cont, Jeremy Glenn and Fiora in a spacious, supple mix that’s restless without feeling distracted.


Certain sounds can only be created due to their association with specific experiences. Hardkiss, the San Francisco label and “brotherhood” exemplify this with 1991. The LP marks their re-launch, pays respect to deceased brother Scott, and introduces a new generation to Hardkiss’ space disco. The saucy funk of “It’s Right” sits well with the flirtatious “Don’t Worry,” while “I Am Yours Forever” shimmers like a mirrored ball, each a fine sketch of the landscape in which it was created.


Johnny Cash
Out Among the Stars
John Carter-Cash discovered a whole album’s worth of never-released material by his dad while assessing the Cash catalog in the Sony Music archives. These Billy Sherrill-produced tracks were recorded in Nashville in the early ’80s, and showcase the man in black at the peak of his vocal powers, fronting an A-list band. Unfinished edges were massaged by Carter-Cash with the help of Marty Stuart, Buddy Miller, and Carlene Carter. This is a magnificent, unexpected gift from the country gods.


Illum Sphere
Ghosts of Then and Now
Co-founder of Manchester’s popular Hoya Hoya night, Ryan Hunn has remixed Radiohead (King of Limbs’ “Codex”) and planted his global DJ seed before delivering his debut as Illum Sphere. Hunn creates escapist music for wandering dreamers. Tying tracks together with static, the album flows from blissful to doomed, whether looping blips and sonar sounds (“The Earth is Blind”), inserting Afro Cuban hand drums between fragrant Rhodes improvisations (“Near the End”), or pairing children’s cries with gaseous crunches (“It’ll Be Over Soon”). A memorable debut.


Following up 2012’s WIXIW, Liars retreat to more provocative, flagellating recesses of the trio’s oscillators. Diametric to the Day-Glo euphoria of EDM (electronic dance music), Liars feed upon the degrading coils and metabolic insistence of EBM (electronic body music)—a less art-shattered, more rhythm-prone, physical offshoot of industrial. Long gone is untreated organic instrumentation; in its place are stains of portamento synth, confrontational sub-bass, staggering keyboard riffs, blunt percussion, and chewed-up vocals.

Various Artists
Looking Into You: A Tribute to Jackson Browne
These 23 gems highlight Browne’s impressive songwriting talents. His beautiful compositions are treated lovingly by great artists/interpreters, including Lucinda Williams, Bonnie Raitt, Ben Harper, and more. Outside of a couple of reggae-and Latin-flavored tunes, this isn’t one of those tributes that turns classic arrangements upside-down; there’s no punk “Pretender” or R&B “Doctor My Eyes,” but this double-disc set displays the artists’ sincere reverence for Browne’s recordings.

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