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First Floor #114 – Some of the Best (and Potentially Geekiest) Ambient Drone
a.k.a. Falling asleep to the sounds of sci-fi, plus a full round-up of electronic music news and a massive batch of new tracks.
A round-up of of the last few weeks’ most interesting electronic music news, plus links to interviews, mixes, articles and other things I think are worth sharing.
Spotify is still being battered with widespread criticism in the wake of Neil Young’s very public departure from the platform. In a town hall meeting with employees last week, CEO Daniel Ek defended his decision to keep the Joe Rogan Experience podcast—the cause of Young’s initial protest, as it’s been repeatedly accused of spreading COVID misinformation—on Spotify, arguing that the company is not a publisher and therefore doesn’t control creators’ content.
Over the weekend, that position became tougher to uphold once a supercut of Rogan using racial slurs on the podcast went viral, prompting Spotify to remove numerous episodes from its archive and to also make a pledge devoting $100 million to the “licensing, development and marketing of music (artists and songwriters) and audio content from historically marginalized groups.” That plan, however, is already being described as “half-baked.”
Meanwhile, Neil Young published a fresh statement, calling on Spotify employees to leave the company and also alluding (finally) to the platform’s poor treatment of artists. That being said, Spotify’s low payouts and general business practices have still remained largely in the background of this very public debate, even as folks like the New Yorker’s Alex Ross have laid out very specific reasons (that have nothing to do with Joe Rogan) that the company ought to be abandoned by musicians and music fans alike.
All that said, while a trickle of artists have left the platform, neither musicians or subscribers have abandoned the company en masse. And considering that Spotify just finalized a new €280 million sponsorship deal with Barcelona’s world-famous football (soccer) team, it seems that the company’s financial picture—at least for now—is fine.
Mixtape Club is back. Launched last year by Finn and the Local Action label—I interviewed the former about the project here in the newsletter—the curated, fan-supported online mix series (which pays both DJs and graphic designers for their work) has announced a second season, and it officially kicked off this week with an exclusive session from London-based Canadian Club Fitness.
In my recent interview with Huerco S., he spoke a bit about the people and philosophy behind his West Mineral Ltd. label, and last week Pitchfork’s Philip Sherburne took a much deeper dive into the ambient / experimental imprint, highlighting both the artists involved and the uniquely unsettling aesthetic they’ve created.
Is there a CD revival happening? Opinions are divided on the matter, which prompted journalist Marc Hogan to do a little investigating in this great piece for Pitchfork that surveys the situation and—gasp—actually talks to some members of Gen Z.
A Taiwanese pressing plant called Mobineko recently announced that it had created a machine specifically designed for express delivery of short-run vinyl orders (i.e. as low as 25 copies). If successful, the company could potentially help alleviate the global vinyl-pressing backlog, which prompted DJ Mag’s Declan McGlynn to fire some questions at account manager Josh Doherty (a.k.a. Posthuman) about what Mobineko is up to and what their services entail.
February is Black History Month in the US, and Detroit producer Huey Mnemonic is celebrating with an excellent Twitter thread in which he highlights a new piece of Black electronic music each day.
SLEEP LONG AND PROSPER
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My wife Dania hasn’t been sleeping well lately, and while she’s tried a variety of different remedies, one thing has worked particularly well: white noise. But not just any white noise: we’ve literally been falling asleep to the sounds of the starship Enterprise.
YouTube is oddly loaded with white noise and ambient drones from the Star Trek universe, and believe it or not, they’re quite good, and not just as novelty sleep aids. These clips—many of which run for 12 and even 24 hours—are immersive and deeply hypnotic sound pieces, on par with many of the “serious” drone works that have been showered with praise over the years.
But where did these drones come from? Who are these YouTubers and how deep does this particular rabbit hole go? I did some digging in an article I published earlier this week, and you can find it here.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases that were announced during the past week.
Seven years removed from his most recent 12”, Mood Hut co-founder Jack J (who’s also one half of Pender Street Steppers) is set to release his debut album. Entitled Opening the Door, it’s slated to arrive on April 8 and is said to explore “inward-peering ambient jazz, On-U-inspired digital-dub and quiet storm soft rock.” The latter influence is certainly evident on first single “Only You Know Why,” which is available now.
India Jordan has teamed up with budding dance music superstar (and fellow UK producer) Fred Again.. on a new collaborative single called “Admit It (U Don’t Want 2),” which is out today via Atlantic Records and can be heard here.
Dance System (a.k.a. Night Slugs co-founder L-Vis 1990) is set to release his first full-length under that name. In Your System will drop via the UK producer’s own System Records on April 1, but the filter house-indebted first single “Bring the Noise” has already been shared, along with the song’s lazer-filled video.
Celebrated experimental duo Matmos have completed a new full-length, the elaborately titled Regards/Ukłony dla Bogusław Schaeffer. Set for a May 20 release via Thrill Jockey, the LP is focused on the work of Bogusław Schaeffer, a multi-talented member of the avant-garde in 1960s Poland. Album cut “Flight to Sodom / Lot do Salo” has already been made available.
The Dekmantel label had a busy week, announcing forthcoming releases from both Dutch artist Interstellar Funk and Berlin-based Canadian Aquarian. The former will be releasing his debut album Into the Echo—which he describes as an “homage to the potency of analogue machinery and experimental electronica”—on March 25, and has already shared the title track. The latter will issue Mutations I: Death, Taxes & Hanger—the first installment of a two-part EP series—on March 18, and has shared opening track “Death, Taxes & Hanger.”
Martyn made the most of last week’s Bandcamp Friday, literally producing a track from scratch and then releasing it that same day (under his Gabe & Jude alias). Entitled “Heart Still Broken,” it’s available as a name-your-price download.
As always, Bandcamp Friday was full of “surprise” / previously unannounced releases, and while some are highlighted below in the ‘New This Week’ section, it’s also worth mentioning the new efforts from Perila, KMRU, AceMo x RAJA, Redshape, Exael and Hieroglyphic Being, along with name-your-price offerings from Legowelt (under his Smackos alias) and Martyn Bootyspoon.
MY WIFE HAS BETTER TASTE THAN I DO
My wife Dania is a wonderful person, but she has little regard for my taste in electronic music. Head of the Paralaxe Editions label, she often describes the music I like with words like “cheesy,” “simple,” “predictable,” “boring” and, worst of all (in her mind), “happy.” In contrast, I think she has a fantastic ear, and I’m constantly amazed by the obscure gems she unearths, both from record bins and the dark corners of the internet. Given that, I’ve asked Dania to share some of her finds with the First Floor audience. Each week, she highlights something that she’s currently digging, and adds some of her thoughts as to why it’s worth our attention.
Hello everyone. I’m really happy to announce a new Paralaxe release from Alloy Sea, which is Mor Elian’s ambient / experimental alias. To be honest, I’d never really heard Mor’s music before, but once I came across her first Alloy Sea release, I immediately approached her about doing something on my label. (Thankfully she said yes.) The new album is called XOOMIN, and it’s a really fun release that’s full of colourful melodies, scuttling rhythms and Mor’s celestial voice. “You stepped outside” is the first track we’ve shared, and whole tape comes out on March 1.
NEW THIS WEEK
The following is a selection of my favorite tunes that came out during the last week or so. The ones in the ‘Big Three’ section are the songs I especially want to highlight (and therefore have longer write-ups), but the tracks in the ‘Best of the Rest’ section are also very much worth your time. In both sections, you can click the track titles to hear each song individually, or you can also just head over to this convenient Buy Music Club list to find them all in one place.
THE BIG THREE
Of all the “surprise” releases that emerged on Bandcamp Friday last week, Hoavi’s new Posle Vsego album—a collection of ambient tunes that date back as far as 2013—was easily the most rewarding. Fresh off his excellent 2021 full-lengths for Peak Oil and Balmat, the tape has fewer of the jungle flirtations that populated the Russian producer’s previous releases, although dub continues to be a major component of his work. Songs like “Marshcat” and “Uncontr” have been soaked in a welcoming cocoon of echo and distortion, and both feel expansive, despite being less than four minutes long. The former feels particularly dramatic, its billowing textures symphonically rising and falling like an ocean tide, and while the string swells of “Uncontr” are similarly grand, the track ultimately feels both more celestial and a tad more discordant, with shimmering melodies that have a slightly metallic quality.
Someone get me a late pass, because Nate Scheible’s Fairfax LP is brilliant, and I completely missed it when it was first released by the ACR label in 2017. Newly reissued by Warm Winters Ltd., it’s an incredibly moving effort, largely thanks to a series of vocal clips that the Washington DC-based musician pulled from a cassette that he found in a secondhand shop. On the tape were a series of audio love letters that a woman had recorded for her partner, and while their contents are sometimes pedestrian—at one point, she literally talks about paying someone to fix her air conditioner—there’s something unmistakably raw, vulnerable and just plain human about her voice. When she tells her lover that she loves him and wants to be held by him, it doesn’t just tug at the heartstrings—it yanks on them.
Heightening that effect are Scheible’s jazz-inflected and tape-drenched compositions, which include the somber piano and saxophone of “With Any Kind of Luck” and the hopeful synth blossoms of “There’s Nothing That Says I Cannot Dream.” There’s a quiet modesty to his music, and he communicates a genuine sense of empathy, not just for the woman on the tape, but for anyone with an aching heart who happens to be listening. Getting through the album might require a tissue—or maybe a whole box of them—but Fairfax is absolutely worth it. Few releases are this powerful.
Raum is a collaboration between Grouper and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, and… is any more explanation really necessary? The duo’s new Daughter LP is as lovely as you’d imagine, and it carries extra emotional weight as a record created in tribute to their late friend Paul Clipson, a filmmaker who’d worked extensively with both artists prior to his death in 2018. “Revolving Door,” a delicately trudging number that’s been swaddled in crackle and tape hiss, is undeniably beautiful—even with its assortment of crunchy field recordings—but it also emits a funereal vibe, its smeared melodies evoking the bittersweet feeling of remembering happy times with someone who’s no longer around. A feelgood record it is not, yet Daughter never wallows—there’s far too much love and reverence in the music for that.
BEST OF THE REST
Taken from the Bronx producer’s new WHAT’S GOING ON UP THERE? EP, “ICEE MAN” is soulful drum & bass roller that bathes its pert percussion in washy pads and a hint of melodic sparkle, bringing to mind the lush sounds of artists like Photek.
This Detroit house upstart just keeps getting better, and “Unfortunate Soul Tie”—the opening track on his new Away Message Jams EP—is a low-key (and slightly dubby) groover that makes the most of its masterfully chopped vocal bits.
Nu Groove is one of house music’s most storied imprints, but no one could be blamed for feeling skeptical about its unexpected “return” after the label was acquired by Defected Records last year. That said, Remote Area—a new EP from Berlin duo Acid Jerks—feels like a proper homage to Nu Groove’s legacy (and old-school house music in general), and the steadily pulsing riff of “The Tribute” absolutely shares some DNA with Lil Louis’ classic “French Kiss.”
A neon-streaked hybrid with a plenty of panache, “Quiet Your Mind”—which appears on the Belgian artist’s new Healing Is a Process EP—pulls from the same Italo-house well as labels like Running Back and Permanent Vacation, but DC Salas has agreeably added a bit more ’80s glamour into the mix.
Kicking off the latest installment of Tripalium’s Acid Avengers series, “Super Rave” more than lives up to its title, as Malta-based artist Acidulant has loaded up this riotous throwback with a turbo-charged blend of booming breakbeats, howling divas, blaring sirens and (of course) a whole lot of tweaky acid.
First released in 2011, Ike Release’s “Outrun”—a smooth bass-techno hybrid that recalls the early work of artists like Joy Orbison—has now resurfaced on Color Space (2010-2011), a name-your-price collection of (mostly unreleased) tunes that the Brooklyn producer cooked up while he was living in Berlin more than a decade ago.
What if “Deep Burnt” wasn’t sad? “Through the Walls,” the joyous title track of Massiande’s new EP, goes a long way towards answering that question, as the Chilean producer has layered his plush strings atop a chunky, bouncing bassline and a glittering array of synths.
Although plenty of (virtual) ink has been devoted to amapiano during the past year or so, the cooly loping South African sound has yet to really establish itself as an album-oriented genre. Where You Are, the sophomore LP from young producer Teno Afrika, should go a long way toward remedying that, especially once people get hooked on the squirrely bassline, honking horn riff and squawking melodies of “AK Love.”
The promo text for Studiogruppe 1 bills the LP as something created by a mysterious “German session musician ensemble” during the ’70s and ’80s, and while that doesn’t seem to actually be true—Discogs cites the album as the work of veteran producer (and Running Back regular) Shan—the record still has some vintage magic, with songs like “Sonnentanz” offering a gleaming, kosmische-flavored take on classic Balearic grooves.
Is UK garage still UK garage when it’s made by someone in Ireland? Probably, and Dublin-based Prozak has certainly mastered the quintessential 2-step recipe on “Want Ur Luv”—a standout from his new Holy Spirit EP—combining the song’s skippy rhythm with a chunky low-end wobble and some delicious R&B vocal snippets.
Young artists often tend to overstuff their tunes, but London bass music producer Mailer—who debuted only last year and just dropped a new EP called Parkland—has already flashed a real talent for restraint, particularly on “Bus 11,” a track whose minimal (albeit potent) drums take a back seat as its synths flutter like cigarette smoke wafting through the night air.
Following what she describes as an “eternity of not being able to write and record,” Austin ambient artist hojascirculares has returned with this alluringly haunted elegy, piloting an eight-minute journey into the underworld that features both ethereal textures and scratchy patches of distortion.
Alden—the first LP from Western Australian experimental duo Gilded in nine years—is a record that reflects the semi-desolate environs in which it was created, and album highlight “Bells Cutting” could have been pulled from the score of a high-brow horror flick, its tinkling chimes—which are quite beautiful—shot through with tension and a looming sense of doom.
I’ll Look for You in Others, the debut album from Portland ambient musician Patricia Wolf, was (mostly) made using only synths and her voice, but there’s a lot of sorrow woven into its spacious expanse. The LP’s title track is no different, but as its (frankly gorgeous) mournful tones swell and slowly soar toward the horizon, small rays of hope creep into the proceedings.
2021’s Fire LP left nothing but scorched earth in its wake, but The Bug returns to a more introspective space on Nightcrawler, his latest outing under his birth name. (For those who missed it, I interviewed him about his ambient-leaning work as Kevin Richard Martin last year.) “Alien Tongues,” the closing track on a release he describes as “a cinematic, drone-jazz odyssey,” is a delicate dirge in which every trembling note rings out amidst a scratchy film of soft static.
A collaboration between Steffi and Privacy, the Negroni Nails project specializes in a brawny strain of electro, and the muscular “Speed Scale”—a standout from the duo’s new Slow Motion Drip EP—sounds like an industrial-grade update of Drexciya’s sci-fi wiggle.
The artwork for Hardcore & Rubble—the latest release from unstoppable London junglist Tim Reaper—depicts a wrecking ball smashing through a brick wall, and EP closer “Bulletproof” absolutely brings that kind of bassweight to the table. That said, this isn’t some mindless skull-rattler; Reaper hits hard, but he keeps the wobble to a minimum, focusing instead on the track’s bouncy, jazz-inflected gait and dazzling synth array.
Why aren’t grime and dancehall combined more often? “Bronze Riddim,” a bruising highlight of Kush Arora’s new Vision EP, is clear evidence that the two genres belong together, and on a more practical level, it’s a real sledgehammer whose woozy basslines and slamming beats are destined to rile up the gunfingers crowd.
Most of the tracks on the new FAUST 002 compilation—a tribute to the South Korean club of the same name—are (perfectly competent) exercises in blistering techno, but Suman’s “Whale Journey” follows a more colorful, synth-pop-oriented path, ultimately sounding like a children’s cartoon soundtrack written by Depeche Mode and Q Lazzarus.
The final track on the New Jersey producer’s new Enveloped in Light EP, “Intertwined” is a moody and relatively minimal—not in the Perlon sense of the world—piece of techno, a quiet, late-night chugger whose gleaming chrome surfaces occasionally (and compellingly) give way to small piano and string flourishes.
What do these two songs have to do with one another? Nothing really, save for the fact that they both appear on excellent new film soundtracks. “Forever, Nevermore” is something Russian producer HMOT created for Another Name, and presents a dreamy (and somewhat foreboding) suite of elegantly warped vocal clips, while the slow-burning, piano-driven swoon of “Drive My Car (Hiroshima)” is one of the orchestral highlights of Eiko Ishibashi’s soundtrack for Drive My Car, a critical darling from Japan that scored a bunch of Oscar nominations earlier this week.
That’s all for today’s newsletter. Thank you so much for reading First Floor, and as always, I do hope that you enjoyed the tunes. (Don’t forget, you can find them all on this handy Buy Music Club list, and if you like them, please buy them.)
Until next time,
Shawn Reynaldo is a freelance writer, editor, presenter and project manager. Find him on LinkedIn and Twitter, or you can just drop him an email to get in touch about projects, collaborations or potential work opportunities.