First Floor #124 – California Dreaming
a.k.a. An interview with Malibu, plus a round-up of the week's electronic music news and a huge batch of new track recommendations.
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SAY HELLO TO MALIBU
Malibu isn’t someone who actively seeks the spotlight. Shy, humble and deliberate in her craft, she doesn’t release much music and only rarely plays shows. And yet, she’s still assembled an incredible resume, collaborating with the likes of Oliver Coates, Dark0 and Placid Angles (a.k.a. John Beltran) and dropping tunes on esteemed labels such as PAN, YEAR001, UNO NYC and Geographic North.
Even in a crowded ambient field, her ethereal, reverb-soaked creations stand out, and if one also considers her output as DJ Lostboi—a more playful (and far more prolific) side project largely focused on dreamy re-edits of pop, EDM and hip-hop—not to mention her popular monthly NTS radio show, United in Flames, a case certainly could be made that this reclusive French artist is one of electronic music’s brightest talents.
Curious to find out more about Malibu, her music and what makes her tick, I asked if she’d be up for doing an interview, and happened to catch her in New York, where she’s currently getting ready to support Julianna Barwick on her upcoming American tour. The dates kick off next week, and represent not just Malibu’s first American tour, but her first real tour of any kind. Before she hits the road, we had a long talk about her complicated relationship with live performance, and ultimately touched upon a variety of topics, including her early struggles with music (and the conservatory in particular), her technical set-up and how she feels about her own voice. She also broke down the differences between her work as Malibu and DJ Lostboi, explained how EDM and pop factor (and don’t) into her work and even gave a little preview of what new music she has on the way.
The complete interview can be found here.
A round-up of of the last week’s most interesting electronic music news, plus links to interviews, mixes, articles and other things I think are worth sharing.
Coachella think pieces are often best avoided, but this Weekend 1 wrap-up that Jeff Weiss put together for The Ringer has some moments of real brilliance. Part review and part cultural critique, it colorfully skewers the many absurdities around the festival and the larger eco-system it’s birthed over the past two decades, but it also takes a hard look at the state of modern music, mostly via the lens of this year’s Coachella headliners. Readers are unlikely to agree with every observation—I certainly didn’t—but it’s a highly entertaining read, not to mention an example of a particular kind of incisive (and relatively fearless) music journalism that rarely gets published these days.
With The Northman being widely released last week, the artists behind the film’s soundtrack, Robin Carolan (the founder of the now-defunct Tri Angle label) and Sebastian Gainsborough (a.k.a. Vessel) granted an interview to Pitchfork’s Madison Bloom, detailing the unique challenges of creating the music for the Viking epic.
Telefon Tel Aviv is one of the many electronic artists who’ve been actively experimenting with crypto and Web3, but even he feels frustrated by the way that the technology’s enthusiasts are presenting it (and themselves) to the world. Apparently things reached a boiling point for him, as he penned this essay laying out why the jargon-heavy nature of Web3 is turning many people off, including folks the technology is capable of genuinely helping.
When it comes to vintage synthesizers, few models are more lionized than the JUNO-106 and JUNO-60, and now Roland is looking recreate a bit of their magic with a new product, the JUNO-X. The new polysynth looks (and is meant to sound) like those old favorites, but it’s also been packaged with a slew of more modern features as well. Those looking for more details would be wise to check out this thorough breakdown that Peter Kirn put together for Create Digital Music.
Nikki Nair is definitely having a moment right now. With hotly tipped recent releases on Dirtybird and his own n goes to infinity label, the Atlanta-based producer is suddenly everywhere as of late, and during the past week, he was the subject of both an Introducing profile (written by Cameron Holbrook) on Beatportal and a separate Introducing… Q&A in Attack Magazine.
UK producer and Wisdom Teeth co-founder K-LONE got very specific in this new list he assembled for Dummy, lining up his 10 favorite tracks from veteran techno artist Steve O’Sullivan.
Most electronic music labels flame out within a few years, but Soma Records—the Glaswegian outpost co-founded by Slam that famously put out some of Daft Punk’s earliest releases—has been humming along for the past three decades. Writing for Bandcamp Daily, Will Pritchard has written a new article that briefly summarizes the label’s history and highlights some of the gems from its expansive catalog.
A round-up of noteworthy new and upcoming releases that were announced during the past week.
In honor of Earth Day, Brian Eno’s EarthPercent initiative enlisted more than 100 artists to offer up a new track for sale, with all proceeds going toward climate-supporting grants that will be rolled out later this year. The full complement of songs—which will only be available for three weeks—can be found here, but it includes music from Eno, Hot Chip, Debit, Gesloten Cirkel, Seb Wildblood, Martyn, Gigi Masin and many, many others.
Omar-S has released a new album. Although the title of Can’t Change isn’t quite as snappy as 2020’s Simply (Fuck Resident Advisor), the new LP features guest spots from Mike Banks, Ian Finkelstein and a few other Detroit artists, and it’s available now via the FXHE website.
Anthony Naples and DJ Python will be at the helm of the next installment of the long-running Air Texture compilation series. Co-curated by the two Brooklyn artists and due to arrive on June 10, the release features two collaborative Anthony Naples and DJ Python tracks—one of which, “Entouré,” has already been shared—along with new songs from Parris, Aurora Halal, Huerco S., Beta Librae, James Bangura and several others.
Chicago house legend Ron Trent is set to release a new album, his first full-length in more than a decade. Coming from his WARM alias, the LP is called What do the stars say to you, and it will be issued by the Night Time Stories label on June 17. In the meantime, the video for first single “Flos Potentia (Sugar, Cotton, Tabacco)” has been shared, and Trent also delivered a new remix this week, reworking “The Truth” from Fort Romeau’s recent Beings of Light album for Ghostly International.
Black Rave Culture—a collaboration between Washington DC artists Amal, James Bangura and DJ Nativesun—will soon be releasing their second album, BRC Vol. 2. In comments to Resident Advisor, the trio indicated that their new LP (which they are self-releasing) was inspired in part by a desire to combat the “perception that a lot of Black artists can only make one thing,” and though the full effort won’t be available until June 3, two tracks from the genre-hopping record are already available here.
Ahead of a US tour that kicks off this week, Australian duo HTRK have assembled a new release called Death Is a Dream, a 10-track collection of “demos, vignettes, and sketches” they created while making their acclaimed 2021 LP Rhinestones. It’s due for release on April 29 (i.e. tomorrow) via their own N & J Blueberries imprint, but two songs have already been shared here.
Gavsborg and Time Cow are best known for their contributions to Equiknoxx, and while that group has never been hemmed in by the norms of dancehall, the two producers have ventured even further afield on their new Writings Ov Tomato EP, which they issued last week under the name Gav & Jord via the MAL label. The record is available now via Boomkat.
Fresh of his excellent Private Paradise LP, Oakland producer Space Ghost popped up on the PPU label last week with a new EP, Heaven Sent. A collaboration with vocalist Teddy Bryant, its three tracks of silky-smooth R&B are available now.
The Astral Plane label, which launched in 2016 and existed as a blog / editorial platform for several years before that, is shutting its doors. Founder Gabe Meier posted a letter outlining why he’s wrapping things up (and what he’ll be doing instead), and also offered up one final release: Astraltopia, a “name your price” compilation that features music from CHANTS, Amazondotcom, Maral, SHALT, LOFT (a.k.a. aya) and several other label regulars.
Curated by Hollie Kenniff, For Ukraine (Volume 2) is a new benefit compilation that’s set for release on April 29 (i.e. tomorrow) through Headphone Commute. Included are tracks from Julianna Barwick, Forest Management, Hinako Omori and several others, including Ryuichi Sakamoto, whose “Piece for Illia” has already been shared.
NEW THIS WEEK
The following is a selection of my favorite tunes from releases that came out during the past 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
Scottish producer S-Type has never been one of LuckyMe’s highest-profile artists, but if the triumphant “Be Where You Are” is any indication, he appears poised for a major breakout. At its core, the song is a standard gospel flip, its snapping Southern rap beat and rubbery purple bassline bringing to mind the work of artists like Joker, but S-Type takes things a step further, pitching the vocals into full-on chipmunk territory. The effect is revelatory, as he somehow maintains—or maybe even heightens—the devotional power of the song’s words, even as they’re almost completely divorced from their original context. Oddly enough, it’s during the song’s beatless final minute—the whole thing is less than three minutes in length—that the music feels most transcendent, the fervor of the choir sure to infuse even the staunchest cynics with the power of the Holy Spirit, at least temporarily. It’s fantastic stuff, and one can only hope that S-Type’s long-awaited debut album (which is due out sometime next year) is going to be similarly potent.
With reworks from the likes of Jlin, DJ Manny and new Planet Mu recruit Xylitol, the Goodbye Remixes EP isn’t hurting for talent, which makes RP Boo’s take on “Rave Whistle” all the more impressive. µ-Ziq’s original “Rave Whistle” is a rough-and-ready tumbler inspired by the music he was making during the late ’90s, and while RP Boo has maintained some of that spirit here, he’s also significantly beefed up the track’s low end. Tilting towards modern soundsystems, the Chicago veteran moves effortlessly between footwork and jungle rhythms, and does so while bringing in a series of chime-like melodies, conjuring images of an old clock tower ominously clanging on a moonlit night. Spooky without being cartoonish, the remix is quite possibly one of RP Boo’s finest productions—and considering the strength of his catalog, that’s saying a lot—and it brings a new sense of vitality to a track that was already lively to begin with.
Considering the volume of critical adoration that’s been showered on claire rousay during the past year or two, it’s difficult to come up with new ways to praise her work—especially when the highly prolific Texan is seemingly dropping something new every few weeks. That said, her new everything perfect is already here release—a two-track effort that’s also her first outing on Shelter Press—is a wonderful example of what rousay arguably does best: long-form ambient / experimental compositions marked by orchestral instrumentation, field recordings, oddly poignant vocal clips and a looming sense of melancholy. “it feels foolish to care” is the record’s A-side, and over the course of its 15-minute run, gently plucked harp melodies intermingle with (amongst other things) digital crunch, various clicks and clacks, swelling violins and even the steady beep of a reversing truck. There’s a lot to take in, and in less skilled hands, something like this would be a cacophonous mess, but rousay makes it all sound not only normal together, but beautiful. Her work is deliberate and often delicate, but perhaps what’s most impressive is how she elevates the sounds and feelings of everyday life into something that feels truly vibrant.
BEST OF THE REST
The original “Ooze” is a sturdy, bass-heavy highlight of the new Helium Queen EP, but this remix from Berlin artist Sarah Farina takes the track to another level, primarily by loosening up the proceedings. Between the tripped-out melodies and bouncy breakbeats, it’s a ’90s rave throwback that lives up to the freewheeling spirit of its predecessors.
Neither Fracture or Sam Binga is known for electro, but on their new collaborative Omura LP, the two UK producers—apparently inspired by their love of artists like Drexciya and The KLF—capably try the genre on for size. With its stuttering robot vocal, “Xtatic” actually feels more like a nod to Gesloten Cirkel’s peerless 2014 smash “Submit X,” though Fracture & Binga have swapped out some of that track’s darkness, instead offering something that sounds more live a raved-up take on the Beat Street soundtrack.
Like most Veyl releases, Filmmaker’s new Fictional Portrayals album is heavily steeped in EBM and industrial sounds, but the Colombian artist takes a slightly different path on “Orphic Eggs.” The music remains dark and ominous, but the song is a steady chugger (albeit a rather filmic one), with a bassline that sounds like Fugazi and wailing guitars that could have been played by Eddie Van Halen—if he was sitting in with a brooding post-hardcore outfit like Unwound.
There’s something majestic about the music of Tess Roby, especially on the title track of her new Ideas of Space album, but the Montreal artist also weaves plenty of magic into the record’s more pared-down selections. “Eyes Like Babylon” feels lighter than air, but that’s only because Roby’s multi-tracked vocals do the heavy lifting, sounding like a cross between Enya and Nico as they calmly glide amongst the song’s soft piano and delicate pads.
An indictment of humanity and its ongoing disregard for the planet, Kcin & Tilman Robinson’s Requiem for the Holocene is brimming with doom, and the Australian duo takes things in a particularly dire direction on the imposing “Your Tomorrow Has No Tomorrow,” where jagged klaxons, military-style drums and hellish orchestral flurries coalesce into what sounds like the onset of worldwide armageddon.
One of three releases inaugurating the Spatial imprint—ASC’s new outlet for sounds inspired by what he calls “the golden age of atmospheric drum & bass of the mid ’90s”—the Sphere of Influence EP hits a high note on “Force Majeure,” a decidedly moody track that expertly offsets its percussive rumble with wispy filters, a fog of soft static and ghostly tendrils of a disembodied diva.
A member of the boundary-pushing SLINK NYC crew, K Wata is best known for slithering club creations, but on the new Dot Dot Dot EP, the dancefloor is little more than an abstract. The searching vocal on “Sling of Life” sounds a bit like Galcher Lustwerk, but the track itself is far more narcotic, its hazy textures and intermittent, heavy reverbed beat only adding to the sense of disorientation.
First released in 1995 on the Instrument EP, “Instrument 3” obviously isn’t a new song, but it is newly remastered, and has been included on the reissue of Hotel Paral.lel, the 1997 debut album from Fennesz. Although traces of the Austrian artist’s signature guitar work are present, “Instrument 3” doesn’t shimmer or shine. It’s more of a discordant grinder, its jagged groans buoyed by feverishly cycling, IDM-style drums and what feels like a palatable sense of angst.
Silver Apples, Kluster, Stereolab, Broadcast… Erasers fit snugly into a long line of avant-synth weirdos with a subtle pop streak, and the Australian duo’s latest LP, Constant Connection, comfortably adds to that legacy. Meditative without being overly abstract, the album’s title track is built atop a procession of bulbous synth drones, their analog vibrato heightened by the hypnotic drift of vocalist Rebecca Orchard’s detached (yet undeniably arresting) delivery.
With its jaunty melodies and cheery disposition, “Produce Aisle” has a definite “supermarket in 1993” vibe, but the song—a standout from Green-House’s new Solar Editions EP—also sounds like something that might have soundtracked a ’90s television commercial for a local family restaurant. (“Bring the kids and try our all-you-can-eat sundae bar!”) Sitting somewhere between new age, jazz fusion and vaporwave, the track’s sheen is intensely artificial (presumably by design), but there’s nonetheless something entrancing about its quirky sonics and earnestly wholesome atmosphere.
The quiet (albeit steady) creep of the West Mineral Cinematic Universe continues unabated, as Brooklyn artist Ben Bondy has just issued a new self-titled cassette of alluringly waterlogged ambient music. “Everything I Can’t Be” opens the release, blending the sounds of running water with distant police sirens, half-heard conversations and gently warbling synths, offering a snapshot of everyday life that folds in the cacophony and uncertainty of the outside world, but ultimately still feels intimate and peaceful.
ASMR incantations meet modular drift on “maruja mallo,” a hypnotically buzzing tune from Catalan pair res_és_nostre. A collaboration between Oma Totem—a mainstay of the Barcelona DJ circuit—and juns, the project isn’t far off from what labels like the aforementioned West Mineral Ltd. are doing, but rés_es_nostre’s promising self-titled debut also pulls (perhaps inadvertently) from genres like shoegaze and 4AD-style dream pop, bathing even its most unnerving moments in warm blankets of fuzz and tape hiss.
A master of unpolished elegance, Chicago ambient veteran Forest Management has released a new full-length called Palm Life, and LP highlight “Elegy for an Invisible City” demonstrates his ability to seemingly conjure beauty out of thin air. Infusing ghostly melodic echoes with just a hint of crackling static, the song deals in a kind of somnambulant bliss, its featherlight tendrils of reverb glowing softly as they waft through the night.
Highly melodic and openly nostalgic, “Body Logic” is the title track of Awe Kid’s breakbeat-driven debut album. Although mere mention of the word “breakbeat” often prompts visions of neon-streaked mayhem these days, this UK producer—who also co-runs the Sine Language label—has opted instead for cinematic sound design (artists like Jon Hopkins come to mind) and capital-E emotions. It’s all tastefully done, and even “Body Logic,” which is arguably the LP’s biggest bubbler, never goes too big; the song’s power lies in its ability to trigger a hazy memory or two, and it’s wistful enough that aging ravers might want to have a tissue handy whenever it comes on.
Spacey and psychedelic, “Liminality” is the cosmically-minded closer on Kayroy’s new Internal Rhythm EP, and it’s very much rooted in the traditions of ’90s prog. With its plush melodies and tinkling pianos, there’s an obvious Balearic current running through the Australian producer’s track, but between the booming breakbeats and celestial sonics, it’s clear that this is one for raving beneath the stars, not lounging by the Mediterranean.
After years of techno gloom, the genre appears to be taking a more colorful turn these days, with tracks like “CS80”—the opening cut on German producer Rove Ranger’s new Milennial Millenium EP—leading the way. Sounding a bit like a loopier (and yes, proggier) take on “Knights of the Jaguar”-era Rolando, it’s the rare sort of tune that ought to be soulful enough for the heads and bouncy enough for the candy kids.
Taken from Slikback’s new INCARNATE EP—which, like all of his recent releases, is available as a “name your price” download on Bandcamp—“DESIBLE” is the closest the Kenyan artist has ever come to horror-film sonics. The song’s glowing synth melody is part Halloween theme, part trance anthem, but the track itself is a veritable meat grinder, a furiously percussive gqom growler dripping in serrated static.
Skee Mask doesn’t bother announcing his releases ahead of time anymore—in fairness, the German producer has reached a level where he probably doesn’t have to worry about things like PR campaigns—and last Friday, he dropped two new EPs. To the surprise of no one, they’re both excellent, but what is surprising is that the first one, ISS007, consists entirely of ambient tracks. The wondrous “Verdigris” might be the best of the bunch, its gentle undulations and dreamy drones floating through a mist of ever-present tape hiss. “Type Beat 6,” on the other hand, is downright raucous. Coming from the more banging ISS008—a record closer to the sound Skee Mask is best known for—it’s a storming breakbeat romp, a song whose percussive onslaught might be considered overwhelming, if only it wasn’t so damn invigorating.
That’s it for this edition of First Floor. Thank you so much for reading the newsletter, 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.)
Enjoy the rest of your week,
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.