The music of San Francisco band EYES is definitely psychedelic rock, and it’s not the “noisy freak out” type of psych rock – it’s definitely much more structured and melodic, featuring catchy hooks and clear vocals, and the “standard” rock instrumentarium enhanced by saxophones – and the sax is not just a novelty item – the sax-driven bridge in “Black Water” will stalk you for days. Highly recommended.
There’s been some tremors in the deep musical underground for the last few years that’s been making its way behind the backs of neo-Kosmische stargazers and the vaporwave parodists; the former noiseniks got fed up with sonic filth and ultra-harsh anti-music they’ve been creating for years and turned their interest to club beats and tight rhythmical structure. But instead of catchy dancefloor bangers and clean-cut remixes, those experimentalists presented their own demented version of techno music, with residue of their noise past, like a mutilated monster emerging from the vat of acid: twisted, harsh and mutated. And so, the Mutant Techno was born.
The change in perception of psychedelic electronic music was gradual and slow: around 2011 many musicians decided that it was time to stop beating the dead horse called “drone” and move on to something new. Oneohtrix Point Never’s Dan Lopatin together with Joel Ford already dabbled with synth pop as Games in 2010, releasing a brilliant EP “That We Can Play”. Labels which helped to spearhead new forms of psychedelia in late 2000’s like the Los Angeles based Not Not Fun Records smelled the change in the air launched a dance-oriented 100% SILK label in 2010, offering a throwback to 80’s and 90’s house and dance music with acts like Ital or Octo Octa. But while the offerings of 100% SILK were mostly glossy, hi-fi and clean-cut, those formerly famous for their noise bands and projects were cooking up something way seedier and dangerous.
One of the first mutant techno assaults came in 2011 from the then freshly formed Spectrum Spools label (an imprint of the legendary Editions Mego). While the first few releases from the label trotted the well-known progressive electronic territory with acts like Forma or Fabric, suddenly there was a release unlike any of them: the vinyl album, simply name “LP” from the one-man project called Container (real name: Ron Schofield, of God Willing fame, another noise project). The beats of Container were tight and minimal, with some rough edges, definitely hard-hitting adn devoid of anything that would make it any less of a cold slab of technoid perfection, a brave step toward the new direction at the time when everyone else were still immersed in lethargic ambience.
Another band heralding the coming of the new wave of beat-based music was an American duo of Dexter Brightman and Jair Espinoza known under the reduced name KPLR (pronounced: “Kepler”). Their vision of electronic music was devoid of any New New Age suspension, instead it went directly for cold, isolated and highly surgical oscillations and sequences, often set to tight proto-techno-microhouse beats treated with a penchant for distortion and a feeling of “frying” the circuits. In December 2011, after releasing a number of ultra-limited cassette releases, the duo managed to release their first vinyl LP, entitled as… “Untitled” on the influential Tulsa, OK based label Digitalis Recordings. The sound was raw, skeletal, yet strangely (retro)futuristic and scummy. Not very danceable, either.
After parting ways and disbanding Yellow Swans in 2008, both Pete Swanson and Gabriel Mindel Saloman went on with their individual music careers. While Saloman largely continued with the ambient/noise format (releasing a wonderfully eerie and dark piano/electronics amalgam “Adhere” in 2012), Swanson was looking for something else. In 2011, he released two albums. While the earlier “I Don’t Rock At All” stayed very close to original style of Yellow Swans, offering four heavily distorted electric guitar improvisations, the following “Man With Potential” left everyone puzzled. It was still noise, the sound was harsh, busy and abrasive, but there were obvious techno influences in there, with kick drums sometimes drowning in the sea of glitches, but still audible and recognizable. “Man With Potential” didn’t turn out to be just a fleeting affair with club beats: in 2012 he released an EP called “Pro Style”, which is a more cohesive and beat-based than “MWP”.
While for Pete Swanson the “mutant techno” period may be perceived as just a stage (so far, it’s the final stage) of his musical development, the Detroit based duo Moon Pool & Dead Band can be considered the first fully “mutant” techno act. Featuring Nate Young (of Wolf Eyes fame) and Dave Shettler, they take both the traditions of Detroit techno and the dystopian sci-fi legacy (especiall the works of Philip K. Dick and Stanisław Lem), complete with wonderful vintage-like artwork of their albums (featured above). Their take on music is less abstract than that of Pete Swanson’s, but it still retains the lo-fi, somewhat abrasive feel that goes wonderfully with some catchy synth lines. In fact, Moon Pool & Dead Band is definitely the most melodic band of the whole Mutant Techno lot, with easily recognizable, even catchy melodies and tracks like “Human Fly” which could be easily played at a slightly more “out of the box” house party. The similarly melodic, vintage sound is presented by Profligate, the newest solo project by Philadelphia’s Noah Anthony, who used to create some scummy proto-techno under the name Night Burger. The “Videotape” vinyl from Profligate, also released on Not Not Fun (it seems that NNF and 100% SILK has become sort sort of central hub for all 4/4 rhythm based sorts of new psychedelic electronic music, both soft and harsh – Moon Pool & Dead Band’s “Human Fly” was also released by them) combines hard, minimal beats with slices of deconstructed 80’s ambient and progressive electronics with a mandatory penchant for low production technique and a slightly “in the red” feel at times.
What finally helped to define mutant techno as a distinct genre and collect the whole tight-knit scene into one collection was the 2011 cassette compilation “Fake Sound Routine Vol. 2” by the American tape label I Just Live Here. The release puts together both the complete newcomers with the more prominent (and seasoned) representatives of outsider electronics, including such figures as Daren Ho (under the Dariius pseudonym) or the veteran Swedish EBM/technoise unit Frak. The tape is filled to the brim with monotonous, lo-fi synth filth, grabbing from the hard-edged traditions of early techno and industrial music, throwing the listener into a trance with its minimal sounds. While the whole wave of “mutant techno” is not really a danceable, club-friendly affair, making it more suitable for focused listening at home (quite similarly to the idea of IDM some 20 years before), one has to admire the fact that the former noiseniks have moved on from the probably most unlistenable (let’s stop being elitists for a moment, pure noise music is hardly enjoyable) to the less chaotic, definitely rhythmic sort of music (the idea of melody is still debatable – while most pieces from Moon Pool & Dead Band can be even considered, with a certain dose of risk, good party tracks; the music of Pete Swanson or KPLR isn’t really melodic). The move toward beat-based music can be seen almost everywhere, but only some musicians have adopted this ragged aesthetic – industrial, harsh and devoid of almost any ornaments save for pure rhythm and cold, repetitive patterns. Mutant Techno might be only in its formative stage and the aforementioned artists will pave the way for the more club-oriented artists and DJs.
Some must-check-out Mutant Techno albums:
Pete Swanson – Man With Potential (Type)
KPLR – Untitled (Digitalis Recordings)
Container – LP (Spectrum Spools)
Moon Pool & Dead Band – Moon Pool & Dead Band (Agitated Records)
Moon Pool & Dead Band – Human Fly (Not Not Fun)
Various Artists – Fake Sound Routine Vol. 2 (I Just Live Here)
Profligate – Videotape (Not Not Fun)
Silent Servant – Negative Fascination (Hospital Productions)
One of the more (if not one of the most!) interesting and compelling psychedelic rock releases of 2012 comes from a Finnish quartet Sons of Kings. The two monumental (both almost 20 minutes long) space rock jams slowly unfold into a complex labirynth of almost progressive rock proportions, but devoid of (most) prog rock’s pretentiousness, but still retaining its penchant for changing “movements” and moods. These guys simply got it right; they remember that a real psych/space rock jam is a journey, an exploration of unknown, weird worlds and they absolutely NAILED IT with their sound. Great for a late night smoke session. Float away. Highly recommended. If you enjoy the album, buy the CD!
Also make sure to check out their 2010 debut album, available for absolutely free:
Matthew Dotson’s “Excavation” is an hour long trip through experimental, electroacoustic soundscapes which don’t feel afraid to get really hardcore at times. This Chicagoist travels the world to look for new sources of sound and often accidental inspiration. Side A, for instance (both sides are untitled on this cassette, by the way), was recorded in Japan and influenced by traditional Japanese music, but thrown (temporarily) into an abyss of noise distortion. The opening minutes are filled with oriental string bliss with a melancholic, longing edge disturbed only by the recorded sounds of casual conversations – the album does not give any information whether side A was a recording of a live performance or just a skillfully arranged sampled composition. Probably both.
The melancholic plucking of a string instrument gets drowned out in the sea of increasingly brutal, glitchy power electronics that bring to mind the harshest moments of Autechre’s “Gantz Graf” stretched over the period of a few minutes. Once we’re behind this wall of noise, another stretch of experimentation begins – first barely audible, then louder and more intense, Dotson plays around with various percussion instruments – the sort of esoteric, seemingly directionless clatter Chris Corsano does so well. Then, the final “movement” of side A begins: Dotson harnesses the electronics once again, but instead of brutal assault, he makes some cold, metallic drones that gets more and more intense to the final all-swallowing dark ambience which makes everything around rumble.
Side B is slightly more accessible, with less focus put on abstract sound-art and more into drones and ambience. Gone is the people’s chatter and found sounds, this side is much less “polluted” with sound, instead focusing on the slowly expanding amorphous, bulging mass of gradually more bassy and abrasive electronics. Actually, there comes a moment when this menacing mass sounds like as if it was ready to spill out of whatever you’re listening this album on (cassette deck, computer, mp3 player etc.) and spill out into the material world as a black blob which is ready to consume anything. Thankfully, suddenly the noise is cut short and replaced with near silence, which isn’t all much better – despite being much quieter, it’s still lingering in the shadows, creeping out the listener with ghostly reverb, getting more and more rhythmical and finally becoming a maniacal, incredibly busy, glitched out IDM that could easily be mistaken for some much more famous producer.
If the previous 50 minutes of listening was challenging and diffcult, the last 10 minutes of side B provide a sort of reward for those who managed to sit through all the glitches, noise, threatening drones and found sound experiments: a very relaxing krautrock/ambient pop piece driven by bass, electric guitar and drum machine that doesn’t fall far away from “Zuckerzeit”-era Cluster or the Californian autobahn maniac FWY! A total surprise and a compelling counterpoint to all the intense, unclassifiable music that’s happening throughout the rest of the tape, which proves that Matthew Dotson feels good both at the avant-garde end of the spectrum and while making down-to-earth driving tunes. Recommended.
The psychedelic folk duo Golden Brown (Stefan Beck and Sara Jean Stotts) was a totally surprising find for me, and I found myself mesmerized by their music after just reading a simple e-mail containing some very basic information. The fact that all three full albums from this band is available for completely free on Bandcamp makes it even better. While on the first two albums gaze into the more traditional direction of New Weird America hippie folk revival (largely guitar based, somewhat poppy songs with a great lo-fi feel), the newest release by the duo stays in the much more lysergic, ambientalized territory not unlike Expo ‘70, Mark McGuire or Sun Araw’s more electronic output while still retaining some folk sensibility. Highly recommended, both psych folky ballads and the New Age trippertronics!
Also, check out Golden Brown’s previous albums!
It seems like the last few posts all contain the addition “EP” to the names of releases, but this time it’s just an “EP” and nothing else. A very minimalist move for the soft oneiric psych pop Montreal project Warmly. More pop than psych, Warmly still retains a certian does of trippiness that make the smooth glide through 3 soft-as-silk tracks on the EP this much more otherworldly, making it sound like a softer, more radio-friendly rendition of Blues Control channeling the general spirit of indie pop and chillwave, yet without the constant, sickening feel of nostalgia.
Stoned (again!), sticky beats with great dub bliss underneath from the Portland based hip-hop producer Gavin McFarlane under the moniker Flower Petal Downpour. Even though the name and the album cover might bring to mind calm hippie folk imagery to mind, Gavin is dealing with something much more modern here – which isn’t free of some influences from the forefathers of psychedelia. Great album to chill out to and a must-have for all fans of totally slowed down, smokey beats.