The Field – From Here We Go Sublime
Released March 26th, 2007 on Kompakt Records
Axel Willner – The Field – didn’t do anything revolutionary on From Here We Go Sublime. It didn’t progress his chosen field – although the exact nature of that chosen field can be a little blurry at times on the record? Is it trance? Is it a more European techno? People at the time were enamored with the term “microhouse” and there’s definitely something to that term here. It’s certainly in a broad sense house music: the 4/4 beat, the hi-hats on the twos, the looping instrumentation, the arpeggios. However, it feels like house music that has been compressed and blurred until it fits in a small, compact space; it’s the perfection of a form that existed for a nascent moment in time, the epitome of microhouse and a bangin’ good album. Every sample Willner uses is piled on top of the last, layers piled on layers until you can no longer see the bottom; shot through all of that is a tight, thumping bass that pushes more air than the next six house records combined. It’s the very definition of minimalism in EDM, and it’s textured, treated hooks burrow under your skin and stay there for life.
Baio – The Names
Solo albums are usually pretty suspect. For every Ozzy Osbourne there’s a whole host of guys like Slash, Paul Banks, Scott Weiland, and Mick Jagger – people who have no business separating themselves from their bands. They’re typically the result of too much ego to be contained even by a world-shaking band, and a need to stake their own claim discrete from where they became famous. This effect is even worse when it’s the bassist from a famous band. The reason behind this is that the bassist, in your typical rock ‘n’ roll format, is the most boring person there is. No one cares about the bassist.
Chris Baio is the bassist for upper-crust Ivy League dorm band Vampire Weekend. After three albums of riffing on Paul Simon like he was the Second Coming of Jesus, the band seems to have come to a period of individual exploration. That is to say, singer Ezra Koenig is doing some stuff in collaboration with others, and now bassist Chris Baio is staking out a solo album, The Names. Just the idea of the bassist from Vampire Weekend making a solo album is typically enough to make me cringe.
He pulls it off really, really well, however. These are not the sort of rote Vampire-lite songs that you might expect to tinkle oh-so-preciously from your speakers. These are songs anchored to hard, throbbing bass, more influenced by epic house anthems than they are by Upper West Side Soweto. Lead single “Sister of Pearl” is actually the outlier here; most of these tracks resemble the opener, “Brainwash yyrr Face”, with light, graceful vocals playing around the maypole of that monolithic rumble at the bottom. “I Was Born In A Marathon” is the best track here; it runs through a tidal bridge that shows a masterful hand with fusing house tropes into a more general pop form.
Chris Baio bucks a trend here; he may not be Ozzy Osbourne but gets the job done in a rare fashion, and it’s one solo album that’s actually worth listening to.
Ghost Culture – Ghost Culture
Signed to a record deal on the basis of one single track (“How”), London electronic producer James Greenwood delivers on the hype and has released a debut album that croons darkly like vintage Depeche Mode and has a bottom end capable of filling most any dancefloor you can name. This is house music for people who grew up on Eighties synth ballads and Bat Cave goth-retro sounds, which means it fills a specific niche in my heart. “How”, strangely enough, is not that floor-filler; it’s a sighing, burbling kind of track that builds into an eventual shuddering peak. Greenwood’s vocals are oddly reminiscent of Strokes leader Julian Casablancas, if Casablancas put his voice through filters and grew up on a steady diet of Dave Gahan. This is dark disco, not the party music that Todd Terje spent last year spinning, but music capable of soundtracking a certain kind of party – the distinction is subtle, but it’s there.