Robert Hood’s Dancer, An Ass Shaking Classic

I’ve been a fan of Robert Hood‘s brand of sensually minimal techno since hearing a reissue of his classic Minimal Nation double 12″ in 2009, falling in love with the beyond-lush Motor: Nighttime World 3 a few years later. Somehow I’d never dug through his vast collection of singles until last Friday. I was working at my desk when Dancer queued up, and immediately had to stomp my feet along, slapping the desk with my open palms.

This track is a 4/4 monster, piling grand piano and a hairy sax groove on top of a throbbing beat, with just the slightest hint of guitar sprinkled around. The mixture of pure electronics and live instrumentation works in a way most hybrids could only dream of. It’s the kind of song Daft Punk would kill to make; the sound feels like peeling their recent album Random Access Memories down to its beating heart.

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Only a handful of Detroit masters craft techno with such soul, such a playful jazz sensibility, as Robert Hood. I’m thinking of Carl Craig, Kenny Larkin, and of course Underground Resistance, where Hood began his musical odyssey. While this tune is obviously more of a house thumper, I’m happy to share it as another example of the playful, jazzy core of what makes Detroit techno one of my favorite sounds of all time.

Andy Stott’s Brilliant Boiler Room Set

Here’s Andy Stott spinning dark techno brilliance for almost an hour. I’m totally unsure of how I managed to miss this. Dropping two years ago – just before his stunning full length Luxury Problems – this live set mixes in a whole lot of his signature abrasive 4/4 monstrosities and searing vocal colors from Alison Skidmore. It’s a dark, sinewy construction, shambling its way through the back caves of your mind.

Basically, it sounds exactly how you’d expect Andy Stott to sound like live. Fans of Luxury Problems will be especially pleased around the 19 minute mark.

In typical Boiler Room fashion, the crowd consists of listless hipster types sipping on beers and occasionally tilting their hips. The real draw is the sound. Turn your volume up, and read something interesting while you listen. I suggest this illuminating treatise on the philosophy behind invisible prisons that shape our lives. It’s called The Black Iron Prison, a term birthed by Philip K. Dick in his final novel, VALIS. You should probably read that at some point in your life. It’s a transcendent (and partially autobiographical) dissection of sanity itself.

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I don’t have much else to say about this. Just listen. Or watch, too, if you’re in the mood to see people looking miraculously bored at one of the most intimate, brilliant techno sets I’ve ever heard.

Underworld – Thing In A Book [with a strange fan video]

Languishing for two decades in the rare original Dark & Long single, Underworld’s Thing In A Book is finally seeing the light of modern day this month. Courtesy of the 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe edition of legendary dance album, Dubnobasswithmyheadman, the wider world can appreciate what has been one of my favorite hidden gems for years now. It’s a 20 minute minimal techno monster, an otherworldly take on Dark &Long that jettisons our solar system, hitting light speed on the way to stars beyond.

There’s a methodical build to the spare insistent percussion, slowly accumulating layers of analog synth and interstellar static. Bits of guitar and monosyllabic snippets whisper by. The sound floats closer to Philip Glass and the pop ambient of Kompakt than Underworld ever dared before or after. I’m warmly reminded of legendary Detroit techno project Deepchord presents Echospace, an act assembled over a decade past this song. My headphones access a maglev train, pinging sonar over glowing dot-matrix mountainsides. My brain locks directly into its groove on a primal level. Simply put: it’s a perfect long-form chillout techno piece.

This is the best youtube version of the song. We’ve got a high quality stream of the music itself combined with a strangely hypnotic fan created video. The footage moves like a weirdly banal camcorder take on the time lapse photography of Godfrey Reggio, the subway tracking, sidewalk rushing connective tissue of Koyaanisqatsi. Watch it, or leave it in the background and enjoy the song purely on its own terms. Despite its minimalist nature, the song still packs a number of Underworld’s more populist traits. More than anything, this one feels as refined as a Swiss watch, cranking up the tension through its lengthy run. There’s a certain appeal to something so unabashedly epic, yet restrained and introverted, that tears into my heart. If you haven’t heard this, you may be surprised.

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The band seen in 1994 (supposedly).

I should mention the 20th anniversary reissue of Dubnobasswithmyheadman. This is a rare example of an album from the burgeoning CD era being remastered with care and delicacy. Subtle details I’d never noticed in my nearly two decades of listening were revealed. The drums are punchier, basslines snappier. Yet the loudness war remains in distant lands, allowing the full dynamic range to stand intact. The two disc edition contains some essential early singles, but the five disc edition (seriously) holds nearly everything produced in that era, including Thing In A Book. If you don’t have the money or patience for that massive slab of music, the whole set is streaming free on Spotify.

Just give it a listen. I’ll be looping this for a while at work tomorrow.

Alice Coltrane – Divine Songs

This is a glowing gem known only to those who have burrowed deep enough into the inimitable catalog of jazz legend Alice Coltrane.

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“Divine music is the sound of true life, wisdom, and bliss.  This music transcends geographical boundaries, language barriers, age factors; and whether educated or uneducated, it reaches deep into the heart and soul, sacred and holy…” – Alice Coltrane

Released in 1987 on cassette only, Divine Songs is the purest expression of the spiritual drone jazz sound that Alice had been perfecting ever since establishing the Shanti Anantam Ashram in the decade prior.

Soaring into ethereal space, leaving only the faintest jazz roots visible, the sound here is birthed in minimalist Indian organ modes. The atmosphere cracks open with harp and strings, shining brightly around her transcendent voice. It might not be for the casual fan, but if you’re tuned in to the celestial vibe Alice developed in the years after her husband, John Coltrane, died, you’ll settle in perfectly here.

A bonus for fans of Flying Lotus, and his album Cosmogramma in particular: keep your ears open for fleeting moments where he sampled his great aunt directly. With such a heavy influence she’s had on his music, the cameos feel especially poignant.

Flying Lotus – Never Catch Me [heart stopping music video]

I’m seeing two children hop out of their caskets at a funeral and dance, running for the door. They’re grinning as they look back. I’m grinning as I watch. This is one of the most beautiful moments I’ve experienced in a while, and it’s the best music video I’ve seen in years.

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My heart is full and I’m beaming. This is the definition of life affirming cinema. Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison) and director Hiro Murai have rendered the joy of life on a grand scale, as only those who have lost it may experience.

As someone who’s recently lost his parents, Ellison is probably more interested in the subject of death than most folks. As someone in the same place, I can relate. We want to wrap our heads around what happens, where our loved ones have gone. We want to imagine new ways of being, new channels of experience, that might follow our journey on this plane. We try to picture what it’s like to realize you’re dead. Will I be confused? Will I be happy? Afraid? Will there be any subjective “me” at all?

None of these questions are new or original, but the music poses a cascading meteor shower of fresh replies.

The music on Flying Lotus’ upcoming album, You’re Dead!, evokes existential puzzling and euphoria without accompaniment. This video adds a gut punch that sends me reeling. Watch it now if you haven’t already. If you don’t feel at least a spark of joy, you might already be dead.

Check the album on amazon or itunes or probably spotify or just order the LP at Warp like I did.

PS: I’ve got friends who can relate all too well. I want them to know I’m thinking about ‘em.

Queen – Radio Ga Ga

Somehow this perfect Queen song escaped my attention for my entire life. Sure, I’d probably heard it as a kid, but never on purpose. Never as an adult. How did I not know this song until I was 30 years old? Why?

I can’t answer those questions, but I can thank Grand Theft Auto V for including Radio Ga Ga on the classic rock radio station. This is not merely pop songcraft of the highest order; this is a new favorite Queen song.

The music video was so inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, actual footage of the original German expressionist masterpiece features prominently. Freddie, Brian, Roger, and John ride a flying car through the bustling, dystopian future city, while the vocals reassure the radio that it is still loved. It’s kind of timeless and weirdly 1980’s at the same time. It’s the kind of video that a major pop star wouldn’t make in 2014. I’ve probably watched it 15 times since last year’s discovery. It’s really that fun.

The handclap moment really does it for me. Most handclap anthems leave me cold or embarrassed. Not Radio Ga Ga. The rhythm drops, the acapella vocals burst, “All we hear is, radio ga ga, radio goo goo, radio ga ga,” and I’m on my feet, hands in the air. One of the best moments in this video involves the band doing exactly that, while wearing shredded bondage gear in front of a cult audience dressed in white. Like I said: perfect.

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I’m not sure what is going on here. Freddie stands in the background in a white robe. All is still.