While I have continually been blown away by the full-fledged embrace of bleak punk by several artists over the last couple years, there also seems to be a gang of beats-oriented electronic and experimental artists that are also pushing boundaries in other directions. I’ve been listening to most of these cuts for the last few months; here are some of my absolute favorites, which will hopefully provide a few phenomenal jumping off points into experimental and electronic music. And for fun, I’ve had Michel’le in my head for quite some time, too (I love the telephone ringing as a counter-rhythm!).
Michel’le, “No More Lies” (Ruthless / Atlantic, 1989)
That synth bass…
Diva, Divinity in Thee (Circle Star Records, 2015)
Diva Dompe provides a stunning mix of laid back summer vibes and sneaky, psychedelic sleights of hand on her latest, Divinity in Thee. Diva also provided a fantastic interactive website, giving the listener a chance to engage in multidimensional, multimedia fun — or dance with the artist. Throughout the disc, Diva’s unmistakable delivery makes each track an easy earworm. “Doors to Yialmel” stands out in the middle of the album as a pulsing instrumental excursion that spurs watery meditation. By the end of the disc, “Cosmic Chandelier” layers those same meditative vibes into a spacey closing track. Diva’s voice closes the album on a soft vibe, contrasting the bright, danceable moments earlier in the disc. Alternating these spacey and oceanic atmospheres helps Diva keep the textures moving through each listen, promising a new experience each time around.
LebLaze, When Doves Fly (Geographic North, 2015)
LebLaze’s experimental samples and arrangements are straight-up sugar. When Doves Fly crosses acoustic and electronic textures on some cuts, or slices crusty soul into glitchy blasts on others. Either way, LebLaze feeds the listener pure syrup. You won’t put this tape down.
Erica Eso, 2019 (Ramp Local, 2015)
Erica Eso made their Chicago debut opening for ONO’s record release at Empty Bottle, and the double-synth / bass / drum quartet really let their freak out. The bass was relentless, reminding me of The Dandy Warhols’ late-Capitol catalog where they mixed weird new wave with their layered psychedelia. On top of those locked bass-drum grooves, the synths went wild, unleashing atonal oddities, dancefloor refrains, and vocoder vocals. At first listen, the tape showcases a polished pop side of the group (a good thing), without overshadowing some of the queasy-wonky synths.
HIDE, Possession (self?, 2014)
I’ve been obsessed with HIDE since I first learned about their cassingle, and saw one of their fantastic multidimensional sets. Played against blistering black leather, strobe light, and fog machine visuals, HIDE subdue their listener with minimal industrial synth-driven sounds. This duo captures the complete inverse of black leather strobe light noise-pop like A Place to Bury Strangers, but their noisy blasts are often more effective due to their subtle landscapes that found distant vocals.
Sly & The Family Stone, There’s A Riot Goin’ On (Epic, 1971)
I first heard There’s a Riot Goin’ On when I discovered La Crosse, Wisconsin’s unbelievable pop catalog in their public library. Previously hooked on the notion of “universal / cosmopolitan” sound promised by groups like CAN, I immediately found the grooves created on this album to be more locked-in and fascinating than even my favorite CAN. There is a good argument to be made that Sly & The Family Stone’s development on this album produces a universal language as radical as any krautrock group, which is all the better because this album manages to capture tumultuous urban affairs and personal debauchery within layers of tape haze.
The Temptations, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)” (Gordy, 1970)
Psychedelic Temptations have been on my mind for some time, and I finally found some of their 7″ records from this era over the summer (incidentally, on a trip back to La Crosse!). Anyway, the transition that The Temptations made from straight-up Motown to funky, even confrontational sounds is a sound to behold. Every single I’ve found from this era is aces, so far.
Warm Ghost, Claws Overheard (Geographic North, 2011)
Finally, another Geographic North song that has been stuck in my head forever. Warm Ghost’s extended 12″ blends ethereal moves with dancefloor sweat, but the closing track always catches my ear more than any other. Inserting an acoustic/bass hook behind the horn and string flourishes is perhaps the most effectively layered sequence of this set of songs. This cut feels like the empty street that inevitably greets you in the early morning, leaving the security and confinement of the bar (or club, I suppose) for the completely open set of possibilities.