Reviews

LAAK – Obsessive Compulsive Desires – Austere

Like Mary, there’s something about LAAK. Perhaps it is the way the production duo go quietly about their business releasing delightfully-constructed Detroit-inspired house and techno with the minimum of fuss. Or perhaps it is because their label Austere is gradually blossoming into a very beautiful thing. Either way, LAAK are becoming a presence on the record shelves of the deeper vibes cognoscenti.

As has been the case with all of the Austere releases thus far, there is an holistic approach to this their sixth and latest package. Each of the tracks jigsaw well together, the standout cut could as easily be the last as the first and there is a distinctive sonic weave that binds the work together. Given that LAAK are both co-owners and the mainstay of the label’s output, it should be expected if there is shared DNA among the imprint’s twelves. Yet even when rated Dublin producers Slowburn took on Austere 04 it was still a tight fit with the label’s blueprint.

LAAK, however, are very much in control here though. Opening track Unbalanced is by an irony far from that and is instead a skilfully crafted and measured joint. Spacey, vacillating, pleasingly rhythmic and perhaps their best work to date.

Talented New York producer DJ Spider is best known for his dark soundscapes and sonic assaults. Yet for his remix of a hitherto unreleased track, Intrusive Thoughts, he keeps his famed sonic warfare tendencies in check and presents a version that is bold, bombastic and brilliant.

At first glance Mental & Emotional could be mistaken for a routine techno-inspired workout albeit a well-produced one. It is much more though and once it shifts into gear bursts brightly and melodically into life. Proving the point that last is as good as first at Austere is closing track The Rituals. A slower groove by design and simply stunning, it is no wonder that LAAK’s and Austere’s growing list of acolytes reads like a who’s who of underground electronica.

A D Bourke – Prelude – Five Fold Records

Intergalactic jazz funk anyone? That’s the tasty fare on offer on the impressive debut release from Five Fold Records, the dance-oriented sub-label of the much-respected and long-running Brazilian specialist Far Out Recordings.

It is an entrance that bodes well. The Five Fold philosophy and aesthetic appear to connect very neatly indeed with the Far Out mothership, while the London-based imprint’s choice of inaugural release could not have been better, coming as it does from the hitherto little-known but clearly talented Italian producer A D Bourke.

Title-track Prelude takes the plaudits here, although to be honest any of the four tracks could have done so on this hugely fresh EP, especially for an old soul boy like me. Deep chords, disco sprinkles and a Level 42-style slap bass married with a house music aesthetic, what’s not to love?

Although the name may imply a leaning more towards the intergalactic rather than the jazz funk, Astral is actually another beautiful piece sculpted from the same raw material as Prelude. Here, however, the vibe is much more laidback and cosmic yet the end result is as glorious.

Equinox rides a similar flight too though with a more robust kick and a slightly more stuttering, mechanical and intense approach. The journey ends in melancholic style with something a little more earthly, the endearing A Night In Almeria. A lonely, off-kilter piano with only limited support from rising waves of synths is so emotional and introspective that it could almost steal the show right at the death. One of the most surprising and rewarding releases of the year. More please.

V/A – Crossover – Batti Batti Records

Light and shade is something Batti Batti Records does extremely well. And even though label owner Owen Jay insists that this the imprint’s fifth release has taken a ‘slightly different direction’ with the inclusion of some darker overtones, with his ear tuned as sharply as ever to quality control, Batti Batti followers will not be disappointed.

Although undoubtedly broodier in parts than previous releases, this is more than balanced by the defter musical tones of Jay and his regular studio partner Melchior Sultana, as well as that of the fab Finnish producer Deymare. The latter’s contribution here, Episode 2, is top draw; a hefty and most-satisfying chunk of deepness. Simple and effective. Jay and Sultana’s divine Moog Mood does what it says on the tin; atmospheric, chord-driven and leisurely.

Young Berlin-based Saverio Celestri may be a newcomer to the label but has pitched his effort perfectly for both the imprint generally and this EP in particular. Session 9 is quality and not dissimilar to the Jay/Sultana track in that mood, vibe and feeling are the order of the day. One to watch.

The enigmatic M.P. provides the release’s darkest contribution with Tension, an analogue-style jam that is still on point especially for those that love their beats of the rough, tough and raw variety and accompanied with a smattering of “nobody fucks with me, man” vocal snippets. Edgy, tense and yet an entirely appropriate addition to yet another outstanding Batti Batti release.

Anthony Nicholson – Pathways & Sidesteps – deepArtSounds


Commitment is in no short supply at burgeoning Swiss label deepArtSounds. Having emerged only last year but with saluted Spanish producers Ernie and Above Smoke already on the roster, the crew are back with acclaimed US veteran Anthony Nicholson.

Moreover, the label has also persuaded Nicholson to follow up his debut EP for the imprint with an album in the first half of next year. And with releases also scheduled from other underground starlets, it really is heady times for the Zurich-based collective.

Pathways & Sidesteps is a one-track two-versions affair. Peak time versus downtime. The original mix of Open Chakras pumps with a minor ‘p’, nothing hardcore here, but is still splendidly soulful and surprisingly smooth for a track with such abundant dance-floor appeal. Old-school jazzy chords and keys trip delicately across the track, almost Herbie Hancock-esque and are entirely fitting for an artist who has worked with the likes of Ron Trent and Brett Dancer.

On the reverse is the dub mix which, as dub mixes often are, is a slowed down, deeper and more expansive version of the original. It is, however, no afterthought or makeweight. The track more than holds its own as Nicholson reveals even more of his jazzier side and allows the track to ebb and flow quite naturally and, indeed, beautifully. So whether you’re one of those folks who like to get down or if you prefer things kind of mellow, as the man once said, look no further.

Jacksonville – The Summer Thief – Doppler


He’s mellowing in his old age is Jacksonville. The signs have always been there amongst his equally accomplished minimal, tech-house and more jacking offerings, tracks such as Volante and Valparaiso on Doppler 01 and 02 respectively, it is just that lately he seems to have settled with distinction into a deeper mindset.

Here’s the evidence, The Summer Thief, the latest EP on his own imprint Doppler. The title track is typical Jacksonville (aka Chris Lyth). Not in a predictable, I-know-what-is-coming-next kind of way, but rather in the sense that he is a producer whose output is consistently above-par and reliable, whose work is exceptionally well-crafted and who right now is at the top of his game. The Summer Thief is a lesson in how to woo a listener rather than make an awkward lunge for their attention. The kick though relentless, enticing and ultimately infectious is nevertheless cushioned and warm rather than being a sonic assault, whilst synth stabs shimmer and fade for added cosmic affect.

On Monochrome Session the Edinburgh-based producer takes matters down a notch, the pads even warmer, the bass even more subtle, more hypnotic and the keys dramatically more iridescent and glittering. Yet as the track builds a head of steam comes the money shot as it only then becomes apparent just how downright groovy it has become.

By his own admission Lyth is not one to court attention, but with a new live set currently being worked on and based on the evidence of The Summer Thief, he may soon be powerless to avoid it.

Jesus Gonsev – Northern Lake – Foliage Records


Both Jesus Gonsev and Foliage Records have been knocking around long enough now to know what it takes when it comes to a cracking release. So no wonder then that the combination of the underrated Spanish producer and the German label that counts Ron Trent, Robert Owens and Roland Clark amongst its alumni has resulted in an EP that is so bang-on.

Curtain-raising cut Northern Lake is menacing and ominous deep house at its finest, executed splendidly, a real tension-builder that is totally uncompromising and even a touch hostile. You probably wouldn’t want to meet it in a dark alley.

By contrast Survivor is way less aggressive. It is nevertheless a muscular take on the genre still and intentionally a little rougher around the edges than some of its kind though with sufficient funk for the floor.

Bringing the EP to a close is the fabulous Flash, by far the most melodic and catchy of the threesome. Gonsev, who also owns the excellent Troubled Kids Records, turns in an infectious little number that wraps up proceedings in style.

Brad Peterson – Visions Beyond – Contrast-Wax


It’s becoming a habit. Fledgling label Contrast-Wax cherry-picking some of the best underground talent for consistently must-have releases on their no-nonsense, 100 units, blink-and-they-are-gone, vinyl-only label.

For EP number four they’ve smartly secured the services of the vastly-experienced and supremely capable Brad Peterson, whose discography includes outings for the likes of Moods & Grooves, Minuendo and his own acclaimed imprint Inner Shift.

Following here in the footsteps of Ernie, Ethyl and Flori as well as Alex Danilov, Peterson more than does justice to both himself and the Contrast-Wax name. Because Visions Beyond is essential.

Opening track Memory Flash works a slow-moving groove to perfection ably assisted by a gorgeous and emotional synth-line. Unhurried, unfettered and mightily effective, the epitome of ‘deep house’ to the aficionados.

Particle Storm has an ethereal and uncluttered approach often found in Peterson’s work and in common with previous productions drifts pleasingly through that grey area between deep house and techno.

Bonus track Infrared has more urgency about it, a more insistent kick that contrasts well with the delicate melodies, something of a Peterson trademark these days, that pepper the track.

by Tim Gibney

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