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Teknofonic Essentials Vol. 1: Threads Common and Uncommon”

* Teknofonic is the name of the New York record label which has administered this “best-of” compilation. The label just hatched in 2015, and indeed its Essentials Vol. 1 title does feel absurdly ambitious, sort of like Sub Pop’s plans for “world domination,” but in truth many of these tracks do shine as legitimate house and techno dog stars. Here’s a run down of all the mad computerized concoctions in the order they appear on the album.

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Track list

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1 Sonic Fear – “I’ll Be Your World”

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Something struck me fairly early on about this Teknofonic Essentials Vol. 1 in light of their press release, and that is that they claim “genre bending,” yet they specify an allotted “genre” right smack in the name of their label. Sure enough, a listen to the very first track unveils a definite stylistic identity crisis — “I’ll Be Your World” is essentially a lugubrious soul song “enhanced” with artificial “techno” trappings. There’s a melodic vocal line, and then, much later, a beat comes in. This was not the strategy of say The Knife, and it is in fact a very bold thing to try to attempt, requiring a rip-tight melody, maybe some slang, and unquestionable cultural leverage. For this reason, the personal nature of Sonic Fear’s lyrical diction works against itself — the song is granted weight by the initial vocal monologue, so that what is offered as an electronic prosthesis of sorts actually shifts the listener’s balance, and destroys the delicacy of the melody. So in a Vertigo-inducing bit of irony, Sonic Fear actually confirms its label’s paradox by doing the dance thing: they are genre-bending, and they steer things obligatorily back to “techno.” Unfortunately, this very obedience exactly surmises the song’s drawback, but the singing here is nice, and the piano line would be especially fresh were it maybe shifted to a major chord.

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2 Daniel Monroe – “Novacaine”

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“Novacaine” is a gem of a project, feeling most adroit for the nondescript way it transitions between various hypnotizing attributes. Floating, ephemeral guitar opens the tune, sounding like something that could be in a Battles song, and then the hands of a pro take over — “Novacaine” stops and starts in fine house form with authoritative sporadics, jolting and jilting the listener as if an airport crowd or a clustered TV guide. Then we get equal parts melodic and textural — a syncopated, infectious riff strobing around scattered and split snare baths which all feel part of a larger whole, never simply ploys.

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3 Upper Regions – “Below the Surface”

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Another terrific installment is here, and to even more of an extent than with the Monroe, it left me wanting more: because it’s not a single-type song, it’s a mastery of tectonic tools (tectonic dealing with the physical attributes of interlocking mechanisms). It’s an overall advancement of electronica, insofar as it emits tension and anxiety along with every breath of danceability. The six and a half minutes go by like a breeze, it ends up being the perfect amount of time for a song, and while keeping a similar aesthetic — busy, nervous yet oddly languid trance music — it also evades stasis by morphing systematically but roundly.

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4 Jon Lambousis – “Confusion”

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For so long, electronic music and the guitar have been avoiding each other like water and oil, but here in “Confusion” we find their unabashed matrimony and it carries us to dizzying but stylish heights. This is blues music for the year 2016 of frenzied depth, even featuring wah-wah pedal in one segment, and the stylistic accompaniment is undeniable, post-punk hat hits lambasting the chugging rhythm. My only complaint is of that trite use of sped-up, spliced snare hits leading into a chorus, but Lambousis does employ at least some unorthodoxy of phrasing here, so it’s not an EXACT ripoff.

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5 3logit – “Limits”

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And no sooner do I point out that sped-up snare pre-chorus trick in one song, than there it is right at the start of another.. but breathe easy, because “Limits” is a memorable sonic construction of the journey TO one’s limits. So if the artist has to employ a little cliche on the way, to get there, well, it’s only natural to go back to what one knows and relies on within the throes and dizzying signals of modern life. “Limits” plays as a bona fide advancement of music as we know it by stretching across different artistic camps, and in some moments here we do begin to see Teknofonic justifying its self-administered “genre bending” claim — the short, earnest and overwhelmed vocal blips summon thoughts of Linkin’ Park (3logit even sounds a bit like Chester Bennington), but then things take a more disco type turn early and often, rendering an overall feel that’s frantic, but also oddly celebratory. It sounds very much like the music of a frustrated society, sodden with Donald Trump and buffoon imagery, yet still forced to summon sophistication and performance on a dime, in everyday life.

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6 This Human Condition – “Psychotropic”

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Wow, not since the last time I listened to Brand Nubian’s One for All have I heard this much electric guitar tied right in with “beats.” What makes it even more perplexing in this case is that “Psychotropic” booms along like an industrial tomcat — heavy and overwhelming, but still somehow lithe, and capable of changing moods at any time. The infectious, repeating vocal chorus at the end gives the overall song a tinge of pop, but again — this plays into the m.o. of the “genre bending,” giving an idea of how mastery of various strategies, and a blending of this, is what true originality is. Another gripping tune on this comp.

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7 Scott Cameron – “Stars Above”

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Like certain trance harbingers who came before him such as The Field and Fennesz, Scott Cameron tends to establish a groove very early on, and maintain it having initiated the hypnotizing ambience for bulky allotments of time. “Stars Above” does evolve and remain listenable though, culminating in a trippy high-hat bath, dusting the mood along the way with intermittent, celestial vocal samples.

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8 Acid Daze – “Trigger”

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Fitting with what seems like all of these songs of high volume of hits and intensity of focus, this one is behooved by a similar lack of melodrama or mimicry, and comes off as a very original and prizeworthy piece of art. Each of the names involved here is functionally relevant, too, the song’s trippy malleability representing the “Acid” aspects, the tense feeling of unease a ceremonious usher of the title “Trigger.” The primary melody is provided by what sounds like chopped and looped violin strings, the same instrument used in Soul Coughing’s weird and inimitable “Disseminated,” and yes, as with all great trance music, the melody is largely unimportant, “disseminated” as it were by the barrage of kick/hat dictation.

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9 J Tizzle – “Body Talk”

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A couple of things are hindering this song: one, that the synth intro is so texturally angular, its body strikes as so shrill and outside of the song’s central sound scape, that almost no hope is held for the song managing any hypnotic traits; and two, it could use a new mix job, the bass sounding somewhat garish and cheap, and detached from the other channels. One positive it does muster is quirkiness, the different synthetic melodies providing personality, and avoiding excessive drama or intensity.

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10 Cypha da Moonchild – “Drip Drop”

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A lot can be said in favor of this light, breathy jaunt of the ambient variety — there’s a precocious shyness about the main melody, which straddles the minor scale and shifts about in whole-step intervals hinting back at the major, before playfully returning to its minor default. Plus, there’s these string shrieks that sound like the things at the end of Michael Jackson’s “Speed Demon,” and actually, even though it’s generally a mellow song, it’s also an ode to the infallibility of well placed and textured drum horsepower.

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11 Time No More – “Biodiversity”

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With commendable instrumentation, including one channel which sounds like some automated whispering sort of like something out of a Dire Straits song, “Biodiversity” does unfortunately fall into a couple of traps, including repetition, and a general lack of a memorable statement. For now, it plays as more of a quantifiable conjoining of separate sounds than it does an actual song, but at least the instrumental variety provides a certain textural levity.

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12 Elastic Plastic Generation – “Elastic Plastic Generation”

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Again, venturing into the bold territory of a lyric-heavy techno song is Elastic Plastic Generation here with a namesake track, and sure enough, the words seem pretty pointless — in fact, they seem to both bemoan and celebrate the fact that they’re among, or privy to, something called an “Elastic Plastic Generation,” and so the listener doesn’t know whether to cotton on, or to hold the subject matter at a sentimental distance. They seem to be having a decent amount of fun with this dance/rap tune, and again, the lyrics are definitely obtuse enough not to be cliched, but the primary problem remains the lack of sentimental nucleus.

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13 Hypnotriq feat. Infinite Clown – “Taken”

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This is one of my favorite songs I’ve heard in a long time — it carries all the finest qualities of both pop and house, tending to a continuous vocal narrative swathed in obfuscating effects, and best of all toting a clumsy and unmistakeable tension for the whole ride, refusing to congeal into any cliched attempt toward the anthemic. Also, the production is damn near uncanny, as there seems to be some preternatural similarity in timbre between the person’s singing voice and the synth baths which cloak the chorus, which simultaneously introduces a very sophisticated chord change. I must say holistically, I’m impressed. Very good music for sitting on the couch with a loved one, watching TV with the sound off.

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14 Ermias – “Back to the Bass”

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There’s a couple of unfortunate shortcomings to this song, one of which is the failure of the sounds to actually mesh together, and create a musical vortex. Its pervasive synthesizer riff is owned by a grainy, somewhat schmaltzy purveyor of synthetic rad-itude, and when the bass comes in the impression it gives is basically just more arbitrary noise, an attempt at some anachronistic brand of “funk.” Quality vs. quantity is a very prominent dichotomy in music criticism, somewhat like the adage that “less is more,” and the type of fake enthusiasm found in this song could well be supplanted by a subtler, but more anxious and inspired, sonic strategy early and often.

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15 Boom – “Pure”

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Generally musical sounds that resemble snarls of a rottweiler don’t go over too well toward soothing the listener, and this schizophrenic purported ode to “purity” proves no exception to this rule. By and large, it makes copious use of standard techno strategies — the up-beat high hat hits, the nervous and bubbly synth patterns — and “Pure” is pretty much the work of an artist of a little too much “purity” of confidence, and maybe some artistic desecration in the form of some unorthodoxies, be they eastern European, classical or even just structural, might liven up the party a bit, or at least set the song apart from the median in some way.

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16 Mints – “LFO”

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“LFO” is in a sense a music theorist’s track, stuttering forth as it does with disorienting muted one-beats in three-beat time, as if being some statement of immediately thwarted efforts, or an overall futility, in everyday life. It’s a very physical track, designed for people who directly relate music to their tactile surroundings, and their ability to correctly react to things immediately in the spatial realm, to say nothing of more distanced, philosophical matters. Aside, it’s very influenced by Chris Clark, but suffers perhaps a bit from monochromatic stature in the vein of this, being generally the same for the whole five minutes, utilizing things like oceanic ambiences in the middle of the song that definitely feel a little bit recycled.

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17 Derrick Anthony – “Obama Goes to Cuba”

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This track could have perhaps as well been called “Obama Goes to Africa,” as the percussion overload very much summons up thoughts of safaris, or the sort of manufactured attraction to such things you might find in advertisements. After this introductory part dissipates, the song breaks into a rather generic little party-session, and then come more annoying noises, giving the track not only a schizophrenic feel but also an offensive lack of melodic aspects. As for word on whether or not this ubiquitous brand of everyman’s house in any way represents anything indigenous to Cuba, well, Anthony himself doesn’t seem to be taking TOO vested of an interest in the matter, living as he does in Las Vegas and documenting no visits to said nation, so the artistic intention remains sadly a bit unclear, and a bit forgettable.

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18 Perry Engineering – “House Music in London”

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One thing “House Music in London” is is… long. Another thing it is is… repetitive. In other words, it makes no bones about being, well, house music, and you could never accuse it of deliberately ATTEMPTING to wow, or crowd-please. In fact, it seems designed for those beard scratchers who may have loitered about the raves of the 1990’s concerned with who was making music so embarrassingly “house,” that is, incapable of doing anything else, that it just had to be cool. But I dunno, that vocal sample, repeated every four bars, is certainly infectious, and in general I feel I’d have a much different opinion of this number given a little Molly in my system.

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19 S.G.B. – “4”

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There’s a lot of good going on in this song, like the adaptive shifts in mood even early on compliments of these oceanic “whooshing” effects. But these shifts do happen pretty quickly, and my suspicions that the song might be too long were confirmed when halfway through the beat breaks down and gives way to this cheesy piano solo. I mean if you’re going to put a piano solo in the middle of a techno song, it better be one charming melody line, like the Charlie Brown theme song, or something — it absolutely cannot kill the energy and the tempo, or the whole thing dissolves into egotistical melodrama, and unfortunately that’s what this track does, in the wake of all its initial potential.

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20 Addliss – “The End”

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I liked the beat right away on this cut, taking me back to my days of Hercules and Love Affair obsession — that of smooth, but also choppy and very rhythmic percussion line. In a way it is poorly cast as the closeur of this album, because though its appeal is aplenty, it’s not necessarily a dramatic, or denouement-like appeal, more just sidling casually toward a self-sufficient conclusion. The melodic, and the rhythmic, seem to trade the baton back and forth for overall definitiveness, and even when the song’s melody emerges as more and more prominent, it never finally oozes sentimentality, but remains subtle and shifting, giving the track a tasteful quality.

 

28 thoughts on “Teknofonic Essentials Vol. 1: Threads Common and Uncommon”

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