Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Album Reviews | Todd Terje + Prins Thomas

Updates from Outerspace
Todd Terje and Prins Thomas Launch New Albums
by Joshua P. Ferguson

Affectionately referred to as the holy trinity of Norwegian space disco alongside fellow musical cosmonaut Lindstrøm, veteran producers Todd Terje and Prins Thomas are both embarking on new territory with albums releases this month. The former's It's Album Time, Terje's long overdue full-length debut, is freshly out as of yesterday on his own Olsen Records, while Thomas' third LP, fittingly titled III, is scheduled for release later this month on Full Pupp, the label he runs with Steve Kotey (which is also celebrating its 10th birthday this year).

Both artists share a common genesis point encompassing balearic, old school electro, psychedelia, dub, and, of course, disco, and yet each record displays just how much the two can take these common roots and weave them into strikingly different works that build on the sound they helped create and propel its diversity. 

Terje's It's Album Time is the culmination of the breezy, tiki-lounge disco that took summer dance floors by storm with "Inspector Norse," Terje's runaway 2012 hit and probably his biggest track to date. Across the record, he stays the course he set early on with singles like "Eurodans" and while establishing his label's sound with "Spiral" and the tropical boogie of "Strandbar" (also featured here), but the LP proves the true versatility of his 21st century exotica. 

"Preben Goes to Acapulco" is slow-mo synth odyssey that honors David Axelrod and Donald Byrd as much as it does Vangelis, while "Johnny and Mary," which enlists visionary Bryan Ferry, is a somber retelling of the Robert Palmer classic that fits in well alongside anything from the Italians Do It Better catalog. When he's feeling more playful, Terje further mixes up the dance floor pulse with the lounge oddity "Svensk Sas" and the bossa breakbeats of "Alfonso Muskedunder."

Still, across any of the space disco purveyor's finest moments—from "Eurodans" to "Ragysh" to "Inspector Norse"—it's his upbeat moments that show the most charm. Lead single "Delorean Dynamite" turns to a dominant Italo bassline that blasts a straight shot through the song's core while synths, boogie guitar, and electronic flute dance around it. And while late album cut "Oh Joy" bears the sound that most typifies the Nordic cosmic disco motif, "Swing Star (Part 2)" is the album's shining star, a mid tempo burner glazed with icy chimes, swirling digital coos, and a bossa house beat.

In contrast to Terje's masterfully bright, beachside beats, Prins Thomas' latest displays what he's recently described as having lots of space but not a lot of space disco. And even though telltale disco effects surface throughout, the mellow proceedings on III couldn't be summed up more succinctly.

"Arabisk Natt (dub)" recalls his chill-out work with Lindstrøm, mixing a haunting middle eastern melody with an off-kilter chug to establish an otherworldly vibe early on. Later, on "Hans Majestet" twinkling chimes and the taught plucking guitar strings texture stacks of melodic synth lines for a soothing and atmospheric turn.

That's pretty much the theme of III though. Tracks like "Kameleon" and the lovely "Trans" ease into themselves with extended ambient intros before evolving with feelings that are variously psychedelic and subdued even at their most energetic. The album's centerpiece , "Luftspeiling," is a 12-minute beatless lullaby that fits the bill for how Thomas and his cosmic compatriots would likely soundtrack drifting through space—and not in a harrowing Gravity sort of way, but rather as if Spike Jonze were the one steering the ship.

There's little question that the rise of Terje and Thomas over the course of the last decade has established a distinct map for the cosmic disco sound. But where others spend their studio time trying to travel within this universe, these two spend their time expanding it—and uncovering entirely new sonic territory along the way.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Shuffle | Friendly Fires x The Asphodells

Shuffle | Friendly Fires x The Asphodells

Ok. Talk about a match tailor-made for Dialogue Incorporated. We've long been fans of freewheeling indie rockers Friendly Fires; even more so after we saw them live for the first time—complete with Carnaval dancers—on a sun-soaked field in the north of England during Big Chill 2009. Our fondness for the band was further reinforced with its expertly-curated contribution to the BuggedOUT! series, which threw together the Egyptian Lover, Ryan Crosson, George Kranz, and Boo Williams.

Knowing all this, it's not a stretch to hear that the outfit has recently teamed with British DJ heavyweight Andrew Weatherall and his studio partner in the Asphodells, Timothy J. Fairplay, for a few pints and then a trip to the studio to see what might happen. The output from these recent sessions has become the debut release for Friendly Fires' newly launched Telophase label. "Before Your Eyes" and "Velo" each flirt with the 10-minute mark, grooving with the easy-going hypnotism you'd expect from a Weatherall work, but with added guitar play, expert rhythms, and Ed Macfarlane's telltale harmonic croons. 

In short, it's pretty much exactly what you'd hope for from putting these two groups in a small room together. Both tracks are available for streaming below and are available now on 12" single and digital download.

Joshua P. Ferguson

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Allure | Remembering Frankie Knuckles

The Allure | Remembering Frankie Knuckles

It's not fair that it takes someone's passing to fully realize how much they meant or to realize just how many people they touched on such a palpable and personal level. Frankie Knuckles represents precisely this someone, a man who's life is synonymous with so many things my peers and I hold dear. He's the Warehouse, he's house music, he was and always will be the Godfather. He was also someone I had the esteemed honor of crossing paths with on a professional level more than once.

Scoring an interview opportunity with the man credited with being the genesis point for house music was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for me. Interviewing him ahead of the release of his Motivation Too mix for Nervous Records back in 2009, I will forever remember being so nervous on the call that he could sense it. I'm sure he got that a lot. The guy was a living legend in my world and the world of my fellow dance-music-obsessed comrades. But the nervousness quickly faded and so did his tentativeness. By the end of the call, we were laughing as he warmly recalled some of the finer points of his illustrious career and the impact he had on Chicago specifically. (Read excerpts from our chat here: Dialogue Inc | Frankie Knuckles)

I didn't know Frankie personally, so don't feel some grand remembrance is the best way for me to honor his life. Instead, I've spent the day scouring the web for sets of his—past and present—and have selected a few (below) that represent Frankie as I want to remember him, and for you to listen to and dance to his beat. From what I've experienced of him, I think he'd be cool with that.

You'll be missed Frankie, but all of us in this dimension can only imagine the eternal dance party you're a part of now.

Joshua P. Ferguson

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Allure | When You See The Seal You Know It's Real

The Allure | Daft Punk 
Random Access Memories Merchandise

Although it's come about completely by happenstance, our week of Robot-themed posts continues today and everyone at Dialogue Inc. is geeked about it—some of us quite literally. In anticipation of its Chicago live date tonight, Kraftwerk has been on perma-stream around the office, earlier this week we shed some light on Japanese robot band Z-Machines, and now France's cheekiest robots have taken twitter and tumblr streams by storm with '80s-inspired ads for new merchandise. 

Yes, Daft Punk is continuing the best album ad campaign in a decade with a series of faux print ads straight from the heyday of shopping malls and CDs trapped in oversize plastic security packaging. With headlines ranging from "Like the Legend of the Phoenix" to "She's Up All Night" to brilliant copy featuring lines like "You never cut corners and only like the best of everything—but don't think your last boyfriend really counts," the whole lot of ads is squarely in so-bad-its-good territory—but like really, really good.

Joshua P. Ferguson

Glimpse the whole collection below:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Allure | Music for Robots

The Allure | Z-Machines "Music for Robots"

by Joshua P. Ferguson

With a rare Chicago appearance from Kraftwerk quickly approaching, a robot-themed blog post seemed as good a way to set the mood as any. Enter Z-Machines, a merry band of robots including a guitarist with 78 fingers, a drummer with 22 arms, and a keyboardist that nails his cues thanks to the pinpoint accuracy of the green lasers it shoots out to hit the keys. 

The trio, which was created by a group of engineers at the University of Tokyo in Japan, has played a few inaugural gigs in its native land—complete with space-age hype girls—and is now poised to release a five-track EP for the groundbreaking Warp label as part of a collaboration with Squarepusher, the label's natural choice for a pairing such as this. Just as fittingly, the new EP explores the question, can robots play music that is emotionally engaging? 

"Using robots has this eerie narrative associated with it—the twilight area between human and machine," Squarepusher's Tom Jenkinson told CNN recently. "It's just a box of tricks, but it still haunts us because we see it as an impression of ourselves." 

He continues this thought on Warp's press page for the project: "For me there has always been something fascinating about the encounter of the unfamiliar with the familiar," Jenkinson says. "I have long been an advocate of taking fresh approaches to existing instrumentation as much as I am an advocate of trying to develop new instruments, and being able to rethink the way in which, for example, an electric guitar can be used is very exciting."

We're going to leave the final verdict on the results up to you. It's a timely piece of electronic jazz-funk fusion, inline with the Squarepusher aesthetic but carried out in a way we've never seen or heard before. Check out this video of the robotic trio in action to get a better sense of just what is being undertaken. It's pretty impressive no matter what your opinion of the music.

Squarepusher x Z-Machines "Sad Robot Goes Funny"

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Allure | Mad Men Season 7

The Allure | Mad Men

Season 7 Cast Photos

Tracking down the photos for this post, I had myself all prepared to get sentimental and talk about how this is Dialogue Inc's final Mad Men coverage. Turns out from reading a few interviews with show creator Matthew Weiner, including a great in-depth piece for Vulture, that AMC is pulling a Breaking Bad with the final season of Mad Men and splitting it up into two seven-episode sets. And it wouldn't be a show about advertising if the second season went without the obligatory send-up of cast photos and teaser videos that we've made it a habit to share.

That, after all, is why we're here now. This weekend, AMC released a series of jet-set cast photos to reacquaint us with the Mad Men world of the late '60s. Depending on the time jump since we left a spiraling Don put on a forced leave of absence from SC&P, and an agency about to open up shop in Sunny So Cal, it's either 1969 or 1970. Aside from a timeless Don, it shows. Fringe and facial hair are the name of the game for the gentlemen, while the women fair a touch more gracefully—if no less psychedelic. 

Part of Mad Men's charm has always been the style of the time period it takes place in. As that gives way to polyester and paisley, it's maybe the one thing about the show I won't be sad to say goodbye to. Weiner gives a few hints as to the story lines of the characters that we will see off into the final closing credits but at least now we have until 2015 to say our final goodbyes. We'll see you back here then with one last set of cast photos.

Mad Men Season 7 premieres on Sunday April 13 on AMC.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Interview Exclusive | Valentin Stip

Interview Exclusive | Valentin Stip

by Joshua P. Ferguson

Even at the young age of 22, Valentin Stip has spent his entire life steeped in music. The Parisian born musician dedicated his youth to studying the piano and classical music, before a relocation to New York left him without his instrument of choice. Turning his attention to Ableton, thanks in part to a then fledgling Nicolas Jaar a couple years his senior in school, Valentin Stip the producer was born. 

Fast forward a few years and Valentin has grown into unique voice in electronic music. His debut LP, Sigh, hit the shelves last month via Jaar’s Other People imprint, and the producer is now poised for his first DJ tour which touches down at Chicago’s Smart Bar Thursday March 13. Ahead of the show, Valentin and Dialogue Inc’s Joshua P. Ferguson spoke over Skype from his New York studio to discuss the sprawling, experimental, and lovely Sigh, what it’s been like learning to DJ, and his high school days with Nicolas Jaar. 

You often talk about how your early days making electronic music were a substitute for not having a piano around. How natural was that transition for you? 
It was quite natural. At the point when I started playing around with Ableton I had stopped practicing music of any kind for the past three months and I was boiling over the top. I really got into it right away—but in a very radical way. Instead of directly trying to make things that were related to classical music, I was making hard electro really, and trying to learn how to make beats. Later, the meeting point between the two became more blended, leading up to the album where I’ve just started using the piano again. 

Besides the piano, do you find that you are using your classical knowledge when you compose music? 
My aim with music is what it can make you feel. That is definitely linked to what I’ve liked and how I’ve experienced classical music. The more I do, the more I also try to understand the technological aspect of it to combine that classical background with something more, not futuristic but which has more possibilities and can go further in some way. 

What were some of your first introductions to electronic music? Were you a fan prior to beginning production or was it more just the reality of your situation? 
I had listened to a little bit before, but it was hard dance stuff from Belgium and the Netherlands. Maybe it had some intrinsic relationship, but it was very far removed from when I started. Slowly I became more interested in the sounds themselves. If there was one name I could give, it would be Minilogue. When I first discovered their music and saw them live in Montreal in 2010, it really blew me away and gave me a new vision of what was possible with electronic music and what I wanted to try and do with it. 

In terms of your new record, did you have any thing specifically you were hoping to accomplish with it? 
There was the reunification of what I’d learned with electronic music and my piano playing, which I reinserted in my compositions just for the album. I was also trying, through that reunion, trying some subjective reflection into all the memories that the piano carried with it for me since I’ve been playing it since I was seven years old. 

Listening back to your early EPs, I also sense a greater confidence in your production. Do you feel that way too? 
I really got comfortable with abstract arrangement, which allowed me to build songs that were unconventional to listeners’ expectations and the album is mostly this new kind of cinematic arrangement that I was trying to do. There is still some sampling, but it’s more textural than melodic because the piano is taking such an important place. 

You mention trying to articulate memories or experiences from the past. Are you please with how that’s come out? 
Most of the time I was more surprised than pleased, but in the end I was always pleased because some of the piano takes on the songs were single-take improve where I would close my eyes and just let my relationship with the piano speak, rather than try and express something directly. Those moments are representative of the satisfaction I got. Musically, I was able to get to parts of myself that maybe I wouldn’t even admit to. It was quite introspective that way. 

Are there any particularly vivid moments that became songs that you can share? 
I don’t think there’s anything concrete. It was definitely very vivid, but more in terms of feeling than images. Sometimes, I dug so deep I was at a lack for images or words for what I was finding. 

With the record coming out on Nicolas Jaar’s Other People label, tell us about your background together. 
I’ve known him for almost 10 years now. We went to high school together. He was in the year above me, but we had some friends in common because he was already making electronic music and since I was playing the piano since I was very young we shared something through this, but it was always very benign, or very subtle. At least for my part, I didn’t realize how much we were sharing until I started making electronic music. I was just sending it over to him to get his opinion because I knew he’d been doing this for a while and then he asked to release one of my tracks. It all started from there. 

In this new phase of your friendship, has Nicolas played any sort of mentor role in terms of your production style? 
I can’t deny he’s a big influence on the way I work and he’s taught me a lot over the years, but I still like to think that I’ve developed my own style. It’s true, we do share a lot in terms of what we do. 

You guys have a shared love of the experimental side of dance music. 
Yes, it expresses itself sonically through the resemblance, the aesthetic properties. 

So you’ve picked up deejaying to tour for the record as well. What’s it been like learning that side of the culture? 
It’s totally opening my mind to stuff—how to mix, all the different techniques of mixing, and how it influences the way I make music, and how each sound relates to each other. Deejaying has opened up this tunnel that I’m digging into. It’s making me want to use more machines because I’m getting used to the tactile aspect of touching records and influencing music that way. I'm starting to use synths and build pedals that way. 

What have your sets been like? 
There’s definitely a lot of influence from cinematic arrangements. It’s less drops than it is closing your eyes and letting yourself go into it. It’s definitely different than the record though, I try to adapt a lot to a dance floor situation. 

You’re 22 now. How else do you spend your time? 
Well, I read a lot and I write sometimes. I studied philosophy in college and have developed a lot of crazy ideas that I may one day try to, uh, “concrete-ize.” But mostly I spend my days going from the computer making music to the piano, maybe playing some music, then maybe playing some records. Music plays a pretty integral part right now.

STREAM | Valentin Stip Sigh