Saturday, November 28, 2009

Album Review: Annie | Don't Stop

Originally published in Time Out Chicago: TOC | Annie




Pop \päp\n + Electro \ i-lek-troh \ adj + Indie \in-dê\adj

The title of Berlin-based Norwegian pop princess Annie’s new album, Don’t Stop, may have been a motivational mantra to help get her through all the headaches from the release’s many delays. With its smart twist on dance-pop, Annie’s 2003 debut LP, Anniemal (London’s 679 Records), garnered her international acclaim. Once Pitchfork voted her “Heartbeat” the No.1 single of 2004, Annie officially carved out a niche as a Kylie with more street cred.

But aside from a contribution to !K7 Records’ DJ-Kicks series in ’05, we haven’t heard much from the 31-year-old. During the recording of Don’t Stop, her album deal with Island Records went south. She then joined forces with Norway’s ultracool, left-field dance label Smalltown Supersound, reworked a good portion of the album and, with its release last week, finally put smiles on her adoring fans’ faces.

There’s good reason to smile, too. Picking up from the whimsical “have fun, chew gum” of her debut, this album has lost none of Annie’s pop sheen while incorporating more rock elements. That’s partly thanks to her collaborations with Franz Ferdinand guitarist Alex Kapranos, whose presence on “My Love Is Better” and “Bad Times” updates her sound for the current indie-dance climate.

Which isn’t to say Annie’s forgotten her dance roots. The guitars may feature more prominently now, but tracks like “Don’t Stop,” with its midtempo chug, arpeggiated Italo beat and electro hand claps, would fit in one of labelmate Lindstrøm’s DJ sets as well as on the radio. Annie’s continued work with producer Richard X and new collabos with Xenomania and Paul Epworth—who, between them, have worked with Bloc Party, Cher and, fittingly, Kylie Minogue—keep the dance beats rolling on most of the remainder of the album.

Breaking up the dance-floor numbers, tracks such as “Heaven & Hell” and “Marie Cherie” show Annie taking on a retro exotic feel reminiscent of the Bird and the Bee, shuffling and sugary pop throwbacks that are enjoying a renaissance courtesy of the Bee, Greg Kurstin. The record’s only misstep is the dismally sappy slow jam “When the Night,” a generic, ’80s-style love song complete with wimpy acoustic guitars and brushed drums.

The last six years may have set Annie back on the fickle pop-culture radar. But Don’t Stop makes clear that Annie, in fact, won’t.

— Joshua P. Ferguson

Album Review: 2562 | Unbalance

Originally published in Time Out Chicago: TOC | 2562




Dubstep \ dub-step \ n + tech•no \tek-nõ\ n

Terence McKenna, who did for psychedelic mushrooms what Timothy Leary did for acid, often spoke of drug-addled trips that transported him to an alternate plane inhabited by “machine elves” that communicate via shapes projected above their heads. If there were a soundtrack blasting through the realm of these mythical organic-meets-mechanic beings, 2562’s sophomore album, Unbalance, might be it.

Fast-rising dubstep producer Dave Huismans—who borrows the handle 2562 from the zip code of his hometown, the Hague, Netherlands—has a knack for breathing life into a genre bogged down by a soulless, overly robotic status quo. While he’s always avoided falling victim to cold productions, on Unbalance he ratchets up the warmth, allowing his tracks to exist more as songs than dance-floor tools.

“Lost” is a perfect example. Huismans circumvents the conventional dubstep drum pattern in favor of a more mellow, layered shuffle. To that he adds a modulating, if indecipherable, vocal snippet that serves as a brightening, colorful texture. On “Dinosaur,” his contribution to the emerging U.K. funky sound, he picks up the pace, playing with two-step and broken-beat rhythms peppered with squelchy keys à la Bugz in the Attic.

Huismans proves that his is a more evolved dubstep. It hasn’t abandoned its mechanical roots—after all, dubstep is a purely digital construct of computer programming—but it has gone a step beyond. Unbalance exists in a nether region that’s neither too robotic nor too human, much like McKenna’s elves. And Huismans did it without lifelong drug experimentation. Well, perhaps.

— Joshua P. Ferguson

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Technology Review: DJ Hero revisited

DJ Hero: Not much of a hero after all

by Joshua P. Ferguson

Originally published on the Time Out Chicago blog: TOC | DJ Hero

Activision’s DJ Hero has been out for just shy of a month now and the recent reports on the games performance on the market—or lack thereof—has sparked a quite a bit of online discussion in the past few days. Prominent research company NPD Group reported last week that DJ Hero’s sales have peaked at just 122,300. And that’s across XBox, Playstation 2 and 3, and Wii formats—far lower than projected. Why is this? There are more than few opinions out there.

Joshua Glazer, Editor for DJ culture magazine URB, feels the marketing effort did little to tap into actual DJ culture. “Sure, they paid some of the top earners, like Z-Trip and DJ Shadow, to be a part of the game,” writes Glazer on Huffington Post last week. “But Activision’s real media buy seemed to center around TV ads featuring Jay-Z and Eminem (two acts who have very little actual connection to DJ culture) in a cynical bid for mainstream appeal.” I can see his line of thinking here, but I disagree. Especially with his new album, Jay-Z is getting a lot of play in the clubs, and why shouldn’t gamers want to come home and recreate that experience themselves? Plus DJ culture is something that most in the mainstream don’t understand. In order to overcome this, a populist game such as DJ Hero needs to be placed in the most familiar context possible.

The real reason is that DJ Hero falls short in game play. Where Guitar Hero grew into a social phenomenon, sparking get-togethers and themed club nights with people dueling it out to their favorite Santana song, DJ Hero is pretty much a one-man-show. Its attempts to have multi-player functionality ultimately fail to create the same sort of excitement that its six-stringed counterpart does. Another reason—one that’s also being put forth on gaming blogs across the web—is that regardless of the expansive catalog of songs, the tunes are inevitably chopped up, cut into and out of while playing and this doesn’t garner the same sort of familiarity with the music that other music-based games do. This is something that actual DJs are probably used to, but for anyone else who’s getting their first introduction to turntablism, the chopped effect could be seen as a turn off.

Dani Deahl, a local DJ and one of the participants in our initial DJ Hero test drive put it best: “It’s too ‘DJ’ for the layman, and not ‘DJ’ enough for the DJs.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dialogue Inc | Radio Show #15 | Fall Edition

Dialogue Incorporated | Fall Newsletter

Dialogue Incorporated Radio #15

Compiled, mixed and hosted by Mister Joshua


Letter from the Editor: Everything is Everything

I had a dream about Dustin Hoffman last night. More and more these days, to describe my philosophy on my profession—and Dialogue Inc specifically—I use him to help communicate our mission. Well, not him so much as his character, Bernard Jaffe, in the movie I Heart Huckabees. There’s a great scene where Jaffe, an existential detective, uses a blanket to explain that everything is connected: While there are distinct points that can be singled out across the blanket, each is part of a greater whole that—for the sake of the argument—goes on infinitely.

A heady philosophy, sure, but it works wonders to help explain our reach. Dialogue Inc’s core disciplines have a fantastic interconnectedness. While the gap between radio shows has grown, our content hasn’t slowed one bit. We’ve been writing a lot. A lot. So we’ve got tons of great content to string into this fall edition of the radio show. (Note: hyperlink’s on artists lead to articles we’ve done on each of them.)

Beyond Dialogue Inc, we’re witnessing this “universal interconnectivity” in music. Recently, we had great, in depth conversations with BBC’s Mary Anne Hobbs and Gernot from Modeselektor about the potency of dubstep in and of itself, but also how it’s influencing techno and hip-hop. We used the first part of this show to help illustrate this.

We lifted Gemmy’s “Rainbow Road” from Hobbs’ latest compilation, Wild Angels. A showcase of the future potential of the dubstep sound, we’d like the whole of the U.S. to take note. Going out to dubstep nights here in the Midwest, we can sense it heading down the same dark, dreadfully homogenous path of drum ‘n’ bass and, well, that would just be unfortunate. To pigeonhole what’s proven to be a positively versatile genre into nothing more than chunky breaks and wonky basslines would just be a shame.

That said, we feature a few of the varied vibes producers are toying with currently: the bright feel of “Hygh Mngo” by Joy Orbison, the understated and ethereal “Router” from Pangaea (we first peeped this on Ramadanman’s recent contribution to the Dubstep Allstars series), the tastefully wonky “Oh Gosh” by Kalbata (out now on our good friend Nadav’s Botanika label), and even the futuro-hip-hop of Hudson Mohawke.

There’s no denying that dubstep—and U.K. bass culture in general—is making its mark on popular music. By way of example we’ve included a recent remix of Major Lazer’s “Pon Di Floor” (Modeselektor included the original on its Body Language mix for Get Physical). As even more prominent examples of electronic music’s infiltration into pop culture here stateside we looked to the latest from Outkast’s Big Boi, whose collabo with George Clinton and Too $hort sounds like it could have been produced by HudMo. Say what you will about Chris Brown, Lil Wayne or Swizz Beats, but one listen to Brown’s new single “I Can Transform Ya” and you can’t help but wonder where these dudes were drawing their influence from. And I’m not referring to Optimus Prime.

Beyond dubstep, examples of musical cross-pollination abound on our latest mix. Die hard hip-hop head Andrew Mayer, a.k.a. Mayer Hawethorne, shows us that his Motown soul sounds as good next to Jay-Z as it does next to Stevie Wonder or Smokey Robinson. Little Dragon’s post-modern mix of indie and electronics has us dealing with some Bladerunner style man vs. machine implications, let alone the fact that its intermingling of musical disciplines is seamless. The same goes for technoist Lusine, who does downtempo to a tee; Cousin Cole, who takes Kanye on an acid trip; and Matt & Kim, who bring De La Soul into the hipster world.

From here our mix plays out in traditional Dialogue fashion. Indie, dance, indie-dance, nudisco, house and techno swirl for a more upbeat second hour. Upping the temp, Fever Ray—who astounded us away with her live last month—gets an electo twist from Rex the Dog. Delorean’s “Seasun,” an amazing Balearic dance number that never fails to bring people to the booth in wonder when we play it out, came to us courtesy of our close musical associate Popstatic and we’re forever grateful. Germany’s foremost purveyors of tasteful house, Henrik Schwarz and Dixon, turn heads with their leftfield world-meets-classical-meets-techno goodness. Chicago rising star Kid Sister shows off her house cred with her latest single, lifted from her album which, at long last, is finally out this week. Last but not least, Burial transcends the usual confines of dubstep with his atmospheric treasure “Fostercare,” which bring things full circle. Everything is everything after all.

With that, let the conversation begin.

— Joshua P. Ferguson


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1st Hour

Fink “Sort of Revolution” (The Cinematic Orchestra remix) – Ninja Tune
Joy Orbison “Hyph Mngo” – Hot Flush
Gemmy “Rainbow Road” – Planet Mu
Pangaea “Router” – Hessle Audio
Kalbata “Oh Gosh” – Botanika Music
Major Lazer “Pon Di Floor” (Spinstyles remix) – CD-R
Hudson Mohawke “FUSE” – Warp
Michael Jackson “Maria (You Were the Only One)” (Emele Haynie remix) – Motown
Big Boi “For Yo Sorrows” feat George Clinton – LaFace
Chris Brown “I Can Transform Ya” feat Lil Wayne – Jive
Jay-Z “Empire State of Mind” – Roc-A-Fella
Mayer Hawthorne “Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out” (El Camino remix) – Stones Throw
Hot Toddy “I Need Love” feat Ron Basejam – Eskimo
Little Dragon “Feathers” – Peacefrog
Lusine “Gravity” – Ghostly International
Bibio “S”Vive” – Warp
Kanye West “Champion” (Cousin Cole Acid Dub) – CD-R
Matt & Kim “Daylight” Remix feat De La Soul – Green Label
Passion Pit “Sleepyhead” (The Knocks remix) – CD-R
Rocha “Hands of Love (Fingers of Sand) – International Feel
Noah & the Whale “Blue Skies” (Yacht remix) – Mercury
Club Silencio “Felix” – This is Not an Exit
Fever Ray “Triangle Walks” (Rex the Dog remix) – Rabid
Marina & the Diamonds “I am Not a Robot” (Starsmith’s 34 Carat remix) – CD-R
Lauren Flax “You’ve Changed” feat Sia – DJs Are Not Rockstars

2nd Hour

Delorean “Seasun” – Fool House
Nite Jewel “Want You Back” – Italians Do It Better
AFMB “Here & There” – Compost
Sheharzad “Yalla Yalla” (Henrik Schwarz remix) – Fine Art
The Machine “Fuse” (Dixon remix) – Innervisions
Voodeux “Just a Spoonful” - Mothership
Claude VonStroke “Vocal Chords” – Dirty Bird
Retro/grade “Moda” – Retrograde
Flithy Dukes “This Rhythm” (Fred Falke remix) – Kill’em All
Kid Sister “Right Hand Hi” – Downtown
Memory Tapes “Bicycle” – Kitsune
The XX “Heart Skipped a Beat” – Young Turks
Burial “Fostercare” - Hyperdub


Other posts you might enjoy since the last update:

Article: Kid Sister | Work Hard. Play Harder.

photo by Martha Williams

Forever Young

Her career’s gotten serious, but Kid Sister’s still all laughs.

By Joshua P. Ferguson

Originally published in Time Out Chicago magazine | 11.18.09

TOC | Kid Sister

“I haven’t had my Red Bull yet,” Melisa Young offers by way of apology. With her nights increasingly spent as her lovable rapping alter ego, Kid Sister, the energy drink has become an integral part of her mornings. But this is the day before Young hits the road for a U.S. tour in support of her eagerly anticipated (and long overdue) debut album, Ultraviolet, for Downtown Records, and she’s taking it easy.

We’re sitting in the Chicago native’s sunny Albany Park condo, a modestly sized place decorated in pink hues that seems lived in but not too lived in: The spare bedroom is still empty, and in Young’s own bedroom, we spot an open suitcase, its contents spilling out. We’re here to talk about the record, why it’s been delayed for so many months and how she feels about the result, but Young’s mind is elsewhere. Barefoot and still in her pj’s (tank top and sweats), Young floats around the house, loading the dishwasher and telling us how excited she is that people are getting back into dance music. “People like Lil Jon are doing techno now,” she says. “Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, my God, these kids are starting a revolution with their dance music, I hope I’m not too late to the party.’ ”

Dance music’s climb back onto the charts is old news to the 29-year-old. “DJ Enuff—Biggie Smalls’s old DJ—did an interview with me in ’97,” she says, taking a seat at her glass dining table. “He was like, ‘I know this sounds silly, but we look to you because we’re fathers and mothers now, we’re old.’ I think of him as a visionary, and he’s looking to me now.”

Which makes sense, given how Kid Sister’s album shifts seamlessly among house, electro, pop and dubstep. But she dismisses these genre tags out of hand. “I guess we do have all these little flavors, like a Neapolitan pack, but really it’s all just electronic hip-hop,” she says. Still, when the producers span from underground U.K. dubstepper Rusko to Brian Kennedy, the man behind Rihanna’s “Disturbia,” well, that’s quite a range. Yet Young makes it work. And that, she explains, is why it took so long for her album to come out. “We pushed the album back because there were songs that stuck out, that didn’t flow.”

Continue reading

Right Hand Hi

KID SISTER | MySpace Video

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Article: Little Dragon | More Digital Dreamscapes

Electric feel

Little Dragon loves synthesizers—and neuroscience.

By Joshua P. Ferguson

originally published in Time Out Chicago Magazine | 11.12.09

TOC | Little Dragon

We’re a strictly no-guitar band,” says Yukimi Nagano, the winsome lead singer of Sweden’s Little Dragon. “If we didn’t have our synthesizers, we wouldn’t be the band we are.” Listening to the group’s music, which rides the line between live band and electronic production, it’s difficult to discern where a computer leaves off and a person takes over.

The band’s fondness for synths is only part of what defines it. The members—Nagano and Erik Bodin, Fredrik Källgren Wallin and Håkan Wirenstrand—have been friends since high school in Gothenburg. “We’d always be in a rehearsing room jamming or with a computer making up song ideas,” says Nagano of the crew’s teenage years. “We’re like a little family.” After a summer stint touring Europe with TV on the Radio, the little family headlines Double Door’s free 15th anniversary party Saturday 14.

We caught up with Nagano by phone from her L.A. hotel, where the band had just landed for its tour in support of its new full-length, Machine Dreams, on indie Peacefrog Records. “We’ve grown a lot from playing live,” the 27-year-old says. “The songs really take shape when we perform.” Where the band’s self-titled first album seemed more like exercises in soul, folk, electronic and indie rock, Machine Dream’s analog-meets-digital sound brings all those influences together into a mature, cohesive whole.

The band’s fascination with man-meets-machine themes extends beyond the studio. We can’t help but notice the new album title’s reference to Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. “On a hobby level, I’m interested in neuroscience,” Nagano explains. “The human brain is often compared to a very complex computer so it makes the distinction kind of fuzzy. Maybe we’re the machines dreaming.”

Continue reading

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Article: Modeselektor | To the Max

Berlin Calling

After the fall of the Wall, Modeselektor found its footing in techno.

By Joshua P. Ferguson

Originally Published in Time Out Chicago Magazine | 11.06.09

TOC | Modeselektor

Children running amok, police officers standing idly by while huge parties are thrown in the streets, kids experiencing unprecedented freedom because their parents are preoccupied with life after the fall of the Berlin Wall: You expect to hear these tales while watching the History Channel. Not while interviewing techno producers.

Yet for Gernot Bronsert, 30, and Sebastian Szary, 34, such scenes are integral to the story of how they came to form Modeselektor. When we phoned Bronsert in his Berlin studio in advance of Modeselektor’s performance at the Congress Theater Friday 6, we thought we’d hear stories about being obsessed with records as a kid—and we did—but we also heard about growing up in East Berlin after the dissolution of the Iron Curtain.

“There was a kind of Wild West feeling,” Bronsert says. “It was a very confusing situation. For the children, though, everything was fine because all the teachers, parents, everybody, were very busy with themselves. For us, we had all the freedom we could want. We just had parties.”

After East Germany’s liberation, Szary and friends were the ones throwing the parties, and Bronsert was always in attendance. “After I went to my first techno party, it just took a few months and I was one of the DJs,” Bronsert says. It took another few years before Bronsert and Szary started working together.

In the meantime, Bronsert studied to be a “street worker”—a loss in translation that leads to a few laughs before we realize he’s talking about social work. To make ends meet, he also worked for renowned record store Hard Wax. “It was like being at techno university,” he recalls. “That was the thing that pushed me in this direction with no way back.” At the same time, Szary worked as a sound engineer for a studio and youth center. Bronsert joined him as part of his dissertation, which focused on constructive outlets for inner-city youth. “By day we produced music for little rappers, and by night we started creating Modeselektor productions,” he says.

The Modeselektor sound may have grown out of a techno mold, but along the way it broke it. Bronsert attributes that to the duo’s expansive tastes. “We grew up on Underground Resistance, Chicago house, acid,” he says. “We’ve always closely followed electronic music. Every two years you can be sure there’s a new genre.” A case in point, Modeselektor’s Body Language mix for Get Physical—the duo’s first mix-CD, released in September—spans house, old-school techno and dubstep. The track list sees Missy Elliott next to Detroit’s Osborne and classic Robert Hood beside Major Lazer. There’s even a cut from Animal Collective. “It’s like a sport, to cover music and buy records,” Bronsert says. “If politicians would stop all music by law, worldwide, I think I would do things with weapons that I would never otherwise do.”

Continue reading

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Technology Review: DJ Hero revisited

Hey, Mr. DJ

DJ Hero may not resemble deejaying, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun.

By Joshua P. Ferguson

Originally Published in Time Out Chicago Magazine | 10.29.09

TOC | DJ Hero

With a fridge full of Miller High Lifes and all the fixings for pork and shrimp tacos, I host a panel of DJs—steady-gigging locals Dani Deahl, Intel, Popstatic and Matt Roan—at my Ukrainian Village apartment one recent night. Our objective: to take the DJ version of Activision’s immensely popular Guitar Hero for a spin. As we pile onto my couch, the shit talking begins immediately. “You’re going down, pretty boy,” Deahl tells Roan.

“Surely they could have made it more like actual deejaying,” Popstatic says, shortly into our inaugural run. Since we never have to mix one record into another, DJ Hero’s not a whole lot like club play—just as Guitar Hero won’t turn you into an overnight virtuoso. But that doesn’t stop us from having a blast.

Like its video-game sibling, DJ Hero’s controller has color-coded buttons; both games have the same style of play. But this controller is shaped like a mini turntable with a rotating record platter and a crossfader that has us cutting back and forth between songs, scratching and hitting buttons on cue. “It has all the fun of Guitar Hero but with a little more street cred,” Intel says between bites of chips and guac, adding, “The Grandmaster Flash narration is hilarious, although I’m not sure if that’s intentional.”

At a time when slumping unit sales threaten the music industry, music-based gaming has become big business. In August, during the Beatles: Rock Band mania, The New York Times reported that Rock Band and Guitar Hero have earned more than $3 billion and that a song’s inclusion in either game can yield a ten-fold increase in iTunes sales. The paper also noted that bands such as Pearl Jam are releasing records for games at the same time they release them traditionally.

Continue Reading

DJ Hero ($119.99) is out now for Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Wii

Album Review: Dixon | Temporary Secretary

Originally Published in Time Out Chicago: TOC | Dixon




house \haus \ n + tech•no \tek-nõ\ n

Just when it seemed the entire electronic-music community had given way to the ceaseless onslaught of big-room electro, Berlin-based DJ Dixon swoops in to our rescue. On Temporary Secretary, the latest mix-CD for his deep house and techno label Innervisions, he perfectly captures his understated take on club music, both in track selection and mixing style.

Utilizing parts from each song, Dixon transcends the traditional DJ approach, programming on the fly to create an intricate tapestry of exclusive edits and remixes. From the emotive melancholy of Fever Ray’s “If I Had a Heart,” here with a decidedly heavier house thump, to an edit that combines recent singles from Jazzanova, Precious System and Daniel Paul, Dixon has crafted 70 minutes of deep bliss. It’s so deep that its subtlety may be lost on certain listeners, the only drawback for those more in tune with a heavy-handed club atmosphere.

— Joshua P. Ferguson

Album Review: Chromeo | DJ Kicks

Originally Published in Time Out Chicago: TOC | Chromeo




boogie\haus \ v + Ital•o \ i-tal-õ\ adj + dis•co \dis-ko \ n

Montreal’s foremost purveyor of talk box and synth-fueled electrofunk, Chromeo is the latest in a long line of respectable DJs and producers to try its hand at !K7’s venerable DJ-Kicks mix series. Now with 31 installments—and past contributions from Carl Craig to Hot Chip—DJ-Kicks leaves no stone unturned in the DJ world’s various genres, which presents Chromeo with some pretty big shoes to fill.

On the whole, the duo’s track selection complements its sound well. From the Talking Heads–style boogie of Pierre Perpall’s “J’Aime Danser Avec Toi” to the ’80s big beat of Donna Allen’s “Serious,” and even the haunting Italo of “Solar Antapex” by Paris’s Chateau Marmont, we get a clear snapshot of the Chromeo sound through the filter of its record collection. Unfortunately, just as its ironic take on ’80s dance music gets old after a few spins, so too does its DJ-Kicks.

— Joshua P. Ferguson