Tijuana-based Benfika’s return on the Infinite Machine label with 19-minute EP “Ruinas” takes things in an unexpectedly calm direction, for the most part. For a label I’ve begun to associate with darker, heavier high-quality electronica, this is a breath of much calmer air. It’s described as being more spiritual- I might just describe it as being more settled.
Opening track “Exodexo” sets things up with gentle balearic pads and mood, and just a few shades of sharper electronic touches grumbling away underneath. “Pentimento” is a bright, synth-driven, oddly-signatured bit of musical virtuosity that, thanks in particular to its vocal sounds running alongside the melody pattern, dare I say it sounds a little MIke Oldfield-ish at times- but again, with enough occasional gutpunching subbass and dynamic effects to prevent electronica fans from feeling mis-sold.
“Mundo Schizo” is more upbeat and perky, taking the slightly synthwave melodies and giving them a firmer rhythm, but it’s shortlived- and “Rios de Azoth” is a curious under-two-minute melodic sketch of treated keyboard and effects that hint at a more experimental side.
Final piece “Ollin” is the longest and most ambitious, and feels like it’s melting together some of the best qualities of electronica with a smattering of soundtrack ambience and some synth interpretations of sounds that feel stereotypically South American jungle-ish, but not in a bad way. The way the melodic elements cascade apart at the end is a very pretty way to end too.
It isn’t what I expected, but to be honest, it’s far more interesting than that.
Immediately from the intro to opening track “Harmless” it’s clear that this will be an electro-techno EP with purpose and attitude. Steady drum machine, pulsing but hard-edged Vangelis-ish basslines arrive first- but there’s a twist, when the guitar and vocals arrive and it all takes a slight turn for the indie. The slightly Dave Gahan-ish vocals (but early, more clean-sounding Dave Gahan) are introspective and just a little nervous-sounding.
“Harmless” is something of a crossover track, to the extent that I’m surprised they haven’t thrown in a radio edit just in case, but the rest of the EP is more straightforward and purist instrumental electro-techno. Both “Recurrent” and “Dusty Knights” border on progressive house, with understated beats letting the pulsing basslines do all the work. A squelchier feel to the melody and some ‘ah-oh-ah-ah’ vocal notes in the latter make it the more interesting of the two.
“Recurrent” also gets an Alexander Robotnick remix, which keeps fairly close to the original in terms of tone, with a more compact structure, clappier house rhythm, and most importantly the addition of an acid 303 line which is a well-trodden but reliable route to electronic sonic happiness.
It’s my understanding that Cantor is Italian (though this might not be correct), in which case I can’t help but make a comparison between “Harmless” and fellow Italians Planet Funk who, after their initial pop records, but out consistently good indie-techno-pop releases that aren’t a world away from this. If you liked them, or you appreciate the work of New Order but wish they’d done slightly harder techno, then this is something you’ll appreciate.
Loophole is a four-track EP that sees Berlin-based pianist Roman Rofalski supposedly channel his love for 90’s underground techno into a piano work- though let’s say from the start that the results are not techno, either piano-techno or otherwise. It’s a fusion that’s been melded before- it draws a lot of comparison to some of Christian Prommer’s works- but while Prommer and other artists have composed fairly purist techno-inspired but traditional pieces, Rofalski instead has adopted a more editing-heavy and processing-heavy approach.
On “Alpha”, the chopping up of the improvised acoustic piano sounds has an abruptness and punchiness that gives it a lot of energy, and it really feels like it has been composed after it was performed. “Sea”, by contrast, is initially a more ambient work, setting sparse individual high notes over a drone and effects bed derived but long detached from the low note sounds, before a gradual and decidedly soundtrack-like tension build-up in the second half, where we’re joined rather unexpectedly by cut-up drum sounds that give everything a more avantgarde jazz feel.
“Nagging” has a tense, unsafe feel thanks to its high string-scratching tones, before final piece “Redemption” is the track that comes closest to the EP’s techno-inspired pitch, with a more rhythmic approach and a nicely constructed repeated pattern of low bass notes and sharp-cut percussion- ultimately it still feels more like modern jazz than techno, but it’s very accessible, with crossover audience potential.
At times, the glitchy cut-up processing is a little reminiscent of Brian Transeau, and if you like his more mature soundtrack work, this will appeal in a similar way. If this were the soundtrack to a short film- and it sounds like it ought to be- I’d watch it.
Spime.Im- as far as I can tell it’s pronounced as a collision between “space” and “time”, which then rhymes with “I’m”- are a four piece of Davide Tomat, Gabriele Ottino, Stefano Maccarelli and Marco Casolati. It seems Tomat and Ottino are mostly responsible for the music, though Maccarelli’s ‘creative coding’ certainly could have come into play sonically. I’d only encountered one of Tomat’s albums before- the utterly excellent “01-06 June”- so it was a name I was happy to see again.
Zero is a compact and frantic 4-track EP which just explodes with glitchy electronic energy. After the Aphex Twin-ish deliberate false leads and sudden rhythm jumps of “Zero19”, “Zero4” is three minutes of unadulterated mania- the artistic and electronica equivalent of happy hardcore. “Zero8” is somewhat more atmospheric, letting hollow-sounding tones run slightly longer but still with plenty of noise work flitting around on top, and “Zero9” equally pulls between breathing space and the border with insanity.
Apparently the Spime.Im project is as much about immersive audio-video experiences and 3D art as it is about the sonic result. The present day lockdown surely clips their wings somewhat at the moment, but concentrating on the sounds alone, it’s a packed and very likeable 16 minutes that feels like the equivalent of giving your ears an invigorating shower, complete with abrasive scrub. Parts of it ought to be painful but overall it’s very satisfying.
After previous releases powered by a more driving techno, Flug 8’s Electric Field album is described as the sound of a rocket which, after the drama of planetary escape, is now floating or orbiting more contentedly in space. Here are eight gentle electronica pieces, averaging around five minutes each without any of them being in a real hurry to go anywhere.
After the particularly floaty opener of “Night Field”, “Arc To Time” sets up the main form for the release, which is built from various layered and looping melodic patterns. Four-chord patterns roll round and round, with sparse synth notes, twinkly decorative sounds and calm, long pads. There’s generally a lot of space at the low end, but at times these structures share so much in common with old-style trance and electronica that it feels like a clubbier remix of these tracks could be done as simply as just sticking some kick drums underneath. Drums do appear later on in “Side Bands”, giving a gentle sense of purpose rather than real industry.
Inbetween are situated some more ambient and sombre moments, such as the structureless atmospherics of sci-fi “Bubble Cell”, the nicely plaintive and hollow-sounding “Effective Height”, or the slightly more sinister and robotic elements in “Polarizing”. The weird raspy noises in final piece “Cosmic Noise” are the only point where this set-up feels truly unusual.
It’s space music with its foot firmly off the gas, laden with reverb and for the most part extremely calm and picturesque. It lacks distinctive production touches or melodies that would really elevate it into the musical stratosphere, but it’s a nicely beautiful short electronica album for sure.