Celldöd, “Fragmenterade Minnen”

Fragmenterade Minnen
DKA Records

In a recent interview with Bandcamp daily, Anders Karlsson noted that “I [Karlsson] like the sound of cheap hardware that many people would never use. I like bad-sounding digital effects, old spring reverbs that have a sound of their own, and semi-functional gear.” That preference has been pretty apparent to followers of his solo-project Celldöd, a name that has stood for rough, DIY-EBM since it first emerged in 2014. At the outset that emphasis on grittiness seemed like a reaction to the smoother direction his previous band The Pain Machinery had taken to body music on its final release, but with 2018’s Fragmenterade Minnen Celldöd sounds more fully realized as its own entity, complete with a distinct and recognizable production aesthetic.

While Celldöd’s hardware-based compositions – made via an array of classic drum machines and synths alongside cheap and salvaged gear – have always sounded somewhat lo-fi, the key to their success has been in how immediately Karlsson pinpoints a groove and then squeezes every ounce of energy out of it. Nearly every track on Fragmenterade Minnen introduces its bassline within seconds and then rides it out, ornamenting the framework with reverbs, delays and layers of recording dirt. Whether a down the pipe EBM number like “Vrider”, a double-time synthpunk workout like “Alla Har Fel” or a deliberately awkward minimalist composition like “Hotet Från Underjorden (Dub)”, it’s always the arrangement of synth bass and noisy hats and kicks that make up the body of the song. Karlsson knows how far to push each composition, and when to cut them off as their energy and momentum begins to flag, never letting anything become exhausted or played out.

The biggest departure apparent on the LP is the emphasis on Karlsson as vocalist. We know from his previous work that he’s more than a capable singer, but here he shrouds himself in effects and goes guttural with his delivery, grunting and yelping his way through each song. It’s a fitting style for him to take on for the material, and one that places his voice in the same category as the various acid squeaks and squelches and washes of static that make their way through the audio spectrum, a textural element rather than a melodic one. It speaks to Karlsson’s philosophy as a producer; as he slowly expands the palette of sounds available to Celldöd, he also takes care not to betray the sound he’s cultivated, aligning his new tools with his proven approach.

Buy it.

We Have a Commentary: High-Functioning Flesh, "A Unity of Miseries, a Misery of Unities"

High-Functioning Flesh, "A Unity of Miseries, a Misery of Unities"
On this, our monthly bonus podcast (supported by the good folks over at Patreon.com) we’re doing a commentary on High-Functioning Flesh’s debut LP “A Unity of Miseries, a Misery of Unities”. The band’s roots in strict, stripped-down synth-punk as well as the funky future they’d go on to explore are both present in this tightly packed and tense record, so join us as we look back on the mutant weirdness Susan Subtract and Greg Vand lobbed into the world back in 2014. You can rate and subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, download directly or stream from the widget down below.

DIN, “Real Dirt”

Real Dirt
DKA Records

The debut LP of Los Angeles duo DIN (not to be confused with the 90s Canadian EBM project of the same name) occupies an interesting space in the broader electronic music landscape. While the Josie and Greg Vand’s work is defined by deep grooves and movement, it never really approaches those ideas in the same way as Greg’s work in High-Functioning Flesh. Rather Real Dirt makes songs that hypnotically turn in wide psychedelic circles, just this side of hazy and atmospheric but with a real tangibility and weight.

The album’s most notable style is one established early on “Oil”: a funky and round synth bassline is punctuated by clinky percussion and peals of delayed and reverbed guitar while Josie recites the lyrics in a deadpan monotone. The song doesn’t vary much throughout, which gives it almost a narcotic effect, bypassing a lot of the conscious ways we process music to tap into our base response to pattern and rhythm. They replicate that feel to a tee numerous times over, on “Be In the Light” where pitched cowbells make up the song’s ever so slight climax, and the sparser “Dream Your Way” that plays like the previously noted tracks at halftime.

There is some variation in the album’s nine tracks though, especially when the duo let the well-defined edges of their carefully arranged songs blur a bit. “Your Right Hand” turns the fog machine up, allowing the song’s vocals and far-off guitar accompaniment to wander a bit, creating tension as the rapidly cycling synthline pushes things forward to their conclusion. DIN even forego consistent rhythm entirely on atmospheric closer “AM” and “Radiating”, where a thudding kick drum falls in a way that constantly seems off-axis, always landing just to the left of where your ear expects it to.

Real Dirt really does have a pleasingly unique feel to it. Not quite smooth enough to fit in with the minimal synth crowd and just a bit too slippery and nebulous for post-punk, it invokes those genres while still feeling like a weirdo permutation of its own. The Vands use foggy atmospherics with just the right amount of dusky colour to enliven them, helping the LP to dig in in subtle ways, oscillating steadily from beginning to end.

Buy it.

Karger Traum, “Such A Dream”

Karger Traum - Such A Dream

Karger Traum
Such A Dream
DKA Records

Karger Traum’s first full-length release is marked by an even blend of fresh experimentation and homage to classic electronic pioneers. But it’s likely that the arch Teutonic drag of the Oklahoma City duo will prompt listeners’ first reactions to Such A Dream. It’s a unique enough feature which threads through tunes which borrow equally from EBM, synthpunk, and Neue Deutsche Welle, but shouldn’t be taken as the sum total of the record’s appeal.

Taylor McKenzie’s vocals, at times restless, at times manic (and often both within the same track) seethe throughout Such A Dream and are placed right up front in the mix so as to catch every sigh or muttered word. It’s tough as a non-German speaker to evaluate the intent or content (or even the pronunciation), but it passes the smell test, and doesn’t seem to be there for the sake of shock or novelty. Rather, I’d hazard a guess that Karger Traum are aiming for a tone and feel which mirrors that of the innumerable German bands exploring synths and stripped down song structures in the early 80s.

Blake Lusk’s crisp programming and occasional integration of guitar would certainly slide in comfortably alongside DAF records on the shelves, but for every tune like “Was Ist Was” which ably recreates the original EBM genome, there’s another engaging moment which can’t be pinned down to any band or era. Check the odd rhythmic sample used beneath rumbling bass on “Blick und Feld pt 1”; left to speculation I’d have to tag it as a bowl of dry cereal being lightly shook. Free-form compositional experimentation often holds sway, with songs emerging out of the combination of Lusk’s sound design and McKenzie’s vocal impulses, but there are still some solid tunes at the core of much of the record: the harmonic synths and languid guitars which emerge beneath the initial attack of “Familienlied”‘s bass programming and barks recall far earlier pioneers like Neu! and Can.

Often when we talk about self-consciously “traditionalist” or retro bands trading in ostensibly experimental sounds and genres, we have to accept a certain degree of paradoxical conservatism in the deal. That’s not the case here. Such A Dream gets over through the immediacy of its moods and its rewarding takes on vintage sounds, but more importantly Karger Traum have cast a wide enough net over the past that they’re never beholden to any form or motif for too long, and have a keen ear for new sounds.

Buy it.

Sally Dige, “Holding On”

Sally Dige
Holding On
DKA Records/Avant!

The bio that accompanies the release of Sally Dige’s Holding On proudly proclaims that despite being made with one synth, each song on the record has more than 100 tracks of audio, and in some cases that many just for the drums. That claim might give you the impression that the LP is focused on sound design and complex production, and indeed, the record is obviously the product of extensive layering and assembly. But for all its multiplicity, it’s the immediacy and knack for melody that sells the Danish-Canadian’s music.

Despite their synthetic nature, the record’s compositions feel very rock-like in their execution. Leading with clarion synth riffs, the rhythm programming almost universally has the feel of post-punk, which serves as a strong foundation for Dige’s singing. Songs like the propulsive title track and the pensive “I Can’t Be” especially benefit from that naturalistic treatment, their plucky basslines and rolling toms lending a warmth and groove that contrasts with the big reverbs and icy synths they share space with. In some cases like “Be Gone” twangy pathches are lathered with delay that emulates guitar, adding to the trad darkwave feel of the proceedings.

Dige’s sensibility comes across in her vocal delivery, which favours precision and control. Each syllable, each run of notes is performed with a constancy that rivals the exactitude of her programming, occasionally to the point where she sounds stiff. Still, though it’s hard to argue with her approach on a song like “Emptiness” where her decision to stick to a lower register lends her a regal bearing, and the song a great deal of gravitas. Dige is especially good at finding ways to reinforce the central melody of a cut with her voice, frequently harmonizing or trading off with an instrument in the mix, or straight up acting as one, like on “No Need to Pretend” where the word “why” is repeated with the fidelity of a quantized synth.

You can deconstruct how Holding On is put together all day – the record has layers to peel back from a production standpoint – but that won’t ever really capture its appeal. Without ever going for big brassy hooks, Sally Dige keeps melody at the forefront, never letting the density of her arrangements overwhelm matters. For a record so meticulous, it’s remarkably easy to listen to and enjoy, maintaining an airy and ethereal tone in spite of it’s considerable weight.

Buy it.

Observer: March 29th, 2017

Mortal Bodies
Chondritic Sound

Percolating up from the recesses of Los Angeles’ booming industrial and noise underground is the new release from Mortal Bodies, a duo comprised of Marc Gonya (Granite Mask) and Marfisia Bel. Embodiment is classically industrial in form, wedding squeals of controlled feedback, monstrous drones, and monotone vocals from Bel, all within cavernous reverbed spaces. It’s not an entirely unique sound on paper, although what becomes clear in listening to the release is how artfully structured each track is, and how careful Mortal Bodies are not to tip over into self-indulgence. There’s a discipline inherent in “Peeled Mirror”‘s flapping rhythm track, or the metallic percussion sounds that infest “Social Obligations”, each dialed in exactly to where they can define structure and provide texture without forcing themselves to the forefront. Those sorts of nigh-subconscious details are especially effective on “Light Solution”, a sort of minimal-synth-by-way-of-ultra-slow-motion exercise, in which minor changes in each rhythmic repetition are spaced apart to the point that they take on a seismic, continental quality. When the duo do loosen up on arhythmic closer “Needs” it feels like a structural release; its oddly blunt hammering drums knocking apart the tension built up over the proceeding seven tracks. It’s a relief that only exists in the context of Embodiment as a whole, and evidence of Mortal Bodies dedication to creating a vast, holistic experience beyond the immediate sum of their music’s parts.

Various Artists
Strategies Against the Body vol. 2
DKA Records

Atlanta’s DKA are rapidly becoming a tastemaker label, with their comparatively small catalogue of releases already showing the earmarks of saavy curation. The second volume of their Strategies Against the Body compilation trades in the same robotic minimal and raw body music of the previous installment, and is notable for staying ahead of the curve even as those sounds garner more attention from the broader world of electronic music. The tense reverberating sequences of Passing’s “Sacrifice” hail from post-industrial climes, but its DIY production make it feel immediate and contemporary. Videograve invoke synthwave soundtrack sounds that have become increasingly common in 2017, differentiated by the deep groove of its strictly sequenced bassline. The DKA umbrella is further expanded by the funk-laden darkwave of Tifaret and the throwback electro of Xander Harris’ “Social Leather”, each distinct but not out of the place. That commonality is apparent even in the speed up then slow down chaos of Collin Gorman Weiland’s “Indenture and Stone”, a product of knowing what your label is about and working with the bands that fit that vision.

Multiple Man, “New Metal”

Multiple Man
New Metal
DKA Records

The first LP from Australia’s Multiple Man is far more than the sum of its parts. Sure, classic EBM and post industrial sounds carried by a of funky bassline is a standard operating procedure for every song on New Metal, but what makes the record really pop are the subtle and overt nods to all manner of synthesized dance music from the eighties onward.

A lot of those tropes are going to be fairly easy to spot, especially over multiple listening sessions. “Ideal Self” invokes The Art of Noise’s choppy funk and Yello’s synthetic vocal work, while the bleepy pitched up toms on the terrific “Power Fantasy” can’t help but bring M/A/R/R/S’ “Pump Up the Volume” to mind. There’s a healthy amount of electro and pre-sampling hip hop to be found between the cracks of “Luxury Boys”, filling out the growling bass synth groove. Of course the songs don’t begin or end with the aforementioned sounds, and kind of like High-Functioning Flesh (a modern act with whom Multiple Man share some DNA) the canny listener can make a game of triangulating influences and see where and how they’re morphed into new forms.

A goodly portion of what makes New Metal work so effectively is in the composition and construction of these songs. There’s an adeptness in the way a track like “Hotter than Hell” uses percussion to create a sunny and tropical feeling, and in the spacey echoes that transform the bassline from body music to dub and back depending on how they’re situated in the mix. Same with the buzzy synth that pops up midway through “Skin”, adding some serration to the track without ever upsetting the upbeat bounce of its rhythm programming. Multiple Man prove to be real students of structure in electronic dance music, knowing exactly when things need to be perfectly quantized, and when they need to be allowed some latitude and unpredictability.

It might be strange to praise such a wide-reaching and high-spirited record for its efficiency, but it might just be the most important part of Chris and Sean Campion’s approach. For an eight track LP New Metal has remarkable depth and broad appeal, all without repeating itself or falling victim to overreach in its approach. It’s a hell of a feat, and is one of the most enjoyable and compulsively listenable records of 2017 thus far. Recommended.

Buy it.

Boy Harsher, “Yr Body is Nothing”

Boy Harsher
Yr Body is Nothing
DKA Records

Massachusetts synth duo Boy Harsher’s debut LP Yr Body is Nothing is an exercise in control, both in its tightly wound songwriting, and the carefully articulated way it draws from numerous styles. Darkwave, minimal and hints of body music are all discernible on the album’s ten tracks, although the overall effect is slick and cohesive, never coming across as genre pastiche. Jae Matthews and Gus Muller know how to deploy those sounds to serve their own purposes, using them to build out taut, hypnotic songs to their fullest.

Much of what gives Boy Harsher’s songs impact comes from nuance in arrangements, gradual changes, or slight modulations that create depth. Mid-album highlight “Suitor” works a simple kick and cymbal pattern for all it’s worth, propelling Matthew’s unnervingly reverbed voice forward until a bassline bursts through the tension, simultaneously shifting the focus of the track and adding dimensions to the elements that preceded it. It’s a clever trick that Boy Harsher invoke elsewhere to good effect, like the subtle way the bass sequence on “Deep Well” feels like it’s shuddering under pressure to keep up the pace, or how “Big Bad John” moves synths forwards and back in the mix, even as their cut-off and envelope move in time with the rhythm of the song. Changes happen under cover of darkness and fog, with liberal use of echo and verb used to distract the ear, often to the point that songs can undergo enormous transformation without the listener even consciously registering it.

Beyond those more wily charms, Boy Harsher also display some of the capacity for funk shared by many of their DKA labelmates, albeit in a specifically subdued form. The synthetic rhythm on “Last Days” has some bounce in it, buoying the song up as Matthews gradually unwinds herself across the song’s backhalf. Similarly, “Morphine” uses quantized drum machine hits to create a deep robotic groove, allowing for a more laidback feel to take root, a vivid contrast to the fraught sensibility of the rest of the album. There’s a substantial approach to bass and drums on Yr Body is Nothing that anchor it, allowing everything else more freedom to dissolve or coalesce as necessary.

It might be the contrasts in approach on the LP that ultimately make the most lasting impression. Stripped down but solid, loose but carefully managed, Boy Harsher reconcile moods and structures and then pull them apart again, making music that has a perverse, independent momentum all its own.

Buy it.

The Joy Circuit: Ford on Sherwood

The first new feature to be added to the site in a while, the premise of The Joy Circuit is to have artists, label folks, writers and other people within Our Thing talk about a figure or musician they’re a fan of. We’ll have them discuss the impact their work has had on them, and select a short playlist of their favourite songs. Simple enough, right? First up, a friend of the site and an artist and musician in his own rite talks about a studio legend…

Few people can claim to have had as much influence across as many genres of music as Adrian Sherwood. The legendary producer, engineer and label head has worked with and remixed countless artists from within and without the industrial, dub and electronic landscape. Beyond his extensive work with such artists as Ministry and Nine Inch Nails (and his deep remix catalogue, including work with Depeche Mode, Einstürzende Neubauten and Nitzer Ebb amongst countless others) and his genre-busting output as Tackhead, Sherwood’s records has been releasing exciting and experimental records by dub and reggae artists for more than 30 years. With the announcement that On-U will be releasing a second volume of their Sherwood at the Controls compilation covering his work from 1985 to 1990, we thought it would be a good time to sit down with James Andrew Ford of DKA Records, aka recording artist Tifaret, to discuss Sherwood’s enduring appeal, and unique place in the grand pantheon of studio gods.

Adrian Sherwood: Dub God, Industrial God, Studio God.

ID:UD: Sherwood is a really fascinating figure in industrial, in that he worked with so many acts in an engineering and mixing capacity, and those are areas that are often times really transparent to fans and listeners who don’t read liner notes to suss out who worked on something. Is there something specific you hear when you listen to a song with Sherwood involvement that sticks out to you?

James: You can almost always tell a Sherwood production by the groove. No matter what genre it’s rooted in, whether dub or post-punk or industrial, there’s a sense of urgency and fun coexisting with a righteous sense of dread. Sherwood’s an interesting case in that he wasn’t really a musician but more of an Eno figure, someone who used the studio as an instrument in the same sense as Eno, or Sherwood’s dub inspirations like Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, but he seemed to go further than most in that not only was he interested in experimentation, he seemed to get the best performances out of the musicians by virtue of his sheer enthusiasm for the experimental. I think it’s a crime he isn’t the household name that Eno is.

ID:UD: Another interesting aspect of Sherwood’s work is that it points back to a time when electronic music, dub and hip-hop were far less siloed than they are today. Do you think audiences accustomed to a more strict rules on genre are resistant to hearing those sounds? Do you personally have an interest in exploring those elements in your work?

James: I definitely think there’s a resistance there now that doesn’t seem to have existed at the time Sherwood was involved in the industrial scene. I’m too young to have experienced it firsthand so it’s hard to say that for sure, but when you look at all the classic bands, whether you’re looking at Bauhaus or Skinny Puppy or Throbbing Gristle, there’s an openness to music that I don’t see now, and very specifically an openness to music that would be considered ‘black music’ to most modern goth/industrial fans. A large part of that was the culture these musicians came up in, Bowie had exposed them to funk and soul, there wasn’t much going on in rock music, and these were young kids who had been attracted to Bowie’s flamboyance and weren’t likely to get on the ‘disco sucks’ bandwagon, so they were more open to advances in disco, funk, dub, and the emerging hip hop scene because they were more welcomed there. You could go and hang out at the local disco or dub parties and feel safe being a weirdo because everyone else there was ostracized too for one reason or another. Now you can just go to the local goth night and hear the same music that you’ve heard at every other goth night for the past 30 years, but at the time you had to explore so you got things like the backing musicians from the Sugar Hill Gang working on a Ministry record. Tifaret and DKA both are definitely founded on the idea of being all-inclusive. Coming from Atlanta instead of a huge goth haven like LA means our goth nights have to be friendlier and more inviting to a more diverse crowd of people and over time I think that’s what led to us embracing a more wide-open approach to what we release. When I listen to a demo I’m looking for something that will fill the dance floor at one of our nights which tend to run through classic deathrock to DAF to Sherwood to italo disco to coldwave to recent industrial techno and back, and the only constant is melody and groove. I also tend to be more excited by hearing weirdness like free jazz saxophone, heavy funky basslines, and dub mixing over yet another Skinny Puppy worship act. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we’re post-punk guys and we’re looking for things that explore the wider confines.

ID:UD: One of the definitive aspects of your work with DKA has been a focus on the funky, rhythmic side of industrial and EBM. As a fan of Adrian Sherwood, do you find his influence lead you towards that sound and aesthetic for the label?

James: When we first started DKA I was basically listening to Ministry’s Twitchb non-stop and I basically kept that up for probably the first 2 years we were a label. It’s definitely a huge part of the backbone of DKA. We’re about the dancefloor first and foremost and I think that came out of things like my Sherwood obsession (and my equally important Prince obsession).

ID:UD: Is there anything in Sherwood’s work that you consciously think about when you’re writing and producing? Do you find anything from his work either consciously or unconsciously appearing in songs by Tifaret?

James: The main thing I think of in regards to Sherwood and Tifaret is the drums, the space, and less frequently, the odd almost-glitchy samples running around in songs like “We Believe”. I’m finishing up a split with fellow DKA artist TWINS right now and I recently made a chart of my influences for the record and was surprised how often I referenced Sherwood productions. The heavy in your face kicks and snares of Sherwood’s industrial works are a constant, as are the strange samples of something like his “Yu-Gung” remix. Also the longer I work the more interested in space in mixing I become and Sherwood is a master at that. No matter how dense his music is it always feels like you’re standing in a large room with all these noises coming from around you rather than from a machine.

ID:UD: Do you have a favourite album or single by Sherwood? What about it resonates with you as a fan?

James: Tough call because no matter what else I’m currently vibing to, there’s a Sherwood production I can throw on that will perfectly encapsulate my mood. Album wise it’s hard not to go back to Twitch, although Mark Stewart’s Learning To Cope With Cowardice and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s collaboration with Dub Syndicate Time Boom X De Devil Dead are both perfect as well. Single wise it does’t get any better than Medium Medium’s “Hungry So Angry” which just puts a smile on my face no matter what I’m doing. His productions have a way of making you feel invincible, no matter how angry the lyrics and vocals are you just have to dance or sing along at the top of your lungs, and I think that’s something industrial needs, a shot of hope and positivity.

James Andrew Ford’s Adrian Sherwood Playlist:

Ministry, “We Believe”
Although I’d been familiar with some of his other production work, (such as a few tracks on NIN’s “Pretty Hate Machine”) “Twitch” was probably the first time I really had my head turned by Sherwood. You can still listen to it now and see how ahead of it’s time it was, alternately funky and spare and heavy and dense. Everything you need to know about Sherwood is in these grooves.

Medium Medium, “Hungry, So Angry”
One of the most infectious post-punk dancefloor bangers ever made. Medium Medium are supposedly the first white ‘rock’ group to ever use slap bass and they make Sly proud. I Die: You Die made a mention recently about the funk influence running through all of DKA’s releases and that was dead-on as we’re always looking for ways to bring that fun and funky vibe of early post-punk and industrial back into the goth/industrial/‘whatever’ scene.

Lee “Scratch” Perry and the Dub Syndicate, “Train To Doomsville”
Ever have someone tell you all reggae/dub sounds the same? Yeah, no way. Reggae and dub had a long history of sharing influence (Bob Marley name-checking The Clash, the Sex Pistols listening to dub on their bus in between chaotic shows) but Sherwood took it to a new level, bringing heavy guitar, creepy voices laughing straight out of a Skinny Puppy record, and a grinding industrial intro to the dubfather as Perry rants about…well whatever Perry goes on about.

Mark Stewart & The Maffia, “Jerusalem”
Probably the most straight up dub track on the playlist, this one’s for that late night feel when you’re driving home from the Youth Code show and your ears are still ringing. Mark Stewart will be familiar to most folks as the singer for The Pop Group (themselves a pretty righteous and important influence) but if you can vibe with this you’ve got a whole world of dub out there to explore. Get to it.

Nissenenmondai, “3”
The most recent track on the list, coming out just recently, homie definitely still has what it takes to make the weirdos dance. Ever wanted to hear just the crazy dub parts of “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” stretched into a dub techno track? No? Well Sherwood and Nissenenmondai have you covered anyway.

On-U Sound will release Sherwood At The Controls: Volume 2 1985-1990 on June 17th.

James Andrew Ford records as Tifaret, follow him on Bandcamp and Facebook.

DKA Records has upcoming releases by Boy Harsher, Multiple Man, and a split EP by Tifaret and TWINS. Follow them on Facebook and Bandcamp.