This year has been a bit of a write-off and it freaks me out that we’re over seven months into it. I think that I went into 2020 with a small amount of optimism and that screwed us all over – I was planning on spending most of this year sitting on public transport and I got to do that, it was just with the addition of an ill-fitting facemask, the joys of spending the next week being paranoid about symptoms, and some weirdo behind me blaring Justin Barrett speeches from his iPhone. This year hasn’t really started in my head, it feels like we’ve been in a weird state of limbo for the past four months and that makes looking back on things a bit strange – I actively miss an era of my life where my anxieties seemed relatively menial and I feel like that means something, even if that’s just as we’re rapidly descending into some Michael Martin-backed hellscape. One of the few perks of lockdown is that I’ve constantly been able to listen to music, I’ve nearly always got a pair of headphones on and the time I’ve spent rapidly trying to catch up on some dense text for a reading group naturally lends itself to pretentious electronic tunes. Here are seven of the most interesting tracks I’ve stumbled upon so far this year – I’ve probably put together godawful paragraphs on half of these tracks in the past but I thought it’d be fun to expand on what makes these tracks stand out, even just so some random Discord friend doesn’t have to listen to me drone on about them at half three in the morning.
1. DJ Jon Piemel – Escalope Boursin
‘Escalope Boursin’ is one of the most European tracks possible and that makes it really fun. According to Casual Gabberz (the French record label who released this track), “DJ Jon Piemel is a mysterious producer from Belgium, we met him at a rave in Ghent. He was killing the dancefloor with his acidcore influenced tekstyle & after the sonic blast we shyly asked him to send us the heat he played. This is it”. I first stumbled upon this track through Casual Gabberz’s collective Boiler Room set, a chaotic hour-long mix that managed to distill the label’s dynamic sound into something gripping despite a nasty mid-song cable error and the fact that they were all clearly rolling hard. The label is fairly controversial within the world of people who listen to 200bpm dance tracks while barely being able to move, with some claiming that Casual Gabberz are glorified sell-outs who water down hardcore for an audience of stuck-up Mixmag readers. I don’t know enough about this minor controversy to give a hot take but the one thing I do know is that this track rips – the combination of random lines of French and distorted kick drums will always slap and it’s impossible to actually stay still while listening to this record. I have zero idea as to what’s going on in this track but I find that fun, even if people who actually understand this genre will (presumably) hate me for admitting as such.
2. Oli XL – Mimetic
I sometimes feel like I’m the only person capable of getting obsessed with Oli XL and lockdown has heavily reinforced that notion. The Swedish producer makes UK Bass that feels like a PS2 modchip, their tracks feel heavily indebted to the tackier aspects of 2000s culture while simultaneously seeming relevant to our current moment – their tracks and mixes sound like a comfy episode of ‘Terrace House’ or the pictures of a certain bridge I won’t name at risk of beating a dead horse. Around the time that he released his debut album ‘Rogue Intruder, Soul Enhancer’ Oli talked about feeling bored of traditional synth sounds, instead opting to manipulate small Jazz samples to design his tracks. This approach to sound design makes ‘Mimetic’ oddly engrossing – the exaggerated clarity of digital production clashes with the off-kilter samples and half-mumbled vocals in a way that really shouldn’t work but somehow does. This track feels like it breathes – it couldn’t have been produced outside of a laptop but it dodges the artificial coldness that’d imply. I remember driving to Dublin Airport to pick up a family member just before we collectively realized that coronavirus is capable of existing outside of Asia while repeatedly listening to this song, basking in the last real shreds of normality before we collectively entered this current hellscape. This song feels like being nostalgic for waiting around in some generic airport – even if that’s fairly corny.
3. Sewerslvt – Pretty Cvnt
This time last month I was obsessed with the idea of landing an interview with Sewerslvt – they had just released one of the most interesting EPs of the year, the YouTube algorithm had decided to shove their work in front of everyone I knew, and I had one or two hot-takes that’d lend themselves well to an introductory paragraph. This attempt to organize an interview fell apart once I felt like a stalker for trying to find their email address (and/or once I got lazy and just wrote about Eamon Ryan again) but ever since I’ve been looking for an excuse to write about their (scarily prolific) creative output. Sewerslvt is an Adelaide-based producer who makes breakcore tracks for some of the most annoying weeaboos on the internet that all inexplicably slap. ‘Pretty Cvnt’ is one of the better cuts off the producer’s 2018 self-titled, combining samples from Gorrilaz and Death Grips with tortured vocals ripped from the credits to Watamote into waves of frantic energy. This track feels like pure anxiety and there’s something endearing about that – the combination of distressed, nearly shouted vocals and loud breakbeats lends itself well to being blared out of the cheapest Bluetooth headphones possible before an awkward social interaction, something that the demographic who obsess over this producer would probably relate to.
4. Jamie XX – idontknow
Jamie XX is trying a bit too hard on this track and that’s what makes it amazing. The British producer was in a major creative rut before the release of this song and I think it shows – ‘idontknow’ made me excited as it felt like watching someone break out of a state of stasis in real-time, finally feeling the euphoria of actually making something that doesn’t seem shite. This track is frantic – there’s probably a bit too much going on at once and there isn’t much of a song structure. Its as if Jamie realized he was on the verge of actually finishing a song for the first time in ages and then proceeded to get too excited and throw everything at the wall in the hopes that it’d stick – this track feels like a collection of panicked laptop sketches and I find that really cool – I don’t know what’ll arrive now that Jamie’s rut is over but I hope it’s in a similar BPM (and doesn’t end up soundtracking another annoying Coca-Cola ad).
5. Klein – Arrange
Klein is one of the most interesting musicians still releasing material today and it drives me insane that nobody seem to realize as such. ‘Arrange’ is taken off ‘ONLY’, an album which feels like a more hellish version of ‘Klavierwerke’-era James Blake and should have received more attention. This track (and most of Klein’s discography) feels genuinely unsettling – layers of haunting vocals phase in and out over attempts to replicate R&B tropes and emotive instrumentation. This track doesn’t really have much of a structure, it either gradually morphs or suddenly cuts to something else and there’s fuck all in terms of breathing space. ‘Arrange’ isn’t necessarily catchy but its cathartic – I like Klein’s work due to how oddly cleansing it feels, even if its scarily hard to throw into a playlist. This track feels like recognizing how bleak everything seems and then getting from solace from accepting that – ‘Arrange’ is what being depressed at half four in the morning feels like and I’m not just saying that as that’s the context in which I listen to this song, I swear!
6. Laurel Halo – Tumor
‘Tumor’ is one of my favourite songs of all time, even if it barely counts as one. This track is taken off ‘Quarantine’, Halo’s highly emotional Hyperdub debut and one of her best releases (even if everyone gets mad about her vocals). In the past I’ve compared this record to “walking around in a game with an extremely low render distance” and I still think that description is apt – tracks fade in and out at speed, song structures barely exist (a running theme in this post), and the same synth lines repeat over and over until you go insane. ‘Tumor’ is a fundamental contradiction – it manages to be intense and ambient at the exact same time and its a crime that I haven’t gotten to shout these lyrics while feeling gothic about someone. The intense emotions that fuel this track fall out of the chromatic scale (and any time signature) but there’s something beautiful about that – this track feels like sitting outside at half five in the morning while sad and vaguely drunk and that’s exciting, even if I’m probably just saying that as that description summarizes at least half of my lockdown experience.
7. Amnesia Scanner – AS Want It
I’m genuinely convinced that we are stuck living in this song until the planet melts and I think that’s driving me crazy. Amnesia Scanner are a Finnish electronic music duo who make some of the most hellish music possible and spend a concerning amount of time manipulating vocal samples. This song is from the duo’s abrasive debut, which took the artificial nature of mainstream dance music and bass boosted it – creating something extremely odd (yet intriguing) in the process. Because I’m feeling a bit lazy (and as my deadline is in under an hour) I’m going to quote a YouTube comment which accurately captures what makes this track cool – “I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who felt unsettled after hearing this track […] I just got like a weird vibe from it, like I was a little 11 year old again who found some fucked up video that shouldn’t have been uploaded to YouTube or something”. ‘AS Want It’ sounds like an uncomfortable experience in the sweltering heat, it feels like a timeline in which there is no real hope (or escape) but an endless amount of content to aimlessly consume. It’s not the song we asked for but its the one we deserve, even if it seems extremely cursed. This track is what’ll play in the background when Jack Chambers gets appointed as god-emperor and lockdown drags on for another six months, even if none of my (non-existent) readership would get that first reference. This is what hell sounds like, perhaps it slaps a bit.
(This was originally meant to have a fancy embed for a Spotify playlist for all the tracks but my computer completely shit the bed, if you want to listen to all the tracks click here.)