Review: Depeche Mode – Spirit

depeche mode spirit

Depeche_Mode_Spirit

3 Stars

Depeche Mode is revered for their angsty ruminations on religion and sex, and they’ve been reflecting on the larger state of the world for decades. On 1983’s Construction Time Again they took aim at corporate greed and corruption (“Everything Counts”), poverty (“Shame”) and the threat of nuclear war (“Two Minute Warning”). “People Are People,” an anthem about the ridiculousness of racism, followed along similar thematic lines on 1984’s Some Great Reward.

Thirty-plus years later their fourteenth album, Spirit, is rife with disdain for today’s fractured political climate. And who could blame them. Where past albums married topical commentary and memorable synth hooks, Spirit falls mostly flat. In short, their lyrical hand-wringing is exhausting to listen to.

Depeche_Mode_Spirit

Spirit, which was produced by James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco, opens with “Backwards,” a lament on the failed promise of technology (“We have lost our soul / The course has been set / We’re digging our own hole”). “Revolution” is a call to arms without a takeaway message (“They manipulate and threaten / With terror as a weapon / Scare you till you’re stupefied / Wear you down until you’re on their side”) and is a musical cliché of a musical cliché. The cinematic “Cover Me” finds Dave Gahan self-righteously drowning in the glow of the Northern lights for no apparent reason (“And you know we’re sinking / We could fade away / I’m not going down / Not today”).

“So Much Love” finally hits the mark. Gahan’s voice is spot on (“You can forsake me / Try to break me / But you can’t shake me / No”) and Martin Gore’s twangy, reverb-drenched guitar played over a clanking drum machine is chum for die-hard fans. “No More,” another welcome breather from the political rhetoric, is a compelling, melancholy requiem about the end of a relationship.

While Spirit is largely an unsatisfying whingefest, there is a lot of passion behind their preaching. In the end, the uneven album at least affirms Depeche Mode’s core tenet that everything counts in large amounts.

Review: Inner City feat. LaRae Starr – Good Luck

Inner City feat. LaRae Starr Good Luck
4 Stars

From its start in the late ’80s as a collaboration between Detroit techno pioneer Kevin Saunderson and Chicago vocalist Paris Grey, Inner City’s singular sound has often been imitated but never duplicated. With a treasure trove of classics — “Big Fun,” “Good Life” and “Pennies From Heaven” — few acts have remained as consistently relevant.

The outfit is back,  firing on all cylinders with “Good Luck” (KMS) and never sounding better. Kevin Saunderson is joined for the first time behind the boards by his up-and-coming DJ/producer son, Dantiez. With Motor City vocalist LaRae Starr on the mic, they’ve created a brilliant floor mover in “Good Luck.”

The father-and-son duo collectively take Inner City’s trademark sound  — staccato keyboard stabs, lush strings and bumpin’ percussion — into the stratosphere. In the process, they give Starr’s powerful voice plenty of room to reign supreme.

On the remix front, Sure Is Pure ups the quotient of disco-style strings tenfold; Chuck Daniels slices and dices Starr’s vocals for a rawer re-rub, and Polish techno upstart DEAS delivers a pair of techier, rough-and-tumble bangers.

The Saundersons remain the standard bearers of Detroit flavored house music.

Inner City: the legacy continues.

Review: Amberoom – RHIT EP

Amberoom-RHIT-EP-Ovum

4.5 Stars

Amberoom is a project comprised of Manuel Tur, Adrian Hoffmann and Ramin Nouyan. The threesome produce Balearic music that isn’t afraid to draw outside the lines. Their first proposition, titled the RHIT EP (Ovum Recordings), is a sublime collection of mid-tempo masterpieces. What’s enthralling about it is the way the trio unravel their ideas in an unhurried manner.

The title track opens with a simmering digi-funk groove. When the cut reaches a rolling boil, it spills over into a euphoric, piano-driven romp. Likewise, “Hover” builds in the same organic fashion, tickling our ears with washes of synths, synths and more synths. Clocking in at 11 unhurried minutes, “Machine” boasts deep keyboard melodies, serene washes of guitar, clacking drums and an improvised vibe. The pièce de résistance is “Hover” (Beatleass Guitar Mix), a sprawling masterpiece where choppy guitar runs and analog synth stabs coalesce into a magical jam.

Though their musical union is in its infancy Amberoom have sketched out a template that’s wise beyond its years.

Review: Balance presents Sudbeat Mixed by Hernan Cattaneo

Balance presents Sudbeat mixed by Hernan Cattaneo

4 Stars

When it comes to music, change is inevitable. Sometimes it’s gradual, an evolution of sound and style that grows with the artist. Other times it’s sudden, a quick turn one way or another due to a new inspiration, musical trend, or experimental expedition off the beaten path. But in order to make change work one other thing is required: quality. If you can’t deliver a quality product each time and every time, well, forget it.

Balance Music understands the need to never stand still, to keep pushing forward and evolve. Diversity has been a big consideration in their artist selection. With compilations from Danny Tenaglia to Alex Niggemann to Guy J, Balance covers all the bases, and just as importantly, they do it well. They don’t compromise quality when it comes to choosing which names to feature. And when you partner with artists you trust, the music works itself out.

Hernan Cattaneo’s Sudbeat label epitomizes top-tier progressive tech and house music. It’s been called “Global in ethos; South American in spirit” and has reached the ears of countless fans around the world. This year marks the big eight since the label’s founding in 2009 and has seen over 100th releases. Cattaneo’s newest Balance compilation highlights some of his label’s best talent with the latest music from genre stars, newcomers, and Hernan himself. Cattaneo says, “All music on the compilation is exclusive and unheard … so I’m sure all our followers will be very pleased to find so many fresh tracks to discover. Both mixes are the perfect example of Sudbeat’s identity that of course is also mine as a DJ.”

Favorites like Guy J, Nick Warren, Henry Saiz, Giddyhead, Guy Mantzur, and more are all featured. Mix One opens with simmering sounds before seamlessly sliding across the next several cuts, turning up the slow burn as it unfolds. It’s the portent of perfection blowing in on the clouds before the emotional storm itself. You can almost hear the rusty gates of preconceptions swinging back and forth in the wind and the flotsam of mental baggage being carried out on the breeze. It doesn’t take long for things to come to a boil with trippy pans and throbbing bass followed by the hypnotic percussive lead. Soon the skies fill up with swirling sounds. Rich. Melodic. Surreal vocal work talks us through uncertainty and is followed by a spot of sunlight breaking through the gray storminess. Playful lyrics turn things up a notch and roll down the home stretch, driving through blissful beats and finishing strong with a big bottom energy of and the haunting wind-down and the bittersweet idea that “life is a wonderful anomaly.”

The flipside is decidedly more energetic and with a somewhat darker and more sinister vibe bringing a nice contrast to deep, emotional zen of Mix One. Mix Two blows in from the desert sands, dropping you in the oasis with dulcimer leads and a pulsing bottom. The beats drive on, riding percussive leads and subtle grooves. The airy breeze carries the notes of a beautiful and lonely piano before rolling into a hypnotic groove built on snappy percs. Next up are dancing synths and uplifting leads. The mix chugs along with rich textures and lush tropical vibes until peaking with the chugging bottom and sprinkled chimes and finally ending with the sassy and upbeat closer.

Hernan doesn’t break any rules or new ground here, but he doesn’t give any up, either. As expected, there aren’t a lot of vocals or obvious hits; instead the music do the talking.

This project is all about substance, atmosphere, and texture. Mix One is the perfect poolside player – chill and enjoying life. Mix Two is the clubber’s wingman – upbeat, energetic and ready to dance without being overbearing. The Balance: Sudbeat collection is the next perfectly placed step forward in Cattaneo’s evolution. It will satisfy old fans and win new ones to both his Sudbeat label and to himself as an artist.

Review: Bad Boy Bill & Gettoblaster – Hustling For Horns

Bad Boy Bill Gettoblaster - Hustling For Horns

4 Stars

Last year Windy City house legend Bad Boy Bill and rising Chicago/Detroit duo Gettoblaster teamed up to forge the booty-tastic ghetto-houser “Shawty Want That Cake” heard on the pair’s star-studded second full-length album, Diamonds & Palm Trees (We Jack). A year later they’re back in a big way with “Hustling For Horns,” a peak-time 4/4 jam for San Francisco’s Guesthouse Music. Pulling no punches they go straight for the jugular, laying down an infectious saxophone-driven melody played over a rockin’ groove laden with crisp percussion and a fat-ass bassline. The chemistry is clearly strong between this lot. Can’t wait to hear your next collabo, guys.

Review: Bonobo – Migration

BonoboDJ

Bonobo Migration

4 Stars

In 2013, not long after Big Shot interviewed downtempo bon vivant Simon “Bonobo” Green on the rooftop of a building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (watch the video interview here), he released his acclaimed fifth album, The North Borders and embarked on a nonstop tour around the world. Festivals. Club gigs. DJ sets. Name the city and Green and his band probably performed there — twice. An important musical statement in the arc of his career, Black Sands (watch Green explain how the album came together here) is where Green veered his sound in a darker, glitchier direction after arriving at a musical fork in the road. Having no doubt become a platinum member of his preferred airline, it’s no surprise that his sixth album, Migration (Ninja Tune), is a byproduct of his many travels and experiences. It’s also informed by his feelings about living as a Brit in New York outside of his native UK.

Migration is ambitious but not nearly as transformative as its predecessor. It didn’t need to be. The album finds him elevating his sound to a new plateau, one where he displays his seasoned mastery of conjuring thoughtful, compelling songs with sublime melodies and luscious instrumentation.

Green’s “No Reason”collaboration with Nick Murphy (f.k.a. Chet Faker) is pleasing, but he’s at his most brilliant when he’s heads down and cooking for the ‘heads. “Second Sun” is an emotive instrumental overflowing with cinematic strings and heartfelt guitar; the woozy “Grains” featuring snippets of folk music icon Pete Seeger is a case study in how to conjure understated euphoria; and “Kerala” is a quixotic, jittery sample track that skips along with perfectly placed samples from R&B songstress Brandy.

What’s next for Green is already known — he’s heading back on the road. Again. What’s certain is that whatever he sees and feels will manifest itself into the next chapter of his musical life. Safe travels, Simon.