Christoph de Babalon - If You’re Into It, I’m Out of It:
I don’t think darkside truly ever left us. The UK Hardcore scene chronicles what would later be derived into “rave music”, using carefully sequenced Amen-breaks and drawing from early dancehall and soundclash culture to craft jungle, the hyper-sped up and cacophonous sounds of the future. It began as music intended for the dancefloor, as artists would often cut records and play jungle at illegal venues, but was quickly co-opted into the mainstream.
Beginning in around 1993, a reaction was spurred that has spawned a dedicated fanbase that would remain present in electronic music to come – darkside. Jungle producers, put off by the adoration of the press and by the subversion of the genre towards happy hardcore, began producing darker and darker tracks, taking samples from horror movies and the like to layer over throbbing synth basslines. Tracks like Tic Tac Toe’s “Ephemerol” and Tango (RIP) & Ratty’s “Tales from the Darkside” both exhibit fast-paced and menacing arrangements of snares typical to the average darkside track, and passed on to other genres as well.
We come to 1997. Four years after the jungle craze began and roughly two after it ended, drum ‘n’ bass has become jungle’s successor and the underground’s center has gradually shifted to Germany. Born in and living in Hamburg, Christoph de Babalon signs to Digital Hardcore Recordings (best known for releasing most of Atari Teenage Riot’s catalog) and releases If You’re Into It, I’m Out of It. The record itself can be easily painted and pigeonholed with a “darkside drum ‘n’ bass” label, but it spans far more than expected.
“Opium” begins the album with a 15 minute long ambient journey, as if to prepare the listener for the breaks that lie ahead. At “Nostep”, it changes tone and ushers in a sparse drum ‘n’ bass track with with synth samples not unlike those of Dopplereffekt, and leads us into the breakcore-tinged track “Expressure”, ramping up the intensity levels tenfold. The highlight of the album are its last three tracks: “Release”, “High Life (Theme)” and “My Confession. Beginning with warbling ring, “Release” gradually leads us into a transcendental and airy track not unlike those released on Good Looking Records, offering a brief bit of delicacy in the record. It floats into the ambient/orchestral sounds of “High Life (Theme)” before suddenly brutalizing the listener with “My Confession”, a 10 minute darkside anthem which is one of those rare tracks that I genuinely believe can inspire dread on the dancefloor.
This is a record that Thom Yorke refers to as “the most menacing record I own”. It is fitting, then, that this be reissued in a period of uncertainty and introspection, and perhaps now it will have the effect that it didn’t eleven years ago. It’s pure darkside bliss. SEAN
RIYL: Demdike Stare, Dillinja, Jamie xx, Radiohead
Rec Trax: “Opium”, “My Confession”
Various Artists - Rocksteady, Soul and Early Reggae at Studio One: The Soul of Young Jamaica:
After the first wave of ska, and before the global explosion of reggae, there was rocksteady: a sweet, slow, blues-tinged strain of music made in the Diaspora, fusing blues, jazz, calypso, and mente. Rocksteady, Soul and Early Reggae at Studio One: The Soul of Young Jamaica is a compilation released by Soul Jazz Records that lets this beautiful, syrupy genre envelop you.
While reggae took on more political and revolutionary visions, Rocksteady is very sentimental by contrast. Matters of the heart are central: love, betrayal, loneliness, break-ups, make-ups, and other existential torments. Somehow, the melancholy in these songs is uplifting, if sometimes bleak. Unrequited love is almost a narcotic - it just hurts so damn good.
“You don’t know how to love me / not even how to kiss me” croons Alton Ellis on "I’m Still In Love With You,” which was interpolated by Sean Paul back in 2004. Meanwhile his brother Hortense, also crooning, gets stood up waiting in the park for his beloved on “Sitting In The Park.”
There are some transcendent tracks that don’t dither in the aching of desire, but of the spirit instead. “I Shall Be Released” by The Heptones meditates on what I can only assume to be Rapture, or Ascension. The longing to be free and unbounded is resonant.
This compilation is full of tenderness and soft desiring. Hope you enjoy. AUSTIN
RIYL: Sean Paul, The Heptones, The Paragons, The Gaylads
Recommended Tracks: 1, 4, 7, 8, 15
Velour Afternoon - 1001 Dreams and No Sleep:
Velour Afternoon is an experimental psych rock band from Los Angeles. Their EP 1001 Dreams and No Sleep came out about a month ago and is definitely worth a listen! “Spring Again” is a catchy retro-sounding psych pop song. A lot of this album talks about the economic disparities evident in Los Angeles. The track, “Pleasant Enough,” talks about the gentrification of LA, as vocalists Brian Bartus and Bailey Lawless sing “they’re just cleaning up the streets.” The third track on the EP, “Memory of a Daydream,” takes on a more folky sound, which is still seeped in psychedelic vocal echoes and synths. The whole EP sounds like a psychedelic daydream. CHRISTINA
RIYL: Tame Impala, Froth, Vinyl Williams, Thee Oh Sees, Mystic Braves
Recommended Tracks: 1, 2, 4, 5
Ryuichi Sakamoto - async remodels:
In a sentence, the remix follow-up album to last year's async does not disappoint. The latest chapter in the storied and varied career of this musical Swiss army knife has taken yet another surprising turn. The collaborators on the album are a who's-who of the producers with the finger on the pulse of experimental electronic music. Talent varies from the calm familiar tones of the late Jóhann Jóhannson & the unoffending sirens of Oneohtrix Point Never to the aggressive and austere rhythms of Yves Tumor and Arca (as an aside, Arca is still clearly on his Bjork phase, even here). While some remixes are more successful then others, none are truly displeasing or leave the listener wanting. I recommend it with a good commute or walk, whichever you prefer. CAMERON
RIYL: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Arca, Burial, Ben Frost, Johann Johannsonn, et al
Recommended Tracks: 1, 4, 7, 9, but honestly all of them