Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.
The same way that certain dance tracks only detonate when played at 3 AM, whereas some sound great near midnight and others make for ideal warm-up fare, the time of day often dictates my own home-listening habits. Early mornings usually get soundtracked by gentle New Age synthscapes, piano etudes or Brian Eno’s ambient works, each subsequent selection slowly picking up the tempo so that by noon, the music is upbeat and bright as the day itself. So it should come as no surprise that seasons also affect my own personal soundtrack. Come fall, post-bop Blue Note jazz fills the evening air, while the bitter frigidity of New York winters are best scored by the minimal techno of Gas and Vladislav Delay or else the frozen soundscapes of Thomas Köner and Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works II. In the summer, I return to the Jamaican, Brazilian and African sections of the record collection that have otherwise gone unheard since late September, those bright timbres and tempos the sound of the sun itself.
Two springtime albums released in the past two weeks hint at another season though. One is Excavation, the second album from London’s Bobby Krlic, released as The Haxan Cloak; the other is End Times, the debut album from New York City’s own Queens. It’s a good thing that late March and April have been rather cold in both metropolises, as both albums work best with a chill in the night air. And no doubt, both albums will sound even better (or rather, more harrowing) come the first deep freeze of winter.
"The beats are methodical and slow as an undertaker’s gait, the bass tones are as cavernous as any in a dubstep track, but Krlic surrounds such hits with space and dread."
The Haxan Cloak’s 2011 debut centered around the theme of someone nearing their earthly demise while Excavation (released on the Tri Angle imprint), sounds like a sonic trawl through Hades, not unlike Actress’s R.I.P from last year. Krlic shares a sonic palette with fellow Londoners like Demdike Stare and Andy Stott, not to mention the witch-house acts on Tri Angle’s roster. The beats are methodical and slow as an undertaker’s gait, the bass tones are as cavernous as any in a dubstep track, but Krlic surrounds such hits with space and dread. The two-part title track throbs and slowly builds in suspense and noise, before a glint of light enters in the form of a shimmering bell-like tone. Though, when “Tubular Bells” was hear in The Exorcist, it foretold of the darkness and evil still ahead in the deepest recesses of night.
Queens is the solo project from longtime New York denizen Scott Mou. Mou has worked at the influential Other Music record store in NYC’s East Village for a number of years, turning on customers to all sorts of minimal techno, obscure folk and whatnot. Thanks to Mou’s endorsement, I first learned of artists like Pantha du Prince, Efdemin and Rhythm & Sound, not to mention many others. Some Animal Collective fans might recognize Mou’s name as he collaborated on two woozy, hazy minimal albums with Panda Bear under the name of Jane (Mou also did the artwork for Panda Bear’s album, Tomboy).
End Times, his solo debut, has been a long time coming, and it looks as if Mou finished it with a little help from his friends. Four of the songs were recorded by Animal Collective’s Deakin, another by Efdemin in Berlin, and the album mixed by Koen Holtkamp of Mountains. The resultant album is spare, mesmerizing, haunting. The press sheet accompanying describes Mou’s music in paradoxes: “colorful monochrome” “myopic depth” “sad joy.” I would add “gossamer granite” and “fragile power.” It is hard to pinpoint the emotional effect Mou’s measured falsetto has on these ears, with slow-building songs like “Yellow Pages” and “Frost Flowers” both ethereal yet bleak.
There’s a folk underpinning to the album, in that most of the sound conjured comes from Mou’s voice and guitar, but it’s definitely not a folk album. It reminds me at times of Japanese noise icon Keiji Haino at his most spectral. End Times is also ambient in the sense that a zero-degree wind howling through a broken window can be ambient, yet I wouldn’t quite consider it to be meditative either. Instead, it seems to hover just beyond easy acquisition. Massive closer “Here Comes the Snow” feels both weightless and crushing in its 11 minutes. And on one cold night this past March, it sounded downright devastating, as it mingled with the rhythm of sleet pelting against the windows in the frozen darkness.
The Haxan Cloak's album Excavation is out now via Tri Angle.
Queens' album End Times is out now via Dial.