Wax Runoff: The Black Madonna [ARGOT 006]

Perhaps my favorite release from Chicago-based label Argot came in the form of a two track 12” from well-loved hometown artist The Black Madonna in 2013. For a while this super bad piece of music was tough to find. Copies of the Lady of Sorrows E.P. were scarce and resale value was high. That’s why it was splendid that the label decided to go ahead and give it a repress last year.

The record is well-deserving of a spot in anyone’s collection partly due to it’s exploration of stylistic cues. Not quite house, not quite disco, and not quite techno – the sounds contained in the grooves are top quality and never seem to have an ambiguous moment, yet combine much of what is enjoyable about each genre.

The repress lacks an outer sleeve, which is a very acceptable price to pay for such expertly crafted tunes. The only sort of artwork involved is on the opposite side of the EP info: a sketch of clasped rosary hands. Indeed, the music on the record feels celestial, hopeful, weighted by guilt and elated by enlightenment.

The Black Madonna

ARGOT 006

“A Jealous Heart Never Rests” on the A-side (which if you’ve ever seen her perform) is quite honestly a perfect ode to the types of music she likes to play. Classic disco drum samples create a wonderful organic foundation upon which very dramatic chords in the form of a string quartet elicit an immediate emotional response. The tastiest aspect of the tune though is the marvelously chunky bass arpeggio that dances over the drums and around the various other tonal elements in the track. In fact, it’s deeply impressive how many different instruments make their way into the composition without clouding one another. A lot of objectively good dance music doesn’t often incorporate many sounds in key because it runs the danger of being too complex and preventing the notes that already exist from shining. Chicago house influence is not lost in this tune; halfway through, the obligatory warm chord stab triplet injects itself into the mix before the other elements come swirling back around everything. This track is full, strong, and not afraid – perfect for early to peak hour dancing.

On the flip side you will find “We Can Never Be Apart” and it takes the same sort of musical approach to construction. It’s always interesting when the same instruments are used to make all the tracks on an EP. The same bass arp instrument is present again, but more toned down this time around. Synthetic bells instead creep in to add layers and give it more life. The disco drums are back too, but play a more up front role. There is still a massive amount going on musically speaking, and it’s equally as impressive as the first time. Where the first tune is really a nod to house and more modern dance music, this second number seems to be more reminiscent of ’80s synthpop due to different phrase structuring and key shifts. That’s the trouble with trying to pin down The Black Madonna’s sound, though. She really doesn’t pigeonhole herself to a set template. Her music is tentative and liquid. I find all her work to be this fantastic intersection of style and class, prompting a sound that is very much all her own.

This record is still around some of your favorite outlets. Juno limited purchases to one per customer but it’s still a tad steep. The best way to get a new un-played copy is through Discogs and well worth the price. As if the repress didn’t indicate these are truly top-notch tunes, the soaring orchestral work coupled with incredibly strong drum arrangements will see you playing this record over and over again.

 

Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.

Wax Runoff: Love Letters [CGI017]

While the southern region of the United States has made great contributions to the stylistic development of many different music genres, outside of Miami, there is notably a lack of influence on dance music. This is why I was very surprised to discover the Atlanta-based CGI Records while perusing the racks of my local techno peddler.

Beginning in 2013, they are now on their 17th release as of February. All of the releases had me personally questioning how I had never heard of them before. Each of them possess a forward thinking aura about them, straying from the rule book while making sure to have a classicism that prevents too close a brush with the avant-garde.

Queens, NY producer Love Letters serves up the latest installment with four quality cuts that each hit a different part of the techno palette on the  Suburban Attractive Complex release.

LOVE LETTERS

CGI017

A1 “Who Was Driving” leads things off with a very infectious club workout for the sweatiest moments on the dance floor. Perhaps the most straightforward track of the bunch rhythmically speaking, this track makes use of a very simple audio gate on the spoken sample, to input from the drums. Living proof that it really doesn’t take much to keep a solid techno track interesting.

Track 2 on the A-side “F+” gets an eerie vibe going with significantly over-driven and distorted kicks under faint white noise wisps and barely noticeable organ/string patches. A simple mid-bass synth loops throughout, while the more creepy harmonies build and fall along with reverb drums. It’s very easy to tell that like it’s siblings, this track was undoubtedly made with all analogue instruments – powerful even when faint.

Switching over to the flip side, “Sporty Presentation” features an assertive bassline that injects itself around more sparse rhythm. The track gets a chance to breathe a bit more than the previous two, with more of a melodic exploration. It does pick up halfway through with a classic open hi-hat sound on the upbeat but overall this one is deeper, more musical, and just as enjoyable.

The final tune, “Digital Favoritism”, comes closer to the realm of house music. The drum machine is still present, the expertly crafted analogue synths are still there, but there is heartfelt emotion here to close things out. Perhaps the most interesting, is that in such a beautifully harmonic track, Love Letters still reminds us of the fleeting comfort in life by detuning the synth work periodically. The result is something that’s perfectly poignant, but also wrong. Additionally it is notable that this is the only song on the record longer than seven minutes – in fact closer to eight – and my personal favorite.

This record is another great example of the limitless creativity artists can achieve with very limited tools. It sounds as though the same drum machine and synthesizer was used for the entire record, yet each track goes down a different path and reaches a different destiny. It’s also an example of limited press runs that slide under the radar and don’t get the price gouged reputation of so many other releases limited to 300 copies.

You can get a hold of the vinyl with high quality digital as well for $11 straight from the label. And while many limited releases are lackluster in terms of art and design aesthetics, this record features tempting hand stamp artwork from Stephanie Cheng which I very much hope will continue on more CGI records releases.

 

Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.

Wax Runoff: Four Tet [TEXT036]

Everyone will at some point find a record in their collection with curiously long cuts on it. It is an almost played out joke of a DJ to mention these tracks as their “bathroom break” record. For those enjoying the sonic succulence of long tracks from the comfort of their home, these records present a rare chance to enjoy a single piece for more than 10 minutes without having to get up and flip the plate.

It is humorous to think that 1970s sound engineers and recording artists were under the impression that most recordings over four minutes would be too boring and negatively impact sales. In a current musical atmosphere where artists and labels no longer make significant money from sales, one of the biggest advantages for artistry has been an increased freedom for experimentation.

Enter Four Tet (Kieran Hebden), who has always been an artist known for embracing the weird and experimental. I often find that my friends who have no real interest in dance music are familiar with his work. Although that may be due to his involvement in film scores and more mainstream remixes outside the immediate house/techno realms, I believe it may have more to do with the fact that his work is not only interesting, but also just good music.

TEXT036

The 2015 release Morning / Evening is a splendid example of the musical genius behind Four Tet. It truly pushes the idea of how long a tune can be while still remaining one coherent piece of music. Indeed, both sides of the record clock in at about 20 minutes – long enough for not only that bathroom break, but also a cigarette and a call home to see how Mom is doing (she worries about you, you know?). The traditional info/logo aesthetic of center labels is forgone here in favor of textless crayon drawings of a sun and a moon on each respective side. The sleeve artwork is bright and alluring, featuring very similar patterns that appear to be repeating, but upon close examination reveal small changes – much like the tracks contained within.

The concept of the record reflects those times at a party where the vibe shifts. Both tracks make use of the same key, instruments, and samples, and yet both can initially trick the listener into thinking they are two entirely different tracks.

The “morning” side of course represents the sun washed and ethereal moments of the after party and begins with plenty of percussive movement while remaining light. The piece chugs along for quite some time before opening up to a fully ambient piece of music with tonal synths keeping the rhythm rather than the drums. The “evening” side is stylistically opposite. Aside from 64 measures designed to cue up the record, it begins with ambient synth exercises and gradually evolves into a percussion driven little techno tune that features his signature warm tape sound that once led fans to speculate he was behind the mysterious Burial moniker.  The pieces are truly symbolic of when the party is just starting to fill in, and those moments when the last friends finally throw in the towel after a long night of drum loops and frequency filters.

Unfortunately, this record isn’t cheap. There is one copy on Discogs for a semi-agreeable $15 after shipping in the US, but all the others will have you spending over the sticker price of $16. But this shouldn’t deter you from keeping your eyes peeled for Four Tet slabs at any record store you visit. I’ve noticed due to the alt/ambient/non-dance oriented crossover appeal, Kieran’s work is located in shops where the electronic section is severely diminished or entirely non-existent. I subsequently got a hold of this record in the 50% off bin at an unlikely location. So stay sharp, support your local record store – and above all else – never stop coming early and leaving late from your favorite places to enjoy music with friends.

 

Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Nick States, of Boston, bought his first vinyl record in 2010 and has been hooked ever since. The record shop tends to be his first stop in an any city he visits.

Wax Runoff: Treats Vol. 4 [RTR-11]

If you’ve spent any amount of time collecting records you know how addicting of a hobby it can become. Aside from the joy that records bring, I find myself drawn to the culture that surround them. From digging with friends to record release parties and visiting new shops to becoming a local at an old favorite, this is one of the things that makes me tick.

Last week I was fortunate enough to find myself taking a stroll through La Source in Paris, the official home of Smallville Records in France. Not only was the staff super welcoming (whaddup Jacques!) but the bins were extremely well curated and I walked away with a stock of new finds and long sought after 12″s.

Session Victim, Retreat, Retreat Vinyl, Quarion, Hauke Freer

RTR-11

Among this week’s finds was Treats Vol. 4 from Retreat Records, a missing number from a catalog I’ve been actively seeking to own the entirety of. Started by Session Victim’s Hauke Freer and Yanneck Salvo aka Quarion, Retreat has been churning out funky, sample heavy cuts since 2009. After getting over the initial surprise of seeing this one in the wild, I immediately put it in my “coming home” pile.

Part of the Treats series, RTR-11 is a lovely three-tracker with contributions from Session Victim, The Hints, Iron Curtis & Leaves. Opening up this record and taking the entirety of the A-side is my pick of the release – a rare cover of an already iconic house cut – “Harlequin” by Roostrax. Already a massive fan of the original, I couldn’t pass this one up. It’s all about that bassline and this one nails it with Session Victim’s signature live bass. As much jam band as it is floor-filling house it won’t be leaving my bag any time soon. On the flip side you’ve got “Downtown”, a slow but chugging bass-driven number from The Hints (Quarion & Jules Etienne). The addition of some wonky chords here makes this one quite fun. While it sits at a low 110 BPM, something tells me speeding this one up would get people moving.

Lastly, B2 comes from Iron Curtis & Leaves with the chilled out Rhodes-led “A&F”. I’m a total sucker for nice sounding hi-hats and the texture of this is right up my alley. If that wasn’t enough, the way they’ve played with the timing on the third beat gives it a certain stutter-step depth that adds enough character to get behind.

Flipping through my record bag on any given day you’re bound to find at least two records from the Retreat catalog. If you’d like to track down a few of your own, you can buy direct from their site, retreat-vinyl.de or find the rest on Discogs.

Wax Runoff is a weekly feature that will showcase new finds and crate favorites. Colin Boardway, formerly of Chicago, is now based in Greece as the label manager for Yoruba Records. He has spent the last 10 years developing his sound by digging deep in the bins wherever records are sold.