(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Recording review - Beats Antique, Contraption Vol. 2 (2012)

Wide-spectrum world-tronica jams

Head, heart, or gut?

What I love about Beats Antique is that they rarely force me to trade off between the three. Their music often finds a sweet balance between the ideas, the feel, and the groove. With all three aspects present, it's easy to surf from one mode to another in the course of a single song. Similarly, it means that their songs can satisfy different moods.

The mix of cross cultural elements is intellectually engaging, especially in recognizing how producers David Santori and Sidecar Tommy Cappel assemble the parts into a cohesive whole. On Contraption Vol. 2, they kick off with The Allure. The track rolls from ambient openness to a glitched out heavier sound, and then moves into dub step electronica. They create a smooth flow so each section naturally falls into place. The overall mix of analog and digital parts is typical for Beats Antique, but it's a unique musical context compared to their electronic peers.

The band's evocative approach goes beyond the intellectual. Like programme music, their songs can create a narrative or support a particular mood. Like the best psychedelic jams, Beats Antique create rich, trippy soundscapes worthy of exploration. On The Allure, the opening provides a soft dip into exoticism. The sound is gentle and watery. Suddenly, the calm is shattered as an earth rattling bass thunders. Despite the tension, the violin is beguiling: there's a threat, but fascination may win out. I can visualize the sinuous choreography Zoe Jakes would add. The dub step interlude suggests the repercussions of surrender. The violin turns jittery as escape seems hopeless. Then the song circles back to the Siren's theme.

Of course, Zoe Jakes' dances are a key part of Beats Antique concerts, but the recordings trigger the same kind of response in the listener. It's hard to hear them without feeling the compulsion to move. The band's electronic grooves are grounded in dance club friendly rhythms. The simple beat at the start of The Allure sets up a swaying vibe. The syncopation and dubstep breaks raise a more visceral response. From finger taps and head nods to ecstatic abandon, this is music that has a physical impact.

I used The Allure as my example, but I could have just as easily examined the first single, Skeleton Key. The contemplative electronic intro sets the scene. This time they start off with banjo, saving the violin for later in the song. The tranced out grooves, unconventional instrumentation, and stumble step rhythms construct an exotic sound. Skeleton Key plays a lot more with glitching, giving the track a remix vibe.

Much like its earlier namesake, Contraption Vol. 1 (2009), this is a shorter offering, clocking in at 40 minutes. But the eight songs spread out all over the sonic map, with pins in Eastern Europe (Bus to Balkans), Arabia (Crush), Southeast Asia (Colony Collapse - Filastine), and stranger dream worlds (Bloody Bones). With such a lean running time, none of these tracks are expendable. The weakest song is the nightmare carnival ride, Bloody Bones, but it's still a slice of the the band's history that harks back to Collide's Roustabout.

My favorite cuts add vocals to the instrumentation. Long time collaborator LYNX sings on Crooked Muse, bringing a languid, bluesy feel to this folky electronic tune. It starts with a lazy detachment that gets some depth from the faint, threatening buzz of strings. A rhythmic confrontation signals a symbolic showdown and LYNX fights dragging weight of her muse. Unfortunately for her, she's bound too tightly and it sounds as though she will drown.

Colony Collapse - Filastine is my other favorite track. I'm not usually that fond of remixes, but this  glitch laden reinvention of Filastine's Colony Collapse is a cool jam. They keep Filastine's gamalan-like intro and add in their own melodic lines with gypsy strings and banjo. Chopping up Nova's sweet, haunting vocal lines into percussive accents, they take the song into a playful space without losing the original's own mix of worldbeat and electronica. This continues the band's interest in glitch manipulation that they started exploring on last year's Elektrafone.

Contraption Vol. 2 just came out last week and the band is touring North America right now in support.

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