Rechenzentrum – “Rechenzentrum” (2000)

This double record from 2000 carries a helpful note on its spine for record store employees who aren’t quite sure what it is:

“File Under > Minimal Techno”

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I’m not entirely sure I’d describe Rechenzentrum as “minimal,” certainly not after having just recently listened to Brian Eno’s Ambient 1:  Music for Airports.  Unlike the truly minimal side of electronic music, Rechenzentrum is definitely something you can dance to, though more of a groove that the frenetic BPMs you might hear at a rave.

Like so much electronic music, I find it very difficult to describe the sounds of Rechenzentrum.  If I wait more than 30 seconds it all seems to slip away from my memory like a dream in the morning and I’m left trying to recall what struck me so much in the moment.  So forgive me if this is short (or totally absent) of meaningful descriptions of the sound.

The first record is very chill – this is certainly closest to the “minimal” part of the description.  The second disc, though, picks up the pace.  This is more dance and less ambient, with faster beats (probably reaching the fastest point on “Camera Silens / SFB 115”) and more interesting, experimental sounds, like the heavily modulated speaking on “Submarine” and the legitimately industrial sounding “Samurai.”  I prefer the second record, but it’s not entirely fair to compare the two, which could easily be mistaken for completely separate albums by different artists.

One of the intriguing elements of the original lineup of Rechenzentrum is that it included a visual artist.  The group played a ton of live performances in the early 00s, with carefully composed video clips/films accompanying each song, a truly integrated multi-media performance.  Given how much I enjoyed the music, I would have loved to see one of those shows, though at that time I’m not sure I would have appreciated it as much as I would today.

While I couldn’t find the album for free anywhere online, it is available on iTunes, so you can at least get the flavor for it there.

Brian Eno – “Ambient 1: Music for Airports” (1978)

I’ve read a bit about Brian Eno, since his name seems to come up almost everywhere.  He was in Roxy Music, was one of the very earliest pioneers of ambient electronic, and he has worked with just about everyone… and just about everyone seems to credit him as an influence.  Yet I’ve managed to make it this far in my life without ever having heard his music.

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I came across this pristine copy of Ambient 1:  Music for Airports a few weeks back at Easy Street Records, and as soon as I saw it I knew it was time to see what Eno was all about.  Released in 1978, it was part of a four part ambient exploration, and it was literally composed to provide a more relaxing mood to the generally stressful and frenetic airport experience.

There are four distinct tracks here, all of which are quite long – the entire thing has a run time of 41+ minutes, the songs are named only using numbers.  The opener (“1/1”) is a very quiet piece, primarily defined by its very soft and slow piano playing.  The other track on side A (“2/1”) is actually a bit anxiety inducing for me – there’s echoey vocalizations here that sounds like a choir singer holding very long notes, and while it’s beautiful, for me it isn’t relaxing.  On side B, “1/2” brings the first two songs together, at least thematically, giving us the choral vocal sounds along with the piano. This is probably the densest piece on Music for Airports, though it’s still definitely ambient in nature, intentionally designed to be background music.  The final song (“2/2”) drops the voice sounds and gets us back to a purely instrumental world, though much richer than where we started with “1/1.”

Holly wasn’t sold on this one at all.  I actually ended up taking it off when we were listening to it together and came back to it a few weeks later for a solo session while working from home.  And, you know, in that environment, alone in my house and working on the computer, it was a very pleasant accompaniment.  I could see playing this in lots of situations, but most of which would involve me doing something else – reading, doing chores, writing… though it might be a bit much, at least for my brain, to just sit and purely focus on.

“Lady Boy Records 001” Compilation (2013)

I’ve been kicking myself for not picking up the first ever release by Iceland’s Lady Boy Records when I was visiting Reykjavik in April, 2013.  I even had a copy of it in my hot little hands, with it’s etched case, super limited edition print run (50 copies), and a Ghostigital track on it.  But I didn’t buy it.  In large part this was because I didn’t have a cassette player, so I guess in a way that was wise.  But later that year when we were back in Iceland for Airwaves I gave in to the temptation that is Icelandic black metal cassettes, and promptly bought a tape player when we returned.

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At that point I hit up the guys at Lady Boy and scored all their current cassette releases… except Lady Boy 001 which was, of course, long since sold out by then (50 copies will go quick).  I’ve kept my eyes open for it since, but with no luck.  Until a few weeks ago when I got an email from Frímann over at the label letting me know that if I was still interested, someone on Discogs had a copy for sale.  A week later it was waiting for me in my mailbox.  Pretty cool move by Frímann, remembering that I wanted it and letting me know about someone who was selling a copy.  It’s not like he was making any money on that transaction, he was just giving me the 4-1-1.

I was primarily interested in Lady Boy 001 due to the Ghostigital track, “Sit Hér,” but quickly realized there’s a lot of great stuff on here – it’s not a one-trick pony.  Immediately following Ghositigital is a track by Krummi (“Vélblóð”), the multi-talented artist best known for his work with Esja and Legend who has also recently been doing a lot of experimentation into electro-noise.  Noise merchants Döpur are also here, as well as electro guru Futuregrapher.

While I expect good things from those folks, almost every track on this tape is a hidden gem.  LVX’s electro-soul is intriguing and almost begging for a hip hop artists to rhyme over it, and the chip-tuniness of Úlfur’s “Zeigel” is like a dose of video game fun.  There’s even a pretty random punk rock tune by Dead//Beat that is way outside of everything else on the tape.  The biggest gem, however, is Bix’s “No Mercy (Dirty Bixin Mixness),” a truly brilliant piece of electronica with some killer beats.

While tracking down your own physical copy of the tape could be tough, fear not, dear reader.  Because you can listen to the entire thing HERE for free, and even purchase for digital download.  While you’re there, check out some of Lady Boy’s other titles too, especially Slugs (which took down the #5 spot on my personal Top 5 releases of 2013) and Pink Street Boys.  I haven’t checked out the label’s most recent three releases, but may have to do so while I’m thinking about it so I don’t miss out on the chance to add more tapes to my growing collection.

Melodica Deathship – “Doom Your Cities, Doom Your Towns” (2010)

I came across Doom Your Cities, Doom Your Towns looking through the section of local music in Dublin, Ireland’s Spindizzy Records, a great little shop in the Market Arcade.  I didn’t have a ton of time to browse, but the shop is fairly compact so that wasn’t too much of a problem.  Definitely a spot worth checking out, though, should you find yourself in Dublin, as it’s well stocked and the owner seemed like a pretty cool dude.

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Doom Your Cities, Doom Your Towns was not what I expected.  Mind you, I’m not entirely sure what I did expect.  But I did not expect a blend of hip hop, electronica, and dub that, you know, had a nautical theme.  This double album is a flat out trip, right down to including a song with lyrics from a poem by IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, who died at the age of 27 following a 66-day hunger strike.  Kind of heavy.

 

Despite the opinion of many of the folks I spoke to in Ireland, the Irish musical scene has some cool bands, and Melodica Deathship is right there near the top.  Don’t believe me?  Listen to Doom Your Cities, Doom Your Towns for free HERE and make up your own damn mind!  You can thank me later.

The Bad Doctors – “Burning City” (2014)

The Bad Doctors are an electro-wave trio from Philly whose self-described influences are “New Order and the Cure and whatever the fuck else we’re feeling.”  This was one of the records I ordered from FDH a while back but hadn’t gotten to yet, and since it’s a rainy gray morning in Seattle it seems like the perfect time to spin some sort of dark retro new wave.

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Vocally I’m struck almost immediately by the Ian Curtis-esque darkness of the sound, though Matt’s delivery is a bit more spoken than sung.  This is perhaps nowhere more evident than “Departure (Letter by Letter)” and “Red Shift,” which easily could have been a Warsaw/Joy Division songs.  The Cure influences aren’t hard to find either, most clearly on the musical progressions of “In the Time of Plague.”  The instrumentation blends in an interesting way to my ears, with the guitar, bass, and drums playing a very clearly post-punk / rock style, but surrounded by new-wavish synths, which tend to be on the more sparse and deliberate side as opposed to the more richly textured electronic sounds we came to expect by the mid 1980s.  Burning City feels like a blend of early 80s synthwave and post-punk, which fits together since those genres were more or less contemporaries, but it still feels fresh and new – I’m not used to these two well-defined sounds being merged so seamlessly without one of the two playing dominant role.

It’s not all dark, though.  There are songs like “The School of Athens” that are flat out rock songs; certainly still with that 80s vibe, fast paced and upbeat (and with a dose of some interesting, almost video game-like synths, of course!), so there’s something here for everyone.  Burning City is available in its entirety online HERE so you can check it out for free, or purchase it using the “name your price” feature.  So go give it a listen, and if you like it kick the guys a few bucks and buy the download.