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Monthly Archives: July 2008

Community-Filtered Beat MP3s

Not all charts are created equal. The wisdom of crowds can be a lot more convincing on a message board than on a sales chart. The top 10 albums of a given week, according to Soundscan, can be more a reflection of conventional wisdom and reactive consumerism than of individual taste or the state of the art. By contrast, on Internet forums where musicians post their own music for peer input, the accumulated number of comments can be a dependably solid sign of some solid work.

As of this morning, for example, the most commented upon entry among the 20 most recent threads in the “Beats/Instrumentals Showcase” forum at cratekings.com is a pair of grimy, artfully crafted rhythm tracks by one panamacanal. The thread is titled “New Beat Plz Check Out.”

The first and the real keeper, “Introducing … Intro” (MP3, zshare.net), is, as the producer says in his brief note, a Public Enemy-flavored flare-up, opening with that hip-hop trifecta: gunshot, hi-hat, strings. It doesn’t have the density commonly associated with the best Bomb Squad productions for Public Enemy, but it does have the ambient filigree, dramatic tension, and earnest vibe. “Life Hell” has a similarly classic opening: orchestral grandeur that drops, vertiginously, to downtempo swagger, a sweet lope of a loop played under some period spoken soul (MP3, zshare.net).

And both are, frankly, better — more interesting, moody, and detailed — than just about anything on the new Nas album, aside perhaps from its opening track.

(If the above MP3 links don’t function, just use the zshare.net service.)

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21st-Century MP3 Variations by Adrian Kowalczewski

The collection of “short” pieces on Adrian Kowalczewski‘s seven-song EP Short Dance Songs aren’t all danceable — except in the “intelligent dance music” sense of the word: jittery, blurpy figments of digital pop that mess with beats as they go but have a syrupy, sweet, yet engaging sentimentality to them. They range through a series of 21st-century variations, including “Short Movie Song” (MP3), which is moody and understated, and “Short Vocal Song (parts 1 + 2)” (MP3), which works in vocoded bits of android yammering. The highlight is likely “Too Short 8 Bit Love Song” (MP3), which is more blippy than blurpy, more emotionally remote than the remainder, like a soundtrack to your life, if your life were an old arcade game. Get the full set as the estimable netlabel Test Tube, monocromatica.com/netlabel.

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MP3 Single by This Is Output / Krister Kalin

There is continuing evidence that the netlabel may be, at its best, a singles medium. As the network of intentionally free music downloads has grown, the expanding listening options have inevitably complicated the selection process for consumers. (Yes, the material, usually available in MP3 form, is free, but why must the word “consumer” necessarily imply a direct financial transaction?) Amid all the album-length and even EP-sized releases, the presence of a single-track release can be a gesture of welcome restraint, such as those at the excellent if less than prolific Yo Yo Pang netlabel (ambulatore.com/yoyo).

Now, a single MP3 needn’t be lonely. Over at the excellent Goodbye Cruel World netlabel (cruel-world.org), the most recent release, a watery, morphing, way-down-tempo but still melodic piece titled “Loss” (MP3) by This Is Output (aka Krister Kalin), is accompanied by a video, credited to L.Nystrand. The video, a grainy suburban landscape that shifts between day and dusk, it is reminiscent of early Bill Viola work and lends some additional, artful rust to the decaying pleasures of Kalin’s track.

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Audio Bliss MP3 from Ryonkt

The slowly circulating drones of “Gray Sky,” a free download by Ryonkt, supply 17 minutes of audio bliss. Layers of sound appear occasionally with some suddenness, only to be absorbed immediately into the cloud-like whole (MP3). Brief pulses surface above the bellows-like sine waves, but there’s never enough of a pattern to them to approximate or otherwise suggest a proper melodic structure; they’re more like accent marks than notes, mere glints on the sonic windshield. This is a beautiful track, far more detailed than might initially appear to be the case. It’s likewise more dynamic: there are moments when sounds quickly spiral off into the distance, and when swells of tone play with your ear drums. There is modulation down and up, and a quieting toward the end that provides a natural, soothing close. More info at the releasing netlabel, restingbell.net, and at myspace.com/ryonkt.

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Helena Gough’s Un-Real-World MP3s

A British musician and sound artist living and working in Berlin, Helena Gough likes to say she makes something from nothing. She takes field recordings of our real world and creates new audioscapes from them, thanks to microsonic manipulation and an empasis on a narrative-like song structure; there may be loops involved, but each effort feels through-composed, even improvised.

Perhaps that means that the twinkling sonics that flitter toward the end of an excerpt of “Liq” (MP3), housed at her website (helenagough.net), are birdsong, and that the subsequent echoes are water drops enlarged to water falls through digital transformation. Perhaps the toot toot that appears toward the opening of “Was Kein Engel Weiss” (MP3) is a passing train and the scratchy crackle that follows is that more rudimentary invention, fire. Whatever the process, the pieces never really suggest themselves as guessing games; they’re more like scores to movies of the mind.

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