Posted by: Dominic Umile | 12/02/2009

December Commutes: The Swimmers, Tycho, Paul White

Sounds From Paul WhiteFor weeks, as I’ve already complained, I’ve been kinda mulling over 2009’s finest for some end-year list fun. But the mailbox is still offering some items of interest, and I’ve been buying records, too (an armful of second hand vinyl over the weekend — Joan Baez, Benny Goodman, early Bee Gees — Thanksgiving, indeed). So check back here soon for my favorite “2009 electronic releases list,” and for now, have a look at what’s been scoring the (late November and) December commutes. A couple of links for legal downloads below.

People Are SoftThe sophomore effort from The Swimmers is thrilling — a lively, explosive pop (and sometimes new wave) outing from an always entertaining Philly act. We caught the four-piece in their fair city recently, and they pretty much blew the front door off Kung Fu Necktie out into the street. I’d been wielding loads of tissues in a battle with what I thought was The Plague, but I was still able to enjoy The Swimmers’ boisterous set (Disclosure: they play from time to time with my brother’s excellent band, Missing Palmer West. Makes for a great night). People Are Soft (Mad Dragon, 2009) boasts the fruits of a meticulous studio session or two, as its micro-sized, post-recording nuances are as frequent as its classic arrangements and sturdy, sugary melodies. It’s also got a fair share of shambolic surprises — punker “Drug Party” cycles through a mere handful of fuzzbox-tweaked guitar chords while weary choruses during “What This World Is Coming To” quarter-off fizzing organ riffs and fluttering harp mimicry that sounds like a Disney movie. The whole album has been a reliable commute listen — ample instrumentation and gorgeous vocal harmonies (often from primary songwriter Steve Yutzy-Burkey and wife Krista, who lends lead pipes occasionally from behind her keyboard) are plentiful at the very start of People Are Soft, and I recommend it. Listen to the whole thing at the album microsite.

Coastal BrakeAlong with disarmingly pleasant chord progressions, the electronic/organic hybrids from producer Scott “Tycho” Hansen are paired with a crinkly, analog aesthetic — think Bibio or, the unavoidable point of reference in Tycho discussions, Boards of Canada. While Hansen’s kaleidoscopic work as a graphic designer is also representative of an appreciation and celebration of vintage appeal, his ambient recordings reflect a comely showdown between nostalgia and foresight, where gently unfolding, glassy tones and looped acoustic guitars roll overtop a usually slumping beat. On his new Coastal Brake twelve inch (Ghostly International, 2009), Hansen blends just as gingerly-paced an arrangement with a soft house tempo. Its warm and hissing textures give way to an occasional flurry of chimes or tinty keys, but they’re entering and exiting against the percussion, which also proves elusive toward the middle. There are several remixes from Hatchback, Manual, and Lusine, but I keep returning to the original piece — it’s lush and summery enough to stir up retirement plans over here. I understand there’s a full-length on the way. Let’s hope so. Sample/buy the mp3s/pre-order the Coastal Brake vinyl. Download the title track at XLR8R.

Sounds From the SkylightLondon beatmaker/sound librarian (literally, by trade!) Paul White dropped his newest bundle of beat-driven psychedelia for free, on the Web this week. Sounds From the Skylight (One-Handed Music, 2009) is spastic and all over the place — it’s a mini-album that’s as hard to pin down as his mix for FACT Magazine is (expired on the site, but let me Google that for you). Side B of Sounds became available late Monday night, as far as I could tell, as I had an email about it in my inbox yesterday morning. So I’ve loaded that into my iPod, but I’m still getting my head around it. Side A is not for those interested in long-form, easily digested experiments. White’s stitched-up workouts mirror those cobbled together by the eccentrics wandering around the Stones Throw HQ. These are heady beats that fire into a number of directions, not unlike those dreamt up by labelmate Bullion. When you’re pretty sure you’ve got one of White’s trips down pat, new strings or brass bubble up into earshot, brightening a head-nodder that’s already of the most serene brand (see “Highlife” on Side A), so when he’s not carving out a danceable track that’s as much Michna as it is RJD2 (Deadringer era, the era we’d wholeheartedly welcome back), it’s tranquil and sunny. Sounds From the Skylight is also chock full of typical weirdo Cut Chemist/Kid Koala crate-digger stuff, too, so that crusty novelty tunes and canned laughter are strewn between tracks. I don’t yet have White’s well-received The Strange Dreams Of…, and it’s been on my hit list for months. Gotta get moving on that one. Download Side A of Sounds From the Skylight here for free, and Side B is now available here, also for free. UPDATE: “Free” offer expired. Buy it, cheapskate!

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