Russell Haswell: Respondent
The queasy, toxic synth sounds coming from Russel Haswell's new 'mini LP' Respondent remind me of the weird Los Angeles Free Music Society LPs my parents had in my youth, records like Darker Scratcher whose covers freaked me the hell out. Four of the five minimal pieces on Respondent are all uncomfortable and repetitive, John Carpenter synth and gross drum machines, Bizarro World techno that seems to have been designed to give raver kids a seriously bad trip at the end of the night. Techno is a style of music that I'm sure has merit, but I myself have never been able to get into the typical four-on-the-floor fare; Respondent is a nice bridge between bog standard techno and more weird and uncomfortable genres, like a DJ being devoured by something unspeakable in the middle of his set. And then there's the gem hidden in this pile of rust: track four, 'Special Long Version (Demo)', which marries 10 minutes of Haswell's discordant half-techno to the guileless, adorable, effortlessly lovely vocals of visual artist Sue Tompkins. Tompkins' voice brings a naive tenderness to the otherwise ugly, standoffish music of the LP, and really elevate an already interesting album into something sublime. Come for 'Special Long Version', let it convince you of Haswell's unique vision, and then absorb the rest of the LP. It's pretty tremendous stuff.
Ezra Furman: Transangelic Exodus
Now this is something truly amazing. Like Russell Haswell, Ezra Furman's record Transangelic Exodus is something special, something unique. The best way to describe it that I can think of would be a punk rock Neil Young fronting a combination of late period Velvet Underground and Depeche Mode. Synths and drum machines wheeze, guitars shine, and Furman's gorgeous voice, one of the best I've heard in a long time, tie everything together absolutely perfectly. The album seems to be autobiographical, with Furman recounting adventures stories from a young gay or bisexual life in a way that's charming and clever and impossible to put down. 'Driving Down to L.A.' manages to sound windswept and anthemic so effortlessly, even with a fairly limited sonic palette, while closer 'I Lost my Innocence' bounces along like some magical lost showtune. Furman's songs are impossibly catchy while still being smart, blending his influences into something that somehow sounds like nothing before it. Do what you can to listen to this record, it deserves to be heard.