Hello, children. Let's make a noise. Compilations are not my cup of Assam; they are notoriously hit and miss. However, 80 Hz Sacred Surplus maintains a surprisingly high level of inspiration and is thus worth draining to the dregs. This brew escaped nearly four months ago from the increasingly impressive IDMf netlabel, itself the progeny of the feisty and informative IDM Forums, and is also a product of IDMf's “bass community”, so reinforce your floors before listening.
80 Hz Sacred Surplus shows some thought in its execution: its ten tracks of electronica are not so lengthy that the listener will need a haircut by the time the needle drops off the groove. I'll do the unimaginative thing and count them off, finger by finger by thumb, with the proviso that my limited knowledge of electronica tends to label anything with an electronic beat as IDM, Electronica, Drum 'n' Bass, Techno or Electro depending on the time of day and my blood alcohol level. If you want something calmer from IDMf, please see this dusty review.
We begin with Circus of Mind's downtempo Jiggawatt, which features “yo-yo” filters so prominently I suspect Native Instrument's Massive synth has had its nads mangled. (If I guess wrong, I wouldn't be risking much to bet that at least one of the tracks here uses that ubiquitous box of tricks.) Rather than the expected drum fills, Jiggawatt's relaxed transitions are comprised of rises: a nice compositional touch. A lovely, analogue-ish synth reminiscent of 80's Doctor Who follows an extended breakdown, and is joined by a stereo field plump with chopped-up children's shouts and yells. No, sorry, the chopped-up shouts and yells of children.
Conservations II by Michael Knead opens with a spine-tingling pad whose filters gradually open just in time to usher in a sound so deep and amorphous that it's almost like a bass pad than a bass line. Somehow Mr Knead manages to stop the bass frequencies from swamping the track; there seems to be plenty of room for light percussion and high-pitched synth flourishes. Although it's beautifully engineered, Conversations II is rather anonymous; but at two and a half minutes long, it refreshes the palate.
After a gentle start to the album, Lebeux's Breathless ups the tempo with a metronomic beat, intensifying pads and a drop into classy drum 'n' bass. These elements are joined by panned, echoing vocals, bell-like synths and a memorable slurred synth that sounds as though it's being goosed. The halfway point treats the listener to some lovely synth flourishes. You'd think that the further addition of arpeggiated, delayed synths would prove too much, but an adept spatial mix keeps Breathless sound of wind and limb.
Only You by SB-Six consists mostly of a thumping, staccato bass line and sampled vocals that syncopate with the drums and said bass. As you might guess, it's not a particularly complex track, but it is well done. SB-Six has engineered a track with weight; it'll sound impressive pumping out of a large sound system.
Speaking of which, 80Hz gets more aggressive with the appearance of Lucky One's SuperKontraBass, where a whistling, clapping crowd warns the listener to get ready. The eponymous bass is a nice, halting, electro noise with, I think, a hint of supersaw, but it doesn't justify its name until the bridge, when Lucky One stands on his keyboard and squeezes a thick, low sound out of the speakers. I'd prefer to see this strong mid-section swap places with the flanking techno-ish parts, where a faster tempo paradoxically seems to slow the excitement. However, I also detest oak-infused red wine, so what do I know?
Tapping noises at the start of Qianta's efemeight might fool headphone-wearers into thinking someone is tapping on their cans. The succeeding hypnotic, almost metronomic, mid-tempo rhythm, supported by a subtly pulsing bassline, is like trip-hop with a dash of espresso, if that makes sense. Melodic interest is supplied by panned and delayed burbling synths, which are high- and low-passed respectively, so that they pass like blips in the night. The warm, soothing atmosphere is reminiscent of Lemon Jelly, if the internet goes that far back. It's a beautifully understated track but perhaps needs more development than the occasional reversed beat at the end of a bar.
IG88's Seahorse Paternity Test (Toronto is Broken remix) has something rather weird in it. After consulting Groves, I feel sure in stating that it's actually a human of the female persuasion singing what is technically known as a “song”. Why has no-one tried this before? Anyway, some studio wizardry has married high-passed, affecting vocals to drum and (chewy) bass, resulting in a bouncing baby of a track. It's sophisticated and catchy. Could it be today's recommended track? Ah, the tension...
A big, fat, jolly synth riff is the backbone of Stereoglyph's Cruisin, but the addition of sly piano stabs and a lovely wash of white noise during a breakdown ensures that there's plenty of meat on the bones. At the halfway mark, Stereoglyph opens his filters, so to speak, and we're treated to a wall of wahs, percussion, more white noise and, yup, another synth. Phil Spector would like this.
It's a rare piece of music that can appeal to speedfreaks and hip-hop heads at the same time. With Test Mat, Neuroscientist has, most appropriately, created a (young) Frankenstein's monster of a track. If you're the type of person who likes to hear LFOs and oscillators tortured beyond endurance, strap yourself in. The menacing main riff threatens to wreak havoc with the accompanying rapid percussion, but it keeps being interrupted by a choppy chord (all examples of clever sound design), and later is interrupted by a sharp slice of breakbeat at the end of each bar.
Then, four minutes in, Neuroscientist drops his big, mad hammer of doom and a lumbering hip-hop beat rises from the laboratory bench. Play this amalgamation of IDM & boom-bap to instrumental hip-hop freaks and, especially when the hi-hats kick in, watch them freak out à la Gene Wilder. Two quibbles: Test Mat could lose one of its six minutes and not miss it; the inclusion of a sample from, if I'm not mistaken (I could be), the 1959 album How To Speak Hip endangers the track's CC status. Unless Neuroscientist has clearance for this dialogue, his track really shouldn't be issued under a CC licence.
We Are Made From Soil, according to Concierge_Weetr. Craftily, IDMf have left the most experimental track until last, surmising that the excellence of the other songs will push nervous listeners onwards to a barrel-meets-Niagara-Falls dénouement. You'll hear some devilishly echoing vocals that should never be listened to with a hangover, but you'll also hear eerie pads over a squelchy bass. Not an easy listen but a satisfying one.
The whole album is a treat, but I'll continue a CTW tradition (while pleading to the heavens for netlabels to proffer plain mp3 links as well as all manner of embedded media players) and recommend one track for the "tl;dr" crowd:
And in case I have to delete the above recommendation because of copyright restrictions...
If you enjoy the entirely free 80Hz Sacred Surplus, please think about sending a thank you email to the IDMf netlabel and/or the artists involved (details at IDMf). I'm sure they'd love to hear from you.
My apologies for writing the word "synth" too often.
80Hz Sacred Surplus release page (there's a big blue download button at the bottom)