Feedback Friday, Week 0

Here at Blisspop, we aim to show our audience who’s making their mark upon electronic music culture today. We sort through the good and the bad, bringing you the latest sounds. This is why we have started a new series, Feedback Friday, to bring some of our writers together to give their take on the latest music being released around the world. Our first group of savage critics / music enthusiasts / Blisspop contributors includes: Max Rewak, William Creason, Jonathan Sherman, Patrick Blinkhorn, and Alex Rubenstein. This week’s music includes tracks by Danny L. Harle, Helix, Armin Van Buuren, Fracture, and Keepsakes. Check it out below and send us your suggestions on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Fracture – “Take You”

William Creason - There’s a theory that the most potent point of nostalgia is thirty years before the present day, it’s something that can be easily heard today with a high amount of reference points to the 1980s.  “Take You” is five or so years ahead of the curve.  It frames the sounds of breakbeat hardcore, the genre that would become drum n’ bass, and recasts the elements into a contemporary style.  The euphoric vocals and Italo house piano vamp rub alongside trap drum fills and rushing riddim.  In bleak times, it’s nice to be reminded of a deliriously fun past. [8/10]

Patrick Blinkhorn - “Take You” has a lot going on, throwing a ton of material at the listener in under 5 minutes, but it still works as a cohesive track. I’m not particularly familiar with this style of music, and at times the deep vocals and intense piano seem a little much, but the energy in this track is undeniable. Overall I really enjoyed this listening experience, but it’s something that I had to grow into after a listen or two.  [7/10]

Alex Rubenstein - Fracture wants to “Take You” on a ride with this one and I’m all for riding shotgun doing about 105mph. The frenetic keys and skittering drums really crank this track up to 11, especially over top of the throbbing bass. I get some Machinedrum vibes from this track, if Machinedrum was still producing tunes that were as captivating as this one. The vocals are a nice, uplifting touch, which does not overshadow the retro-futuristic production. Strap me in! [9/10]

Max Rewak - Where were you in 1992? From the sound of it, “Fracture” was either at jungle raves or learning how to design neurofunk basses. I can’t get enough of the busy piano riffs that drive the track or the chopped-up rainforest synth textures that make me think a pack of monkeys are hooting and howling over the instrumental. A more organic drum break might have been a tad more interesting, but this track seems like a fun reference to UK bass music’s roots that still offers a fresh and modern interpretation. [9/10]

Jonathan Sherman - I’m not usually a fan of Drum & Bass, but what I liked a lot about this track was the song progression. Phasing was dynamic and flowed well, and I thought the piano was nicely placed. I liked how the piano lines fit very nicely with the beat of the track, and the mastering on the vocals really flowed nicely for creating both a tribal and house vibe to the track. The tracked concluded nicely, and the reverb was very effective.  [6/10]

Armin Van Buuren – “Sex, Love & Water”

William Creason - This guy waters.  It’s jarring to hear Armin Van Buuren, a brand so tied to studium trance, taking a Calvin Harris left turn into revivalist proto-boogie funk.  It’s a pleasant enough song, but it feels like a stylistic dead end – where does Armin go from here?  This feels both too slow for lifelong Van Buuren fans and not quite different enough to become a radio hit, a gamble that doesn’t really pay off. [3/10]

Patrick Blinkhorn – The legendary Dutch trance DJ Armin van Buuren tried his hand at groove with Conrad Sewell, and while they deserve commendation for their attempt to replicate several styles, the producer-singer duo have come up short in their try at good, genuinely funky music. As a pop song or radio hit, this song gets a solid grade, but that doesn’t necessarily make a piece of music good for me.

Armin and Sewell seem to be emulating Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” with “Sex, Love & Water,” but the tracks are in two very different leagues. In “Get Lucky,” Pharrell Williams sings a catchy, soulful hook; on the other hand, Conrad Sewell sings an unmemorable, soulless hook. Nile Rodgers’ guitar line and every other aspect of “Get Lucky”’s instrumentation is perfect; “Sex, Love & Water”’s instrumentation has its moments, but it sounds very manufactured and unnatural on the whole. While this track might make waves on the radio, it is unoriginal and uninspiring. [2/10]

Alex Rubenstein - That was Armin Van Buuren? I could see this being played on an electronic jukebox in a Chili’s somewhere on Friday night if you were trying to get “turnt.” But actually, this song is pretty terrible and the chorus of “Sex, Love and Water” becomes a segment of words you never want to hear sung again by the second or third minute. I have never heard of Conrad Sewell, his vocals sound kind of like a knockoff Bruno Mars/Justin Timberlake hybrid, but aren’t helping to save this track. Do I have to give songs at least 1 point? [1/10]

Max Rewak - I really respect artists that try to branch out and evolve. No one is the same person that they were yesterday, let alone ten years ago, and it’s silly to expect an international brand like Armin van Buuren to continue making anthemic progressive trance for the rest of his life. With that said, this track is doing nothing at all for me. This sounds like a disco reject Bruno Mars would have passed on. The funk elements feel like an afterthought instead of a real backbone, and frankly I just don’t believe Armin’s heart is in this. I’m all for experimentation and evolution, but I’m not at all for brazen trend-hops. Couldn’t be more glad that Armin is getting money, but I’m not interested in being a part of it. [2/10]

Jonathan Sherman - This song is very catchy and the perfect song for the dancefloor, but definitely a different avenue for Armin Van Buuren. There has been a lot of content coming out from Armada lately geared towards the Tropical and Indie House genres, so I have a feeling this was a marketing move to steer the label in that direction. Love the horns and beat, but just wish the lyrics were a bit more dynamic and less of a loop. [7/10]

Keepsakes – “Pick ’em Till they Bleed”

William Creason - Yeah, loving this sound, an appropriate track title (even though it sounds more like a heavy bludgeoning).  I’m super into ultra-distorted, almost bit-crushed, kick drums coming back into style.  The rhythm puts me right into the zone and the breakdown where the synths go haywire is a great way to break things up while maintaining tension.  Track of the week! [9/10]

Patrick Blinkhorn – Auckland, New Zealand-based artist Keepsakes revs the engine and then puts the pedal-to-the-metal on this wild, 5:35 long techno ride. The track fades in some fine distortion, and after a false start, the aggressive kick drum comes in at full-force. I’ve been waiting to receive a promo like this for a while, so kudos to Pullproxy for delivering the goods. “Pick ‘em Till They Bleed” is near-perfect in terms of tracks that strike my fancy these days. [9/10]

Alex Rubenstein I like my techno my hard as nails and this fucking delivers! Keepsakes delivers here with a thundering bassline and maniacally distorted synths that pummel the listener into submission. I want to hear this at 2:30am in a dark, sweaty warehouse somewhere slightly dangerous. Seriously though, this tracks bangs and I’m going to be playing it a lot now that I know this exists. [9.5/10]

Max Rewak - I’m totally unfamiliar with Keepsakes, but “Pick ‘Em Till They Bleed” is quite an introduction. This is super-crunchy and very industrial set weapon ammunition — not really meant to be anything other than in-your-face, fuck-off huge. While I can’t really envision listening to this at any time other than peak hour, I’m scoring it pretty high for the sound design and arrangement. It’s quite a feat to keep something interesting for 5+ minutes when it’s as repetitive and aggressive as this. [8/10]

Jonathan Sherman - I am a huge fan of the beat on this track because of its syncopation and because tempo, but I definitely would have appreciated a bit less filter. The synth sounds very dynamic and catchy, but it’s hard to appreciate with so much filter applied to the track. Overall, great track and very easy to jam with, just would have loved to have seen a bit less filter applied. [5/10]

Danny L. Harle feat. Clairo – “Blue Angel”

William Creason - As ever, top notch production and sound design from Danny L Harle, arguably the most consistent producer from the PC Music stable.  Clairo as a collaborator seems like a homerun on paper, but the vocals don’t seem to add much to the song overall.  This would’ve been an excellent song to have three months ago at the beginning of winter, the bell chime lead synth feels like a perfect Christmas season sound. [7/10]

Patrick Blinkhorn – The production quality in this track is exquisite — Danny L Harle has a very clean sound with enough unnatural timbres to keep the listener on their toes. The track is a bit more lighthearted and pure than what I am into these days though. And while I appreciate tuneful, singsong melodies in certain listening scenarios, it’s not what I usually look for in electronic music. I’m giving this a 5/10 because I recognize production skill required to make music at this level, but it’s it not the type of music I find appealing. [5/10]

Alex Rubenstein - “Blue Angel” ticks all the boxes for a Danny L. Harle track; euphoric melody, crystal-clear production, pitched up vocals about precipitation and tears, (are tears a type of precipitation?) yet somehow this lacks the HUUUGEEE DANNNYYYY quality that tracks like “Broken Flowers” and “1UL”  seem to have. Clairo’s vocals fit the song well, but in terms of emotional impact they don’t quite hit the mark like collaborators Raffy and Carly Rae Jepsen do. This song does, however, make me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, so thank you Mr. Harle for making me feel. [6/10]

Max Rewak - It might be a little unfair, but I can’t help but include the delightful video in my score for this saccharine pop 2.0 reverie from the PC Music stalwart Danny L Harle. The visual appears to be a Forerunner obelisk smack in the middle of a snowy fantasy forest, conjuring lyrics, shapes and colors throughout the track. As pleasant and transporting as the video was, the music leaves me cold. I think I’m in on the PC Music “joke,” but this effort just feels lazy. The hyper-produced, meticulous details of
“Me4u,” for example, are nowhere to be found here. Clairo’s contribution sounds like about thirty seconds of recorded material total, repeated for the purpose of filling out the track instead of actually conveying a message. I expect a little better from an artist of Danny’s caliber. [5/10]

Jonathan Sherman - For a future bass track, this track really creates a very ambient vibe that is both smooth and dynamic in nature. The vocals create a contrasting dynamic to the song’s soft melodies, and the reverb on the melody creates a nice overtone. Would have love to have just seen a bit more dynamic and colorful vocal progressions. [7/10]

Helix – “FBM Flip”

William Creason - Three albums from Helix is a nice way to launch the tenth anniversary of Night Slugs.  This track is solid, I know it’s older as is all of the material from the forthcoming albums, but maybe feels a bit staid – we’ve heard years worth of riffs on Jam City’s “Classical Curves” style (and who is going to ever do it better than Jam City?).  Any Helix is good Helix, so the next few months will be a treat, but I do hope there are more surprises in store. [6/10]

Patrick Blinkhorn – Helix made a compelling listening experience with “Fbm Flip.” The track is a bit more minimal than what I normally listen to or hear out, but I imagine it could be used as pallet-cleanser or track to layer in the mix, possibly a good track to play earlier on in a club DJ oriented night. [7/10]

Alex Rubenstein - It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the founding of Night Slugs as a label, considering they have been pretty instrumental in shaping my own tastes in electronic music. This track is perfect example of what Night Slugs do so well in cultivating their own sound. Less is more with this one. The crisp drums and leaping melody are a win for me. I am looking forward to hearing the rest of his Greatest Hits releases. [8/10]

Max Rewak - Media commenters tend to bandy about the term “deconstructed club music” when discussing Helix’s compositions. To me, that term sounds like a lot of bullshit. What is it deconstructing? “Club music” includes an extremely diverse array of musical expressions, not some all-encompassing monolith for Pitchfork to shit on and label passé. To me, “Fbm Flip” is a relatively simple idea, cleanly executed — nothing more, nothing less. The croaky lead retains just enough movement to hold my interest, as does the distorted, thin kick. It sounds anxious, nervous, broken … yet simultaneously jubilant and triumphant. It’s the sound of confidence and re-affirmation against the struggles of modern city life, the sound of acknowledging a challenging situation and rising to meet it. [9/10]

Jonathan Sherman - I’m a big fan of this track because of the way that the artist uses a very pungent bass and kick and with a very dynamic synth. I would have loved to have seen a guitar or wind instrumental over the track with an eight bar vocal loop, but I definitely can appreciate the artist’s work in applying compression and color to the synth and kick tracks to create an uptempo future house track. [6/10]

The Winners and Losers:

Keepsakes – “Pick ‘Em Till They Bleed” – 8.1/10

Fracture – “Take You” – 7.8/10

Helix – “FBM Flip” – 7.2/10

Danny L. Harle feat. Clairo – “Blue Angel” – 6/10

Armin Van Buuren – “Sex, Love & Water” – 3/10