Chrome-plated sound design and bristling textures frame the latest speculative sci-fi experiment from Xao, meshing sonic concepts inspired by Rabit, Visionist and Lotic into the cybernetic scapes of Hyph11E or Algorave proponent Renick Bell.
Xao has been working alongside the C.A.N.V.A.S. label since the beginning, and his second album builds on the promise of 2019's Astral Black-released "Eternal Care Unit", by burying some of his most recognisable inspirations into an algorithmic shimmer of vaporous sound design and cyborg percussion. The roots of ‘Wirehead’ can be traced to the mid 2010s obsession with shaping global club echoes and videogame FX into music that accurately scored our descent into digital dystopia, but Xao makes a clear link between those ideas and the brain-fried cyberpunk vistas of William Gibson. His guiding theme is the idea of the contemporary digital attention economy with its algorithmically-powered tidal wave of content, and the mental states that follows - employing procedural and algorithmic compositional methods to shatter this status quo, reaching in the direction of a proposed "digital spirituality" in the process.
On opening track 'Bone Theory', he burns fragments of death metal into warped airlock club stumbles, welding evocative, clanging sound design to tempered forms of weightless grime and gravel-throated trap. 'Aqua Tofana' is more fucked, sounding like a frosted-glass take on Autechre's latter day post-electro rhythms, or an algorithm-warped AI rendition of Lanark Artefax's 'Touch Absence', while 'Hyperfixate For Me' stutters barely-audible vocals beneath cracked Vladislav delayed percussion and the corrupted data throb of guitar noise and loopy synthesis.
The rest of the album plays like a Johnny Mnemonic-style braindump: the last few years of underground electronic music melted into a frayed patchwork of textures, rhythms and sonic signifiers. It comes to a head on 'I Wed My Shadow', when opera singer Marie Requa Gailey's voice just about cuts through the static like a candle in the dark, making the escape route from the techno dystopia just about visible. Moments later we're exposed to the corrosive 'Ophanim Plushie' - all jazz clatter and anodised rolls, accompanied by drones and squashed breaks that barely make it off the surface. By the time we reach the album's final track 'Threnody for the Child of Omelas', it’s all repair and recovery, twisting beatless echoes from strangled neural networks into blankets of aesthetic warmth.
Wirehead is a smart album that fits well into the deconstructed club/post-club lineage, deploying hyperkinetic sound design and a whelming flux of feelings echoing contemporary classics in its progressive field by TCF or Lee Gamble or indeed the same algo-powered artificiality as James Ferraro, or even the hyperpop set, fused with nu-metal and dembow somewhere between Arca and Oxhy.
Clair Crawford’s fantasy ambient-pop musings on the sea, remixed by Polypores, Euan Dalgarno, and Paul Cousins with a sensitively faithful energy to the originals
Set off with Clair’s original subtropical fantasia ‘Body Blossom’ on the cusp of Teresa Winter, Orphan Fairytale and Mike Cooper styles, and duly doubled in length for optimal immersion on her ribboning melodies and fragrant sound design, the remixers prune and embellish ‘Body Blossom’ in there own image. Edinburgh’s Euan Dalgarno sends it skyward with stacked choral vocals and radiant pads in the ‘Orchoir Crescendo remix’, and Polypores dissect and reassembles the vocals into strobing flutter and cascades of glitter in the ‘Streamtime Dreamtime remix’, whereas his ‘Slow Gnosis remix’ is given to a more gradual rebuild that sloshes lovely on the mind. Paul Cousins’ ‘1/4” mix’ is one for the Tape Loop Orchestra and Cotton Goods fiends, simmering the original to a smudged ferric essence and fractal residuals.
Deep, spiritual and relentlessly winding Batida and Tarraxho specials from Lisbon’s DJ Narciso and Nuno Beats - now joined by Farucox - for their 2nd RS Produções showcase with the inimitable and always-deadly Príncipe. Woozy, neck-snapping rhythmic flexes x cinematic melancholia - 100% vibes for the good of yr health.
A toast to good health after the bleakest days of the pandemic, ‘Saúde Em Primeiro Lugar’(health first) displays the Lisbon scene’s strength in diversity with a balance of relentless forward motion and melancholy vibes that acknowledge it’s still a bit weird out there. Opening with DJ Narciso’s intimate prayer for his pals ‘Oração’, which soon turns into a deep stepper, the expansive 13-track album transcends pure dancefloor pressure to work as a proper long player in its own right.
The album’s flow and emotive cadence benefits from the introduction of Farucox on a trio of highlights, with almost Drexciyan Black Atlantic overtones on ‘Taba’ and the syncopation of tendon-twitch drums to lush pads in ‘Sem Cabeça’, while the supremely weird, slow and offbeat tarraxho tang of ‘Esfrega (Ti Lito)’ shuts it down with a memorable curtain closer. DJ Narciso & Nuno Beats’ production proves no less reliable, also channelling James Stinson - whether knowingly or not - on the outstanding ‘Mitsai’ with its darkside choral motifs and electro-techno hydrodynamics, or in the tense, scaly charge of ‘Semana Chata’.
But the heavier stuff is only half the equation here. The record’s 2nd half is given to more concentrated downbeat headiness, spanning the groggy slosh of ‘Texx’ to a superb bluesy-Fado guitar meditation ‘Valentine’s Day 2K17’, pitch-bent underwater romance in ‘PrinCIPES’, and even acapella song ‘Bué de Bass’ beside the freakishly screwed raver ‘Bolor’. Seriously brimming with surprises at ever turn, it’s no doubt one of Príncipe’s deadliest releases, marking the start of their 2nd decade with relentless style.