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l'altra / different days / hefty

The Windy City has never been lacking in musical talent. Right now its electronic scene in particular is experiencing a creative boom with acts like Telefon Tel Aviv, Pulseprogramming and Slicker, the musical alias of John Hughes Jr., who also runs the Hefty label. L'altra, is another name that deserves to be near the top of this list. Originally a five-piece ensemble, co-founders Lindsay Anderson and Joseph Costa -- who ended a several year romantic relationship while recording this album -- scaled back the official line-up to just themselves, but among the nine or so guest musicians listed are recognizable names like avant-cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, horn player Nate Walcott (Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley), and Pulseprogramming's Marc Heller.

Produced by Telefon Tel Aviv's Joshua Eustis, the duo's third full-length, and first with a Hefty logo, isn't exactly electronic in the traditional sense. The programmed beats and sonic textures are rounded out by the warm accoutrements of acoustic and electric guitars, Rhodes piano and bass. It all comes together creating a gorgeously restrained, at times heart-tugging, musical foundation for Anderson and Costa's intertwined vocals. Their sad, hushed melodies are quite sincere, the interplay between the two singers at times reminiscent of Ida's Daniel Littleton and Elizabeth Mitchell.

It's all about slow-building dynamics. L'altra utilize subtle crescendos much in the same way as Efterklang; the lulling tempos of the songs emphasize the lush textures of instrumentation that flow in and out, be it layers of horns, strings or a rare blast of guitar feedback. This is a perfect late night chill-out soundtrack for those looking for something slow, seductive and a little bittersweet.
listen: different days
listen: better than bleeding

bibio / fi / mush

Bibio is in fact an Englishmen named Stephen Wilkinson, who not only has an affinity for playing beautiful, finger-picked guitar passages, but also for impressionistic production inspired by electronic auteurs like Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada, and what sounds to be a love of his four-track. The latter explains the brief, nonsensical album title Fi. His debut album actually blurs the line between hi-fi and lo-fi, Wilkinson processing and layering his cassette recorded guitar passages with unrecognizable drones, tape loops, and nature sounds. During "Puddled in the Morning," the precise fingerpicked notes are almost unrecognizable, overtaken by his guitar's overtones. As the distant melody fades away, what one would assume to be the clicks and pops coming from a stuck groove of an old record suddenly turns into a campfire's crackle.

Warbled tape recordings of Wilkinson's circular folk guitar passages give the album a mysterious, almost timeless quality. One can imagine these songs coming from an unlabeled cassette that had once been covered in moss, unearthed in a damp, English forest. Boards of Canada's Marcus Eoin is actually responsible for introducing the young musician to the Mush label. But while adjectives like hazy, soothing and pastoral can be used in describing both BOC and Bibio, Wilkinson's approach is much more minimalist. Deprived of beats, picture Fennesz processing loops from old British folk recordings or Kevin Shields on a camping trip with Jewelled Antler Collective.
listen: bewley in white
listen: puddled in the morning

alva noto / transrapid + transvision / raster noton

Alva Noto has released two new CD-EPs, each beautifully packaged and printed in a cardstock, fold-over pocket manual sized booklet. The CDs themselves look a lot like the 20' to 2000' CD-EPs from a while back with a few added graphic lines imbedded in the clear plastic. Very nice. Thankfully, the high expectations inspired by the design are rewarded with music that matches the simple intricacy of its package.

The first noticeable quality is its simultaneous closeness and distance to hip-hop. Ultra-sterilized (clinical), isolated bass-bumps, clicks, buzzes and beeps (smaller than 'bleeps') bump, scratch and climb themselves into breakbeats fit for the biosphere -- not that that idea worked, but you know, imagine a manmade atmosphere. (Take the sounds Carsten Nicolai added to the Noto/Sakamoto album and arrange them in fresh, lively, active beat arrangements.)

After hearing both EPs for the first time (and feeling them immediately) it took me a while to realize the obvious: these tracks bear a striking resemblance to recent Pan Sonic releases. I realized that the difference, and the reason that I didn't notice right away, is that here, the hi-fidelity of the sounds is much more inviting; the tracks 'swing' more and are much less static with many buildups and breakdowns -- if Panasonic and Jan Jelinek jammed in a parking lot.
listen: future
listen: j