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Jorge Velez - Roman Birds Music Album Reviews

Inspired by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, this five-track ambient wonder finds the New York producer letting pulses and motifs overlap until the tracks resemble the inside of a lava lamp.
Jorge Velez has long been prolific, but that’s been especially true in the past few years. Like many underground electronic musicians, the New York producer has taken advantage of the internet’s self-publishing opportunities—in particular, the direct-to-fans platform Bandcamp—to sidestep label gatekeepers, streaming services, and crowded retailers. (Velez’s Bandcamp page currently numbers 26 releases.) Velez first gained recognition a dozen years ago with blippy disco derivatives for labels like Italians Do It Better, but his output has gradually become more esoteric and inward-looking. He’s still capable of ebullient club tracks, as last year’s excellent Forza attests, but many of his long, undulating machine jams sound like late-night missives to himself.

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Bjarki - Oli Gumm Music Album Reviews

The five tracks here are among the most satisfying productions the Icelandic musician has released, a mix of comic, deranged, and weirdly sensual moods.

Bjarki’s brief career has been both prolific and precocious. The Icelandic electronic musician first broke through in 2015, at the age of 24, with a two-track 12” on the Russian DJ Nina Kraviz’ label трип. The record—a coiled, peak-time techno banger backed by a slice of after-hours gloom—was well received, but that’s true of dozens, maybe hundreds of similar debuts in the techno scene, year in and year out. For most young producers, such a promising start might have led to a fairly well-trodden path: another 12”, maybe a few longer EPs, all leading up, a few years later, to a debut album. But Bjarki skipped a step or three, and instead, he opted to unleash the contents of his hard drive in the form of not one but three albums for Kraviz’ label, each one a triple-vinyl package, all in the span of a single year: thirty-seven tracks in all, not including still another 12” and a handful of compilation tracks. It was a lot.

Hard-drive dumps are tricky business. Richard D. James got away with one, back in early 2015, but then, at the time, people were still buzzing about his unexpected return from a 13-year hiatus as Aphex Twin; they were predisposed to want more. (He also happens to be someone whose fans respond approvingly even when he plays sandpaper discs in place of records.) Bjarki’s offering, on the other hand, scanned as the work of a young artist with potential who could stand to learn to edit.

Lately, he seems to be doing just that. His output has slowed, his focus intensified. The five tracks on oli gumm are among the most satisfying productions he has released. Inspired by the pile-driving sound of 1990s hardcore techno like the Mover, along with the skull-scouring distortion of Aphex Twin’s “Ventolin,” it’s thrilling from beginning to end, a nonstop cavalcade of steel-toed kicks, lacerating cymbal work, and sharp-edged acid riffs punctuating apocalyptic atmospheres. At the same time, no-frills floor-fillers are rarely as squirrelly as these. Even his toughest tunes, like the 148-BPM opener “oli gumm 2-2,” seem to dance over spongy ground, and his layered drum sounds feel both brutal and yielding at the same time, like sledgehammers sheathed in a mix of velvet, bubble wrap, and moss.

Keeping his riffs simple, he lavishes attention on texture: Minor-key synths sparkle like a curtain of icicles; a single metallic ping pierces the gloom like the Evening Star cutting through fog. Each lo-fi scrap—remnants of rave siren, construction-site clang, shrieking feedback—comes wreathed in a silvery halo. It’s a curious effect: The individual materials are bruised and battered, but put together, they seem almost opulent.

The moods he evokes are a mix of comic, deranged, and weirdly sensual. “7 filakaramellur lion bar,” one of the EP’s brain-bending standouts, harnesses the kind of gravelly vocal sample you’d find in an old Chemical Brothers tune, twisting and distorting it until it turns eerie and menacing; another vocal loop, just as indecipherable, might be an anguished beast trapped in a cistern. At the same time, his hooks are as giddy as Woody Woodpecker’s unhinged laugh, while the whispers swimming through the background have a calming energy. It all comes to a head on “hatann satann,” in which a no-nonsense stomp is set against a welter of weird, bubbly chirps and squeaks: synthetic birdsong, loosed balloons, the yelps of an injured dog. It’s primal, animalistic; it has all the industrial intensity of the classic Berghain sound, but weirder—a grayscale foundation flooded with fluorescent color. The hooting, squealing noises tug every which way against the gridded rigidity of the rhythm, suggesting a duet for factory machinery and free-jazz reeds—discipline and chaos locked into mortal combat.

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