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Cashmere Cat - Princess Catgirl Music Album Reviews

The Norwegian producer invents a Vocaloid-inspired feline character and retreats from the spotlit pop of his last album, returning to the introspective hush of his earlier work.
After all these years, Cashmere Cat is still shy. The musician born Magnus August Høiberg has nearly a decade of prismatic productions under his belt, which has led to appearances on the big stages at EDM festivals, collaborations with childhood heroes, and studio time with the biggest pop stars in the world. On some level, Høiberg has had to adjust to the practicalities that this success requires. He once wouldn’t even do in-person interviews, but a few years ago he finally decided to open up about his life story in a music video. One would imagine he’s no longer hiding in a bathroom, as a friend of his once described, when DJ Khaled unexpectedly turns up at the studio.

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Barker - Utility Music Album Reviews

For anyone who has ever fantasized about dissolving into the dancefloor, the debut solo album from techno artist Sam Barker is as close as it gets.

There is a small but significant faction of the dance-music underground that seems bent on teaching us that drums are overrated. There’s the UK’s “weightless” contingent, led by Mumdance and Logos, whose productions smear grime’s glassy accents into a viscous shimmer punctuated only by the occasional gunshot; there are flickering, arpeggiated tracks from Actress and Kassem Mosse that take lo-fi aesthetics to a new extreme, suggesting beaten-up cassette tapes where all the heavy bits have simply shriveled up and flaked off. Lorenzo Senni has reimagined trance music as an exercise in pure geometry, unaccompanied synth stabs bobbing as nimbly as knitting needles. And a recent Resident Advisor mix from Objekt, a reigning headliner of the global techno underground, was stitched together entirely from what he calls “no-kick rollers”—heavy-hitting club tracks with no anchoring bass drum.


Sam Barker is the latest to take up this idea, and his debut solo album, Utility, might be its fullest and most satisfying realization to date. The music resembles techno in all the style’s outward characteristics: the pulsing chords, the rippling high end, the gut-punching oomph of the bass. But where you might expect to hear techno’s usual percussive trappings—hardened kick drums, metallic cymbals, meaty snares—there are only the soft, fluid curves of his synthesizers. The closest that Barker comes to techno’s traditional drum palette is when he focuses a spray of white noise into a crisp, chattering attack akin to staccato hi-hats.

In its rose-tinted mood, the album often resembles mid-1990s ambient techno at its most wistful, like Larry Heard’s Alien or John Beltran’s Ten Days of Blue. But where classic ambient techno took club music’s signature elements and made them gentle enough for afterhours comedowns, Barker’s Utility does the opposite, borrowing ambient’s billowing forms and reinforcing them for the needs of the dancefloor. These tracks are weaponized clouds, cotton candy wrapped in Kevlar.

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The record begins on a dreamy, romantic note with “Paradise Engineering,” drizzling a honeyed synth melody over buoyant chords, but it quickly turns tougher: On “Posmean,” taut, rubbery synths seem to send calls for help in Morse code; “Hedonic Treadmill” hits you in the chest like a sack of gold dust, even as the fizzy high end mimics the bag’s contents dispersing in slow motion.

For anyone who has ever fantasized about dissolving into the dancefloor, Utility is about as close as it gets. On highlights like “Models of Wellbeing” (which nods to Rhythm & Sound’s aerated dub) and “Utility” (redolent of the fragrant Balearic staple “Sueño Latino”), Barker puts minimalist techniques to opulent ends, conjuring ecstatic visions out of just a handful of sounds, and teasing vast shapes out of a silvery mist. Behind the album’s title lies a crucial irony: By using ambient materials to remake techno, Barker has come up with the exact opposite of a purposefully percussive DJ tool. Instead of rote functionalism, Utility is distinguished by its surfeit of feeling.


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