By Mike Appelstein
By Daniel Hill
By Roy Kasten
By Kris Wernowsky
By Chaz Kangas
By Joseph Hess
By Julie Seabaugh
By Mike Appelstein
As the rope of electronic beat-based music untangles into countless unique strands, one of the most interesting threads seems to avoid the allure of the dance floor altogether. Variously referred to as "armchair electronica," "blip-hop" or -- ugh -- "intelligent dance music," the subgenre forgoes the necessities of dance beat as bebop did 50 years ago in jazz and has resulted in some of the most interesting experimental music of the decade. There's so much of it coming out that, for the fan-kid, each visit to a record store, be it a physical or online venture, is filled with both frustration and anticipation. Tiny labels (Lo Recordings, Skam, Warp, Fat Cat, Worm Interface, Chocolate Industries, Schematic) seem to be shoveling out the stuff, threatening to bury your budget and inundate your ears. Luckily, most of these labels understand this and issue compilations from time to time as showcases, allowing consumers to sample and purchase accordingly.
Leaf Records, out of England, is one such label, and this dirt-cheap sampler, filled with a wide variety of thoughtful computer music, resists the inclination to hammer a beatnail into your brain, instead tap-tap-tapping texture and subtlety under your skin. The music on Osmosis relies as much on the treble knob as it does on the bass, and though you can make the music rumble your intestines if you want, the music sounds much better with the knobs set at noon. There, you can hear the itsy-bitsy (sampled) water drops driving the rhythm, and you can hear the Tarzan hollers and organ oozings buried way down in the mix. Best of all, the stable of international artists (310 is American, Susumo Yokota is Japanese, Beige is German and Eardrum is British) never sacrifices a solid root beat for pyrotechnic stutters -- so, joy of joys, you can dance to it if you're so moved, though you'll never hear this stuff at Velvet -- and believe that melody still matters.
As a result, the entirety of Osmosis sounds, well, very, very pretty. And that's saying something in the testosterone-fueled world of electronic music, where a big ol' beat and an edgy grunt score more points in the popularity contests than subtler, more feminine nuances. In fact, much of the collection is downright delicate, a lace of curves and softness that may make you tough guys want to swallow your Adam's apples. Proof positive of this sentiment comes in the bonus hidden special mystery track at the end of the collection: a nearly antagonistic, cheeseball cover of Fatboy Slim's (admittedly rockin') frat-boy classic "The Rockafella Skank."
Osmosis is a glistening peek into a heavenly, rhythmic scene, one that fan-kids and freshmen alike will find satisfying. Though it's an import, it runs about $7 at your favorite record store, and if you're having trouble finding it in town, try a couple of ace online stores: www.othermusic.com and www.forcedexposure.com.