I celebrated a minor triumph a few weeks ago when I restored disruption-free stereo playback at my apartment. Radio signal bleedover had been cutting into my personal turntable listening, but I stifled it with the help of a $16 preamp. Now that the extraneous crackling and fuzz is gone, it’s much easier to concentrate on the wealth of field noise and rustling street flourishes that were meant to interfere on Shigeto’s Full Circle and on Teebs’s Ardour.
A horde of provocative electronic musicians on the West Coast haul their beat machines and records to a weekly bass/electro hip-hop event in Los Angeles called Low End Theory. In the afternoons, though, they’re hunched over samplers in makeshift studios, where they build art with production software, keyboards, and odd collections of found sounds. One of them, New York City–born, Southern California–based producer Mtendere “Teebs” Mandowa, sees a lot of value in his aural environment, and has channeled this interest into his first long-player, which is full of hazy, midtempo beats that loosely tumble into multiple directions over 51 minutes.
Though it was engineered with newer tools than the Mellotrons and tape-splicing employed in the “Strawberry Fields Forever” sessions in late 1966, Ardour opener “You’ve Changed” stirs in a similarly flowery-full fashion. The track’s sewn-together analog splendor owes a debt to sloppy pitch-shifts and shimmering string samples—a sound Teebs mapped out on a web-traded beat tape last year, when lush cellos were just as ubiquitous in the producer’s material as they are now. Strings were equally prominent on “Wlta,” which appeared on 2009’s lauded Wild Angels comp from UK D.J. Mary Anne Hobbs. On that violin-heavy track, the airy percussion is almost undetectable if you aren’t nodding along on headphones that emphasize that sort of thing.
The drums occupy a secondary space throughout Ardour, with Teebs trimming the high end from muffled kicks, while more prominent real estate goes to the backward-swirling bits he nicked from symphonic records, which he seasons with twinkling wind chimes. These instrumentals knock slowly, and a world of kaleidoscopic augmentation slinks along with the beat. Fountain sounds seep into the background of “Gordon,” looped chirps mimic birdsong on “My Whole Life,” and a tide of both slowed and sped-up keys rushes through “Double Fifths.”
At Low End Theory events, tech geeks will admire the warm blue light emanating from Teebs’s Roland SP-404 on stage. It’s the sampler/drum machine that he mastered in order to capture and edit the source material that’s so integral to his work. But on this coast, where baseball teams get eliminated in mid-October, Brooklyn artist Zach “Shigeto” Saginaw talks about the critical importance of his Tascam digital mini-recorder. He records his jazz-head friends with it, and he brings it along to gather the field noise and crowd ambiance that thickens Full Circle, an audacious, sample-strewn album issued by Ghostly International in November. Not straying much from his earlier work for the Moodgadget label, Full Circle follows two EPs Shigeto released in 2010. The classically trained jazz musician and producer favors glitchy and meandering electronic/live combinations on all of these recent efforts. When hollowed-out drum sounds and techy clamor—the kind that characterize the jarring endeavors in Harmonic 313’s discography or Dabrye’s releases on Ghostly—aren’t at the core of a Full Circle track, Shigeto is weaving conversations or other indistinct field recordings into his productions.
Cookware clinks matched Shigeto’s Prefuse-style chopped vocals for “Bitter Sweet,” part of the What We Held On To EP made available for free download in July. (Crate-digger fave Astrud Gilberto also made an entrance at the end of the track, but while the producer’s interpretation of her “Berimbau” landed on a covers EP last year, his “Bitter Sweet” sample was part of a larger sonic brew.) The piano that opened Shigeto’s “Embrace the Cold” on April’s appropriately unfinished-sounding Semi-Circle EP was set against fluttering trees and offstage whispered dialogue, where hissing consonants are emphasized on a wobbling tape that sounds like it was wound backwards. On Full Circle’s“Children at Midnight,” the artist fleshes out a collage using all the above ingredients, as sampled laughter is menacing and pitch-shifted, flickering at the base of a jumpy track that’s rooted in both glitch techno and jazzy broken beat.
Shigeto’s history with jazz informs the new album in some places, while its influence is completely absent in others. “Look At All The Smiling Faces” gets its humble start with saxophone before the sputtering rhythms enter. The brass trails off here and there; it’s split into fragments, or a mere looped note ends up playing a big role in a set of organic finishing blows, where the full drum kit gets some shine. Brushed snares and vibes open “Brown Eyed Girl,” and “So So Lovely” introduces gloopy keys that appear to ape a sax solo toward its end. Elsewhere, weathered stringed instruments are tapped for a comely distraction in “Relentless Drag,” but the track cools, only to become digital and ominous before long. Keyboard squelches worm their way through huge beats, and Full Circle begins to sound like a party of chattering androids, the perfect place to make camp and fire up the digital recorder.