Fuck Buttons – “Slow Focus”

(Photo Credit: Electric Banana)

Grade: A-

Key Tracks: “Prince’s Prize,” “Stalker”

The shortest track on this album, the 4:22 of “Prince’s Prize,” is longer than the longest song on the new Hunx & His Punx album, sitting right below this one. This has always been the approach to music for the Buttons. Their songs are long, leaving a lot to dig through. Fuck Buttons, much like their name itself, challenge popularity to accept them. The band is an instrumental, electronic duo that creates long, dense works that are never easy and conventional yet never mean on the ears. There is a secret formula to their music, and it continues on their third album.

With all of the EDM and electronica albums coming out this year already – Daft Punk, Disclosure, James Blake and Zomby have already released great albums – it’s surprising that there is room for the Buttons to fit in. But there is, because they don’t attempt to make music people can dance to. Their music is more complex and tougher to crack. Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” is one of the best songs of the year, but any ten seconds of this album has more complexity and depth than the entirety of Daft Punk’s hit. These songs are mesmerizing, switching to and from rough and pretty, and often mixing the two. “Stalker” is the best example of this, a ten minute dissection of a pretty but monotonous rhythm, played over some decidedly noisy bits. The Buttons give a lot to dissect, but don’t give many clues. They do it in a way that makes for a puzzling listen, not a frustrating one. “Slow Focus” plays out like a mystery that doesn’t get answered, with an ending that is totally acceptable anyways.

Through all three albums, Fuck Buttons have been tough to nail down, with their intentionally complicated sound always being on the verge of remix-worthy without ever going there. “Slow Focus” is loud and empty, seemingly devoid of human emotions, through its grandiose and expansive ideas. It always seems like it is about to crack into club music, but will never go there, because the band places value on the depth of it’s music. “Slow Focus” is long and fantastic. Seven tracks and fifty-two minutes of brilliance. It is too tough to crack on one listen, and will confuse most listeners. Hopefully, enough people will give it a few listens without shrugging it off and moving on to dance music. Although with the attitude of this music, the band might just not care if they do.

-By Andrew McNally

Zomby – “With Love”

Photo Credit: Spin Magazine

Photo Credit: Spin Magazine

Grade: B

Key Tracks: Disc 1 – “Overdose,” “777”

Disc 2- “How to Ascend,” “With Love”

Zomby is a solo electronic musician, and “With Love,” his third album, finds him exploring brief ideas and a mid-90’s influence. The album, almost entirely instrumental, is largely compromised of minimalistic hip-hop beats. The album feels like hip-hop with the vocals. The album is two discs, separated by emotions. Disc One is “rough,” and features seventeen blasts of party-dreaming hip-hop beats, begging to be freestyled over. There is a certain roughness to this album, largely in the transitions between ideas. Most tracks do not end, but abruptly cut to the next in a rough transition. And although it is minimalistic, it has a certain heaviness to it. Disc One feels like it was made after a binge on dirty 90’s hip-hop, and it is successfully reminiscent of it.

Disc Two is “contemplative,” although there is not a sharp departure from Disc One. It is still minimalistic electronica, just a little more hushed-down. This album is sixteen tracks, not seventeen, showing that each idea still ends just as it becomes old. The average length of a song on either album hovers around two minutes. If I recall, there is only one track with vocals on this album, compared to two on the first disc. This album lacks the party grab, which was intentional. But when the music is quick bursts of what is largely background music, it starts to border on unnecessary. Still, it makes for something to put on in the background when you’re going about your day. Zomby’s stuff might be exactly what you’ve been hearing for years, and it feels pointless at times. But it is an enjoyable listen, for parties or guilty pleasure.

If you like this, try: Disclosure’s debut “Settle,” more minimalistic electronic that’s perfect for parties.

-By Andrew McNally

Disclosure – “Settle”

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Grade: B+

Key Tracks: “When A Fire Starts to Burn,” “F For You”

A debut from a European dance band coming only weeks after Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” burned up the charts might not seem like a good decision. It worked. Perhaps it was unintentional, but Disclosure might be on to something. The British duo – two brothers of ages 21 and 18 – have perfected an album harking back to dance music of the 90’s, not unlike the aforementioned French duo. Americanized house and dance music (the abrasively loud forms of EDM and dubstep I embraced in college) is still very popular, but has a definite expiration date, and that date might be coming soon. As “Get Lucky” climbs the charts, Boards of Canada release a comeback and Disclosure release a well-anticipated debut on the same day, all signaling a potential return to more controlled forms of dance music.

There is really nothing new on this record. It greatly succeeds, however, as an exploration and combination of many different forms of dance and house music. The combined opening tracks of “Intro” and “When A Fire Starts to Burn” present an almost Prodigy-type of heavy, hip-hop influenced type of electronica. This doesn’t stick around, as the album shifts through various volumes and tempos, and with a whole and welcomed line-up of up-and-coming British singers.

“Settle” is, at its core, exactly what it wants to be, and that is an effective dance record. It even flows well as an album, something nearly every dance band seems to struggle with. It might be very long, but if it’s put on at a party, that will no longer be a complaint. The beats are cooled and controlled, with little invention going on. In a world now filled with Skrillexs and Diplos, that might be just what we need.

-By Andrew McNally