Pretty Lights Music Does It Big in April
There’s a reason people sit and wait patiently for the next release on Pretty Lights Music record label. Not only is the anticipation damn worth the nights spent incessantly checking Facebook for that definitive update, but there’s an understanding when it comes to this label that electronic genius is determined by quality of work rather than frequency.
That being said, April was a cream-yourself-good month for those perseverant followers, as both Gramatik and Michal Menert dropped new albums. Sure, you say, new records come out every day. But if you’re as addicted to these two artists as the rest of underground electro culture is, then you understand the kind of shakes and fevers that come without new material to blast at full volume.
Gramatik — #digitalfreedom
Slovenian producer Denis Jasarvic’s latest release, #digitalfreedom, takes several steps in a different direction than albums in the past. Firstly, it’s an EP, notably his first since 2008 and the Street Bangerz series. Riding on that kind of instantaneous inspiration is the embedded political commentary. Jasarvic is historically outspoken with his opinions concerning government and, with this one, he finally transitioned into sharing those thoughts through his music. The title #digitalfreedom as well as his newfound sonic rebellion are thrown right into the face of Republicans and Democrats alike who support current censorship legislation.
“FUCK ACTA, SOPA, PIPA and any bill that wants to give corporations the power to regulate and censor the internet,” Gramatik wrote on his Facebook recently, “especially if those same corporations built their empires solely on copyright infringement!”
While the message is spot on, the album is intensely rooted in dubstep, trading in hip-hop beats and funk fusion for grimy womps and high-frequency build-ups. #digitalfreedom’s saving grace is intricately chosen and layered samples that grab the ear amidst the innocuous car crash. The first track, entitled “Fist Up,” holds steadfast on a soulful rock guitar line that briefly meets up with a horn section to provide that funk fix. And a hurried string section maps its way into the tune “23 Flavors” essentially adding depth. But the instances are few and far between.
We mustn’t forget to give a shout out to local rapper Jay Fresh for his appearance on “Solidified,” a revisited and revamped track from Gramatik’s beginning days called “Liquefied.”
So let’s take a step back and evaluate: Is this a bangin’ album? Yes. Is it my favorite? No. Do I miss the likes of Beatz and Pieces and Barngerz? Yes. Does this change my opinion of Gramatik and his epicness? Absolutely not; I just can’t wait to hear more.
Michal Menert — Even If It Isn’t Right
Two years later, you can tell that Colorado-based producer Michal Menert hasn’t missed a beat. His sophomore release Even If It Isn’t Right picks up exactly where Dreaming of a Bigger Life left off — traveling whimsically off the beaten path of perfectly mixed samples and unquestionable originality. Menert’s appreciation for all instruments, especially on his latest, gives the music an enriched organic feel. The wails of saxophones, the brisk keys on the piano, even unrelenting vocal tracks could be performed live.
What’s most unique about this album is its definitive beginning and end points. Menert flows through all 27 songs seamlessly from the time he introduces himself in the opening track “Hi” to the moment he moseys out the door with “After the Rain” in a thoughtful sequence of events. It feels as if Menert is reading his autobiography aloud while the voices from his stereo act out the main roles.
When I got the chance to sit down with Menert last December at The Green Elephant, I entered the green room to find him hunched over his laptop. He was on the cusp of finishing his new album, he said, where every track was his new favorite song. And he saw it very much like a self-portrait with ups and downs, with failure and triumph, but most of all with heart.
“I want moments where it’s not about the movement of the song or the drop,” Menert said. “It’s not always about the party; it’s about an emotional connection with the music … Music has saved my life so many times.”
When the listener takes personal reverence with Even If It Isn’t Right, it feels just that way. The songs collectively serve as a snap shot, the beginning and end of something, but of what is left for debate. Perhaps it’s reassurance that the present time isn’t just a means to an end, or just a bit of internal peace. This album gives voice to the part of your brain telling you to “slow down and fucking smell the flowers.” Because, you know what, they’re beautiful.