“Sinuous Gullies” (Between Places, 2018), is the duo’s debut on this relatively young german sub-label. Its first pressing sold out not long after its release -and the latest repress is almost gone too-, so before it was too late we got a copy or two, to hear for ourselves what all the fuss was about.
Solar One Music, -Between Places’ parent label- started out in 2006 as a self-built home for Nico Jagiella and Robert Witschakowski to release their own music as The Exaltics, but it soon became one of the main purveyors of classically cut electro in the european electronic scene. With a wealth of expertly chosen compilations and remix releases under their belts (featuring genre greats like Legowelt or Dopplereffekt), and hosting a hefty list of great albums and EPs from some of their own signed artists (such as Impakt or Komarken Electronics) Solar One Music progressively became a little less of a niche label as the years went by.
Recent projects like their “Techno City” series have helped the Jena imprint broaden its sound palette, and through releases like The Exaltics own “Das Heise Experiment” -with its accompanying comic book- or their Hubble Telescope inspired string of EPs, the label’s focus seems to be gradually shifting towards bigger and more flamboyant adventures, built around specific themes or grand ideas. This circumstance probably led Jagiella and Witschakowski to create Between Places, as a space to recoup that fresh feeling that “starting from scratch” can give you, reliving the purist, traditional electro vibe of those first years at SOM, while at the same time creating a new place for more club-oriented music that is less obviously thematic or album-like in essence.
After a successful first release on their catalog, featuring the fairly stablished german producer Das Muster, the newborn SOM sub-label Between Places decided to take some risks and host debutant producers Animistic Beliefs for a second catalog entry. The young duo from Rotterdam -comprising Linh Luu and Marvin Lalihatu- are not mere “studio rats” however. They alternate their production work with recurrent live sets full of analog gear and stylish knob twisting, and I’d go as far as to say that the energy and finesse of those performances is slowly building a solid reputation for them -by the way, if you haven’t already done so, go check some of their live videos on Youtube and similar platforms; the “Clone Rec. X Operator One” set is quite nice-.
Once you put the needle on the groove, you can definitely see -erm, hear- that the collection of tunes featured in their debut EP -a 5 track 12-inch, mysteriously called “Sinuous Gullies”-, certainly echoes the spirit of the duo’s performances in quite a few ways. The first cut, “Phycodurus Dragon” -taking it’s name from the fish better known as the Leafy Seadragon-, starts off with a slow build up of 80-something BPM beats. It features fairly modern-sounding bass drums and harsh electronic bell hits, that are later countered by white noise washes and 808 sounds, for a bit of that classic sound that electro is known for. Although it’s understandable to start off with relatively slow tempo tune, it is still quite a surprising choice for an opening track, since -having heard the whole EP already- it’s quite a bit heavier and more modern sounding than the rest of the release. Even then, the simple yet effective vocals and portamento ridden synth lines more prominent in the second half certainly put us in the right mood for what is to come.
The second song is actually the title track (“Sinuous Gullies”), and boy does it sound good. The juxtaposition of traditional 808 drums and equally classic Roland-ish synth sounds is very well-balanced, and all the tasteful tweaking -plus the various polyrhythms and melodies of different lengths- certainly help it sound futuristic in an old-school kind of way. I could be wrong, but there is a certain freshness to this cut that makes it feel like it’s more of an actual jam -a jam of sync’d machines that is- than the previous one, with all of the little quirks and “happy accidents” that make those ephemeral moments special. It’s pretty much my favourite tune, definitely worthy of lending its name to the whole release.
Next is, “Marianentrog Patrol”, probably the most retro of the bunch with its unashamedly acid lines, the percussive “lasergun” filter bleeps -very Cybotron!- and the always unsubtle 808 cowbell. The metallic and flanger-heavy bridge is quite smart. It’s late enough in the track for the listener to think that the tune is over yet, before you know it, there’s still more acid to come! A very clever and well produced track. And if you love flanging be prepared as “Aquatic Gas Exchange” (the fourth cut) is also full of it. While a bit more linear and predictable than the previous two, it’s definitely a good fit for this release, and the soothing voices paired with the slow tempo help us breath (pun intended) and get some well-deserved fresh air for the energetic finale that follows.
The album closes with “Thalassic Alarm” -subtitled “Linhs’ Hymn”, most likely in relation to the feminine half of the duo- and this one is delicious. It retains all the directness and dynamism of the title track (that unmistakable “machine-jam” aura) while at the same time conforming an effective arrangement that leaves some space for bridges and breaks. This makes it appear as more of a actual song, and certainly adds an extra dose of depth and emotion that can be sometimes absent in similar tracks of this kind.
Summing up, “Sinuous Gullies” is quite a refreshing EP with quality production both regarding its composition and sound -more so if we take into account the fact that it’s a debut-. I love bands and projects that try to go a little further than the tired “laptop and controller” setup for their live performances, because it often gives an extra edge to their music, and this is a fine example of how that energy can transcend the stage and even leak into the studio. I sincerely hope that the future brings great things to the duo that is Animistic Beliefs, as I think they deserve it.
You can buy this vinyl here.
About the author: José -Pepe- Coca is a musician, producer and audio engineer from Zaragoza (Spain). He has a PhD in Art and teaches Sound Systems, Synthesis and Mastering courses at CPA Salduie and SEAS. He has also worked as a sound designer for companies such as Elektron, Befaco or HelloSamples.