Nketiah Creates a Lush Electronic Soundscape with Mauve


I have to say it: I do not like long albums. If an album goes over twelve tracks, the synapses of my brain will cross and I will be lost in an impenetrable fog. I’ll probably start the album late or end it early upon repeated listens, depending on which half I liked more, and live out the rest of my days in denial that I was, initially, presented with a magnum opus. Long albums have a weight shorter ones do not. It feels indulgent to me, like putting whipped cream and chocolate chips and sprinkles on the pie.

Yet, there are exceptions to every rule. Soundtracks or instrumental albums, in particular, do not have the ability to emotionally or sonically overload me before we get past forty-ish minutes. Mauve, the new electronica album from mysterious San Francisco musician Nketiah, is not only long (fourteen tracks) but hefty, with the majority of the tracks clocking over four minutes. This would be a death sentence for a pop or punk album (or a pop punk album) but on Mauve, it feels lush and earned.

It feels lush because of the distinctive soundscape it creates — close to a movie soundtrack, but not quite (it’s a little too discordant in parts). Like listening to Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” or Daft Punk’s soundtrack to 2010’s TRON: Legacy (arguably the warmest and most human aspect of that entire film) there are burst of familiar flavor here, but Nketiah avoids feeling like a retread. Mauve is complex enough to send you places, and some of those places you have certainly been before. Over the course of the fourteen tracks, I was in the future, where an android speaks to me in staccato busts (“Drinks”); I was in the present, where the almost-forgotten experience of party ambiance becomes song (“Aura”); and I was in the past, imagining what the blue, opera-singing alien from semi-trashy sci-fi classic The Fifth Element listens to in her free time (“Open”).

The human voice is largely percussive on Mauve, but not in a beat-box way. It’s not the backbone of the tracks, but just as important and impactful as any other sound, except perhaps on “Shade II” which features snatches of discernible conversation that have largely not been tinkered with.
The most impressive uses of percussive voice are in “Bunk” and “Newform.” The former even uses one of my favorite music tropes: pretending like the song is going to end on some sort of dampened, single buzz of a note before bringing all the noise back at once. It’s the Phil Spector Wall of Sound, if Phil Spector was an immortal android who wished he had a human face. “Newform” is much longer, combining Stranger Things synth-y coldness with moments of warmth that come from a delicate, fuzzed-out effect and choral-like layered vocals that, if you weren’t expecting them, can give some real chills.

It’s not all dark smoky room stuff here, however — the watery fish-tank energy of “Midrain” ends abruptly for the lead-in to “Womp,” which overall sounds like a classical composer who had a little too much E. It’s truly an odd aside for the album, which normally slides from one track to the next more subtly. It’s not unforgivably jarring, however — the Nketiah touch does not particularly like to single out any one sound, and “Womp” is no exception. For another example, the very end of “Balance” reminded me of a ’90s dial-up noise, but I had to think on it for a bit until I was able to clock the memory. Nketiah knows that the impact here comes not from the sounds themselves, but from weaving and stitching them together into some semblance of a whole, one where you can barely see the frays and snags. And the ones you can see — well, there’s still something to be said for the fallibility of a human touch.


CAVE_byChrisOlsenSpirits were high, in a drone-jam sort of way, on Wednesday night, as head-nodders with their hands stuffed in their jeans pockets filed in to Mercury Lounge to hear CAVE‘s set. The stage had been converted into a kind of planetarium, all dark with a twinkling night sky projected onto a screen in front of the black wall. The band, whose new album Threace came out on October 15th, unceremoniously and succinctly introduced themselves: “We’re Cave,” said bassist Dan Browning, and immediately launched into a five minute pulsing, jam-happy introduction.


This was partially logistical—there were no vocal microphones on stage, and the band’s set was entirely instrumental. The Illinois-based group did make for a particularly serious, introspective live act, though, and were so absorbed in their playing that they hardly seemed to notice the audience at all. Flickering, black and white strands of what might have been DNA took the place of the stars flashing against the back wall. Cave channeled droning, incanted reels of psychedelic rock, surreally stretching out simple instrumental lines into repetitive, ten-minute magnum opuses. On stage, Browning and guitarist Jeremy Freeze remained virtually motionless as they played their instruments, focused and blissed out as they smiled, closed their eyes and nodded their heads.

“I love trance,” yelled someone in the crowd.

But double helix background notwithstanding, this was no swirly psychedelic hippie rock; the bass formed Cave’s backbone. The set incorporated too much beat and groove to be hazy—so much so that at certain points, if they’d dialed up the synthesizer just a bit, they could have been mistaken for electronic dance music.

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The band seemed to melt from form to form, evoking first one genre and then another. They brought out a flute and a saxophone, enhancing the rhythmic section and swinging the audience from mood to mood in a compelling, all-encompassing hypnosis. Catch CAVE play again tonight @ the Knitting Factory in BK. Otherwise,Watch CAVE’s crazy official video for “Shikaakwa”, here via Youtube:

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ARTIST EXCLUSIVE: DATALOG “Everything Is Essential”

DatalogDATALOG (moniker of Brooklyn-based digital artist Conor Heffernan), is garnering momentum and buzz on the NYC indie electronic circuit for his recent live performances, many of which have included stunningly curated videography that rivals any I’ve seen in quite some time. His body of work is immense, and reflects the inclinations of an artist coming into his own, though he has yet to release a full-length album. The genre that he deals in—namely live electronic music that incorporates visual or performance art—is an increasingly compelling medium for performers and audiences alike, and hence includes its fair share of mediocrity. In fact so much mediocrity that you could say its heyday is up. Or needs to die and be reborn I suppose. From what I’ve seen, DATALOG is at the forefront of that rebirth, and people should be taking notice.

His tracks embody an expansive classical and jazz pedigree, often layering self-composed, complex instrumentals and polyrhythmic beats into thoughtfully arranged digital sequences that are at once ominous, chaotic, soothing and purposefully glitchy; they call to mind early Notwist albums (minus vocals) and expand on the style of Four Tet, Underworld and the like. His older work, including 2011 EP Threads as well as his impressively thorough collection of singles tends toward the more formulaic aspects of deep house, with heavy beats underpinning jazz and funk infused melodic motifs. His newer tracks however, showcase a growing confidence in his own capacities as an artist, and perhaps more importantly underscore Heffernan’s exploration into darker, more untapped genres of electronic music. There seems to be more negative space in his compositions, in which silence is equally as important as noise, and through which tension is cultivated—not by an accelerating BPM, but by the inclusion of ambient noise and languid, extensive, drawn out expository themes which are often based on two or three notes of music. When performed live with video the result is as much dark and gripping, as it is accessible and visually gratifying.

AudioFemme was lucky enough to get its hands on an exclusive from him. “Everything Is Essential”, a brand new track from Heffernan, seems to signpost a new era in his creative life. It displays in equal measure his prodigious rhythmic abilities and eye for detail as well as his desire to edit and restrain his compositions to create a more sculpted and deliberate sonic narrative.  The first minute or so is quiet for the most part, and plays entirely on three notes of a major scale. Then come just enough hints of bass to keep one guessing whether it might just be a dance track. When the beat finally cuts through, it amps up and resolves this quandary simultaneously. Frantic, like the pulse of an animal in flight, it hovers over the melody for a few minutes until the composition as a whole begins to dissolve into artfully conceived progressive house/trance. By the time it wraps up, right where it started with only a three-note melody, one is left breathless: a rare feat even for those artists who inhabit the upper echelons of electronic music. DATALOG is clearly just getting started.

Listen to “Everything Is Essential” here.

Everything Is Essential