Born Free have no qualms about failing every now and then. Their label name references the doomed bikers in Dennis Hopper’s 1969 film Easy Rider, whilst they’ve also experienced distributors from their previous labels fleeing in the night and leaving them with a water-damaged catalogue as result of basement flooding. Sling & Samo have always been able to find something heroic in messing up. However, Born Free is no longer a baby label. Currently on their 16th release, it’s grown from an esoteric outlet for oddball house into a continually engaging concern, bucking and weaving through no wave experimentation, clanking machine techno, Henry Rollins quotes and yes, even a cover of Avicii’s “Sometimes”. While the label’s experimental ethic has remained constant for the last two years, they really haven’t taken a mis-step yet.
This holds true for the debut EP from Japanese newcomer, Powder. While information on her is scant, the four tracks comprising her debut EP are enigmatic enough that you don’t need to spend any more energy pontificating on her identity – creating a collection of grinning, percussive sidewinders that transition from puzzling to deeply gratifying after the first several listens, it’s a startlingly self-assured debut that doesn’t forget to be weird, have fun, and mess up a bit in the process.
“Spray” begins as if it’s looped a few bars from a J-pop track, with intermittent spritzing noises suggesting a sickly sweet air freshener has been dispensed into the room, a chemical-laden, artificial approximations of a real flower. Crawling its way towards a woozy, near-Balearic climax, it’s as if a filter-swept deep house track was handed over to be tweaked by someone who huffs glue in their free time. You’ll find no more genre-coherence on the deliciously weird “Kiwi Blue”, which sounds like it’s jammed out on a kalimba, while jumbled electronic sounds collapse sporadically around the edges of the track, injecting the childlike silliness of unexpected flatulence into proceedings. But “Kiwi Blue” is more than an exercise in absurdity – its final two minutes find every element of the track synthesized together, and repeated listens will stamp its infectious twirl into your mind permanently.
All of Powder’s tracks are minimal enough that they could serve as DJ tools while played over something else. “Ma Ki” also serves as an invaluable club tool thank to its combination of squelching acidic small-release bursts, deeply satisfying cowbell bangs, and sporadic bursts of noise that come in from the edges for a few second and then dissipate just as fast. In comparison, “Alien” can’t quite keep up with all the twists and turns “Ma Ki” throws at the listener, but it does do a decent job of capturing some of the propulsive force of tracks like the Afro Acid remix of Mory Kante’s “Ye Ke Ye Ke”. Pulling dance music signifiers from all across the diaspora, it’s an ambitious record that will forge some new neural pathways for your brain regarding the possibilities for house music in 2015. Elastic, transfixing and pleasantly, repeatedly baffling.
A2. Kiwi Blue
B1. Ma Ki