Digital/Divide is a monthly column devoted to any and all genres and subgenres in the great big beautiful world of electronic and dance music.
Something in the room changes when you hear Loraine James’ “Glitch Bitch.” Electricity crackles in the air and gravity feels demonstrably heavier as the song’s forward momentum and foulmouthed mantra make whatever else you were listening to beforehand sound slight or quaint. This is the commencement of a coronation, the ushering in of an artist operating on a higher level of artistry.
Not since Burial’s Untrue has an album captured and encapsulated a hidden personal London quite like For You & I (Hyperdub), James’ astounding debut for Kode9’s enduringly essential imprint. The framework here splits in two, addressing her queerness in a volatile and potentially hostile homeland while coming to terms with the North London native’s Enfield estate upbringing. Bass, grime, and less defined genre forms give weight to the proceedings here, with emotions and ideas swirling together in the ether of “Hand Drops” and the video game plink-plonk of the title track.
Over mashed amen breaks and woozy loops, James mutters repeated fear-filled stanzas on “So Scared” that expand their poetic meaningfulness over time. Frequently, however, she opts to let others speak for her, or at least provide context to the worlds she navigates. Rapper Le3 BLACK makes himself heard through the crushing madness of “London Ting / Dark As Fuck,” while singer Theo drifts along with the fluttering nerves of “Sensual.” “My Future” teases at club culture, its hesitancy proving a diversion leading to Le3’s return and more pensive relationship musing. (Notably, James’ girlfriend does the bit on “Glitch Bitch.”)
Pride, concern, love, and mourning ebb and flow throughout For You & I, its uniqueness and veiled honesty well suited to the warbling soul and meditative drip of the material. The loose and liberating way in which James strings these tracks together exposes an auteur’s vision, something not easily decipherable nor digestible in a single listen. Rewarding with every rewind, the complexity of humanity and machinery intertwined here has little to do with dystopian tropes of fiction, but rather the unvarnished realities of her life.
Cashmere Cat: Princess Catgirl (Mad Love / Interscope)
In an age of proprietary avatars from animoji to bitmoji, the anthropomorphized cartoon feline of Princess Catgirl ought to mark the long overdue and oft feared arrival of the virtual pop star. Arriving two years after the soaring commercial R&B dance effort 9, Cashmere Cat’s latest project instead sunbathes down in the uncanny valley, gleefully esoteric and heavily glazed with a glutinous veneer. Beyond the virtual reality video game aesthetics of the art and its corresponding conceptual persona, this breezy record exudes delight by default. A producer behind Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello’s current smash “Señorita,” he retains that keen ear for radio readiness while twisting it into something unnaturally inviting and infectious. With the help of collaborators like Benny Blanco and Sophie, songs like “Back For You” and the Christina Aguilera deepfake “Watergirl” soar in a space where clubland and candyland collide. A furry fever dream until the very end, Princess Catgirl closes with what can only be described as a theme song for the titular heroine.
Hide: Hell Is Here (Dais)
Recalling the radicalism of turn of the century Digital Hardcore as much as the power electronics scene of the same period, Hell Is Here makes this Chicago duo’s messaging as uncomfortably clear as possible. Making no time for pleasantries, the caustic introduction “Chainsaw” re-enacts a heinous yet disturbingly normalized catcall over abrasive textures. Unlike the industrial techno and EBM throwbacks that mostly mark this scene, Hide’s electronics have more of a punk rock effect, giving Heather Gabel’s screamed vocals a genuinely riotous foundation to boom upon. The result of this confrontational mix leads promptly to the cold machine gunnery of “SSSD” and the bleak piston pummel of “Everyone’s Dead.” And while those hoping to dance the night away won’t find much to move their feet to on Hell Is Here, save perhaps for the cathartic thump underpinning “Grief,” anyone who braves this brutal truth bombing will come out better for having experienced it.
patten: Flex (555-5555)
Downsized from duo to solo, patten returns with an album best described as a mode of time travel. Opener “Flame” glides in with the classic feel of Artificial Intelligence, the crucial iteration of techno that first put the project’s erstwhile label home Warp Records on the map. From there, however, Flex quickly pivots into the not too distant future with the trap stutter of “Night Vision” and garagey cut-ups of “Slipstream,” before sliding back into jacked junglism on “Chimera.” A willingness to quantum leap through a multitude of club sounds defines this record, the best outing since debuting more than a decade ago. Even as the beat is prone to change radically from track to track, moving through deconstructed bass rhythms with simultaneously devotional and destructive energies, he holds things together sonically. Much of that has to do with the way patten tends to treat voice here, with chopped and looped snippets of speech and singing uniting the disparate collapsing worlds depicted on “Infrared” and “Shadowcast.”
Wolfram: Amadeus (DFA)
When Daft Punk dropped the resplendent Discovery in 2001, crate diggers and trainspotters were quick to cite its sources. While some of that seemed like sample shaming intended to debunk the sonics behind signature singles like “One More Time” and “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” what the duo did with the source material ultimately trumped the finger-wagging nags. A similar schoolmarm-y urge initially gripped me while playing Wolfram’s “What Is It Like,” which rips its ethno-techno vibe wholesale from Peter Gabriel and Deep Forest’s lost 1995 classic “While The Earth Sleeps.” Yet not long into my second listen, I loosened up enough to realize how little that matters on an album so brazen as to be called Amadeus. Regardless of how much or how little the Wien-based producer actually produced here, the album has altruistic aims in celebrating the now unfashionable Eurodance genre. Further to his credit, guests like Egyptian Lover and Haddaway participate freely, the latter lending his pipes to the piano-driven house of “My Love Is For Real.”