34423: Tough and Tender

Free Babyronia: Matrix Grooves
Kaico / Aun Mute

From the always interesting Japan label Kaico come two new releases, the first by 34423, a solo project by Tokyo-based Fumi Miyoshi, and the second by Free Babyronia, also a solo project but in this case one by Rodriguez Yukio, originally from Lima, Peru. Stylistically speaking, Miyoshi's is a bit easier to pin down, while Yukio's is rather elusive by comparison. Don't let her model-like visage on the album cover fool you: her 34423 sound is anything but demure, as “Equivalent,” the opening cut on Tough and Tender, illustrates. The track's main focus is a punchy electronic groove that's, in fact, more tough than tender, and the same pretty much applies to the rest of the hour-long collection, which culls the Japanese artist's favourite pieces from a number of self-released albums. Beatsmithing aside, the 34423 sound is firmly in the electronica tradition, or perhaps more precisely the clicks'n'cuts tradition, as Miyoshi repeatedly sprinkles her densely packed material with dizzying doses of whirr and click. Sounds aren't totally electronic, however: Miyoshi also peppers the pieces with warm piano melodies, organ chords, vocal murmurs, and other shimmering instrumental detail. As a result, there's a combination of melodic sweetness and beat-based hardness in her music that suggests connections to Aphex Twin (apparently a major influence in her younger days) and Alva Noto aren't wholly off-the-mark.

Five songs in, “Drops” distills the different strands of 34423 into a single piece, as a bright array of tinkling piano melodies and electronic flutter threatens to be drowned by a turbulent undertow of beats, but it's hardly the only one of the twelve tracks to do so. Ever busy, her music exudes a strong psychedelic dimension, too, as exemplified by the bubbly swirl of tracks such as “Knock” and “Joint,” and occasionally steps onto the dance floor via the inclusion of a funky techno or house pulse (“Coach,” “A Foul Wind”). It wouldn't be hard to imagine Miyoshi manning the decks at a club and filling the floor with her more dance-oriented tunes, and don't be thrown by the impersonal alias, either, as 34423 is apparently what Fumi Miyoshi pronounced in Japanese sounds like.

If Tough and Tender presents a generally cohesive picture of the 34423 style, Matrix Grooves presents a comparatively more oblique portrait of the artist in question. Free Babyronia's first album (following two EPs) shape-shifts throughout its hour-long run, at times opting for a trippy, hip-hop-flavoured style (“Days Signal,” whose head-nodding funk rhythms percolate alongside a fluttering array of voice snippets and hazy undulations) and elsewhere wooly ambient-electronic experimentation (“Per-Aah”). Whereas 34233's sound suggests an Aphex Twin influence, Free Babyronia's calls to mind (at least in its beat-based tracks) the mercurial shape-shifting associated with artists such as Geskia, Flying Lotus, and the Brainfeeder crew.

That's the stylistic tip of the iceberg, however, as shown by what goes on in the other tracks: given its electronic pulsations, “Sun_Cloud_Matrix” wouldn't sound out of place on a Raster-Noton recording, whereas “Da-Da,” consistent with its title, plays like an infant's gentle lullaby, despite being a dramatically fractured assemblage of chopped vocal phrases and instrumental fragments. Representative of Free Babyronia's at-times mystifying style, “Halo Jam Channel” juxtaposes sci-fi electronic explorations and electric bass soloing, while also undergirding them both with a slow-motion groove, and in “Karma,” one of the album's most experimental settings, whirring noises gradually cohere into a lurching rhythm to lend some semblance of stability to a swirling drift of abstract elements. And Yukio would appear to have had Berlioz in mind in titling one brief piece “Symphonie Fantastique” (and perhaps plundered the work's second movement “Un bal” for the waltz fragments heard within it). If Matrix Grooves ultimately proves hard to read as a collective statement, its headphones-designed tracks do, at the very least, provide the listener with a constant source of stimulation.

October 2013