Unless you're spinning records at a club, you probably aren't keeping track of the 12-inch singles being issued by Toronto's underground dance music labels. Here are some highlights of the past few months.
DUBIOUS (Prize Records) Rating: NNNNN
This first release from a new label is some very fashionable disco-rock-house that's well worth checking out. I know we're supposed to be suspicious of new artists working in the currently hip and hyped style, but Dubious is pulling it off, and these four tracks could work for a variety of different styles of DJs. Some of it has a bit of a Metro Area vibe but with less of an 80s R&B fixation and more of a love of 70s rock. Great live-sounding drums, thick synths and even a bit of fuzzed out guitar.
HAND POLISHED So Sudden (Do Right) Rating: NNNN
This is the most recent vinyl single from John Kong's Do Right label and has been out for a little while now. Hand Polished is Toronto resident Ray Kong (no relation to John), who's had a few tracks out on international labels including Guidance and Compost. So Sudden is a jazzy broken-beat workout framed around a wiggling synth bass and angular descending chords. There are nice subtle horns and a sparkling Rhodes solo toward the end. Quantic brings out the latent jazz funk on the remix, and Ray Kong offers up a darker version with an acoustic bass line on the B-side.
MOTIVACAO FEATURING AMALIA Nao Esqueca-se (Mixed Signals) Rating: NNN
This house 12-inch comes from Andy Roberts's new label, produced by him and featuring some live bass by Marc Shapiro of King Sunshine and vocals by Amalia Leandro. The vocals in question are just whispers that build up anticipation and tension as the track goes on, but unfortunately, that tension is never resolved and instead dissolves into a predictable and straightforward easy-listening house record. The remixes go a bit deeper but still meander too much, although they're still pleasant tracks.
TOMAS JIRKU Zaxxon (Supesharu) Rating: NNNN
The debut release on the Wabi-affiliated Supesharu label sees Tomas Jirku dropping the restrained minimalist digi-dub aesthetic to go crazy with samples of 80s arcade games. This isn't as goofy as it sounds, although anyone who spent too much time playing with joysticks during that era will probably chuckle at a few of the sounds. Instead, it's aggressive, lo-fi and swaggering like an angry robot on a cough syrup binge. Some swinging shuffle beats dominate the two tracks on the B-side, while the main side is all about distorted drones and lasers, melting down in the middle for a chaotic and menacing breakdown.
JIHAD MUHAMMED Oasis (Iwanai) Rating: NNN
This is the second release by New Jersey- based producer Jihad Muhammed on John Kumahara's Iwanai Music label. At first it seems like just another by-the-numbers deep house record - congas, sax, synth bass, 4/4 thud, string pads, jazzy electric piano chords. Just when you're getting sleepy, the steel drum solo comes in, an unexpected texture that could work well in a set (and judging by the online charts, already is). The dub mix is a slightly different arrangement but still very close to the original.
BLACKOUT THEORY Chair015 (Chair) Rating: NNN
This one's been floating around on test pressing for a little while and features label owner Daniel Lui in an electro frame of mind. This isn't electro-clash or new-new-wave or even electro-house. Instead, it's closest to the post-80s electro that kept coming out of Detroit, the Netherlands and Belgium long after hiphop moved away from its robot beats. The production is tight, the vibe dark and twisted and the pressing loud and detailed. On the downside, the arrangements are a bit busy, which interferes with the potential heaviness.