Various: Frente 57

Beta Bodega, 2000

From the mysterious Beta Bodega label, “for the people by the people,” comes a new compilation featuring music from two previously released vinyl EPs and including several bonus tracks. All this on a single oddly packaged CD. I have to mention the packaging because, truth be told, it’s fairly annoying. First, there’s a plastic toy bag with a cardboard tent stapled to the top. This piece of cardboard contains the tracklisting and serves as a postcard to get on the Beta Bodega mailing list. Once you’ve removed the staples and slit open the bag, you’ll find a CD in a plastic clamshell and four pieces of cardboard which make up the artwork. One of these is a roughly jewel box-sized piece with distressed text about guerrillas in Panama. Two are tiny slips which say Beta Bodega Coalition. The fourth is a business card with label contact info.

Now that I’ve got the packaging out of the way, or rather in pieces scattered about my desk, it’s time to talk about the music. The music’s mighty fine. First up’s “Nyctitropic Nippur Nociceptor” by Hamijama (Jake Mandell). Bouncy housey bleeps are served up over a driving, synthetic beat. This one’s simple, but fun. Next is TPM’s “The Panamanian Militia.” If there’s a political message in these squelchy synths and repetitive thumps, I’ve yet to find it, but this is a dish which would please even the most selective NYC clubgoer. The third course is Mannequin Lung’s “Turo Plays Solo.” I have a feeling this is the kind of track that would sound ingenious after a few beers, but in the absence of a depressant, the roving bassline gets a bit tiring. Atlájala (Stewart Walker)’s “Skinny as an X-ray” saves the day with more repetitive beat-driven alienation.

Patcha Kutek round out the compilation with lots of clicking and clacking. There’s not much melody to go around, though, and I feel like a lot of these tracks lack an emotional push. Hamijama’s “Trans Ur Datapass” is one exception. A sweet, sad thread makes this one the compilation’s high point. Overall, this is a solid CD. If you’re looking for cold, experimental complexity, it’s there. If you’re looking for minimalist techno, it’s there too. If you’re like me and melody’s your thing, you’ll have to look hard, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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