Our recent label of the month feature notwithstanding, why isn't Washington, D.C.'s Future Times label a bigger deal? Launched in 2008, their eight releases to date could hardly be more au courant, ranging as they do from brittle electro-funk to synth-heavy, slow-motion disco. (The label's name is presumably slightly tongue in cheek: as far as futurism goes, this is unabashedly retro-leaning stuff.) More importantly, their releases stand out in a crowded field, with an intuitive grasp of how to make primitive electronics sound lush and involving, imbued with a sense of direction that goes way beyond mere pastiche.
Protect-U is a duo featuring label co-founder Mike Petillo and music writer Aaron Leitko (Pitchfork, the Washington Post); this is their second record, and it follows in a similar fashion from their excellent 2009 debut, with taut drum programming and luminous synths that take '80s house music as their foundation and move out from there. The comparatively uptempo "World Music" sounds simple at first, with its skipping groove and jabbing funk bass, but listen closely, and it comes into focus as a zone of gentle conflict, crisscrossed by contrapuntal synth lines and intersecting vectors. The track's development proceeds almost as if in reverse, beginning with busy 808 patterns and bleepy leads and then abruptly stripping back, using a naked kick drum pattern to frame a gorgeous middle section of glowing augmented chords, before finally building itself back up, with less than a minute left on the clock.
As on their last record, Protect-U refuse to restrict themselves to a single tempo: "U-Uno" plays with similar elements but sets them at a measured 112 BPM pace, using crisp claps and hi-hats to cut gleaming synth lines like the facets of a gemstone. While the drums create a sense of relentless forward motion, zig-zagging arpeggios suggest prismatic tangents, like a proto-house companion to Emeralds and Zomby alike. Finally, "World Music (Dub)" dials down the tempo to a staid 100 BPM, reprising the A-side's melodic themes in a darker, more distracted fashion. This time, the bright, brittle overtones (surely, from a Roland Juno or Jupiter?) suggest a vaguely Asian sensibility—a reminder, perhaps, that electronic music as we know it is unthinkable without Japan. We may think of house and techno as globalized forms with American roots, but they're built atop a Zen garden of forking circuits.
Tracklist: Protect-U - World MusicA World Music
B2 World Music (Dub)
Other Future Times reviews