The Norwegian label Smalltown Supersound is probably best known in these parts for putting out records by Ken Vandermark and the Scandinavian jazz musicians he frequently works with–Mats Gustafsson, Paal Nilssen-Love, and Havard Wiik among them. In fact, jazz became so key to the operation that label owner Joakim Haugland started Smalltown Superjazzz to focus on it. But the other part of his business (and the one that sells more records) is electronic music. His label was responsible for introducing the world to Jaga Jazzist and 120 Days, and more recently he’s scored with the more techno-leaning Lindstrøm. (He’s also broken type by releasing music by American rock acts like Tussle and Sunburned Hand of the Man.)
On Saturday the Empty Bottle hosts a label showcase for three of Smalltown’s biggest electronic acts. Kim Hiorthoy, well-known for the distinctive album artwork he does for Norway’s Rune Grammofon imprint, is the oddest of the bunch. On his recent My Last Day he borrows an off-kilter, almost homemade aesthetic from Richard D. James, setting modest but pretty synth melodies amid raw-sounding, jaggedly stacked beats; sometimes he allows ambient sounds to seep in, like sunshine around the edges of a barely cracked-open door. Bjørn Torske employs a different kind of primitivism on the recent Feil Knapp, seeming to take inspiration from music boxes and video games, but the result is overcooked and toothless to my ears.
To be honest, this kind of electronic music generally doesn’t float my boat these days, but I was tickled by the post-techno tweakery on Staying In, the recent album by DiskJokke, aka Joachim Dyrdahl (pictured). Even though his work sounds just as plastic and saccharine as Torske’s, the ample space and strange stylistic injections in his arrangements–like the horn charts that burst open the conclusion of the title track–keep it entertaining.
Donald Byrd, The Cat Walk (Blue Note)
Boris Malkovsky, Time Petah-Tiqva (Tzadik)
Fatai Rolling Dollar, Papa Rise Again (Eko Star)
Xiu Xiu, Women as Lovers (Kill Rock Stars)
Zaid Nasser, Escape From New York (Smalls)