A couple of years ago, I found myself at a village regional harvest in South Eastern Poland. It was quite the event; people were setting up stalls and selling fresh produce, drinking cold bottles of Zubr, and enjoying the sunshine. At one point during the afternoon, an announcement was made and spectators slowly began to crowd around a congregation of children who were all kitted out in regional attire. Young ladies who had been distributing fresh bread and farmhouse cheese from wicker baskets then ushered the kids together and prepared for their spectacle. A tacky 4/4 beat sprung from surrounding speakers, and the group started to dance in what was apparently a yearly custom performed by pupils attending the local school. It was nothing out of the ordinary, simply part of the day’s festivities. But then, a most peculiar occurrence: The percussion dipped slightly and a high-pitched synth came in right before the most inappropriate vocal sample imaginable: “Lick… my ass,” went the androgynous voice, in English. Everybody looked on, clapping as the children danced. “Feel… your balls” belted the track’s dubious lyrical retort. The muffled bass rattled on and the pirouettes continued without any regard for the questionable music that had been selected — people applauded at the end of the performance and there proceeded a presentation for bouquet of the day, or something.
I have no idea what the song was or who was responsible for choosing it, but I am sure that if the lyrics had been translated into Polish, there would have ensued an almighty uproar. But despite its absurdity, the tune stuck with me as a consequence of the obscure environment in which it was heard, and it was brought to mind again while listening to Slava’s debut full-length, Raw Solutions. Slava Balasanov, the man underneath the outfit, was born in Moscow but currently resides in Brooklyn as a conceptual artist. His careful approach to house music paved the way for Soft Control, a superb EP that was released last year, also on Daniel Lopatin and Joel Ford’s Software label. However, where Slava’s first helping pulled scattered textures across delicate samples as part of an inventive and shimmering approach to techno — particularly on the spectacular “Whirlpool” — Raw Solutions takes a botched stab at acid tech and footwork, predominantly through a selection of single-take Korg Electribe ESX sessions.
The results appear quite promising at first; Slava has already proved a dab hand at mastering his gear, and pulling off a Chicago house-enthused banger such as “Werk” is by no means a walk in the park. But the bulk of the album tends to sideline the pulsating grace of Soft Control closer “Swan” and the wonderful tones curdling through “Wit U” — an indisputable highlight on Raw Solutions — and opts for an approach that oozes a sort of, ugh, bro-tek. I’m not talking about the US company that designs tractor parts, although there is an uncanny connection between that and my village harvest experience — no, bro-tek in this instance primarily involves the reproduction of lewd, pitch-shifted vocal samples over a sub-standard tech house rhythm that offers little more than a skewed backpass to the exasperated cliches it borrows from. The sample works as a hook for disguising the half-baked beats that fluctuate throughout, and it just sounds extremely disappointing. Slava has demonstrated some incredible knack in the past, but when he presses a track like “I Know,” which bloats a slow-burning footwork jam with flat and airy samples, up against a centerpiece as droll as “Girls on Dick” — shock horror at the title and the incessantly mundane vocal loop — there is no room for cutting slack.
Unvaried vulgarity is used here as a mask for the music it comes wrapped in, but I’ve never heard such an exercise sound so thinly veiled. The majority of tunes on offer here do very little to build on the ideas and panache exposed on Soft Control. Although there are one or two interesting moments on the aforementioned “Wit U” and “Girl Like Me,” with its deep, textured synths, the bulk of this album is a glib undertaking that has been granted props for the artist’s technical flare in busting out live cuts from a single piece of equipment. But due to such ceaseless proliferation of the substandard techni-craft Slava has already bettered on previous efforts, this will by no means be the last record of 2013 to use lascivious samples and transgressive content as a decoy for tedious beats, though it might prove to be one of the worst.