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Mixtape Round-up: King Louie, Arca, Maxmillion Dunbar, Surgeon

With each passing week, listening to the deluge of mixtapes, radio shows, and live sets from electronic producers and hip-hop artists alike becomes an even more insurmountable task. Quality offerings can fly under the radar, either added to our ever-growing “to listen” list or — more often than not – disregarded all together.

Because of its scattershot nature, the mixtape round-up can either be a hit parade of rap tapes from the Chicago-Atlanta axis or a collection of DJ sets from points all across the dance music map. This week, it’s the latter: aside from a pitch-perfect offering from King Louie, the hip-hop selections might leave you a bit wanting.

Thankfully, a diverse crew of FACT favorites — Arca, Maxmillion Dunbar, and Surgeon, among them — have stepped up with sets that will alternately have you shaking your head and moving your feet.

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Louie first crashed onto our radar with the hard-edged, minimal 8-bit driller ‘Too Cool’, so it’s been somewhat unexpected to watch his evolution as he’s sidled slyly from the club to the bedroom. He’s always had a penchant for weepy numbers (just check ‘Bandz Up’ from last year’s massive Drilluminati tape) but on Jeep Music he lets the emotion flow out, nailing an Usher cover in the process almost by accident. That’s not to say the entire tape finds the Chicago rapper in Future-baiting robot romance mode, but certainly the most memorable tracks (‘Jeep Music’, ‘So Many Hoes’, ‘Nice & Slow’ and ‘Actavis’) are laced with Louie’s unshakable drunken, autotuned croon.

The title track is Louie’s most effective stab at a ‘proper song’ yet, and with a hook from regular collaborator Leek is an engagingly cheesy revalidation of 90s identikit R&B. Production team Drummajorz accent Louie’s hollow booty calls with slick portamento synth slides and the kind of percussive sleigh bells that can really only be used on tracks about doing the dirty in a Jeep, and it’s a look that weirdly sits well with Louie’s unhurried, knowing flow. Similarly effective slow-burner ‘So Many Hoes’ is a damned sight less romantic, but it’s hard evidence that Louie is just as comfortable belting out Atlanta strip-club anthems as he is coming up with memorable catchphrases.

Jeep Music might be sorely lacking a ‘Michael Jordan’ or ‘2 Pair’, but it’s a dutifully solid and thoughtfully brief diversion before Louie drops his eventual major-label full-length Dope & Shrimp. Let’s just hope he saved the best for last.

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Bizarre and beautiful, Brooklyn-based producer Arca’s latest brief offering is something of a revelation. The producer shot to prominence recently thanks to some handy production work on Kanye West’s stunning (and polarizing) Yeezus, so there’s a sense that eyes are focused on his next move. Smart then, to offer something totally different, yet something that makes complete sense. &&&&& isn’t a million miles away from West’s industrialized witch house tropes, but where West lavished his tracks with awkward grandeur and gold plating, Arca imbues his with grit, failure and cheap lean.

Through a flurry of pitched voices and widescreen basses his grinding, crunching rhythms punch through the clouds with the glassy precision of Autechre’s EP7. This ain’t easy listening, but neither does it feel like Arca is projecting us back to a lovingly forgotten era of electronic laptop tomfoolery. To move forward, Arca has refined what he knows, and emerged with a gritty amalgam of Phoenecia, Oneohtrix Point Never and early Timbaland – we can’t wait to see where he takes us next.

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When announcing his transcendent House of Woo, the DJ/producer known as Maxmillion Dunbar described his process as a patient one. “I make a lot of tracks by sticking on a loop forever, letting it live and breathe as long as it needs to… I keep all of the pieces I’m working on balanced, floating in the air. If it doesn’t take minutes to stand up, it takes weeks.”

That same approach is on display in his latest DJ mix (as it was in his FACT mix). Comprised of “Current go-to cuts & Unreleased Heat 4 the freaks,” every element of the hour-long mix floats in the air as long as it needs, and Max D’s unadulterated enthusiasm for music (“So much good music out right now!!!!!”) shines through.

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An ambient DJ set is a difficult prospect to get to grips with. All too often the word is used incorrectly, and ‘ambient’ becomes a catch-all for anything slow, whether it’s early Warp-patented bleep techno or irritatingly ‘smoked out’ trip hop, so it’s a pleasant surprise seeing someone use the term more appropriately. Of course, it’s Birmingham techno don and voracious music fan Anthony Child aka Surgeon who’s at the helm, and in his hands an ambient mix, previously the shame of Midlands back rooms, is transformed into a wonderful, organic and enlightening experience.

There’s Alice Coltrane, Terry Riley, Coil, Emeralds, Oneohtrix Point Never, Angelo Badalamenti and more all blended with a series of Child’s own field recordings, and for something that manages to exist on a plane of ‘background music’ there’s never a dull moment. Ambient music doesn’t have to be boring you know, and here’s some damn good evidence to support that.

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Brighton-based synth laboratory Donky Pitch celebrates its tenth release with an 18-track pay-what-you-want compilation. The label’s roster steps up: Ghost Mutt’s glitch’n’b ‘Thoroughbred’ is sublime, Lil B associate Keyboard Kid 206 flexes both sawtoothed meditation (‘BasedExorcism’) and snapback ambience (‘Seattle Based Party’), and the purple G-funk of Lockah’s ‘Platinum Blonde’ is more subtle and romantic than his usually maximalist compositions. The compilation closes with LiL TExAS pitchshifting R&B into dance pop-slash-club music: as the title suggests, you’ll ‘Want It To Last’.

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Embassy Recordings labelmates Moldy and Wheez-ie team up for this hour-long mix that showcases their bass-heavy (if divergent) styles. As his name implies, Moldy crafts old-school, DMZ dubstep better suited for a side-room smoke than a main room mosh session. For his part, Houston-via-Boston producer Wheez-ie puts the juke fascination of his earlier work on hold for a mix that favors the ragga-vogue-hardstyle hybridization favored by #kunq specialists Rizzla and blk.adonis (see ‘Battyjack’). Towards the end of the mix, Wheez-ie hits the nitro for a drum-n-bass session (including a supercharged version of Rizzla’s “Club Cecile” Girl Unit bootleg), but the coup de grace is the outro: blends of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer’.

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A year after the release of Raw Money Raps, Jeremiah Jae returns with a nine-track of frazzled, left-field rap; as always, his Brainfeeder association is telling. Jae’s beats are propulsive and off-kilter like a Madlib-meets-MF Doom patchwork; he borrows the producers’ on-mic flows, as well.

Elsewhere, Brainfeeder boss Flying Lotus, Stones Throw’s Jonwayne, and frequent collaborator Oliver the 2nd each offer a loping, sample-heavy beat. Dub-inflected closer ‘Court Jester’ is an intriguing change-of-pace, but if you hung up your backpack when Def Jux closed its doors, Bad Jokes might not have much to offer you.

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At 20 minutes, it’s not a lengthy offering here from Leaving Records boss Matthewdavid, but it doesn’t need to be. Rather twenty minutes of great than an hour of OK, and this summer mix is a corker. Beginning with an insane (yet somehow flawless) blend of DNTEL’s early works and an “unlabeled world-fusion cassette”, it’s clear from the outset that Matthewdavid isn’t interested in dropping floor fillers, this is a mix for the real listeners out there.

We’re subsequently dragged into unreleased material from The Cyclist, Cat 500, Ahnnu and Mndsgn, and pulled through acid house, Italo synth prog, crumbling, fractured electronics and whatever else was no doubt at hand. It’s marvelously coherent given the eclectic nature of the selection, and the winning blow comes with the fact that the mix sounds as if it was dubbed to cassette tape before being digitized and delivered, which for those of us who traipsed through the 80s as young’uns, is just the icing on the cake.

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Roach Gigz is a Bay Area rapper who seems determined to fit as many punchlines and similes into his wordy verses as possible. The result is a light-hearted effort that owes as much to ratchet as it does to hyphy. Producers C-Loz, Nima Fadavi, Jay Ant, and P-Lo craft beats that snap and shout like DJ Mustard tracks. ‘Gucci Gucci’ producer DJ Two Stacks offers the synth-stabbing ‘100 In The Fastlane’, while ‘Gucci Gucci’ rapper Kreayshawn handles the hook on ‘Pu$$y Magnet’.

Unfortunately, the mixtape’s sonic monotony holds it back; Roach’s wordplay loses some of its entertainment value due to the paint-by-numbers beats. The Biggie-referencing ‘Back 2 Cali’ is a breath of fresh air, but the rest of the tape proves that — when it comes to ratchet — you can have too much of a good thing.

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Hustle Ganger Shad Da God’s new tape Gas Life isn’t exactly offering anything particularly new, but supported by a modest network of guests the rapper at least gets the opportunity to put in a workmanlike effort. The main issue with Gas Life is simply that there are so many other rappers churning out superior Atlanta trunk rattlers right now, and one of them is even on the album. Lead single ‘Ball Out’ is still hot, but there’s something about Gas Life that’s just so darned unmemorable. When fellow ATLien Young Scooter emerges on the album’s grimey closing track it’s simply a well-timed reminder that you’d probably be better off listening to Street Lottery.

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