Runnin' for the Ghost - Big Mean Sound Machine (BMSMLP-001)

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In a time when people need to come together more than ever, Big Mean Sound Machine is spreading positivity through communal dance by creating music that moves people of all ages and backgrounds. The ten piece band breaks new sonic ground and creates a unique flavor of instrumental music with their fourth full-length studio album, Runnin’ for the Ghost, co-released by Peace & Rhythm and Blank Slate Records.

While on tour, Big Mean opened a new chapter when the band had the honor of meeting and playing with master drummer Tony Allen (pioneer and co-creator of afrobeat with Fela Kuti and the Africa 70). His dream of seeing afrobeat music spread globally to become bigger than any one person or any one group motivated Big Mean to carry the torch of original dance music into the 21st century. Though traditional afrobeat has had a major influence on Big Mean Sound Machine, the music on Runnin’ for the Ghost reaches far beyond tradition and pushes the band’s sound in new ways through the mixing and blending of many genres, keeping with the spirit that inspired Allen and Kuti to create their own style in the first place.

On Runnin’ for the Ghost, Big Mean continues to harness their collective creativity as the majority of the conception, arrangement and production came from within the band. Bassist and band leader Angelo Peters led the charge in producing the new record while recruiting Matt Saccuccimorano (of Big Mean's previous release Contraband) to engineer the first live studio session. Later, Peters engineered and mixed the rest of the album at Big Mean Studios with additional recording and production from bandmates Dan Barker, Andrew Klein and Lucas Ashby. Big Mean’s synth wizard Dana Billings added the final touches in mastering the album, completing the process.

To push forward into new creative territory, while recording Runnin’ for the Ghost the band tried a different approach than usual by learning, arranging and recording certain tracks in a single day, crafting the music spontaneously in the studio. This new collaborative approach shines through on the standout track “Van Chatter.” The song delves into the realm of West African Highlife and Central African Soukous with articulate and fast moving guitar sounds alongside a call and response horn melody, creating a lively conversation between tradition and innovation.

Another highlight is the lead single, “Seeing The Bigger Picture,” which incorporates Afro-Cuban percussion patterns and a driving, melodic bass groove that support an uplifting horn melody and a swirling analog synthesizer solo. Each band member’s unique musical voice serves as a thread in a seamlessly intertwined fabric of sound, creating an anthem for Big Mean’s mission to move people. It premiered on Live for Live Music and kicked off the band’s successful, fan- driven #JoinTheMachine

Big Mean Sound Machine has toured relentlessly for the past three years, often with only a few days off between runs. They recently wrapped up an East Coast Tour that included a week long residency in Miami as part of the Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance. The band is currently on tour in support of the new album.

014 - Big Mean Sound Machine

Big Mean Sound Machine is a twelve-piece Afrobeat band native to Ithaca, New York. They tour 150 days a year and have a large and dedicated following up and down the East coast. Still, it is a crime that Big Mean Sound Machine is not well known elsewhere. The band’s tremendous sound combines a big band aesthetic while channeling a global sense of musicality. Their shows leave fans drenched in sweat from dancing as audiences absorb the West African, Caribbean, Jazz and Funk traditions that Big Mean Sound Machine carries forward.

Big Mean Sound Machine comes out swinging. Triple Bacon is driving and energetic, yet sweet and groovy. Its horns and guitar engage in a playful call and response over a bed of skillful snare work. In The New Filth, Big Mean Sound Machine dials it back, exercising power that can only come from restraint. Brooding crunchy percussion sits deep in the pocket and a thick bass line lies in wait for the brass eruption. Sharks quickens the pace in a sinister yet urgent manner. Chilling keys combine with incredibly intricate percussion and build to a frantic climax followed by a silent reset—allowing the listener to pause before jumping right back into the surfer groove. A screaming alto saxophone solo and an arpeggiated synth grace the run out.

The B-side remix package begins with Mirko’s dance floor-friendly edit of Triple Bacon. Conjuring his experience as a trained jazz drummer, he expertly provides a house foundation without sacrificing the rhythmic nuance that’s the backbone of Afrobeat. René Audiard opts for a deconstructionist approach in his remix of Sharks. He has re-pieced the horns together in a way that Marshall Allen would approve. Teasing a kick drum only when necessary, Audiard’s thematic epic is ripe with tension while maintaining the live spirit of the original. 

013 - White Visitation

White Visitation - Blank Slate 013's B Side Artwork selected and shot by Mathea Millman

White Visitation has emerged as one of the pioneers of Mexico City’s underground. His sound is established and his style is definitive, yet he effortlessly glides between genres.  His sonic agility evokes more than simple steel and concrete.  While his compositions are vigorous and even frantic, warmth and melancholy lie just beneath the surface.  Indifferent to the present day fads of last week’s dance floor, White Visitation fearlessly produces on his own terms.

In Wounds II, White Visitation swiftly delivers listeners into the pocket of a percussive masterclass. From there, a simple melody propels the track forward— as it evolves, so does the ambience of the track.  Horizontal Dub is an exercise in contradiction.  It weds a hypnotic dub-centric format with hectic driving high-hats. In Wounds V, White Visitation works at a blistering pace reminiscent of the groove-based techno of the 90s. It is frantic yet tight, every sound carefully balanced to achieve a soothing nature.  The progression is circular, with sonic elements constantly rotating in and out of the forefront. Delete_forever is the thematic finale to the record.  A pulsating baseline churns below a broken beat, while gusty synths blow together a texture of somber elation.

012 - René Audiard

René Audiard has long since established himself as one of the stand-alone producers in minimal. His sound is meticulously crafted, instantly discernible. Following the summer release of the second album, he returns to Blank Slate with some of his most imaginative work to date.

Audiard’s expertise in sourcing non-Western samples has been consistently documented by Blank Slate. With this release, he brings the international influence of his compositions to the forefront. Rather than utilizing samples as building blocks in a typical dance music structure, Audiard has opted for the nuanced approach of crafting his compositions around the samples. The result is a symbiotic relationship in which he delivers a new context for his carefully selected sounds. 

In Kingston’s Road (Edit), Audiard draws power from simplicity in his edit of a West African classic. Signature percussion and baseline act as a backbone to the beauty of the Malian’s kora. Omid is built on an unshakable micro-house beat infused with Persian poetry. Seemingly from nowhere, a melodic piano delivers a thematic release to the warm dry tension.  Magelhaens is a mastery of space. Audiard delivers a shadowed mind trip through layered waves of sonic mystique. Modal instrumentation, chants, and gasping sinister synths are encountered until the track erupts into jubilant devotion.

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011 - Michal Wolski

Michal Wolski returns to Blank Slate to deliver another EP.  Blank Slate 011 is a continuation of Wolski’s signature dubby minimalist strain of techno.  The Warsaw veteran’s ability to summon thick hypnotic ambience makes his compositions instantly recognizable.  Wolski’s patience and subtlety summons a nuanced version of power.

The EP begins with Midnight Train, which was released originally on cassette on Wolski’s own label Minicromusic.  An airy mystique evolves into a melodic bliss, garnished with ride cymbals that seem to rain down from the sky.  Magnitude is a return to Woslki’s proclivity for the psychodramatic.  Broken percussion lays the foundation for a journey into the expansiveness of space.  Sporadic harmonic jabs and eerie vapors bubble up from the earth itself.  No Mind summons the power and density of an engine.  Built on a foundation of chuggingpercussion, it commands a mirage of mechanical layers which flow in and out of focus.  The EP closes with Eightfold Path; a hypnotic drum line propels the track through an atmosphere lush with the tension of pressurized air.  Thunderous stabs roll in from afar until they’re right overhead — claps and groans provide only momentary relief from the storm.