Earplug to the Underground: A-Trak, Jarvis Cocker, and Akron/Family

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Fringe music is an elusive beast. Whereas the points of slick tales of love and loss are usually pretty obvious, the undercurrents of the avant-garde are infinitely harder to navigate. Enter your intrepid guide: Earplug. In this bi-monthly series, Flavorwire’s sister publication — home to several experimental, indie, and techno experts — will separate the hidden gems from the record bin rejects. After the jump, reviews of Turntable wonder A-Trak‘s Farbriclive mix, Akron/Family‘s new animal house, and Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker‘s gritty return.

A-Trak – Fabriclive 45 (World’s Fair)When it comes to the Fabriclive mix, DJ’s tend to follow one of two roadmaps: first, there’s the genre-specific overview (see James Murphy and Pat Mahoney’s vintage disco primer or Noisia’s snapshot of the resurgent jungle/drum n’ bass scene). The second option is unbridled eclecticism al la A-Trak’s dizzying and impressive Fabriclive.45. The Canadian prodigy kicks off with his own Nike-commissioned hit “Say Whoa,” mashed with DJ Sneak’s “You Can’t Hide Your Bud,” before dipping into filter-house, Baltimore club, indie-friendly dance, Chicago juke, nu-disco, French house, and everything in between. Having won turntablist competitions before he was old enough to drive, A-Trak is a born crowd-worker. That said, he kindly keeps the scratching pyrotechnics in check, focusing on smooth edits, 4/4 propulsion, and the impressive track selection. Daft Punk’s “Mothership Reconnection” remix and DJ Zinc’s erstwhile garage anthem “138 Trek” would seem like back-to-the-well sucker cuts if there weren’t 21 head-turners between them, including the aching synth-disco of blog faves Fan Death and DJ MP4’s acid-squelched “The Book Is on the Table” (not a Pere Ubu cover, unfortunately). With 25 tracks total, there’s a handful of duds: Jamie Anderson & Control’s “Body Jackin’” hews too faithful to its Chicago house staple “Jack Your Body” framework. And no amount of synthetic chirping can make the Afropop intro on “Sweet Mother” fit, even with Skepta’s grime verses edited out. But these valleys aren’t too problematic: A-Trak rarely lets more than a few minutes pass before he’s on to the next idea. [Stephen Gossett] Preview| Buy It

Akron/Family – Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free (Dead Oceans) A record rife with nature metaphors (see “River” and “The Alps & Their Orange Evergreen”), Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free leaps from genre to genre like so many lily pads. The result is an impressive, if unfocused, outing by a band known in the past for pushing things forward. While it opens with a long-form jam, the band quickly incorporates everything from lovely chimes and strings to distorted yells and industrial squeal. The best moments, songs such as “Many Ghosts”, are stripped-down folkers with occasional guitar fuzz and panicked percussion. It’s nuanced and clear enough in its influences that the band remains “experimental” (even if most of this album is fairly straightforward rock). The title track is all finger-picking and harmonies, so beautifully simple that it clocks in under three minutes. “Last Year” wraps up the album with sparse piano chords backing the chorus of voices. It’s the Southern twang (odd for a band that splits time in Brooklyn and Williamsport, PA) in this singalong, not to mention the hopefulness of lines like “this year’s gonna be ours,” that make the song, and the album itself, downright spiritual. [Katy Hershberger]Preview| Buy It

Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications (Rough Trade) Former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker has not only carved a place in contemporary pop, he’s begun to delve grittier depths. On his new, Steve Albini-produced album, Further Complications, the goofy bumbling quirk of “Don’t let him waste your time” is all but gone; a murkier, harder-rocking singer has emerged. Cocker’s voice is more or less unchanged, but the orchestration takes a jagged, rough n’ tumble approach. Albini’s presence is apparent throughout Complications, but, thankfully, he doesn’t overwhelm (a welcome change from his other recent releases). The album opens with the post-punk-singed guitar of “Angela”, making an immediate break from his past, poppier approach. Combinations goes on to feature harsh horns and vigorously distorted guitar in the 6th cut “Homewrecker!” and exposes an intimate, whispering in “I Never Said I Was Deep.” Whether or not Cocker was intentionally searching for a fresh approach, Further Complications brings out the new in Jarvis Cocker, without completely sacrificing the appeal of the old. [Rachel Brodsky] Preview| Buy It