Back in 1909, a group of Italians obsessed with innovation spawned Futurism, an art movement celebrating technology and motion. The movement’s glorification of war (“the world’s only hygiene”) and overt scorn for women likely led to its demise, but the more politically correct ideals of Futurism still resonate today through humankind’s insatiable fascination with progress.
The folks at Sound-Ink aren’t war-mongering, bitch-slapping fascists (at least as far as I know), but they’re about as close as you can get to modern-day Futurists. While everyone tries to figure out who poses the greatest threat to Def Jux’s throne, Sound-Ink is quietly producing some of the most forward-thinking hip-hop out there. Remember the brain-snapping production on MF Doom’s Viktor Vaughn album? You can thank the fellows on Sound-Ink’s roster — and one of their flagship acts, the Brooklyn-based duo Heat Sensor. With a full-length due in the fall, Heat Sensor’s vinyl-only Touch EP is a sneak peek at what’s to come. And if this EP is a reliable indicator, what’s to come is worth waiting for.
Touch kicks off with “MRK,” apparently a remix (though where the original comes from remains a mystery even after endless searching) with the vocal help of Apani B. Over a pureed beat splattered with squelch and exploding snares a la Amon Tobin, Apani delivers gems such as “Like Joan Collins in the ’80s/ Crafty-ass sexy bitch/ I’m a dangerous lady.” No stranger to abstract production, M. Sayyid takes the helm on “Gravy” and delivers his enunciated, deliberate rhymes over a minimal beat. Label-mate Kamachi rips the punchy, fuzzed-out beat on the EP’s high point, “Ethylene,” which injects a surprising amount of melody into an otherwise frighteningly abstract beat.
“Gravy” and “Ethylene” are great tracks unto themselves, but most importantly, they underline Heat Sensor’s instincts. Where “MRK” is a remix, the duo realizes that they have free will to thicken the mix with as much noise as they deem necessary. But the fact that they can table their egos and actually collaborate with emcees, developing a solid backdrop for rhymes without drowning them out, bodes well for their continued success. It’s no mystery why they’ve been able to attract talent like MF Doom and Mike Ladd; they clearly understand their roles as producers.
The crackling lo-fi noise of the instrumental finale, “Fall Into Creek,” sounds like it was made on a dare with water-damaged equipment — but it’s still an engrossing listen. Blending muffled analog with ear-piercing digital is clearly their forte, and with equal talent in crate-digging and electro-fied production, Heat Sensor have left themselves plenty of options when it comes to picking a direction for the future. We have to wait until fall to find out where they decided to go, but Touch about guarantees it’ll be a great trip.