This week’s best new albums reviewed
Coil’s industrial noir leads the parade of great albums this week, as decided by the Juno jury…
There are musical artists whose body of work is so imperious it becomes a genre unto itself. Coil are undoubtedly one of those phenomena, with an alluring cult lingering around their entire oeuvre that leaves an indelible stain on anyone it touches.
The combined work of John Balance and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson was wrapped up in their love – like Lux Interior and Poison Ivy of The Cramps, their shared life was their art, and they made their very existence part of the performance. Acutely tapped into ancient mysticism and creating an intoxicating tincture out of their ambiguous teetering on the brink of the void, it’s no wonder they inspire such devotion long after both souls have passed on to another plane.
Part of the confounding attraction of Coil is the variety within their catalogue. You might well stumble across Horse Rotovator and paint them as a baroque curio of the industrial era or hear the prior year’s Scatology and see the foreshadowing of Ministry, Nine Inch Nails et al. They touched on many stylistic approaches, but infected all of them with an inherent strangeness and exacting attention to detail that made each work peerless. That’s very much the case on their 1999 album Musick To Play In The Dark.
The opening strains of ‘Are You Shivering?’ are emblematic of the qualities in Coil that leave a mark – a full frequency, cloven-hoofed groan from the underworld that forces your mind clear of all distractions like a brutalist inversion of meditative practice. One suspects that was the intention, not least as this baying daemon abruptly rescinds to make room for creepy, disembodied vocal murmurs and the genteel tick of a CR-78 (or some other such olde worlde drum machine). By the time we reach Balance’s arch poetry about silver rivers and moon music, it feels as though we’ve travelled through the open window and out into the nocturnal landscape of Coil’s own design. In answer to the track title’s pointed question; yes, we are.
Even without the ineffable qualities that edge Coil above the average electronic music act, the sheer production prowess on ‘Red Birds Will Fly Out Of The East And Destroy Paris In A Night’ is a wonder to behold. The undulating evolution of the urgent arpeggio that courses its way through the track is so elegantly modulated, you can barely perceive the shifts and yet it remains staggeringly dynamic with every incremental change. The deployment of chords, sound effects and other ephemera around this cantering figure shapes the story, at times rising like a yowling, shapeless noise form, at others a gentle shift in mood from dark to light and back again.
There’s no way to pick apart every moment of an album such as this one, where each track runs so deep and far, and with such profoundly moving and disturbing juxtapositions. ‘Red Queen’s impossibly gorgeous Blue Note reverie comes possessed by a metallic spirit with sinister intentions, while ‘Broccoli’ frames Coil’s unnerving English gothic in a brooding clicks and cuts environment. Familiar footholds from broader music culture get subverted by the bedfellows Balance and Sleazy chose for them.
Even if you can denote the evolution of music technology in their catalogue and place Musick To Play In The Dark in kind, Coil exist in an archaic futurism outside of time. More important than the technique though is the feeling. Through the aesthetic presentation as much as the sound itself, Coil took you into a very specific atmosphere on this record that maintains until the last, as ‘The Dreamer Is Still Asleep’ cradles you back through the window and into bed before the first light of dawn breaks the veil of night.
Proving you can find a vibrant, hot-blooded pulse in even the most technical of computer music, Rian Treanor’s evolution continues to delight and startle in equal measure. Crucially, he’s been savvy to working humour and melody into his consistently angular productions, whether dicing up Whigfield for the RAVEDIT 12” or firing off cascades of luminescent synths in non-standard configurations on last year’s ATAXIA LP. You can sense the logical processes of interconnected digital functions commanding the noises, and yet it all sounds like an upferrit laugh rather than a po-faced programming exercise.
It’s not like Treanor’s idiosyncratic sound needed a shake up, but it got one anyway when he was invited to Uganda to perform at the feted Nyege Nyege festival. Soaking up the hyper-fast, futuristic sounds of singeli and fusing it with his own affinity for footwork, his experiences in Uganda set him on a new path of musical discovery, road tested in live sets and then pulled together to make a new album.
The impact of ‘Hypnic Jerks’ at the start of File Under UK Metaplasm immediately tells you this is a new musical mode to align your brain to. The rapid, polyrhythmic percussion triggers with crystalline precision, but there are also amorphous, disruptive forms sliding around the beat. This dualistic dynamic persists through the sharp, stuttering sequencing and catchy melodics of ‘Mirror Instant’, anthemic dembow glitches of ‘Opponent Process’ and the hyphy peaks and tin pan frenzy of ‘Debouncing’. But there are also standout tracks that retain a keener sense of cohesion, like the low-creeping ‘Closed Curve’.
It may take a minute to adjust to Treanor’s mode of communication, but it’s truly as accessible as it is avant-garde. Keep one eye on UK metaplasm – where Treanor leads, others are sure to follow… if they can keep up.
Eva Jóhannsdóttir never fails to make waves. Carving an impressive dubstep niche as Eva808 – starting with 2015’s 10” Marane / Kompla on Encrypted Audio – she soon amassed a dedicated following with releases such as Prr / ALL CAPS and Pink Uzi Gang, the latter causing seismic ripples of such magnitude that you’d more readly to a nuclear bomb than a mere uzi submachine gun.
As it stands, then, you’re probably not prepared for Sultry Venom. It is her debut LP on Innamind, a label which has established itself as one of the most preeminent launchers of leftfield, new-school dungeon undulations a-la Gantz, Karma and TMSV.
Any politeness established by the album’s soothing Intro is relinquished as we are thrust into I Saw The Devil, an infernal trap jawn with enough boxy bass and doomy string samples to send a legion of PlayStation 1 grime producers running. Follow-ups Drip Drip, Dementar and Show Dem have the same effect, each screwfacers of the eurrggh-iest kind. The album takes a two-track dancehall turn with the tracks Snakes and Whoop Whoop: twin imps of hellfire and torment, both equally ready to chew your ears off with their midtempo onslaughts of grit and wob.
We are treated to the somewhat softer recesses of Eva’s mind with purplish highlights Gold Toothed Tigress, No Rivals and Dementar Pt. 2; despite their uplift, these tracks still keep one foot in bassweight, emotive infrasonic weapons powerful enough to shudder even the sturdiest of foundations.
Sultry Venom is a testament to Eva808’s versatility, spanning grime, trap, purple, wave and dancehall. It is also an album so dangerous that whichever hard drives, computers, servers, polycarbonate discs, and wax discs it’s stored on should ideally be stowed away, padlocked, wrapped in chains, wrapped in more chains, cryogenically frozen, cursed, and then shot into space – just in case it breaches containment and exterminates any earphones, headphones, speakers, soundsystems, or people daring enough to play it. But, alas, something tells me we’re not going to be that responsible with it now, are we?
As techno proliferated beyond its Black, Motor City roots in the early 90s, it cross-pollinated with styles from elsewhere to yield intriguing new musical forms. It’s no surprise the yearning, experimental spirit of the sound would find its way to ambient – both movements foregrounded technology to take sonic concepts further into unmarked territory. Pioneering chill-out DJs initially had to draw on kosmische, library music and other niche music from prior decades, but it was inevitable that inquisitive studio souls with machines would find themselves dabbling in mellower manifestations alongside floor-fillers.
Ambient house and techno spans a loosely defined remit from The Orb and B12 to Pete Namlook and Orlando Voorn’s The Living Room project, at times kinetic and many-layered like any club music of its era, at others as horizontal and static as the archetypical ambient of the 70s and 80s. While some of this music has enjoyed reappraisal and lavish reissue treatment in recent years, there are always hidden gems to be discovered. And you can be certain to trust a label like Music From Memory with the task of finding, compiling and framing such gems in a tasteful fashion.
This first volume of Virtual Dreams runs the gamut from MLO’s pastoral ‘Birds & Flutes’ to the ‘Voodoo Ray’-sampling couch funk of Primitive Painter’s ‘Levitation’ right up to the downcast house pulse of ‘Infinity’ by Human Mesh Dance. There’s a lot of space afforded for spangly beanbag visions, from LA Synthesis’ pinging ‘Frozen Tundra Dub’ to Space Time Continuum’s shimmering ‘Flurescence’, but importantly it never slips into the wallpaper trap that could so easily befall a compilation such as this one. Instead we’re treated to a fluid flow of timeless, expressive electronics that reaches beyond the obvious touchstones of the culture to offer something meaningful for dedicated heads and newcomers alike.
Don’t DJ x NWAQ – Fashion (Meakusma)
It’s hard to imagine the potential results when crossing the creative streams of two artists as seemingly disparate as Don’t DJ and NWAQ. Don’t DJ is the alter ego of Florian Meyer, a German artist best known for his circular rhythm mantras based around Euclidean sequencing and evocative drum palettes. NWAQ, short for Newworldaquarium, is Jochem Peteri’s foremost alias and a totem of leftfield Dutch techno. Both artists are staunch individuals, and if they do belong to any kind of scenes, they’re not likely to be in the same one.
Credit then to Meakusma for instigating this collaboration as part of the 2019 edition of their festival in Belgium. As a label and events series with an unflinching commitment to experimental music, they’re just the sort to look past obvious connections and propose something genuinely unexpected. There was no specific concept behind this pairing – just a curious shot in the dark that would confound even an open-minded follower of one or both artists.
The club tendencies of Don’t DJ and NWAQ are pushed to the side throughout Fashion. Instead we get treated to the sound of two accomplished producers and performers cutting loose and riffing on each other’s ideas in a free and improvisatory way. ‘Central Bern – No Bern’ is the pinnacle of this premise, oozing from noisy Detroit arpeggios through to even noisier low-end distortion across 13 minutes, steered by their strange and slightly menacing chants. Meyer and Peteri sound as free as the most lo-fi cassette outfit from the shadow of 80s industrial, and even if it’s not perfect, it’s consistently surprising and exciting.
There are more direct moments such as the winsome 4/4 tones of ‘Vanessa’, but the most fun is to be had when the pair get really weird. Just listen to the nightmarish dub poetry of ‘Rabbits’ if you need more proof.
Jordan Parsons has been rolling out jungle and drum & bass as Crypticz since around 2013, hitting his stride in the past few years on labels like Cosmic Bridge, 31 and Rudimentary. Now he’s delivering his debut album for Western Lore, the Bristol-based label run by Dead Man’s Chest, and sounding more inspired than ever.
The long-player format suits the Crypticz sound, where it’s as natural to slip into a downtempo burner as chop up some breaks at 160. ‘Nightshifter’s Groove’ skirts between atmospheric breakdowns and teasing hand drum loops without needing to revert to typical dancefloor dynamics. There’s a tendency towards non-linear track structures that champion shifts in mood and narrative over intro-break-drop formulae. In an album setting, it makes the pace, bass and frenetic characteristics of jungle take on a less physical quality, instead focused on stimulating the cerebellum.
There’s an overall mellow tint to Between Dust and Time that helps with this headphone reverie Parsons is reaching for, and it peaks with Amy Kisnorbo’s vocal turn on the deliciously moody ‘Ocean Blue’. Casting evocative shadows with a similar feel to Photek’s landmark LP Modus Operandi, Crypticz offers up ample sonic adventures for junglists seeking a fix beyond the soundsystem.
Various – Slow Dance Presents Late Works: Of Noise (Slow Dance)
Inspired by futurist Luigi Russolo, two colossal London collectives have joined forces to produce the ultimate Oblique Strategy for music creation, resulting in sonic havoc.
Bisecting sculpture and music, nearly all sounds on Slow Dance’s limited-edition 12” Of Noise come from unique musical instruments forged by artists from the Late Works art collective. They are as follows: a primordial, amorphous set of xylophones and ‘teeth tools’ (Mathilda Bennett-Greene); a rectangular, humanoid apparatus made from found objects (Joseph Bradley Hill); a once-discarded javelin, snapped into two and musically repurposed (Angus McCrum); and a self-playing ‘drum machine’ which, when fed an input, emits absurd metronomic ticks (Jonas Pequeno). Musicians could only use noises sampled from the instruments and their own voices, and all tracks had to be made within 6 hours.
Given the results – a monstrous 6-track pandemonium – it’s no surprise some of the instruments ended up broken. Edgy post-punk blends with bad-trip freakout psychedelia on diggy diggy fuck off, a track on which Richard Limper, Horse Whisperer and Goat Girl’s Clottie Cream and Rosy Bones implore the listener to, yes, fuck off. Beth Dawson, Silkarmour, Aga Ujma and Black Midi’s DJ Dairy and MC Spritz offer Forged In Fire; this and 404 Guild’s DRAIN MYTH are electro-industrial trap-rap, blending impossible voices with guillotinous clanks. Darkest chug and insomniac dancehall merge on don’t sleep on by Glows and Felix Raman. It is DARK LORE BINGO and unmenacingly violent, however, which suggest the true breadth of Russolo’s vision. Featuring Bianca Scout, j.b. glazer, Kiran Leonard and Martha Skye Murphy, both are symphonies of choral, stabbing terror-bliss, ducking and diving between emotive extremes for a two-track total of 23 minutes.
Publishing The Art Of Noises in 1913, Russolo considered noise an untamed beast. Unlike the balking bores that were musical curators at the time – who gawked at “orchestras of twenty men furiously bent on redoubling the mewing of a violin” – Russolo thought there to be an untapped musicality in the noises of the industrial revolution. Of Noise rises to Russolo’s challenge, successfully creating the disharmony he sought.
Various Artists – Bad Taste Drum & Bass 2020 (Bad Taste)
It’s sort of hilarious that Bad Taste, the label associated with the drum & bass artists once known as Bad Company, at least until the 70s rockers of the same name came knocking at their door, have chosen Christmas Day as the release date their collection of downright filthy darkside anthems. Well, we can only surmise that playing parlour games, watching the Queen’s Speech and falling asleep to a Bond movie isn’t the perfect yuletide schedule for everyone after all.
It does make sense, however, in that Bad Taste Drum & Bass 2020 is their roster’s reaction to a year locked up – or is it down – inside with nary a rave in site. There’s definitely a lot of frustration being vented across the whopping line up of 17 tracks, which are definitely less a case of light and shade than shade, darkness and black, black hole. Not that there isn’t an awful lot of technique and finesse going on from these underground but definitely experienced and skilled d&b soldiers.
Kursiva’s ‘I Don’t Care’, for instance, simulates a pure adrenalin headrush in its intro before dropping to effortlessly clipped, rolling beats, the hip-hop snippet on top proving the icing on the cake. Shifting emphasis and turning virtual corners the whole time, it then breaks down ‘French Kiss’ style to house speed and then back again to the 170s. Good job . Zombie Cats & Heist’s ‘Falcoln’ is more eerie than totally dark-edged, but when it drops it is as brutal as it is simple. The hyperactive, manic ‘Mind’ by Drumsik, meanwhile, is as good as the techstep genre gets. The world may have stopped in 2020, but Bad Taste have been careering to the future at ever faster speeds it seems.
Just as there are some films that simply have to be seen in the cinema, so there are albums that one can only truly immerse oneself in properly via the format of vinyl. Most things by The Bug fall into this category. Not surprising really, given that his music is inspired by the big sound systems that the likes of Jah Shaka and his mates would hail from recreation centre to festival and carnival and back again most years for the past four decades.
‘In Blue’ is a particular case in point, though, because it this lockdown painting with New York singer DIS FIG – which apparently happened when she wrote to The Bug’s Kevin Martin on the offchance of a collab – has oodles of dub-style space, shuddering bass and miniscule sonic detail to really enjoy though the analogue warmth that the black stuff allows. The arrival on Christmas Eve of the vinyl edition is as welcome as seeing Santa parking his sleigh up on your roof.
Martin has collaborated with everyone from London grime king Flow Dan to LA ambient sound guitarist Earth, but the pairing with DIS FIG just casts another angle on his 21st century dub warfare. ‘Destroy Me’ sees her floating through endless echo chambers while a dancehall riddim snaps at her heels, its sheer violence just making her voice seem even more fragile and vulnerable. On ‘No Return’, it appears to be spiralling in different directions at the same time, the aural equivalent of refracted rays, while sinister pulses purr away in the background. If you’re a fan of The Bug’s unique style, you’ll love it, and if you’re curious but don’t know where to start with his comprehensive and diverse catalogue of work, we’d recommend it as a great starting point.
Scanner: The Signal Of A Signal Of A Signal (Touched Revolutions)
A neat collection of seven new tracks from Robin Rimbaud aka the original phone hacker Scanner, one of electronica’s living legends it is probably fair to say. ‘Inside Stedelijk’ is the most substantial piece here, clocking in around the 20 minute mark and weaving pianos and strings around stranger synthetic sounds. Some of the shorter pieces, like the echoing guitar meets gentle, tumbling synth lines of ‘Everyday Life’ , are just as charming though and the wonderfully named closer ‘Dead Letter Office’, where a single high pitched synth writes messages across a melancholy skyline, is alive with atmosphere and personality.
Rimbaud has presented the darker side of life through his work, especially his renowned 90s recordings for Ash International where he used a scanner to capture some of the craziest and scariest conversations happening in the air above London. He’s definitely moved on since then, and The Signal Of A Signal Of A Signal is an altogether easier, less confrontational listen. Good work though, for sure.