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This week’s best new singles

The best sounds about

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Various – Ozone (Musique Pour La Danse)

Hot on the heels of the frankly essential Join The Future compilation, Musique Pour La Dance do a great service to bleep techno history by shining a light on Ozone Recordings. While the earliest strains of homegrown UK techno are primarily known through Warp’s big hitters such as LFO, Sweet Exorcist and Forgemasters, Join The Future and the exhaustive book that preceded it lifted the lid on a rich and highly inventive scene rooted in the North that made a compelling case against the London-centric narrative around the rise of house and techno culture in the UK.

Ozone Recordings operated from the heart of the bleep scene’s activity in Sheffield. Compared to some of the more angular, alien sounds associated with the deepest bleep cuts, the tracks on Ozone had a more universal appeal that seemed plugged in to the wider developments in dance music. That said, it’s still unpolished, bass-heavy and built with a certain dubby sensibility that underpins the trigger-happy sampling running through most tracks on this concise retrospective.

Ozone mainstays Mark Swancott and Sean Maloney were clearly taking their cues from the groundbreaking bleep and bass cuts of the time when they donned their Count Zero alias, especially on the pitch-perfect beatdown ‘Silent Prayer’. As Success, the pair took an approach that leant in more on the 303 and some madcap stab sampling. Pat Scott and Tim Garbutt delivered bleep n’ breaks par excellence as New Age Technology, and charmingly homespun house as Trak 1, while Zone nodded to the wider progression of breakbeat hardcore, still in its infancy in 1991, on the rolling ‘Eternal’.

In the spirit of the open-ended 80s and 90s, Ozone Recordings was certainly not a purist bleep concern but rather a platform for producers inspired by the alien pulsations emanating from the North with all the rawness and immediacy of a true DIY music movement. As a time capsule of the best the label had to offer, this 12” comes as a very welcome arrival when bleep appreciation is at an all-time high.

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Slowdive – 5 EP (Music On Vinyl)

Given the reinvigorated popularity of shoegaze today, and with many new artists fusing it with electronica, it is no wonder Slowdive’s ‘5’ EP has seen a reissue via Music On Vinyl.

Regarded as seminal in mixing ambient techno with shoegaze’s washed-out, pink-eyed aesthetic, ‘5’ was originally released in 1993 as a one-off EP, and consisted of four unheard tracks from the band’s esoteric vaults. The tunes later found a second home as part of the B-side of the band’s deluxe ‘Souvlaki’ LP.

Besides the fourth track, it is probably safe to say the tunes wouldn’t ever have been tagged ‘shoegaze’ if it hadn’t been made by a shoegazing band. They could have been made by Bvdub or GAS. ‘In Mind’ is straight-up ethereal techno, swapping out shoegaze’s low-register, distorted drawl of guitar for a wall of glacial synth and vocal reverberations. The four-by-four kick drum, uncharacteristically quantised and regularly-spaced, echoes calmly throughout the stereo field.

The closest sound to a guitar on the EP is the blooping, dancing synth on ‘Good Day Sunshine’, which is like an early precursor to The Field’s loop-based albums. ‘Missing You’ is similar, but is closer to dub techno, a purple haze of midrange synth barely masking the far-off echoes of acid squelches, and a tricky sub bass cavorting in sixteenths. ‘Country Rain’ breaks away from cyberspace, returning to guitar band humanity with a long-lost slow jam feel. Rachel Goswell’s vocals hoot softly over the mix – singing of “sun burning through the pain” and of indifference to love.

The EP is far from a blip in Slowdive’s catalogue. Simon Scott, a driving force of its production, is known to have since taught granular synthesis at Cambridge. What with all the newer emulations of this electronic dream pop sound, he’s said he’s been regularly asked, “are you back to reclaim what’s yours?” With this reissue, we’re sure he’ll be asked again.

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House on the Strand – Out on the Fault Line (Kobaek)

‘Out on the Fault Line’ is the newest single by London sound engineer, guitarist and producer Ruben Elbrond, aka. House on the Strand. Originally making an appearance on Brutal Waves’ Balamii radio show, the track now resurfaces in fully-released form.

Always mysterious, Ruben’s music takes on a long form, existentialist drench-out feel. It feels like traversing the lengths of a great Midwestern canyon (with the artist having been initially inspired by the large scale, sunsoaked scenes of visual artists Julian Rosefedlt and Victoria Sambunaris). Fans of maximalist synthwave slow burns – perhaps S U R V I V E’s ‘RR7’ album series or Disasterpeace’s ‘It Follows’ soundtrack – are sure to catch on.

‘Out on the Fault Line’ – the follow-up to last year’s ‘After Us’ and ‘Heat on Concrete’ – is like witnessing a fata morgana, leagues deep into a hoodoo-rich desert or volatile ocean. A 7-and-a-half minute build to an indistinct, sunburnt pinnacle, the track is built around a contagious analog synth riff. It whirls in and out of the auditory field, a seemingly endless source of soft reverb having been conjured up and applied to it, melding it all fuzzily together like a sandstorm, or soni-cosmic background radiation. It is the perfect montage music for a religious crusade, or the lead-up to a nerve-racking boss battle.

A chunk of Elbrond’s music takes place in the periods of meditative downtime he finds between recording sessions. He remembers having one session booked one sunday, “but not feeling right the day before so I called and cancelled. I had an urge to just take a day off, not look at my phone… to decompress a little and I had the majority of the song within the day.” With this in mind, the track feels all the more like a calling from the divine. To drop the screen, or the frenetic lifestyle, and to embark on your journey. Like the near-forgotten memories of such a pilgrimage, the track ends on a pluck-synth comedown, its melody fading mirage-like into a sunburnt abyss.

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Endlings – Fragil (Whited Sepulchre)
Endlings, the Albuquerqe duo made up of Deerhoof guitarist John Dieterich and Southern noise artist Raven Chacon, are well-versed in making bold statements, and not just in their music. Once pronouncing that “epiphanies happen all the time” and that “there is no death”, their self-titled debut felt like a fitting side-order to such claims about the natural world. A lo-fi noise rock conundrum, glitching in and out of disharmonious guitar crunch, teasing ambient passages, and rude drumming, ‘Endlings’ sounded like an avalanche of electric soil.

Their next album, ‘Human Form’, takes on anything but human form. It is more, er, humanoid – but even that’s a stretch – rather forming a cacophonous selection of postmodern auditory tumult.

Now comes ‘Fragil’, the lead single. The track is a dadaist’s pipe-dream; a melting pot of metallic drum clatterings, flourishing improvised chordophones, and raunchy synth farts. It is rather like a musical ‘big ball of violence’, creating a cartoon cloud of provocation. At points, what sounds like a bicycle’s ding juts out of the sonic blancmange. Around halfway through it tilts into a different mood, burying itself in a lower register. This time around, they proclaim: “Endlings sound our instruments, any instruments, to explore peripheral vision. We know we’re onto something when the familiar becomes something we no longer recognize.”

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Alban Claudin – It’s A Long Way To Happiness (Sony Masterworks)

Seeing how quiet the usually bustling streets of Paris are during strict Coronavirus restrictions is something we see on the news. But experiencing how much things have changed through an artist’s lens is something else entirely. I haven’t seen another video filmed in Paris, or any other city during the pandemic for that matter, that has portrayed the quiet streets in such an impactful way. This video takes you aback somewhat with the emptiness. That’s not to say there’s no drama, however. The video, directed by Maxime Charden, depicts an emotionally wrought man in a huge rush, running, bumping into people, hijacking a car even. We wonder what for? It culminates with our actor finding Claudin calmly playing in the street and he stops.

The serenity on his face conveys how us listeners feel hearing our gifted composer Claudin’s short strikes, effortless arpeggios and mysterious echoes. The length the man’s gone to for a musical performance also reflects where we are in society now with cultural venues shut—we have to be lucky or work hard to encounter live music. If you, like me, feel there’s something truly brilliant about Claudin’s playing you’ll be pleased to hear this single will be on the artist’s first major label album (Sony Masterworks are putting it out) which lands on 26 February. Perhaps it’s not such a long way to happiness after all.

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The Besnard LakesOur Heads, Our Hearts on Fire Again (Full Time Hobby)

To our ears The Besnard Lakes make records that sound as well recorded as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon. How they’re not as big as their contemporaries Arcade Fire bemuses me. The Montreal band’s psych/space rock sound, achieved through a masterful ensemble of vintage-sounding effected electric guitars, keys underpinning a soaring voice which feels like a portal into another dimension—which is something Jason Pierce from Spiritualized also does well—is just magic. This is music which although feels out there, helps invigorate appreciation for the moment you’re in and makes the beauty of the things around you more luminous. It’s a trip!

Fittingly, the song has a surrealist kaleidoscopic animated video where the buildings are singing and lights are swirling. The scenes, fitting as they do entirely with the music, mean it would make it a great VJ piece for a live show in the future. The album this song is taken from, Our Heads, Out Hearts on Fire Again, is out 29 January and is released across three great labels, Full Time Hobby (UK/EU), Fat Cat Records (US/South America, and Flemish Eye Records (Canada). it’s certainly one to look forward to.

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Anna B Savage – Baby Grand (City Slang)
This track starts off gently with Anna B Savage’s warbling folk vocal leading you in. Her voice is undeniably powerful and when it soars you feel the might of a condor flying over a canyon. Her delicate guitar finger-picking meanwhile is ample accompaniment. You can imagine hearing this song live without a single instrument behind it and having goosebumps in the room. Where the artist comes into her own, however, is in seeing how she’s subverted the tired trope where a songwriter muses over an ex from afar.

What she’s done instead is have a constructive relationship with her ex, Jem Talbot, and do a proper art project–a film by him (Baby Grand) and an album by her (‘Baby Grand’ is the fifth single from her LP A Common Turn)–about their past relationship, which they have some clarity on after several years apart. Speaking about the collaboration Talbot writes: “Having not spoken to me in seven years, Anna sent me a text out of the blue saying she’d had a dream about me. Perhaps by chance, or by cosmic serendipity, I’d been listening to her EP and already dreaming up a film idea the two of us could collaborate on.”

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David Numwami – Thema (The Ffamily)

Numwami is already the toast of Paris, and if this, his third song to date, is anything to go on it won’t be long until he enjoys a similar situation here. ‘Thema’ started life in Numwami’s mind when he was on tour with Charlotte Gainsbourg, apparently inspired by “the lonely nights that mean missing those far away who are dearest to me”.

Yes, as you can probably gather from that quote, there’s more than a hint of melancholy going on here, but we’d suggest that the intimate purr of a voice he employs, more like a whisper in your ear than singing, owes more a little to the French seduction pop that his touring partner’s father was so famed for. Tres bien!

This week’s singles review squadron – Ben Willmott, Cai Trefor, Oli Warwick, Jude Iago James