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The best new singles this week

Essential vinyl suggestions from our team


Wu Lu – Times (Ra Ra Rok)

Certain guitar music nails the ineffable quality of somehow sounding like South London. Be it a new groaner by King Krule or a slinker by Obongjayar, something in this sound evokes the mood of letting the afternoon Bermondsey sun caress our brow, or – on the less appealing end of the spectrum – traipsing through the miasma of Hither Green. 

The music of Wu Lu has this quality. But rather than his new single ‘Times’ being staunchly close to Krule’s reminiscent twang guitar riffs, or Obongjayar’s sinister utterations, its instrumentation falls bang-on between the two, and the resultant sound is one of London summeriness mired by anxiety.

There is emotional affect in this song, but it’s essentially waterboarded, smothered by gazey wash-guitar and a driving rhythm section by Black Midi’s Morgan Simpson. The follow-up to January’s ‘South’ – on which Wu Lu lamented the fact that he “used to live in South London” but that “there’s not much of it left” – the mood of ‘Times’ is less clear, but still channels that dualistic bad-taste-in-your-mouth feeling: that of fondly recalling a childhood street, but wincing at the gentrified cupcake fascists in the minimalist coffee shop one block over.

Wu-Lu isinvested in quizzing South London’s sociological shifts over time, and is able to channel its sound accurately, while pushing that sound forward. Existential anxiety abounds – in a pre-breakdown quip, he insists he “tried to figure who we are”, only for the line to be drowned out by crescendoing instrumentation. The music picks up to an angry fervour here, sounding almost as unstoppable as the planned luxury flats set to displace the old divey venue down the road.

The music’s self-described coming-of-age bent is more evident on the ambient, effects-drenched B-side ‘Being Me’. Wu Lu recalls his mum working night shifts, and striving past the hardship of a broken home. His mutterings and water-rippling bass are reminiscent of fellow earth-shaking black voice Dean Blunt. They crescendo again into melodi-punk cacophony, with triumphant chants resounding, and toy-box weirdness undercutting the whole thing with uncertainty.


John B – The Depth / Apollo (Okbron)

Fresh off the back of his recent throwback ‘Trance & Bass’ livestreams – alluding to the legendary mix series he held down for Mixmag in 2002 – weird, new-wavey liquid drum n’ bass pusher John B has proven he’s still got it. ‘The Depth / Apollo’ is limited to 500 copies, and it’s John’s debut for the drum n’ bass exclusivist’s new favourite label, Okbron Records. Both tracks are choice cuts from last year’s ‘Timelines’ anthology, which charted both his greatest hits and rarest tape tidbits dating back as early as 1995. 

But these tunes are far from John’s autotune-wrangled signature uplift style. In fact, they sound ‘old’, and clearly originated from the darker recesses of the artist’s mind, back when he was an angsty, fledgling producer – as we all were. ‘The Depths’ is especially retro-jungloid-sounding, what with that signature tribal breakbeat resounding like a ricocheting bullet in a tungsten echo chamber. An unmistakable Hellraiser III sample plays back midway through the piece: “there is a secret song at the center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh.” Grisly.

‘Apollo’ sounds much more techstep-toned, harkening back to the days in which drum n’ bass producers tried their hands at everything. But don’t be caught off guard; wobbling wow basses maintain an alien suspense mood, like floating through the wayward halls of the Nostromo, all poltergeist-like. For a John B single, this represents a comparatively dark moment in his discography.


Kokoroko – Baba Ayoola (Brownswood)

Led by trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, Kokoroko have risen to become one of the foremost tenets of this wave of fresh, youthful jazz emanating out of London and elsewhere. The band cut their teeth as a live unit, performing covers of Afrobeat classics by the likes of Ebo Taylor and Fela Kuti as they sought to establish a deeper connection with the music of their ancestors. Thus far, they’ve been closely aligned with Brownswood, appearing on the breakout We Out Here compilation in 2018 which served as a calling card for a buoyant London scene orbiting around spots like Total Refreshment Centre and Ghost Notes, not to mention the barrage of incredibly talented musicians making the noise. Kokoroko’s own ‘Abusey Junction’ was one of the stand out tracks on the comp, sparking a viral wave which has carried the band onto the radars of millions.

To date though, Kokoroko haven’t actually released that much music. They dropped a four-track EP in 2019 which serves as their most definitive statement to date, and in the time-slipping wormhole of 2020 they snuck out two digital tracks which are now gathered here as one 12” single which teases the promise of a fuller release yet to materialise. One suspects an album can’t be too far off, but equally with music as intricate and accomplished as this, making a full-length is no mean feat.

‘Baba Ayoola’ is a tribute to Kokoroko’s alto-saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi’s grandfather, and it brims with the infectious, pattering rhythm of Afrobeat as though it were Tony Allen himself powering the drums. The horns surge with effervescent joy, the bass meanders with fluidity, and the guitar darts nimbly over the tracks. It’s the subtle touches which make the track truly soar, though. The melancholic pitch wobble of the chord chop on the synths, the theremin-like Moog warble – these ingredients cut through the mix and tickle the ears. On the flip, ‘Carry Me Home’ has a mellower tint, but it’s still bursting with energy. Reportedly, the track sprang from a conversation with Afrobeat originator Dele Sosimi, and you can certainly detect such foundational influence in the music, but crucially it’s being interpreted by artists with the skill and emotional investment to make it their own.  


Capsule Network – Colundi Interception 3 (WeMe)

The Colundi phenomenon is largely associated with one man – Aleksi Perälä. Although it’s no stretch to say the long-serving electronica oddbod (formerly known as Astrobotnia and Ovuca) has broken through into a new mode of exploration, he’s not coveted the methodology for himself. According to fellow Colundi evangelist Grant Wilson-Claridge (he of Rephlex Records fame) this is about much more than music, and possibly holds the key to the future of humanity. Or something along those lines. In slightly more grounded musical terms, it’s a unique tuning system which shrugs off the hegemony of Western musical intonation, creating a new scale which has a beguiling quality Perälä has since squarely focused on for the past seven years or so.

Beyond Perälä’s enthusiastic approach (which amounts to an insurmountable amount of recorded material) there have also been compilations on the Colundi label from other artists switching to the publicly available tuning system, and amongst them is Capsule Network. There’s no immediate information about Capsule Network out there, but Belgian label WéMé are now carrying a third release from this shadowy operative so we can all ruminate on these curious frequencies and await the sign of a new epoch.

As soon as the bewitching melodies begin on Colundi Interception 3, you can hear the same unique quality that has made Perälä’s music popular in recent years. It’s hard to know how much is a case of sound design and how much is the harmonic interplay between tones, but it feels on opening track ‘Otava’ like there’s a purposeful move to shape out a similarly surreal, ceremonial atmosphere that graces much of Perälä’s Colundi work. It’s certainly no carbon copy though – Capsule Network happily rips into tougher beats and noisy textures which would sit more naturally on Rephlex than anywhere else. Still, it’s those eerie, sustained bell tones which set the mood, filling out the space in the track and elevating the murky techno rhythms into something genuinely memorable. 


The Dexorcist – Traditions (Libertine)

Gather round, children. It’s time you all learned a thing or two about breakbeat. Our supply teacher today is Simon Brown aka. The Dexorcist, whose production CV extends all the way back to 1998, and has not stopped. So pipe down, stop making silly noises in the classroom, and let The Dexorcist’s debut for Libertine, ‘Traditions 17’, outline the lesson plan for today.

Lesson aim 1? Earth-shaking breakscience. Despite Dexorcist’s two decades’ worth of experience, his teaching style has grown no wearier with age. When Mr. Dex sets foot in the music tech department at Breakbeat Academy, his ability to school younger cats has simply grown stricter. Mr. Dexorcist doesn’t need a cane; the hoover leads on his opening track ‘Dweller’ are so tasteful, crispy, and saturated that they, themselves, are enough to lacerate and discipline unruly wannabe producer-ruffians.

Don’t you start talking back to Dex: the vocal samples on this track and the follow-up, ‘Another Way Story’, are enough to send chils down the spines of even the most misbehaved tykes. This is a history lesson, too. Dex nods to old-school b-boy breakbeat toolage on ‘Come & See’, fusing the jazzy samples with rougher, screamier and postmodern synth lines. But it’s the proper break-sampling on ‘Snark 133’, melded effortlessly with an anxious melody, that makes him the students’ favourite. Dex stays true to his roots, but still holds it down with the kids.


Jeff Mills/ Zanza 21 – When The Time Is Right (Axis)

Techno leviathan Jeff Mills launches his exhilarating Zanza 21 project with the gorgeously emotive and altogether organic feeling ‘When The Time Is Right’. The EP sees Mills channel his affection for jazz and freeform creativity into three breathtaking tracks that explode with life-affirming humanity, and the music is a far cry from the often fierce mechanical rhythms from which he initially garnered his rightfully venerated reputation. Mills’ sonic journeying has, of course, traversed all manner of diverse musical landscapes over the years – notably collaborating with the 70-piece Montpelier Philharmonic Orchestra on ‘Blue Potential’ and holding down a residency at The Louvre in Paris among many other bold experimentations. Even so, the extent to which his debut Zanza 21 release exudes a sense of heartfelt warmth and depth of human connection is genuinely striking. The sound of the EP is based on the concept that “Music is most useful at the point when it touches the soul of the listener, until then, it’s just sound,” and the harmonically rich substance of musical textures joyously encapsulate the essence of this mantra. Interestingly, the Zanza 21 concept has been secretly bubbling for some time and was imagined to incorporate a full, live performing band, though for the debut release Mills himself played or programmed all of the instrumentation and rhythmic parts.

The title track revolves around a captivating piano motif, enriched by soaring organ solos and mid-tempo house drums, and – despite the departure from a more industrial landscape – the sound retains a vintage house flavour that’s rooted in the Chicago/Detroit tradition. The ‘Only For The Night’ version goes a step further into unadulterated musical bliss, adding powerful harmonic waves and searing lead synth while pulling down the drum fader to allow room for the added orchestration to flourish. Closing track ‘Something Like That’ is a little more subtle but no less engaging. Here, intricate textures combine to create a beautifully bewitching and deeply immersive stereo universe that’s utterly captivating and timeless in tone and spirit. 


M5 – Celestial Highways (Rawax Motor City Edition)

Gerald Mitchell may not get the same sprawling namechecks that many of his Detroit peers enjoy, but his legacy runs right into some of the foremost corners of techno’s foundations. He’s one of the rare few to contribute to the fabled Red Planet series, dropped 12”s on Soul City, 430 West and Motech, formed the Los Hermanos project with a heavy-hitting crew of collaborators, and forms an integral part of Underground Resistance and Galaxy 2 Galaxy. He’s stayed busy too, working with Jeff Mills and others on the Spiral Deluxe project and teaming up with Bill Beavan to form the full-fat live band project Celebrity BBQ Sauce Band just last year.

For those that know, Mitchell’s 12” as M5, released in 1999 on Metroplex, has long been a holy grail of Detroit techno, and with good reason. It packs in as much pristine, sparkling machine soul into three tracks as you could ever wish for, blasting off with the frankly stunning ‘Celestial Highways’. Driving, propulsive and yet as light as a feather, it’s the quintessential trip away from the earth’s surface, and it also nods to the roots by sampling an early classic from Juan Atkins, Moritz Von Ozwald and Thomas Fehlmann, ‘Die Kosmischen Kuriere’. Not just anyone can pull off such a bold sample, but Mitchell makes it his own.

‘Dream Traveller’ has a slightly moodier quality as it courses through a thicket of interlocked rhythm and looped phrases, but you’re never far from an illustrious sweep of pad to take you star-wards. ‘Astral Ancestors’ rounds the record out in a fine balance of the two previous tracks, all sizzling drum machine magic and extravagant synth work with an innate funk and earnest soul that could only come from one part of the world.


Theo Parrish – Smile (Sound Signature)

The latest offering from Theo Parrish is sure to trigger an outpouring of happiness among those who missed the boat when the two EP’s from which this magnificent double-pack is derived first saw the light of day. All four of the included tracks on the new Sound Signature release are borrowed from EP’s originally released decades ago via the Music Is… label: ‘Smile’ from 1997 – which was only his second-ever release – and ‘Dreamer’s Blue’s/Lost Angel’ from 2001. While neither record falls into the rare as hen’s teeth category, both are highly desirable and likely to cost a good deal more than the RRP on the resale market, rendering this a very welcome addition to the Detroit maverick’s inventory. Even set against the impeccable standards the supremely talented producer has set for himself, the music is extraordinarily good across the board. All four tracks are epic in terms of duration, so it’s especially pleasing to see each number allocated a full side of wax just as the Gods of sound intended.

The dusty, snare-heavy rhythm of title track ‘Smile’ permeates through drowsy chords and sinister bass as the determined vocal chop weaves magic over the groove. On the reverse of the first 12”, the deliciously infectious piano hook of ‘Lost Keys’ does the work as it spirals over propulsion-inducing drums, unfolding majestically over an eminently suspenseful arrangement. The second slab begins with ‘Dreamer’s Blue’s’, where hypnotic percussion builds exquisite tension under atmospheric e-piano keys before intricate rhythmic layers add depth to the transcendent groove. Finally, the unforgettably moody bass of ‘Lost Angel’ growls under crunchy drumming and thick pads before effected percussion enlivens the elegantly mysterious cut. Nobody sounds quite like Theo Parrish, and this EP serves as proof, if it were needed, that the boundary-ignoring talent has been way ahead of the game since the get-go.


Fabrizio Mammarella & Rodion – Sierra Madre (Slow Motion)

Franz Scala and Fabrizio Mammarella’s Slow Motion Records is a habitually safe bet when it comes to serving cutting-edge and dance-centric Italo sounds. For the latest release, Mammarella once again teams up with fellow Italian Rodion for a decidedly grubby excursion deep into late-night acidic mayhem. Each of these artists is responsible for their own fine bodies of solo work, but neither is afraid to get communal in the name of compelling dance-floor collaborations – with Mammarella frequently joining Lauer on the duo’s Black Spuma project, and Rodion regularly pooling resources with Bottin for tripped out meta-disco antics.

It’s been a little while since we’ve seen them appear on the same slab of wax, so it’s especially gratifying to see them reunite to continue their mountain-themed output on ‘Sierra Madre’. Opening track ‘Barranca Del Cobre’ broods with intent as sub-heavy bass drives undulating chords through a merciless synth assault before a satisfying acid garnish joins the wigged-out party. ‘Cerro Gordo’ continues the drugged-up acid theme as aquatic 303 lines join mutant synths and filthy spoken words over tough drumming. Finally, grimy discordant synths cut through the marching drums of the Front De Cadeaux remix of the title track, as mysteriously disconcerting drones and suspicious vocal add to the palpable sense of foreboding


Banoffee Pie V/A – Limited Series 10 (Banofee Pies)

The admirably eclectic and always interesting Banoffee Pies label are back again with the latest in their Limited Series, and as ever the hand-picked selection provides a suitably absorbing audio tapestry in which to immerse oneself. The Bristol-based label has previously offered a home to a merry band of disparate and free-spirited creators, including NY AK, Jad & The, Philou Louzolo, and Adam Stromstedt among many others, and here they assemble an effervescent five-piece ensemble of musical misfits to deliver the delectable sonic produce.

First up, ‘Fidget Spanner’ from Yushh sets the mood with a spirited groove bouncing over deep bass floating pads as alien lead synth and chopped vocal textures at abundant atmosphere. The warped futurism of ‘Inside’ from Kincaid featuring J Caesar exudes paranoid sleaze as it murkily unravels, while Tristan Arp’s ‘Circling The Abyss’ gallops through lively percussion and intoxicating abstract waves. PinballSpider’s ‘In One Ear’ evolves over stripped but deeply atmospheric rhythmic swirls, and finally, the discreet acid dirt of ’89’ Breaks’ from Johnny Hunter revel in tripped-out slow-mo Jungle brilliance. As bold as ever from team Banoffee, all five determinedly uncompromising tracks are thoroughly deserving of close nocturnal attention and heavy sound system rotation.


This week’s reviewers: Jude Iago James, Patrizio Cavaliere, Oli Warwick