This week’s best new albums

All the albums you really need to know about this week

ALBUM OF THE WEEK

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Shame – Drunk Tank Pink (Dead Oceans)

Drunk Tank Pink may not be on the Dulux colour chart, but its historical backstory provides a glimpse into the headspace of punk five-piece Shame. Used in the 70s for prison cells, it’s a colour that psychologists suggest using to reduce hostility and aggression. However, for the infamously raucous band, the colour has inspired an introspective album filled with some of their best work to date.

Following 2018’s Songs of Praise, an album which saw post-adolescent angst rage throughout, the new album from the South Londoners sees a new-found maturity. Themes of anxiety and reflection are layered amongst high-octane and thunderous melodies harnessed with the instant fixation on frontman Charlie Sheen’s self-awareness.

Tracks are laced with post-punk undertones and textured with gritty rhythms from drummer Charlie Forbes and luring bass patterns from Josh Finerty. The frenzied ‘Snow Day’ is a chilling listen – an extension of Songs of Praise – while the panicked ‘Born In Luton’ sees an adrenaline rush of guitar lines from Sean Coyle-Smith and Eddie Green. On ‘Human, For A Minute’, Steen appears at his most vulnerable, with the instrumentation wrapping his vocals to protect and soothe, whereas ‘Nigel Hitter’ is punctuated with the mundanity of routine and post-touring existence.

Yet it’s the six-minute-plus album closer ‘Station Wagon’ that produces one of the records best moments. An underlying piano pattern creates a calmness prior to a catastrophic burst of energetic sound – a climatic pulse of anxiety that finishes the record with intent. There’s a clear gear shift in artistic choice for this record – for one, there’s less shouting. Despite trademark abrasive punk traits, there’s also a lightness to this record; an ounce or two of self-consciousness and tenderness. With an influx of ‘post-punk’ bands over the past few years cluttering the genre, Shame continue to stay a cut above the rest.
PS

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Pearl Charles – Magic Mirror (Kanine Records)
With 2021 starting in the same depressing vein as the year that’s just passed, music has become even more important as a tool for escapism. Enter Pearl Charles, the LA singer-songwriter whose hypnotic take on Americana evokes Californian sunshine and the freewheeling spirit of the Laurel Canyon scene. It’s well-trodden ground, with artists like Haim and Jenny Lewis presenting us with similar sounds. But like the legends she’s inspired by, she conjures a beguiling sense of time and place that juxtaposes the misery occupying the world at present.

The transportive quality of Charles’ music carries over onto her new album Magic Mirror. It retains the breeziness, slide guitars and the retro pop-rock sensibilities of her first outing Sleepless Dreamer, but it taps further into its brief flirtations with psychedelia and disco. Unabashed ABBA homage ‘Only For Tonight’ kicks the album off in party mood, with jaunty keys, irresistible slap bass and vocal harmonies that provide equal amounts of euphoria and blissfulness. ‘Don’t Feel Like Myself’ slows things down, but it’s impossible not to get lost in its luminous mix of country twang, elegant strings and its shimmering harpsichord melody.

Good vibes may be the name of the game, but Charles isn’t afraid to get contemplative. She often questions her creative purpose, especially on ‘Slipping Away’, where she deliberates the enduring impact of art on our lives over a ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’-esque riff. The title track goes deepest of all, a piano ballad that drives home the album’s themes of reflection and growth.

Charles makes no secret of her influences, but it’s all delivered with sincere affection. Magnificently sequenced with beautiful vocals and vibrant production, Magic Mirror is perfect listening for those in need of a ray of positivity during the bleakest of times.
MDW

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Mika Vainio – Last Live (Editions Mego)

Mika Vainio was a Finnish artist who had multiple artist monikers and collaborative projects; most cited is the industrial noise act Pan Sonic. Vainio was loved for crafting original, physical sounds with hardware as opposed to computers and made the sort of dexterous sonic worlds you can inhabit.

The latest posthumous release is titled Last Live as it’s the last ever live recording of the seminal avant-garde producer. Recorded at Cave12 venue in Geneva in February 2017, just two months before he tragically passed away in France, you get to hear four movements that fill two LP’s. It’s an ambient affair but that doesn’t mean it’s easy going; the rich dynamic switches are part of the thrill. Experiencing this music is like going into an unknown jungle with no trodden path. There’s no way of anticipating where the musician will take you which makes for a breath-taking listen. Moreover, the haunting sonic details mean it feels like a giant mural of a darkly-psychedelic fever dream thanks to the whole body impact it has. By the time you’ve come out the other end of this concert, you’re left feeling shook but renewed and revitalised.

The quality of the recording is extraordinary, which is generally not the case with live albums. The level achieved is testament to everything coming off on the night back in 2017: Vainio’s high standards, the quality of modular synth gear he had at his disposal on stage. Plus, the fantastic post-production, which reads as who’s who of leftfield gods. To name a couple, Carl Michael von Hausswolff (yep, Anna von Hausswolff’s dad) mixed it, and Sunn O )))’s Stephen O’Malley did a pre-edit. With this in mind, and the fact the staunchly DIY Vienna-based label Editions Mego and Cave12 label are partnering on releasing it, it all adds up to portray a truly commendable, excellently done tribute to the legend. Hats off to them.
CT

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Sleaford Mods – Spare Ribs (Rough Trade)

Frontman Jason Williamson’s ability to expose the ills of Tory Britain through music continues apace on Sleaford Mods’ sixth album Spare Ribs. The album title is a metaphor for the way he sees the political class treating ordinary people (himself included): expendable, spare ribs. The title track verses feel integral in this regard, highlighting the reality on the high streets: people on spice in smashed bus stops, which is one of the symptoms of austerity.

Brexit, meanwhile (which Williamson has been a longstanding campaigner against) gets an uncensored takedown as he sings the track ‘Out There’: “Let’s get Brexit fucked by a horse’s penis until its misery splits. Ugly rich white men get shagged by it”. Another key theme – and a recurring one in Sleaford Mods’ back catalogue – is the takedown of bad art and social climbing. It’s often seen through the lens of someone getting itchy witnessing disingenuous behaviour in order to be popular: “You’re just a mind that’s saying and playing sod all,” he sings on ‘Nudge It’. Poverty tourists also get a lampooning on this cut, which features Amyl and The Sniffers’ Amy Taylor: “Stood outside a high-rise trying to act like a gangster”.

Instrumentally, Spare Ribs is going to content existing Sleaford Mods fans: simple beats, menacing basslines, dub-y bottom end all gloriously under-produced to bring the listener closer to what it sounds like being in the studio recording live at home, as opposed to a creating an illusion of grandeur. Fitting for a band who are honest with themselves and balk at others’ dishonesty.
CT

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Domenique Dumont – People On Sunday (Soundtrack) (The Leaf Label)

New releases from Latvian project Domenique Dumont are teasingly infrequent. They first charmed their way into our ears with the gorgeous, delicate Comme Ça in 2015, appearing on Parisian label Antinote and sounding to all intents and purposes like a perfect French dream pop curio. Reportedly the line-up has changed over time, and now Arturs Liepins works solo. This new album for Leaf comes in instrumental form.

People On Sunday is a German silent film from the 1930s, which Domenique Dumont was invited to soundtrack for a special screening at the Les Arcs Film Festival in the French Alps in late 2019. With or without the accompanying imagery, People On Sunday paints a beautiful picture that seems to capture the particular spirit embodied in that vague but wholly suggestive title. The Dumont disposition has always been one of wistful idealism, and here you might well be transported to your own lazy day idyll where the sun is perpetually shining, the grass is green and the mood is chipper.

OK, maybe that sounds quite distant from the winter of early 2021, but we can imagine, can’t we? If nothing else, this delightful album can serve as a little dose of romantic escapism, and that’s something we can all get behind.
OW

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Tusken Raiders – Bantha Trax Vol. III (Seagrave)

Of the many aliases Mike Paradinas has graced over the years, Tusken Raiders has to be one of the finest. The Planet Mu boss donned the George Lucas-baiting moniker for the inquisitive broken-beat techno excursion Bantha Trax on Clear back in 1995, but there were just a couple of other releases before he had to shuffle the name up as Rude Ass Tinker to avoid legal woes. The sound has varied over the releases, getting rougher and incorporating more hardcore and drum & bass elements while adhering to Paradinas’ penchant for angular experimentation.

Finally in stock after surfacing late last year, Seagrave gathered together some tracks left over from Paradinas’ sessions for Lunatic Harness (released as µ-Ziq) which seem to fit the Tusken arc and wayward hardcore stylings of the label perfectly. The combination of gnarly overdrive, squashed breaks and weird spatial drops sound shockingly current for pieces mashed out of grubby hardware nearly a quarter of a century ago. As with the best experimental breakbeat of the era, there’s a distinct lack of linearity here as the threads of wanton percussion, lurid bass flex and atmospheric pings meander at will – ‘Raiderz Skank’ is a fine case in point, but don’t mistake them for arty chin strokers. ‘Dystopic’ could tear up a dance with ease – here’s hoping it will some time soon.
OW

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Krust – The Edge Of Everything (Crosstown Rebels)

Bristol D&B don Krust has always treated albums as a deeper consideration than his club 12”s. His debut LP Coded Language was a razor sharp excursion into the creative scope within drum & bass and jungle in the late 90s. The Edge Of Everything takes that premise to a greater degree, reflecting personal development beyond the scene and more complex influences feeding into a work that needs some serious contemplation and absorption. After the initial pressing flew out, Crosstown Rebels are revisiting the album for a run of clear vinyl, and it comes at a good time to start further evaluating the epic scope of this masterstroke of an album.

High drama and a bold narrative arc dictate the flow of The Edge Of Everything, as Krust places his decades of D&B excellence in a cinematic framework that leaves the club behind in pursuit of something more abstract. There are cliffhanger gaps, shocking drops and formidable displays of sound design prowess from the off. For the most part, despite the wild sonics and bold arrangements, it still retains Krust’s sonic DNA, but at the album’s pivotal midpoint, ‘7 Known Truths’, the veteran junglist sounds more daring and inspired than ever before. Don’t pass up the chance to immerse yourself in this frankly astounding piece of art.
OW

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Cinema – Cinema (Nada Nada Discos)
In 1985, Brazil broke free from its nearly 20-year military dictatorship, ending the mass-censorship of media. Despite the regime’s rampant nationalism and torturing, the period saw a rise in economic growth (the “Brazilian Miracle”) from 1970. By the end, there was enough freedom and prosperity to cultivate a burgeoning underground avant-garde music scene.

Twenty years is a long time, enough for an album like Cinema collective’s self-titled LP to emerge. The group consisted of four mavericks – Alex Meirelles, Annabel Albernaz, Tetê Sá, and Ro Tapajós. if you look at Tapajós’ discography, you’ll notice a very not-coincidental 12-year gap in it, within the regime’s most brutal period from 1968 until c.1980. One of his last releases before this period, ‘O Gigante’, criticised how “square” it all was.

Now, obscure São Paulo punk label Nada Nada Discos has reissued the album. Undercutting the gargantuan resale value of the original pressing, they’ve recreated its former glory by remaking the cover and including new interviews from the collective.

The tunes form a crowning achievement in contemporary regional music, having been arguably the first to blend traditional, percussive Afro-Brazilian styles with electronics and synthesised elements. It plays back like the soundtrack to a forgotten arthouse movie, beginning with foggy vocal collages and synthscapes like ‘Falando Alto’ and ‘A Lua, As Estrelas’, before revealing a distinct darkwave cum dream pop sound. Cuts like ‘Ciência’ and ‘Sem Teto’ alternate between uptempo and reflective moods, but never force them out of the album’s surreal haze.

Most tracks sound like they’re being performed in a half-remembered concert hall. Breaking from this, though, closer ‘SP5 4R’ is a synthy detour, consisting of nothing more than a catchy lead melody which occasionally pitch-warps into an uncanny version of the original sound; it’s like the lost, lonesome shade of an ‘80s new wave hit. True to the name, no track on Cinema would sound out of place as diegetic music in a new Lynchian masterwork.
JIJ

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Helium – The Works EP: Original And Unreleased Mixes Bundle (Kalahari Oyster Cult)

Kalahari Oyster Cult has been one of the most active house labels over the past half-decade, releasing no end of aquatic bubblers and skittish cuts from the likes of Nathan Melja, Roza Terenzi and Urulu. They also occasionally function as a reissue label, having re-released ‘90s classics by the likes of DJ Trance and Tapp.

No matter their focus, though – whether they’re putting out a tried and true classic from a 50-something-year-old, or something clean and meticulous from a fresh-faced youngster – KOC’s music always has a particularly tricky, light-hearted feel. When listening, you’ll only ever emote in one of two ways: you’re either floating on clouds, or dipping your toes into mermaids’ waters.

Now, they continue their year – yes, we’re only two weeks into 2021 and this only one of two releases they’ve announced so far – with a stonking, three-part reissue of YouTube alogrithm cult find ‘The Works’. The EP was originally a one-off trance-house excursion from 1993 by Mon ‘S Jegers and Rob Verboven, together known as Helium. An outstanding achievement, KOC have not only remastered this odd, flute-laden rarity of an EP, but have also unearthed some until-now unheard remixes of the tracks.

Proving their infectious appeal isn’t just down to crackly vinyl ‘warmth’, the old tracks sound incredible in their remastered form in both digital and vinyl formats. The new remixes, too, take us one layer below – from dream, to dreamer dream-within-a-dream – with new vocal-packed versions of ’Try Me’ and ‘Out There’, as well as a guided meditation-style spoken word version of the ambient piece ‘Clouds’. The exclusives set KOC apart; not many reissues come with this level of effort and love poured into them.
JIJ

After a successful 2020 – with beautiful releases from Nashpaints and lastminuteman – mostly-cassette Dublin label Wherethetimegoes returns with a self-titled debut LP from mysterious act Frog Of Earth. Not much is known about the artist, only that they are a designer, DJ and producer associated with the DIY art collective Repeater, and that they make stunning ambient new age music.
JIJ

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Frog Of Earth – Frog Of Earth (Wherethetimegoes)

‘Frog Of Earth’ is an electronic concept album about a humble Frog. On ‘Lying Down’, our amphibian friend awakens from an innocent, primal slumber, to the tune of dripping rain and whacked-out minimalist tones. It hops about, carelessly frolicking to folk highlands ditties like ‘Means’, and meeting fellow animals of its kind on ‘Newt Dub’. By the time the album reaches ‘Settle For Less’, the Frog finds itself in total childish equanimity with the world, its satisfaction paralleled by nothing but the sheer crispness of this zither-laden theme tune.

Shortly afterwards, though, the Frog encounters some tribulations which force it to question its purpose in the world. It witnesses a freight train zoom by, and is thereafter struck and burdened by faint existential questions like ‘how?’ and ‘why?’. We reach ‘OH SEY UM’, which pushes into a strange mood with its trembling dancehall, mournful calls and paradisiacal bird squawks. ‘Salamander Dub’ is likewise a particularly heavy pit of darkness, a dubby sloshing of chords peppered by nothing else but the occasional sound of an alien rainmaker; the Frog wallows in the swampy ditch of depression the track has dug.

But, hark: as the album nears its end, the bad spell passes. The Frog – after being helplessly bustled about, and having been visited by an angel in the form of a bee – lets go of its absurd musings and fussy ribbits. We feel this sense of rejuvenation on ‘The Mouth’, a triumphant proto-grime coda on which cinematic, divine pads judder into the mix like sudden, relieving realisations. The final track, ‘Settle For Less (Ned’s VIP)’, is a mature reflection on the first version of the track, letting go of its zither but still marking the Frog’s return to its former chill. A protean album with glorious ambition.
JIJ

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Wondering O – 0° Heaven’s Trumpet

Wondering O is the brainchild of Mihkel Tomberg, a versatile, experimental electronic musician who has multiple projects on the go at any one time. From what we’ve been introduced to so far, the music under his noise/drone alter ego Ranchman Tiara, and uplifting trance moniker mariana trench is brilliant. Moreover, he’s in a duo called Algorütmid and in the Estonian Electronic Music Society, where he performs electronic music from graphic scores.

The musician studied composition at the Estonian Academy of Music in Tallinn, where his hero composer Arvo Pärt studied, which was fruitful in getting him off the ground. He now operates in a studio a stone’s throw from his old campus and runs his own indie label Heaven’s Trumpet from there, too.
What this musician’s achieved with 0° is nothing short of a miracle. This, the fifth album as Wondering O, is an achingly beautiful piano-led affair full of sonic manipulation. The arrangements on the album are generally sparse and played at a slow tempo offering space for contemplation. Each sound in there is a masterpiece. Whether it’s one touch of the piano or the atmospheric textures floating around the lead instrument, you can’t help but think ‘how did he get it to sound that good?’ A note on his Soundcloud goes some way to unveiling his magic, stating: “Recordings are sprinkled with wavefolder and FFT manipulation for diamond density.”

For all the ideas and techniques shown, Tomberg’s ability to self-edit is strong as the album is lean at just over half an hour, and captivating throughout. Tomberg’s ability to weave in hard-edged, ominous sounds in conjunction with more plaintive, thoughtful progressions keeps things dynamic. Some thoroughly deep tones are worth plugging in your best audio gear to immerse in, too. 0° would be best heard in the blistering midday sun whilst sitting at the foot of an ambient stage at a festival, or any time at home. Heck, just put it on repeat all day and enjoy discovering nooks and crannies you didn’t hear on first listen. You won’t regret it.
CT

This week’s house of reviewing representatives: Paige Sims, Cai Trefor, Matthew D Watkin, Jude Iago James, Oli Warwick, Ben Willmott.

This week’s best new singles

The crème de le crème of this week’s selections of 45

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SINGLE OF THE WEEK
Analogical Force – Unseen Series I (Analogical Force)
Madrid’s Analogical Force is not an institution to be messed with. They’ve put out some of the most illustrious breakcore and monstrous IDM to ever grace this side of the millennium, charting groundbreaking releases from the likes of Kettel, Brainwaltzera and RTR. I liken their output to musical napalm. In an utterly unfashionable – bordering on unreasonable – move, I once played the mind-bending ‘Dédaism’ by Ruby My Dear while DJing at a family-friendly day festival. It turned every head in a 300-yard radius.

Now, the label kickstarts 2021 with a new limited edition ‘Unseen Series’ by the ever-enigmatic ‘Unknown Artist’. Unknown Artist is probably one of the most prolific acts to ever grace both digital and physical realms, having charted over 128,000 releases on Discogs alone…

In all seriousness, though, we don’t know anything about who made this four-tracker, and we like it that way. With the series billed as “something pretty special, unsigned, just for pleasure”, and released on vinyl and digital, we’re happy to say that this pure approach to releasing music has paid off.

True to the jumpy, playful acid style popularised by AFX’s Analord series, the tracks manifest as charming hardware jams. Opener ‘óspakr’ blends squelching basslines, boxy drums and electroclash vocoder-play; a golden alchemical formula. A2, ‘Axiom12’, likewise features a squelch-bass, this time charmingly out of time and step-sequenced like a malfunctioning R2 droid.

We are caught off guard, though. The B1, ‘Herald’, rampantly ups the pace to detuned saw synths with clattering neck-breaks. It sounds like the messed-up theme tune for a videogame superhero; after being bitten by a radioactive hardware synth, Squelch Girl’s power is to shoot analog 303 lines from her underarms. Settling down afterwards, we return to a subdued atmosphere on ‘Hr¢lfr’, recalling Rephlex-era Wisp with its icy synth calls, hoover-like drones and hat brush shuffles. Whoever you are, we hope to hear more of these musical outtakes. They may be “just for pleasure”, but we are no less pleased than you.
JIJ

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Various Artists – Innate 04 (Innate)
The Innate label has quietly set out its stall as a go-to destination for upfront deep techno that carries the torch from the earliest strains of the UK scene in the early to mid 90s. That scene was itself acutely plugged into the spirit of the Detroit forerunners, less concerned with brute force functionality and more interested in the expressive potential within the technology, as spoken through illustrious pads and intricate drum programming. Gathering together four lesser-known artists for each release, Innate’s strength is in its consistency, pursuing a classic sound spanning techno and electro with melancholy as standard.

On this latest round, one of the most prominent names to grace the label so far, Aroy Dee, kicks off proceedings with a resolutely downcast track that finds the Dutch artist applying his trademark synth bath to a slow but punchy, broken 909 beat. Innate mainstay Gilbert follows up with a more sprightly strain of melodic, acid-lashed electro that maximises on Innate’s penchant for wistful moods. Jonski, who also moonlights as Zobol on labels like Goldmin, turns in a plush strain of uptempo 4/4 licked with the kind of rich synth work you’d expect of Titonton Duvante, and then Welsh wizard DJ Guy rounds the record off with one of his typically wild hyper-soul infusions, steeped in the ragged sonics of 90s DIY and brimming with emotion.
OW

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Julia-Sophie – I Wish (Slow Dance)

As is the annual tradition, indie DIY label and musico-art collective Slow Dance are putting out a staggered musical countdown which will soon culminate in their year-end compilation ‘Slow Dance 2020’. They’ve kept up this tradition for four years; day by day in January, a new track is revealed from behind a digital advent calendar flap. As has been revealed, they’ve already seen the likes of labelmates Halina, Platonica Erotica, Lui and Comfort contribute, spanning everything from post-punk to IDM-gaze in the space of a week.

For the 14th, Julia-Sophie takes centre stage. Having been signed to Motown along with her former band Little Fish, and as a part of dream pop collective Candy Says, her recent solo output is put into dazzling context, returning with night-vision focus.

In subtle contrast to last year’s ‘y’, which took on a more sunburnt dream-dance approach, the new single ‘I Wish’ reveals a yet-unheard, soporific style. A night-time techno-ballad, it pits a vintage drum machine pattern against her wistfully verb-drenched vocals, functioning as a singular 5-minute climax. “I wish I felt better” is its lyrical mantra, a craving which, for the listener as well as the artist, comes true. The track is about breaking free from social constraint: the artist muses over the past year, solemnly admitting, on top of 2020’s unprecedented challenges, that she’s “had to fight and break hearts… to live my own truth.”

Fitting for this bittersweet mood, the track elevates to a plane of unabashed savagery at around the 4-minute mark. On the come-up, a new pedal-distorted tone enters the mix, expanding its sonic scope to reality-warping proportions. But it does so subtly, like a sonic hitman arriving to ‘deal with’ our oppressors quietly. The track’s power comes from its slow-burning quality: building, rather than suddenly dropping into, its most assertive elements. It’s like letting down someone you love, softly but firmly.

JIJ

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Night Beats – ‘That’s All You Got’ (feat. Robert Levon Been) (Fuzz Club)

Night Beats made a name for themselves performing adrenalising psychedelic rock with telekinetic live band led by the enigmatic singer and guitarist Danny Lee Blackwell. Having left the label which put their name on their map in the UK – Heavenly Recordings – they are now signed to Fuzz Club and the latest release for said label comes in the form of a 7” single titled ‘That’s All You Got’, featuring none other than Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Robert Levon Been. Blackwell grew up listening to Been’s music and the pair first collaborated on music together for Night Beats’ LP, Who Killed My Generation? Been produced said album in his analog studio – that was released back in 2016. Night Beats’ sound has changed quite dramatically since then. It’s less frenetic, embracing a more soulful, psychedelic R&B side side that we first heard becoming an intentful direction on the band’s fourth LP, Myth Of A Man.

This single appears to take the sound down the soul road even more prominently than Myth Of A Man did. The strong old time-y recording captures the heartfelt emotion of the players – Blackwell’s incredible vocals are up there with some of the greats of the ’50’s and ’60’s, which is something we wouldn’t have known on Night Beats’ early albums due to the louder backing and layers of reverb. With Blackwell more exposed, Night Beats are better off for it.
CT

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Lcp – Tones (re:st)
Over the past 10 years Swiss artist Lcp has been lurking around the fringes of the leftfield techno scene with a particular approach to crooked rhythms and dubby sonics that he’s primarily carried on his own re:st label. On this latest drop, which first surfaced late last year and finally hits wax in limited numbers, he refines his sound with a nocturnal excursion into crisp drums and shimmering chords.

The spacious expanse of dub techno informs the Lcp sound, manifesting in quintessential melodic phrases that favour subtlety and patience over bombast, leaving ample room for delay tails and reverb decays to mark out the size and shape of the mix. Despite this degree of formula, there’s a healthy amount of variation across all four tracks. ‘Even Alteration’s meditative mood gives way to the cascading modulation of EP highlight ‘Residual Light’, while ‘Sense Of Resolution’ skulks in a particularly downcast refrain accentuated by animated sub lines.

Rather than using soundsystem dynamics to elicit a heavy, physical response, Lcp wields bassweight dread as an expressive tool, spelling out a reflective mood that comfortably resides to the left of traditional dancefloor demands. In that sense, it’s steeped in the tradition of dub-oriented music, drawing the listener inwards and downwards, albeit in a pristinely rendered haze of contemplative contemporary techno.
OW

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Dominik Marz & Yannick Labbé – Dune (Feines Tier)
Cologne-based label and party Feines Tier deals in a kaleidoscopic spectrum of techno that draws on the palette of minimal wave and kosmische music to explore colourful terrain. This first team up with Dominik Marz and Yannick Labbé captures the spirit of the label neatly across four original tracks and one remix, offering up a diverse selection of cuts that celebrate curiosity and a certain scuffed charm that sits easy on the ears.

On the lead track, ‘Dune’, there’s a tangible reach for warm, vintage sounds which offsets the linearity of the arrangement to make for an effective and distinctive floor track. The emphasis is on the low end, where the interplay between the nagging bass and rippling toms creates a locomotion of groove for imagined bodies to latch onto. But crucially, it’s not just pure rhythm, and there’s enough charm and character rubbed into the pads to elicit a sense of mystery, which could see the track sitting comfortably alongside some of the clubbier output on Comeme.

The same spirit applies to the remix, where River Rapid alumni DC Salas reworks ‘Meaning’ with a strain of body music that uses full fat lead lines and bold percussion to extrapolate the original’s mystical energy into a peak time burner for those who like a little spice in their sauce.
OW

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Nu Zau – Dancing Mountains EP (Underplay)
Romanian minimal is a sound that continues apace regardless of trends and currents in the broader electronic music scene. It’s a dualistic movement in many ways, beholden to tradition and the rigidity of the 4/4 tech house mantra, but also revelling in the space minimal affords to experimental textures and expressions between those shuffling beats. Stefan Gabriel, aka Nu Zau, undoubtedly follows in the footsteps of the [a:rpia:r] lot and the other European titans of the sound, but he’s also an artist who knows how to edge enough personality into the music to make his productions worthy of specific attention.

Dancing Mountains comes out on Underplay, a sublabel of Playedby, and follows a fertile run for all kinds of labels. From Windmühle and More Than Music to a self-released album on Bandcamp, Gabriel has been as prolific as anyone in the stripped-down tech house firmament, but the key feature on this particular EP is his sound design work, which goes further than most rote minimal. On the title track, there’s a particular emphasis on a pinging textural line, which sounds like it could have been captured from a modular, and a warm, undulating sustained tone with a certain analogue fuzziness. It’s the embrace of such harmonically rich tones which pushes the track out in front.

The sense of sonic playfulness is even more palpable on ‘Hello Jasper’ thanks to the interplay between the rounded, nimble bass and a nervy arp bugging out underneath a carefully managed filter. There are plenty of other brushstrokes of errant wriggles and wobbles, as you would expect for a minimal track, except that there’s a certain gritty charm to these pinprick sounds and some hand-wrought FX bringing the tapestry to life in a way many similar tracks fail to.

This is, of course, still clubby minimal through and through, and the beats will be no great shock to anyone familiar with the sound, but even on the more typical ‘Ne Vedem Maine’ there’s a certain kink in the palette that draws the ear in. In a genre defined by a specific approach, it’s these subtle differences that count the most.
OW

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The House of Love – Christine (Optic Nerve Sevens)

‘Christine’ has a special place in The House of Love history books. Camberwell’s finest purveyors of shoegaze and dream pop – well, apart from possibly My Bloody Valentine – were at a turning point when it was released in May 1988 because founding member, co-singer and rhythm guitarist Andrea Heukamp was in the process of leaving the band.

She leant her vocals and guitar to ‘Christine’ – and this alone – to the songs that would end up on the band’s hugely successful debut album. But talk about going out on a high: the magic of this single is something they share in common with many of their label mates on Creation Records at the time – the immense guitar tone. On what otherwise would be snappy, dream-y indie-pop song, we hear dissonant walls of noise that are a stunning contrast to the tunefulness and reverie in lead singer and band leader Guy Chadwick’s voice. No wonder they became one of Britain’s biggest indie sensations and one of the crown jewels in Creation’s lauded roster that includes Oasis (of course), My Bloody Valentine, and The Pastels.

To commemorate this great, classic track, the reissue – out on Optic Nerve Sevens – is getting a reissue on 7” clear vinyl with a poster and postcard. B-sides ‘The Hill’ and ‘Loneliness Is a Gun’ from the original 12” are also kept. A highly collectable memoir from a stellar time for British guitar music.
CT

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Ashaye – Dreaming (V4 Visions)
In a surprise retroactive move, South London label V4 Visions has released the digital masters for Julian Ashaye’s ‘Dreaming’, previously only on 12” vinyl. A jack-of-all trades, V4 operated at a cross-section of street-soul, jungle, and house. It’s clear the brightest lights burn the fastest: the label was mainly active from 1992-1994, but released the majority of Ashaye’s gem-ridden catalogue.

As a key part of his career, Julian Ashaye was an in-house label crooner. Having clocked in at number 15 on the UK singles chart in 1983 with the Michael Jackson medley ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough’, he re-entered the scene in 1991, putting out five EPs on V4. He also released ‘Fantasy’ on Strictly Rhythm, alongside labelmate Alex Palmer.

The combination of Ashaye’s penchant for lovers rock and funk, with Palmer’s then-worship of Larry Heard’s ‘Fingers Inc.’ project – on which singers Robert Owens and Ron Wilson were featured – made for a fruitful collaborative effort. Working with Palmer, the evening R&B swooner ‘Dreaming’ was Ashaye’s last contribution to V4. Originally conceived as an instrumental track, it was a detour from Palmer’s usual house output, and was an expression of sorrow after a close friend suffered a miscarriage. Dissociating the instrumental from its originally mournful outlook, Ashaye’s lyrical contribution gave it a reconciliatory and loving spin, singing of “treasuring the moments we had together”.

However, the bulk of our interest in the track comes from the pair’s jungle remix on the B-side, on which – besides the obligatory addition of a breakbeat – the lyrics are partially changed to match the ravier change in mood. Retaining the original mix’s bittersweet positivity, new junglist phrases – like “big up all the champagne crew!” – are peppered throughout, achieving the difficult fusion of darkcore aggression with Ashaye’s originally sultry edge. A glistening return and much-welcomed reissue, conjuring memories of better days.
JIJ

This week’s elite vinyl athletes – Oli Warwick, Jude Iago James, Cai Trefor, Ben Willmott.

This week’s best new albums

All the best albums this week, selected and assessed by Juno’s elite reviewing ninjas
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This week’s best new singles

Your guide to the best new 45s around, brought to you by Juno’s reviews team….
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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…

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Coil – Musick To Play In The Dark (Dais)

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.

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This week’s best new singles reviewed

The surprise new single from Burial heads the list of new singles pored over by Juno’s scientists of sound this week…

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Burial – Chemz (Hyperdub)

Burial has surprise-dropped the Christmas single Chemz this week, only less than 3 weeks after his last split EP with Four Tet and Thom Yorke. It is a continuation of his recent proto-rave direction and is a beautiful slice of unearthed dancefloor warmth to round off a cold, cold year.

Sampling Wolf Alice and Ne-Yo, as well his own track Street Halo, the track pits unusually clean vocal samples against Burial’s cheekiest garage beat to date. “Just can’t explain how I feel when I’m around you, baby” is the first lyrical motif, continuing in the tradition of the jaggedly cut-up vocal science heard on last year’s ‘Claustro’. The phrase repeats against a variety of 8-bar backdrops. Burial often shifts these melodies and chords, resulting in a completely different headspace every 10 seconds or so.

Halfway, we are treated to a hardcore proto-jungle beatswitch, peppered with scratchy rewind samples and icy arpeggiations. One vocal, “I will never let you go”, is so oddly EQed that it charmingly breaks Burial’s textbook vinyl immersion. It’s refreshing to hear Burial delve further into his newfound ‘slapdash’ approach, especially in an era where impeccable production is seen as the gold standard for quality. Truant-style, we soon switch moods again, urged by the track to “take me farther” into space-age free party territory at the 10-minute mark.

Not much is known about the B-side Dolphinz. Rumour has it that, like 2019’s ‘State Forest’, it is a more subdued upside-down of the A. Oddly, its release is scheduled for April, suggesting it might sound like the A’s springtime counterpart. Needless to say, perhaps the brand shift we see and hear on ‘Chemz’ – like that witnessed on ‘Claustro/State Forest’ – signals something greater to come…
JIJ

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Sepehr – Crown Jewel (Shaytoon)

The name Sepehr Alimagham carries with it many musical associations; king-sized EBM, jittering jakbeat, and Middle-Eastern electro-acousmatism, to name a few.

This week, the New York artist encompasses all of the above on a new EP, Crown Jewel. It is the first on his own label Shaytoon, named after his 2020 album on Dark Entries and dedicated to dance music hailing from the Iranian underground. Shaytoon was a colourful album detailing future visions of fine-tuned of acid techno, balearic fabrications, and heat-hazed mirages, all gleaned from the ‘70s Iranian pop music Sepehr enjoyed as a youngster. But there were hard truths at its core: much of the music his childhood friends had shown him was only obtainable from odds-and-ends shops in bootleg form. This deligitimised form of selling music surfaced as a result of the 1979 Revolution in Iran, which severely limited the sale of Western media.

‘Crown Jewel’, while not referencing Sepehr’s heritage as explicitly, does offer the sense of much of his favourite music being out of reach. Like his own experience of having a dual Iranian American identity, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the EP’s stylistic fusions meet, only that they do so in a highly-considered, uncanny manner. Opener Cloak of Flames is a cavernous loomer, with thunderous dread booms overlaid with chime flourishes, setting a numinous tone. Crown Jewel and Night Is Young are tunnel-trip acid house tracks, blending hallucinatory wonk with cocky squelches and echoic glossolalia. Further down the rabbit hole lies Head to the Sky, an EBM-like banger which, contrary to the title, sounds more earthy than aerial. We close with Riposte, a 2-step-via-electro segway peppered with atmosphere and ‘Ow!’ shouts.

Given its influences, it’s safe to say that Crown Jewel establishes Shaytoon as a label which is sure to attract collectors and gyrators alike.
JIJ

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Tia Maria Produções – Lei Da Tia Maria (Principe)

Starting in 2011, Principe has carved its place in history as Portugal’s foremost underground dance label, showcasing the best of Lisbon’s production talent. With many of its artists being Portuguese natives of West African ancestry, Principe citrsinfluences ranging from kuduro to kizomba, all techno-tinged to pioneer a new, dark form of batida.

Tia Maria are a supergroup composed of Principe mainstays DJ Danifox, DJ Lycox, DJ B.Boy and Puto Márcio; they’ve now joined forces on their newest EP Lei Da Tia Maria.

The A-side opens with Xupetilson, the summeriest of DJ Danifox’s two contributions to the EP, on which the artist sings light-hearted, canine croonings. B.Boy follows up with Karibotas, a slow-burning kuduro rhythm located deeper inside Lisbon’s urban jungle. DJ Lycox’s 11h Na Lisa is a dizzying cut, whose casual syncopation is enough to induce involuntary twerks. With these sorts of rhythms, it’s hopeless to try and consciously ‘work it out’; you must intuitively ‘feel it’ first.

The B-side explores an even darker Lisboetic underbelly. Danifox returns with Aguenta, the polar opposite of his first contribution, a downtrodden nightwalk replete with sampled vocal shouts of “you showed contempt, you didn’t nurture, now deal with it”. He and Lycox collaborate on the following Mete o Bass, a wacky trip through metallic hi-hat ambulations, sinister string chops, staccato steel pans and weird wobbles. The EP concludes on a lonesome note with Puto Márcio’s Coisas da Vida, a kizomba eventide showing off the artist’s trademark melancholy.

The artists exchanged ideas for the EP on the mobile app WhatsApp; this casual file-sharing, common amongst producers in Lisbon, certainly reflects the concurrent relaxation and anxiety heard on the EP, where technology might offer relief from the city’s overwhelm. The artists are different people, but their tracks each nevertheless evoke the same reality; a sense of peace with the tension imposed by inner-city life.
JIJ

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Taiko – Oaken (White Peach)

Fent Plates’ White Peach sublabel rounds off the year with Oaken, a dreamscape EP from Louis Robson a.k.a. Taiko. With seemingly infinite deft and subtlety, Taiko’s music often approaches dubstep from a smoother angle, a talent he has flaunted ever since his debut EPs on Subaltern and Albion Collective.

On Oaken, we enter flute dub territory, each track making adept use of the instrument. The whole EP evokes images of a subdued fantasy world at rest. On the title track, Taiko is joined by saxophonist Ed Hodge, oscillating between sublime fairytale ambiences, sleepy improvisations, and minimal kick steps. Follow-up Lawless explores the darker side of this swords-and-sorcery-scape, a discordant theme tune for a medieval crime boss. Taiko’s taste for the flute might well match fellow White Peach labelmate Egoless’; Lawless is reminiscent of 2018’s Empire of Dirt, but by no means feels the need to be as aggressive, instead choosing to amble and float in sinister dream-mood.

Spent is what most dedicated ‘deep dubstep’ artists dream of doing, but often do not achieve: giving equable moods movement, without making them too in-your-face. The track has just as much filtered Rhodes piano in it as it does dutty wobble bass. Closer Where Ya From is a trap-fuelled exercise in Skreamizm, with a serene bass and flute pattern mimicking each other in call-and-response contrast. A slick and serene new EP from a renowned artist.
JIJ

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Jem One – The Rain EP (Metalheadz Platinum)

Jem One’s third appearance on Goldie’s Metalheadz stable is a three tracker, evoking memories of the classic Dillinja and Photek triple headers that cropped up in the very first batch of this classic label’s history. As is very much the way of the ‘Headz, all three tracks here have echoes of the deep past but also point very much to the future. ‘Sunday Rain’ is blessed with a hovering bass that’s not a million miles in substance from the one that graced Alex Reece’s ‘Pulp Fiction’, while soaring synths jump octaves in spectacular style and sleek, neatly trimmed breaks up the funk factor.

‘Dimensions’ has a darker techstep texture, paranoid voices echoing around the speakers while jarring, caustic riffs sear through the mix. ‘Money Man’ is probably the most classic ‘Headz sounding affair of the three, starting out with ‘Bladerunner’-style atmospherics and then dropping into a fantastically evil sounding bass and beats workout with hints of Goldie’s ‘Jah’ or classic tougher end Prototype releases from Cybotron, Boymerang or John B. Heavyweight.
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Entheogens – The Gnostic Mass (Subliminal Sounds)
One of Subliminal Sounds’ many sublabels is called ‘Psychedelic Sorcery Music’. Though not released on that particular imprint, Entheogens’ The Gnostic Mass is well-suited to the phrase. Reissued by Subliminal this week, the album was one of many spiritual folk oddballs once obtainable from a ‘90s mysterious mail-order psychedelic music shop, the Freak Emporium.

Entheogens was a one-off Swedish psychedelic ‘freakout’ formed in 1995, consisting of nine individuals close to the mysterious Xotic Mind Records. With the musical ambition of a legion of superheroes, and armed with enough phasey sitar and bongo improv, their Gnostic Mass is certainly enough to induce a state of religious ecstasy given the right set and setting.

First track ‘The Dance of the Priestess’, is a 15-minute slow burn in which many odd instruments are used: glockenspiel, guitar, organ, flute, bouzouki. It ends with a conclusive drum roll and faded tanpura drone, mere-exposure leaving us feeling spiritually detoxified. The second track ‘Fire At Will’ begins with a slower mood closer to ‘60s psychedelia, but ends on a similarly rapturous note. The final 22-minuter ‘IO Pan!’, however, contains the highest entheogenic yield. Challengingly lo-fi – as though it was recorded inside a cramped fortune-teller’s tent on a camcorder – it is a boundless magic carpet journey, replete with wah guitar, drum brush shivers, and swirling gongs. The Gnostic Mass‘ is not ‘only’ a three-tracker; it’s montage music to your local DMT-peddling shaman’s ritual dance.
JIJ

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Junior Loves – Yantlet (First Passage Version) (5 Gate Temple)
When the elusive John T. Gast isn’t putting out cryptic ambient digis and USBs by the likes of Tribe of Colin or Oxhy, he turns his 5 Gate Temple imprint towards nu-school steppers’ delights. 2018 already saw Earthquake’s co-honcho TNT Roots contribute a new dub track to the label, Chant Down Babylon Verse II, alongside Gast’s own remix on 7” wax. Now the 5GT dub conch is handed to producer Junior Loves, whose chops were already proven last year with the self-released Banner / Nore EP.

The lead single of the newer Yantlet / Grain EP, the First Passage Version, is a smoked-out dub of the Yantlet A-track. Charmingly quantised and packed with many digital instruments, including a resampled flute, it could be construed as a homage to digi-dub in its straight-up floor-readiness. Halfway through, though, it breaks down into pure melodica, the instrument drifting in and out of time, and body. It cleanly snubs the original Yantlet, sacrificing its punch-drunk flute melody, but retaining its bass. It is also a fitting compliment to its B-sides Grain and its Return Version, both tracks which embed the dub feel further behind phaser and delay. It is a perfect wind-down, or wind-up, to your night, depending on the deviance of the situation.
JIJ

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Daniel Figgis – The Tin God (Linear Obsessional)

Having spent well over a decade concentrating on staging big, conceptual performance pieces rather than releasing music the ‘normal’ way, Dublin’s Daniel Figgis has mysteriously and suddenly started dropping little trails of previously unheard material, some completely brand new and some apparently liberated without warning from the vaults. The five tracks that go to make up The Tin God arrive on Christmas Day and via the medium of cassette, and show the Irishman as likely as ever to follow convention, that is, not at all. His appeal lies in the way he blurs boundaries between the organic and the synthetic, the traditional and the experimental,, so that the listeners’ ears are never quite able to settle down and relax.

Opening track ‘PHOTO-FINISH (with shortcuts)’ harks back to the lushly, liquid, melodic ooze of his mid-90s classic on Rough Trade, ‘Skipper’, while ‘please be me’ sounds more like a surreal modern classical fanfare, with added woozy folk textures and disorientating field recording snippets. Somewhere in the mix, too, you can also hear Van Der Graf Generator sax player David Jackson .

Also worthy of mention is the title track, featuring what could be reversed piano notes and barely imperceptible synths simmering away in the background creating a sound bed of suspended, tense ambience. We’ve certainly missed his maverick sonics and dark mischief.
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PELA – Here’s Where The Story Ends (self-released)

It’s funny how one line can suddenly hit a nerve at a certain time in history, even if as if often the case, it was penned in entirely different circumstances. Quickly hyped – and just as quickly dumped – indie hopefuls The Sundays had a hit with ‘Here’s Where The Story Ends’ in 1990. In the hands – should that be lungs – of PELA singer Hannah Coombs, the mention of “a little souvenir / of a terrible year” sounds like it was created for this very moment in time.

Brighton duo PELA, of course, have had anything but a terrible year, teasing their addition to the pop pantheon with a string of fantastic, cool tracks that sneaked into our consciousness bit by bit. The combination of Olly Shelton’s ice cold, reductive arrangements and Coombs’ velvety, emotive vocals, has proved a heady one, and we reckon you’ll be hearing even more of it in 2021.
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Iueke – L.I.E.S. 164

(L.I.E.S.)

It’s often difficult to come by longform electronica which deploys a sufficient level of detail, yet also retains a danceable edge. Nuance often finds itself opposing club-steadiness, one pole seeming to jettison the other, resulting either in directionlessly particular soundscapes, or juddering repetition.

This is not the case with the latest split 12” from Paris native Gwen Jamois, a.k.a. Iueke. Since 2012, the producer and DJ has been steadily releasing ambient house and techno mostly via Antinote and has also contributed experimental cuts to compilations on Lo Editions. This self-titled release, however – consisting of two tracks to top up the immense catalogue of Brooklyn’s L.I.E.S. label – is his most symphonic effort yet.

On the A-side, the 10-minute track Les souper des cendres takes a juxtaposed approach to industrial techno, with emotive strings flitting between the gaps of a raucous factory-scape. Many conflicting emotions are felt; it is a metallic scene, but we still glean something mournful and overwhelming from it, a feeling ensured by Iueke’s impressively oppressive use of compression.

L.I.E.S. tells us that the B-side is a dub of the A, but to many listeners it will surely constitute a track of its own, or perhaps even a natural continuation. This second 10-minuter, Des fureurs heroiques, abandons its predecessor’s strings in favour of pure machinic jaunt. A stern, multilayered clanger, it inspires thoughts of a post-apocalyptic tribal dance, the sound of our posthuman successors banging on the wreckage of a fallen technopolis.

Both of Ieuke’s new tracks morph steadily over time. You’re not sure where one idea starts and another begins. The patience required in producing such an effect is sure testament to Iueke’s artistry. A stunning new addition to the L.I.E.S. catalogue.
JIJ

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Luz1e – Radical Optimism (Voitax)

Luz1e, a.k.a. Luzie Seidel – who since 2017 has scored releases on Shall Not Fade, Goddess Music and Lobster Theremin – has proven herself as a doyen of uptempo, nothing-more-nothing-less, melt-face electro.

This writer was lucky enough to see her play on his first ever proper night out. It was a smoked-out, blue-tinged room in the heart of London, chock-full of electro, ambient techno, and teenagers who couldn’t see straight. But her new EP Radical Optimism, out this week on Voitax, sets foot into territory I did not hear that night.

Rather than meditative, blissed-out 808s and pads, tracks Transition and Electronic Warfare venture into hardcore crossover, mixing snappy snares with amen break chops – a new sort of brash, booty bass breakcore. Reminiscent of Jasss’ overwhelming breaks-trance earlier this year with Turbo Olé, these beats are undercut with texture, compressed and mixed so that the kick permeates the lowest of low end, rendering them beautifully rumbly and belligerent. The B-side returns to dreamier territory, with Radical Optimism and Emotional Intelligence repeatedly picking up and breaking down again, vacillating between light beat-pulses and padded rapture.

Hitting an escape velocity not achieved on prior EPs, this is undoubtedly Luz1e’s most breakneck output, fitting for her chosen theme of warfare and apocalypse. It’s refreshing that such a radical sound can originate simply from a love of Chicago and New York house; let’s see how much wilder her sound can get.
JIJ

This week’s reviews by: Oliver Warwick, Jude Iago James, Ben Willmott.

The best of this week’s singles

The finest 45s around, brought to you by Juno Daily’s crack reviewing squad
bURIAL SHOIT
Burial, Four Tet & Thom Yorke – Her Revolution / His Rope (XL Recordings)
We were lucky enough to get a hold of the latest stealth-released split single by electronic titans Burial, Four Tet, and Thom Yorke. Initially, there were only reportedly 300 copies of Her Revolution / His Rope available.

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The best of this week’s albums

The cream of this week’s albums, as personally recommended by Juno’s crack reviews squad

Avalanches artwork

The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You (Universal)
Genre-bending is par for the course in 2020, but none have done it with as much originality as The Avalanches.

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Fetnat – Swahili

Too often labels can become stagnated with the same tried and tested (albeit quality) productions from some of the scenes long-standing veterans. Berlin based label Nous take a different route; regularly providing a platform for unknown producers amidst the occasional Call Super or Karen Gwyer record. George Mavrikos spearheads Nous, and along with the collaborative effort of friends and artists he’s built a label that sets an example; dig around, talk to people and get involved in the scene in order to discover the freshest sounds. The time and dedication he commits to sourcing music is nothing short of astounding, the results of which are clear from the back catalogue of largely unknowns that make up the label.

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Benjamin Brunn – Plastic Album

With a consistent, unflashy approach to presenting his craft, it can sometimes be easy to overlook Benjamin Brunn. The Hamburg-based producer has been releasing music for the best part of 20 years, although it is primarily since his collaborative work with Move D around 2008 that he has been more publicly visible, and yet he remains something of an outsider proposition. Musically, his is an easy confection to love, dealing in well-rounded, melodically rich electronics with an understanding of groove and enough kinks in the composition to hold your attention. 2012’s A Sun Life LP on Third Ear served as a perfect distillation of these qualities, sporting as it did a warming balance of techno and house laden with plush synth lines.

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NGLY – Cities of Illusion

Argentinean producer Sidney Reilly made his debut as NGLY back in 2014 with a four-track white 12″ as part of the White Label division of Ron Morelli’s L.I.E.S. that contained the brilliant “Speechless Tape”. With its ponderous vocals and raw, jacking groove, it brilliantly re-configured the soulful iterations of early Chicago house. It’s no surprise that it captured the imagination of many underground DJs and resulted in NGLY’S debut becoming a much sought-after record and getting a subsequent re-edition on L.I.E.S.

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RVDS – Shadows

How many different ways can a traditional box jam set up be approached? Considering the limits of hardware production and the instantly recognisable sounds that the most popular units yield, it’s a wonder that artists continue to find ways to express themselves in a unique manner when using vintage kit. Reaching for classic sounds can be a divisive creative choice when scores of producers have already covered the same ground, but therein lies the talent of some musicians in making the familiar sound fresh and satisfying on the ears. To be fair to Rupert von der Schulenburg, he has been involved in music since the ‘80s and so any predilection towards old-skool sounds is at the very least based on years of experience rather than contrived retro-fetishism.

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The Smoke Clears – The Smoke Clears

The Smoke Clears is a project from Irish producer John Daly which debuted back in late 2013 with the album. Clear, for Seattle outpost Further Records. Better known for his house releases, this second album from Daly as The Smoke Clears sees him explore an ambient/downtempo approach that is every bit as impressive as his dancefloor material. The timing and look of the release has been perfectly planned; All City has scheduled it for mid-September, a period when the summer starts to give way to autumn. Fittingly, the cover features a brown forest set against a dusky sky.

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Spooky-J – Limbo Yam / Pfer

In modern clubs, people don’t dance when there are no drums playing. Whether it’s an ambient opener or a lengthy breakdown, as soon as the melodies take over from the beat, the crowd tends to come to a standstill. Given the importance this puts on percussion in dance music, it’s unsurprising the majority of club producers are happy to just lay down a kick drum and a few loops of snares, hi hats and shakers. If there’s a beat, people will dance.

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Alpha 606 – Afro-Cuban Electronics

Armando Martinez is one the first electronic music producers to explore overtly political themes. Until now, the form’s most memorable articulations of this topic have tended towards the abstract and have included UR’s call to the oppressed to revolt, Drexciya’s hope that the experience of their forefathers provided inspiration for change and the more general concern expressed in electro records that the machines are taking over.

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Asusu – Hallucinator/Sendak

Asusu steps up with Livity Sound’s second offering of 2016 in what has been a relatively quiet year for the label’s release schedule. Peverelist, Kowton and Asusu’s label has pumped out 18 EPs and three compilations of twisted club hybrids since its inception in 2011, spawning a new generation of producers in its wake. The arrival of Kowton’s debut album, Utility, in April ensured Livity Sound has still made a loud musical mark on the calendar, and now Asusu’s first solo outing on the label in over three years affirms its central prominence in the scene it helped incubate.

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VC-118A – Shift Register

Much has changed in the four years since Samuel van Dijk unveiled his debut album under the VC-118 alias, the Lunar Disko-released International Airlines. While Britain, in particular, basked in the feel-good glow of the London Olympics, the Dutch producer’s dark, paranoid and intoxicating blends of razor-sharp electro, pitch-black techno, dubbed-out soundscapes and ghostly IDM seemed out-of-step with the prevailing mood. Since then, the winds of change have blown through Europe, the Middle East and the United States, and van Dijk’s undeniably bittersweet music suddenly feels in step with our troubling times.

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Ossia – Control / Information / Version

When Red X dropped on Blackest Ever Black last year, it felt like a truly exciting cementing of the promise Ossia had been showing in his actions within the Bristol music scene up until that point. From his Young Echo dalliances (not least his deadpan mic ramblings during their radio shows and club nights) to his own Peng Sound! dances and on to the No Corner label and Rwd Fwd online store, expectations were always going to be high for such a figure’s debut release. Red X, in its creeping, seething malaise, was a startling debut that quite simply nailed the notion of a next step in that iffy Bristol Sound concept.

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Project STS – Hubble Telescope Series Volume III

The third and final instalment of the Hubble Telescope series features The Exaltics and Gerald Donald collaborating on music that is supposedly dedicated to the scientists working at NASA and the ESA. Whether or not the men and women of science in these respective institutions kick back to abstract electro in their spare time is questionable, but the pair nonetheless deliver a release that does at times sound like it has voyaged through the cosmos to reach its audience.

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Jeremy Hyman – Couch

Washington DC’s Future Times label cultivates a particularly distinctive style, but it’s not easy to pin that sound down. Now under the sole guidance of Andrew Field-Pickering aka Max D, the label has spent eight years exploring variations on colourful maximalism, woozy new age and the cosmic reaches of dance music, all packaged with a retro yen and an irrepressible sense of fun. As a cocktail it sounds overpowering, yet each Future Times release impresses with its execution as much as its oddball flair, ably demonstrated in outings this year from Shanti Celeste, Will DiMaggio and Frequency Based Lovers.

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