A rather ghostly round up of new year LPs from our team of writers
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
The evolution of Martin Jenkins’ Pye Corner Audio project has been subtle but steady. In terms of mood and sonics, there isn’t a great deal of distance between the earliest Black Mill Tapes releases and his latest works. Globular analogue synth lines reliably cast into a pervasive gloom – a gloom which evokes a peculiarly olde worlde Britishness in one of the most acute realisations of the hauntology aesthetic.
ut it would be lazy to consider Pye Corner Audio as a static venture lingering on one creative tract, and the most recent run of albums on Ghost Box serve as testament to that. Handily, Spanish label Lapsus pulled together a comprehensive retrospective of Jenkins’ earlier retro-fetishistic ruminations last year as the Black Mill Tapes (10th Anniversary Box), which helps accentuate where Pye Corner has progressed over the past decade.
In truth, the retro-fetishism tag is a slight stretch for Pye Corner Audio as it’s not explicitly retreading old ground, but rather evoking a sense of past times. It would be hard to picture anyone conjuring this abstract but oh so rich sense as effectively as Jenkins has, which goes some way to explain the popularity of his project. From its humble beginnings in the relatively insular tape world to remixing and touring with Mogwai, soundtracking Adam Curtis and plenty more high-profile co-signs, Pye Corner Audio is not the furtive secret it once was, and Jenkins never had to adapt his project to meet a broader audience. There’s a cosy comfort in this sound, spooky and minor-tuned though it may often be. Perhaps the appeal is ring-fenced by a generation triggered by these sounds, or maybe the voluptuous oscillations of his studio ensemble have a more universal appeal, but either way Pye Corner Audio captures something special which sits between obvious reference points and yet feels so familiar.
Following on from 2016’s Stasis and 2019’s Hollow Earth, the latest Pye Corner Audio album on its natural home of Ghost Box supposedly rounds out an ill-defined trilogy, and it’s worth considering these albums together as they stand in contrast to other singles and albums emitting from Jenkins’ incredibly productive studio. What these records represent is a refinement of the project’s concept, building on the established palette and atmosphere with an increased focus on production and composition. No longer the sound of a clandestine tinkerer working in secrecy and solitude, the Pye Corner Audio of now sounds vast and expansive, ready to depict bigger worlds beyond the mist cloaked valleys and hills.
Ironically, it’s ‘Buried Network’ which especially captures this wide-open energy as its uncharacteristically bright arpeggios reach skyward buoyed by an airy pad. The ‘Buried Network’ in question is a nod to mycorrhiza, the symbiotic association between a fungus and a plant which forms a vague theme for Entangled Networks. Fungus is a hot topic these days, given humanity’s hope that it holds the key to combating climate change, and so perhaps the sprawling scope Jenkins evokes in his patterns of cascading synths are under the earth rather than above it. Whether you want to supplant the concept onto the music in such literal terms or not, the music sounds more strident than ever before, as though engineered with a more expansive set of tools. Given Jenkins’ legacy working in high-end studios, this would seem more like an aesthetic choice at this stage rather than a step up in knowledge or equipment.
Entangled Networks still holds true to the original essence of Pye Corner Audio – you could positively identify the music if you’ve heard any one previous release. But it also sounds mature, from the progressive, narrative path of each track to the sumptuous production. The familiarity the project used to evoke for bygone times has perhaps been superseded by the project itself – you know where you are as those mellifluous arps starting pulsing around your ears, and it’s a consistently pleasurable place to be.
UK-based producer Tom Carruthers makes his LIES debut with his hugely enjoyable long-player, ‘Non Stop Rhythms’. While this is Carruthers’ first appearance on wax (as far as we can garner), he’s been extraordinarily busy in the digital realm in the last couple of years, having released a flurry of tracks under various aliases on labels including L&T Recordings and his very own Non Stop Rhythm. His arrival on Rom Morelli’s wildly influential LIES imprint sees him enter a prestigious new arena, and – based upon the quality of the work contained within the album – he appears ably equipped to make his mark.
The floor-focused collection is firmly rooted in contemporary dance music’s glorious warehouse tradition, steeped in vintage house-meets-techno charm while captured through a modern lens. The MPC-heavy and sample laced LP wastes no time laying down its statement of intent, with the marching snares and irrepressible bass of opening track ‘Can You Feel It’ instantly transporting listeners to a heaving, strobe-lit Chicago-inspired proto-rave. The pounding bass of ‘Cyclone’ up the dance ante even further, before the looped synths, furious kick and mysterious pads of ‘Fantasies’ add a psychedelic haze to the four-to-the-floor vigour. The brooding acid growl of ‘Forge’ is endowed with a discreetly sinister edge, as chopped samples permeate the unnerving pads and vaguely dissonant mist. Maintaining the loop-heavy refrain, the delicious acid dirt of ‘Don’t Let Go’ lands like a twisted Nu:Groove classic, before the haunted house of ‘Eliminate’ surrenders to the sweat-soaked darkness. Raved-up pads elevate as infectious bleeps echo across the club through the jagged grooves of ‘Quest For Rydm’, before the gargantuan bass of ‘Incognito’ expertly tether the skyward floating synth motif. The hypnotic lead synth and hyper-atmospheric vocal sample of ‘Channel Control’ are propelled by a bass line that sounds as though it was forged by Joey Beltram himself, before closing track ‘Fx Under’ goes all out bleep to provide a wonky legged finale. If it’s nocturnal club fuel you’re after, look no further.
20 years ago, techno in Berlin was a very different beast to what it is now. This was the period before the dominant wave of mid-00s minimal took hold, when a curious mixture of Gigolos-powered electroclash and glitchy experimentation met with an emergent wave of DJ/producer ‘personalities’ and the deeply entrenched rigour of Germanic four-to-the-floor. In the midst of this strode Ellen Allien, helming her BPitch Control label as one of the key arbiters of taste through these playful times. This was when Miss Kittin & The Hacker reigned supreme, when Vitalic rocked up in every set from Soulwax to Aphex, and Tiefschwarz were hitting their stride.
In that context, Ellen Allien’s debut album Stadtkind is incredibly redolent of the era. The buzzing sawtooth synth line nipping through ‘Salzee’ triggers a thousand electro house memories, while the clip-clop percussion on ‘Shorty’ has a digital austerity which would be doubled down on as minimal became ever more popular. But there’s also a certain air of restraint on Stadtkind which most of the behemoths of the early 00s didn’t exercise. ‘Wolken Ziehen’ sets its sights on the big room, with anthemic hooks and teasing energy levels matched by bugged out sound design which calls to mind early Trentemøller. However, Allien’s approach isn’t as overcooked, in terms of production as much as composition. An air of cool persists over the track, and it helps the music age much better.
On this repress – the first since the album originally came out – CD-only tracks make a welcome appearance. ‘Send’ is clearly one of the highlights of the whole album, and in its fierce electro makeup it’s curious it was ever left off, but now it enjoys pride of place at the front of the album. It’s the full tilt pressing Stadtkind deserves, clearly pitched towards nostalgic home-listening rather than volume-optimised club play. That said, there’s plenty here which would stand up well in a party today, so don’t rule out slipping those discs into your bag just yet.
Beloved Japanese fusionist duo, Kyoto Jazz Massive, return with their long-awaited sophomore album, ‘Messages From A New Dawn’. Ushered into life in 1994 by brother’s Shuya and Yoshihiro Okino, Kyoto Jazz Massive have released scores of venerated singles on benchmark labels, with the bulk of their output arriving via the Compost Recordings fold. As their name suggests, their musically-rich sound leans heavily into a jazz-rooted aesthetic, blending skilful instrumentation with a crisp, deep house shimmer. Shuya is something of a focal point for the more sophisticated end of Tokyo club culture, operating as a club owner and writer alongside his DJ and production pursuits – which extend to being a member of the Cosmic Village troupe. He and Yoshiro also perform and record as Kyoto Jazz Sextet alongside a handpicked ensemble of talented jazzers, and their work is routinely championed by tastemaker DJs, with Gilles Peterson among their most passionate admirers. Considering the ample catalogue of singles and EP releases the brothers have racked up over the years, it’s perhaps surprising that ‘Messages From A New Dawn’ is only their second studio album recorded under the Kyoto Jazz Massive banner – with their debut ‘Spirit Of The Sun’ LP having arrived way back in 2002.
The collection includes cameos from a selection of talented musicians, including bass virtuoso Kenichi Ikeda, keyboard wizards Kaztake Takeuchi and Takumi Kaneko, trumpeter Tabu Zombie, and vocalist Vanessa Freeman. The ten featured tracks are immaculately constructed, fusing agile jazz instrumentation with contemporary production and a gently floor-focused girth. From the intergalactic charm of opener ‘Astral Ascension’ all the way through to the broken rhythms and unthinkably ornate instrumentation of ‘Eternal Tide’, there’s plenty to enjoy here. Jazz-funk legend Roy Ayres makes a welcome appearance on the entirely rousing future anthem, ‘Get Up’, while vocal leviathan ‘Get It Together’ is no-less stirring. The psyche-tinged synths and splashing drums of ‘Visions Of Tomorrow’ provide some mildly hallucinatory introspection, and the glorious synthwork, delicate pianos and walking bass of ‘Revolution Evolution’ prove utterly invigorating. In a nutshell, the collection is well worth the very lengthy wait.
Deep house is one of those genres which continues to truck on through the decades. The blueprint laid down by Larry Heard, Alton Miller, Blaze and other such totems has been thoroughly echoed ever since the breakthrough years of the mid to late 80s, but there are those who carry the flame with conviction in the face of crass imitators. Sudi Wachspress is one such artist who embodies the spirit of deep house so wholly and purely, it feels pointless and bitter to pick apart his very apparent influences. You could pick a thread through his previous LPs for Tartelet and link it all back to music that came before, but you’d be missing out on the wholesome experience of simply feeling his music.
Slipping into Dance Planet, the remedial benefits of Wachspress’ style are plain to hear. Bathed in sparkling FM keys, underpinned with Lately bass and guided by the Space Ghost himself as a kind of spiritual mentor, this is an album to soothe your soul and lift your mood. That might sound cliché, and indeed the overall approach is not particularly novel, but sometimes the vital role of music is one of comfort and restoration rather than challenge and provocation.
The gentler downtempo cuts, such as low slung funker ‘UFO’ and new age drifter ‘Afterglow’, give you all the backroom cosiness you could ever dream of. There are whiffs of 80s RnB on the likes of ‘Emotional Healer (Backroom Mix)’ and the teasingly slow ‘Be Yourself (Motivational Mix)’. Elsewhere, the dancefloor workouts exude warmth and positivity without fail. In these nostalgic, rose-tinted shades of house it’s as thought Wachspress is prophesising idyllic party experiences you’re yet to have while his immaculate productions pump out over the system. If times are weighing heavy on your mind, Space Ghost has just the tonic to feel better about yourself and the world around you.
Lambchop don’t get the attention they deserve today. Not that we expect they’re particularly bothered about that — the Nashville band have never really been interested in pandering to the mainstream music industry and its ridiculous, put-you-in-a-box expectations. Hence the reason it took them nearly a decade to deliver this, their debut album, which remains an outright triumph and a benchmark-setting example of alternative country-cum-indie rock and roll.
Also known as Jack’s Tulips, the record first landed in 1994 and within minutes of opener ‘Begin’ it’s pretty clear that these are no debutants. Experience shining through every note and moment of the song, it sets a precedent that thankfully the rest of what’s here more than lives up to. ‘Betweenus’ following up with a classic head nodding stomp and unifying chorus, ‘Bon soir, Bon soir’, taking us into tender, moonlit, string-led serenity, ‘I Will Drive Slowly’ offering a wonderful example of why roots-y country rhythms are always going to make a beeline for the soul. You might not have grown up in Tennessee, or even visited, but with instrumentation and lyrics capable of talking directly to the human condition, it doesn’t matter.
By the eighth year of activity, most bands are starting to struggle for inspiration, perhaps stuck in a dead end rut, desperately looking for ideas that could mark a second lease of life. You could argue that Tinderbox, which arrived in 1986 — eight years after Siouxsie & The Banshees’ debut — did look to bring freshness to the oeuvre, but we’re talking an extension of what was already there, which still hadn’t grown old, rather than some knee jerk reinvention in response to declining sales and popularity.
In fact, some would say this was around their peak of popularity, and fans got exactly what they had been looking for. A theatrical, inescapable, dramatic triumph that has all the hallmarks of their gothic post punk roots, but with the vividly coloured pop elements turned up to incredible levels. Deserving of reference in the same breath as work from the likes of Kate Bush around this time, Tinderbox feels like embarking on some great adventure, filled with melancholy, reflection, fear, excitement, passion, sexuality, and innocence. Lyrically and instrumentally astounding, it soars, runs, glides, jumps, and drives through a 12 track epic, offering more proof, if anyone needed it, of how rich the 1980s were.
There can be no getting beyond the simple fact that Ghostpoet broke the mould with his debut album, Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam. Nominated for a Mercury Music Prize in 2011, the record was rightly lauded for its refusal to adhere to genre rules, combining elements of trip and hip hop, electronica, jazz, rock, blues, and some other stuff we’re not even sure how to label, it was the kind of first LP where you can’t help but wonder how an artist can possibly follow it up, despite showing so much promise and imagination.
Fear not, though (just in case you were worried) — as the history books now show, Ghostpoet defied the doubters and did deliver a sophomore effort that was arguably even better. Shedding Skin marked his second long form outing and the second time Mercury decided to throw his name into the proverbial hat. Sadly, he didn’t win, but nevertheless the quality at play here was, and remains, nothing short of outstanding. Poetry of the bleakest, bloodiest, and most vulnerable meets hypnotic instrumentation and cunning song craft, resulting in the kind of impact that stops anyone in earshot dead in their tracks, rendering them speechless to the last.
Another exceptional compilation of decade-spanning work from The Man In Black, what Country Boy fails to add to Cash’s oeuvre in terms of new (or at least previously unheard/unearthed material) it triumphs in the context of celebrating the life of a bonafide musical great. Plenty of anthems are found on the track list, not least ‘I Walk The Line’, perhaps only really made as famous as it is through the biopic movie of the same name, and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, which positions the artist as a fictional inmate at the eponymous jail, nodding to the famous show he performed at the same correctional facility.
Digressions aside, if there’s one thing records like Country Boy reiterate it’s just how infinitely listenable, repeatable, and re-repeatable Cash’s music is. Yes, we’ve got up close and personal with pretty much everything here more than a few times in the past. But that doesn’t stop it having almost the same impact as the first time we encountered each track. How many other musicians that can be said about is not really clear. Nevertheless, the smart cash would be on very, very few indeed. And yes, that weak pun was indeed shamefully intentional.
Where do you start with The Grateful Dead in 2022? Should it be by diving into the storied history of an American rock ’n’ roll band that at once lays claim to one of the most phenomenally respected back catalogues, and most notorious reputations for debauchery? A group that spent so much time on the road it’s any wonder they ever managed to find a way home, or remember where they lived (hence the website, Grateful Dead of the Day — basically a directory of Grateful Dead live recordings for every day of the year), their legacy is packed with the kind of mythology you simply don’t get in any genre of music today.
It might actually be more appropriate, though, to focus purely on the music. And in the case of Day of the Dead, we’re talking a stellar collection of tracks that you could describe as rollocking, rowdy, and packed with heart-on-sleeve passion. Whether you consider yourself a Deadhead — the outfit’s enviably loyal dedicated disciples — or not, there’s no denying the impact both the troupe’s music and attitude had on guitar wielders of all generations, and the timelessness of their staggeringly vast and impressively consistent back catalogue.
This week’s reviewers: Martin Hewitt, Oli Warwick, Patrizio Cavaliere.
New year – new singles
SINGLE OF THE WEEK
Such is the stature of Minimal Wave, they’re at the point where their represses of reissues are noteworthy moments. In truth, Veronica Vasicka’s label spearheaded the exploration of furtive lo-fi electronics long before it was trendy, and the jewels that have been unearthed in that time are precious in a way they never could have been without her diligent work. If you needed a record which sums up the seedy, seductive allure of the label, Deux’s Golden Dreams is Minimal Wave at its best.
Deux were French duo Gérard Pelletier and Cati Tête, who met in Lyon in the early 80s and started recording stripped back synth pop with the electric frisson that comes from a mixed gender duet. Of course the influence of The Human League, Depeche Mode et al lurks in the background of their songs, but through the fact of their rudimentary means, the music lands with its own peculiarities and the charm of the songwriting shines through.
There’s a pronounced club edge to Deux, too. ‘Everybody’s Night’ is a true highlight of this record which flips between a fragile verse and discordant, death disco chorus. It’s worth considering this was recorded in 1985, and it sounds like it belongs in the sweaty, wild-eyed depths of a Ron Hardy marathon at Music Box. However, those freaky chorus-not-choruses drop with a ramshackle flair which inadvertently shows how much Pelletier and Tête were winging it whilst prefiguring motifs that sound like fully realised house and techno. It’s dreamy and deranged in an elegant way, but above all else Deux are full of guts and heart, and that’s why you should be paying attention now this particular curio has come back within reach.
Kitty Grant’s effervescent cover of Chaz Jankel’s ‘Glad To Know You’ receives a welcome reissue, courtesy of immaculately curated Italian label, Discoring. Probably best-known as guitarist and keyboard player for Ian Dury & The Blockheads (who continue to perform as The Blockheads following Dury’s death in 2020), Jankel enjoyed a creditable solo career outside of the band. His 1981 track ‘Glad To Know You’ has long been revered as a favourite among Balearic-minded diggers, with 2012’s cover from Los Amigos Invisibles & Dimitri From Paris propelling the track into new millennium main rooms – thanks in no small part to Ray Mang’s epically extended remix.
Kitty’s 1983 cover version arrived as part of her Japan-only released second (and final) LP, ‘! D.a.s.h’, with three of the six tracks on the album produced by Jankel himself. Her previous album ‘Woman In Between’ spawned a pair of sugar-coated and city pop-themed singles, but ‘Glad To Know You’ is undoubtedly the song for which her short music career is best remembered. Unsurprisingly considering Jankel produced it, Kitty’s version sounds rather similar to the original – with stirring chord stabs bouncing over a rolling bass as organ solos glide across the splashing disco drums – perhaps the most notable difference being the bittersweet fragility Kitty’s vocal performance brings to the whimsical lyrics. There’s no mistaking the club credentials of the track, and the extended version included here sounds every bit as fresh and effective as it ever did. Also included on the 12” is the single’s original b-side, ‘Stop Wasting You Time’, a pulsing invitation for a suitor to stop beating around the bush, as it were. Here, Jankel’s post-punk-meets-pop swagger provides the bed for Kitty’s assertive vocal, as funk bass, free-wheeling sax, and glistening synths powerfully support her playful call to action.
Since we last reviewed one of their compilation albums, Brudenell Groove’s label offshoot Reel Long Overdub have come even further in quest to champion new music, slowly but confidently making it rain with new releases from local Leeds affiliates SAH, Kerouac and DJ Ojo.
For their first ever vinyl EP, the normally Wharf Chambers-bound party has crossed the pond to New Delhi and Naples, bringing two new talents, Monophonik and Diastema, together for a shared record. That cosmopolitan approach to sourcing bangers has paid off – this is a a five-track fusion of techno styles ranging from wonky to blissy, wringing even more newness from the well-wrought space between hardcore and breaks.
Mind-splurge vocal samples egg on a farting acid line on the opening analogic force ‘Tabalchi’. While nowehere near the EP’s standout track, it happily nestles itself amongst some of the best breakbeat 2022 has had to offer so far. However, we’re most enthralled by Monophonik’s second track, ‘Source Code’, which is happily indecisive in its straddling of gabber and drum n’ bass. Past the two-minute mark, the tune brings a whole new meaning to the word ‘timestretched’, with a ‘whoa’ vox spanning a happy 10-second buildup to breaks n’ reese catharsis.
Diastema’s offerings seamlessly carry the torch, standardizing the EP’s focus on robotic bleeps and whirrs. While older bleep n’ bass tended to sound crude – as though the tunes came from a pale, imitative retrofuture – the robotic writhings of ‘Dubquake’ have a real accelerationist sheen to them, releasing the style from its primitive form. Watch out for the hidden digital bonus ‘Voyager’, too; though still retaining the bassweight of the prior tracks, it’s a hidden melodic gem, settling the anxieties the first four tracks. If you’ve been pining for a kickstart to 2022 vis-a-vis breakbeat, this is it.
Detroit maestro Kyle Hall rounds off an excellent 2021 with his final release of the year, presenting five typically engaging cuts spread neatly across ‘The Phi EP’. Hall has firmly established himself among the brightest motor city producers operating today. His most recent output – all of which has been presented by his Forget The Clock imprint – has offered an awful lot to admire, effortlessly combining cutting edge deep house refinement with a looseness of feel and an off-kilter funk that appears to arrive so naturally for the pinnacle of his home-town creators. Here, opening track ‘Step Up’ swoops in with archetypal deep house shuffle, as atmospheric chords swirl and undulate around twinkling piano keys, retro vocal chops, and hypnotic bass notes.
Next, the dubbed-out grooves of ‘One 2 One Deep’ intoxicate as they repeat, with crisp beats and deeply-rooted bass permeating through the synth-heavy fog to add focus to the dance-heavy rhythm. The mystical harmonies of ‘Pico’ swell over trance-inducing percussion, before we arrive in the startling rhythms of ‘Carasee’. Here, seductive chords power the groove over jagged drums before mutant synths intertwine and unwind to send the cut into a machine-funk fervour. Finally, the unrestrained flex of ‘Quake’ end proceedings on an intergalactic high, as rolling bass and purposeful drums drive the groove through endless waves of delicately eccentric synth refrains before a mighty p-funk propels the music into an adjacent solar system.
London-based label Gouranga Music have been busily forging a fine reputation as high-quality purveyors of the various shades of contemporary disco since launching back in 2019. They’ve presented alluring titles from the likes of Ichisan, James Rod, and Dombrance via the various digital file formats, gaining plenty of admirers along the way. Here, they make their first exciting leap into the glorious vinyl realm with a set of remixes of ‘Brother Sister/Candle Lights’ by New York-based multi-piece band, Cho & Random Impetus. To mark their debut manifestation into the physical form, the label called upon the ever-so safe set of hands of Ray Mang to provide the reworks.
As usual, he goes above and beyond, coming correct with a selection of versions that are sure to tick the boxes of the most demanding of disco-leaning jocks and collectors. Released in 2019 on one-off label SHSF Records, the original versions elegantly fused contemporary-tinged soul, funk, and disco threads woven into an enjoyable – and now thoroughly collectable – 7” package. Staying true to the essence of the source material, disco maverick Ray Mang utilises his untouchable production prowess to embellish the tracks with a few measures of added boogie bite. Kicking things off, his vocal remix of ‘Brother Sister’ spaces out the arrangement, extracting the sing-along power of the vocals while beefing up the drums and adding a mightily growling synth bass to transform the cut into a main room powerhouse. Quite possibly even better, his trademark dub version almost entirely dispenses with the vocals to allow room for bass solos, gigantic timpani rolls, and tripped-out delays to soar across the dancefloors, morphing the track into a deviant space-disco masterpiece. On the flip, his extended version of ‘Candlelight’ gently rounds the loose-limbed soul flex of the original, while his instrumental version lets the carefully orchestrated instrumentation breathe, as soothing chords, plucked guitars, and rousing horns cascade over the silky smooth arrangement.
Underground Resistance’s Gerald Mitchell has always been active, but the same can’t be said for his side alias, The Deacon. Despite its relative lack of profile, though, this little side stint is responsible for some of the most killer tunes the OG techno collective ever had to offer. Under the name, Mitchell joined Mad Mike on the ‘Attack Of The Sonic Samurai’ EP in 2006, and made ‘Fuji’, a track that brought techno to new experimental, cinematic heights, charting beautiful far-eastern buildups and wuxia-frilled chord sweeps.
Later contributions to the fore included the funk-soaked single ‘Soulsaver’ and the nigh-illegal madhouse womper ‘Multi-Dimensional Drama’ – tunes which, according to lore, rendered Mitchell an ‘interstellar fugitive’ in the judging eyes of wider capitalism, banishing him and a host of other names to dormancy. Now, with the announcement of Mitchell’s newest EP under the name – ‘Funky Revolutions’ – it’s been revealed that Mitchell has survived exile, having remained in his meditative state at the top of Mt. Fuji for a good decade and a half. Apparently, among his crimes were “faith and sonic soul saving” and “using the Holy Ghost as the weapon of choice”.
‘Funky Revolutions’ itself hears the wonderful aftermath of Mitchell’s criminal past, sounding rather like the sonic equivalent of subdued radioactive detritus, resting on the barren ground after having survived the zap of The Deacon’s megablaster. The four cuts are dry, minimal and rough, proving an unmatched production aptitude that Mitchell, clearly, has still got. ‘Essence Of Bass’ is one sch example, using Drexciyan bass womps to convey a looming mood rivalling the sound of deep-sea sonar. The title track is so bassy that it distorts our puny headphones while still remaining enjoyable, while the speed-garage swing of ‘In Traffic’ nails a patient feel between rash chord stabs and gated claps. ‘Funky Revolutions’ is the return of a musical superhero we thought might never appear again – Mitchell might just be the prophesied ‘chosen one’ to save Detroit from pestilence.
Quite what Dominic Cramp is up to is hard to discern. His work as Lord Tang has a slippery quality which evades clear comprehension. It’s not obtusely avant garde, but rather slops and slides with a downhome disarray which makes it easy to like even as it confounds you. Cramp has been skulking around the Bay Area doing leftfield dealings since the mid 90s, and you might well imagine his music jamming in the same vibrational hum as Afrikan Sciences, Carlos Niño and Sun Araw, without actually sounding like any of those mad cats. His previous album for Meakusma, Butterflies, was heavy on the palate, but brimming with invention and joyous expression. It had the structural integrity of a shanty town teetering on collapse but daubed in the most brilliant paint.
Where a full album of Tang felt like a delightfully discombobulating affair, it’s easier to get a handle on three tracks pressed in isolation. Cramp’s dubwise tendencies come through on ‘Clip Clop’, which sports the same lo-fi dub-not-dub vibe you might expect from Tapes. There’s plenty of dissonant melodic wrangling going on to keep things from getting too predictable, and there’s still a stubborn refusal to follow a particular structure, but the system created on the track feels fully rendered and discernible, striking an ideal balance between weird and accessible. Elsewhere, things become more obfuscated as ‘Stamps’ fumbles its cloudy fingers through stop-start beatdowns and hiccups of vocal without losing that sun-baked West Coast charm.
Maintaining that oddball dub sentiment on the B-side, German maverick Zonedog (better known as disrupt) pops up to offer a version of ‘Mountains and Streams’ which traverses a fluid but more roundly rendered river of sound. It’s caked in tape muck, and certainly not conventional by any stretch, but it stays on course and maintains an inherent warmth and playful spirit. Experimental outlier Weird Dust – previously spotted on labels like Crevette and Kerm – digs into the percussive qualities of ‘Clip Clop’ and shuffles them through a mound of ash, ensuring your aural receptors are feeling comfortably woolly as the needle slides into the runout groove.
You have to take your hats off to the Rush Hour crew, with the Amsterdam-based label continuing to keep subterranean dancers on their toes with an imaginative blend of inventive deep house and techno and internationally-focused rhythms. Their fingers are, as ever, well and truly on the pulse of the dance zeitgeist, and all of their output is – at the very least – worthy of taking the time to digest. Arriving here for the first time on the label is super-talented producer and Needs Music co-founder, Lars Bartkuhn.
With an expansive and musically-rich sound that’s exquisitely hard to predict or pin down, Bartkuhn has released universally dazzling music as a solo artist on labels including Neroli and Sonar Kollektiv, as well as alongside his brother Marek and Yannick Elverfeld under the Needs banner. Title-track ‘Transcend’ incorporates many of the characteristics we’ve come to admire from the Frankfurt-based artist, with a glorious meta-house aesthetic that’s simultaneously organic and precise. Captivating chords power over cascading rhythms as free-spirited parts interplay, joyously galloping across the panorama before the track builds to an acoustic-guitar led and mystically-charmed crescendo. On the reverse, the gentle rhythms of ‘Every Morning I Meditate’ dance across layers of soul-soothing harmonic waves, blissfully combining to evoke the healing power of a midsummer Mediterranean sunrise.
Medici Daughter is an anonymous solo project from Falmouth’s Eel label, and can best be described as ‘deconstructed emo breakcore’. Working in a style made largely by US, Belgian and Swedish artists (Sewerslvt springs to mind), we can be sure it’ll be well-received in the UK, having not yet received full representation by English artists.
Not much is known about Medici Daughter, but we can be sure whoever’s behind the project has a killer taste for art direction, with each new single accompanied by a rich palette of edgy weeaboo characters and jagged designs against loud backgrounds. ‘PVL Toxin’ itself is abrasive and hurt, and might well be describable as one of the first real fusions of breakcore and digicore emo. Filled to the brim with bitcrushed surround-sound design and machine-fire amens – automatively reeling off at different speeds – first listens might not reveal this to be anything more than an IDM bit from back in the day. However, we’re soon taken aback at the sudden breakdown into distant emo vocals at the 1-minute mark, which are in turn backed up by arpeggiated droplet synths, like a much needed shower from the prior minute’s muddy crunch. The track’s climax towards the end goes full-on e-Squarepusher; for anyone after a cathartic neural scramble hydraulic-pressed into the space of three minutes, Medici has you sorted.
This week’s reviewers: Jude Iago James. Oli Warwick, Patrizio Cavaliere.
Four defendants were acquitted by a jury yesterday
Massive Attack have taken to Twitter expressing their support for the Colston 4, the four defendants accused of criminal damage for toppling of one of Bristol’s most known and controversial statues.
The Colston statue memorialised Edward Colston, a 17th Century Tory MP who was involved in the Atlantic slave trade.
Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, Jake Skuse and Sage Willoughbhy were all cleared of the charges of criminal damage against the state by a jury on Wednesday. The verdict comes after the four took part in a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol city centre in June 2020, in which a large group of people (led by the four) pulled down the statue using ropes, before dragging it to the Floating Harbour and pushing it into the water.
The toppling came on June 7, 2020, two weeks after the murder of George Floyd, which sparked anti-racist protests around the world. During the trial, the defendants were said to have proudly recounted their roles in the toppling, and argued that it was justified based on the history of racial injustice that the statue represented.
It took 16 ordinary Bristol citizens – 4 innocent defendants & 12 jurors – to end a century of intransigence & delay at the hands of successive councils, elected mayors & the @SMVBristol.— Massive Attack (@MassiveAttackUK) January 5, 2022
No monuments to crimes against humanity. #BLM #Colston4 https://t.co/K5kdtULR49
While Colston was a philanthropist venerated by many as Bristol’s best-known charitable martyr, historians such as David Olusoga have raised doubts over the origins of his wealth, which he argues was accumulated as a shareholder of Britain’s most powerful slave owning enterprise in his life, the Royal African Company – which is known to have enslaved over 85,000 Africans.
Massive Attack said, “it took 16 ordinary Bristol citizens – 4 innocent defendants and 12 jurors – to end a century of intransigence and delay at the hands of successive councils, elected mayors & the @SMVBristol.”
Previously, the band had also commented on how “totems of colonial violence & their systemic assocations could still play a role in consolidating racial injustice, in a city riven with racial inequality.” They condemned the Society of Merchant Venturers, a charity active in Bristol since the 13th Century, of which Colston was a member, and whom still hold extensive influence over the city of Bristol.
The final countdown is here – the top layer of our annual Top 50
“Early suspicions that Yard Act were the a weird manifestation of an update of Freaky Friday in which the spirit of Mark E Smith had become trapped in the body of Jarvis Cocker seem to have finally been trampled to death by the sheer talent and brute force of Yard Act, whose mixture of jagged post-punk, apocalypse and social observation has felt unstoppable this year. With a new album set to drop very early in 2022, we can only see them leapfrog from badly kept indie secret to household names in the next 12 months.”
“German producer Pole is back in action on Mute Records following last year’s release of his first original solo album since 2015, this time delivering two mesmerising tracks on the ‘Tanzboden’ EP. Stefan ‘Pole’ Betke is an artist whose meticulous attention to sonic detail goes a long way to characterising his extensive back catalogue. Title track ‘Tanzboden’ evolves with disorienting intent, with stripped sonics modulating and evolving through sometimes dissonant waves, dramatic stabs, and a determinedly ever-present hiss. The well-formed piece is both hypnotic and discreetly jarring, expertly skirting the line between soothing dream and menacing nightmare. On the reverse, ‘Rost’ adds a touch more in the way of overt rhythmic emphasis, with percussive hits and compelling bass notes providing body to the ethereal synthetic layers. The arrangement unfolds transcendentally, as fascinating harmonics pervade the intoxicating soundscape, creating an overwhelmingly potent and meditative aural haze.”
“The huge success of Dry Cleaning this year took many by surprise, but the signs were there all along – the involvement of PJ Harvey’s right hand man John Parish for starters, and the confidence shown in them by 4AD, a label that knows a good thing when it hears it. Florence Shaw’s low key stream- of-consciousness vocals are the antithesis of the whole ‘look at me’ ethos of rock ‘n’ roll, and perhaps that’s why they struck such a chord with the social media generation, where inner monologue is constantly monitoring outside expression. “It’ll be okay, I just need to be weird and hide for a bit / And eat an old sandwich from my bag” she declares in their breakthrough single – and opening track from debut album New Long Leg – and let’s face it, who can say they haven’t been there?!”
“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.”
Flowered Up – Weatherall’s Weekender (Heavenly)
“It’s been just over a year now since Andrew Weatherall’s untimely passing and much of the global community he touched with his music, words and presence are still reeling from his tragic loss. The re-issue of this 1992-released remix 12” harks back to an uncommonly exciting moment in the history of contemporary music, representing the crest of the first tidal wave of rave. It was a golden era of musical experimentation and cross-pollination, where the proliferation of new technologies – coupled with abundant doses of mood enhancement – allowed for unabated fusions of disparate sounds and sub-cultures. Weatherall’s production journey had begun just a few short years before when he and Paul Oakenfold served the Club Mix of Happy Monday’s ‘Hallelujah’, and the ‘Weekender’ remixes followed his production of Primal Scream’s Mercury Prize-winning ‘Screamadelica’ album.”
“While his productive peak may have been in the 90s, Baxter’s still active within the scene now, largely via collaborations. It’s not every day we get a fully-fledged new EP from him though, making this surprise release on German label Suspected all the more special. Strangely, the title Purple Planet seems to call back to a one-off promo he released in the early 90s, not to mention the colour chiming with his alignment with Prince. But the six tracks on the release are all previously unreleased, spanning a range of moods and approaches within Baxter’s repertoire. One of the all-time, albeit somewhat overlooked, heroes of Detroit dance music.”
“Loxy & Ink on R&S… This is a major moment right here and the music backs it up in every possible way. ‘Manifested Visions’ brings a bit of old school UK hip-hop flavour as both men touch mic and deliver fire lyrically as well as beat-wise. Deeper into the EP we’re pummelled with turbine jungle on ‘Phoenix Rising’, we’re tripped out by wild beat designs on ‘Give Me A Dubplate’ (with Resound), and soulfully soothed on ‘Embrace The Meaning’. Last but not least ‘Get Back Up’ (with Tha Lion) brings everything back to the source as we close on a rootsical tip. The full spectrum.”
Britain’s finest working class poets return with a tune named after the 1970s-80s extraterrestrial sitcom starring Robin Williams and Pam Dawber, which frontman Jason Williamson has himself described as “the sound of the central heating and the dying smells of Sunday dinner in a house on an estate in 1982”. Fittingly the same year said TV show was cancelled.
It’s not hard to hear what he means, providing your mind works that way. A sweeping, hypnotic, mechanical hook, the heavy atmosphere that seems to hang in the air long after the very UK, very deprecating rhymes end. Even Billy Nomates’ beautiful, soulful vocals can’t save it from drowning in delightful scuzz. “
“One of the interesting things about the Simo Cell approach is that intensity doesn’t always align with speed. Some of his heaviest tracks roll at slow tempos, and that’s absolutely the case on ‘Short Leg’. The bludgeoning bass thrum and feverish, noisy phrase loops feel far removed from the warm-up, and given Aussell’s commitment to broad tempo-range DJ sets and the club-centric theme of the record this feels like a potent point on the fluidity that (ill) defines the contemporary dance music scene. One of the joys of such tempo fluidity from super slow to super speedy is the chance to slide between half and double time measures, and ‘YES.DJ’ does that in extravagant style. The vocal slice gets twisted up artfully, coming on like a frantic footwork trope while the beat seems to lurch at 75 BPM. With Aussell’s preference for slapdash sampling splattered across the mix, it’s the wild style approach to a club wrecker which makes him such a fascinating and individual artist.”
“Isle of Wight duo Wet Leg have been everywhere this year and the reason for that is at least 50% down to this, debut single. Is it a nihilistic, post-feminist diatribe against the predictability of existence? Is it a gentle poke at the middle class and first world problems – “would you like us to assign someone to butter your muffins?” After numerous well oiled pub debates on the matter, only one true fact has emerged – it’s one of those songs that’s catchier than Omicron.”
The countdown continues
“This is a lockdown album that not only transcends Doyle’s own mental health challenges, but also his wide musical influence. Not so much carefully curated but wild in its abandon. By proxy or default, there is a manageable tension at work by way of carefully crafted instrumentals and vocal textures not so much recalling the artist’s reference points but more reconciling them.”
“All in all, it’s this ability to straddle not just time signatures but attitudes that positions artist and album as so staunchly original and utterly repeatable. Each iteration of the producer’s work seems destined to be played again and again, whether that’s in order to savour the incredible detail in sample-based efforts like ‘Sunday ASAP’, bask in the infinitely inviting tones of ‘I jus wanna be happy’, or allow the smooth layers of sub-heavy head-nodder ‘Watchu Doin Later’ to smoothly wash over you. A testament to the collapse of genres critics have been writing about for a decade or more already, you can’t help but feel lucky to live in an age when difference and daring are finally being celebrated again in some corners of the music scene. So, best make the most of it then.”
“Self styled masters of the ‘big room ambient’ scene, Growing turn in two hugely elongated but undeniably exquisite explorations that on one level seem to be all about a single tone, but actually contain a whole world of expanding and contracting harmonics. A more gorgeous, thoroughly horizontal listen you are unlikely to find anywhere else this year..”
“A truly original melding of styles, as poet – not to say leading contemporary artist and animator too – spouts forth his atmospheric profundities over a mixture of sultry grooves and dislocated jazz breaks. Proof, if ever it was needed, that there’s always something new to be done with music, whatever the naysayers might insist about it all being done before.”
“It’s an entirely fitting end to the reggae pioneer’s career that he – as someone who has collaborated with everyone from the Beastie Boys to The Clash and The Orb – should end up signing off with an album made with post-rock collective New Age Doom. Equally fitting is the title, which does indeed suit the contents, as Perry expounds on all he’s learnt over the years and attempts to pass on that knowledge to us.”
“Firmly positioned in the most exciting end of British punk, New Long Leg continues on that fine form, and in many ways elevates the game significantly. Offering ten songs that set the band’s proverbial stall out clearly, the record is a demand not to be taken too seriously, even if the music itself feels like the end result of more than a decade of serious fine-tuning and boundary-pushing on the part of the band members, who lay claim to past endeavours with hardcore and indie bands, and in the visual arts.”
“Idles are back on top, taking a chance on their own criticisms with a more introspective LP than ‘Ultra Mono’, revealing the band’s various wrestlings with addiction and desperation. In true post-punk fashion, it’s an emotive sophomore development from lead brain Joe Talbot, spanning plod-rap grungers (‘Car Crash’) and dark disco-rock (‘When The Lights Go On’), all giving off his signature brand of hopeful nihilism, with the ultimate message that ‘the show must go on’.
“Having crept out with little or no fanfare towards the end of the year, Absent Origin is an album that refuses to let go its grasp once it arrived, keeping the listener coming back for more and rewarding such loyalty with layer upon layer of richness underlying what are sometimes the simplest of melodies.”
“Having given each of his post-Ninja Tune alter egos the chance to establish their unique characters over the past two or so years, Amon Tobin returns to his own moniker to offer us ten unique and highly original tracks worthy of his esteemed reputation. Never one to stand still, he’s progressed steadily since his days as a leftfield breakbeat merchant to where he is now, which on this evidence is a sound painter of vast and ambitious sonic canvasses, collages of instrumentalism that are hard to pin down but leave indelible marks on your psyche.”
“Exotically broken beats and humming atmospheres make this effort from Stigma something that exists outside the norms of neatly classified genre dance music, and it’s all the better for it. With its twin obsessions with hip-hop beats and electronic ingenuity, it’s something that might have turned up on James Lavelle’s Mo’Wax when the label was at the height of its powers. Yeah, that good and more.”
The countdown continues
“When it comes to the Z-axis between lo-fi dance and Balearic music, no-one does it better than Telephones… every blugging beat and slow bassline lands at the right time, from the expository deep licks and star-grabbing synths of ‘Genesis (Swell 1019 Mix)’ to the fingerclicking conch-blows of ‘Summit (Wind Dance Dub)’”
Heavy, big and bruising, but still loving with plenty of stealth and cunning, this is just another reason Kasra’s Critical label is easily the most underrated in drum and bass.”
“Much loved Scottish synth pop gang Chvrches are known for getting weird and wonderful remixers to bring their own interpretations to their albums. For this project, they went big and deiced to ask the legendary composer John Carpenter to continue, and much to the bands delight, he did. He flips ‘Good Girls’ alongside his creative partners Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies into a soaring anthem with sinister and swaggering but crunchy production. Chvrches then return the favour by flipping Carpenter’s ‘Turning The Bones’ into a chilly bit of spacious electronica.”
“From that raucous and unarguably loud introduction the record only takes those ideas further. From the staccato high BPMs and whirring loops of ‘Rippler’, to the distorted and dysfunctional ode to electro that is ‘Sniffers’, there’s scarcely a spare moment to collect your thoughts before the next metallic, machine-driven section of industrial sound erupts. Intense enough to make you picture what this would be like in a club or other gig setting, it’s the kind of stuff that would leave you reeling when the chaos finally subsides. More importantly, though, it’s the kind of stuff that brings out the masochist in us all: hazardous, and yet oh-so-compelling, repeatable, and satisfying.”
“Don’t mistake that for 100% Dope being some kind of joke record though – it’s as serious as anything released under the Cygnus banner… his personality comes through first and foremost, vocals or not, and gives the music vitality which his surly, knob-twiddling contemporaries struggle to reach.”
“This is Underground Resistance meets Gossip Girl; embrace the cryptographic revolution, or watch your reputation get tarnished.”
This is a masterpiece if ever there was one, and it would take a brave artist to contemplate covering such an incredible composition. Acutely aware of this, the label turned to one of the deftest production minds operating in today’s electronic music realms, and jazz schooled studio maestro Opolopo steps up with an elegantly formed and suitably contemporary rendition. The essence of the original remains intact, with the tracks key motifs given freedom to roam over crisp, floor-focused beats and club-shaking bass – respectfully re-framing the music for an all-new audience who will surely be inspired to dig deeper into Ponty’s magnificently thick back catalogue as a result.”
“The nimblest breaks, serene pads, soulful vocals and deep, soul-drenched undertones, this is just what the soulful junglist doctor ordered, with an extra sprinkling of that imperceptible magic stardust to boot.”
“Galxtc take us back to the prime era of Brit funk here with a super slick new single for the young Space Grapes label. ‘Life Is A Mirror’ is an eleven minute workout which really uses the long playing time to take you on a trip. It’s got a loose rhythm section with tight drum work, a peppering of percussion and darting synths that are cosmic and funky from the off. Building up a fine head of steam it gets ever more intense and fabulous with various different chapters all taken care of by a range of leads. The dub and version complete this fine maxi single.”
“After solo releases on BEAM and Good Morning Tapes, this pair’s wide creative palette owes to their relentless testing of each other’s musical drives, thanks in part to the various oblique strategies they impose during the mixing stage. The resultant sound is a juicy and playful affair through melodic acid, delightful dembow, and dolphin jungle.”
Our writers choose their top LPs from the past seven days
The follow-up to Eartheater’s defining 2020 album Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin, the ‘La Petite Mort Edition’ is a full-blown intenso-ambient reworking of the entire album, giving it an anxious rebirthing that draws on her continued obsession with the myth of the phoenix.
Originally conceived as a “sleep” DJ mix for Crack Magazine, Eartheater (real name Alexandra Drewchin) later decided not to lend her craft an established brand, and instead chose to take the project for herself. This defiant act lent better credence to its re-sculpting into a seamless ambient edit. It’s a long time coming, too, because by now, Eartheater’s singing and guitar skills are well-documented, giving her the space to flaunt the more technical aspects of her practice. Meanwhile, the airy, monarchic, grandiose, fire-and-folk mood of ‘Phoenix’ seemed to scream out for a stripping-back. Each song rested on sheer, bottomless gulfs of ambient bliss, and if not for said reverby expansiveness, they could have easily been breathy, humble folk tunes in the tradition of Sufjan Stevens – not Bill Kouligas, Ziur, or Pan Daijing.
This version still follows the conceptual framework of the first album. Throughout her artist residency in Zaragoza, Spain, Drewchin essentially moulded herself and her own creative practise after a phoenix. Coming to terms with a newfound isolation, and squaring that with a long-germinating desire to work with of scores of cameo artists, hers is a pattern we can all relate to post-lockdown. Beforehand, we might have simply drifted into our relationships and gone with the flow. But after the rut of impending isolation, a sense of free will and rejuvenation emerged from learning to become a social and collaborative self-starter.
The “little death” of the phoenix sees a track reordering, with Eartheater kicking things off with ‘Bringing Me Back’, rather than the original’s ‘Airborne Ashes’. Every track pushes dead, mortal feathers aside, focusing on what might be happening in the great conceiving soup that is this phoenix’s nest, rather than on the phoenix itself. The new rendition of ‘Faith Consuming Hope’, for example, completely sheds the original’s titanic, cinematic string progression, and focuses directly on the near static ambience that canopied it. It’s like we’re staring directly at a pulsating cell wall. Later, something magical undulates through the bark that makes up this phoenix’s nest; ‘Fantasy Collision’ actually hears ghosts of Eartheater’s voice dance against its inner walls, like shadows against a Platonic cave.
The album seems to draw heavily on Jon Hopkins’ “asleep versions” concept, in some cases directly referencing the breathless, astral stasis he liked to push in the early 2010s. The new version of ‘How To Fight’ has the very same flow-static feel that Hopkins nailed, with each moment flowing from the next. Like crackling ice, the listener has no idea whether this music’s emotional crux rests in its movement or its frigidity. It’s a difficult effect for even the most seasoned ambient artists to achieve.
But despite the phoenician association with deweyness and newness, Eartheater actually sees this album as closer to death or sleep. She says, “this is Phoenix crushing, undressing, and compressing like carbon particles under the weight of boulders folded into silky soil, and decomposing. She is folding over and over and over and over like the rolls of young gummy stone. This is one REM cycle. I suggest listening to (it) while asleep after climax. You are wet ash smudged across a pillow case.” We can get down with this idea. Eartheater’s ambience does hear back like a sonic expression of pure, immortal consciousness – thee kind that many spiritualists tend to say we experience when we die – after an explosive, fiery life well lived.
Michael Ho has been busy for the past 10 years building up the Klasse Wrecks label alongside Luca Lozano, presenting a rugged strain of house and techno for the club with personality out front and plenty of playful attitude to balance out the serious clout of the tunes. He’s also released on grade A labels like ESP Institute, Neubau and CABARET, all pointing to the corner of dance music he’s occupying. Classically informed workouts with a penchant for the unusual and some subliminally seductive atmospheres.
That’s exactly what you get on his debut album Michaelsoft, which acts as a natural extension to his prior work. Tracks like ‘In-best’ have all the right elements for steady, constant propulsion, but there’s a preference for mystical moods in the thick blanket of pads and smudged chords that define the track. Whether nudging towards electro or digging down into four-to-the-floor, Ho is a dab hand at decorating his tracks in a smorgasbord of finery.
Take ‘Quitstartin’, which taps an uptempo electro vein and lays on all manner of wriggling and writhing sound design. Somehow Ho manages to render everything with startling clarity while retaining the grainy vibe of his music, striking a perfect balance between the warmth and charm of the old-school ways and the improved punch of the new. There are some rowdier moments such as ‘14me’, while ‘Ngomee’ has the kind of bright and sunny demeanour that cries out for a summertime airing. But this album is at its best when it’s slinking into darkened spaces lit by a bare minimum of neon, the shapes coming at you through clouds of dry ice before slipping back into the shadows.
With it’s striking, wholly cinematic cover and epic sonics, there’s no getting away from the fact that Yasuke is Flying Lotus fully realising all that movie score production potential we’ve long been aware of. It’s not that this is his first soundtrack, but it’s certainly the boldest display of ‘made for screen’ tunes in the FlyLo back catalogue.
For those who aren’t aware, Yasuke was crafted to accompany LeSean Thomas’ anime series of the same name, which focuses on a Black samurai in medieval Japan. Conversely, perhaps, opener ‘War At The Door’ actually invokes Vangelis and sci-fi futurism more than period piece, albeit those huge tom drums around 1.49 into the tune have some clear, strong nods to massive battle scenes involving legions of sword-wielding warriors preparing for battle. It’s a short-lived conflict, mind, with ‘Black Gold’ quickly stepping up to the mantel, offering an intoxicating combination of ‘Final Fantasy’ cut scene sounds with lo-fi electro-soul.
In fact, the video game, and specifically RPG-adventure type noises, present a running theme throughout. ‘Your Lord’ has percussive foundations providing a slow rhythm that wouldn’t sound out of place as the metronome for a workshop, lines of synth over the top clearly born from 21st (20th?) Century tools, but arranged in such a way as to capture an air of ancient mystery.
That phrase also accurately describes ‘Hiding in the Shadows’, a stunning, near-choral vocal number that deserves to be played over the top of a panning shot across mountainous and forested landscapes. Of course, there’s always a question when it comes to original scores. Is the music trapped in the video? For Yasuke, the answer is certainly no — this is work you can enjoy far away from the world it was originally born into.
Dear Laika cuts a solemn image. Performing her solo set last saturday at clandestine South London venue Avalon Cafe, the 23-year-old singer-songwriter, producer and pianist (real name Izzy Thorn) sits solemnly at a matter-of-fact synth and mic setup, unsmiling. Wafts of great, spiralling black hair cover her bespectacled face. The performance is arresting, grabbing the attention of every punter in the room, causing their eyes to either intensely widen or aggressively close – imagining the painful sonic dreamworld she has built.
No eyes are half-open, because Laika’s music (like all the best music) deals in emotional extremes. ‘Pluperfect Mind’ is her label debut, and is a reflection on the past few years of her life, during which she sought solitude in the North Wessex Downs while beginning her gender transition. Solitude is the means by which some people deal with turbulent life changes, and it’s a theme we can easily recognise in Thorn’s early music education – from growing up singing in church choirs to listening to classical music.
Fitting for the inevitable pain of transition, sudden and jarring shifts make themselves uncomfortably comfortable in Laika’s music, contrasting to the great, gusting planes of synth, field recordings and operatic bliss that set each track’s tone. ‘Guinefort’s Grave’ hears an abrupt breaking-free. It goes from dogs barking, wind whistling in trees, and terrestrial rumblings in the first minute; to sharp singing and angelic piano in the second. “Lay me down / the curtain shrines me underground” is the mantra, touching on a theme of reincarnatic death and rebirth.
We must applaud Laika’s transition from tenor to alto (resulting from her transition), since, evidently, from ‘Phlebotomy’ to ‘Asleep In Wildland Fire’, her talent has persisted. The lyrics “supine beneath the waiting sky” conjure thoughts of an introvert lying on their back, slowly reconnecting with the world in some secluded yet sunned space. Meanwhile, through tremolo-ing synth jazz and atonal rumbles, uncertain graveyard-shift moods are heard on the instrumental ‘Quinta del Sordo’. It’s not all graceful. By the heart-wrenching, neo-barbershop closer ‘Pluperfect Mind’, or the masterful holographic sound design at the climax of ‘Black Moon, Lilith’, we’re closer to understanding Laika’s concept of “queer time”: a cogni-temporal paradox of overhaul, rebirth, transition, squared with solitude and sitting still.
When musical comedian Bo Burnham took a break from performing in 2016 following his acclaimed ‘Make Happy’ tour, it was done in an effort to overcome severe anxiety and panic attacks brought on whilst on stage.
The next few years would be spent pursuing other endeavours such as writing and directing the exceptional coming of age dramedy ‘Eighth Grade’, as well as turning in a dramatic role in the Academy Award nominated ‘Promising Young Woman’.
While this extended break from touring was never originally addressed, Burnham felt ready to return to live performance at the start of 2020. Obviously, this never materialised, but in its place came ‘Inside’; an experimental one-man show crafted entirely within the confines of one room.
With songs parodying every mundane aspect of lockdown from ‘FaceTime With My Mom (Tonight)’ to ‘Sexting’, Burnham’s irreverent humour and keen, astute perception of satire make for a harrowing, relatable collection of comedy tracks that become less funny and increasingly dour as the special/tracklist/lockdown continues.
The razor-sharp ‘Bezos’ cuts make bizarre reference to the one man who has benefited immensely throughout the pandemic, while the sombre ‘Look Who’s Inside Again’ and the heart-rendering vulnerability and despondent nihilism of ‘That Funny Feeling’ transcend the mediums of both satire and parody. Phoebe Bridgers has even dropped a cover of the latter, further pushing Burnham’s fearful musings into the collective emotive zeitgeist.
A tremendous technical achievement, entirely written, directed, edited and recorded by Burnham, it’s a testament to the strength of the material that a vinyl release was practically demanded by fans. Something about the shared despair hidden beneath these tracks just yearns to be absorbed separately from the Netflix special, and with album streams consistently soaring, ‘Inside’ on wax seemed like a no brainer.
The ultimate soundtrack for our times, as well as the literal soundtrack to a satire about the current state of our times; ‘Inside’ is both gut-busting hilarious, and emotionally devastating in equal measure. Rarely does an album so aptly summarise that (funny) feeling of not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Or both.
It’s been another breakthrough year for Western Lore, the Bristol-based jungle and drum & bass label fronted by Dead Man’s Chest. Already a notable force in contemporary breakbeat mangling, they released even more incredible music this year with an emphasis on emergent names like Mick Woods and Cozen as well as label regulars Response & Pliskin. Equally, it’s been a sterling run for Eusebeia too, who was getting bigged up on these pages just one week ago for a standout single on Ryoko. Coverage overkill? Perhaps, but this new album from a vital talent in modern D&B deserves some shine too.
Western Lore don’t skimp on presentation, and the triple-vinyl press of this album comes in a limited form with a bonus 20-track mixtape, A3 prints and more besides. The mixtape alone tells you all you need to know about the relentless prolificacy of Eusebeia, whose catalogue from the past six years is a completist’s nightmare. But the quality is quite simply unrelenting across his work, and that comes through in abundance on The Sun, The Moon + The Truth. His trademark strain of cinematic, atmospheric shades is very much present, but the level of intensity varies throughout. On ‘Revelation’ there’s plenty of space for roughneck amens and the title track is no slouch, but even in these fiercer moments a dreamy calm persists, draping itself around even the roughest snare rushes and bringing a sense of mystery to the music.
You could think back to antecedents in this corner of D&B and jungle – someone supporting the album muttered something about ‘the new Photek’, and you might well think of Source Direct in those spooky, steely pad tones, but the reference points don’t quite fit. You can hear across Eusebeia’s work the clarity of his approach, which speaks to his abililty to produce so much high-grade music. He’s struck upon his sound and he’s exploring it in instinctive fashion, leaving a trail of beautifully crafted masterpieces in his wake.
To get to this point, Lotek has been on a long, meandering, and telling musical journey. Graduating from recording sessions with everyone from Leftfield to Peter Andre into the famed London hip hop collective, Bury Crew, a slew of tapes, singles, and parties followed, with the man in question stamping down his personality on an already-established team and going someway to help push the UK sound forward. He was so successful, in fact, that the mighty Roots Manuva was soon showing interest, asking for contributions to Brand New Second Hand.
The formula worked, and the pair would continue working together, not least on follow up album, Run Come Save Me. Around this point, Lotek, AKA Wayne Bennett, found himself compelled to step out alone, and the rest, as they say, is history, drafting singer Wayne Paul, rapper and clarinettist Aurelius, AKA Dazzla, and Earl J for a loose band setup, resulting in the albums Lotek HiFi and Mixed Blessings. Resume at least partially revealed, The Rebirth of Rude sees the artist make a huge effort to celebrate many of the sounds he grew up with. And by that we specifically mean dub and reggae.
The opening, title track, makes that remit perfectly clear, dropping into a swaggering rhythm from the get-go, “Ring the alarm” samples making no secret of what the aim is, the lyrical flair of MC Daddy Speedo adding extra layers, with the roll call of legendary artists and scene figureheads cementing this tune as a true ode. It also sets a precedent in terms of sonics, with the remaining ten tracks exploring hybrid takes on Jamaica’s musical legacy, and the hinterland that has developed over several decades now as a result of the island nation’s UK-bound diaspora. A rich and wonderfully crafted LP.
On releasing the quasi-acoustic ‘Rhinestones’, HTRK have evolved once again, showing that they’re not prone to revisiting the same sound continually, or neglecting to reevaluate where they stand. Nigel Yang and Jonnine Standish are known for their dubbed out, minimal-waved strange fruits, with ‘Psychic 9-5 Club’ and 2020’s ‘Venus In Leo’ being prime examples. But even that sound came from something more primordial. Over a decade or so, their style seems to have grown more and more accessible and clear, with their earliest LPs working in glaring noise and hateful crunch, not moody space.
They’ve come a long way, and now ‘Rhinestones’ hears 9 new guitar-centric songs, being the clearest, surface-dwelling iteration of their sound to date. Inspired by a recent infatuation with “eerie and gothic country music” – and an exploration of the duo’s friendship – it’s one of acousmatic hurt, emphasising acoustics over electronics. In the 5-song space between ‘Kiss Kiss And Rhinestones’ to ‘Fast Friends’, it seems the only electronic treatment of the production is an additional pad or an echo on the guitar. On ‘Straight To Hell’, Standish slides gracefully between guitar swells and chords, and each slide echoes out – the transient spaces between emotional pangs.
After the midway point, the album becomes increasingly electronic, with ‘Real Headfuck’ one grabbing the most attention. It’s a sign of a great artist to have achieved mastery of their own naming practises, and HTRK do a great job at it. Like their music, the mood is angsty, vulgar and gothic. And the song’s lyrics – “and here’s an icebreaker / you’re gonna turn into a heartbreaker / don’t mess around with young girls’ hearts… so here’s a real headfuck” – even feels vengeful. While friendship is the theme, it can’t be denied that there are more gushing, painful emotional overloads at play here. It ends on an honest and humble note, with ‘Gilbert And George’ being yet another return to electronic form, and a rumination on inseparable partnership, tinged by the orange, glowing backdrop of East London.
Spirit Walk is probably among the most Soul Jazz albums imaginable. A veteran drummer and percussion master of the jazz scene, Reid spent time in jail as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war, lays claim to membership of Sun Ra’s legendary collective Arkestra — alongside the likes of Marshall Allen, John Gilmore and June Tyson — and joined the heroic and iconic Fela Kuti for a stint playing in Africa. Not bad for a self-taught session player who cut his teeth backing Motown greats.
Enter Kieren Hebden, AKA Four Tet, who sides up next to this multifaceted jazz don for a nine-strong exploration of modern stuff — from clubby to more abstract arrangements. The closing, 14-minute-long number, ‘Drum Story’, would not sound out of place in a house music set, whereas the wonderfully on-point ‘For Coltrane’ — a tune that really does come close to that master’s sound — it’s a spectacular example of why this genre is and likely always will be the 20th Century’s most sophisticated gift to music lovers. And lovers. Available on wax again for Record Story Day, this is guaranteed to make someone’s Christmas Day, although you’re probably going to need a bigger stocking.
This week’s reviewers: Jude Iago James, Martin Hewitt, Patricio Caveliere, Oli Warwick, Zach Buggy
The next instalment of our rundup of 2021’s finest singles
“Arriving like the theme from an ’80s cop show, the subtly melancholic melody is instantly memorable – which is a good thing, since the track fades into the sunset before reaching the three-minute mark. The soundtrack theme continues into the powerfully affecting ‘Astrotensione’ with dramatic melodies interplaying over an eerie, nocturnal landscape. Finally, glassy synth harmonics elegantly lap at celestial shores on the equally anthemic ‘Telefono Giallo’, completing a coherent collection of concept rich tracks that sound as though they were plucked from the esoteric reels of cult classic Italo celluloid.”
“Effects-laden guitars and kaleidoscopic electronics that lock you into a chugging yet cosmic groove and take you on a real trip to the stars. On the flip is an epic 10 minute-plus version from 40 Thieves that really ups the starry eyed vibes and expansive chords.”
“Napoli’s West Hill production crew offer the latest in their impeccable Periodica Records catalogue with a typically dazzling collaboration between long-time chums, Raffaele ‘Whodamanny’ Arcella and Luca ‘Bop’ Affatato. Admirers of the label will already know roughly what to expect based on its polychromatic archives – which is uniformly comprised of extraordinarily well-conceived musical ideas.”
“It’s the breaks that really set Bryce apart – light and nimble snatches of percussion backed up by the heavy artillery where it counts, but not as relentlessly bludgeoning as the usual amen experience. On ‘Sound Dimensions’ that comes through in abundance – it’s a stripped back track that uses atmospheric threads as a foil to the drumfunk, and yet there’s enough nuance in the beats to carry you throughout. It helps that the eerie pads have a nail-biting similarity to the genuinely scary drone tones from The Ring.”
“Ian Weatherall, brother of the late Andrew, David Holmes and others feature on ‘In A Lonely Place’, a tribute to Andrew Weatherall. David Holmes, Keith Tenniswood (one half pf Two Lone Swordsmen) and Hardway Bros also contribute remixes to the single.
A statement from the duo said: “Their mutual admiration for Factory Records made it an obvious place to seek inspiration for a tribute record. The influence of Factory on Andrew and Ian’s lives is difficult to overstate. They spent a fair chunk of the 80s travelling all over the country to catch the label’s artists perform. New Order were pretty much top of the list and the Factory ethos of creativity over commercialism was to become Andrew’s main drive throughout his career. Ian and Duncan have reworked New Order’s ‘In a Lonely Place’ as a homage to Factory and the inspiration they were to a whole generation.”
“It’s no surprise that this EP feels so darkly resonant to our nationally tuned-in hive consciousness. As pundits will insist, we are in a societal stupor. We are in desperate need need of the ‘Shock Power Of Love’. The EP’s name comes from the sample on the Burial track ‘Dark Gethsemane’, a swirling, soft speed garage track tinged with the mood of gospel. “We must shock this nation, with the power of love!”, it preaches, over and over again. It has the energy, the sheer potency to nationally defibrillate. Clear!”
“From organ-strewn deep house shufflers to driving, acidic techno escapism, his staggering output brims with highlights, and skirting back through the archives is a pure delight. There are the stirring rhythms of ‘Dear 1’ and ‘Dear 2’ from 2003’s ‘Pattern Buffer EP’, the heads-down vocal chops of 1993 classic ‘You Give Me’, and the hyper-atmospheric soundscapes of 2005’s ‘Electronic Dissident’ to name just a few from an extended list of jewels. Kai Alce certainly knows plenty when it comes to label curation, so it’s fitting that his NDTAL should offer a home for Young’s production return.”
“The illustrator-then-cassette-based-release is a well-worn path to stardom, but perhaps no-one does it as much justice as York-based artist Adam Higton. Higton’s art takes in comic strips, collage and sound, manifesting in the form of forest beings and asymmetric smiles. This art forms the ‘Cosmic Neighborhood’; a bustling cosmogramma home to tickly sprites, snakelike shouts, and wacky sine bursts.”
“The Detroit icon has enough credentials to do what he likes with the genre – he was the Drexciyan-appointed DJ after all – and in his fiercely experimental, uncompromising sound you can hear the fluency of someone looking past simple genre tropes into the very ideas and instinct that drove the pioneers in the first place… Layers of microbes slithering between the mechanical percussion and a restless funk buffeting the less rhythmically rigorous elements along. Even in these icy, forbidding zones, Ingram brings a dancefloor sensibility that is crucial to the idea of electro.”