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.
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.”
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
This week’s essential purchases
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
In dance music, ‘hard drive retrospectives’ are a romanticised trope. You know the story: usually, a tried and true producer stumbles on an old hoard of music, and in a bout of nostalgia, musters the energy to remaster each track for a gritty, retro-sounding look back at what once was (and, by the miracle of digital music storage, still is).
Roy Of The Ravers’ two ‘White Sunrise’ albums fall squarely within this box. Made between 1997 and 2017 (but with the man behind the mask, Sam Buckley, not finding recognition for his humourously retroised alias until 2011), the first of these albums was assembled over six months, after a box of what was at first thought to be audio cables actually contained hard drives full of his own music.
Contrasting to the joking tones of ‘Emotinium’, ‘Who Are Ya??’ and ‘Melchester Acid’ – tracks which cemented Roy’s name – the first album nailed a mood of euphoria, twinning a sense of ecstasy and humour. Oddly, though, ‘White Sunrise II’ was thematically removed from the football association, and instead of a crude Roy Race cutout adorning the sleeve, its cover was a drab grey ‘sunrise’, represented vaguely by cascading white lines.
Now comes Roy’s follow-up, ‘White Sunrise II.I’, also known as the ‘Roy Soleil’. Its cover takes the form of a beautiful orange-tinged dawn, rather than a bleak Bermondsey sun-up. And instead of falling victim to the trap of over-releasing old music (with the quality potentially declining), the music on ‘Roy Soleil’ is admittedly more hard-hitting and immediate than the meandering, perhaps wishy-washy first album. Take ‘Feathers’, which fuses the lonesome acid of ‘The Weber Traum Boat’ and ambient breakbeat into a ballad, resulting in a rare vocal appearance from Roy himself; to the tune of what sounds like a music-box and a mellotron in unison, we hear a theme of unity, as Roy intones something to the effect of, “I am you and you are me and we are one as close as can be”.
This album is better-paced than its predecessor, and only teasings of its beauty were found on the first album – ‘A Dim And Distant Past’ being one such predictive track. The reason for this is immediacy: the opener, ‘The Smell Of Orange Peel’, jumps straight into lo-fi hard house rather than triumphant ambient, and this bangerific backbone is continued on tracks like ‘EL-9400’, which – having been named after an extremely niche and pocket graphing calculator from the 90s – only lets any gushing, human emotion in after the 6 minute mark.
There are no direct allusions to the classic comic character Roy Of The Rovers, like the last album. It’s as though Roy is expressing a need to move beyond an established joke, one that’s been going for at least 10 years now. But even so – with every musical footie fusion in mind, from Fred Perry to Sleaford Mods to Fatboy Slim’s famous endorsement of Brighton FC – this album still hears the ghosts of acid house and rave still happily rubbing shoulders with casual culture. The plodding, balearic sampledelica and title of ‘Versace 101624’ should be indication enough, with its slow alternation between confident strut and sinister march resulting in a 13-minute tour of ambient house in multiple sections, and making it sound rather like a Stress Records A-side. Meanwhile, the designer fashion reference is clear: ‘Versace’ combined with the serial code for a very specific brand of MontBlanc wristwatch paints a picture of a very specific kind of hooligan. Roy is as geeky for endlessly churning out acid house, as he is for noting the specific make of each item of clothing he’s wearing, or the minutiae of whether Van Persie was a good signing for Man U.
We’re glad he dug out the hard drive. Sonically, this album is a well-paced euphoric, bangerized acid number. But when provided its context, it becomes a lot more – especially when considering the acoustic dub closer ‘My Brother & His Mate’, it conjures images of sporting camaraderie, reminiscence, and a mutual love for the game.
Eli Soul Clap once again dives deep into the sun-kissed world of refined Italian dance, re-surfacing with a glorious selection of original tracks curated in honour of dearly-departed Italo-house figurehead, Claudio Coccoluto. ‘Italo Funk 2’ arrives as a sequel to 2019’s roundly-loved inaugural incarnation of the project, and is every bit as nuanced and engaging as its predecessor. Some familiar faces from the grooves of Volume One are joined by a sprinkling of new faces, while beloved radio DJ Lele Sacchi once again provides insightful liner notes alongside ever-loving support. I was lucky enough to be included on the album, and it’s with sheer delight that I compose this as unbiased as humanly possible review.
The kaleidoscopic compilation opens with dazzling intent, thanks to the joyous melodies, propulsive bass and retro-leaning drums of ‘Venaria’, composed by enigmatic production duo, Stump Valley. Next, Milan-based Rollover DJs show up with the deliciously driving rhythms of ‘Buonasera’, with its purposeful bass propping up dream-inducing melodies and heavenly synth harmonies. The inclusion of Coccoluto’s ‘Go Goblin’ serves as a poignant reminder of the late, great maestro’s indelible affinity with cultured dancefloors, as its hyper-infectious bassline bursts from the speakers like a deviant house juggernaut.
Wildly talented three-piece Funk Rimini are next to flex, with the infectious slap-bass, energetic percussion and enlivening synth work of floor-filling jam, ‘King Of Style’. Lele Sacchi takes us into serious heads-down territory with his sample-heavy acid roller ‘Slow Down Rock’ tipping a cap to the Milan underground as the magnetic groove works its indefinable magic. I humbly assume my Rocco Universal moniker to provide a tripped-out meditation into my mind’s tendency to roam into astral realms with the psychedelic swirls of ‘Somewhere Else’, before treasured musical polyglot DJ Rocca joins forces with Capofortuna on the dubbed-out throb of ‘Potage’.
Here, rave stabs soar over jacking drums and wigged-out synth refrains, as the growling bass bubbles and broods with irresistible intent. Next, Brioski’s magnificent ‘Bionic Breaks’ provides an effervescent dalliance into funk-flecked electro futurism, as crisp mechanical rhythms cascade across nocturnal floors. Capofortuna then go it alone as they take us into unfettered dance abandon, thanks to the hard-hitting drums and hoover bass power of main room jam, ‘Dopo La Tempesta’. Finally, DJ Rocca ends things with a life-affirming flourish, as the blissful lead melody of ‘Don’t Be Worried’ elegantly glides over growling bass and snappy drum hits.
Few artists succeed in keeping the fire lighting like They Might Be Giants. Yes, several bands stay together, tour extensively and every once in a while lob out a slapdash of new material that no fans shows interest in, and possibly one to two songs at most receive the live treatment (during the promotional tour for said record, no less), but the two Johns have always been exceptions to the rule.
From the offset, the duo has enamoured with their genre defying brand of dynamic, witty and bizarre power-pop. While most would agree that the seminal ‘Lincoln’ and platinum selling ‘Flood’ are the essential high watermarks of their discography, there’s no denying the prolific nature with which they’ve managed to constantly produce new releases with a devil may care attitude. Each project is for them first and foremost, and anyone else who wants to come along for the ride.
On their 23rd full-length, ‘Book’, the pair look inward, examining their own inner reactions to the modern world with equal parts irreverence and despondency. ‘I Can’t Remember The Dream’ is arguably one of their most lyrically dour cuts to date, with the tongue-in-cheek frustration of forgetting how a dream went developing into a stark admittance of sadness and lack of fulfilment – “Most of my memories tend to be sad, so I wish I could remember the dream that I had.”
‘Moonbeam Rays’ provides a quirk-folk dual harmony detailing growing apart using the unfamiliar surroundings of differing towns and cities, presumably experienced while touring/travelling, to highlight issues that can’t be revolved over voice messages and missed calls.
As one of the few projects in the They Might Be Giants cannon to feature no tracks under two minutes, the material here takes just a tad longer to gestate, complimenting the slightly weightier, more emotive issues, told with the reliable eccentric narration the pair have become renowned for.
Twenty-three albums in, the two Johns wave their freak flag high, while battling both personal and collective anxieties with some of their most troubled ponderings to date, yet still wrapped up firmly in their signature brand of playfulness.
There are many remarkable things about Flee Lord. Tutelage under the late Prodigy of Mobb Deep helped him develop his own arsenal of poetic but fierce lyrics, delivery that mixture of precision perfect, knock-you-out-with-a-blow-to-the-nose muscle and lackadaisical, un-rushed confidence that evades so many MCs while defining the legacy of what they call the East Coast sound. Powers strong enough to ensure it wasn’t long before the Griselda crew started allying with him, that note alone should be enough to have newcomers chomping at the bit for a first taste of those bars, and the already-committed breaking into knowing smiles.
But this background check is only one half of what we’re talking about. Cast your mind back to 2019, and when you were doing anything else there’s almost a 100% chance Flee Lord was working ten times harder. Probably more. Apparently deciding to throw himself at the studio with the impassioned attitude of a recording obsessive, between March and November that year the rhyming and beat-peddling genius dropped no less than five full length albums. More than many artists manage in their entire careers.
Suffice to say, one play through of Loyalty… speaks volumes about his ability to maintain consistency, deliver innovative ideas, and satisfy both passing ears and hardcore hip hop heads. One of the aforementioned five LPs, it offers the sort of tracks that make you remember why you fell in love with boom bap in the first place. It’s rugged, dark enough to chill you in parts, and packing heat in the wit department. From sideswipes at American society, the music industry and sell outs, to stories straight from the street corners, this is as vital a rap album as anything released in the last ten years.
Last year saw Texas based grunge-tinted emo act Narrow Head sign to Run For Cover to drop their seminal sophomore effort, ’12th House Rock’. It was a big deal for the small time outfit to join an ever expanding dynamic roster of acts including Turnover and Citizen, while the project felt right at home with its hazy, chugging melodies, and sarcy sincerity.
Run For Cover are also renowned for their reissuing of out of print earlier releases from new signees, and with that, ‘Satisfaction’ is finally seeing its first repress since its initial limited release back in 2016.
The debut, which clearly peaked their current label’s interest, served as a potent introduction to Jacob Duarte, and his meshing of 90’s grunge and alt rock tropes. Cuts like the brooding opener, ‘Necrosis’, and the thick sludgy menace of ‘Wallflower’, marked a welcome imbuing of aggression into the emo revival.
The more directly somber moments found on ‘Stay’, exude more delicacy by comparison.
Before even boasting their fully fledged current line-up, ‘Satisfaction’ served as a palpable first effort, and indicator of a bright, shimmery future awash in reverb, delay and angst. For those familiar with their latest work, this is an essential addition, or the more ideal introduction for newcomers. It’s an exceptional debut, and the world feels a little calmer knowing it’s readily available on wax again…for now.
Baltimore, Maryland has served as a prime hub for hardcore punk over the past few decades. One of the most prevalent acts in the scene, Trapped Under Ice, garnered worldwide recognition during their tenure, whilst revitalising the global zeitgeist.
In recent years, members of the group have gone on to form arguably some of the most boundary pushing acts the genre has boasted since its inception. Turnstile (who put out one of the best albums of 2021 already) have continuously strived to expand hardcore into a cacophonous, riff-heavy maelstrom of all forms of alternative rock and punk, whereas Angel Du$t happen to be a far more perplexing case.
Consisting of 3 Turnstile/2 TUI members (with some venn diagram mingling), this supergroup are infamous for using their hardcore street cred as a means of approaching the genre with outlier tendencies.
While their earlier material boasted strong pop motifs hidden beneath the veil of chunking riffs and rapid fire drumming, it was 2019’s ‘Pretty Buff’ that proved a total creative rebirth/abandonment of genre concerns. Embracing influences from the likes of Elvis Costello to The Lemonheads, the predominantly acoustic driven record was a bold declaration for a group so firmly rooted in the hardcore scene.
‘YAK: A Collection of Truck Songs’ doubles down on its disinterest of the familiar, with a highlight reel of fuzzed out, psychedelic pop-rock filled to the brim with micro-embellishments of everything from bongos to brass sections.
The understated practice-like performances make for an intimate atmosphere, as if listening in on a group bashing out songs for themselves with no concern for outside ears.
From the catchy sweetness of opener ‘Big Bite’, to the menacing desert-jangle of ‘No Vacancy’, there’s a constant sonic disruption between the chaotic pop composition and frontman Justice Tripp’s increasingly uncertain lyricism.
Pondering love, loss, the state of the world and the stresses of art as an outlet as well as occupation might seem like heavy duty topics, and they are, but Tripp tackles them with a sleight of hand sincerity, using Hot Wheels toy cars as a descriptor of childhood innocence while clinging to advice from his grandmother to be a better human.
It’s some of the most unique, and vulnerable musings from a hardcore frontman in quite some time, told with a understated smoky cadence. With punk royalty Tim Armstrong of Rancid appearing on the slow bop of ‘Dancing On the Radio’, and standout single ‘Love Is the Greatest’ going full orchestral noir in its somewhat sinister detailing of dreams based around the loss of loved ones, you’ll be hard pressed to find another release this year that so seamlessly fuses heavy emotive musings with adept understanding of pop and punk.
Moving far beyond “supergroup” status, Angel Du$t have very much transcended to their own plateau.
Fuga Ronto return to Lexx’s masterful Phantom Island imprint, this time arriving with deeply engaging long-player, ‘The Greatest Treasure’. The Zurich-based pairing of Tobi Schweizer and Ron Shiller first appeared on the label with 2016 release, ‘Invisible Escape’, which featured the irresistible marimba-driven wonder of lead track, ‘L’Uomo Invisibile’. While they’ve certainly taken their sweet time recording a follow-up, fans of their work will likely be utterly charmed by the exquisite new material. Launching with a tongue-in-cheek, sample-based intro, the album rolls into the cod reggae-themed sunshine of unashamedly happy-making title-track, ‘The Greatest Treasure’, with its sing-along vocals, twinkling keys and earthy bass solos.
Instantly loveable track ‘Falling Star’ introduces a delectable layer of cosmically-flecked Italo-chug, with its trance-inducing vocals and contagious funk guitar licks. The enchanting marimbas of ‘Colombo De Domingo’ provide a soul-soothing sundown interlude, before the magical melodies and downtempo charm of ‘Mirror To Water’ take us all the way horizontal. ‘Wobble In The Pool’ continues the low-slung groove, with dubbed-out effects creating endless space into which the enchanting melody elegantly diffuses. Finally, ‘Mystery Of Zambio’ reclines even further, with sparse percussion embellishing the harmonic blend of mystical vocal chants, intoxicating pads, and weighted bass.
The 1990s was both the best and worst of times for Echobelly. Launching onto the music scene in 1994 with a cunning and well-timed combination of Blondie and The Smiths — an ideal sound for the era to say the least — they enjoyed serious popular success in the last decade that actually made any real sense. But there were lows, too, enough to catalyse a decision to go on hiatus in the immediate post-millennial years.
The outfit would return with 2004’s Gravity Pulls, a record received with mixed feelings by critics, which then led to an even longer break from the business. It then took until 2017 for the band to return to the release schedule, with this, Anarchy & Alchemy. All of which might suggest flogging a dead horse, but the reality couldn’t be further from that non-truth. This LP is among their finest, delivering on entertainment and artistic levels, and then some. Never a dull moment, it’s also up their with Echobelly’s most poignant since they first arrived, perfectly balancing critiques of the modern world with hopeful summations of what is, or at least could be possible thanks to the hidden strength of the human spirit.
This week’s reviewers: Jude Iago James, Patricio Cavaliere, Martin Hewitt, Zach Buggy.
The critics’ choice of LPs from this week’s offerings
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Who knows how many untapped techno archives are still out there from the heady days of the 90s? After so many years of enthusiastic mining there can’t be many intact DATs and cassettes left to check, but then the broad spectrum of techno culture reaches far and wide and artists like Jean-Louis Huhta can fly under the radar with their present day work, let alone stuff they recorded 30 years ago. These days you’re most likely to find Huhta recording as Dungeon Acid, releasing all kinds of modular freakery on iDEAL and others, but his is a winding, complex journey through underground music that touches on punk rock and the avant garde, go go and electro as much as techno and acid.
Organic Analogue have done these kinds of archival digs in the past, working with DJ Guy for the Structures & Rhythms ’94-’99 release, although they stop short of being a wholly reissue label. Huhta’s various aliases clearly strike a chord though, as they dive into the heart of his work through the 90s when he was enmeshed in the Swedish techno scene alongside the likes of Cari Lekebusch and Jesper Dahlback, not to mention his one-time studio sparring partner, Simon J. Hartley aka Wild Planet. Housed in a blindingly bright sleeve featuring the work of cult Swedish graffiti artist Nug, Wormhole Of Time is a compilation which deals in unreleased studio explorations along with a select few reissued tracks that show just how much heat Huhta was putting out in the early days of his club music explorations.
Indeed it’s the club element of Huhta’s music which shines through at a time when techno tends to either be a fractured abstraction or a blunt instrument. Everything feels like a rhythmic device, whether it’s a drum machine hit or a rippling synth. On ‘PROJECTION’ the double-time acidic bass synth is arguably more central to the thrust of the track than the kick, while the resonant chord lines are cut at acute angles to define the inherent funk of the track.
It’s worth reflecting on this idea of funk in the music too, because of course the rigidity of grid-sequenced electronic music has always been a matter for debate, and the innate funkiness of Detroit techno in its infancy didn’t always translate in Europe. Sometimes the over-bearing history of synth-pop and industrial won out, but Huhta’s music moves with the same instinctive groove you might expect from a Juan Atkins joint or a Kenny Larkin classic. As well as his history as a percussionist in punk and post-punk bands and a tenure Stonefunkers, Huhta talks about his Trinidadian roots as an influence throughout his many musical endeavours, and it shows in his approach to machine music.
Therein lies the magic embedded in this collection, which may well enlighten a lot of people to Huhta’s work. It has the same flair as some of the finest techno to spill out of the 90s, while still holding true to the rhythmic structures of the genre in its infancy. Testing the theory of great music being timeless, these genre pieces sound dazzlingly fresh however many decades later. ‘Theme From The Surreal Estate’ sounds like electro jettisoned from the airlock and intercepted by solar flares, ‘Zoat Zingo’ surges and throbs through misty gas clouds and ‘The Art Of Peace’ bumps and wriggles across galaxies with a heavy flanging cargo that sounds like it could come uncoupled at any minute. It’s techno as stargazing party music, imagining the unimaginable while never forsaking the urgency of the dance.
The return of renowned prog-metal project Cynic has been a tumultuous journey marred by excessive grief.
The brainchild of Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinert (former members of metal iconoclasts Death), their 1993 debut, ‘Focus’, signalled an entirely new era of progressive, delicately weaved death metal with a far more introspective lyrical approach than the gory horror of their peers.
While the band would go into a state of dormancy for over a decade, the pair would continue to work together on Aeon Spoke, exploring the more nuanced, melodic aspects of their art.
When Cynic was finally revived in 2006 with their long awaited second full-length ‘Traced In Air’ arriving two years later, a collective sigh of relief swept through the metal community. A hefty majority of modern acts owe plenty to the prog pioneers, who were welcomed back with open arms.
Sadly, since the release of 2014’s ‘Kindly Bent To Set Us Free’, both Reinert and long-time bassist Sean Malone, passed away within a year of one another, leaving Masvidal as the sole original member. When considering the passing of Chuck Schuldiner of Death, which ultimately led to the inception of Cynic, it’s difficult to ignore the toll taken on the songwriter.
‘Ascension Codes’ is the channelling of that grief into a cosmic, blissful opus of sanguine symmetry. Composed of multiple interludes (or codes) that section off the full tracks, the work teems with such ethereal hues, exuding hopeful warmth.
While no stranger to vocoder-layered vocals, Masvidal has rarely been this buried under the watery, hallucinogenic effects. It makes for hypnotic listening, like a voice of assurance and peace whispering through the ether, consoling in its mystery.
From the predominately instrumental ‘The Wicked Ones’, a sonic journey of self-discovery and acceptance of the unpredictability of the universe ensues. ‘6th Dimensional Archetype’ is transfixing in its ambient, technical composition, while the evocative beauty of ‘In A Multiverse Where Atoms Sing’ offers transcendental escape with its other-worldly sonics, enveloping all in alien positivity.
‘Ascension Codes’ is the sound of Cynic, or Masvidal himself, vying for tranquillity, questing for peace, and simply desiring to make some bit of sense out of deep loss. Metal albums rarely come with so profound a message, or a sincerity in meaning.
French re-issue specialists Hot Mule have done impressive work in shining light on lesser-known musical gems from disparate global scenes since they began releasing back in 2018. Esoteric – and often ultra-rare – pearls have arrived from N’draman Blintch, Heerlens Percussie Ensemble, and Jose Carlos Schwarz among others, and each title arrives lovingly packaged and complete with well-researched liner notes for diggers hungry for the inside story.
Their latest offering is a carefully assembled collection of synth-heavy explorations from French multi-instrumentalist, Teddy Lasry. The wildly talented artist’s boldly experimental approach to music was helped in no small part by the fact that his parents, Jacques and Yvonne Lasry, were themselves accomplished players. Jacques worked the Parisian cabaret circuit – rubbing shoulders with the likes of Serge Gainsbourg and Charlie Chaplin – before both he and Yvonne went on to become members of avant-garde experimental group, Les Structures Sonores.
Armed with the musical fascination and desire to experiment instilled in him by his parents, Lasry’s creative path seems to have been predestined. He was a member of groundbreaking prog outfit, Magma, with whom he recorded three innovative albums, and – coinciding with the gradual loss of his sight in the mid-’70s – went on to embark upon his solo recording career. The collection presented here is comprised of works recorded between 1975 and 1987, and each composition included is eminently worthy of close attention. From the blissfully evocative meditations of ‘Raising Sun In Bali’ to the hypnotic mallet strikes of ‘Birds Of Space’, the album is compelling throughout, revealing hidden secrets with each listen. Among the most immediate of the titles are the heavy funk flex and jazz flute solos of ‘Los Angeles’, the rolling swagger and cosmic charm of ‘Krazy Kat’, and the faintly spooky but altogether jaunty atmospherics of the compilation’s title track. Elsewhere, the prog-leaning virtuosity of ‘Chamonix’ leaves an indelible mark, while the unabated jazz flute of Blue Theme’ provides yet another triumph. Last but not least, the cinematic scope of ‘Back To Amazonia’ glides like a Golden Eagle, as emotive pads and sparse percussion evoke images of morning mist rising over virgin rainforest.
‘The Church Of’ the Cult Of The Damned has bolstered strong sermons from its inner core of high priests for many a year, with the likes of Milkavelli, Black Josh, Sniff, Stinkin Slumrock and Bill Shakes (to name just a few) all performing at the top of their game, under the watchful guidance of executive producer, leader and razor-witted visionary, Lee Scott.
2018’s ‘Part Deux: Brick Pelican Posse Crew Gang Syndicate’ project sported some of the most enthralling, clever, and potent boom-bap bangers the collective had ever preached, with ‘Civilised’ and ‘Nicole’ garnering much acclaim, while last year’s ‘Offie’ single marked a welcome return.
For the devout and newly converted alike, ‘The Church Of’ serves as the perfect introduction for potential cult inductees with its dynamic blend of banging shithead-edry found on standout cuts like ‘Internal Error’ or ‘Gung Foo’.
Most alarming to the cult regulars, however, are the sporadic moments of genuine vulnerability and sincerity peppered amongst the tracklist. ‘Rotation’ lilts along its piano-led production, offering a somewhat sombre, introspective respite to the ludicrous bravado the cult have made an art out of espousing. The cloudy ‘Step’ is another dream-like vibe featuring an appearance from Canadian Blah Records outlier Danny Lover, while the lush ‘Castles’ weaves ambient-jazz with boom-bap dexterity.
It seems with each subsequent release, the crew become far more fluid, their ceaseless chemistry consistently strengthened by genuine camaraderie and friendship. Not only is ‘The Church Of’ some of the best work from each individual involved, but it’s also arguably the finest hour from the collective thus far, and potentially the best homegrown hip-hop release you’re sure to encounter in 2021.
Welcome to the cult.
Depending on when you first caught wind of Tobias Freund, you might well associate him with many different kinds of electronic music. Some might think of him as a 90s electro-pop oddball alongside Dandy Jack in Sieg Über Die Sonne, while others might consider him a lynchpin of the Ostgut-Ton techno empire. Further back he was manipulating minimal wave and industrial as a teenager in Frankfurt, and more recently he’s been exploring experimental pastures with Max Loderbauer amongst others.
For all his meandering through different pockets of interest though, Freund’s sound has always felt consistent. His latest solo album under the Tobias. banner (previously used for techno-oriented albums and EPs) is billed as his first solo ambient release, but it doesn’t feel aesthetically distanced from his 80s industrial-inspired work as Pink Elln (handily archived on retrospective release The Beginning). Of course there are much higher production values at work, not least given Freund’s role as a go-to mix engineer, producer and all-round studio sage. But the spirit is very much entrenched in analogue synth impulses and steely, effects-drenched textures triggered with an expressive touch.
At times the minimalism allows you to truly absorb every minute detail, such as on the captivating closer ‘Hinterland’ which revolves around a single galloping arpeggio and distant clangs. On ‘Silhouettes’ the frequency range feels more claustrophobic, creating a sensorial impression which reveals different ingredients on different occasions. Crucially, for all the foreboding moods Freund conjures on Hall ov Fame, he maintains his instinct for the playful as well. This isn’t self-serious ambient, no matter how advanced the production can be at times. Listen to the looped up wail of disembodied opera singers snuck into the end of ‘Abandoned’ or the narrator speaking through fuzz and distortion on ‘Reset Button’ and you’ll hear Freund’s sense of humour peeking through the fog of hard boiled mysticism and goth-tinged noise.
After a feature-length film portraying his life in the present day, CODA, Ryuichi Sakamoto’s discography is slowly and surely being looked back upon fondly. The latest in a slew of releases to document the YMO pioneer’s twilight years, this week sees yet another reissue of his 1985 album ‘Esperanto’.
Originally, this soundscape-centric LP was recorded to accompany a dance piece by Molissa Fenley, a prolific American choreographer whose work spans the experimental, the slow and the strange. But Sakamoto being Sakamoto, ‘Esperanto’ is just as much its own beast as it is part of a performative ecosystem. With contributions by prolific Japanese percussionist Yas-Kaz and experimental guitarist-composer Arto Lindsay, this record pits resampled and looped bursts guitar and synth against what liner notes-penner Andy Beta creatively calls “tropical soundscapes”. Despite already being given the reissue treatment last year, it makes sense to revisit the album once again, as ‘tropical’ new age music seems to have made a resurgence this year – hell, this week, even. From the prog-jazz montage vibes of ‘Adelic Penguins’ to the lapping chordal shanty that is ‘Dolphins’, we can also easily hear this album’s influence on present day cut-up techno artists like Foodman or Georgia. Ambient pop-via-cosmic-prog heads, don’t rest on this one.
Shame – Drunk Tank Pink (deluxe version) (Dead Oceans)
For those that somehow missed the hype train that left the station back in January, post-punk darlings Shame have had quite the 2021 since dropping their anti-sophomore effort, ‘Drunk Tank Pink’.
Literally the second ever Juno Daily Album of the Week, the hard left turn into the cryptic, abstract, emotionally fragile and utterly obtuse, made for one of the most dynamic listens of the year, and set a strong precedent early on for the myriad of exceptional releases to come from the Windmill, Brixton scene (and the UK at large) over the past eleven months.
Now, the group have unveiled a deluxe gatefold edition, complete with a bonus LP consisting of demo versions of the entire album. Behind the subtlety and nuance of the record’s distinct, frosty production, these early insights offer a chance to peer at the skeleton of these cuts, examining the frames of what would eventually become aggro-anthem hits such as ‘Alphabet’ and ‘Water In The Well’.
The proto-versions of ‘Born In Luton’ and ‘Snow Day’ (easily two of the most unhinged and despair-filled works of their small discography so far), provide a raw, tremendous statement of bewilderment and a pining for acceptance, deeply strengthened by the lo-fi, no frills, fly on the wall recording methods implemented.
An ideal addition to the collection for fans desiring a definitive version, or for those who’ve yet to get around to finagling a copy.
From Mkwaju Ensemble to Stella Chiweshe to Bonobo, new music fans are obsessed with malleted instruments like gamelan and marimba, and hope to hear it peppered into their music like a sonic spice. Sparkly music producer Chloe and Bulgarian percussionist Vassilena Serfimova are evidently eager to contribute to this new vogue; their new album ‘Sequenza’ seems to endlessly marvel at the subtle variations heard in the marimba, and its subsequent impact on electroacoustic music.
With this collab coming from Paris – centring on the label and night Lumière Noire and the photographic collective Sourdoreille – ‘Sequenza’ covers endless ground, evoking the joy of both social and sonic fusion. Self-describedly “facilitating a dialogue between the marimba’s suave tones and the effervescence of machines”, this blending of electronic and art music hears back like a sort of ritual dance. Our choice tune ‘Dve Hubavi Otchi’ seems as much, as its Bulgarian spoken word introduction echoes around our ears like spirits rising from an enchanted flame. The track commits to a blooming, tenor marimba sound-plane. Later tracks (‘Balani’ gorgeously morphs from freeform to beat-driven) are equally mysterious, but never too negative or minor-key. It seems almost sacreligious to eke out sad sound from the marimba.
Best thought of as “future folk music”, it’s testament to the quality of Lyra Pramuk’s practise that she should not only be a trained choir singer from small-town Pennsylvania, but also a code contributor to the endlessly complex API for Ableton Live, software which she describes as a “living collaborator”.
It’s this marrying of electronic and traditional art forms that best characterises Pramuk’s self-given genre, “future folk”. Her new LP ‘Delta’ seems to work after this idea, repurposing the ‘traditional’ remix album (in reality, this is a trend of the last 30 years or so) into more a more folky, free-flowing interpretation of her last 2020 LP ‘Fountain’. Rather than enlisting remix help from remote artists and keeping them at arm’s length, Pramuk does the opposite, choosing instead to work with the artists on the remixes, as well as introducing new, entirely original offshoot collabs. We’re most excited by a choice duet between Pramuk and Hudson Mohwake on the ‘Tendril’ remix – said smashing of worlds has resulted in one of the first ever electro tunes made by the latter artist. Meanwhile, saturated speed garage comes via her original with Eris Drew, ‘Everything Is Beautiful And Alive’, while latter bits with harpist Naliah Hunter and ambient techno artist Tygapaw provide a satisfying, choral coda.
This week’s reviewers: Jude Iago James, Zach Buggy, Oli Warwick, Patricio Cavaliere.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
To the tune of bare-bones footwork 808s and down-the-phone giggles, Jessy Lanza’s DJ-Kicks begins without hesitation. In a bold premiering of new music – reflective of her newfound willingness to include her own tracks in a series of pioneeringly mobile DJ sets – 3 originals lead this mix’s charge, like a warring legion refusing to hold back.
Firstly, the ambient opener ‘Guess What’, formerly unreleased, reveals the singer and producer’s love for smooth, healing, snappy chords, and a close affiliation with Teklife affiliate DJs Rashad and Spinn. A seamless blend follows, and we’re into the thick of ‘Seven 55’, a track replete with Lanza’s cute, melismatic vocal runs and Loraine James’ glitchings. That’s in turn followed by ‘Wet 3x’, a whispery techno collab with Taraval that sounds like we’re entering a dense jungle thicket, hankering after what’s yet to come.
For an artist so in tune with the way dancefloor behaviour ebbs and flows, these three tracks are epitomising of what Lanza calls ‘dot-connecting’ music, i.e. tracks that inspire genuine healing as opposed to ‘wellness’: “ones that people respond to everywhere regardless of where in the world I’m DJing”. They’re minimal, unaggressive and curious, and their understated verve begs the question as to what will ensue. Even so, it’s still evident that this DJ-Kicks mix – Lanza’s first ever to be released physically – also reflects Lanza’s own personal state of mind, and isn’t just a bulging red drawstring sack of people-pleasers. Her desire to transcend the stagnant musical options of her childhood Canadian hometown, Hamilton, rings true; it’s a tour-de-force through experimental synth, house, acid and juke, not a trip through provincial indie rock (there’s not a Blue Rodeo or Tragically Hip song in sight).
With this vinyl version condensed to just 16 tracks (down from the digital version’s count of 26), buyers can expect to hear only Jessy’s favourites of the bunch. In our recent interview, she pointed out DJ Nehpets’ abrasive juke classic ‘Na Na Na’ as one a go-to. This song formed the musical primordium of many New Jersey residents in the ‘90s, and likely chewed no end of local coastal bouncers’ ears off. We find it just as fitting for Lanza’s dream of a more exciting personal future come true in adulthood, now that she’s spent time living quickly and loosely between similar coastal cities from which so much seminal dance music originates, from New York to San Francisco. Notably, it mixes out neatly from her own track ‘Heaving’, again featuring Taraval, which has a distinct kind of whooshing hard dance feel that propels the Nehpets track into warp-drive. This contextualisation sees Jessy meticulously craft the mix to convey her own life story; in isolation, the Nehpets track could be just a juke squealer, but prefaced by Lanza’s own productions, it becomes an amped-up Autobot in disguise, ready to come of age.
Elsewhere, for those willing to do some background research, it’s quite clear that Lanza is an aggressive digger, seeking to champion the music of as yet little-known artists. These include a clandestine jank bit by Tokyo producer Oyubi (‘140yaku’), disco edit deftness by Jim C. Need (‘Maleka’), a stuttering UK bass sundry from folk-funk dweller Markus Mann (‘I’m Losing’), and a masterful electro build from Wisconsin-based producer Golden Donna (‘Foaming’). Lanza hears no difference between big and small, and only cares for that sound; thin, sparse, loud, rough around the edges, almost flukey. It’s like she’s going for teenage angst and just-matured hand-eye coordination, condensed into dance music form. For those itching for the above – a universalising, unrpretentious mix not mired in faux-depth or over-the-top grandeur, as many DJs like to failingly shoot for – then look no further.
Elbow are the latest in an increasingly long line of artists to have an album rollout/tour cycle completely obliterated by the pandemic.
‘Giants Of All Sizes’ dropped at the backend of 2019, with the following year intended for promoting the project. Due to obvious worldwide reasons, this never came to fruition, which is an utter shame when considering how exceptional the record was. Gravitating towards the more experimental, complex composition of their earlier material aided frontman Guy Garvey to unpack ruminations of grief, the loss of his father and more challenging topical issues such as the Grenfell Tower disaster. While many heralded the return to form, it perhaps pushed the casual listener just a footnote beyond their comfort zone.
Now in a marked turnaround of two years that really doesn’t seem that long for a band whose world was put on hold, ‘Flying Dream 1’ is a lush, delicately arranged seance of introspection and self-healing.
Recorded entirely in the unique, slightly cavernous Brighton Theatre Royal, the tangible surroundings make for some of the warmest, driest and nuanced contributions to the Elbow canon yet.
The opening title track showcases the trademark slow burn build from singular instrumental motifs to cascading beauty, like watching the separate painting points on a canvas begin to form the fully realised image. ‘Six Words’ lilts with thundering presence but contained within a bell jar, never allowing emotion too hefty or serene to thrust the atmosphere in either direction. These pieces hang in the balance and yearn for interpretation and acceptance.
The quick-witted poetics of Garvey weave through the expertly crafted arrangements, seemingly asking nothing of the listener in return, beyond patience. There’s that old cliché that every repeat listen turns over a new stone, unravels another mystery, but that cliché is where ‘Flying Dream 1’ floats, buoyed and undemanding yet pleading for understanding.
This long-overdue long-player from unsung Chicago producer Leron Carson arrives like an exquisitely candid time capsule compiled in a simpler time – a time before the gloss of commercialisation had done its worst to tarnish house music’s heartfelt intention. After making his debut on a split EP alongside Theo Parrish in 2001, Carson released a handful of titles – always via Sound Signature – until his untimely passing in 2016. ‘Under The Conditions’ is comprised of tracks composed by Carson, many of which he recorded in the ’80s. Those who’ve previously encountered his work will know approximately what to expect here: raw, sincere, and deeply authentic machine music with discernible funk and underlying soul.
The album begins with the stripped analogue grit of the title track. Undulating bass simmers under jagged drums, opening with an analogue growl before re-submerging to the depths as fizzing claps lift the hypnotic groove. The ultra low-fidelity ’72nd & Ogelsby’ laughs in the face of polished production as Martin Luther King projects his “let freedom reign” speech over jacking drums, while ’88th & Luella’ adds a shade of disco-funk courtesy of its warm, rolling bassline. ‘Runaway Train Trax’ shows up like an errant locomotive intent on dance-floor chaos, before ‘Baby Said To Me’ exhibits all that is wonderful about bona fide Chicago house. ‘Bismark Nites’ sees captivating synth bass combine with gritty hats and big boy snares as atmospheric synths add mystery to the groove, while ‘Say It’ is a stripped prototype to cut up Chi-town house that sounds as though it’s plucked from the Dance Mania archives. Finally, ‘Determination Practice’ has all the trappings of a long-lost anthem, with wholehearted synth melodies and harmonic pads floating over a full-bodied rhythm. Make no mistake, this is house music as it was intended to be heard.
You might have caught up with Patrick Conway’s various endeavours without even realising it. While keeping something of a shroud around their identity, a breadcrumb trail links up aliases like Low End Activist, Paranorman and the Trinity Carbon collaborative project with Appleblim. That latter venture recently minted a debut album on ESP Institute, and now Conway is doubling down for a second round with Lovefingers’ label. While previous two-trackers might have kept a relatively tight focus on the breadth of the Conway sound, this album echoes the Trinity Carbon one in taking an omnivorous approach to tempo and intensity.
There’s an abundance of atmospheric tension setting the tone here, not least on early highlight ‘Evacuation Zone’, which pivots between dishevelled but tightly clipped break runs and icy vacuums where the track once stood. The stop-start energy continues on ‘A Long Way To Walk For Bad News’ while ‘Castor & Pollux’ chokes on thick clouds of bit-crushed pad. Beatless piece ‘Cellular Housekeeping’ deals in grainy, roughly hewn textures far too kinetic to be considered ambient.
While all those tracks exude a sense of weariness and degradation, elsewhere Conway is on snarling, sinewy form. ‘Swings In Reactivity’ clatters and slops its crunchy drums and overdriven 303 all over the place, while ‘Eyes Of Providence’ ratchets down a slamming 4/4 thump and strafes fine slithers of noise out over the top of it. Even in these more forthright moments though, the focus isn’t on function, but rather how to wield some of dance music tropes to express something deeper and darker than surface level physicality. It’s not a light-hearted listen, but it’s not one-dimensionally dark either. Conway has successfully created an album to be chewed on, thought about and explored over time, potentially revealing new insights with repeated listens.
This soft gothic, minimal wave project is the “femme fatale alter-ego” of Maria Korkelia, a Finnish artist working in nearly every discipline, from textiles to music. Part of a mysterious Finnish art collective and gallery based in Paris simply known as ‘The Community’, this album is one of the collective’s finest forays into music, continuing their tradition of weaving inspirations from ancient Finnish folklore into their artworks.
Out from her her last piece – a gender-neutral clothing collection based around gardening and urban exploration – comes Gem-K, a dark and misty character woven from literary inspirations like the Finnish epic Kalevala. But contrasting to the gargantuan feel of Lonnrot’s 19th Century creation epic, ‘Swan Lover’s Knot Dagger’ is by contrast a dark, sparse and beat-centric album reminiscent of Goldfrapp, Lolina, or the Standish siblings; fans of those artists, rather than epic-binging classicists, will be more like to enjoy this EP.
Through the opening dub echoes and juddering, not-quite-legato strings on the opener ‘Swan Song’, we’re slowly exposed to a Lily Chou-Chou style alter ego from Korkelia’s vocals. They’re sung in a lethargic, effortless fashion, and give off a weird parallel mood of distance and up-close neediness – “baby, let me in your arms tonight, if only for this one last time.” Droning trap beats – with nods to witch house and FM acid house – soon follow, establishing a consistently doomy vibe, while contributing guitar sounds from confidant and fellow musician 2Funny dance across the hazing canyons that are ‘Dogmatist’ and ‘Autumn’. Overall, this album is a pleasant and well-timed downtempo break from Korkelia’s much more dance-oriented Emkay project, but continues her ever-present preference for moods of loving minimality and purring gloom.
It’s a chance to hear Haas embracing the idea of songwriting as he invites a range of vocalists to sing on tracks. Rosacaea is the perfect fraught death diva cutting through the thrumming arps of ‘Narcissist’, and the noisy melodics that rise up around her muddy vocals are viscerally powerful and moving. Levente shouts out with a Lux Interior-esque wail which implies an unhinged energy standing up to Haas’ nervy synth pulse and brutally stiff drum march. There’s no prize for hearing the reference points dripping all over this music – it’s resolutely engineered to evoke a bygone era – but with the power of the vocal performances and the increased confidence in Haas compositional choices, the songs speak for themselves, regardless of history. In the end, that’s the only thing that matters.
The Porridge Bullet label continues to stand tall as one of the lightning rods for the Estonian underground scene. Like the best labels it operates according to its own internal logic – no flashy names or savvy co-signs, no regimented sound, just interesting music from a self-reliant community of artistic types. Neuronphase may well be a new name if you didn’t catch the previous LP, but the roots of Anti Aaver’s dusty-caked house project lie with three other Estonian DJs in the early 90s. Even with that much history, Neuronphase has a contemporary feel, and on his new album manages the tricky art of bringing something inspired to the realm of proper house music.
Of course, the premise of grubby 4/4 with plenty of rumbling low end and an MPC-esque crunch is not exactly new. It was there in the Detroit contingent, amongst artists from Seven Davis Jr to Max Graef and DJ Slyngshot, in the hands of DJ Nature and so many others, but Aaver knows how to express true beauty within that established soundworld. ‘Gotta Play’ in particular is a soaring, sentimental trip where the rugged drums are but a carrier for the billowing clouds of pads. Crucially, the framework of house music isn’t constrictive, and doesn’t sound like the benchmark by which Aaver measures his work. There’s space for beatless expression which still seems to use house music instrumentation (piano keys, acidic bass), and sometimes the nasty percussion gets pushed forwards to make something almost industrial in its make up (on the downright dirty ‘Get It’). Every track is a hit, and gives you that renewed faith in house music with personality – a genre so relentlessly mined, it’s a wonder people like Neuronphase can still make it sound vital.
Vadmadarak (‘Wildfowls’) is a trance project by a close-knit Hungarian trio of self-styled ‘wild birds’ – Jekler Z. Gábor, Jónás Péter, and Kovács Gábor – whose expert wibbly-wobbly trancey-folkey fusion efforts have taken nearly a full quarter-century to be rediscovered. This 8-track album comes after a three-part ‘Maxi’ trilogy of originals on 12”, released in 1996. In true Death or Charanjit Singh fashion, their pioneerism was swept under the rug in Hungary, barely pushing a handful of sales via italodance label Discomagic.
Kept Alive – doing god’s work – has seen to yet another 500 copies of Vadmadarak’s music. With express orders from the label to treat this comp LP “with discretion”, we are smitten with the sheer wealth of creativity this ambient trance project has to offer. Without a YouTube link to hear their main hit ‘Hej Jancsika’ (‘Hey Johnny’), we’re now happy to confirm its sound for you; a happy hardcore bit replete with spring boings and bowed Hungarian folk melodies. ‘Arra Jarunk’ and ‘Szekvarosi Oreg Toronoy’ are Enigma-rivalling flute and beat tunes, and arguably better than that band’s well known hits. Acid licks rebound across the stereo field as we revel in the choral glory of the ethereal folk ‘Mikor Csikbol’, which draws on an oral folk song native to the Csik region, as well as an ayahuascan house take on a Hungarian folk instrument, the jew’s harp, on ‘Doromb Fantasy’. This is a fun, amped-up and giggling folk and trance album, for all to enjoy, whether you’re intrigued by Hungarian folk tradition or not.
On her seventh album ‘Harmattan’, London producer, composer, vocalist and self-styled ‘discomposer’ Klein has upped the structural stakes, producing a strange fusion of modern classical, improv jazz, and dark ambient. Unreally framed in the contexts of her better-known, deconstructionist electronic albums like ‘Tommy’ and ‘Lifetime’ – and confusingly dubbed a ‘grime’ and ‘R&B’ project – this album is more staunchly, abstractly ‘classical’. We imagine it could easily be notated and re-performed, immortalising Klein’s composing abilities. It’s only natural it comes out on the classical label Pentatone.
Or, at least, that’s true of the first four tracks – ‘For Solo Piano’ and ‘Roc’ open the album with chromatic, near-atonal free jazz plonks and brass swells and sways. The only indication of something more comes as fireworks sound effects heard halfway through the latter track, like a recent memory of this past November 5th. ‘Unknown Opps’ introduces more synthetic elements, its title alluding to rivalling gangs, before sinister chords ensue on ‘The Haunting Of Grace’, which expands into full-throttle terror, reminiscent of Klein’s fellow World Music affiliate Mica Levi’s soundtracks. What begins as a neo-noir curiosity soon becomes a haunting, near-dark ambient album. ‘Skyfall’ is by far one of the most horrifying pieces of music we’ve heard all year, with Klein and Charlotte Church’s combined voices sounding like distant banshee’s wails resounding across misty, nighttime estuaries. Forget London, forget R&B – until the ambiguously victorious, almost Vangelic, ending tracks ‘Hope Dealers’ and ‘Champions’, this project sounds like a gothic soundscape rerub of The Woman In Black, or any misty M.R. James story.
Very few record labels bow out on their own terms. Most simply cease releasing music, slip away quietly or – in the worst-case scenario – are wound up by administrators, leaving a trail of out-of-pocket artists in their wake.
Fortunately, Futureboogie Recordings is not one of those imprints. Dave Harvey, the label’s founder, took a decision earlier this year to call time on Futureboogie, which started life 20 years ago as a website, DJ agency and club night (which was initially called Seen) in his adopted home city of Bristol. The decision to retire the Futureboogie brand makes sense (he co-owns a successful business organising and promoting music festivals), especially as he’ll soon be launching a new label with friend and collaborator Ellie Stokes.Fittingly, she was also involved in planning and curating Futureboogie’s last aural will and testament: a pleasingly expansive compilation of unreleased music.
Musically, the triple-vinyl set does feature a few nods towards the colourful, disco-tinged sound that the label explored in its early years – see the sample-house hedonism of DJ Nature’s ‘Goin’ On’ and the saucer-eyed disco-acid squelch of N-Gynn’s ‘Dutch E’– but most of the material reflects the increasingly trippy, eccentric and esoteric nature of Futureboogie’s output over the last few years.
In practice, that means a mixture of acid-fired dancefloor psychedelia, intoxicating acid jams, off-kilter electro, delay-laden proto-house revivalism, tactile retro-futurism, mind-altering chuggers and clanking, new wave-influenced oddities. It’s an alluring blend that’s bookended by two impressive cuts: the slow-motion Balearic chug of Francesca’s ‘Desire’ and the breakbeat-driven, rave-ready insanity of Hard Ton’s ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’.
Sandwiched in between you’ll find all manner of highlights, including impactful contributions from a new generation of Bristol scene heroes (Chez De Milo, Natural Sugars and Manami), on-point productions by Lauer, Rodion and Warehouse Preservation Society, and a wonderfully spacey and driving Fantastic Man tweak of Toby Tobias’ ‘Trippy Steve’. As swansongs go, Futureboogie 10 2 (that’s ten squared, kids) is pretty darn good.
Evan Majumdar-Swift is growing up in public. Artists that start releasing at a precociously young age have a lot to grapple with as they continue working themselves and their music out. In the case of the Sheffield-born, Manchester-based lad known as 96 Back, he’s amassed a strikingly mature string of releases for CPU, Happy Skull and Hypercolour. Those releases wore their influences on the sleeve – lashings of Aphexian synth wobbles and the ever-present lure of electro, but there was also a verve in the construction and composition which rightly got everyone excited, not least Local Action who have carried a trilogy of releases from Majumdar-Swift.
This album rounds off that trilogy with a first indication of 96 Back growing into something more than just artful electro (not to sound dismissive of his earlier work). We’re at a point where pop is colliding with leftfield electronic music in a multitude of ways – artists are more open to styles and approaches which might once have been considered commercial, not least emotive vocals. Majumdar-Swift offers his own interpretation of this at select moments on Love Letters, Nine Through Six, but it’s best not to overstate the pop dimension of the album. It’s a detectable thread, but certainly no challenger to the dexterous synth work which remains front and centre of 96 Back’s sound. What’s changed is the emphasis on energy, leaving much more room for introspection and contemplation as though pursuing something sweeter than strict club fare.
On ‘Don’t Die’ you can hear a whole diary’s worth of feeling cavorting through the synths, while guest vocalist Joe Paisan becomes another snappily programmed, generously processed texture in the heartfelt whole. If this album still feels like a learning process, that’s fine, because what is anyone doing but learning as they go along? Fortunately, the sound of 96 Back figuring everything out is strong enough to stand on its own as a highly accomplished piece of art – just listen to ‘Melt You’ featuring Iceboy Violet and hear the possibilities opening out exponentially for this most talented of breakthrough artists.
In the long and winding history of electro, Plant43 might be considered of a newer generation, but to anyone with their ear patched into the UK underground, he’s been pushing the sound for a long time. London-based producer Emile Facey was exploring the depth and breadth of electro long before the genres renaissance some four years ago, and his appearance on labels like the cult Ai Records and role in the Bleep43 collective speak to his underground credentials.
Ai Records in particular point to the area Facey’s music resides in – an electronica-informed slant on machine funk that favours luscious synthesis and sci-fi vistas, shot through with melancholic romanticism in a time-honoured tradition of dreamers dance music. By now, Facey’s back catalogue is a litany of hi-tech soul that graces all the major labels you’d care to think of – Frustrated Funk, Shipwrec, CPU, Semantica, and increasingly his own self-styled label. It’s here he returns for his sixth album, Sublunar Tides.
The sound shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who has been following Facey for any amount of time. It’s immaculately rendered, powered by the crispest 808 beats and adorned with the finest silken melodies. But therein lies the charm – flying in the face of contrived contrariness, Facey has perfected his art and can deliver it with maximum satisfaction guaranteed. There’s still space for friction and contrast in this sophisticated blend, such as with the growling bassline which slams out underneath typically fluttering delight ‘Arc Furnace’, while ‘Perfect Ruin’ and ‘Tides Align’ offer a diversion into beatless synth expression, but you don’t put on an album like Sublunar Tides to be shocked. It’s a record to sink into comfortably, to bask in the finely balanced interplay of sequenced ingredients and the heartstring-tugging stories they impart.
Hailing from that most fabled of punk-rave enclaves, the Golden Pudel, LFT has a well-established identity as an electro deviant. Rubbing shoulders with Helena Hauff and Elena Colombi, the chap known as Johannes Haas has found a comfortable thread to explore where minimal wave, industrial and dare-we-say electro clash collide in an immediate, seductive whole. After offering a debut album to Osáre! Editions last year, Haas quickly follows up with a sophomore effort for Mannequin, a label well entrenched in contemporary ruminations on the legacy of lo-fi mecha-punk music.
It’s a chance to hear Haas embracing the idea of songwriting as he invites a range of vocalists to sing on tracks. Rosacaea is the perfect fraught death diva cutting through the thrumming arps of ‘Narcissist’, and the noisy melodics that rise up around her muddy vocals are viscerally powerful and moving. Levente shouts out with a Lux Interior-esque wail which implies an unhinged energy standing up to Haas’ nervy synth pulse and brutally stiff drum march. There’s no prize for hearing the reference points dripping all over this music – it’s resolutely engineered to evoke a bygone era – but with the power of the vocal performances and the increased confidence in Haas compositional choices, the songs speak for themselves, regardless of history. In the end, that’s the only thing that matters.
Improbably high-grade label Kimochi mark the joyous occasion of reaching their 50th release with the help of wildly talented cosmic expounder, Lord Of The Isles. The Chicago based imprint has made a mightily impressive habit of delivering only the most peerless of releases, presenting their ultra-collectable music via limited edition runs featuring attractive hand-sprayed sleeves. Reaching such a milestone is beyond doubt worthy of celebration, and Scottish producer Neil McDonald proves an excellent choice to supply the soundtrack to festivities. Predictably, the music is delightful across the board. Opening with a wave of emotion with the thick pads and bubbling bass of ‘Betula’, the album veers through ambient introspection and into dancefloor abandon with consummate ease.
The luscious synths of ‘369’ make way for the spectacular body-moving dynamism of ‘Nufinx’ and the Aphex Twin-esque ‘Hf9-a’ before landing in the peculiar topography of ‘RDISC’. ‘ The gentle caress and icy awareness of ‘Acceptance’ lands like a moment of celestial clarity, while the delicious acid groove of ‘Novwo’ bends idiosyncratic synth work with heavenly harmonics and rolling percussion. Finally, ’66CV’ sees the album out into the ether with mesmerising analogue swells and trance-inducing rhythms combining to provide a fleeting moment of serenity.
Olympia, Washington based doom-death brutalists Mortiferum accosted the extreme metal scene with their ferocious debut demo, ‘Altar Of Decay’.
Making such an impression that a deal was quickly penned with Profound Lore, a label amassing quite the roster of challenging metal acts willing to take exception to the form, their first full-length, ‘Disgorged from Psychotic Depths’, proved a monstrous success.
‘Preserved In Torment’ doesn’t necessarily pick up where its predecessor left off, rather it rains down hateful dirges of audible violence upon the uninitiated and familiar alike.
‘Exhumed From Mortal Spheres’ slams into oblivion with not a modicum of warning, combing thick, churning reverb-drenched doom riffs with complex, sporadic technical death metal, owing equal credence to both the genre’s American and Finnish routes.
At six tracks, and pushing towards an hour, Mortiferum force the parameters of their structure and composition into cavernous depths aided in no small part by the abyssal production handled by Andrew Oswald.
By the time ‘Mephitis Of Disease’ comes to its decrepit end, there’s an inescapable sense of doom and cosmic fragility, like listening to the soundscapes of a portal to the damned. It’s frightening and bewildering, but also uniquely invigorating to make it through the ordeal somewhat unscathed. The ultimate test is to plummet the depths again and again.
Even with his very first releases it was clear Parris was offering something different. With Burr on Idle Hands, Skeletal on Ancient Monarchy and Your Kiss Is Sour on Hemlock, Dwayne Parris-Robinson took a knife to the contemporary wave of bass mutations and carved out a suspended, daringly minimal style which used negative space as a force for pressure like few others around him. He’s not stalled in one lane though, and more recent offerings have seen his sound palette thicken up without losing an inherent verve which sets him up perfectly for the leap into album territory.
Curiosity feels like a driving force on Soaked In Indigo Moonlight, as Parris revels in testing out all kinds of vibes. The most immediately head–turning hit is the frankly astounding ‘Skater’s World’, a sharply-angled pop play with a giddy vocal drop from Toronto singer Eden Samara that comes on like early 80s electro pitched at Gen Z, which is a great thing of course. But there’s so many other angles Parris explores on this fulsome album, from the devilishly artful drum workout ‘Poison Pudding’ with Call Super to slower chiptune delight ‘Laufen In Birkencrocs’. The delicacy Parris displayed on his earlier releases can still be felt, even if the music is less stubbornly minimal – there’s always breathing room around each element, and a sheen on each sound which makes the music bloom in your ears. More than anything, it feels free, and exudes an atmosphere which should lift you up without resorting to any conventional ‘feel-good’ trope, even in its catchiest moments.
Perhaps no artist has captured the mood of 19th Century Catholic liturgy in electronic music form more than Lina Filipovich. Born in Belarus and now living in Paris, her new album ‘Magnificat’ is unlike any interpretation of religious music you’ve likely heard before.
Mangled choral chants; alienized bell strikes; ominous devotional ambiences; Filipovich constructs a mirrored, looping take on the feeling of ascending to orthodox heaven here. With each deluxe vinyl copy (limited to only 60) featuring a slightly different duotone-printed image of a different Michaelangelo sculpture, the album feels just as fitting for the High Renaissance period as it does for now. Each piece cuts up and electronically re-splices samples from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s ‘All Night Vigil’; it’s easy to imagine a presbyter proclaiming each tape-looping chant a divine miracle.
Fans of James Ferraro’s neo Renaissance electronic albums (‘Requiem For Recycled Earth’ springs to mind) are sure to like this. Many of the tracks sound like old Vatican eccojams, caught in the strange space between classical music and vaporwave. ‘Resurrection’ stands out as one of the album’s altarpieces, demonstrating Filipovich’s tendency to loop, click, and whirl sounds into existence. Its more challenging moments, like ‘Glory Be To God On High’ or ‘Bogoroditse Devo’, recall the devilish passageways found below chapels or in old French catacombs, as UFO landing sound effects mix easily with organ drones and Shepard tones. By the end, we’re caught in divine rapture, as a squelching synth pins the track ‘Oh Joyful Light’ into an eight minute soundscape of soul-stolen hollowness.
This album is happily released on the exquisites label Time Released Sound, who specialise in exclusive merch bits. The deluxe edition includes a gold ink book of ancient religious sheet music, as well as a strung Catholic prayer card, with credits and track titles printed on it using a rare Olympia cursive typewriter. It’s certainly an artistic time capsule if we’ve ever seen one.
Following an earlier cassette and digital release, Leaving Records have reflected on the magic of Xyla’s debut album Ways and given it a full vinyl pressing. It’s an album that might have slipped passed your receptors, and it certainly has a subtlety about it, but equally its lithe, melodious spirit should attach itself easily to any heart it crosses. As much as the music has a beauteous appeal, there’s ample space for surprises and adventurous progressions too. San Francisco-based Xyla is early on in her career, but she expresses herself with assured poise and follows her own creative logic rather than adhering to any particular code.
Opening track ‘Shoot’ is a fine example of Xyla’s wandering inspiration, rising in a bed of dubby ambience and taking a generous amount of time to reveal a snappy, chiming electro abstraction. There doesn’t seem any division in her world between ambient and beat-driven passages – both sensibilities are given equal footing and coexist naturally. ‘Cold’ bathes in plush pad tones, but equally dices up R&B vocals, bouncy acid and the slightest of drum patterns. Sometimes you can detect the nimble patter of footwork in the 808-flavoured beats, elsewhere you’re tuning in on a sax or flute refrain. A mellow demeanour in the Leaving vein binds the record together so as to stop it meandering too far from an emotional centre, but it’s the agility Xyla displays throughout every track which makes Ways such a joy to dive into, and highly deserving of a wider release for those who missed it the first time round.
For the uninitiated, Cartridge 1987 is the solo project from Drich of Grand Soleil. If the name hasn’t given it away, the narrative and sonic inspiration are entirely indebted to everything 80’s, with a core adoration for retro video games and science fiction cinema.
Where the aptly titled debut, ‘Cartridge’, specifically manipulated and replicated authentic 8-bit soundscapes to a staggering, utterly nostalgic degree, ‘Passage’ is the leap to the silver screen as it were. It’s the soundtrack to a classic never made, echoing the neon vibrancy of Cliff Martinez as well as the crawling dreamy dread of John Carpenter.
From the night-time drive pulse of the title track, each subsequent cut teeters on the dividing line between synthwave banger and ambient score, with ‘Anor Londo’ serving as a glossy example, constantly rearranging industrial-tinged buzz saw keys within the echo-sphere of the Tron soundtrack (both the original and Daft Punk versions).
Balanced with lighter moments of shimmering, retrofitted beach-pop like ‘CT87 FM’ or the lush euphoria of ‘Cartridge’s Theme’, ‘Passage’ is a brooding yet hopeful re-imagining of potential, might have been nostalgia.
This week’s reviewers: Zach Buggy, Jude Iago James, Oli Warwick, Matt Anniss, Patrizio Cavaliere,
The records our writers recommend to transport you to long playing heaven
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Susumu Yokota was a ground-breaking figurehead of the electronic music scene that blossomed in Japan during the early ’90s. His abounding musical output won him fans from the most discerning corners of the dance universe and beyond, with the likes of Bjork, Phillip Glass, and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke among those to publicly purr over his work.
His release catalogue runs extraordinarily deep, and as such, it’s both pleasing and unsurprising that his musical legacy continues to endure after his tragic and untimely departure. Earlier this year, a collection of lesser-known house and techno works he recorded under the secret moniker 246 were resurrected by UK label, Cosmic Soup, and now one of his best-loved albums, ‘Symbol’, is granted a thoroughly deserved re-issue. Originally released in 2005 on Lo-Recordings, the album is largely constructed using cleverly manipulated classical music samples, elegantly supported by Yakota’s intelligent programming, precise drums and supple synth work. The result is a gloriously textured meta-ambient treasure.
Before diving into the triumphant wonder of ‘Symbol’, it’s worth taking a moment to look back on the staggering impact Yokota made in his tragically short life. Born and raised in Tokyo, his debut long-player ‘The Frankfurt Tokyo Connection’ was signed to revered techno label, Harthouse, in 1993 and – thanks to a tireless work rate and an uncommon flair for composition – his music quickly drew international attention. Before long, he was invited to play records at benchmark international shows and was the first Japanese artist to play at the Berlin Love Parade. Much of his earliest dance-focused work arrived via benchmark Japanese label, Sublime Records (as well as its sister label, Reel Musiq) and alongside Ken Ishii, he represented the vanguard of his country’s subterranean musical output throughout his career.
With a range that encompassed techno, acid, deep house, drum & bass and breakbeat, Yokota’s output was prolific, to say the least – recording music under all manner of aliases, including Stevia, Ebi, Prism, Ringo, Yin & Yan, Anima Mundi, and 246. He launched his own label, Skintone, in 1998, and in the early 2000s signed to UK labels Leaf and Lo Recordings, from where a large portion of his music would go on to arrive. It was shortly after the turn of the century that Yokota’s health began to deteriorate, marking the beginning of a long battle with illness. He gradually withdrew from public life and performance but continued to create and release music for the remainder of his life, with his final album, ‘Dreamer’, released in 2012. He died on March 27, 2015, aged just 54.
While sampling classical music and layering it over electronic beats has long been known as a tried and tested pathway to sonically impressive results, the manner in which Yokota approached the composition of ‘Symbols’ helps set it apart from similarly themed attempts. Repurposing hidden phrases from the likes of Debussy, Tchaikovsky, and Ravel, he masterfully extracts the emotion of the parts – often without revealing the sources in their entirety. From the whimsical strings of opening track ‘Long Long Silk Bridge’ to the playful exoticism of ‘Traveler In The Wonderland’, the music is often light and penetrable without veering into the unduly saccharine. The ethereal feminine drones of ‘The Plateau Which The Zephyr Of Flora Occupies’ help grant listeners a glimpse into Yokota’s sublime creative mind, while the mesmerising staccato strings, chants, and crescendos of ‘Flaming Love And Destiny’ are no less affecting. The album is permeated by moments of breathtaking beauty throughout – none more enchanting than the dream-inducing glory of ‘Blue Sky And Yellow Sunflower’ – and there are occasional glimmers of effortless abstraction, like the spellbinding aura and complex timing of ‘Capriccio And The Innovative Composer’.
Susumu Yokota was a master in the art of electronic music composition, and ‘Symbol’ sees him compose with a playful sense of freedom and unabated introspection. The re-issue of this timeless album represents a glistening insight into the creative mind of a true pioneer of the craft.
Following the release of the Virtual Dreams compilation earlier this year, Music From Memory continue their own contribution to 90s ambient techno revivalism with this thoughtful collection from overlooked entity MLO. There’s a degree of sincerity and knowledge that comes with the MFM camp, elevating such releases above the clamour of reissue fever that usually amounts to little more than cynical Discogs scouting.
MLO was a collaborative project from Jon Tye and Peter Smith, and they moonlighted on Rising High amongst other labels in the early to mid 90s. While their output ceased around ’97, they left behind enough albums and EPs for attentive diggers to dust down and delight in. On this compilation, only a small selection of tracks have been released previously – the vast majority appears to be freshly excavated from their archives.
What’s most striking about the sound MLO present on Oumuamua is the apparent embrace of new age ambience. When many of their peers were nudging ambient music in the direction of dystopian abstraction and wilful experimentation, Tye and Smith were committed to an unabashedly beauteous sound. In homage to a small town in Dorset, ‘Wimborne’ opens the album up in a cascade of pastoral synthesis, while ‘Ebb And Flow’ lilts along to cyclical phrases of plucked string (synthesised or sampled, it’s hard to say).
There are some more techno-minded moments, such as monolithic mid-point track ‘Alaksura’ with its analogue blips and bleeps and its follow-up, the nerve-tickling ambient house massage ‘Aqua’ (originally from their debut album 01Hour 01 Minute 01 Second). But plush melodies are the dominant force, and beats come a decided second behind the musical arrangement. Early classic ‘Sleeper’ closes the record out in a perfect full-stop, making no attempt to mask the intention of the music as something lovely to drift off to. It’s the kind of direct approach which runs through every shade of MLO’s work, tastefully surmised on a record which nods to former glories while primarily offering something wholly new for familiar and unfamiliar listeners alike.
Who said computers can’t be funky? The anonymous Topdown Dialectic project calls to mind the West Coast laptop jamming of the mid 00s era, when artists like Sutekh, Safety Scissors and Kit Clayton were transmitting purposefully wonked digital works with one foot in techno and dub traditions, and the other precariously testing the limits of working in the box. It’s a time when audio programming languages like Supercollider were turning waveforms into putty to be moulded and shaped, encouraging a sound art ethic even within a club music framework.
Nearly 20 years on from that heyday, much of that original music has aged hard. The unforgiving, tinny production values of the early laptop techno wave is an aesthetic of its own, though, in the same way the wow and flutter of an analogue synth or rhythmic drift of a vintage drum machine has a charm often imitated but never bettered. Topdown Dialectic has the benefit of modern production methods to lend weight to the overall sound, but there’s a purposeful embrace of crafty DAW aesthetics which stands in opposition to the outboard retro-fetishism permeating most corners of electronic music.
Following an early run of tapes, Peak Oil picked up the TD project for two prior albums, and now this third volume concludes the series, possibly even the project. Consistent threads maintain as you trip through another eight equally sized pieces – the appreciation for glitchy micro matter, mellow dubby impulses and non-linear structures – but there’s now a diminished interest in techno as opposed to more abstract electronic forms. Vol. 3 seeks to push the particular palette of Topdown Dialectic further out, dissembling familiar forms and arriving at a compelling strain of systems music which contently chirrups in its own feedback loop. At times you might be reminded of the nautical wobble of Porter Ricks or Sasu Ripatti’s extravagant minimalism, but there’s a plethora of crisp, crunchy or soft and rounded sounds occupying this work which keep it individual. Like the best systems music, it can sound new every time depending on your angle of approach, and with this as the final volume, it’s a fine time to circle back through a modest but detail-rich catalogue from an unknown entity.
Samuel Van Dijk is a restlessly prolific producer. As VC-118A the Dutch artist is continually offering up fresh and engaging twists on deep techno and electro for Delsin and others, while as Mohlao he’s busy weaving dub techno impressions on labels like Silent Season and Hypnus. Meanwhile, his Multicast Dynamics alias is a force all of its own, with a sizable run of albums on Denovali as well as last year’s excellent Ancient Circuits on Astral Industries. There was a pronounced concept hovering around that particular release concerning early human technologies, but now Van Dijk returns to Astral Industries with a more ambiguous piece drawn from a live performance with multi-instrumentalist Sid Hille.
Van Dijk and Hille performed together at a festival in Finland in 2019, and the resulting material has been edited, pored over and refined into the concise two-part album being released today. It’s a distinct collaboration made up of two contrasting forces – Van Dijk as the sound sculptor and scene-setter, and Hille as the expressive painter. Given their roles, Metamorphosis has an uncomplicated quality to it, as it glides naturally through a spectrum of spaces.
Ambient it most certainly is, but that doesn’t come at the expense of narrative and structure. It feels as though the editing process has been quite pointed to elicit core pieces from the larger performance whole, and these can veer from illustrious musicality to needlepoint sound design and experimentation. By teasing these contrasting energies throughout the run time of the record, Van Dijk and Hille keep you engaged. You might arrive at a point of discordant isolation, only to have a cosy thread of gently toasted Rhodes or plaintive piano emerge from the mist, unfurling outwards and drawing you further in.
Galen Tipton is a name we’ve come to associate with a peculiar online scene. Still lacking a definite name, said scene morphed out of the vapors of Soundcloud in the mid-2010s, and has now evolved into a never-ending deluge of digitrap, nightcore-breakcore, and deconstructed gabber remixes of Bladee acapellas. Where hyperpop used to be somewhat restrained, Tipton’s style is less organised, embracing rapid, vapid, instantly gratiying influences like nightcore, new club, and the audio-humour branch of Soundcloud, soundclown.
From the off of ‘Courageous Grieving’, it must be said that Tipton’s new album ‘Goddexx’ sounds rather like Iglooghost. Tipton’s sound palette draws on the same high-def, plastic sound as his, being just as complementary of her own 3D-rendered album cover as Iglooghost’s music is of his own 2D imaginings. But on closer inspection, Tipton’s sound is cuter, more sexual, and – from its various ‘lyrics’, from “dry skin pussing ugly tears” to “creases thoughts twisted guts and pink pulsing flesh” – more concerned with bodily fluids. For that reason, it’s an uncanny debut for Unseelie, everyone’s new favourite fairy-themed label.
A repeated refrain, “choke me”, calls across the track ‘Girl Dick’, while designed sounds from gurgling water to tinkling bells dance rapid-fire in 16th note fashion. No sound doesn’t come from the same microbial culture; ‘Elf Fetish’ is a highlight, upping the pace into epic trap proportions, except for the fact that its snares aren’t technically 808s, and might as well be thunderclaps sent from the Winx Tecna’s magic staff.
Active since 2015, Tipton emerged at the perfect time to capitalise on the screen-addled, net-addicted scene interested in this kind of music, and from ‘Goddexx’, it’s easy to see why she quickly climbed Soundcloud’s ranks and achieve a very large quantity of its most enduring social currency – excitable words of support in its comments section. It’s no surprise this album has elicited everything from an “oof” to a “DAMN” to a “wowww<3333”. And with an progressive electro-metal remix from Giant Claw stealing the show on this edition, you can be sure of an anxious, frolicsome listen.
Out from the ether comes a devilish EP of hip house and acid juke – ‘Take The Evil Spirit Away’ – from the twinned Belgian minds of beatsmith Louis Shungu and dance aficionado Chris Ferreira. They’ve known each other since meeting at college, but it wasn’t until a crock of free time – presenting itself after COVID-19 struck – that they were able to collaborate. Hailing from different cities and inspirations, we’re very excited by this EP, mainly because its brand of rap- and funk-tinged darkness is rare, and difficult to do right.
Survive to halfway through this album and you’ll make it to ‘As Heroes’, a Detroit techno cut which backdrops a swirling, atonal shepard tone against a murmured vocal sample. “Not jazz music… celestial music… avant-garde or house music…”, a voice stutters drunkenly in an attempt to speak for the track, as if dazed by the various influences imposing on the very album which houses it. It’s the same story with this track’s jazz and dub techno predecessor ‘Take A Chance’; it’s clear that ‘Take The Spirit Away’ is getting at a kind of absent darkness which only a pandemic could inspire. One tainted by abandoned, locked-down streets, the very same which birthed the crude illbient and house jankers heard here.
With this in mind, we believe ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’ does itself justice as a closer, with its too-slow plod drums and broken basses bringing out the lockdown restlessness we’re all too familiar with.
It’s no wonder, then, that the artists insist the abum is “a personal ritual process to expel, unlearn, deconstruct and then to rebuild ourselves”. Its core theme is cosmic fantasy – as is endemic to much of Detroit techno – intersecting on painful realist monologues, rumble-techno immediacy. Our best example is on ‘For The Good Of All’, where spitting 909s grate against a sci-fi vocal sample that pines after a lost social order – calling “to all the rest of humanity.
Jerusalem In My Heart founder Radwan Ghazi Moumneh is based in Montreal but – as the name of his project suggests – keeps both the culture and concerns of Lebanon, from where his family fled, very close at hand. Arabic singing and buzuk-playing combine with glitchy electronica and razor sharp sound design to create a fiercely intense, unsettling new form of leftfield music that this reviewer at least has never heard anything like before. Qalaq is an Arabic word with a meaning – Moumneh particularly intends it as “deep worry” – both about the state of the world and specifically Lebanon and Beirut.
Moor Mother, Tim Hecker, Lucrecia Dalt, Greg Fox, Alanis Obomsawin and Rabih Beaini all contribute to proceedings, giving each track distinct flavour although one that’s still contained within the overall dystopian atmosphere. ‘Qalaq 4’ with Rabih Beaini is a clear highlight, the ringing strings of the traditional instrumentation overdriven and phased subtly and surreally. ‘Tanto’ with Lucrecia Dalt, meanwhile, pits ancient sounding Arabic vocals against a throbbing electronic pulse and tense electric pianos. Anyone who thinks electronic music is devoid of emotion needs to hear this record – it’s absolutely dripping in the stuff without being in the least bit sentimental. A vicious experience, but one you’ll want to revisit for sure.
Cinematic, electronic indie might best sum up the music of Icelandic band Hjaltalín, who have enjoyed a much-loved reputation since 2004. Despite their 15 years of activity, we get the impression that their fourth album – simply self-titled as ‘Hjaltalín’ – is the band’s own favourite, their pet project. In their own words, it’s “like a culmination of all that has come before.”
Comparisons to Sigur Ros would be too easy – rather, this album’s experiments with dark modular synthesis and orchestral ominousness seem to draw on Iceland’s enduring black metal and ambient scenes, testament to the country’s routine emphasis on atmosphere over structure. Imagine a slow, mournfully-stringed Jóhann Jóhannsson OST, with pristine pop vocals laid over the top; that’s the beauty of ‘Wolf’s Cry’, on which Hjaltalín’s male singer, Högni Egilsson, ponders a loss of luck in a universe that, even so, “was made for us”.
Elsewhere, the pop aspect of Hjaltalín’s pokes its head out more on tracks like ‘Baronesse’ and ‘Year Of The Rose’, whose impeccable production plucks at ambient and dream pop, in a hopeful bid to recover lost love – “maybe I was just a little blind”. ‘Hjaltalín’ is just as suited for fans of MØ as it is for Ryuichi Sakamoto – seven years in the making, it’s no wonder this album has such a wide stylistic scope, and is yet able to make each style work.
This week’s reviewers: Patrizio Cavaliere, Oli Warwick, Jude Iago James, Ben Willmott.
The best – in our opinion – long players your money can buy
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Braindance is a curious genre tag. It’s not often a record label manages to coin a phrase which becomes a byword for a specific style of music, but Rephlex managed it with their 2001 compilation The Braindance Coincidence. In true Rephlex style it was an arch riposte to the pretentious IDM tag, but it came to define a particular strain of electronica which held true to a groove while celebrating experimentation and playful irreverence. A dash of electro, a sprinkle of acid, funky drum programming and a truckload of Roland SH-101 synth lines go some way to breaking down the component parts of the sound. On the compilation it still came across as a relatively broad church, but by the time Rephlex was winding down in 2014, it came to represent a wave of artists mining a particularly warm, melodious strain of off-kilter dance music.
As well as the likes of Aleksi Perala, EOD and Jodey Kendrick, David Barnard, aka Dave Monolith, nailed this sound in exquisite technicolour. Barnard first surfaced with a four track EP on Rephlex which spent a year as a download-only release, but it seemingly attracted so much praise they pressed it up in 2010. As a tiresome side effect of Aphex-related hype, there was plenty of speculation about whether this was just another pseudonym for the Cornish wonderboy, but it never seemed in any doubt this was an artist doing their own thing. People were still savouring the flavour of The Tuss, an Aphex side project which offered up body-popping, musical machine funk that hit all the pleasure receptors, but this was a smoother concern which removed some of the errant edges and focused on an almost pop-informed sense of balance.
After the EP came Welcome, a full-fat album without a shred of filler, now given its first outing on vinyl thanks to Belgian Rephlex compatriots WéMé. It’s not hard to understand the popularity of Barnard’s music (also beautifully rendered on the killer Photodementia electro project). His extremely palatable take on braindance delivers on the sweetest spots in the style without veering into self-indulgence or anodyne beats-by-numbers. It wouldn’t be right to call it innovative – the lineage of Monolith is plain to hear – but it still brims with emotion and a relaxed ingenuity. There’s complexity and craft at every turn on the path towards harmonious sci-fi perfection.
It’s the warbling synth lines which take the prize, fully defining the identity of Welcome. They fall in languid melancholy on stand-out cut ‘Windrush’, and flex with frenetic dexterity on ‘Farewell Frenchman’. There are trainspotters out there who seek to decode the specific instruments used, throwing around Aphex-approved kit like the Yamaha GX-1, itself a precursor to the much more accessible CS-80, but who knows for sure except Barnard himself. Sure, some of the wiggling lead sequences borrow heavily from The Tuss, but no one has a mono-poly (see what I did there?) on a synth voice and Barnard more than earns the right to wield such sounds when they feed into such a wonderfully rendered whole.
If there was one criticism to level at Welcome, it’s that it stays in one lane throughout. The tempo shifts, and tracks like ‘Covodor’ have their own particular sonic quirks, but there’s a consistent palette of wobbly leads, sad pads and snappy drum machines. As such, the tracks have a tendency to merge into one as you trip from end to end, stopping by a fizzy meltdown here, an artful filter flex there, a deadly beat drop and a bugging acid line. But ultimately, that feels like nitpicking in the face of such a beautifully rendered album. 10 years on from its release, its luminescence hasn’t dulled, and the cheery greeting in the title says it all. Come on in and make yourself comfortable with one of the most satisfying braindance albums in living memory.
Publicity shy soul fusionists Sault arrive with a surprise fifth album, their first since 2020’s unthinkably brilliant double-header of ‘(Untitled) Rise’ and ‘(Untitled) Black Is’. Produced by the inspired creative mind of Inflo, the band’s hidden line-up is subject to speculation. Though a small amount of detective work combined with a keen ear for discerning vocal textures can offer up fairly solid clues as to potential contributing artists, in the spirit of the project’s intention, we’ll focus on the exceptionally powerful music rather than the probable identities of its creators. Sault’s music has an uncommon ability to evoke vivid emotions in its listeners. Just as last year’s devotional masterpiece ‘Free’, or 2019’s ‘We Are The Sun’ have been able to elegantly overpower with their poignant lyrics and imaginative orchestration, ‘Nine’ contains music capable of stirring the emotions in a manner not too many current releases are equipped to do. Opening with the mutant gospel of ‘Haha’, the latest album launches with dramatic intent from the offset. The haunting vocals and viciously distorted bass of ‘London Gangs’ explodes with its urgent message.
‘Trap Life’ blends ragga sensibilities with a stark grime-centred backing track as it bursts from the speakers. On ‘Fear’, the fiercely provocative vocal chant of “the pain is real, can’t fake this” lands like an essential tidal wave, before we hear Michael Ofo’s heart-breaking monologue on ‘Mike’s Story’, recounting the moment when he discovered his dad had been murdered. The tilted lullaby and deceptively soothing strings of ‘Bitter Streets’ again belie the song’s profound message, before the blue-laden neo-soul of ‘Alcohol’ is instantly relatable to anyone who’s awoken a latent beast through over-indulgence. Little Simz makes an appearance on the jolly, sliced samples and out of focus beats of ‘You From London’, with title track ‘9’ following with its sing-along vocals and off-kilter refrains. Finally, the searing soliloquy of ‘Lights In Your Hand’ expresses a potent dispatch of gang culture directly from the London streets. This music is essential, uncompromising and urgent. At times the subject matter is distressing, but beyond any doubt, the essence is one of hope, love and solidarity.
Somewhere in the folds of time from decades past, Blue got a little overlooked. Perhaps it’s because they were eclipsed by one of the most questionable boy bands of the early millennium, or it might be that their strain of rave-era prog house and dub was just never that fashionable. Slathered in reverb, prodding at the electronica zeitgeist but retaining an authentic soundsystem immediacy, it’s untrendy music in the same way roots, dub, steppers, dancehall and the myriad other Jamaican-rooted genres operate according to their own temporal logic.
The duo of Chris Mann and Paul Darking struck upon something when they first emerged from the studio with the early Blue releases though. It speaks volumes they were picked up by Andrew Weatherall for the original Sabres Of Paradise label and the ensuing Emissions Audio Output. It all makes sense sonically – Blue landed squarely at the juncture between the nascent techno explosion and a post-punk rooted live band attitude. The project ran its course, but there was one unfinished project which sat dormant for some 25 years.
Billed as an ambient project which never progressed past initial “building block” recording sessions, The Path Of Least Resistance Meets The Point Of No Return was Frankensteined together more recently from material spanning 1997-2001, but the final result is much more than a hodge podge of shoebox DAT offcuts. This is an ambient project in a true stretch of the term, far too noisy and dynamic to be pushed to the background.
At times it moves into avant-garde territory, sounding far from the earlier Blue material on the narratively captivating ‘Spaceport’, while there’s a certain low slung funk on ‘She Found The Colours’ which feels more naturally aligned with the tension Mann and Darking probed between traditional and electronic approaches on their debut album Resistance. It’s a misfit listening experience which relishes overdriven signals and wild volume swerves, sharp compositional turns and moments of suspended surrealism, but it’s also grounded by a sense of structure which keeps the listening experience on track. Vivid and daring in a way that more than steps up to contemporary efforts, Blue were sitting on a stunning project here, and we’re very fortunate to be able to clap ears on it.
While the people paying money for this review probably won’t agree, anyone listening to this gem of a retrospective compilation is probably thinking to themselves that the next 266 words should simply read: “Arthur Baker, Arthur Baker, Arthur Baker, Arthur Baker”, ad infinitum.
A legend of hip hop, electro, disco, and house, clearly it goes without saying even the most cynical collection of his work will win everyone over. It’s pretty much impossible to feel anything like cynicism when you’re listening to one of America’s greatest gifts to the world of music production. Take this Dance Masters: Shep Pettibone The Classic 12 Inch Master Mixes Volume One Part One album, for example. Appallingly unimaginative title aside, the contents show to what extent Baker allowed his own imagination to take flight and realise ideas others would have thought impossible, here under the Shep alias.
He makes Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Heaven Is A Place On Earth’ feel not just like synth pop, but a track you wouldn’t have to tolerate sticky carpeted clubs in order to dance to. He shows countless remixers what Depeche Mode’s ‘Behind The Wheel’ should sound like if you bring percussive nuances to the fore while keeping the focus on the sweat-inducing potential of both that baseline and the sultry, intoxicating, come-to-bed-and-die-vibes of the vocal.
Whichever end you dig, from the positively smile-inducing 1980s end credit-worthy ‘So Emotional’ by Whitney Houston, to the space oddity of ‘Hip to Be Square’ from Huey Lewis & The News, it all boils down to one truth. Baker makes each of these anthems his own, turning tempos and atmospheres inside out, leaving us with the singular conclusion that he ranks among the finest remixers of all time. But then we all knew that already, of course.
It’s ravey yet chilled out, minimal but immersive, euphoric while at the same time oddly sinister. It all sounds like one body of work, but separated into chapters, blurring lines between distinct and fluid. 19 year-old Kgothatso Tshabalala and, one year his junior, Zakhele Mhlanga, clearly have ears well beyond those their birth certificates would imply, delivering one of the most polished and finessed pieces of long form dance music we’ve heard from South Africa’s intimidatingly dominating scene in quite some time.
Fans of Awesome Tapes From Africa will no doubt be staring at this review and wondering if the critic has ever heard the label before, such is the relentlessly consistent quality coming from the stable. But while it’s true that said imprint has been delivering insanely good goods for years now, with ne’er a dud in the mix, there’s something startlingly effective about Teenage Dreams. A record that only starts to reveal its true depth and artistry on the second or third play, providing, of course, those plays are set to a high volume on a system that can muster the kind of clarity and timbre these tracks need.
In many ways it’s hard to pinpoint a beginning, middle, or end, aside from the order in which the tracks appear. If that sounds like mindless word fodder then heed this — each number here is a slow burning, epic-building journey into rhythms that make you move your body long before a solid kick comes into earshot. Some, like logically-titled opener ‘The Beginning’, are cast in smoky, eerie atmospheres. Others, for example ‘Rejoice’, one of a handful of tracks with vocals (in this case the heartfelt and emotional TapSoul), are more about the pre-amble to some shuffler’s paradise. All do the business, none let you down.
A paradox is the kind of thing that must be taken in stride. Rather than agonising over the many paradoxes we face as living beings – especially self-reference paradoxes, which concern the sheer impossibility of one’s own realised existence (where do I begin and end?) – we must simply live on, allowing each moment to pass, not getting bogged down in the seemingly endless contradictions life throws at us.
And what better ‘living on’ music is there than dub techno? Limited to just 250 copies with the assurance of no repress, this V/A comp by the aptly named Grounded In Humanity collective practises what it preaches, letting the purely physical medium of vinyl exist for a time, and then pass to entropy.
Staunchly dub techno – with every track showing off the vocoded stab licks pioneered by the likes of Maurizio, Mark Ernestus and Wax – we are smitten by the airy and pressurized textures of Jose Rico’s ‘45 Tapes’ and the grit-planted existentiality of Octal Industries’ ‘Fever Dream’. The best dub techno always has a noticeable background haze or drone in it, marrying its 30-hertz kicks and pulses, even if that haze is simply a small bit of guitar feedback; this being a close-knit collective of artists all united in their own humanity-grounding, every track has this terrestrialised sonic feature. With that in mind, our favourite has to be Toki Fuko’s near-formless dub meditation at 140bpm, ‘Everything Moment, I Am’, which reconciles a universally calm chord drone with hyper-aware clicks and pops.
A new reissue by the long-standing Parisian LMLR label now grants us the opportunity to reflect on ‘Zeit’, one of Tangerine Dream’s most intense and enduringly memorable works.
In German, the word “zeitgeist” means “spirit of the time”. With this in mind, the word perfectly captures the doomy context surrounding Tangerine Dream’s third album, ‘Zeit’. As explained by music journalist and liner notes writer Paul Russell, the album “was based on the philosophy that time was in fact motionless and only existed in our own minds.” While the phrase “spirit of the time” was hitherto used to describe the excited mood of a particular era – the early ‘70s, in which synthy fourth world music had taken the world by storm – Tangerine Dream used the phrase as a pun, making the gloomy claim that time itself was merely a vestigial phantom of our own imaginations.
An interstellar long play in four suites – from the ‘Birth Of Liquid Plejades’ to the ‘Nebulous Dawn’ – this album’s droning low end seems to loom both slowly and instantaneously, creating the exact kind of perceptual-temporal paradox the band wanted to evoke. Like the third movement’s wobbling low end sine sweeps, this symphony slowly oscillates between the cosmically blissful and the omnimalevolent. Depending on the headspace in which it is listened to, ‘Zeit’ will inspire either fear or love for the universe’s eternal nature – it’s both an apeirophobic and apeirophilic album.
Over the past decade, Full Of Hell have proven themselves the poster children for boundary decimating extreme music. Fusing elements of everything from blackened death metal and grindcore to dissonant harsh noise and doom, the Maryland/Pennsylvania four-piece seem to be on an ever-shifting excursion through the most heinous and challenging of sonic soundscapes.
‘Garden of Burning Apparitions’, the group’s fifth full-length (not including the collaborative works with The Body, or their noise mixtapes), marks a self-fulfilling prophecy, a full circle ouroboros of horrific, animated, grandiose extremity.
The tiresome cliché of all previous projects leading to or culminating with a new release can be a moot or apt point. In this instance, it’s blatantly both. Where 2019’s ‘Weeping Choir’ toyed with hint traces of melody and cascading post-metal, ‘Garden…’ is a far more abrasive, caustic endeavour.
Drawing even deeper from the well of industrial noise fusion, there’s a vital sense of maximisation that even the most seasoned of fan may find frighteningly impenetrable.
Cuts like the blistering critique of organised religion on ‘Industrial Messiah Complex’, or the dilapidated experimental death-grind of ‘Eroding Shell’, prove that no matter what guise their genre bastardisations take, Full Of Hell still teem with a venomous identity all their own.
Elements of guitarist Spencer Hazard’s noise-rock side-project Eye Flys can be heard on the ugly riffage of ‘Reeking Tunnels’, while vocalist/lyricist/noise-tinkerer Dylan Walker, continues to awe with his commanding, inhuman performance, utilising howls, guttural growls and malevolent shrieks to paint illustrations of his nightmarish disgust for the injustices of our modern world.
There’s a sense of doubling down on each and every aspect of what has led to Full Of Hell being such a renowned, respected and intimidating entity in the metal world. In places where the hardcore factor is increased immensely, so follows the death, doom and grind.
While it might all be a bit too much for the uninitiated, long-time fans of the band or extreme, challenging, truly aggressive music in general, will find so much to unpack across these twenty-five minutes of hate. You’ve been warned.
Like some German version of XL Recordings, Cologne’s KOMPAKT have grown from representing a relatively select area of the house/techno world to encompass a wide array pf great music from all over the place, both geographically and spiritually. This, as the title might suggest. is the 21st in the label’s annual compilation round up and a varied embarrassment of riches it most certainly is. Label bosses Jurgan Pappe and Michael Mayer get to push to the front – there have to be some perks to being in management, right? – and they both put in excellent showings, the former opening proceedings with the spartan, almost baroque arpeggios of ‘La Guitarra Romantica’, quite possibly creating chamber techno in the process, while the latter’s ‘Happy’ is an echo drenched and dramatic chugger with tons of atmosphere.
Highlights elsewhere across the eight track double include The Bionaut’s delicate sounding ‘Blue Sky Motor Lodge’, slower and lighter than many of its surroundings but none the worse for it and the haunted house pianos and dubby effects of Voigt & Voigt’s ‘Nicht Mein Job’. Marc Romboy & CAR’s ‘I Am A Dancer’, which closes the selection, is equally impressive, managing to be celebratory and euphoric without ever heading anywhere near cheesy. Total 21? Total-ly worth the effort, in our humble opinions.
This weeks reviewers: Patrizio Cavaliere, Oli Warwick, Martin Hewitt, Jude Iago James, Zach Buggy, Ben Willmott.
Albums to rock your world
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Like walking into a cathedral with your eyes fixed upwards, the towering grandeur of Shackleton’s work induces a sense of vertigo no matter how fixed to the ground you are. The visceral impact of his music over a soundsystem has a levitating quality that at times gets positively giddy, but to commit to one of his albums with some appropriate sound carriers is to be encircled by ancient architecture that looms and bears down upon its subjects – great halls carved out of the cliff face, shimmering palaces framed in gold and clad in blood red marble.
Imagery comes on strong when trying to communicate the sonic experience Shackleton creates, primarily because he’s so far from any worthwhile musical reference point. Listen back with honest ears to the early Skull Disco works and ask yourself, is it really dubstep? He was already far from the shore at the outset, and his ship hasn’t steered back towards dry land ever since. The only certainty on hearing a new Shackleton work at this point comes from the breadcrumbs he left behind him. Elusive and aloof though his personality may be, he’s plenty generous with his music, and a keen follower understands his musical language more readily than someone new to his work. It quite simply communicates on a different plane, where melody, rhythm and space swim according to their own logic, dissonance can be the resolution and a disembodied voice can be a profound soothsayer and garbled rambler in the same breath.
The past few years have seen a broad expanse of collaborators entering the Shackleton universe, from long time doom-monger Vengeance Tenfold to Anika’s cracked folk cradling, and most recently the ascendant jazz instrumentation of Waclaw Zimpel. There’s a definite sense of dialogue in each distinct project, but Shackleton’s otherness remains the common theme. Still, as he presents Departing Like Rivers as his first solo album in nine years, it’s a welcome moment to reflect on the artist with clarity. It’s also worth considering that the last time he flew solo was Music For The Quiet Hour / The Drawbar Organ EPs, which heralded the start of his label and a decisive step into this expansive realm of myth and magick,
Much of Departing Like Rivers comes on like cinematic soundtrack composition –moments of protracted tension sprayed with sheets of tone and humming subs, but they’re punctuated with outright explosions of energy. The toms that come thundering down on ‘Something Tells Me / Pour Out Like Water’ feel like ritualistic stadium rock. But here, such elements are smaller pieces in a more meditative puzzle. They’re given as much emphasis as snatches of vocal and clangourous bells, where once drums would have been the bedrock of a whole track.
The strange folk idiom which has permeated Shackleton’s sound over time is certainly etched into the walls and pillars of his temple – at times its quaint and delicate inference is subsumed by the larger slabs of hard material that come quaking up from the earth beneath, but there’s always space for it. No matter how kinetic and vivid the scene gets, there’s a level of restraint exercised. The sound may get disorienting and wild, but it never resorts to flashy DSP production methods to achieve its ends. Instead, Shackleton leans on resonance and reverberation, allowing bleeding decays to create new shapes with a more natural aftertaste than high-def VST acrobatics would achieve.
In a narrative sense, Departing Like Rivers works exactly like a Shackleton album should. You may stride in with confidence, hip to his game having picked up the aforementioned breadcrumb trail, but 20 minutes in and it feels as though every step reaches another crossroads, where each possible turn folds back towards you in precognition – a mockery of linear time passage rendered in sound. It’s a marvel to behold, and all the better when you submit to it. There’s just one moment where he plucks you from this fantasy roleplay simulation, as a cassette gets loaded with a crisp clarity that borders on ASMR at the start of ‘One Of Us Escaped’. It’s a head-shaking wake up which inverts almost immediately as the sound plunges straight back down into the depths of the album and we’re informed “the sky’s going to burst”. Long may Shackleton reign – an unpredictable potentate in th wyrd kingdom of his own macabre design.
Don’t let her name fool you — this stunning debut album from Lou Hayter is packed with positive feelings from the off. A love letter to yacht pop and sun-drenched terrace parties, the fact it’s dropping on the cusp of autumn setting in only makes the record more essential, with enough warmth here to see you through the impending dark season and out the other side.
Inspired by her hometown, London, Private Sunshine represents a nostalgic trip into the hinterland between electronic soul, disco, e-funk, slo-mo house, and Balearic. A collection of tracks that land with the appropriately titled, swooning synth balladry of ‘Cherry On Top’, and don’t let the atmosphere falter until the final hushed, gentile keys of head-nodding plodder ‘Pinball’, a quiet but effective closing track that allows
Hayter’s vocal prowess to shine thanks to the minimal bells and whistles of this R&B-esque number.
For the most part, though, things are distinctly more dance floor friendly, albeit those floors aren’t the sweat-soaked mass of bodies we often think of when it comes to clubs. Instead, they are the retro-tipped, slick and sexy soirees where guilty pleasures and quality music to make bodies move intersect and merge. Adventures in the deepest underground of chart-friendly pop, would be one way to put it. Efforts like ‘Cold Feet’ are crying out for sing-along sessions with friends, ‘This City’ nods to Mr Fingers, the reworking of Steely Dan’s ‘Time Out of Mind’ feels as though it has just stepped out of a 1980s movie, while ‘Still Dreaming’ could be a lost Madonna track from her pre-Immaculate Collection era. Simply put, Skint have hit the motherlode in terms of universally appealing, specialist sounds, with Hayter delivering an LP which is guaranteed to last.
In the seven years since Angels & Airwaves’ last full-length, the criminally overlooked, ‘The Dream Walker’, a whole lot has changed.
The indie-cum-space rock group have all but taken a backseat this past decade while forever endearing frontman Tom DeLonge (the groups mastermind and sole original member) expanded his horizons into the realms of government funded/approved extra-terrestrial research. UFOs to be more succinct.
Unfortunately, with little time devoted to music, DeLonge was all but ousted from Blink-182, his primary project and entry point into the industry.
Therefore, now with creative sights reset firmly, an outlet was needed for new material, and here is where we arrive at ‘Lifeforms’. Easily the longest gap between AVA projects yet, only one year less than the original wait between Blink albums after their initial hiatus, the band and more accurately, DeLonge, have taken strides to mature and somewhat simplify their core sound.
The first slew of singles teased over the past year, ‘Rebel Girl’ and ‘Kiss & Tell’, both gave the indication of a gentler, prog-pop direction, but the anthemic riff-heavy mammoth, ‘Euphoria’, made clear that this project would be equally difficult to pin down as their previous works.
The balance between catchy, hook-laden pop and progressive, sci-fi tinted post-grunge, has never felt so blatant yet simultaneously nuanced. The synth lines are crisp and slice with lazer-like definition over unique rhythm sections, equally crafted via reverb drenched guitars and artificial programming.
There’s a sense of urgency across these ten tracks, with little room for shoegazing or self-indulgence. Its intent is that of a space opera, but one that doesn’t require two hours to listen to, or a dozen sit throughs to appreciate.
‘Restless Souls’ and ‘Losing My Mind’ further these sonic sentiments, with a band sounding more than settled and contented with their dynamic after so many projects. Let us not forget Angels & Airwaves also features members of Thrice and Nine Inch Nails.
After such time away, and following up a career-best album, ‘Lifeforms’ was given an unenviable task, one that DeLonge and his bandmates have approached with great care in order to subvert expectation and anticipation. The end result is something quite unique, a familiar but somehow refreshing revitalisation for longtime fans yet a methodical introduction for newcomers alike.
Has Don Letts put together the greatest covers compilation of all time? In a word, ‘no’. But that’s really only because to describe Version Excursion as a covers compilation feels profoundly reductive. Yes, the tracks that make up this are predominantly reimagined takes on tunes — some of the originals will certainly be familiar (‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’), others probably less so. But these are more than mere alternative versions and reimagined takes on existing tracks.
Most of what’s on here was repurposed by dub reggae artists from the Caribbean islands. And it’s a culturally significant point, reflective of how the early scene successfully reappropriated 45” singles from up north in the US and made them into something entirely new and — crucially — very much of the region. Sub bass-heavy, spatial, often-psychedelic, certainly packed with a sparse but deep atmosphere, a few numbers into this 21-strong collection (13 of which are exclusives) and you start to forget the originals even existed, and move well beyond comparisons.
Standout moments include the strikingly good Prince Fatty & Schniece McMenamin interpretation of Jefferson Airplane. Here dubbed ‘Black Rabbit’, anyone who thought that totem of 1960s, psilocybin-fuelled joy was already trippy enough should prepare for a surprise. Elsewhere, Gentleman’s Dub Club show us exactly what it means to toy with melody on ‘Use Me’, while Ash Walker’s ‘There’s Nothing Like This’ arguably edges closer to the sweet smell of a clean, crisp vocal anthem. At once calling on material from the worlds of R&B, Mersey Beat, soul, disco and hip hop, to name but a few, here’s proof that siloing music has never been a good idea, and a compelling argument for just how connected everything is. An album that could only be put together by a musical genius, and avid digger.
It’s album five for Montreal’s SUUNS, a clear sign of quality over quantity if ever there was one, consider-ing this troupe have been doing the do for 13 years. As per, it feels like every element here has been fine-tuned and crafted to perfection, with nothing left to chance. Something of a departure from previous outings, here we find singer and guitarist Ben Shemie stepping into some interesting lyrical territory, and finding his way to a place in keeping with the album title — highly observant, and devastatingly poignant.
Take ‘Clarity’, for example. Track five on the album directly approaches the idea of pulling off the veil and looking at things. More so, actually seeing them for what they really are. Self-recorded and self-produced during 2020, a year when we all were given plenty to reflect on, and consider changing about ourselves and our lives, it’s not that The Witness doesn’t sound like SUUNS, more that SUUNS have always been difficult to pinpoint in terms of where their sound is. In this instance, think the DNTEL-end of outsider music, a lo-fi electronica triumph married to experimental whispered rock, synthesised emotions that are realer than most feelings.
10 years since they first materialised, and there’s still an ineffable mystery to Seekersinternational. Sure, the artists themselves keep a low profile albeit without any sense of anonymous posturing, but I’m talking more about the music they make. In the genreless era everyone’s idiosyncratic, but Seekers take things that little bit further. Their sound is vivid and dense like a thousand layers of graffiti on top of each other, but it’s also amorphous and slippery like jelly yet to set. It’s powered by a deep reverence for Jamaican music culture, but it’s almost comically futuristic where so much reggae-related culture is doggedly traditional. The Canada-based collective have released enough music by this point to have established their approach – they’ve released loads, in fact – and yet it still confounds in the most marvellous ways.
Having released the RaggaPreservationSociety EP on Diskotopia and Sneaker Social Club back in 2016, Seekers return with a spiritual sequel to that record, and it’s every bit as mind-bending. What’s different this time around is that Seekers are a much more established concern, and the album is loaded with notable collaborations. Some come from original sparring partners like wzrdryAV, and others are new and in some case unexpected. Roger Robinson sounds at his sweetest as he floats in the dizzy climes of ‘Kill-A-Milli’, a soundboy slayer from dimension X which uses a devastating break to hammer the message home.
Seekers are irrepressible, whoever they work with, though. Listen to what they do with the ‘Think’ break on ‘TrussUBad’, a somewhat surprising collaboration with Second Woman. No one else would think to jitter that iconic sound in that way and run it as a textural bed, James Brown’s pitched up voice reduced to a percussive stammer and overwhelmed by wave upon wave of hardcore, ambient and a nagging pan pipe synth hook which sounds like it has Second Woman’s stamp on it.
As with previous Seekers releases, the sensory overload is real. It’s an experience akin to inverted ambient, where the sound rushes through you and sets the tone for an imagined space which is all Seekers’ own. The walls are daubed in scrawls, flyers, photos, stickers and sweat, the lighting comes in thick pinks and purples, and a cavalcade of cultures intermingle under the cracked disco ball. The punch is laced with something strong, but as long as you’re in the space, it all makes sense.
Can Oral, also known as Khan, has done a lot in his musical life. He was in the theatrical Captain Comatose deep house outfit in the 00s, worked on reams of projects with his brother Cem through the 90s, had a new wave band in the mid 80s, ran a record shop in New York for 10 years and a whole lot more besides. He’s the kind of artist who reveals further hidden mysteries depending on which area of his life you happen to be focusing on. Amongst his many endeavours is H.E.A.D., a project with Kerosene (aka Roger Cobernus) which ran across three albums in the NYC years during the 90s.
Oral himself describes EFS as an “acid ambient album… recorded in 1993 at Khan’s kitchen on South 2nd St. Brooklyn”. It’s also reportedly titled in homage to Can’s album Unlimited Edition. Quite whether you’d deem the contents of this album “acid ambient” is debatable – it fizzes with far too much pronounced anima to be an outright ambient album, even if it stops short of the typical dancefloor application of a TB-303 and some drum machines. There’s a certain backroom demeanour that comes through on ‘EFS4’, which lopes along with a funky swagger and a full-bodied harmonic, but it conjures up a sprightly space for extravagant night-denizens to strut and preen rather than a spongy bosom for weary ravers.
What makes EFS so special – and anything Optimo decide to reissue is sure to feature some kind of spark – is the apparent disregard for the strictures of acid house that were already rote by 1993. The album plays out more like an industrial project, all DIY distortion and a cavalier approach to sequencing, but behind the avant garde angles a warm, gooey centre of bubbly house delight pulses away. The sweet symbiosis between experimental and dance music renders every track as an astounding gem, from the noisy throb of ‘EFS9’ to the psychotropic proto-trance chugger ‘EFS5’. With a sparkling sonic finish which belies the modest environment it was birthed in, Oral and Cobernus created something magical on EFS – one of those reissues that’s truly deserving of another trip out under the veil of night.
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.
There are snippets that flash into view that one can grab onto – the pulsating electronics in ‘Button Down Fashion Bow’ that brings Pink Floyd’s ‘One The Run’ to mind, searing Vangelis lazer-like synths or bulging bass tones – but these are just as quickly swallowed up by the swelling mass of un-placeable abstraction. ‘Sweet Inertia’, billed as a collaboration with his own Figueroa alter ego, has oozing vocals – indeed, his voice appears throughout but most usually as a processed texture. ‘Now Future’ is perhaps closest to the hyper splintered d&b sound he’s inhabited in the past, but overall there’s precious little else to make the listener feel at ease. Generally it’s tense, eerie and occupying new territory in a unnerving but exhilarating fashion.
Above all, this is an album that you’ll keep coming back to and one that you’ll be hearing new things in for many years to come. Amon Tobin won’t make life easy for you – he never did – but the rewards are immense.
As one half of Zendid, Toulouse-based producer Lenny Mallieau has been lurking around labels like yoyaku, Discobar and others for a fair while now. Primarily working in the broad church of minimal, where breaks and electro are as valid as a pinprick hi-hat, he’s been feeding into a relatively straight-forward scene with well-chiseled club music. So far so standard, but now Lenny is casting off on his own with a new label and a release of the same name, The Yellow Zone. It’s not a hard concept to grasp, and a steady slip into the sound of the record will tell you all you need to know about what exactly ‘the yellow zone’ is.
Lead track ‘Lucid Dream Team’ spells it out in a lovely wobble of pitch-bending globules and lackadaisical micro funk that comes on like astral downtempo for retired b-boys turned space age lounge lizards. There are some spicier breaks to be enjoyed on the likes of ‘Jinga Tronismo’, while ‘Station Mic On’ features Michel 7000 humming behind a sizzle of hi hats and murmuring dubby pulses. It’s all off-kilter, but in an understated way. What made this debut release from an un-established name leap out is its sharp balance of surrealism and satisfaction – it’s got plenty of funk to match the freakiness, and a healthy dose of freshness too. The Yellow Zone – a thoroughly pleasant place to find yourself.
The artistic stamp communicated from Silvercoat the throng is so vivid and nuanced, it leaves your head spinning on the first listen. Nicky Mao, aka Hiro Kone, sounds devastatingly assured in creating a brooding yet expansive work, freewheeling and omnivorous but wholly focused. Their collaborative choices are bold musical spirits in their own right, and the palette sprawls across a panoply of synthesis and instrumentation. By rights it should be a fragmented mess, but instead it bends and stretches with agility without ever losing its form.
Collaboration has been a part of Mao’s practice since before the days of Hiro Kone, and they worked with ex-Coil affiliate Drew McDowall on 2018’s The Ghost Of George Bataille, but the New York-based artist possesses a conviction which holds fast in any circumstances. On Silvercoat the throng, you can instantly recognise the needlepoint punctuation of Deforrest Brown Jr’s Speaker Music signature flickering through ‘Reciprocal Capture’, and yet his inimitable approach to programming seems to melt into Mao’s great daubs of luminescent melody.
Harder to tame is travis from experimental gospel outfit ONO, whose vividly enunciated voice cavorts through the discordant orchestration of ‘Nomad’, but Mao’s strings speak as a profoundly as the narrator. Palestine’s foremost beat emissary Muqata’a brings his colloquial gothic to bear on the album’s title track, and the synergy between his rapid-fire sampling and jerky drums, and Mao’s composition and sound design is remarkable.
Don’t let the notable partnerships distract you though – this is Mao’s work first and foremost, and it towers in its monumental execution. ‘Mundus Patet’ rushes with jangling nerves between passages of intense sound sculpture. By way of contrast, ‘Parting Phrase’ strips away dramatic blocks of rhythmic noise and leaves a fraught violin ample room to sway. Silvercoat the throng doesn’t attempt a heavy-handed concept as it reaches with long arms across great distances, but rather casts an evocative shroud which heralds multiplicity as the last taboo for an artist’s clarity of vision.
Thomas Köner is best known as one half of Porter Ricks, a benchmark of the Chain Reaction label and thus the most visionary end of the dub techno phenomenon, but his work reaches further out towards experimental pastures across the decades. When Porter Ricks released Biokinetics and a string of seminal 12”s circa 1996, their grasp of sound design felt ahead of the pack in the techno game, but Köner had already been busy testing limits of production via his earliest solo efforts on Dutch label Barooni.
Aubrite is the fourth album in a run which established a fiercely committed approach to ambient music, in which Köner espoused his ideas about an “ultrablack” music. In writing Köner’s reasoning is a little abstract, but it all makes sense when you sink yourself down into the absolute chasms of Aubrite. This is a total, consuming darkness of sound – it’s no lie that I had to turn my system way up to realise the music was playing – but once you peep under the parapet, a stunning underworld awaits. This is drone in its absolute, shearing away so much information from the frequency spectrum, but also demonstrating how much can be expressed in such a tight bandwidth. Let it consume you, for there’s a cathartic power in music this stubbornly austere.
World renowned International / world jazz group, Buena Vista Social Club, have released their 25th anniversary edition of their debut album with all stops pulled out. The Cuban ensemble founded in 1996, recorded the legendary record in just seven days, in Havana, under the direction of Juan de Marcos González and American guitarist Ry Cooder, no one could have predicted how this group of artists would be elevated to the world stage and come to popularise Cuba’s rich musical heritage.
Bringing their skills together as award winning musicians and documentary makers, the group revisit Cuba’s musical golden age of 1930’s to 1950’s and use that influence to produce great tracks for the masses. Their music has generated a revival of interest in Cuban and Latin American music worldwide among new and more seasoned fans. Producing relaxing notes and a chill Sunday garden vibes, the group presents music that allows one to reminisce of the dreams made before pre-revolution Cuba – before the domination of politics.
The album has been remastered by Bernie Grundman and will be reissued as a 2CD deluxe set in a 64-page casebound book packaging. This features new sleeve notes, photos and lyrics etc. The second disc in this set features 12 previously unreleased bonus tracks from the original 1996 session tapes.
This week’s reviewers: Ava Yusuf, Ben Willmott, Martin Hewitt and Oli Warwick.