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This post is the first of two that mark the end of Sonic Fiction for the foreseeable future and probably forever. It wasn’t an easy decision to make but I feel that as much as I’m still as passionate about all the music reviewed on the site I have to now focus purely on my own music career and improving those skills.

Thank to everyone whose read, commented on and retweeted/favourited/followed Sonic Fiction in its three years in existence. I will still keep the Sonic Fiction Twitter account alive as my own personal account so you can still find out about new music via that account.

  1. Run the Jewels – “Run the Jewels” (Fool’s Gold)

  2. Adrian Younge & Ghostface Killah – “12 Reasons to Die” (Soul Temple)

  3. Black Milk – “No Poison, No Paradise” (Fat Beats)

  4. Action Bronson & Harry Fraud – “SAAAB Stories” (self released)

  5. RJD2 – “More Is Than Isn’t” (RJ’s Electrical Connections)

  6. The Child of Lov – “The Child of Lov” (Double Six/Domino)

  7. Youngblood Brass Band – “Pax Volumi” (Tru Thoughts)

  8. G&D – “The Lighthouse” (SomeOthaShip)

  9. Deltron 3030 – “Event II” (Bulk)

  10. FKA Twigs – “EP2” (Young Turks/XL)

Run the Jewels – “Run the Jewels” (Fool’s Gold)

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Having worked together on the finest hip-hop release of 2012 “R.A.P. Music” El-P and team up again for their new project Run The Jewels. The duo has talked about this being their ‘fun’ album and as much as it sounds like they had fun making it, this is a serious hip-hop album both lyrically and sonically.

The album opens with its title track which instantly sets the tone for the rest of the album with its chattering hi-hat, 808 beat and minimal deep synth bass line. In the chorus El-P introduces a great screaming organ lead and employs Dub FX and a subtle reggae rhythm plays beneath the hard hitting hip-hop surface. Mike kicks off ‘Banana Clipper’ with the great lines “I move with the elegance of an African elephant, I presented the evidence, Eloquent as a president, Evident it’s with emphasis, I deserve me a championship, But before I banana clip, I’mma chill so my man can rip”. Later he praises his partner in crime while slamming boastful producers with a wry smile – “Producer gave me a beat, Said it’s the beat of the year, I said El-P didn’t do it, So get the fuck outta here”. All this delivered over sharp horn stabs and a double time beat. ‘36” Chain’ is a great example of El-P’s skill in creating multi textured tracks with its blocky synth stabs, video game blips and heavily compressed and reverbed snare combing to stunning effect.

‘Job Well Done’ is another album highlight and another track that demonstrates El-P amazing use of texture and space. His achieves this using discordant guitar and distant vocals adding more space and texture. The drums also have a great feel, pushing and pulling the listener. There’s also great use of dueling synth melodies and vocals in the chorus. The album ends with ‘A Christmas Fucking Miracle’ which combines sleigh bells, electric piano chords and a siren synth, everything is processed to feel corroded and dirty adding to the dystopian atmosphere.

All-in-all you couldn’t ask for more from “Run The Jewels” a hard hitting and full realised hip-hop album from start to finish, only time will tell whether matches up to “R.A.P. Music”.

Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah – “12 Reasons to Die” (Soul Temple)

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With his new album alongside up and coming producer and multi instrumentalist Adrian Younge, Ghostface Killah comes pretty close to scaling the heights of his 90’s prime producing and album that never dips in quality across its 12 tracks. Like many Wu Tang Clan related releases there’s a storyline that runs through the album, this time the main character is Ghostface himself playing the role of a “vengeful soul hunting the 12 most powerful crime lords in the World.”

The album opens with ‘Beware of the Stare’ which immediate sets up the story and the tone of the album full of piano chords, a female choir, low slung funk bass guitar and a head nodding beat. ‘Rise of the Black Suits’ follows a similar formula adding chilling organ chords and an electric piano riff. ‘I Declare War’ is the most cinematic track so far with its operatic female vocals, spoken word outro and sweeping strings. The pace picks up on ‘Blood On The Cobblestones’ with it fast break beat, organ and horn stabs and great fuzz bass. ‘The Center Of Attraction’ changes things up again with it sparse electric piano chords and beat and back and forth strings. The next big moment on the album is ‘The Rise Of the Ghostface Killah’ with its cut-up female vocals and a spoken word male voice then a delay tail brings in the break beat and gliding electric guitar chords that slide around under Ghostface’s cool flow. ‘Revenge Is Sweet’ is a song of two halves beginning with sparse break beat and bass guitar before high pitched female choir cut in to tell more of the album’s story, strings come in and a male vocal duels with the female vocals. Then guitar chords float in  and then rap section of the track begins with Masta Killa getting busy on the mic. Wu Tang posse cut ‘Murder Spree’ and The Sure Shot’ (Parts One & Two) pick up where ‘Blood On The Cobblestones’ left off and the album finishes with ‘12 Reasons To Die’ which immortalises Ghostface in death to the sound of emotive piano, wind like sweeping synth, sparse bass guitar, mournful strings and an epic outro. With “12 Reasons to Die” Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge have set the bar extremely high for other hip-hop releases in 2013 and Younge has proved that it’s not just RZA whose the perfect foil for Wu Tang Clan MCs.

Black Milk – “No Poison, No Paradise” (Fat Beats)

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The profilic Detroit rapper/producerBlack Milk returns with his first solo album since “Album of the Year” (2010) and his second album of this year (Computer Ugly’s brilliant rough and raw “Synth or Soul” being the other album). It’s a welcome return and sees Black Milk firing on all cylinders from start to finish and in the progress making one of the best hip-hop albums of the year.

The album opens with ‘Interpret Sabotage’ featuring Mel it begins with electric piano that floats and is then interupted by static then a synth bass line and blunt hip-hop beat drop, a synth lead swiggles over the top of thin high strings and then Black Milk cuts in with his first verse. it’s urgent and frantic. Mel sings her chorus part over just the bass line and drums before the strings and synth cut back in. It’s a great opening track. Next up is the jazzy ‘Deion’s House’ which opens with a heads down beat and stabbing jazz piano and brass over the top. It features some great toms rolls and there’s more relaxed flow from Black Milk. ‘Codes & Cab Fare’ featuring Black Thought finishes off a fantastic opening run of tracks. It starts with a slow pulsing hip-hop beat, distant spoken word samples and a bell that rings out occasional, then Black Milk comes in for the first verse backed by thick dominating organ chords and creaking string samples. After more spoken word sample cut in, the second verse is taken by Black Thought, his rhymes and delivery are more aggressive as are the synth and effects that back him.

‘Ghetto Demf featuring Quelle Chris combines a hollow synth riff (sounds like the Normal or Gary Numan), a hip-hop beat, great gliding synth melody takes,dub delay FX that spin across the mix and spoken word samples that can be heard in the background. ‘Sonny Jr. (Dreams) featuring Robert Glasper & Dwele is the first of two instrumental tracks that help break up the rap tracks and showcase Black Milk great musicality (not a strong suit for many current hip-hop producers). Electric piano chords are stabbed out, then stop making way for a drum and percussion break, thin strings come in and bring an electric piano melody, so far so jazzy. A horn cycles over the top of everything. Like a lot of the album so far, it has a filmic, soundtrack quite. I really liked the vocal harmonies that come in halfway through. The next two tracks were the lead single(s) from the album and are both ‘Sunday’s Best’ and ‘Monday’s Worst’ find Black Milk equalling J Dilla as a master of soul sampling hip-hop.

‘Perfected on Puritan Ave.’opens with a chiming melody, strong synth strings and distant bass drum backing Black Milk. Then he strips things down to a horn sample, vocal harmonies and his vocals before the verse part quickly kicks back in. Halfway through the track changes completely with tumbling drums, trumpet solo and chopped up vocal sample underpinned by driving bass guitar. Then the strings swell back into life moving around the listener to heady effect. ‘Parallels’ featuring Ab combines a cool minimal synth riff, bubbling arpeggio and tough, stark neck breaking drums. Ab sings soulfully over the top, then Milk drops in for his first verse. Melody reminds of “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. The album closes with ‘Money Bags (Paradise)’ which with its 80′s style digital synths, hard and heavy downtempo beat and slow moving synth bass, recalls Black Milk’s previously mentioned Computer Ugly album.

All-in-all “No Poison, No Paradise” is one the most fantastic and varied hip-hop albums of the year.  “To be specific it’s psychedelic, soulful, organic, reflective, and dynamic. It sounds like the soundtrack to a sci-fi gangster flick about Halloween in the streets of Detroit. Throughout NPNP Black Milk loosely constructs a theme of how the negative qualities of his Detroit environment in many ways shaped the perspective and talent he has as it connects to life and music. It’s a spiritual, thematic, and sonic balance”. This an album that highly recommend to anyone, go get yourself a copy now!!!

Action Bronson and Harry Fraud – “SAAAB Stories” (Self Released)

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With “SAAAB Stories” Action Bronson and Harry Fraud have delivered their best release and most varied release to date. Both rapper and produce are at the top of their game and pushing each other to do greater things.

Things kick off with ‘2 Virgins’ the first of several slower and more contemplative tracks on the E.P. its slow reverse intro and strings off set by sweet picked guitar and sour distorted guitar solo flow underneath Bronson and his hype man Big Body Bes’s rhymes. ‘Triple Backflip’ picks up where ‘2 Virgins’ left off with its gliding electric piano, snapping snare and round and warm bass drum, in the second of the track these elements are joined by mood enhancing subtle strings and nice picked guitars. ‘No Time’ is a highlight with its soloing electric piano, jazzy bass guitar and head nodding bass guitar a perfect backing for Bronson’s smutty rhymes. ‘Strictly 4 My Jeeps’ is a summer banger that comes closer to matching the brilliant ‘No Time’ and also gets your head nodding and foot tapping. ‘Alligator’ demonstrates Bronson’s storytelling abilities and with its downtempo and spooky yet dirty synth recalls Fever Ray’s excellent self titled debut album. Album closer ‘Seven Series Triplets’ rounds things out nicely with its picked bass guitar and pulse quickening beat the perfect setting for verses from Bronson, Prodigy and Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon.

“SAAAB Stories” sees Bronson moving away from the perception of him as a food and sex obsessed Ghostface Killah impersonator and in fact I’d have to agree with Potholes in my Blog’s assertation that on this release he sounds closer to Ghostface’s Wu Tang tag team partner Raekwon. “SAAAB Stories” is the best hip-hop release of 2013 bar Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah’s exceptional “12 Reasons to Die”, this is an essential release!!!

RJD2 – “More Is Than Isn’t” (RJ’s Electrical Connections)

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It’s been over a decade since RJD2 released his brilliant debut album “Dead Ringer” (2002) which saw him regularly compared to DJ Shadow, with whom he shared a mastery of moody instrumental hip-hop. Since then RJD2 has tried out a number of genres including prog rocker for “Since We Last Spoke” (2004), singer songwriter on “The Third Hand” (2007) and funkateer on his lasting out “The Colossus” (2010). On his “More Is Than Isn’t” he finally cuminates all of previous ideas into one cohesive work, rather than again shifting his style.


The album opens with ‘Suite 1′ the first of three suites that are scattered across the album’s length. The track starts with waves crashing and bird song before spacious deep piano chords come in swiftly followed by a synthesizer that slips and slides all over the mix and sounds a little like a saxophone or the original bird song. Around a minute and twenty seconds a choir of voices can be heard in the distance. In the climax we briefly hear the bird song, waves and synth sax again. Next up is ‘Temperamental’ featuring Phonte Coleman of Little Brother, it begins with a heavy sharp hip-hop beat and electric piano chords played rhythmically, Coleman’s crooner’s emotive over the top. The backing vocals inimate the piano chords one miunte and thirty seconds in and then there’s some great distorted guitar comes in around two minutes in. Track three ‘Behold, Numbers’ opens with tense ascending synths/strings before a beat, reversed snare and stabs of the strings drop for a great percussive track that snaps your neck. Around a minute in the strings transform and intensify and a flowing melody that play over the percussive elements. At one minute forty seconds there’s an electric piano and slap bass break, that builds in intensity when hand percussion and flinty funk guitar riffs kick in over the top. Two minutes and fifty seconds the track becomes a snapping and cracking funk monster, with some of the original percussive elements mixed with the new slap bass, drums and funk guitar.

‘Her Majesty’s Socialist Request’ kicks off with high frequency synth tweet before crushing guitar power chords and double time drums and percussion cut in, the track breaks down to an Indian sounding string figure, the dramatic guitar riff and some of the percussion elements. Great piano loop kicks in around two minutes fifteen sounds in and plays over the guitar riff and percussion. All the elements are combined to stunning effect, only four tracks and I was already bowled over by RJD2′s latest work.  ‘Bathwater’ featuring P. Blackk the first of two MC lead tracks on the album is up next. It opens with a thick slab of fuzzy wah guitar, then the raps and double time beat come in, follow by lots of cut up vocals and guitar samples flying about. Synth bass and lead synth add to the awesome analogue filth. ‘Milk Tooth’ combines analogue synth bloops, a cutting soul break, bass and guitar, huge synth brass stabs and a female vocal harmony. Later there’s also a gliding synth melody that comes in part through, it sounds like a classic Moog. The track feels like a synth based version of Adrian Younge’s sound or a more soul based version of a Gaslamp Killer horrorcore track.

‘See You Leave’ is another vocal featuring The Roots associate STS (MC) and singer Khari Mateen. Big held organ chords and tumbling drums make up the intro of this track before a soul backbeat and rhythm guitar cut in, soulful lead vocals and guitar lick that recalls the Isley Brothers play over the top. There’s some solid rap verses but the soul chorus is where its at on this track. Next up is ‘Got There, Sugar’ a two part of a track the warps from one to the other partway through. A simple warmth synth melody, electric piano chords and sax solo open up this track, jazz drums shuffling away underneath. At one minute fifty seconds the track completely transforms into a wah-wah guitar and organ lead funk monster. ‘Descended From Myth’ sounds like a forgotten gem from a Blaxploitation soundtrack combining blaring horns, pounding drums and a stabbing synth bass. There track gets more synth heavy and sci-fi in feel as its progresses. It’s great to see RJD2 and Blueprint (MC) working together for the first time since “Dead Ringer”. The track ‘It All Came to Me in a Dream’ is one of the highlights of the album too. A drum roll brings in a tremolo fuzz guitar, head nodding beat, low slung bass and filmic dialogue samples, the track breaks down to bring in Blueprint’s first rap verse. There’s a great synth solo around one minute fifty seconds in.

All-in-all “More Is Than Isn’t” is RJD2′s best album since “Dead Ringer” and while it may not provide as many knock out moments as that brilliant work it comes pretty close to equalling it. It’s both a varied and consisent album that showcases both RJD2′s skills as a producer and as a musician, this is a guy who can make a great head nodding, neck snapping beat, write a fantastic chorus and play an amazing synth solo sometimes even on the same track!! Highly recommended to all lovers of instrumental hip-hop, soulful music and music with a ton of funk!!

The Child of Lov – “The Child of Lov” (Double Six/Domino)

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The secretive artist The Child of Lov is a hip-hop producer from the Netherlands but he doesn’t make any old hip-hop and when you hear his processed vocals you’d swear he was from America’s Deep South. The album opens with the loping bass guitar, downtempo hip-hop beat and skewed soul vocals of ‘Call Me Up’ the atmospherics and vocals of which recalls “Return to Cookie Mountain” era TV on the Radio. It’s swiftly followed by ‘Heal’ with its uptempo drum break, nagging post-punk guitar riff and stabbing bass guitar. Next up is the sparse ballad ‘One Day’ that features Blur’s Damon Albarn, twisted twangy guitar melodies, rippling synth bass and a dusty hip-hop beat. ‘Living the Circle’ combines corroded synth bass and a heavy stuttering hip-hop beat with a computer game style synth melody to stunning, head nodding effect.

The second half the album sees electronic drums dominate whereas acoustic drums had pervaded in the first half. ‘Go With The Wind’ utilises a subtle electronic hip-hop drums, computer game synth bass and a weird lo-fi guitar riff that underline the uniqueness of this artists sound. ‘Fly’ is another great up tempo track with a thumping, purposeful bass drum pushing everything forward. The album closes with ‘Give It To The People’ on which there’s very little vocal processing and the track has a brighter, pop production pointing at potential development for The Child of Lov’s sound in the future. “The Child of Lov” is a great debut album that demonstrates that you don’t need to the biggest budget or sound to make something that can shine and be unique. I look forward to hearing more from The Child of Lov in the future.

Youngblood Brass Band – “Pax Volumi” (Tru Thoughts)

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Youngblood Brass Band return with their first album in seven years and it is great to have them back. ‘Pax Volumi’ is an album that cements their reputation as a great hip-hop and jazz band that can deliver a great album as well as great live performances. Their previous effort ‘Is That A Riot?’ was the first evidence that they could keep the quality high across an album and ‘Pax Volumi’ confirms and nudges their trademark sound forward.

The album opens as Youngblood open their live sets with something huge and anthemic. The track is ’20 Questions’ and with its combination of thumping bass line , staccato snare, heavy bass drum and chattering hats. The rap flows in a start-stop flow over the top and the brass cuts in and out with the trumpet  playing staccato melodies in the verse and full section stabs in the chorus. There’s a great sax solo 2 minutes in and the track establishes the new punchier and more polished sound of the album. ‘Cite the Line’ brings back the band’s trademark military drum beat which plays under staccato saxophone, distant vocals and yearning elongated trumpets. Then the main beat and bass line kick in thumping your eardrums and backing the fast rapping, the horns ascend in the chorus to great effect.

‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ opens with mournful sounding trombone and droning trumpet, the MC enters and beatboxes a hip-hop drum pattern. The huge bassline slams in and brings with it a crisp hip-hop beat (the evidence of use of a sampler by Youngblood) and the rap verse, the brass emerges out of nowhere like a synth pad. Some of drums and the bassline sounds electronic or electronically processed. There’s a nice mellow drum less section partway through. Then the beatboxing, scratch and electronic drum re-enter with the core brass riffs. ‘The Plank Will Nod, and You Will Go’ starts with title spoken then the brass and drums thunder in before breaking down to rap and drums before the brass emerges again with snaking jazz melodies. The intro returns for an instrumental chorus. The track reminds of ‘Bone Refinery’ from the previous album. I really like the sousaphone and vocal only breakdown half through, then the brass snakes back followed by the drums to bring the chorus back in.

‘Erik Owen’ begins with sax and trombone playing long interweaving melodies over each other before Latin handclaps and staccato trumpet cuts in, a great minimal hip-hop rhythm takes over and the trumpet plays main melody. It’s a great bright upbeat track that changes up from the double time rhythms of much of the rest of the album. Towards the end of the album the band cover the Chaka Khan classic ‘Ain’t Nobody’ it  opens with a tons of percussion and deep bass drum before the trombone and trumpets play a funky riff and the sax harmonises over the top. The sousaphone plays the bass and the sax, trumpets and trombone take it in turns to play the main chorus melody. There are some great solos in the middle section of the song and a fantastic tough bass line in the outro. The album finishes with the epic eight minute closer ‘Third Half’. It begins with a lone trumpet soloing before a snare roll brings with tons of tumbling jazz drums and the other brass and sax, it all underpinned by a body movin’ sousaphone bass line. I can’t put my finger on what it is but there’s something familiar about the melody around 2 minutes 20 seconds played by the sax. The band gets into some heavy jazz soloing in the middle section with the drums pounding and rolling behind. It breaks down to sax for a second again with that familiar melody; then the drums come back in slowly building the tension. Trumpets and trombone interweave with the sax both competing and complimenting it. It’s a superb finishes to an album that makes the triumphant return of a band that have been away for far too long!!!

G&D – “The Lighthouse” (SomeOthaShip)

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The mysterious moniker G&D hides the behind it two disguised artists in Georgia Anne Muldrow (G) and Dudley Perkins (D) who’ve both been working together and individual as hip-hop artists for over two decades. However, both have found their profiles rise since 2006 (I only knew of Georgia Anne Mudrow’s existence last year due to her ‘Seeds’ album produced by Madlib). Some hip-hop heads might know Perkins from his time under the name Declaime but I imagine both of these artists are fairly new to most people.

On “The Lighthouse” their pedigree shows itself from the start, as the album kicks off with the cut up vocals samples, P-Funk synth solo and scratches of ‘Intro’. The album swiftly moves to the title track’s laidback percussion, cutting hip-hop beat and cosmic electric piano meanwhile the two vocalists float and flow over the top of a head nodding beat. ‘Fam Bam’ starts the move away from the psychedelic sound of that the artwork of the album suggests were in for. The track features a stuttering electronic hip-hop beat and reverberate claps that back Perkins mean rapping and Muldrow vocals and rapping that recall Erykah Badu and Seattle hip-hop duo Thee Satisfaction. ‘Electric’ combines a smooth bass line and sparse electronic hip-hop beat with another from Perkins with its feedbacking guitar and electronic sound it recalls Cannibal Ox. ‘Power’ brings back to P-Funk and Afro-centric lyrics from the duo, ‘No More War’ picks up where ‘Power’ leaves off with huge synth bass, a twinkling synth melody and shuffling electronic beat back Perkins and Muldrow’s duetting vocals. ‘Popstopper’ demonstrates the duo’s versatility with shuffling acoustic drums and popping funk bass backing Muldrow’s multi-layered lush vocals while a spooky synth stabs in and out of the mix. ‘Dance’ combines with guitar sound of ‘Electric’ with the popping funk bass of ‘Popstopper’ to get you on the floor! ‘Emo Funk’ and album closer ‘Majesty’ both show the duo can do slo-mo acoustic piano ballads albeit with their own unique twist. With ‘The Lighthouse’ G&D have arguably made the best underground hip-hop of year so far, check it out!!!

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Thirteen years ago Deltron 3030 the hip-hop supergroup that features Del The Funkee Homosapian (MC), Kid Koala (turntablist) and Dan the Automater (producer) released their self titled début concept album and showed up a lot of the underground hip-hop acts with their combination of ambition and great tunes. Towards the end of last year rumours began to surface that Deltron 3030 had reformed and earlier this the trio confirmed it and then announced they had almost finished a sequel to their début. Now that album is here for all to hear and here’s my review.

The album opens with “Stardate” on which actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt talks of fictional trio’s return over the top of  a synthetic choir and twinkling music box melody. ‘The Return’ opens the album proper combining a synth, long-held strings and choir in from intro track give way to phat hip-hop drums, scratches and a thick layer of organ and cartoonish synth melody. Del enters rapping slow and smooth telling the story of the Earth in 3030. Deep strings cut in during a break down at 3 minutes 30 seconds in. The track changes feel  to a kind of epic spaghetti western style sound. ‘Pay The Price’ is straight in with an upbeat hip-hop beat, scratches and plinking piano and bass guitar groove. Things get cut down for the verse with Del flowing over the top. Like the huge acoustic piano chords and twinkling reverberate melody, the resonate synth is a nice subtle touch.

‘Nobody Can’ featuring Aaron Bruno of AWOL Nation combines great head nodding beat, fuzzy electric guitar and deep bass groove, that back Del’s great rhymes that are off set by soul style guitar chops and an 8-bit synth melody. The tracks reminds me of hip-hop duo N.A.S.A. who released a great similar collaborative album”The Spirit of Apollo” back in 2009. Another huge guitar riff dominates ‘Melding of the Minds’ featuring Zack De La Rocha its backed by phat hip-hop drums and a deep bass guitar with cutting scratches and killer raps from Del and Zack taking the lead. ‘Talent Supercedes’ featuring Black Rob is a cinematic funk track that features A big beat and held horns. There’s some Ennio Morricone references in the verse, with the twanging (yet funky) guitar and clanging bells. Great drum breaks and bass guitar roll, pushing everything forward and flattening anything that gets in their way. ‘Look Across The Sky’ featuring actor Mary Elizabeth Winstead opens with a filter sweep synth effect before a soul guitar rhythm, bass line and midtempo beat drops. Del raps and Winstead sings vocals harmonies on this minimal track. In the chorus Winstead takes the melodic lead before the track breaks down again to the intro synth and a soloing psychedelic guitar.

‘What Is This Loneliness’ featuring Damon Albarn and Casual starts off with a slamming head nodding beat, Del crashes in backed by discordant guitar and chiming bells. Twanging guitar and strings up the tension as we move towards the chorus. Albarn comes in singing the chorus backed by a synth, strings, drums, bass and acoustic rhythm guitar, reminds me of ‘El Manana’ by Gorillaz. Next up is ‘My Only Love’ featuring Emily Wells a stepping epic beat, vocal harmonies, big reverbed chords and slippery synth open this track before backing down to beat, slow moving bass and guitar groove and minimal bell melody for Del’s verse. The intro instruments return for the chorus with Wells singing like Martina Topley Bird over the top.

The album closer with two tracks that really contrast with each other the first ‘City Rising From The Ashes’ featuring Mike Patton begins with a phat drum break, funky bass, horns stabs and a piano riff. In the chorus the brass plays a cool melody and has an almost Latin in feel and Patton sings the backing vocals, Del sounds awesome over the top. Kid Koala weighs in with some great scratch work out towards the end of the track. The album closer ‘Do You Remember’ featuring Jamie Cullum is more reflective. The track opens with Cullum’s vocals, piano and a stringed instruments covered in vinyl crackle and pop and sounding like a 1930′s/40′s jazz crooner. Then hip-hop beat drops and Del flows over the top of Cullum’s jazz vocal melody. Features some great hip-hop stabs and soulful guitar chops.

“Event II” isn’t a huge move away from the trio début album’s sound and lyrical themes but it does feature a lot more uptempo tracks and sweeping cinematic elements. The album feels both like a throw back to 90′s breakbeat driven hip-hop but also has a throughly contemporary production job and sounds like the album that Gorillaz should make if they even make another album. This is a great hip-hop album and highly recommended for both fully fledged hip-hop heads and fans of the likes of Gorillaz and N.A.S.A.

FKA Twigs – “EP 2″ (Young Turks/XL)

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FKA Twigs first appeared on my radar just a couple of months ago when the track ‘Water Me’ appeared on line and generated soon serious hype. It turned the hype was justified as it’s an excellent track that establishes FKA Twigs signiture sound delayed cover vocal harmonies, ethereal synths and slo-mo treated electronic beats, all topped off with her breathy sometimes whispered vocals. I found out that she had in fact self released another EP back in 2012 that had completely passed me by and had now been snapped up by Young Turks home to The xx with whom she shares “unflinching intimacy” in her music. The whole EP is produced by Arca a hotly tipped underground hip-hop who recently contributed a track to Kanye West’s “Yeezus”.

The EP opens with ‘How’s That’. It begins with a steadily moving deep synth strings sound and a hollow snare drums echoes out before Twigs vocals enter dropping in and out, there very breathy, a tambourine shaking covered in spine chilling reverb. Then a bitcrusher bass drum and click electronic percussion bash away almost overwhelming the other elements before settling for the main body of the track. The track display’s Arca’s understanding of dynamics as the track swifts from the spacious calm intro into the fuller and menacing main section. Next up is the best track on the EP ‘Papi Pacify’ it masterfully combines a deep detuned synth riff, Twigs echoing vocals at the start of this track. Then another synth starts up and brings in the stumbling glitchy beat and thin synth chords. Halfway through the tone change suddenly as a heavier dark beat and corroded synth bass line stumble into view. It sounds like a horror film soundtrack with the wrong lyrics over the top (the lyrics appear to be a love song).

The second half of the EP kicks off with the brilliant ‘Water Me’ which reminded me a little of Fever Ray. The song starts with vocal harmonies echo out before a synth drone slides underneath. A ratty distant snare comes in, eventually giving way to a beat and pitched echoing vocal harmonies, swiftly followed by Twigs enters singing her lead vocals. Some cool backing vocals come in along with a gliding synth melody around the two minute mark. Then EP concludes with ‘Ultraviolet’ which like ‘Papi Pacify’ is a song of two halves the first features Twigs sings over distant ethereal synth and slow, sparse electronic beat. Then halfway through Twigs and the synths rise up taking the song to a richer more melodic and harmonic place. The track turns into a dreamy R&B tune in slo-mo.

“EP 2″ is one of the finest of EP length releases of the year so far with a throughly modern sound that brings together influences ranging from the chopped and screwed hip-hop of DJ Screw, the inimate and sparse touch songs of The xx and the taut trip-hop of Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine” (1998). Highly recommended.

This post is the first of two that mark the end of Sonic Fiction for the foreseeable future and probably forever. It wasn’t an easy decision to make but I feel that as much as I’m still as passionate about all the music reviewed on the site I have to now focus purely on my own music career and improving those skills.

Last year this post was called “Top Ten Alternative Release of Year” but this year I decided to drop the word Alternative as I felt it was misleading, I haven’t come up with a decent replacement word so just left a genre name out. This last covers everything from funk to ambient via desert blues and there will be another list tomorrow for the Top Ten Hip-Hop Releases of the Year.

Thank to everyone whose read, commented on and retweeted/favourited/followed Sonic Fiction in its three years in existence. I will still keep the Sonic Fiction Twitter account alive as my own personal account so you can still find out about new music via that account.

1. Jamie Lidell – “Jamie Lidell” (Warp)

2. Boards of Canada – “Tomorrow’s Harvest” (Warp)

3. Janelle Monae – “The Electric Lady” (Wondaland)

4. Julia Holter – “Loud City” (Domino)

5. Factory Floor – “Factory Floor” (DFA)

6. Colleen – “The Weighing of the Heart” (Second Language)

7. Tamikrest – “Chatma” (Glitterbeat)

8. Mulatu Astatke – “Sketches of Ethiopia” (Harmonia Mundi/Jazz Village)

9. Moderat – “II” (Monkeytown)

10. Fuck Buttons – “Slow Focus” (ATP Recordings)

Jamie Lidell – “Jamie Lidell” (Warp)

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Jamie Lidell’s new self titled album may just be his best yet. It’s packed from start to finish with tracks that are suffered to gills with funk. This is however no ordinary funk, Lidell has never been one to do things the usual way, the high point of his career prior to this album was “Multiply” (2005) a collection that combined classic soul and funk chops with the forward thinking electronic glitches and edits of his label Warp. The first single from this album ‘What a Shame’ certainly promised a repeat of this direction, with its stretched grainy vocals and chopped up drums and though these and other similar sounds crop up throughout the album it’s definitely a funk album, just a freaky funk album! The album opens with the Gliding pitching synths and hard hitting drums and probing funk synth bass of ‘I’m Selfish’. It’s followed  by the huge pop of ‘Big Love’ its comes on like 80’s Prince with neon synths. ‘Do Yourself A Faver’ starts off with Thick synth bass and ghost delayed synth melody before evolving into a slice of classic George Clinton electro-funk! ‘why_ya_why’ updates New Orleans funk for the 21st century with stride piano is combined with crunching, head nodding beat and squelchy synths and some excellent horn blasts, the lines between organic and electronic are blurred. ‘So Cold’ and ‘Don’t You Love Me’ stand out from the rest of album with the former offering up Icy lead synth and pad open but contrast it with the huge rush of the chorus, the later is slower number with 80’s ballad stylings which picks up the pace and reintroduces the funk elements around halfway through. Its genuinely hard to fault Lidell on an album that superb from start to finish, a true funk masterclass.

Boards of Canada – “Tomorrow’s Harvest” (Warp)

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After all the mysterious codes, album playback’s in a desert and media hype we finally have the new album from Boards of Canada. “Tomorrow’s Harvest” doesn’t disappoint and stands up alongside the rest of Boards of Canada’s stellar back catalogue. There are two things that you notice after you first listen to the album 1) this isn’t a playful album filled with childlike nostalgia like “Music Has The Right To Children” (1998) 2) this is the most rhythmic Boards of Canada album to date from the drum beats the verge on hip-hop at times to the Vangelis style arpeggios and shifting synth textures.

The album opens with synthetic horn fanfare that purposefully recalls the introduction to an 80’s T.V. show, however this is a misleading and by second track and single ‘Reach for the Dead’ a few minutes later its clear this is going to a much darker proposition. The next track ‘White Cyclosa’ plunges us further into the darkness with its dread inducing synth drone, minimal echoing synth melody and unsettling shifting synth tones that rear their ugly head two minutes in. On ‘Jacquard Causeway’ a semi industrial beat competes with a curving synth melody and its counterpoint. As the song progresses more echoing synth melodies are added and the beat has acoustic layers added and feels looser as time goes on.

With its thin lightly modulated synth line and ethereal sounding vocal textures ‘Cold Earth’ is one of only tracks on the album that recalls earlier Boards of Canada releases albeit with a skittering beat and melody that jumps erratically around the beat and stereo field. ‘Sick Times’ also recalls earlier releases but with a darker, tenser atmosphere and thick, serrated electronic drums competing for the listener’s attention. ‘Collapse’ acts as the centrepiece to the albums palindrome structure it’s groaning reversed vocal effects set the disturbing tone and the Vangelis style arpeggio is another one of the albums key tropes. Next up is the album most playful track ‘Palace Posy’ with its bouncing synth bass and melody play off an almost head nodding hip-hop beat later a delayed synth stab and rhythmic synth melody kick and give the track yet more rhythmic variation, the closest thing to pop song that Boards of Canada have produced to date. ‘Split Your Infinities’ is another album highlight that opens with huge swath of synth drone and twinkling distant synth arpeggio, all this is underpinned by a crunchy beat and lo-fi vocal sample that come in, in the tracks second half. After the intensity of ‘Split Your Infinities’ and ‘Uritual’ the lighter and more pleasant ‘Nothing Is Real’ gives the listener a chance to relax, a pattern it repeated across the album’s structure.

The closer trio of tracks is one of the finest I’ve heard this year, starting with the digital degraded rhythmic synth riff and deep twanging bass guitar of ‘New Seeds’ which recalls Ennio Morricone’s finest soundtrack work but with a modern electronic twist. The track also has some great vocal textures and treated acoustic drums. ‘Come to Dust’ perfectly balances the darker and lighter elements of the album sound combining a deep  synth drone and distant vocal texture with a spacious beat and synth melody and topping it all off with a fast moving arpeggio. The album finishes with ‘Semena Mertvykh’ and the album deepest and darkest synth drone which is twinned with a synth melody so distant it sounds like its coming from down a deep pit, static and tape hiss add to the track’s creepy, dark atmosphere.

There was a eight year wait between Boards of Canada’s last album “The Campfire Headphase” and “Tomorrow’s Harvest” but the wait was worth it with Boards of Canada producing another exceptional album.

Janelle Monae – “The Electric Lady” (Bad Boy/Wondaland)

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“The Electric Lady” is Janelle Monae’s much anticipated follow-up to her delightfully insane and eclectic debut album “The Archandroid” (2010), which featured in my Top 20 Albums of the Year 2010 on this blog. The new doesn’t disappoint mixing up a whole range of musical genres across its nineteen tracks and continuing to explore Monae’s dystopian future where she plays the character of cyborg Cindi Merryweather. The main differences between the two albums is that on “The Electric Lady” there’s a romantic subplot and Monae has a few attempts at her own take on modern R&B a genre she’s expressed much frustration with in the past.

The album opens as “The Archandroid” did with a classical suite called ‘Suite IV Electric Overture’ which features twanging tremolo guitar, slow yet purposeful strings and a low slung head nodding, thin fuzz guitar and a heavenly choir. Around 1 minute 30 seconds in there a flourish of strings that leads into… ‘Give ‘Em What They Love’ featuring Prince. In fact, Prince is the most appropriate musical reference for this track with its slick funk rock guitar and thumping minimal beat. In the chorus a shuffling acoustic guitar enters adding to the slinky groove. In verse two Prince sing falsetto over his own perfectly poised guitar melody. There’s also a great guitar solo by Prince halfway through the song but Monae is the Purple One’s equal and is never in his shadow. Next up is the album’s first single ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ featuring Erykah Badu, the track kicks off with a funky guitar riff and subby bass drum and subtle tambourine groove. Then some P-Funk synth swiggles drop in before everything gets extra funky in the chorus. The track reminds of Thee Satisfaction albeit with major label production. Monae’s first attempt at a straight R&B is ‘Electric Lady’ featuring Solange. It opens with staccato vocals and fuzz guitar solo before the main head nodding funky beat and bass line drop and Monae and Solange’s vocals interweave creating harmonic heaven, later they create some fantastic melodies together too. The beat and bass line reminds me a lot of Solange’s tracks on her own ‘True’ EP and Monae has praised her as one of only artists pushing R&B forward. ‘Primetime’ featuring Miguel is another attempt at R&B this time Monae trys her hand at a ballad. In the intro Miguel adlibs over his own vocal distant vocal harmonies and a beat thumps and echoes out. Monae pushes the boat out vocally for the chorus before a cool fuzz guitar solo kicks. Things drop down again for Miguel’s first verse proper. Despite the cheesy lyrics, sounds and guitar solos, I really like this R&B and I don’t like R&B ballads.

‘Dance Apocalyptic’ is a fantastic pop song that combines acoustic rhythm guitar, upbeat drums and great claps. It strongly recalls ‘Hey Ya’ by Outkast, which is no bad thing. ‘Look Into My Eyes’, ‘Victory’ and ‘Can’t Live Without Your Love’ show that Monae can deliver emotive vocals, something that she’s been accused of lacking in the past. Meanwhile, ‘It’s Code’ and ‘Ghetto Woman’ add to the album funk quota the former combing flanged wah-wah guitars and thick bass with subtle yet bouncy drums and some nice twinkling vibraphone melody. I love the synth swiggles in the chorus. The later continues with the synth swiggles and pumping synth bass, recalls Stevie Wonder in his 70s prime.

The only real misstep on the album (apart the interludes which add nothing to the album musically or thematically) is the closing track ‘What An Experience’ with its 80’s style synth stabs and hip-hop drums come across as cheesy where the aim was for something emotive. However, this a minor complaint on an exceptional album that equals Monae’s debut in terms of both ambition and great tunes. You need “The Electric Lady” in your life.

Julia Holter – “Loud City Song” (Domino)

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Julia Holter returns with “Loud City Song” her third album in three years and the first to record in a studio instead of her bedroom studio. It is immediately evident that this album is both similar and different to those that preceded it. The album is again themed but this time instead of an Ancient Greek theme were transported to 1940’s Paris and the film/novel ‘Gigi’ and Holter’s home of Los Angeles the inspiration for the album. Holter also continues to play with both avant garde and pop music though whereas her previous albums felt grounded and homemade “Loud City Song” brings in elements of jazz and soundtrack music that make for more upbeat and sweeping arrangements.

‘Maxim’s I’ is a great example of the leap that Holter’s made on this superb album. It begins with quiet hi-hats & cymbals play in the distance overlapping each other. The tension rises with strings and heavy piano and a synth pad enter for the beginning of the song proper. A full drum kit plays beneath all of this and Holter’s sparse lead vocal. Then there’s a breakdown to piano and violin around 2 minutes 30 seconds in before a new drum beat and Holter enter creating something that sounds like a more muted version of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Histoire De Melody Nelson”. The first section and beat returns around 4 minutes in and is later joined by what sounds like a new thicker pad sound. Next up is ‘Horns Surrounding Me’ the most effective use of field recordings in one of her songs to date. The field recording of “the brisk footfall of her fellow passersby evokes claustrophobia, danger and paranoia (is she being chased? Or is it all in her head?)”, it sets the tone for the nervous and menacing song that follows perfectly.

‘Maxim’s II’ opens sharply with Holter’s lone vocal and surges of strings. Horns join in honking before a vibraphone enters followed by pounding drums and bass guitar. Everything breaks down around two minutes in with Holter sing over just a field recording. Then huge honking horns and orchestral percussion crash in and push the joyous track along. Around 4 minutes and 30 seconds in the beat breaks down into something more strict and industrial, globs of metallic guitar, thick synth drone and squawking sax make the tracks chaotic climax. Album closer ‘City Appearing’ is an example of something else Holter manages to deliver across the whole of the album which is expert use of dynamics and texture. It begins with just Holter’s naked voice and stark piano chords. Around 1 minute 30 seconds in a wet, subtle synth pad enters glistening and slow moving. A drum beat coated in reverb enters around 2 minutes 40 seconds in. Then 3 minutes 24 seconds in a double bass line enters giving the track new purpose. Around 5 minutes in the synth pad rises to a level that causes the track to feel both tense and swirly which is emphasised by the acoustic drums that shift about below the surface.

With “Loud City Song” Holter may have delivered her best and most fascinating album to, she has managed to make a record that is hugely ambitious and hugely satisfying for the listener. Holter has truly mastered using space, dynamics, texture and improvisation alongside melody, harmony and composing. She is able to paint pictures and evoke emotion with both field recordings and musical elements and effortless blend or move between the two. It is difficult to define, is she an experimental artist or a pop artist or both? Whatever she is it’s a joy to listen to and experience.

Factory Floor – “Factory Floor” (DFA)

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I’ve been a fan of Factory Floor since discovering them back in 2009 when The Quietus began championing their cause. Since then the trio have collaborated with the likes of Simon Fisher Turner, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, released a series of astonishing 12” singles and remixes and stunned many a gig and festival audience. All this has lead to one of most highly anticipated albums of the year and it doesn’t disappoint.

The album opens with ‘Turn It Up’ which sets the scene for the rest of the album perfectly. It opens with electronic percussion that’s swiftly followed by a bass drum, processed male vocals and intense electronic cowbell. Nik Colk’s vocals join the male vocals and the track starts to feel like a minimal Arthur Russell production but more industrial in feel. Chattering techno hi-hats cut in upping the tension. The vocals get increasingly more processed and alien as the track progresses recalling those of Laurel Halo circa ‘Logic Hour’. Next up is ‘Here Again’ which begins with a synth arpeggio that fades in and out of view. Live drums kick playing in a breakbeat style and female vocals echo out. The track reminds me of Chris & Cosey who Factory Floor have collaborated with. There a great clap that comes in around two minutess in. Another arpeggio comes in to play counterpoint to the original in the third minute. the second half of the track is dominated by lots of descending delay effects, rolling toms and chattering hi-hats Colk’s vocals hovering just above.

The single ‘Fall Back’ combines a thumping acoustic bass drum, throbbing synth arpeggio and slap in the face electronic snare and toms during its intro. Colk’s vocals cut in coated in  thick effects (pitched shifted, with maybe some reverb). The chattering hi-hats kick in around 2 minutes in and give the track extra forward momentum and a faster feel. I love the way the intensity builds and when the acid bass that kicks in part through with its great spluttering, squelchy sound. ‘Two Different Ways’ is an great track that shows off the band ability to make you dance as it does their industrial intensity. It starts off with electronic bass drum and snare, backing huge synth arpeggio, toms roll in and out and hi-hats tease, the female vocal drops in coated in reverb. Wood blocks kick in with a funky rhythm around three minutes in. Wet, gloopy delay effects drip over the mix around the four minute mark, then the track finds yet more momentum with the synth bass arpeggio growing stronger and stronger as the track progresses.

The album finishes with the one-two punch of ‘Work Out’ and ‘Breathe In’. The former picks up where ‘Two Different Ways’ left off as electronic drums and percussion thump and patter while a stabby bass synth plays over the top. Tom-toms fall all over the place. Colk’s vocal echoes out creating a harmony. In second half there are more delay effects and an arpeggio that add variety and intensity, as does noise mixed in with the hi-hats and synths. A funky more resonate synth enters around 5 minutes adding extra movement and impetus to the track. The latter is the perfect end to the album and strongly recalls Cabaret Voltaire in their mid 80’s electro prime.  A thick bass synths starts things off before being swiftly joined by a tough acoustic four to the floor beat and intermit processed vocals. The vocals are used as samples rather than typical use of lead vocals.

All-in-all Factory Floor have created a great debut album that both lives up to the four years of hype that preceded it and is also surprisingly accessible compared to what I (and most critics) had expected. Go out and get yourself a copy of “Factory Floor” you won’t regret it.

Colleen – “The Weighing of the Heart” (Second Language)

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‘The Weighing of the Heart’ is Colleen’s first album since 2008, it’s also the first her first album to feature her own singing and extensive use of percussion instruments. In interviews Colleen has explained the album took so long to make as she’d fallen out of with music and took a break from both creating and listening to music.

After her enforced hiatus she has returned with an album full of beautiful music yet unorthodox music that is uniquely her own straddling the genre’s of folk, chamber pop and world music and never losing it natural feel. Opener ‘Push the Boat onto the Sand’ is a fine example of mixing of genres of unorthodox use of both her viola (its tuned like a guitar and plucked not bowed) and song structure (she uses simple repeating loops, then replaces that loop with another and then another) it also evokes a sense of Spain where she lives and records. ‘Ursa Major Find’ uses the same structure but has a more intimate and angelic feel perfectly complimented by a melody played on an antiquated sounding keyboard. ‘Humming Fields’ with its offbeat bass drum pattern and music box style melody sounds like a group of musicians playing in a room, in fact this a trick that Colleen pulls off across the second half of album and you forget this is the work of a lone person. ‘Going Forth By Day’ starts with just a lone plucked viola melody before it evolves into a more rhythmic pattern and is joined by a wavering oboe melody, a lovely track.

Colleen saves the best til last through with the final three track on the album proving to be the highlights of a great album. This trio begins with ‘Moonlit Sky’ which sees the return of the oboe again complimenting the viola perfectly before the unexpected arrival of an organ that gives the track a dynamic lift and some extra warmth. It’s followed by the scrambling viola melody and gorgeous vocal harmonies and African percussion of ‘Breaking Up the Earth’ before the title track rounds everything off with echoing viola and yearning violin melodies.

All-in-all Colleen has created an album full of beautiful and orthodox music, with enough depth to keep listeners discovering some new with each new play.

Tamikrest – “Chatma” (Glitterbeat)

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In 2011 “Toumastin” Tamikrest’s second album made number five in my Top Ten Albums of the Year and threw down the gauntlet to the kings of Tuarag (Sahara desert blues) kings Tinariwen. Now they return with a new album that pays title to the women, children and old people who are the victims of the war that’s been raging in their homeland. The band themselves had to escape to Algeria where they recorded “Chatma” (the title means ‘sisters’ in French). The album sees the band in fine form both solidifying what they’d achieved on the previous albums and adding to it with new elements (hand claps, synths), slower more reflective  tracks (something the band hadn’t done before), the addition of former Tinariwen singer Wonou Walet Sidati and a sharper, lusher production job.

The album opens with ‘Tisnant an Chatma’ and there synths are evident from intro before the lead guitar enters and Sidati talks in her native tongue. After about 30 seconds the assured drums and bass guitar and rhythm kick leading the way and picking up where the band left off on thier last album. An early highlight is ‘Itous’ which starts with a deep sparse bass line and hand percussion, swiftly followed by rhythm and lead guitars and interchanging lead vocals. Its more contemplative in tone than any Tamikrest track before it and puts down a marker for the rest of the album. More hand claps utilised around the 1 minute 20 second mark. I reaaly like the cutting, choppy rhythm guitar in the second half of the track. ‘Achaka Achail Aynian daghchilan’ continues the comtemplative tone with its combination of picked naturally reverberate acoustic guitar and quiet almost whispered male vocals and thick but not intrusive electric guitar chords.

Next up another change for Tamikrest in the faster tempo’d ‘Djanegh etoumast’ that opens with muted rhythm guitar riff before the lead guitar comes in a big chord is stuck and a faster rhythm of drums, percussion, bass and guitar kicks in. Shortly after the hand claps and vocal chants join in. There’s some great guitar solos in the instrumental sections. A drum break, bass solo and revered drum sounds introduced briefly after the three minute mark before the guitar drive back in to take the song to its climax. ‘Assikal’ sees the band exploiting the modern production techniques of reversing (a piano in this case). The guitar melodies float in before a male vocal sings quietl over, lots of overlapping reversed piano and then the loping percussion and lead guitar proper are slowly faded in. The track has a stately assured feel. Around two minutes the reversed piano and spoken word returns, the guitar echoes out infinetly. Three minutes fifty seconds in hand percussion and a wooden flute come in swiftly followed by the lead guitar, the one thing holding this whole complex track together.

A dirty analogue synth drone rises at the start of ‘Takma’ before hard drums bang and clatter, the lead guitar darts around the mix and chunks of fast and funky rhythm guitar and bass chugs below. It takes a moment to get used to this newly more uptempo Tamikrest but once I did the track and especially the synth and drums sounded great. The album closes with the brilliant ‘Timtar’, reversed guitars open the track giving way to the lead guitar and a deep bass drum, the melody is quite sparse compared to typical Tamikrest melodies. A wonderful gentle male vocal melody moves slow across the backing track. More drums enter around 2 minutes 30 seconds but they are subtle yet add just enough forward momentum to stop the track from stalling. The rhythm comes in towards to the end of the track to provide the same forward momentum.

All-in-all “Chatma” is the crowning achievement of Tamikrest’s career, the band managing to retain what made so great in the first and combine it with new elements and techniques to that enrich their Tuarag sound. Highly recommended for fans of Tuarag artists such as Tinariwen, Group Inerane and Group Doueh and those that like of sound of the descriptions in this review but have yet to explore this genre.

Mulatu Astatke – “Sketches of Ethiopia” (Harmonia Mundi/Jazz Village)

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I first came across Mulatu Astatke’s music after buying “Inspiration Information” (2009) a collborative album made with London’s funk/jazz/psychdelica band The Heliocentrics. The album hasn’t been off my mp3 player since and I’ve explored his impressive back catalogue of Ethio Jazz (the genre he pionneered in the late 60′s that combines tradtional Ethiopia modes and rhythms with those of Western jazz) albums. Four years later he returns with an album that gets closer to his aim of a perfect hybrid of Ethiopian music and jazz. The album features a number of tradtional that have been modified by Astatke so that they can play the 12 tone Western scales used in jazz.

The album opens with ‘Azmari’ the whole of Astake’s band in full swing, playing an Afro-funk/Latin jazz rhythm, brass stabs, upright bass underpins the patter of percussion and drums shift under everything. A krar (six-string lyre) flys in playing a counterpoint melody to the brass. There’s a great tense battle between the instruments around 2 minutes 40 seconds in, then the track breaksdown to upright bass twang, masinko (single-bowed lute) scraping and a vibraphone twinkling high above. The intros drums, percussion and melodies dive back in soon after. Next up is ‘Gamo’ a fast moving krar melody, upright bass line, clip-klopping percussion and African vocal chants open the track. Then the brass moves in and out with purpose. The track feels both Latin and African all at once (a trademark of Mulatu’s sound), it’s light yet not without substance. There’s a nice krar solo and low synth drones come in for the final minute or so, the interweaving male and female vocals are great too!!

‘Gambella’ starts with three sparse melodies playing out (vibes, piano & krar) over tumbling toms and waves of cymbals, this creates a forboding atmosphere but with shafts of light courtesy of the cymbals, vibes and high piano notes. The full beat, bass line and acoustic guitar melody kick in at 1 minute 30 seconds in before the horns strut in and blares out over the top. There’s great attitude in the male vocals, which are supported by the female backing vocals and they remind of how the vocals are used on Talking Heads “Remain In Light”. It’s followed by ‘Gumuz’ which begins with chanted male vocals and distant female vocal chants before phased guitar, double bass and a shuffling Latin rhythm slink in. An acoustic guitar plays a rhythm that gives the whole track forward momentum. There’s some nice electric piano chords that introduce themselves during a breakdown around 2 minutes 30 seconds and add warmth throughout the rest of the track. It’s the most modern of all the tracks I’ve hear from Astatke and he just about pulls it off, though some of the sounds are a little too smooth and polished and thus come off as a bit cheesy.

The album finishes with two great but contrasting tracks in ‘Motherland Abay’ and ‘Surma’. The former opens with sparse reverberate piano chords, swiftly followed a picked krar melody, chimes and the bowing of the masinko. Mulatu’s vibraphone twinkles in and out of the mix. This mix of instruments creates a desolate atmosphere. A washint (bamboo flute) enters and creates a haunting melody that swoops down on the listener. The masinko drives in low in the 4th minute before a light drum beat and stringed melody and trumpet take over the vibraphone playing sparsely above and around them. The latter combines a drum roll that brings in the horns, percussion and bass line. The track breaks down for the verse, that features a tightly coiled guitar riff (muted), an acoustic guitar melody, shuffling drums and the horns all backing guest Fatoumata Diawara lead vocals. The track feels a lot more like an Afrobeat or High Life track than the Ethio-Jazz of Mulatu’s usual tracks. It’s sound is sparser and more poppy than the rest of the album.

In “Sketches of Ethiopia” Astatke has created an album that comes close to matching both solo work from the late 60′s and early 70′s and the “Inspiration Information” album that are regarded as his best work. A little more time with the album will no doubt confirm if it equals these past achievements and reveal yet more detail of this meticulous yet effortless artist. Highly recommed to existing Astatke fans and fans of East African music.

Moderat – “II” (Monkeytown)

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Moderat released their first album four years ago it neatly combined the aggressive, dark techno, dancehall and hip-hop influenced side of electronica duo Modeselektor and the dreamy atmospherics and emotive vocals and guitars of electronica artist Apparat. Now the experienced trio are back with a new collaborative album “II”.

The album differs from their debut in that whereas the debut featured much more dramatic peaks and troughs across its running time, there was a handful of harder and danceable tracks were the beats were more prominent. This no problem as the trio are just as adept at slow burning and emotive tracks as they are club tracks.

Another difference is that the Moderat sound has been developed more organically, as the trio admitted in a recent interview with XLR8R that the previous album was “based on old ideas from all of us. We just had a folder and we put all of the ideas in there and we kind of recycled them”. The trio ended creating new ideas from scratch for “II” and this has led to a sound in which elements from the two different parts of the group are not fighting each other but complementing and contrasting with each other instead. All-in-all its a more well rounded and sonically consistent album.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/69467838″>Moderat “Bad Kingdom” | Monkeytown Rec.</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/pfadfinderei”>Pfadfinderei</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

After a brief intro track to the set the scene the album really gets going with ‘Bad Kingdom’ with its spiky synth bass, Apparat’s contrasting vocals (plain in the verse, dreamy and distant in the chorus) and brilliantly designed synth sound that bleep, squeal and honk. ‘Versions’ keeps the quality level and tempo high with airy fast moving pad and slinky percussion providing the energy behind rising and falling vocals and slow moving synth bass. ‘Milk’ provides the toughest and tensest track on the album with a slippery but hard techno synth bass and thin atmospherics setting the tone before another bass layer joins in thickening the sound and bringing with it reverse effects and the full drumbeat that features a very crisp and hard snare! An epic, emotive techno track should go down well in Berlin’s clubs. ‘Gita’ highlights Moderat’s ability to create incredibly detailed and texture tracks from seemingly just a few musical elements. It combines fuzzy digital bass synth, clicking, clacking electronic drums that back Apparat’s naked, and multi layered vocals. As the track progresses a synth pad and two melodies sneak underneath the vocals. After several listens I suddenly realised one of the melodies sounded like marbles falling from your hands and bouncing up into the air.

Overall it’s hard to find fault with “II”, my only real criticism is that I’d have liked some MC driven tracks like “BeatsWaySick” from the debut album but it’s a minor criticism. Moderat have created an album that could grow to be as great if not better than its predecessor was.

Fuck Buttons – “Slow Focus” (ATP Recordings)

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It has been four years since Fuck Buttons up their game on their second album “Tarot Sport” which made Sonic Fiction’s Top Ten Albums of the Year 2009. Both members have worked on other projects the most high profile of which was Benjamin John Power’s dark ambient side project Blanck Mass. Now they return with new album “Slow Focus” and the promise of a sound underpinned by hip-hop beats.

The album opens with ‘Brainfreeze’, which opens with the duo’s previous trademark tribal drums and thick snaking synth covered in grimy distortion that slink all over the drums. As the track progress more and more layers of synth are add until a new pad sound changes the song’s feel from claustrophobic to triumphant. Next up is ‘Year of the Dog’ and begins with synths bubbling up through a soup of reverb/delay before an aggressive arpeggio fly into view. Later in the track a disturbing cacophony of violins enters before the arpeggio reasserts itself and angelic sounding pad joins the melee.

Album centrepiece ‘The Red Wing’ kicks off with a hip-hop beat and chirping synth start this track before a corroding synth bass line enters. A synth riff enters and echoes out in the distance, the riff comes front and centre as the track evolves and the synth bass and synth drones gets stronger. ‘The Red Wing’ could easily be an epic track by either Boards Of Canada or El-P and that is no bad thing! ‘Sentients’ starts with resonate electronic percussion which suggests a Congotronics influence and spluttering synth blasts before a central hip-hop influenced beat kicks in. Another synth enters whistling like R2D2. A new counter point melody enters played by a resonate 8-bit vocal synth melody and is quickly following by a wave of corroded synth. Finally another pad enters giving the track a horror film/John Carpenter vibe.

‘Prince’s Prize’ and ‘Stalker’ both feature glassy FM synth melodies with the former utilising a double time hip-hop beat and reminding me of Gang Gang Dance and Mouse on Mars. While the latter adds glistening synth later after glistening synth layer until its epic climax.

The album ends with the tumbling brittle synth melody, thumping bass drum and huge ascending synth chord progression of ‘Hidden XS’ a transcendent finale to breathtaking album.

I was excited about ‘Slow Focus’ before hearing it but never thought that Fuck Buttons would find another level to take their synth noise sound to, however they have set the bar extra high with this brilliant album.

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Hypnotic Brass Ensemble are eight brass playing brothers (and an unrelated drummer) from Chicago who are all the sons the jazz music legend Kelan Phillip Cohran who played in the original line-up of Sun Ra’s Arkestra in the 1950’s. The band grew up practicing their instruments from 6am every morning as children, when they reached their teens they all got into hip-hop spending their nights secretly listening to their new heroes Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Eazy-E and NWA. Eventually these two musical genres would be combined by the brothers when they decided to making a living busking in Chicago. Having honed their sound they moved to New York and soon caused a stir with the mesmerising live performances, which lead to performing alongside Mos Def and Erykah Badu. The songs played as part of those live sets became their self-titled debut album released in 2009, swiftly followed by guest appearances on ‘Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach’ and ‘Sweepstakes’ by Gorillaz. The band then went on the Gorillaz and their own world tour, emerging with two new releases in 2012, one a collaborative album with Cohran, the other a mini album called ‘Bulletproof Brass’.

All through their career to date Hypnotic Brass Ensemble have combined multiple musical genres and always experimented within said genres, ‘Fly’ is no different in this respect throwing guitars, synths, rapping, sung vocals and Latin drums and percussion into the mix. The album opens with ‘P.O.T.A.’, there’s a quick drum roll that brings in a parping horn riff that plays counterpoint to an ascending horn melody, it’s all underpinned with a head nodding hip-hop beat. Around two minutes in the trumpet breaks away from the other instruments to play an expressive solo, it provides a nice contrast to the mournful and strict parts of the track that preceded it. Next up is ‘Rebel Rousin’ which opens with a staccato horn riff playing over the slippery minimal bass line and drum break, a trumpet plays a staccato solo over the top.  There’s a great build up that reminds me of ‘Jungle Boogie’ by Kool and the Gang. The title track is the first of the three vocal tracks on album and features Aquilla Sadallah, it kicks off with a drum break put through a cool reverb, a Latin sounding trumpet riff and ‘la la la’ backing vocals. Then Sadallah drops in for his first rap verse which gives way to the laidback and smooth vocal lead chorus.

Next up its ‘Baggae Claim’ with its combination of hard head nodding beat, lilting rhythm guitar and bright interweaving brass riffs that up the track. Then the guitar falls away and the drums, sousaphone bass line and a staccato trumpet riff take over. There’s a little change up on the brass and the original section kicks in again. The saxophone takes a solo over the sousaphone, drums and guitar around one minute in. It’s a great example of how the band mix up hard and light sounds to stunning effect. ‘Navigator’ utilises a blunt beat and deep minimal sub bass to back the sharp attack of the brass section, then things back down to an 8 bit synth riff and deep voiced rap verse that are a complete stylistic change for the band. Next up is Exchange Rate’ that opens with a spoken word sample over subdued trumpet, then the rest of the brass section and beat drop in. All the instruments drop except drums, piano and a guitar which plays a solo. The brass returns with the sax playing its own solo.  It’s another departure for the band that hadn’t used guitar or piano on any of their track before this album. ‘Favela Funk’ is the second of the two Latin influenced tracks (the other one being ‘Fly’) and combines a fast percussion pattern play behind spritely trumpet and trombone riffs another trumpet solos over the top.

The addition of the Latin rhythms to the band’s sound works as they’re previous work suggested and the same can be said of adding the raps to their hip-hop influenced tracks. However, I’m totally convinced that the rappers and rapping feature on this album always gels well with the band’s tracks and though ‘Navigator’ would have been a solid track on many a hip-hop album the band don’t quite pull off the electronic organic hybrid. Despite these missteps “Fly” is an excellent addition to an impressive back catalogue.

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Gary Numan isn’t music that normally gets reviewed on Sonic Fiction and I have to admit to having been more interested in the man’s personal struggles with Asperger’s Syndrome as a musician and human than a Numan fan, with the exceptation of his biggest hits. However, in recent years my interest has been piqued and now that Numan’s back and more high profile than he has been for years I checked “Splinter” and decided to give it a review.

The album was written during and after a period of years of depression that Numan experienced and as such the album is full of songs that talk about fear of getting older, struggling with having children, the depression and its affects including how his marriage almost broke up. So while the lyrical content is fascinating but on a similar thematic lines the music is very diverse ranging from the “creaky, gothic atmosphere of ‘Where I Can Never Be’ to the minimalism of ‘Lost’ via the dramatic, poisoned string arrangements of ‘The Calling’, monster disco floor-filler ‘Love Hurt Bleed’, the ultra catchy ‘Who Are You’ and slow build anthems ‘Everything Comes Down to This’. Numan even digs back into his with the brooding and relentless title track recalling the sound of his debut album “Replicas” (1979).” 

The album opens with ‘I Am Dust’ which begins with clanging percussion a feedbacking synth and guitars thatfeel both digital and dusty. Numan’s lead vocals and a screaming digital lead synth enter for the first verse, a hi-hat pattern drops part way through and gives the rhythm forward momentum. Then there’s a breakdown/bridge before the epic, tortured sounding chorus. When the verse kicks back in there’s a full rhythm track and ripping synth riff in place and the track powers forward!! The rhythm also gives the bridge and chorus an extra lift and more synth layers, there’s some a little more joyous in the chorus now. Next up is ‘Here in the Black’, scraping sounds and synths rise out of the dark, they give way to the dramatic strings, pizzicato synths melody and heavy guitar riff and thick bass. Everything drops away then Numan enters again singing in a whisper over thumping industrial beats, synths and deep bass. The second section returns with the strings amping the drama further and a vocal synth part cutting for a delay covered solo. Numan enters for a nasally lead vocal part, then everything drops away again. The verse section and whispering vocals enter again, halfway through a great drum break enters before the song is lifted up again for the instrumental chorus and then the nasally vocals.

‘A Shadow Falls On Me’ opens with deep echoing bass drum and cracking industrial snare/clap, swiftly joined by a feminine sounding vocal from Numan and treated detuned sounding lead synth. Hi-hats drop in around one minute in to fill out the beat and drive the track forward. Cruching guitar kick in for the last minute as a delicate melody falls over the top of tough backing track. ‘We’re the Unforgiven’ combines fizzing distorted electronic snare, subtle stuttering electro drums and cascading lead guitar during its intro. The intensity builds with the entrance of two rhythmic synths lines. Then everything falls away to make way Numan’s vocal on the first verse. Again synths build the intensity before things drift away and a synth and guitar briefly solo. The guitars and dirty synths take over the with a huge filth riff for the last two minutes of the song. The album closes with the emotive ‘My Last Day’, its opens with distant filtered percussion and synth textures that crawl along underneath reverb heavy piano and Numan’s lead vocals. Around two minutes the synth comes into view properly for a moment then everything is filtered away and the piano and vocals take over again. Three and a half minutes in the synth lead rises again and the percussion is unfiltered and tumbles beneath the piano and synth lead. There’s a yearning to the synth and piano melodies offset by the tribal percussion.

With “Splinter” Numan has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. A man once paralysed by depression emerges to deliver a great throughly modern album that doesn’t attempt to cash in Numan’s 80′s legacy or newly heralded position as a influential figure for everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Basement Jaxx. This is Numan’s (and collaborator Ade Fenton) truimph, so lets hope it isn’t anyone seven years before we get another one.

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The profilic Detroit rapper/producerBlack Milk returns with his first solo album since “Album of the Year” (2010) and his second album of this year (Computer Ugly’s brilliant rough and raw “Synth or Soul” being the other album). It’s a welcome return and sees Black Milk firing on all cylinders from start to finish and in the progress making one of the best hip-hop albums of the year.

The album opens with ‘Interpret Sabotage’ featuring Mel it begins with electric piano that floats and is then interupted by static then a synth bass line and blunt hip-hop beat drop, a synth lead swiggles over the top of thin high strings and then Black Milk cuts in with his first verse. it’s urgent and frantic. Mel sings her chorus part over just the bass line and drums before the strings and synth cut back in. It’s a great opening track. Next up is the jazzy ‘Deion’s House’ which opens with a heads down beat and stabbing jazz piano and brass over the top. It features some great toms rolls and there’s more relaxed flow from Black Milk. ‘Codes & Cab Fare’ featuring Black Thought finishes off a fantastic opening run of tracks. It starts with a slow pulsing hip-hop beat, distant spoken word samples and a bell that rings out occasional, then Black Milk comes in for the first verse backed by thick dominating organ chords and creaking string samples. After more spoken word sample cut in, the second verse is taken by Black Thought, his rhymes and delivery are more aggressive as are the synth and effects that back him.

‘Ghetto Demf featuring Quelle Chris combines a hollow synth riff (sounds like the Normal or Gary Numan), a hip-hop beat, great gliding synth melody takes,dub delay FX that spin across the mix and spoken word samples that can be heard in the background. ‘Sonny Jr. (Dreams) featuring Robert Glasper & Dwele is the first of two instrumental tracks that help break up the rap tracks and showcase Black Milk great musicality (not a strong suit for many current hip-hop producers). Electric piano chords are stabbed out, then stop making way for a drum and percussion break, thin strings come in and bring an electric piano melody, so far so jazzy. A horn cycles over the top of everything. Like a lot of the album so far, it has a filmic, soundtrack quite. I really liked the vocal harmonies that come in halfway through. The next two tracks were the lead single(s) from the album and are both ‘Sunday’s Best’ and ‘Monday’s Worst’ find Black Milk equalling J Dilla as a master of soul sampling hip-hop.

‘Perfected on Puritan Ave.’opens with a chiming melody, strong synth strings and distant bass drum backing Black Milk. Then he strips things down to a horn sample, vocal harmonies and his vocals before the verse part quickly kicks back in. Halfway through the track changes completely with tumbling drums, trumpet solo and chopped up vocal sample underpinned by driving bass guitar. Then the strings swell back into life moving around the listener to heady effect. ‘Parallels’ featuring Ab combines a cool minimal synth riff, bubbling arpeggio and tough, stark neck breaking drums. Ab sings soulfully over the top, then Milk drops in for his first verse. Melody reminds of “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. The album closes with ‘Money Bags (Paradise)’ which with its 80′s style digital synths, hard and heavy downtempo beat and slow moving synth bass, recalls Black Milk’s previously mentioned Computer Ugly album.

All-in-all “No Poison, No Paradise” is one the most fantastic and varied hip-hop albums of the year.  “To be specific it’s psychedelic, soulful, organic, reflective, and dynamic. It sounds like the soundtrack to a sci-fi gangster flick about Halloween in the streets of Detroit. Throughout NPNP Black Milk loosely constructs a theme of how the negative qualities of his Detroit environment in many ways shaped the perspective and talent he has as it connects to life and music. It’s a spiritual, thematic, and sonic balance”. This an album that highly recommend to anyone, go get yourself a copy now!!!

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