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Release of the Month
Cosmin TRG – Gordian (50 Weapons)
A little under two years since Cosmin TRG’s wonderful debut album “Simulat” is his second, “Gordian” and this, like its predecessor, showcases Cosmin’s way of instilling his productions with moods, emotion and charm. ‘New Structures for Loving’ starts “Gordian”. Bearing Cosmin TRG’s familiar signature of marrying a warm and delicate synth melody with a rumbling yet unobtrusive bass drum, it’s clarity and brightness sounds open and blissful while also being a confident opener. The title track is overflowing with textures; an imploding snare rattles amongst unbalanced rhythms as long stretches of fuzzy background noise add to the disruption. An off-kilter melody and counter-motif work against each other, embellishing the unsettling feel. Cosmin TRG uses these to neat effect; having elements that push and pull, taking the track down a series of wrong turns. Next are the twin standouts ‘Desire Is Sovereign’ and ‘Defeated Hearts Club’. The former recalls his debut “Simulat” as choppy hats and a propulsive techno rhythm are met with surges of a sharp, exuberant synth melody. It’s warm, dark and dense with a satisfying heads-down-and-dance quality. On the lachrymose ‘Defeated Hearts Club’ a grainy synth using melodic builds and tactile intricacies evoke a highly personal emotional moment that stays with the listener long after the album’s final notes ring out. ‘Divided By Design’ shakes the listener out of the sadness with a 4/4 warehouse techno bass drum and expansive, pretty synth chords covered in a hazy gauze. The album’s closing tracks reroute to lighter territory: the airy ‘To Touch Is To Divert’, ‘Vertigo’, which zings with energy and “Gordian” finale ‘Terminus Abrupt’ floats with skipping percussion and a silky texture.
Altogether “Gordian” is more developed and seamless with a greater distillation of Cosmin’s ideas than those heard on the diverse “Simulat”. Where some tracks on his debut were restless and buzzing with a kind of nervous energy (‘Osu Xen’, ‘Fizic’), this is calmer and settled. Fortunately, the sparkling organic sheen that elevated “Simulat” is prevalent too on “Gordian”. Practically every track is endowed with glistening melodies and energy gained from the immersive sound scapes, robust low end and moments of bliss. “Gordian” is a gorgeous listen packed with rewarding moments.
Listen to some choice cuts form “Gordian” below:
Disappointment of the Month
Neon Neon – “Praxis Makes Perfect” (Lex)
If you’d told me at the start of the year that Neon Neon the duo consisting of Griff Rhys (Super Furry Animals) and glitch-hop producer Boom Bip would return with an second album of high brow conceptual electro pop I wouldn’t have believed you. So when “Praxis Makes Perfect” release was announced a couple of months ago I was both surprised and excited, I’d recently revisited their excellent debut album “Stainless Style” (2008) and found it had aged very well.
The album begins with the scene setting instrumental title track which does its job brilliantly unfortunately from this point on its only the single ‘Mid Century Modern Nightmare’ that’s as impressive as that track. The album is littered with awful lyrics that fall way short of the witty tales found on “Stainless Style” or indeed anything that Rhys has written for the Super Furry Animals. The songs also feel very formulaic and similar stylistically whereas “Stainless Style” had more variety with sleazy electro hip-hop and funk pop featuring guest such as Spank Rock, Yo Majesty! And Har Mar Superstar, the nearest “Praxis Makes Perfect” comes it this is the breathy contributions of Sabrina on ‘Shopping (I Like To)’. All the electro pop elements are present and correct but don’t feel fresh as they did on “Stainless Style”. It’s a shame this album doesn’t live up to its predecessor as albums that still sound and feel great five years on are a rarity nowadays and it would have been great to have another of those from this odd couple, maybe next time?
Bonobo – “The North Borders” (Ninja Tune)
In the lead up to the release of “The North Borders” Bonobo’s fifth album, pre release tracks ‘Cirrus’ and ‘Heaven for the Sinner’ suggested that a radical change of direction may have taken place. However, when I finally heard the album in full I was able to hear that although house and garage beats are present and instruments such as the harp and bells dominate the mix. This is the same producer just refining his formula and simultaneously pushing into new sonic territory. When he’s pushing into this new territory he often reminds me of his Ninja Tune label mate Falty DL whose recent ‘Hardcourage’ album could be seen as a more overtly electronic sister album to “The North Borders”. Bonobo’s moving into four to the floor territory have mixed results while tracks such as ‘Transits’, ‘Cirrus’ and ‘Emkay’ fully engage the listener and pull of a balance between Bonobo’s organic trademark sound and this new stylist direction, tracks such as ‘Antenna’, ‘Don’t Wait’ and ‘Know You’ are bland and fill unfinished. He’s on solid ground though when it comes to hip-hop beats with the stand-outs including ‘Heaven for the Sinner’, ‘Jets’ and ‘Ten Tigers’, on these tracks Bonobo manages to incorporate new sounds and refresh his formula while playing to his strengths. So “The North Borders” isn’t a complete overhaul of Bonobo’s sound and his experiments are only partly successful but overall it is a very good album.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Mosquito” (Polydor)
Yeah Yeah Yeah’s new album get off on the wrong for me. Opener ‘Sacrilege’ tries to be an all out epic but falls short and doesn’t quite gel for me. Fortunately things improve on ‘Subway’ which utilises a sample of a New York Subway train alongside twinkling guitar,hushed vocals and is underpinned by subtle bass guitar. The band take things up a notch on the stomping alien alternative rock of the title track. On ‘Under the Earth’ they explore dub reggae for the first time with deliciously dark results!!! The band delivers the epic goods on ‘Slave’ which recalls ‘Songs of the Free’ era Gang of Four. ‘These Paths’ is another stylist departure with Karen O backed by electronic drums and synths. The track recalls Gang Gang Dance, though is more grounded and uses more conventional melodies.
The band returns to the sound of their debut album with the punk trash of ‘Area 52’ before collaborating with UFO hunting rapper Kool Keith on the epic alternative rock of ‘Buried Alive’. Keith delivers a fantastically smooth verse as his Dr. Octagon character. ‘Always’ finds a middle ground between ‘Slave’ and ‘These Paths’ with added cascading synth melodies. The album finishes with two slow building tracks ‘Despair’ and ‘Wedding Song’ which round the album out nicely, bring it to a satisfying close. All-in-all Yeah Yeah Yeah’s have delivered exactly they promised an album that both goes back to basics and provides an escape from the bad situations in life.
Cannibal Ox – “Gotham” (Iron Galaxy)
Back in 2001 Cannibal Ox worked with producer El-P on what would become a classic underground hip-hop album in “The Cold Vein”. Last year the MC duo announced they were working together for the time in over ten years and that they’d release an album in 2013. This single is the first new material from Cannibal Ox and its seem like that duo and new producer Bill Comiq are attempting to recapture the tense, dark atmospherics of “The Cold Vein”, while Comiq is no copyist the three tracks on the single strongly recall that album.
The single opens with dark lo-fi stabbing instrumentation and a male spoken word piece about darkness, these elements are quickly replaced by a beat and high pitched horror string stabs with MC’s Vast Aire and Vordul Mega painting a bleak picture on top of it all. ‘Gases in Hell (Inhale)’ continues along a similar sonic theme but with a section that features a plinking vibraphone and humorous references to the comedy show “30 Rock” helping relieve the tension. The single goes out on a high with ‘Psalm 82’ with its heavy click, clacking beat and shifting vocal samples making it the highlight of the a very strong single and whets the appetite for the album proper.
Tokimonsta – “Half Shadows” (Ultra)
“Half Shadows” sees a stylistic departure for Tokimonsta who recently signed with Ultra Records a big player in the U.S. dance music scene. Whereas previous Tokimonsta releases were full of glitches, stutters and other destructive audio and MIDI editing techniques on “Half Shadows” she puts melody and harmony front and centre and simplifies her beats.
“Half Shadows” is an interesting title for the album and very reflective of the light and shade utilised throughout the album. This wasn’t something that was present on previous Tokimonsta releases but now she delivers both dark tracks like the dystopian sci-fi ‘The Force’ featuring Kool Keith and the downbeat atmospherics of ‘Green’ featuring Andreya Triana and light, poppy tracks such as ‘Foolish’ and ‘Clean Slate both lead by the melodic vocals of female vocalist Gavin Turek. Tokimonsta even throws a third style with the last four tracks on the album on which all slow in tempo and change in mood in addition to ‘Green’ we get the ghostly pad and voices and distant hip-hop beat of ‘Soul to Seoul’, the reversed piano tricks of ‘Waiting for the Break of Dawn’ and closer ‘Moon Rise’ featuring Jesse Boykins III which is the most organic track on the album hinting at where Tokimonsta will go next and finishing off the album in a fine style.
The Haxan Cloak – “Excavation” (Tri Angle)
The long awaited second album by The Haxan Cloak arrives on the back of months of hype. “Excavation” has a significantly more electronic sound compared with the self titled debut album. In fact for the first six tracks, acoustic instruments are notable by their absence.
The album opens with ‘Consumed’ with its low bass drone, quivering female vocals and thumping bass drum setting up the rest of the album nicely. The heavy atmosphere continues on the two part title track. Part one places the listener in a darkened room with electric lights flickering disturbingly overhead. There’s no constant rhythm as you’re pushed and pulled and harassed by the sparse beat and prickly synth, all underpinned by an ominous drone. Part two is equally ominous but replaces the space of part one with a huge marauding beat that storms its way through the heart of the tune accompanied by what sounds like a heavy breathing monster. Your nerves will jangle as cymbals appear as if from nowhere. ‘Miste’ goes down the minimal route and utilises chopped up samples to refresh the established sound of the album. The biggest change though is yet to come.
This change begins on ‘The Mirror Reflecting (Part Two)’ when a ghostly synth melody emerges from the darkness hinting that light and hope are just around the corner. ‘Dieu’ brings the listener into the light and reintroduces the violin, an instrument that had dominated The Haxan Cloak’s debut album. Album finale ‘The Drop’ begins full of light that recalls a classic piece of film credits music but partway through its epic thirteen running time it returns to the darkness. A sparse synth drone dominates the remainder of the track.
Overall The Haxan Cloak has delivered a very good second album that expands his sonic palette and suggests a lighter future sound. My only criticism of “Excavation” is that with the exception of ‘The Mirror Reflecting (Part Two)’ the dark and light elements are segregated. It would interesting to see if The Haxan Cloak is able to combine these more in the future like his peers Raime.
Owiny Sigoma Band – “Power Punch” (Brownswood)
“Power Punch” is the second album by Owiny Sigoma Band who feature two Kenyan members and five English members including drummer Tom Skinner who released a great solo album as Hello Skinny last year. The band recorded this album in London and early suggestions were that this meant the English members influence dominates. However, I find that for the most part the Kenyan and English/European influences are given equal billing. In fact, the album opens with a melody played on the Nyatiti a traditional Kenyan stringed instrument.
The Nyatiti is quickly joined by chanting, chimes and a spacious synth on the opener ‘Nagalo Ni Piny Odoy’. However, these disparate elements don’t really start gelling until track four ‘Lucas Malone’. Though ‘Lucas Malone’ finds the perfect balance musically the English lyrics leave a lot to be desired, there psychedelic drippy-ness partly undermining the potent musical blend. Next up ‘Magret Aloor’ throws Dub bass and delay effects into the mix with stunning results. ‘Harpoon Land’ with its Nyidounge drum pattern and guitar melody matched with a funky drum break and deep bass it sounds like an undiscovered Afrobeat gem. ‘Owiny Techno’ is another unexpected delight the Nyiduonde drum playing off a techno beat and watery lead synth. The track comes across like a futuristic take on the Congotronics sound of Konono No.1 but slower and more laidback.
The last three tracks on the album turn into a funky tour de force. Starting with the offbeat rhythms and Nyatiti riffs of ‘Yukimwi’ via the upbeat acoustic drums, grooving bass and great guitar riff of ‘All Together’ and concluding with the rhythmical Nyatiti riffs, rolling Afrobeat drums, bass and guitar of closer ‘Johnny Ra Ra’. These three tracks best illustrate why the album is called “Power Punch”. Overall Owiny Sigoma Band have produced an album that gets better with every play and promises to provide some great live shows.
Release of the Month
Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah – “12 Reasons to Die” (Soul Temple)
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.
Bonobo – “The North Borders” (Ninja Tune)
Ninja Tune beatmaker extraordinaire Bonobo returns with his fifth album. Early signs are of a change of direction with first single ‘Cirrus’ featuring a four to the floor rhythm and plenty of bells, suggesting Bonobo may have been listening to a lot of Pantha Du Prince recently. The album will feature guest vocals from Erykah Badu, Swedish singer and DVA collaborator Cornelia, NYC folk singer Grey Reverend and fellow Ninja Tune signing Szjerdene.
Owiny Sigoma Band – “Power Punch” (Brownswood)
For their second album, the band, comprising Nairobians Joseph Nyamungu and Charles Owoko and Londoners Jesse and Louis Hackett, Sam Lewis, Chris Morphitis and Tom Skinner recorded in the UK, having cut the first record, 2011′s self-titled LP, in east Africa. With the relocation has come a whole raft of new sonic textures, with electronic genres – like techno and South African Shangaan electro making an imprint on the album.
Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah – “Twelve Reasons to Die” (Soul Temple)
“Twelve Reasons to Die” is the result of an unlikely collaboration between producer and film score composer Adrian Younge (most famous for his work on the brilliant blaxploitation film “Black Dynamite) and Wu Tang Clan MC Ghostface Killah. The album is executive produced by RZA (Wu Tang Clan) and comes with a comic book written by Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon of Ashcan Press.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Mosquito” (Polydor)
For their fourth album the Yeah Yeah Yeahs went back to basics returning to a basic studio set-up in New York and trying to have as much fun as possible. The result is a title track that is literally about a Mosquito, a track that’s produced by James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) and featuring rapper Kool Keith. Though the artwork is awful, Sonic Fiction look forward to hear what we think will be an excellent album of cutting edge pop-rock.
Neon Neon – “Praxis Makes Perfect” (Lex)
Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals) and underground hip-hop producer Boom Bip return will another high concept electro pop album. This time the subject is Italian activist and publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, responsible for the publication of Doctor Zhivago and The Leopard (plus all manner of political agitation). The album will feature a host of somewhat unlikely guests. Italian singer/TV personality Sabrina is on the record, as is xXx star Asia Argento. Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer will feature, and former Neon Neon associate Cate Le Bon will also return to the fold.
Cosmin TRG – “Gordian” (50 Weapons)
Berlin-based producer Cosmin TRG will release his second album, “Gordian”, on 26th April two years after his debut full-length “Simulat”. Born Cosmin Nicolae in Bucharest, Romania, he first appeared in 2007 with 12”s on Hessle Audio, Subway and Audio Freaks (all produced under the name TRG), he then prefixed TRG with his first name and began releasing more house and techno-orientated material, which “Simulat” is the result of. According to the press release “Gordian” references an ancient myth, but also “describes the very contemporary, impossible task of discerning between real and replicated, authentic and contrived.” It adds: “Coping with facts, objects and bodies, the necessity of ‘making it,’ fear of failure, fear of ‘not being happy’ are today’s topics, and “Gordian” is my attempt at an exploration of those issues.” Nicolae expands further, “On “Gordian” I tried to shape and distill my sound further, while sticking to a certain narrative and collection of references that make sense to me.” He adds, “It is saying different things to different people, and leaves it open to interpretation, which I find the most interesting. I also think that where “Simulat” was about me making a statement, “Gordian” is about me starting a conversation.”
Listen to ‘New Structures For Living’ below:
Release of the Month
Apparat – “Krieg Und Frieden” (Music For Theatre) (Mute)
Sebastian Hartmann’s theatre production of War and Peace (Krieg und Frieden); commissioned by the German arts festival Ruhrfestspiele featured a specially composed score by renowned electronic artist Sascha Ring, aka Apparat, using a minimal ensemble of orchestra parts (cello, violin), voice and synthesizers. Apparat and two members of his live band, Philipp Timm and Christoph Hartmann, spent four weeks constructing and condensing the essence rather than the narrative of Tolstoy’s detailed depiction of Napoleon’s ill-fated 1812 invasion of Russia. The score was then adapted for this recorded version.
“Krieg und Frieden” begins with a stirring blast of noise that bleeds into track two’s set piece: a weeping cello that stands on a bed of flowing atmospheres, widening the electronic panoramic view until it sounds like a brewing storm of static and resonating strings. The mostly instrumental collection is occasionally punctuated by Apparat’s frail and mournful voice, underlining the prevailing mood of desperation. Pitched high, Ring’s voice repeats the phrase “deserted holes, deserted eyes, deserted souls, deserted lives”, on the percussive ‘Light On’ and aches forlornly beneath piano and percussion the colourful and outstanding ‘A Violent Sky’, which breaks through the chaos with a clear tone. ‘Austerlitz’, the site of one Napoleon’s greatest victories is depicted in War And Peace as the first challenge to face the aristocratic characters. Apparat’s rendering of the events begins with haunted scraping sounds and a low rumble that swells into a theatrical wave of dread and sombre melody. There are two versions of the “Kreig und Frieden” theme. Both are beautiful and emotive, with the ‘Pizzicato’ version taking on a classical form of plucked harp and violin whilst the second is stripped back and centres on the delicate sounds of a child’s wind-up music box and glorious violin. ‘Tod’ (meaning death in German) is filled with disturbing fuzzy atmospheres and reverberating guitar that simultaneously returns thematically to the start of “Krieg und Frieden” while being a fulfilling conclusion.
Apparat achieves a composition that although loyal to War and Peace’s thematic core doesn’t require the listener to have prior knowledge of the book to enjoy and absorb “Kreig und Frieden”’s poignant beauty. In doing so he has overcome a potentially off putting record by focusing on emotional strength rather than a strict narrative interpretation of his source material. A listener’s attention is held from track to track because each one plays with emotion, moods and passion, pushing and pulling you into different areas while as a whole everything blends and flows together seamlessly. It is a testament to the creator who for years has given his audience many releases to get excited about and with “Krieg und Frieden”, Apparat has created another breath-taking addition to his name.
Listen to ‘A Violent Sky’ below
Function – Incubation (Ostgut Ton)
Function (Dave Sumner), a member of highly regarded techno collective Sandwell District, which also includes the nebulous cast of Regis, Female and Silent Servant, presents his hugely anticipated debut album “Incubation” after 10+ years of releasing acclaimed 12”s. In 2010, Sandwell District released the brilliant “Feed-Forward”.
Opening “Incubation” is ‘Voiceprint’, a large scale vista of gyrating ambience and delicate beats filled with delayed percussion, tense droning bass line, effected snatches of vocals and a gorgeous twinkling motif. For the final 30 seconds it drops vertically into a surging, unsettling bass drone and a chilling rattling sound which leads into the nasty scraping sounds of ‘Against the Wall’. It recalls elements of classic techno with its unrelenting hi-hat patterns skipping over a resonant bass line as sweaty beats smack against a cavernous concrete wall. ‘Counterpoint’ is a Jeff Mills-indebted sci-fi soundtrack of fast legato synths, wheezing minor key synths and beatless, slow moving atmospherics. The use of suppressed vocals embellishes the undercurrent of tension, a common thread throughout “Incubation”. Fifth track ‘Incubation (Ritual)’ is filled with elegant, held A#m synth chords sliding through a thudding bass line giving a cleansing feel and a sense of lightness that balances the mysterious tension of previous tracks. A personal favourite since its first appearance in 2011 on Function’s “Ember” release for Sandwell District is the expansive and evocative ‘Inter’. Bright, delicate A# major synth chords glide above a bass drum that feels like the track’s beating heart. A beautiful synth melody, mirrored by a warm bass line, lifts the track to a greater level as crystalline cymbals wash through like waves.
‘Voiceprint (Reprise)’ is the meat of the album. Gasps of reverberant vocals ring out above shuffling percussion and pounding bass drum as a light cool-toned synth melody sings its way through the track. Claves echo infinitely, this small percussion instrument has never before sounded so foreboding. The rhythms give the impression of ceaselessness, feeling as if it’s moving in circles rather than pushing forward. The listener feels almost weightless, suspended by rotating claustrophobic atmospherics as the track dissipates under vaporous melodies. The final two tracks, while sufficient, don’t add anything to the album’s whole and dilute the impact of ‘Voiceprint (Reprise)’. Disappointingly, the last piece ‘Gradient I’ isn’t special enough to finalise “Incubation” so the album does drift off in the listener’s memory.
As would be expected from veteran producer Tobias Freund, ‘Incubation’ is extremely well crafted with exceptional clarity and depth of sound. It feels full of space both texturally and technically. Showing Sumner’s wealth of experience is his use of keys, D minor and major, A minor, A# minor and major, and nuanced textures and tones that cleverly link each track together and instil “Incubation” with unity. Sumner has eloquently communicated his aim to create “one endless piece to be listened to straight through … so everything is connected and there are reoccurring themes throughout the album.”
Objekt / Cosmin TRG – The Green Series 002 (Bleep)
The second release in Bleep’s The Green Series is the pairing of Objekt and Cosmin TRG, who each delivers a slice of exhilarating, thundering techno, mastered at Berlin’s renowned Dubplates and Mastering. A reverberating bass drum creates the scene for Objekt’s ‘Shuttered’ as heavy percussion locks into a flowing groove above. A searing pad snakes in the background while snatches of low voices and high-pitched delayed noises interplay to disturbing effect. A thin, high synth builds momentum until dropping dramatically into ‘Shuttered’’s main groove with the new addition of a complex interchange of heavy duty percussion and light gasps of noise. Cosmin TRG’s ‘Auster’ begins with a thunderous low end that kicks in the chest, scratching percussion and ticking hi hat layer. A thick bass line and bluish synth motif double each other with the melody line rising in intensity. Zapping effects and wheezing, hollow noises. Its belligerent, thrilling pace and sheer force of bass frequencies confronts the listener. This couple of killer techno tracks from two producers known for their unwavering high quality output is well worth checking out.