June was a relatively quiet month (as July will be) but there’s still four albums to report on, starting with….

This month’s biggest disappointment is the self titled début album by Blanck Mass aka Benjamin John Power of Fuck Buttons. This ambient album’s main problem is that apart from the devastating ‘Land Disasters’ and ‘Sundowner’ the rest of the album all sounds very similar and a lot of it recalls Oneohtrix Point Never, whom it has to be said has pretty much perfected this corner of ambient music. The tracks are overly repetitive and where other artists use this aspect to create hypnotic music this release feels boring and staid. The reoccurring use of field recordings of water and the wave-like synth sounds are a cliché within the genre and they aren’t deployed in any new or interesting way on this album. The digital feel of the album and the fact it was made 100% on a laptop makes it a polar opposite of Fuck Buttons’ hands on analogue approach, this might explain why I came away feeling the album lacks impact and anything truly engaging.

Next  “Perfect Darkness”, the new album from Ninja Tune’s troubled folk troubadour Fink. Though not an album that will grab most people on its first play there’s plenty of positives in favour of this release. First of all Fink proves he’s no one trick pony showing that he can enhance his trademark sound with strings (‘Perfect Darkness’) and electric guitar (‘Honesty’, ‘Warm Shadow’ and ‘Berlin Sunrise’), he also manages to show a new lighter side on ‘Warm Shadow’, ‘Save it For Somebody Else’ and ‘Berlin Sunrise’. In addition to this there is extensive use of extra effects and textures all of which means this is Fink’s most varied album yet. Not an instant hit but definitely a grower that could reveal much on repeat visits.

To mark the tenth anniversary of founder Florian Fricke’s death German label SPV have put together a two disc package. The first disc collects classic Popol Vuh tracks across the band’s 30 year career and the second disc is comprised of remixes. The first disc features tracks from the albums that were used as soundtracks to classic Werner Herzog films of the 1970s and early ’80s. This disc definitely does what it set outs to; to group the best moments but also be varied in the style, mood and textures. Included are the haunting opener ‘Aguirre I Lacrima di Rei’, the peaceful closer ‘Kailash: Last Village’ via the medieval ‘Bruder Des Schattens’, the shiny ‘In Your Eyes’ and everything in between. A great introduction to this underrated band and one that could entice some buyers to explore further.

The first half of the second disc is a disappointing selection with the exception of the Thomas Fehlmann mix, though that does sound like a Thomas Fehlmann track. These remixes adhere to a formula of focusing on particular elements of the songs and then writing a four to the floor track around them, some tracks acknowledge the mood or atmosphere of the original but a lot don’t and these come across as very lazy. Only a few remixers such as Mouse on Mars, Stereolab and A Critical Mass do anything interesting rhythmically with the mostly beat-less originals. The second half is an improvement with Mika Vaino’s ambient mix, Mouse on Mars glitch hop mix and Stereolab’s subtle interweaving of their own brand of analogue weirdness being particular highlights. The final track is an extended version of ‘Train through Time’, a track the most directly links Popol Vuh with dance music and this version gets to the dancefloor destination that the original only hints at.

The remix disc makes sense in a lot of ways with many of the contributors being signed to progressive German labels such as Kompakt who can be linked back to the philosophy of Popol Vuh and their fellow Krautrockers. Despite the second disc being a bit of a disappointment the first disc and the few good remixes make this a package worth exploring.

In addition to my initial thoughts which you can read in last month’s 2011: through my (biased) eyes Battle’s “Gloss Drop” has continued to grow on me and inspire new thoughts. The main one being that some tracks feature a concrete sounding backdrop that is juxtaposed with  Caribbean/Calypso rhythms and melodies playing over the top. This shouldn’t work but the band have bent these opposing sound to their will. The more I play the album the more enjoyable it is and the more Battles sound at ease with their experimental new sound. Like Gang Gang Dance’s “Eye Contact” this has barely been off the stereo and could be serious competition for the number one spot in the end of the year review!

Spotify playlist:

June playlist

Coming up this month on Sonic Fiction:

Classics Critiqued – “Low” by David Bowie

Recommendations – July

A very quiet month in terms of new releases of note but here’s a couple that are worth checking out:

David Borden, James Ferraro, Samuel Godin, Laurel Halo, and Daniel Lopatin – ‘FRKWYS Vol.7′ 18th July (digital 30th July) (RVNG Intl.)

The latest edition of the brilliant FRKWYS (Freakways) series on RVNG Intl. is a collaboration between electronic music pioneer and composer David Borden and four stars of the current boom in solo synthesiser music. The track ‘People of the Wind Pt. 2′ is streaming at RVNG Intl. website and offers a preview of what is to come.

Steve Mason and Dennis Bovell – “Ghosts Outside” 18th July/25th July (Double Six)

Steve Mason (ex Beta Band) released joined forces with the much respected reggae artist / producer Dennis Bovell (producer of Linton Kwesi Johnson and U.K. Dub legend) to create the album “Ghosts Outside” which is released July 2011 through Double Six. The album is a radical ‘dub’ reinterpretation of Steve Mason’s “Boys Outside” long-player which was released to widespread critical acclaim in 2010. Download a free track ‘Yesterday’s Dub’ here.

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