September was a busy and mostly satisfying month. In addition to the Sonic Fiction’s recommendations from last month there were impressive albums released by Laura Marling, Death In Vegas and A Winged Victory for the Sullen, plus a solid effort from The Duke Spirit, which is well worth checking out if you’re missing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Now to those recommendations:

This month’s biggest disappointment comes courtesy of DJ Shadow and his new album “The Less You Know, The Better”. Though I have to agree with those who criticised his last effort “The Outsider”, I actually found “The Private Press” to be a grower and so stayed open-minded about the new Shadow album. However, this unfocused and underwhelming effort needs more than an open mind to get you to like it. Eclectic is the appropriate word for this album and I have no problem with albums that flit between styles and moods, but this album rarely convinces or produces great moments/tracks. ‘Stay the Course’, ‘Warning Call’, ‘Enemy Lines’ and ‘(Not So) Sad and Lonely’ all try for some kind of rock as done by DJ Shadow but they come out bloated and hollow, it’s also not something I’d ever imagine Shadow making as it really doesn’t suit him. ‘Back to Front (Circular Logic)’ and ‘Circular Logic (Front to Back)’ are successful attempts at the atmospheric music that was once this artists signature, they bare a passing resemblance to some tracks from ‘The Private Press’, however they aren’t Shadow’s finest hour  either. Meanwhile ‘Border Crossing’, ‘I’ve Been Trying’, ‘Sad and Lonely’ and ‘Scale It Back’ all revisit the break beat based material Shadow released on Solesides in the mid to late 90’s and though these are better than a majority of material on the album, its feels like he’s on autopilot or way too early for any sort of revival of this style of hip-hop. Overall “The Less You Know, The Better” does prove one thing and that’s if we all knew less about DJ Shadow it’d probably be a slightly more impressive album.

I’ll be honest I’ve found it difficult to get my head around the new Roots Manuva album “4everevolution” and say anything meaningful about it that hasn’t already been stated. It’s definitely his most commercial release to date littered with catchy and clubby tracks, however few of these ever fully convince, his sung vocals are no match for his superior MC skills. It’s great when he gets stuck into some sociopolitical rhyming on ‘Skid Valley’ and ‘Who Goes There?’ the first time he approached such material in years. Although there’s nothing wrong with the music on “4everevolution” it just doesn’t grab me in the way earlier Roots Manuva albums have and doesn’t really suggest itself as a grower either. Still I believe Roots Manuva has it in him for at least one more great album, maybe next time.

The new self titled album from Megafaun certainly covers a lot of ground even introducing some new sounds, styles and instruments on this album. ‘Get Right’ combines the trademark Megafaun sound to Neu! style synth and motorik momentum. ‘Hope You Know’is an emotive and minimal piano ballad, another first for the band. ‘Resurrection’ is an Upbeat electrified folk rock filled out by Rhodes piano and pedal/lap steel guitar. Strings pop up across the album on the warm ‘Second Friend’, the abstract interlude ‘Serene Return’ and album closer ‘Everything’. The band push things out from their usual song based style on the aforementioned ‘Serene Return’, ‘State Meant’ and ‘Post Script’ which work a treat where they could have gone seriously wrong. This is an album that could be a grower, however so was their previous album ‘Gather, Form and Fly’ and repeated listens really paid off with that. It’s too early to tell if this album will equal the previous’ ones highlights but I think it’s worth giving the time to show whether it can or not.

“In The Grace of Your Love”, the long-awaited new album from The Rapture proved to be a mini triumph. Although time will tell us just how good this album is my first couple of spins left me impressed with the bands work. The only real missteps are ‘Rollar Coaster’ (pop era Talking Heads) and ‘Come Back to Me’ (an out-and-out dance tune that sounds like a dance production featuring Luke Jenner than a tune by The Rapture and suffers for it). The rest of album holds up a pretty high standard, the best examples being the rolling disco with post-punk guitars of ‘Children’, the funky title track and its near twin ‘Never Die Again’. Elsewhere the opener ‘Sail Away’ and ‘Miss You’ both combine dance music beats and backing and punchy rock dynamics that feels huge but not over bearing, ‘How Deep is Your Love?’ provides an epic house number and centre piece and closer ‘It Takes Time to be a Man’ is a surprising change with the band taking a soulful piece of with an almost hip-hop beat and feel. The glue that holds all of the album’s strands together is Luke Jenner’s stronger and more soulful vocal delivery, the band plays with a lot of black music influences and reference points but this is the first time Jenner has tried to sound ‘black’ and succeeds in this area most of the time. ‘In the Grace of Your Love’ develops further the sound the band adopted on their last album ‘Pieces of the People We Love’. Add to this the more explicit dance and disco influences that they now better incorporated into their sound and it seem this album will only get better with repeat listens.

“Coracle”, the new album from Kompakt’s Walls, opens with ‘Into Our Midst’, which sees the bass, drums and percussion pushed forward into a techno groove as a looped vocal sound plays against the swirling, arpeggio synths. ‘Sunporch’ continues on from ‘Into Our Midst’. A commanding bass line pulses through hi-hats and percussion and small snatches of melodies ebb and flow in the thick cloud of synths and guitar. Most of the tracks continue in this manner. “Coracle” is a seamless continuation of Walls’ debut and isn’t a great development of their sound. It is, however, a bolder, more confident release that emphasises percussive groove and harsher guitar buzz underneath the syrupy gauze of synths. ‘Raw Umber / Twilight’ begins with the background chatter that arose in earlier track ‘Vacant’ then unfurls into twinkling melodies and glassy synth arpeggios bedded into warm, hazy techno. This is the most beautiful track on the album and the one that condenses the album’s strongest elements into a potent song that perfectly encapsulates Walls’ sound.

“Get Lost” the new album from Mark McGuire came in for a bit of stick in The Wire magazine’s recent review. The reviewer claimed McGuire wasn’t contributed anything new to the ‘kosmische musik’ revival he and his band Emeralds are part of. I don’t believe that Mark McGuire and his band mates have never claimed to contributing anything new to this style of music, I think they’d readily admit being guilty of recreating the music of Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel and Cluster in their own way. As such this album is very similar to a large amount of McGuire’s back catalogue and with the first extensive use of guitar-synthesizers; instead of his trusty guitar-synth it moves his material closer to that of the ‘kosmische musik’ of Emeralds. A section of the album also sees a first for McGuire as he uses vocals on ‘When You’re Somewhere’. ‘Alama’ and ‘Alma (Reprise)/Chances Are’, the most explicit use of these is ‘Alma’ and it’s a success the warmth of McGuire vocals compliment that of his music. All the typical traits of McGuire’s guitar playing are present especially his fuzz lead lines and repetitive yet hypnotic delay heavy rhythm patterns, the album also features a lot of acoustic guitar which also featured prominently on last year’s “Living With Yourself”. It’s the synth drones and arpeggios though that dominates, and is the biggest departure for McGuire. “Get Lost” slots easily into McGuire hefty back catalogue and will delight long time fans, it may not add anything to ‘kosmische musik’ but that doesn’t mean it’s not an album that’s well worth having.

After 5 years Spank Rock returned this month with his second solo album “Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar”. Overall the album is a stormer combining tracks that consolidates what he’d achieved on previous album “YoYoYoYoYo” and moving into new areas like four to floor dance music, grungy distortion and Can sampling single ‘Energy’. Spank Rock also tries out singing on ‘The Dance’, ‘Baby’ (on which he pulls off an excellent Prince impersonation) and ‘Energy’ and does so with aplomb. The triple dance floor whammy of ‘The Dance’, ‘#1 Hit’ and ‘Turn It Off’ are the biggest departures but also greatest success on the album. During the second half of the album the majority of tracks recall “YoYoYoYoYo”s’ electro sound but here it’s been expanded and built upon to incorporate tribal vibes, industrial touches, grungy distortion and on ‘Baby’ a phat funk groove. Like on his début Spank Rock pushes the envelope of electro hip-hop successfully bringing together disparate elements and combining them as if they should be together. An excellent album full of energy, humour and electro!

Another release on Kompakt is Gui Boratto’s “III”. His previous releases “Chromophobia” and “Take My Breath Away” are built on staccato rhythms that trip over themselves and push and pull against arpeggiated synths and gently overdriven, poppy melodies. “III” is all about slower grooves and dark, searing techno. Twin tracks ‘Geluchat’ and ‘Stems From Hell’ sound like Gui Boratto deep in Berghain. The bass drum pounds, bass lines growl and groove and grainy synths coil and graze. His use of peaks and drops are masterful; they tease and reward the listener; pure peak time clubbing. This opening set also explains the black cover. Where the covers of Boratto’s previous albums are vibrant reds and blues, ‘III’ is hard and confrontational. It demands to be played loud. Next track ‘Striker’ features, for the first time, vocals from Gui Boratto and recalls Madga’s awe-inspiring basslines and her inclusion of sinister post-punk tracks in her mixes. Disappointingly the final track ‘This Is Not The End’, which features his wife Luciana Villanova, feels like a misstep and is too lightweight against the abrasive, pummelling techno. Finishing with ‘The Third’, a floating track of held chords and delayed melodies would have been a great finale; the sun rising after a night of dancing.

Kid Koala’s “Space Cadet” was definitely the best album experience this month. The “Space Cadet” CD accompanies the graphic novel of the same name perfectly. Kid Koala balances the need for musicality with an atmospheric and emotive sound that never fills contrived. Reading along with the soundtrack heightens everything on the page and the album stands up brilliantly on its own. A fine demonstration of this artist’s constantly developing skill as a composer and creator of turntable music that is capable of expressing emotion beyond humour.

This month’s best album is definitely Apparat’s “The Devil’s Walk”. I’ll admit that his last solo album ‘Walls’ did take quite a while to grow on me and reveal it charms. Not so this time Apparat now displays his ability to write both immediate and engaging material that is rich both in hooks and melody as it is in deep harmony and atmosphere. Fans of ‘Walls’ will not automatically recognise this as the Apparat they know and love. In fact that album has a lot more in common with his collaborative project Moderat (the best of this is ‘Song of Los’) and the ‘Orchestra of Bubbles’ album with Ellen Allien  particularly the string sounds employed throughout this album. ‘The Devil’s Walk’ occupies similar territory to the Moderat album with a dark, Gothic atmosphere and medieval sounds a constant throughout. The cover echoes these influences and this album coming out on electronic music pioneers Mute Records and at time indirectly recalls Depeche Mode at the finest. Apparat’s vocal’s even sound like Marc Almond (of Soft Cell fame) minus the camp edge. Apparat’s greatest achievement here is combining modern production techniques with strong song writing. His song are now more memorable and emotional evocative.

Spotify Playlist:

September playlist

Coming up in October on Sonic Fiction:

Classics Critiqued – “The Modern Dance” by Pere Ubu

Recommendations – October

3rd October

Zola Jesus – “Conatus”

‘Vessel’, the first single recalls a gloopier ‘Enjoy’ by Bjork or perhaps a b-side from Homogenic while second single ‘Seekir’ promises a leap in production and instrumentation for her second album. Developing from ‘Stridulum II’, Zola Jesus allows the fervant electronic drums and wet synths to drown her voice before rising into one of her soon-to-be-trademark choruses.

10th October

Bjork – “Biophilia” (Nonesuch/One Little Indian)

Bjork doesn’t do anything in half measures. She is guaranteed to put her heart in every one of her albums and “Biophilia” continues this stream of strong artistic statements. First single ‘Crystalline’  is filled with delicate, glassy timbres, fizzing electronic drums and a female choir that celebrate Bjork’s proud return before jungle drums explode out of the ether. Critics may complain this is just a repetition of previous albums but “Biophilia” feels like a great comeback after four years away and really she could do almost anything and it would still top most albums around.

The Field – “Looping State Of Mind” (Kompakt)

Sweden’s Axel Willner (The Field) returns with his third album on Kompakt. “Looping State Of Mind” neatly builds on the landscapes of his previous releases “From Here We Go Sublime”,  a collection of icy yet deeply affecting techno tracks, and “Yesterday and Today”, which covers a warmer krautrock-indebted area, to merge the best of both into a beautiful seven track blend of warm synth arpeggios, droning, pulsing pads and that  Kompakt schaffel. The eponymous loops feel like they could last forever; building and dropping and shuffling.

Wolfgang Voigt – “Kafkatrax” (Profan/Kompakt)

The Kompakt co-founder collects the Kafkatrax vinyl releases on a 10 track CD. Hearing the tense, disembodied voices, taken from audiobooks of Franz Kafka’s works, stretched and clipped and set against a never-ending bass drum is a fascinating listen in one unbroken stretch. The release is perfectly fitting for the idiosyncratic Voigt and Kafka’s paranoid, dystopian words.

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