January was a surprisingly busy month with the music industry stopping only to catch its breath over Christmas and New Year before getting back into the swing of things straight away. Annoyingly there’s has been a lot of confusion over two of the albums we recommended so we’ve not been able to pass comment on Harmonious Thelonious “Listens” and Loop of Your Heart’s ” And Never Ending Nights”.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

Matthew Dear – “Headcage EP” (Ghostly International)

Matthew Dear’s “Headcage” EP is not so much a disappointment as a mixed bag that doesn’t quite achieve its aims though overall Dear comes out on top. The title track sets the tone with the influence of Brian Eno and Jon Hassell’s Fourth Music and modern synth music artists Oneohtrix Point Never and Laurel Halo. In fact ‘Headcage’ reminds me of ‘Head’ by Laurel Halo only 95% of mix hasn’t been drowned in reverb. The biggest disappointment is ‘In The Middle (I Met You There) feat. Johnny Pierce the song starts well enough with Dear’s pitched vocals and moody synths but when the music drops and Pierce’s vocals come in it’s a big letdown from then on. Things pick up a little with ‘Street Song’ the lead synth melody recalling Oneohtrix Point Never and Dear producing some pleasing tricks with his vocals, however these ideas aren’t developed fully and the song peters out. Finally ‘Around A Fountain’ reaches the heights of the title track with heavily compressed percussion, sighing backing vocals and Dear’s processed lead vocals dominating the intro before the lead vocal enters and gives the track a central focus, this is glues the track together. The track recalls similar influences to the others and Talking Heads. Though not firing on all cylinders on this EP it still feels like Dear will probably deliver on his new album “Beams” due later this year.

Oliveray – “Wonders” (Erased Tapes)

The début album by Oliveray (aka Peter Broderick and Nils Frahms) switches between vocal lead folk songs and ambient instrumentals, though even the folk tracks are grounded in ambience. Multi instrumentalist Broderick’s guitar/violin compliment Frahms vocals and piano even when Broderick push into harder or more abstract sounds. Though I prefer the instrumentals (Frahms voice is still growing on me) their cover of ‘Harmonics’ by Efterklang and album closer ‘Dreamer’ both hit the spot. Of the ambient pieces organic opener ‘Growing Waterwings’, the effects heavy ambience of ‘Piano in the Pond’ and the desolate twanging guitar and soft reverbed piano of ‘Hiding Hydiration’ stand out. Though this album doesn’t match Broderick’s recent solo album “Music For Confluence” (or A Winged Victory for the Sullen self titled début which also featured Broderick) it’s well worth investigation. I’ve only scratched the surface of both these artists vast back catalogues and so this may well turn to be one of the finest efforts of their repetitive careers to date and the album does feel like a grower.

Ekoplekz – “Westerleigh Works EP” (Perc Trax)

This EP has been talked about/marketed as Ekoplekz’s first venture into dance floor territory and listening to it you can hear why. However, Ekplekz still keeps his trademark sounds front and centre but the EP uses space more effectively and percussive sounds and deep bass provide the forward motion need. Of the three originals ‘Ekoplatz’ sounds most like his previous material while being underpinned by techno bass and percussion, the other two ‘Narco Samba’ and ‘Xylem Teardrops’ fill more stripped and danceable, while Richard H. Kirk (Cabaret Voltaire) remix of ‘Ekoplatz’ follows a similar template but adds electronic woodblocks, more structural dynamics and some of Kirk’s own idiosyncratic dub sounds. A highly recommended release for those into the darker side of dance music.

Early Contender for Debut Album of the Year

Islet – “Illuminted People”

Islet’s “Illuminated People is a confident and self-assured debut album from an ambitious band fusing together influences that seem to range from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Fuck Buttons via the Boredoms, shoegaze and folk music. The opening one-two punch of ‘Libra Man’ and ‘This Fortune’ perfectly demonstrate the band ability to bring together these influences to forge their own sound and also that their not just about the sonics but the tunes too. The briefly slacken the pace of the intro of ‘Entwined Pines’ before the drums double up and the tension builds before dropping to a Cocteau Twins style verse before post-punk guitars and synth grind away for the second of the song. ‘What We Done Wrong’ repeats the same trick but with male and female vocals play off each other. Islet show they can do subtle and simple on the folk-y ‘We Bow’ and soft vocals and feedback of  ‘A Warrior Who Longs to Grow Herbs’. The album gets even more eclectic in its second half with two post-rock style songs in ‘Filia’ and ‘Funicular’, the drum machine and tropical sounding synths of ‘Shores’ and the album closer ‘A Bear On Its Own’  with its creepy stabby synth outro, stuttering organ and duelling male and female vocals. My only really complaint is that one of the male vocalist struggles to make his notes in a way that grates other than that this is an impressive and memorable debut album from a band who could have a bright future.

Top Release of the Month

Errors – “Have Some Faith In Magic” (Rock Action)

Errors have been steadily evolving their own sound since their début EP back in 2006 and new album “Have Some Faith In Magic” is no different. What’s interesting about this album is how it seems to refer more modern influences such as James Ferraro and the chillwave/hypnagogic pop acts he has inspired so the newly introduced vocals come coated in reverb and sometimes other effects and there’s a simmering quality and multi coloured feel to the music. In addition this the band fine melodic and structural sense is not only still in place but has moved on another step, enough that they attract attention outside of their cult fan base. Particularly potent tunes include the single ‘Pleasure Palaces’ and its dance floor grooves which remind me of Washed Out and Blondes, the spritely soul inspired rhythms of ‘Barton Spring’ and ‘Blank Media’’s one of the simplest songs the band have written, which they pull off with aplomb. Elsewhere there’s almost rock guitar on opener ‘Tusk’ which also introduces one of the albums dominate sounds that of the twinkling arpeggio, however the songs are so varied that this recurring sound doesn’t grate. I had high hopes for this album after hearing ‘Magna Encarta’ and ‘Earthscore’ and Errors have met them and overcome the problems commonly associated with making a bigger leap in the evolution of a bands sound. They’ve written music that not only moves them forward but also seems primed for the bigger stages they’ll play on this year, after one play it feels this album and band can only get better.

Recommendations – February

Marcel Dettmann – “Landscape” out now (Music Man Records)

Released on the same label as his “Conducted” mix and following on from the “Translation” EP, the key feature of ‘Landscape’ is a muted melody that swells and deflates under Dettmann’s trademark thudding and scraping drums, providing a pivotal building-to-peak-time track for a DJ to throw in a set. A remix from the upcoming Answer Code Request pushes ‘Landscape’ into the pure peak time territory that the original teases the listener with.

Harmonious Thelonious – “Listens” out now (Italic)

Italic will release the follow-up to 2010’s Congotronics influenced ‘Talking’ with an new album that we at Sonic Fiction hope continues this artist’s unique combination of “American minimalism vs. African drumming vs. European sequencing”.

Blondes – “Blondes” 6th February (RVNG Itnl)

The début album from one of our favourite new acts on Sonic Fiction on RVNG Itnl who are shaping up to be the label of year (can’t wait for Julia Holter and the Sun Araw/The Congos collaboration albums later this year). The album collects together the duo’s pureistic and all analogue 12″ singles from last year plus a extra disc of remixes featuring the likes of Laurel Halo, Rene Hell and Teengirl Fantasy among others. Despite this pureistic approach this isn’t dance music by numbers and seems to incoraparate some influences from ambient music and the kosmische music of Cluster and their current peers such as Halo and Hell. Stream Blondes album here.

Loops Of Your Heart – ‘And Never Ending Nights’ 13th February (Magazine Records)

After his career ascension with “Looping State Of Mind”, The Field (Axel Willner) has created the side project Loops Of Your Heart. “And Never Ending Nights” is immersed in German influence and celebrates the country’s tradition of musical restraint that is exemplified in kosmiche musik names such as Cluster and Harmonia. The sampled voices of children speaking German on the lead track “Neukölln”, named after the Berlin district.

Peter Broderick – “http://www.itstartshear.com” 20th February 2012 (Bella Union)

Broderick’s new solo album is called “http://www.itstartshear.com” because though he has no problem with people downloading his music, Broderick sees the problems with pieces of information and artwork that can go missing and complete the experience. So he’s set-up a website where everything to do with the album can be accessed by anyone whatever format they’ve bought/got the album in.

Produced by Nils Frahm (Broderick’s partner in Oliveray) at his Durton Studio in Berlin and Broderick says “it is my first project on which the sonic timbre of the songs was treated equally as important as the music itself. I have been in awe of the sound on the many records coming out of Nils’ studio over the last couple years, so I thank him deeply for helping me to explore a richer, wider sonic landscape.”

Ital – “Hive Mind” 20th February (Planet Mu)

The début album from Daniel Martin-McCormick under his Ital guise is an album that early reviews and pre-release track suggest stretches the definition of dance music. Made up of five longform tracks that build upon last year 12″ releases on 100% Silk and takes his dirty, dubby and psychedelic sound further out. Tracks like ‘Floridian Void’ seem to bring together sounds from Martin-McCormick’s entire career thus far from the solo synth based noise project Sex Worker, through the brutal dance-punk of Mi Ami and with the D-I-Y attitude of his first band the hardcore punks Black Eyes. This is dance music in structure but not by design.

Sleigh Bells – ‘Reign of Terror’ 20th February (Mom & Pop)

The second album from Sleigh Bells promise more of the noisy pop of their début “Treats” but with a darker more gothic edge added to the overall tone. The main changes seems to be that pre-release tracks “Born to Lose” and “Comeback Kid” is that though the tracks are less in-your-face than before they still possessed extraordinary power. Meanwhile the Alexis Krauss’ vocals have become more ethereal adding a new creepy edge to the music.

Olafur Arnalds – “Another Happy Day OST”  27th February (Erased Tapes)

Like label mate Nils Frahms Olafur Arnalds is a young modern classical pianist with a prolific output. This latest release provides the soundtrack for Sam Levinson’s “Another Happy Day” starring Ellen Barkin and Demi Moore and features the beautiful and delicate ‘Poland’.

Belbury Poly – “The Belbury Tales” 27th February (Ghost Box)

The fourth album from Belbury Poly (aka Ghost Box co-founder Jim Jupp) is a heavily influenced by 1970’s folk-prog acts such as Caravan though in a recent FACT interview Jupp said he hadn’t made a prog album per se but that “While the sound and feel of British prog is an influence on The Belbury Tales, it’s only one element. It’s not a prog rock album, I don’t think; it has just as much to do with TV soundtracks, library music, kosmische and psychedelic rock.” The four clips that are available to stream via Soundcloud certainly fit this description. FACT say the album fits into the Belbury Poly and Ghost Box aesthetic but with a more organic and live feel thanks to the contributions of guest musicians Christopher Budd (bass and electric guitar) and Jim Musgrave (drums) a first for a Belbury Poly release. Jupp also adds zithers, melodica, ocarina and sampled vocals to the mix. The clips leave the listen intrigued but we’ll have to wait to find out what the whole album sounds like.

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