In a slight change from the usual I’ve included a section on releases that we didn’t recommend but liked (to varying degress) during January and February. The other change is that the post was getting so long that we’ve created a separate post for March’s recommendations.

Some releases we missed in January and February

Air – “La Voyage Dans La Lune” (Astralwerks Records)

This new soundtrack album for the George Melies short film of the same name is a return to form for Air who seemed to have lost their way in the last few years. Though the album sticks to a lot of soundtrack staples timpani, strings, brass, analogue synths and signifiers it’s still an effective and enjoyable listen. The album is reasonable varied but tracks generally fall into two camps that more obvious soundtrack pieces based around piano, timpani and strings – ‘Astronomic Club’, ‘Retour Sur Terre’, ‘Moon Fever’, ‘Who Am I Now’ (which strongly recalls Popol Vuh’s soundtrack work) and closing track ‘Lava’ and more upbeat groove driven tracks – ‘Seven Stars’ with its heavy bass groove & flapping drums pattern, the thundering drums and the prog rock sci-fi synths of ‘Parade’ and ‘Sonic Armada’ and ‘Cosmic Trip’s twinkling synths, driving bass and breakbeats. Though the album loses direction and fails to deliver its ideas towards the end it’s still well worth checking out, especially as it comes with a DVD of Melies masterpiece.

Nina Kraviz – “Nina Kraviz” (ReKids Records)

Russian DJ Nina Kraviz has released previously for Cocoon and Bpitch and played DJ sets in some of Europe’s best-known clubs with a residency at Moscow’s Propaganda club. Her self-titled and self-produced debut album serves to solidify the progress made so far without deviating from the emotive deep house she is known for. “Nina Kraviz” is a highly personal and intimate album; her voice, usually the first take recording, dominates over deep house grooves and luxuriant synthesisers. The album’s highlights, such as ‘Working’, ‘Fire’ ‘False Attraction’ and the chilly techno of ‘4 Ben’ (which is rumoured to be dedicated to her boyfriend Ben Klock, the DJ and producer) showcase Kraviz’s knowledge of constructing DJ sets that build and drop then punch at the right moment. ‘Working’ is one example of her ability to tease the audience by gradually and urgently elevating the tension then ending on a sudden climax. Overall, though, “Nina Kraviz” is hit and miss; a few inclusions, such as ‘Taxi Talk’ and ‘Choices’, don’t add anything to the album’s narrative and for the number that don’t quite deliver it is perhaps too long at 14 tracks. Transitioning from DJing and producing 12”s to releasing an album can be a difficult feat; “Nina Kraviz” proves this. While not an essential techno/house release it is evident that Kraviz has worked hard to try to make the album sit together like a cohesive DJ set and the highlights are a testament to this, making it a release that is worth checking out.

Black Bananas – “Rad Times Xpress IV”  (Drag City)

Black Bananas is a new project from Jennifer Herrema (ex-Royal Trux) that maintains the line-up of previous project RTX but subtle changes the bands overall sound. Where previously the dominate sound was a lo-fi take on rock ‘n’ roll and classic 70’s rock they are replaced by a sound derived from the 70’s P-Funk pioneers Parliament/Funkadelic. The guitar techniques of P-Funk guitarist Eddie Hazel are particularly prominent though this is no bad thing another influence that instantly jump out are the Dub of King Tubby and Lee ‘Scratch Perry. What’s most surprising and indeed pleasing is the album’s pop music feel where I expected an overly lo-fi album covered in fuzz and the smeared sound that lo-fi recording creates I was instead present with a mix that was balanced between the dirty elements and those with more clarity. Herrerma hasn’t changed over the years and though the music content has shifted slightly the lyrical content remains the same, she’s a rock ‘n’ roller and always will be this isn’t a real problem on this album and suits the music well. This isn’t ‘serious music’ per se and shouldn’t be treated as such, it’s a dirty pop thrill and all the better for it. If this a permanent change of direction then Herrema may well find a seam that she dig into, if not then at least we have this gem of an album. Check out the album’s title track here.

Claro Intelecto – “Second Blood” EP (Delsin)

“Second Blood” is an elegantly slow, almost seductive EP released on the Netherland’s Delsin label, which is also home to Redshape and analogue-loyal techno producer Morphosis. The title track contains static hisses and an agile, skulking synth that is pulled along by the considerate use of side-chaining on every bar which gives the bass line a cushioned effect under airy chords. ‘Heart’ is woozy and lethargic, recalling Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS in its use of placid ambience and the barely-there bass drum.  At 115bpm, ‘Voyeurism’ is the EP’s fastest track. The softly pumping chords and arpeggio synth line are near dub-techno. After the lethargy of the two previous tracks the seductively grooving bass line gives ‘Voyeurism’ a spirited potency while a round bass drums push the track forward. “Second Blood” is a brilliant downtempo techno EP from an artist who infrequently releases material.

Ekoplekz – “Dromilly Vale EP” (Public Information Records)

Ekoplekz’s new EP for Public Information is a more abstract and sounds similar to some of the tracks on his “Intrusive Incidentals Vol. 1” album from last year. This combined with a structural arcs were tracks start off relatively sparse before building into dense collages of synths, organ and sound effects. If I had to pick highlights (the whole EP is excellent) they’d be the dissonant ‘Jugglin’ Fer Jesus’ (which title is a play on Ekoplekz hero’s Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Sluggin’ Fer Jesus’) and ‘Clayton Freak’ with its slow creepy feel of horror movie and BBC Radiophonic material. The whole EP is shoot through the Ekoplekz own brand of dub delirium and is all the better for it. The bonus tracks are well worth the price of an e-mail address, one being a Dub mix of the EP’s other BBC Radiophonic Workshop influenced track ‘Dick Mill’s Blues’ and ‘Rotamotion’ a lighter bubbling take on the dark dance material of Ekoplekz’s recent “Westerleigh Works EP” for Perc Trax.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

Harmonious Thelonius – “Listens” (Italic Records)

The abrasive combination of American minimalism’s condensed patterns, European melodies and African-inspired rhythms that made “Talking”, Harmonious Thelonious’ (Stefan Schwander) debut album, sound so raw, urgent and exceptional are replaced by a more accessible, light South American-style palette and a larger focus on melody. Yet the mix is overly compressed leaving “Listen” sounding flat and airless with nothing to allow the melodies to shine or excite. It is my understanding that the album was recorded in a studio yet audience noise can be heard in the background, which seems like a poor attempt to inject interest into lifeless tracks. As with his previous album, Schwander’s passion and knowledge of these musical styles are clear and while there are glimpses that prove there is more territory to explore in this direction, there is very little, save the rich, complex ‘Drums Of Steel’ and ‘Trans-Harmonic System’, that has the grit, energy and, ultimately, the excitement of “Talking”.

Sleigh Bells – “Reign of Terror” (Mom & Pop)

A disappointing return for an act that promised so much two years ago. ‘Reign of Terror’ won’t be getting many repeat plays by me. It’s not all bad in fact the band show that they’ve progressed with new ethereal sounds and digital synths a recurring presence throughout the album. However, the band rarely convince on ‘Reign of Terror’ which is severely lacking in the ‘can’t get out of brain’ hooks department, the whole thing comes off a little flat. In addition to this the band’s love of 80’s hair metal aesthetics quick becomes grating, the opening track (‘True Shred Guitar’)  a particularly cringe worthy example of this with its crowd noise and the AC/DC riff that follows falls flat too. Nothing on this album comes close to what the band had previously achieved though it shows that they aren’t one trick ponies it’s just their other tricks aren’t that good unfortunately.

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

Olafur Arnalds soundtrack for the film “Another Happy Day” does what it says on, fulfilling its purpose though a majority of the songs failure to translate without the images it accompanies. This by no means a bad album and the highlights, the haunting ‘Poland’, the creepy and foreboding ‘Out to Sea’ and the opener ‘Land of Nod’ are all great additions to Arnalds back catalogue. However the rest of the album leaves a little to be desired, yes they work on a functional level and there’s nothing wrong with that but they don’t rise to the heights of Arnalds last album ‘… And They Escaped The Weight of Darkness’ (2010). Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the closing track ‘Everything Must Change’ after spending half of the track six and a half minute length bringing the tracks main elements (twinkling piano, scratchy pizzicato violin, a deep doomy bass line, clattering reverb heavy percussion and ghostly voices and violin) only for when the whole thing starts to coalesce to drop everything to a lone violin, a massive anti climax that destroys the tension and energy that had been built up.

The Belbury Poly – “The Belbury Tales” (Ghost Box)

“The Belbury Tales” is a very 50/50 album while some tracks are little more than good facsimiles of their influences others (especially in the album’s second half) manage to rise above being the sum of their parts and match more recent production techniques and style particularly hip-hop style breakbeats into an already heady and complex brew. The first half of the record suggests good ideas with its mix of elements but fails to deliver sounding flat and unimaginative, it’s hard to pinpoint why these tracks fail whereas the second includes a handful of gems. These include the gorgeous interweaving synth melodies of ‘Summer Round’, the fuzz coated ‘Chapel Perilous’, the irresistibly funky ‘Goat Foot’, and the chilling ‘My Hands’. The first reference point that springs to mind is Broadcast and The Focus Groups “…Investigate Witch Cults of The Radio Age” but with a the use of guitars, bass, drums, ocarina, zithers and melodica adding energy and a wider colour palette. When the album hits its heights it’ll put a smile on your face but for the remainder of the tracks its just mildly diverting.

Loops of Your Heart – “And Never Ending Nights” (Magazine Records)

“And Never Ending Nights” is true to traditional kosmische musik artists, in particular, Cluster whose albums were created using a small palette of instruments, sounds and textures.  In the absence of drums, the synthesiser arpeggios create the rhythm. Thick basslines are balanced by synths that shimmer, cut and swell; fast arpeggios provide mantra-like qualities over ethereal pads. In “And Never Ending Nights”, Axel Willner has provided another example of the German electronic music practice of letting the music flow albeit in a controlled manner, which creates most of its tension, while, as with his main project The Field, showcasing his skill in restrained and effective song writing.  The album is a lesson in simplicity and stripped composition and the mid-section provides the highlights; ‘End’ and ‘Cries’ are two of Willner’s most emotive compositions yet while ‘Neukölln’ and  ‘Lost In The Mirror’ are the most transparent in revealing the German influences. The former, named after a Berlin district, features the voices of young children speaking German under layers of synths that gently swell and wobble in the style of Cluster and aesthetics of Harmonia.

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

The new album by Peter Broderick picks up where he left with his last solo release “Music for Confluence” left off and features the same basic instrumentation acoustic/electric guitar, piano and violin. However, there are subtle and not so subtle ways this album manages to differentiate its self from “Music for Confluence”, firstly this isn’t a film soundtrack and thus allows Broderick more freedom of expression. The most obvious ways this freedom is expressed is the album brighter and sometimes more upbeat sound and the fact that Broderick’s lead vocals (which sometimes sound a little like Arthur Russell) dominate whereas only backing vocals were present on “Music for Confluence”. In fact the album features a lot more melodic materials full stop and married with Broderick’s expert use of harmony, reverb and others effects to create atmosphere it makes for much more dynamic material. Throughout the album Broderick successfully tightrope walks between accessibility and push the listener beyond their expectations. He achieves not only with his melodic work and use of effects but also unpredictable song structures on ‘With The Notes on Fire’ (like two songs in one), ‘Colin’ (which initially sounds like the rest of the album before the introduction of percussion pushes the song in a new direction and ‘Asleep’ and its use of crowd source readings of the lyrics from around the world that disorient and delight in equal measure. “Music for Confluence” is a great album and “http://www.itstartshear.com” is its equal and perfect companion piece.

Contender for Debut Album of the Year

Ital – “Hive Mind” (Planet Mu)

Ital’s debut album makes for an interesting listening experience, though this is dance music, it’s unlike to set many dance floors alight. However, this doesn’t make it the album a failure; in fact its inverting of house and techno music structures is a thrilling and disorienting experience. Though by no means a direct comparison its seems that Ital is attempting something similar to Axel Willner aka The Field though Willner inverts the structures of techno, Ital disrupts and stretches them to their limits. Another indirect reference point is that of Cabaret Voltaire’s 80’s era music (and founder Richard H. Kirk’s work as part of Sweet Exorcist, recently anthologised by Warp Records) this seems to a constant in the drum and the influence crops up most obvious on ‘First Wave’ with added disorienting rhythms and synths. The most obvious direct influence outside of dance music is the kosmiche musick of Cluster, Harmonia and to a less extent Tangerine Dream, in fact ‘Floridian Void’ (the highlight of the album) sounds a little like a dark techno take on fellow American kosmiche musick enthusiast Emeralds. I feel sure that the debate about ‘Hive Mind’ will continue throughout the year as it could well turn to be one of those albums the confounds and confuses as much as it thrills and provokes thoughtful analysis.

Top Release of the Month

Blondes – “Blondes” (RVNG ITNL)

Blondes self titled debut album is one that hard to do justice to without its sounding like a repetitive bore-fest, which it is far from. The duo fit into both the modern dance music camp alongside the likes of The Field, Gui Boratto and other Kompakt techno alumni and alongside modern Ambient and hynagogic pop acts such as Laurel Halo, Teengirl Fantasy and Rene Hell amongst others. Blondes manage to fuse these two opposites together in way that plays to the strengths of both, you never feel the dance elements are getting bogged down by the atmospherics or that the atmospherics are dominated by the dance elements. The duo encompass a range of emotions across the album from the brighter tracks like ‘Gold’ and ‘Amber’ to the dark and subdued ‘Pleasure via drowned Kraftwerkian synth work on ‘Business’ and foggy tension of ‘Water’. One of the album’s strength is that despite the amount of recycling there is (every second track is a re-versioning of the previous track) the variety on show is impressive as is the duo’s ability to keep the listener engaged and excited by these same/similar elements. Blondes have not only created a contender for Debut Album of the Year but an early contender for the Album of the Year itself.

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