Releases we missed in March and April

Rkss – “Basement EP” (self-released)

 Available on Bandcamp –  http://rkss.bandcamp.com/

With exciting artists like Lucy and Skudge growing in stature, the space available for experimental techno producers to inhabit continually expands. The self-released “Basement” EP by Rkss, a young producer from Berlin, was unexpectedly released on 18th April. The title track from his debut EP barely contains a cavernous bass line that growls underneath clattering percussion and a deep, thumping bass drum, it makes for a seriously dark techno track. Following ‘Basement’ are two lighter and melodic cuts but the title track is a true stand-out and a strong introduction to a fledgling career.

Finally found a stream of the Quakers album, check out what I (Liam, Sonic Fiction editor) thought of it below:

Quakers – “Quakers” (Stones Throw Records)

Geoff Barrow’s hip-hop side project delivers a slap in the face to the majority of underground hip-hop acts out there. They achieve this simply by returning to what a majority of 90’s hip-hop music so good, a raw sound that begins together analogue synth bass-line, stabs of brass, guitar and strings, deep piano chords and plinking lead lines and a host of MCs keeping it punchy on these all too brief tracks. For the majority of the second half of the album the beats slow down and there’s a more atmospheric and emotive vibe that recalls both movie soundtracks and classic Wu-Tang Clan tracks. The other great about this project is that the recruitment of MCs was on-line via the posting of downloadable demos that MCs could rhyme over and then send back to Barrow, DJ Katalyst and 7STU7 for their consideration. There’s too much material and too many highlights to pick out particular tracks for analysis and that would miss the point of album that’s centred around a concept and should be played as whole piece as it every track links into the next and has something to offer every hip-hop fan.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

Spiritualized – “Sweet Heart, Sweet Light” (Double Six Records)

The new album from Spiritualized is slightly disappointing, feeling rather earthbound (though I guess that could also apply to 2008’s “Songs In A&E”) compared Jason Pierce’s finest moments. The songs just don’t have astral glide that they had before feeling stranded on earth, held firmly in place. In a recent interview Pierce revealed he’d been very ill during the recording and mixing of album, the medication often leaving him feeling like he didn’t know what he was doing. This may go some way to explaining the feeling I’ve described, I do feel for Pierce as this has impacted on what could have been another solid enter in his back catalogue. It’s not all doom and gloom though closer ‘So Long You Pretty Thing’ has a couple of surprises mainly a twanging banjo as lead instrument and that it manages a rousing ending that had eluded so many tracks before it. ‘Get What You Deserve’ comes close to capturing the psychedelic magic of previous records and ‘Hey Jane’ adds a motorik twist to the typical Pierce formula. So down but not out, let’s hope the Spiritualized record is a return to form.

oOoOO – “Our Loving Is Hurting Us” (Tri Angle Records)

The new EP from oOoOO is another disappointment showing no real progression in his sound in the 18 months or so since his debut self titled EP. What’s worse is that none of the tracks come close to measuring up to the haunting and affecting tracks that stayed with the listener long after the music had finished playing. This EP has none of that, feeling like a detached retread, in fact the tracks within EP sound too similar to each other and it all becomes an amorphous and anonymous whole. oOoOO’s peers such as Balam Acab and Toro Y Moi have subtly evolved and improved their sound since their debut releases but “Our Loving Is Hurting Us” just plumps for the same old same old, a shame as oOoOO had shown so much potential.

Santigold – “Master of my Make-Believe” (Atlantic Records)

The new album from Santigold is a mixed bag, on the one hand she’s overcome the biggest problem with her debut album – that it was too clean and grossy, lacking the grit of her demos but on the other hand a lot of ‘Master of my Make-Believe’ sounds the same. Here Santi calls on a lot of the same elements distorted electronic drums, glassy synths and huge pop chorus and though there’s nothing wrong with this is isolation over the course of the album each repetition dulls the formula. As a consequence of this the highlights are mostly the tracks that deviate from the formula in some way though ‘God From The Machine’ and ‘Go’ are great new wave and electro inspired pop tracks in their own right. The other highlights include the strings and splashy breakbeat, post-punk guitar and delayed reggae piano of ‘Disparate Youth’, the sombre ‘This Isn’t Our Parade’ and the clattering party starter that is ‘Big Mouth’. It’s odd that the formulaic songs actually feature some very strong melodies and hooks and are well written songs that just need a different set of sounds. “Master of my Make-Believe” reaches for cutting edge pop record and gets halfway there. Maybe next time Santigold can learn to produce a fully formed set of songs that aren’t full of generic sounds.

Mohn – “Mohn” (Kompakt)

Kompakt boss and techno pioneer Wolfgang Voit and fellow German minimalist Jörg Burger continue their long friendship with Mohn, a new project that comes with a self-titled album. Synchronising the styles of the two artists, the self-titled album barely contains nine tracks that sound like an aural representation of a Casper David Friedrich painting: barren landscapes and colossal, other-worldly forces of nature erupting or the sound of the unnamed apocalypse that dominates Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. This is most apparent on ‘Schwarzer Schwan’, which begins with a ghostly synth and an immense bass drum that thunders under a delayed, drifting melody. The intensity rises as a second synth melody comes in and out of view. Male and Female voices enter singing held notes all the while that heavily reverbed bass drum thunders. Others are moments of fragility and beauty; any abrasive edges have been erased. Neatly sitting alongside GAS (Voigt) is ‘Ambientöt’, thanks to the long reverb tails that seep out into soft, sparkling atmospherics meanwhile ‘Saturn’ evolves into a track of delicate percussion and textures that flutter like a bird’s wings, recalling Cluster’s “Sowiesoso”. Flickers of the style of techno Voigt and Burger bred can be heard in the sensual, slowly unfolding ‘Seqtor 88’ or ‘Ebertplatz 2020’, a wonderful decelerated ambient/techno track with a beautiful synth part that drifts in and out, gradually building to an intense yet sombre climax; full of atmosphere and emotional resonance. On the haunting and unearthly ‘Wiegenlied (lullaby), the listener is brought back to an uneasy sense of dystopia: a lone cavernous bass drum signals the album’s end, it is a final death-knell of a human-inhabited world and the beginning of a post-human one. Added together, “Mohn” couldn’t be anything other than a Kompakt release – possessing fleeting tension strong enough to upset the glistening ambient clouds and expansive minimalism.

Battles – “Dross Glop” (Warp)

Battles have put together a remix album that achieves two simultaneously acting as both a companion piece to “Gloss Drop” and expanding on its core musical themes. Four of the remixes (by Gui Boratto, The Field, Silent Servant and Kangding Ray) taken the implied techno influence on Battles sound and make it explicit, elsewhere the Caribbean influences are played on and with by Gang Gang Dance, Hudson Mohawke and EYE (of the Boredoms). The two hip-hop reworks by The Alchemist and Shabazz Palaces manage the balance act of incorporating much of the originals melodic material while creating whole new grooves and atmospheres underneath them. The only real disappointment is Pat Mahoney and Dennis McNany’s dull and predictable disco remix of ‘My Machines’. Despite these many different generic strands ‘Dross Glop’ hangs together as cohesive work highlighting the strength of the Battles originals and suggesting new directions for the band.

Olafur Arnalds & Nils Frahms – “Stare” 10″ (Erased Tapes)

This exclusive Record Store Day 10” (also available for download via Boomkat) features three great new ambient based tracks from Erased Tapes main stays Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm with a guest lot from Frahm’s collaborator Anne Muller on ‘B1’. All the tracks are long form and so develop slowly across their entire lengths keep the listener on their toes while never disturbing the ambient quality of the music. ‘A1’ combines a gentle analogue synth arpeggio with perfectly poised processed piano eventually revealing a watery processed under belly. ‘A2’ is the most sparse of the three tracks with plenty of space for its ambient synth and reverb heavy guitar melody to roam in before breaking down to a single mournful synth part for its final quarter. ‘B1’ has a misleading beginning in which an uptempo arpeggio prods the listener but halfway through the tempo and atmosphere change to dark and dank the opposite of what’s come before. If you didn’t get a copy on Record Store Day we’d highly recommend buying the download via Boomkat.

Clark’s new album “Iradelphic” occupies similar sonic territory as the music put out by the Ghost Box label, especially the most recent album by The Belbury Poly, so it seems appropriate that Ghost Box co-founder Julian House produced the artwork for the album. The album combines folk elements such as acoustic guitars, double bass, acoustic drums and strings with synth drones, arpeggios, electronic drums and percussion and psychedelic effects. The icing on the cake is the vocals of Martina Topley-Bird who provides vocals on ‘Broken Kite Footage’, ‘The Pining Part 2’, ‘Secret’ and ‘Open’. The album divides itself into two song types of track more song based and more drone based soundtrack music/palette cleansers and Clark switches effortlessly between the two showing his diversity as an artist. Another string to his bow is that even the song based material features unexpected twists and turns to keep the listener on their toes. With “Iradelphic” Clark confirms himself as deserving of a place among Warp’s most vaulted artists, his varied career to date has rarely seen a drop in quality, he is the equal of Aphex Twin, Autechre and Boards of Canada.

King Felix – “Spring EP” (Liberation Technologies)

The “Spring EP” picks up where Laurel Halo left off with the “Hour Logic EP”     last summer, though she has some tricks up her sleeve and the music is a lot harder to pin down. Here the rhythms wiggle and squirm restless and constantly shifting not settling into a smooth groove, this is one of the things that makes the EP so exciting you’re never quite sure what’s coming next. The first three tracks are all a variation on the same theme, Halo is so inventive within this limitation that the listener is never bored by the central theme. I won’t pretend to be an expert on techno but it seems to me that Halo has carved out her own style while referencing the glory years of early Nineties Detroit techno. The other crucial difference between this EP and “Hour Logic” is that whereas many of the tracks on the previous EP sound submerged beneath water this is Halo least veiled work to date, she lets the tracks reveal themselves and breathe all the elements able to exhibit themselves equally. The “Spring EP” is a fantastic addition to Halo’s discography and whets the appetite ahead of her debut album out in May.

Orcas – “Orcas” (Morr Music)

Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) and Benoit Pioulard’s (aka Thomas Meluch) new collaboration as “Orcas” blends sad, twinkling pop songs with shuddering masses of electronic sounds; a fusion of song-writing with ambient minimalism that stands somewhere between the piano-based modern compositions of Peter Broderick, the Field’s highly emotive techno and GAS’ subdued beats and stately atmospheres. ‘Pallor Cedes’ sets the tone of the self-titled album with rising and falling drones and a clipped guitar rhythm sitting under softly picked acoustic guitar and Pioulard’s aching repetition of the phrase “like coming up for air”. “Arrow Drawn”’s clever use of vocal double tracking and harmonies slowly seep into the listener’s ears as quiet acoustic guitar and piano merge into “Standard Error”’s floating loop of sighs. Calling to mind GAS and Irisarri’s work as The Sight Below is “Carrion”, an unhurriedly evolving hymn that encompasses a distant beat, echoed piano parts, an irregular guitar chord and Pioulard’s gauze-covered sad-eyed voice. A standout is their sublime, glacial cover of Broadcast’s ‘Until Then’, a poignant tribute to the untimely passing of singer Trish Keenan. Continuing “Orcas” use of piano, the track is built on a close-mic’d delicately played piano which frames Pioulard’s reflective vocals. Dark tones that lurk beneath the surface surge to the fore three minutes in compacting everything under coarse static until a sudden drop back to a solo piano, making for an emotionally charged song. Across the album Benoit Pioulard’s vocals glide along amid quiet piano and guitar notes and backing textures that rise and fall in gentle interplay, vinyl crackle and natural reverb adding an important touch of atmosphere. “Orcas” is a beautiful dignified album that summons a sense of space, understated progression and immense depths.

Top Release of the Month

Claro Intelecto – “Reform Club” (Delsin)

“Reform Club” sits in a foggy haze; it is full of serene melodies and reflective emotion. As well as being warmer than Claro Intelecto’s previous releases “Neurofibro” and “Metanarrative”, the album is both comforting and inviting while deeply tender and rich. Its production is thick and meaty. The nine tracks sit together in a cleverly unified way; avoiding homogeneity – a result meticulous compositions and the freedom Claro Intelecto’s new label Delsin has offered. Opener ‘Reformed’ matches ‘Voyeurism’ (from the “Second Blood” EP) in pace and style. Metronomic hi-hats push the tempo to 120 BPM (‘Reformed’ is the fastest of the nine tracks) while a bouncing bass line and snatches of strings top a driving bass drum. A standout is the next track ‘Blind Side’, which sounds like a Basic Channel track for this decade: a deep bass drum pushes forward a mysterious melody that is submerged under churning dub-techno percussive elements and metallic slivers of hi-hats. ‘Still Here’ takes the tempo down to 96 BPM. Reverbed percussion sits upfront, striking the listener and melancholic, dreamy strings are embraced by the bass drum; a theme through the album is the depth and warmth in the low end frequencies.  Legato emphatic strings provide a contrast to the flashes of acidic arpeggios on ‘It’s Getting Late’ while a submerged bass drum thumps. ‘Second Blood’, the title track from the wonderful “Second Blood” EP released earlier this year, sits in the album perfectly. Static, a vast low end, sparkling hats and serene, emotionally resonant pads and strings provides one of “Reform Club”’s most affecting moments. The beautiful, fluttering synth that appears at 3:25 in “Night Of The Maniac” is something to behold as it flickers above sonorous beats and a dark melody that is set against a counterpoint bass line. Album closer ‘Quiet Life’ features piano and fluctuating sheer pads to form a delicate, touching conclusion.

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