Some releases we missed in July

Eric Copeland – “Limbo” (Underwater People’s Records)

The latest solo effort from Eric Copeland of Black Dice is not exactly what you’d expect from a member of that group. True there’s plenty of lo-fi sounds and noise on the album’s six tracks but they are rendered in a pop context. There’s hip-hop influenced uses of grooves and sampling, some house/techno inspired rhythm drum machines patterns and pad textures and wonky hooks aplenty. ‘Double Reverse Psychology’ opens the album with its mix of Submerged vocals, twanging guitars and pleasantly plodding rhythm all spectacularly skewed by Copeland on one of the album’s highlights. ‘Louie, Louie, Louie’ is another highlight matching funky lo-fi wah-wah guitar and charming churning synth to create a weird pop ditty. Elsewhere Copeland is less successful with his unusual hybrid ‘Muckaluk’s Heavily filtered synths, stabbing bass and quick fire rhythm never truly coalesce or convince, ‘Fiesta Muerta’ meanders though a swinging lo-fi groove and vocal and sax samples without ever catching fire. ‘Tarzan and The Dirty Devils’ comes closest to an out and out house track with its breathy vocals and airy house style drum machine rhythm and pad textures but doesn’t reach the heights of  ‘Double Reverse Psychology’ or ‘Louie, Louie, Louie’. The album peters out with final track the sci-fi tinged ‘Lemons’. It’s seems the Copeland is coincidentally going for similar territory as PLVS VLTRA mentioned elsewhere in this post but falls short of this aim for most of “Limbo”, though there should be enough here to keep Black Dice fans happy.

Perc – “A New Brutality” (Perc Trax)

The new EP from the head of the esteemed Perc Trax label is a fantastic addition to his impressive back catalogue. The EP opens with a single ear splitting tone before thundering bass drums kicks in bringing with it resonant filter swept techno synths and a punishing bass line, the title “A New Brutality” couldn’t be more apt. The pace and heaviness doesn’t let up on ‘Cash 4 Gold’ with its clattering electro hip-hop style drum pattern, corroded synth noise and glassy spooked synth melody that dominates the second half of the track, at which point it takes on a Lynchian vibe. ‘Boy’ is an electro meets techno banger complete with heavy industrial drums. The EP rounds off with ‘Before I Go’ where things get more contemplative with crunchy field recordings backing dark reverb heavy piano chords. “A New Brutality” is an essential purchase for anyone interested in underground dance music.

Toby Dreher – “Freiluft” (Rotary Cocktail)

Working alone and as one half of Dreher & Smart, the productions of Berlin native Toby Dreher have featured on a range of German labels, including 3000°, Perplex Recordings and Dekadent Schallplatten. His debut album, “Freiluft” will be released on his hometown’s Rotary Cocktail Recordings. The digital-only record is made up of ten tracks that reflect Dreher’s skills as both a DJ and live act. Ranging from driving techno, electronica, dub-techno and hypnotic techhouse, “Freiluft” is a well crafted debut. Reflecting the moody and swirling techno of Berlin are tracks such as ‘Imagination’ with its filtered textures, low bass line, scratchy hats and thin delayed melody and ‘Spurensuche’’s rainy atmosphere, resonant bass line and metallic textures. ‘Chordhose’ stands out as a showcase of Dreher’s production abilities. It features a driving beat, tonal percussion and harsh textures that flash in and out of view. The track gradually builds in intensity with dissonant strings and drilling textures added underneath an irregular synth note. A silken vocal sample contrasts the abrasive noises.  Elsewhere is the pitch black techno of ‘Headrush’, which comprises of male voice singing melodically underneath a second distorted voice, a distant clap, an intensely resonant bass line and zinging hats. The only true misstep is ‘Shurly’. Its misplaced use of a piece of well-known dialogue from a 1980 spoof film just doesn’t make sense in the context of the track’s dark, sweeping minimal techno and feels a little like an A-level music production effort. “Freiluft”, while not a greatly imaginative or fresh album, is a solid release that will find favour with fans of Skudge et al.

PLVS VLTRA – “Pantheon” (Spectrum Spools)

The debut album from Toko Yasuda best known as keyboard player in the touring bands for Blonde Redhead and St. Vincent is chock full of genre hopping and mashing oddball pop tunes. All created with a lo-fi aesthetic the album regularly recalls the work of M.I.A., Peaking Lights and indirectly Micachu and The Shapes, in place it also reminds me of Dutch lo-fi pop artist Solex and Brazilian electro pop band CSS on the reggae referencing title track. Despite these aesthetic and sometimes stylistic similarities this record has pretty unique spin on pop music warping it into many diffuse but still tuneful shapes. Yasuda also keeps the hooks and melodies coming even on the most esoteric tracks e.g. ‘World in Words’ which is dominated by pumping bass drums that underpin delay heavy vocals and twinkling cheap synth sounds or ‘Yume’s submerged tropical sounding techno. “Pantheon” is a promising debut from an artist who I hope goes on it create many more albums and develop this fantastically oddball take on pop music.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

The Alchemist – “Russian Roulette” (Decon)

What can I say about the new album by hip-hop producer The Alchemist? Well, it appears he set out with good intentions and an over arching concept for the album but he falls short in a year packed with quality hip-hop releases. The OTT guitar solos and overtly smooth lounge jazz instrumentation sound like something you’d have heard in an airport lounge in the 70’s and leave a bad taste in the ear. This may well be the effect The Alchemist is going for, but it’s a displeasing sound. This is all the more surprising as The Alchemist has deservedly held a health amount of respect in the hip-hop community and recently had a revival of sorts producing quality tracks for the likes of Curren$y and an excellent collaborative project Gangrene with Stone’s Throw’ Oh No. There are many better producers creating (mainly instrumental) hip-hop concept albums, in fact I’d point you in the direction of Blockhead’s “Interludes After Midnight” for an excellent recent example. Whatever you do don’t buy “Russian Roulette”.

Outer Space – “Akashic Records (Events 1986 – 1990)” (Spectrum Spools)

The second album from John Elliott of Emeralds side project Outer Space is not a bad album; however it isn’t significantly different to anything Elliott, Emeralds or any other Emeralds side project has done to date. The same elements are present here as on those releases the synth arpeggio, the dark drones, the yearning synth melodies, the occasional effect or discordant melodic riff but it’s all the same. The opening track ‘Ellipse’ is the biggest disappointment it spends five minutes building tension and gaining more and more synth elements including a purposeful arpeggio before breaking down into an ambient second half that just fizzles out. The second track ’11:30’ begins in an equally promising manner with spectral synths intertwining and then being joined by a bubbling arpeggio and deep probing bass, however it then deplorably defaults back to the Emeralds template. ‘The Fifth Column’ repeats the same formula, ‘October 27th, 1989 – Bay Village, Ohio’ repeats the structure of ‘Ellipse’ with a digital arpeggio replacing ‘Ellipse’s all analogue sounds and on final track ‘February 8th, 1990 – Ashland, Ohio’ the Emeralds formula rears its head again. If your fan of Emeralds or the original kosmiche music they are inspired by you may like this album. Having said that I’m a fan of this genre of music but find it frustrating that modern artists such as Outer Space do little to move the genre forward, happy to merely recreate it perfectly.

Aesop Rock – “Skelethon” (Rhymesayers)

Aesop Rock new album sees a solid return for his long awaited sixth album, his first album exclusively devoted to his own productions, Rock having moved on and away from regular collaborator Blockhead. The album also features no guest rappers and the only other vocalist who features is Kimya Dawson (ex-Moldy Peaches). The album opens with Reverb heavy picked guitar and synth effects of ‘Leisureforce’ the chorus of which recalls TV on the Radio, in fact throughout the album Aesop Rock’s production heavily reference alternative and garage rock. This helps make sense of the collaborations with Dawson and Allyson Baker of Dirty Ghosts and gives the album a clear identity that separates it from Rock’s previous albums. The closest comparisons to Rock’s music on his album I can think of are fellow rap-alt. Rock experimentalist Busdriver and Rock’s former label boss El-P and his industrial aesthetic. The album’s highlights include the throbbing synth bass and cutting hip-hop beat of ‘Tetra’, dark head nodder ‘1,000 Clock’, ‘Racing Stripes’ with its clattering drum break, chopped up vocal stabs, funk guitar and bass and Rock flow smooth over the top and ‘ZZZ Top’ with its killer drum break, stabs and funk guitar lick. Overall this album won’t disappointment Aesop Rock fans and he his first attempt at producing a whole album is admirable, however “Skelethon” lags behind the other hip-hop releases we’ve recommended this year.

Laetita Sadier – “Silencio” (Drag City)

With her new album Sadier deliver another solid if unspectacular album. It’s solid enough and there’s the odd surprise but overall it feel very familiar. ‘Silencio’ focuses on the influence of French music on Sadier especially Serge Gainsbourg’s late 60’s output. Another influence that runs through the album (and in Sadier’s career) is that of The Velvet Underground. The albums highlights include ‘Fragment Pour Le Future De L’homme’ an upbeat French Disco track, the Latin inspired rhythms of ‘Find Me the Pulse of the Universe’, and ‘Auscultation To The Nation’ a combination of the Velvet Underground rhythm guitar and Gainsbourg style string arrangements. All of these songs show off Sadier’s new found skill for music arranging something that wasn’t present in her previous solo albums or those by Stereolab side project Monade. However, with the exception of these highlights the album never strays from the formula that Sadier established with Stereolab over 20 years ago or replicates long established generic styles and central influences. Though they aren’t bad songs or it’s hard to get away from these facts. Despite her best efforts to leave behind her past it haunts this album from start to finish.  

Beak> – “>>” (Invada)

A distinct improvement on their debut album, “>>” builds on that albums basic foundations and builds a charmingly crooked house on top of them. The central theme of album seems to be horror music and ghostly sounds as horror organ and retro delay/echo/reverb effects are a feature of a majority of the albums tracks. This is no bad thing as the bands understands these tropes and are not merely creating a facsimile or pastiche, these sounds achieve their aim. It would also be too simplistic to call this a krautrock album as though some track revolve around motorik grooves this very much a band with their sound and aesthetic, they don’t sound like Can or Neu! just obviously enjoy their music. There is a much broader and more imaginative sound palette from post-rock guitar riffs to Dub effects via Horror music organ this is a much richer sound and more developed sound while it still holds onto the energy and rawness of recording a band in a room. What’s more tracks like ‘Ladies Mile’, ‘Wulfstan II’, ‘Liar’ and ‘Yatton’ all have riffs and hooks that will stay with people for a long time after their first listen another thing that Beak>’s debut album lacked. All in all “>>” is a great album full of power yet subtle that masterful uses tension and release to create an engaging experience.

Micachu and The Shapes – “Never” (Rough Trade)

“Never” the new album from Micachu and The Shapes picks up where their debut debut “Jewellery” (2009) left off, retaining its lo-fi experimental pop sound and subtle developing it. The development manifests its self in the strong hooks that litter the album and Micachu’s previously monotone vocals finding a greater melodic range. The album gets off on the wrong foot with the first three tracks ‘Easy’, ‘Never’ and ‘Waste’ lack the remainder of albums hook and structural twists and turns. Luckily these tracks fly by in a few minutes (as do a majority of the tracks) and things pick up with ‘Slick’ and it’s swinging lo-fi hip-hop stylings. Next up is single “Ok” the melody of which recalls classic Stereolab, then ‘Low Dogg’s fat distorted synth bass crashes in and takes the listener a filthy thrill ride. ‘Holiday’ is a weird pop gem with a seasick melody. All that and were only halfway through the album. Other highlights on the album include ‘You Know’ a bouncy lo-fi pop song with Micachu’s distorted vocal dominating over the Shapes brittle shuffling backing, ‘Fall’ with its resonate melody and dark yet ethereal ambience and  the near psychedelic ‘Nothing’ the album’s most emotive and epic song. The band’s DIY instrumentation and oddball tendencies will put some people off but this an album that rewards those who decide to explore its experimental pop songs.

Top Release of the Month

Nas – “Life Is Good” (Def Jam/Universal)

Nas returns with the superb new album “Life Is Good” a strong contender for Album of the Year and a top hip-hop release in a year packed full of high quality hip-hop releases. Though the album doesn’t quite reach the heights of hip-hop classic “Illmatic” the quality rarely drops over the albums 14 tracks (18 on the deluxe edition). Nas balance’s a selection of solo joints complimented by well chosen collaborations with the likes of Large Professor, Amy Winehouse, Mary J. Blige and Anthony Hamilton amongst others. He also strikes a balance between hard hitting hip-hop tracks e.g. ‘The Don’, ‘Summer on Smash’ and ‘Accident Murderers’ with lighter summer jams e.g. ‘You Wouldn’t Understand’ and ‘Reach Out’ and jazz inflected tracks e.g. ‘Cherry Wine’ and ‘Stay’. Strings and piano are the dominate instruments and compliment the mature subject matter about the recent events in Nas’ life and his new found optimism. The cinematic scope of “Life Is Good” is stunning with Nas demonstrating that he has the gravity to compete with other blockbusting rappers like Jay-Z whose similar productions can sometimes sound hollow and overblown. The album rarely lets up its relentless pace but this no bad thing and none of the tracks out stay their welcome. On his most personal album to date Nas doesn’t pull any punches is his brutally honest tales of his own past and present, matching the vivid production of No I.D. and Salaam Remi (best known as Amy Winehouse’s producer on “Back to Black”) every step of the way!

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