Liam’s Reviews

Biggest Disappointment of the month

JJ Doom – “Keys to the Kuffs” (Lex)

JJ Doom first came into being after MC Doom was sent some beat CDs on his label Lex Records. Most the beats he chose to work with were created by New Orleans based experimental hip-hop producer Jneiro Jarnel. “Keys to the Kuffs” is the result of the collaboration between the two artists. Its all new ground for Doom, completely different to all his previous projects and while this is a breathe of air at times the project feels like two disparate styles that don’t meld together. However, its by no means an album without its moments ‘Guv’nor’s truncated riff, speech samples and Doom’s rhymes all mesh nicely, ‘Banished’ matches penetrating bass with electronic atmospherics and a lo-fi beat  that expertly underpin Doom’s usually speedy flow, ‘Bite the Thong’ provides lyrics on music industry politics and a twisted flow from Doom and the mournful strings and piano chords of ‘Winter Blues’ are well up their with Doom’s best tracks and adds an extra emotive edge to his complex verbiage. Jneiro keeps things interesting with a variety of styles and beats employed and even a few false endings that then lead on new sections that seem completely unrelated to what’s gone before, unfortunately I feel that though he’s by no means a bad producer, his style doesn’t suit Doom’s unique lyrical style and delivery. I’m also disappointed that I cannot hear the the contributions of Damon Albarn, Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and Beth Gibbons (Portishead) as those collaborations seemed like they’d create a contrast to what Doom and Jarnel were expected to provide. Though I’m sure fans of both these artists will find tracks they enjoy hear, I feel overall the album is flawed.

Teengirl Fantasy – “Tracer” (R & S)

The new album by Teengirl Fantasy doesn’t quite live up to expectations but is by no means a massive let down either. The album highlights are ‘Pyjama’ with its broken beats and brittle oriental melodies, ‘End’ with its longing pads, light arpeggios and reverb heavy piano melody, ‘Vector Spray’s tribal beats and sweeping synthetic strings, ‘Do It’ featuring Romanthony of Daft Punk fame with it funky thumping, uplifting house beats and album closer ‘Timeline’ with it glassy arpeggio, knocking beats and Acid style 303 bassline. However, the album lacks variety and fails to convince on the remaining five tracks. The repetition is found in the overuse of glassy synth arpeggios and oriental melodies which grates over the course of the whole album. It also feels like while the duo can deliver thrills aplenty with a track like ‘Do It’ they have a tendency to work their way into an awkward cul-de-sac on other tracks e.g.  ‘Orbit’ and ‘EFX’. Some tracks also suffer from sounding too similar to the duo’s peer particulary Laurel Halo whose sound is recalled throughout the album with no variation on her unique style apparent. As I said at the start of this review its not  all doom and gloom as when the album hits it heights it either delivers in spades or demonstrates great potential for the duo’s future release. Teengirl Fantasy are still a project in development but I await their next move with much anticipation.

Dan Deacon – “America” (Domino)

This very much an album of two halves the first stuffed full of short pop songs, the other a four part classical music style suite. Both are linked to together by Deacon’s concept of writing about America’s greatest geographical vistas and simple experiences. The whole album concurs up images of America from the Grand Canyon to riding on cross country railways and everything in between. This is by far the grandest conceptual and most hi-fi record of Deacon’s career in which he has abandoned traditional instrumentation and studio based recording for circuit bent toys and synthesizers and grotty lo-fi 8 bit sound quality. This lead the album a lush and more detail sound as well as broader sound palette all of which showcases Deacon’s skill as an arranger that may have sometimes been hidden by the noisy natural of his previous albums. The first half opens with the familiar corrosive noise and pounding bass drum that is Deacon trademark before a melody emerges halfway through the opening track ‘Guildford Avenue Bridge’, leading to a temporary blissful ambient section before everything piles back in. Next up is the album’s purest pop song ‘True Thrush’ with its acoustic guitars, and gentle synth arp and piano and mallet riffs that recall the Beach Boy’s finest moments set to a hip-hop beat and given a modern 8-bit twist. ‘Lots’ is an 8-bit electro punk pop stomper complete with sugar rush melodies that blows through your brain and is over before you know it. The first halve finish with the Tangerine Dream-esque ‘Prettyboy’ and ‘Crash Jam’ which channels some of fellow Baltimore oddballs Animal Collective into Deacon’s noisy electro pop song. The second half beings with large arching strings before slowly gather pace and intensity that brings with it 8-bit synth riffs and pounding tribal drums along with complex reverb heavy vocal harmonies and Deacon’s own heavily treated lead vocal. ‘USA II: The Great American Desert’ gives the listen a brief rest bite opening with fizzing and buzzing lead synths and synth bass drone before the entrance of rolling acoustic drums, thundering synth bass, jarring 8-bit melodies and huge vocal harmonies join the party!! The previously mentioned railway trip is evoked on ‘USA III: Rail’ with its complex rhythmic interplay between violin plucks, piano notes and what may or may not be real horns. The album finishes with the immense bass drone and tumbling drums and percussion of ‘USA IV: Manifest’ these elements are later joined by a corrosive synth sound similar to one from the opening track, which bookends the album and ties it together sonically and conceptually. There’s no doubt that “America” is a complex and ambitious work that takes more than a single sitting to digest and though it definitely has some musical success, it’s an album that we’ll be figuring out for a while yet.

Liam’s Top Release of the Month

Matthew Dear – “Beams” (Ghostly International)

Matthew Dear returns with his fifth album under his own name and “Beams” is another great work from an artist who has consistently delivered the good over the years. “Beams” differences from Dear’s previous solo albums as its not produced by him but Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid, most famous for their work with Fever Ray and Blonde Redhead, of which Dear is a fan. The album combines the dark sounds of Dear’s last album “Black City” and the Talking Heads influenced techno-pop of his masterpiece “Asa Breed”. Due to his superior production and songwriting skills Dear makes combining these two different but not unconnected sounds seem like child’s play and the result is an effortless feel throughout the album.  The album begins with the singles ‘Her Fantasy’ and ‘Earthforms’ the former a tropical sounding techno pop track of the highest quality the latter Dear self described ” deepest delve into a straight rock song”. The album swiftly moves on to another tropical sounding track in ‘Headcage’ the groove led title track of Dear’s EP from January this year. Two more upbeat groove based tracks in ‘Fighting is Futile’ and the Talking Heads influenced ‘Up and Out’ whizz by and give up the more electronically inclined second half of the album. This starts with the Surging synth bass line and techno beat ‘Overtime’ that are barely contained by speakers. ‘Get the Rhyme Right’ returns to similar territory to ‘Earthforms’ but with the emphasis on twisted synths and distorted guitars that smother the drums and bass in their electric filth! Things get more sparse and downtempo on ‘Ahead of Myself’ with Dear’s breathy vocals given minimal synth and drum machine backing. Then album enters the home coming straight with ‘Do The Right Thing’ a song that starts with just a bubbling and bouncing groove topped with lo-fi simple melody but steadily and subtly develops into a full and rounded track thanks to Dear’s masterful arranging. He finishes the album with the one-two punch of ‘Shake Me’ a dark torch song that recalls Depeche Mode of their most moody and magnificent and ‘Temptation’ a slow burner that repays the listeners patience tenfold! All in all “Beams” is a great album from an artist well into his career showing that he can still learn and keep the listen guessing  and satisfied even after all this time.

Vier’s Reviews

Deepchord – “Sommer” (Soma)

Following on from last year’s darkly intense “Hash Bar Loops“,Deepchord (Rod Modell) continues to reinvent and diversify. Traces of the previous album remain on “Sommer” but there is a lighter, more ethereal feel. Deepchord’s characteristic manipulation of space and time remains, which is an integral part of “Sommer”‘s soundscape. Effect-heavy textures, sliding and shifting rhythmic elements and intricate production details create a constantly evolving, vaporous tapestry. Rich field recordings, made on a beach close to Modell’s home, imbue “Sommer” with an aqueous character and create a unified atmosphere that breathes underneath the fluttering percussion and bass pulsing from the speakers. Owing to their airy and aquatic textures, the songs seem like a hybrid of Porter Ricks’ “Biokinetics” and “Merriweather Post Pavilion” by Animal Collective.

Modell explained the reason for “Sommer”‘s relaxed delivery in a recent interview, “This one is different than my previous work. It’s got a lighter feel. The music lacks the tension in other DC projects. Generally, 85% of my recording sessions have been done during the middle of the night. This one was recorded during more daytime hours. Strange as it may seem, I think this affected the outcome. Summertime was in the air. My home is 30 metres to the water/beach, and as I sit in the house, I can see sailboats going by all day and people on the beach. It was stress free. I think this was channelled into the overall feel.” Modell’s new-found guiding practice of “work during the day, by the sea and quickly” (avoiding what he calls analysis-paralysis: a destructive spiral of re-thinking and re-playing of the recorded material in to which many producers fall) results in 13 techno tracks that provide a new view of the ambient Detroit techno that Deepchord has made his own.

“Sommer” captures evocative sound passages. Beautiful, humid atmospheres are drawn in ‘Glow’, ‘Wind Farm’ and ‘Cruising Towards Dawn’, dark fluid journeys traced with ‘Flow Induced Vibrations’ and ‘Gliding’. We travel towards the sunny getaway that ‘Amber’, ‘Benetau’ and ‘The Universe As A Hologram’ propose. In short, “Sommer” is an amalgamation of deep and warm organic atmospherics and dance music. The mood evokes warm summer evenings when the sunset takes on an ethereal and introspective nature. The emotive, atmospheric warmth and intuitively produced layers of details are what makes “Sommer” another essential Deepchord album.

Vier’s Top Release of the Month

Silent Harbour – Silent Harbour (Echochord)

Operating on the cusp of ambient techno and electro-acoustic music, “Silent Harbour”, the new project from Boris Bunnick (who is best known for producing exhilarating techno as Conforce) explores deep-sea submersion and aquatic environments and all the ambiance and isolation such places involve. The concept of “Silent Harbour”: travelling through that great, deep unknown, shines through immediately. From the opening seconds of ‘Aquatic Movement’ the listener is gently lowered below the sea’s surface. Steady pulses guides us past tinkling glass and through gentle washes that sway and shimmer as specks of sounds float by.  Sun rays occasionally beam down from above; sometimes you’re in warm water, other times it’s colder. ‘Cascade’ speaks of danger, suggesting a brewing storm. An attacking beat, which hints at a predator swimming towards prey, builds tension above booms and drones. Further below the surface is ‘Scintillans In The Port’ where we’re met by abstract ambience and gloomy water. Bunnick shapes diffuse sounds until the listener glimpses hallucinatory tones in the dissonant ambience. 4/4 anchored rhythms are fractured and percussions survey the perimeters while the vast space between becomes a playground for radiant metallic timbres and shimmering electronic apparitions. “Silent Harbour”’s structure can be divided into four sections. It takes the listener from the initial submersion down to the gloomy territory of predators then further down to intense, suffocating depths then gradually lifts us back up to the water’s surface during the album’s last four tracks.

‘Geometry’ is the closest song to outright techno on “Silent Harbour”. Bass drums and hats push along; warm bass frequencies soothe and embrace in the warm water. A synth acts as sunrays warming the water’s surface. There is a great focus on details and while it still has a slow tempo (the average BPM is 106) it feels lighter and optimistic. Somehow Bunnik manages to soundtrack what seem like underwater shipwrecks. ‘Dock Operations’ evokes rusted metal and swarms of ocean floor-dwelling vertebrates within dark, murky surroundings. A standout comes in the form of the album’s eighth track ‘Saltwater Intrusion’. Light percussion and sonar-like bleeps introduce a hollow drone that gradually rises to invoke a sense of creeping forebode. After nearly two minutes a determined bass drum cuts through, propelling us further down into the sea. Additional gleaming drones appear and float by.  Shimmering water swirls around the listener as the percussion glides through the expansive ocean. ‘Profundal Zone’ glides the listener through a slow and delicate soundscape. Meditative warm water is recreated with bouncing bass drums, tapping percussion and bubbling synths. The immersive bass frequencies of ‘Descending Radius Curve’ surge and roll as atmospheric sounds appear and dissipate regularly, evoking an exploration of shallow water that bursts with growing coral and flowering aquatic plants. “Silent Harbour” is so brilliantly evocative you will soon forget you’re standing on terra firma. As Kompakt describes it, this is music “for techno heads to fall into when the kicks are too much.”

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