Kirsty’s Reviews

Disappointment of the month

Albert Swarm – Wake (Ceremony Recordings)

“Wake”, the debut album of the Finnish producer Pietu Arvola, meanders and rolls on without direction. It is stagnant and, bar the closing song “Moths and Moth Catchers”, devoid of anything remotely memorable. All seven tracks follow the same arrangement: it begins in an infancy stage where unnameable sounds drift and float then elements are slowly added and expanded until reaching a plateau for the final minute or so then it comes to an end. Everything sits in the same frequency range, leaving little space for the songs to breathe and settle. This sounds less like a stylistic choice of a suffocating atmosphere and more of flattening  over-compression. Except for sections of ‘A Dream That Glistened’ and ‘Moths and Moth Catchers’ there is a lack of melody, a hollow void where something enticing should be. Sadly the only thing that even comes close to the emotion found in the strangely operatic and heart-wrenching ‘Familialities’ from Swarm’s “Held” EP from 2011 is ‘Moths and Moth Catchers’, which utilises a chordal structure to  underpin, and emphasise, a much longed-for melody. This last song is the point where “Wake” finally comes alive and makes a play for the listener’s attention.

Barker & Baumecker – “Transsektoral” (Ostgut Ton)

Sam Barker and Andreas Baumecker’s debut album is purposed to travel the spectrum of electronic music. Both established figures within Berlin’s techno family, Barker is known for co-running the Leisure System nights and his razor-edged electronics as Voltek. Baumecker, meanwhile has headed up the record label Freundinnen and worked as a resident DJ and booking agent for Berghain. Having previously collaborated on 2010’s “Candyflip” and the notable “A Murder of Crows” EP in March, “Transsektoral” collates 11 new tracks from the pair. Ranging in tempo and texture, the album pushes a sleek but rough sound injected with contemporary and past techno with a dose of IDM/electronica dynamics.

A track like the chilling, buzzing ‘Crows’ seems to build in reverse and, as with the rest of the album, feels like a polished jam, taking unexpected twists and turns that sound like a result of spur-of-the-moment decisions. Silvery spurts of ambient music can be found in the twinkling, bubbling tracks ‘Sektor’ and ‘Tranq’. Disciples of Ostgut Ton’s techno arsenal will be at home in the awesomely punishing shunt of ‘Buttcracker’ and ‘Silo.’ “Transsektoral isn’t without flaws: ‘No Body’’s uninspired ghostly garage feels three years old and the finale ‘Spur’ tips the scales of sentimental into a cloying syrup. Yet the dark and skippy ‘Schlang Bang’, ‘Trafo’’s hyperkinetic race and the aforementioned standouts create the kind of well-paced experience that lends itself to a DJ set. Their debut may not be flawless but it does come close. With its infectious sense of fun and masterfully undercooked programming “Transsektoral” finds the sweet spot between old-school dance music energy and the modern techno aesthetic.

Steffi – “Shraper” EP (Ostgut Ton)

Steffi’s 12″ for Ostgut Ton reveals three tough, energetic tracks to add to her collection of evolving productions. After the many intimate house and techno moments on her debut album “Yours & Mine”, Steffi provides further flashes of her fine techno sound for “Shraper”. The eponymous first track (A-side) combines a simple yet effective driving beat and scraping, scratching percussion with a whomping bass line and a thin, yawning synth line to hypnotic effect, cranking the energy levels right up. The string version of the second (B-side) track ‘Tank’ is a ride around Panorama Bar with a mellow mood created by a deeper bass, bouncing metallic hats and a bell pattern added underneath a silkier version of the synth melody from the opening track. The Beat version of ‘Tank’ builds and builds with fewer elements namely a demanding bass drum, fast16th hats and percussion, a neat DJ tool to bring any dance floor together.

Release of the month

John Tejada – “The Predicting Machine” (Kompakt)

On his eighth solo album, John Tejada shows his enduring acclaim is entirely deserved thanks to his singular variety of smart melodic house and techno. ‘The Predicting Machine’ cycles through ten tracks that effortlessly and elegantly weave lean electronics and pounding, yet sparse, beats and emotive melodies. On last year’s “Parabolas”, he restricted himself to a narrow palette of sounds, perhaps as a way to highlight his expertise with detail, but on “The Predicting Machine”, his second consecutive release for Kompakt, Tejada runs wild, excitedly and purposefully pulling sounds from an assorted catalogue of eras and styles and it is this wide-eyed enthusiasm that makes him and Kompakt such a perfect match. “The Predicting Machine” covers a lot of ground yet perfectly summarises Tejada’s deeply focused approach to music making.  Opener ‘Orbiter’ sculpts bleeping hooks and thick fogs out of its aquatic groove.  The knowingly titled ‘A Familiar Mood’ returns the listener to the percolating tech house that made Tejada’s name. ‘An Ounce of Perception’ introduces a limber, Kompakt schaffel-inspired rhythm then descends into a 7 minute long gleaming melody, which leads the listener into spiraling arpeggios on ‘Winter Skies’.

A moment of sheer magic occurs when the opening bars of the anthemic tech-house track ‘The Function And The Form’ begin. Its fizzing melody and growling bassline lifts “The Predicting Machine” up a level. The vintage beat and the incredible, rich modular synth textures surrounding it play out joyously. The sparkling arpeggios that kick in at around the 2:30 minute mark are a masterful touch. Following the track is the ‘90s jacking cut ‘Stabilizer’. ‘Horizon to Horizon’ possesses a wet, elastic rhythm underneath a near classical arrangement. The soothing closer ‘When All Around Is Madness’ chimes with effervescent clouds of synths. When it comes to effortlessly and beautifully conveying emotion in music no one gets close to John Tejada’s finely tuned melodies or his instinctive musicality. Every one of his tracks is an inviting and wondrous soundscape filled with luxurious and elegant detail. “The Predicting Machine” will see a high ranking position in the end of the year charts on Sonic Fiction.

Liam’s Reviews

Disappointment of the Month

Nick Edwards – “Plekzationz” (Editions Mego)

“Plekzationz” is Nick Edwards aka Ekoplekz’s first release on Edition Mego the legendary Austrian experimental electronic music label and his first since 1994 under his own name. The album is made up of 4 long form tracks all around 15 or 16 minutes in length, this is in stark contrast to Edwards other work as Ekoplekz which generally short to average songs lengths and this has always seemed suitable for the noisy and intense natural of the music. In fact, oddly enough the first two tracks ‘Chance Meets Causality Uptown’ and ‘No Escape From ‘79’ feel like three Ekoplekz tracks that have been loosely joined together, the join between the tracks show through and I think these tracks should have been 6 separate 5 minute tracks rather than two 15 minute tracks. The album takes a turn for the worst on track three ‘Inside the Analogue Continuum’ which struggles to separate itself from the other tracks on the album and indeed much of Ekoplekz back catalogue and doesn’t really get going almost seven minutes in when a bass drum and rhythmic noises give it a sluggish forward momentum. The surprisingly use of a drum ‘n’ bass break at the end gives the track a belated shot of energy but it’s too little too late for the worst track of Edwards impressive career to date. The album final track ‘A Pendent’s Progress’ however turns the tide with its slimy acid fried delayed synth slivers, dub siren and metallic percussion that reverberates out with a long tail. The track is classic Ekoplekz just stretched out over 15 minutes, in the second half more instrumentation is added and the gets busier and denser with a great feel that seals the deal. Unfortunately “Plekzationz” is a flawed release and fails to match the brilliance of Ekoplekz back catalogue. Though ‘A Pendent’s Progress’ is well worth downloading via Boomkat.

Sun Araw – “The Inner Treaty” (Sun Ark/Drag City)

“The Inner Treaty” picks up where last year “Ancient Romans” left off for Sun Araw. Like “Ancient Romans” this is patchy album on which Sun Araw tries to expand his basic palette with very mixed results. The first half of album is the most frustrating as tumbling electronic drum patterns and busy percussion fight for attention amongst the wah-wah guitar and synths which veer from stabby to psychedelic. ‘Like Wine’s disparate elements briefly coalesces into a hypnotic engaging loop but then everything falls apart again and the song ends. The second half of the album isn’t much of an improvement, though with ‘Treaty’ Sun Araw keeps things simple in the drums and percussion department with the other instruments given space to breathe and development organically. The organic, psychedelic synth that comes in around 2 minutes is an inspired touch and off sets the other instruments perfectly. However, after this great example of what he does best Sun Araw undoes his good work with ‘The Summum’ the fastest and densest track of his career to date and that left me completely cold. The album closes with ‘And I’ another disappointment that features 80’s electro synth bass, dubbed out guitar and drums backing Sun Araw’s vocals. I’ve been a big fan of Sun Araw for two and a half years now but feel he’s really failed to deliver an album that comes close to any of his first four albums, yes there are good tracks on both “Ancient Romans” and ‘Treaty’ from this album. But I feel this is an artist who has run out of effective ways to develop his once distinctive sound.

The XX – “Coexist” (Young Turks)

“Coexist” is the long awaited second album from the XX the quietly unique band that first emerged back in 2010. Much has been made of the ever sparser sound employed on “Coexist” and though there’s no doubt that there are a certainly a few tracks that bare this out, I think there are other interesting developments. Firstly there a few tracks (‘Angels’, ‘Chained and ‘Sunset’) that feel rushed where the music might have felt urgent in the past. This gives the feel that the band is either bored of their previous slow style or uncertain of how good their songs are. I feel it maybe the latter as even after a few plays the songs don’t stick in my head as much as those on the XX’s self titled debut album and though Jamie XX tries out some new effects and production techniques at times they feel distracting rather than complimentary to the music or vocalists. ‘Reunion’ and ‘Swept Away’ seem like missteps into ambient house influenced dancefloor tracks that are an ill fit for the vocals and lyrical content of the songs. The album is by no means a complete failure and my own misgivings could well be endearing traits for others. I think hardcore fans of the XX will find much to love but others may find that the hype doesn’t match up to the reality for “Coexist”.

Animal Collective – “Centipide Hz” (Domino)

The new album from Animal Collective is a significant departure from their previous album “Merriweather Post Pavillion” (Sonic Fiction’s Album of the Year 2009) whereas that album was sampled based and entirely electronic with slow to mid paced songs, “Centipide Hz” enschews this to become Animal Collective most ‘rock’ record to date. With Panda Bear back on the drum stool that album kicks off with ‘Moon Jock’ a stomping, crashing, intense combination of drums, guitar, off kilter vocals and Geologist’s out of this world effects. The album continues with the lighter but no less disorienting “Today’s Supernatural” the album’s obvious single the angular sound of which owes something to the band’s 2007 album “Strawberry Jam”. For the next track ‘Rosie Oh’ the pace drop for the first time and the track recalls a warped version of the Beach Boys, if they lived under the sea instead of surfing on it. This same sonic blueprint is employed again on ‘Pulleys’. The upbeat rhythms, crashing drums and guitars are back on ‘Applesauce’ joined by warped synths for a potential future single due to its catchy chorus. The bucolic and organic sounding ‘Wide Eyed’ recalls XTC in their prime and is Deakin’s first songwriting credit for the band, featuring the man himself on lead vocals and promising much for future contributions. “Father Time” floats in out if synth fog and static sounding Hawaii in a psychedelic heat haze. Panda Bear’s big moments comes with “New Town Burnout” with its pattering electronic drums, hornets nests of spiky guitar drone and a stop-start lead vocal from the man himself, the song is one of strongest melodical and harmonic on the album and bares the most relation to those on “Merriweather Post Pavillion”. After the nutty synth sounds of ‘Monkey Riches’ and epic video game soundtrack music of ‘Mercury Man’ the band settles into the home striaght the aforementioned under water pop of ‘Pulleys’ and the stomping, splashing start-stop rhythms and padding percussion of finale ‘Amanita’. Overall “Centipide Hz” is a hard album to define with the band covering a lot of ground over its 50 minute plus length, oddly it also feels longer and more meandering then the much slower “Merriweather Post Pavillion”. In fact, though there are some great indivdual moments on “Centipide Hz” its doesn’t feel like it convinces as an album. Animal Collective have always managed to complete coherent and conceptually strong albums in the past but here only tenourous links are made using radio static and fictional indents, which fail to tie the whole album together. All-in-all Animal Collective reach some real highs worthy of their reputation but can’t replete it over the whole of ‘Centipide Hz’.

Clark – “Fantasm Planes” (Warp)

The “Fantasm Planes” E.P. picks up where Clark new album “Iradelphic” left off; in fact three of its tracks are reworkings of tracks on “Iradelphic”. The E.P. kicks off with the first of three new tracks ‘Fantasm Planes’ which matches a flute melody with dancehall beat and thick analogue synths lines. Next up is the first of the three reworks ‘Henderson Swooping’ with its picked acoustic guitar and moon boot sized dancehall drums. ‘Com Re-Touch/Pocket for Jack’ takes the original ‘Com Touch’ synth melodies but brings down the tempo and back them with heavy drums before a new guitar line and synth and drum backing drop in for the second half of the track. The third and final reworking is ‘Secret Slow Show’ featuring the vocals of Martina Topley-Bird backed by acoustic guitar, tumbling drums before the track is complete turned on its head for the final quarter of the track with distorted acidic electronic drums kicking in. The remaining two tracks on the E.P. are brief instrumentals ‘Brigitte’ with its slow moving metallic synths and misty psychedelic vocals and ‘Dove in Flames’ an organic and minimalistic synth instrumental. Overall Clark’s delivered another superb release and worthy companion piece to the excellent “Iradelphic”.

Gaslamp Killer – “Breakthrough” (Brainfeeder/Ninja Tune)

The debut album of DJ and Brainfeeder signee The Gaslamp Killer is an instrumental hip-hop triumph that instantly recalls classic DJ Shadow and Dan the Automator and contemporaries like horror-core hip-hop duo Gangrene (aka the Alchemist and Oh No). The album mixes The Gaslamp Killer’s love of Turkish melodies, psychedelic rock and dread filled synth atmospherics backed by acoustic hip-hop beats and breaks. It’s a heady brew but the Gaslamp Killer utilises his DJ skills to perfectly balance.  In less skilled or knowledgeable hands this could have turned into an unappealingly sonic stew. He also expertly manages the contributions of the many collaborators that include Gonjasufi, Computer Jay, Mophono, Adrian Younge, MRR, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Daedelus and fellow Brainfeeder signing Samiyam. An exciting thread of tension runs throughout “Breakthrough” with little let up in the nerve shredding strings and dread-filled organ and synths. It’s difficult to pick out individual highlights as the quality doesn’t drop across the whole album and it feels like it was made as a piece, almost like a DJ set with each track of equal importance. “Breakthrough” is another stellar release from the Brainfeeder/Ninja Tune axis and the Gaslamp Killer deserves to be as highly praised as a producer as he is as a DJ.

Deefhoof – “Breakup Song” (ATP)

On their 13th album Deerhoof have succeeded in converting themselves into a alternative rock party band. Though the band could never been accused of slacking in the rhythm department, they’ve gone all out here to create an album that keeps you moving while still providing melodies and hooks aplenty and emotional content to stop the album becoming a vapid collection of indie dance tracks. In fact, the band are so convincing as a party band that tracks like ‘The Trouble with Candyhands’, ‘Flower’ and ‘Theres That Grin’ could easily be mistaken for edgy Cuban/funk/hip-hop jams. There’s not a duff moment to be found on this every track is solid gold pop nugget, not a note or beat is wasted and your dripping with sweat by the end of this half hour work out!!!

Cat Power – “Sun” (Matador)

The new album from Cat Power instantly separates itself from here previous releases due to the strident and confident style in which it’s performed. Cat Power has never been an artist who you’d associate with the word confident, she has always hidden within her music, shying away from the spotlight. But on “Sun” she has no fear, she strong despite all the personal problems she’s been through since her last album “The Greatest” (2006). The album’s production (Cat Power produced it herself and the album was mixed by Phillippe Zdar of Cassius fame) and use of electronic drums and synthesizers also marks it out too. The album starts as it means to go on with the strident drums and chiming guitars ‘Cherokee’, this swiftly followed by the deceptively titled ‘Sun’ with it foggy synths and dark atmospheric guitar strums the perfect backing for Cat Power. Next up is the swaggering single ‘Ruin’ with its funky, driving chorus full of cutting guitar and lizard like bass and drums, it’s the track with most pronounced Zdar influence. Speaking of production both ‘3,6,9’ and ‘Always on my Own’ are the most impressive display of Cat Power’s production abilities with great layering and interplay between her own multi tracked and panned vocals. The mid section of the album from ‘3,6,9’ to ‘Manhattan’ drop back to Cat Power’s more typical slower tempos but the atmospherics and beats add something not heard on previous Cat Power albums, she isn’t retreating to her comfort zone, she’s developing her trademark sound. The remaining provide a great ending trio with ‘Silent Machines’ kicking things off with a thumping electronic bass drum and gliding guitar riff, followed by the epic but never wasteful ‘Nothin’ But Time’ which features Iggy Pop intoning deep, dark backing vocals from 5 minutes in. The album lands its final blow with the bruising and dark ‘Peace and Love’. From start to finish “Sun” is an astounding return from artist whose every release is further evidence that she deserves exposure to a far greater audience.

Release of the Month

Kid Koala – “12 Bit Blues” (Ninja Tune)

The latest album from the prolific Kid Koala takes a basic concept, expands on it and executes it to perfection. That concept is an album built around samples from old blues records put together using his trusty turntables and newly acquired Emu SP 1200 sampler. When I heard about this concept my initial thoughts were that this might be an overly dour album but Kid Koala proves me wrong with an album packed with hip-hop bangers that blow the cobwebs away!! Chirping synth and a vocal sample that says “the kids in rare form tonight” kick off the album before stride piano and boom-bap hip-hip beats enter to start off ‘1 bit blues’ properly, these elements turn out one of running themes throughout the album. But Kid Koala keeps the interest going with blistering guitar riff, analogue synth swiggles, sci-fi effects and a huge array of expertly deployed vocal samples. The highlights on the album range from the aforementioned opener, ‘4 bit blues’ where a down tempo hip-hop beat backs pitched down slurring vocal samples, heavy bass, brass and stride piano, ‘7 bit blues’ with its head nodding beat raucous guitar licks and subtle scratching and ‘8 bit blues (Chicago to NY to LA)’ with its expertly scratched vocal samples, neck breaking hip-hop beats and huge horns stabs. Kid Koala’s major achievement with “12 Bit Blues” is marrying modern sound elements such as the synths and the SP 1200 sampler beats with samples that date from close to a hundred years ago. As usual Kid Koala uses his turntables subtle to make the samples his own and add a modern rhythmic edge to his tracks. “12 Bit Blues” is a superb album that matches his career high “Carpel Tunnel Syndrome” and “Some of my Best Friends are DJs” track for track!!!

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