Kirsty’s reviews

Disappointment of the month

Monoloc – Drift (CLR)

“Drift”’s arrangement recalls late ‘90s crossover dance/rock acts like The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy or Death In Vegas whose rock audience-friendly albums were divided into ‘we’re trying hard to be deep and meaningful’ tracks filled with soulful vocals or film dialogue, minor key mid-tempo ‘emotional’ pieces and tacky wave-your-hands-in-the-air bangers; all amounting to the aural equivalent of weak tea. Similarly “Drift” suffers from pathetic tameness too when it should be injecting listeners with Red Bull and vodka, the choice of drink for anyone who wants to dance for 60 hours while being pummelled by techno. Its alternation between minor and major keys, use of monotone vocals and pacing does nothing to shake off these unflattering comparisons and very little justifies “Drift”’s 52 minute length. Techno tracks like ‘Try’ and ‘About’ should thump and grind but the production on “Drift” has oddly sucked the air out; bass drums are squashed, synths sound meek and the compression has flattened all tone and colour. ‘It’s Mine’ featuring Daniel Wilde and the two other vocal tracks take their cue from “Violator” era Depeche Mode. It’s pretty convincing despite being flat and one-dimensional. Their classic singles, like ‘Personal Jesus’ or ‘Enjoy The Silence’, sit in a rock-pop-industrial techno triangle, which ‘It’s Mine’ tries to emulate but unlike ‘Personal Jesus’ it simply isn’t a good, catchy song that people will be able to sing 20 years from now. Elsewhere ‘Try’ screams of unadventurous filler for a DJ set and someone who uses gospel vocals in a dance track has to come up with a fresh take; ‘Pblc’ isn’t this song. Listeners who want exciting, vibrant techno ought to drop “Drift” and spin Shed’s “The Killer” or anything on the Prologue and Ostgut Ton labels.

Marcel Dettmann – Range (Ostgut Ton)

In this last year Marcel Dettmann has received criticism for a lack of musical range but the ‘Range’ EP shows that though the scale of his material is narrow his resolute, glorious techno still contains many shades within their concrete canvas; 50 shades of grey so to speak. Swirling atmospherics introduce the EP’s title track as an unsettling drum pattern ploughs through sullen, foreboding terrain. The pulsing bass drum on ‘Iso’ only just holds the track together as a dense assortment of spiky and hissing sounds ring out and dissipate above cavernous and unsettling held chords. It feels like it’s on the brink of collapse and reaching out from the depths of this instability comes ‘Push’’s barely discernible pitched down voice intoning variations on the track’s title above a rhythmic dry-hump made up of deep bass thuds, whooshing hats and skittering percussion; a standout. Final track ‘Allies’, which was an important inclusion in Ben Klock’s recent, wonderful “Fabric 66”, is an excellent example of Dettmann’s skill. Essentially a single harmonically-rich chord repeats infinitely while razorblade hi-hats and jacking snares alter every single bar. As with most of his unforgiving slabs of techno, he builds and builds the pressure to almost uncomfortable levels without gifting the listener with any real sense of climax or release. Like Dettmann’s previous EPs “Translation” and “Landscape”, “Range” will still be a favourite on dancefloors twelve months from now.

Release of the month

Sigha – Living With Ghosts (Hotflush)

After a bundle of 12”s for Scuba’s Hotflush label Berlin-based, UK-born DJ and producer Sigha (James Shaw) delivers his debut album “Living With Ghosts”. The album’s twelve perfectly balanced techno and ambient productions fuse his love of classic techno with the genre’s contemporary sound that is owned by Germany’s capital and over the course of “Living With Ghosts” Sigha shifts between brooding subterranean techno soundscapes and fluid emotive strokes. Album opener ‘Mirror’ slowly introduces the listener to the show with an unhurried sketch of quietly grinding austere noise until the second track ‘Ascension’ kicks in with a throbbing techno beat that almost suffocates its undulating synth. The addition of subtle changes to the rhythm and percussion in the final third takes the track close to breakbeat territory. For the last 30 seconds the drums suddenly drop out to a soft drone that acts as a palette cleanser; refreshing the listener for ‘Puritan’’s 6:40 minutes of a wonderfully unrelenting, thudding 4/4 groove and gossamer synths. A highlight is ‘Scene Couple’, its wet licks of acid rise and swells with force yet feel restrained and intricately textured; a track that will be killer on dancefloors for months to come. Sigha cleverly uses two tracks, ‘Suspension’ and ‘Delicate’, to allow the listener to come up for air, making it even more potent when they are thrown into the techno waves again. Their carefully weaved layers envelop in silky ambience; adding an extra stunning dimension to the release. Hypnotic beats punctuate an enthralling windswept soundscape in the nine minute ʻTranslateʼ. The elegant ‘Aokigahara’ rounds off  the album in a ten minute beatless wall of foggy ambience that swathes and soothes the listener. Like this summer’s “The Killer” by Shed, “Living With Ghosts” is a techno record that contains countless moments of experimentation, depth, subtlety and exhilaration across a format that can be the downfall for many producers who are used to delivering 12”s.“Living With Ghosts”, with its commitment to the motifs of UK and Berlin techno, is a skilfully paced, cohesive, complex and compelling album.

Liam’s reviews

Offshore – “Bakehaus” (Big Dada)

The debut mini album from Glaswegian beat maker Offshore starts as it means to go on with ‘Breeze’s ascending synth melody and twitching hi-hat pattern taking centre stage before the main beat drops it’s the simple musicality of this intro track that marks this release and Offshore himself out from the current electronic music crowd.  The trend continues with the surging synth bass of the house-like ‘Fraser’ though again there’s Offshore’s unique twist as he’s add his own synthetic guitar parts and plinking piano to stunning effect.  The next two tracks ‘Life’s Too’ and ‘Venom’ ratchet up the melodic elements and we hear for the first time the child-like playfulness that runs through Offshore’s music. Melody continues to dominate on the excellent ‘Downer’ with its Peter and the Wolf-like string melody and on ‘Black Bun’ with its pedal steel melody and suitable woody sounding beats. Melody isn’t the only thing that Offshore excels at as he keeps the listener on their toes with a selection of beats that runs from the classic (‘Back Wynd’s electro hip-hop beat) to modern dance beats (‘Venom’). On ‘Long Now’ and album closer ‘Downer 2’ Offshore shows his gentler side and adds yet more diversity to this impressive release. The future looks bright for Offshore who already looks like he could overtake his more famous contemporaries Rustie and Hudson Mohawke.

Container – “LP” (2) (Spectrum Spools)

Container’s second album is more a refinement of the sound of his first album than a greater department from his debut. Both albums overall sounds subscribed to the model of analogue driven noise-techno that Container was pioneering just a year ago. The difference between the materials on the two releases is subtle. While the new album isn’t a ferocious as his debut it shows that Container is far from a one trick pony with the broken and busted up breakbeat of ‘Paralyzed’ being one of the highlights of album. In fact, it’s only brilliant closer ‘Refract’ that sticks rigidly to the techno grid, the others allowed to be more rhythmical free. The creepy and twisted vocal samples that were used on the first album’s ‘Protrusion’ and ‘Rattler’ are a dominant and expertly utilised across the whole of “LP 2”. Though “LP 2” maybe slighter than its predecessor but from the opening bippty-boppity drums of ‘Dripping’ via Acid arpeggio and four to the floor bass drum of ‘Perforate’ right through to the blur of electronic drums and descending synth effects of ‘Refract’  it has enough noisy energy to satisfy fans of both noise music and techno.

Zombie Zombie – “Rituels D’Un Nouveau Monde” (Versatile)

“Rituels D’Un Nouveau Monde” is the second full length album by French electro duo Zombie Zombie, the album sees the duo consolidating and refining the sound established on their debut album “Land of Renegades” (2009) and their mini album of John Carpenter reinterpretations “Zombie Zombie plays…” (2010). The album is bookended by the cinematic electro of ‘The Wisdom Of Stones (Do You Believe In..?)’ and ‘Black Paradise’ which offset clanky electronic drums with acoustic drums and percussion and atmospherics and synth sounds that could only be influenced by the aforementioned Carpenter. ‘Illuminations’ takes on a four to the floor rhythm though this is still offset by percussion and synthesizers that could be included on a classic film score. ‘Rocket #9’ continues to ups the dancefloor ante going up out with catchy vocal refrain and acid inspired synth lines before a saxophone takes the track to its delirious climax. ‘Watch The World From A Plane’ begins with a lone synth melody growing in complexity until it reaches analogue synth nirvana part way through and stays there until its conclusion. “Rituels D’Un Nouveau Monde” demonstrates that Zombie Zombie continue to develop with each new release refining and improving their potent formula and even throwing in the odd surprise e.g. the saxophone on ‘Illuminations’ and ‘ Rocket #9’. All lovers of electro and synth based soundtrack music should definitely check this out.

Nils Frahm – “Screws” (Erased Tapes)

On his new album “Screws” Nils Frahm has turned an accident that resulted in a damaged thumb for the experimental pianist into a triumph. He ended up with four screws inside his thumb and dealt with it the only way he knew how to, by playing his piano. The result is nine intimate piano pieces, so intimate in fact that you can hear Frahms shifting position on his stool and the bits of metal that rattle around in his prepared piano. It’s as if you’re in the room with him while he plays these minimal and yet emotional varied pieces. The album opens with ‘You’ which manages to somehow to sound both bright and poignant at the same time, like the sound of cautious optimism. ‘Do’ changes things up with a sparser arrangement and more bass notes before ‘Re’ turns things on their head with its lilting melody floats through the air as if barely touched by human hands and recalls Tchaikovsky. ‘Mi’ is a harder and dissonant piece that features long overtones and mismatched notes. ‘Fa’ is sad and pensive, while ‘Sol’ takes things a step further feeling both dark and desolate. The lightness returns with ‘La’ which gentle bass undertow gives the track gravity and purpose at the same time. ‘Si’ contrasts heavy chords with a light and air melody complimented by a stately feel. Finally the albums concludes with ‘Me’ with its steady stream of notes regular interrupted by extended pauses, the silence is almost deafening even in these minimalist music surroundings. With “Screws” Frahms adds another stunning album to an already impressive and expressive back catalogue. For emotive music of the highest order look no further.

Holly Herndon – “Movement” (RVNG INTL)

“Movement” is the excellent debut album from Holly Herndon an artist whose been compared to Laurel Halo. While there are similarities between the two (they both produce experimental and techno music based around heavily processed vocals) Herndon is no copyist as this album proves. While Halo usually coats her vocals in luxurious reverb and reaches for a warm sound, Herndon prefers to create mostly abstract layers of vocals. Abstract to the point where it’s hard to tell what’s Herndon’s vocal and what’s a synth sound, Herndon also focus on harder and colder more digitalized sounds. Opener ‘Terminal’ is a case in point it’s hissing and snorting slivers of sound send a shiver down the spine while as drawing the listener in. With ‘Fade’ the album switches into its twitchy techno mode, its unpredictable drum machine pattern, slippery synth bass and warped arpeggio help it stand out from the crowd. ‘Breathe’ returns us to the experimental sound of ‘Terminal’ centring on Herndon’s nervous inhaling and exhaling, shaky effects and an occasional synth chord, it’s highly effective and “exquisitely horrifying”. ‘Movement’ is another twitchy techno number with reverse vocals and a shifting rhythm pattern that’s simultaneously exciting and disorienting for the listener. The album’s sparse finale ‘Dilato’ uses a slow synth pad (or is it heavily processed vocals) and Herndon’s lead vocal to create an effect that recalls a Muslim prayer, though there’s a subtle digital feel to the track.

Hello Skinny – “Hello Skinny” (Slowfoot)

The eponymous debut album from Hello Skinny aka Tom Skinner is one of this year best debut albums and effortlessly blends genres and acoustic and electronic sounds. The album explores a very modern form of psychedelic music folding into its mix dub bass and FX, jazz saxophone, clarinet and drums, splash of colourful synth and electronic beats that owe a debt to both hip-hop and the more organic end of electronica. This blend is presented from the off with opener ‘Aquarius’ which is based around an electronic rhythm track, bubbling synth bass and a sonar synth effects before later in the track there joined by acoustic jazz drums and dub delay. The title track takes things down a notch with a downtempo feel complimented by a submerged dub bass and a clarinet melody that recalls Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and in the second half of the track there’s a great twisted saxophone solo the first of a few spread across the album. The album continues in a similar vein throughout switching between more upbeat material similar to ‘Aquarius’ and more downtempo and reflective tracks similar to the title track. ‘Me and My Lady’ is the one exception to this rule playing out like a classic cowboy film theme or a dub version of one of Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Upsetter’s cowboy themed reggae tracks. “Hello Skinny” is an understated but engaging and enthralling listen, can’t wait to hear what Skinner comes up with next.

Peaking Lights – “Lucifer In Dub” (Weird World)

“Lucifer In Dub” does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s a dub album of Peaking Lights “Lucifer” album which has been a Sonic Fiction favourite this year. “Lucifer In Dub” acts very much as a flip side to “Lucifer” whereas the parent album reduced the amount of dub effects to a zero and pushed the dub bass lines right back in the mix, this album pushes all that to the fore and adds a healthy amount of dirt to the previous clean pop production. The album opens with ‘Cosmick Dub’ which revolves around a rolling bass guitar riff, heavy electronic drums and organ covered in lashings of dub delay. Then there’s the tropical sounding melody of the delightful ‘My Heart Dubs 4 U’ and album highlight ‘Beautiful Dub’ where a guitar riff, organ chords and female vocals float high above tough dub bass and electronic drums to stunning effect. The band changes tack on ‘Live Dub’ with its pounding synth bass line, swan diving guitar that sounds like a police car siren and double time beats. The use of double time beats is repeated on closer ‘Midnight Dub’ and I’m not totally convinced it, though it does show a potential new direction which Peaking Lights can experiment with and refine. Overall, “Lucifer In Dub” is a superb addition to the Peaking Lights back catalogue and in time could prove to be their best album yet.

Big Boi – “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” (Mercury)

“Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” is an ambitious and highly emotive album, one that fuses together 80’s funk, new wave and ambient synth textures with Big Boi’s trademark Dirty South hip-hop style. It is in short Big Boi’s pop album and rivals fellow OutKast member Andre 3000’s “The Love Below” as the finest pop entry in their respective back catalogues. This is the album that I thought I’d be hearing from Andre 3000 when he got around to making his debut solo album but Big Boi has beaten him to the punch. I’d go as far that is the most emotional raw and broad hip-hop since Kanye West released “808s and Heartbreak” (2008). It’s difficult to single out highlights on an album where quality level never drops from start to finish, this could be an overcooked and busy affair with seventeen tracks and many more collaborators but Big Boi and his opulent backing tracks gel with everything single contributor. Whether it’s the swarming strings of ‘The Thickets’, the 100% electro fest that is ‘Thom Pettie’ or the lush 80’s funk come-on’s of closer ‘She Said Ok’ it all just works even when it shouldn’t. Big Boi recently proclaimed his love of Kate Bush’s music and this influence runs through the whole album informing its lush synthetic and acoustic textures and arrangements. Prince is another 80’s pop star whose influence is a regular feature on the album and it’s no bad thing even on the out-and-out cheese fests of ‘Raspberries’, ‘Descending’ and ‘She Said Ok’, the influence is always present on 80’s funk numbers ‘Apple of my Eye’ and ‘Higher Res’. I didn’t think I’d be writing this but with “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” Big Boi might have just trumped his debut solo album“Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dusty” (2010).

Top Release of the Month

Raime – “Quarter Turns on the Living Line” (Blackest Ever Black)

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On their debut album “Quarter Turns on the Living Line” Raime have thrown down the gauntlet to all artists currently working on electronic and experimental music, “up your game before it’s too late.” Though it wasn’t the duo’s intention the album sounds like the soundtrack to an unreleased film, subtly referencing John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” score or repositioning Ennio Morricone’s work to an industrial post-apocalyptic world. The duo expand on the critically acclaimed 12”s by adding emotional depth and a more organic sound via the use of field recordings, foley samples and acoustic instrumentation such as guitar, violins and cellos. Whereas the 12”s focused strongly on the duo’s jungle and industrial influences they broaden their range here to include post-rock, the doom metal of Sunn O))) and Earth and of course those previously mentioned soundtracks. The duo also manage to maintain a balance between the dark, heavy sounds and lighter, brighter sounds; another progression from the earlier 12”s. Raime have produced one of the debut albums of year, one that leaves many more established acts in the shade. Long may these soundscapes shapers continue to reign supreme.

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