Kirsty’s Review

Release of the Month

Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – Elements Of Light (Rough Trade)

The productions of German artist Pantha du Prince (Hendrik Weber) have always lived on emotional rather than physical tension. They are an evocative and organic flux that while not dance floor-friendly are impressive to behold; majestic and intimate at the same time. So “Elements Of Light” is a natural and logical extension of the ideas Weber has been incorporating for a while on the exemplary “Black Noise” and “This Bliss” albums. The richly harmonic tones produced by Norwegian group The Bell Laboratory’s real-world percussion bring flesh to the elements of classic minimalism that were folded in to Weber’s emotive techno of previous releases. His use of electronic instruments as a counterpoint to The Bell Laboratory’s clanging, chiming bells and their bell carillon, made up of 50 bronze bells with a combined weight of three tonnes, are seamlessly woven together with long stretches of the album naturally gliding and swelling in dynamics. It is so expansive and sweeping that the album needs to be experienced as a single, mutating composition. “Elements of Light” is full of adventure, buzzing with possibilities and surprises and absolute in its focus on music’s power to evoke emotions. This is not an unfocused, clinical instrumental album, rather it is driven by narrative, particularly when Pantha Du Prince and The Bell Laboratory venture into the mazy, complex 10 minute-plus pieces ‘Particle’ and ‘Spectral Split’. They direct listeners to follow paths and see how they all flow together to form the tracks’ body.

It’s in ‘Spectral Split’ that “Elements of Light” shows its many tones. From bleary ambience to a Steve Reich-ian use of minimalist momentum, to the weaving of classical and electronic dynamics and textures that Weber is so clearly enamoured with, the track demonstrates his astute understanding of the importance of anticipation and tension in dance music. Almost half of its 17-minute life is devoted to a slow build that finally explodes into joyful colour once all the layers click into place. This sense of release surfaces sporadically throughout and is fundamental to making it work, but it’s always delivered with a great degree of control and patience. The addition of Pantha Du Prince’s techno beats underneath that three tonne carillion can’t help but make the track sound triumphant and celebratory. ‘Particle’ juxtaposes ominous, church bell-like clangs with lighter tones that skip and twist across its surface. It’s almost giddy at times and doesn’t quite finish where the listener expects. Again Weber brings in those recognisable Pantha Du Prince beats and warm embracing swells of bass to act as an anchor, gifting the album with both a sense of wonder and comforting familiarity. ‘Particle’, like the album as whole, is full of surprise twist and turns. The flashes of inspiration are the points where the album really excels. These unexpected surprises are what make the album work. The final track ‘Quantum’ is built on understated ambience, a few glassy notes spinning in kaleidoscopic patterns as it blossoms in to a confident, bouncing techno track glistening with sparkling, fragile textures. Listening to “Elements of Light” is about absorbing the gradual, evolving transitions by which Weber and The Bell Laboratory travel from one point to the next then return. Their ensemble setup emphasises Hendrik Weber’s talent for arrangements, his way of interlacing electronic and acoustic sounds into a luxurious whole. By underlining his productions’ strengths: emotive, graceful, warm and rich, “Elements Of Light” illuminates Pantha Du Prince’s music from within.

Watch Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory perform ‘Spectral Split’ live:

Liam’s Reviews

Disappointment of the Month

Toro Y Moi – “Anything In Return” (Carpark)

I’ve been a fan of Toro Y Moi since his debut album “Causers of This” (2010) but this follow to the excellent “Underneath the Pine” (2011) is disappointing with its overall tastful and repeatition of sounds. It seems that Toro Y Moi has mostly retreated from the funk infused ambient pop of “Underneath the Pine” and instead opted to persue direction that recalls his dance music side project Les Sins. Opener ‘Harm in Change’ is the first track to adapt this style with its four to the floor beat, claps and piano chords its the epitome of bland house music. ‘Say That’, ‘So Many Details’, ‘Rose Quarantz’ and ‘Touch’ continue in this style with little separate them the same key sounds dominating (four to the floor rhythm, dance percussion, tasteful piano and synth pads and leads), its all very vanilla. Its not all bland dance music though with the funk returning on ‘Cola’ with its tough delayed beats and synth and delicous synth squiggles battling for attention with the lead vocals. ‘Studies’ has a similar feel though the falsatto vocals in the chorus are annoying and the seductive grooveS of ‘High Living’ and ‘Grown Up Calls’ are welcome too. However, were back to the bland with ‘Cake’ electronic balladry, the clumping beats of ‘Day One’. The quasi cosmic house of ‘Never Matter’ and ‘How’s It Wrong’ round out a disappointing third for an artist who’d excelled so recently, I hope that Toro Y Moi returns with something more like  “Underneath the Pine” soon.

Solange – “True” (Terrible)

From the buoyant opening single ‘Losing You’ to the pounding 80’s drum machine and bass guitar twangs of closer ‘Bad Girls (Verdine version) the quality and pop nous on display on “True” never lets up. In a world full of swallow and bland R&B and pop music Solange finds that combining the best elements of 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s R&B is the best way to revive this stale genre. The song’s are unfussy yet also catchy and instantaneously command the listener’s attention with their crisp production, plentiful hooks, melodies and often minimal arrangements. The synthetic and real instruments are expertly balanced and the melodies are always present and correct asserting themselves while never being in your face. In a world where every pop song and star is screaming personality and desperately trying to grab everyone’s attention, it’s refreshing to hear someone who can actually articulate their emotions and personality while taking a step back and communicating at a normal volume. “True” is perfect pop music and I can’t wait to hear what Solange does next. I hope she continues to make her unorthodox but striking pop songs.

Mountains – “Centralia” (Thrill Jockey)

I have to admit to being sceptical when I heard that Mountains were releasing a new album, as I’d been really disappointed by their last album “Air Museum” (2011). However, by the end of the opening track ‘Sand’ I already felt that this was a band heading back to the sound of their finest album to date 2009’s “Choral”. ‘Sand’ establishes one of the two main strands that the album is split into; this is the half of the album that focuses on complex layering of analogue synths with gorgeous warm interweaving synth melodies and floating modulated pads creating a lush soundscapes that swills around your head. Track two ‘Indentical Ship’ introduces the second strand of the album with more acoustic instruments e.g. acoustic guitars and piano dominating the mix and changing the feel of the track to a more spacious and sparse while remaining just as effective as the more complex ‘Sand’. ‘Circular C’ picks up where ‘Indentical Ship’ left off but there is a great section part way through where the synths and acoustic instruments blur together being apart and one at the same time, it’s a stunning effect the band repeats on the intro of ‘Living Lens’. ‘Tilt’ expands on band’s kosmiche musik influences with its acoustic guitar and bowed strings adding a post rock feel to an already impressive sound palette. One important difference between this album and “Air Museum” is that the later felt like an uncharacteristic wash of sound, that merely aped the band’s beloved kosmiche musik this album even when the influences are worn on its selves contains enough invention and emotional tension to make it stand out from the many other acts making this type of music. Whether you’re already a Mountains fan or are intrigued by this review, I’m confident you’ll find agree this is another great entry into Mountains back catalogue.

Release of the Month

A$AP Rocky – “Long.Live.A$AP” (Polo Grounds/RCA)

On his much anticipated debut album A$AP Rocky manages to both upgrade his established formula with the high production values of a major label hip-hop album and explore new sonic and emotional territory. For the first half of the album his trademarks abound e.g. chopped and screwed vocals, noise ambience and a ton of self confident swag. However in the second half he finds himself backed up by music that sets a more sombre tone. ‘Fashion Killa’ is the most feminine feeling track by far with its chopped up choir samples and breathy female vocals giving it a light feel, it’s almost a love song and a potential pop single. ‘Phoenix’ which is produced by Danger Mouse utilise bass guitar, piano and sighing vocal harmonies to stunning effect, delay and pitching effects are used in a subtle and psychedelic way, a subtle nod of A$AP’s trademarks. ‘Suddenly’ showcases A$AP’s story telling abilities (not something he’d shown before) and is a master class in tension and release. The first of album is no worse for conforming to A$AP’s established formula the album opens with a thunder clap that gives way to the familiar ambient synth washes and 808 beat drop before A$AP struts onto the track, however the chorus begins us a twist with a picked electric guitar melody backing what may or may not be A$AP singing. It’s followed by ‘Goldie’ with blunt percussion, tough hip-hop beats and chopped and simple metallic synth melody. Other highlights include the guest heavy ‘Fuckin’ Problems’ and ‘1 Train’ in which A$AP seems totally at home amongst some of the biggest and hottest MC’s on the current hip-hop scene. Overall “Long. Live. A$AP” is a triumphant debut album and the first Album of the Year contend for 2013.

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