Kirsty’s Reviews

Release of the Month

Apparat – “Krieg Und Frieden” (Music For Theatre) (Mute)

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Sebastian Hartmann’s theatre production of War and Peace (Krieg und Frieden); commissioned by the German arts festival Ruhrfestspiele featured a specially composed score by renowned electronic artist Sascha Ring, aka Apparat, using a minimal ensemble of orchestra parts (cello, violin), voice and synthesizers. Apparat and two members of his live band, Philipp Timm and Christoph Hartmann, spent four weeks constructing and condensing the essence rather than the narrative of Tolstoy’s detailed depiction of Napoleon’s ill-fated 1812 invasion of Russia. The score was then adapted for this recorded version.

“Krieg und Frieden” begins with a stirring blast of noise that bleeds into track two’s set piece: a weeping cello that stands on a bed of flowing atmospheres, widening the electronic panoramic view until it sounds like a brewing storm of static and resonating strings. The mostly instrumental collection is occasionally punctuated by Apparat’s frail and mournful voice, underlining the prevailing mood of desperation.  Pitched high, Ring’s voice repeats the phrase “deserted holes, deserted eyes, deserted souls, deserted lives”, on the percussive ‘Light On’ and aches forlornly beneath piano and percussion the colourful and outstanding ‘A Violent Sky’, which breaks through the chaos with a clear tone. ‘Austerlitz’, the site of one Napoleon’s greatest victories is depicted in War And Peace as the first challenge to face the aristocratic characters. Apparat’s rendering of the events begins with haunted scraping sounds and a low rumble that swells into a theatrical wave of dread and sombre melody.  There are two versions of the “Kreig und Frieden” theme. Both are beautiful and emotive, with the Pizzicato’ version taking on a classical form of plucked harp and violin whilst the second is stripped back and centres on the delicate sounds of a child’s wind-up music box and glorious violin. ‘Tod’ (meaning death in German) is filled with disturbing fuzzy atmospheres and reverberating guitar that simultaneously returns thematically to the start of “Krieg und Frieden” while being a fulfilling conclusion.

Apparat achieves a composition that although loyal to War and Peace’s thematic core doesn’t require the listener to have prior knowledge of the book to enjoy and absorb “Kreig und Frieden”’s poignant beauty. In doing so he has overcome a potentially off putting record by focusing on emotional strength rather than a strict narrative interpretation of his source material. A listener’s attention is held from track to track because each one plays with emotion, moods and passion, pushing and pulling you into different areas while as a whole everything blends and flows together seamlessly. It is a testament to the creator who for years has given his audience many releases to get excited about and with “Krieg und Frieden”, Apparat has created another breath-taking addition to his name.

Listen to ‘A Violent Sky’ below

Function – Incubation (Ostgut Ton)

Function (Dave Sumner), a member of highly regarded techno collective Sandwell District, which also includes the nebulous cast of Regis, Female and Silent Servant, presents his hugely anticipated debut album “Incubation” after 10+ years of releasing acclaimed 12”s. In 2010, Sandwell District released the brilliant “Feed-Forward”.

Opening “Incubation” is ‘Voiceprint’, a large scale vista of gyrating ambience and delicate beats filled with delayed percussion, tense droning bass line, effected snatches of vocals and a gorgeous twinkling motif. For the final 30 seconds it drops vertically into a surging, unsettling bass drone and a chilling rattling sound which leads into the nasty scraping sounds of ‘Against the Wall’. It recalls elements of classic techno with its unrelenting hi-hat patterns skipping over a resonant bass line as sweaty beats smack against a cavernous concrete wall. ‘Counterpoint’ is a Jeff Mills-indebted sci-fi soundtrack of fast legato synths, wheezing minor key synths and beatless, slow moving atmospherics. The use of suppressed vocals embellishes the undercurrent of tension, a common thread throughout “Incubation”. Fifth track ‘Incubation (Ritual)’ is filled with elegant, held A#m synth chords sliding through a thudding bass line giving a cleansing feel and a sense of lightness that balances the mysterious tension of previous tracks. A personal favourite since its first appearance in 2011 on Function’s “Ember” release for Sandwell District is the expansive and evocative ‘Inter’. Bright, delicate A# major synth chords glide above a bass drum that feels like the track’s beating heart. A beautiful synth melody, mirrored by a warm bass line, lifts the track to a greater level as crystalline cymbals wash through like waves.

‘Voiceprint (Reprise)’ is the meat of the album. Gasps of reverberant vocals ring out above shuffling percussion and pounding bass drum as a light cool-toned synth melody sings its way through the track. Claves echo infinitely, this small percussion instrument has never before sounded so foreboding. The rhythms give the impression of ceaselessness, feeling as if it’s moving in circles rather than pushing forward. The listener feels almost weightless, suspended by rotating claustrophobic atmospherics as the track dissipates under vaporous melodies. The final two tracks, while sufficient, don’t add anything to the album’s whole and dilute the impact of ‘Voiceprint (Reprise)’. Disappointingly, the last piece ‘Gradient I’ isn’t special enough to finalise “Incubation” so the album does drift off in the listener’s memory.

As would be expected from veteran producer Tobias Freund, ‘Incubation’ is extremely well crafted with exceptional clarity and depth of sound. It feels full of space both texturally and technically. Showing Sumner’s wealth of experience is his use of keys, D minor and major, A minor, A# minor and major, and nuanced textures and tones that cleverly link each track together and instil “Incubation” with unity. Sumner has eloquently communicated his aim to create “one endless piece to be listened to straight through … so everything is connected and there are reoccurring themes throughout the album.”

Objekt / Cosmin TRG – The Green Series 002 (Bleep)

The second release in Bleep’s The Green Series is the pairing of Objekt and Cosmin TRG, who each delivers a slice of exhilarating, thundering techno, mastered at Berlin’s renowned Dubplates and Mastering. A reverberating bass drum creates the scene for Objekt’s ‘Shuttered’ as heavy percussion locks into a flowing groove above. A searing pad snakes in the background while snatches of low voices and high-pitched delayed noises interplay to disturbing effect. A thin, high synth builds momentum until dropping dramatically into ‘Shuttered’’s main groove with the new addition of a complex interchange of heavy duty percussion and light gasps of noise. Cosmin TRG’s ‘Auster’ begins with a thunderous low end that kicks in the chest, scratching percussion and ticking hi hat layer. A thick bass line and bluish synth motif double each other with the melody line rising in intensity. Zapping effects and wheezing, hollow noises. Its belligerent, thrilling pace and sheer force of bass frequencies confronts the listener. This couple of killer techno tracks from two producers known for their unwavering high quality output is well worth checking out.

Liam’s Reviews

Disappointment of the Month

Atoms for Peace – “AMOK” (XL)

Atoms for Peace’s debut album has been marketed as that of a supergroup, one that came into being after Thom Yorke put together a band to tour his solo album “The Eraser” (2006), however the resulting album “Amok” often sounds more like another Yorke solo album. This a little disappointing as the many tracks that had been circulating on internet promise and interviews promised a project that represented all the group’s members. The dynamics of many of the aforementioned tracks are also very similar, which I immediately found overly repetitive and grating. The much discussed afrobeat influences only crop up on two tracks the brilliant opener ‘Before Your Very Eyes…’ and ‘Stuck Together Pieces’ which boasts the album’s tightest beat and some great slinky bass guitar. I would have liked have more afrobeat inspired tracks as these were among the highlights of “Amok”. Other highlights include ‘Judge Jury Executioner’ with its funky but understated bass line underpins click and clacking electronic drums and Yorke’s moaning reverb heavy harmonies before an acoustic guitar and his lead vocals leap into view and push the track onwards into the verse and chorus sections. The single ‘Default’ and ‘Ingenue’ are also good tracks but also suffer from sounding like Yorke solo tracks. All-in-all “Amok” is a disappointment after much hype had surrounded the band and their purposed direction.

Inc. – “No World” (4AD)

“No World” is the debut album from Inc. two R&B session musicians who decided to give it a go themselves. 4AD signing the duo makes sense as they match the Timbaland and Justin Timberlake beats and production with guitars, pianos and other sounds that recall the labels most famous acts e.g. Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil. These combination positions the duo alongside another up-and-coming R&B duo AlunaGeorge though Inc. definitely use their R&B expertise to create an authentic sound. The album opens with the sparse R&B beat and alien bloopy synth melody of ‘The Place’ recalling classic Missy Elliott tracks. The reverberate picked electric guitar of ‘Black Wings’ is the first sign of the classic 4AD influences and also features a great chorus that recalls 90’s Prince. Next up, ‘Lifetime’ with its double time beat and heavily reverbed synth atmosphere topped off with a Timberlake style vocals shows off the duo’s vocal variety. ‘Five Days’ is another early highlight with its insistent beat, deep bass line and resonate synth lead dovetailing nicely with the soft and subtle male vocals. Later on with get another twist on the Inc. formula with ‘Desert Rose (War Preyer)’ and it warped guitar, distant reverberate drums and whispered vocals somewhere between Prince, Timberlake and D’Angelo. With “No World” Inc. have created a debut album that both demonstrates their vast experience in R&B and shows they can twisted the genre into new shapes. “No World” is an accomplished piece of work from an act well worth checking out.

Lapalux – “Nostalchic” (Brainfeeder)

The debut album from Lapalux fits into the genre of glitch-hop but also separates its self from the serious and technical genre by taking its cues from glitch-hop heavy weight Prefuse 73 and another contemporary producer Teebs. Those producers both manage to create music oozes charm and are melodic in nature; this is why “Nostalchic” is a joy to listen to. Throughout the album the atmospherics synths utilised often recall Oneohtrix Point Never but Lapalux is no rip off artist blending these synths with pitched shifted vocal samples, alien saxophone, cutting hip-hop beats and soaring female vocals. The album opens with the gooey synths and pretty melodic figure of ‘IAMSYS (Tape Intro)’ before swiftly moving onto the album’s first single ‘Guuurl’ with it’s splashing synth pads, reverberate melody and twisted vocodered vocals producing the feeling of a summer evening spent on the beach with the sea lapping at your feet. ‘Kelly Brook’ sees a sparser take on the Lapalux sound before the introduction of guest vocalist Jenna Andrews on ‘One Thing’ on which she’s surrounded by curving synths sounds. ‘Swallowing Smoke’ shows that Lapalux can handle house music to changing to a four to the floor beat to back its rich synth pad and glassy synth arpeggio. Lapalux shows off his variety again on ‘Without You’ a torch song featuring the dark and smoky vocals of Kerry Leatham backed by a minimal synth pad and hip-hop beat. ‘Straight Over My Head’ brilliantly combines dub effects with production that recalls early Kanye West and ‘Dance’ takes a spindly synth melody and boxy beat and matches them with the vocals of Astrid Williamson whose pitch shifted to the point where she sounds like Anthony from Anthony and the Johnsons. ‘The Dead Sea’ and ‘Walking Words’ both recall classic Prefuse 73 but with a smoother sound and with the melodies front and centre and the album closes with ‘O.E.A. (Tape Outro)’ a reprising of the opener with Kerry Leatham on vocals. All-in-all “Nostalchic” doesn’t disappoint and is an excellent debut album from an artist who deserves the widest recognition possible!

Foals – “Holy Fire” (Warner Bros)

“Holy Fire” is both Foals funkiest and most rock album to date. The funk grooves comes from the band themselves while the huge rock production job comes from working with Flood and Alan Moulder who’ve created huge sounding rock records for the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins amongst others. It seems as though the band have loosen up too, they no longer disrupt the rhythmic flow or off set their melodies with odd notes and this makes for stronger chorus that surge out of the speakers. Usually I’d find this a negative thing but on “Holy Fire” it allows Foals to embrace a pop sound that they pull off with aplomb. Maybe on their next album they can experiment with a mixture of their melodic and rhythmic approaches to date. Atmosphere and space are also key to the album’s sound as Flood and Moulder create tones and texture for the new emotional space that the band explores across “Holy Fire” e.g. ‘My Number’ bitter declaration of romantic independence where  previously the band sought eternal partnerships. The band’s usual instrumentation of drums, bass, synth and guitars expanded on “Holy Fire” to included vibraphone, marimba, strings, cowbell and a lot of other percussion instruments adding more variety of texture and rhythmic interplay than any previous Foals release. Foals have come a long way since their initial singles first caused a stir back in 2007 and with this album they’ve delivered music once lives up the reputation they’ve gained in the international music press. Where they could so easily have slipped into hollow epic rock parody they’ve expertly found they can balance catchy melodies, atmospherics, grooves and emotional depth, this album comes highly recommended.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “Push the Sky Away” (Mute)

On their fourteenth album deliver both their most tender and most salacious album since “The Boatman’s Call” (1997). The album begins with the gently echoing marimba and a deep slow moving bass pulse of ‘We No Who U R’ Cave sings with authority and combines well with female backing vocals and the whine of Warren Ellis’ violin. There’s a slight change of tone on ‘Wide Lovely Eyes’ with nervy guitar dominating Cave’s sleazy tale. The tempo is upped on ‘Water’s Edge’ a chugging bass figure dominates before Ellis’s violin and Cave’s vocals command your attention, stuttering drums join in as the track progresses bringing with sporadic piano riffs.  The epic sweep of single ‘Jubilee Street’ provides the album’s centrepiece starting with just a simple beat and sparse guitar melody then track evolves bringing in a beautiful swell of strings around two minutes in before an acoustic rhythm guitar, treated backing vocals and Ellis’ whining violin join the fray. The song is perfectly paced and balanced building the epic feel as the song progresses. ‘Finishing Jubilee Street’ more or less where its name sake left on off a creepy picked guitar/violin melody starts the song off before slinky guitar echoes out sporadically, the drums plot a simple beat and a female backing singer joins Cave, a recurring motif throughout the album. All in all Cave and his Bad Seeds have created an album of 9 ballads that both utilise classic Cave traits and open up new avenues for him to explore.

Release of the Month

Jamie Lidell – “Jamie Lidell” (Warp)

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Jamie Lidell’s new self titled album may just be his best yet. It’s packed from start to finish with tracks that are suffered to gills with funk. This is however no ordinary funk, Lidell has never been one to do things the usual way, the high point of his career prior to this album was “Multiply” (2005) a collection that combined classic soul and funk chops with the forward thinking electronic glitches and edits of his label Warp. The first single from this album ‘What a Shame’ certainly promised a repeat of this direction, with its stretched grainy vocals and chopped up drums and though these and other similar sounds crop up throughout the album it’s definitely a funk album, just a freaky funk album! The album opens with the Gliding pitching synths and hard hitting drums and probing funk synth bass of ‘I’m Selfish’. It’s followed  by the huge pop of ‘Big Love’ its comes on like 80’s Prince with neon synths. ‘Do Yourself A Faver’ starts off with Thick synth bass and ghost delayed synth melody before evolving into a slice of classic George Clinton electro-funk! ‘why_ya_why’ updates New Orleans funk for the 21st century with stride piano is combined with crunching, head nodding beat and squelchy synths and some excellent horn blasts, the lines between organic and electronic are blurred. ‘So Cold’ and ‘Don’t You Love Me’ stand out from the rest of album with the former offering up Icy lead synth and pad open but contrast it with the huge rush of the chorus, the later is slower number with 80’s ballad stylings which picks up the pace and reintroduces the funk elements around halfway through. Its genuinely hard to fault Lidell on an album that superb from start to finish, a true funk masterclass.

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