Kirsty’s Reviews

Release of the Month

Cosmin TRG – Gordian (50 Weapons)

A little under two years since Cosmin TRG’s wonderful debut album “Simulat” is his second, “Gordian” and this, like its predecessor, showcases Cosmin’s way of instilling his productions with moods, emotion and charm.  ‘New Structures for Loving’ starts “Gordian”. Bearing Cosmin TRG’s familiar signature of marrying a warm and delicate synth melody with a rumbling yet unobtrusive bass drum, it’s clarity and brightness sounds open and blissful while also being a confident opener. The title track is overflowing with textures; an imploding snare rattles amongst unbalanced rhythms as long stretches of fuzzy background noise add to the disruption. An off-kilter melody and counter-motif work against each other, embellishing the unsettling feel. Cosmin TRG uses these to neat effect; having elements that push and pull, taking the track down a series of wrong turns. Next are the twin standouts ‘Desire Is Sovereign’ and ‘Defeated Hearts Club’. The former recalls his debut “Simulat” as choppy hats and a propulsive techno rhythm are met with surges of a sharp, exuberant synth melody. It’s warm, dark and dense with a satisfying heads-down-and-dance quality. On the lachrymose ‘Defeated Hearts Club’ a grainy synth using melodic builds and tactile intricacies evoke a highly personal emotional moment that stays with the listener long after the album’s final notes ring out. ‘Divided By Design’ shakes the listener out of the sadness with a 4/4 warehouse techno bass drum and expansive, pretty synth chords covered in a hazy gauze. The album’s closing tracks reroute to lighter territory: the airy ‘To Touch Is To Divert’, ‘Vertigo’, which zings with energy and “Gordian” finale ‘Terminus Abrupt’ floats with skipping percussion and a silky texture.

Altogether “Gordian” is more developed and seamless with a greater distillation of Cosmin’s ideas than those heard on the diverse “Simulat”. Where some tracks on his debut were restless and buzzing with a kind of nervous energy (‘Osu Xen’, ‘Fizic’), this is calmer and settled. Fortunately, the sparkling organic sheen that elevated “Simulat” is prevalent too on “Gordian”. Practically every track is endowed with glistening melodies and energy gained from the immersive sound scapes, robust low end and moments of bliss. “Gordian” is a gorgeous listen packed with rewarding moments.

Listen to some choice cuts form “Gordian” below:

Liam’s Reviews

Disappointment of the Month

Neon Neon – “Praxis Makes Perfect” (Lex)

If you’d told me at the start of the year that Neon Neon the duo consisting of Griff Rhys (Super Furry Animals) and glitch-hop producer Boom Bip would return with an second album of high brow conceptual electro pop I wouldn’t have believed you. So when “Praxis Makes Perfect” release was announced a couple of months ago I was both surprised and excited, I’d recently revisited their excellent debut album “Stainless Style” (2008) and found it had aged very well.

The album begins with the scene setting instrumental title track which does its job brilliantly unfortunately from this point on its only the single ‘Mid Century Modern Nightmare’ that’s as impressive as that track. The album is littered with awful lyrics that fall way short of the witty tales found on “Stainless Style” or indeed anything that Rhys has written for the Super Furry Animals. The songs also feel very formulaic and similar stylistically whereas “Stainless Style” had more variety with sleazy electro hip-hop and funk pop featuring guest such as Spank Rock, Yo Majesty! And Har Mar Superstar, the nearest “Praxis Makes Perfect” comes it this is the breathy contributions of Sabrina on ‘Shopping (I Like To)’. All the electro pop elements are present and correct but don’t feel fresh as they did on “Stainless Style”. It’s a shame this album doesn’t live up to its predecessor as albums that still sound and feel great five years on are a rarity nowadays and it would have been great to have another of those from this odd couple, maybe next time?

Bonobo – “The North Borders” (Ninja Tune)

In the lead up to the release of “The North Borders” Bonobo’s fifth album, pre release tracks ‘Cirrus’ and ‘Heaven for the Sinner’ suggested that a radical change of direction may have taken place. However, when I finally heard the album in full I was able to hear that although house and garage beats are present and instruments such as the harp and bells dominate the mix. This is the same producer just refining his formula and simultaneously pushing into new sonic territory. When he’s pushing into this new territory he often reminds me of his Ninja Tune label mate Falty DL whose recent ‘Hardcourage’ album could be seen as a more overtly electronic sister album to “The North Borders”. Bonobo’s moving into four to the floor territory have mixed results while tracks such as ‘Transits’, ‘Cirrus’ and ‘Emkay’ fully engage the listener and pull of a balance between Bonobo’s organic trademark sound and this new stylist direction, tracks such as ‘Antenna’, ‘Don’t Wait’ and ‘Know You’ are bland and fill unfinished. He’s on solid ground though when it comes to hip-hop beats with the stand-outs including ‘Heaven for the Sinner’, ‘Jets’ and ‘Ten Tigers’, on these tracks Bonobo manages to incorporate new sounds and refresh his formula while playing to his strengths. So “The North Borders” isn’t a complete overhaul of Bonobo’s sound and his experiments are only partly successful but overall it is a very good album.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Mosquito” (Polydor)

Yeah Yeah Yeah’s new album get off on the wrong for me. Opener ‘Sacrilege’ tries to be an all out epic but falls short and doesn’t quite gel for me. Fortunately things improve on ‘Subway’ which utilises a sample of a New York Subway train alongside twinkling guitar,hushed vocals and is underpinned by subtle bass guitar. The band take things up a notch on the stomping alien alternative rock of the title track. On ‘Under the Earth’ they explore dub reggae for the first time with deliciously dark results!!! The band delivers the epic goods on ‘Slave’ which recalls ‘Songs of the Free’ era Gang of Four. ‘These Paths’ is another stylist departure with Karen O backed by electronic drums and synths. The track recalls Gang Gang Dance, though is more grounded and uses more conventional melodies.

The band returns to the sound of their debut album with the punk trash of ‘Area 52’ before collaborating with UFO hunting rapper Kool Keith on the epic alternative rock of ‘Buried Alive’. Keith delivers a fantastically smooth verse as his Dr. Octagon character. ‘Always’ finds a middle ground between ‘Slave’ and ‘These Paths’ with added cascading synth melodies. The album finishes with two slow building tracks ‘Despair’ and ‘Wedding Song’ which round the album out nicely, bring it to a satisfying close. All-in-all Yeah Yeah Yeah’s have delivered exactly they promised an album that both goes back to basics and provides an escape from the bad situations in life.

Cannibal Ox – “Gotham” (Iron Galaxy)

Back in 2001 Cannibal Ox worked with producer El-P on what would become a classic underground hip-hop album in “The Cold Vein”. Last year the MC duo announced they were working together for the time in over ten years and that they’d release an album in 2013. This single is the first new material from Cannibal Ox and its seem like that duo and new producer Bill Comiq are attempting to recapture the tense, dark atmospherics of “The Cold Vein”, while Comiq is no copyist the three tracks on the single strongly recall that album.

The single opens with dark lo-fi stabbing instrumentation and a male spoken word piece about darkness, these elements are quickly replaced by a beat and high pitched horror string stabs with MC’s Vast Aire and Vordul Mega painting a bleak picture on top of it all. ‘Gases in Hell (Inhale)’ continues along a similar sonic theme but with a section that features a plinking vibraphone and humorous references to the comedy show “30 Rock” helping relieve the tension. The single goes out on a high with ‘Psalm 82’ with its heavy click, clacking beat and shifting vocal samples making it the highlight of the a very strong single and whets the appetite for the album proper.

Tokimonsta – “Half Shadows” (Ultra)

“Half Shadows” sees a stylistic departure for Tokimonsta who recently signed with Ultra Records a big player in the U.S. dance music scene. Whereas previous Tokimonsta releases were full of glitches, stutters and other destructive audio and MIDI editing techniques on “Half Shadows” she puts melody and harmony front and centre and simplifies her beats.

“Half Shadows” is an interesting title for the album and very reflective of the light and shade utilised throughout the album. This wasn’t something that was present on previous Tokimonsta releases but now she delivers both dark tracks like the dystopian sci-fi ‘The Force’ featuring Kool Keith and the downbeat atmospherics of ‘Green’ featuring Andreya Triana and light, poppy tracks such as ‘Foolish’ and ‘Clean Slate both lead by the melodic vocals of female vocalist Gavin Turek. Tokimonsta even throws a third style with the last four tracks on the album on which all slow in tempo and change in mood in addition to ‘Green’ we get the ghostly pad and voices and distant hip-hop beat of ‘Soul to Seoul’, the reversed piano tricks of ‘Waiting for the Break of Dawn’ and closer ‘Moon Rise’ featuring Jesse Boykins III which is the most organic track on the album hinting at where Tokimonsta will go next and finishing off the album in a fine style.

The Haxan Cloak – “Excavation” (Tri Angle)

The long awaited second album by The Haxan Cloak arrives on the back of months of hype. “Excavation” has a significantly more electronic sound compared with the self titled debut album. In fact for the first six tracks, acoustic instruments are notable by their absence.

The album opens with ‘Consumed’ with its low bass drone, quivering female vocals and thumping bass drum setting up the rest of the album nicely. The heavy atmosphere continues on the two part title track. Part one places the listener in a darkened room with electric lights flickering disturbingly overhead. There’s no constant rhythm as you’re pushed and pulled and harassed by the sparse beat and prickly synth, all underpinned by an ominous drone. Part two is equally ominous but replaces the space of part one with a huge marauding beat that storms its way through the heart of the tune accompanied by what sounds like a heavy breathing monster. Your nerves will jangle as cymbals appear as if from nowhere. ‘Miste’ goes down the minimal route and utilises chopped up samples to refresh the established sound of the album. The biggest change though is yet to come.

This change begins on ‘The Mirror Reflecting (Part Two)’ when a ghostly synth melody emerges from the darkness hinting that light and hope are just around the corner. ‘Dieu’ brings the listener into the light and reintroduces the violin, an instrument that had dominated The Haxan Cloak’s debut album. Album finale ‘The Drop’ begins full of light that recalls a classic piece of film credits music but partway through its epic thirteen running time it returns to the darkness. A sparse synth drone dominates the remainder of the track.

Overall The Haxan Cloak has delivered a very good second album that expands his sonic palette and suggests a lighter future sound. My only criticism of “Excavation” is that with the exception of ‘The Mirror Reflecting (Part Two)’ the dark and light elements are segregated. It would interesting to see if The Haxan Cloak is able to combine these more in the future like his peers Raime.

Owiny Sigoma Band – “Power Punch” (Brownswood)

“Power Punch” is the second album by Owiny Sigoma Band who feature two Kenyan members and five English members including drummer Tom Skinner who released a great solo album as Hello Skinny last year. The band recorded this album in London and early suggestions were that this meant the English members influence dominates. However, I find that for the most part the Kenyan and English/European influences are given equal billing. In fact, the album opens with a melody played on the Nyatiti a traditional Kenyan stringed instrument.

The Nyatiti is quickly joined by chanting, chimes and a spacious synth on the opener ‘Nagalo Ni Piny Odoy’. However, these disparate elements don’t really start gelling until track four ‘Lucas Malone’. Though ‘Lucas Malone’ finds the perfect balance musically the English lyrics leave a lot to be desired, there psychedelic drippy-ness partly undermining the potent musical blend. Next up ‘Magret Aloor’ throws Dub bass and delay effects into the mix with stunning results. ‘Harpoon Land’ with its Nyidounge drum pattern and guitar melody matched with a funky drum break and deep bass it sounds like an undiscovered Afrobeat gem. ‘Owiny Techno’ is another unexpected delight the Nyiduonde drum playing off a techno beat and watery lead synth. The track comes across like a futuristic take on the Congotronics sound of Konono No.1 but slower and more laidback.

The last three tracks on the album turn into a funky tour de force. Starting with the offbeat rhythms and Nyatiti riffs of ‘Yukimwi’ via the upbeat acoustic drums, grooving bass and great guitar riff of ‘All Together’ and concluding with the rhythmical Nyatiti riffs, rolling Afrobeat drums, bass and guitar of  closer ‘Johnny Ra Ra’. These three tracks best illustrate why the album is called “Power Punch”. Overall Owiny Sigoma Band have produced an album that gets better with every play and promises to provide some great live shows.

Release of the Month

Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah – “12 Reasons to Die” (Soul Temple)

12_reasons_1

With his new album alongside up and coming producer and multi instrumentalist Adrian Younge, Ghostface Killah comes pretty close to scaling the heights of his 90’s prime producing and album that never dips in quality across its 12 tracks. Like many Wu Tang Clan related releases there’s a storyline that runs through the album, this time the main character is Ghostface himself playing the role of a “vengeful soul hunting the 12 most powerful crime lords in the World.”

The album opens with ‘Beware of the Stare’ which immediate sets up the story and the tone of the album full of piano chords, a female choir, low slung funk bass guitar and a head nodding beat. ‘Rise of the Black Suits’ follows a similar formula adding chilling organ chords and an electric piano riff. ‘I Declare War’ is the most cinematic track so far with its operatic female vocals, spoken word outro and sweeping strings. The pace picks up on ‘Blood On The Cobblestones’ with it fast break beat, organ and horn stabs and great fuzz bass. ‘The Center Of Attraction’ changes things up again with it sparse electric piano chords and beat and back and forth strings. The next big moment on the album is ‘The Rise Of the Ghostface Killah’ with its cut-up female vocals and a spoken word male voice then a delay tail brings in the break beat and gliding electric guitar chords that slide around under Ghostface’s cool flow. ‘Revenge Is Sweet’ is a song of two halves beginning with sparse break beat and bass guitar before high pitched female choir cut in to tell more of the album’s story, strings come in and a male vocal duels with the female vocals. Then guitar chords float in  and then rap section of the track begins with Masta Killa getting busy on the mic. Wu Tang posse cut ‘Murder Spree’ and The Sure Shot’ (Parts One & Two) pick up where ‘Blood On The Cobblestones’ left off and the album finishes with ‘12 Reasons To Die’ which immortalises Ghostface in death to the sound of emotive piano, wind like sweeping synth, sparse bass guitar, mournful strings and an epic outro. With “12 Reasons to Die” Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge have set the bar extremely high for other hip-hop releases in 2013 and Younge has proved that it’s not just RZA whose the perfect foil for Wu Tang Clan MCs.

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