Tag Archive: Animal Collective


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!!!

Kirsty’s Recommendations

3rd September

Albert Swarm – “Wake” (Ceremony)

The Finnish producer released his ornamental debut EP “Held” last August on the Brooklyn-based Ceremony Recordings.  While Swarm’s sound leaned more towards ambient on that release, his debut album “Wake” will see his music taking a dark turn that is driven by percussive elements and bass lines. The press release promises a “momentous shift towards dark, meditative techno.” All seven tracks on Wake are previously unreleased. Listen to the first single  ‘Moths & Moth Catchers’ below.

10th September

Barker & Baumecker – “Transsektoral” (Ostgut Ton)

This collaboration between Sam Barker (aka Voltek) and Andreas Baumecker, sees two experimentalists stitching together elements sliced from dub, techno, glitch and ambient to create a debut album that is being released on the lauded Ostgut Ton label. The duo have collaborated before on this year’s “Candyflip” and “Murder of Crows” EPs for Ostgut Ton. Barker has releases on Tresor, while Baumecker ran the record labels Freund and Freundinnen. The pair are closely linked with Berghain, the Berlin techno Mecca from which Ostgut Ton is run. Barker runs a night there called Leisure System and Baumecker is a resident DJ. Their ambition with “Transsektoral”, a press release claims, was “to travel across the entire electronic music spectrum… reflecting different iterations of techno from all angles.” The non-album track ‘Analogical’ offered a healthy dose of grinding, hissing machine sounds, which indicates the direction “Transsektoral” will take.  The debut will be available on CD and vinyl on 10th September.  ‘Analogical’ can be downloaded for free on their Soundcloud page.

John Tejada – “The Predicting Machine” (Kompakt)

One of the most accomplished producers in electronic music today is releasing “The Predicting Machine” on Kompakt. As with its predecessor, “Parabolas”, the album will contain “a carefully arranged body of work exhibiting stunning amounts of musicality while dauntlessly delving into the depths of its own sound.” As an architect of story arcs within tracks, John Tejada builds on the smallest of surfaces, finding grandness in every detail and every track of Tejada’s sends the listener on a drive through landscapes and synthesised spectacles. This album is one to be very excited by. The wonderful first two singles ‘The Function And The Form’ and ‘Radio Channel’ can be streamed below.

Liam Recommendations

3rd September

Animal Collective – “Centipede Hz” (Domino)

The follow-up to “Merriweather Post Pavillion” Sonic Fiction’s Album of the  Year 2009, comes on the back of a lengthy break for the group in which they’ve released solo albums and the “ODDSAC” “audio-visual” album. The album will see the band abandoning the sampled based, purely electronic sound of “Merriweather Post Pavillion” in favour of tracks that came together from the band jamming together in their rehearsal space. This was the result of the band deciding to all move back to Baltimore to write the album something the band hadn’t done for a several years. Much is expected of this long awaited and highly anticipated album, can the band deliver?

Cat Power- “Sun” (Matador)

The first new studio album from Cat Power since the critically acclaimed “The Greatest” (2006). In a surprising move the album is producer by Phillipe Zdar of Cassius, Cat Power has said of the album “You have a huge responsibility with the things you’re trying to create to do your best… There’s pressure – not from critics or anything like that, but to do something that means something in your heart. And you wanna do it the way you wanna do it … I wanted to prove that I could depend on myself, musically, because I hadn’t been playing guitar or piano in like five years and… it was just this feeling that you’re not growing if you’re not doing something creative”.

Deerhoof – “Breakup Song” (ATP)

The prolific Deerhoof return with an new album just eighteen mouths after the last one. The album is their eleventh and is described by drummer and songwriter Greg Saunier as “…a sensational record of Cuban-flavored party-noise-energy music. We called it Breakup Song, but don’t expect a bunch of Grammy-baiting sob stories, OK? In Deerhoof’s thesaurus, freedom’s just another word for feeling good again and raising hell and getting away with it. Stick with us and the bad guys with guns will never catch up.”

Nick Edwards (aka Ekoplekz) – “Plekzationz” (Editions Mego)

Confusingly the man known as Ekoplekz has decided to release this new album under his own name but keep the theme that runs many of his album and song titles – inserting Eko or Plekz and z’s instead of s into the  titles. The album features four long form tracks and has been described by FACT magazine as “a lo-fi affair, recorded on a four track and nodding to classic dub and grotty No Wave.” Of course there will be more Ekoplekz releases in the meantime so keep checking back.

10th September

The XX – “Coexist” (XL/Young Turks)

The XX return with their second album two years after the slow burning success of their self titled debut album. Much has changed in the time between the two albums, many of bands songs became T.V. dramas and advert staples and Jamie XX has been busy remixing, producing solo material and spending his weekend’s DJing all over the world. Like, Animal Collective there’s a lot expected of “Coexist” unlike Animal Collective, the XX don’t have the years of development and experience to fall back. Will “Coexist” live up to the high expectations of fans and media alike?

17th September

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

A year on from the brilliant “Space Cadet” album/comic book OST and comic book the Canadian turntablist follows it up with an album which uses the classic SP1200 sampler as it main musical weapon of choice and used it to create a warped version of the blues. Initial physical copies come with a cardboard hand-powered turntable kit.

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

The ever prolific Sun Araw follow up last year hit-and-miss “Ancient Romans” with new album “The Inner Treaty” prerelease track “Like Wine” promises an album that plays more to Sun Araw’s strengths but details about the album are non existent, so we’ll have to wait and see. One things for sure Sun Araw always delivers a hand of brilliant tracks per album.

Liam’s Top Ten Albums of the Year… so far

Honourable Mentions

Peaking Lights – “936” – is  a lo-fi take on Dub that manages to cover a lot more ground than many of their more lauded peers. I can understand why the band have been compared to fellow Not Not Fun artist Sun Araw as they share many of his similar aesthetics (humid, reverb and delay heavy sound) and principle instrumentation (extended guitar lines, organ, repetitive but meandering vocals). Tom Tom Club also seems like a good reference point particularly for the vocals and ‘All the Sun That Shines’ and ‘Bird of Paradise (Dub Version)’. Definitely an album that’s worthy of soundtracking this summer like ‘On Patrol’ by Sun Araw soundtracked last summer.

Mogwai – “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will” – a mixed bag from Mogwai (a band that has been criticised in the past for producing overly samey music across an album) featuring both the familiar epic post-rock tracks that made them an internationally known force and new directions for the band including using a vocoder and development of Neu! and New Order style rhythms and grooves on ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ and ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’. I’ve read a lot of negative things about the use of the vocoder and more vocal tracks on this album and can’t say I agree with these opinions. The vocoder is employed subtly and sparingly and Stuart Braithwaite’s vocals have always been a good addition to Mogwai’s music and suit the song he sings on here. Overall I think this is Mogwai’s best album since ‘Happy Music for Happy People’ (2003).

Talib Kweli – “Gutter Rainbows” –  a return to form for Kweli after the overly commercial and guest heavy ‘Eardrum’  (2007). Kweli seems to more at ease and freer, the album’s tone and variety a sign that he may have been under pressure from Warners while making ‘Eardrum’. It’s also telling that all the guests and producers who appear on this album aren’t established major label artists/producers and I think that’s a big contributing factor. The quality on the album only really drops once for ‘How Do You Love Me’ which is a little too limp and sloppy amongst tracks that have a lot more bit and depth. The major highlights are ‘Cold Rain’ (production by Currency producer Ski Beats) and Jean Grae’s appearance on ‘Uh Oh’, however its Kweli whose personality comes across strongest, on what could be his best album yet.

Beastie Boys – “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two”

The Beasties Boys return to form after two patchy albums, full of short punchy songs that for the most part share a minimalist, lo-fi approach. It’s the Beasties gone back to basics and with found a new lease of life that explores new territory (for them) while remaining 100% Beastie Boys. Established with love this, new converts may well join the cause – all in all a triumph from restless creators always looking to evolve.

Dels – “GOB”

Dels has produced an authoritative début album that balances catchy, memorable tunes with experimentation, unexpected twists and turns and a signature sound that he can manipulate to give the album a curve. He starts with the heavy hitting, bouncy electro inspired tracks but the second half to that album covers more serious topics including the recent political problems in the U.K. and rape. Dels is able to change the pace and the atmosphere to suit these changes in subject and this is proof of an artist with more than one string to his bow and great future ahead of him. A Hip-Hop artist with substance to match his unique style.

Top Ten

10. White Denim – “D” – Though it may not be the album of the year I rashly predicted at the start of the month, though it has to be said ‘Anvil Everything’ and ‘Drug’ were pretty exciting tracks to be released in the run up to release. However this album is by no means a wash-out, it begins with a slightly misleading slice of Southern Rock but some reveals a diverse range from an ever developing and maturing band. From the wah-wah funk of ‘Burnished’ to the emotional ‘Street Joy’ via Latin rhythms of ‘River to Consider’ and many points in between this album is well worth investigation and like other White Denim album will probably prove to be another grown, rewarding repeated listening.

9. Low – “C’Mon” – A great album of two halves that sees Low experimenting with poppier sounds on the first half of the album and on ‘Something Turning Over’ while the reminder of the album revisits older sounds and influences but does so while providing some great songs. Some Low fans won’t (and don’t) like the poppier material but I think it can be seen as another string to their bow and not a conscious attempt to sell out. This is not a band producing Top Ten hits, but one dripping its toe into unknown waters and successful completing an experiment. The fact this album was recorded in a Duluth (Low’s home town) church gives the slow more open tracks and fantastic atmosphere and ambience and complaints some great songs. Once again Low show the patience and subtlety can go along way in a music world that seems constantly looking for something innovative and over simulating.

8. Chancha Via Circuito – “Rio Arriba” – A great hip-hop album that potential points a new way forward and demonstrates that there are really skilled producers working out the mainstream and America who can compete with their U.S. contemporaries. A breath of fresh Columbian air, this producer neatly side steps the comparisons to Jay Dilla to crave out his own unique style.

7. Tamikrest – “Toumastin” – Another great Taurag (desert blues) album that throws down the gauntlet to Tinariwen (whose next album is out 29th August). Though there’s a lot of familiarity to the Tamikrest sound these young men find a way of subtlety incorporating new influences into the template. From the funk bass that underpins ‘Tidit’ and ‘Tarhamanine Assinegh’ to the Western rock guitar of ‘Adjan Adaky’ and magnificent closer ‘Dihad Tedoun Itran’via the regular and clever employment of female vocals as a counterpoint to a very male sound, this shows there is more to Taurag than fans already know. The band masterful conquers both the more groovy based and moody and downbeat material with confidence and ease. A great album from a band full ideas and possible yet to reach their full potential.

6. TV on the Radio – ‘Nine Types of Light’ – This acts as a laid back sunny counterpart to their previous album ‘Dear, Science’ (2008). However, this isn’t an album that should be considered light or lacking in substance. Instead it’s a successful move into new territory for a band that continues to develop, improve and with this show that may just be one of the best bands of the last ten years. The album’s brighter moments indicates a softer R&B influence though in the latter stages of the album the band show their darker side on tracks like ‘Forgotten’ that strongly reminds me of the dense atmosphere of second album ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’  (2006) but always demonstrates what they have learnt since about space and light and shade. An album that proves sweet and sour can co-exist and that light is variable alternative not corporate cop-out.

5. Paris Suit Yourself – “My Main Shitstain”‘ – An eclectic début album is held together by a similarly punk spirit and commanding vocalist Luvinsky. The band produce a unique blend of street music that takes from soul, punk, post-punk and hip-hop while subtle embracing modern technology. The band is unafraid to wear to heart politically and graphically on its sleeve and are obviously confident in their own ability and style!! The world is there’s and I fully expect them to take it and make it their own.

4. Toro Y Moi – “Underneath the Pine” – From its chiming and droning intro track right through to the last rhythmic charge of ‘Elise’, it does no wrong. A fantastic concoction of ’80s style funk rhythms and grooves matched with emotive soundtrack backing, expert use of effects processing and the glorious rush of good pop music, a leap forward from his impressive début ‘Causers of This’. In the past its been difficult to pin down Toro Y Moi’s sound and find useful reference points but recently mid 90’s Stereolab seems apt for this playful experiment in pop music.

3. Wagon Christ – “Toomorrow” – It would be easy to dismiss this album as a repetition of everything that Vibert has done as Wagon Christ and there is some truth to that. However, he has produced an eclectic album full of great tracks (there’s not a duffer to be found) that will please hardcore Vibert fans and those new to this long-term dance music fixture. A must for fans of Ninja Tune, Warp and Planet Mu most esoteric output!!

2. tUnE-yArDs – “w h o k i l l” – tUnE-yArDs delivers on what was hinted at on her début album ‘Bird-Brains’, strong vocal performances and use of vocal layers are an ever-present as are the hip-hop rhythms that dominated her début. She also brings a host of surprises, the processing of vocals through a modular synth, pop melodies that pack a punch and day-glo indebted to both African music and dub yet at the same time all of her own. Though the album dips towards the end ‘Doorstop’ and ‘You, Yes You’ show there are yet more directions in which tUnE-yArDs sound can be developed. All-in-all a great album from a unique artist.

1. Gang Gang Dance – “Eye Contact” –  A breathtakingly ambitious album that brings together North African guitars, club beats, Indian pop vocals, grime and electro synth bass, twisted synth arpeggios are all bought together and work where it should fail spectacularly. There’s a new found clarity and a massive step-up in the quality of the tunes on ‘Eye Contact’ this is the record that their last album should have been and impress instant, whereas in the past songs were either growers or too awkward to be properly embraced. Interestingly after a few listens it becomes clear there’s some strong links to “Merriweather Post Pavilion” by Animal Collective (who are both friends and contemporaries of Gang Gang Dance) the use of psychedelic electronics and rhythms rooted in hip-hop are present on both albums. However, Gang Gang Dance add plenty to this and produce their own unique sound. An interest coincidence is that “Merriweather Post Pavilion” was Sonic Fiction’s Album of the Year 2009 and this is currently in poll position for this year. Will it still be No.1 in December?

Spotify playlist:

Liam’s Albums of the Year 2011 … so far

Vier’s Top Five Albums of the Year 2011… so far

5. Lucy – “Wordplay For Working Bees” (Stroboscopic Artefacts) Lucy bypasses the traditional form and structure of techno for his début album. IDM, drones, oblique ambience and dub-techno combine to create a foreboding atmosphere filled with unusual timbres and textures. Partly composed of field recordings from Berlin’s streets and parks, the album’s title plays on the busyness of the crowds assembled on the city streets. The recordings tangle amongst disembodied vocals and abstract noises which build a sense of dissonant melancholia. When the 4/4 rhythm of  ‘Bein’ breaks out of the ambient climate it feels exotic and somehow forbidden as does album closer ‘Ter’ which filled with pattering percussion building to a stunning, hypnotic climax that contrasts the album’s darkness.

4. Planningtorock – “W” (DFA) Planningtorock’s (Janine Rostron) second album is rooted in the expression of her sexuality, which is conveyed by the swagger and sweaty atmosphere that recall the cabaret clubs in her adopted home of Berlin. The lascivious drawl of her pitched-down voice (as demonstrated with: “I know my feelings” on opener ‘Doorway’ and “I’m a believer of circular/suckular love” on ‘Manifesto’) coupled with staccato strings and thick, sensual orchestration makes “W” a powerful and rewarding release.

3. Morphosis – “What Have We Learned” (Delsin/Morphine) Composed entirely with analogue equipment and recorded over three days, Morphosis’ first full-length is a collection of gritty, percussive clatter that recalls the dirtier side of Krautrock. Built on round bass drums and foggy static with assertive grooves and synths that engulf the listener, “What Have We Learned” is the techno release of the year.

2. Gang Gang Dance – “Eye Contact” (4AD) Building from the suggestions of bright pop displayed on a track such as ‘House Jam’ from their previous album “Saint Dymphna”, Gang Gang Dance have condensed their eclecticism and strengthened the pop melodies to create a highly impressive and ambitious fifth album. Singer Lizzie Bougatsos works her voice as instrument, in a way that justly recalls Karin Dreijer Andersson and Bjork, weaving it among the layers of polyrhythmic dance beats, electro-indebted synth riffs and glassy arpeggios. Key track ‘Mindkilla’ combines unhinged world-dance grooves with Bougatsos’ menacingly singing the lullaby ‘Mockingbird’, which encapsulates Gang Gang Dance’s approach for “Eye Contact”: ecstatic and woozy with an undercurrent of threat.

1. Nicolas Jaar – “Space Is Only Noise” (Circus Company) Much has been said of 22 year-old Jaar’s prodigious talent and his first album is rightly garnering critical acclaim. Blending Ricardo Villalobos-esque intricacy with jazz-influenced piano, super-slow techno rhythms, obscure French film dialogue, saxophone and Nicolas Jaar’s own surprisingly deep voice, the album is over-confident but endearingly so. At points coolly sexy (‘Keep Me There’ and the title track), delicate and wistful (‘Too Many Kids…’ ‘I Got A’) and ambient palate-cleansing washes “Space Is Only Noise” is a diverse, self-assured and engaging album and it is a testament to Jaar’s skill that he has delivered such a promising début in place of what could otherwise have been a pretentious clutter.

Honourable mentions:

Wolfgang Voigt – “Kafkatrax” (Profan) In typically eccentric fashion, Voigt has super-imposed his face on to Austrio-Hungarian writer Franz Kafka’s head for the artwork of Kafkatrax. The strange merge goes further with the music contained inside. Every sound except the bass drum is taken from a German audiobook of Kafka’s work, the samples of which Voigt has then sliced, layered and stretched to create several voices speaking in fragmented words and vowels. The abstract stratification of the samples re-produce the paranoia present in Kafka’s writing while Voigt’s experienced hand in intangible dance music knits the sounds into four alien yet groove-filled techno tracks.

http://www.kompakt.fm/releases/kafkatrax_1/embedded

http://www.kompakt.fm/releases/kafkatrax_2/embedded

Spotify playlist:

Vier’s Albums of the Year 2011… so far

Back in February I wrote an article that hypothesised the links between a growing underground of new psychedelic music and those that had influenced the artists involved. Since completing it I have had many thoughts about modern psychedelia and how it links together. In this piece I will discuss the work of Caribou (formerly Manitoba) and Animal Collective and continue the thread through the last decade. I will briefly examine a new idea about the beginnings of modern psychedelia in the late 1990s/early 2000s, in particular the work and effect of Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips.

Dan Snaith’s (Caribou/Manitoba) career has covered a diverse range of genres from ‘60s psychedelia to modern dance music like Animal Collective yet there is a distinct difference between them. The principal difference being that Animal Collective are more flamboyant and confident, especially since 2005’s ‘Feels’ whereas Snaith’s music is rooted in subtle details to the point where the gorgeous electronica of ‘Start Breaking My Heart’ (2001) can seem too similar from song to song.

His next album ‘Up In Flames’ established Snaith as a psychedelic artist and his reputation for attention to detail. This album succeeded in marrying the sound of shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine with the drum breaks that would become a staple of his sound for the next few releases. It was critically acclaimed, earning plaudits such as it is ‘laptop pop that shimmers, shakes and twists like the precocious child of Aphex Twin, Spiritualized and the Beatles’ (Urb magazine) and ‘approaches the psychedelic grandeur of Spiritualized or Mercury Rev at their finest while still offering a wealth of carefully placed sonic detail.’ (The Wire). It was from here Snaith would use a flexible formula of combining the latest studio technology with analogue warmth and references to psychedelic music.

Snaith then flexed his musical muscles with the delivery of ‘The Milk Of Human Kindness’ in 2005 after changing his name to Caribou due to the threat of legal action. Travelling from ‘Yeti’s propulsive ‘60s organ sounds  via the near noise fest of ‘Hands First’ and the perfect Can tribute ‘Barnowl’, this is an eclectic album that shouldn’t hold together but does with aplomb. Caribou has been undeservedly criticised for lacking cohesion yet this is hard to understand as he regularly delivers albums that reach his fanbase’s high standards. ‘The Milk of…’ is his most diverse effort to date but linking it all together is the influence of Can and in particular guitarist Michael Karoli who’s funky yet emotive style is the one thing consistent on the album.

For his next album ‘Andorra’, Caribou focused on ‘60s psychedelia and though a more focused effort it covered a large amount of ground across its nine tracks with its closer ‘Niobe’ hinting at a future daring departure. This year that move was completed with the release of the dance music influenced ‘Swim’, a record inspired by Snaith’s rediscovered love of swimming, which shows. Its layered sounds come in waves, washes of psychedelic effects shift sounds in and out of focus with the fourth track ‘Found Out’ recreating the effect that being underwater has on the perception of audio.

As mentioned, Caribou/Manitoba and Animal Collective have both covered a range of genres within psychedelic music. The reasons for choosing Animal Collective in the original article was because they, like Snaith, serve as a link to the various genres mentioned, directly or indirectly, and have been releasing music throughout the previous decade.

However, after reflection I decided that the roots lay a little further back in time. The bands that galvanised this proliferation of psychedelic music were the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev who released their ‘The Soft Bulletin’ and ‘Deserter’s Song’s’ albums in 1998/1999. These were critically acclaimed and bands such as Luna, Home and Mercury Rev side project Hopewell also gained media exposure. It was as if for a moment that a new psychedelic movement was going to take the world by storm, but it was not be and only Mercury Rev and the Flaming Lips retain a profile similar to that they enjoyed during this period but instead of petering out psychedelic music continued to evolve into a number of forms, which has not explicitly covered in the mainstream media and many links have gone unnoticed. Though only a theory I believe it stands up as an overview of an unreported network of related of artists and their activities.

I am considering a further follow-up to the original psychedelia piece or a series of articles focusing on the shoegaze, krautrock and 70s synth music scenes and other strains of psychedelic music.

Spotify playlist (HHTP link, then Spotify link)

Psychedelia: The Return – Further Explorations

Psychedelia: The Return – Further Explorations

And now for something completely different:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126667481

Psychedelia: The Return

Disclaimer: This post is in no way attempting to suggest or create a new  musical genre or sub genre. It is intended to observe some of the, at times tenuous, links in a burgeoning network of new psychedelic artists.

After a decade in development 2009 saw an organically grown set of artists exploring new and different ways of creating psychedelic music reaching critical mass. While the mainstream music press bangs on about ‘nu gaze’ they have missed a much wider and larger development that has and still is producing amazing, mind expanding music.

So who and what am I talking about when I refer to new psychedelic music? There are three main strands of this phenomenon. The first is the noise scene of UK and North America  where wildly oscillating colourful music has become the predominant feature for the likes of Animal Collective (who’ve come a long way from their humble beginnings), Black Dice, Fuck Buttons, Holy Fuck and 8-bit legend Dan Deacon. Animal Collective are currently earning the most column inches but they were virtual unknowns prior to the 2007 release of ‘Strawberry Jam’, which coincidently is when the band hit upon a winning formula for their music. Both ‘Strawberry Jam’ and the commercially successful 2009 follow up ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’ showcased Animal Collective’s great musical achievements and exposed people to their contemporaries.

This scene also demonstrates that the genre is a step forward. Unlike Britpop this resurgence isn’t a retrograde movement looking through rose tinted glasses back to the ‘60s heyday of guitar and organ based psychedelic music. The employment of synthesisers, sequencers, drum machines, games consoles, toys, guitar effects pedals and circuit bending (the modification of musical and non musical toys to create new sounds) creates a digitised, corrupted version of psychedelia that is more in tune with the modern world. Occasionally these acts write lyrics with a similarly naive hippy vibe but by and large artists have shunned this in favour of a more modern post-irony lyrical slant. Much of the noise scene even avoids the use of conventional vocals. Though Animal Collective have two singers they treat the vocals as another instrument or effect in their music, veering from the disturbing and distorted to the ethereal and dub-like. Most importantly in a genre where it is difficult to establish yourself as unique and vital, to outsiders at least, all these acts have managed to achieve this, whether through a long development period like Animal Collective, Black Dice and Dan Deacon or a seemingly quick time in the case  of Fuck Buttons and Holy Fuck.

The next strand is the UK electronic and indie scenes that in recent years have received an injection of psychedelic sound. The main artists include Clark, Four Tet, The Big Pink and Maps. Over the last few years these acts have all released albums that resonate with their own unique sounds. Four Tet’s (Kieran Hebden) fourth album ‘Everything Ecstatic’ in 2005 delved into the relatively untouched worlds of late ‘60s psychedelic jazz of Art Ensemble of Chicago and Alice Coltrane and Krautrock (a German form of progressive rock) whilst retaining Four Tet’s originality. Hebden was a huge hip-hop fan and the joy he took in deconstructing and reconstructing these genres into a new sonic tapestry is indicated in the album’s title. Around this time his remix work shifted focus in the same direction and he began a fruitful relationship with Stone Throw Records and producer Madlib. The Krautrock influence would also rear its head again albeit in a colder form on the ‘Ringer’ EP from 2008. The next crucial release in this chain was 2006’s ‘Body Riddle’ by Clark on Warp Records. Though not the most obvious psychedelic album I’ve discussed it nevertheless reveals its twisted, swirling and dark heart with repeated listens. Like ‘Everything Ecstatic’ it uses modern hip-hop and R&B rhythms and production techniques to create a dense, evolving collage of sound to the extent that it feels as if ‘Body Riddle’ is the flip side of ‘Everything Ecstatic’ but where Four Tet looks backwards for his core influences, Clark uses modern sounds and electronic influenced noise to communicate a near pitch black sound of emotional turmoil. In 2007 these artists were joined by Maps (James Chapman) who released his multi-layered synthesizer heavy debut album ‘We Can Create’ to critical acclaim. The album was purely electronic music balanced with pop melodies. His sound is the most commercial that I’ll discuss but even Chapman is grounded in indie roots. Maps’ new album ‘Turning the Mind’ (2009) is true psychedelia. It takes the textures from his debut and adds new colours to what had been a very blue sound. ‘Turning the Mind’ is vividly colourful; resonating with bright reds, yellows and oranges yet there is a dark undercurrent to the sound, which is spoiled occasionally by Chapman’s naive lyrics and the odd Pet Shop Boys melody.

The latest arrival in this scene is the most hyped of the so called nu gaze bands The Big Pink. They combine electronic beats, guitar and synth sounds that owe to the original shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Jesus and Mary Chain and the Cocteau Twins and their sound has much in common with Maps’ debut but employs guitars instead of synths. The Big Pink recorded their debut ‘A Brief History of Love’ at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in New York, stating that it helped create the vibe they wanted and ‘added a magic’ to it. Much like electronica and indie the noise scene is trying to forge a way forward instead of merely repeating past ideas and it has mostly succeeded in this aim in a time when this is near impossible.

The final strand is the underground hip-hop scene in the US andUK. The former is based around Stones Throw Records and Madlib and the latter helmed by Four Tet and Warp Records’ recent signing Hudson Mohawke. Though they are all different they have led to the creation of the first truly psychedelic hip-hop records and although the Beastie Boys and De La Soul had come close in 1989 with ‘Paul’s Boutique’ and ‘Three Feet and Rising’ and OutKast’s ‘Stankonia’ in 2002 was a brilliant tribute to classic Parliament/Funkadelic concept albums, Madlib is the first truly original psychedelic hip-hop producer. His name standing for Mind Altering Demented Lessons In Beats.

He is hugely prolific and flits between a vast array of black music genres but his work is always under the banner of hip-hop and almost always has a drugged feel. The high points of Madlib’s catalogue include the albums he released as Quasimoto  – ‘The Unseen’ and ‘The Further Adventures of Lord Quas’ in 2000 and 2005 and his work with MF Doom under the name Madvillian who released their debut ‘Madvilliany’ in 2004. He and Four Tet use hip-hop’s main weapon to create their unique sounds: the sampler. As Quasimoto Madlib created the weird vocal effects by slowing his beats down, recording vocals on top then replaying the vocals over the original beat. He also used his sampler and drum kit to create a disorienting dark world for MF Doom’s character Madvillain to live and breathe in for their album. This created a sound more akin to jazz or stoner rock music than traditional hip-hop. It was around the time of ‘Madvilliany’ that Madlib and Four Tet struck up a collaborative relationship and swapped remixes over the next year or so, many of which ended up on Four Tet’s ‘Remixes’ album. This then extended out into remixes of other Stone Throw artists and vice versa. Madlib has also worked under the guise of Yesterday’s New Quintet, in which he plays all four fictitious musicians and explores psychedelic jazz and incorporates influences from the Beasties Boys’ organic hip-hop and the atmospherics of Jamaican dub. With YNQ Madlib achieves his dual ambition of paying tribute to the styles of the past while being faithful to the progressive nature of jazz and his own innovative music.

Since signing to Warp Records Glaswegian producer Hudson Mohawke (Ross Birchard) has released the ‘Polyfolk Dance’ EP and debut album ‘Butter’. At first his sound was difficult to pin down but a little research revealed what made this strange brew. Mohawke grew up listening to soul and funk records and the rave tapes his cousin played and as a teenager he learnt the art of turntablism (becoming the youngest DMC UK champion at 15), which explains his unique sound that mashes together the luxuriousness of modern hip-hop, the day-glo noise of rave and found sounds and samples. ‘Butter’ is an apt title for a record that is so rich and textured yet has roughness indebted to the bass and found sounds and samples, lending the album an analogue feel evoking classic mid ‘70s Parliament/Funkadelic through a very modern filter. None of these three artists live in the same country but they have contributed to and influenced a new generation of hip-hop producers who can take these new ideas and twist them into varied shapes and sounds.

As stated earlier the music examined is not a retread of old psychedelic music genres but it would, however, be naive to suggest that these artists are rootless and are creating completely new music. There are three main components of influence, some of which interlink. The first is Krautrock or kosmiche music that originated in Germany in the late 1960s continuing throughout the ‘70s and up until the present day. Though many important Krautrock artists such as Kraftwerk, Neu!, Faust and Can have been canonised for their work the new breed of psychedelic artists also take their influences from the ambient organic work of Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel, Cluster and Harmonia.

Tangerine Dream emerge as the biggest influence and indeed achieved the biggest sound and sales at their height. Their authority is detectable in the music of Animal Collective, Holy Fuck, Dan Deacon, Maps and Four Tet. Their music, which is comparable to the dense texture and melodic styles used by their successors, allowed ‘sound patterns to build up slowly and blend into one another’. The classical and silver-toned guitar of Ash Ra Tempel and Neu! can be heard on records by Four Tet, Clark and Hudson Mohawke (though they probably aren’t a direct influence on Birchard’s work). Rhythms and harmonies employed by Can are mirrored in the work of Holy Fuck and Four Tet and are closely associated with Madlib’s style with Jaki  Liebezeit’s drum breaks been a constant source for sampling for hip-hop and dance music since the late ‘80s. The colder, pre-industrial ambient sounds of Cluster and Harmonia have also found their way into the corners of material by Maps and Four Tet’s ‘Ringer’.

The next influence is closely associated with the Krautrock and kosmiche music artists discussed. It is best described as ‘70s synth music, a rough generic term bringing together the music of Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Isao Tomita (Japanese synthesizer artist famous for his reinterpretation of Gustav Holst’s symphony ‘The Planets’), Klaus Schulze (Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel) and others. These artists and their music were musically ambitious, taking  Krautrock’s expansion of the potential of synthesizers to a symphonic level. Vangelis began his career in Greek prog rock band Aphrodite’s Child and, like Schulze, managed a smooth transition to a more symphonic sound; in Vangelis’ case, to successful soundtrack work which includes ‘Chariots of Fire’ and ‘Blade Runner’ (1982). Tomita and Jarre made similarly bold synth-led, reverb drenched sonic adventures. Tomita produced his own brand of synth music and was a successor to the classical reinterpretations by Walter/Wendy Carlos. Jarre successfully turned this music into a commercially successful sound and created huge visual shows to compliment this. In 1977 Jarre hit the charts with ‘Oxegene IV’ in a breakthrough year for synth music, which finally saw Kraftwerk infiltrate the mainstream and Donna Summer top the charts with the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’. This became the catalyst for Jarre’s burgeoning live extravaganzas and the proliferation of synth music worldwide in the following seven years.

Schulze represents a darker, more contemplative and less grandiose sound but no less layered. He came from what is now referred to as the Berlin School, an experimental selection of  Berlin-based artists determined to discover the very outer limits of what a synthesizer and music could do.

The multi layered, ambitious and synth heavy material of the acts listed above has had an influence on the similarly layered and luxurious sounds of Maps, particularly ‘Turning the Mind’, which explores interesting sonic and emotional depths, Four Tet, Holy Fuck, Hudson Mohawke, Fuck Buttons and Animal Collective.

The last strand of influence on new psychedelic music is the ‘90s shoegaze scene which featured the heavily processed guitar sounds of the recently reunited My Bloody Valentine (MBV), Slowdive, Ride and their predecessors the Jesus and Mary Chain (JMC) and Cocteau Twins. This scene varied from the feedback driven sound of MBV and JMC to the ethereal ruminative guitar sketches of the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie. The mainstream media have focussed on the ‘nu gaze’ scene but the influence of these acts has been evident for a while now. LCD Soundsystem covered ‘Slowdive’ by Slowdive in 2005; Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s verbatim theft of JMC’s sound and image; and the constant comparisons of Jonsi of Sigur Ros’ vocal style with that of Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. Although it was the reformation of My Bloody Valentine that really thrust the spotlight on those that were obviously influenced by shoegaze’s brand of guitar pedal  noise. This ‘nu gaze’ scene is led by The Big Pink, No Age, School of Seven Bells, Atlas Sound however many of these acts are merely derivative. The really interesting manifestations of the influence are mainly on the noise scene. Holy Fuck, Health, Animal Collective, Dan Deacon and Fuck Buttons all take something from shoegazing even when they’re not using guitars. Health are the most indebted to MBV and the other shoegaze bands but they have managed to create a more obtuse take on the original sound that has more common with noise’s roots than most shoegaze acts. The density of the music by Animal Collective and Dan Deacon has the feel of a less attack oriented version of MBV, JMC and Ride. You’re not being abused but there is enough edge that it’s not merely background music. As I mentioned in paragraph three, the use of vocals as another layer or instrument can be traced back to Liz Fraser’s vocal techniques and are present  or rather deeply buried in the music of Holy Fuck, Fuck Buttons, Animal Collective, Four Tet and Hudson Mohawke . The fetishisation of guitar pedals and their analogue sound is also evident in the sound of the modern psychedelic acts that I’ve discussed and is another tie to the original shoegaze bands.

Though all the artists I’ve discussed are in themselves unique and individual, this article demonstrates that the artists that influence them and the techniques used to achieve their sound interlink in various ways to show a broad landscape of sub genres and artists that make up a reinvigoration of psychedelic music. In a time where the majority of bands and artists struggle to free themselves from commercial pressure or the inevitable repeating of what they’ve been influenced by these artists are attempting individually and collectively to direct us forward and to expose us to experiences and music that we may not have heard or felt before.

The influence of Krautrock and synth music is keenly felt but unlike previous artists who have just taken on these influences e.g. Stereolab and Muse these artists have discovered ways of creating something of their own in the spirit of those who had gone before. Their influences all ploughed their own furrow and it is difficult not to fall under their shadow so I salute the work of the extraordinary artists who’ve taken the risk on making something even more adventurous and exploratory.

Here’s a Spotify playlist (HTTP links, then Spotify URL) so you can check out the bands mentioned in this post:

Psychedelia: The Return

Psychedelia: The Return

%d bloggers like this: