Tag Archive: Balam Acab


Honourable Mentions

Death In Vegas – “Trans Love Energies”

This album came out nowhere back in September and knocked me for six, a great comeback album if ever there was one. Admittedly it’s not always the subtlest of albums, both in terms of wearing its influences on its sleeves and in terms of its sometimes simplistic nature. However, these complaints are minor with Richard Fearless finding a balance between his art-rock and electronic music influences and blending them into a visceral whole. Though it may not be the most original album released this year it’s a joy to listen to and Fearless show he’s still a master of his music domain. His whispered vocals (which sometimes recall Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers) and those of collaborator Kate Stelmanis (Austra) are the icing on the cake. It is well worth getting the 2 CD edition too, which features remixes and instrumental versions of album tracks plus five non-album tracks all of which equal the quality of the album itself.

Spank Rock – “Everything Is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar”

After 5 years Spank Rock returned this year with a second album ‘Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar’. This combines tracks that consolidate what Spank Rock achieved on previous album ‘YoYoYoYoYo’ and while moving into new areas like four-to-floor dance music, grungy distortion and Can sampling single ‘Energy’. Spank Rock also tries out singing on ‘The Dance’, ‘Baby’ (on which he achieves an excellent Prince impersonation) and ‘Energy’ and does so with aplomb. The triple dance floor whammy of ‘The Dance’, ‘#1 Hit’ and ‘Turn It Off’ are the biggest departures but also the greatest successes. During the second half of the album the majority tracks recall ‘YoYoYoYoYo’s’ electro sound but here it’s been expanded and built upon to incorporate tribal vibes, industrial touches, grungy distortion and on ‘Baby’ a phat funk groove. Like on his debut, Spank Rock pushes the envelope of electro hip-hop successfully bringing together disparate elements and combining them as if they should be together. An excellent album full of energy, humour and electro.

DELS – “GOB”

Dels produced an authoritative debut album that balances catchy, memorable tunes with experimentation, unexpected twists and turns and a signature sound on a complete and engaging record. The first half is full of heavy hitting, bouncy electro inspired tracks but the second half to the album covers more serious topics including the recent political problems in the UK, rape and domestic violence. 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. Dels is a hip-hop artist with substance to match his unique style.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen – “A Winged Victory for the Sullen”

A Winged Victory for the Sullen is a collaboration between Adam Wiltzie of Texan ambient duo Stars of the Lid and contemporary pianist Dustin O’ Halloran and their self titled debut album is where their two styles meet in the middle. The music shifts in and out of focus as the two musicians interact, knowing when to play together and when to let the other have space, when to build a wave of sound and when to leave room between them. One of the remarkable things about the album is how cohesive it sounds, as if the duo had been working together for years and understood each other’s every musical move and how to compliment it. The reason for choosing this album is best summed up by Sam Cleeve of Drowned in Sound “While Wiltzie and O’Halloran both have their obvious contemporaries to draw parallels between (Hammock; Eno/Frahm; Arnalds), this emotive disc balances a hushed intimacy and vast expanse that places it in a unique sonic terrain.”

Toro Y Moi – “Underneath the Pine”

Back in February I described Toro Y Moi’s “Underneath the Pine” in the following way, “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 riffs and grooves matched with emotive soundtrack backing and the glorious rush of good pop music, it’s a leap forward from his impressive début ‘Causers of This’” Since then I’ve had more time to contemplate the album and its subtleties, discovering the stylistic similarities to Stereolab (who featured in his mix for The Quietus) and deepening my admiration for the lush atmospherics present in the tracks and the way that the singles ‘New Beat’ and ‘Still Sound’’s infectious upbeat energy contrast with the album’s more thoughtful moments such as ‘Good Hold’ and opener ‘Intro/Chi Chi’. On the surface “Underneath the Pine” is full of simple pleasures but reveals more and more with each new play.

Top Ten Album’s of the Year

10. Battles – “Gloss Drop” (Warp Records)

 As with any Battles release there’s a lot to take in and one listen simply won’t cut it in terms of any real in-depth analysis. The trio made a good first impression proving they can do great things without former member Tyondai Braxton, whom was always seen as a key band member. This is definitely a Battles album yet they’ve shed some of the uptight, over thought jazz-prog that had previously manifested itself in a frustrating way. This is a looser, freer band. Drummer John Stanier is able to make his techno influences much more explicit, this and the Carribbean/Latin/Calypso touches that are littered throughout the album add a new rhythmic interest and lightness of touch that are both great new additions to the Battles sound. This isn’t a band trying to play techno or calypso through; rather they are trying to fold these influences into their already established sound. Another interesting facet of the sound is that on many of the tracks feature ambience and background sounds that evoke grey concrete that is juxtaposed with the lighter and happier calypso influenced melodies and riffs. ‘Gloss Drop’ is a bold statement from band that could have collapsed but has instead shown a new strength.

9. Chancha Via Circuito – “Rio Arriba” (ZZK Records)

This album by an Argentine hip-hop producer Pedro Canale fuses J Dilla-esque beats to traditional Columbian cumbia percussion samples, melodies and vocal samples to create a heady and humid hybrid that recalls walking through the South American jungle after dark. Like all the best hip-hop producers Canale has a deep understanding of the music that he is sampling but doesn’t respect it to the point that it limits his innovation. His music and grooves feel organic but also as if they’ve been subtly subverted in his sampler. “Rio Arriba” isn’t all about the beats. He uses atmosphere to evoke a time and place and is one of the only new hip-hop producers I’ve heard who achieves this to such a high level, you don’t just hear the time and place either but feel the emotions of the singers and the instrumental tracks so brilliantly convey. It’s difficult to properly describe Chancha Via Circuito’s music but with “Rio Arriba” he has created the debut album of the year.

8. The Horrors – “Skying” (XL Records)

I’ll admit to never having been taken by The Horrors and other than the excellent track ‘Sea Within a Sea’ I didn’t see what all fuss was about with their last album “Primary Colours”. However, their new self-produced album “Skying” finds them striking a balance between clear melodic lines and thick, swirling psychedelia. Previously the band sounded muddy with the melody submerged low in the mix. There’s also a new feeling of purpose to tracks like ‘Still Life’, ‘Moving Further Away’ and ‘Endless Blue’. The band combine the motorik rhythms of Neu!, the English psychedelia of late 80s Julian Cope and the power ballad dynamics of Simple Minds (not something I thought I’d ever be recommending) into a punchy pop-rock package. They’ve left behind the restrictions of recreating gothic post-punk sounds and the doom laden, muddy psychedelia of previous albums and have emerged as a band that delivers where once they merely promised.

7. Tune-Yards –“Who Kill” (4AD Records)

Tune-Yards delivers on what was hinted at on her debut album ‘Bird-Brains’. Strong vocal performances and use of vocal layering are ever present as are the hip-hop rhythms that dominated her debut. She also brings a host of surprises, the processing of vocals through a modular synth, pop melodies that pack a punch and a day-glo sound 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. In addition to this the album reflects its time through its politically engaged lyrics and of protests both personal and local. In a year dominated by protests and political upheaval, “Who Kill” provided a vibrant soundtrack. All-in-all this is a great album from a unique artist.

6. The Field – “Looping State of Mind”  (Kompakt)

This year Axel Willner delivered another great album as The Field and continued to evolve his glacial techno sound. His music is now warmer and more organic (see ‘Arpeggiated Love’ and ‘Burned Out’), while his grooves have become funkier and more human recalling those found on LCD Soundsystem’s “Sound of Silver”. The best way I can think to describe “Looping State of Mind” is LCD Soundsystem grooves matched with the inverted dance structures and Tangerine Dream influenced kosmische music of The Field’s typical productions. A match made in heaven.

5. Tamikrest – “Toumastin”  (Glitterhouse Records)

This is another great Taurag album that throws down the gauntlet to Tinariwen (who’s “Tassili was a massive disappointment). 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 masterfully conquers both the more groove based and moody and downbeat material with confidence and ease. This is great album from a band full ideas who’ve possibly yet to reach their full potential.

4. Beastie Boys – “Hot Sauce Committee Part 2” (Capitol/Grand Royale Records)

With this album the Beastie Boys returned to form creating their best album since “Hello Nasty” (1998). They went back to basics and came up with a collection of short punchy songs full of energy, hooks and humour. Though the album is a thoroughly Beastie Boys creation they do seem to have rebooted their sound, with the help of producer Philippe Zdar, concocting a new synthetic retro-futuristic Beasties sound. The album’s 16 tracks whizz by in a blur and it’s hard to pick out favourites in this heady brew but if pushed I’d go for ‘Make Some Noise’, ‘Non Stop Disco Powerpack’, ‘Too Many Rappers’ feat. Nas, ‘Don’t Play No Game I Can’t Win’ feat Santigold and excellent instrumental ‘Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament’. The only disappointment is that ‘Tadlock’s Glasses’ finishes far too soon.

3 . Mark McGuire – “Get Lost”  (Editions Mego Records)

At first “Get Lost” seemed like business as usual for Emeralds guitarist Mark McGuire, All the typical traits of McGuire’s guitar playing are present especially his fuzzy lead lines and repetitive yet hypnotic delay heavy rhythm patterns and guitar-synth drones aplenty. However, the more I listened to the album, the more it became clear it was almost a direct relative of the collaborative work of Brian Eno and Robert Fripp particularly 1975’s brilliant ‘Evening Star’ album. The colourful washes of sound swirl around the stereo image and immerse you but are perfectly balanced with the melodic lines that weave in and out of them. I didn’t think that McGuire could equal last year’s amazing “Living With Yourself” but with “Get Lost” he’s managed it and combined the best elements from all his previous releases into a cohesive whole.

2. Apparat – “The Devil’s Walk” (Mute Records)

On his new album Apparat displayed a new skill for writing immediate and engaging material, a difficult balance that has been masterfully struck without surrendering any of this enigmatic artist’s mystery. The album doesn’t instantly recall Apparat’s previous solo work and has more in common with the Moderat project he formed with Modeselektor in 2009, specifically the dark gothic atmosphere that pervades throughout. It seems appropriate that Apparat should switch to Mute Records for this release as many of tracks indirectly recall Depeche Mode at their finest and Apparat’s vocal even sounds like Marc Almond (Soft Cell) minus the camp edge. Apparat’s greatest achievement here is combining modern production techniques with strong song writing. His song are now more memorable and emotionally evocative.

1. Gang Gang Dance – “Eye Contact” (4AD Records)

A breathtakingly ambitious album featuring North African guitars, club beats, Indian pop vocals, grime and electro synth bass, and twisted synth arpeggios all working together where they could 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 album Gang Gang Dance have been threatening to make and impresses instantly whereas previous songs were either growers or too awkward to be properly embraced. 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, which is an upbeat opposite to the melancholy of Animal Collective. An interest coincidence is that “Merriweather Post Pavilion” was Sonic Fiction’s Album of the Year 2009 and ‘Eye Contact’ takes pole position for this year. From opening 11 minutes epic ‘Glass Jar’ to the closing ‘Thru and Thru’ with its twisting snake charmer like Eastern melody, tribal percussion and clubby beats and synths via the Sade-esque ‘Romance Layers’ beats the heart of exhilarating experimentation meeting the forward rush of club music and the exoticism of traditional music from around the world. As No.1 in my list there is no higher recommendation!

Spotify playlist:

Sonic Fiction Top Ten Album’s of the Year

Observations

Just like last year two words have loomed large for me this year: Ambient and African; and I have continued my exploration of these types of music. I’ve found myself getting deeper into Ambient music both old and new, especially with FACT publishing their 20 Best Ambient albums in the summer with Steve Reich and Pat Metheny’s – “Electric Counterpoint”, Main’s – “Firmament II”, Bobby Beausoleil soundtrack for “Lucifer’s Rising” and “Ambient 3: Day of Radiance” by Brian Eno and Laraaji  amongst my favourites so far. A spate of new releases towards the end of the year that I’ve enjoyed include “Music for Confluence” by Peter Broderick, “Tragedy” by Julia Holter and “Glimmer” by Jacaszek, “El Tren Fantasma” by Chris Watson, “Replica” by Oneohtrix Point Never and “Tragedy and Geometry” by Steve Hauschildt of Emeralds.  On the African side of things I started the year with the purchase of the Congotronics vs. Rockers compilation album, which was swiftly followed by the debut album of the Kasai Allstars and though I wasn’t listening to much African music during the summer I followed the progress of the Congotronics vs Rockers tour via their blog and towards the end of have enjoyed Analog Africa’s “Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso”, a great compilation covering the rich and varied music of this small and obscure country during the ‘70s.

Some releases have taken a little longer to grower on me than others for instance “A Creature I Don’t Know” by Laura Marling narrowly missed out on being part of my Honourable Mentions yet it has slowly but surely grown on me since its September release. I also recently revisited Laurel Halo’s “Hour Logic” EP and went from liking it to loving its infectious energy matched with abundant atmosphere. I’ve also been on and off with a few artists/albums the main culprit being Maria Minerva who I’ve liked and then found dull and then liked and then found dull again. Albums by The Rapture and Megafaun have also failed to fully convince me, though they still could.

Sonic Fiction’s predictions for up and coming new bands/artists for 2011 mostly seemed premature as many of artists with now release their debut albums next year. Still DELs and Balam Acab produced good debut albums and Laurel Halo and Blondes both had a steady stream of releases, maybe we’ll have better luck next year.

Still to come this week Vier’s Album’s of the Year and Observations.

by Liam Flanagan (Sonic Fiction editor)

August promised plenty with a good haul of releases to listen to, however a lot of acts delivered disappointing or average albums with the exception of Balam Acab hard to define debut and the latest offering from Steve Malkmus and The Jicks.

I’ve been genuinely struggling to come up with anything to say about “West” by Wooden Shjips, August’s biggest disappointment. Almost all the track bar the closer ‘Rising’ are practically identical only changing in tempo and intensity. The same elements are used throughout – fuzzed guitars, organ melodies, motorik drums and the only difference is from previously releases is that Ripley Johnson’s vocals are higher in the mix. The repetition on this album is boring and not hypnotic which is what the band was aiming for. My other big problem with the album is that there’s little to distinguish it from its influences Neu!, Spacemen 3 and the Velvet Underground, in fact you’d be better off buying an album each of those artists. There seems little point in repeating this music unless you can find some way of putting a personal stamp on it. Wooden Shjip’s have had a lot of of critical praise heaped on them and are supposedly the best of this type of music and the previous albums I’ve heard suggest they are good at what they do. However, even when on form I’m not convinced enough to buy one of their albums.

The new CSS album “La Liberacion” is a rather eclectic mix from the electro reggae of single ‘Hit Me Like A Rock’ featuring Bobby Gillespie to punk stylings of the title track and ‘Ruby Eyes’ via the breezy pop of ‘Partners in Crime’. Overall this is a very polished effort from the band that had thrilled us with the lo-fi feel of their debut album, in fact song like ‘Rhythm to the Rebels’ and the title track remind me of that album. Though the music itself successfully achieves a move into pop music territory the vocals of Lovefoxx leave a little to be desired. It’s not that I think she’s a terrible vocalist or that she needs to be a pitch perfect singer far from it, some of my favourite vocalists are often accused of not being able to hold a note. But against a more sophisticated backing she struggles to hold her own sometimes to the point of it being irritating. This album of exuberant pop that will delight many, however it’s often just a little too light weight for my tastes.

“Watch The Throne” is a hit and miss selection from Jay-Z and Kanye West that and doesn’t quite deliver to their usual high standards. Maybe if they’d stuck with the original mini-album format they’d have had a higher hit rate and tighter concept. Having said that it’s not all bad by any means and it’s interesting to hear Jay-Z able to adapt to the often up tempo and electronic beats and sounds that dominate the album. Highlights include the rolling bass line and cinematic strings ‘No Church in the Wild’ feat Frank Ocean, ‘Niggas In Paris’ which features a great section were Kanye slurs his first verse along to the lurching electro beat, the soul filled single ‘Otis’, the emotive piano stampede of ‘Murder to Excellence’ and the surprisingly successful ‘Made in America’ feat. Frank Ocean which manages to stay the right of mawkish. However, there’s a lot of throw away material that fails to make an impact and sounds like it was thrown together in five minutes. ‘Lift Off’ featuring Beyonce doesn’t quite make it as the big moment as it could have been but is an interesting combination of R&B/electro and hard(er) edge hip-hop beats, ‘That’s My Bitch’, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and ‘Why I Love You’ feat. Mr. Hudson are the worst the first two feel lightweight and the lead sounds are annoying and the later features liberal use of Auto Tune that would work fine if it wasn’t for the awful 80’s guitar work playing in the background. The remaining tracks are all pretty middling fare and unfortunately with the possible expectations of ‘No Church in the Wild’, ‘Niggas in Paris’ and ‘Murder to Excellence’ I can’t see these tracks being remembered long after this year.

Tinariwen’s “Tassili” was an album that felt like a disappointment from an act that has proved to be very consisent across previous releases. However, there return to their acoustic roots sounds flat and their collaborations on this album are hit-and-miss the contributions of TV on the Radio Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe are the main disappointment, being left adrift on the chorus of ‘Tenere Taqqim Tossam’ where I was hoping they’d combine their unique harmonies with those of Tinariwen, but this never happens. Nels Cline’s slide guitar is an improvement but sometimes dominates the music too much, the only real success is The Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s deep and probing harmonics on ‘Ya Messinagh’. Elsewhere the band consolidate on previous triumphs or deliver inspid acoustic takes on them.

The new Sun Araw album ‘Ancient Romans’ is a bit of a mixed bag on first listen. The first three tracks (‘Lucretius’, ‘Crown Shell’ and ‘Crete’) and closer ‘Impluvium’ are big disappointments for different reasons, the first three mainly because they are too busy and seem to miss the whole point of Sun Araw’s repetitive and meditative music. ‘Impluvium’ lets itself down as it starts off seemingly to use modern production techniques such as chopped up vocals which is a first for Sun Araw however it ends up sound like antiquated rave music slowed down. The album isn’t a complete disaster and when it’s good, it’s very good. ‘At Delphi’ and ‘Fit for Caesar’ are cinematic and drone based triumphs that take what great about Sun Araw and times it by 100. ‘Lute and Lyre’ has its moments too starting off feeling a little weak it slowly draws the listener in and transfixes them, however this is spoilt by Stallones not being able to resist over complicating parts and flooding the mix.

Balam Acab’s ‘Wander/Wonder’ is one of the best albums I’ve heard this month, though it is disappointingly short at only 36 minutes and he does have a habit of repeating the same stylistic elements again and again. However, Acab’s grasp of music theory combined with his unique aesthetic are enough to ensure the quality of this release. At its best the album perfectly balances the digital and the organic, the tense and the relaxing, the watery and the bone dry, the artificially processed and real world sounds. Along with his label mates such as ooOoo and Clams Casino, Balam Acab is carving out his own sound world and it one that’s a great place to be.

I’ll admit that I haven’t paying much attention to what Steve Malkmus has been up to since he released his self titled debut solo album in 2001. At the time I was a huge Pavement fan and desperate for something to come out from Malkmus, the leader of a band I’d become obsessed with in my teens. However the following albums just seemed to bring more and more songs that sounded like pale imitations of Pavement songs and I drifted away from the alternative rock. After reading that there was a new Malkmus album due and it was being produced by Beck my interest was piqued. It turns out Malkmus is firing on all cylinders (I’ll have to revisit the previous four albums now as I feel I may missed out) and has delivered an eclectic album full to the brim with tunes. From the opening ‘Tigers’ (which reminds me of ‘Range Life’ by Pavement) to the closing ‘Gorgeous Georgie’ (the album most relaxed song) Malkmus delivers. The highlights include the folk inspired ‘No One Is (As Are I Be)’, the rambunctious single ‘Senator’, the funky and spare take on Alt. Rock of ‘Brain Gallop’ and ‘Stick Figures in Love’ which has a middle 8 that reminds me of ‘Third Uncle’ by Brian Eno and the bouncy ‘Forever 28’. The album’s second half features a selection of quieter, slower and more contemplative songs (‘Long Hard Book’, ‘Jumblegloss’, ‘All Over Gently’, ‘Fall Away’ and ‘Gorgeous Georgie’) which show that Malkmus is not a one trick pony . Another way forward is the increased usage and presence of The Jicks great rhythm section who on tracks like ‘All Over Gently’, ‘Forever 28’ and ‘Brain Gallop’ they suggest new rhythmic avenues for the band to explore in future. Even when “Mirror Traffic” sounds like Pavement I realise this no bad thing as Malkmus on top form equalling the legacy of his former band and not a creating pale imitations of his former glories. All power to the former Pavement man’s elbow!

Spotify playlist:

August 2011 playlist

Coming up in September on Sonic Fiction:

Classics Critiqued – “Thrills, Pills and Bellyaches” by the Happy Mondays – sorry that there was no Classics Critiqued in August I was unable to find any information when researching the piece on “Mr. Brubaker’s Strawberry Alarm Clock” BY Neotropic. This release come highly recommend to any fans of Ninja Tune artists!

Recommendations – September

Key * = albums that I’ve already heard, so I’m sharing my intial thoughts on them

^ = albums recommended by our electronic music columnist Vier

~ = this album release has been moved to the 3rd October

The Rapture – ‘In the Grace of Your Love’ (DFA, 5th September) *

The long awaited new album from The Rapture proves to be a mini triumph. Although time will tell us just how good this album is my first couple of spins left me impressed with the bands work. The only real missteps are ‘Rollar Coaster’ (pop era Talking Heads) and ‘Come Back to Me’ (an out-and-out dance tune that sounds like a dance production featuring Luke Jenner than a tune by The Rapture and suffers for it). The rest of album holds up a pretty high standard, the best examples being the rolling disco with post-punk guitars of ‘Children’, the funky title track and its near twin ‘Never Die Again’. Elsewhere the opener ‘Sail Away’ and ‘Miss You’ both combine dance music beats and backing and punchy rock dynamics that feels huge but not overbearing, ‘How Deep is Your Love?’ provides an epic house number and centre piece and closer ‘It Takes Time to be a Man’ is a surprising change with the band taking a soulful piece of with an almost hip-hop beat and feel. The glue that holds all of the album’s strands together is Luke Jenner’s stronger and more soulful vocal delivery, the band plays with a lot of black music influences and reference points but this is the first time Jenner has tried to sound ‘black’ and succeeds in this area most of the time. ‘In the Grace of Your Love’ develops further the sound the band adopted on their last album ‘Pieces of the People We Love’. Add to this the more explicit dance and disco influences that they now better incorporate into their sound and it seems this album will only get better with repeat listens.

Gui Boratto – “III” (Kompakt, 12th September) ^

The Brazillian techno artist returns with his third album for Kompakt. ‘The Drill’, an EP taken from the album, shows the emotive, harmonic approach  of his two previous albums imbued with a bold darkness.

Kid Koala – ‘Space Cadet’ (Ninja Tune, 19th September)

The Canadian turntablist and cartoonist returns with a “still picture score” for his new graphic novel. In addition to unique and amazing turntable skills their is room for new instruments including strings, horns and marimba. Can preview ‘Space Cadet’ at Ninja Tune’s website.

Megafaun – “Megafaun” (Crammed Discs, 19th September) *

The new self titled album from Megafaun certainly covers a lot of ground even introducing some new sounds, styles and instruments on this album. ‘Get Right’ combines the trademark Megafaun sound to Neu! style synth and motorik momentum. ‘Hope You Know’is an emotive and minimal piano ballad, another first for the band. ‘Resurrection’ is an upbeat electrified folk rock filled out by Rhodes piano and pedal/lap steel guitar. Strings pop up across the album on the warm ‘Second Friend’, the abstract interlude ‘Serene Return’ and album closer ‘Everything’. The band push things out from their usual song based style on the aforementioned ‘Serene Return’, ‘State Meant’ and ‘Post Script’ which work a treat where they could have gone seriously wrong. This is an album that could be a grower, however so was their previous album ‘Gather, Form and Fly’ and repeated listens really paid off with that. It’s too early to tell if this album will equal the previous’ ones highlights but I think it’s worth giving the time to show whether it can or not.

Apparat – ‘The Devil’s Walk’ (Mute, 26th September)

The German electronic music producer returns with the follow-up to his critically acclaimed album “Walls”. The two pre-release tracks ‘Ash/Black Veil’ and ‘Black Water’ show a new Gothic atmosphere pervading throughout. This seems like the perfect record to release on Mute Records who Apparat decided to release this new album through.

Roots Manuva – ’4everevolution’ (Big Dada, 26th September)

Roots Manuva returns with his fifth (official) studio album, which is reportedly an eclectic 17 track affair that covers everything Mr. Manuva has done thus far and much more. You can download first single “Watch Me Dance’ here.

Mark McGuire – ‘Get Lost’ (Editions Mego, 26th September)

McGuire’s third release on Edition Mego in under 2 years sees him recording all new material completely digitally (a lot of Emeralds and McGuire previous releases were recorded to tape) with a combination of electric and acoustic guitar, vocals (is this a first?) and guitar-synth. As a huge McGuire fan I (Liam editor/founder of Sonic Fiction) can’t wait!

DJ Shadow – ‘The Less You Know The Better’ (Island, 26th September 2011 ~)

DJ Shadow is back and the early signs are good after he released two tracks destined for this latest release. However, after being stung by ‘The Outsider’ some fans might be reticent about this new release. However, I’d say give it a shot as ‘The Private Press’ was a grower for me and it paid eventually.

Spank Rock – ‘Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar’ (Bad Blood, 26th September) – Its been along time coming but the follow-up to ‘YoYoYoYoYo’ is finally here!! Featuring all the usual members of Spank Rock plus Boys Noize has produced some tracks including the Can sampling ‘Energy’, which you can download here.

Walls – “Coracle” (Kompakt, 26th September) ^

The duo’s second album sees them once again capture a shimmering sound with swirling layers of guitars and synths and as first single ‘Sunporch’ displays they have now grounded their synth washes in authorative bass lines. ‘Coracle’ is an album to watch for Kompakt’s continuing evolution.

Like June before it July was a fairly quiet month musically but there was still a couple of recommendations to check out and there was an album that completely surprised me, that I will also cover. Plus August has a health 7 recommendations.

When I heard about “Ghosts Outside” it was an intriguing concept ex-Beta Band leader Steve Mason’s latest album ‘Boys Outside’ turned into a Dub album by U.K. Dub and Reggae legend Dennis Bovell (who also produced the likes of The Slits, The Pop Group, Orange Juice and Edwyn Collins during the late 70’s and through the 80’s). While the resulting album certainly has its moments and grew on me over time, I have to say that overall I always came away feeling a little underwhelmed. The combination of Mason songwriter-songwriter meets electro meets modern beats and Bovell’s Dub mixes makes for an interesting blend and is one of the most unique Dub album’s since its 70’s heydayp However, the long tracks feel overly repetitive, some like ‘Dub Her In’ seem to go nowhere, in fact for most of the second half of the album Bovell seems to have run out of interesting ideas and ‘Dub on my Heel’ and ‘Dub, I Just a Man’ seem just like standard Dub tracks. I think this one of those albums that will divide listeners some like me will find little wrong with it but not find it leaving a little to be desired, while others will see it as a great unique album that proves that Dub can be modern and different. It’s certainly one to give a go if it intrigues you.

The latest instalment in the FRKWYS series (“Volume 7”) by RVNG Intl begins together various names (Laurel Halo, Daniel Lopatin (of Oneohtrix Point Never/Ford and Lopatin fame), James Ferraro, Samuel Godin) at the head of the current renaissance in synth driven music influence by ambient and new age music of the 80’s, rave and chill out music of the early 90’s and experimental composers from the last 60 odd years with David Borden who was an innovator at ambient/new age music and influence his collaborators. Across six tracks they explore territory familiar to fans of the work of those involved; in fact on first listen it almost seems as if the players take it in turns to dictate the direction of the tracks. However, further listening reveals extra layers of detail that demonstrate a more democratic way of composing. All the pieces sound very complete and it would be great if these five could work together again on another project. They save the best for last with ‘Just A Little Pollution’ on which Halo stamps here mark with most of the sounds recalling her solo work and her vocal contribution lifting the track  from quality synth lead piece to a hidden pop gem that the previous tracks seem to have led to.

Now for this month’s surprising release. I’ll admit to never having been taken by The Horrors and other than the excellent ‘Sea Within a Sea’ didn’t see what all fuss was about their last album “Primary Colours”. However, their new self-produced album “Skying” finds them striking a balance between clear melodic lines and the thick, swirling psychedelia. Previous the band sound mud with the melody submerged low in the mix. There’s also a new feeling of purpose to tracks like ‘Still Life’, ‘Moving Further Away’ and ‘Endless Blue’. The band combine the motorik rhythms of Neu!, the English psychedelia of late 80’s Julian Cope and the power ballad dynamics of Simple Minds (not something I thought I’d ever be recommending) into a punchy pop-rock package. They’ve lift behind the restrictions of recreating gothic post-punk sounds and doom laden, muddy psychedelia of previous albums and have emerged as a band that delivers were once they merely promised.

Spotify playlist:

July playlist

Coming up in August:

Classics Critiqued – ‘Mr. Brubaker’s Strawberry Alarm Clock’ by Neotropic

Recommendations – August

Jay-Z and Kanye West – “Watch the Throne” 8th August (Mercury)

Jay-Z and his producer Kanye team up to trade verses across a whole album for the first time. With Jay-Z dominating 2009 and Kanye dominating 2010 this could be the peak of an incredible period for the pair. Even if it isn’t a great album, it’ll be a spectacular failure.

Wooden Shijps – “West” 15th August (Thrill Jockey)

Though some early reviews have been lukewarm and questioned the need for another album of more of the same (albeit better recorded and produced) from Ripley Johnson and co. this is still a big alternative rock release and we’ll be able to decide for ourselves soon enough.

CSS – “La Liberacion” 22nd August (V2)

Brazilian post-punk/electro five piece CSS are returning this summer. After the patchy ‘Donkey’ expectations have significantly lowered for the band and this may well play into their hands. Pre-release track ‘Hits Me Like A Rock’ features Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) backed by an electronic reggae/Lover’s Rock backing is certainly intriguing enough to make me want to see if the band have found their mojo again.

Steve Malkmus and The Jicks – “Mirror Traffic” 22nd August (Domino)

When this album was announced I wasn’t personal excited by it but many plays of ‘Senator’ later and I’ve been remained of the Malkmus’ great sense of humour, spiky riffs and his super tight yet loose backing band the The Jicks. I’d previously written Malkmus off and got bored with his sound and style and those that ripped it off, now however I’m looking forward to this release with great anticipation!!

Sun Araw – ‘Ancient Romans’ 22nd August (Sun Ark/Drag City)

Last year Sun Araw created his finest hour “On Patrol” and set himself an incredible feat to follow it up. Though I’ve been disappointed by the pre-release track ‘Crete’, mainly as its cluttered up with too much fast-moving percussion which isn’t Sun Araw’s strong point in my opinion. Despite that these track are rare in his catalogue and this could prove an interesting release in where he takes his sound next.

Balam Acab – ‘Wander/Wonder’ 29th August/6th September (Tri Angle)

One of Sonic Fiction’s Tips for 2011 delivers his début album following on from last year’s excellent “See Birds” EP. This unique combination of modern production techniques and classical music training creates an interesting musical tension on Acab’s tracks. The EP showed massive potential which he could well fulfill on this release.

Tinariwen – “Tassili” 29th August (V2)

The figureheads of the Taurag (desert blues) music scene return with new album which reports suggest sees them returning to their roots via the use of 100% acoustic instrumentation. There are also guest appearances from TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone, Nels Cline of Wilco and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. With Tamikrest having already released the excellent ‘Toumastin’ and Amadou and Miriam potentially releasing a new album before the end of the year, there could be a triple whammy of Taurag!!

I observed a phenomenon in music in 2010: a selection of artists who worked under the genre names of ‘witch house’, ‘drag’ or ‘haunted house’, all equally unhelpful in defining what these artists were achieving musically. As the year progressed more and more artists emerged with a similar template of ethereal voices, which were sometimes reminiscent of Cocteau Twins, 808 drums with the clap being particularly prominent and washes of cold synthetic sound. I will cover the main artists of these genres and discuss the idea that they may be unconsciously creating a new form of musical rebellion and exploring emotions and tempos rarely explored by others and their predecessors. In addition, I will reflect on the virtual social context that these artists and their music exist in.

‘Drag’ music first came to my attention via an article written by Joe Colly called ‘Ghosts in the Machine’ on Pitchfork.  Colly highlighted the scene’s leading lights: Balam Acab, OoOOo, White Ring, Creep, Void, xix, Silent Diane and Fostercare, recognising the influence of DJ Screw as the inventor of the chopped and screwed version of hip-hop and the music’s sluggish pace. He observed its juxtaposition between dreamy, beautiful sounds and the upfront violence of gangster rap. This roots ‘drag’ in the rebellion of the violence, crime and drugs associated hip-hop style.

“…from where I’m sitting, the past 10 years have been dominated by that hyper mode, the mindset of stimulants, alertness, and awareness, everything snappy, ambitious, hectic.” – Nitsuh Abebe, Why We Fight #9, Pitchfork, 2010.

This isn’t, however, a detailed explanation of this hard to define music. It is psychedelic and moody; it deals with sickness and death, subjects that are rarely covered in popular music let alone rap or club music. Longing and despair are omnipresent in the vocals. In many ways it’s the subject matter and pace of the music that are the most rebellious aspects. This generation have been born into a world that is ever increasing the speed of life and volume of information available. It is accepted that young people almost exclusively create and listen to the fastest and in turn the most rebellious music, starting with rock ‘n’ roll to punk, rave, drum ‘n’ bass, gabba and more.

There is a pressure and expectation to create this music but the people working in the genres witch house, drag and haunted house etc. have dared to slow down and deliver something more considered and explore complex and deep emotions not typically associated with younger artists. Anxiety, depression, sickness and death: conditions and emotions that few people are ready to express and discuss are bravely communicated by these artists. They are laying themselves bare to potential ridicule but finding themselves embraced by a generation that empathise with their difficulties.

Spotify playlist:

Slow music playlist

 

Wow, 2010 was quite a year for music and Sonic Fiction, personally I think it was a really great year for music of all types and blog managed to grow massively in the second half the year when we doubled our views from the first half of the year. Thanks to anyone who has taken a look, enjoyed and commented on our pieces. I have to say though that in some ways the end of the year was frustrating reading end of year polls and finding tons of reviews of albums I hadn’t listened to in my bookmarks. Still I’ve decided not to stress about as even some of my favourite journalists haven’t found the time to listen to everything.

In 2011 we hope that Sonic Fiction can continue to grow both in terms of quality of writing and views. We aim to continually improve but want to make this a more conscious effort from now on. We’ve launched a Twitter account which will enable us to link readers to articles, albums, playlists etc and provide the real interactivity that we want with Sonic Fiction. I think that when we started the blog, we were just relived that it was (finally) up and running but as time has gone on a set of aims has emerged. We really want to start debates about the points that we are making and we hope that with the help of Twitter and even better writing we can do so. If anyone has any suggestions of further ways we can encourage this please let us know. We also have a new bi-monthly column launching in February (when we’ll be one year old) that will reassess the perceived reputation of artist(s), a period of their career or a genre, we don’t have a title but if anyone has a suggestion just Twitter it or put it in the comments section.

Ok, so looking forward into the New Year here’s list of the various cultural happenings we are looking forward to this year:

Bands/Artists/Releases

There’s a trio of returning post-punk legends (two of them this month) in the shape of Gang of Four’s (first album in almost 16 years) ‘Content’, Wire release new album ‘Red Barked Tree’ and The Pop Group return with a new album later in the year, which will possibly feature The Bug, Keith Levene (ex Clash and Public Ltd guitarist), Micheal Rother (Neu!), Richard H. Kirk (Cabaret Voltaire) and DJ Assault or not.

There’s ‘Violet Cries’ the debut album by spooky, folky goth types Esben and The Witch, a band I saw a lot of potential in last year but failed to mention.

The explosive agit-prop of Asian Dub Foundation is always welcome in my flat and on the evidence of the title track so will new album ‘A History of Now’ out 7th February.

A week later Mogwai’s fearsome noise will pollute speakers the world over with new album ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’.

I always get excited about new PJ Harvey album but haven’t even listened to one since ‘Tales from the City, Tales from the Sea’, so we’ll have to see if ‘Let England Shake’ changes that.

There’s also the much anticipated collaboration/remix album by Gil-Scott Heron ‘We’re New Here’, though the description I read on FACT doesn’t fill me with confidence.

The Knife have hinted via their newsletter of new material emerging sometime in 2011 and in other Scandinavian news, Bjork has said that new music will be “ready in a few months”.

Finally Primal Scream celebrate the 20th anniversary of ‘Screamdelica’ with a tour and impressive looking 6 disc box set on March 7th. There will also be smaller edition more info as I get it.

New band tips

  • OoOOo – self titled debut E.P. was one of the top releases of 2010, next release much anticipated.

  • Balam Acab – debut E.P. ‘See Birds’ was one of the top releases of 2010, to be issued on CD in February.

  • Factory Floor – this industrial dance outfit’s early singles impressed, an album is being recorded.

  • Dels – Big Dada’s new hip-hop hope delivers debut album produced by Joe Goddard (Hot Chip) early in 2011.

  • Laurel Halo – made waves all over the internet last year and seems to have the talent to back up the hype!!

  • Yanqui – I was very impressed by this post-rock bands self titled debut E.P. and think there’s real potential for development into something bigger and better.

  • The Samps – another impressive self titled debut E.P. from these sample lovin’ duo, kind of like a sampled based Chin Chin cheesy yet irresistible.

  • Games – this Oneohtrix Point Never side project launched with their debut release ‘We Can Play’ on the super hip Hippos In Tanks late last year and it was packed with great tunes that promises their debut album might just be as good as Oneohtrix’s own material.

  • Blondes – synth based Brooklyn duo who after the success of their ‘Touched’ E.P. should release a debut full length that takes their ‘bedroom space disco’ sound even further out.

  • Win Win – a three way collaborative project comprising XXXchange (Spank Rock), Chris Delvin (of Baltimore DJ duo Delvin and Darko) and visual artist Ghostdad. Their self titled album is out on Vice on 15th February and features Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip), Naeem (Spank Rock) and Lizzie Bougatsos (Gang Gang Dance).

  • Floating Points Ensemble – the side project of producer Floating Points have already received critical acclaim for their spat of electronic jazz infected 2010 releases, a debut album on Ninja Tune awaits in 2011.

  • Holy Other – The haunting track ‘Yr Love’ leads to a potential album this year. The electronic music producer’s blend of gauzy vocals, 808 claps and swampy delays creates a highly emotional feel, which hopefully will materialise as a complete release.

  • White Car – Having released two EP’s last year this exciting industrial dance duo are currently putting the finishing touches to a début album to be released later this year.

  • Suuns (pronounced ‘Soons’) – This band’s début album ‘Zeroes QC’ manages the ineviable task of  combining post-punk and post-rock influences into a cohesive, tuneful and confident and all without sounding like overblown and bloated rock.

  • Breton – This South London have been saddled with the unfortunate description of ‘post-punk dubstep’ but don’t let that put you off. It’s true that they combine influences from those genres but a quick visit to their MySpace will show that they transcend these distinct sounds to make their unique style. With only one 12″ the potential is definitely there and only time will tell if it can blossom further.

Albums we hope finally see the light of day in 2011

Missy Elliott’s long anticipated ‘The Block Party’, the second Madvillain album, the new Mouse on Mars album; a new album by audio-visual dons Coldcut is due and The Avalanches much, much, much anticipated follow to ‘Since I Left You’, yes I believe this is coming soon.

Spotify playlist:

Preview of 2011

Recommendations

Wire – ‘Red Barked Tree’ (Pink Flag) 10th January

Wire return with their 12th album (and first without guitarist Bruce Gilbert), the bands own description makes it sound like business as usual but this no bad thing!!

Deerhoof – ‘Deerhoof vs Evil’ (Polyvinyl) 25th January

American indie-rockers return with their 11th album, following on from their great contribution to Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers: Alternative Takes on Congotronics’ late last year. You can hear tracks from the album via Soundcloud now and in each week leading up to release.

Gang of Four – ‘Content’ (Groneland) 25th January

Post-punk legends return with their first new album since reforming in 2004. Heavily published by the bands fund raising efforts which included giving away vials of blood to fans with the album. Should be interesting as the two tracks I’ve heard so far have gone from great to so-so.

Talib Kweli – ‘Gutter Rainbows’ (Talibra) 25th January

Talib’s first independent release after the fall out from ‘Eardrum’ lead to leaving Warner Bros. early signs are good and come in the form of the Ski Beatz produced ‘Cold Rain’. You can hear the track and read more details here.

Esben and the Witch – ‘Violet Cries’ (Beggars Banquet) 31st January

Quietly gathering support from The Quietus to the Guardian through last year and expected to produce one of the debuts of the year. Will their folky gothic pop live up to the hype?

I hope to have some more music, plus television and film recommendations next month.

Coming up in January we have a piece on slow music (more interesting than that sounds), the return of Music Is Improper with the second part of its history of techno and ‘Doolittle’ by the Pixies is this month Classic’s Critiqued.

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