Tag Archive: Battles


Releases we missed in March and April

Rkss – “Basement EP” (self-released)

 Available on Bandcamp –  http://rkss.bandcamp.com/

With exciting artists like Lucy and Skudge growing in stature, the space available for experimental techno producers to inhabit continually expands. The self-released “Basement” EP by Rkss, a young producer from Berlin, was unexpectedly released on 18th April. The title track from his debut EP barely contains a cavernous bass line that growls underneath clattering percussion and a deep, thumping bass drum, it makes for a seriously dark techno track. Following ‘Basement’ are two lighter and melodic cuts but the title track is a true stand-out and a strong introduction to a fledgling career.

Finally found a stream of the Quakers album, check out what I (Liam, Sonic Fiction editor) thought of it below:

Quakers – “Quakers” (Stones Throw Records)

Geoff Barrow’s hip-hop side project delivers a slap in the face to the majority of underground hip-hop acts out there. They achieve this simply by returning to what a majority of 90’s hip-hop music so good, a raw sound that begins together analogue synth bass-line, stabs of brass, guitar and strings, deep piano chords and plinking lead lines and a host of MCs keeping it punchy on these all too brief tracks. For the majority of the second half of the album the beats slow down and there’s a more atmospheric and emotive vibe that recalls both movie soundtracks and classic Wu-Tang Clan tracks. The other great about this project is that the recruitment of MCs was on-line via the posting of downloadable demos that MCs could rhyme over and then send back to Barrow, DJ Katalyst and 7STU7 for their consideration. There’s too much material and too many highlights to pick out particular tracks for analysis and that would miss the point of album that’s centred around a concept and should be played as whole piece as it every track links into the next and has something to offer every hip-hop fan.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

Spiritualized – “Sweet Heart, Sweet Light” (Double Six Records)

The new album from Spiritualized is slightly disappointing, feeling rather earthbound (though I guess that could also apply to 2008’s “Songs In A&E”) compared Jason Pierce’s finest moments. The songs just don’t have astral glide that they had before feeling stranded on earth, held firmly in place. In a recent interview Pierce revealed he’d been very ill during the recording and mixing of album, the medication often leaving him feeling like he didn’t know what he was doing. This may go some way to explaining the feeling I’ve described, I do feel for Pierce as this has impacted on what could have been another solid enter in his back catalogue. It’s not all doom and gloom though closer ‘So Long You Pretty Thing’ has a couple of surprises mainly a twanging banjo as lead instrument and that it manages a rousing ending that had eluded so many tracks before it. ‘Get What You Deserve’ comes close to capturing the psychedelic magic of previous records and ‘Hey Jane’ adds a motorik twist to the typical Pierce formula. So down but not out, let’s hope the Spiritualized record is a return to form.

oOoOO – “Our Loving Is Hurting Us” (Tri Angle Records)

The new EP from oOoOO is another disappointment showing no real progression in his sound in the 18 months or so since his debut self titled EP. What’s worse is that none of the tracks come close to measuring up to the haunting and affecting tracks that stayed with the listener long after the music had finished playing. This EP has none of that, feeling like a detached retread, in fact the tracks within EP sound too similar to each other and it all becomes an amorphous and anonymous whole. oOoOO’s peers such as Balam Acab and Toro Y Moi have subtly evolved and improved their sound since their debut releases but “Our Loving Is Hurting Us” just plumps for the same old same old, a shame as oOoOO had shown so much potential.

Santigold – “Master of my Make-Believe” (Atlantic Records)

The new album from Santigold is a mixed bag, on the one hand she’s overcome the biggest problem with her debut album – that it was too clean and grossy, lacking the grit of her demos but on the other hand a lot of ‘Master of my Make-Believe’ sounds the same. Here Santi calls on a lot of the same elements distorted electronic drums, glassy synths and huge pop chorus and though there’s nothing wrong with this is isolation over the course of the album each repetition dulls the formula. As a consequence of this the highlights are mostly the tracks that deviate from the formula in some way though ‘God From The Machine’ and ‘Go’ are great new wave and electro inspired pop tracks in their own right. The other highlights include the strings and splashy breakbeat, post-punk guitar and delayed reggae piano of ‘Disparate Youth’, the sombre ‘This Isn’t Our Parade’ and the clattering party starter that is ‘Big Mouth’. It’s odd that the formulaic songs actually feature some very strong melodies and hooks and are well written songs that just need a different set of sounds. “Master of my Make-Believe” reaches for cutting edge pop record and gets halfway there. Maybe next time Santigold can learn to produce a fully formed set of songs that aren’t full of generic sounds.

Mohn – “Mohn” (Kompakt)

Kompakt boss and techno pioneer Wolfgang Voit and fellow German minimalist Jörg Burger continue their long friendship with Mohn, a new project that comes with a self-titled album. Synchronising the styles of the two artists, the self-titled album barely contains nine tracks that sound like an aural representation of a Casper David Friedrich painting: barren landscapes and colossal, other-worldly forces of nature erupting or the sound of the unnamed apocalypse that dominates Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. This is most apparent on ‘Schwarzer Schwan’, which begins with a ghostly synth and an immense bass drum that thunders under a delayed, drifting melody. The intensity rises as a second synth melody comes in and out of view. Male and Female voices enter singing held notes all the while that heavily reverbed bass drum thunders. Others are moments of fragility and beauty; any abrasive edges have been erased. Neatly sitting alongside GAS (Voigt) is ‘Ambientöt’, thanks to the long reverb tails that seep out into soft, sparkling atmospherics meanwhile ‘Saturn’ evolves into a track of delicate percussion and textures that flutter like a bird’s wings, recalling Cluster’s “Sowiesoso”. Flickers of the style of techno Voigt and Burger bred can be heard in the sensual, slowly unfolding ‘Seqtor 88’ or ‘Ebertplatz 2020’, a wonderful decelerated ambient/techno track with a beautiful synth part that drifts in and out, gradually building to an intense yet sombre climax; full of atmosphere and emotional resonance. On the haunting and unearthly ‘Wiegenlied (lullaby), the listener is brought back to an uneasy sense of dystopia: a lone cavernous bass drum signals the album’s end, it is a final death-knell of a human-inhabited world and the beginning of a post-human one. Added together, “Mohn” couldn’t be anything other than a Kompakt release – possessing fleeting tension strong enough to upset the glistening ambient clouds and expansive minimalism.

Battles – “Dross Glop” (Warp)

Battles have put together a remix album that achieves two simultaneously acting as both a companion piece to “Gloss Drop” and expanding on its core musical themes. Four of the remixes (by Gui Boratto, The Field, Silent Servant and Kangding Ray) taken the implied techno influence on Battles sound and make it explicit, elsewhere the Caribbean influences are played on and with by Gang Gang Dance, Hudson Mohawke and EYE (of the Boredoms). The two hip-hop reworks by The Alchemist and Shabazz Palaces manage the balance act of incorporating much of the originals melodic material while creating whole new grooves and atmospheres underneath them. The only real disappointment is Pat Mahoney and Dennis McNany’s dull and predictable disco remix of ‘My Machines’. Despite these many different generic strands ‘Dross Glop’ hangs together as cohesive work highlighting the strength of the Battles originals and suggesting new directions for the band.

Olafur Arnalds & Nils Frahms – “Stare” 10″ (Erased Tapes)

This exclusive Record Store Day 10” (also available for download via Boomkat) features three great new ambient based tracks from Erased Tapes main stays Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm with a guest lot from Frahm’s collaborator Anne Muller on ‘B1’. All the tracks are long form and so develop slowly across their entire lengths keep the listener on their toes while never disturbing the ambient quality of the music. ‘A1’ combines a gentle analogue synth arpeggio with perfectly poised processed piano eventually revealing a watery processed under belly. ‘A2’ is the most sparse of the three tracks with plenty of space for its ambient synth and reverb heavy guitar melody to roam in before breaking down to a single mournful synth part for its final quarter. ‘B1’ has a misleading beginning in which an uptempo arpeggio prods the listener but halfway through the tempo and atmosphere change to dark and dank the opposite of what’s come before. If you didn’t get a copy on Record Store Day we’d highly recommend buying the download via Boomkat.

Clark’s new album “Iradelphic” occupies similar sonic territory as the music put out by the Ghost Box label, especially the most recent album by The Belbury Poly, so it seems appropriate that Ghost Box co-founder Julian House produced the artwork for the album. The album combines folk elements such as acoustic guitars, double bass, acoustic drums and strings with synth drones, arpeggios, electronic drums and percussion and psychedelic effects. The icing on the cake is the vocals of Martina Topley-Bird who provides vocals on ‘Broken Kite Footage’, ‘The Pining Part 2’, ‘Secret’ and ‘Open’. The album divides itself into two song types of track more song based and more drone based soundtrack music/palette cleansers and Clark switches effortlessly between the two showing his diversity as an artist. Another string to his bow is that even the song based material features unexpected twists and turns to keep the listener on their toes. With “Iradelphic” Clark confirms himself as deserving of a place among Warp’s most vaulted artists, his varied career to date has rarely seen a drop in quality, he is the equal of Aphex Twin, Autechre and Boards of Canada.

King Felix – “Spring EP” (Liberation Technologies)

The “Spring EP” picks up where Laurel Halo left off with the “Hour Logic EP”     last summer, though she has some tricks up her sleeve and the music is a lot harder to pin down. Here the rhythms wiggle and squirm restless and constantly shifting not settling into a smooth groove, this is one of the things that makes the EP so exciting you’re never quite sure what’s coming next. The first three tracks are all a variation on the same theme, Halo is so inventive within this limitation that the listener is never bored by the central theme. I won’t pretend to be an expert on techno but it seems to me that Halo has carved out her own style while referencing the glory years of early Nineties Detroit techno. The other crucial difference between this EP and “Hour Logic” is that whereas many of the tracks on the previous EP sound submerged beneath water this is Halo least veiled work to date, she lets the tracks reveal themselves and breathe all the elements able to exhibit themselves equally. The “Spring EP” is a fantastic addition to Halo’s discography and whets the appetite ahead of her debut album out in May.

Orcas – “Orcas” (Morr Music)

Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) and Benoit Pioulard’s (aka Thomas Meluch) new collaboration as “Orcas” blends sad, twinkling pop songs with shuddering masses of electronic sounds; a fusion of song-writing with ambient minimalism that stands somewhere between the piano-based modern compositions of Peter Broderick, the Field’s highly emotive techno and GAS’ subdued beats and stately atmospheres. ‘Pallor Cedes’ sets the tone of the self-titled album with rising and falling drones and a clipped guitar rhythm sitting under softly picked acoustic guitar and Pioulard’s aching repetition of the phrase “like coming up for air”. “Arrow Drawn”’s clever use of vocal double tracking and harmonies slowly seep into the listener’s ears as quiet acoustic guitar and piano merge into “Standard Error”’s floating loop of sighs. Calling to mind GAS and Irisarri’s work as The Sight Below is “Carrion”, an unhurriedly evolving hymn that encompasses a distant beat, echoed piano parts, an irregular guitar chord and Pioulard’s gauze-covered sad-eyed voice. A standout is their sublime, glacial cover of Broadcast’s ‘Until Then’, a poignant tribute to the untimely passing of singer Trish Keenan. Continuing “Orcas” use of piano, the track is built on a close-mic’d delicately played piano which frames Pioulard’s reflective vocals. Dark tones that lurk beneath the surface surge to the fore three minutes in compacting everything under coarse static until a sudden drop back to a solo piano, making for an emotionally charged song. Across the album Benoit Pioulard’s vocals glide along amid quiet piano and guitar notes and backing textures that rise and fall in gentle interplay, vinyl crackle and natural reverb adding an important touch of atmosphere. “Orcas” is a beautiful dignified album that summons a sense of space, understated progression and immense depths.

Top Release of the Month

Claro Intelecto – “Reform Club” (Delsin)

“Reform Club” sits in a foggy haze; it is full of serene melodies and reflective emotion. As well as being warmer than Claro Intelecto’s previous releases “Neurofibro” and “Metanarrative”, the album is both comforting and inviting while deeply tender and rich. Its production is thick and meaty. The nine tracks sit together in a cleverly unified way; avoiding homogeneity – a result meticulous compositions and the freedom Claro Intelecto’s new label Delsin has offered. Opener ‘Reformed’ matches ‘Voyeurism’ (from the “Second Blood” EP) in pace and style. Metronomic hi-hats push the tempo to 120 BPM (‘Reformed’ is the fastest of the nine tracks) while a bouncing bass line and snatches of strings top a driving bass drum. A standout is the next track ‘Blind Side’, which sounds like a Basic Channel track for this decade: a deep bass drum pushes forward a mysterious melody that is submerged under churning dub-techno percussive elements and metallic slivers of hi-hats. ‘Still Here’ takes the tempo down to 96 BPM. Reverbed percussion sits upfront, striking the listener and melancholic, dreamy strings are embraced by the bass drum; a theme through the album is the depth and warmth in the low end frequencies.  Legato emphatic strings provide a contrast to the flashes of acidic arpeggios on ‘It’s Getting Late’ while a submerged bass drum thumps. ‘Second Blood’, the title track from the wonderful “Second Blood” EP released earlier this year, sits in the album perfectly. Static, a vast low end, sparkling hats and serene, emotionally resonant pads and strings provides one of “Reform Club”’s most affecting moments. The beautiful, fluttering synth that appears at 3:25 in “Night Of The Maniac” is something to behold as it flickers above sonorous beats and a dark melody that is set against a counterpoint bass line. Album closer ‘Quiet Life’ features piano and fluctuating sheer pads to form a delicate, touching conclusion.

Claudio PRC – “Inner State” 30 March/2 April (Prologue)

Double 12″ only

Claudio PRC’s debut album “Inner State” takes us into the abyss. It is a minimalistic world of profound and effortless deep, hypnotic techno and one that is filled with thick atmospheres, foggy dubs and unrelenting beats. Claudio’s love for techno and production skills is displayed with confident poise. In his own words, “In most of my tracks, the electroacoustic side plays the more emotional role, where the atmosphere created by the sound research and processing are my means to tell a story, while the rhythm reveals my natural matrix of energy I use to give life to these stories.” Opener ‘Echoes’ is a pitch black techno track with a relentless bass line that fold into waves of static and hi-hats. Intense, snapping percussion tops a droning bass line and cloudy textures in ‘Transparent’ and beat-less ambient track, ‘Leave’, provides a reflective moment before ‘Radial’’s vitriolic beats kick in. With “Inner State”, Claudio PRC has shown great potential while Munich-based Prologue maintains its output of high-quality techno releases.

Clark – “Iradelphic” 2nd April (Warp Records)

The sixth album from Warp Record mainstay Chris Clark arrives this month. Recorded in various locations – Australia, Berlin, Wales, Brussels, Cornwall, Norway and London, Clark describes the album as “looming, ambiguous, radiant. Glowing, whole, invincible, complete”. FACT magazine have hinted that the album sees Clark “tinkering with much gentler tones: pastoral synths, acoustic guitars… The result often plays like a digitally augmented folk record”. Vocalist Martina Topley-Bird guests on four tracks and Clark also contributes some vocals. The eye-catching artwork is provided by Ghostbox Records Julian House. Listen to a stream of the album over at FACT.

Orcas – “Orcas” 9th April/16th April (Morr Music)

Named after the mammal native to the Pacific Northwest where Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) and Benoit Pioulard hail from, their team-up as Orcas reflects the nature of its namesake (also known as a killer whale): dignified and beautiful but bold enough to bare its teeth. An example of this being their sublime cover of Broadcast’s ‘Until Then’, with its use of a delicate piano that frames Pioulard’s reflective vocals that is then compacted under gauze-y, coarse static as is ‘Carrion’, a grainy evolving hymn. This album fuses song-writing with ambient minimalism, sitting somewhere between Peter Broderick’s piano-based modern compositions and the subdued beats and stately atmospheres of GAS.

oOoOO – “Our Love Is Killing Us EP” 9th April 2012 (Tri Angle Records)

The new EP from the mysterious Christopher Dexter Greenspan aka oOoOO arrives this month on Tri Angle. Hopefully it will be as good as his excellent hauntingly beautiful self titled début EP from 2010. You can stream ‘NoWayBack’ featuring Butterclock here.

Battles – “Dross Glop” 16th April (Warp Records)

I (Liam, Sonic Fiction, editor) loved Battles second album and I’m feeling excited ahead of the release of this remix album. It collects together the remixes of tracks from last year’s “Gloss Drop” that have been released as a series of 12″ singles plus a bonus remix from Eye of the Boredoms. The other remixes come from a host of the finest hip-hop, techno and experimental music artists including The Field, Gui Boratto, Shabazz Palaces and Kode 9.

Claro Intelecto – “Reform Club” 16th April (Delsin Records)

After the acclaimed album “Metanarrative” from 2008 and this year’s must-listen “Second Blood” EP, Claro Intelecto releases “Reform Club” for the faultless Dutch label Delsin Records. The album promises to deliver the usual sound of Claro Intelecto: warm but with rough edges and analogue textures. Delsin Records describe “Reform Club” as “dreamy”, “dynamic and lucid with plenty of serene melodies”. This album from an artist who infrequently releases material will be one of 2012’s greatest listens and a contender for album of the year lists in December.

Spiritualized – “Sweet Heart, Sweet Light” 16th April (Double Six Records)

Jason Pierce has kept this album under wraps with only a couple of tracks performed live last year at and one pre-release track the dark bluesy dirge of ‘Hey Jane’ (one of the aforementioned live tracks). One things for sure it will sound like Spiritualized and the epic track lengths are back after the relevantly short tracks on previous album “Songs In A&E”.

Sun Araw, M. Geddes Gengras and the Congos – “FRKWYS Vol.9: Icon Give Thank” 16th April (RVNG ITNL Records)

The next installment in the RVNG ITNL’s excellent FRKWYS series is a collaboration between Sonic Fiction favourite Sun Araw, M. Geddes Gengras (ex- Pocahunted and now of LA Vampires) and dub-reggae legends The Congos. The album was recorded in St. Catherine, Jamaica and filmed for a documentary called “Icon Eye” to be released on the same day. You can watch the trailer of the film here.

Nils Frahm and Olafur Arnalds – “Stare” 21st April – Record Store Day (Erased Tapes Records)

This 10″ single is an exclusive Record Store Day release featuring three tracks recorded by two of Erased Tapes finest artists in their respective studios in Berlin and Reykjavík and features Frahm’s collaborator Anne Muller playing cello on the b-side. The release doubles as part of Erased Tapes 5th anniversary celebrations.

Mohn – “Mohn” 23rd April (Kompakt)

Kompakt figureheads Wolfgang Voigt and Jörg Burger continue their long musical relationship with Mohn, a new project that comes with a self-titled album. The first track, ‘Ebertplatz’, provides a large clue to what the album will contain: it is a decelerated ambient techno track which gradually builds to an intense yet sombre climax. Full of atmosphere and sustained emotional resonance it’s an effortless synchronisation of its parents’ styles.

Santigold – “Master of My Make Believe” 30th April (Atlantic Records)

A pop star and songwriter who seems more acceptable to alternative music fans Santigold is a unique proposition. “Master of My Make Believe” is the long-awaited follow-up the her 2008 début album and the three pre-release tracks ‘Go’ (featuring Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen 0 and Nick Zinner and produced by Q-Tip), ‘Big Mouth’ and ‘Disparate Youth’ all suggest she’s picked up where she left off with a combination of hip-hip, R&B, reggae and new wave influences. Hopefully this time the rough edges that made her demos so exciting won’t have been smoothed off this time.

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)

June was a relatively quiet month (as July will be) but there’s still four albums to report on, starting with….

This month’s biggest disappointment is the self titled début album by Blanck Mass aka Benjamin John Power of Fuck Buttons. This ambient album’s main problem is that apart from the devastating ‘Land Disasters’ and ‘Sundowner’ the rest of the album all sounds very similar and a lot of it recalls Oneohtrix Point Never, whom it has to be said has pretty much perfected this corner of ambient music. The tracks are overly repetitive and where other artists use this aspect to create hypnotic music this release feels boring and staid. The reoccurring use of field recordings of water and the wave-like synth sounds are a cliché within the genre and they aren’t deployed in any new or interesting way on this album. The digital feel of the album and the fact it was made 100% on a laptop makes it a polar opposite of Fuck Buttons’ hands on analogue approach, this might explain why I came away feeling the album lacks impact and anything truly engaging.

Next  “Perfect Darkness”, the new album from Ninja Tune’s troubled folk troubadour Fink. Though not an album that will grab most people on its first play there’s plenty of positives in favour of this release. First of all Fink proves he’s no one trick pony showing that he can enhance his trademark sound with strings (‘Perfect Darkness’) and electric guitar (‘Honesty’, ‘Warm Shadow’ and ‘Berlin Sunrise’), he also manages to show a new lighter side on ‘Warm Shadow’, ‘Save it For Somebody Else’ and ‘Berlin Sunrise’. In addition to this there is extensive use of extra effects and textures all of which means this is Fink’s most varied album yet. Not an instant hit but definitely a grower that could reveal much on repeat visits.

To mark the tenth anniversary of founder Florian Fricke’s death German label SPV have put together a two disc package. The first disc collects classic Popol Vuh tracks across the band’s 30 year career and the second disc is comprised of remixes. The first disc features tracks from the albums that were used as soundtracks to classic Werner Herzog films of the 1970s and early ’80s. This disc definitely does what it set outs to; to group the best moments but also be varied in the style, mood and textures. Included are the haunting opener ‘Aguirre I Lacrima di Rei’, the peaceful closer ‘Kailash: Last Village’ via the medieval ‘Bruder Des Schattens’, the shiny ‘In Your Eyes’ and everything in between. A great introduction to this underrated band and one that could entice some buyers to explore further.

The first half of the second disc is a disappointing selection with the exception of the Thomas Fehlmann mix, though that does sound like a Thomas Fehlmann track. These remixes adhere to a formula of focusing on particular elements of the songs and then writing a four to the floor track around them, some tracks acknowledge the mood or atmosphere of the original but a lot don’t and these come across as very lazy. Only a few remixers such as Mouse on Mars, Stereolab and A Critical Mass do anything interesting rhythmically with the mostly beat-less originals. The second half is an improvement with Mika Vaino’s ambient mix, Mouse on Mars glitch hop mix and Stereolab’s subtle interweaving of their own brand of analogue weirdness being particular highlights. The final track is an extended version of ‘Train through Time’, a track the most directly links Popol Vuh with dance music and this version gets to the dancefloor destination that the original only hints at.

The remix disc makes sense in a lot of ways with many of the contributors being signed to progressive German labels such as Kompakt who can be linked back to the philosophy of Popol Vuh and their fellow Krautrockers. Despite the second disc being a bit of a disappointment the first disc and the few good remixes make this a package worth exploring.

In addition to my initial thoughts which you can read in last month’s 2011: through my (biased) eyes Battle’s “Gloss Drop” has continued to grow on me and inspire new thoughts. The main one being that some tracks feature a concrete sounding backdrop that is juxtaposed with  Caribbean/Calypso rhythms and melodies playing over the top. This shouldn’t work but the band have bent these opposing sound to their will. The more I play the album the more enjoyable it is and the more Battles sound at ease with their experimental new sound. Like Gang Gang Dance’s “Eye Contact” this has barely been off the stereo and could be serious competition for the number one spot in the end of the year review!

Spotify playlist:

June playlist

Coming up this month on Sonic Fiction:

Classics Critiqued – “Low” by David Bowie

Recommendations – July

A very quiet month in terms of new releases of note but here’s a couple that are worth checking out:

David Borden, James Ferraro, Samuel Godin, Laurel Halo, and Daniel Lopatin – ‘FRKWYS Vol.7′ 18th July (digital 30th July) (RVNG Intl.)

The latest edition of the brilliant FRKWYS (Freakways) series on RVNG Intl. is a collaboration between electronic music pioneer and composer David Borden and four stars of the current boom in solo synthesiser music. The track ‘People of the Wind Pt. 2′ is streaming at RVNG Intl. website and offers a preview of what is to come.

Steve Mason and Dennis Bovell – “Ghosts Outside” 18th July/25th July (Double Six)

Steve Mason (ex Beta Band) released joined forces with the much respected reggae artist / producer Dennis Bovell (producer of Linton Kwesi Johnson and U.K. Dub legend) to create the album “Ghosts Outside” which is released July 2011 through Double Six. The album is a radical ‘dub’ reinterpretation of Steve Mason’s “Boys Outside” long-player which was released to widespread critical acclaim in 2010. Download a free track ‘Yesterday’s Dub’ here.

There were no massive disappointments last month so I’ll start by writing about a couple of average albums, then good albums, finishing with the best of the bunch.

First up is Canadian electro goth trio Austra’s – ‘Feel It Break’. This album definitely has its pros and cons; on the one hand its best tracks don’t suffer from being overly reliant on 80’s sounds to get its message across unlike many of their contemporaries. On the downside there’s only a few real stand out tracks and most these have already been out as singles for a while, the rest of the album does seem to be a repetition of their best ideas and by the end this becomes quite warring.

‘Air Museum’ by Mountains proved to be an interesting album, that I believe will need further listening to truly evaluate its quality. However, first impressions are mostly good; the tracks are never boring and seem to have one foot in the modern electro-acoustic/drone music camp and the other recalling early electronica and ambient artists such as Cluster and Kraftwerk. Interesting the tracks that bookend the album are the best and most organic, what occurs in between while good music and at least the equal of the bands contemporaries does raise the question, how much analogue synth music do we need?

The new Thurston Moore album ‘Demolished Thoughts’ is a solid effort that will please both long term fans and those that enjoyed his earlier solo album ‘Trees Outside the Academy’. Unlike previous Moore solo LP’s through this has a different feel, one that has more warmth and invites the listener in courtesy of Beck’s production and Moore’s more focused and tuneful material. Moore’s acoustic guitar blends brilliantly with the strings and Beck use these excellent performances to create space and dynamics using reverbs, echos and occasionally other effects and panning. The album is a lighter and brighter affair than I was expecting and this serves it well, its seems the most appropriate reference point would be ‘And Then Nothing Turned Its Self Inside-Out’  by Yo La Tengo, though this like a littler flip side to that album. In a couple of places the album reminds me of ‘Eureka’ by Sonic Youth associate Jim ‘O Rourke particularly on ‘Space’.

Though White Denim’s – ‘D’ may be not the album of the year I’d 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 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.

The Beasties Boys return to form after two patchy albums, ‘Hot Sauce Commitee (Part 2)’ is 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 fans with love this, new converts may well join the cause – all in all a triumph from restless creators always looking to evolve.

With ‘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 an overall 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 probs. 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.

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. An album that gets better with every run through!!

Spotify playlist:

May 2011 playlist

Coming up this month on Sonic Fiction

Sonic Fiction Writer’s Albums of the Year… So Far

Classic’s Critiqued – ‘Emperor Tomato Ketchup’ by Stereolab

Recommendations

* = I’ve already heard this album and this is my initial reaction

Battles – “Gloss Drop” 6th June (Warp) *

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. However, the overall 1st impressions are good with the band proving they can do great things without former member Tyondai Braxton, who was always seen as a key member of the band. This is still definitely a Battles album but they’ve shed some of the uptight, over thought jazz-prog that had occasionally manifested itself in a frustrating way. This is looser band, a freer band. Drummer John Stanier is able to make his techno influences much more explicit and this and the Carribbean/Latin/Calypso influences 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. A bold statement from band that could have collapsed but has shown a new strength.

Fink – “Perfect Darkness” 13th June (Ninja Tune)

The new album by Ninja Tune’s troubled troubadour promises much. I’ve only heard the title track and a little of the track ‘Yesterday Was Hard On Us All’ and they are both quite different. The title track is dark and ruminative and defly adds strings to the already established Fink folk sound. The later is closer to the dry and intimate sound of his most recent albums, both tracks have made me very intrigued as to what this album has to offer.

Blanck Mass – “Blanck Mass” 20th June (Rock Action)

This is the first solo album from Benjamin John Power one half of Fuck Buttons and the one pre-release track ‘Land Disasters’ is like a more ambient version of the typical Fuck Buttons sound. It’ll be interesting to hear what else Power has come up with on an album produced completely on a laptop, when compared with Fuck Buttons more lo-fi and hands on sound.

Popol Vuh – “Revisited & Remixed 1970 – 1999” 20th June (SPV)

To mark the 10th anniversary of the passing of Popol Vuh founder Florian Fricke, SPV are releasing a two-disc compilation. Disc one consisted of tracks collected from throughout the band’s life time including those from their famous soundtrack work with Werner Herzog. Disc two contains a series of remixes of the band’s material by the likes of Stereolab, Thomas Fehlmann, Moritz Von Oswald and Mouse on Mars among others. A compilation that will definitely be worth checking out for those new to these under appreciated electronic music pioneers.

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