Tag Archive: Bjork
1. The Field – Looping State Of Mind (Kompakt)
Topping this year’s chart is The Field’s “Looping State Of Mind”. The album, Axel Willner’s third, was the most, exciting, accomplished and wonderful releases of this year. Techno in its simplest form is music that can built using just a few loops and The Field expands on this method effectively; multiplying shimmering loops of vocals, synths and drums into one luscious, infinite circular track. Neatly building on the landscapes of his previous releases (“From Here We Go Sublime”, a collection of icy yet deeply affecting techno tracks, and “Yesterday and Today”, which covers a warmer krautrock-indebted area) to merge the best of both into a beautiful seven track blend of electronic music with warm synth arpeggios, droning, pulsing pads and that Kompakt schaffel. The eponymous loops feel like they could last forever; building and dropping. Here’s to The Field’s next release.
2. Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise (Circus Company)
Much has been said of Jaar’s prodigious talent and his debut album has rightly gained critical praise. Blending Ricardo Villalobos-esque intricacy with jazz-influenced piano, super-slow techno rhythms, obscure French film dialogue, saxophone and Nicolas Jaar’s own surprisingly deep voice, the album is over-confident but endearingly so. At points coolly sexy (‘Keep Me There’ and the title track), delicate and wistful (‘Too Many Kids…’ ‘I Got A’) and ambient palate-cleansing washes “Space Is Only Noise” is a diverse, self-assured and engaging album and it is a testament to Jaar’s skill that he has delivered such a promising début
3. Morphosis – What Have We Learned (Morphine/Delsin)
Composed entirely with analogue equipment and recorded live over just three days, Morphosis’ first full-length is a collection of the gritty, percussive clatter that is a hallmark of dirty Berlin techno and haunting Arabic/Middle Eastern melodies (Morphosis is Lebanese), made all the more compelling as you can hear him hesitate and pull in and out of time while playing synthesisers on the live takes. Built on round bass drums, moody wanderings and foggy static with assertive grooves and synths that engulf the listener, “What Have We Learned” is the pure techno release of 2011.
4. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact (4AD)
Building from the suggestions of bright pop on a track such as ‘House Jam’ from their previous album ‘Saint Dymphna’, Gang Gang Dance have condensed their eclecticism and strengthened the melodies to create a highly impressive and ambitious record in the form of ‘Eye Contact’. Singer Lizzie Bougatsos works her voice as instrument, weaving among the layers of polyrhythmic dance beats, electro-influenced synth riffs and glassy arpeggios. Key track ‘Mindkilla’ combines unhinged dance grooves with Bougatsos’ menacingly singing the American lullaby ‘Mockingbird’, which encapsulates Gang Gang Dance’s approach for ‘Eye Contact’: ecstatic and woozy with an undercurrent of threat.
5. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know (Virgin)
The voices in the songs of “A Creature I don’t Know” often recall the female characters in John Steinbeck’s novels; their turn-of-the-century environment has hardened them and made them sexually ruthless and capricious. The spirit of Cathy who rips like a tornado through ‘East Of Eden’ possesses ‘The Beast’ and ‘Salinas’, Steinbeck’s place of birth. Yet the songs feel divorced from any particular time or place and lacking in obvious signifiers because Marling does without 21st century details and focuses on the timeless themes of love and desire. Brawling with these primal urges while ignoring current musical trends is a brave artistic choice and her use of symbolic language without putting forth her own personality give the songs the air of Marling as a centuries-old, wandering watchful spirit who has seen and lived everything. Her strengths lie in her commanding performance and her pure voice which carries equal weight whether in the middle of ‘The Beast’’s churning instrument storm or accompanied by just a guitar or piano.
6. Wolfgang Voigt – Kafkatrax (Kompakt/Profan)
In typically eccentric fashion, Voigt has super-imposed his face on to the head of Austrio-Hungarian writer Franz Kafka for the artwork of Kafkatrax. The strange merge goes further with the music contained inside. Every sound except the bass drum is taken from German audiobooks of Kafka’s work, the samples of which Voigt has then sliced, layered and stretched to create several voices speaking in fragmented words and vowels. The abstract stratification of the samples re-produce the paranoia present in Kafka’s writing while Voigt’s experienced hand in intangible dance music knits the sounds into alien and unsettling yet groove-filled techno tracks. If techno is an endless, moving machine then it is albums such as this that keep it in motion.
7. Bjork – Biophilia (Nonesuch)
Autumn was dominated by the exciting news of Bjork’s return after a four-year break and reports that her new album “Biophilia’ would be accompanied by synaesthesia-inspired iPhone/iPad apps. Bjork’s seventh album wonderfully demonstrates her innate use of beautiful harmonies and melodies which shine over delicate, glassy timbres and malevolent basslines and breathless, digitalised rhythms. Her voice and words anchor emotions to the album’s scientific influence and the thread of innocence and wide-eyed fascination that runs through her celebration of the universe prevents any feeling of pretence or aridity. Even after four years away Bjork continues to electrify and surpass.
8. Skudge – “Phantom” (Skudge Records)
The Swedish duo’s debut sells itself on aerodynamic, stripped techno indebted to Robert Hood and Basic Channel’s dense dub techno grooves. Fractured bass lines are countered with dramatic synth stabs, snapping claps and the determined looping rhythms of ‘90s German techno. Standout track ‘Eleven’, which features a solitary, eerie hook over tough bass drums and a lone reverberating clap, is a lesson in contoured, skeletal composition. Geared primarily for the club, the productions are a balance of tension and release that jack and groove for several minutes. Skudge are a dance duo who people should have on their radar for 2012.
9. Gui Boratto – III (Kompakt)
“III”’s intention is built on slow grooves and dark, searing techno. Twin tracks ‘Geluchat’ and ‘Stems From Hell’ sound like Boratto deep in the bowels of Berghain. ‘III’ is hard and confrontational, abrasive and pummelling. Although it isn’t as captivating as his best album “Chromophobia”, “III” continues to display his skill as a producer: the bass drum pounds, bass lines growl and groove and grainy synths coil and graze. His use of peaks and drops are masterful; they tease and reward the listener; pure peak time clubbing. It demands to be played loud.
10. Washed Out – Within and Without (Sub Pop)
As the cover art displays “Within and Without”, Washed Out’s first full-length, is a sensual, physical release. Benefiting from the production work of Ben Allen, who worked on Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion”, “Within and Without” features delicate compositional flourishes such as the reverb-drenched, evocative harmonies on ‘Amor Fati’ and the cracked snare on ‘Echoes’ reward repeated listens, especially on headphones. The gentle arpeggios, slinking beats and soft, pillow-y atmospheres add to the album’s tenderness; the songs are intended for love-making rather than fucking. Album closer ‘A Dedication’ is based on a fragile piano line and Ernest Greene’s most direct vocal performance is the post-coital cosy-up.
Perc – Wicker & Steel (Perc Trax)
“Wicker & Steel” recalls The Black Dog’s “Real Music For Airports” release from last year. Techno, industrial and almost aggressively dystopian with, the vocal grunts on “Start Chopping” aside, very little to humanise the intense percussion and scratching textures of the album’s first third. Slipping out of the abrasive distortion of the opening tracks a sinister mid-section, featuring the deeply unsettling “Pre-Steel”, builds on a more restrained dystopia with dispersed beats, detuned synths and horror-film overtones. The final third kicks back to an overdriven, unrelenting pace, particularly on the track ‘London, We Have You Surrounded’, which some have appropriated as the soundtrack to the capital’s disturbing riots in August. “Wicker & Steel” is an album deeply attentive to its own coherency, consistency and range.
Lucy – Wordplay For Working Bees (Stroboscopic Artefacts)
Lucy bypasses the customary form and structure of techno for his début album. IDM, drones, oblique ambience and dub-techno combine to create a foreboding atmosphere filled with unusual timbres and textures. Partly composed of field recordings from Berlin’s streets and parks, the album’s title plays on the busy crowds concentrated on the city streets. The recordings tangle amongst disembodied vocals and abstract noises which build a sense of dissonant melancholia. When the 4/4 rhythm of ‘Bein’ breaks out of the ambient climate it feels exotic and somehow forbidden as does album closer ‘Ter’ which filled with pattering percussion building to a stunning, hypnotic climax that contrasts the album’s darkness.
Planningtorock – W (DFA)
Planningtorock’s (Janine Rostron) second release is rooted in the expression of her sexuality which is conveyed by the sweaty atmosphere that recall the cabaret clubs of her adopted home Berlin. Her pitched-down masculine voice drawling sensually “I know my feelings” on opener ‘Doorway’ and “I’m a believer of circular/suckular love” on ‘Manifesto’ coupled with lavish, thick orchestration throughout makes “W” a challenging but rewarding album.
October was dominated by Bjork’s return after a four year break and the exciting news that her album “Biophilia” would be released with imaginative, synaesthesia-inspired iPhone/iPad apps. New Polish production duo Viadrina released their club-orientated “Bodymind” EP. The EP is a three-track collection that gives tech-house a new twist and the title track features one of the best vocal performances of recent techno releases:
Unfortunatly I was unable to listen BNJMN’s “Black Square”.
Here’s a round-up of last month’s recommendations.:
Zola Jesus – “Conatus”
This is a disappointing album so I’ve only presented the highlights. Second track ‘Avalanche’ has its foundations in “Stridulum”. The moody atmospherics and deploring vocals link to “Conatus”’ predecessor while the softer use of these elements bridges us to the album’s overall sound. The strongest track is ‘Vessel’ which recalls “Homogenic” or a gloopier ‘Enjoy’ from Bjork’s “Post”.
‘Ixode’ features an infectious 4/4 electro beat and synth pop pulses amid Jesus’ indecipherable, layered chanting then there’s a fantastic octave leap that pins you into your seat as a thwacking bass drum hits you. From ‘Ixode’ we segue into ‘Seekir’, which sees an ecstatic Zola Jesus raising her arms in a moment of victory as the bubbling bassline calls you to celebrate on the dancefloor before we are pulled into the dull murk of later tracks.
“Conatus” is imbued with crisper production and benefits from having the same-y claustrophobia and high drama that made up “Stridulum” dialled down. Yet if listened to in one session the album flags and suffers from repetitive tempos and themes. Her voice remains a force of nature but there is something lacking in this release. All of Zola Jesus’ songs share the same DNA: a high percentage of woe, a percentage of industrial clangs, a percentage of gloomy chords and a percentage of either hope or desperation. “Conatus” is more enjoyable if a few key tracks, such as ‘Vessel’ and ‘Seekir’, are downloaded and consumed in small bites. Despite Zola Jesus’ clear talent “Conatus” unfortunately seems destined to be broadcast over the system in Urban Outfitters.
Bjork – “Biophilia”
‘Thunderbolt’’s malevolent bass line and electronic drums provide a wild, tense energy underneath a female choir that flock around Bjork’s half sung, half spoken questioning of the human tendency to wish for miracles and plea for universal understanding. First single ‘Crystalline’ recalls the intimacy and fragility of “Verspertine” and once again demonstrates Bjork’s innate use of beautiful harmonies. ‘Crystalline’ is filled with the delicate, glassy timbres courtesy of a bespoke gameleste and fizzing electronic drums before a jungle breakbeat unexpectedly explodes out of the ether in proud celebration of Bjork’s return. The breathless swell of ‘Cosmogony’’s chorus conveys in one track the album’s overall sense of childlike wonder felt when considering the universe’s incredible creation and vastness. Bjork creates an uneasy balance between unsettling and calm in ‘Hollow’. Lulling vocals and a dreamy choir are interrupted by horror-film organs and staccato, digitalised drums. Crashing into life after the tender beauty of ‘Virus’ and ‘Sacrifice’ is the confrontational “Homogenic”-like ‘Mutual Core’, which could easily be the voice of Mother Nature scolding her selfish inhabitants or a song for the heartbroken.“You know I gave it all/ Trying to match our continents/To change seasonal shifts/ To form a mutual core//You know I gave it all/Can you hear the effort” she admonishes as bass sounds and furious beats roll and thunder around her in thrilling bursts.
“Biophilia” has links with her 2007 album “Volta” and 1997’s “Homogenic” but where “Volta” bursts at the seams with sound, “Biophilia” is, for its endeavour to correlate science and nature with the patterns and structure of music, a restrained and spacious listen. Her voice and words anchor emotions to the science and the thread of innocence and wide-eyed fascination that runs through her celebration of the universe prevents any feeling of pretence or aridity. Even after a four year hiatus “Biophilia” underlines how greatly superior Bjork is from the majority of popular music and, regardless of the way the album has been delivered, she continues to electrify and surpass.
The Field – “Looping State of Mind”
‘Is This Power’ opens with krautrock drums and a gorgeous, ecstatic loop that could be enjoyed for hours build and build into a thrilling drop after 5 minutes. Breaking down to an arpeggiated bass line, resonant melody and shuffling drums The Field the expertly pulls the main loop back in and the track endlessly continues. Techno DJ and producer Marcel Dettmann remarked that if you “composed a loop that you could to listen to repeatedly then it’s a good loop”; ‘Is This Power’ embodies this statement. Next track ‘It’s Up There’ recalls his début album “From Here We Go Sublime”. Live drums push through liquid, slowly evolving synths and as with the previous track this song drops at 7 minutes to a dancing bass line and percussion to evoke the grooves of LCD Soundsystem’s “Sound of Silver”, making ‘Its Up There’ the funkiest thing Axel Willner has ever produced.
Techno in its simplest form is music that can built using just a few loops and The Field expands on this method effectively; multiplying shimmering loops of vocals, synths and drums into one luscious, infinite circular track. The layers on ‘Arpeggiated Love’ develop into a vast wall of sound where each instrument feels knitted together until a twinkling synth indicates a quick release and we are left with a singular voice calling out. Feeling the most loose and organic of the release, title track ‘Looping State Of Mind’ is a new direction. Balearic house and smooth guitars interlace with rushing percussion and synth drones that drop in and out in unexpected ways. ‘Then It’s White’ comes as a relief after the frenzy of the title track. Marrying human fluency with technology the track creates a strange combination of bliss and sombre. The piano and mournful, computer-warped voice subtly calls to mind Apparat while confirming The Field’s expanded production ability.
The Field has returned with his third album for Kompakt. “Looping State Of Mind” neatly builds on the landscapes of his previous releases “From Here We Go Sublime”, a collection of icy yet deeply affecting techno tracks, and “Yesterday and Today”, which covers a warmer krautrock-indebted area, to merge the best of both into a beautiful seven track blend of warm synth arpeggios, droning, pulsing pads and that Kompakt schaffel. The eponymous loops feel like they could last forever; building and dropping.
Recommendations – November
Tresor Records – “20th Anniversary” (7th November, compilation mix, Tresor Records)
Two decades ago Tresor and its founder Dimitri Hegemann cultivated an essential Detroit-Berlin relationship, giving an important platform to techno and thus many heralded Detroit DJs and artists. This “20th Anniversary” compilation, mixed by Mike Huckaby, surveys the label’s expansive and integral Detroit-Berlin catalogue with 22 tracks from techno luminaries such as Robert Hood, Drexciya, Jeff Mills, Surgeon and Cristian Vogel.
Oneohtrix Point Never – “Replica” (7th November, Software)
Oneohtrix returns with the follow-up “Returnal” (2010) the winner of my Album of the Year 2010 on his own Software label. Though I’ve already listened to the album a couple of times I’ve yet to form any solid ideas about it. However I do think its a confident stride forward into a more overtly ‘pop’ (in the loosest sense of the world) direction. It still sounds like OPN but is possibly his most varied and upbeat collection to date.
Cabaret Voltaire – “Johnny YesNo Redux (Boxset” (14th November, Mute)
I’ve been a fan of the Cabs for many years but my rediscovery of them earlier this year has forced me to reassess their importance and the brilliant music they made. In addition to this they also released several videos via their video label DoubleVision. “Johnny YesNo” was the most famous of these and has now been reissued with a new version of the short film short in L.A. and a new soundtrack from Cabs founder Richard H. Kirk plus a CD of additional unreleased material in addition to the original film and its soundtrack.
Marcel Dettmann – “Conducted” (14th November, mix CD, Music Man Records).
Berlin-based DJ and techno producer Marcel Dettmann has gathered the work of his contemporaries Morphosis, Redshape and Shed and two of his all time favourites tracks ‘Sundog’ by Reel By Real and Cheeba Starks to create only his second commercially available mix to date, following the lauded “Berghain 02” from 2008. According to the distributors, the mix is being sold as an “extensive package”, which will include an “extensive booklet” boasting sleeve notes, two accompanying 12”s and interviews conducted by Marcel Dettmann.
Check out this interview with Marcel Dettmann:
The Fall – “Ersatz G.B.” (14th November, Cherry Red)
The 29th studio album from Mark E. Smith and co., there’s no clue in the press release as to how it will sound but one we can rely on is the how John Peel once described the band “always the same, always different”.
Steve Hauschildt – “Tragedy & Geometry” (14th November, Kranky)
The new solo album from Emeralds synth player Hauschildt comes out on Kranky and will be his best distributed solo release to date. I have to honest, I haven’t heard any of Hauschildt’s previous releases but suspect it’ll be heavily influenced by the ‘kosmische musik’ of Tangerine Dream, Cluster and Ash Ra Tempel.
Chris Watson – “El Tren Fastasma” (14th November, Touch)
Not the sort of release that generally excites, the new album from sound recordist and ex-Cabaret Voltaire member Chris Watson promises much. Made up of recordings on the now retired Ghost Train cross-country route in Mexico ten years, the pre-release track ‘El Divisadero’ has proved more musical than you’d imagine and along with a recent interview on Pitchfork has wetted my appetite ahead of this release.
September was a busy and mostly satisfying month. In addition to the Sonic Fiction’s recommendations from last month there were impressive albums released by Laura Marling, Death In Vegas and A Winged Victory for the Sullen, plus a solid effort from The Duke Spirit, which is well worth checking out if you’re missing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Now to those recommendations:
This month’s biggest disappointment comes courtesy of DJ Shadow and his new album “The Less You Know, The Better”. Though I have to agree with those who criticised his last effort “The Outsider”, I actually found “The Private Press” to be a grower and so stayed open-minded about the new Shadow album. However, this unfocused and underwhelming effort needs more than an open mind to get you to like it. Eclectic is the appropriate word for this album and I have no problem with albums that flit between styles and moods, but this album rarely convinces or produces great moments/tracks. ‘Stay the Course’, ‘Warning Call’, ‘Enemy Lines’ and ‘(Not So) Sad and Lonely’ all try for some kind of rock as done by DJ Shadow but they come out bloated and hollow, it’s also not something I’d ever imagine Shadow making as it really doesn’t suit him. ‘Back to Front (Circular Logic)’ and ‘Circular Logic (Front to Back)’ are successful attempts at the atmospheric music that was once this artists signature, they bare a passing resemblance to some tracks from ‘The Private Press’, however they aren’t Shadow’s finest hour either. Meanwhile ‘Border Crossing’, ‘I’ve Been Trying’, ‘Sad and Lonely’ and ‘Scale It Back’ all revisit the break beat based material Shadow released on Solesides in the mid to late 90’s and though these are better than a majority of material on the album, its feels like he’s on autopilot or way too early for any sort of revival of this style of hip-hop. Overall “The Less You Know, The Better” does prove one thing and that’s if we all knew less about DJ Shadow it’d probably be a slightly more impressive album.
I’ll be honest I’ve found it difficult to get my head around the new Roots Manuva album “4everevolution” and say anything meaningful about it that hasn’t already been stated. It’s definitely his most commercial release to date littered with catchy and clubby tracks, however few of these ever fully convince, his sung vocals are no match for his superior MC skills. It’s great when he gets stuck into some sociopolitical rhyming on ‘Skid Valley’ and ‘Who Goes There?’ the first time he approached such material in years. Although there’s nothing wrong with the music on “4everevolution” it just doesn’t grab me in the way earlier Roots Manuva albums have and doesn’t really suggest itself as a grower either. Still I believe Roots Manuva has it in him for at least one more great album, maybe next time.
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.
“In The Grace of Your Love”, the long-awaited new album from The Rapture proved 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 over bearing, ‘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 incorporated into their sound and it seem this album will only get better with repeat listens.
“Coracle”, the new album from Kompakt’s Walls, opens with ‘Into Our Midst’, which sees the bass, drums and percussion pushed forward into a techno groove as a looped vocal sound plays against the swirling, arpeggio synths. ‘Sunporch’ continues on from ‘Into Our Midst’. A commanding bass line pulses through hi-hats and percussion and small snatches of melodies ebb and flow in the thick cloud of synths and guitar. Most of the tracks continue in this manner. “Coracle” is a seamless continuation of Walls’ debut and isn’t a great development of their sound. It is, however, a bolder, more confident release that emphasises percussive groove and harsher guitar buzz underneath the syrupy gauze of synths. ‘Raw Umber / Twilight’ begins with the background chatter that arose in earlier track ‘Vacant’ then unfurls into twinkling melodies and glassy synth arpeggios bedded into warm, hazy techno. This is the most beautiful track on the album and the one that condenses the album’s strongest elements into a potent song that perfectly encapsulates Walls’ sound.
“Get Lost” the new album from Mark McGuire came in for a bit of stick in The Wire magazine’s recent review. The reviewer claimed McGuire wasn’t contributed anything new to the ‘kosmische musik’ revival he and his band Emeralds are part of. I don’t believe that Mark McGuire and his band mates have never claimed to contributing anything new to this style of music, I think they’d readily admit being guilty of recreating the music of Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel and Cluster in their own way. As such this album is very similar to a large amount of McGuire’s back catalogue and with the first extensive use of guitar-synthesizers; instead of his trusty guitar-synth it moves his material closer to that of the ‘kosmische musik’ of Emeralds. A section of the album also sees a first for McGuire as he uses vocals on ‘When You’re Somewhere’. ‘Alama’ and ‘Alma (Reprise)/Chances Are’, the most explicit use of these is ‘Alma’ and it’s a success the warmth of McGuire vocals compliment that of his music. All the typical traits of McGuire’s guitar playing are present especially his fuzz lead lines and repetitive yet hypnotic delay heavy rhythm patterns, the album also features a lot of acoustic guitar which also featured prominently on last year’s “Living With Yourself”. It’s the synth drones and arpeggios though that dominates, and is the biggest departure for McGuire. “Get Lost” slots easily into McGuire hefty back catalogue and will delight long time fans, it may not add anything to ‘kosmische musik’ but that doesn’t mean it’s not an album that’s well worth having.
After 5 years Spank Rock returned this month with his second solo album “Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar”. Overall the album is a stormer combining tracks that consolidates what he’d achieved on previous album “YoYoYoYoYo” and 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 pulls off 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 greatest success on the album. During the second half of the album the majority of 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 début 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!
Another release on Kompakt is Gui Boratto’s “III”. His previous releases “Chromophobia” and “Take My Breath Away” are built on staccato rhythms that trip over themselves and push and pull against arpeggiated synths and gently overdriven, poppy melodies. “III” is all about slower grooves and dark, searing techno. Twin tracks ‘Geluchat’ and ‘Stems From Hell’ sound like Gui Boratto deep in Berghain. The bass drum pounds, bass lines growl and groove and grainy synths coil and graze. His use of peaks and drops are masterful; they tease and reward the listener; pure peak time clubbing. This opening set also explains the black cover. Where the covers of Boratto’s previous albums are vibrant reds and blues, ‘III’ is hard and confrontational. It demands to be played loud. Next track ‘Striker’ features, for the first time, vocals from Gui Boratto and recalls Madga’s awe-inspiring basslines and her inclusion of sinister post-punk tracks in her mixes. Disappointingly the final track ‘This Is Not The End’, which features his wife Luciana Villanova, feels like a misstep and is too lightweight against the abrasive, pummelling techno. Finishing with ‘The Third’, a floating track of held chords and delayed melodies would have been a great finale; the sun rising after a night of dancing.
Kid Koala’s “Space Cadet” was definitely the best album experience this month. The “Space Cadet” CD accompanies the graphic novel of the same name perfectly. Kid Koala balances the need for musicality with an atmospheric and emotive sound that never fills contrived. Reading along with the soundtrack heightens everything on the page and the album stands up brilliantly on its own. A fine demonstration of this artist’s constantly developing skill as a composer and creator of turntable music that is capable of expressing emotion beyond humour.
This month’s best album is definitely Apparat’s “The Devil’s Walk”. I’ll admit that his last solo album ‘Walls’ did take quite a while to grow on me and reveal it charms. Not so this time Apparat now displays his ability to write both immediate and engaging material that is rich both in hooks and melody as it is in deep harmony and atmosphere. Fans of ‘Walls’ will not automatically recognise this as the Apparat they know and love. In fact that album has a lot more in common with his collaborative project Moderat (the best of this is ‘Song of Los’) and the ‘Orchestra of Bubbles’ album with Ellen Allien particularly the string sounds employed throughout this album. ‘The Devil’s Walk’ occupies similar territory to the Moderat album with a dark, Gothic atmosphere and medieval sounds a constant throughout. The cover echoes these influences and this album coming out on electronic music pioneers Mute Records and at time indirectly recalls Depeche Mode at the finest. Apparat’s vocal’s even sound like Marc Almond (of Soft Cell fame) 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 emotional evocative.
Coming up in October on Sonic Fiction:
Classics Critiqued – “The Modern Dance” by Pere Ubu
Recommendations – October
Zola Jesus – “Conatus”
‘Vessel’, the first single recalls a gloopier ‘Enjoy’ by Bjork or perhaps a b-side from Homogenic while second single ‘Seekir’ promises a leap in production and instrumentation for her second album. Developing from ‘Stridulum II’, Zola Jesus allows the fervant electronic drums and wet synths to drown her voice before rising into one of her soon-to-be-trademark choruses.
Bjork – “Biophilia” (Nonesuch/One Little Indian)
Bjork doesn’t do anything in half measures. She is guaranteed to put her heart in every one of her albums and “Biophilia” continues this stream of strong artistic statements. First single ‘Crystalline’ is filled with delicate, glassy timbres, fizzing electronic drums and a female choir that celebrate Bjork’s proud return before jungle drums explode out of the ether. Critics may complain this is just a repetition of previous albums but “Biophilia” feels like a great comeback after four years away and really she could do almost anything and it would still top most albums around.
The Field – “Looping State Of Mind” (Kompakt)
Sweden’s Axel Willner (The Field) returns with his third album on Kompakt. “Looping State Of Mind” neatly builds on the landscapes of his previous releases “From Here We Go Sublime”, a collection of icy yet deeply affecting techno tracks, and “Yesterday and Today”, which covers a warmer krautrock-indebted area, to merge the best of both into a beautiful seven track blend of warm synth arpeggios, droning, pulsing pads and that Kompakt schaffel. The eponymous loops feel like they could last forever; building and dropping and shuffling.
Wolfgang Voigt – “Kafkatrax” (Profan/Kompakt)
The Kompakt co-founder collects the Kafkatrax vinyl releases on a 10 track CD. Hearing the tense, disembodied voices, taken from audiobooks of Franz Kafka’s works, stretched and clipped and set against a never-ending bass drum is a fascinating listen in one unbroken stretch. The release is perfectly fitting for the idiosyncratic Voigt and Kafka’s paranoid, dystopian words.
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:
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.
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.