Tag Archive: Chris Watson


This post is designed to look again at two albums that I covered back in November that missed the cut for Albums of the Year and two that came out in November but weren’t covered as they hadn’t been recommended.  First up the two I previously covered.

Oneohtrix Point Never – “Replica” (Software/Mexican Summer)

Repeated listens to this album shows up the best and worst things about “Replica”. The edited and micro sampled vocals that annoyed before are more annoying and the impressive use of space, atmosphere and use of percussion is more so. However, the album feels transitional and as other critcs have suggested, “his best work to date”. Daniel Lopatin is just beginning to explore this territory and is still learning how everything works together, particularly the new elements such as the micro sampled vocals and use of percussion. He’s also extended his use of piano on “Replica” and demonstrates a new confidence in this skill, in which he’d only previously dabbled. In an electronic music world being more driven by loop-based compositions Oneohtrix Point Never pushes his composition skills to the limits and usees his tools to their full potential, littering the tracks with unexpected twists and turns. Though I still believe “Returnal” is Lopatin’s finest work, I look forward to seeing how he develops and improves upon the sound of “Replica”, still an album well worth investigation.

Chris Watson – “El Tren Fantasma” (Touch)

“El Tren Fantasma” is one of the hardest albums to describe that I’ve written about for Sonic Fiction. A musique concrete album based on a cross-country train journey on Mexico’s now defunct “Ghost Train” isn’t an easy thing to describe without creating a dry and literal piece of writing. However, I can add a little to what I’ve already said, firstly the more I listen to the album the more it becomes clear that Watson has processed and possibly edited the original field recordings he made. This helps explain way the album feels more musical than the only other Watson album I have heard, the excellent “Stepping Into The Dark” (1996), which literally used pure field recordings to achieve its sound. In my original post I said, “I’d throughly recommend “El Tren Fantasma” as an experience that should be tried at least once, it won’t be for everyone but I think it will surprise many people” and I stand by that now.

Atlas Sound – “Parallax” (4AD)

‘Parallax’ is Bradford Cox’s most consistent and involving album to date. I’ve often found myself off-put by his tendency to hide his vocals and sometimes whole songs behind reverb or lo-fi quality recordings. It was frustrating as you wanted to get closer to the artist and music yet this all changes now with a new found confidence and less reliance on effects, revealing the pop nous I always suspected was buried in Cox’s music. It’s interesting that Cox chose to have Mick Rock photograph him for the cover of “Parallax’ as one of the artists the album most instantly recalls is David Bowie (whom Rock photographed throughout his career), particularly Bowie’s faux rock ‘n’ roll period in the mid ’80s. Album opener ‘The Shakes’ starts with arching feedback, followed by a faded in acoustic guitar and then seconds later the tune kicks in properly. This sets the tone for the rest of the album perfectly as Cox balances effects and organic instrumentation brilliantly. For me the highlights are ‘Te Amo’ with its delicate music box synth melody and complementary lo-fi drum sounds, ‘Modern Aquatic Nightsongs’ which reminds me of the Cocteau Twins and ‘Doldrums’ a piano and vocal lead ambient piece with muffled drums and heavily reverbed reversed samples and synths.  With “Parallax” Cox has made a very modern album that also calls on the vintage sounds of rock ‘n’ roll, he’s shown how naked he can make his lonesome music (‘Terra Incognita’) but also that now he can welcome in the listener and let his song writing shine.

A$AP Rocky – “LiveLoveA$AP Mixtape” (RCA/Polo Grounds Music)

I’ll admit to never having got into hip-hop’s mixtape culture but having heard a couple of tracks I was intrigued by A$AP Rocky’s “LongLiveA$AP”. I have found a rapper whose lyrical subject matter isn’t always to my taste but is the one most engaging new rappers I’ve heard for quite a while. Add to this production by some of the best up and coming hip-hop producers including Clams Casino, Spaceghostpurrp, Beautiful Lou and Ty Beats and you’ve got a powerful combination. My only complaint other than the some of the lyrics is that the first half of mixtape relies quite heavily on the same base elements: pitched down vocals and heavy use of reverb but this is only a small problem. The second half is where A$AP changes things up and shows the variety of tracks and vocal styles he can cover from the twanging country guitar and double time beats of ‘Trilla’ to the hollow pads of ‘Leaf’ via the yearning strings of ‘Houston Old Head’. His vocal range expands to almost singing on ‘Kissin’ Pink’ and ‘Houston Old Head’, laid back rapping on ‘Acid Drop’ and sounding subdued on ‘Demons’.  On ‘Leaf’ he demonstrates his greatest lyric put down without insulting the rappers he references. “They say I sound like André/ Mixed with Kanye/ A little bit of Max/ A little bit of Wiz/ A little bit of that/ A little bit of this/ Get off my dick.” A$AP Rocky seems like he’s put together the whole package and can dominate hip-hop in 2012.

For now, me and Sonic Fiction are finished with 2011, on with 2012.

Liam Flanagan (Sonic Fiction Editor)

Spotify playlist:

2012 through my (biased) eyes: Catch #1

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)

‘Ersatz G.B.’, The Fall’s 29th album spends most of its time battering the listener around the head with snare drums, heavy bass, guitar and Mark. E Smith mostly incoherent vocals. The rest of the time it takes the opposite approach and doesn’t manage to impress then either with tracks like ‘Happi Song’ and ‘Laptop Dog’ sounding like pale jangly and barely there indie. The one track that does rise to the occasion is ‘Monocard’ which with its Corroded guitar riffs, heavy bass and a synth that goes whistling to resonate reminds me of Mogwai’s excellent ‘Rano Pano’ from earlier in the year. Try harder next time, please Mark E. Smith and co.

Though “Tragedy & Geometry” the new album from Steve Hauschildt doesn’t compete on the same level as his main project Emeralds, it not without its moments and has enough quality tracks and variety to keep most synth enthusiasts happy. Though the base elements (warm pads, twinkling melodies and more arpeggios than you can shake a stick at) remain more or less the same throughout the entirety of the album. There’s a good selection of moods on offer ranging from mellow to happy, dark and edgy to spacey sci-fi lullabies. This album should be enough to keep Emeralds fans going until the band return next year.

It’s difficult to describe Chris Watson’s new album ‘El Tren Fantasma’ and really do it justice thought this review by The Quietus does a pretty good job. Without any musical instruments involved describing what I hear makes it sound boring. “El Tren Fantasma” is far from boring it’s an atmospheric journey full of peaks and troughs, loud and quiet, mellow and unsettling moments. Watson manages to place you in the centre of his journey as venture across Mexican through different terrain taking in all times of day and types of life, a fascinating experience. Before hearing this album I’d only heard Watson’s brilliant “Stepping Into The Dark” album, “El Tren Fantasma” shares the same ability to switch from heavy and dark sounds to light and airy sounds and find different moods and atmosperes to match. However the new album feels more musical, which seems an odd thing to say about two albums completely made of field recordings. But thats what I hear and much of Watson’s work with Cabaret Voltaire blurred the thin line-up between musical and non-musial sound. I’d throughly recommend “El Tren Fantasma” as an experience that should be tried at least once, it won’t be for everyone but I think it will surprise many people.

“Replica” the new album by Oneohtrix Point Never (OPN) is a transitional record that sees Daniel Lopatin attempting something new for him. This album doesn’t contain the slowly evolving and enveloping synth drones of his early work or the dense computer edited sound of ‘Returnal’, it’s heavily focused on vocal snippets and percussive sounds and textures that recall the Fourth World music of Jon Hassell and Brian Eno. At the same time the noise that had previous encroached on the edges of Oneohtrix Point Never sound now plays a much more central role. For reverb soaked synth or piano melody there is either subtle hum or overwhelming thickets of noise to counter act them. This may sound off putting, like Lopatin is sabotaging his own perfectly good tracks, but it never feels this way, he gets the balance right and knows what works when. He creates tension and release, whereas previous he only created one or the other in a single track. This twinned the brevity of many of tracks points to a move towards ‘pop’ music, admittedly its ‘pop’ at its most abstract and it in no-one way represents modern pop music the genre its self but OPN has never attempted to do so much in so little time. Lopatin is no longer allowing sounds to just natural drift and resolve themselves he’s using all his old tricks and elements with new ones that both compliment and contrast with them. The percussion instruments and micro edited percussive vocal sounds give a new purpose to his music and place it firmly in its own unique place. I feel there’s plenty more to be discovered and will revisit it in a one-off post in January next year.

Spotify playlist:

November playlist

Coming up in December on Sonic Fiction:

Sonic Fiction Writer’s Top Ten Album’s of Year and Observations 2011

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.

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

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.

Spotify playlist:

October playlist

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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCGVV_ywnTg&feature=player_embedded

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.

For many years ambient music existed on the fringes of contemporary music, an underground concern often maligned as background muzak. In this article I explore the origins and ideology of ambient music and its recent resurgence at the hands of new and established artists.

There are some conflicting ideas about who invented ambient music and why but its origins are traceable back to the Futurism and Dada art movements of the early 20th century. Though widely known for creating new ways of painting and sculpting and pushing the boundaries of what could be classified as art, artists of these movements also experimented in music, sometimes incorporating non musical elements into compositions. Erik Satie is the most important of these composers. As a creator of what he named ‘furniture music’, described as being suitable for generating a perfect background atmosphere that would not distract the diners at a dinner party, Satie links Dada and Futurism with the beginnings of contemporary ambient music. Satie’s ideas influenced Brian Eno who having studied at art school gained an understanding of art, artists, like the Futurists and Dadaists, and music and later coined the term ‘ambient music’ in the mid 1970s.

The ambient music standard-setter is Eno’s universally critically acclaimed ‘Ambient #1: Music for Airports’ from 1978. Eno believed ambient music could be “actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener” and referred to “Ambient #4: On Land” (1982) as “environmental”. Both statements seem appropriate though there is a strong case for a strain of ambient music that doesn’t solely sit in the background with a recent development of artists such as Biosphere who put greater emphasis on the music’s emotional content. From the commencement of ambient music’s Eno era the divide between environmental and emotional ambient pieces has existed: Cluster’s ‘71’ and ‘II’ from 1971 and ’72 mixed synth washes and melodies with recordings of domestic appliances, kitchen utensils and industrial machinery and, conversely, the arpeggios and melodies of Tangerine Dream’s ‘Phaedra’ instil a dreamlike state of emotion and reflection.

Ambient releases were initially infrequent but when rave music was forced indoors due to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 a separate ‘chill-out’ room in clubs was created to allow attendees to come down while cushioned by ambient music and though there is now a distinct difference between what is called chill-out and ambient music the performers in these rooms became the ambient music leaders. This included The Orb with 1991’s ‘Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and ‘U.F.Orb’ from 1992, The Irresistible Force’s ‘It’s Tomorrow Already’ (1998) and ‘Selected Ambient Works 85 – 92’ by rave pioneer Aphex Twin. Via these albums clubs, major record labels and corporations were shown the commercial potential of ambient music and the genre became overrun with sub standard cookie cutter releases and advert soundtracks, eventually leading ‘chill-out’ and its cash-in compilations to flood the late 90s-early 00s market. Commercial (over)exposure pushed many ambient artists underground and record labels like Touch specialised in finding the best new artists and revitalised the genre with releases from Biosphere, Chris Watson, Phillip Jeck and B.J. Nilsen and though these artists received acclaim the genre remained deep underground, until recently.

We are now experiencing a resurgence in ambient music, evident in recent releases from The Black Dog, Oneohtrix Point Never, Sunn O))), Sun Araw, Emeralds, and there are similarities to 80s new age music, and chillwave artists such as Washed Out. The Black Dog’s ‘Real Music for Airports’ challenges Eno’s original utopian vision and is in many ways more effective in realising and expressing the sounds and feeling of airports. Like The Black Dog, Sunn O))) create a heavier atmosphere and though these acts are not often categorised as creating ambient music they represent ‘dark ambient’, a rarely covered subgenre that is as engrossing as it is intimidating. ‘Monoliths and Dimensions’, the latest release from Sunn O))) evokes the sound of the earth’s crust splitting and reference Miles Davis on ‘Aghartha’, the brass and woodwind are utilised in an unconventional form to create texture and atmosphere. ‘Big Church’ employs droning guitars and bass with a colossal-sounding choir to create the feel that you are in fact in a cathedral but this is a simplification of what the group musically achieve, which is difficult to describe accurately. Sunn O))) are not for everyone but well worth listening to. ‘Returnal’ by Oneohtrix Point Never (OPN) and ‘Does It Look Like I’m Here’ by Emeralds share a similar affection for the sounds of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis but both artists stamp their own mark on these familiar instrumentations. OPN’s skill is being able to evoke places, emotions and memory. Glistening waves of synths effortlessly flow though the tracks due to his seamless manipulation of recordings and computer editing. ‘Does It Look Like I’m Here’ is a milestone for Emeralds as they have adapted a stronger song based approach and allowed guitarist Mark McGuire’s riffs and melodies more space in the mix. Here the songs flow easier than on the previous album ‘What Happened?’ and there is a greater sense of direction. Sun Araw’s albums all inhabit their own worlds and space: ‘Beach Head’ is like a super slow motion version of the Hawaiian scene depicted on the cover, ‘Heavy Deeds’ is urbane in vibe, revealed by the title, is indeed heavy as his wah-wah symphonies stretch out to infinity and latest album ‘On Patrol’ takes his techniques deeper and further out than ever before.

When writing and researching this piece I have discovered much about ambient music and its preconceptions. I’ve been guilty of paying too much heed to them and until last year I had not bothered to look beyond them. However, I’ve come to realise that ambient music is currently and historically rich and diverse despite lesser artists diluting its form and corporate misappropriation. The present selection of artists is further evidence of ambient music’s wealth and they promise an interesting, bold future.

Spotify playlist:

Altered States playlist

%d bloggers like this: