Tag Archive: Clark


Kirsty’s Reviews

Disappointment of the month

Albert Swarm – Wake (Ceremony Recordings)

“Wake”, the debut album of the Finnish producer Pietu Arvola, meanders and rolls on without direction. It is stagnant and, bar the closing song “Moths and Moth Catchers”, devoid of anything remotely memorable. All seven tracks follow the same arrangement: it begins in an infancy stage where unnameable sounds drift and float then elements are slowly added and expanded until reaching a plateau for the final minute or so then it comes to an end. Everything sits in the same frequency range, leaving little space for the songs to breathe and settle. This sounds less like a stylistic choice of a suffocating atmosphere and more of flattening  over-compression. Except for sections of ‘A Dream That Glistened’ and ‘Moths and Moth Catchers’ there is a lack of melody, a hollow void where something enticing should be. Sadly the only thing that even comes close to the emotion found in the strangely operatic and heart-wrenching ‘Familialities’ from Swarm’s “Held” EP from 2011 is ‘Moths and Moth Catchers’, which utilises a chordal structure to  underpin, and emphasise, a much longed-for melody. This last song is the point where “Wake” finally comes alive and makes a play for the listener’s attention.

Barker & Baumecker – “Transsektoral” (Ostgut Ton)

Sam Barker and Andreas Baumecker’s debut album is purposed to travel the spectrum of electronic music. Both established figures within Berlin’s techno family, Barker is known for co-running the Leisure System nights and his razor-edged electronics as Voltek. Baumecker, meanwhile has headed up the record label Freundinnen and worked as a resident DJ and booking agent for Berghain. Having previously collaborated on 2010’s “Candyflip” and the notable “A Murder of Crows” EP in March, “Transsektoral” collates 11 new tracks from the pair. Ranging in tempo and texture, the album pushes a sleek but rough sound injected with contemporary and past techno with a dose of IDM/electronica dynamics.

A track like the chilling, buzzing ‘Crows’ seems to build in reverse and, as with the rest of the album, feels like a polished jam, taking unexpected twists and turns that sound like a result of spur-of-the-moment decisions. Silvery spurts of ambient music can be found in the twinkling, bubbling tracks ‘Sektor’ and ‘Tranq’. Disciples of Ostgut Ton’s techno arsenal will be at home in the awesomely punishing shunt of ‘Buttcracker’ and ‘Silo.’ “Transsektoral isn’t without flaws: ‘No Body’’s uninspired ghostly garage feels three years old and the finale ‘Spur’ tips the scales of sentimental into a cloying syrup. Yet the dark and skippy ‘Schlang Bang’, ‘Trafo’’s hyperkinetic race and the aforementioned standouts create the kind of well-paced experience that lends itself to a DJ set. Their debut may not be flawless but it does come close. With its infectious sense of fun and masterfully undercooked programming “Transsektoral” finds the sweet spot between old-school dance music energy and the modern techno aesthetic.

Steffi – “Shraper” EP (Ostgut Ton)

Steffi’s 12″ for Ostgut Ton reveals three tough, energetic tracks to add to her collection of evolving productions. After the many intimate house and techno moments on her debut album “Yours & Mine”, Steffi provides further flashes of her fine techno sound for “Shraper”. The eponymous first track (A-side) combines a simple yet effective driving beat and scraping, scratching percussion with a whomping bass line and a thin, yawning synth line to hypnotic effect, cranking the energy levels right up. The string version of the second (B-side) track ‘Tank’ is a ride around Panorama Bar with a mellow mood created by a deeper bass, bouncing metallic hats and a bell pattern added underneath a silkier version of the synth melody from the opening track. The Beat version of ‘Tank’ builds and builds with fewer elements namely a demanding bass drum, fast16th hats and percussion, a neat DJ tool to bring any dance floor together.

Release of the month

John Tejada – “The Predicting Machine” (Kompakt)

On his eighth solo album, John Tejada shows his enduring acclaim is entirely deserved thanks to his singular variety of smart melodic house and techno. ‘The Predicting Machine’ cycles through ten tracks that effortlessly and elegantly weave lean electronics and pounding, yet sparse, beats and emotive melodies. On last year’s “Parabolas”, he restricted himself to a narrow palette of sounds, perhaps as a way to highlight his expertise with detail, but on “The Predicting Machine”, his second consecutive release for Kompakt, Tejada runs wild, excitedly and purposefully pulling sounds from an assorted catalogue of eras and styles and it is this wide-eyed enthusiasm that makes him and Kompakt such a perfect match. “The Predicting Machine” covers a lot of ground yet perfectly summarises Tejada’s deeply focused approach to music making.  Opener ‘Orbiter’ sculpts bleeping hooks and thick fogs out of its aquatic groove.  The knowingly titled ‘A Familiar Mood’ returns the listener to the percolating tech house that made Tejada’s name. ‘An Ounce of Perception’ introduces a limber, Kompakt schaffel-inspired rhythm then descends into a 7 minute long gleaming melody, which leads the listener into spiraling arpeggios on ‘Winter Skies’.

A moment of sheer magic occurs when the opening bars of the anthemic tech-house track ‘The Function And The Form’ begin. Its fizzing melody and growling bassline lifts “The Predicting Machine” up a level. The vintage beat and the incredible, rich modular synth textures surrounding it play out joyously. The sparkling arpeggios that kick in at around the 2:30 minute mark are a masterful touch. Following the track is the ‘90s jacking cut ‘Stabilizer’. ‘Horizon to Horizon’ possesses a wet, elastic rhythm underneath a near classical arrangement. The soothing closer ‘When All Around Is Madness’ chimes with effervescent clouds of synths. When it comes to effortlessly and beautifully conveying emotion in music no one gets close to John Tejada’s finely tuned melodies or his instinctive musicality. Every one of his tracks is an inviting and wondrous soundscape filled with luxurious and elegant detail. “The Predicting Machine” will see a high ranking position in the end of the year charts on Sonic Fiction.

Liam’s Reviews

Disappointment of the Month

Nick Edwards – “Plekzationz” (Editions Mego)

“Plekzationz” is Nick Edwards aka Ekoplekz’s first release on Edition Mego the legendary Austrian experimental electronic music label and his first since 1994 under his own name. The album is made up of 4 long form tracks all around 15 or 16 minutes in length, this is in stark contrast to Edwards other work as Ekoplekz which generally short to average songs lengths and this has always seemed suitable for the noisy and intense natural of the music. In fact, oddly enough the first two tracks ‘Chance Meets Causality Uptown’ and ‘No Escape From ‘79’ feel like three Ekoplekz tracks that have been loosely joined together, the join between the tracks show through and I think these tracks should have been 6 separate 5 minute tracks rather than two 15 minute tracks. The album takes a turn for the worst on track three ‘Inside the Analogue Continuum’ which struggles to separate itself from the other tracks on the album and indeed much of Ekoplekz back catalogue and doesn’t really get going almost seven minutes in when a bass drum and rhythmic noises give it a sluggish forward momentum. The surprisingly use of a drum ‘n’ bass break at the end gives the track a belated shot of energy but it’s too little too late for the worst track of Edwards impressive career to date. The album final track ‘A Pendent’s Progress’ however turns the tide with its slimy acid fried delayed synth slivers, dub siren and metallic percussion that reverberates out with a long tail. The track is classic Ekoplekz just stretched out over 15 minutes, in the second half more instrumentation is added and the gets busier and denser with a great feel that seals the deal. Unfortunately “Plekzationz” is a flawed release and fails to match the brilliance of Ekoplekz back catalogue. Though ‘A Pendent’s Progress’ is well worth downloading via Boomkat.

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

“The Inner Treaty” picks up where last year “Ancient Romans” left off for Sun Araw. Like “Ancient Romans” this is patchy album on which Sun Araw tries to expand his basic palette with very mixed results. The first half of album is the most frustrating as tumbling electronic drum patterns and busy percussion fight for attention amongst the wah-wah guitar and synths which veer from stabby to psychedelic. ‘Like Wine’s disparate elements briefly coalesces into a hypnotic engaging loop but then everything falls apart again and the song ends. The second half of the album isn’t much of an improvement, though with ‘Treaty’ Sun Araw keeps things simple in the drums and percussion department with the other instruments given space to breathe and development organically. The organic, psychedelic synth that comes in around 2 minutes is an inspired touch and off sets the other instruments perfectly. However, after this great example of what he does best Sun Araw undoes his good work with ‘The Summum’ the fastest and densest track of his career to date and that left me completely cold. The album closes with ‘And I’ another disappointment that features 80’s electro synth bass, dubbed out guitar and drums backing Sun Araw’s vocals. I’ve been a big fan of Sun Araw for two and a half years now but feel he’s really failed to deliver an album that comes close to any of his first four albums, yes there are good tracks on both “Ancient Romans” and ‘Treaty’ from this album. But I feel this is an artist who has run out of effective ways to develop his once distinctive sound.

The XX – “Coexist” (Young Turks)

“Coexist” is the long awaited second album from the XX the quietly unique band that first emerged back in 2010. Much has been made of the ever sparser sound employed on “Coexist” and though there’s no doubt that there are a certainly a few tracks that bare this out, I think there are other interesting developments. Firstly there a few tracks (‘Angels’, ‘Chained and ‘Sunset’) that feel rushed where the music might have felt urgent in the past. This gives the feel that the band is either bored of their previous slow style or uncertain of how good their songs are. I feel it maybe the latter as even after a few plays the songs don’t stick in my head as much as those on the XX’s self titled debut album and though Jamie XX tries out some new effects and production techniques at times they feel distracting rather than complimentary to the music or vocalists. ‘Reunion’ and ‘Swept Away’ seem like missteps into ambient house influenced dancefloor tracks that are an ill fit for the vocals and lyrical content of the songs. The album is by no means a complete failure and my own misgivings could well be endearing traits for others. I think hardcore fans of the XX will find much to love but others may find that the hype doesn’t match up to the reality for “Coexist”.

Animal Collective – “Centipide Hz” (Domino)

The new album from Animal Collective is a significant departure from their previous album “Merriweather Post Pavillion” (Sonic Fiction’s Album of the Year 2009) whereas that album was sampled based and entirely electronic with slow to mid paced songs, “Centipide Hz” enschews this to become Animal Collective most ‘rock’ record to date. With Panda Bear back on the drum stool that album kicks off with ‘Moon Jock’ a stomping, crashing, intense combination of drums, guitar, off kilter vocals and Geologist’s out of this world effects. The album continues with the lighter but no less disorienting “Today’s Supernatural” the album’s obvious single the angular sound of which owes something to the band’s 2007 album “Strawberry Jam”. For the next track ‘Rosie Oh’ the pace drop for the first time and the track recalls a warped version of the Beach Boys, if they lived under the sea instead of surfing on it. This same sonic blueprint is employed again on ‘Pulleys’. The upbeat rhythms, crashing drums and guitars are back on ‘Applesauce’ joined by warped synths for a potential future single due to its catchy chorus. The bucolic and organic sounding ‘Wide Eyed’ recalls XTC in their prime and is Deakin’s first songwriting credit for the band, featuring the man himself on lead vocals and promising much for future contributions. “Father Time” floats in out if synth fog and static sounding Hawaii in a psychedelic heat haze. Panda Bear’s big moments comes with “New Town Burnout” with its pattering electronic drums, hornets nests of spiky guitar drone and a stop-start lead vocal from the man himself, the song is one of strongest melodical and harmonic on the album and bares the most relation to those on “Merriweather Post Pavillion”. After the nutty synth sounds of ‘Monkey Riches’ and epic video game soundtrack music of ‘Mercury Man’ the band settles into the home striaght the aforementioned under water pop of ‘Pulleys’ and the stomping, splashing start-stop rhythms and padding percussion of finale ‘Amanita’. Overall “Centipide Hz” is a hard album to define with the band covering a lot of ground over its 50 minute plus length, oddly it also feels longer and more meandering then the much slower “Merriweather Post Pavillion”. In fact, though there are some great indivdual moments on “Centipide Hz” its doesn’t feel like it convinces as an album. Animal Collective have always managed to complete coherent and conceptually strong albums in the past but here only tenourous links are made using radio static and fictional indents, which fail to tie the whole album together. All-in-all Animal Collective reach some real highs worthy of their reputation but can’t replete it over the whole of ‘Centipide Hz’.

Clark – “Fantasm Planes” (Warp)

The “Fantasm Planes” E.P. picks up where Clark new album “Iradelphic” left off; in fact three of its tracks are reworkings of tracks on “Iradelphic”. The E.P. kicks off with the first of three new tracks ‘Fantasm Planes’ which matches a flute melody with dancehall beat and thick analogue synths lines. Next up is the first of the three reworks ‘Henderson Swooping’ with its picked acoustic guitar and moon boot sized dancehall drums. ‘Com Re-Touch/Pocket for Jack’ takes the original ‘Com Touch’ synth melodies but brings down the tempo and back them with heavy drums before a new guitar line and synth and drum backing drop in for the second half of the track. The third and final reworking is ‘Secret Slow Show’ featuring the vocals of Martina Topley-Bird backed by acoustic guitar, tumbling drums before the track is complete turned on its head for the final quarter of the track with distorted acidic electronic drums kicking in. The remaining two tracks on the E.P. are brief instrumentals ‘Brigitte’ with its slow moving metallic synths and misty psychedelic vocals and ‘Dove in Flames’ an organic and minimalistic synth instrumental. Overall Clark’s delivered another superb release and worthy companion piece to the excellent “Iradelphic”.

Gaslamp Killer – “Breakthrough” (Brainfeeder/Ninja Tune)

The debut album of DJ and Brainfeeder signee The Gaslamp Killer is an instrumental hip-hop triumph that instantly recalls classic DJ Shadow and Dan the Automator and contemporaries like horror-core hip-hop duo Gangrene (aka the Alchemist and Oh No). The album mixes The Gaslamp Killer’s love of Turkish melodies, psychedelic rock and dread filled synth atmospherics backed by acoustic hip-hop beats and breaks. It’s a heady brew but the Gaslamp Killer utilises his DJ skills to perfectly balance.  In less skilled or knowledgeable hands this could have turned into an unappealingly sonic stew. He also expertly manages the contributions of the many collaborators that include Gonjasufi, Computer Jay, Mophono, Adrian Younge, MRR, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Daedelus and fellow Brainfeeder signing Samiyam. An exciting thread of tension runs throughout “Breakthrough” with little let up in the nerve shredding strings and dread-filled organ and synths. It’s difficult to pick out individual highlights as the quality doesn’t drop across the whole album and it feels like it was made as a piece, almost like a DJ set with each track of equal importance. “Breakthrough” is another stellar release from the Brainfeeder/Ninja Tune axis and the Gaslamp Killer deserves to be as highly praised as a producer as he is as a DJ.

Deefhoof – “Breakup Song” (ATP)

On their 13th album Deerhoof have succeeded in converting themselves into a alternative rock party band. Though the band could never been accused of slacking in the rhythm department, they’ve gone all out here to create an album that keeps you moving while still providing melodies and hooks aplenty and emotional content to stop the album becoming a vapid collection of indie dance tracks. In fact, the band are so convincing as a party band that tracks like ‘The Trouble with Candyhands’, ‘Flower’ and ‘Theres That Grin’ could easily be mistaken for edgy Cuban/funk/hip-hop jams. There’s not a duff moment to be found on this every track is solid gold pop nugget, not a note or beat is wasted and your dripping with sweat by the end of this half hour work out!!!

Cat Power – “Sun” (Matador)

The new album from Cat Power instantly separates itself from here previous releases due to the strident and confident style in which it’s performed. Cat Power has never been an artist who you’d associate with the word confident, she has always hidden within her music, shying away from the spotlight. But on “Sun” she has no fear, she strong despite all the personal problems she’s been through since her last album “The Greatest” (2006). The album’s production (Cat Power produced it herself and the album was mixed by Phillippe Zdar of Cassius fame) and use of electronic drums and synthesizers also marks it out too. The album starts as it means to go on with the strident drums and chiming guitars ‘Cherokee’, this swiftly followed by the deceptively titled ‘Sun’ with it foggy synths and dark atmospheric guitar strums the perfect backing for Cat Power. Next up is the swaggering single ‘Ruin’ with its funky, driving chorus full of cutting guitar and lizard like bass and drums, it’s the track with most pronounced Zdar influence. Speaking of production both ‘3,6,9’ and ‘Always on my Own’ are the most impressive display of Cat Power’s production abilities with great layering and interplay between her own multi tracked and panned vocals. The mid section of the album from ‘3,6,9’ to ‘Manhattan’ drop back to Cat Power’s more typical slower tempos but the atmospherics and beats add something not heard on previous Cat Power albums, she isn’t retreating to her comfort zone, she’s developing her trademark sound. The remaining provide a great ending trio with ‘Silent Machines’ kicking things off with a thumping electronic bass drum and gliding guitar riff, followed by the epic but never wasteful ‘Nothin’ But Time’ which features Iggy Pop intoning deep, dark backing vocals from 5 minutes in. The album lands its final blow with the bruising and dark ‘Peace and Love’. From start to finish “Sun” is an astounding return from artist whose every release is further evidence that she deserves exposure to a far greater audience.

Release of the Month

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

The latest album from the prolific Kid Koala takes a basic concept, expands on it and executes it to perfection. That concept is an album built around samples from old blues records put together using his trusty turntables and newly acquired Emu SP 1200 sampler. When I heard about this concept my initial thoughts were that this might be an overly dour album but Kid Koala proves me wrong with an album packed with hip-hop bangers that blow the cobwebs away!! Chirping synth and a vocal sample that says “the kids in rare form tonight” kick off the album before stride piano and boom-bap hip-hip beats enter to start off ‘1 bit blues’ properly, these elements turn out one of running themes throughout the album. But Kid Koala keeps the interest going with blistering guitar riff, analogue synth swiggles, sci-fi effects and a huge array of expertly deployed vocal samples. The highlights on the album range from the aforementioned opener, ‘4 bit blues’ where a down tempo hip-hop beat backs pitched down slurring vocal samples, heavy bass, brass and stride piano, ‘7 bit blues’ with its head nodding beat raucous guitar licks and subtle scratching and ‘8 bit blues (Chicago to NY to LA)’ with its expertly scratched vocal samples, neck breaking hip-hop beats and huge horns stabs. Kid Koala’s major achievement with “12 Bit Blues” is marrying modern sound elements such as the synths and the SP 1200 sampler beats with samples that date from close to a hundred years ago. As usual Kid Koala uses his turntables subtle to make the samples his own and add a modern rhythmic edge to his tracks. “12 Bit Blues” is a superb album that matches his career high “Carpel Tunnel Syndrome” and “Some of my Best Friends are DJs” track for track!!!

Wow, this year has been an exceptional musically and its been so difficult to narrow down these Top Ten Releases of the Year..so far and Honourable Mentions. Aside from the releases in this feature I’ve been enjoying releases by Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahms, Blockhead, Quakers, Andrew Bird, Errors, Black Bananas, Air, Islet, and Laurel Halo.

Honourable Mentions

Ital – “Hive Mind” (Planet Mu)

Ital’s debut album makes for an interesting listening experience, though this is dance music, it’s unlike to set many dance floors alight. However, this doesn’t make it the album a failure; in fact its inverting of house and techno music structures is a thrilling and disorienting experience. Though by no means a direct comparison its seems that Ital is attempting something similar to Axel Willner aka The Field though Willner inverts the structures of techno, Ital disrupts and stretches them to their limits. Another indirect reference point is that of Cabaret Voltaire’s 80’s era music (and founder Richard H. Kirk’s work as part of Sweet Exorcist, recently anthologised by Warp Records) this seems to a constant in the drum and the influence crops up most obvious on ‘First Wave’ with added disorienting rhythms and synths. The most obvious direct influence outside of dance music is the kosmiche musick of Cluster, Harmonia and to a less extent Tangerine Dream, in fact ‘Floridian Void’ (the highlight of the album) sounds a little like a dark techno take on fellow American kosmiche musick enthusiast Emeralds. I feel sure that the debate about ‘Hive Mind’ will continue throughout the year as it could well turn to be one of those albums the confounds and confuses as much as it thrills and provokes thoughtful analysis.

Clark – “Iradelphic” (Warp)

“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.

Forward Strategy Group – “Labour Division” (Perc Trax)

“Labour Division” is the debut album by U.K. techno duo Forward Strategy Group following a series of EP’s that have garnered much attention on the techno underground. The album begins with a tension building intro track ‘Indent’ before this really get going on the electro tinged ‘Mandate’ with its arpeggiated, tough bass synth underpinning delay heavy synth FX’s and minimal drums and hi-hats, a real techno juggernaut. From then on scene is set and the duo switch from the disjointed industrial rhythms of ‘Mandate’ and ‘Elegant Mistakes’ (which fits perfectly into Perc Trax current developments) and out and out techno thumpers all filled with tense and taut atmosphere, found sound and influences of 80’s electronic music and experimental post-punk sounds. Tension only lets up on ‘Nihil Novi’ a lighter and more spacious track that features noises that cut through the drums sound and like a steam train. Though “Labour Division” serves first and foremost as functional techno album with plenty of tracks that will be spun in DJ sets, there is also enough experimental sound design and percussion sounds and patterns that it sometimes recalls peers Factory Floor and Carter Tutti Void live electronic mutations. “Labour Division” is an album through and through, properly paced and conceptually put together not like a majority of techno albums that are either an extension of a DJ set or DJ tools. Like their label boss Perc and his own album “Wicker and Steel” Forward Strategy Group are leading the way in innovative techno music.

El-P – “Cancer for the Cure” (Fat Possum)

In some ways this is business as usual for El-P, all the usual signifiers are in place, his lurching, crushing beats, massive dirty synth bass-lines, stuttering vocal samples, stabbing instrument samples. However, one that’s no bad thing and two I believe this is an artist who subtly evolves his sound with each new release. The first difference that jumps out at me is that whereas in the past there were only hints of film music influences on El-P’s production’s “Cancer For The Cure” makes this explicit with a majority of the tracks shot through with a dystopian atmosphere akin to John Carpenter’s soundtracks to “Escape From New York” & “Assault on Precinct 13”. Further to this the album repositions El-P as “a real hip-hop focused musician rather than a beatmaker”; the musicality is turned up to ten and so this already heavy music makes an even greater impact. The album also features a couple of El-P’s most minimal and spacious tracks to date in ‘Stay Down’, ‘Sign Here’ and ‘The Jig Is Up’, in addition to this melodic vocals feature on ‘For My Upstairs Neighbor’, ‘Oh Hail No’  and ‘Works Every Time’. The album feels more thematically together than “I’ll Sleep When Your Dead” (which was great album) and this makes the album feel like it’ll maintain it impact over a longer time. “Cancer For The Cure” runs Killer Mike’s (El-P produced) “R.A.P. Music” and Thee Satisfaction’s “awenaturalE” close for best hip-hop album of year..so far!!!

Symmetry – “Themes for an Imaginary Film” (Republic of Music)

On ‘Themes for an Imaginary Film” Symmetry aka Johnny Jewel and cohort Nat Walker (of Chromatics and Desire) cover a huge range of emotional and musical ground utilising banks of synths, drum machines, guitar, piano, orchestral percussion, Bassoon, Cello and Viola. Despite the vast array of moods and instruments on show the duo create a cohesive and impressive album that wastes non of its 2 hour running time. Though some of material and sounds used recall Johnny Jewel’s many other projects there much evidence of his application of more compositional techniques found film scores and he weaves this into this ambitious album with aplomb. From the song titles to some the sounds selected the album screams film score however this no mere pastiche, more a humble doffing of the cap to the many great score composers that have gone before. In addition to this is the fantastic sound design which ranges from lush, warm and beautiful through to cold, spiky and dissonant, Symmetry and their equipment can feel you with dread, put a smile on your face and everything in between. “Themes for an Imaginary Film” is an amazing achievement that could have so easily failed to live in to its ambition but instead goes above and beyond simply being a tribute to soundtrack music as it captivates and thrills the listener in equal measure. Two hours of instrumental music (with the exception of the last track) won’t be for everyone but it’ll be worth it for those who stick with this incredible album.

Top Ten Releases of the Year… so far 2012

10.       Mirrroring – “Foreign Body”  (Kranky)

Mirrroring is a collaboration that was bound to happen sooner or later between Liz Harris aka Grouper and Jesy Fortino aka Tiny Vipers whose individual styles are so obviously complimentary it was only a matter of time before they worked together. “Foreign Body” is the breathtakingly beautiful result of said collaboration and brings together the transparent drones of Harris’s songs with the picked acoustic guitars and soft vocals of Fortino. Their sound is both gentle and yet thoroughly engaging, it may be lighter than much drone music but it isn’t light-weight. The dynamics employed across the whole album are one of the most striking things about it and demonstrate these are skilled artists able to exercise control while never strangling the life and emotion from a musical idea. The two best examples of this are ‘Cliffs’ which builds to a peak at the halfway stage before repeating an even better version of the song for its second half and ‘Mine’ which starts with a simple drone and acoustic guitar combination builds to a peak and then gradually twists itself into ever more complex shapes. It’s difficult to find the words to describe this astonishing album; it has to be heard to be believed.

9.         Thee Satisfaction – “awe naturalE” (Sub Pop)

In “awE naturalE” Thee Satisfaction have delivered an energetic album filled tracks that both provide amply bounce need for a hip-hop jam but also manages to subtly subvert both traditional methods of creating sounds and challenge the overly simplistic ‘soulful’ vocals used so liberally in hip-hop music. It refreshing to hear an act pushing the limits of hip-hop while still managing to make music that moves your body. The fact that these tracks are stuffed to the gills with soulful vocals, jazzy tunes and an expressive emotional palette makes an engaging and entertaining listen. The half an hour run time demands that the album be played again immediately and is the album is equal satisfying and reveals more of its charms with each repeat listen. Never out staying their welcome and yet able to go distance on the longer tracks Thee Satisfaction will be a welcome addition to your music collection.

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8.         Peter Broderick – “http://www.itstartshere.com” (Bella Union)

This album picks up where Broderick left off with his last solo release “Music for Confluence” and features the same basic instrumentation acoustic/electric guitar, piano and violin. However, there are subtle and not so subtle ways this album manages to differentiate its self from “Music for Confluence”, firstly this isn’t a film soundtrack and thus allows Broderick more freedom of expression. The most obvious ways this freedom is expressed is the album brighter and sometimes more upbeat sound and the fact that Broderick’s lead vocals (which sometimes sound a little like Arthur Russell) dominate whereas only backing vocals were present on “Music for Confluence”. In fact the album features a lot more melodic materials full stop and married with Broderick’s expert use of harmony, reverb and others effects to create atmosphere it makes for much more dynamic material. Throughout the album Broderick successfully tightrope walks between accessibility and pushing the listener beyond their expectations. He achieves this not only with his melodic work and use of effects but also unpredictable song structures on ‘With The Notes on Fire’ (like two songs in one), ‘Colin’ (which initially sounds like the rest of the album before the introduction of percussion pushes the song in a new direction) and ‘Asleep’ and its use of crowd source readings of the lyrics from around the world that disorient and delight in equal measure. “Music for Confluence” is a great album and “http://www.itstartshere.com” is its equal and perfect companion piece.

7.         Blondes – “Blondes” (RVNG INTL)

Blondes self titled debut album sees the duo marrying together modern dance music influenced by the likes of The Field, Gui Boratto and other Kompakt techno alumni and modern Ambient and hynagogic pop acts such as Laurel Halo, Teengirl Fantasy and Rene Hell amongst others. Blondes manage to fuse these two opposites together in way that plays to the strengths of both, you never feel the dance elements are getting bogged down by the atmospherics or that the atmospherics are dominated by the dance elements. The duo encompass a range of emotions across the album from the brighter tracks like ‘Gold’ and ‘Amber’ to the dark and subdued ‘Pleasure via drowned Kraftwerkian synth work on ‘Business’ and foggy tension of ‘Water’. One of the album’s strength is that despite the amount of recycling there is (every second track is a re-versioning of the previous track) the variety on show is impressive as is the duo’s ability to keep the listener engaged and excited by these same/similar elements. Repeat listens reveal more and more detail and that music is underpinned by a subtle influence from the classical minimalism of Steve Reich and Meredith Monk (who the duo sample on ‘Lover’). All in all a great debut album that promises plenty for the future.

6.         Ekoplekz – “Westerleigh Works EP” (Perc Trax)

This EP has been talked about/marketed as Ekoplekz’s first venture into dance floor territory and listening to it you can hear why. However, Ekplekz still keeps his trademark sounds front and centre but the EP uses space more effectively and percussive sounds and deep bass provide the forward motion need. Of the three originals ‘Ekoplatz’ sounds most like his previous material while being underpinned by techno bass and percussion, the other two ‘Narco Samba’ and ‘Xylem Teardrops’ fill more stripped and danceable, while Richard H. Kirk (Cabaret Voltaire) remix of ‘Ekoplatz’ follows a similar template but adds electronic woodblocks, more structural dynamics and some of Kirk’s own idiosyncratic dub sounds. A highly recommended release for those into the darker side of dance music.

5.         Drokk – “Music Inspired by Mega City One” (Invada Records)

This album uses just one synth as its primary mode of composition but Geoff Barrow (Portishead) and BBC composer Ben Salisbury manage to make limitation the mother of invention creating everything from intense drone heavy soundscapes to arpeggio led tracks via more delicate and reflective moments. In many ways the album bears comparison with this year’s other imaginary soundtrack album “Themes for an Imaginary Film” by Symmetry and though it’s not as ambitious as Symmetry’s album its equally as satisfying a listen. Drawing on many classic synth soundtrack staples such as John Carpenter, Vangelis, Walter/Wendy Carlos and with hints of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and other T.V. music from the 70’s and 80’s. However, repeat plays reveal this isn’t an album that merely imitates and pays homage but reaches the same heights as those great synth soundtrack composers, the album throbs with the tension of a Carpenter score, while Vangelis arpeggios abound and experimental sounds that the Radiophonic Workshop and Walter/Wendy Carlos are thrown in at the appropriate moment and to keep the listener guessing. If Symmetry’s album is the Hollywood blockbuster then “Drokk…” is a homemade marvel and all the better for it.

4.         Killer Mike – “R.A.P. Music” (William’s Street)

Killer Mike and El-P’s collaborative is called “R.A.P. Music” with good reason, it does everything that a modern hip-hop album should. The album has a consistency rarely present on guest and producer heavy albums while it manages to cover a lot of sonic and emotional territory without anything feeling off or put on. The music veers from huge sounding synthetic bangers (‘‘Big Beast’, ‘Southern Fried’ and ‘R.A.P. Music’) to emotive epics (‘Ghetto Gospel’, ‘Reagan’ and ‘Anywhere But Here’) via Southern rap flavoured tracks (‘Willie Burke Sherwood’, ‘Untitled’ and ‘Jo Jo’s Chillin’) and Killer Mike’s flow is just as diverse ranging from the enunciated words of ‘Reagan’ to the super speedy ‘Southern Fried’ and every point in between. What “R.A.P. Music” shows is that when hip-hop is stripped down to its core and rebuilt from button up, in addition to this despite his confident persona it’s clear that Killer Mike isn’t an egotist. He tells stories about other people in his life and discuss wider political issues, the lyrical themes that have been central to hip-hop since 1982 but feel so rare in 2012. “R.A.P. Music” is the first landmark hip-hop release of 2012 and I’m optimistic this can be a very good year for the genre as a whole.

3.         Orcas – “Orcas” (Morr Music)

The debut album from this Seattle duo (Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) and Benoit Pioulard’s (aka Thomas Meluch) leaves me lost for words, one of those albums that difficult to describe without selling it short. However, I will endeavour to paint a picture of this heartbreakingly beautiful music. The dominate sounds are plaintive piano, twanging to ethereal guitars and vocals and various crackles, hums and heavily processed electronic sounds. These simple elements are manipulated to create different textures, atmospheres and emotions across nine tracks. Though the duo have created a sound of their own there are some influences/inspirations suggested by the music including Peter Broderick & Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie’s soundtrack work, the noise abstract pop of Broadcast (who are covered on the album) and indirectly reminds me of the latest Oneohtrix Point Never album “Replica”. All this is held together by the song writing touches that are subtly weaved throughout the album helping this album raise above more generic ambient and experimental music releases.

2.         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’m not 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.

1.         Julia Holter – “Ekstasis” (RVNG ITNL)

The first thing that marks “Ekstasis” out from both last year’s excellent “Tragedy” and her peers music is the brightness of its sound, gone is the shadowy and foggy atmosphere’s replaced by a sharp and incisive production job to revival today’s most intelligent pop stars. While it’s true that Holter’s not going to be the next million selling pop star this album’s production positions this music as “pop” and the abundance of hooks and melodies only reinforces this point. Then there’s the effortless feel of a lot of the music, despite many of the tracks being over 6 minutes in length. There’s no feeling of over indulgence even when a saxophone rears its head on ‘Four Gardens’ and ‘This Is Ekstasis’ everything here earns its place and makes sense within the context of the songs. It would be tempting to compare Holter to her many contemporaries within the hypnogogic pop genre especially her friend and collaborator Nite Jewel. Though her use of delay and reverb create similar feelings/images the musical and lyrical content aims instead to transport the listener further back than the 1980s and into the ancient world which Holter is so interested in. With “Ekstasis” Holter has created her own sound world that seems to subtly reference pre-existing sounds/genres and rhythms without ever sounding directly like anything you’ve previously heard. An artist who can switch with ease between different sounds and sections without breaking a sweat or alienating the listener, Holter is an artist with a bright and long future ahead of her.

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.

Psychedelia: The Return

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psychedelia: The Return

Psychedelia: The Return

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