Tag Archive: electro


This is Part One in a series of posts rounding up my favourite releases of the last three months and writing about them. Part Two will be published next Saturday.

Yak – “Pursuit of Momentary Happiness”

An early contender for Album of the Year comes from this English psychedelic rock band. Yak don’t just recycle the psychedelic (colour projector) wheel this is an album of well produced punchy and catchy songs that don’t out stay there welcome while still having the depth of albums with much longer cuts. Even when they do go long such as on album closer ‘This House Has No Living Room’ (which features J.Spaceman aka Jason Pierce of Spiritualized and Spacemen 3 fame) the song is so good (not to mention a perfect album closer) that you don’t notice the track length. A highly recommended album from a band very much on the up.

 

Cotonete – “Super-vilains”

I first discovered Cotonete when they popped up on a Spotify Release Radar playlist towards the end of last year. I instantly liked this French Funk band, in fact, Spotify is pretty good at finding me groovy music from the other side of the English Channel. I suspect this goes back to all the mid 70s Serge Gainsbourg albums I’ve listened in the last four years!!! Cotonete are influenced by The JB’s (James Brown’s famous late 60’s backing band), Headhunters era Herbie Hancock and Brazilian acts such as Deodato and Banda Black Rio. It’s a potent and funky cocktail with deep basslines, punchy horns, cutting rhythm guitar and a truckload of percussion atop top notch drummer David Georgelet. This is music that is at home on the dancefloor as it would soundtrack the car chase in The French Connection or when the tempo drops it’s perfect music to chill out to. I can’t recommend this album enough and I think it will be one of those under the radar gems that gets overlooked. Don’t sleep on it!!!

 

Malibu Ken – “Malibu Ken”

Ok, so when this album was first announced late last year my initial reaction was 1) What? This is seems like a strange collaboration (Malibu Ken is a collaboration between Underground Hip-Hop MC/Producer Aesop Rock and Psychedelic Electro Hip-Hop Producer and founder of Black Moth Super Rainbow Tobacco). 2) If it works it’s could be awesome. Then I heard the first single ‘Acid King’ and watched it’s accompanying video I was excited about the potential for the album. A couple of months later the album dropped I wasn’t disappointed the album is a fantastic blend of Electro Hip-Hop and Funk tunes with Aesop Rock bring his own verbose lyrical content and amazing flow that have become his trademark since his enter to the music world with his debut album ‘Float’ in the year 2000. This album is in and out in thirty five minutes but you don’t any more music as it’s a wholly satisfying album. If this is the only Malibu Ken album that they’ll have a 100% knockout for us all to love for years to come. If Aesop and Tobacco continue to collaborate and create albums of this quality then we’ll be incredibly lucky. What are you waiting for check it out!!!

 

Cosey Fanni Tutti – “Tutti”

Cosey Fanni Tutti has been a member of not one but two great Electronic music acts first of all she was a member of Industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle (1975-2012) and then her a partner Chris Carter (also a member of Throbbing Gristle) formed Chris & Cosey (1981-) and pursued a soft Electro/Techno direction. On her second solo album she digs deep into dark Electro/Techno territory but with a couple of surprises. The first surprise is that while you can dance to some of the tracks on this album a majority are slower and feature thicker heavier sounds. This wasn’t what I was expecting after hearing the title track on Spotify. However, this is no negative as Tutti expertly creates these atmospheric and engaging tracks. The other surprise was the use of a Cornet as the lead instrument of the title track Tutti has played violin in the past at early Throbbing Gristle shows but as far as I’m aware the Cornet is a new instrument to her. I definitely think the Cornet adds something to the title track both adding a more human feel and more dissonance. If you like Electronic music you’ll get a lot of “Tutti” it covers Electro/Techno and Ambient music across it’s tightly packed 38 minutes and doesn’t waste a single moment. It’s the sound of veteran showing she still has plenty to offer even in an ever changing world.

Octo Octa – “For Lovers” EP

This EP opens with ‘I Need You’ the most blissful ten minutes of music that I’ve heard so far this year. It’s envelopes you in it’s vocals moans and multi layered synths pads, it’s warm and welcoming and will always put a smile on your face on matter what else is going on or has gone on. Second track ‘Bodies Meld Together’ goes back to the 90’s for a breakbeat techno beat making for a hard beat but no less harmonious and luxurious synth layers and it’s a contrast that really works. The EP is rounded out by ‘Loops For Healing’ which a lilting melody with deep House chords and bass drum throb. Overall this is an EP that works thematically but each track stands alone as it’s own piece quite an achievement. Highly recommended.

 

Kokoroko – ‘Kokoroko’ EP

This is London 8 piece Jazz/Funk/Afrobeat band Kokoroko’s debut release though the band has been playing gigs together for a number of years now. You really should watch their set for The Boiler Room, I’ll embed it at the bottom of this post. The EP kicks off with ‘Adwa’ it’s funky Afrobeat shuffle and with bands every powerful horns taking the lead on this track. There is a break down for a guitar solo and then builds back into a sax solo before returning to the main horn refrain. The goes more down tempo and softer with their playing on the ‘Ti-de’ it’s a thoughtful track but never ponderous and the instruments have equal billing. There are even some nice female vocal harmonies towards the end of the track. ‘Uman’ is up next starting off a little slow but when the drums and bass kick in were back in Afrobeat territory again the horns the real leaders though this time they play sharp staccato lines. The EP ends with ‘Abusey Junction’ which originally appeared on the ‘We Out Here’ (2018) compilation that bought showcased the burgeoning and diverse current Jazz scene in London. The track is down tempo and focus more on the guitar, percussion, bass and electric piano compared with a lot of Kokoroko’s music to date, it’s an excellent track on a great EP. I ‘d really like to see Kokoroko live as I missed my chance last year and I can’t wait to hear what they deliver on their debut album, they are a band that has already shown they can be fantastic and yet still show so much promise.

 

Let me know what you think of these releases and about your favourites in the Comments below.

 

 

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Gary Numan isn’t music that normally gets reviewed on Sonic Fiction and I have to admit to having been more interested in the man’s personal struggles with Asperger’s Syndrome as a musician and human than a Numan fan, with the exceptation of his biggest hits. However, in recent years my interest has been piqued and now that Numan’s back and more high profile than he has been for years I checked “Splinter” and decided to give it a review.

The album was written during and after a period of years of depression that Numan experienced and as such the album is full of songs that talk about fear of getting older, struggling with having children, the depression and its affects including how his marriage almost broke up. So while the lyrical content is fascinating but on a similar thematic lines the music is very diverse ranging from the “creaky, gothic atmosphere of ‘Where I Can Never Be’ to the minimalism of ‘Lost’ via the dramatic, poisoned string arrangements of ‘The Calling’, monster disco floor-filler ‘Love Hurt Bleed’, the ultra catchy ‘Who Are You’ and slow build anthems ‘Everything Comes Down to This’. Numan even digs back into his with the brooding and relentless title track recalling the sound of his debut album “Replicas” (1979).” 

The album opens with ‘I Am Dust’ which begins with clanging percussion a feedbacking synth and guitars thatfeel both digital and dusty. Numan’s lead vocals and a screaming digital lead synth enter for the first verse, a hi-hat pattern drops part way through and gives the rhythm forward momentum. Then there’s a breakdown/bridge before the epic, tortured sounding chorus. When the verse kicks back in there’s a full rhythm track and ripping synth riff in place and the track powers forward!! The rhythm also gives the bridge and chorus an extra lift and more synth layers, there’s some a little more joyous in the chorus now. Next up is ‘Here in the Black’, scraping sounds and synths rise out of the dark, they give way to the dramatic strings, pizzicato synths melody and heavy guitar riff and thick bass. Everything drops away then Numan enters again singing in a whisper over thumping industrial beats, synths and deep bass. The second section returns with the strings amping the drama further and a vocal synth part cutting for a delay covered solo. Numan enters for a nasally lead vocal part, then everything drops away again. The verse section and whispering vocals enter again, halfway through a great drum break enters before the song is lifted up again for the instrumental chorus and then the nasally vocals.

‘A Shadow Falls On Me’ opens with deep echoing bass drum and cracking industrial snare/clap, swiftly joined by a feminine sounding vocal from Numan and treated detuned sounding lead synth. Hi-hats drop in around one minute in to fill out the beat and drive the track forward. Cruching guitar kick in for the last minute as a delicate melody falls over the top of tough backing track. ‘We’re the Unforgiven’ combines fizzing distorted electronic snare, subtle stuttering electro drums and cascading lead guitar during its intro. The intensity builds with the entrance of two rhythmic synths lines. Then everything falls away to make way Numan’s vocal on the first verse. Again synths build the intensity before things drift away and a synth and guitar briefly solo. The guitars and dirty synths take over the with a huge filth riff for the last two minutes of the song. The album closes with the emotive ‘My Last Day’, its opens with distant filtered percussion and synth textures that crawl along underneath reverb heavy piano and Numan’s lead vocals. Around two minutes the synth comes into view properly for a moment then everything is filtered away and the piano and vocals take over again. Three and a half minutes in the synth lead rises again and the percussion is unfiltered and tumbles beneath the piano and synth lead. There’s a yearning to the synth and piano melodies offset by the tribal percussion.

With “Splinter” Numan has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. A man once paralysed by depression emerges to deliver a great throughly modern album that doesn’t attempt to cash in Numan’s 80’s legacy or newly heralded position as a influential figure for everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Basement Jaxx. This is Numan’s (and collaborator Ade Fenton) truimph, so lets hope it isn’t anyone seven years before we get another one.

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I’ve been a fan of Factory Floor since discovering them back in 2009 when The Quietus began championing their cause. Since then the trio have collaborated with the likes of Simon Fisher Turner, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, released a series of astonishing 12” singles and remixes and stunned many a gig and festival audience. All this has lead to one of most highly anticipated albums of the year and it doesn’t disappoint.

The album opens with ‘Turn It Up’ which sets the scene for the rest of the album perfectly. It opens with electronic percussion that’s swiftly followed by a bass drum, processed male vocals and intense electronic cowbell. Nik Colk’s vocals join the male vocals and the track starts to feel like a minimal Arthur Russell production but more industrial in feel. Chattering techno hi-hats cut in upping the tension. The vocals get increasingly more processed and alien as the track progresses recalling those of Laurel Halo circa ‘Logic Hour’. Next up is ‘Here Again’ which begins with a synth arpeggio that fades in and out of view. Live drums kick playing in a breakbeat style and female vocals echo out. The track reminds me of Chris & Cosey who Factory Floor have collaborated with. There a great clap that comes in around two minutess in. Another arpeggio comes in to play counterpoint to the original in the third minute. the second half of the track is dominated by lots of descending delay effects, rolling toms and chattering hi-hats Colk’s vocals hovering just above.

The single ‘Fall Back’ combines a thumping acoustic bass drum, throbbing synth arpeggio and slap in the face electronic snare and toms during its intro. Colk’s vocals cut in coated in  thick effects (pitched shifted, with maybe some reverb). The chattering hi-hats kick in around 2 minutes in and give the track extra forward momentum and a faster feel. I love the way the intensity builds and when the acid bass that kicks in part through with its great spluttering, squelchy sound. ‘Two Different Ways’ is an great track that shows off the band ability to make you dance as it does their industrial intensity. It starts off with electronic bass drum and snare, backing huge synth arpeggio, toms roll in and out and hi-hats tease, the female vocal drops in coated in reverb. Wood blocks kick in with a funky rhythm around three minutes in. Wet, gloopy delay effects drip over the mix around the four minute mark, then the track finds yet more momentum with the synth bass arpeggio growing stronger and stronger as the track progresses.

The album finishes with the one-two punch of ‘Work Out’ and ‘Breathe In’. The former picks up where ‘Two Different Ways’ left off as electronic drums and percussion thump and patter while a stabby bass synth plays over the top. Tom-toms fall all over the place. Colk’s vocal echoes out creating a harmony. In second half there are more delay effects and an arpeggio that add variety and intensity, as does noise mixed in with the hi-hats and synths. A funky more resonate synth enters around 5 minutes adding extra movement and impetus to the track. The latter is the perfect end to the album and strongly recalls Cabaret Voltaire in their mid 80’s electro prime.  A thick bass synths starts things off before being swiftly joined by a tough acoustic four to the floor beat and intermit processed vocals. The vocals are used as samples rather than typical use of lead vocals.

All-in-all Factory Floor have created a great debut album that both lives up to the four years of hype that preceded it and is also surprisingly accessible compared to what I (and most critics) had expected. Go out and get yourself a copy of “Factory Floor” you won’t regret it.

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

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It was obvious at the time of release that with “Ekstasis” Julia Holter had created something special and the album was made Release of the Month for March and then topped my “Top Ten Albums of the Year… so far” in June. Little has changed since then and while there has been some serious competition nothing has matched Holter in the Alternative category.

The first thing that struck me about “Ekstasis” is the brightness of its sound, gone is the shadowy and foggy atmosphere’s of last year’s excellent “Tragedy” replaced by a sharp and incisive production job to revival today’s most intelligent pop stars. Ok, so Holter’s not going to be the next million selling pop star but this album’s production is almost the opposite of “Tragedy”’s. 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 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 subtle 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.

2.       Matthew Dear – “Beams” (Ghostly International)

Matthew Dear returns with his fifth album under his own name and “Beams” is another great work from an artist who has consistently delivered the good over the years. “Beams” differs from Dear’s previous solo albums as its not produced by him but Van Rivers and the Subliminal Kid, most famous for their work with Fever Ray and Blonde Redhead, of which Dear is a fan. The album combines the dark sounds of Dear’s last album “Black City” and the Talking Heads influenced techno-pop of his masterpiece “Asa Breed”. Due to his superior production and song writing skills Dear makes combining these two different but not unconnected sounds seem like child’s play and the result is an effortless feel throughout the album.  The album begins with the singles ‘Her Fantasy’ and ‘Earthforms’ the former a tropical sounding techno pop track of the highest quality the latter Dear self described “ deepest delve into a straight rock song”. The album swiftly moves on to another tropical sounding track in ‘Headcage’ the groove led title track of Dear’s EP from January this year. Two more upbeat groove based tracks in ‘Fighting is Futile’ and the Talking Heads influenced ‘Up and Out’ whizz by and give up the more electronically inclined second half of the album. This starts with the Surging synth bass line and techno beat ‘Overtime’ that are barely contained by speakers. ‘Get the Rhyme Right’ returns to similar territory to ‘Earthforms’ but with the emphasis on twisted synths and distorted guitars that smother the drums and bass in their electric filth! Things get more sparse and down tempo on ‘Ahead of Myself’ with Dear’s breathy vocals given minimal synth and drum machine backing. Then album enters the home coming straight with ‘Do The Right Thing’ a song that starts with just a bubbling and bouncing groove topped with lo-fi simple melody but steadily and sublty develops into a full and rounded track thanks to Dear’s masterful arranging. He finishes the album with the one-two punch of ‘Shake Me’ a dark torch song that recalls Depeche Mode of their most moody and magnificent and ‘Temptation’ a slow burner that repays the listeners patience tenfold! All in all “Beams” is a great album from an artist well into his career showing that he can still learn and keep the listen guessing  and satisfied even after all this time.

3.       Orcas – “Orcas” (Morr Music)

The debut album from this Seattle duo leaves me lost for words, one of those albums that are 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 songwriting touches that are subtly weaved throughout the album helping this album raise above more generic ambient and experimental music releases.

4.       Raime – “Quarter Turns on the Living Line” (Blackest Ever Black)

On their debut album “Quarter Turns on the Living Line” Raime have thrown down the gauntlet to all artists currently working on electronic and experimental music, “up your game before it’s too late.” Though it wasn’t the duo’s intention the album sounds like the soundtrack to an unreleased film, subtly referencing John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” score or repositioning Ennio Morricone’s work to an industrial post-apocalyptic world. The duo expand on the critically acclaimed 12”s by adding emotional depth and a more organic sound via the use of field recordings, foley samples and acoustic instrumentation such as guitar, violins and cellos. Whereas the 12”s focused strongly on the duo’s jungle and industrial influences they broaden their range here to include post-rock, the doom metal of Sunn O))) and Earth and of course those previously mentioned soundtracks. The duo also manage to maintain a balance between the dark, heavy sounds and lighter, brighter sounds; another progression from the earlier 12”s. Raime have produced one of the debut albums of year, one that leaves many more established acts in the shade. Long may these soundscapes shapers continue to reign supreme.

5.       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. Halo carves 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.

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

Back in January this EP was marketed as Ekoplekz’s first venture into dance floor territory and listening to it you can hear why. However, Ekoplekz still keeps his trademark sounds front and centre but he uses space more effectively and percussive sounds and deep bass provide the forward motion needed in techno music. 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’ are 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.

7.       Blondes – “Blondes” (RVNG INTL)

Blondes self titled debut album is one that hard to do justice to without its sounding like a repetitive bore-fest, which it is far from. The duo fit into both the modern dance music camp alongside the likes of The Field, Gui Boratto and other Kompakt techno alumni and alongside current 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. At the time of release I said the following of “Blondes” “Blondes have not only created a contender for Debut Album of the Year but an early contender for the Album of the Year itself”, as you can see the album has stood the test of time.

8.       Neneh Cherry and The Thing – “The Cherry Thing” (Smalltown Supersound)

When it was originally announced that Neneh Cherry and Swedish jazz trio The Thing would be releasing an album full of reinterpreted versions of songs in a range of genres from post-punk to hip-hop via jazz itself, the collaboration didn’t make sense to me. However, after a little internet research and hearing two tracks from the album my mind was changed and I got quite excited about the prospect of this album. It didn’t let me down either with The Thing more restrained than they usually are and Cherry on dazzling form on vocals. The album opens with a version of Cherry’s ‘Cashback’ (one of two originals on the album) featuring fantastic twangy double bass, a drum break and counterpoint sax playing off her melodious lead vocal. Things get striped back on a twinkling vibraphone heavy version of Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’ before a return to a more aggressive tone with the drum and double bass assault of ‘Too Tough To Die’ (Martina Topley Bird). ‘Sudden Movement’ is the other original this time written by Mats Gustafsson of The Thing, a dark and dusty yet up beat jazz number. The tempo slows again for Madvillain’s ‘Accordion’ with Cherry trying a half sung half rapped vocal over twangy double bass and subtle arching sax. There are also two nods to Cherry’s father Don (a famous jazz musician, The Thing take their name from one of his songs) the first is by Don himself the ghostly and experimental ‘Golden Heart’ the other is a track original by jazz innovator Ornette Coleman whom Don Cherry complete his jazz apprenticeship with, this track is a sparse finish to a busy and fiery album full of passion and heat. Recommended to fans of the unexpectedly enjoyable!!!

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

It’s hard to describe this album without overusing the words analogue synth(s) but here goes. The 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 equal 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 is an equal to 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.

10.     Peaking Lights – “Lucifer” (Weird World)

“Lucifer” showcases a more immediate version of their sound from previous foggy lo-fi releases. In fact along with Julia Holter’s “Ekstatis” this album proves that lo-fi home recordings can have a clarity and immediacy without sacrificing the grit that made them attractive in the first place. “Lucifer” acts a cooling balm or cool stream water leaping at your feet instead of the more humid and clammy sound of 2011 brilliant “936”, though it’s a little unfair to directly compare those two albums “Lucifer” demonstrates the duo ability to subtle evolve their sound while still using the same basic sound set. Maybe the biggest difference musical is that Peaking Lights have chosen to create more up tempo track this time round compared with leisurely to sluggish pace of previous work, this seems to run in tandem with their new clearer and more immediate sound. The best examples of this are the funk strut of ‘Dream Beat’, the pumping bass and purposeful drum beat of ‘Live Love’ and its darker musical twin ‘Midnight (in the Valley of the Shadows)’. Peaking Lights also add some new elements to the album such as marimba on ‘Moonrise’, piano on ‘Beautiful Son’ and an Oriental melody on ‘Live Love’, that it would e great to hear more of future releases. All in all I’d through recommend “Lucifer” to Peaking Lights fans, those who are curious about the duo or those whose interest is piqued by this write up, it’s well worth investigating.

Some Releases we missed in June

Mind Over Mirrors – “High & Upon” (Aguirre Records)

Jamie Fennelly’s best known for his work as a member of Peeesseye a U.S. drone/noise trio who’ve combined “elements of warped rock architecture, freejazz horror, intergalactic glossolalia and stripped down abstract expressionism” together since 2002. This is a reissue of his debut limited edition cassette release on Gift Tapes from 2011. The album starts with the thick hypnotic harmonium and Fender Rhodes through delays and synth drone that is ‘I’m willing to stagger’ a challenging and unorthodox opening that never the less reward the listener with its complexity and depth. This followed by a sparse and disorienting guitar and harmonium of ‘Harmattan Morning’ which kind of sounds like sunned warped version of “Tomorrow Never Knows” by The Beatles. Finally we’re treated to the sparse piano and steady emolliating organ and synth drone of ‘Mountain Convalesence’ a 15 minute epic. Though not a the type of release we generally cover on Sonic Fiction “High & Upon” is definetly worth checking out via Mind Over Mirrors Soundcloud as is the even more brilliant “The Voice Rolling”. You can buy “High & Upon” via Boomkat on vinyl or digital download. I hope they soon stock the sold out “The Voice Rolling” digitally too.

Bear Bones, Lay Low – “El Telonero” (Kraak Records)

Prior to this album Bear Bones, Lay Low’s biggest exposure outside of the noise/drone music scene was his fantastic contribution to Crammed Disc’s Congotronics vs Rockers compilation. This album is quite different from that track concentrating on creating short and satisfying songs heavily influenced by the krautrock of Can, Harmonia, the post-punk electronic synth music of Cabaret Voltaire and Ekoplekz, Jamaica dub and his cosmic contemporaries Black Moth Super Rainbow. The music is far more relaxed and colourful than what I had expected in fact it ranges from the brightness of ‘A Fourth Ring’ and ‘Bien Gracias’ to the deep dark undercurrent of ‘Drive Sucks’ and many shades in between. There are many artists recreating the sounds of krautrock artists such as Harmonia, Can and Cluster and a large majority sound like retreads but a combination of his weaving of other influences into his tracks and something that I just can’t put my finger helps Bear Bones, Lay Low rises above these mere imitators. It’s genuinely great to hear an artist who feels at once like he’s exploring with his instruments and at the same time creating such convincing and brilliant tracks. Definitely one for fans of any of the artists and genres mentioned above and adventurous listeners will be rewarded!!!

Chevel – “Reset EP” (self-released)

Techno producer and DJ Chevel (Dario Tronchin), from Treviso, Italy, self-released “Reset”, a mini-album of spaced-out techno, this month. Having previously created mixes for the highly-respected Stroboscopic Artifacts, the label headed by fellow Italian Lucy, Chevel’s “Reset” contains tracks that are in comparison to his SA material, sexier and slower with greater focus on rhythm and warmth. There is rawness to Chevel’s work, which comes by way of his live recording process and analogue gear, including a Roland SH101 and 606, sequencer and various modular synths. The Italian’s one-take shots capture the improvised patterns and spontaneous tweaks that result in a primitive yet controlled cut. Though now living near Venice, Chevel used to live in Berlin where he explored Basic Channel, Berghain and the records stocked in Hard Wax. The tracks on “Reset” undoubtedly show the energy and influence he soaked up during his time in the capital. ‘Reset One’ has a satisfyingly thudding bass drum with an intensely resonant bass line that rises and falls. ‘Reset Three’ is a warm, grooving techno cut with a signal-like delayed synth riff that rings out over Basic Channel-style drum programming. The slow, swarming synth notes and forceful, heads down German techno drum rhythm that makes up ‘Reset Four’ is as good as Marcel Dettmann’s own sex-infused push-and-pull rhythms. With an introduction of a thick analogue bass drum and a more discernible melodic motif it becomes a driving, silvery techno cut similar to the works of Morphosis or Claudio PRC, another exciting Italian talent whose album “Inner State” won a place on my ‘Albums of The Year…so far’ list. July will see the release of Chevel’s “The Building EP”, the second of a three part series.

The Cinematic Orchestra – “In Motion #1” (Ninja Tune)

The new release from The Cinematic Orchestra (TCO) is the first in a series of compilation albums on which TCO, their closet musical friends and other artists on Ninja Tune and its family of labels create new scores for classic silent films. For the first in the series they invited jazz pianist and Flying Lotus collaborator Austin Peralta, abstract hip-hop/electronica producer Dorian Concept and regular TCO guest vocalist Grey Reverend to contribute and collaborate. TCO kick off the album themselves and though the sound (strings, synth bass and heavily processed synths) aren’t their usual fare the atmosphere they create will be familiar to TCO fans, when they kick in the acoustic drums are the things that reminders the listen who they are listening to and the track takes off from there. Next up is Peralta’s contribution a minimal stately piece utilise his piano skills alongside a string quartet that feature throughout the album. Dorian Concept’s two piece in collaboration with TCO saxophonist Tom Chant take a different tack, the first ‘Outer Space’ combines Smeared psychedelic strings and effects with the string quartets dry sound and a wobbly echo leaden solo from Chant. Similarly ‘Dream Work’ uses abstract sounds and processes acoustic instruments this time for a haunting effect, to send a chill down the spine. ‘Entr’acte’ (TCO) begins with  strings and bowed double bass moving at a glacial pace before halfway through the track it turns into an instrumental and much more elaborate version of TCO’s ‘To Build A Home’, as the track enters its last quarter the string quartet and shuffling drums add much needed tension and release. ‘Regen’ featuring the acoustic guitar of Grey Reverend and double bass of Phil France of TCO is a spare and emotional effecting track that is far greater than the majority of the tracks from his debut album from last year. The album closes with ‘Manhatta’ (TCO) with its dreamy strings, TCO groove and acoustic guitar that recalls “Ma Flour” (2007) the bands last studio album. The criticisms I can really leave at this album is that some tracks lack the tension of TCO’s previous studio albums and that this may have worked better as a DVD where the experience would be completed, however you can create this yourself using Youtube. Though “In Motion #1” isn’t the best album on TCO’s back catalogue it’s still a  very strong album and well worth investigation.

KonKoma – “KonKoma” (Soundway)

We don’t usually feature the brilliant releases by Soundway Records as they generally focus on reissues and compilations of West African Afrobeat and High Life music as well as music from Columbia and Central America and these releases do not fit into our remit. However, KonKoma are an active London-based band inspired by Ghanaian Afrobeat and High Life and this release is their début album. It’s an impressive start too as the band not only perfect assimilate the main sounds and aesthetics of this music but move it forward with sensitive modern production that doesn’t take anything from the origins of the genres and some slower paced material that demonstrates this music needn’t be all about out of the traps drums breaks and funk bass lines. The band is also great at arrangements subtly but effective utilising the vast array of instruments and vocals in the mix to create dynamic, spacious tracks that keep the listen on their toes while never disrupting the grooves of the tracks. KonKoma have produced a début album that shows off their musical and production skills and points the way forward for Western African music that could have become a stagnant museum piece, highly recommended.

The Invisible – “Rispah” (Ninja Tune)

I remember the self titled debut album from The Invisible leaving little impression on me back in 2009. I wanted to like it and it seemed they were trying to attain something to but falling short and never quite convincing me, the listener. I’m glad to say that on “Rispah” (named after singer and guitar Dave Okumu’s late mother) that they’ve achieved an arresting and emotive sound that combines electronics, guitar, drums, bass, gentle vocals and a ton of hooks and they are now the complete package. The album is thoroughly modern combining traditional band performs with electronic music production, sounds and programming all delivered with a strong emotive punch. Though the album sounds on its own, there does seem to be a hint of TV on the Radio to The Invisible’s sound. Whenever a band attempts this kind of merger of sounds it often lacks the tunefulness and heart of this release, the band too busy being clever-clever or fussing over sonic details. The album never feels like a deathly dirge could so easily have become after the death of Dave Okumu’s mother instead it a bright and almost optimistic record full of hope and redemption. “Rispah” is a pleasure to listen to in every respect; it could a dark horse in the race for album of the year.

Disappointment of the Month

Florian Meindl  – “WAVES” (Flash Recordings)

Working as a sound designer and producer, Florian Meindl has a reputation built on his high production values and “WAVES”, the Austrian’s debut, maintains this standard. Indeed, for audiophiles there is a 4GB USB stick available to purchase with high resolution masters of the tracks. For all the undeniable production quality “WAVES” is missing something: an emotional pull, a heart to balance the dryness of sheer good production. Even ‘Isa’, a house track built on flourishes of piano chords that is dedicated to Meindl’s girlfriend, is insignificant and simply grooves away anonymously. Begging the question: how did dedicating a song to a meaningful person result in a meaningless track? Can Meindl only provide music that serves a practical purpose? There are some great tracks like ‘What Is Techno’, a powerful, dirty techno track with an irresistible bass drum, clap and hi-hat groove. A low male voice asks “What is techno? What is house?” while a percussive melody drives the listener to the dancefloor. ‘Spread Out’, a dark techno track dense with claps and percussion which build to an irresistible, surging synth melody with a cry of pain/ecstasy underneath. This stands out as does the fun and bouncy ‘Good Times’. Hats, a deep bass drum and a metallic synth punch as Ricardo Phillips’s vocals command we “let the good time roll.” This and a track like ‘It’s all making sense now’ would sound incredible in a club context: the immense bass drums hit in you in the chest and the bass lines and drum grooves bully you into dancing. The rises and falls tease and pummel. Away from this context, say listening at home “WAVES” doesn’t work. There is little if any emotion to be found in the head-pounding drums and aloof synth melodies. Besides, would the average listener have the equipment to do justice to the range and richness of frequencies “WAVES” contains? The different tack Meindl attempts with ‘Isa’ and ‘Wishful Thinking’ feat. Detachments falls flat. ‘Wishful Thinking’ needs Sascha Ring’s (Apparat) gorgeous voice, not the current singer’s uninspiring monotone, to carry the song to the emotional point it’s trying to achieve. Releasing the club tracks as 12”s may have been a cleverer option than compiling them in a form that rarely naturally suits techno.

Mortiz Von Oswald Trio – “Fetch” (Honest Jon’s)

Consisting of four long-form compositions that entwine elements of dub, techno and jazz, “Fetch” is darker and danker than Moritz Von Oswald Trio’s previous albums “Vertical Ascent” and “Horizontal Structures”. The oppressive opening track ‘Jam’ unfolds over 17 and a half minutes with acoustic percussion instrumentation, brass and woodind phrases, dissonant textures, puncturing stabs of delayed bass and a drum machine backbeat that meander beneath Sebastian Studnitzky’s darting trumpet melodies. Second is ‘Dark’, which drops the pace down further and maintains the tension and sense of dread that ‘Jam’ introduced the listener to. The beat is kept nodding underneath effected sound textures, viscous bass and steely horn melodies. The album’s standout is the dancefloor-in-mind ‘Club’. Steeped in Von Oswald’s Basic Channel pioneering mode of minimal/dub techno. The twelve minute track is built on a 4/4 bass drum and 16th note hi-hat pattern that pushes the listener into techno territory. Bass frequencies growl, percussion strikes and a distant two-note synth melody is surrounded by noisy atmospherics and ghostly textures; creating a hypnotic track that remains fluid as opposed to the usual grid-based structure of techno. The mid-tempo ‘Yangissa’ closes “Fetch”. Its simmering brass and tumbling African nyabinghi-style drums weave into a dub-influenced shuffle.

Bobby Womack – “The Bravest Man in the Universe” (XL)

Bobby Womack’s new album is a triumphant return for the soul veteran, after the success of his collaboration with Gorillaz in 2010, on the “Plastic Beach” album which finished at number 2 in my (Liam, Sonic Fiction editor) Top 20 Albums of the Year that year. “The Bravest Man in the Universe” is similar to Gil Scott-Heron’s “I’m New Here” (2010) which was also produced by Richard Russell, in that it brings together modern genres and production techniques with a black music star of the 70’s. One of the main ways this album distinguishes its self is that whereas “I’m New Here” was very focused on atmosphere to back poetry, melody is always front and centre here. The album focus around hip-hop beats, probing synth bass, strings and piano with Womack’s soulful, emotive and expressive vocals always taking the lead and slotting perfectly into a through modern backing. The music recalls everything from trip-hop (Portishead, Massive Attack), cinematic hip-hop/jazz (The Cinematic Orchestra) and the dance-pop and cartoon funk of co-produce Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz. Despite all this genre-hopping the album hangs to together and only one of the track truly lets the side down the Lana Del Rey duet ‘Dayglo Reflection’ in which Del Rey feels like she’s been dropped in at the last second in a cynical record company marketing ploy. This aside it’s great to hear Womack back doing what he does best: singing and writing great soulful pop music that sticks in the brain long after the music has stopped.

Oh No – “OhNoMite” (Traffic Records)

Oh No’s “OhNoMite” is another in a string of impressive hip-hop albums released in 2012 up there with releases from Killer Mike, El-P, Thee Satisfaction, Doseone and Quakers. In fact, the album’s overall sound and approach has much in common with Quakers self titled debut as both albums hark back to classic 90’s hip-hop sound, the main difference being “OhNoMite”s source material. The album is entirely made of samples from Rudy Ray Moore’s audio achieves drawing heavily on the soundtrack to Blaxploitation film “Dolemite” from the album takes its title. As a result of this the album is pack full of funk loops, smoky jazz chords and swinging tough hip-hop beats that get your head nodding. Another similarity with the Quakers album is that this is also stuffed with guest appears but doesn’t suffer from attention deficit disorder, each MC contributing high quality raps that fit into the album overall theme. The old skool styling’s of album don’t get in the way of enjoying it, in fact it’s a major part of “OhNoMite”’s appeal. One of the stand-out elements of the album is the fantastic array of analogue synth sounds that feature throughout; it’s also a sound that doesn’t always bed in well in straight hip-hop tracks, in my opinion and Oh No’s production’s successful ingrate them with thrilling results. This is a thoroughly brilliant and refreshing hip-hop record that will appeal to fans of Madlib, The Alchemist and filthy funk 90s classic hip-hop.

Doseone – “G Is For Deep” (Anticon)

The long awaited new solo album by cLOUDDEAD co-founder Doseone is one of the finest releases by any member of that trio since their self titled debut album in 2001. It picks up where the last Subtle (a spin off project from Doseone and Jel of cLOUDDEAD) left off but with a much greater emphasis on space and pop hooks. Throughout Doseone strikes a balance between chip tune elements and deep probing electro beats and strong melodic content. The releases of by cLOUDDEAD and their related projects have always used ambience in conjunction with beats and rapping but here it feels more like Doseone is tapping into a rich vein of dream-pop that recalls the Cocteau Twins in their 80’s pomp. The new found space and melodic clarity make for a more immediate listening experience though there are still enough twists and turns to keep long time fans interested, I’m sure some will see this as a compromise but this genuinely feels like a natural evolution for a unique artist.

Delta Funktionen – “Traces” (Delsin)

After four years of releasing EPs on the Delsin and Ann Aimee labels and DJing across Europe, Delta Funktionen (Niels Luinenburg) takes the next step and translates his skills to the album format. This is a hurdle where many talented techno producers falter as shown by Florian Meindl’s disappointing “WAVES”; it is one thing to produce a potent dance floor EP but it’s another to come up with fresh ideas and approaches that can carry the weight of a much longer format. Happily, Luinenberg joins that small group of techno artists who have made the transition. The Dutch producer has said that research was key in his approach for “Traces” and he aimed to pair “a raw, machine made aesthetic with plenty of real human soul and palpable earthly emotion.” “Traces” covers a lot of ground within electronic music sub-genres. The influence of Detroit and European techno, Italo-disco and electro are strongly felt. Album opener ‘Frozen Land’ is a track of driving, futuristic electro with a Model 500-esque rhythm of percussion, echoing claps and shuffling bass drum. Its metallic sheen is speared by the undercurrent of tension in the austere synths that recall Drexciya. The searing acidic synths and driving hats of ‘Enter’ bleed through the warm, thick texture of the analogue equipment to create a pure electro cut. This opening pair introduces the album’s over-arching principles. The pacing and structure of “Traces” is classic techno: start slow then gradually build to an opening up in the track’s centre, drop and then return to a visceral fury until the end. The bass frequencies are the star of the album. ‘Redemption’ features possibly the most resonant bass line you’ll hear this year. The subterranean bass drum pounds under a forceful hats and clap pattern while the central melody played on a sparkling synth rips through the air. This visceral and raging track demands to be included in DJ sets. ‘Utopia’, a techno/italo-disco cut, speeds the tempo up. A thick, resonant bassline and tight claps are complimented by washes of atmospheric chords and an ascending/descending melody played on a thin, bright synth. A section at 4:40 minutes breaks down to just the bass drum, hats and that deep, warm bass. The re-introduction of the melody and chords lifts ‘Utopia’ to an evocative finale. An elegy to Detroit techno, ‘Challenger’ is a seductive track composed of a purring bass line and slowly, evolving underwater synth chords, which provides a moment of reflection after the furious intensity of the previous tracks. ‘On A Distant Journey’ is perhaps the finest moment on “Traces”. As with the rest of the album, Luinenberg draws inspiration from classic techno and electro sounds. Its ten minute run-time boasts drum rhythms that raise the spirit of Detroit techno innovators such as Derrick May and Juan Atkins and merges this with the emotive synth melodies of Kraftwerk. Just when the listener is convinced that they are being taken on a meditative trip, it unexpectedly drops to vicious drums and distorted acid riffs before veering back to the track’s initial esoteric journey. Conversely to Meindl’s “WAVES”, Luinenberg doesn’t lose sight in intricate sound-design and instead allows the pure power of machines to control “Traces”. By doing this Delta Funktionen proves to be one of the few to thrive in this challenging setting for techno producers.

Peaking Lights – “Lucifer” (Weird World)

The stunning new album from Peaking Lights showcases a more immediate version of their sound from previous foggy lo-fi releases. In fact along with Julia Holter’s “Ekstatis” this album proves that lo-fi home recordings can have a clarity and immediacy without sacrificing the grit that made them attractive in the first place. “Lucifer” acts a cooling balm or cool stream water leaping at your feet instead of the more humid and clammy sound of 2011 brilliant “936”, though it’s a little unfair to directly compare those two albums “Lucifer” demonstrates the duo ability to subtle involve their sound while still using the same basic sound set. Maybe the biggest difference musical is that Peaking Lights have chosen to create more up tempo track this time round compared with leisurely to sluggish pace of previous work, this seems to run in tandem with their new clearer and more immediate sound. The best examples of this are the funk strut of ‘Dream Beat’, the pumping bass and purposeful drum beat of ‘Live Love’ and its darker musical twin ‘Midnight (in the Valley of the Shadows)’. Peaking Lights also add some new elements to the album such as marimba on ‘Moonrise’, piano on ‘Beautiful Son’ and an Oriental melody on ‘Live Love’, that it would e great to hear more of future releases. All in all I’d through recommend “Lucifer” to Peaking Lights fans, those who are curious about the duo or those whose interest is piqued by this write up, it’s well worth investigating.

Liars – “WIXIW” (Mute Records)

The new album from Liars is quite a departure from their previous efforts. The band completely abandoned their usual guitar, drums and bass combination and composed and recorded the album almost entirely using computer music technology. The album covers quite a lot of electronic music territory from dark techno to Matthew Dear style electro-pop, techno-punk and glitch electronica recalling Mouse On Mars. Angus Andrew’s vocal are still front and centre on the album but he’s quieter and more reflective on ‘”WIXIW”, the depth of his vocal brings to mind Matthew Dear’s deep tones. I was half expecting the band’s inexperience with music technology to result in basic and generic sounds but the lush synths and subtle drums are executed expertly. Another big difference is that melodies are given the room to breathe and atonal sounds are kept to a minimum and every track is more spacious than anything previously recorded by this ambitious and experimental band. In many ways this is Liars’ most conventional release but this is no bad thing as it showcases a different side to the band rather than being a betrayal of their previous work and ethos. This is the band’s most immediate release and I feel sure it will reward listeners even more every time they revisit it.

Joint Top Release of the Month

Christian Löffler – “A Forest” (Ki)

The forests of north Germany in which Christian Löffler lived during the making of the album are the backbone of “A Forest” and Löffler’s work as a visual artist informs his focus on narrating a story as would happen with a collection of photographs or paintings. Over the twelve tracks that make-up “A Forest”, a rich yet spacious tapestry gradually unfurls. “A Forest” sits together as one piece, an entrancingly atmospheric whole. Warm, organic samples of wooden percussion are underpinned with fragile synth melodies; the chord progressions recall John Tejada’s melancholy, sunset-tinged tracks, combined with Pantha du Prince’s percussive textures and attention to detail. Although the 4/4 bass drum dominates rhythmically, it remains unobtrusive, lying low in the mix beneath the hypnotic, dreamlike atmosphere.  The title track features John Tejada-style collapsing chords atop a warm bass line and slight percussion and bell-like instrumentation. The three vocalists on “A Forest”, Gry, Mohna and Marcus Roloff, are a new dimension to Löffler’s productions and give the album an even greater emotional resonance. Mohna’s dreamy, fragile voice on ‘Eleven’ is surrounded by buzzing noises and distant bass frequencies. In one section her looped voice sits between chopping hi-hats and a bass line that rolls back and forth like sea waves. The beautiful ‘Feelharmonia’ features the Danish singer Gry whose mournful voice is embraced by shuffling percussion, syncopated drums, tapping wood blocks and a bouncing synth pattern. It is a standout in its wonderful melancholic simplicity. An interesting track is ‘Signals’, which is inspired by the Tintinnabuli compositional style of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. The bells are brought to the dancefloor by a techno shuffle of bass drum, hats and claps.

‘Blind’ is a deeply moving sunset-suited track of ambient pads, rolling percussion, softly distorted bass, a distant male vocal and an elegiac atmosphere. ‘Swift Code’ is another notable inclusion. Lyricist and poet Marcus Roloff’s German poem passages alternate between implicit and explicitly threatening verses, which are encircled by crackles and floating glassy textures; the ambience circling like birds. On a ‘Hundred Lights’ a 4/4 bass drum finally comes out from the under the mix and pushes determinedly against an undulating bass line. Digital synthesis bubbles and wooden percussion, which features heavily throughout the album in reflection of the forest of the album’s title, chops through the atmosphere. ‘Slowlight’ is an effortless track. A simple melody loops, a bass line engulfs and a rhythm of bass drum and claps pushes and pulls. Wooden percussion grows in intensity as licks of reverb are applied and a brittle synth enters in the final seconds bringing “A Forest” to a delicate close.

Neneh Cherry and The Thing – “The Cherry Thing” (Smalltown Supersound)

When it was originally announced that Neneh Cherry and Swedish jazz trio The Thing would be releasing an album full of reinterpreted versions of songs in a range of genres from post-punk to hip-hop via jazz itself, the collaboration didn’t make sense to me. However, after a little internet research and hearing two tracks from the album my mind was changed and I got quite excited about the prospect of this album. It doesn’t let me down either with The Thing more restrained than they usually are and Cherry on dazzling form on vocals. The album opens with a version of Cherry’s ‘Cashback’ (one of two originals on the album) featuring fantastic twangy double bass, a drum break and counterpoint sax playing off her melodious lead vocal. Things get striped back on a twinkling vibraphone heavy version of Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’ before a return to a more aggressive tone with the drum and double bass assault of ‘Too Tough To Die’ (Martina Topley Bird). Next up ‘Sudden Movement’ the other original this time written by Mats Gustafsson of The Thing, a dark and dusty yet up beat jazz number. The tempo slows again for Madvillain’s ‘Accordion’ with Cherry trying a half sung half rapped vocal over twangy double bass and subtle arching sax. There are also two nods to Cherry’s father Don (a famous jazz musician, The Thing take their name from one of his songs) the first is by Don himself the ghostly and experimental ‘Golden Heart’ the other is a track original by jazz innovator Ornette Coleman whom Don Cherry complete his jazz apprenticeship with, this track is a sparse finish to a busy and fiery album full of passion and heat. Recommend to fans of the unexpectedly enjoyable!!!

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