Tag Archive: Ital


Kirsty’s Recommendations

2nd November

Monoloc – Drift (CLR)

Born and raised in Frankfurt, Monoloc started his production career in 2001 and by 2010 he had been snapped up by Chris Liebing’s CLR label. Two years later he is preparing to release his debut album “Drift” in November. According to the press release, the CLR family was instrumental in shaping the sound of the record: Chris Liebing assisted in the mixing process, Brian Sanhaji, a label affiliate, mastered the album and Daniel Wilde, another CLR signee, lends vocals on three of the “Drifts”‘s tracks. Listeners should expect grooving, atmospherically rich pieces of techno with dreamy, retro-inspired touches.

13th November

Ital – Dream On (Planet Mu)

His second album this year, Ital’s “Dream On” will be released on Planet Mu. The Brooklyn-based artist has over the past two years reinvented himself as a house and tech2no producer with a steady stream of EPs on labels like Not Not Fun and its clubbier subsidiary, 100% Silk. As with his five-track debut “Hive Mind” from earlier this year, “Dream On”‘s track list is skimpier than is normally expected from a full-length—seven tracks this time—though it’s reportedly “much more substantial” than “Hive Mind”.

19th November

Sigha – Living With Ghosts (Hotflush Recordings)

Sigha is an English techno artist with a soft spot for swathes of ambient textures. Inspired, in part, by his recent relocation to Berlin his debut album “Living With Ghosts” will be out on Scuba’s Hotflush Recordings, the same label that released his debut EP in 2009 and most of his records since then. “Living With Ghosts” shows his understated approach to techno continuing to develop while mixed in with swathes of enveloping ambience. Stream Sigha’s track ‘Self Improvement’ to get a taste of what to expect:

Liam’s Recommendations

5th November 2012

Offshore – “Bakehaus” (Big Dada)

The debut album from Offshore aka Ewan Robertson comes with much expectation after the producer has built a reputation as the successor to fellow Scottish electronic music producer Rustie and Hudson Mohawke. Robertson stands apart from his contemporaries by both uses a wider range of emotional triggers and taking from genres outside of electronic music such as post-punk and hip-hop. This mini album is well worth through investigation.

12th November 2012

Hello Skinny – “Hello Skinny” (Slow Foot)

Hello Skinny is a new project from Matthew Herbert and Mulatu Astatke drummer Tom Skinner. His debut album is bring released this October on Slowfoot Records and he has track on the new Brownswood compilation from Giles Peterson’s label of the same name. Hello Skinny mixes up live instrumentation with samples and genres such as jazz, dub and hip-hop into a heady brew. Check out Hello Skinny’s “Smash & Grab” mixtape here for a taste of what’s to come.

Holly Herndon – “Movement” (RVNG INTL)

The debut album from Herndon sits somewhere between the world of Berlin techno (she was a DJ in the German capital for five years) and experimental music Mills College (a liberal arts college in California). Herndon separates herself from other artists in these respective fields with her extensive use of her own heavily processed vocals, these often become so abstract its hard to tell what’s a synth sound and what’s Herndon’s voice. Herndon is a perfectly fit for RVNG INTL who also straddle the experimental music and dance music worlds.

19th November

Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah – “Twelve Reasons to Die” (Soul Temple)

“Twelve Reasons to Die” is the result of an unlikely collaboration between producer and film score composer Adrian Younge (most famous for his work on the brilliant blaxploitation homage “Black Dynamite) and Wu Tang Clan MC Ghostface Killah. The album is executive produced by RZA (Wu Tang Clan) and comes with a comic book written by Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon of Ashcan Press.

19th November 2012

Raime – “Quarter Turns Over A Living Line” (Blackest Ever Black)

After the release of critically acclaimed 12″s and an EP Raime are preparing to release their debut album featuring seven brand new tracks, the sees the band moving away from sampled based music to an approach dominated by live instrumentation and heavy processing. Their dark sound combines elements from jungle, industrial and gothic post-punk music and this album promises to be truly bewitching.

26th November 2012

Container – “LP” (Spectrum Spools)

Container follows up last year’s impressive noise-techno album “LP” with another album also entitled “LP”. Spectrum Spools press release says the album keeps “… the classic Container sound..in tact” but “this album offers a look into a previously closed door in the Container sound world. LP, like its predecessor LP, is recorded in mono and its cuts right down the middle of your skull, and doesn’t float around in imaginary room, these new tracks are immediate and heavy.” Sounds like a release we’ll be enjoying on Sonic Fiction.

Zombie Zombie – “Rituels D’un Nouveau Monde” (Versatile)

French horror film music obsessives Zombie Zombie return with their second album of original material. First single “Rocket Number Nine” is electro par excellence  and promises great things for the album. 

3rd December

Nils Frahm – “Screws” (Erased Tapes)

The new album from experimental pianist Nils Frahm came about through an unfortunate accident that saw him fall from a bunk bed and break his thumb. Four screws were surgically placed inside his thumb leaving him with 9 playing fingers. Frahm decided to deal with this injury the only way he knew how by playing his piano and this resulted in the 9 intimate piano tracks that make up “Screws”.

10th December 2012

Big Boi – “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours”

Big Boi is excitedly tweeting about progress on this new album and its seems that the follow up his great 2010 album “Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty” isn’t far away. He recently said it features collaborations with UKG, Kid Cudi and man of the moment Big K.R.I.T. Check out first single “Gossip” here and view the artwork here.

17th December 2012

Missy Elliott – ‘The Block Party’

After overcoming her health problems Timbaland now claims that this album could finally be released in 2012. In meantime Missy Elliott has announced the release of two new singles ‘9th Inning’ and ‘Triple Threat’ this coming weekend (Saturday 1st September & Sunday 2nd September), this is the surest sign yet that “The Block Party” is finally on its way!!!

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.

10. Ursprung – “Ursprung” (Dial)

 “Ursprung”  is Pantha Du Prince (Hendrik Weber) and Stephan Abry. The pair previously worked together when Abry contributed “sound sources played on prepared instruments” for Pantha Du Prince’s exceptional album “Black Noise”. “Ursprung” (German for origin) is a flawed release, it seems based on alternating a few standouts with tracks that fulfil an experimental role but don’t deliver an exciting listen. Yet it deserves a place on this list for the five tracks that provide a union of beautiful melodies, emotional depth and high production values. ‘Mummenschanz’ is a gentle track that weaves minimalist guitar chords and phrases into ambient textures above a pattering bass and snare drum rhythm that sounds like a relaxed Neu! cut. After a short measure of interplay between guitar and bass frequencies ‘Ohne Worte’ evolves into an uneasy groove of guitar phrases that are pulled along by a thudding bass drum, percussion and metallic textures which build to a frenetic climax. ‘Exodus Now’ is the album’s centrepiece: dense with guitar chords, icy synths, Neu!-inspired rhythms and buzzing noise. The hand of Hendrik Weber can be heard in the fleet-footed hi-hats and bell-like percussion. A move to African-sounding percussion and a solid melody halfway through the track adds an extra dimension. Texturally and atmospherically ‘Exodus Now’ is mesmerizing, a true standout. ‘Lizzy’ is the closest thing on “Ursprung” to what could be called technowith its sort-of danceable bass line and complimentary techno drum rhythms, percussion adding a frenetic touch underneath a playful melody. On ‘Kalte Eiche’ a clap and glistening synth arpeggio are interrupted by a thundering bass drum and stuttering snare rhythm. Clipped male vocals sit above a harmonising second male voice all the while its stuttering rhythm refuses to slot into place. These five tracks contain emotional resonance coupled with stunning atmospherics and textures, motorik rhythms and delicate minimalistic guitars underpinning it all.

9. Mohn –  “Mohn” (Kompakt)

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

8. Marcel Dettmann – “Landscape EP” (Music Man)

The main feature of ‘Landscape’ is a slow, muted melody that swells underneath hissing and thudding drums that are classic Dettmann. Their syncopated shuffle evokes a broken electro rhythm. Though it’s uncharacteristically subdued for Berghain’s master of thunderous techno, an unsettling cry that repeatedly rises from the mix is the embodiment of the agony and ecstasy of peak hour. ‘Landscape’ is the kind of track designed for a skilled DJ, like Dettmann, to build a set around; a track that is capable of providing surprising twists for years to come. The accompanying remix by Answer Code Request whips the track into a fever of tension, the bass lines punches harder, a syncopated 909 snare comes to the fore and that female cry is unbearably loud. It’s a remarkable track though even at high volume it feels strangely distant as if the listener is hearing it emanate out of Berghain’s lauded walls rather than from the centre of sweaty elation.

7. King Felix – “SPRING EP” (Liberation Technologies)

This “SPRING EP” by King Felix (Laurel Halo working under a name taken from a previous EP) carries on the thread of the “Hour Logic EP”, notably the accelerated beats and ecstatic cries of ‘Aquifer’. The first three tracks, ‘SPRING01’, ‘SPRING02’ and ‘SPRING03’, are reconfigurations of the same instrumentation and theme, one that heavily references early nineties Detroit techno, in particular Drexciya’s underwater world and the sheen of early Model 500. Their rhythms are restless and shuffle constantly. Halo races the drums forward then scales them back to allow piercing synths to sit atop. The vast organ samples that screech through the opening of ‘SPRING 01’ are anchored by a visceral beat and razor-sharp synth textures. Only on the dramatic ‘SPRING03’ does she let a percussion-filled, 4/4 techno beat dominate. The final track, ‘FREAK’, is a collage of drones. Its sagging bass line looms underneath a quivering synth pattern and Halo’s submerged voice which merges into stretched-out chords. “SPRING EP” is coloured by its immediacy, moments of frightening suspense and an almost aggressive purposefulness. Though the four tracks string together as a narrative arc each presents a different personality and it is Halo’s ability that imbues the collection with cohesion.

6. Ital – Hive Mind (Planet Mu)

With his debut album “Hive Mind”, Ital disrupts and stretches the signifiers of techno and presents something that sits between the context of dancefloor and home listening. Starter ‘Doesn’t Matter If You Love Him’ takes those lyrics from Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ and chops and repeats the line until it becomes a faintly absurd mantra which then dissolves into a glitched drone. ‘Floridian Void’, a highlight, is a dark techno track containing an unsettling low end, queasy synthesisers, stretched-out vocals and a clap/hi-hat pattern that never quite slots into a liquid groove. Ital’s corruption of techno structure provides a thrilling yet disorienting experience, across “Hive Mind” there is an unshakeable sense of uneasiness:   the drums push yet don’t flow with a danceable ease and bass lines swing nauseatingly. Only until the final track, ‘First Wave’, is the listener provided with a breather, an ecstatic release of booming bass drums, a hands-in-the-air 303-aping bass line and rapturous synths; a blissful finale to “Hive Mind”. Outside of techno and wider dance music, the next clearest influence is the kosmiche musik of Cluster and Harmonia, which can be heard in the rising and falling harmonies in ‘Israel’. Many of the reviews of “Hive Mind” have discussed the album in analytical/academic rather than music/production terms, such as finding dystopian analogies within the paranoia-inducing elements that pervade ‘Privacy Settings’ to a life half-lived on computers or technology’s fast-forward-paced advancements. Yet to see and appreciate “Hive Mind” by its intelligent use and abuse of dance music signifiers increases the album’s longevity and emotional response and makes for a more satisfying and complete listen.

5. Blondes – “Blondes” (RVNG INTL)

Slotted between Kompakt’s elegant techno-pop and US dance music releases such as Laurel Halo’s output and the King Felix “Spring EP” (Laurel Halo’s pseudonym), “Blondes” captures a range of emotions and moods. Each pair of tracks are two versions of the same thematic idea, reflected in the paired song titles: ‘Lover’/‘Hater’ ‘Wine’/‘Water’, ‘Business’/‘Pleasure’. Similar to Kompakt’s model, the tracks’ dance elements are complimented by rich atmospherics and luxurious synths. Each track bears the duo’s extended, rippling approach to house and techno as do the slow builds and heady releases that contain a patient construction of melodies and texture.  ‘Lover’ opens the album with a Meredith Monk sample folded into a strident piece of late-night electronica. ‘Wine’ is calmer and smoother, a lithe vocal-filled track that flows into its partner, ‘Water’, a refined “Autobahn” recline that would fit beautifully in any Michael Mayer set. The Kraftwerk-esque ‘Business’ is set against the dark, subdued ‘Pleasure’. One of the most intricately constructed tracks is ‘Gold’, which follows its 4/4 guide through arpeggios, the distant sounds of percussion and Berlin techno melodies. ‘Gold’ and its pair ‘Amber’ glow in the distance, creating the album’s beautiful ambient conclusion. “Blondes” is a singularly impressive piece of work that enthralls and captivates.

4. Claudio PRC – “Inner State” (Prologue)

Claudio PRC’s debut album “Inner State” takes us deep into the abyss. It is a minimalistic world of profound and effortless deep, hypnotic techno and one that is filled with heavy 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 the vitriolic beats of ‘Radial’ kick in. With “Inner State”, Claudio PRC shows great potential while Munich-based label Prologue maintains its status of championing high-quality techno artists.

3. Orcas – “Orcas” (Morr Music)

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

2. Claro Intelecto – Reform Club (Delsin)

Reform Club sits in a dreamy, foggy haze of serene melodies and reflective emotion. It’s comforting and inviting while deeply tender, the meaty production gives the tracks a thick texture. The album’s nine tracks sit together in a unified way; cleverly avoiding homogeneity – a result of meticulous compositions and the freedom Claro Intelecto’s new label Delsin has offered. Opener ‘Reformed’ matches ‘Voyeurism’ (from the “Second Blood” EP) in pace and style. Metronomic hi-hats push the tempo to 120 BPM (‘Reformed’ is the fastest of the nine tracks) while a bouncing bass line and snatches of strings top a driving bass drum. A standout is the next track ‘Blind Side’, which sounds like a Basic Channel track for this decade: a deep bass drum pushes forward a mysterious melody that is submerged under churning dub-techno percussive elements and metallic slivers of hi-hats. ‘Still Here’ takes the tempo down to 96 BPM. Reverbed percussion sits upfront, striking the listener, and melancholic, dreamy strings are embraced by the bass drum; a theme throughout the album is the depth and warmth in the low end frequencies. The beautiful, fluttering synth that appears at 3:25 in “Night Of The Maniac” is something to behold as it flickers above sonorous beats and a dark melody that is set against a counterpoint bass line. Album closer ‘Quiet Life’ features piano and fluctuating sheer pads to form a delicate, touching conclusion. Musically, emotionally and production-wise, “Reform Club” is one of the strongest, deepest techno album of the past six months.

1. Voices From The Lake – “Voices From Lake” (Prologue)

Voices From The Lake is a project born out of a friendship between Italian DJs/producers Donato Dozzy and Neel. Following on from last year’s beautiful, lucid “Silent Drop EP”, the self-titled album extends and deepens their ambient techno explorations with an emphasis on the techno component.  Listening to “Voices From The Lake” is an immersive experience as the textured beats and unhurried rhythms pour with a deeply hypnotic flow. The deep wells of ambient sounds develop and unfold at their own pace, creating a intoxicating sense of tranquility. ‘Iyo’ imposes scattered hats and percussion against a humid backdrop. Its drones leads us into the next track ‘Vega’, which introduces a pulsing bass drum underneath a soothing pillows and layers of tiny hits of percussion. The pair’s reworking of the previously-released ‘S.T.’ is a revelation. After 30 minutes of bubbling and vibration, the album’s first bass line emerges, a gently ascending and descending chord progression that creates impact while remaining airy and translucent. Rhythm, texture and atmosphere are the key components of this album, creating an enveloping physical presence that asks for concentration; a meditative state of listening. “Voices From The Lake” is something that is alive and breathing. Its patterns shift and morph in minute detail, so subtly and patiently that it gives the album an unusual flow, a feeling like it’s floating. The construction is painstaking, so much so you can’t tell where one track begins and another ends.In the context of sound design “Voices From The Lake” has far more emotional resonance than most releases, it has a warmth that feels inviting. Except for the mid-album detonation of melody and beats, this album ignores techno’s linear structure by replacing the rise-rise-rise-peak-explosion-descend progression with one that places builds and falls into tiny pockets of a wider, complex canvas. Donato Dozzy and Neel have created a unique, entrancing release that supplies the closest aural equivalent to waldeinsamkeit since Pantha Du Prince’s “Black Noise”, my top-ranking album of 2010.

In a slight change from the usual I’ve included a section on releases that we didn’t recommend but liked (to varying degress) during January and February. The other change is that the post was getting so long that we’ve created a separate post for March’s recommendations.

Some releases we missed in January and February

Air – “La Voyage Dans La Lune” (Astralwerks Records)

This new soundtrack album for the George Melies short film of the same name is a return to form for Air who seemed to have lost their way in the last few years. Though the album sticks to a lot of soundtrack staples timpani, strings, brass, analogue synths and signifiers it’s still an effective and enjoyable listen. The album is reasonable varied but tracks generally fall into two camps that more obvious soundtrack pieces based around piano, timpani and strings – ‘Astronomic Club’, ‘Retour Sur Terre’, ‘Moon Fever’, ‘Who Am I Now’ (which strongly recalls Popol Vuh’s soundtrack work) and closing track ‘Lava’ and more upbeat groove driven tracks – ‘Seven Stars’ with its heavy bass groove & flapping drums pattern, the thundering drums and the prog rock sci-fi synths of ‘Parade’ and ‘Sonic Armada’ and ‘Cosmic Trip’s twinkling synths, driving bass and breakbeats. Though the album loses direction and fails to deliver its ideas towards the end it’s still well worth checking out, especially as it comes with a DVD of Melies masterpiece.

Nina Kraviz – “Nina Kraviz” (ReKids Records)

Russian DJ Nina Kraviz has released previously for Cocoon and Bpitch and played DJ sets in some of Europe’s best-known clubs with a residency at Moscow’s Propaganda club. Her self-titled and self-produced debut album serves to solidify the progress made so far without deviating from the emotive deep house she is known for. “Nina Kraviz” is a highly personal and intimate album; her voice, usually the first take recording, dominates over deep house grooves and luxuriant synthesisers. The album’s highlights, such as ‘Working’, ‘Fire’ ‘False Attraction’ and the chilly techno of ‘4 Ben’ (which is rumoured to be dedicated to her boyfriend Ben Klock, the DJ and producer) showcase Kraviz’s knowledge of constructing DJ sets that build and drop then punch at the right moment. ‘Working’ is one example of her ability to tease the audience by gradually and urgently elevating the tension then ending on a sudden climax. Overall, though, “Nina Kraviz” is hit and miss; a few inclusions, such as ‘Taxi Talk’ and ‘Choices’, don’t add anything to the album’s narrative and for the number that don’t quite deliver it is perhaps too long at 14 tracks. Transitioning from DJing and producing 12”s to releasing an album can be a difficult feat; “Nina Kraviz” proves this. While not an essential techno/house release it is evident that Kraviz has worked hard to try to make the album sit together like a cohesive DJ set and the highlights are a testament to this, making it a release that is worth checking out.

Black Bananas – “Rad Times Xpress IV”  (Drag City)

Black Bananas is a new project from Jennifer Herrema (ex-Royal Trux) that maintains the line-up of previous project RTX but subtle changes the bands overall sound. Where previously the dominate sound was a lo-fi take on rock ‘n’ roll and classic 70’s rock they are replaced by a sound derived from the 70’s P-Funk pioneers Parliament/Funkadelic. The guitar techniques of P-Funk guitarist Eddie Hazel are particularly prominent though this is no bad thing another influence that instantly jump out are the Dub of King Tubby and Lee ‘Scratch Perry. What’s most surprising and indeed pleasing is the album’s pop music feel where I expected an overly lo-fi album covered in fuzz and the smeared sound that lo-fi recording creates I was instead present with a mix that was balanced between the dirty elements and those with more clarity. Herrerma hasn’t changed over the years and though the music content has shifted slightly the lyrical content remains the same, she’s a rock ‘n’ roller and always will be this isn’t a real problem on this album and suits the music well. This isn’t ‘serious music’ per se and shouldn’t be treated as such, it’s a dirty pop thrill and all the better for it. If this a permanent change of direction then Herrema may well find a seam that she dig into, if not then at least we have this gem of an album. Check out the album’s title track here.

Claro Intelecto – “Second Blood” EP (Delsin)

“Second Blood” is an elegantly slow, almost seductive EP released on the Netherland’s Delsin label, which is also home to Redshape and analogue-loyal techno producer Morphosis. The title track contains static hisses and an agile, skulking synth that is pulled along by the considerate use of side-chaining on every bar which gives the bass line a cushioned effect under airy chords. ‘Heart’ is woozy and lethargic, recalling Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS in its use of placid ambience and the barely-there bass drum.  At 115bpm, ‘Voyeurism’ is the EP’s fastest track. The softly pumping chords and arpeggio synth line are near dub-techno. After the lethargy of the two previous tracks the seductively grooving bass line gives ‘Voyeurism’ a spirited potency while a round bass drums push the track forward. “Second Blood” is a brilliant downtempo techno EP from an artist who infrequently releases material.

Ekoplekz – “Dromilly Vale EP” (Public Information Records)

Ekoplekz’s new EP for Public Information is a more abstract and sounds similar to some of the tracks on his “Intrusive Incidentals Vol. 1” album from last year. This combined with a structural arcs were tracks start off relatively sparse before building into dense collages of synths, organ and sound effects. If I had to pick highlights (the whole EP is excellent) they’d be the dissonant ‘Jugglin’ Fer Jesus’ (which title is a play on Ekoplekz hero’s Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Sluggin’ Fer Jesus’) and ‘Clayton Freak’ with its slow creepy feel of horror movie and BBC Radiophonic material. The whole EP is shoot through the Ekoplekz own brand of dub delirium and is all the better for it. The bonus tracks are well worth the price of an e-mail address, one being a Dub mix of the EP’s other BBC Radiophonic Workshop influenced track ‘Dick Mill’s Blues’ and ‘Rotamotion’ a lighter bubbling take on the dark dance material of Ekoplekz’s recent “Westerleigh Works EP” for Perc Trax.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

Harmonious Thelonius – “Listens” (Italic Records)

The abrasive combination of American minimalism’s condensed patterns, European melodies and African-inspired rhythms that made “Talking”, Harmonious Thelonious’ (Stefan Schwander) debut album, sound so raw, urgent and exceptional are replaced by a more accessible, light South American-style palette and a larger focus on melody. Yet the mix is overly compressed leaving “Listen” sounding flat and airless with nothing to allow the melodies to shine or excite. It is my understanding that the album was recorded in a studio yet audience noise can be heard in the background, which seems like a poor attempt to inject interest into lifeless tracks. As with his previous album, Schwander’s passion and knowledge of these musical styles are clear and while there are glimpses that prove there is more territory to explore in this direction, there is very little, save the rich, complex ‘Drums Of Steel’ and ‘Trans-Harmonic System’, that has the grit, energy and, ultimately, the excitement of “Talking”.

Sleigh Bells – “Reign of Terror” (Mom & Pop)

A disappointing return for an act that promised so much two years ago. ‘Reign of Terror’ won’t be getting many repeat plays by me. It’s not all bad in fact the band show that they’ve progressed with new ethereal sounds and digital synths a recurring presence throughout the album. However, the band rarely convince on ‘Reign of Terror’ which is severely lacking in the ‘can’t get out of brain’ hooks department, the whole thing comes off a little flat. In addition to this the band’s love of 80’s hair metal aesthetics quick becomes grating, the opening track (‘True Shred Guitar’)  a particularly cringe worthy example of this with its crowd noise and the AC/DC riff that follows falls flat too. Nothing on this album comes close to what the band had previously achieved though it shows that they aren’t one trick ponies it’s just their other tricks aren’t that good unfortunately.

Olafur Arnalds – “Another Happy Day OST” (Erased Tapes)

Olafur Arnalds soundtrack for the film “Another Happy Day” does what it says on, fulfilling its purpose though a majority of the songs failure to translate without the images it accompanies. This by no means a bad album and the highlights, the haunting ‘Poland’, the creepy and foreboding ‘Out to Sea’ and the opener ‘Land of Nod’ are all great additions to Arnalds back catalogue. However the rest of the album leaves a little to be desired, yes they work on a functional level and there’s nothing wrong with that but they don’t rise to the heights of Arnalds last album ‘… And They Escaped The Weight of Darkness’ (2010). Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the closing track ‘Everything Must Change’ after spending half of the track six and a half minute length bringing the tracks main elements (twinkling piano, scratchy pizzicato violin, a deep doomy bass line, clattering reverb heavy percussion and ghostly voices and violin) only for when the whole thing starts to coalesce to drop everything to a lone violin, a massive anti climax that destroys the tension and energy that had been built up.

The Belbury Poly – “The Belbury Tales” (Ghost Box)

“The Belbury Tales” is a very 50/50 album while some tracks are little more than good facsimiles of their influences others (especially in the album’s second half) manage to rise above being the sum of their parts and match more recent production techniques and style particularly hip-hop style breakbeats into an already heady and complex brew. The first half of the record suggests good ideas with its mix of elements but fails to deliver sounding flat and unimaginative, it’s hard to pinpoint why these tracks fail whereas the second includes a handful of gems. These include the gorgeous interweaving synth melodies of ‘Summer Round’, the fuzz coated ‘Chapel Perilous’, the irresistibly funky ‘Goat Foot’, and the chilling ‘My Hands’. The first reference point that springs to mind is Broadcast and The Focus Groups “…Investigate Witch Cults of The Radio Age” but with a the use of guitars, bass, drums, ocarina, zithers and melodica adding energy and a wider colour palette. When the album hits its heights it’ll put a smile on your face but for the remainder of the tracks its just mildly diverting.

Loops of Your Heart – “And Never Ending Nights” (Magazine Records)

“And Never Ending Nights” is true to traditional kosmische musik artists, in particular, Cluster whose albums were created using a small palette of instruments, sounds and textures.  In the absence of drums, the synthesiser arpeggios create the rhythm. Thick basslines are balanced by synths that shimmer, cut and swell; fast arpeggios provide mantra-like qualities over ethereal pads. In “And Never Ending Nights”, Axel Willner has provided another example of the German electronic music practice of letting the music flow albeit in a controlled manner, which creates most of its tension, while, as with his main project The Field, showcasing his skill in restrained and effective song writing.  The album is a lesson in simplicity and stripped composition and the mid-section provides the highlights; ‘End’ and ‘Cries’ are two of Willner’s most emotive compositions yet while ‘Neukölln’ and  ‘Lost In The Mirror’ are the most transparent in revealing the German influences. The former, named after a Berlin district, features the voices of young children speaking German under layers of synths that gently swell and wobble in the style of Cluster and aesthetics of Harmonia.

Peter Broderick – “http://www.itstartshear.com&#8221; (Bella Union)

The new album by Peter Broderick picks up where he left with his last solo release “Music for Confluence” left off 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 push the listener beyond their expectations. He achieves 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.itstartshear.com” is its equal and perfect companion piece.

Contender for Debut Album of the Year

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.

Top Release of the Month

Blondes – “Blondes” (RVNG ITNL)

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 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. Blondes have not only created a contender for Debut Album of the Year but an early contender for the Album of the Year itself.

January was a surprisingly busy month with the music industry stopping only to catch its breath over Christmas and New Year before getting back into the swing of things straight away. Annoyingly there’s has been a lot of confusion over two of the albums we recommended so we’ve not been able to pass comment on Harmonious Thelonious “Listens” and Loop of Your Heart’s ” And Never Ending Nights”.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

Matthew Dear – “Headcage EP” (Ghostly International)

Matthew Dear’s “Headcage” EP is not so much a disappointment as a mixed bag that doesn’t quite achieve its aims though overall Dear comes out on top. The title track sets the tone with the influence of Brian Eno and Jon Hassell’s Fourth Music and modern synth music artists Oneohtrix Point Never and Laurel Halo. In fact ‘Headcage’ reminds me of ‘Head’ by Laurel Halo only 95% of mix hasn’t been drowned in reverb. The biggest disappointment is ‘In The Middle (I Met You There) feat. Johnny Pierce the song starts well enough with Dear’s pitched vocals and moody synths but when the music drops and Pierce’s vocals come in it’s a big letdown from then on. Things pick up a little with ‘Street Song’ the lead synth melody recalling Oneohtrix Point Never and Dear producing some pleasing tricks with his vocals, however these ideas aren’t developed fully and the song peters out. Finally ‘Around A Fountain’ reaches the heights of the title track with heavily compressed percussion, sighing backing vocals and Dear’s processed lead vocals dominating the intro before the lead vocal enters and gives the track a central focus, this is glues the track together. The track recalls similar influences to the others and Talking Heads. Though not firing on all cylinders on this EP it still feels like Dear will probably deliver on his new album “Beams” due later this year.

Oliveray – “Wonders” (Erased Tapes)

The début album by Oliveray (aka Peter Broderick and Nils Frahms) switches between vocal lead folk songs and ambient instrumentals, though even the folk tracks are grounded in ambience. Multi instrumentalist Broderick’s guitar/violin compliment Frahms vocals and piano even when Broderick push into harder or more abstract sounds. Though I prefer the instrumentals (Frahms voice is still growing on me) their cover of ‘Harmonics’ by Efterklang and album closer ‘Dreamer’ both hit the spot. Of the ambient pieces organic opener ‘Growing Waterwings’, the effects heavy ambience of ‘Piano in the Pond’ and the desolate twanging guitar and soft reverbed piano of ‘Hiding Hydiration’ stand out. Though this album doesn’t match Broderick’s recent solo album “Music For Confluence” (or A Winged Victory for the Sullen self titled début which also featured Broderick) it’s well worth investigation. I’ve only scratched the surface of both these artists vast back catalogues and so this may well turn to be one of the finest efforts of their repetitive careers to date and the album does feel like a grower.

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.

Early Contender for Debut Album of the Year

Islet – “Illuminted People”

Islet’s “Illuminated People is a confident and self-assured debut album from an ambitious band fusing together influences that seem to range from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Fuck Buttons via the Boredoms, shoegaze and folk music. The opening one-two punch of ‘Libra Man’ and ‘This Fortune’ perfectly demonstrate the band ability to bring together these influences to forge their own sound and also that their not just about the sonics but the tunes too. The briefly slacken the pace of the intro of ‘Entwined Pines’ before the drums double up and the tension builds before dropping to a Cocteau Twins style verse before post-punk guitars and synth grind away for the second of the song. ‘What We Done Wrong’ repeats the same trick but with male and female vocals play off each other. Islet show they can do subtle and simple on the folk-y ‘We Bow’ and soft vocals and feedback of  ‘A Warrior Who Longs to Grow Herbs’. The album gets even more eclectic in its second half with two post-rock style songs in ‘Filia’ and ‘Funicular’, the drum machine and tropical sounding synths of ‘Shores’ and the album closer ‘A Bear On Its Own’  with its creepy stabby synth outro, stuttering organ and duelling male and female vocals. My only really complaint is that one of the male vocalist struggles to make his notes in a way that grates other than that this is an impressive and memorable debut album from a band who could have a bright future.

Top Release of the Month

Errors – “Have Some Faith In Magic” (Rock Action)

Errors have been steadily evolving their own sound since their début EP back in 2006 and new album “Have Some Faith In Magic” is no different. What’s interesting about this album is how it seems to refer more modern influences such as James Ferraro and the chillwave/hypnagogic pop acts he has inspired so the newly introduced vocals come coated in reverb and sometimes other effects and there’s a simmering quality and multi coloured feel to the music. In addition this the band fine melodic and structural sense is not only still in place but has moved on another step, enough that they attract attention outside of their cult fan base. Particularly potent tunes include the single ‘Pleasure Palaces’ and its dance floor grooves which remind me of Washed Out and Blondes, the spritely soul inspired rhythms of ‘Barton Spring’ and ‘Blank Media’’s one of the simplest songs the band have written, which they pull off with aplomb. Elsewhere there’s almost rock guitar on opener ‘Tusk’ which also introduces one of the albums dominate sounds that of the twinkling arpeggio, however the songs are so varied that this recurring sound doesn’t grate. I had high hopes for this album after hearing ‘Magna Encarta’ and ‘Earthscore’ and Errors have met them and overcome the problems commonly associated with making a bigger leap in the evolution of a bands sound. They’ve written music that not only moves them forward but also seems primed for the bigger stages they’ll play on this year, after one play it feels this album and band can only get better.

Recommendations – February

Marcel Dettmann – “Landscape” out now (Music Man Records)

Released on the same label as his “Conducted” mix and following on from the “Translation” EP, the key feature of ‘Landscape’ is a muted melody that swells and deflates under Dettmann’s trademark thudding and scraping drums, providing a pivotal building-to-peak-time track for a DJ to throw in a set. A remix from the upcoming Answer Code Request pushes ‘Landscape’ into the pure peak time territory that the original teases the listener with.

Harmonious Thelonious – “Listens” out now (Italic)

Italic will release the follow-up to 2010’s Congotronics influenced ‘Talking’ with an new album that we at Sonic Fiction hope continues this artist’s unique combination of “American minimalism vs. African drumming vs. European sequencing”.

Blondes – “Blondes” 6th February (RVNG Itnl)

The début album from one of our favourite new acts on Sonic Fiction on RVNG Itnl who are shaping up to be the label of year (can’t wait for Julia Holter and the Sun Araw/The Congos collaboration albums later this year). The album collects together the duo’s pureistic and all analogue 12″ singles from last year plus a extra disc of remixes featuring the likes of Laurel Halo, Rene Hell and Teengirl Fantasy among others. Despite this pureistic approach this isn’t dance music by numbers and seems to incoraparate some influences from ambient music and the kosmische music of Cluster and their current peers such as Halo and Hell. Stream Blondes album here.

Loops Of Your Heart – ‘And Never Ending Nights’ 13th February (Magazine Records)

After his career ascension with “Looping State Of Mind”, The Field (Axel Willner) has created the side project Loops Of Your Heart. “And Never Ending Nights” is immersed in German influence and celebrates the country’s tradition of musical restraint that is exemplified in kosmiche musik names such as Cluster and Harmonia. The sampled voices of children speaking German on the lead track “Neukölln”, named after the Berlin district.

Peter Broderick – “http://www.itstartshear.com” 20th February 2012 (Bella Union)

Broderick’s new solo album is called “http://www.itstartshear.com” because though he has no problem with people downloading his music, Broderick sees the problems with pieces of information and artwork that can go missing and complete the experience. So he’s set-up a website where everything to do with the album can be accessed by anyone whatever format they’ve bought/got the album in.

Produced by Nils Frahm (Broderick’s partner in Oliveray) at his Durton Studio in Berlin and Broderick says “it is my first project on which the sonic timbre of the songs was treated equally as important as the music itself. I have been in awe of the sound on the many records coming out of Nils’ studio over the last couple years, so I thank him deeply for helping me to explore a richer, wider sonic landscape.”

Ital – “Hive Mind” 20th February (Planet Mu)

The début album from Daniel Martin-McCormick under his Ital guise is an album that early reviews and pre-release track suggest stretches the definition of dance music. Made up of five longform tracks that build upon last year 12″ releases on 100% Silk and takes his dirty, dubby and psychedelic sound further out. Tracks like ‘Floridian Void’ seem to bring together sounds from Martin-McCormick’s entire career thus far from the solo synth based noise project Sex Worker, through the brutal dance-punk of Mi Ami and with the D-I-Y attitude of his first band the hardcore punks Black Eyes. This is dance music in structure but not by design.

Sleigh Bells – ‘Reign of Terror’ 20th February (Mom & Pop)

The second album from Sleigh Bells promise more of the noisy pop of their début “Treats” but with a darker more gothic edge added to the overall tone. The main changes seems to be that pre-release tracks “Born to Lose” and “Comeback Kid” is that though the tracks are less in-your-face than before they still possessed extraordinary power. Meanwhile the Alexis Krauss’ vocals have become more ethereal adding a new creepy edge to the music.

Olafur Arnalds – “Another Happy Day OST”  27th February (Erased Tapes)

Like label mate Nils Frahms Olafur Arnalds is a young modern classical pianist with a prolific output. This latest release provides the soundtrack for Sam Levinson’s “Another Happy Day” starring Ellen Barkin and Demi Moore and features the beautiful and delicate ‘Poland’.

Belbury Poly – “The Belbury Tales” 27th February (Ghost Box)

The fourth album from Belbury Poly (aka Ghost Box co-founder Jim Jupp) is a heavily influenced by 1970’s folk-prog acts such as Caravan though in a recent FACT interview Jupp said he hadn’t made a prog album per se but that “While the sound and feel of British prog is an influence on The Belbury Tales, it’s only one element. It’s not a prog rock album, I don’t think; it has just as much to do with TV soundtracks, library music, kosmische and psychedelic rock.” The four clips that are available to stream via Soundcloud certainly fit this description. FACT say the album fits into the Belbury Poly and Ghost Box aesthetic but with a more organic and live feel thanks to the contributions of guest musicians Christopher Budd (bass and electric guitar) and Jim Musgrave (drums) a first for a Belbury Poly release. Jupp also adds zithers, melodica, ocarina and sampled vocals to the mix. The clips leave the listen intrigued but we’ll have to wait to find out what the whole album sounds like.

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