Tag Archive: Killer Mike


This post is the first of two that mark the end of Sonic Fiction for the foreseeable future and probably forever. It wasn’t an easy decision to make but I feel that as much as I’m still as passionate about all the music reviewed on the site I have to now focus purely on my own music career and improving those skills.

Thank to everyone whose read, commented on and retweeted/favourited/followed Sonic Fiction in its three years in existence. I will still keep the Sonic Fiction Twitter account alive as my own personal account so you can still find out about new music via that account.

  1. Run the Jewels – “Run the Jewels” (Fool’s Gold)

  2. Adrian Younge & Ghostface Killah – “12 Reasons to Die” (Soul Temple)

  3. Black Milk – “No Poison, No Paradise” (Fat Beats)

  4. Action Bronson & Harry Fraud – “SAAAB Stories” (self released)

  5. RJD2 – “More Is Than Isn’t” (RJ’s Electrical Connections)

  6. The Child of Lov – “The Child of Lov” (Double Six/Domino)

  7. Youngblood Brass Band – “Pax Volumi” (Tru Thoughts)

  8. G&D – “The Lighthouse” (SomeOthaShip)

  9. Deltron 3030 – “Event II” (Bulk)

  10. FKA Twigs – “EP2” (Young Turks/XL)

Run the Jewels – “Run the Jewels” (Fool’s Gold)

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Having worked together on the finest hip-hop release of 2012 “R.A.P. Music” El-P and team up again for their new project Run The Jewels. The duo has talked about this being their ‘fun’ album and as much as it sounds like they had fun making it, this is a serious hip-hop album both lyrically and sonically.

The album opens with its title track which instantly sets the tone for the rest of the album with its chattering hi-hat, 808 beat and minimal deep synth bass line. In the chorus El-P introduces a great screaming organ lead and employs Dub FX and a subtle reggae rhythm plays beneath the hard hitting hip-hop surface. Mike kicks off ‘Banana Clipper’ with the great lines “I move with the elegance of an African elephant, I presented the evidence, Eloquent as a president, Evident it’s with emphasis, I deserve me a championship, But before I banana clip, I’mma chill so my man can rip”. Later he praises his partner in crime while slamming boastful producers with a wry smile – “Producer gave me a beat, Said it’s the beat of the year, I said El-P didn’t do it, So get the fuck outta here”. All this delivered over sharp horn stabs and a double time beat. ‘36” Chain’ is a great example of El-P’s skill in creating multi textured tracks with its blocky synth stabs, video game blips and heavily compressed and reverbed snare combing to stunning effect.

‘Job Well Done’ is another album highlight and another track that demonstrates El-P amazing use of texture and space. His achieves this using discordant guitar and distant vocals adding more space and texture. The drums also have a great feel, pushing and pulling the listener. There’s also great use of dueling synth melodies and vocals in the chorus. The album ends with ‘A Christmas Fucking Miracle’ which combines sleigh bells, electric piano chords and a siren synth, everything is processed to feel corroded and dirty adding to the dystopian atmosphere.

All-in-all you couldn’t ask for more from “Run The Jewels” a hard hitting and full realised hip-hop album from start to finish, only time will tell whether matches up to “R.A.P. Music”.

Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah – “12 Reasons to Die” (Soul Temple)

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With his new album alongside up and coming producer and multi instrumentalist Adrian Younge, Ghostface Killah comes pretty close to scaling the heights of his 90’s prime producing and album that never dips in quality across its 12 tracks. Like many Wu Tang Clan related releases there’s a storyline that runs through the album, this time the main character is Ghostface himself playing the role of a “vengeful soul hunting the 12 most powerful crime lords in the World.”

The album opens with ‘Beware of the Stare’ which immediate sets up the story and the tone of the album full of piano chords, a female choir, low slung funk bass guitar and a head nodding beat. ‘Rise of the Black Suits’ follows a similar formula adding chilling organ chords and an electric piano riff. ‘I Declare War’ is the most cinematic track so far with its operatic female vocals, spoken word outro and sweeping strings. The pace picks up on ‘Blood On The Cobblestones’ with it fast break beat, organ and horn stabs and great fuzz bass. ‘The Center Of Attraction’ changes things up again with it sparse electric piano chords and beat and back and forth strings. The next big moment on the album is ‘The Rise Of the Ghostface Killah’ with its cut-up female vocals and a spoken word male voice then a delay tail brings in the break beat and gliding electric guitar chords that slide around under Ghostface’s cool flow. ‘Revenge Is Sweet’ is a song of two halves beginning with sparse break beat and bass guitar before high pitched female choir cut in to tell more of the album’s story, strings come in and a male vocal duels with the female vocals. Then guitar chords float in  and then rap section of the track begins with Masta Killa getting busy on the mic. Wu Tang posse cut ‘Murder Spree’ and The Sure Shot’ (Parts One & Two) pick up where ‘Blood On The Cobblestones’ left off and the album finishes with ‘12 Reasons To Die’ which immortalises Ghostface in death to the sound of emotive piano, wind like sweeping synth, sparse bass guitar, mournful strings and an epic outro. With “12 Reasons to Die” Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge have set the bar extremely high for other hip-hop releases in 2013 and Younge has proved that it’s not just RZA whose the perfect foil for Wu Tang Clan MCs.

Black Milk – “No Poison, No Paradise” (Fat Beats)

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The profilic Detroit rapper/producerBlack Milk returns with his first solo album since “Album of the Year” (2010) and his second album of this year (Computer Ugly’s brilliant rough and raw “Synth or Soul” being the other album). It’s a welcome return and sees Black Milk firing on all cylinders from start to finish and in the progress making one of the best hip-hop albums of the year.

The album opens with ‘Interpret Sabotage’ featuring Mel it begins with electric piano that floats and is then interupted by static then a synth bass line and blunt hip-hop beat drop, a synth lead swiggles over the top of thin high strings and then Black Milk cuts in with his first verse. it’s urgent and frantic. Mel sings her chorus part over just the bass line and drums before the strings and synth cut back in. It’s a great opening track. Next up is the jazzy ‘Deion’s House’ which opens with a heads down beat and stabbing jazz piano and brass over the top. It features some great toms rolls and there’s more relaxed flow from Black Milk. ‘Codes & Cab Fare’ featuring Black Thought finishes off a fantastic opening run of tracks. It starts with a slow pulsing hip-hop beat, distant spoken word samples and a bell that rings out occasional, then Black Milk comes in for the first verse backed by thick dominating organ chords and creaking string samples. After more spoken word sample cut in, the second verse is taken by Black Thought, his rhymes and delivery are more aggressive as are the synth and effects that back him.

‘Ghetto Demf featuring Quelle Chris combines a hollow synth riff (sounds like the Normal or Gary Numan), a hip-hop beat, great gliding synth melody takes,dub delay FX that spin across the mix and spoken word samples that can be heard in the background. ‘Sonny Jr. (Dreams) featuring Robert Glasper & Dwele is the first of two instrumental tracks that help break up the rap tracks and showcase Black Milk great musicality (not a strong suit for many current hip-hop producers). Electric piano chords are stabbed out, then stop making way for a drum and percussion break, thin strings come in and bring an electric piano melody, so far so jazzy. A horn cycles over the top of everything. Like a lot of the album so far, it has a filmic, soundtrack quite. I really liked the vocal harmonies that come in halfway through. The next two tracks were the lead single(s) from the album and are both ‘Sunday’s Best’ and ‘Monday’s Worst’ find Black Milk equalling J Dilla as a master of soul sampling hip-hop.

‘Perfected on Puritan Ave.’opens with a chiming melody, strong synth strings and distant bass drum backing Black Milk. Then he strips things down to a horn sample, vocal harmonies and his vocals before the verse part quickly kicks back in. Halfway through the track changes completely with tumbling drums, trumpet solo and chopped up vocal sample underpinned by driving bass guitar. Then the strings swell back into life moving around the listener to heady effect. ‘Parallels’ featuring Ab combines a cool minimal synth riff, bubbling arpeggio and tough, stark neck breaking drums. Ab sings soulfully over the top, then Milk drops in for his first verse. Melody reminds of “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”. The album closes with ‘Money Bags (Paradise)’ which with its 80’s style digital synths, hard and heavy downtempo beat and slow moving synth bass, recalls Black Milk’s previously mentioned Computer Ugly album.

All-in-all “No Poison, No Paradise” is one the most fantastic and varied hip-hop albums of the year.  “To be specific it’s psychedelic, soulful, organic, reflective, and dynamic. It sounds like the soundtrack to a sci-fi gangster flick about Halloween in the streets of Detroit. Throughout NPNP Black Milk loosely constructs a theme of how the negative qualities of his Detroit environment in many ways shaped the perspective and talent he has as it connects to life and music. It’s a spiritual, thematic, and sonic balance”. This an album that highly recommend to anyone, go get yourself a copy now!!!

Action Bronson and Harry Fraud – “SAAAB Stories” (Self Released)

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With “SAAAB Stories” Action Bronson and Harry Fraud have delivered their best release and most varied release to date. Both rapper and produce are at the top of their game and pushing each other to do greater things.

Things kick off with ‘2 Virgins’ the first of several slower and more contemplative tracks on the E.P. its slow reverse intro and strings off set by sweet picked guitar and sour distorted guitar solo flow underneath Bronson and his hype man Big Body Bes’s rhymes. ‘Triple Backflip’ picks up where ‘2 Virgins’ left off with its gliding electric piano, snapping snare and round and warm bass drum, in the second of the track these elements are joined by mood enhancing subtle strings and nice picked guitars. ‘No Time’ is a highlight with its soloing electric piano, jazzy bass guitar and head nodding bass guitar a perfect backing for Bronson’s smutty rhymes. ‘Strictly 4 My Jeeps’ is a summer banger that comes closer to matching the brilliant ‘No Time’ and also gets your head nodding and foot tapping. ‘Alligator’ demonstrates Bronson’s storytelling abilities and with its downtempo and spooky yet dirty synth recalls Fever Ray’s excellent self titled debut album. Album closer ‘Seven Series Triplets’ rounds things out nicely with its picked bass guitar and pulse quickening beat the perfect setting for verses from Bronson, Prodigy and Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon.

“SAAAB Stories” sees Bronson moving away from the perception of him as a food and sex obsessed Ghostface Killah impersonator and in fact I’d have to agree with Potholes in my Blog’s assertation that on this release he sounds closer to Ghostface’s Wu Tang tag team partner Raekwon. “SAAAB Stories” is the best hip-hop release of 2013 bar Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah’s exceptional “12 Reasons to Die”, this is an essential release!!!

RJD2 – “More Is Than Isn’t” (RJ’s Electrical Connections)

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It’s been over a decade since RJD2 released his brilliant debut album “Dead Ringer” (2002) which saw him regularly compared to DJ Shadow, with whom he shared a mastery of moody instrumental hip-hop. Since then RJD2 has tried out a number of genres including prog rocker for “Since We Last Spoke” (2004), singer songwriter on “The Third Hand” (2007) and funkateer on his lasting out “The Colossus” (2010). On his “More Is Than Isn’t” he finally cuminates all of previous ideas into one cohesive work, rather than again shifting his style.


The album opens with ‘Suite 1’ the first of three suites that are scattered across the album’s length. The track starts with waves crashing and bird song before spacious deep piano chords come in swiftly followed by a synthesizer that slips and slides all over the mix and sounds a little like a saxophone or the original bird song. Around a minute and twenty seconds a choir of voices can be heard in the distance. In the climax we briefly hear the bird song, waves and synth sax again. Next up is ‘Temperamental’ featuring Phonte Coleman of Little Brother, it begins with a heavy sharp hip-hop beat and electric piano chords played rhythmically, Coleman’s crooner’s emotive over the top. The backing vocals inimate the piano chords one miunte and thirty seconds in and then there’s some great distorted guitar comes in around two minutes in. Track three ‘Behold, Numbers’ opens with tense ascending synths/strings before a beat, reversed snare and stabs of the strings drop for a great percussive track that snaps your neck. Around a minute in the strings transform and intensify and a flowing melody that play over the percussive elements. At one minute forty seconds there’s an electric piano and slap bass break, that builds in intensity when hand percussion and flinty funk guitar riffs kick in over the top. Two minutes and fifty seconds the track becomes a snapping and cracking funk monster, with some of the original percussive elements mixed with the new slap bass, drums and funk guitar.

‘Her Majesty’s Socialist Request’ kicks off with high frequency synth tweet before crushing guitar power chords and double time drums and percussion cut in, the track breaks down to an Indian sounding string figure, the dramatic guitar riff and some of the percussion elements. Great piano loop kicks in around two minutes fifteen sounds in and plays over the guitar riff and percussion. All the elements are combined to stunning effect, only four tracks and I was already bowled over by RJD2’s latest work.  ‘Bathwater’ featuring P. Blackk the first of two MC lead tracks on the album is up next. It opens with a thick slab of fuzzy wah guitar, then the raps and double time beat come in, follow by lots of cut up vocals and guitar samples flying about. Synth bass and lead synth add to the awesome analogue filth. ‘Milk Tooth’ combines analogue synth bloops, a cutting soul break, bass and guitar, huge synth brass stabs and a female vocal harmony. Later there’s also a gliding synth melody that comes in part through, it sounds like a classic Moog. The track feels like a synth based version of Adrian Younge’s sound or a more soul based version of a Gaslamp Killer horrorcore track.

‘See You Leave’ is another vocal featuring The Roots associate STS (MC) and singer Khari Mateen. Big held organ chords and tumbling drums make up the intro of this track before a soul backbeat and rhythm guitar cut in, soulful lead vocals and guitar lick that recalls the Isley Brothers play over the top. There’s some solid rap verses but the soul chorus is where its at on this track. Next up is ‘Got There, Sugar’ a two part of a track the warps from one to the other partway through. A simple warmth synth melody, electric piano chords and sax solo open up this track, jazz drums shuffling away underneath. At one minute fifty seconds the track completely transforms into a wah-wah guitar and organ lead funk monster. ‘Descended From Myth’ sounds like a forgotten gem from a Blaxploitation soundtrack combining blaring horns, pounding drums and a stabbing synth bass. There track gets more synth heavy and sci-fi in feel as its progresses. It’s great to see RJD2 and Blueprint (MC) working together for the first time since “Dead Ringer”. The track ‘It All Came to Me in a Dream’ is one of the highlights of the album too. A drum roll brings in a tremolo fuzz guitar, head nodding beat, low slung bass and filmic dialogue samples, the track breaks down to bring in Blueprint’s first rap verse. There’s a great synth solo around one minute fifty seconds in.

All-in-all “More Is Than Isn’t” is RJD2’s best album since “Dead Ringer” and while it may not provide as many knock out moments as that brilliant work it comes pretty close to equalling it. It’s both a varied and consisent album that showcases both RJD2’s skills as a producer and as a musician, this is a guy who can make a great head nodding, neck snapping beat, write a fantastic chorus and play an amazing synth solo sometimes even on the same track!! Highly recommended to all lovers of instrumental hip-hop, soulful music and music with a ton of funk!!

The Child of Lov – “The Child of Lov” (Double Six/Domino)

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The secretive artist The Child of Lov is a hip-hop producer from the Netherlands but he doesn’t make any old hip-hop and when you hear his processed vocals you’d swear he was from America’s Deep South. The album opens with the loping bass guitar, downtempo hip-hop beat and skewed soul vocals of ‘Call Me Up’ the atmospherics and vocals of which recalls “Return to Cookie Mountain” era TV on the Radio. It’s swiftly followed by ‘Heal’ with its uptempo drum break, nagging post-punk guitar riff and stabbing bass guitar. Next up is the sparse ballad ‘One Day’ that features Blur’s Damon Albarn, twisted twangy guitar melodies, rippling synth bass and a dusty hip-hop beat. ‘Living the Circle’ combines corroded synth bass and a heavy stuttering hip-hop beat with a computer game style synth melody to stunning, head nodding effect.

The second half the album sees electronic drums dominate whereas acoustic drums had pervaded in the first half. ‘Go With The Wind’ utilises a subtle electronic hip-hop drums, computer game synth bass and a weird lo-fi guitar riff that underline the uniqueness of this artists sound. ‘Fly’ is another great up tempo track with a thumping, purposeful bass drum pushing everything forward. The album closes with ‘Give It To The People’ on which there’s very little vocal processing and the track has a brighter, pop production pointing at potential development for The Child of Lov’s sound in the future. “The Child of Lov” is a great debut album that demonstrates that you don’t need to the biggest budget or sound to make something that can shine and be unique. I look forward to hearing more from The Child of Lov in the future.

Youngblood Brass Band – “Pax Volumi” (Tru Thoughts)

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Youngblood Brass Band return with their first album in seven years and it is great to have them back. ‘Pax Volumi’ is an album that cements their reputation as a great hip-hop and jazz band that can deliver a great album as well as great live performances. Their previous effort ‘Is That A Riot?’ was the first evidence that they could keep the quality high across an album and ‘Pax Volumi’ confirms and nudges their trademark sound forward.

The album opens as Youngblood open their live sets with something huge and anthemic. The track is ’20 Questions’ and with its combination of thumping bass line , staccato snare, heavy bass drum and chattering hats. The rap flows in a start-stop flow over the top and the brass cuts in and out with the trumpet  playing staccato melodies in the verse and full section stabs in the chorus. There’s a great sax solo 2 minutes in and the track establishes the new punchier and more polished sound of the album. ‘Cite the Line’ brings back the band’s trademark military drum beat which plays under staccato saxophone, distant vocals and yearning elongated trumpets. Then the main beat and bass line kick in thumping your eardrums and backing the fast rapping, the horns ascend in the chorus to great effect.

‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’ opens with mournful sounding trombone and droning trumpet, the MC enters and beatboxes a hip-hop drum pattern. The huge bassline slams in and brings with it a crisp hip-hop beat (the evidence of use of a sampler by Youngblood) and the rap verse, the brass emerges out of nowhere like a synth pad. Some of drums and the bassline sounds electronic or electronically processed. There’s a nice mellow drum less section partway through. Then the beatboxing, scratch and electronic drum re-enter with the core brass riffs. ‘The Plank Will Nod, and You Will Go’ starts with title spoken then the brass and drums thunder in before breaking down to rap and drums before the brass emerges again with snaking jazz melodies. The intro returns for an instrumental chorus. The track reminds of ‘Bone Refinery’ from the previous album. I really like the sousaphone and vocal only breakdown half through, then the brass snakes back followed by the drums to bring the chorus back in.

‘Erik Owen’ begins with sax and trombone playing long interweaving melodies over each other before Latin handclaps and staccato trumpet cuts in, a great minimal hip-hop rhythm takes over and the trumpet plays main melody. It’s a great bright upbeat track that changes up from the double time rhythms of much of the rest of the album. Towards the end of the album the band cover the Chaka Khan classic ‘Ain’t Nobody’ it  opens with a tons of percussion and deep bass drum before the trombone and trumpets play a funky riff and the sax harmonises over the top. The sousaphone plays the bass and the sax, trumpets and trombone take it in turns to play the main chorus melody. There are some great solos in the middle section of the song and a fantastic tough bass line in the outro. The album finishes with the epic eight minute closer ‘Third Half’. It begins with a lone trumpet soloing before a snare roll brings with tons of tumbling jazz drums and the other brass and sax, it all underpinned by a body movin’ sousaphone bass line. I can’t put my finger on what it is but there’s something familiar about the melody around 2 minutes 20 seconds played by the sax. The band gets into some heavy jazz soloing in the middle section with the drums pounding and rolling behind. It breaks down to sax for a second again with that familiar melody; then the drums come back in slowly building the tension. Trumpets and trombone interweave with the sax both competing and complimenting it. It’s a superb finishes to an album that makes the triumphant return of a band that have been away for far too long!!!

G&D – “The Lighthouse” (SomeOthaShip)

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The mysterious moniker G&D hides the behind it two disguised artists in Georgia Anne Muldrow (G) and Dudley Perkins (D) who’ve both been working together and individual as hip-hop artists for over two decades. However, both have found their profiles rise since 2006 (I only knew of Georgia Anne Mudrow’s existence last year due to her ‘Seeds’ album produced by Madlib). Some hip-hop heads might know Perkins from his time under the name Declaime but I imagine both of these artists are fairly new to most people.

On “The Lighthouse” their pedigree shows itself from the start, as the album kicks off with the cut up vocals samples, P-Funk synth solo and scratches of ‘Intro’. The album swiftly moves to the title track’s laidback percussion, cutting hip-hop beat and cosmic electric piano meanwhile the two vocalists float and flow over the top of a head nodding beat. ‘Fam Bam’ starts the move away from the psychedelic sound of that the artwork of the album suggests were in for. The track features a stuttering electronic hip-hop beat and reverberate claps that back Perkins mean rapping and Muldrow vocals and rapping that recall Erykah Badu and Seattle hip-hop duo Thee Satisfaction. ‘Electric’ combines a smooth bass line and sparse electronic hip-hop beat with another from Perkins with its feedbacking guitar and electronic sound it recalls Cannibal Ox. ‘Power’ brings back to P-Funk and Afro-centric lyrics from the duo, ‘No More War’ picks up where ‘Power’ leaves off with huge synth bass, a twinkling synth melody and shuffling electronic beat back Perkins and Muldrow’s duetting vocals. ‘Popstopper’ demonstrates the duo’s versatility with shuffling acoustic drums and popping funk bass backing Muldrow’s multi-layered lush vocals while a spooky synth stabs in and out of the mix. ‘Dance’ combines with guitar sound of ‘Electric’ with the popping funk bass of ‘Popstopper’ to get you on the floor! ‘Emo Funk’ and album closer ‘Majesty’ both show the duo can do slo-mo acoustic piano ballads albeit with their own unique twist. With ‘The Lighthouse’ G&D have arguably made the best underground hip-hop of year so far, check it out!!!

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Thirteen years ago Deltron 3030 the hip-hop supergroup that features Del The Funkee Homosapian (MC), Kid Koala (turntablist) and Dan the Automater (producer) released their self titled début concept album and showed up a lot of the underground hip-hop acts with their combination of ambition and great tunes. Towards the end of last year rumours began to surface that Deltron 3030 had reformed and earlier this the trio confirmed it and then announced they had almost finished a sequel to their début. Now that album is here for all to hear and here’s my review.

The album opens with “Stardate” on which actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt talks of fictional trio’s return over the top of  a synthetic choir and twinkling music box melody. ‘The Return’ opens the album proper combining a synth, long-held strings and choir in from intro track give way to phat hip-hop drums, scratches and a thick layer of organ and cartoonish synth melody. Del enters rapping slow and smooth telling the story of the Earth in 3030. Deep strings cut in during a break down at 3 minutes 30 seconds in. The track changes feel  to a kind of epic spaghetti western style sound. ‘Pay The Price’ is straight in with an upbeat hip-hop beat, scratches and plinking piano and bass guitar groove. Things get cut down for the verse with Del flowing over the top. Like the huge acoustic piano chords and twinkling reverberate melody, the resonate synth is a nice subtle touch.

‘Nobody Can’ featuring Aaron Bruno of AWOL Nation combines great head nodding beat, fuzzy electric guitar and deep bass groove, that back Del’s great rhymes that are off set by soul style guitar chops and an 8-bit synth melody. The tracks reminds me of hip-hop duo N.A.S.A. who released a great similar collaborative album”The Spirit of Apollo” back in 2009. Another huge guitar riff dominates ‘Melding of the Minds’ featuring Zack De La Rocha its backed by phat hip-hop drums and a deep bass guitar with cutting scratches and killer raps from Del and Zack taking the lead. ‘Talent Supercedes’ featuring Black Rob is a cinematic funk track that features A big beat and held horns. There’s some Ennio Morricone references in the verse, with the twanging (yet funky) guitar and clanging bells. Great drum breaks and bass guitar roll, pushing everything forward and flattening anything that gets in their way. ‘Look Across The Sky’ featuring actor Mary Elizabeth Winstead opens with a filter sweep synth effect before a soul guitar rhythm, bass line and midtempo beat drops. Del raps and Winstead sings vocals harmonies on this minimal track. In the chorus Winstead takes the melodic lead before the track breaks down again to the intro synth and a soloing psychedelic guitar.

‘What Is This Loneliness’ featuring Damon Albarn and Casual starts off with a slamming head nodding beat, Del crashes in backed by discordant guitar and chiming bells. Twanging guitar and strings up the tension as we move towards the chorus. Albarn comes in singing the chorus backed by a synth, strings, drums, bass and acoustic rhythm guitar, reminds me of ‘El Manana’ by Gorillaz. Next up is ‘My Only Love’ featuring Emily Wells a stepping epic beat, vocal harmonies, big reverbed chords and slippery synth open this track before backing down to beat, slow moving bass and guitar groove and minimal bell melody for Del’s verse. The intro instruments return for the chorus with Wells singing like Martina Topley Bird over the top.

The album closer with two tracks that really contrast with each other the first ‘City Rising From The Ashes’ featuring Mike Patton begins with a phat drum break, funky bass, horns stabs and a piano riff. In the chorus the brass plays a cool melody and has an almost Latin in feel and Patton sings the backing vocals, Del sounds awesome over the top. Kid Koala weighs in with some great scratch work out towards the end of the track. The album closer ‘Do You Remember’ featuring Jamie Cullum is more reflective. The track opens with Cullum’s vocals, piano and a stringed instruments covered in vinyl crackle and pop and sounding like a 1930’s/40’s jazz crooner. Then hip-hop beat drops and Del flows over the top of Cullum’s jazz vocal melody. Features some great hip-hop stabs and soulful guitar chops.

“Event II” isn’t a huge move away from the trio début album’s sound and lyrical themes but it does feature a lot more uptempo tracks and sweeping cinematic elements. The album feels both like a throw back to 90’s breakbeat driven hip-hop but also has a throughly contemporary production job and sounds like the album that Gorillaz should make if they even make another album. This is a great hip-hop album and highly recommended for both fully fledged hip-hop heads and fans of the likes of Gorillaz and N.A.S.A.

FKA Twigs – “EP 2” (Young Turks/XL)

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FKA Twigs first appeared on my radar just a couple of months ago when the track ‘Water Me’ appeared on line and generated soon serious hype. It turned the hype was justified as it’s an excellent track that establishes FKA Twigs signiture sound delayed cover vocal harmonies, ethereal synths and slo-mo treated electronic beats, all topped off with her breathy sometimes whispered vocals. I found out that she had in fact self released another EP back in 2012 that had completely passed me by and had now been snapped up by Young Turks home to The xx with whom she shares “unflinching intimacy” in her music. The whole EP is produced by Arca a hotly tipped underground hip-hop who recently contributed a track to Kanye West’s “Yeezus”.

The EP opens with ‘How’s That’. It begins with a steadily moving deep synth strings sound and a hollow snare drums echoes out before Twigs vocals enter dropping in and out, there very breathy, a tambourine shaking covered in spine chilling reverb. Then a bitcrusher bass drum and click electronic percussion bash away almost overwhelming the other elements before settling for the main body of the track. The track display’s Arca’s understanding of dynamics as the track swifts from the spacious calm intro into the fuller and menacing main section. Next up is the best track on the EP ‘Papi Pacify’ it masterfully combines a deep detuned synth riff, Twigs echoing vocals at the start of this track. Then another synth starts up and brings in the stumbling glitchy beat and thin synth chords. Halfway through the tone change suddenly as a heavier dark beat and corroded synth bass line stumble into view. It sounds like a horror film soundtrack with the wrong lyrics over the top (the lyrics appear to be a love song).

The second half of the EP kicks off with the brilliant ‘Water Me’ which reminded me a little of Fever Ray. The song starts with vocal harmonies echo out before a synth drone slides underneath. A ratty distant snare comes in, eventually giving way to a beat and pitched echoing vocal harmonies, swiftly followed by Twigs enters singing her lead vocals. Some cool backing vocals come in along with a gliding synth melody around the two minute mark. Then EP concludes with ‘Ultraviolet’ which like ‘Papi Pacify’ is a song of two halves the first features Twigs sings over distant ethereal synth and slow, sparse electronic beat. Then halfway through Twigs and the synths rise up taking the song to a richer more melodic and harmonic place. The track turns into a dreamy R&B tune in slo-mo.

“EP 2” is one of the finest of EP length releases of the year so far with a throughly modern sound that brings together influences ranging from the chopped and screwed hip-hop of DJ Screw, the inimate and sparse touch songs of The xx and the taut trip-hop of Massive Attack’s “Mezzanine” (1998). Highly recommended.

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Matias Aguayo – “The Visitor” (Comeme)

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Matias Aguayo has returned after four years of capitalising on the success of his last album the brilliant “AyAyAy” (2009) (where everything on the album was produced using just Aguayo’s voice) with his impromptu outdoor club night BumBumBox and Comeme label. Aguayo has given himself a lot to live up to on “The Visitor”.

It turns out that it’s an album of two halves on the one hand there’s some really great tracks full of fantastic percussion, hooky vocals and amazing synth sounds. On the other hand there’s a lot track that feel very functional or promise a build to a thrilling climax but fail to deliver. The album gets off on the good foot with the salacious percussion work out that is ‘Rrrrr’. However, track two ‘Dear Inspector’ is the first disappointment on the album after setting the scene with a dark and almost whispered sound, the tension builds and the track threatens to build up to an explosive climax that unfortunately never comes. Things pick up again with the post-punk gone techno sound of ‘By the Graveyard’ recalling Cabaret Voltaire in both its semi industrial percussion, murky vocals and dub effects, the lyrics recall fellow post-punk destroyers Suicide. ‘Llego El Don’ shares a similar atmosphere to ‘By the Graveyard’ but feels flat never getting out of first gear. The poppy and upbeat yet bass heavy ‘Una Fiesta Diferente’ brings the quality level back up and the busy beat and muffled synth bass of ‘El Sucu Tucu’ take things up another level, definitely one of the albums highlights.

‘Aonde’ starts promisingly before losing its momentum part way through and can’t quite fully regain it. ‘El Camaron’ treads a similar path to ‘Aonde’ but is one of dullest tracks on the album. ‘Do You Wanna Work’ is a thrilling oddity with its wet drums that sound like there being played in the jungle undergrowth of South America, throw a bendy metallic synth melody and ripped paper effects and you’ve got something truly unique. ‘Las Cruces’ utilises similar drum sounds topped off with a complimentary eerie synth melody. Another big album highlight is ‘Levantate Diegors’ with its semi industrial beat, zooming synth bass and Aguayo stop-start vocals its set up a tense track that actual reaches its destination and doesn’t disappoint. The album finishes with the shuffling Latin rhythm, creaking dark synth melody and metallic percussion sounds of ‘A Certain Spirit’ the title of which maybe a reference to Manchester post-punk band A Certain Ratio who created similarly dark and percussive music.

“The Vistor” is a difficult album to recommend but also has a hand full of brilliant tracks. My advice to those interested in the album would be to give a though listen before purchasing and then maybe just cherry pick your favourite tracks.

Run The Jewels – “Run The Jewels” (Fools Gold)

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Having worked together on the finest hip-hop release of 2012 “R.A.P. Music” El-P and team up again for their new project Run The Jewels. The duo has talked about this being their ‘fun’ album and as much as it sounds like they had fun making it, this is a serious hip-hop album both lyrically and sonically.

The album opens with its title track which instantly sets the tone for the rest of the album with its chattering hi-hat, 808 beat and minimal deep synth bass line. In the chorus El-P introduces a great screaming organ lead and employs Dub FX and a subtle reggae rhythm plays beneath the hard hitting hip-hop surface. Mike kicks off ‘Banana Clipper’ with the great lines “I move with the elegance of an African elephant, I presented the evidence, Eloquent as a president, Evident it’s with emphasis, I deserve me a championship, But before I banana clip, I’mma chill so my man can rip”. Later he praises his partner in crime while slamming boastful producers with a wry smile – “Producer gave me a beat, Said it’s the beat of the year, I said El-P didn’t do it, So get the fuck outta here”. All this delivered over sharp horn stabs and a double time beat. ‘36” Chain’ is a great example of El-P’s skill in creating multi textured tracks with its blocky synth stabs, video game blips and heavily compressed and reverbed snare combing to stunning effect.

‘Job Well Done’ is another album highlight and another track that demonstrates El-P amazing use of texture and space. His achieves this using discordant guitar and distant vocals adding more space and texture. The drums also have a great feel, pushing and pulling the listener. There’s also great use of dueling synth melodies and vocals in the chorus. The album ends with ‘A Christmas Fucking Miracle’ which combines sleigh bells, electric piano chords and a siren synth, everything is processed to feel corroded and dirty adding to the dystopian atmosphere.

All-in-all you couldn’t ask for more from “Run The Jewels” a hard hitting and full realised hip-hop album from start to finish, only time will tell whether matches up to “R.A.P. Music”.

Liam’s Recommendations

10th June 2013

Boards of Canada – “Tomorrow’s Harvest” (Warp)

After a series of mysterious codes were revealed via a series of 12″ singles, website banners and Youtube videos, Boards of Canada finally revealed the details of their first album in eight years. If the first single ‘Reach For The Dead’ is anything to go by this will another strong album from Boards of Canada.

Prodigy and Alchemist – “Albert Einstein” (Infamous)

Prodigy of Mobb Deep and legendary and versatile producer Alchemist team up for a collaborative album that also features Domo Genesis of Odd Future and Raekwon of the Wu Tang Clan. Check out the artwork and track listing for the album here.

18th June 2013

Kanye West – “Yeezus” (Mercury)

Kanye returns off the back of month’s of rumours of his imminent return and after projecting a video for new track “New Slaves” onto walls in various cities around the world and performing “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead” on Saturday Night Live he’s official back with the album title and artwork revealed and a new minimal almost punk sound.

24th June 2013

Matias Aguayo – “The Visitor” 

After four years in which Aguayo has been busy with his Comeme DJ collective and has collaborated with Battles and dropped the odd EP and 12″ he finally follows up the brilliant “Ay Ay Ay” (2009). If first single “El Sucu Tucu” is anything to go by then with can enjoy more funkier, bright dance on this album too.

June 2013

Run The Jewels – “Run The Jewels” (Fool’s Gold)

After producing the best Hip-Hop Album of 2012 in “R.A.P. Music” El-P and Killer Mike team up again for an album under the name Run The Jewels, which is rumoured to be a free release out in June. It also seems that this project is in addition to “R.A.P. Music II” which Killer Mike confirmed he’d be working on with El-P this year, so the duo may produce two great hip-hop albums in 2013!!!

1.       Killer Mike – “R.A.P. Music” (Williams Street)

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Killer Mike and El-P’s collaborative album 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 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” was the first landmark hip-hop release of 2012, a great year for the genre as a whole.

2.       Nas – “Life Is Good” (Mercury)

Nas returns with the superb new album “Life Is Good” a top hip-hop release in a year packed full of high quality hip-hop releases. Though the album doesn’t quite reach the heights of hip-hop classic “Illmatic” the quality rarely drops over the albums 14 tracks (18 on the deluxe edition). Nas balance’s a selection of solo joints complimented by well chosen collaborations with the likes of Large Professor, Amy Winehouse, Mary J. Blige and Anthony Hamilton amongst others. He also strikes a balance between hard hitting hip-hop tracks e.g. ‘The Don’, ‘Summer on Smash’ and ‘Accident Murderers’ with lighter summer jams e.g. ‘You Wouldn’t Understand’ and ‘Reach Out’ and jazz inflected tracks e.g. ‘Cherry Wine’ and ‘Stay’. Strings and piano are the dominate instruments and compliment the mature subject matter about the recent events in Nas’ life and his new found optimism. The cinematic scope of “Life Is Good” is stunning with Nas demonstrating that he has the gravity to compete with other blockbusting rappers like Jay-Z whose similar productions can sometimes sound hollow and overblown. The album rarely lets up its relentless pace but this no bad thing and none of the tracks out stay their welcome. On his most personal album to date Nas doesn’t pull any punches is his brutally honest tales of his own past and present, matching the vivid production of No I.D. and Salaam Remi (best known as Amy Winehouse’s producer on “Back to Black”) every step of the way!

3.       Flying Lotus – “Until the Quiet Comes” (Warp)  

The much anticipated “Until the Quiet Comes” starts as it means to go on with subtle shuffling beats of ‘All In’ with bells and chimes that lead the way harmonically and melodically. These elements become the glue that holds together this elemental, organic and sophisticated release from the highly regard Flying Lotus. For much of his career he has balanced ghetto fabulous beats, drum ‘n’ bass/UK Bass music undertow with his families’ roots in jazz and spiritual music and this continues on “Until the Quiet Comes”. However, it’s the cool jazz and calm spiritual music that is the dominate force whereas previously it had played second fiddle to the glitches, electronic breaks and huge bass rumble of the current music scene. Not that the modern glitches and deep penetrating bass lines and beats are absent, they just play a subtler supporting role with the exception of the ‘Sultan’s Request’ and its thick, brittle digital sounding synth bass, which gets twice as heavy in the second half of the track. The album also sees Flying Lotus utilising vocal samples and guest vocalists much more effectively, a particularly good example is Thom Yorke’s contribution to ‘Electric Candyman’ in which Yorke’s vocals are expertly and sparingly used, whereas they appeared anonymous on “…and the world laughs with you” from “Cosmogramma” (2010). “Until the Quiet Comes” initially feels like it might greater longevity than “Cosmogramma”, which though it really hit home on the first couple listens, its impact dulled over time. It was also a busy and demanding listen, whereas space is utilised throughout “Until the Quiet Comes”, which allows the listener to “fixate on any one sound and extract feeling from it.” Time will tell if this feeling becomes reality but one thing’s for sure Flying Lotus has delivered a more than worthy follow up to what often viewed as his masterpiece.

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

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

5.       Thee Satisfaction – “awE natural” (Sub Pop)

In “awE naturalE” Thee Satisfaction have delivered an energetic album filled tracks that both provide amply bounce that’s 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’s 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 affecting vocals, jazzy tunes and an expressive emotional palette makes an engaging and entertaining listen. From the opening disorienting swirl of ‘Awe’ to the fast moving finale of ‘Naturale’ via album highlights ‘Earthseed’ with its dark and dank atmopsherics and vocal the curve their way through notes, ‘Queens’ seductive and slippery groove and ‘Enchantess’ a darker twist on ‘Queens’ with pitched down vocals and a guest rap from Palaceer Lazaro of Shabazz Palaces. The half an hour run time demands that the album be played again immediately and is the album is equally satisfying and reveals more of its charms with each repeat listen. Thee Satisfaction never out staying their welcome and yet able to go distance on the longer tracks, if you like original, warm music with depth and attitude “awE naturalE” will be a welcome addition to your music collection.

6.       Blockhead – “Interludes After Midnight” (Ninja Tune)

I was quick to praise Blockhead’s last album “The Music Scene” (2010) but was quick to fell out of love with it on return visits. “Interludes After Midnight” promises to be an album that I enjoy for a lot longer as repeats listening has reaped greater rewards. The album consolidates everything that Blockhead has achieved in his solo career to date but crucially also learns lessons from “The Music Scene” and achieves it ambitious aims where that album had failed. In the end “The Music Scene” felt like Blockhead was just getting to know his new software Ableton Live but the album actually feels ‘live’ and can’t be directly attributed to the sounds or techniques of any particular software. Regular fans of the Ninja Tune labels output will instantly warm to this music and bares comparison to Bonobo’s solo work and “Sound Mirrors” by label head honchos Coldcut, as well as 70’s T.V. and soundtrack music, particular Bernard Herrman’s “Taxi Driver” score. The arrangements on “Interludes After Midnight” are inventive throughout a classic example being ‘Never Forget Your Token’ which starts out with electric piano and oddly pitched male vocals but ends with a twisted electric guitar unrecognizable from its first half. These arrangements could be jarring but instead feel completely natural as Blockhead’s well thought out concepts and production nous holds everything together. It’s rare to find a beat maker as distinct as Blockhead and he deserves far greater recognition and praise than he currently receives. All-in-all a superb instrumental hip-hop album; where ambition is matched by the quality of each track from top to bottom.

7.       El-P – “Cancer 4 Cure” (Fat Possum) 

In some ways “Cancer 4 Cure” 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” and “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.

8.       Oh No – “OhNoMite” (Traffic)

Oh No’s “OhNoMite”’s overall sound and approach harks back to classic 90’s hip-hop sound though the source material is entirely made up of samples from Rudy Ray Moore’s audio achieves drawing heavily on the soundtrack to Blaxploitation film “Dolemite” from which 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. The album is 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.

9.  Big Boi – “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” (Mercury)

“Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” is an ambitious and highly emotive album, one that fuses together 80’s funk, new wave and ambient synth textures with Big Boi’s trademark Dirty South hip-hop style. It is in short Big Boi’s pop album and rivals fellow OutKast member Andre 3000’s “The Love Below” as the finest pop entry in their respective back catalogues. This is the album that I thought I’d be hearing from Andre 3000 when he got around to making his debut solo album but Big Boi has beaten him to the punch. I’d go as far that is the most emotional raw and broad hip-hop since Kanye West released “808s and Heartbreak” (2008). It’s difficult to single out highlights on an album where quality level never drops from start to finish, this could be an overcooked and busy affair with seventeen tracks and many more collaborators but Big Boi and his opulent backing tracks gel with everything single contributor. Whether it’s the swarming strings of ‘The Thickets’, the 100% electro fest that is ‘Thom Pettie’ or the lush 80’s funk come-on’s of closer ‘She Said Ok’ it all just works even when it shouldn’t. Big Boi recently proclaimed his love of Kate Bush’s music and this influence runs through the whole album informing its lush synthetic and acoustic textures and arrangements. Prince is another 80’s pop star whose influence is a regular feature on the album and it’s no bad thing even on the out-and-out cheese fests of ‘Raspberries’, ‘Descending’ and ‘She Said Ok’, the influence is always present on 80’s funk numbers ‘Apple of my Eye’ and ‘Higher Res’. I didn’t think I’d be writing this but with “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours” Big Boi might have just trumped his debut solo album“Sir Lucious Left Foot: Son of Chico Dusty” (2010).

10.     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, deep probing electro beats and strong melodic content. The releases of 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.

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.

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