Tag Archive: Konono No.1


Liam’s Albums of the Year 2010

I think its been a very strong year for music overall and a step up from 2009, though there’s been some high-profile disappointments e.g. Four Tet, MIA, Maximum Balloon etc the real musical landscape seems in a very health state and I think our review of the year bears this out. We’ve both tried to consider what and who has defined the year as well as our own tastes.

1. Oneohtrix Point Never – ‘Returnal’ (Editions Mego)

In any other year this wouldn’t have been anywhere near my Albums of the Year list but discovering Ambient music and  ‘Returnal’ itselfs excellence plus Oneohtrix’s dominance of year make this one un missable album.

2. Gorillaz – ‘Plastic Beach’ (EMI)

In terms of song based albums this was incredibly strong from the word go. Add to this the concept behind the album, its environmental message and the incendiary return of Bobby Womack. ‘Plastic Beach’ hangs together while cover an incredible range of musical genres including classical, Oriental, hip-hop, grime, electro, pop and rock to name but a few.

3. El Guincho – ‘Pop Negro’ (Young Turks)

El Guincho stepped his music up several gears on this his second album. Taking in Spanish pop, hip-hop, South American music and 80’s heartthrob Luther Vandross. This gave the album its unique sound combining crisp, heavy but danceable rhythms with a glossy production resulting in an album that always puts a smile on your face.

4. Konono No.1 – ‘Assume Crash Position’ (Crammed Discs)

This is another summer blockbuster, this time from Congo. Five years on from their début Konono No.1 returned and seemed to have completely flipped their formula on its head. Instead of the persistent distorted thumb pianos occupying the top of the mix they changed places with waves of reverb drenched sound that had previously hidden beneath them. This changed the sound dramatically creating a more relaxed atmosphere.

5. Mark McGuire – ‘Living with Yourself’ (Editions Mego)

2010 was a busy year for Mark McGuire as well as releasing Emeralds critically acclaimed ‘Does It Look Like I’m Here?’ he produced this his first properly distributed solo release. There’s a lot more space in this than Emeralds latest and ambience and melody share equal billing on this great guitar record.

6. Flying Lotus – ‘Cosmogramma’ (Warp)

With ‘Cosmogramma’ FlyLo has transcended any of the generic tags applied to his music. Yes there are snatches of hip-hop, jazz, chiptune, funk and soundtrack music sometimes all at once but the sound can never be pinned down. It may not quite live up to the hype that preceded it but its ambition takes it close.

7. Big Boi – ‘Sir Luscious Left Foot…’ (Def Jam)

I wasn’t a big fan of ‘Speakerboxx’ Big Boi’s side of the OutKast’s 2003 double album. But ‘Sir Luscious Left Foot…’ is completely different album stuffed full of phat, funky beats that could only come from a member of Atlanata’s finest.

8. Sun Araw – ‘On Patrol’ (Not Not Fun)

18 months ago I hadn’t even heard of Sun Araw, but since hearing his music for the first time this spring I’ve been pretty much addicted. This latest album brings new depth to his dub-infected beats and shimmering wah-wah freak outs. The atmosphere and noises go to the next level and I await his next full length journey with bated breath.

9. Lindstrom and Christabelle– ‘Real Life is No Cool’ (Smalltown Supersound)

Lindstrom took a break from his usual cosmic disco dabbling to create a credible pop record with irrepressible Christabelle. Despite its catchiness and production gloss Lindstrom still provides surprises and twists not traditionally found in pop. The highlight of this outstanding collection is the Dr. Dre aping ‘Lovesick’.

10. Matthew Dear – ‘Black City’ (Ghostly International)

Matthew Dear returned this year with a concept album that hung together brilliantly and restored the faith of those critics who’d deemed his earlier effort ‘Asa Breed’ erratic. The conceptual arch of the record made a real difference and makes for a darker but no less thrilling experience.

11. Hot Chip – ‘One Life Stand’ (EMI/DFA)

In some ways Hot Chip are their own worst enemies and this would have charted higher if it had more of the unpredictability of ‘Made In The Dark’. Having said that this record strikes a balance between warm and sweet and sentimental and sickly. Not an easy achievement by any means.

12. Errors – ‘Come Down with Me’ (Rock Action)

When this album I heard about this album I didn’t get that excited but as the release drew nearer I revisited their début and realised it was much better and warmer than I remembered. I had feared Errors would become a forgotten second tier post-rock band but instead they stepped up a gear with an album packed with highlights. Go see them live and buy the album you won’t regret it!!

13. Jamie Lidell – ‘Compass’ (Warp)

This album was definitely a grower at first half the material failed to make an impact on me; however repeat listening has paid dividends. Lidell has returned to his schizoid genre and mood hopping and this album benefits massively, from dust ball hip-hop of ‘The Ring’, the super deep bass of ‘She Needs Me’ and the desolate beauty of the title track.

14. The Black Dog – ‘Real Music for Airports’ (Soma)

Another great ambient album in that’s had a few (Oneohtrix, Emeralds etc), this time taking on the inventor and king of ambient music Eno himself and succeeding. Created using field recordings made in airports combined with synths, bass and beats The Black Dog blew Eno’s utopian ideal out of the water.

15. Baths – ‘Cerulean’ (Anticon)

I’ll admit that I’ve not been taken with Chillwave as it swept all before it in last year or so. Though Bath début album touches on similar sounds and ideas I believe (as do some journalists) that he isn’t a part of the genre. Baths cover everything from ambient instrumentals through to tracks featuring his angelic vocals and everything in between, his beat slip and slide with the elastic and liquid music that plays around them.

16. These New Puritans – ‘Hidden’ (Domino/Angular)

These New Puritans showed up a lot of their fellow ‘innovative’ indie bands this year by delivering this combination of medieval sounding brass and woodwinds, children’s choir and dancehall beats. It could have been a disaster but instead band leader Jack Barnett’s proved he is a great composer of ground breaking music.

17. Evan Caminiti – ‘West Winds’ (Three Lobed)

Since the end of last year and hearing Sunn O)))’s I’ve discovered more and more drone/doom metal music including Earth, Zaimph and Caminiti’s other project Barn Owl. This album is best of this year’s release and features seven of incredibly provocative pieces including one of my favourite tracks of this year ‘Glowing Sky’.

18. Janelle Monae – ‘The Archandroid’ (Bad Boy/Atlantic)

Like Flying Lotus Monae attempted to produce an ambitious sci-fi concept album and overall she succeeds, however during the second half of the album elements don’t gel as well and the last track could do with  being half as long. There are still many great moments but for now Monae shows the potential to become a truly great artist.

19. Kanye West – ‘My Beautiful Twisted Fantasy’ (Mercury)

This album would have easily been in my  Top Ten if it had only been released a couple of months earlier the lack of time to listen to and digest this means it just straps in because of its ambition and this point what seems to be a high proportion of great tracks.

20. Sleigh Bells – ‘Treats’ (Columbia)

When I first heard Sleigh Bells demos I’ll admit that I wasn’t 100% sure what all the fuss was about, I loved ‘Infinity Guitars’ but other than that they didn’t inspire. However, they’ve proved me wrong with this début album that blends cute pop vocals and melodies with crunching guitars and huge beats. A refreshing slap in the face from a band with a lot of potential to expand!!

Honourable mentions:

LCD Soundsystem – ‘This is Happening’

Caribou – ‘Swim’

Holy Fuck – ‘Latin’

Tobacco – ‘Maniac Meat’

Pocahaunted – ‘Make It Real’

Review of the Year – Observations

Two words seem to have loomed large for me musical this year Ambient and African. Both These types music that were almost completely new to me at the start of the year. Ambient music has actually helped change my perception of what music can be, I’d often dismissed it in the past as it wasn’t attention grabbing enough but I was missing the point. Though I still actively listen to it, I also use it while I work to help me focus (Brian Eno’s ‘Ambient#4: On Land’ is particularly good for this). Ambient has changed the way I choose what music to listen to and judge whether its good or not, I can appreciate subtlety much more.

Meanwhile I’ve gone from only having heard Konono No.1 and Amadou & Miriam to hearing King Sunny Ade, Tinariwen, Tony Allen, Fela Kuti, Mulatu Astake and compilations featuring Afrobeat, Funk and traditional music from Ghana, Nigeria, Benin and Togo. I’ve been most impressed by ‘African Scream Contest: Raw & Psychedelic Afro Sounds from Benin & Togo 70s’ (Analog Africa) which is pretty much as the title suggests, only don’t be expecting an African Hawkwind.

Finally I’ve noticed there’s been a massive increase in quality remix albums, it had seemed that they’d been completed derided and I couldn’t remember the last good/great one I heard. This year has been a bumper year, Health ‘Disco2’ is the pick of bunch 24 great and varied electronic remixes that putting the originals in brand new contexts. We were also treated to remix albums of Caribou (‘Swim Remixes’), Gonjasufi (‘The Califph’s Tea Party’), Errors (Celebrity Come Down With Me’), Bear In Heaven (Best Rest Forth Mouth’), the latest instalment in RVNG Records Frkwys series of remixes and collaborations that saw Juan Atkins, Hans-Joachim Irmer (Faust) and Gibby Hayes (Butthole Surfers) remixed (admittedly awful) psychedelic rock band Psychic Ills to stunning effect.

Vier’s Albums of the Year

20. The Knife, MT. Sims and Planningtorock – Tomorrow, In A Year (Brille): This was never going to be easy. The Knife don’t do easy. The first disk fights the listener at every step. It is confrontational, violent and refuses respite. It beats you into the place of  Charles Darwin, consumed by nervous excitement and anxiety as you walk on alien territory. The second disk offers some humanising introspection and displays The Knife’s (and their collaborators) powerful song writing ability to turn even routine biological observations into heartbreaking poetry. Tomorrow, In A Year isn’t enjoyable, it isn’t supposed to be. Much like Darwin’s vocation, you don’t have to like it or understand it but you must respect it and its objective.

19. Walls – Walls (Kompakt): Haunting and emotive, Walls’ blend of distant thumps and skewed vocals make a compelling, slow-grower.

18. Jatoma – Jatoma (Kompakt): A late entry to the list has given Jatoma a low position nonetheless the cloaked threesome’s debut deserves to be listened to. The sparkly, modulating synths and exacting drums hark back to Cluster and Kraftwerk and on the straighter dance tracks ‘Durian’ and ‘Bou’ the influence of The Field is channelled into gauzy loops and arpeggios.  This and Walls fit Kompakt perfectly and point the way to the next era of the Cologne label.

17. Washed Out – Life Of Leisure (Mexican Summer): This debut is the sound of summer nostalgia. Revealed by the cover’s lilac dream, warm washes of synths and the sighs and lilts of Ernest Greene’s drenched voice.

16. Caribou – Swim (City Slang): Opening with seasick standout ‘Odessa’, Swim is steady and deceptively dark. The accomplished production places an interesting stereo field on the tracks, giving the instruments and rhythms a side-to-side, rocking feel, which works impressively well both at home and in clubs – something few dance albums have fully mastered.

15. Holy Fuck – Latin (Young Turks): The four-piece adeptly construct tracks that are direct yet reveal deeper layers and sounds on repeat, demonstrating that as well as effected soundscapes they can make confident songs.

14. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (DFA): Of all the albums on the list This Is Happening was the most troublesome. When it hits it proves James Murphy is an incredible composer, lyricist and singer (tender crooning replaces the snot) and it proves LCD are an incendiary unit. So their third album should be top 3 but, but… when it doesn’t hit its pastiche-y, uninspired and, worst of all, irritating, because it could be fucking great if only those influences, which were previously sown together with love and affection, were not so glaringly obvious now. The total of their sum parts made LCD exciting yet for This… it is as if Murphy collected those sum parts then went missing but, but… even if for One Touch, Dance Yrself Clean and I Can Change alone it still deserves a place in the top 20.

13. Marc Houle – Drift (M-nus): The Techno Priest delivers an intense lecture in experimental techno as Drift travels from the suffocating winter darkness to the onset of spring. As the ice recedes Houle’s mood has lightened: the tracks develop playfully, analogue synths are tweaked and melodies shine. An eloquent representation of December’s freeze.

12. Black Dog – Music For Real Airports: Composed of field recordings and recalling Autechre and Plastikman, Music For Real Airports recreates an alienating environment where disconnected bleeps, beats and deep bass drums meet brittle hi-hats and ambient atmospherics that oppose Eno’s 1978 utopia.

11. El Guincho – Pop Negro (Young Turks): In direct contrast to Drift, Pop Negro is an aural Um Bongo – refreshing, bright yellow and highly addictive. El Guincho sings in his native, both joyous and yearning, Spanish, while intricate compositions of bouncing melodies, 808 claps and Latin pop are so full of life you bounce back to summer, Um Bongo in hand.

10. Harmonious Thelonious – Talking (Italic): German techno, Minimalism and African percussion are not the most obvious partners but Talking combines these influences with ease. The producer’s debut is a trance-inducing collection of hypnotic rhythmic patterns and danceable voodoo atmospheres. Its pulse is driven by African rhythms and European electronics that create a challenging, playful and deeply idiosyncratic record.

9. Zola Jesus – Stridulum II (Souterrain Transmissions): After sitting on the boundaries of my usual taste I checked out this release after she gained support from Fever Ray, with whom she shares a kinship of producing cathartic and oppressive yet seductive reassurances you want to selfishly take for yourself.

8. Magda – From The Fallen Page (M-nus): After the first listen I was disappointed that this wasn’t as varied or as distinctly ‘Magda’ as her much praised mixes are. With repeated listens her debut reveals her personality is more delicately placed alongside tongue-in-cheek glimpses of Italian horror movie sounds, dark atmospherics and awe-inspiring basslines.

7. Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal (Editions Mego): For me Returnal brings to mind GAS. Drum-less synthesiser constructs have the air of classical music’s rise and falls and dignified ambience but where GAS is isolation, Lopatin’s creations evoke a dreamy silvery trees and ghostly voices blanketed by a thick fog.

6. Matthew Dear – Black City (Ghostly International): Dear’s third album under his birth name sees him fully immersed in the role of the seamy narrator that Asa Breed hinted at. The thick Talking Heads-indebted productions and bodiless utterances swallow his voice as he recounts strangely alluring tales of desire and sleaze.

5. Konono No.1 – Assume Crash Position (Crammed Discs): Similar to other list entries the songs on Assume Crash Position instantly hit, giving out a warm, uplifting feel while endowing an ample amount of depth, breadth and emotional resonance. The Congolese group prove that artists don’t need the best equipment money can buy to create impressive music.

4. Marcel Dettmann – Dettmann (Ostgut Ton): Lovers of deep, warm techno should listen to this Berghain resident’s debut. Dettmann is an effortlessly lean example of present-day techno structured with an elegance that only German artists are achieving.

3. Ellen Allien – Dust (Bpitch Control): It isn’t the perfectly skewed electronic pop of Berlinette but thankfully it’s not the unrelentingly dull Sool. Allien is back doing what she does best. Belying her attention to detail, Dust is a collection of playful and immediate hymns to love, sex and dancing.

2. Pantha du Prince – Black Noise (Rough Trade): With a cover that isn’t what it first appears, the songs within unfurl and open up to reveal a meticulous mix of haunting chimes and clusters of percussion that build into something dark and forceful, giving Hendrik Weber’s Black Noise a sound that always seems to be on the edge of erupting into something devastating.

1. Thomas Fehlmann – Gute Luft (Kompakt): This took the pole position on the ‘Best Album’s Of The Year….So Far’ June piece and it remains there six months on. Though composed as a soundtrack to real-time documentary ‘24 Hour Berlin’, Gute Luft plays like a loving tribute to Fehlmann’s partner Gudrun Gut. Drums shuffle and rebound, claps and basslines thrust hips, synths bathe, sing, slink, embrace and reminisce, creating a perfect example of sensuous and dreamy elegance.

Mixes of note:

  • DJ Kicks: Apparat (!K7) (which features a new track from Telefon Tel Aviv, the first Joshua Eustis has made since Charlie Cooper passed away in 2009)

  • Ben Klock – Berghain Vol. 2 (Ostgut Ton)

  • Marcel Dettmann – Berghain Vol. 4 (Ostgut Ton)

  • V/A – Fünf (Ostgut Ton)

Honourable mentions:

  • Reboot – Shunyata (Cadenza)

  • Efdemin – Chicago (Dial)

  • Greie Gut Fraktion – Baustelle (Monika Enterprise)

Spotify playlist:

Sonic Fiction’s Albums of the Year 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of the Year – Observations

Due to the wealth of Berghain and Ostgut Ton releases I’ve been inspired to listen further to the spiritual forefathers: Basic Channel, GAS and Pole etc., all of whom I missed the first time round, owing to being at primary school. As discussed in my minimal techno piece these artists composed some of the most vital and interesting music of the nineties and are still essential: their material has birthed the recent dub-techno stirrings from Berlin and elsewhere. Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock, the Action Man poster boys of the resurgence in metallic, intense and climatic Berlin-centred techno, have released one effortless album, an EP and a handful of mixes. Listening to these is an education and an exciting preview of what is to come.

After reading the Kosmische Musik book (see below) I listened to Harmonia with Zuckerzeit and Tracks and Traces standing out. I went back to most of Cluster’s catalogue and found Sowiesoso and their 1977 collaboration with Eno to be the best introduction to the genre, though all are worth checking out.

On another note, 2010 has been absolutely dominated by doorstop. For a genre that was spawned from the underground we have witnessed a depressing inevitability in it going mainstream: advert soundtracks and daytime Radio 1 plays, guest spots and interviews (She-devil Fearne Cotton and dullstent! Skills!). It is everywhere, omnipresent, ubiquitous, all-pervading, as such I cannot hear, read or type that word anymore without wanting to burn it . Worst still is that duckstep is so ball-achingly tedious, a fact no one has critically addressed as everyone is falling over themselves praising the most monotonous and lifeless sound that has plagued this year’s musical landscape. Perhaps in 2011 it will go back from whence it came.

Books

Earlier this year I read Krautrock: Cosmic Rock and its Legacy, which is a comprehensively-written collection of the German Kosmische Musik artists. The author and journalists contribute an overview of Germany and the mindset of the generation born during and after WWII to put the work of the artists in a fascinating context. Also on the list was Anna Funder’s Stasiland, a collection of moving stories of those who lived under Communist rule in East Germany interspersed with Funder’s retrospective view (the book was published in 1997) on the regime, the people who upheld it and those who it destroyed and how Leipzig (where the Stasi headquarters were based) and Berlin have dealt with the effects of the Berlin Wall falling and the full extent of the regime being uncovered. Both are entirely worth reading.

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Wow, I haven’t listened to as much music as I have in November for six months. In addition to all the new releases I recommended in the last 2010 through my (biased) eyes (and some on Not Not Fun I found out about later on). There was over 40 albums to get through for the our Albums of the Year to be unveiled in a couple of weeks time. I’m down to 5 more albums and the final list is shaping up but its not as easy as I thought it was going to be.

Back to November’s releases I really enjoyed Barn Owl’s ‘Ancestral Star’ for many of the same reasons I enjoyed Sunn O)))’s ‘Monoliths and Dimensions’ last year. The enormous drones are great for getting immersed in and theres some that feels right about listening to this music as the nights get darker and the days shorter. I’d also (more) highly recommend Evan Caminiti’s solo album ‘West Winds’ available via download on Thrill Jockey and Amazon.

Unfortuantly Bjorn Troske’s new album ‘Kokning’ didn’t prove to be worth the wait after all. Its too polite for my taste and really need something else to shake it out of  its generic House and Ambient stylings. Another album that disappointed was Stereolab’s – ‘Not Music’ on which I thought the band trod water, the material was recorded at the same as their last album ‘Chemical Chords’ and you could see why much of the material had been left off.

I feel the need to revisit the mysterious Jatoma’s self titled debut album as I wasn’t playing attention while listening to it and therefore won’t make a judgement on it yet. You can listen to it here.

The month did end on a high through with the brilliant double album of remixes, reinterpretations and covers of classic material from artists such as Konono No.1 and Kasai Allstars who’ve featured in the Congotronic’s series by Crammed Discs ‘Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers: Alternative Takes on Congotronics’. The long awaited new album by Kanye West didn’t disappoint either and though I’ve yet to decide if it does live up to all the hype and Pitchfork’s 10/10 review, its certainly an ambitious and wide ranging effort that reaffirms West as one of key players in the hip-hop scene.

Spotify playlist:

November playlist

These two charts list our Top Ten Albums of the Year…so far. All the albums talked about on the site are recommended (unless explicitly pointed out) but we felt a list at the half way point might guide people to what we think are the best.

Sonic Fiction editor Liam Flanagan’s Top Ten Albums:

1. Hot Chip – ‘One Life Stand’ (DFA/EMI)

1. Gorillaz – ‘Plastic Beach’ (EMI)

It was difficult picking between the latest releases from Hot Chip and Gorillaz as both have produced albums that reach high standards of songwriting. Hot Chip achieve this via a consistent sound whereas Gorillaz genre-hop from track to track and both are heads and shoulders above the rest.

2. Konono No.1 – ‘Assume Crash Position’ (Crammed Discs)

Five years on from their début ‘Congotronics Vol.1’, Konono No.1 out do themselves. Adding guitar, bass and a sublime feeling to their busy trademark likembe-driven sound. The sound of sunshine contrasts with the industrial origin of their homemade equipment to create an intriguing  juxtaposition.

3. Lindstrom & Christabelle – ‘Real Life is No Cool’ (Smalltown Supersound)

Cosmic disco producer Lindstrom delivers another great collaboration album, this time with vocalist Christabelle. Across ten tracks they celebrate all that is great about modern and retro disco, dance and pop music.

4. Holy Fuck – ‘Latin’ (Young Turks/XL)

Holy Fuck’s latest offering sees them cleaning up their sound with band co-founder Graham Walsh on production duties. The record builds on the excellent complex soundscapes from ‘LP’ (2007) and demonstrates the band’s songwriting abilities while losing none of what previously made them unique.

5. Jamie Lidell – ‘Compass’ (Warp)

Lidell returns to the form that made 2005’s ‘Multiply’ such a deep and enjoyable lesson. Yet where Lidell made use of his extremely talented musical friends and a fair amount of technology on ‘Multiply’ this time he assembled a crack team of musicians (including Motown drummer James Gadson, Wilco’s Pat Sansone and Feist) and co-produced the album with Beck and Chris Taylor (Grizzly Bear). The most organic of Lidell’s albums, it journeys through a bewildering range of emotional and musical space.

6. LCD Soundsystem – ‘This Is Happening’ (DFA/EMI)

Despite some tracks disappointing due to the repetition of previous ideas, James Murphy still manages to produce an album that would stir up jealousy in many musicians. The last three tracks are particularly  impressive and expressive. ‘Pow Pow’ being my favourite.

7. The Black Dog – ‘Music for Real Airports’ (Soma)

An album that challenges Brian Eno’s version of a utopian airport space on his original ‘Music for Airports’ (1978). The Black Dog may have actually outdone Eno, but only time will tell.

8. Errors – ‘Come Down with Me’ (Rock Action)

Errors display an ability to compete with their contemporaries where they previously suffered criticism for apparently lacking a distinctive sound. On ‘Come Down with Me’ they not only address this but also develop their melodic flair, producing a slow burner that pays off with big rewards for repeat listeners.

9. These New Puritans – ‘Hidden’ (Angular/Domino)

These New Puritans’ début album was widely misunderstood and no-one expected them to return with this sound. ‘Hidden’ combines a children’s choir, brass and string sections and foley sound recordings and welds them to tribal percussion and deep hip-hop and dancehall beats. This adventurous album could easily have gone awry but composer and leader Jack Barnett marshals these disparate influences into a cohesive whole.

Spotify Playlist (HTTP link, then Spotify link):

Top Ten Albums of 2010…so far playlist

Top Ten Albums of 2010…so far playlist

Our new bi-monthly contributor Izvestia’s Top Ten Albums:

1.  Thomas Fehlmann – Gute Luft (Kompakt)

Composed as a soundtrack for 24 Hour Berlin, a documentary that followed a day in the lives of Berliners in real time, Gute Luft is a faultless journey through dreamy, gently pulsating techno amid a refined sexiness.

2. Ellen Allien – Dust (Bpitch Control)

It isn’t the perfectly skewed electronic pop of Berlinette but thankfully it’s not the unrelentingly dull Sool. Allien is back doing what she does best. Belying her attention to detail, Dust is playful, poppy and immediate.

3. Pantha du Prince – Black Noise (Rough Trade)

With a cover that isn’t what it first appears, the songs within unfurl and open up to reveal a meticulous mix of haunting chimes and clusters of percussion that build into something dark and forceful, giving Black Noise a sound that always seems to be on the edge of erupting into something devastating.

4. Marcel Dettmann – Dettmann (Ostgut Ton)

Lovers of austere techno should listen to this Berghain resident’s debut. Dettmann is an effortlessly lean example of present-day techno structured with an elegance that only German artists seem to be achieving.

5. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (DFA/EMI)

Potentially the last album by LCD, the central focus is love and separation with mixed results. ‘One Touch’ and ‘I Can Change’ are as impressive as anything on Sound Of Silver but elsewhere the influences are too clear and lack the subtlety James Murphy has demonstrated previously.

6. Holy Fuck – Latin (Young Turks/XL)

The four-piece adeptly construct tracks that are fun and direct yet reveal deeper layers and sounds on repeat and prove that they can make songs as well as effected soundscapes .

7. Etienne Jaumet – Night Music (Versatile Records)

Analogue synthesis plus Carl Craig. Nice.

8. Caribou – Swim (City Slang)

Opening with the seasick album highlight Odessa, this dance-influenced release is well-produced and consistent and though not a natural singer, Dan Snaith’s voice blends into the songs and becomes another instrument in the mix.

9. Konono No. 1 – Assume Crash Position (Crammed Discs)

Similar to other list entries the songs on Assume Crash Position instantly hit, giving out a warm, uplifting feel while endowing an ample amount of depth, breadth and emotional resonance. The Congolese group prove that artists don’t need the best equipment money can buy to create impressive music

10.  The Black Dog – Music For Real Airports (Soma)

Composed of field recordings and recalling Autechre and Plastikman, Music For Real Airports recreates an alienating environment where disconnected bleeps, beats and deep bass drums meet brittle hi-hats and ambient atmospherics.

Spotify playlist (HTTP link, then Spotify link):

Top Ten Albums of 2010…so far Izvestia

Top Ten Albums of 2010…so far Izvestia

May has definitely been the best month for music this year. That is not to say that it’s all down from here. There is already a slew of releases that have been confirmed for the coming months that are well worth getting excited about.

I recommend twelve new releases and with one exception they were all brilliant. First out of the blocks was Flying Lotus with ‘Cosmogramma’, an exploration of jazz in an electronic context heavily influenced by his aunt Alice Coltrane’s spiritual albums of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Though I’ve yet to fully absorb the album, and it is one that will take a few plays before it properly sinks in, I’d say that it sees Flying Lotus finally live up to the hype that has surrounded him since signing to Warp in 2008.

Three very busy weeks followed, the first week saw releases by The Black Dog, Foals, Holy Fuck and Walls. The Black Dog’s ‘Music for Real Airports’ is an attempt to depict airports in a modern and more realistic setting compared to Eno’s original album, which painted a utopian airport.  I would go as far to say it trumps  ‘Music For Airports’ by some way. Foals have stepped it up a level with ‘Total Life Forever’.  I felt that their début ‘Antidotes’ was overrated and in some places overly repetitive. They have expanded and enhanced their sound while adding enough variation to keep everyone interested. Holy Fuck achieved a similar feat but more immediately impressive and though I loved the analogue murk that coated their previous albums after a short period of adjustment their new-found clarity is very welcome. You can read my live review of the band of top form here. Finally electronica duo Walls self titled début mixed synths that recalled Krautrock legends Tangerine Dream with modern beats with excellent results. Check the album out on the visually pleasing Kompact player here.

The following week was probably the biggest for much-anticipated releases. LCD Soundsystem kicked things off with ‘This Is Happening’ and though I admit to being a little disappointed with James Murphy’s latest effort, I think the reasons aren’t ones that should dissuade you from purchasing it. The album has disappointing moments because some of  the tracks are similar to previous ones and ‘You Wanted A Hit’ just doesn’t feel right.  Elesewhere Congo’s Konono No.1 delivered a superb follow-up  to their critically acclaimed début ‘Congotronics Vol.1’. ‘Assume Crash Position’ adds guitars, bass and a sublime feeling to their trademark abrasive likembe (thumb piano) sound.

Jamie Lidell’s emotional rollercoaster of an album, ‘Compass’, demonstrated he has lost none of his eclectic genre hopping after the relatively straightforward ‘Jim’ (2008). Made with fellow musical eccentric Beck on production and instrument duties the musical territory covered is as expansive as the range of emotions covered while managing to gel for the most part  and only falling when some of the more upbeat numbers (‘I Wanna Be Your Telephone’, ‘Enough’s Enough’) jar with album prevailing reflective mood.

The third week saw releases by techno queen Ellen Allien with ‘Dust’, noise manglers Crystal Castles second eponymous album and the long-awaited début from New York six piece Effi Briest with ‘Rhizomes’.  Allien shows a new level of maturity and accomplished pop nous, without sacrificing the techno trademarks established by her high watermarks ‘Berlinette’ and ‘Orchestra of Bubbles’ (with Apparat). Crystal Castles were the aforementioned singular disappointment and though they have progressed from the hit and miss sound of their début, many of the songs lacked that something extra to really draw me in. Lastly though I haven’t heard all the songs in full I’ve been impressed with Effi Briest and their combination of Krautrock and post-punk influences folded into a charming ramshackle mess of their own creation.

Spotify playlist (HTTP link, then Spotify link):

May 2010 playlist

May 2010 playlist

Recommended releases for June:

Diskjokke – ‘En Fin Tid’ 21st June (Smalltown Supersound)

Oneohtrix Point Never – ‘Returnal’ 21st June (Editions Mego)

Sleigh Bells – ‘Treats’  21st June (Mama & Pops/N.E.E.T.)

The Roots – ‘How I Got Over’ 21st June (Def Jam)

Tobacco – ‘Maniac Meat’ 28th June (Anticon)

Though April was thin on the ground in terms of new releases and reissues, I still managed to discover and enjoy a large range of music.

First up were two March releases. The first from Erykah Badu was ‘New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh)’ the second in her trilogy of New Amerykah albums. The first is the excellent ‘New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)’ from 2008, which focused on politics, war and ghetto violence but for Part Two, Badu switches to discuss love in all its forms. At first this extreme left turn makes the album feel too slight but it is a fully formed, ambitious work of depth that will reward amply for those who give it time.

Next is Mulatu Astatke’s new release ‘Mulatu Steps Ahead’ which sees the founder of Ethio-jazz do himself proud with an album of subtle, slow burning grooves that centre on the downbeat tracks he explored on ‘Inspiration Information Vol.3’ with The Heliocentrics.

Noise was the genre that ran through the month with new efforts from Nice Nice and Growing. The former’s ‘Extra Wow’ (their first on Warp Records) is propelled by the motorik rhythms associated with early Kraftwerk and Neu! but far from being plagiaristic the band uses them as a springboard for developing their own sound. I was impressed with ‘Extra Wow’ and how everything just clicked into place after finding their initial singles underwhelming. Growing have long been an established feature on the noise scene since they formed in 2001, developing from a wispy ambient drone-based sound to creating walls of harmonically and rhythmically complex noise that emanates from their banks of analogue equipment. Latest album ‘Pumps’ adds new member Sadie Laska on vocals and drum machine rhythms are included for the first time. ‘Pumps’ has some great tunes yet feels like a transitional album, though it prompted me to investigate their previous works like ‘Vision Swim’, mini album ‘Lateral’ and ‘All the Way’.  The detailed harmonic waves of sound, dense rhythms created without drums blew my away and fortunately weren’t the headache-creating treble fests I had anticipated.

I also caught up with Caribou by buying his new album ‘Swim’ and my favourite ‘The Milk of Human Kindness’. Both are brilliant examples of modern psychedelia. I won’t go into too much detail about Caribou now as later this month I will be discussing him in the follow-up to the Psychedelia: The Return piece published in February. In a similar vein I picked up on a newcomer called Toro Y Moi who is Chaz Brunwick, a South Carolina based producer. His debut album ‘Causes of This’ is rightly being praised. Though he is being grouped with glo-fi/chillwave artists such as Washed Out and Neon Indian, and there are hints of this in the music, it reminded me of Animal Collective and Four Tet’s early 2000s era.

I finished April by buying Norwegian cosmic disco producer Prins Thomas’ self titled debut album, The Fall’s ‘Post-TLC Reformation!’ from 2007, which I found underwhelming (though almost all Fall albums are grower and/or have enough moments to justify having them) , and ‘Ghana Soundz: Afro-Beat, Funk and Fusion in 70s Ghana’. I also listened to a highly recommended ‘Your Future, Our Clutter’, The Fall’s new album, the HEALTH single ‘USA Boys’ and MIA’s new song ‘Born Free’. Unfortunately it and the accompanying video’s true subject have been overshadowed by the misperceptions about the video’s metaphor and the controversy surrounding the violence.

Watch the ‘Born Free video below:

http://vimeo.com/11219730

I would love to hear what people who visit Sonic Fiction think of it. Any ideas on how I can improve the content are welcome. Critiques and debate are what I want Sonic Fiction to be about.

Spotify playlist (HTTP link, then Spotify link):

April 2010 playlist

April 2010 playlist

Recommendations for May (potential the best month of year…so far):

Flying Lotus – ‘Cosmogramma’  (Warp) 3rd May

Black Dog – ‘Music for Real Airports’ (Soma) 10th May

Foals – ‘Total Life Forever’ (Transgressive) 10th May

Holy Fuck – ‘Latin’ (Young Turks) 10th May

Walls – ‘Walls’ (Kompact) 10th May

Ellen Allien – ‘Dust’ (Bpitch Control) 17th May

Konono No.1 – ‘Assume Crash Position’ (Crammed Discs) 17th May

LCD Soundsystem – ‘This Is Happening’ (DFA/EMI) 17th May

Jamie Lidell – ‘Compass’ (Warp) 17th May

Crystal Castles – ‘Crystal Castles (2)’ (Polydor) 24th May

Effi Briest – ‘Rhizomes’ (Blast First Petite) 24th May

plus a couple that slipped me by:

David Holmes -‘The Dogs Are Parading – The Very Best Of’

Solex + Jon Spencer + Cristina Martinez – ‘Amsterdam Showdown, King Street Throwdown’

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