Tag Archive: Low


What Kirsty’s Looking Forward to

Albums

Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – “Elements of Light” (Rough Trade) 11th January

Sonic Fiction favourite Pantha Du Prince (Hendrik Weber) has teamed up with Norwegian musicians The Bell Laboratory for a collaborative album, “Elements of Light”. The video previews below display the German techno producer and The Bell Laboratory creating an ambitious symphony of electronics, percussion and a special bell carillon, a three-tonne instrument consisting of fifty bronze bells.

Pantha du Prince & the Bell Laboratory – Trailer 1 from Sandra Trostel on Vimeo.

Pantha du Prince & the Bell Laboratory – Trailer 2 from Sandra Trostel on Vimeo.

Apparat – “Krieg und Frieden” (Mute) 15th February

The electronic music producer returns with an album based on a German theatre production of Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace, directed by Sebastian Hartmann. Once Hartmann asked Apparat, born Sascha Ring, to contribute music to the project, the producer then spent four weeks working with a 30-piece ensemble in an empty factory alongside Apparat’s live band members Philipp Timm and Christoph Hartmann. After the piece’s final performance Ring, C. Hartmann and Timm transformed the soundtrack into a work for album release. Ring says of “Krieg und Frieden”, “It’s the first record ever that didn’t hurt at some point. It’s full of imperfection because it was made by humans.” He goes on to describe the album as “a bit of a weird record with not many beats and lots of drones.”

Grab the free ‘A Violent Sky’ now:

Function – “Incubation” (Ostgut Ton) 4th March

Nearly 20 years into Function’s career comes his solo debut album “Incubation” on the luminary Ostgut label.  As a member of Sandwell District and as a solo artist he is known for producing sleek, atmospheric techno, which he will explore further on his album, which was mastered by the respected engineer Tobias Freund. His goal,  “was to create something cinematic and heavy on imagery and emotion.” and  a “soundtrack.” The release was conceived as “one endless piece to be listened to straight through. So everything is connected and there are reoccurring themes throughout the album.” Listen to his beautiful ‘Inter’ below:

Ellen Allien – “LISm” (BPitch Control) March

Berlin icon Ellen Allien is due to release her seventh album “LISm” in March. The album is closely based on a soundtrack Allien wrote for the Drama per Musica dance recital performed in 2011 at Paris’ Spectacles Vivants Festival. She called on Bruno Pronsato to aid her with expanding the pieces and to co-produce “LISm”. As usual the album will be released through BPitch Control, the label she’s managed for over a decade.

Stream a medley of “LISm” below:

The Knife – “Shaking The Habitual” (Mute) 8th April

After seven years we will finally see the release of the Swedish brother-sister duo’s third studio album “Shaking The Habitual”. Their last was the flawless “Silent Shout” from 2006. In 2010 they released, “Tomorrow In A Year”, the collaborative album with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock that was written for an opera/performance piece based on the life and work of Charles Darwin. Both members have also released solo records under pseudonyms – Karin as the acclaimed Fever Ray and Olaf as Oni Ahyun. Light Asylum member Shannon Funchess has contributed to vocals to the album which will be released via Mute/Brille.

This video, which may or not be The Knife, leaked online could provide clues on what we can expect.

Listen to the title track from “Silent Shout” below:

Artists

Audion – Matthew Dear has hinted via Twitter that new material from his techno side project Audion could on the horizon this year. Listen to the classic ‘Mouth to Mouth’ below:

Answer Code Request – Patrick Gräser has this far released a handful of refreshingly varied, rolling techno 12″s on labels as Ostgut Ton, Marcel Dettmann’s MDR Records and Music Man. His “Main Mode” 12″ is an essential listen with other tracks of his included on Norman Nodge’s excellent “Berghain06” and Dettmann’s “Conducted” mix. Maybe in 2013 Answer Code Request will take the leap to producing a full length release.

Kompakt celebrates 20 Years

The esteemed German label will celebrate its 20th birthday in 2013 with a host of special events, including an extensive European tour, a documentary chronicling the rise of the label, a “fanzine” and re-issues. The best news yet is they of course will release new music throughout 2013. While there are no exact release dates, we can expect new albums from Justus Köhncke, Coma, The Field and Gui Boratto.

What Liam’s Looking Forward to

Albums

A$AP Rocky – “Long.Live.A$AP” 14th January

Having discovered A$AP Rocky through his “LiveLoveA$AP” (2010) I was looking to hearing his debut album and its finally coming out in just a weeks time after many delays. The album features top underground hip-hop producers such as Clams Casino, Hit Boy, A$AP Ty Beats, Soufein3000, Joey Fat Beats and Rocky himself and has already gained a Best New Music award from Pitchfork. “Long.Live.A$AP” promises to be one of the Albums of the Year 2013.

Jamie Lidell – “Jamie Lidell” 18th February

Jamie Lidell returns with his self titled fifth album in February 2013, pre release track “What A Shame” finds him returning to the electronic sound of his first two solo albums “Muddling Gear” (2000) and the brilliant “Multiply” (2005).

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “Push the Sky Away” 18th February

The long awaited follow up to “Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!” (2008) has got me excited due to its trailer and the Gaspar Noe directed video for first single ‘We Know Who U R’, a simple but highly effective song with a video to match. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album!!!

Low – “The Invisible Way” 18th March

In 2013 Low celebrate their 20th anniversary as a band, they will also release their 13th studio album. Produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy at Wilco’s Chicago studio, The Loft, the band visited the studio while on tour and decided to record with Tweedy after hearing his work on Mavis Staples “You Are Not Alone” (2010).

David Bowie – “The Next Day” March 2013

On Tuesday (8th January)  David Bowie announced his return with his 30th studio album and his first since 2003’s “Reality”. The first single from “The Next Day” is ‘Where Are We Now’ which harks back to the “Heroes” (1977) a Bowie classic. This has surprised many critics and fans alike as Bowie is generally perceived as a forward thinking artist. However, this overlooks much of Bowie’s output in the 90’s and 00’s which referenced his own back catalogue on numerous occasions. Producer Tony Visconti quickly aligned any fears of Bowie deserting his innovative roots describing the album as both “innovative” and “quite a rock album” continuing if people are looking for classic Bowie, they’ll find it on this album”.

Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah – “Twelve Reasons to Die” early 2013

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

Factory Floor – “Title TBA” 13th May

After a good two years of singles and build up it seems that the band will finally release their much anticipated début album in May 2013 on DFA records. The album will be preceded by the single ‘Fall Back’ eight and a half minutes of slow burning dance floor intensity.

YoungBlood Brass Band – “Pax Volumi” early 2013

The latest from the band is that they have completed their new album with a release planned for early in 2013, accompanied by an extensive world tour. I look forward to hearing this explosive bands combination of raw live jazz and hip-hop elements, been much missed since the brilliant “Is That A Riot?” (2006).

Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – “Title TBA” Spring 2013

The band recently announced their new album would be out in the new year, more information as we get it.

Madvillain – “Title TBA” 2013

In a recent interview with Benji B on BBC Radio 1 Doom of Madvillain announced that the second album is almost done and he just has to finish off two songs and that if they’re finished on time the album could be out before the end of 2012. 2012 is now been and gone but the album is close to completion so hopefully it will be released before the year is out.

Artists

AlunaGeorge

AlunaGeorge’s music has been bouncing around the internet for around a year now and now the male-female duo are hotly tipped for success and finishing second in the BBC’s Sound of 2013 didn’t hurt their chances of going supernova this year. However, its their music and not polls that has me excited an combination on Timbaland and The Neptunes style beats, off kilter synths and R&B vocals instantly mark them out from the pack, while never forgetting about a hummable tune and killer hook. Their debut album “Body Music” comes out in June and I can’t wait for it. To read an interview with band on The Guardian’s website click here.

Ryan Hemsworth

Ryan Hemsworth started out providing beats for cloud rap acts such as Attrakionz and Deniro Farrar until the release of his instrumental E.P. “Last Words” late in 2012 in which he expanded out into a skewed hip-hop, ambient and dance music hybrid. His main influences are Three 6 Mafia, Mannie Fresh, Hudson Mohawke, Aphex Twin and Ryuichi Sakamoto. I look forward to hearing more material from this promising young producer.

Joey Bada$$

18 year old Joey Bada$$ released his excellent debut mixtape “1999” which perfectly recreated late 90’s New York and catapulted Bada$$ and his PRO ERA crew into the spotlight. It also drew the attention of legendary hip-hop producer DJ Premier and the two will release a free on Mountain Dew’s Green Label Sound next week.

Night Engine

Although originality isn’t their strong suit musically Night Engine do create exciting music and show the potential to develop into a great guitar pop band. They recall both Franz Ferdinand and Berlin era and early 80’s David Bowie and neither of those are bad artists to be a reminder of. Check out their debut single ‘Seventeen/Treat Me Like a Baby’ below and read more about the band here.

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This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

David Bowie – “Low” (RCA Records, 1977)

This month’s choice for Classics Critiqued is David Bowie’s “Low”, an album that reinvented both Bowie and, on its first side, ideas about rock music whilst showcasing Bowie’s own take on ambient music on its second side. “Low” created a cross roads in Bowie’s career, it marked the beginning of the ‘Berlin Trilogy’ (also featuring “Heroes” and “Lodger”) and a period of intense experimentation. It also divided his fans; some abandoning him as he challenged them with even more challenging music and others embracing this new seam of creativity. In this piece I will discuss many ideas about how the album was created, its place in the wider context of ’70s music, its inspirations and its legacy.

When David Bowie started work on “Low” he had hit rock bottom. A cocaine addict with a collapsing marriage and media accusations of Nazi sympathies, he fled to Switzerland to regroup. Bowie wanted to escape America, its culture and LA drug dealers. “Low” (and Bowie-produced Iggy Pop’s “The Idiot”, which was recorded before but released after “Low” ) allowed him an output for his emotional despair and his new musical vision. This vision applied “European sensibilities to American pop, brilliantly combining R&B rhythms, electronics, minimalism and process driven techniques with an atmosphere of modernist alienation and a suspicion of narrative.” On Side One Bowie pushed his classically trained musicians into unfamiliar territory, pushing rock music to its most arty and abstract limit, abandoning typical structures and sounds to create a new future. Bowie described having “a sense of yearning for a future that we all knew would never come to pass.” during the making of “Low”.

At this stage of the process Bowie and producer Tony Visconti would also process the musicians’ instruments as they played and afterwards used effects such as the Eventide Harmonizer (a pitch shifter), various tone filters, reverbs and every studio trick Visconti knew. Along the way Visconti even created a new technique that would define Side One of “Low”: he would send the snare to the Harmonizer, which dropped the pitch, then fed it straight back to the drummer. It was processed live, so drummer Dennis Davis heard the shift in pitch as he played and responded accordingly. Visconti added the two into the mix to get “Low”’s signature sound:  a snare thump with a descending echo.

One of key players in creating “Low” was Bowie’s newest collaborator, experimental solo artist and creator of ambient music Brian Eno. Though he is not the ‘producer’ of the record as he is often quoted (these duties fell to long time Bowie producer Tony Visconti and Bowie himself), his advice was hugely important in shaping the album’s sound. Historically Eno is always associated with Side Two of “Low”, which consists of four extended ambient pieces, however his ideas and influence apply equally to the seven tracks on the first side as well. For instance, Bowie turned up to the sessions with many half-finished and under developed ideas sourced from his aborted ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ soundtrack, leftovers from “The Idiot” and various experiments he had created in his home studio in Switzerland. Eno recalls, “He arrived with all these strange pieces, long and short, which already had their own form and structure. The idea was to work together to give the songs a more normal structure. I told him not to change them, to leave them in their bizarre, abnormal state.”

Eno also used his Oblique Strategies card set to direct the musicians in the studio and remove inspirational blocks. However, not all the musicians took to Eno’s methodology as keenly as Bowie had. The classically trained Carlos Alomar thought the cards were ‘stupid’ and felt that Eno’s and Bowie’s intellectualising of the music wouldn’t ‘give you a hook for a song’. Side Two of the album has more direct links to Eno’s own music, though the fact it’s more compositional demonstrates that is Bowie who is in ultimate control and Eno is an advisor to aid to his overall vision, and not a guru who dominated the decisions Bowie made.

Bowie was a keen art collector and during visits to West Berlin (despite the ‘Berlin trilogy’ tag “Low” was actually recorded in Paris then finished in West Berlin’s Hansa studios later) he would visit Die Brücke museum and buy pieces of art for little money in the city’s art gallerys. Bowie felt there was a direct link between the emotionally evocative landscapes painted by Die Brücke artists and what he was attempting on the album’s second half. In a 2001 interview he said, “It was an art form that mirrored life not by event but by mood and this was where I felt my work was going.” “Like Die Brücke landscapes each of Side Two’s pieces described a place (Warsaw on ‘Warszawa’ and Berlin on the other three) but that place is just a prompt, just a vehicle for a mood. If these are portraits of cities, they are painted with the broadest of brushstrokes”.

 “Low” is an album that in many ways is defined by its lack of lyrics yet when Bowie chose to express himself lyrically it complimented perfectly the instrumentation and the mood of the music. At the time Bowie was suffering from depression and the disconnected way he delivers lines such as: “Deep in your room you never leave your room. Something deep inside of me – yearning deep inside of me” adds an extra tension to the songs and demonstrates just how depressed Bowie was. His words were further enriched by the use of his voice. Often on Bowie lowers his voice, something that he hadn’t done on previous records, making the album a real yardstick for his career afterwards. During the final part of recording Bowie would stand in front of the microphone listening to the backing tracks trying out different voices until he found the right one for that song. In his 2005 book on “Low” Hugo Wilcken observed that “After the razzle of glam rock, after the constant reinventions, the gaudy theatre of Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke, it was something of a shock that Bowie could turn around and make an album that was so empty and private, with lyrics so sparse and simple, with “nothing to do, nothing to say.”

“Low” had an immediate and long-lasting influence on alternative rock music and the directions it moved in after the 1977 release. One of the more subtle influences was on the post-punk music scene. Bowie’s combination of black music rhythms and European sensibilities is traceable in the likes of Joy Division, A Certain Ratio and Talking Heads’ classic albums (produced by Eno) “Fear of Music” and “Remain In Light” and ’80s pop queen Grace Jones and his foregrounding of bass was omnipresent in a huge majority of post-punk bands. Another observation by Wilcken talks of Scott Walker as being influenced by “Low” as the piano featured on “The Electrician” (from “Nite Flights by The Walker Brothers, 1978) resembles that of “Warszawa”. Walker even sent Bowie a copy of “Nite Flights” despite the pair having never met. Tony Visconti’s use of the Eventide Harmonizer had him fielding calls from hundreds of engineers but he refused to tell them how he had utilised it, instead asking them how they thought it was done. Its use went on to influence Prince in creating his trademark sound. More recently post-punk revivalists like Franz Ferndinand and LCD Soundsystem have openly confessed a love of Bowie’s Berlin masterpieces. The album has arguably influenced the adventures of post-rock bands such as Disco Inferno, Insides, Seefeel and Techno Animal who  rose to “Low”‘s challenge to push rock music to its limits.

David Bowie – Low

Liam’s Top Ten Albums of the Year… so far

Honourable Mentions

Peaking Lights – “936” – is  a lo-fi take on Dub that manages to cover a lot more ground than many of their more lauded peers. I can understand why the band have been compared to fellow Not Not Fun artist Sun Araw as they share many of his similar aesthetics (humid, reverb and delay heavy sound) and principle instrumentation (extended guitar lines, organ, repetitive but meandering vocals). Tom Tom Club also seems like a good reference point particularly for the vocals and ‘All the Sun That Shines’ and ‘Bird of Paradise (Dub Version)’. Definitely an album that’s worthy of soundtracking this summer like ‘On Patrol’ by Sun Araw soundtracked last summer.

Mogwai – “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will” – a mixed bag from Mogwai (a band that has been criticised in the past for producing overly samey music across an album) featuring both the familiar epic post-rock tracks that made them an internationally known force and new directions for the band including using a vocoder and development of Neu! and New Order style rhythms and grooves on ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ and ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’. I’ve read a lot of negative things about the use of the vocoder and more vocal tracks on this album and can’t say I agree with these opinions. The vocoder is employed subtly and sparingly and Stuart Braithwaite’s vocals have always been a good addition to Mogwai’s music and suit the song he sings on here. Overall I think this is Mogwai’s best album since ‘Happy Music for Happy People’ (2003).

Talib Kweli – “Gutter Rainbows” –  a return to form for Kweli after the overly commercial and guest heavy ‘Eardrum’  (2007). Kweli seems to more at ease and freer, the album’s tone and variety a sign that he may have been under pressure from Warners while making ‘Eardrum’. It’s also telling that all the guests and producers who appear on this album aren’t established major label artists/producers and I think that’s a big contributing factor. The quality on the album only really drops once for ‘How Do You Love Me’ which is a little too limp and sloppy amongst tracks that have a lot more bit and depth. The major highlights are ‘Cold Rain’ (production by Currency producer Ski Beats) and Jean Grae’s appearance on ‘Uh Oh’, however its Kweli whose personality comes across strongest, on what could be his best album yet.

Beastie Boys – “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two”

The Beasties Boys return to form after two patchy albums, full of short punchy songs that for the most part share a minimalist, lo-fi approach. It’s the Beasties gone back to basics and with found a new lease of life that explores new territory (for them) while remaining 100% Beastie Boys. Established with love this, new converts may well join the cause – all in all a triumph from restless creators always looking to evolve.

Dels – “GOB”

Dels has produced an authoritative début album that balances catchy, memorable tunes with experimentation, unexpected twists and turns and a signature sound that he can manipulate to give the album a curve. He starts with the heavy hitting, bouncy electro inspired tracks but the second half to that album covers more serious topics including the recent political problems in the U.K. and rape. Dels is able to change the pace and the atmosphere to suit these changes in subject and this is proof of an artist with more than one string to his bow and great future ahead of him. A Hip-Hop artist with substance to match his unique style.

Top Ten

10. White Denim – “D” – Though it may not be the album of the year I rashly predicted at the start of the month, though it has to be said ‘Anvil Everything’ and ‘Drug’ were pretty exciting tracks to be released in the run up to release. However this album is by no means a wash-out, it begins with a slightly misleading slice of Southern Rock but some reveals a diverse range from an ever developing and maturing band. From the wah-wah funk of ‘Burnished’ to the emotional ‘Street Joy’ via Latin rhythms of ‘River to Consider’ and many points in between this album is well worth investigation and like other White Denim album will probably prove to be another grown, rewarding repeated listening.

9. Low – “C’Mon” – A great album of two halves that sees Low experimenting with poppier sounds on the first half of the album and on ‘Something Turning Over’ while the reminder of the album revisits older sounds and influences but does so while providing some great songs. Some Low fans won’t (and don’t) like the poppier material but I think it can be seen as another string to their bow and not a conscious attempt to sell out. This is not a band producing Top Ten hits, but one dripping its toe into unknown waters and successful completing an experiment. The fact this album was recorded in a Duluth (Low’s home town) church gives the slow more open tracks and fantastic atmosphere and ambience and complaints some great songs. Once again Low show the patience and subtlety can go along way in a music world that seems constantly looking for something innovative and over simulating.

8. Chancha Via Circuito – “Rio Arriba” – A great hip-hop album that potential points a new way forward and demonstrates that there are really skilled producers working out the mainstream and America who can compete with their U.S. contemporaries. A breath of fresh Columbian air, this producer neatly side steps the comparisons to Jay Dilla to crave out his own unique style.

7. Tamikrest – “Toumastin” – Another great Taurag (desert blues) album that throws down the gauntlet to Tinariwen (whose next album is out 29th August). Though there’s a lot of familiarity to the Tamikrest sound these young men find a way of subtlety incorporating new influences into the template. From the funk bass that underpins ‘Tidit’ and ‘Tarhamanine Assinegh’ to the Western rock guitar of ‘Adjan Adaky’ and magnificent closer ‘Dihad Tedoun Itran’via the regular and clever employment of female vocals as a counterpoint to a very male sound, this shows there is more to Taurag than fans already know. The band masterful conquers both the more groovy based and moody and downbeat material with confidence and ease. A great album from a band full ideas and possible yet to reach their full potential.

6. TV on the Radio – ‘Nine Types of Light’ – This acts as a laid back sunny counterpart to their previous album ‘Dear, Science’ (2008). However, this isn’t an album that should be considered light or lacking in substance. Instead it’s a successful move into new territory for a band that continues to develop, improve and with this show that may just be one of the best bands of the last ten years. The album’s brighter moments indicates a softer R&B influence though in the latter stages of the album the band show their darker side on tracks like ‘Forgotten’ that strongly reminds me of the dense atmosphere of second album ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’  (2006) but always demonstrates what they have learnt since about space and light and shade. An album that proves sweet and sour can co-exist and that light is variable alternative not corporate cop-out.

5. Paris Suit Yourself – “My Main Shitstain”‘ – An eclectic début album is held together by a similarly punk spirit and commanding vocalist Luvinsky. The band produce a unique blend of street music that takes from soul, punk, post-punk and hip-hop while subtle embracing modern technology. The band is unafraid to wear to heart politically and graphically on its sleeve and are obviously confident in their own ability and style!! The world is there’s and I fully expect them to take it and make it their own.

4. Toro Y Moi – “Underneath the Pine” – From its chiming and droning intro track right through to the last rhythmic charge of ‘Elise’, it does no wrong. A fantastic concoction of ’80s style funk rhythms and grooves matched with emotive soundtrack backing, expert use of effects processing and the glorious rush of good pop music, a leap forward from his impressive début ‘Causers of This’. In the past its been difficult to pin down Toro Y Moi’s sound and find useful reference points but recently mid 90’s Stereolab seems apt for this playful experiment in pop music.

3. Wagon Christ – “Toomorrow” – It would be easy to dismiss this album as a repetition of everything that Vibert has done as Wagon Christ and there is some truth to that. However, he has produced an eclectic album full of great tracks (there’s not a duffer to be found) that will please hardcore Vibert fans and those new to this long-term dance music fixture. A must for fans of Ninja Tune, Warp and Planet Mu most esoteric output!!

2. tUnE-yArDs – “w h o k i l l” – tUnE-yArDs delivers on what was hinted at on her début album ‘Bird-Brains’, strong vocal performances and use of vocal layers are an ever-present as are the hip-hop rhythms that dominated her début. She also brings a host of surprises, the processing of vocals through a modular synth, pop melodies that pack a punch and day-glo indebted to both African music and dub yet at the same time all of her own. Though the album dips towards the end ‘Doorstop’ and ‘You, Yes You’ show there are yet more directions in which tUnE-yArDs sound can be developed. All-in-all a great album from a unique artist.

1. Gang Gang Dance – “Eye Contact” –  A breathtakingly ambitious album that brings together North African guitars, club beats, Indian pop vocals, grime and electro synth bass, twisted synth arpeggios are all bought together and work where it should fail spectacularly. There’s a new found clarity and a massive step-up in the quality of the tunes on ‘Eye Contact’ this is the record that their last album should have been and impress instant, whereas in the past songs were either growers or too awkward to be properly embraced. Interestingly after a few listens it becomes clear there’s some strong links to “Merriweather Post Pavilion” by Animal Collective (who are both friends and contemporaries of Gang Gang Dance) the use of psychedelic electronics and rhythms rooted in hip-hop are present on both albums. However, Gang Gang Dance add plenty to this and produce their own unique sound. An interest coincidence is that “Merriweather Post Pavilion” was Sonic Fiction’s Album of the Year 2009 and this is currently in poll position for this year. Will it still be No.1 in December?

Spotify playlist:

Liam’s Albums of the Year 2011 … so far

Vier’s Top Five Albums of the Year 2011… so far

5. Lucy – “Wordplay For Working Bees” (Stroboscopic Artefacts) Lucy bypasses the traditional form and structure of techno for his début album. IDM, drones, oblique ambience and dub-techno combine to create a foreboding atmosphere filled with unusual timbres and textures. Partly composed of field recordings from Berlin’s streets and parks, the album’s title plays on the busyness of the crowds assembled on the city streets. The recordings tangle amongst disembodied vocals and abstract noises which build a sense of dissonant melancholia. When the 4/4 rhythm of  ‘Bein’ breaks out of the ambient climate it feels exotic and somehow forbidden as does album closer ‘Ter’ which filled with pattering percussion building to a stunning, hypnotic climax that contrasts the album’s darkness.

4. Planningtorock – “W” (DFA) Planningtorock’s (Janine Rostron) second album is rooted in the expression of her sexuality, which is conveyed by the swagger and sweaty atmosphere that recall the cabaret clubs in her adopted home of Berlin. The lascivious drawl of her pitched-down voice (as demonstrated with: “I know my feelings” on opener ‘Doorway’ and “I’m a believer of circular/suckular love” on ‘Manifesto’) coupled with staccato strings and thick, sensual orchestration makes “W” a powerful and rewarding release.

3. Morphosis – “What Have We Learned” (Delsin/Morphine) Composed entirely with analogue equipment and recorded over three days, Morphosis’ first full-length is a collection of gritty, percussive clatter that recalls the dirtier side of Krautrock. Built on round bass drums and foggy static with assertive grooves and synths that engulf the listener, “What Have We Learned” is the techno release of the year.

2. Gang Gang Dance – “Eye Contact” (4AD) Building from the suggestions of bright pop displayed on a track such as ‘House Jam’ from their previous album “Saint Dymphna”, Gang Gang Dance have condensed their eclecticism and strengthened the pop melodies to create a highly impressive and ambitious fifth album. Singer Lizzie Bougatsos works her voice as instrument, in a way that justly recalls Karin Dreijer Andersson and Bjork, weaving it among the layers of polyrhythmic dance beats, electro-indebted synth riffs and glassy arpeggios. Key track ‘Mindkilla’ combines unhinged world-dance grooves with Bougatsos’ menacingly singing the lullaby ‘Mockingbird’, which encapsulates Gang Gang Dance’s approach for “Eye Contact”: ecstatic and woozy with an undercurrent of threat.

1. Nicolas Jaar – “Space Is Only Noise” (Circus Company) Much has been said of 22 year-old Jaar’s prodigious talent and his first album is rightly garnering critical acclaim. Blending Ricardo Villalobos-esque intricacy with jazz-influenced piano, super-slow techno rhythms, obscure French film dialogue, saxophone and Nicolas Jaar’s own surprisingly deep voice, the album is over-confident but endearingly so. At points coolly sexy (‘Keep Me There’ and the title track), delicate and wistful (‘Too Many Kids…’ ‘I Got A’) and ambient palate-cleansing washes “Space Is Only Noise” is a diverse, self-assured and engaging album and it is a testament to Jaar’s skill that he has delivered such a promising début in place of what could otherwise have been a pretentious clutter.

Honourable mentions:

Wolfgang Voigt – “Kafkatrax” (Profan) In typically eccentric fashion, Voigt has super-imposed his face on to Austrio-Hungarian writer Franz Kafka’s head for the artwork of Kafkatrax. The strange merge goes further with the music contained inside. Every sound except the bass drum is taken from a German audiobook of Kafka’s work, the samples of which Voigt has then sliced, layered and stretched to create several voices speaking in fragmented words and vowels. The abstract stratification of the samples re-produce the paranoia present in Kafka’s writing while Voigt’s experienced hand in intangible dance music knits the sounds into four alien yet groove-filled techno tracks.

http://www.kompakt.fm/releases/kafkatrax_1/embedded

http://www.kompakt.fm/releases/kafkatrax_2/embedded

Spotify playlist:

Vier’s Albums of the Year 2011… so far

Important Announcement

Before I discuss last month’s releases and recommend some for May, I have an important announcement about Sonic Fiction’s immediate future. After much thought I’ve decided to scale back the amount of the work I do for the blog. I need to spend more time pursuing my career in music and so must dedicate time to practising, learning, writing and recording. However I didn’t want to abandon the blog and waste the hard work getting it to its current position, so instead of it ceasing to exist I will keep the regular features (this column and Classics Critiqued), along with our Writer’s Albums of the Year… So Far in June and Writer’s Albums of Year/Observations in December. In addition the bi-monthly electronic music column Music Is Improper will continue to be published.

Thank you,

Liam Flanagan (Sonic Fiction Editor)

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The biggest disappointment of April was the new Prefuse 73 album ‘The Only She Chapters’. Guillermo Scott Herren’s second concept album in a row is another failure. This certainly seemed an interesting idea on paper and the first big move away his trademark sound, an ambient album celebrating women. Unfortunately Prefuse falls into a lot of the pitfalls of ambient music producing a indistinct album that washes over and pass you by. Many of the vocalists featured don’t stamp their authority on the songs and could be easily swapped out for vocal samples. The album is aesthetically glued together with interludes and united by a consistent sound, however there are people who make this music and do it better. It’s back to the drawing board for Prefuse 73 to reinvent himself again.

Another disappointment was the lastest self titled album from Detroit funk guitarist Dennis Coffey. Despite being a well played and executed album that is precisely what makes it so disappointing. The album is dominated by Coffey’s soloing and he even suffocates Paolo Nutini’s contribution to ‘Only Good for Conversation’. By the end of the album the perfect funk playing and constant mid song soloing gets boring on an album that is actually reasonably varied while still remaining cohesive aesthetically. I’m sure that Coffey fans with find much to love, but this album left me cold.

Our first choice that delivered on its pre-release promise was Ponytail’s “Do Whatever You Want All the Time”. From the blissful, surging ambient art-rock of opener ‘Easy Peasy’ to the closing motorik repetition of ‘Music Tunes’ the band produce a breathtaking post/art-rock album that although recalling Neu!, the Boredoms, Battles, Foals and many other post-rock and krautrock bands some manages to only sound like Ponytail. It’s refreshing to hear a rock band ripping up the rule book with abandon, while not taking them too seriously or forgetting to write some tunes.

Moon Duo fashion a great combination of Motown, The Velvets, Neu!, garage rock and Spacemen 3 on their new album ‘Mazes’ yet even with all those retro references the album sounds fresh and exciting. Moon Duo revitalise rock music when it seemed (for the most part) to be beyond the pale.

A great album that demonstrates Low experimenting with poppier sounds on the first half of the album and ‘Something Turning Over’ while the reminder of the album revisits older sounds and influences but does so while providing some great songs. Some Low fans won’t (and don’t) like the poppier material but I think it can be seen as another string to their bow and not a conscious attempt to sell out. This is not a band producing Top Ten hits, but one dripping its toe into unknown waters and successful completing an experiment. The fact this album was recorded in a Duluth (Low’s home town) church gives the slow more open tracks a fantastic atmosphere and ambience and complaints some great songs.

TV on the Radio’s – ‘Nine Types of Light’ acts as a laid back sunny counterpart to their previous album ‘Dear, Science’ (2008). However, this isn’t an album that should be considered light or lack in substance. Instead it’s a successful move into new territory for a band that continues to develop, improve and with this show that may just be one of the best bands of the last ten years. The album’s brighter moments indicated a previously unheard R&B influence though in the latter stages of the album the band show their old darker side on tracks like ‘Forgotten’ that strongly reminds me of the dense atmosphere of ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’ but always demonstrates what they have learnt since about space and light and shade. An album that proves sweet and sour can co-exist and that light is variable alternative not corporate cop-out.

Finally Tune-Yard’s – ‘w h o k i l l’ tops last month’s recommendations, standing out for its unique sound and instantaneous-ness. Tune-Yards (aka Merrill Gerbus) delivers on what was hinted at on her début album ‘Bird-Brains’, strong vocal performances and use of vocal layers are an ever-present as are the hip-hop rhythms that dominated her début. She also brings a host of surprises, the processing of vocals through a modular synth, pop melodies that pack a punch and day-glo sound indebted to both African music and dub yet at the same time all of her own. Though the album dips towards the end ‘Doorstop’ and ‘You, Yes You’ show there are yet more directions in which Tune-Yards sound can be developed. All-in-all a great album from a unique artist and just in time for summer.

Spotify playlist:

April 2011 playlist

Coming up this month on Sonic Fiction

Music Is Improper: We Have No Fathers – an exploring how Kraftwerk represented their generations reinvention of Germany.

Classics Critiqued – A Tribe Called Quest – ‘Midnight Marauders’ or ‘People’s Instinctive Travels and The Paths of Rhythm’ – I haven’t decided which to cover yet.

May Recommendations

Mark McGuire – ‘A Young Person’s Guide to…’ (Edition Mego) out now

This 2 CD compilation of songs from previously released and limited edition releases that McGuire has been constantly racking up in last few years was moved forward a week so fell between recommendations. Having had a quick listen I can whole heartedly recommend this to fans and newcomers alike its covers a lot of ground from lengthy all out ambient pieces to McGuire’s trademark double delay tricks, well worth investment.

Beastie Boys – ‘Hot Sauce Committe Part 2’ (Capitol/Grand Royal) 2nd May

Another album I’ve already had the pleasure to hear and another that I won’t hesitate in recommending. The Beasties return to form after two patchy albums, full of short punchy songs that for the most part share a minimalist, lo-fi approach. It’s the Beasties gone back to basics and with found a new lease of life that explores new territory (for them) while remaining 100% Beastie Boys. Established with love this, new converts may well join the cause – all in all a triumph from restless creators always looking to evolve.

Dels – ‘GOB’ (Big Dada/Ninja Tune) 2nd May

Back in January Dels was one of our New Band Tips for 2011 and he has delivered an authoritative début album that balances catchy, memorable tunes with experimentation, unexpected twists and turns and a signature sound that he can manipulate to give the album a curve. He starts with the heavy hitting, bouncy electro inspired tracks but the second half to that album covers more serious topics including the recent political probs. in the U.K. and rape. Dels can change the pace and the atmosphere to suit these changes in subject and this is proof of an artist with more than one string to his bow and great future ahead of him. A Hip-Hop artist with substance to match his unique style.

Gang Gang Dance – ‘Eye Contact’ (4AD) 9th May

The New York odd balls return with a new album for a new label and its promises to take the adventurous, exotic sound of ‘Saint Dymphna’ one step further. Having heard exploratory opener ‘Glass Jar’ and the rave influenced ‘Mindkilla’ I think they may well have achieved said expectation, but we’ll have to wait and see for a little while longer.

Mountains – ‘Air Museum’ (Thrill Jockey) 9th May

I listened to a track from Mountains previous album ‘Choral’ but didn’t really feel it at the time. However it may just have been a case of bad timing, as the dark ambient/drone sound that Mountains specialise in has dominated critics end of year lists in the last two years. On the evidence of ‘Thousand Square’ (the only pre-release track released for the album) they may well leap-frog the likes of Emeralds with a richer, more powerful and unique sound.

Austra – ‘Feel It Break’ (Domino) 16th May

Another new act that I discovered recently, though the trio have been compared to Fever Ray and this is an understandable comparison, they are a different proposition. They match bracing dance beats with gothic emotive vocals that evoke Kate Bush (the ethereal vocals of ‘Cloudbursting’ era Bush) and Wendy Rae Fowler of We Fell to Earth. Early signs are good, so I look forward to having the full album.

Thurston Moore – ‘Demolished Thoughts’ (Matador) 23rd May

Sonic Youth guitarist and Noise rock legend Moore returns to the territory he explored on his last solo album ‘Trees Outside the Academy’ which was an acoustic only effort. This time he’s joined by Beck (in the producer’s chair) and accompanied by violin and cello. Moore has said that Beck’s contribution to the record helped shape the sound of the album and judging by Beck’s recent production credits, this has me excited at a collaboration between these two heavyweights of 90’s alternative rock.

White Denim – ‘D’ (Downtown) 3oth May

White Denim are a band who’ve improved with every release but seem to have gone relatively unnoticed despite producing considerably better and more original music than many of their peers. Hopefully this will all be corrected with the release of their third album ‘D’ which is already gaining many column inches and deservedly so as the two pre-release tracks ‘Anvil Everything’ (super fast liquid riffing) and the Beta Band-esque ‘Drug’ certainly live up to hype. Could be a surprise contender for Album of the Year or not!?!

March was a slightly disappointing month overall. For a start I’ve been unable to even hear more than a minute of the tracks on John Foxx and The Maths – ‘Interplay’, which I was looking forward to hearing and has received many good reviews. If I’m able to check this out later this year I will feature it in a future “2011: Through my biased eyes”.

The biggest disappointment that I did get to hear was Micachu and The Shapes live collaboration with the London Sinfonietta “Chopped and Screwed”. I have to say I wasn’t sure what to expect from this combination but despite creating a dark and heavy atmosphere on many of tracks that helped glue the album together there was almost always something missing. There were moments that rose to the occasion, “Low Dogg” was the highlight with its massive stabby string riffs that pushed this great stomper of a track along. Having the best and clearest chorus/vocal melody of the album compliments it perfectly. It’s certainly an intriguing album and it may well grow on me. I found that by the third listen I was warming more to its Peter and The Wolf meets ramshackle percussion and skewed electronica vibe. If  this sounds up your street check it out, but I feel it may be  an acquired taste.

Another album that presented a novel concept was Cornershop and Bubbley Kaur’s (a previously unknown Punjabi folk singer from London) “The Double O Groove of”. The idea was simple: use Punjabi folk’s melodic and harmonic ideas combined with lo-fi hip-hop beats with the added twist that Punjabi folk is usually written by men about women but these songs are written from the female standpoint. This translates very well on 60% of the album ‘The Biro Pen’ with  its killer piano licks and Motown guitar and the infectious ‘Topknot’ are particular highlights. However, 40% (‘Don’t Shake It’, ‘Once There Was a Wintertime’, ‘Double Decker Eyelashes’, ‘9/11 Curry’) really lets the side down, the high’s are dizzying and the lows are in the doldrums – insipid and uninspiring.

This month’s salvation comes in the form of “Toomorrow” by Wagon Christ aka Luke Vibert. It would be easy to dismiss this album as a repetition of everything (quirky vocal samples, jazzy breaks, hip-hop beats, Rhodes piano, acid squelches – all thrown in Vibert’s psychedelic blender) that Vibert has done before as Wagon Christ and there is some truth to that. However, he has produced an eclectic album full of great tracks (there’s not a duffer to be found) that will please long term fans and those new to this long term dance music fixture. For fans of the most esoteric output by Ninja Tune, Warp and Planet Mu!!

You can read my Classic’s Critiqued of Primal Scream’s “Screamadelica” here and I will cover Dadawah’s ‘Peace and Love” at some point after I’ve bought it later this month. Until then I managed find a track from the album on Spotify and add it to the March playlist below.

Spotify playlist:

March playlist

Coming up this month on Sonic Fiction:

MP3 Mix Madness: A mix of song combinations that have occurred on my MP3 player when set to Shuffle in last 18 months.

Classic’s Critiqued – “Y” by The Pop Group – critics love it, but it’s rarely mentioned outside of reviews of reissues and almost never referenced as an influence by bands. I explore why and more…

April Recommendations

Moon Duo – “Mazes” (Souterrain Transmissions) 4th April

This is one of three April releases I’ve already heard (the others are Low’s “C’mon” and TV on the Radio’s “Nine Types of Light”) and I throughly recommend them all. I first stumbled on Moon Duo (Ripley Johnson of Wooden Shijps side project with his partner, Sanae Yamada -on keyboards) late last year and liked what I heard. On this their début album proper they take things up a couple of levels.They fashion a great combination of Motown, The Velvets, Neu!, garage rock and Spacemen 3 and yet even with all those retro references the album sounds fresh and exciting. Moon Duo revitalise rock music when it seemed (for the most part) to be beyond the pale.

Low – “C’mon” (Sub Pop) 11th April

A great album that demonstrates Low experimenting with poppier sounds on the first half of the album and ‘Something Turning Over’ while the reminder of the album revisits older sounds and influences but does so while providing some great songs. Some Low fans won’t (and don’t) like the poppier material but I think it can be seen as another string to their bow and not a conscious attempt to sell out. This is not a band producing Top Ten hits, but one dripping its toe into unknown waters and successful completing an experiment. The fact this album was recorded in a Duluth (Low’s home town) church gives the slow more open tracks and fantastic atmosphere and ambience and complaints some great songs.

Ponytail – ‘Do Whatever You Want All The Time’ (We Are Free) 11th April

I don’t know a lot about Ponytail but listened to guitarist and founder Dustin Wong’s first solo album last year and was an interesting if not wholly satisfying work. However their new track “Easy Peasy” is very impressive as is the artwork by Eye from the Boredoms, so I’ll be checking this out.

TV on the Radio – ‘Nine Types of Light’ (Polydor) 11th April

Refreshed from their hiatus TV on the Radio return with what I believe is a mellow flipside to the intense but upbeat “Dear, Science”, the atmosphere is relaxed without being horizontal or turning into wallpaper music. The band hasn’t lost its personality, it’s just represent a different side of it. I was surprised that ‘Will Do’ was the first track they allowed people to listen to but now it makes a lot of sense within the albums context. Prince and “Speaking In Tongues” by Talking Heads seem good reference points, as does some modern R&B music. Highlights are the slow burning ‘Killer Crane’,‘New Cannonball Blues’ Prince style falsetto and quick, dirty funk guitar and superb opener ‘Second Song’.

tUnEyArDs – ‘w h o k i l l’ (4AD) 18th April

This is tUnEyArDs first step into the world of big studio production after her no-fi début album ‘BiRd-BrAiNs’. The single ‘Bizness’ was a first slice of upbeat ukulele driven pop. I’ve not heard anything else from the album but early reviews suggest vocals feed through modular synths and a strong World music influence across the album. An intriguing blend if even there was one.

Dennis Coffey – ‘Dennis Coffey’ (Strut) 25th April – Detroit funk legend returns with a guest filled new album that celebrates the music of the city. More info at Strut Records.

Prefuse 73 – ‘The Only She Chapters’ (Warp) 25th April

This album marks a significant development in Prefuse’s approach to music-making – this is very much a compositional, as opposed to loop-based, work. He also calls upon the vocal talents of several different female artists, most notably Broadcast’s late Trish Keenan and neo-goth torch singer Zola Jesus, but also Faidherbe, Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), Nico Turner and Niki Randa. As its title suggests, this is an album that foregrounds and explores the idea of the feminine, right down to the artwork, which comes courtesy of illustrator Yuko Michishita.

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