Tag Archive: Micachu and the Shapes


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I first read about Kwes in Clash magazine back in 2008 when he was featured in their Ones to Watch section. They were a little premature in their prediction but they were right about this producer’s great potential. Since then he’s colllaborated with Micachu and produced tracks on “GOB” by DELS and then signed to Warp Records and releasing his “Meantime” EP in April 2012. All his work to date has straddled experimental music, pop and hip-hop and “ilp” is no different, he went as far as defining his music as “free pop” as he recently explained to Clash magazine “Free-pop really is me pigeonholing myself, before other people do,” he explains. “Pop is what gave me that education and gave me the impetus to make music. It’s literally just letting it run, just letting the music-making run. It was all very free-flowing.”


The album kicks off with one of its highlights ‘Purplehands’ it opens with a field recording of swans quacking and flaaping their wings put through reverb before a thick synth bass drone and two high frequency synth drones take over. A slow, gentle melody seems to emerge around one minute twenty seconds in then the drones fade away and the reverbrate lead vocals of Kwes enter. A synth pad moves quietly below his vocals, after about thirty seconds a simple light beat drops as does a bell like melodic sound and bass guitar that leads into the songs lean yet swelling chorus. The song bursts into life with post-rock style guitars, bass and drums around four minutes and forty five second ins, the track breaks down again briefly with Kwes singing, occasional piano and synth. Then the guitars, bass and drums surge in again creating a wave for the vocal, synth and piano to ride. Next up is the single ’36’ it begins with a distorted, murky bass guitar plays alone, then a head nodding hip-hop beat drops, swiftly followed by a piano chord progression. Things break down for a verse at one minute forty five, leaving just the drums and Kwes vocals, the piano cuts back in partway through the verse to build towards the chorus. There’s a great bell melody that kicks around three minutes and fifty seconds in. It’s a great piece of experimental pop.  


‘Cablecar’ opens with simple electric piano melody and beat with Kwes delayed vocal melody drifting over the top and a rumbling synth bass underpinning everything. Things gets more complex in the chorus with the melody rising and falling much quicker. Three minutes the track fades out and there’s just the beat and some spoken word phrases before the droning synth bass re-enters bringing with it everything else including a new glassy synth melody. At five minutes the song shakes off the droning bass and like ‘Purplehands’ is set free for its climax. ‘Hives’ combines a deep penerating bass line, fluttering percussion that’s heavy compressed, metallic percussion and and an ascending electric piano for the intro for the track. A destructive synth bass and computer melody take over before a hip-hop beat that cracks takes over, later filmic strings cut in briefly. The track sounds like an English an to Flying Lotus and like a lot of the album is incredibly cinematic. ‘Chagall’ opens with layered reverse sounds pan around the stereo field, then a deep bass guitar/synth emerges and underpins the reverse which are now joined by reverse vocals. Then everything drops out around a minute in, returns for a moment and then is replaced by a crunchy distorted reverse effect, everything returns again thus timeone by one the sound swelling and getting bigger and bigger. The album finishes with ‘B_shf_1’ a more uptempo version of ‘Bashful’ from the “Meantime” EP, at first I didn’t like this version (and still prefer the original) but after a second spin the track really grew on me.

With “ilp” Kwes has produced an album that is sonically, structured and emotional unique within the three genres he has chosen to combine. Across the length of the album he evokes a huge range of emotions from melancholy to happiness via repressed anger and it play out with an all enconpassing setting of his childhood growing up in Lewisham. In fact, the video and images that accompany Pitchfork’s stream of the album are a good starting point for the imagery that Kwes music plants in your mind. Only on ‘Hives’ does he sound like any one else and even then the sense of Englishness is very strong. Kwes has delivered an excellent debut album that lives up to the four years of on and off hype he’s experienced, can’t wait for the follow-up.

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Some releases we missed in July

Eric Copeland – “Limbo” (Underwater People’s Records)

The latest solo effort from Eric Copeland of Black Dice is not exactly what you’d expect from a member of that group. True there’s plenty of lo-fi sounds and noise on the album’s six tracks but they are rendered in a pop context. There’s hip-hop influenced uses of grooves and sampling, some house/techno inspired rhythm drum machines patterns and pad textures and wonky hooks aplenty. ‘Double Reverse Psychology’ opens the album with its mix of Submerged vocals, twanging guitars and pleasantly plodding rhythm all spectacularly skewed by Copeland on one of the album’s highlights. ‘Louie, Louie, Louie’ is another highlight matching funky lo-fi wah-wah guitar and charming churning synth to create a weird pop ditty. Elsewhere Copeland is less successful with his unusual hybrid ‘Muckaluk’s Heavily filtered synths, stabbing bass and quick fire rhythm never truly coalesce or convince, ‘Fiesta Muerta’ meanders though a swinging lo-fi groove and vocal and sax samples without ever catching fire. ‘Tarzan and The Dirty Devils’ comes closest to an out and out house track with its breathy vocals and airy house style drum machine rhythm and pad textures but doesn’t reach the heights of  ‘Double Reverse Psychology’ or ‘Louie, Louie, Louie’. The album peters out with final track the sci-fi tinged ‘Lemons’. It’s seems the Copeland is coincidentally going for similar territory as PLVS VLTRA mentioned elsewhere in this post but falls short of this aim for most of “Limbo”, though there should be enough here to keep Black Dice fans happy.

Perc – “A New Brutality” (Perc Trax)

The new EP from the head of the esteemed Perc Trax label is a fantastic addition to his impressive back catalogue. The EP opens with a single ear splitting tone before thundering bass drums kicks in bringing with it resonant filter swept techno synths and a punishing bass line, the title “A New Brutality” couldn’t be more apt. The pace and heaviness doesn’t let up on ‘Cash 4 Gold’ with its clattering electro hip-hop style drum pattern, corroded synth noise and glassy spooked synth melody that dominates the second half of the track, at which point it takes on a Lynchian vibe. ‘Boy’ is an electro meets techno banger complete with heavy industrial drums. The EP rounds off with ‘Before I Go’ where things get more contemplative with crunchy field recordings backing dark reverb heavy piano chords. “A New Brutality” is an essential purchase for anyone interested in underground dance music.

Toby Dreher – “Freiluft” (Rotary Cocktail)

Working alone and as one half of Dreher & Smart, the productions of Berlin native Toby Dreher have featured on a range of German labels, including 3000°, Perplex Recordings and Dekadent Schallplatten. His debut album, “Freiluft” will be released on his hometown’s Rotary Cocktail Recordings. The digital-only record is made up of ten tracks that reflect Dreher’s skills as both a DJ and live act. Ranging from driving techno, electronica, dub-techno and hypnotic techhouse, “Freiluft” is a well crafted debut. Reflecting the moody and swirling techno of Berlin are tracks such as ‘Imagination’ with its filtered textures, low bass line, scratchy hats and thin delayed melody and ‘Spurensuche’’s rainy atmosphere, resonant bass line and metallic textures. ‘Chordhose’ stands out as a showcase of Dreher’s production abilities. It features a driving beat, tonal percussion and harsh textures that flash in and out of view. The track gradually builds in intensity with dissonant strings and drilling textures added underneath an irregular synth note. A silken vocal sample contrasts the abrasive noises.  Elsewhere is the pitch black techno of ‘Headrush’, which comprises of male voice singing melodically underneath a second distorted voice, a distant clap, an intensely resonant bass line and zinging hats. The only true misstep is ‘Shurly’. Its misplaced use of a piece of well-known dialogue from a 1980 spoof film just doesn’t make sense in the context of the track’s dark, sweeping minimal techno and feels a little like an A-level music production effort. “Freiluft”, while not a greatly imaginative or fresh album, is a solid release that will find favour with fans of Skudge et al.

PLVS VLTRA – “Pantheon” (Spectrum Spools)

The debut album from Toko Yasuda best known as keyboard player in the touring bands for Blonde Redhead and St. Vincent is chock full of genre hopping and mashing oddball pop tunes. All created with a lo-fi aesthetic the album regularly recalls the work of M.I.A., Peaking Lights and indirectly Micachu and The Shapes, in place it also reminds me of Dutch lo-fi pop artist Solex and Brazilian electro pop band CSS on the reggae referencing title track. Despite these aesthetic and sometimes stylistic similarities this record has pretty unique spin on pop music warping it into many diffuse but still tuneful shapes. Yasuda also keeps the hooks and melodies coming even on the most esoteric tracks e.g. ‘World in Words’ which is dominated by pumping bass drums that underpin delay heavy vocals and twinkling cheap synth sounds or ‘Yume’s submerged tropical sounding techno. “Pantheon” is a promising debut from an artist who I hope goes on it create many more albums and develop this fantastically oddball take on pop music.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

The Alchemist – “Russian Roulette” (Decon)

What can I say about the new album by hip-hop producer The Alchemist? Well, it appears he set out with good intentions and an over arching concept for the album but he falls short in a year packed with quality hip-hop releases. The OTT guitar solos and overtly smooth lounge jazz instrumentation sound like something you’d have heard in an airport lounge in the 70’s and leave a bad taste in the ear. This may well be the effect The Alchemist is going for, but it’s a displeasing sound. This is all the more surprising as The Alchemist has deservedly held a health amount of respect in the hip-hop community and recently had a revival of sorts producing quality tracks for the likes of Curren$y and an excellent collaborative project Gangrene with Stone’s Throw’ Oh No. There are many better producers creating (mainly instrumental) hip-hop concept albums, in fact I’d point you in the direction of Blockhead’s “Interludes After Midnight” for an excellent recent example. Whatever you do don’t buy “Russian Roulette”.

Outer Space – “Akashic Records (Events 1986 – 1990)” (Spectrum Spools)

The second album from John Elliott of Emeralds side project Outer Space is not a bad album; however it isn’t significantly different to anything Elliott, Emeralds or any other Emeralds side project has done to date. The same elements are present here as on those releases the synth arpeggio, the dark drones, the yearning synth melodies, the occasional effect or discordant melodic riff but it’s all the same. The opening track ‘Ellipse’ is the biggest disappointment it spends five minutes building tension and gaining more and more synth elements including a purposeful arpeggio before breaking down into an ambient second half that just fizzles out. The second track ’11:30’ begins in an equally promising manner with spectral synths intertwining and then being joined by a bubbling arpeggio and deep probing bass, however it then deplorably defaults back to the Emeralds template. ‘The Fifth Column’ repeats the same formula, ‘October 27th, 1989 – Bay Village, Ohio’ repeats the structure of ‘Ellipse’ with a digital arpeggio replacing ‘Ellipse’s all analogue sounds and on final track ‘February 8th, 1990 – Ashland, Ohio’ the Emeralds formula rears its head again. If your fan of Emeralds or the original kosmiche music they are inspired by you may like this album. Having said that I’m a fan of this genre of music but find it frustrating that modern artists such as Outer Space do little to move the genre forward, happy to merely recreate it perfectly.

Aesop Rock – “Skelethon” (Rhymesayers)

Aesop Rock new album sees a solid return for his long awaited sixth album, his first album exclusively devoted to his own productions, Rock having moved on and away from regular collaborator Blockhead. The album also features no guest rappers and the only other vocalist who features is Kimya Dawson (ex-Moldy Peaches). The album opens with Reverb heavy picked guitar and synth effects of ‘Leisureforce’ the chorus of which recalls TV on the Radio, in fact throughout the album Aesop Rock’s production heavily reference alternative and garage rock. This helps make sense of the collaborations with Dawson and Allyson Baker of Dirty Ghosts and gives the album a clear identity that separates it from Rock’s previous albums. The closest comparisons to Rock’s music on his album I can think of are fellow rap-alt. Rock experimentalist Busdriver and Rock’s former label boss El-P and his industrial aesthetic. The album’s highlights include the throbbing synth bass and cutting hip-hop beat of ‘Tetra’, dark head nodder ‘1,000 Clock’, ‘Racing Stripes’ with its clattering drum break, chopped up vocal stabs, funk guitar and bass and Rock flow smooth over the top and ‘ZZZ Top’ with its killer drum break, stabs and funk guitar lick. Overall this album won’t disappointment Aesop Rock fans and he his first attempt at producing a whole album is admirable, however “Skelethon” lags behind the other hip-hop releases we’ve recommended this year.

Laetita Sadier – “Silencio” (Drag City)

With her new album Sadier deliver another solid if unspectacular album. It’s solid enough and there’s the odd surprise but overall it feel very familiar. ‘Silencio’ focuses on the influence of French music on Sadier especially Serge Gainsbourg’s late 60’s output. Another influence that runs through the album (and in Sadier’s career) is that of The Velvet Underground. The albums highlights include ‘Fragment Pour Le Future De L’homme’ an upbeat French Disco track, the Latin inspired rhythms of ‘Find Me the Pulse of the Universe’, and ‘Auscultation To The Nation’ a combination of the Velvet Underground rhythm guitar and Gainsbourg style string arrangements. All of these songs show off Sadier’s new found skill for music arranging something that wasn’t present in her previous solo albums or those by Stereolab side project Monade. However, with the exception of these highlights the album never strays from the formula that Sadier established with Stereolab over 20 years ago or replicates long established generic styles and central influences. Though they aren’t bad songs or it’s hard to get away from these facts. Despite her best efforts to leave behind her past it haunts this album from start to finish.  

Beak> – “>>” (Invada)

A distinct improvement on their debut album, “>>” builds on that albums basic foundations and builds a charmingly crooked house on top of them. The central theme of album seems to be horror music and ghostly sounds as horror organ and retro delay/echo/reverb effects are a feature of a majority of the albums tracks. This is no bad thing as the bands understands these tropes and are not merely creating a facsimile or pastiche, these sounds achieve their aim. It would also be too simplistic to call this a krautrock album as though some track revolve around motorik grooves this very much a band with their sound and aesthetic, they don’t sound like Can or Neu! just obviously enjoy their music. There is a much broader and more imaginative sound palette from post-rock guitar riffs to Dub effects via Horror music organ this is a much richer sound and more developed sound while it still holds onto the energy and rawness of recording a band in a room. What’s more tracks like ‘Ladies Mile’, ‘Wulfstan II’, ‘Liar’ and ‘Yatton’ all have riffs and hooks that will stay with people for a long time after their first listen another thing that Beak>’s debut album lacked. All in all “>>” is a great album full of power yet subtle that masterful uses tension and release to create an engaging experience.

Micachu and The Shapes – “Never” (Rough Trade)

“Never” the new album from Micachu and The Shapes picks up where their debut debut “Jewellery” (2009) left off, retaining its lo-fi experimental pop sound and subtle developing it. The development manifests its self in the strong hooks that litter the album and Micachu’s previously monotone vocals finding a greater melodic range. The album gets off on the wrong foot with the first three tracks ‘Easy’, ‘Never’ and ‘Waste’ lack the remainder of albums hook and structural twists and turns. Luckily these tracks fly by in a few minutes (as do a majority of the tracks) and things pick up with ‘Slick’ and it’s swinging lo-fi hip-hop stylings. Next up is single “Ok” the melody of which recalls classic Stereolab, then ‘Low Dogg’s fat distorted synth bass crashes in and takes the listener a filthy thrill ride. ‘Holiday’ is a weird pop gem with a seasick melody. All that and were only halfway through the album. Other highlights on the album include ‘You Know’ a bouncy lo-fi pop song with Micachu’s distorted vocal dominating over the Shapes brittle shuffling backing, ‘Fall’ with its resonate melody and dark yet ethereal ambience and  the near psychedelic ‘Nothing’ the album’s most emotive and epic song. The band’s DIY instrumentation and oddball tendencies will put some people off but this an album that rewards those who decide to explore its experimental pop songs.

Top Release of the Month

Nas – “Life Is Good” (Def Jam/Universal)

Nas returns with the superb new album “Life Is Good” a strong contender for Album of the Year and 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!

Beak> – “>>” 2nd July (Invada)

Two years in the making Geoff Barrow’s side project returns this July with the promise of a more “progressive” record, though it sticks to the recording the band in the room technique of their self titled debut album and only features two overdubs. Early reviews suggest that this is more powerful and diverse record than the band’s debut and that establishes their aesthetic.

Aesop Rock – “Skelethon” 9th July (Rhymesayers)

Aesop Rock is currently readying a new album for release in July this year, after nearly five years without a solo release. It features guest spots from Kimya Dawson (he’s working on a collaborative project with her called Uncluded, too), Rob Sonic, DJ Big Wiz, Allyson Baker of Dirty Ghosts, Hanni El Khatib, and more.

Outer Space – “Akashic Records (Events: 1986 – 1990) 9th July (Spectrum Spools)

John Elliott of kosmiche music revivalists  Emeralds and owner of the brilliant Spectrum Spools label releases his second album under the alias Outer Space. Wire magazine describe the album as “a patchcord nerd’s paradise of analogue electronic sounds, but here he employs them more ambitiously” and “it’s fair to say that this album exercises a much broader volume of synth lore than its predecessor”.

The Alchemist – “Russian Roulette” 16th July (Decon)

The new 30 track heavy album from this veteran underground hip-hop is set to be a guest heavy affair featuring all the undergrounds current darlings – Mayhem Lauren, Action Bronson, Roc Marciano, ScHoolboy Q, Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire and Danny Brown and cast of many others including regular collaborator Evidence. Check out the full tracklisting here.

Nas – “Life Is Good” 16th July (Mercury)

Nas’ 10th studio album is produced by NO I.D. and Saleem Remi with tracks also coming from Swizz Beatz, Buckwild, Heavy D & Da Internz, The J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League & 40. Guest include Mary J. Blige, Rick Ross, Amy Winehouse, Victoria Monet, Anthony Hamilton, Miguel & Large Professor. The many pre-release tracks have whetted the appetite for this album from a hip-hop legend. Check out the full tracklisting here.

Micachu & The Shapes – “Never” 23rd July (Rough Trade) 

The official follow-up to “Jewellery” (2009) comes hot on heels of last year’s collaboration with the London Sinfonietta “Chopped and Screwed”. Early reports suggest the new release will combine new recordings of a couple of tracks from “Chopped and Screwed” including album highlight “Low Dogg” and see the band developing their DIY junk-yard pop with a contrasting heavy undertow that matches its frequently downbeat lyrics.

Laetitia Sadier – “Silencio” 30th July (Drag City)

With Stereolab on hiatus for the foreseeable future (there are rumours of a series of remastered reissues) Sadier continues to develop her solo career in a similar prolific way. Early reviews are glowing and though it seems she hasn’t strayed too far from the Stereolab formula she does impart her on personality on pre-release track “Find Me The Pulse of the Universe”, which you can check out below.

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.

February was another month divided in terms of the quality of music releases. I’ll start with the most disappointing releases and build to the best.

First is the self titled début album from Win Win, a trio comprising of XXXchange (Spank Rock), Chris Delvin (of Baltimore DJ duo Devlin and Darko) and visual artist Ghostdad. I’m afraid there’s very little to recommend about this album, outside of its excellent singles ‘RPM’ feat. Lizzi Bougatsos from Gang Gang Dance and ‘Interleave’ featuring Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip and the dreamy yet creepy diversion of ‘Distorted Reality 3’. Everything else is insipid and uninspired house and electro by numbers. A real shame coming from XXXchange, a man whose productions on Spank Rock’s ‘YoYoYoYoYo’ marked him out as someone who could conjure up successful unexpected combinations. On a more positive note I stumbled across the self titled début album by Discodeine at the end of the month and wholeheartedly recommend it anyone looking a new dance music album.

Next up is Beans’ fifth album ‘End It All’ and though there is the odd track , the mournful almost foghorn-like synthetic backing laid over with more rapid fire rhythms of ‘Electric Bitch’, Tobacco delivers his usual analogue buzzsaw synths sound and electro beats on ‘Glass Coffins’ a good match for Beans & the thumping electro beats and grinding synth noises of ‘‘Blue Movie’, that is really great on this album the overall quality is quite low with Beans’ vocals feeling bolted on and often feeling a million miles away from the instrumental, which dominates  instead of complimenting them. I’ve never felt fully convinced of Beans’ ability to perform consistently over a whole album and this is evidence that this time round he can’t but can still produce moments of great chemistry.

A slight improvement again is Asian Dub Foundation’s ‘The History of Now’. This is an album pulling in two directions. On the one hand the band seems to be consolidating its established sound but other tracks promise or display alternatives to or twists on their formula. This could frustrate both newcomers and some long-term fans (I found it a bit frustrating).It is a formula the band have pursued, honed and adapted over the years and it may be starting to wear thin. The last time the band tried to step away from the formula wholesale they produced their only bad album the over-produced and lifeless ‘TANK’. Though ‘The History of Now’ doesn’t stoop to that low, it gets close on ‘Where’s All the Money Gone?’ and ‘This Land is Not For Sale’, it isn’t the band’s finest hour either. A good ADF album, but nothing to match ‘Rafi’s Revenge’, ‘Community Music’ or the underrated ‘Enemy of the Enemy’.

Now to move on the albums that did shine last month. First up: Mogwai’s ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’. This a great 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) and comes highly recommended.

Half American half French quartet Paris Suit Yourself produced a stunning début album in ‘My Main Shitstain’. I honestly can’t think of anything to add to last month’s recommendation of this album, you read can that here. Its one of those that you need to buy!!

Finally there was Toro Y Moi’s new album ‘Underneath the Pine’ which 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 and the glorious rush of good pop music, a leap forward from his impressive début ‘Causers of This’. The best album I’ve heard so far this year.

Spotify Playlist:

February 2011 playlist

Coming up on Sonic Fiction in March:

  • The third and last part of Vier’s Three Decades of Techno.

  • A new quarterly column Skipped, Flipped and Missed which will explore the career of an artist who is either underrated or overrated and the reasons why that is. This month’s discusses electronic music pioneers Cabaret Voltaire.

  • Primal Scream’s – ‘Screamadelica’ is in this month Classics Critiqued.

March Recommendations:

Cornershop – ‘and the Double O Groove of…’ (Ample Play) 14th March

Cornershop return with an album that has been six years in the making and is a collaboration with previously unknown female vocalist Bubbley Kaur and fuses Punjabi folk with lo-fi hip-hop. As well as their usual blend of traditional Indian sounds and Western styles, this album adds a further twist as Punjabi folk is usually written by men about women but these songs are written from the female standpoint.

Primal Scream – ‘Screamadelica: 20th Anniversary Edition’ (Sony) 14th March

Primal Scream re-release their Mercury Prize winning classic album to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The album comes in both Limited Collectors and Deluxe Editions.

Wagon Christ – ‘Toomorrow’ (Ninja Tune) 14th March

Luke Vibert returns to his Wagon Christ moniker for his latest album of ‘stoned exotica, ridiculous vocal samples, toothsome puns, swinging rhythm and the psychedelic groove’. There’s not a dull moment on this 15 track strong album, preview and buy it a week early here.

Dadawah – ‘Peace and Love’ (Dug Out) 21st March

This was reissued last summer but I failed to get around to mentioning this exceptional dub-reggae album. At the time I could only find tracks on Youtube to listen to it may be different for this re-pressing.

John Foxx and The Maths (Metamatic) 21st March

The return of electro legend John Foxx in collaboration with Benge (aka The Maths). I’ll be honest I’ve only heard the lead single ‘Shatterproof’ but it was an incredible impressive showcase for these two master of the analogue synth world.

Micachu & The Shapes with the London Sinfonietta – ‘Chopped & Screwed’ (Rough Trade) 21st March

This album is a recording of a one-off live performance between these two unique artists. Micachu and The Shapes début album ‘Jewellery’ impressed critics back in 2009 and their scrap heap percussion and awkward yet infectious melodies found a perfect home on last year Congotronics compilation. This record could be a very different kettle of fish, recorded live last year with an orchestra most famous for reinterpretations of classic Aphex Twin and Squarepusher tracks.

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