Tag Archive: Oh No


131001-danny-brown-old-review

Ok, so the first thing I should say before I procede with this review is that I have mixed feelings about the album and Danny Brown as a lyricist. On the one hand this album features a lot of tracks backing Brown’s raps and he isn’t your standard street rapper, his lyrics aren’t all about ho’s and drugs. However, he does use the word ‘ho’ and talk about drugs (albeit with a moral bent on the first half of album) and it so I feel I can’t endorse some of the lyrical content of “Old”.

I first heard about Danny Brown his “XXX” album popped up in a lot of end of the year polls in 2011, the way the album was written about gave me the impression that he was a one note “pill-popping, pussy-eating squawk-box” gangsta rapper. Since then there’s been some hints that this was a short sighted evaluation of Brown’s lyrical content and artistic image, his guest spot on ‘Oh Hail No’ on El-P’s “Cancer4Cure” (2012) and “Black & Brown” his collaborative album with Black Milk started to open my mind to what he was all about and “Old” opens it even further as well as confirming his one of the most talented rapper’s currently releasing music.

The album opens with ‘Side A’ which combines an  arching synth drone, head nodding beat and Brown’s tough flow with a deep bass that feels like depth charges in the background. Synths swarm and surround Brown in the hook filled chorus. Next up is ‘The Return’ featuring Freddie Gibbs it brings with crowd noise and deep spoken word, then Brown cuts in shortly followed by deep simple bass guitar line and head nodding drum beat and sitar melody. In second verse a G-Funk style synth riff plays over the top of everything. Gibbs takes the third veres which also features a flute melody and signing female vocal sample. I like the variety of the track a good example of album’s own variety squeezed into a 3 minute song. On ‘Gremlins’ Brown explores his inner demons utilising a urgent delivery atop a funky rhythm below which a cool slippy analogue synth melody slips and slides. The track has a psychedelic yet paranoid feel and great production from Oh No. ‘Torture’ and ‘Lonely’ continue Brown’s exploration of a multitude of emotions and experience’s the former combines a huge beat with very busy hats, huge stabs and what sounds like some sort of Gregorian chant or Gospel choir sample. Brown uses a more considered, slower flow with very dark and filthy lyrics. The latter opens with jangly guitars and spoken word sample that may be in Japanese, then the rolling beat drops and brings Brown’s urgent rap with it. It’s another psychedelic track but is much lighter with hints of A Tribe Called Quest in the production.

The second half of the album kicks off with ‘Side B (Dope Song)’ which is introduced by “synth strings reminiscent of Bernard Hermann’s Psycho score.” Then high pitched synth stabs and Brown in full nasal mode kick in. There swiftly followed by a a pounding 808 beat. The single ‘Dip’ is another highlight with an 808 beat skidding around under the pitched down vocal samples and hyperactive flow of Brown and a synth arpeggio that seems to move both with an against everything else. ‘Break It (Go)’ begins with a high pitched arpeggio, swiftly followed by marching snare drums, deep gutteral vocal samples and Brown’s adlibs, the tension builds and 808 snare rolls in bringing in the first verse proper. An urgent and hyper Brown rapping over a tough rolling 808 beat. The marching beat is definetly different and something I haven’t heard in a hip-hop track for a long time. The album goes out on a high with ‘Float On’ featuring Charli XCX its opens with an organ figure and bell like synth playing out a melody and an reverb coated beat underpinning Brown’s rap. Charli XCX comes in for the simple almost plainative bridge and chorus. The track feels like a dreamy G-Funk track.

Though it doesn’t quite live up the huge media hype that has lead up to its release “Old” is one still one of the best and most original hip-hop albums of the year.  

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Dr. Zygote may not be a familiar name but he’s been producing music in a number of different genres since he was 16 years old. He also runs the label’s Boot Records and Zoot Records both of which are established electronic music labels and he recent signed a deal with Eglo for a new project Strange U. “Grupo Zygote” is the first installment of Black Acre Records new Library Series which celebrates and replicates classic library music from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. So that the album fit in with this theme, Dr. Zygote decided to use all analogue equipment to play and record the songs on the album and used no samples in its production.

The album opens with the mains hum of ‘Alexandria (Mediterranean, Arabesque, Transient)’ . The track swiftly opens out with piano chords  are stabbed over the top of a shaken tambourine and then a breakbeat drops complete a with sharp snare. A piano melody comes in and feels both Arabic and jazzy. The track has a soundtrack vibe recalling a spy film or thriller set in the Middle East. Next up is ‘Beirut Dub (Lazy, Detroit, Sci-fi)’ shakers and stabbed synth bass and bleeps start off this track with heavy drums playing out a solid hip-hop beat and the shaker providing the shuffle in the groove. An analogue style synth lead smothers the track in a Sci-fi melody that buzzes fiercely. There’s some great nice dub delay on the snare from 2 minutes in. ‘Dragon Chase (Tense, Pursuit, Spacey)’combines a jazz hip-hop beat with loads of ride cymbals with dub delay and synth FX ping off above a deep foreboding bass guitar line. A thick harmonic synth smothers the drums as the track progresses. The first half of the album finishes with ‘Raga (Modal, Eastern, Psychedelic)’ where a synth drone steadily rises out of the silence, followed by two digital sounding synth melodies and dub delay effects. It’s all underpinned by a steady minimal hip-hop beat. The has an Indian and psychedelic feel. An organ and slow broken up breakbeat kick in after 1 minute 30 seconds and add to the psychedelic but tense feel. Dr. Zygote again applies dub delay to the snare in the final quarter of the track, it’s a nice production touch.

‘Giallo (Suspense, Measured, Lurking)’ opens the second half with a deep bass guitar line plays out, dub delay echoes and tambourine shakes, a synth pitch FX rises and falls creating an arcs over the mix. a minimal steady hip-hop beat holds everything together with. Dr. Zygote utilises lots of space, depth and texture on this track. Two thirds of way through a crawling electric piano melody emerges and a high synth creates extra suspense.  The album’s penultimate track ‘Lunar Dub (Sombre, Islands, Chalice)’ mixes stabbed organ chords, dub drums and a synth/electric piano melody during its opening. Then a  bit crashed minimal synth melody enters. The track reminds me of Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge “12 Reasons to Die” album formula but with dub elements thrown into the mix.

“Grupo Zygote” is a solid instrumental hip-hop/library music album that ticks a lot of boxes in terms of atmosphere and quality beats. It stands out from a lot of music that currently mines the influence of library music and vintage soundtracks by not just utilising obvious 70’s and 80’s synth music influences such as John Carpenter, Vangelis and Wendy Carlos. He does have some contemporaries in this field including Oh No, The Gaslamp Killer and Adrian Younge but has made an album that competes on a similar level to these peers. Stream and buy “Grupo Zygote” here.

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

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Killer Mike and El-P’s collaborative album is called “R.A.P. Music” with good reason; it does everything that a modern hip-hop album should. The album has a consistency rarely present on guest and producer heavy albums while it manages to cover a lot of sonic and emotional territory without anything feeling put on. The music veers from huge sounding synthetic bangers (‘‘Big Beast’, ‘Southern Fried’ and ‘R.A.P. Music’) to emotive epics (‘Ghetto Gospel’, ‘Reagan’ and ‘Anywhere But Here’) via Southern rap flavoured tracks (‘Willie Burke Sherwood’, ‘Untitled’ and ‘Jo Jo’s Chillin’) and Killer Mike’s flow is just as diverse ranging from the enunciated words of ‘Reagan’ to the super speedy ‘Southern Fried’ and every point in between. What “R.A.P. Music” shows is that when hip-hop is stripped down to its core and rebuilt from button up, in addition to this despite his confident persona it’s clear that Killer Mike isn’t an egotist. He tells stories about other people in his life and discuss wider political issues, the lyrical themes that have been central to hip-hop since 1982 but feel so rare in 2012. “R.A.P. Music” was the first landmark hip-hop release of 2012, a great year for the genre as a whole.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In “awE naturalE” Thee Satisfaction have delivered an energetic album filled tracks that both provide amply bounce that’s need for a hip-hop jam but also manages to subtly subvert both traditional methods of creating sounds and challenge the overly simplistic ‘soulful’ vocals used so liberally in hip-hop music. It’s refreshing to hear an act pushing the limits of hip-hop while still managing to make music that moves your body. The fact that these tracks are stuffed to the gills with affecting vocals, jazzy tunes and an expressive emotional palette makes an engaging and entertaining listen. From the opening disorienting swirl of ‘Awe’ to the fast moving finale of ‘Naturale’ via album highlights ‘Earthseed’ with its dark and dank atmopsherics and vocal the curve their way through notes, ‘Queens’ seductive and slippery groove and ‘Enchantess’ a darker twist on ‘Queens’ with pitched down vocals and a guest rap from Palaceer Lazaro of Shabazz Palaces. The half an hour run time demands that the album be played again immediately and is the album is equally satisfying and reveals more of its charms with each repeat listen. Thee Satisfaction never out staying their welcome and yet able to go distance on the longer tracks, if you like original, warm music with depth and attitude “awE naturalE” will be a welcome addition to your music collection.

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

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

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

In some ways “Cancer 4 Cure” is business as usual for El-P, all the usual signifiers are in place, his lurching, crushing beats, massive dirty synth bass-lines, stuttering vocal samples, stabbing instrument samples. However, one that’s no bad thing and two I believe this is an artist who subtly evolves his sound with each new release. The first difference that jumps out at me is that whereas in the past there were only hints of film music influences on El-P’s production’s “Cancer For The Cure” makes this explicit with a majority of the tracks shot through with a dystopian atmosphere akin to John Carpenter’s soundtracks to “Escape From New York” and “Assault on Precinct 13”. Further to this the album repositions El-P as “a real hip-hop focused musician rather than a beatmaker”; the musicality is turned up to ten and so this already heavy music makes an even greater impact. The album also features a couple of El-P’s most minimal and spacious tracks to date in ‘Stay Down’, ‘Sign Here’ and ‘The Jig Is Up’, in addition to this melodic vocals feature on ‘For My Upstairs Neighbor’, ‘Oh Hail No’  and ‘Works Every Time’. The album feels more thematically together than “I’ll Sleep When Your Dead” (which was great album) and this makes the album feel like it’ll maintain it impact over a longer time.

8.       Oh No – “OhNoMite” (Traffic)

Oh No’s “OhNoMite”’s overall sound and approach harks back to classic 90’s hip-hop sound though the source material is entirely made up of samples from Rudy Ray Moore’s audio achieves drawing heavily on the soundtrack to Blaxploitation film “Dolemite” from which the album takes its title. As a result of this the album is pack full of funk loops, smoky jazz chords and swinging tough hip-hop beats that get your head nodding. The album is stuffed with guest appears but doesn’t suffer from attention deficit disorder, each MC contributing high quality raps that fit into the album overall theme. The old skool styling’s of album don’t get in the way of enjoying it, in fact it’s a major part of “OhNoMite”’s appeal. One of the stand-out elements of the album is the fantastic array of analogue synth sounds that feature throughout; it’s also a sound that doesn’t always bed in well in straight hip-hop tracks, in my opinion and Oh No’s production’s successful ingrate them with thrilling results. This is a thoroughly brilliant and refreshing hip-hop record that will appeal to fans of Madlib, The Alchemist and filthy funk 90s classic hip-hop.

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

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

10.     Doseone – “G Is For Deep” (anticon.)

The long awaited new solo album by cLOUDDEAD co-founder Doseone is one of the finest releases by any member of that trio since their self titled debut album in 2001. It picks up where the last Subtle (a spin off project from Doseone and Jel of cLOUDDEAD) left off but with a much greater emphasis on space and pop hooks. Throughout Doseone strikes a balance between chip tune elements, deep probing electro beats and strong melodic content. The releases of cLOUDDEAD and their related projects have always used ambience in conjunction with beats and rapping but here it feels more like Doseone is tapping into a rich vein of dream-pop that recalls the Cocteau Twins in their 80’s pomp. The new found space and melodic clarity make for a more immediate listening experience though there are still enough twists and turns to keep long time fans interested, I’m sure some will see this as a compromise but this genuinely feels like a natural evolution for a unique artist.

Some Releases we missed in June

Mind Over Mirrors – “High & Upon” (Aguirre Records)

Jamie Fennelly’s best known for his work as a member of Peeesseye a U.S. drone/noise trio who’ve combined “elements of warped rock architecture, freejazz horror, intergalactic glossolalia and stripped down abstract expressionism” together since 2002. This is a reissue of his debut limited edition cassette release on Gift Tapes from 2011. The album starts with the thick hypnotic harmonium and Fender Rhodes through delays and synth drone that is ‘I’m willing to stagger’ a challenging and unorthodox opening that never the less reward the listener with its complexity and depth. This followed by a sparse and disorienting guitar and harmonium of ‘Harmattan Morning’ which kind of sounds like sunned warped version of “Tomorrow Never Knows” by The Beatles. Finally we’re treated to the sparse piano and steady emolliating organ and synth drone of ‘Mountain Convalesence’ a 15 minute epic. Though not a the type of release we generally cover on Sonic Fiction “High & Upon” is definetly worth checking out via Mind Over Mirrors Soundcloud as is the even more brilliant “The Voice Rolling”. You can buy “High & Upon” via Boomkat on vinyl or digital download. I hope they soon stock the sold out “The Voice Rolling” digitally too.

Bear Bones, Lay Low – “El Telonero” (Kraak Records)

Prior to this album Bear Bones, Lay Low’s biggest exposure outside of the noise/drone music scene was his fantastic contribution to Crammed Disc’s Congotronics vs Rockers compilation. This album is quite different from that track concentrating on creating short and satisfying songs heavily influenced by the krautrock of Can, Harmonia, the post-punk electronic synth music of Cabaret Voltaire and Ekoplekz, Jamaica dub and his cosmic contemporaries Black Moth Super Rainbow. The music is far more relaxed and colourful than what I had expected in fact it ranges from the brightness of ‘A Fourth Ring’ and ‘Bien Gracias’ to the deep dark undercurrent of ‘Drive Sucks’ and many shades in between. There are many artists recreating the sounds of krautrock artists such as Harmonia, Can and Cluster and a large majority sound like retreads but a combination of his weaving of other influences into his tracks and something that I just can’t put my finger helps Bear Bones, Lay Low rises above these mere imitators. It’s genuinely great to hear an artist who feels at once like he’s exploring with his instruments and at the same time creating such convincing and brilliant tracks. Definitely one for fans of any of the artists and genres mentioned above and adventurous listeners will be rewarded!!!

Chevel – “Reset EP” (self-released)

Techno producer and DJ Chevel (Dario Tronchin), from Treviso, Italy, self-released “Reset”, a mini-album of spaced-out techno, this month. Having previously created mixes for the highly-respected Stroboscopic Artifacts, the label headed by fellow Italian Lucy, Chevel’s “Reset” contains tracks that are in comparison to his SA material, sexier and slower with greater focus on rhythm and warmth. There is rawness to Chevel’s work, which comes by way of his live recording process and analogue gear, including a Roland SH101 and 606, sequencer and various modular synths. The Italian’s one-take shots capture the improvised patterns and spontaneous tweaks that result in a primitive yet controlled cut. Though now living near Venice, Chevel used to live in Berlin where he explored Basic Channel, Berghain and the records stocked in Hard Wax. The tracks on “Reset” undoubtedly show the energy and influence he soaked up during his time in the capital. ‘Reset One’ has a satisfyingly thudding bass drum with an intensely resonant bass line that rises and falls. ‘Reset Three’ is a warm, grooving techno cut with a signal-like delayed synth riff that rings out over Basic Channel-style drum programming. The slow, swarming synth notes and forceful, heads down German techno drum rhythm that makes up ‘Reset Four’ is as good as Marcel Dettmann’s own sex-infused push-and-pull rhythms. With an introduction of a thick analogue bass drum and a more discernible melodic motif it becomes a driving, silvery techno cut similar to the works of Morphosis or Claudio PRC, another exciting Italian talent whose album “Inner State” won a place on my ‘Albums of The Year…so far’ list. July will see the release of Chevel’s “The Building EP”, the second of a three part series.

The Cinematic Orchestra – “In Motion #1” (Ninja Tune)

The new release from The Cinematic Orchestra (TCO) is the first in a series of compilation albums on which TCO, their closet musical friends and other artists on Ninja Tune and its family of labels create new scores for classic silent films. For the first in the series they invited jazz pianist and Flying Lotus collaborator Austin Peralta, abstract hip-hop/electronica producer Dorian Concept and regular TCO guest vocalist Grey Reverend to contribute and collaborate. TCO kick off the album themselves and though the sound (strings, synth bass and heavily processed synths) aren’t their usual fare the atmosphere they create will be familiar to TCO fans, when they kick in the acoustic drums are the things that reminders the listen who they are listening to and the track takes off from there. Next up is Peralta’s contribution a minimal stately piece utilise his piano skills alongside a string quartet that feature throughout the album. Dorian Concept’s two piece in collaboration with TCO saxophonist Tom Chant take a different tack, the first ‘Outer Space’ combines Smeared psychedelic strings and effects with the string quartets dry sound and a wobbly echo leaden solo from Chant. Similarly ‘Dream Work’ uses abstract sounds and processes acoustic instruments this time for a haunting effect, to send a chill down the spine. ‘Entr’acte’ (TCO) begins with  strings and bowed double bass moving at a glacial pace before halfway through the track it turns into an instrumental and much more elaborate version of TCO’s ‘To Build A Home’, as the track enters its last quarter the string quartet and shuffling drums add much needed tension and release. ‘Regen’ featuring the acoustic guitar of Grey Reverend and double bass of Phil France of TCO is a spare and emotional effecting track that is far greater than the majority of the tracks from his debut album from last year. The album closes with ‘Manhatta’ (TCO) with its dreamy strings, TCO groove and acoustic guitar that recalls “Ma Flour” (2007) the bands last studio album. The criticisms I can really leave at this album is that some tracks lack the tension of TCO’s previous studio albums and that this may have worked better as a DVD where the experience would be completed, however you can create this yourself using Youtube. Though “In Motion #1” isn’t the best album on TCO’s back catalogue it’s still a  very strong album and well worth investigation.

KonKoma – “KonKoma” (Soundway)

We don’t usually feature the brilliant releases by Soundway Records as they generally focus on reissues and compilations of West African Afrobeat and High Life music as well as music from Columbia and Central America and these releases do not fit into our remit. However, KonKoma are an active London-based band inspired by Ghanaian Afrobeat and High Life and this release is their début album. It’s an impressive start too as the band not only perfect assimilate the main sounds and aesthetics of this music but move it forward with sensitive modern production that doesn’t take anything from the origins of the genres and some slower paced material that demonstrates this music needn’t be all about out of the traps drums breaks and funk bass lines. The band is also great at arrangements subtly but effective utilising the vast array of instruments and vocals in the mix to create dynamic, spacious tracks that keep the listen on their toes while never disrupting the grooves of the tracks. KonKoma have produced a début album that shows off their musical and production skills and points the way forward for Western African music that could have become a stagnant museum piece, highly recommended.

The Invisible – “Rispah” (Ninja Tune)

I remember the self titled debut album from The Invisible leaving little impression on me back in 2009. I wanted to like it and it seemed they were trying to attain something to but falling short and never quite convincing me, the listener. I’m glad to say that on “Rispah” (named after singer and guitar Dave Okumu’s late mother) that they’ve achieved an arresting and emotive sound that combines electronics, guitar, drums, bass, gentle vocals and a ton of hooks and they are now the complete package. The album is thoroughly modern combining traditional band performs with electronic music production, sounds and programming all delivered with a strong emotive punch. Though the album sounds on its own, there does seem to be a hint of TV on the Radio to The Invisible’s sound. Whenever a band attempts this kind of merger of sounds it often lacks the tunefulness and heart of this release, the band too busy being clever-clever or fussing over sonic details. The album never feels like a deathly dirge could so easily have become after the death of Dave Okumu’s mother instead it a bright and almost optimistic record full of hope and redemption. “Rispah” is a pleasure to listen to in every respect; it could a dark horse in the race for album of the year.

Disappointment of the Month

Florian Meindl  – “WAVES” (Flash Recordings)

Working as a sound designer and producer, Florian Meindl has a reputation built on his high production values and “WAVES”, the Austrian’s debut, maintains this standard. Indeed, for audiophiles there is a 4GB USB stick available to purchase with high resolution masters of the tracks. For all the undeniable production quality “WAVES” is missing something: an emotional pull, a heart to balance the dryness of sheer good production. Even ‘Isa’, a house track built on flourishes of piano chords that is dedicated to Meindl’s girlfriend, is insignificant and simply grooves away anonymously. Begging the question: how did dedicating a song to a meaningful person result in a meaningless track? Can Meindl only provide music that serves a practical purpose? There are some great tracks like ‘What Is Techno’, a powerful, dirty techno track with an irresistible bass drum, clap and hi-hat groove. A low male voice asks “What is techno? What is house?” while a percussive melody drives the listener to the dancefloor. ‘Spread Out’, a dark techno track dense with claps and percussion which build to an irresistible, surging synth melody with a cry of pain/ecstasy underneath. This stands out as does the fun and bouncy ‘Good Times’. Hats, a deep bass drum and a metallic synth punch as Ricardo Phillips’s vocals command we “let the good time roll.” This and a track like ‘It’s all making sense now’ would sound incredible in a club context: the immense bass drums hit in you in the chest and the bass lines and drum grooves bully you into dancing. The rises and falls tease and pummel. Away from this context, say listening at home “WAVES” doesn’t work. There is little if any emotion to be found in the head-pounding drums and aloof synth melodies. Besides, would the average listener have the equipment to do justice to the range and richness of frequencies “WAVES” contains? The different tack Meindl attempts with ‘Isa’ and ‘Wishful Thinking’ feat. Detachments falls flat. ‘Wishful Thinking’ needs Sascha Ring’s (Apparat) gorgeous voice, not the current singer’s uninspiring monotone, to carry the song to the emotional point it’s trying to achieve. Releasing the club tracks as 12”s may have been a cleverer option than compiling them in a form that rarely naturally suits techno.

Mortiz Von Oswald Trio – “Fetch” (Honest Jon’s)

Consisting of four long-form compositions that entwine elements of dub, techno and jazz, “Fetch” is darker and danker than Moritz Von Oswald Trio’s previous albums “Vertical Ascent” and “Horizontal Structures”. The oppressive opening track ‘Jam’ unfolds over 17 and a half minutes with acoustic percussion instrumentation, brass and woodind phrases, dissonant textures, puncturing stabs of delayed bass and a drum machine backbeat that meander beneath Sebastian Studnitzky’s darting trumpet melodies. Second is ‘Dark’, which drops the pace down further and maintains the tension and sense of dread that ‘Jam’ introduced the listener to. The beat is kept nodding underneath effected sound textures, viscous bass and steely horn melodies. The album’s standout is the dancefloor-in-mind ‘Club’. Steeped in Von Oswald’s Basic Channel pioneering mode of minimal/dub techno. The twelve minute track is built on a 4/4 bass drum and 16th note hi-hat pattern that pushes the listener into techno territory. Bass frequencies growl, percussion strikes and a distant two-note synth melody is surrounded by noisy atmospherics and ghostly textures; creating a hypnotic track that remains fluid as opposed to the usual grid-based structure of techno. The mid-tempo ‘Yangissa’ closes “Fetch”. Its simmering brass and tumbling African nyabinghi-style drums weave into a dub-influenced shuffle.

Bobby Womack – “The Bravest Man in the Universe” (XL)

Bobby Womack’s new album is a triumphant return for the soul veteran, after the success of his collaboration with Gorillaz in 2010, on the “Plastic Beach” album which finished at number 2 in my (Liam, Sonic Fiction editor) Top 20 Albums of the Year that year. “The Bravest Man in the Universe” is similar to Gil Scott-Heron’s “I’m New Here” (2010) which was also produced by Richard Russell, in that it brings together modern genres and production techniques with a black music star of the 70’s. One of the main ways this album distinguishes its self is that whereas “I’m New Here” was very focused on atmosphere to back poetry, melody is always front and centre here. The album focus around hip-hop beats, probing synth bass, strings and piano with Womack’s soulful, emotive and expressive vocals always taking the lead and slotting perfectly into a through modern backing. The music recalls everything from trip-hop (Portishead, Massive Attack), cinematic hip-hop/jazz (The Cinematic Orchestra) and the dance-pop and cartoon funk of co-produce Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz. Despite all this genre-hopping the album hangs to together and only one of the track truly lets the side down the Lana Del Rey duet ‘Dayglo Reflection’ in which Del Rey feels like she’s been dropped in at the last second in a cynical record company marketing ploy. This aside it’s great to hear Womack back doing what he does best: singing and writing great soulful pop music that sticks in the brain long after the music has stopped.

Oh No – “OhNoMite” (Traffic Records)

Oh No’s “OhNoMite” is another in a string of impressive hip-hop albums released in 2012 up there with releases from Killer Mike, El-P, Thee Satisfaction, Doseone and Quakers. In fact, the album’s overall sound and approach has much in common with Quakers self titled debut as both albums hark back to classic 90’s hip-hop sound, the main difference being “OhNoMite”s source material. The album is entirely made of samples from Rudy Ray Moore’s audio achieves drawing heavily on the soundtrack to Blaxploitation film “Dolemite” from the album takes its title. As a result of this the album is pack full of funk loops, smoky jazz chords and swinging tough hip-hop beats that get your head nodding. Another similarity with the Quakers album is that this is also stuffed with guest appears but doesn’t suffer from attention deficit disorder, each MC contributing high quality raps that fit into the album overall theme. The old skool styling’s of album don’t get in the way of enjoying it, in fact it’s a major part of “OhNoMite”’s appeal. One of the stand-out elements of the album is the fantastic array of analogue synth sounds that feature throughout; it’s also a sound that doesn’t always bed in well in straight hip-hop tracks, in my opinion and Oh No’s production’s successful ingrate them with thrilling results. This is a thoroughly brilliant and refreshing hip-hop record that will appeal to fans of Madlib, The Alchemist and filthy funk 90s classic hip-hop.

Doseone – “G Is For Deep” (Anticon)

The long awaited new solo album by cLOUDDEAD co-founder Doseone is one of the finest releases by any member of that trio since their self titled debut album in 2001. It picks up where the last Subtle (a spin off project from Doseone and Jel of cLOUDDEAD) left off but with a much greater emphasis on space and pop hooks. Throughout Doseone strikes a balance between chip tune elements and deep probing electro beats and strong melodic content. The releases of by cLOUDDEAD and their related projects have always used ambience in conjunction with beats and rapping but here it feels more like Doseone is tapping into a rich vein of dream-pop that recalls the Cocteau Twins in their 80’s pomp. The new found space and melodic clarity make for a more immediate listening experience though there are still enough twists and turns to keep long time fans interested, I’m sure some will see this as a compromise but this genuinely feels like a natural evolution for a unique artist.

Delta Funktionen – “Traces” (Delsin)

After four years of releasing EPs on the Delsin and Ann Aimee labels and DJing across Europe, Delta Funktionen (Niels Luinenburg) takes the next step and translates his skills to the album format. This is a hurdle where many talented techno producers falter as shown by Florian Meindl’s disappointing “WAVES”; it is one thing to produce a potent dance floor EP but it’s another to come up with fresh ideas and approaches that can carry the weight of a much longer format. Happily, Luinenberg joins that small group of techno artists who have made the transition. The Dutch producer has said that research was key in his approach for “Traces” and he aimed to pair “a raw, machine made aesthetic with plenty of real human soul and palpable earthly emotion.” “Traces” covers a lot of ground within electronic music sub-genres. The influence of Detroit and European techno, Italo-disco and electro are strongly felt. Album opener ‘Frozen Land’ is a track of driving, futuristic electro with a Model 500-esque rhythm of percussion, echoing claps and shuffling bass drum. Its metallic sheen is speared by the undercurrent of tension in the austere synths that recall Drexciya. The searing acidic synths and driving hats of ‘Enter’ bleed through the warm, thick texture of the analogue equipment to create a pure electro cut. This opening pair introduces the album’s over-arching principles. The pacing and structure of “Traces” is classic techno: start slow then gradually build to an opening up in the track’s centre, drop and then return to a visceral fury until the end. The bass frequencies are the star of the album. ‘Redemption’ features possibly the most resonant bass line you’ll hear this year. The subterranean bass drum pounds under a forceful hats and clap pattern while the central melody played on a sparkling synth rips through the air. This visceral and raging track demands to be included in DJ sets. ‘Utopia’, a techno/italo-disco cut, speeds the tempo up. A thick, resonant bassline and tight claps are complimented by washes of atmospheric chords and an ascending/descending melody played on a thin, bright synth. A section at 4:40 minutes breaks down to just the bass drum, hats and that deep, warm bass. The re-introduction of the melody and chords lifts ‘Utopia’ to an evocative finale. An elegy to Detroit techno, ‘Challenger’ is a seductive track composed of a purring bass line and slowly, evolving underwater synth chords, which provides a moment of reflection after the furious intensity of the previous tracks. ‘On A Distant Journey’ is perhaps the finest moment on “Traces”. As with the rest of the album, Luinenberg draws inspiration from classic techno and electro sounds. Its ten minute run-time boasts drum rhythms that raise the spirit of Detroit techno innovators such as Derrick May and Juan Atkins and merges this with the emotive synth melodies of Kraftwerk. Just when the listener is convinced that they are being taken on a meditative trip, it unexpectedly drops to vicious drums and distorted acid riffs before veering back to the track’s initial esoteric journey. Conversely to Meindl’s “WAVES”, Luinenberg doesn’t lose sight in intricate sound-design and instead allows the pure power of machines to control “Traces”. By doing this Delta Funktionen proves to be one of the few to thrive in this challenging setting for techno producers.

Peaking Lights – “Lucifer” (Weird World)

The stunning new album from Peaking Lights showcases a more immediate version of their sound from previous foggy lo-fi releases. In fact along with Julia Holter’s “Ekstatis” this album proves that lo-fi home recordings can have a clarity and immediacy without sacrificing the grit that made them attractive in the first place. “Lucifer” acts a cooling balm or cool stream water leaping at your feet instead of the more humid and clammy sound of 2011 brilliant “936”, though it’s a little unfair to directly compare those two albums “Lucifer” demonstrates the duo ability to subtle involve their sound while still using the same basic sound set. Maybe the biggest difference musical is that Peaking Lights have chosen to create more up tempo track this time round compared with leisurely to sluggish pace of previous work, this seems to run in tandem with their new clearer and more immediate sound. The best examples of this are the funk strut of ‘Dream Beat’, the pumping bass and purposeful drum beat of ‘Live Love’ and its darker musical twin ‘Midnight (in the Valley of the Shadows)’. Peaking Lights also add some new elements to the album such as marimba on ‘Moonrise’, piano on ‘Beautiful Son’ and an Oriental melody on ‘Live Love’, that it would e great to hear more of future releases. All in all I’d through recommend “Lucifer” to Peaking Lights fans, those who are curious about the duo or those whose interest is piqued by this write up, it’s well worth investigating.

Liars – “WIXIW” (Mute Records)

The new album from Liars is quite a departure from their previous efforts. The band completely abandoned their usual guitar, drums and bass combination and composed and recorded the album almost entirely using computer music technology. The album covers quite a lot of electronic music territory from dark techno to Matthew Dear style electro-pop, techno-punk and glitch electronica recalling Mouse On Mars. Angus Andrew’s vocal are still front and centre on the album but he’s quieter and more reflective on ‘”WIXIW”, the depth of his vocal brings to mind Matthew Dear’s deep tones. I was half expecting the band’s inexperience with music technology to result in basic and generic sounds but the lush synths and subtle drums are executed expertly. Another big difference is that melodies are given the room to breathe and atonal sounds are kept to a minimum and every track is more spacious than anything previously recorded by this ambitious and experimental band. In many ways this is Liars’ most conventional release but this is no bad thing as it showcases a different side to the band rather than being a betrayal of their previous work and ethos. This is the band’s most immediate release and I feel sure it will reward listeners even more every time they revisit it.

Joint Top Release of the Month

Christian Löffler – “A Forest” (Ki)

The forests of north Germany in which Christian Löffler lived during the making of the album are the backbone of “A Forest” and Löffler’s work as a visual artist informs his focus on narrating a story as would happen with a collection of photographs or paintings. Over the twelve tracks that make-up “A Forest”, a rich yet spacious tapestry gradually unfurls. “A Forest” sits together as one piece, an entrancingly atmospheric whole. Warm, organic samples of wooden percussion are underpinned with fragile synth melodies; the chord progressions recall John Tejada’s melancholy, sunset-tinged tracks, combined with Pantha du Prince’s percussive textures and attention to detail. Although the 4/4 bass drum dominates rhythmically, it remains unobtrusive, lying low in the mix beneath the hypnotic, dreamlike atmosphere.  The title track features John Tejada-style collapsing chords atop a warm bass line and slight percussion and bell-like instrumentation. The three vocalists on “A Forest”, Gry, Mohna and Marcus Roloff, are a new dimension to Löffler’s productions and give the album an even greater emotional resonance. Mohna’s dreamy, fragile voice on ‘Eleven’ is surrounded by buzzing noises and distant bass frequencies. In one section her looped voice sits between chopping hi-hats and a bass line that rolls back and forth like sea waves. The beautiful ‘Feelharmonia’ features the Danish singer Gry whose mournful voice is embraced by shuffling percussion, syncopated drums, tapping wood blocks and a bouncing synth pattern. It is a standout in its wonderful melancholic simplicity. An interesting track is ‘Signals’, which is inspired by the Tintinnabuli compositional style of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. The bells are brought to the dancefloor by a techno shuffle of bass drum, hats and claps.

‘Blind’ is a deeply moving sunset-suited track of ambient pads, rolling percussion, softly distorted bass, a distant male vocal and an elegiac atmosphere. ‘Swift Code’ is another notable inclusion. Lyricist and poet Marcus Roloff’s German poem passages alternate between implicit and explicitly threatening verses, which are encircled by crackles and floating glassy textures; the ambience circling like birds. On a ‘Hundred Lights’ a 4/4 bass drum finally comes out from the under the mix and pushes determinedly against an undulating bass line. Digital synthesis bubbles and wooden percussion, which features heavily throughout the album in reflection of the forest of the album’s title, chops through the atmosphere. ‘Slowlight’ is an effortless track. A simple melody loops, a bass line engulfs and a rhythm of bass drum and claps pushes and pulls. Wooden percussion grows in intensity as licks of reverb are applied and a brittle synth enters in the final seconds bringing “A Forest” to a delicate close.

Neneh Cherry and The Thing – “The Cherry Thing” (Smalltown Supersound)

When it was originally announced that Neneh Cherry and Swedish jazz trio The Thing would be releasing an album full of reinterpreted versions of songs in a range of genres from post-punk to hip-hop via jazz itself, the collaboration didn’t make sense to me. However, after a little internet research and hearing two tracks from the album my mind was changed and I got quite excited about the prospect of this album. It doesn’t let me down either with The Thing more restrained than they usually are and Cherry on dazzling form on vocals. The album opens with a version of Cherry’s ‘Cashback’ (one of two originals on the album) featuring fantastic twangy double bass, a drum break and counterpoint sax playing off her melodious lead vocal. Things get striped back on a twinkling vibraphone heavy version of Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’ before a return to a more aggressive tone with the drum and double bass assault of ‘Too Tough To Die’ (Martina Topley Bird). Next up ‘Sudden Movement’ the other original this time written by Mats Gustafsson of The Thing, a dark and dusty yet up beat jazz number. The tempo slows again for Madvillain’s ‘Accordion’ with Cherry trying a half sung half rapped vocal over twangy double bass and subtle arching sax. There are also two nods to Cherry’s father Don (a famous jazz musician, The Thing take their name from one of his songs) the first is by Don himself the ghostly and experimental ‘Golden Heart’ the other is a track original by jazz innovator Ornette Coleman whom Don Cherry complete his jazz apprenticeship with, this track is a sparse finish to a busy and fiery album full of passion and heat. Recommend to fans of the unexpectedly enjoyable!!!

Liars – “WIXIW” 4th June (Mute Records)

After leaking mysterious audio and video clips on their website and have hinted one of their idols is producing the album Liars are finally talking about their new album. Singer Angus Andrew explains the title (pronounced “wish you”) as follows “It’s a palindrome, and that interested us as far as the idea of starting somewhere, going through a lot of work, and ending up in the same place you started”. Andrew also talked about the album being more electronic and sampled based than recent Liars albums. Read the interview here and stream pre release track ‘No.1 Against The Rush’ here.

Florian Meindl – “WAVES” 4th June (Flash Recordings)

“WAVES” is the debut album for the Berlin-based Austrian producer, DJ and sound designer. The lead single ‘What Is Techno’ is a booming, dirty techno track with an irresistible bass drum, clap and hi-hat groove. A low male voice asks “What is techno? What is house?” as a percussive melody drives the listener to the dancefloor. There isn’t yet a great deal of information on the album but Meindl says it will have a stronger techno touch than his previous EPs.

Oh No – “OhNoMite” 4th June (Traffic Records)

The brother of underground hip-hop’s finest producer Madlib unleashes his last conceptual release based entirely on samples from the blaxploitation film “Dolemite”. The album features guest MCs including DOOM, Alchemist, Guilty Simpson and Erick Sermon.

Beak> – “>>” 11th June (Invada Records)

Two years in the making Geoff Barrow’s krautrock side project return with the promise of a more “progressive” record. The band stuck to the recording their jams in a room of their self titled debut album and only features two overdubs. Early reviews and pre release track ‘Yatton’ seem to confirm this promise, we will have to wait and see.

Doseone – “G Is For Deep” 11th June (Anticon)

His first solo album since 2007 promises to be a welcome return for the ex-cLOUDDEAD founder. Pre release track ‘Last Life’ combines Doseone’s idiosyncratic vocal/rap stylings with his most pop oriented melody to date. It’s the sort of track that puts a smile on your face and it’s got me (Liam, Sonic Fiction Editor) very excited about “G Is For Deep”.

Bobby Womack – “The Bravest Man in the Universe” 11th June (XL)

After his triumphant return on Gorillaz “Plastic Beach” album, Womack returns with a new solo album produced by Damon Albarn and XL Records owner Richard Russell and featuring guest vocals from Lana Del Ray.

Neneh Cherry and The Thing – “The Cherry Thing” 18th June 2012

A covers album created by Neneh Cherry of ‘Buffalo Stance’ fame and Norwegian noise-jazz trio The Thing seems unlike but here it is featuring covers of Suicide, The Stooges, Don Cherry (Neneh’s Dad) and Ornette Coleman among others.

Delta Funktionen – “Traces” 18th June (Delsin) 

Delta Funktionen says his début album on the faultless Delsin label will pair “a raw, machine made aesthetic with plenty of real human soul and palpable earthly emotion.” The Dutch producer also states, “Traces…covers … my favourite subgenres within electronic music: techno, house, electro and (Italo)-disco.” “The album will cover lots of ground, with not all of it completely focused on the dancefloor.” With tracks like the atmospheric, blissful electro cut ‘Frozen Land’ and the sticky acid of ‘Enter’, “Traces” looks to be an album for listening to as much as it is for dancing.

Christian Löffler – “A Forest” 18th June (Ki)

Another third début album for June is “A Forest” from Christian Löffler. The German artist founded Ki three years ago as an outlet for his deep techno productions after releasing minimal techno/tech-house tracks on Orphanear, a label started by Pawel, an artist on Dial. As well as dance-based tracks, “A Forest” will feature ambient passages. ‘Feelharmonia’, featuring mournful vocals from Gry, is a relaxed techno cut made up of shuffling percussion and a bouncing synth pattern.

Peaking Lights – “Lucifer” (18th June 2012)

Peaking Lights say that those that have heard their new album “conjure a night time version of previous works, music to soundtrack the moonrise to the sunrise” and “there was a new approach to recording our rhythms and we were able to see through many more influences”. Check out the “Lucifer Mix Tape” featuring snippets of tracks from the album here.

Moritz Von Oswald Trio – “Fetch” 18th June (Honest Jon’s)

“Fetch” is third studio album by Moritz Von Oswald, Sasu Ripatti (Vladislav Delay) and Max Loderbauer. It is described as showcasing a “darker and more driving mood” than previous works. The album was recorded in the late summer of last year and includes contributions from Marc Muellbauer (bass), Tobias Freund (effects), Jonas Schoen (flute, bass clarinet, saxophone) and trumpeter Sebastian Studnitzky. “Fetch” will contain a fluid set of tracks that are recordings of live improvised sessions, the running theme with releases by the trio.

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