Tag Archive: Olafur Arnalds


Wow, this year has been an exceptional musically and its been so difficult to narrow down these Top Ten Releases of the Year..so far and Honourable Mentions. Aside from the releases in this feature I’ve been enjoying releases by Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahms, Blockhead, Quakers, Andrew Bird, Errors, Black Bananas, Air, Islet, and Laurel Halo.

Honourable Mentions

Ital – “Hive Mind” (Planet Mu)

Ital’s debut album makes for an interesting listening experience, though this is dance music, it’s unlike to set many dance floors alight. However, this doesn’t make it the album a failure; in fact its inverting of house and techno music structures is a thrilling and disorienting experience. Though by no means a direct comparison its seems that Ital is attempting something similar to Axel Willner aka The Field though Willner inverts the structures of techno, Ital disrupts and stretches them to their limits. Another indirect reference point is that of Cabaret Voltaire’s 80’s era music (and founder Richard H. Kirk’s work as part of Sweet Exorcist, recently anthologised by Warp Records) this seems to a constant in the drum and the influence crops up most obvious on ‘First Wave’ with added disorienting rhythms and synths. The most obvious direct influence outside of dance music is the kosmiche musick of Cluster, Harmonia and to a less extent Tangerine Dream, in fact ‘Floridian Void’ (the highlight of the album) sounds a little like a dark techno take on fellow American kosmiche musick enthusiast Emeralds. I feel sure that the debate about ‘Hive Mind’ will continue throughout the year as it could well turn to be one of those albums the confounds and confuses as much as it thrills and provokes thoughtful analysis.

Clark – “Iradelphic” (Warp)

“Iradelphic” occupies similar sonic territory as the music put out by the Ghost Box label, especially the most recent album by The Belbury Poly, so it seems appropriate that Ghost Box co-founder Julian House produced the artwork for the album. The album combines folk elements such as acoustic guitars, double bass, acoustic drums and strings with synth drones, arpeggios, electronic drums and percussion and psychedelic effects. The icing on the cake is the vocals of Martina Topley-Bird who provides vocals on ‘Broken Kite Footage’, ‘The Pining Part 2’, ‘Secret’ and ‘Open’. The album divides itself into two song types of track more song based and more drone based soundtrack music/palette cleansers and Clark switches effortlessly between the two showing his diversity as an artist. Another string to his bow is that even the song based material features unexpected twists and turns to keep the listener on their toes. With “Iradelphic” Clark confirms himself as deserving of a place among Warp’s most vaulted artists, his varied career to date has rarely seen a drop in quality, he is the equal of Aphex Twin, Autechre and Boards of Canada.

Forward Strategy Group – “Labour Division” (Perc Trax)

“Labour Division” is the debut album by U.K. techno duo Forward Strategy Group following a series of EP’s that have garnered much attention on the techno underground. The album begins with a tension building intro track ‘Indent’ before this really get going on the electro tinged ‘Mandate’ with its arpeggiated, tough bass synth underpinning delay heavy synth FX’s and minimal drums and hi-hats, a real techno juggernaut. From then on scene is set and the duo switch from the disjointed industrial rhythms of ‘Mandate’ and ‘Elegant Mistakes’ (which fits perfectly into Perc Trax current developments) and out and out techno thumpers all filled with tense and taut atmosphere, found sound and influences of 80’s electronic music and experimental post-punk sounds. Tension only lets up on ‘Nihil Novi’ a lighter and more spacious track that features noises that cut through the drums sound and like a steam train. Though “Labour Division” serves first and foremost as functional techno album with plenty of tracks that will be spun in DJ sets, there is also enough experimental sound design and percussion sounds and patterns that it sometimes recalls peers Factory Floor and Carter Tutti Void live electronic mutations. “Labour Division” is an album through and through, properly paced and conceptually put together not like a majority of techno albums that are either an extension of a DJ set or DJ tools. Like their label boss Perc and his own album “Wicker and Steel” Forward Strategy Group are leading the way in innovative techno music.

El-P – “Cancer for the Cure” (Fat Possum)

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

Symmetry – “Themes for an Imaginary Film” (Republic of Music)

On ‘Themes for an Imaginary Film” Symmetry aka Johnny Jewel and cohort Nat Walker (of Chromatics and Desire) cover a huge range of emotional and musical ground utilising banks of synths, drum machines, guitar, piano, orchestral percussion, Bassoon, Cello and Viola. Despite the vast array of moods and instruments on show the duo create a cohesive and impressive album that wastes non of its 2 hour running time. Though some of material and sounds used recall Johnny Jewel’s many other projects there much evidence of his application of more compositional techniques found film scores and he weaves this into this ambitious album with aplomb. From the song titles to some the sounds selected the album screams film score however this no mere pastiche, more a humble doffing of the cap to the many great score composers that have gone before. In addition to this is the fantastic sound design which ranges from lush, warm and beautiful through to cold, spiky and dissonant, Symmetry and their equipment can feel you with dread, put a smile on your face and everything in between. “Themes for an Imaginary Film” is an amazing achievement that could have so easily failed to live in to its ambition but instead goes above and beyond simply being a tribute to soundtrack music as it captivates and thrills the listener in equal measure. Two hours of instrumental music (with the exception of the last track) won’t be for everyone but it’ll be worth it for those who stick with this incredible album.

Top Ten Releases of the Year… so far 2012

10.       Mirrroring – “Foreign Body”  (Kranky)

Mirrroring is a collaboration that was bound to happen sooner or later between Liz Harris aka Grouper and Jesy Fortino aka Tiny Vipers whose individual styles are so obviously complimentary it was only a matter of time before they worked together. “Foreign Body” is the breathtakingly beautiful result of said collaboration and brings together the transparent drones of Harris’s songs with the picked acoustic guitars and soft vocals of Fortino. Their sound is both gentle and yet thoroughly engaging, it may be lighter than much drone music but it isn’t light-weight. The dynamics employed across the whole album are one of the most striking things about it and demonstrate these are skilled artists able to exercise control while never strangling the life and emotion from a musical idea. The two best examples of this are ‘Cliffs’ which builds to a peak at the halfway stage before repeating an even better version of the song for its second half and ‘Mine’ which starts with a simple drone and acoustic guitar combination builds to a peak and then gradually twists itself into ever more complex shapes. It’s difficult to find the words to describe this astonishing album; it has to be heard to be believed.

9.         Thee Satisfaction – “awe naturalE” (Sub Pop)

In “awE naturalE” Thee Satisfaction have delivered an energetic album filled tracks that both provide amply bounce need for a hip-hop jam but also manages to subtly subvert both traditional methods of creating sounds and challenge the overly simplistic ‘soulful’ vocals used so liberally in hip-hop music. It refreshing to hear an act pushing the limits of hip-hop while still managing to make music that moves your body. The fact that these tracks are stuffed to the gills with soulful vocals, jazzy tunes and an expressive emotional palette makes an engaging and entertaining listen. The half an hour run time demands that the album be played again immediately and is the album is equal satisfying and reveals more of its charms with each repeat listen. Never out staying their welcome and yet able to go distance on the longer tracks Thee Satisfaction will be a welcome addition to your music collection.

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8.         Peter Broderick – “http://www.itstartshere.com” (Bella Union)

This album picks up where Broderick left off with his last solo release “Music for Confluence” and features the same basic instrumentation acoustic/electric guitar, piano and violin. However, there are subtle and not so subtle ways this album manages to differentiate its self from “Music for Confluence”, firstly this isn’t a film soundtrack and thus allows Broderick more freedom of expression. The most obvious ways this freedom is expressed is the album brighter and sometimes more upbeat sound and the fact that Broderick’s lead vocals (which sometimes sound a little like Arthur Russell) dominate whereas only backing vocals were present on “Music for Confluence”. In fact the album features a lot more melodic materials full stop and married with Broderick’s expert use of harmony, reverb and others effects to create atmosphere it makes for much more dynamic material. Throughout the album Broderick successfully tightrope walks between accessibility and pushing the listener beyond their expectations. He achieves this not only with his melodic work and use of effects but also unpredictable song structures on ‘With The Notes on Fire’ (like two songs in one), ‘Colin’ (which initially sounds like the rest of the album before the introduction of percussion pushes the song in a new direction) and ‘Asleep’ and its use of crowd source readings of the lyrics from around the world that disorient and delight in equal measure. “Music for Confluence” is a great album and “http://www.itstartshere.com” is its equal and perfect companion piece.

7.         Blondes – “Blondes” (RVNG INTL)

Blondes self titled debut album sees the duo marrying together modern dance music influenced by the likes of The Field, Gui Boratto and other Kompakt techno alumni and modern Ambient and hynagogic pop acts such as Laurel Halo, Teengirl Fantasy and Rene Hell amongst others. Blondes manage to fuse these two opposites together in way that plays to the strengths of both, you never feel the dance elements are getting bogged down by the atmospherics or that the atmospherics are dominated by the dance elements. The duo encompass a range of emotions across the album from the brighter tracks like ‘Gold’ and ‘Amber’ to the dark and subdued ‘Pleasure via drowned Kraftwerkian synth work on ‘Business’ and foggy tension of ‘Water’. One of the album’s strength is that despite the amount of recycling there is (every second track is a re-versioning of the previous track) the variety on show is impressive as is the duo’s ability to keep the listener engaged and excited by these same/similar elements. Repeat listens reveal more and more detail and that music is underpinned by a subtle influence from the classical minimalism of Steve Reich and Meredith Monk (who the duo sample on ‘Lover’). All in all a great debut album that promises plenty for the future.

6.         Ekoplekz – “Westerleigh Works EP” (Perc Trax)

This EP has been talked about/marketed as Ekoplekz’s first venture into dance floor territory and listening to it you can hear why. However, Ekplekz still keeps his trademark sounds front and centre but the EP uses space more effectively and percussive sounds and deep bass provide the forward motion need. Of the three originals ‘Ekoplatz’ sounds most like his previous material while being underpinned by techno bass and percussion, the other two ‘Narco Samba’ and ‘Xylem Teardrops’ fill more stripped and danceable, while Richard H. Kirk (Cabaret Voltaire) remix of ‘Ekoplatz’ follows a similar template but adds electronic woodblocks, more structural dynamics and some of Kirk’s own idiosyncratic dub sounds. A highly recommended release for those into the darker side of dance music.

5.         Drokk – “Music Inspired by Mega City One” (Invada Records)

This album uses just one synth as its primary mode of composition but Geoff Barrow (Portishead) and BBC composer Ben Salisbury manage to make limitation the mother of invention creating everything from intense drone heavy soundscapes to arpeggio led tracks via more delicate and reflective moments. In many ways the album bears comparison with this year’s other imaginary soundtrack album “Themes for an Imaginary Film” by Symmetry and though it’s not as ambitious as Symmetry’s album its equally as satisfying a listen. Drawing on many classic synth soundtrack staples such as John Carpenter, Vangelis, Walter/Wendy Carlos and with hints of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and other T.V. music from the 70’s and 80’s. However, repeat plays reveal this isn’t an album that merely imitates and pays homage but reaches the same heights as those great synth soundtrack composers, the album throbs with the tension of a Carpenter score, while Vangelis arpeggios abound and experimental sounds that the Radiophonic Workshop and Walter/Wendy Carlos are thrown in at the appropriate moment and to keep the listener guessing. If Symmetry’s album is the Hollywood blockbuster then “Drokk…” is a homemade marvel and all the better for it.

4.         Killer Mike – “R.A.P. Music” (William’s Street)

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

3.         Orcas – “Orcas” (Morr Music)

The debut album from this Seattle duo (Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) and Benoit Pioulard’s (aka Thomas Meluch) leaves me lost for words, one of those albums that difficult to describe without selling it short. However, I will endeavour to paint a picture of this heartbreakingly beautiful music. The dominate sounds are plaintive piano, twanging to ethereal guitars and vocals and various crackles, hums and heavily processed electronic sounds. These simple elements are manipulated to create different textures, atmospheres and emotions across nine tracks. Though the duo have created a sound of their own there are some influences/inspirations suggested by the music including Peter Broderick & Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie’s soundtrack work, the noise abstract pop of Broadcast (who are covered on the album) and indirectly reminds me of the latest Oneohtrix Point Never album “Replica”. All this is held together by the song writing touches that are subtly weaved throughout the album helping this album raise above more generic ambient and experimental music releases.

2.         King Felix – “Spring EP” (Liberation Technologies)

The “Spring EP” picks up where Laurel Halo left off with the “Hour Logic EP” last summer, though she has some tricks up her sleeve and the music is a lot harder to pin down. Here the rhythms wiggle and squirm restless and constantly shifting not settling into a smooth groove, this is one of the things that makes the EP so exciting you’re never quite sure what’s coming next. The first three tracks are all a variation on the same theme, Halo is so inventive within this limitation that the listener is never bored by the central theme. I’m not an expert on techno but it seems to me that Halo has carved out her own style while referencing the glory years of early Nineties Detroit techno. The other crucial difference between this EP and “Hour Logic” is that whereas many of the tracks on the previous EP sound submerged beneath water this is Halo least veiled work to date; she lets the tracks reveal themselves and breathe, all the elements able to exhibit themselves equally. The “Spring EP” is a fantastic addition to Halo’s discography.

1.         Julia Holter – “Ekstasis” (RVNG ITNL)

The first thing that marks “Ekstasis” out from both last year’s excellent “Tragedy” and her peers music is the brightness of its sound, gone is the shadowy and foggy atmosphere’s replaced by a sharp and incisive production job to revival today’s most intelligent pop stars. While it’s true that Holter’s not going to be the next million selling pop star this album’s production positions this music as “pop” and the abundance of hooks and melodies only reinforces this point. Then there’s the effortless feel of a lot of the music, despite many of the tracks being over 6 minutes in length. There’s no feeling of over indulgence even when a saxophone rears its head on ‘Four Gardens’ and ‘This Is Ekstasis’ everything here earns its place and makes sense within the context of the songs. It would be tempting to compare Holter to her many contemporaries within the hypnogogic pop genre especially her friend and collaborator Nite Jewel. Though her use of delay and reverb create similar feelings/images the musical and lyrical content aims instead to transport the listener further back than the 1980s and into the ancient world which Holter is so interested in. With “Ekstasis” Holter has created her own sound world that seems to subtly reference pre-existing sounds/genres and rhythms without ever sounding directly like anything you’ve previously heard. An artist who can switch with ease between different sounds and sections without breaking a sweat or alienating the listener, Holter is an artist with a bright and long future ahead of her.

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Releases we missed in March and April

Rkss – “Basement EP” (self-released)

 Available on Bandcamp –  http://rkss.bandcamp.com/

With exciting artists like Lucy and Skudge growing in stature, the space available for experimental techno producers to inhabit continually expands. The self-released “Basement” EP by Rkss, a young producer from Berlin, was unexpectedly released on 18th April. The title track from his debut EP barely contains a cavernous bass line that growls underneath clattering percussion and a deep, thumping bass drum, it makes for a seriously dark techno track. Following ‘Basement’ are two lighter and melodic cuts but the title track is a true stand-out and a strong introduction to a fledgling career.

Finally found a stream of the Quakers album, check out what I (Liam, Sonic Fiction editor) thought of it below:

Quakers – “Quakers” (Stones Throw Records)

Geoff Barrow’s hip-hop side project delivers a slap in the face to the majority of underground hip-hop acts out there. They achieve this simply by returning to what a majority of 90’s hip-hop music so good, a raw sound that begins together analogue synth bass-line, stabs of brass, guitar and strings, deep piano chords and plinking lead lines and a host of MCs keeping it punchy on these all too brief tracks. For the majority of the second half of the album the beats slow down and there’s a more atmospheric and emotive vibe that recalls both movie soundtracks and classic Wu-Tang Clan tracks. The other great about this project is that the recruitment of MCs was on-line via the posting of downloadable demos that MCs could rhyme over and then send back to Barrow, DJ Katalyst and 7STU7 for their consideration. There’s too much material and too many highlights to pick out particular tracks for analysis and that would miss the point of album that’s centred around a concept and should be played as whole piece as it every track links into the next and has something to offer every hip-hop fan.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

Spiritualized – “Sweet Heart, Sweet Light” (Double Six Records)

The new album from Spiritualized is slightly disappointing, feeling rather earthbound (though I guess that could also apply to 2008’s “Songs In A&E”) compared Jason Pierce’s finest moments. The songs just don’t have astral glide that they had before feeling stranded on earth, held firmly in place. In a recent interview Pierce revealed he’d been very ill during the recording and mixing of album, the medication often leaving him feeling like he didn’t know what he was doing. This may go some way to explaining the feeling I’ve described, I do feel for Pierce as this has impacted on what could have been another solid enter in his back catalogue. It’s not all doom and gloom though closer ‘So Long You Pretty Thing’ has a couple of surprises mainly a twanging banjo as lead instrument and that it manages a rousing ending that had eluded so many tracks before it. ‘Get What You Deserve’ comes close to capturing the psychedelic magic of previous records and ‘Hey Jane’ adds a motorik twist to the typical Pierce formula. So down but not out, let’s hope the Spiritualized record is a return to form.

oOoOO – “Our Loving Is Hurting Us” (Tri Angle Records)

The new EP from oOoOO is another disappointment showing no real progression in his sound in the 18 months or so since his debut self titled EP. What’s worse is that none of the tracks come close to measuring up to the haunting and affecting tracks that stayed with the listener long after the music had finished playing. This EP has none of that, feeling like a detached retread, in fact the tracks within EP sound too similar to each other and it all becomes an amorphous and anonymous whole. oOoOO’s peers such as Balam Acab and Toro Y Moi have subtly evolved and improved their sound since their debut releases but “Our Loving Is Hurting Us” just plumps for the same old same old, a shame as oOoOO had shown so much potential.

Santigold – “Master of my Make-Believe” (Atlantic Records)

The new album from Santigold is a mixed bag, on the one hand she’s overcome the biggest problem with her debut album – that it was too clean and grossy, lacking the grit of her demos but on the other hand a lot of ‘Master of my Make-Believe’ sounds the same. Here Santi calls on a lot of the same elements distorted electronic drums, glassy synths and huge pop chorus and though there’s nothing wrong with this is isolation over the course of the album each repetition dulls the formula. As a consequence of this the highlights are mostly the tracks that deviate from the formula in some way though ‘God From The Machine’ and ‘Go’ are great new wave and electro inspired pop tracks in their own right. The other highlights include the strings and splashy breakbeat, post-punk guitar and delayed reggae piano of ‘Disparate Youth’, the sombre ‘This Isn’t Our Parade’ and the clattering party starter that is ‘Big Mouth’. It’s odd that the formulaic songs actually feature some very strong melodies and hooks and are well written songs that just need a different set of sounds. “Master of my Make-Believe” reaches for cutting edge pop record and gets halfway there. Maybe next time Santigold can learn to produce a fully formed set of songs that aren’t full of generic sounds.

Mohn – “Mohn” (Kompakt)

Kompakt boss and techno pioneer Wolfgang Voit and fellow German minimalist Jörg Burger continue their long friendship with Mohn, a new project that comes with a self-titled album. Synchronising the styles of the two artists, the self-titled album barely contains nine tracks that sound like an aural representation of a Casper David Friedrich painting: barren landscapes and colossal, other-worldly forces of nature erupting or the sound of the unnamed apocalypse that dominates Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. This is most apparent on ‘Schwarzer Schwan’, which begins with a ghostly synth and an immense bass drum that thunders under a delayed, drifting melody. The intensity rises as a second synth melody comes in and out of view. Male and Female voices enter singing held notes all the while that heavily reverbed bass drum thunders. Others are moments of fragility and beauty; any abrasive edges have been erased. Neatly sitting alongside GAS (Voigt) is ‘Ambientöt’, thanks to the long reverb tails that seep out into soft, sparkling atmospherics meanwhile ‘Saturn’ evolves into a track of delicate percussion and textures that flutter like a bird’s wings, recalling Cluster’s “Sowiesoso”. Flickers of the style of techno Voigt and Burger bred can be heard in the sensual, slowly unfolding ‘Seqtor 88’ or ‘Ebertplatz 2020’, a wonderful decelerated ambient/techno track with a beautiful synth part that drifts in and out, gradually building to an intense yet sombre climax; full of atmosphere and emotional resonance. On the haunting and unearthly ‘Wiegenlied (lullaby), the listener is brought back to an uneasy sense of dystopia: a lone cavernous bass drum signals the album’s end, it is a final death-knell of a human-inhabited world and the beginning of a post-human one. Added together, “Mohn” couldn’t be anything other than a Kompakt release – possessing fleeting tension strong enough to upset the glistening ambient clouds and expansive minimalism.

Battles – “Dross Glop” (Warp)

Battles have put together a remix album that achieves two simultaneously acting as both a companion piece to “Gloss Drop” and expanding on its core musical themes. Four of the remixes (by Gui Boratto, The Field, Silent Servant and Kangding Ray) taken the implied techno influence on Battles sound and make it explicit, elsewhere the Caribbean influences are played on and with by Gang Gang Dance, Hudson Mohawke and EYE (of the Boredoms). The two hip-hop reworks by The Alchemist and Shabazz Palaces manage the balance act of incorporating much of the originals melodic material while creating whole new grooves and atmospheres underneath them. The only real disappointment is Pat Mahoney and Dennis McNany’s dull and predictable disco remix of ‘My Machines’. Despite these many different generic strands ‘Dross Glop’ hangs together as cohesive work highlighting the strength of the Battles originals and suggesting new directions for the band.

Olafur Arnalds & Nils Frahms – “Stare” 10″ (Erased Tapes)

This exclusive Record Store Day 10” (also available for download via Boomkat) features three great new ambient based tracks from Erased Tapes main stays Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm with a guest lot from Frahm’s collaborator Anne Muller on ‘B1’. All the tracks are long form and so develop slowly across their entire lengths keep the listener on their toes while never disturbing the ambient quality of the music. ‘A1’ combines a gentle analogue synth arpeggio with perfectly poised processed piano eventually revealing a watery processed under belly. ‘A2’ is the most sparse of the three tracks with plenty of space for its ambient synth and reverb heavy guitar melody to roam in before breaking down to a single mournful synth part for its final quarter. ‘B1’ has a misleading beginning in which an uptempo arpeggio prods the listener but halfway through the tempo and atmosphere change to dark and dank the opposite of what’s come before. If you didn’t get a copy on Record Store Day we’d highly recommend buying the download via Boomkat.

Clark’s new album “Iradelphic” occupies similar sonic territory as the music put out by the Ghost Box label, especially the most recent album by The Belbury Poly, so it seems appropriate that Ghost Box co-founder Julian House produced the artwork for the album. The album combines folk elements such as acoustic guitars, double bass, acoustic drums and strings with synth drones, arpeggios, electronic drums and percussion and psychedelic effects. The icing on the cake is the vocals of Martina Topley-Bird who provides vocals on ‘Broken Kite Footage’, ‘The Pining Part 2’, ‘Secret’ and ‘Open’. The album divides itself into two song types of track more song based and more drone based soundtrack music/palette cleansers and Clark switches effortlessly between the two showing his diversity as an artist. Another string to his bow is that even the song based material features unexpected twists and turns to keep the listener on their toes. With “Iradelphic” Clark confirms himself as deserving of a place among Warp’s most vaulted artists, his varied career to date has rarely seen a drop in quality, he is the equal of Aphex Twin, Autechre and Boards of Canada.

King Felix – “Spring EP” (Liberation Technologies)

The “Spring EP” picks up where Laurel Halo left off with the “Hour Logic EP”     last summer, though she has some tricks up her sleeve and the music is a lot harder to pin down. Here the rhythms wiggle and squirm restless and constantly shifting not settling into a smooth groove, this is one of the things that makes the EP so exciting you’re never quite sure what’s coming next. The first three tracks are all a variation on the same theme, Halo is so inventive within this limitation that the listener is never bored by the central theme. I won’t pretend to be an expert on techno but it seems to me that Halo has carved out her own style while referencing the glory years of early Nineties Detroit techno. The other crucial difference between this EP and “Hour Logic” is that whereas many of the tracks on the previous EP sound submerged beneath water this is Halo least veiled work to date, she lets the tracks reveal themselves and breathe all the elements able to exhibit themselves equally. The “Spring EP” is a fantastic addition to Halo’s discography and whets the appetite ahead of her debut album out in May.

Orcas – “Orcas” (Morr Music)

Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) and Benoit Pioulard’s (aka Thomas Meluch) new collaboration as “Orcas” blends sad, twinkling pop songs with shuddering masses of electronic sounds; a fusion of song-writing with ambient minimalism that stands somewhere between the piano-based modern compositions of Peter Broderick, the Field’s highly emotive techno and GAS’ subdued beats and stately atmospheres. ‘Pallor Cedes’ sets the tone of the self-titled album with rising and falling drones and a clipped guitar rhythm sitting under softly picked acoustic guitar and Pioulard’s aching repetition of the phrase “like coming up for air”. “Arrow Drawn”’s clever use of vocal double tracking and harmonies slowly seep into the listener’s ears as quiet acoustic guitar and piano merge into “Standard Error”’s floating loop of sighs. Calling to mind GAS and Irisarri’s work as The Sight Below is “Carrion”, an unhurriedly evolving hymn that encompasses a distant beat, echoed piano parts, an irregular guitar chord and Pioulard’s gauze-covered sad-eyed voice. A standout is their sublime, glacial cover of Broadcast’s ‘Until Then’, a poignant tribute to the untimely passing of singer Trish Keenan. Continuing “Orcas” use of piano, the track is built on a close-mic’d delicately played piano which frames Pioulard’s reflective vocals. Dark tones that lurk beneath the surface surge to the fore three minutes in compacting everything under coarse static until a sudden drop back to a solo piano, making for an emotionally charged song. Across the album Benoit Pioulard’s vocals glide along amid quiet piano and guitar notes and backing textures that rise and fall in gentle interplay, vinyl crackle and natural reverb adding an important touch of atmosphere. “Orcas” is a beautiful dignified album that summons a sense of space, understated progression and immense depths.

Top Release of the Month

Claro Intelecto – “Reform Club” (Delsin)

“Reform Club” sits in a foggy haze; it is full of serene melodies and reflective emotion. As well as being warmer than Claro Intelecto’s previous releases “Neurofibro” and “Metanarrative”, the album is both comforting and inviting while deeply tender and rich. Its production is thick and meaty. The nine tracks sit together in a cleverly unified way; avoiding homogeneity – a result meticulous compositions and the freedom Claro Intelecto’s new label Delsin has offered. Opener ‘Reformed’ matches ‘Voyeurism’ (from the “Second Blood” EP) in pace and style. Metronomic hi-hats push the tempo to 120 BPM (‘Reformed’ is the fastest of the nine tracks) while a bouncing bass line and snatches of strings top a driving bass drum. A standout is the next track ‘Blind Side’, which sounds like a Basic Channel track for this decade: a deep bass drum pushes forward a mysterious melody that is submerged under churning dub-techno percussive elements and metallic slivers of hi-hats. ‘Still Here’ takes the tempo down to 96 BPM. Reverbed percussion sits upfront, striking the listener and melancholic, dreamy strings are embraced by the bass drum; a theme through the album is the depth and warmth in the low end frequencies.  Legato emphatic strings provide a contrast to the flashes of acidic arpeggios on ‘It’s Getting Late’ while a submerged bass drum thumps. ‘Second Blood’, the title track from the wonderful “Second Blood” EP released earlier this year, sits in the album perfectly. Static, a vast low end, sparkling hats and serene, emotionally resonant pads and strings provides one of “Reform Club”’s most affecting moments. The beautiful, fluttering synth that appears at 3:25 in “Night Of The Maniac” is something to behold as it flickers above sonorous beats and a dark melody that is set against a counterpoint bass line. Album closer ‘Quiet Life’ features piano and fluctuating sheer pads to form a delicate, touching conclusion.

Claudio PRC – “Inner State” 30 March/2 April (Prologue)

Double 12″ only

Claudio PRC’s debut album “Inner State” takes us into the abyss. It is a minimalistic world of profound and effortless deep, hypnotic techno and one that is filled with thick atmospheres, foggy dubs and unrelenting beats. Claudio’s love for techno and production skills is displayed with confident poise. In his own words, “In most of my tracks, the electroacoustic side plays the more emotional role, where the atmosphere created by the sound research and processing are my means to tell a story, while the rhythm reveals my natural matrix of energy I use to give life to these stories.” Opener ‘Echoes’ is a pitch black techno track with a relentless bass line that fold into waves of static and hi-hats. Intense, snapping percussion tops a droning bass line and cloudy textures in ‘Transparent’ and beat-less ambient track, ‘Leave’, provides a reflective moment before ‘Radial’’s vitriolic beats kick in. With “Inner State”, Claudio PRC has shown great potential while Munich-based Prologue maintains its output of high-quality techno releases.

Clark – “Iradelphic” 2nd April (Warp Records)

The sixth album from Warp Record mainstay Chris Clark arrives this month. Recorded in various locations – Australia, Berlin, Wales, Brussels, Cornwall, Norway and London, Clark describes the album as “looming, ambiguous, radiant. Glowing, whole, invincible, complete”. FACT magazine have hinted that the album sees Clark “tinkering with much gentler tones: pastoral synths, acoustic guitars… The result often plays like a digitally augmented folk record”. Vocalist Martina Topley-Bird guests on four tracks and Clark also contributes some vocals. The eye-catching artwork is provided by Ghostbox Records Julian House. Listen to a stream of the album over at FACT.

Orcas – “Orcas” 9th April/16th April (Morr Music)

Named after the mammal native to the Pacific Northwest where Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) and Benoit Pioulard hail from, their team-up as Orcas reflects the nature of its namesake (also known as a killer whale): dignified and beautiful but bold enough to bare its teeth. An example of this being their sublime cover of Broadcast’s ‘Until Then’, with its use of a delicate piano that frames Pioulard’s reflective vocals that is then compacted under gauze-y, coarse static as is ‘Carrion’, a grainy evolving hymn. This album fuses song-writing with ambient minimalism, sitting somewhere between Peter Broderick’s piano-based modern compositions and the subdued beats and stately atmospheres of GAS.

oOoOO – “Our Love Is Killing Us EP” 9th April 2012 (Tri Angle Records)

The new EP from the mysterious Christopher Dexter Greenspan aka oOoOO arrives this month on Tri Angle. Hopefully it will be as good as his excellent hauntingly beautiful self titled début EP from 2010. You can stream ‘NoWayBack’ featuring Butterclock here.

Battles – “Dross Glop” 16th April (Warp Records)

I (Liam, Sonic Fiction, editor) loved Battles second album and I’m feeling excited ahead of the release of this remix album. It collects together the remixes of tracks from last year’s “Gloss Drop” that have been released as a series of 12″ singles plus a bonus remix from Eye of the Boredoms. The other remixes come from a host of the finest hip-hop, techno and experimental music artists including The Field, Gui Boratto, Shabazz Palaces and Kode 9.

Claro Intelecto – “Reform Club” 16th April (Delsin Records)

After the acclaimed album “Metanarrative” from 2008 and this year’s must-listen “Second Blood” EP, Claro Intelecto releases “Reform Club” for the faultless Dutch label Delsin Records. The album promises to deliver the usual sound of Claro Intelecto: warm but with rough edges and analogue textures. Delsin Records describe “Reform Club” as “dreamy”, “dynamic and lucid with plenty of serene melodies”. This album from an artist who infrequently releases material will be one of 2012’s greatest listens and a contender for album of the year lists in December.

Spiritualized – “Sweet Heart, Sweet Light” 16th April (Double Six Records)

Jason Pierce has kept this album under wraps with only a couple of tracks performed live last year at and one pre-release track the dark bluesy dirge of ‘Hey Jane’ (one of the aforementioned live tracks). One things for sure it will sound like Spiritualized and the epic track lengths are back after the relevantly short tracks on previous album “Songs In A&E”.

Sun Araw, M. Geddes Gengras and the Congos – “FRKWYS Vol.9: Icon Give Thank” 16th April (RVNG ITNL Records)

The next installment in the RVNG ITNL’s excellent FRKWYS series is a collaboration between Sonic Fiction favourite Sun Araw, M. Geddes Gengras (ex- Pocahunted and now of LA Vampires) and dub-reggae legends The Congos. The album was recorded in St. Catherine, Jamaica and filmed for a documentary called “Icon Eye” to be released on the same day. You can watch the trailer of the film here.

Nils Frahm and Olafur Arnalds – “Stare” 21st April – Record Store Day (Erased Tapes Records)

This 10″ single is an exclusive Record Store Day release featuring three tracks recorded by two of Erased Tapes finest artists in their respective studios in Berlin and Reykjavík and features Frahm’s collaborator Anne Muller playing cello on the b-side. The release doubles as part of Erased Tapes 5th anniversary celebrations.

Mohn – “Mohn” 23rd April (Kompakt)

Kompakt figureheads Wolfgang Voigt and Jörg Burger continue their long musical relationship with Mohn, a new project that comes with a self-titled album. The first track, ‘Ebertplatz’, provides a large clue to what the album will contain: it is a decelerated ambient techno track which gradually builds to an intense yet sombre climax. Full of atmosphere and sustained emotional resonance it’s an effortless synchronisation of its parents’ styles.

Santigold – “Master of My Make Believe” 30th April (Atlantic Records)

A pop star and songwriter who seems more acceptable to alternative music fans Santigold is a unique proposition. “Master of My Make Believe” is the long-awaited follow-up the her 2008 début album and the three pre-release tracks ‘Go’ (featuring Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen 0 and Nick Zinner and produced by Q-Tip), ‘Big Mouth’ and ‘Disparate Youth’ all suggest she’s picked up where she left off with a combination of hip-hip, R&B, reggae and new wave influences. Hopefully this time the rough edges that made her demos so exciting won’t have been smoothed off this time.

In a slight change from the usual I’ve included a section on releases that we didn’t recommend but liked (to varying degress) during January and February. The other change is that the post was getting so long that we’ve created a separate post for March’s recommendations.

Some releases we missed in January and February

Air – “La Voyage Dans La Lune” (Astralwerks Records)

This new soundtrack album for the George Melies short film of the same name is a return to form for Air who seemed to have lost their way in the last few years. Though the album sticks to a lot of soundtrack staples timpani, strings, brass, analogue synths and signifiers it’s still an effective and enjoyable listen. The album is reasonable varied but tracks generally fall into two camps that more obvious soundtrack pieces based around piano, timpani and strings – ‘Astronomic Club’, ‘Retour Sur Terre’, ‘Moon Fever’, ‘Who Am I Now’ (which strongly recalls Popol Vuh’s soundtrack work) and closing track ‘Lava’ and more upbeat groove driven tracks – ‘Seven Stars’ with its heavy bass groove & flapping drums pattern, the thundering drums and the prog rock sci-fi synths of ‘Parade’ and ‘Sonic Armada’ and ‘Cosmic Trip’s twinkling synths, driving bass and breakbeats. Though the album loses direction and fails to deliver its ideas towards the end it’s still well worth checking out, especially as it comes with a DVD of Melies masterpiece.

Nina Kraviz – “Nina Kraviz” (ReKids Records)

Russian DJ Nina Kraviz has released previously for Cocoon and Bpitch and played DJ sets in some of Europe’s best-known clubs with a residency at Moscow’s Propaganda club. Her self-titled and self-produced debut album serves to solidify the progress made so far without deviating from the emotive deep house she is known for. “Nina Kraviz” is a highly personal and intimate album; her voice, usually the first take recording, dominates over deep house grooves and luxuriant synthesisers. The album’s highlights, such as ‘Working’, ‘Fire’ ‘False Attraction’ and the chilly techno of ‘4 Ben’ (which is rumoured to be dedicated to her boyfriend Ben Klock, the DJ and producer) showcase Kraviz’s knowledge of constructing DJ sets that build and drop then punch at the right moment. ‘Working’ is one example of her ability to tease the audience by gradually and urgently elevating the tension then ending on a sudden climax. Overall, though, “Nina Kraviz” is hit and miss; a few inclusions, such as ‘Taxi Talk’ and ‘Choices’, don’t add anything to the album’s narrative and for the number that don’t quite deliver it is perhaps too long at 14 tracks. Transitioning from DJing and producing 12”s to releasing an album can be a difficult feat; “Nina Kraviz” proves this. While not an essential techno/house release it is evident that Kraviz has worked hard to try to make the album sit together like a cohesive DJ set and the highlights are a testament to this, making it a release that is worth checking out.

Black Bananas – “Rad Times Xpress IV”  (Drag City)

Black Bananas is a new project from Jennifer Herrema (ex-Royal Trux) that maintains the line-up of previous project RTX but subtle changes the bands overall sound. Where previously the dominate sound was a lo-fi take on rock ‘n’ roll and classic 70’s rock they are replaced by a sound derived from the 70’s P-Funk pioneers Parliament/Funkadelic. The guitar techniques of P-Funk guitarist Eddie Hazel are particularly prominent though this is no bad thing another influence that instantly jump out are the Dub of King Tubby and Lee ‘Scratch Perry. What’s most surprising and indeed pleasing is the album’s pop music feel where I expected an overly lo-fi album covered in fuzz and the smeared sound that lo-fi recording creates I was instead present with a mix that was balanced between the dirty elements and those with more clarity. Herrerma hasn’t changed over the years and though the music content has shifted slightly the lyrical content remains the same, she’s a rock ‘n’ roller and always will be this isn’t a real problem on this album and suits the music well. This isn’t ‘serious music’ per se and shouldn’t be treated as such, it’s a dirty pop thrill and all the better for it. If this a permanent change of direction then Herrema may well find a seam that she dig into, if not then at least we have this gem of an album. Check out the album’s title track here.

Claro Intelecto – “Second Blood” EP (Delsin)

“Second Blood” is an elegantly slow, almost seductive EP released on the Netherland’s Delsin label, which is also home to Redshape and analogue-loyal techno producer Morphosis. The title track contains static hisses and an agile, skulking synth that is pulled along by the considerate use of side-chaining on every bar which gives the bass line a cushioned effect under airy chords. ‘Heart’ is woozy and lethargic, recalling Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS in its use of placid ambience and the barely-there bass drum.  At 115bpm, ‘Voyeurism’ is the EP’s fastest track. The softly pumping chords and arpeggio synth line are near dub-techno. After the lethargy of the two previous tracks the seductively grooving bass line gives ‘Voyeurism’ a spirited potency while a round bass drums push the track forward. “Second Blood” is a brilliant downtempo techno EP from an artist who infrequently releases material.

Ekoplekz – “Dromilly Vale EP” (Public Information Records)

Ekoplekz’s new EP for Public Information is a more abstract and sounds similar to some of the tracks on his “Intrusive Incidentals Vol. 1” album from last year. This combined with a structural arcs were tracks start off relatively sparse before building into dense collages of synths, organ and sound effects. If I had to pick highlights (the whole EP is excellent) they’d be the dissonant ‘Jugglin’ Fer Jesus’ (which title is a play on Ekoplekz hero’s Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Sluggin’ Fer Jesus’) and ‘Clayton Freak’ with its slow creepy feel of horror movie and BBC Radiophonic material. The whole EP is shoot through the Ekoplekz own brand of dub delirium and is all the better for it. The bonus tracks are well worth the price of an e-mail address, one being a Dub mix of the EP’s other BBC Radiophonic Workshop influenced track ‘Dick Mill’s Blues’ and ‘Rotamotion’ a lighter bubbling take on the dark dance material of Ekoplekz’s recent “Westerleigh Works EP” for Perc Trax.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

Harmonious Thelonius – “Listens” (Italic Records)

The abrasive combination of American minimalism’s condensed patterns, European melodies and African-inspired rhythms that made “Talking”, Harmonious Thelonious’ (Stefan Schwander) debut album, sound so raw, urgent and exceptional are replaced by a more accessible, light South American-style palette and a larger focus on melody. Yet the mix is overly compressed leaving “Listen” sounding flat and airless with nothing to allow the melodies to shine or excite. It is my understanding that the album was recorded in a studio yet audience noise can be heard in the background, which seems like a poor attempt to inject interest into lifeless tracks. As with his previous album, Schwander’s passion and knowledge of these musical styles are clear and while there are glimpses that prove there is more territory to explore in this direction, there is very little, save the rich, complex ‘Drums Of Steel’ and ‘Trans-Harmonic System’, that has the grit, energy and, ultimately, the excitement of “Talking”.

Sleigh Bells – “Reign of Terror” (Mom & Pop)

A disappointing return for an act that promised so much two years ago. ‘Reign of Terror’ won’t be getting many repeat plays by me. It’s not all bad in fact the band show that they’ve progressed with new ethereal sounds and digital synths a recurring presence throughout the album. However, the band rarely convince on ‘Reign of Terror’ which is severely lacking in the ‘can’t get out of brain’ hooks department, the whole thing comes off a little flat. In addition to this the band’s love of 80’s hair metal aesthetics quick becomes grating, the opening track (‘True Shred Guitar’)  a particularly cringe worthy example of this with its crowd noise and the AC/DC riff that follows falls flat too. Nothing on this album comes close to what the band had previously achieved though it shows that they aren’t one trick ponies it’s just their other tricks aren’t that good unfortunately.

Olafur Arnalds – “Another Happy Day OST” (Erased Tapes)

Olafur Arnalds soundtrack for the film “Another Happy Day” does what it says on, fulfilling its purpose though a majority of the songs failure to translate without the images it accompanies. This by no means a bad album and the highlights, the haunting ‘Poland’, the creepy and foreboding ‘Out to Sea’ and the opener ‘Land of Nod’ are all great additions to Arnalds back catalogue. However the rest of the album leaves a little to be desired, yes they work on a functional level and there’s nothing wrong with that but they don’t rise to the heights of Arnalds last album ‘… And They Escaped The Weight of Darkness’ (2010). Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the closing track ‘Everything Must Change’ after spending half of the track six and a half minute length bringing the tracks main elements (twinkling piano, scratchy pizzicato violin, a deep doomy bass line, clattering reverb heavy percussion and ghostly voices and violin) only for when the whole thing starts to coalesce to drop everything to a lone violin, a massive anti climax that destroys the tension and energy that had been built up.

The Belbury Poly – “The Belbury Tales” (Ghost Box)

“The Belbury Tales” is a very 50/50 album while some tracks are little more than good facsimiles of their influences others (especially in the album’s second half) manage to rise above being the sum of their parts and match more recent production techniques and style particularly hip-hop style breakbeats into an already heady and complex brew. The first half of the record suggests good ideas with its mix of elements but fails to deliver sounding flat and unimaginative, it’s hard to pinpoint why these tracks fail whereas the second includes a handful of gems. These include the gorgeous interweaving synth melodies of ‘Summer Round’, the fuzz coated ‘Chapel Perilous’, the irresistibly funky ‘Goat Foot’, and the chilling ‘My Hands’. The first reference point that springs to mind is Broadcast and The Focus Groups “…Investigate Witch Cults of The Radio Age” but with a the use of guitars, bass, drums, ocarina, zithers and melodica adding energy and a wider colour palette. When the album hits its heights it’ll put a smile on your face but for the remainder of the tracks its just mildly diverting.

Loops of Your Heart – “And Never Ending Nights” (Magazine Records)

“And Never Ending Nights” is true to traditional kosmische musik artists, in particular, Cluster whose albums were created using a small palette of instruments, sounds and textures.  In the absence of drums, the synthesiser arpeggios create the rhythm. Thick basslines are balanced by synths that shimmer, cut and swell; fast arpeggios provide mantra-like qualities over ethereal pads. In “And Never Ending Nights”, Axel Willner has provided another example of the German electronic music practice of letting the music flow albeit in a controlled manner, which creates most of its tension, while, as with his main project The Field, showcasing his skill in restrained and effective song writing.  The album is a lesson in simplicity and stripped composition and the mid-section provides the highlights; ‘End’ and ‘Cries’ are two of Willner’s most emotive compositions yet while ‘Neukölln’ and  ‘Lost In The Mirror’ are the most transparent in revealing the German influences. The former, named after a Berlin district, features the voices of young children speaking German under layers of synths that gently swell and wobble in the style of Cluster and aesthetics of Harmonia.

Peter Broderick – “http://www.itstartshear.com&#8221; (Bella Union)

The new album by Peter Broderick picks up where he left with his last solo release “Music for Confluence” left off and features the same basic instrumentation acoustic/electric guitar, piano and violin. However, there are subtle and not so subtle ways this album manages to differentiate its self from “Music for Confluence”, firstly this isn’t a film soundtrack and thus allows Broderick more freedom of expression. The most obvious ways this freedom is expressed is the album brighter and sometimes more upbeat sound and the fact that Broderick’s lead vocals (which sometimes sound a little like Arthur Russell) dominate whereas only backing vocals were present on “Music for Confluence”. In fact the album features a lot more melodic materials full stop and married with Broderick’s expert use of harmony, reverb and others effects to create atmosphere it makes for much more dynamic material. Throughout the album Broderick successfully tightrope walks between accessibility and push the listener beyond their expectations. He achieves not only with his melodic work and use of effects but also unpredictable song structures on ‘With The Notes on Fire’ (like two songs in one), ‘Colin’ (which initially sounds like the rest of the album before the introduction of percussion pushes the song in a new direction and ‘Asleep’ and its use of crowd source readings of the lyrics from around the world that disorient and delight in equal measure. “Music for Confluence” is a great album and “http://www.itstartshear.com” is its equal and perfect companion piece.

Contender for Debut Album of the Year

Ital – “Hive Mind” (Planet Mu)

Ital’s debut album makes for an interesting listening experience, though this is dance music, it’s unlike to set many dance floors alight. However, this doesn’t make it the album a failure; in fact its inverting of house and techno music structures is a thrilling and disorienting experience. Though by no means a direct comparison its seems that Ital is attempting something similar to Axel Willner aka The Field though Willner inverts the structures of techno, Ital disrupts and stretches them to their limits. Another indirect reference point is that of Cabaret Voltaire’s 80’s era music (and founder Richard H. Kirk’s work as part of Sweet Exorcist, recently anthologised by Warp Records) this seems to a constant in the drum and the influence crops up most obvious on ‘First Wave’ with added disorienting rhythms and synths. The most obvious direct influence outside of dance music is the kosmiche musick of Cluster, Harmonia and to a less extent Tangerine Dream, in fact ‘Floridian Void’ (the highlight of the album) sounds a little like a dark techno take on fellow American kosmiche musick enthusiast Emeralds. I feel sure that the debate about ‘Hive Mind’ will continue throughout the year as it could well turn to be one of those albums the confounds and confuses as much as it thrills and provokes thoughtful analysis.

Top Release of the Month

Blondes – “Blondes” (RVNG ITNL)

Blondes self titled debut album is one that hard to do justice to without its sounding like a repetitive bore-fest, which it is far from. The duo fit into both the modern dance music camp alongside the likes of The Field, Gui Boratto and other Kompakt techno alumni and alongside modern Ambient and hynagogic pop acts such as Laurel Halo, Teengirl Fantasy and Rene Hell amongst others. Blondes manage to fuse these two opposites together in way that plays to the strengths of both, you never feel the dance elements are getting bogged down by the atmospherics or that the atmospherics are dominated by the dance elements. The duo encompass a range of emotions across the album from the brighter tracks like ‘Gold’ and ‘Amber’ to the dark and subdued ‘Pleasure via drowned Kraftwerkian synth work on ‘Business’ and foggy tension of ‘Water’. One of the album’s strength is that despite the amount of recycling there is (every second track is a re-versioning of the previous track) the variety on show is impressive as is the duo’s ability to keep the listener engaged and excited by these same/similar elements. Blondes have not only created a contender for Debut Album of the Year but an early contender for the Album of the Year itself.

January was a surprisingly busy month with the music industry stopping only to catch its breath over Christmas and New Year before getting back into the swing of things straight away. Annoyingly there’s has been a lot of confusion over two of the albums we recommended so we’ve not been able to pass comment on Harmonious Thelonious “Listens” and Loop of Your Heart’s ” And Never Ending Nights”.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

Matthew Dear – “Headcage EP” (Ghostly International)

Matthew Dear’s “Headcage” EP is not so much a disappointment as a mixed bag that doesn’t quite achieve its aims though overall Dear comes out on top. The title track sets the tone with the influence of Brian Eno and Jon Hassell’s Fourth Music and modern synth music artists Oneohtrix Point Never and Laurel Halo. In fact ‘Headcage’ reminds me of ‘Head’ by Laurel Halo only 95% of mix hasn’t been drowned in reverb. The biggest disappointment is ‘In The Middle (I Met You There) feat. Johnny Pierce the song starts well enough with Dear’s pitched vocals and moody synths but when the music drops and Pierce’s vocals come in it’s a big letdown from then on. Things pick up a little with ‘Street Song’ the lead synth melody recalling Oneohtrix Point Never and Dear producing some pleasing tricks with his vocals, however these ideas aren’t developed fully and the song peters out. Finally ‘Around A Fountain’ reaches the heights of the title track with heavily compressed percussion, sighing backing vocals and Dear’s processed lead vocals dominating the intro before the lead vocal enters and gives the track a central focus, this is glues the track together. The track recalls similar influences to the others and Talking Heads. Though not firing on all cylinders on this EP it still feels like Dear will probably deliver on his new album “Beams” due later this year.

Oliveray – “Wonders” (Erased Tapes)

The début album by Oliveray (aka Peter Broderick and Nils Frahms) switches between vocal lead folk songs and ambient instrumentals, though even the folk tracks are grounded in ambience. Multi instrumentalist Broderick’s guitar/violin compliment Frahms vocals and piano even when Broderick push into harder or more abstract sounds. Though I prefer the instrumentals (Frahms voice is still growing on me) their cover of ‘Harmonics’ by Efterklang and album closer ‘Dreamer’ both hit the spot. Of the ambient pieces organic opener ‘Growing Waterwings’, the effects heavy ambience of ‘Piano in the Pond’ and the desolate twanging guitar and soft reverbed piano of ‘Hiding Hydiration’ stand out. Though this album doesn’t match Broderick’s recent solo album “Music For Confluence” (or A Winged Victory for the Sullen self titled début which also featured Broderick) it’s well worth investigation. I’ve only scratched the surface of both these artists vast back catalogues and so this may well turn to be one of the finest efforts of their repetitive careers to date and the album does feel like a grower.

Ekoplekz – “Westerleigh Works EP” (Perc Trax)

This EP has been talked about/marketed as Ekoplekz’s first venture into dance floor territory and listening to it you can hear why. However, Ekplekz still keeps his trademark sounds front and centre but the EP uses space more effectively and percussive sounds and deep bass provide the forward motion need. Of the three originals ‘Ekoplatz’ sounds most like his previous material while being underpinned by techno bass and percussion, the other two ‘Narco Samba’ and ‘Xylem Teardrops’ fill more stripped and danceable, while Richard H. Kirk (Cabaret Voltaire) remix of ‘Ekoplatz’ follows a similar template but adds electronic woodblocks, more structural dynamics and some of Kirk’s own idiosyncratic dub sounds. A highly recommended release for those into the darker side of dance music.

Early Contender for Debut Album of the Year

Islet – “Illuminted People”

Islet’s “Illuminated People is a confident and self-assured debut album from an ambitious band fusing together influences that seem to range from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Fuck Buttons via the Boredoms, shoegaze and folk music. The opening one-two punch of ‘Libra Man’ and ‘This Fortune’ perfectly demonstrate the band ability to bring together these influences to forge their own sound and also that their not just about the sonics but the tunes too. The briefly slacken the pace of the intro of ‘Entwined Pines’ before the drums double up and the tension builds before dropping to a Cocteau Twins style verse before post-punk guitars and synth grind away for the second of the song. ‘What We Done Wrong’ repeats the same trick but with male and female vocals play off each other. Islet show they can do subtle and simple on the folk-y ‘We Bow’ and soft vocals and feedback of  ‘A Warrior Who Longs to Grow Herbs’. The album gets even more eclectic in its second half with two post-rock style songs in ‘Filia’ and ‘Funicular’, the drum machine and tropical sounding synths of ‘Shores’ and the album closer ‘A Bear On Its Own’  with its creepy stabby synth outro, stuttering organ and duelling male and female vocals. My only really complaint is that one of the male vocalist struggles to make his notes in a way that grates other than that this is an impressive and memorable debut album from a band who could have a bright future.

Top Release of the Month

Errors – “Have Some Faith In Magic” (Rock Action)

Errors have been steadily evolving their own sound since their début EP back in 2006 and new album “Have Some Faith In Magic” is no different. What’s interesting about this album is how it seems to refer more modern influences such as James Ferraro and the chillwave/hypnagogic pop acts he has inspired so the newly introduced vocals come coated in reverb and sometimes other effects and there’s a simmering quality and multi coloured feel to the music. In addition this the band fine melodic and structural sense is not only still in place but has moved on another step, enough that they attract attention outside of their cult fan base. Particularly potent tunes include the single ‘Pleasure Palaces’ and its dance floor grooves which remind me of Washed Out and Blondes, the spritely soul inspired rhythms of ‘Barton Spring’ and ‘Blank Media’’s one of the simplest songs the band have written, which they pull off with aplomb. Elsewhere there’s almost rock guitar on opener ‘Tusk’ which also introduces one of the albums dominate sounds that of the twinkling arpeggio, however the songs are so varied that this recurring sound doesn’t grate. I had high hopes for this album after hearing ‘Magna Encarta’ and ‘Earthscore’ and Errors have met them and overcome the problems commonly associated with making a bigger leap in the evolution of a bands sound. They’ve written music that not only moves them forward but also seems primed for the bigger stages they’ll play on this year, after one play it feels this album and band can only get better.

Recommendations – February

Marcel Dettmann – “Landscape” out now (Music Man Records)

Released on the same label as his “Conducted” mix and following on from the “Translation” EP, the key feature of ‘Landscape’ is a muted melody that swells and deflates under Dettmann’s trademark thudding and scraping drums, providing a pivotal building-to-peak-time track for a DJ to throw in a set. A remix from the upcoming Answer Code Request pushes ‘Landscape’ into the pure peak time territory that the original teases the listener with.

Harmonious Thelonious – “Listens” out now (Italic)

Italic will release the follow-up to 2010’s Congotronics influenced ‘Talking’ with an new album that we at Sonic Fiction hope continues this artist’s unique combination of “American minimalism vs. African drumming vs. European sequencing”.

Blondes – “Blondes” 6th February (RVNG Itnl)

The début album from one of our favourite new acts on Sonic Fiction on RVNG Itnl who are shaping up to be the label of year (can’t wait for Julia Holter and the Sun Araw/The Congos collaboration albums later this year). The album collects together the duo’s pureistic and all analogue 12″ singles from last year plus a extra disc of remixes featuring the likes of Laurel Halo, Rene Hell and Teengirl Fantasy among others. Despite this pureistic approach this isn’t dance music by numbers and seems to incoraparate some influences from ambient music and the kosmische music of Cluster and their current peers such as Halo and Hell. Stream Blondes album here.

Loops Of Your Heart – ‘And Never Ending Nights’ 13th February (Magazine Records)

After his career ascension with “Looping State Of Mind”, The Field (Axel Willner) has created the side project Loops Of Your Heart. “And Never Ending Nights” is immersed in German influence and celebrates the country’s tradition of musical restraint that is exemplified in kosmiche musik names such as Cluster and Harmonia. The sampled voices of children speaking German on the lead track “Neukölln”, named after the Berlin district.

Peter Broderick – “http://www.itstartshear.com” 20th February 2012 (Bella Union)

Broderick’s new solo album is called “http://www.itstartshear.com” because though he has no problem with people downloading his music, Broderick sees the problems with pieces of information and artwork that can go missing and complete the experience. So he’s set-up a website where everything to do with the album can be accessed by anyone whatever format they’ve bought/got the album in.

Produced by Nils Frahm (Broderick’s partner in Oliveray) at his Durton Studio in Berlin and Broderick says “it is my first project on which the sonic timbre of the songs was treated equally as important as the music itself. I have been in awe of the sound on the many records coming out of Nils’ studio over the last couple years, so I thank him deeply for helping me to explore a richer, wider sonic landscape.”

Ital – “Hive Mind” 20th February (Planet Mu)

The début album from Daniel Martin-McCormick under his Ital guise is an album that early reviews and pre-release track suggest stretches the definition of dance music. Made up of five longform tracks that build upon last year 12″ releases on 100% Silk and takes his dirty, dubby and psychedelic sound further out. Tracks like ‘Floridian Void’ seem to bring together sounds from Martin-McCormick’s entire career thus far from the solo synth based noise project Sex Worker, through the brutal dance-punk of Mi Ami and with the D-I-Y attitude of his first band the hardcore punks Black Eyes. This is dance music in structure but not by design.

Sleigh Bells – ‘Reign of Terror’ 20th February (Mom & Pop)

The second album from Sleigh Bells promise more of the noisy pop of their début “Treats” but with a darker more gothic edge added to the overall tone. The main changes seems to be that pre-release tracks “Born to Lose” and “Comeback Kid” is that though the tracks are less in-your-face than before they still possessed extraordinary power. Meanwhile the Alexis Krauss’ vocals have become more ethereal adding a new creepy edge to the music.

Olafur Arnalds – “Another Happy Day OST”  27th February (Erased Tapes)

Like label mate Nils Frahms Olafur Arnalds is a young modern classical pianist with a prolific output. This latest release provides the soundtrack for Sam Levinson’s “Another Happy Day” starring Ellen Barkin and Demi Moore and features the beautiful and delicate ‘Poland’.

Belbury Poly – “The Belbury Tales” 27th February (Ghost Box)

The fourth album from Belbury Poly (aka Ghost Box co-founder Jim Jupp) is a heavily influenced by 1970’s folk-prog acts such as Caravan though in a recent FACT interview Jupp said he hadn’t made a prog album per se but that “While the sound and feel of British prog is an influence on The Belbury Tales, it’s only one element. It’s not a prog rock album, I don’t think; it has just as much to do with TV soundtracks, library music, kosmische and psychedelic rock.” The four clips that are available to stream via Soundcloud certainly fit this description. FACT say the album fits into the Belbury Poly and Ghost Box aesthetic but with a more organic and live feel thanks to the contributions of guest musicians Christopher Budd (bass and electric guitar) and Jim Musgrave (drums) a first for a Belbury Poly release. Jupp also adds zithers, melodica, ocarina and sampled vocals to the mix. The clips leave the listen intrigued but we’ll have to wait to find out what the whole album sounds like.

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