Tag Archive: Ostgut Ton


Kirsty’s Reviews

Release of the Month

Apparat – “Krieg Und Frieden” (Music For Theatre) (Mute)

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Sebastian Hartmann’s theatre production of War and Peace (Krieg und Frieden); commissioned by the German arts festival Ruhrfestspiele featured a specially composed score by renowned electronic artist Sascha Ring, aka Apparat, using a minimal ensemble of orchestra parts (cello, violin), voice and synthesizers. Apparat and two members of his live band, Philipp Timm and Christoph Hartmann, spent four weeks constructing and condensing the essence rather than the narrative of Tolstoy’s detailed depiction of Napoleon’s ill-fated 1812 invasion of Russia. The score was then adapted for this recorded version.

“Krieg und Frieden” begins with a stirring blast of noise that bleeds into track two’s set piece: a weeping cello that stands on a bed of flowing atmospheres, widening the electronic panoramic view until it sounds like a brewing storm of static and resonating strings. The mostly instrumental collection is occasionally punctuated by Apparat’s frail and mournful voice, underlining the prevailing mood of desperation.  Pitched high, Ring’s voice repeats the phrase “deserted holes, deserted eyes, deserted souls, deserted lives”, on the percussive ‘Light On’ and aches forlornly beneath piano and percussion the colourful and outstanding ‘A Violent Sky’, which breaks through the chaos with a clear tone. ‘Austerlitz’, the site of one Napoleon’s greatest victories is depicted in War And Peace as the first challenge to face the aristocratic characters. Apparat’s rendering of the events begins with haunted scraping sounds and a low rumble that swells into a theatrical wave of dread and sombre melody.  There are two versions of the “Kreig und Frieden” theme. Both are beautiful and emotive, with the Pizzicato’ version taking on a classical form of plucked harp and violin whilst the second is stripped back and centres on the delicate sounds of a child’s wind-up music box and glorious violin. ‘Tod’ (meaning death in German) is filled with disturbing fuzzy atmospheres and reverberating guitar that simultaneously returns thematically to the start of “Krieg und Frieden” while being a fulfilling conclusion.

Apparat achieves a composition that although loyal to War and Peace’s thematic core doesn’t require the listener to have prior knowledge of the book to enjoy and absorb “Kreig und Frieden”’s poignant beauty. In doing so he has overcome a potentially off putting record by focusing on emotional strength rather than a strict narrative interpretation of his source material. A listener’s attention is held from track to track because each one plays with emotion, moods and passion, pushing and pulling you into different areas while as a whole everything blends and flows together seamlessly. It is a testament to the creator who for years has given his audience many releases to get excited about and with “Krieg und Frieden”, Apparat has created another breath-taking addition to his name.

Listen to ‘A Violent Sky’ below

Function – Incubation (Ostgut Ton)

Function (Dave Sumner), a member of highly regarded techno collective Sandwell District, which also includes the nebulous cast of Regis, Female and Silent Servant, presents his hugely anticipated debut album “Incubation” after 10+ years of releasing acclaimed 12”s. In 2010, Sandwell District released the brilliant “Feed-Forward”.

Opening “Incubation” is ‘Voiceprint’, a large scale vista of gyrating ambience and delicate beats filled with delayed percussion, tense droning bass line, effected snatches of vocals and a gorgeous twinkling motif. For the final 30 seconds it drops vertically into a surging, unsettling bass drone and a chilling rattling sound which leads into the nasty scraping sounds of ‘Against the Wall’. It recalls elements of classic techno with its unrelenting hi-hat patterns skipping over a resonant bass line as sweaty beats smack against a cavernous concrete wall. ‘Counterpoint’ is a Jeff Mills-indebted sci-fi soundtrack of fast legato synths, wheezing minor key synths and beatless, slow moving atmospherics. The use of suppressed vocals embellishes the undercurrent of tension, a common thread throughout “Incubation”. Fifth track ‘Incubation (Ritual)’ is filled with elegant, held A#m synth chords sliding through a thudding bass line giving a cleansing feel and a sense of lightness that balances the mysterious tension of previous tracks. A personal favourite since its first appearance in 2011 on Function’s “Ember” release for Sandwell District is the expansive and evocative ‘Inter’. Bright, delicate A# major synth chords glide above a bass drum that feels like the track’s beating heart. A beautiful synth melody, mirrored by a warm bass line, lifts the track to a greater level as crystalline cymbals wash through like waves.

‘Voiceprint (Reprise)’ is the meat of the album. Gasps of reverberant vocals ring out above shuffling percussion and pounding bass drum as a light cool-toned synth melody sings its way through the track. Claves echo infinitely, this small percussion instrument has never before sounded so foreboding. The rhythms give the impression of ceaselessness, feeling as if it’s moving in circles rather than pushing forward. The listener feels almost weightless, suspended by rotating claustrophobic atmospherics as the track dissipates under vaporous melodies. The final two tracks, while sufficient, don’t add anything to the album’s whole and dilute the impact of ‘Voiceprint (Reprise)’. Disappointingly, the last piece ‘Gradient I’ isn’t special enough to finalise “Incubation” so the album does drift off in the listener’s memory.

As would be expected from veteran producer Tobias Freund, ‘Incubation’ is extremely well crafted with exceptional clarity and depth of sound. It feels full of space both texturally and technically. Showing Sumner’s wealth of experience is his use of keys, D minor and major, A minor, A# minor and major, and nuanced textures and tones that cleverly link each track together and instil “Incubation” with unity. Sumner has eloquently communicated his aim to create “one endless piece to be listened to straight through … so everything is connected and there are reoccurring themes throughout the album.”

Objekt / Cosmin TRG – The Green Series 002 (Bleep)

The second release in Bleep’s The Green Series is the pairing of Objekt and Cosmin TRG, who each delivers a slice of exhilarating, thundering techno, mastered at Berlin’s renowned Dubplates and Mastering. A reverberating bass drum creates the scene for Objekt’s ‘Shuttered’ as heavy percussion locks into a flowing groove above. A searing pad snakes in the background while snatches of low voices and high-pitched delayed noises interplay to disturbing effect. A thin, high synth builds momentum until dropping dramatically into ‘Shuttered’’s main groove with the new addition of a complex interchange of heavy duty percussion and light gasps of noise. Cosmin TRG’s ‘Auster’ begins with a thunderous low end that kicks in the chest, scratching percussion and ticking hi hat layer. A thick bass line and bluish synth motif double each other with the melody line rising in intensity. Zapping effects and wheezing, hollow noises. Its belligerent, thrilling pace and sheer force of bass frequencies confronts the listener. This couple of killer techno tracks from two producers known for their unwavering high quality output is well worth checking out.

Liam’s Reviews

Disappointment of the Month

Atoms for Peace – “AMOK” (XL)

Atoms for Peace’s debut album has been marketed as that of a supergroup, one that came into being after Thom Yorke put together a band to tour his solo album “The Eraser” (2006), however the resulting album “Amok” often sounds more like another Yorke solo album. This a little disappointing as the many tracks that had been circulating on internet promise and interviews promised a project that represented all the group’s members. The dynamics of many of the aforementioned tracks are also very similar, which I immediately found overly repetitive and grating. The much discussed afrobeat influences only crop up on two tracks the brilliant opener ‘Before Your Very Eyes…’ and ‘Stuck Together Pieces’ which boasts the album’s tightest beat and some great slinky bass guitar. I would have liked have more afrobeat inspired tracks as these were among the highlights of “Amok”. Other highlights include ‘Judge Jury Executioner’ with its funky but understated bass line underpins click and clacking electronic drums and Yorke’s moaning reverb heavy harmonies before an acoustic guitar and his lead vocals leap into view and push the track onwards into the verse and chorus sections. The single ‘Default’ and ‘Ingenue’ are also good tracks but also suffer from sounding like Yorke solo tracks. All-in-all “Amok” is a disappointment after much hype had surrounded the band and their purposed direction.

Inc. – “No World” (4AD)

“No World” is the debut album from Inc. two R&B session musicians who decided to give it a go themselves. 4AD signing the duo makes sense as they match the Timbaland and Justin Timberlake beats and production with guitars, pianos and other sounds that recall the labels most famous acts e.g. Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil. These combination positions the duo alongside another up-and-coming R&B duo AlunaGeorge though Inc. definitely use their R&B expertise to create an authentic sound. The album opens with the sparse R&B beat and alien bloopy synth melody of ‘The Place’ recalling classic Missy Elliott tracks. The reverberate picked electric guitar of ‘Black Wings’ is the first sign of the classic 4AD influences and also features a great chorus that recalls 90’s Prince. Next up, ‘Lifetime’ with its double time beat and heavily reverbed synth atmosphere topped off with a Timberlake style vocals shows off the duo’s vocal variety. ‘Five Days’ is another early highlight with its insistent beat, deep bass line and resonate synth lead dovetailing nicely with the soft and subtle male vocals. Later on with get another twist on the Inc. formula with ‘Desert Rose (War Preyer)’ and it warped guitar, distant reverberate drums and whispered vocals somewhere between Prince, Timberlake and D’Angelo. With “No World” Inc. have created a debut album that both demonstrates their vast experience in R&B and shows they can twisted the genre into new shapes. “No World” is an accomplished piece of work from an act well worth checking out.

Lapalux – “Nostalchic” (Brainfeeder)

The debut album from Lapalux fits into the genre of glitch-hop but also separates its self from the serious and technical genre by taking its cues from glitch-hop heavy weight Prefuse 73 and another contemporary producer Teebs. Those producers both manage to create music oozes charm and are melodic in nature; this is why “Nostalchic” is a joy to listen to. Throughout the album the atmospherics synths utilised often recall Oneohtrix Point Never but Lapalux is no rip off artist blending these synths with pitched shifted vocal samples, alien saxophone, cutting hip-hop beats and soaring female vocals. The album opens with the gooey synths and pretty melodic figure of ‘IAMSYS (Tape Intro)’ before swiftly moving onto the album’s first single ‘Guuurl’ with it’s splashing synth pads, reverberate melody and twisted vocodered vocals producing the feeling of a summer evening spent on the beach with the sea lapping at your feet. ‘Kelly Brook’ sees a sparser take on the Lapalux sound before the introduction of guest vocalist Jenna Andrews on ‘One Thing’ on which she’s surrounded by curving synths sounds. ‘Swallowing Smoke’ shows that Lapalux can handle house music to changing to a four to the floor beat to back its rich synth pad and glassy synth arpeggio. Lapalux shows off his variety again on ‘Without You’ a torch song featuring the dark and smoky vocals of Kerry Leatham backed by a minimal synth pad and hip-hop beat. ‘Straight Over My Head’ brilliantly combines dub effects with production that recalls early Kanye West and ‘Dance’ takes a spindly synth melody and boxy beat and matches them with the vocals of Astrid Williamson whose pitch shifted to the point where she sounds like Anthony from Anthony and the Johnsons. ‘The Dead Sea’ and ‘Walking Words’ both recall classic Prefuse 73 but with a smoother sound and with the melodies front and centre and the album closes with ‘O.E.A. (Tape Outro)’ a reprising of the opener with Kerry Leatham on vocals. All-in-all “Nostalchic” doesn’t disappoint and is an excellent debut album from an artist who deserves the widest recognition possible!

Foals – “Holy Fire” (Warner Bros)

“Holy Fire” is both Foals funkiest and most rock album to date. The funk grooves comes from the band themselves while the huge rock production job comes from working with Flood and Alan Moulder who’ve created huge sounding rock records for the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins amongst others. It seems as though the band have loosen up too, they no longer disrupt the rhythmic flow or off set their melodies with odd notes and this makes for stronger chorus that surge out of the speakers. Usually I’d find this a negative thing but on “Holy Fire” it allows Foals to embrace a pop sound that they pull off with aplomb. Maybe on their next album they can experiment with a mixture of their melodic and rhythmic approaches to date. Atmosphere and space are also key to the album’s sound as Flood and Moulder create tones and texture for the new emotional space that the band explores across “Holy Fire” e.g. ‘My Number’ bitter declaration of romantic independence where  previously the band sought eternal partnerships. The band’s usual instrumentation of drums, bass, synth and guitars expanded on “Holy Fire” to included vibraphone, marimba, strings, cowbell and a lot of other percussion instruments adding more variety of texture and rhythmic interplay than any previous Foals release. Foals have come a long way since their initial singles first caused a stir back in 2007 and with this album they’ve delivered music once lives up the reputation they’ve gained in the international music press. Where they could so easily have slipped into hollow epic rock parody they’ve expertly found they can balance catchy melodies, atmospherics, grooves and emotional depth, this album comes highly recommended.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “Push the Sky Away” (Mute)

On their fourteenth album deliver both their most tender and most salacious album since “The Boatman’s Call” (1997). The album begins with the gently echoing marimba and a deep slow moving bass pulse of ‘We No Who U R’ Cave sings with authority and combines well with female backing vocals and the whine of Warren Ellis’ violin. There’s a slight change of tone on ‘Wide Lovely Eyes’ with nervy guitar dominating Cave’s sleazy tale. The tempo is upped on ‘Water’s Edge’ a chugging bass figure dominates before Ellis’s violin and Cave’s vocals command your attention, stuttering drums join in as the track progresses bringing with sporadic piano riffs.  The epic sweep of single ‘Jubilee Street’ provides the album’s centrepiece starting with just a simple beat and sparse guitar melody then track evolves bringing in a beautiful swell of strings around two minutes in before an acoustic rhythm guitar, treated backing vocals and Ellis’ whining violin join the fray. The song is perfectly paced and balanced building the epic feel as the song progresses. ‘Finishing Jubilee Street’ more or less where its name sake left on off a creepy picked guitar/violin melody starts the song off before slinky guitar echoes out sporadically, the drums plot a simple beat and a female backing singer joins Cave, a recurring motif throughout the album. All in all Cave and his Bad Seeds have created an album of 9 ballads that both utilise classic Cave traits and open up new avenues for him to explore.

Release of the Month

Jamie Lidell – “Jamie Lidell” (Warp)

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Jamie Lidell’s new self titled album may just be his best yet. It’s packed from start to finish with tracks that are suffered to gills with funk. This is however no ordinary funk, Lidell has never been one to do things the usual way, the high point of his career prior to this album was “Multiply” (2005) a collection that combined classic soul and funk chops with the forward thinking electronic glitches and edits of his label Warp. The first single from this album ‘What a Shame’ certainly promised a repeat of this direction, with its stretched grainy vocals and chopped up drums and though these and other similar sounds crop up throughout the album it’s definitely a funk album, just a freaky funk album! The album opens with the Gliding pitching synths and hard hitting drums and probing funk synth bass of ‘I’m Selfish’. It’s followed  by the huge pop of ‘Big Love’ its comes on like 80’s Prince with neon synths. ‘Do Yourself A Faver’ starts off with Thick synth bass and ghost delayed synth melody before evolving into a slice of classic George Clinton electro-funk! ‘why_ya_why’ updates New Orleans funk for the 21st century with stride piano is combined with crunching, head nodding beat and squelchy synths and some excellent horn blasts, the lines between organic and electronic are blurred. ‘So Cold’ and ‘Don’t You Love Me’ stand out from the rest of album with the former offering up Icy lead synth and pad open but contrast it with the huge rush of the chorus, the later is slower number with 80’s ballad stylings which picks up the pace and reintroduces the funk elements around halfway through. Its genuinely hard to fault Lidell on an album that superb from start to finish, a true funk masterclass.

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What Kirsty’s Looking Forward to

Albums

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grab the free ‘A Violent Sky’ now:

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

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

Ellen Allien – “LISm” (BPitch Control) March

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

Stream a medley of “LISm” below:

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

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

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

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

Artists

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

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

Kompakt celebrates 20 Years

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

What Liam’s Looking Forward to

Albums

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

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

Jamie Lidell – “Jamie Lidell” 18th February

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

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

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

Low – “The Invisible Way” 18th March

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

David Bowie – “The Next Day” March 2013

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

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

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

Factory Floor – “Title TBA” 13th May

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

YoungBlood Brass Band – “Pax Volumi” early 2013

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

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

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

Madvillain – “Title TBA” 2013

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

Artists

AlunaGeorge

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

Ryan Hemsworth

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

Joey Bada$$

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

Night Engine

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

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1. Voices From The Lake – Voices From The Lake (Prologue)

This is an album that has stayed with me since I first listened to it in the freezing early months of 2012. As the year has once again reached the months of dark skies and chilling air, “Voices From The Lake” remains a favourite and a release whose place in pole position for album of the year was never in doubt. The work of Donato Dozzy and Neel is both beautiful and lucid with deep ambient atmospherics and an exceptionally crafted piece of sound design. Listening to “Voices From The Lake” is an immersive experience as the deep wells of ambient sounds develop and unfold at their own pace. Textured beats and unhurried rhythms pour forth with a hypnotic flow, creating an intoxicating sense of tranquillity. Drones and gently pulsing bass drums lead us into soothing pillows of thick ambience against a humid backdrop. The pair’s reworking of the previously released ‘S.T.’ is a revelation. After 30 minutes of bubbling and pulsation, the album’s first proper bass line emerges underneath a gently ascending and descending chord progression, creating the album’s biggest moment of impact while remaining airy and translucent. Rhythm, texture and atmosphere are the key components of “Voices From The Lake”, creating an enveloping physical presence that asks contemplative concentration; a meditative state of listening. Its patterns shift and morph in minute detail, so subtly and patiently that it gives the album an unusual feeling like it is floating while simultaneously surging from the depths of a dense forest. The construction is painstaking, so much so you can’t tell where one track begins and another ends yet, surprisingly for something that has been put together so intricately, it contains warmth that feels inviting and effortless. “Voices From The Lake” is a unique, entrancing release that supplies the closest aural equivalent to waldeinsamkeit since Pantha Du Prince’s “Black Noise”, my top-ranking album of 2010.

2. Shed – The Killer (50 WEAPONS)

“I hate guitar music…because guitars have been out there for hundreds of years now, and I think it’s enough.” Shed (Rene Pawlowitz) the stern-faced German doesn’t care for much, at least that is what his interviews in English depict and with “The Killer”, the producer delivers the tracks on his third album in true German attitude: to the point, straightforward and no bullshit. “The Killer” doesn’t introduce listeners to anything new but by his own admission he doesn’t aim to. For him the best techno was released in the ‘90s and he finds the genre as it is currently, boring. Pawlowitz testifies, “I guess by about 1995 techno stopped being new or innovative and since then it has stayed the same. That’s why I like the past so much, nowadays there is no big change in techno.” What “The Killer” does do is stand as the most visceral and powerful techno album of 2012. Pawlowitz brilliantly drags tracks away from being simple genre exercises by burying nuances and his enigmatic personality among the flashes of brutal intensity. The insistent breakbeats and searing, sinister synths that make up the sadistic throbbing of ‘I Come By Night’ would become tiresome in another producer’s hands but Shed’s nuances are there in the background with the addition of delicately fluttering synths that weave through the track. Making “The Killer” all the more interesting are the feverishly repetitious melodies that flourish underneath the deep, pounding drums, crackles and ambient noise. They are omnipresent yet only really reveal themselves after several listens. Again Shed has pulled the magician’s trick of hiding them in plain sight. Dreamy melodies float through ‘Silent Witness’, Pawlowitz upturns typical techno arrangement by forcing the drums to follow the lead of the billowing melodies on ‘You Got The Look’ and rapturous techno beats are suspended by melodious atmospheric synths on the floating ‘Phototype’. “The Killer” and its producer are refreshing in their directness and techno purity and it is Shed’s individual blend of brutality and subtlety that makes “The Killer” one of the best albums of 2012.

3. John Tejada – The Predicting Machine (Kompakt)

The Austria born, L.A. based producer runs wild, excitedly and purposefully pulling sounds from an assorted catalogue of eras and styles for ‘The Predicting Machine” as it cycles through ten tracks that fluently weave lean electronics and pounding, yet sparse, beats with Tejada’s famously emotionally resonant melodies. It covers a lot of ground yet perfectly summarises his deeply focused approach to production and when it comes to effortlessly and beautifully conveying emotion in music no one gets close to John Tejada’s finely tuned melodies or his instinctive musicality. “The Predicting Machine” moves with pace through sculpted bleeping hooks and thick ambient fogs that rise from aquatic grooves, a Kompakt schaffel-inspired rhythm makes several appearances and the percolating tech house that made Tejada’s name features on the knowingly titled ‘A Familiar Mood’. A moment of magic occurs when the opening bars of the anthemic ‘The Function And The Form’ begin. Its fizzing melody and growling bassline lifts “The Predicting Machine” up a level and the incredibly rich modular synth textures and sparkling arpeggios surrounding it play out joyously. Throughout “The Predicting Machine” long gleaming melodies and spiralling arpeggios mingle with wet, elastic rhythms and effervescent clouds of synths. Every one of his tracks is an inviting and wondrous soundscape filled with luxurious and elegant detail; pure Tejada.

4. Sigha – Living With Ghosts (Hotflush)

After a bundle of 12”s for Scuba’s Hotflush label Berlin-based, UK-born DJ and producer Sigha (James Shaw) delivers his debut album “Living With Ghosts”. The album’s twelve perfectly balanced techno and ambient productions fuse his love of classic techno with the genre’s contemporary sound that is owned by Germany’s capital and over the course of “Living With Ghosts” Sigha shifts between brooding subterranean techno soundscapes and fluid emotive strokes. Album opener ‘Mirror’ slowly introduces the listener to the show with an unhurried sketch of quietly grinding austere noise until the second track ‘Ascension’ kicks in with a throbbing techno beat that almost suffocates its undulating synth. The addition of subtle changes to the rhythm and percussion in the final third takes the track close to breakbeat territory. For the last 30 seconds the drums suddenly drop out to a soft drone that acts as a palette cleanser; refreshing the listener for ‘Puritan’’s 6:40 minutes of a wonderfully unrelenting, thudding 4/4 groove and gossamer synths. A highlight is ‘Scene Couple’, its wet licks of acid rise and swells with force yet feel restrained and intricately textured; a track that will be killer on dancefloors for months to come. Sigha cleverly uses two tracks, ‘Suspension’ and ‘Delicate’, to allow the listener to come up for air, making it even more potent when they are thrown into the techno waves again. Their carefully weaved layers envelop in silky ambience; adding an extra stunning dimension to the release. Hypnotic beats punctuate an enthralling windswept soundscape in the nine minute ʻTranslateʼ. The elegant ‘Aokigahara’ rounds off the album in a ten minute beatless wall of foggy ambience that swathes and soothes the listener. Like “The Killer” by Shed, “Living With Ghosts” is a techno record that contains countless moments of experimentation, depth, subtlety and exhilaration across a format that can be the downfall for many producers who are used to delivering 12”s.“Living With Ghosts”, with its commitment to the motifs of UK and Berlin techno, is a skilfully paced, cohesive, complex and compelling album.

5. Marcel Dettmann – Range EP (Ostgut Ton)

As with last year’s “Translation” and the recent “Landscape” EPs Dettmann’s “Range” shows that though the scale of his material is narrow his resolute, glorious techno still contains many shades within their concrete canvas; 50 shades of grey so to speak. Swirling atmospherics introduce the EP’s title track as an unsettling drum pattern ploughs through sullen, foreboding terrain. The pulsing bass drum on ‘Iso’ only just holds the track together as a dense assortment of spiky and hissing sounds ring out and dissipate above cavernous and unsettling held chords. It feels like it’s on the brink of collapse and reaching out from the depths of this instability comes ‘Push’’s barely discernible pitched down voice intoning variations on the track’s title above a rhythmic dry-hump made up of deep bass thuds, whooshing hats and skittering percussion; a standout. Final track ‘Allies’, which was an important inclusion in Ben Klock’s recent, wonderful “Fabric 66”, is an excellent example of Dettmann’s skill. Essentially a single harmonically-rich chord repeats infinitely while razorblade hi-hats and jacking snares alter every single bar. As with most of his unforgiving slabs of techno, he builds and builds the pressure to almost uncomfortable levels without gifting the listener with any real sense of climax or release. “Range” will still be a favourite on dancefloors twelve months from now.

6. Orcas – Orcas (Morr Music)

Named after the mammal native to the Pacific Northwest where Rafael Anton Irisarri (The Sight Below) and Benoit Pioulard hail from, their collaboration as Orcas blends poignant, 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 cover of Broadcast’s ‘Until Then’, a poignant tribute to the untimely passing of singer Trish Keenan. Continuing the album’s use of piano, the track is built on a close-mic’d delicately played piano which frames Pioulard’s reflective vocals. 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 beautifully dignified album that summons a sense of space, understated progression and emotional depth.

7. Deepchord – Sommer (Soma)

Deepchord (Rod Modell) is an artist that continues to reinvent and diversify within the dub techno/ ambient techno genres. “Sommer” (summer in German) has lighter, more ethereal feel than Modell’s previous output but his characteristic manipulation of space and time remains. Effect-heavy textures, sliding and shifting rhythmic elements and intricate production details create a constantly evolving almost vaporous tapestry. Field recordings made on a beach close to Modell’s home generate a balmy atmosphere that breathes underneath the light-footed percussion and bass pulsing from the speakers. Like “Silent Harbour”, “Sommer” creates evocative sound passages. Beautiful, humid atmospheres are drawn in ‘Glow’, ‘Wind Farm’ and ‘Cruising Towards Dawn’, dark fluid journeys are traced with ‘Flow Induced Vibrations’ and ‘Gliding’. The listener travels towards the sunny getaway that ‘Amber’, ‘Benetau’ and ‘The Universe As A Hologram’ propose. The album is an amalgamation of deep, warm organic atmospherics and dance music creating a mood evoking the relaxed warm summer evenings the title alludes to.

8. Christian Löffler – A Forest (Ki)

The forests of Usedom, north Germany in which Christian Löffler lived during the making of the album are the backbone of “A Forest”. Over the twelve tracks that make up the album a rich yet spacious tapestry gradually unfurls as we see an entrancingly atmospheric representation of dense woodland. Warm, organic samples of wooden percussion are underpinned with fragile synth melodies; the chord progressions recall John Tejada’s melancholic, sunset-tinged tracks combined with Pantha du Prince’s percussive rhythms, dense textures and obsessive attention to detail. Although the 4/4 bass drum dominates rhythmically it remains unobtrusive, lying low in the mix beneath hypnotic, dreamlike moods. The three vocalists on “A Forest”, Gry, Mohna and Marcus Roloff, are a new dimension to Löffler’s productions and imbue the album with an even greater emotional resonance. On ‘Swift Code’ lyricist and poet Marcus Roloff’s German spoken word passages alternate between implicit and explicitly threatening verses, 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. “A Forest” is a standout in its wonderfully elegant and atmospheric beauty.

9. King Felix – SPRING EP (Liberation Technologies)

This “SPRING EP” by King Felix (Laurel Halo working under a name taken from a previous EP) carries on the thread of the “Hour Logic EP”, notably the accelerated beats and ecstatic cries of ‘Aquifer’. The first three tracks, ‘SPRING01’, ‘SPRING02’ and ‘SPRING03’, are reconfigurations of the same instrumentation and theme, one that heavily references early nineties Detroit techno, in particular Drexciya’s underwater world and the sheen of early Model 500. Their rhythms are restless and shuffle constantly. Halo races the drums forward then scales them back to allow piercing synths to sit atop. The vast organ samples that screech through the opening of ‘SPRING 01’ are anchored by a visceral beat and razor-sharp synth textures. Only on the dramatic ‘SPRING03’ does she let a percussion-filled, 4/4 techno beat dominate. The final track, ‘FREAK’, is a collage of drones. Its sagging bass line looms underneath a quivering synth pattern and Halo’s submerged voice which merges into stretched-out chords. “SPRING EP” is coloured by its immediacy, moments of frightening suspense and an almost aggressive purposefulness. Though the four tracks string together as a narrative arc each presents a different personality and it is Halo’s ability that imbues the collection with cohesion.

10. Claudio PRC – Inner State (Prologue)

The young Italian’s debut album 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.

Kirsty’s reviews

Disappointment of the month

Monoloc – Drift (CLR)

“Drift”’s arrangement recalls late ‘90s crossover dance/rock acts like The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy or Death In Vegas whose rock audience-friendly albums were divided into ‘we’re trying hard to be deep and meaningful’ tracks filled with soulful vocals or film dialogue, minor key mid-tempo ‘emotional’ pieces and tacky wave-your-hands-in-the-air bangers; all amounting to the aural equivalent of weak tea. Similarly “Drift” suffers from pathetic tameness too when it should be injecting listeners with Red Bull and vodka, the choice of drink for anyone who wants to dance for 60 hours while being pummelled by techno. Its alternation between minor and major keys, use of monotone vocals and pacing does nothing to shake off these unflattering comparisons and very little justifies “Drift”’s 52 minute length. Techno tracks like ‘Try’ and ‘About’ should thump and grind but the production on “Drift” has oddly sucked the air out; bass drums are squashed, synths sound meek and the compression has flattened all tone and colour. ‘It’s Mine’ featuring Daniel Wilde and the two other vocal tracks take their cue from “Violator” era Depeche Mode. It’s pretty convincing despite being flat and one-dimensional. Their classic singles, like ‘Personal Jesus’ or ‘Enjoy The Silence’, sit in a rock-pop-industrial techno triangle, which ‘It’s Mine’ tries to emulate but unlike ‘Personal Jesus’ it simply isn’t a good, catchy song that people will be able to sing 20 years from now. Elsewhere ‘Try’ screams of unadventurous filler for a DJ set and someone who uses gospel vocals in a dance track has to come up with a fresh take; ‘Pblc’ isn’t this song. Listeners who want exciting, vibrant techno ought to drop “Drift” and spin Shed’s “The Killer” or anything on the Prologue and Ostgut Ton labels.

Marcel Dettmann – Range (Ostgut Ton)

In this last year Marcel Dettmann has received criticism for a lack of musical range but the ‘Range’ EP shows that though the scale of his material is narrow his resolute, glorious techno still contains many shades within their concrete canvas; 50 shades of grey so to speak. Swirling atmospherics introduce the EP’s title track as an unsettling drum pattern ploughs through sullen, foreboding terrain. The pulsing bass drum on ‘Iso’ only just holds the track together as a dense assortment of spiky and hissing sounds ring out and dissipate above cavernous and unsettling held chords. It feels like it’s on the brink of collapse and reaching out from the depths of this instability comes ‘Push’’s barely discernible pitched down voice intoning variations on the track’s title above a rhythmic dry-hump made up of deep bass thuds, whooshing hats and skittering percussion; a standout. Final track ‘Allies’, which was an important inclusion in Ben Klock’s recent, wonderful “Fabric 66”, is an excellent example of Dettmann’s skill. Essentially a single harmonically-rich chord repeats infinitely while razorblade hi-hats and jacking snares alter every single bar. As with most of his unforgiving slabs of techno, he builds and builds the pressure to almost uncomfortable levels without gifting the listener with any real sense of climax or release. Like Dettmann’s previous EPs “Translation” and “Landscape”, “Range” will still be a favourite on dancefloors twelve months from now.

Release of the month

Sigha – Living With Ghosts (Hotflush)

After a bundle of 12”s for Scuba’s Hotflush label Berlin-based, UK-born DJ and producer Sigha (James Shaw) delivers his debut album “Living With Ghosts”. The album’s twelve perfectly balanced techno and ambient productions fuse his love of classic techno with the genre’s contemporary sound that is owned by Germany’s capital and over the course of “Living With Ghosts” Sigha shifts between brooding subterranean techno soundscapes and fluid emotive strokes. Album opener ‘Mirror’ slowly introduces the listener to the show with an unhurried sketch of quietly grinding austere noise until the second track ‘Ascension’ kicks in with a throbbing techno beat that almost suffocates its undulating synth. The addition of subtle changes to the rhythm and percussion in the final third takes the track close to breakbeat territory. For the last 30 seconds the drums suddenly drop out to a soft drone that acts as a palette cleanser; refreshing the listener for ‘Puritan’’s 6:40 minutes of a wonderfully unrelenting, thudding 4/4 groove and gossamer synths. A highlight is ‘Scene Couple’, its wet licks of acid rise and swells with force yet feel restrained and intricately textured; a track that will be killer on dancefloors for months to come. Sigha cleverly uses two tracks, ‘Suspension’ and ‘Delicate’, to allow the listener to come up for air, making it even more potent when they are thrown into the techno waves again. Their carefully weaved layers envelop in silky ambience; adding an extra stunning dimension to the release. Hypnotic beats punctuate an enthralling windswept soundscape in the nine minute ʻTranslateʼ. The elegant ‘Aokigahara’ rounds off  the album in a ten minute beatless wall of foggy ambience that swathes and soothes the listener. Like this summer’s “The Killer” by Shed, “Living With Ghosts” is a techno record that contains countless moments of experimentation, depth, subtlety and exhilaration across a format that can be the downfall for many producers who are used to delivering 12”s.“Living With Ghosts”, with its commitment to the motifs of UK and Berlin techno, is a skilfully paced, cohesive, complex and compelling album.

Liam’s reviews

Offshore – “Bakehaus” (Big Dada)

The debut mini album from Glaswegian beat maker Offshore starts as it means to go on with ‘Breeze’s ascending synth melody and twitching hi-hat pattern taking centre stage before the main beat drops it’s the simple musicality of this intro track that marks this release and Offshore himself out from the current electronic music crowd.  The trend continues with the surging synth bass of the house-like ‘Fraser’ though again there’s Offshore’s unique twist as he’s add his own synthetic guitar parts and plinking piano to stunning effect.  The next two tracks ‘Life’s Too’ and ‘Venom’ ratchet up the melodic elements and we hear for the first time the child-like playfulness that runs through Offshore’s music. Melody continues to dominate on the excellent ‘Downer’ with its Peter and the Wolf-like string melody and on ‘Black Bun’ with its pedal steel melody and suitable woody sounding beats. Melody isn’t the only thing that Offshore excels at as he keeps the listener on their toes with a selection of beats that runs from the classic (‘Back Wynd’s electro hip-hop beat) to modern dance beats (‘Venom’). On ‘Long Now’ and album closer ‘Downer 2’ Offshore shows his gentler side and adds yet more diversity to this impressive release. The future looks bright for Offshore who already looks like he could overtake his more famous contemporaries Rustie and Hudson Mohawke.

Container – “LP” (2) (Spectrum Spools)

Container’s second album is more a refinement of the sound of his first album than a greater department from his debut. Both albums overall sounds subscribed to the model of analogue driven noise-techno that Container was pioneering just a year ago. The difference between the materials on the two releases is subtle. While the new album isn’t a ferocious as his debut it shows that Container is far from a one trick pony with the broken and busted up breakbeat of ‘Paralyzed’ being one of the highlights of album. In fact, it’s only brilliant closer ‘Refract’ that sticks rigidly to the techno grid, the others allowed to be more rhythmical free. The creepy and twisted vocal samples that were used on the first album’s ‘Protrusion’ and ‘Rattler’ are a dominant and expertly utilised across the whole of “LP 2”. Though “LP 2” maybe slighter than its predecessor but from the opening bippty-boppity drums of ‘Dripping’ via Acid arpeggio and four to the floor bass drum of ‘Perforate’ right through to the blur of electronic drums and descending synth effects of ‘Refract’  it has enough noisy energy to satisfy fans of both noise music and techno.

Zombie Zombie – “Rituels D’Un Nouveau Monde” (Versatile)

“Rituels D’Un Nouveau Monde” is the second full length album by French electro duo Zombie Zombie, the album sees the duo consolidating and refining the sound established on their debut album “Land of Renegades” (2009) and their mini album of John Carpenter reinterpretations “Zombie Zombie plays…” (2010). The album is bookended by the cinematic electro of ‘The Wisdom Of Stones (Do You Believe In..?)’ and ‘Black Paradise’ which offset clanky electronic drums with acoustic drums and percussion and atmospherics and synth sounds that could only be influenced by the aforementioned Carpenter. ‘Illuminations’ takes on a four to the floor rhythm though this is still offset by percussion and synthesizers that could be included on a classic film score. ‘Rocket #9’ continues to ups the dancefloor ante going up out with catchy vocal refrain and acid inspired synth lines before a saxophone takes the track to its delirious climax. ‘Watch The World From A Plane’ begins with a lone synth melody growing in complexity until it reaches analogue synth nirvana part way through and stays there until its conclusion. “Rituels D’Un Nouveau Monde” demonstrates that Zombie Zombie continue to develop with each new release refining and improving their potent formula and even throwing in the odd surprise e.g. the saxophone on ‘Illuminations’ and ‘ Rocket #9’. All lovers of electro and synth based soundtrack music should definitely check this out.

Nils Frahm – “Screws” (Erased Tapes)

On his new album “Screws” Nils Frahm has turned an accident that resulted in a damaged thumb for the experimental pianist into a triumph. He ended up with four screws inside his thumb and dealt with it the only way he knew how to, by playing his piano. The result is nine intimate piano pieces, so intimate in fact that you can hear Frahms shifting position on his stool and the bits of metal that rattle around in his prepared piano. It’s as if you’re in the room with him while he plays these minimal and yet emotional varied pieces. The album opens with ‘You’ which manages to somehow to sound both bright and poignant at the same time, like the sound of cautious optimism. ‘Do’ changes things up with a sparser arrangement and more bass notes before ‘Re’ turns things on their head with its lilting melody floats through the air as if barely touched by human hands and recalls Tchaikovsky. ‘Mi’ is a harder and dissonant piece that features long overtones and mismatched notes. ‘Fa’ is sad and pensive, while ‘Sol’ takes things a step further feeling both dark and desolate. The lightness returns with ‘La’ which gentle bass undertow gives the track gravity and purpose at the same time. ‘Si’ contrasts heavy chords with a light and air melody complimented by a stately feel. Finally the albums concludes with ‘Me’ with its steady stream of notes regular interrupted by extended pauses, the silence is almost deafening even in these minimalist music surroundings. With “Screws” Frahms adds another stunning album to an already impressive and expressive back catalogue. For emotive music of the highest order look no further.

Holly Herndon – “Movement” (RVNG INTL)

“Movement” is the excellent debut album from Holly Herndon an artist whose been compared to Laurel Halo. While there are similarities between the two (they both produce experimental and techno music based around heavily processed vocals) Herndon is no copyist as this album proves. While Halo usually coats her vocals in luxurious reverb and reaches for a warm sound, Herndon prefers to create mostly abstract layers of vocals. Abstract to the point where it’s hard to tell what’s Herndon’s vocal and what’s a synth sound, Herndon also focus on harder and colder more digitalized sounds. Opener ‘Terminal’ is a case in point it’s hissing and snorting slivers of sound send a shiver down the spine while as drawing the listener in. With ‘Fade’ the album switches into its twitchy techno mode, its unpredictable drum machine pattern, slippery synth bass and warped arpeggio help it stand out from the crowd. ‘Breathe’ returns us to the experimental sound of ‘Terminal’ centring on Herndon’s nervous inhaling and exhaling, shaky effects and an occasional synth chord, it’s highly effective and “exquisitely horrifying”. ‘Movement’ is another twitchy techno number with reverse vocals and a shifting rhythm pattern that’s simultaneously exciting and disorienting for the listener. The album’s sparse finale ‘Dilato’ uses a slow synth pad (or is it heavily processed vocals) and Herndon’s lead vocal to create an effect that recalls a Muslim prayer, though there’s a subtle digital feel to the track.

Hello Skinny – “Hello Skinny” (Slowfoot)

The eponymous debut album from Hello Skinny aka Tom Skinner is one of this year best debut albums and effortlessly blends genres and acoustic and electronic sounds. The album explores a very modern form of psychedelic music folding into its mix dub bass and FX, jazz saxophone, clarinet and drums, splash of colourful synth and electronic beats that owe a debt to both hip-hop and the more organic end of electronica. This blend is presented from the off with opener ‘Aquarius’ which is based around an electronic rhythm track, bubbling synth bass and a sonar synth effects before later in the track there joined by acoustic jazz drums and dub delay. The title track takes things down a notch with a downtempo feel complimented by a submerged dub bass and a clarinet melody that recalls Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and in the second half of the track there’s a great twisted saxophone solo the first of a few spread across the album. The album continues in a similar vein throughout switching between more upbeat material similar to ‘Aquarius’ and more downtempo and reflective tracks similar to the title track. ‘Me and My Lady’ is the one exception to this rule playing out like a classic cowboy film theme or a dub version of one of Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Upsetter’s cowboy themed reggae tracks. “Hello Skinny” is an understated but engaging and enthralling listen, can’t wait to hear what Skinner comes up with next.

Peaking Lights – “Lucifer In Dub” (Weird World)

“Lucifer In Dub” does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s a dub album of Peaking Lights “Lucifer” album which has been a Sonic Fiction favourite this year. “Lucifer In Dub” acts very much as a flip side to “Lucifer” whereas the parent album reduced the amount of dub effects to a zero and pushed the dub bass lines right back in the mix, this album pushes all that to the fore and adds a healthy amount of dirt to the previous clean pop production. The album opens with ‘Cosmick Dub’ which revolves around a rolling bass guitar riff, heavy electronic drums and organ covered in lashings of dub delay. Then there’s the tropical sounding melody of the delightful ‘My Heart Dubs 4 U’ and album highlight ‘Beautiful Dub’ where a guitar riff, organ chords and female vocals float high above tough dub bass and electronic drums to stunning effect. The band changes tack on ‘Live Dub’ with its pounding synth bass line, swan diving guitar that sounds like a police car siren and double time beats. The use of double time beats is repeated on closer ‘Midnight Dub’ and I’m not totally convinced it, though it does show a potential new direction which Peaking Lights can experiment with and refine. Overall, “Lucifer In Dub” is a superb addition to the Peaking Lights back catalogue and in time could prove to be their best album yet.

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).

Top Release of the Month

Raime – “Quarter Turns on the Living Line” (Blackest Ever Black)

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On their debut album “Quarter Turns on the Living Line” Raime have thrown down the gauntlet to all artists currently working on electronic and experimental music, “up your game before it’s too late.” Though it wasn’t the duo’s intention the album sounds like the soundtrack to an unreleased film, subtly referencing John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” score or repositioning Ennio Morricone’s work to an industrial post-apocalyptic world. The duo expand on the critically acclaimed 12”s by adding emotional depth and a more organic sound via the use of field recordings, foley samples and acoustic instrumentation such as guitar, violins and cellos. Whereas the 12”s focused strongly on the duo’s jungle and industrial influences they broaden their range here to include post-rock, the doom metal of Sunn O))) and Earth and of course those previously mentioned soundtracks. The duo also manage to maintain a balance between the dark, heavy sounds and lighter, brighter sounds; another progression from the earlier 12”s. Raime have produced one of the debut albums of year, one that leaves many more established acts in the shade. Long may these soundscapes shapers continue to reign supreme.

Kirsty’s Reviews

Disappointment of the month

Michael Mayer – “Mantasy” (Kompakt)

Michael Mayer’s “Mantasy” opens with ‘Sully’ a panoramic, ambient track whose romantic feel utilises chimes, circling textures and floating strings. However this is a lone standout in an otherwise disappointing album. The central tracks ‘Baumhaus’, ‘Rudi Was A Punk’ and ‘Voigt Kampff Test’ pass by without providing interest for a listener and are utterly forgettable. ‘Baumhaus’ is an irritating mix of Disney birdsong, harps and woodwind that sounds like an inadvertent parody of the soundtrack music Mayer was inspired by. The title tracks fair’s no better, its Italo disco rhythm, spiky bass line and simplistic, cloying synth melody is again annoying in its unadventurous and overly repetitive nature. The track is close to insulting by its inclusion on a commercial album. Other tracks are not worth commenting on such is their deficiency in imagination, charm, emotion or energy. “Mantasy” is so indistinct and beige that after ten tracks this listener has being bled dry trying to like it or find something complimentary to say.

Dino Sabatini – “Shaman’s Path” (Prologue)

Dino Sabatini’s album “Shaman’s Path” is a ten track expedition through his ‘personal interpretation of the sounds of Africa’. Consisting of entrancing drum patterns and slow-moving hypnotic textures that are firmly rooted in the basis of deep, atmospheric techno “Shaman’s Path” isn’t a club-orientated album. Throughout the release, Sabatini deploys an atavistic and at times sensual mood.  Drum smacks sound like skin being slapped and entrancing melodies unfold on rolling bass lines. Propulsive, dubby loops and mysterious atmospheres combine with rough textures, thickly layered wooden percussion and syncopated bass drums. The sinister album opener ‘Soul Capture’ sounds like a subterranean cave exploration, the primal cries on the minimal ‘Ritual’ create an unsettling, claustrophobic feeling while the droning, reverberating techno of ‘Parallel Perception’ and ‘Totem’ recall Scuba’s work. The heavy processing of metallic scrapes and rattling beats in ‘White Witch’ are underpinned by creative use of African percussion that stretches far beyond simply throwing Djembe samples over a house loop. While “Shaman’s Path” is presented as Sabatini’s version of the continent’s sounds do not think of it as a safari or a flight over the Sahara. Sabatini takes us into an Africa at nightfall, an environment that is dense and almost suffocating with humidity. The album’s beautifully sequenced tracks possess a thoughtful, experimental character and the album’s focused style creates a cohesiveness collection and a seriousness that makes each track, each detail feel more profound. Little changes in the album’s fixed narrative with hypnotic atmospheres only counteracted by Sabatini’s extraordinary sound design. It is an album listeners have to concentrate on and allow it to envelope the room but if you follow the “Shaman’s Path” it will go the distance.

Release of the Month

Norman Nodge – Berghain 06 (Ostgut Ton)

Perhaps the most reserved member of the Ostgut Ton/Berghain unit is Norman Nodge, who considers himself a family man foremost, a lawyer second and DJ last. Since 2005 Norman has played the Berghain floor monthly and has several releases on fellow Berghain DJ Marcel Dettmann’s MDR label and on Ostgut Ton. Nodge’s style often combines classic Detroit and UK techno with Chicago house and touches of avant-garde or ambient sounds, which infuse his mixes with cleverly contrasting softer and harder shades. It’s not surprising that “Berghain 06”, which was recorded live in the eponymous building, is constructed on these many elements. The renowned Jeff Mills’ ‘Keeping Of The Kept’ sits alongside the work of younger producers like Patrick Gräser (Answer Code Request) and the secretive Birds Two Cage. Gräser’s ‘From Foreign Territories’ is one of three exclusive unreleased tracks on this mix; the others coming courtesy of the aforementioned Birds Two Cage and Mark Broom. Nodge stretches the typically cold concrete and sandpaper textures of the Berghain sound to include lighter tracks in the form of Architectural’s ‘Looking Ahead’ and a warm Mokira remix by the always popular Redshape. With arguably the most varied track listing for a Berghain mix yet, Nodge is convincing in his courage to try new combinations. The listener is taken from the mellow beginnings of ‘Gase’ by Birds Two Cage whose warm ambient washes are followed by a percussive battering from Oni Ayhun. “Berghain 06” then kicks into gear with Patrick Gräser’s ‘From Foreign Territories’. Its relentless, determined beats and see-sawing beeps crank up the pressure until it reaches a peak time explosion with Hauntologists, Staffan Linzatti and the Jeff Mills track weaving into the mix. Next are the dark but jacking beats of Silent Servant’s scratchy ‘Untitled A1’ and a Planetary Assault Systems remix for The Nighttripper. Architectural’s ‘Looking Ahead’ moves the mix into a rich, darkly atmospheric direction; perfect for Norman Nodge’s DJ style. Mark Broom’s exclusive track ‘Vault 5’ is a techno workout to push heart rates up. ‘New York Minds’ by Tim Taylor & DJ Slip lightens the mood with a touch of rap vocals underneath a pulsing electro beat. Nodge continues to move into a playfully hypnotic territory. A squelchy El Gato #9 track picks up the pace while a flying Radioactive Man cut reconnects the listener with the blissful start of “Berghain 06”.  The final track, Legowelt’s incredible remix of “Rainy Day Juno Jam” by Xosar gives the mix that little bit of something extra and beautiful to close the chapter.

Liam’s Reviews

Disappointment of the Month

Sinkane – “Mars” (DFA)

The debut album by Sinkane kicks off with the delicious wah-wah funky guitar, shuffling hi-hats, walking bass line and high and air vocals of ‘Runnin’ a superb pop nugget to open “Mars” with. The quality stays high for ‘Jeeper Creeper’ with its Afrobeat guitar melody, subtle hand percussion, and bass guitar which underpin psychedelic synths and guitar chords that echo out with long delays creating a hypnotic effect. However, Sinkane takes his first misstep on ‘Lady C’mon’ with heavy use of Vocoder spoiling the lush backing track. ‘Makin’ Time’ is worse with Vocoder and cheesy lead guitar and saxophone, spoiling a well put together lush back tracking. Things pick up again with the funky African tinged guitar of ‘Warm Spell’ and jungle atmospheres and great horns of ‘Love Sick’. Things go awry again on the title track which can only be described as a jazz nightmare. The album finishes with its longest and most meditative track ‘Caprundi’. Though there are some tracks on “Mars” such as ‘Runnin’ a majority of the album feels like a disappointment, however it will be interesting to see Sinkane develop in the future.

Peter Broderick – “These Walls of Mine” (Erased Tapes)

The latest album from Peter Broderick is his most ambitious yet and it doesn’t fail to impress. Broderick augments his usual instrumentation of piano, violin, guitar, bass and drums with full utilisation of studio technology, especially with relation to his vocals. This playful experimentation is what makes Broderick stand out instead of sounding like yet another singer-songwriter and he never sacrifices a good tune for the sake of this experimenting. The album opens with ‘Inside Out There’s distant delayed vocal and guitar loop before Broderick’s lead vocals and harmonies enter. He adds violins and melting synth riff around 2 minutes in to enrich the track. The single ‘I’ve Tried’ use all of the tools in Broderick’s box expertly employing echoing drums, subtle bass guitar, reverberate vocals, a synth pad and in the latter half of the track his trademark violin. Next up is the minimal ‘Proposed Solution to the Mystery of Soul’ which simple features Broderick singing over his own humming, occasional percussion and watery sounds, it’s an uncomplicated but brilliantly effective track. Things step up a notch on ‘When I Blank I Blank’ with its deep funk bass and rhythm guitar and hip-hop beat, a new style for Broderick that he tackles with aplomb. On the next on two tracks Broderick gets creative the first ‘These Walls of Mine I’ is a spoken word track, ‘These Wall of Mine II’ adds busy piano, violin and hip-hop with Broderick reciting the same lyrics again, a nice trick that works a treat. The next track ‘I Do This’ uses the two vocal techniques speaking over the verses section and singing the chorus’. Overall “These Walls of Mine” is Broderick most ambitious album yet and it may prove to be his best yet with some time to fully process its complex and diverse songs. For it recalls Jamie Lidell’s “Compass” (2010) an album full of similarly complex and diverse yet accessible songs that experimented within the constraints of popular music. If you’re already a fan of Broderick’s work you’ll find plenty to satisfy you here, if you’re not it then try “www.itstartshear.com” from earlier this year, which combines Broderick’s trademark sound with the beginnings of ideas that are expand upon on this release.

Black Moth Super Rainbow – “Cobra Juicy” (Rad Cult)

“Cobra Juicy” is Black Moth Super Rainbow’s (BMSR) fifth studio album and their first to be self released. Initially much of the album sounds like the band’s previous material, but repeat plays reveals the subtle differences. In fact, the opener and single ‘Windshield Smasher’ opens with a glam rock beat a first for the band before corroded guitar stabs, then vocodered reverb heavy lead vocals and light synth arpeggio kick off the song proper. ‘Like A Sundae’ recalls the band’s poppier moments with its summery vibes. The dirty guitar stabs return for ‘Hairspray Heart’ accompanied by the band’s trademark Vocoder and head nodding hip-hop beats. ‘Psychic Love Damage’ and ‘We Burn’ introduce country guitar to the band’s sound blending it with down beat drums, analogue synth and light use of Vocoder. ‘Gangs in the Garden’ improves on the BMSR template with funky synth bass, ghostly melodies and a head nodding hip-hop beat. ‘The Healing Power of Nothing’ and ‘Dreamsicle Bomb’ create a more minimal and echo variation on BMSR template before ‘I Think I’m Evil’ returns the band to distorted lo-fi hip-hop territory. The albums close out with the ghostly synth and soar away chorus of ‘Blurring My Day’ (surly a future single) and the Flaming Lips inspired sweeping synthetic pop of ‘Spraypaint’. All-in-all BMSR have delivered another great album full of surreal, horror influenced lo-fi pop.

The Herbaliser – “There Were Seven” (Department H)

The Herbaliser return with their first album in four years and the band are back on form after the solid but unspectacular “Same As It Never Was” (2008). On that album it seemed as if the band was trying to evolve their sound into a more commercial soul inspired direction. However, now they return to their classic cinematic funk and hip-hop sound while also finding ways of moving it forward. As early as the opening track ‘Return of the Seven’ fuzz guitar is the first new element to introduce itself, the band then sprinkle this sound liberal across the albums remaining tracks. Next up is ‘The Lost Boy’ a down tempo smoky jazz number that reminds me of ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ the title track of band’s brilliant 2002 album. ‘Welcome to Extravagence’ shows the band’s next evolution with its lush, ripping distorted guitar swoops, heavy beats, dub delay and siren. It’s the first time the band have attempted a dub track and it’s 100% successful even adding the band’s signature cinematic sounds and modern production. ‘Mother Dove’ picks up where ‘Welcome to Extravagence’ finishes take with it the lush, ripping distorted guitar swoops and slowly adding in a string section its quickly followed beat box beats and a strong lead violin line. Later in the track twanging guitars, another layer of drums and combative synth bass up the tension. The final twist comes when the track breaks down to acidic synth, piano, drums and vocal sample before a theremin melody and the guitars return leading the string lead outro. Next up is ‘Zero Hill’ the first of three upbeat hip-hop tracks featuring Canadian rap duo Twin Peaks. Next up is ‘Take ‘Em On’ a classic piece of Herbaliser chase music with flighty flute and honky and skronking brass taking the lead. There are a few more tracks in the classic Herbaliser style – the emotive synths, deep space bass and cutting scratches of ‘Setting Up’, ‘What You Asked For’s cinematic stylings and ‘Move As One’ with its desolate guitar chords, wobbling organ, pumping bass, break bat and French melody, all recall vintage Herbaliser moments. There’s one final evolutionary move by the band and it’s the duo of horror film referencing tracks ‘March of the Dead Things’ and ‘Deep in the Woods’. Overall “There Were Seven” is a stunning addition to the Herbaliser’s back catalogue, the band show they both move forward and deliver tracks in their classic style maintaining a balance that keeps everyone happy.

Ekoplekz – “Intrusive Incidentalz Vol.2” (Punch Drunk)

“Intrusive Incidentalz Vol.2” picks where last year’s “Vol.1” had left with much experimental and delay drenched analogue synth textures bouncing around your stereo. However, there are subtle changes in the sound employed on that previous edition. In fact, subtle is the key word here with Ekoplekz using subtler sounds and a lot less of his trademark scathing synth sounds than usual. He allows the tracks to breath, there are more spaces between the delay and a return to the melodies that were much more prominent on his first album “Memowreckz”. ‘Trubshaw Test’ with its ascending synth melody underpinned by a descending bass line and ‘Effluvia’ with its bell like melody, hissy shifting synth sounds and sparse dub effects are both great examples of this more melodic approach. On both ‘Ultra Warble’ and ‘‘Abyss Ababa’ Ekoplekz threatens to add a four to the floor rhythm that both tracks are calling out for but at the last moment he just lets the momentum peter out, which is disappointing as the build up feels great but the pay off never comes. In a less competitive month “Intrusive Instrumentals Vol.2” would have been a Release of the Month, but instead this album has to settle for a well deserved joint third with Daphni.

Daphni – “Jiaolong” (Jiaolong)

“Jiaolong” is the debut album from Caribou aka Dan Snaith side project Daphni and is firmly ensconced on the dance floor. However, this isn’t a generic house record attempted by someone trying their luck at the genre. For start with the last Caribou album “Swim” Snaith attempted to make “liquid dance music” and for the most part succeed too. Plus, in a recent interview with FACT magazine revealed that he’d been clubbing and enjoying dance music since his teenage years back in Toronto. One of the tracks on the album ‘Ahora’ every sounds like something from “Swim” remixed by a DJ. The rest of the album separates itself from Caribou releases with a strong Afrobeat influence that’s applied directly on ‘Ne Noya’ and implied throughout the album, the album has a lighter and bouncier sound than Caribou has and feels supple and fluid throughout with bags of energy and grooves aplenty. Analogue synths and drum machines dominated every track and are expertly employed, giving every track a warm and dynamic feel. Highlights from the album include ‘Yes, I Know’ with its pumping house beat, driving, resonant acid synth bass, soulful vocal sample and up tempo horns, ‘Ne Noya (Daphni Mix)’ with its live drums and Afrobeat vibes, ‘Ye Ye’s buzzing synth bass, rattling hi-hats, bell-like melody and unpredictable and the irresistibly funky groove of ‘Springs’, though the remaining tracks are very good and will no doubt grow on listeners over time. “Jiaolong” is one of Snaith’s finest albums to date in a serious impressive back catalogue and gives strong competition to Blondes and Matthew Dear for the top dance music album of 2012.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!” (Constellation)

Before I begin this review properly I should say that though I’ve admired Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s music since I first heard of them back in 1998, I’ve only heard a few of their songs and therefore can’t compare this album to their back catalogue.

The first album in ten years by Godspeed You! Black Emperor opens with the epic “Mladic” a 20 minute track that achieves more in its first half than most band’s achieve over a whole career. Its begins with feedback and a slowly looping spoken word sample then a guitar melody enters quickly followed by a violin and thumming bass, the song steadily gains in intensity the violin playing long held notes that simmer at the top of the mix, soon joined by out of tune and off beat guitar notes that act as a counterpart. Around 3 minutes 30 seconds in an acoustic guitar emerges providing a solid rhythm for the track. Again the track builds in intensity, with electric guitar ratcheting things up another notch. The drums finally kick in at 7 minutes and 30 seconds an almost Arabic guitar riff leading the way. This riff becomes gothic and sparser around 12 minutes in with the drums pounding and clattering away in the background. There’s a apocalyptic feeling break down at 13 minutes, before a drone begins at 16 mins with violins spiralling and guitar see-sawing above it. The track finally ends with harmonised guitar feedback and random clomping percussion. Second track ‘Their Helicopters Sing’ is a multi layered six and a half minute drone track utilises hissing noise, deep bass, agitated violin, wet guitar harmonics and what sounds like bag pipes to create a constantly shifting soundscape. ‘We Drifted Like Worried Fire’ is another 20 minute epic which starts with ghostly violin drone and melody before a third dreamy violin part takes the track to another level before giving way to a melodic guitar line and simple bass part. A minute later the drums come in bringing with them a sparse vibraphone melody, slow shifting noise guitar and finally a long arching violin melody. These ascend and build tension until a brief break down at eight and a half minutes. The second half of the song begins with a shift from intense guitar to the return of the violin this time back by orchestral sounding drums and percussion, at fourteen minutes this changes to a marching beat with cello and violin dominating distant shards of discordant guitar. Then at fifteen minutes the song suddenly backs free with guitar and violin leading a surge that continues (apart from a brief breakdown) to the songs climax five minutes later. The final track ‘Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable’ begins with long ascending drone that is slowly added to by what could a processed guitar or synth, this then gives way to crusty guitar chords and feedback that grow to a immense peak through the middle section of the song. A slow analogue synth drone takes the album to its conclusion. While I can’t compare this album to Godspeed’s earlier work I feel it’s safe to say they haven’t lost anything in the last decade and this album would stand next their first three. It’s a shame more band’s aren’t as ambitious and breath taking as Godspeed.

Top Release of the Month

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

The much anticipated new album by Flying Lotus 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.

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