Tag Archive: Skudge


Some releases we missed in July

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

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

Perc – “A New Brutality” (Perc Trax)

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

Toby Dreher – “Freiluft” (Rotary Cocktail)

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

PLVS VLTRA – “Pantheon” (Spectrum Spools)

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

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

The Alchemist – “Russian Roulette” (Decon)

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

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

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

Aesop Rock – “Skelethon” (Rhymesayers)

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

Laetita Sadier – “Silencio” (Drag City)

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

Beak> – “>>” (Invada)

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

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

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

Top Release of the Month

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

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

“I don’t like things that are too obvious…If you, as a listener, are always putting something in a certain cupboard, I’ve never liked that. If you say, this is jazz, this is pop, this is…experimental techno and all these kinds of things, I don’t like that. I want to make it that somebody can create his own language… That’s what I tried to do. I’ve always tried to do new tracks, sounds that you don’t know, that you can’t define.” Moritz von Oswald, The Wire, July 2009.

Berlin-based producers Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald established Basic Channel in 1993. Building on the techno dialogue between Detroit and Berlin in the early nineties and the duo developed a slender but adored catalogue of stripped, ultra-minimal releases that compacted together techno, dub and ambient. Besides Basic Channel, the pair also operated under the ambient-leaning label Chain Reaction and other numerous projects: Cyrus, Phylyps, Quadrant, Maurizio and Rhythm And Sound.

This month’s Classics Critiqued covers “BCD”, a collection of their seminal 12” vinyl records. I have picked “BCD” because, as well as been a personal favourite, its tracks have been incredibly influential on this current generation of techno DJs and producers and without Basic Channel’s existence the genre’s landscape would be very different yet they and their releases are seldom covered in mainstream music press.

Germany’s techno scene was conceived while the country began to redefine itself in 1990.  With Detroit techno serving as their main influence and Berlin as the natural capital, Germany’s youth built their first dance music scene. The no-man’s land that sandwiched the Wall still remained after its collapse, leaving many buildings uninhabited during the year-long reunification process; as such the unclaimed and derelict spaces served many with the opportunity for club locations. Dimitri Hegemann and his Interfisch label peers found a series of underground rooms in the redundant Wertheim Kaufhaus (once Europe’s largest department store), on the Potsdamer Platz artery. The group took on their newly discovered space and named it Tresor (vault or safe in German). Hegemann recalls in Dan Sicko’s expert book ‘Techno Rebels’: “We were the place where East and West kids came together, musically…” Tresor was vastly important in bringing together the once divided generation and became one of a number of clubs in Berlin that introduced thousands to techno and united people through it. Also at the heart of the capital’s techno scene is the Basic Channel-linked record shop and distributor Hard Wax. Co-owned by Ernestus, Hard Wax had and still retains a high regard for Detroit techno and its principles and was central to the explosion of the genre in Berlin.

Rather than being culturally significant in the way that Tresor was, for example, Basic Channel’s value is in their influence on techno’s sound, aesthetics and preference for anonymity; that “let the music do the talking” mantra. As with Drexciya and Detroit’s Underground Resistance, Basic Channel infused techno with the mythology that would become as fundamental to the genre as its steady bass drum. Rarely permitting press coverage and by choosing a purely functional and unyielding name, Moritz von Oswald and Mark Ernestus divorced themselves from the outside world with a self-contained production and distribution house that included their studio, label, Dubplates & Mastering facility and Ernestus’ Hard Wax. As with some techno artists, Basic Channel can be an alienating experience for those uninitiated in the genre and near impossible for a casual listener to penetrate; record sleeves contained little information but for a Berlin fax number and a sticker instructing “buy vinyl”. The cryptically named tracks, murky and populated by machines churning and throbbing, have little humanness or apparent emotional content.

Throughout the first half of the nineties, Basic Channel were one of Europe’s first techno innovators. Ernestus and von Oswald defined dance minimalism early on, both through a love of repetition as a form of change and a desire to let the music speak for itself. The tracks, released on their eponymous label, were termed ‘dub-techno’, owing to the subtraction of all but the genre’s most essential ingredients, which were then reconstructed to merge Jamaican dub, 4/4 bass drum pulses and dissonant synthesisers swallowed by rippling delays and reverb. They restrained techno’s energy to untethered pulses and glancing synths that churn and wash below a surface of fog and crackle; ‘murky’ is a signature adjective. As respected electronic music journalist Philip Sherburne wrote, the pair were making “music of horizontal energies, sinking in and spreading out.”

Their pioneering catalogue has informed the work of Monolake (Robert Henke is an alumnus of Dubplates & Mastering), Drexciya, (another duo who until recently have been unfairly ignored by music press) Hard Wax and D&M associate Pole and Plastikman, who, alongside Basic Channel, form an important family from which minimal techno was born. Later Vladislav Delay, Thomas Brinkmann, Beat Pharmacy, Echospace and DeepChord incorporated the moist grooves of their music into different templates. Their aesthetics can be traced in labels such as Ostgut, Delsin, Stroboscopic Artefacts, CRS Recordings and Perc Trax, while contemporary DJs and producers Marcel Dettmann, Ben Klock, Voices From The Lake, Skudge, Morphosis, and the mammoth Berlin techno club Berghain are closely related to this renaissance in the duo’s catalogue.

Basic Channel have become a synonym for vaporous dub-techno and their legacy is such that they are consistently referenced in press releases and artist descriptions within electronic music magazines yet journalists rarely explore their career or catalogue. A search through the archives of FACT, xlr8r, Resident Advisor, Pitchfork and The Wire will reveal hundreds of references to Basic Channel though disappointingly only a couple of articles written about them. Ernestus and von Oswald built a body of work that needs to be investigated. They were instrumental in the creation of a new culture in techno and theirs is a 20 year heritage whose influence can be heard in hundreds of artists. They are widely acknowledged to have perfected the dub-techno sound and without them techno would be a markedly different genre.

Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald have grown into the genre’s figureheads and “BCD” is an essential synopsis of one of the most important names in all of techno. As von Oswald stated in his interview for The Wire, “It’s not about status, It’s not about legacy; it’s about listening.”

Vier

Spotify playlist:

Various Artists – BCD

or if you don’t have Spotify listen to three minute previews at Hard Wax’s website.

1. The Field – Looping State Of Mind (Kompakt)

Topping this year’s chart is The Field’s “Looping State Of Mind”. The album, Axel Willner’s third, was the most, exciting, accomplished and wonderful releases of this year. Techno in its simplest form is music that can built using just a few loops and The Field expands on this method effectively; multiplying shimmering loops of vocals, synths and drums into one luscious, infinite circular track. Neatly building on the landscapes of his previous releases (“From Here We Go Sublime”, a collection of icy yet deeply affecting techno tracks, and “Yesterday and Today”, which covers a warmer krautrock-indebted area) to merge the best of both into a beautiful seven track blend of electronic music with warm synth arpeggios, droning, pulsing pads and that  Kompakt schaffel. The eponymous loops feel like they could last forever; building and dropping. Here’s to The Field’s next release.

2. Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise (Circus Company)

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

3. Morphosis – What Have We Learned (Morphine/Delsin)

Composed entirely with analogue equipment and recorded live over just three days, Morphosis’ first full-length is a collection of the gritty, percussive clatter that is a hallmark of dirty Berlin techno and haunting Arabic/Middle Eastern melodies (Morphosis is Lebanese), made all the more compelling as you can hear him hesitate and pull in and out of time while playing synthesisers on the live takes. Built on round bass drums, moody wanderings and foggy static with assertive grooves and synths that engulf the listener, “What Have We Learned” is the pure techno release of 2011.

4. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact (4AD)

Building from the suggestions of bright pop on a track such as ‘House Jam’ from their previous album ‘Saint Dymphna’, Gang Gang Dance have condensed their eclecticism and strengthened the melodies to create a highly impressive and ambitious record in the form of ‘Eye Contact’. Singer Lizzie Bougatsos works her voice as instrument, weaving among the layers of polyrhythmic dance beats, electro-influenced synth riffs and glassy arpeggios. Key track ‘Mindkilla’ combines unhinged dance grooves with Bougatsos’ menacingly singing the American lullaby ‘Mockingbird’, which encapsulates Gang Gang Dance’s approach for ‘Eye Contact’: ecstatic and woozy with an undercurrent of threat.

5. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know (Virgin)

The voices in the songs of “A Creature I don’t Know” often recall the female characters in John Steinbeck’s novels; their turn-of-the-century environment has hardened them and made them sexually ruthless and capricious. The spirit of Cathy who rips like a tornado through ‘East Of Eden’ possesses ‘The Beast’ and ‘Salinas’, Steinbeck’s place of birth. Yet the songs feel divorced from any particular time or place and lacking in obvious signifiers because Marling does without 21st century details and focuses on the timeless themes of love and desire. Brawling with these primal urges while ignoring current musical trends is a brave artistic choice and her use of symbolic language without putting forth her own personality give the songs the air of Marling as a centuries-old, wandering watchful spirit who has seen and lived everything. Her strengths lie in her commanding performance and her pure voice which carries equal weight whether in the middle of ‘The Beast’’s churning instrument storm or accompanied by just a guitar or piano.

6. Wolfgang Voigt – Kafkatrax (Kompakt/Profan)

In typically eccentric fashion, Voigt has super-imposed his face on to the head of Austrio-Hungarian writer Franz Kafka for the artwork of Kafkatrax. The strange merge goes further with the music contained inside. Every sound except the bass drum is taken from German audiobooks of Kafka’s work, the samples of which Voigt has then sliced, layered and stretched to create several voices speaking in fragmented words and vowels. The abstract stratification of the samples re-produce the paranoia present in Kafka’s writing while Voigt’s experienced hand in intangible dance music knits the sounds into alien and unsettling yet groove-filled techno tracks. If techno is an endless, moving machine then it is albums such as this that keep it in motion.

7. Bjork – Biophilia (Nonesuch)

Autumn was dominated by the exciting news of Bjork’s return after a four-year break and reports that her new album “Biophilia’ would be accompanied by synaesthesia-inspired iPhone/iPad apps. Bjork’s seventh album wonderfully demonstrates her innate use of beautiful harmonies and melodies which shine over delicate, glassy timbres and malevolent basslines and breathless, digitalised rhythms. Her voice and words anchor emotions to the album’s scientific influence and the thread of innocence and wide-eyed fascination that runs through her celebration of the universe prevents any feeling of pretence or aridity. Even after four years away Bjork continues to electrify and surpass.

8. Skudge – “Phantom” (Skudge Records)

The Swedish duo’s debut sells itself on aerodynamic, stripped techno indebted to Robert Hood and Basic Channel’s dense dub techno grooves. Fractured bass lines are countered with dramatic synth stabs, snapping claps and the determined looping rhythms of ‘90s German techno. Standout track ‘Eleven’, which features a solitary, eerie hook over tough bass drums and a lone reverberating clap, is a lesson in contoured, skeletal composition. Geared primarily for the club, the productions are a balance of tension and release that jack and groove for several minutes. Skudge are a dance duo who people should have on their radar for 2012.

9. Gui Boratto – III (Kompakt)

“III”’s intention is built on slow grooves and dark, searing techno. Twin tracks ‘Geluchat’ and ‘Stems From Hell’ sound like Boratto deep in the bowels of Berghain. ‘III’ is hard and confrontational, abrasive and pummelling. Although it isn’t as captivating as his best album “Chromophobia”, “III” continues to display his skill as a producer: the bass drum pounds, bass lines growl and groove and grainy synths coil and graze. His use of peaks and drops are masterful; they tease and reward the listener; pure peak time clubbing. It demands to be played loud.

10. Washed Out – Within and Without (Sub Pop)

As the cover art displays “Within and Without”, Washed Out’s first full-length, is a sensual, physical release. Benefiting from the production work of Ben Allen, who worked on Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion”, “Within and Without” features delicate compositional flourishes such as the reverb-drenched, evocative harmonies on ‘Amor Fati’ and the cracked snare on ‘Echoes’ reward repeated listens, especially on headphones. The gentle arpeggios, slinking beats and soft, pillow-y atmospheres add to the album’s tenderness; the songs are intended for love-making rather than fucking. Album closer ‘A Dedication’ is based on a fragile piano line and Ernest Greene’s most direct vocal performance is the post-coital cosy-up.

Honourable mentions

Perc – Wicker & Steel (Perc Trax)

“Wicker & Steel” recalls The Black Dog’s “Real Music For Airports” release from last year.  Techno, industrial and almost aggressively dystopian with, the vocal grunts on “Start Chopping” aside, very little to humanise the intense percussion and scratching textures of the album’s first third. Slipping out of the abrasive distortion of the opening tracks a sinister mid-section, featuring the deeply unsettling “Pre-Steel”, builds on a more restrained dystopia with dispersed beats, detuned synths and horror-film overtones. The final third kicks back to an overdriven, unrelenting pace, particularly on the track ‘London, We Have You Surrounded’, which some have appropriated as the soundtrack to the capital’s disturbing riots in August. “Wicker & Steel” is an album deeply attentive to its own coherency, consistency and range.

Lucy – Wordplay For Working Bees (Stroboscopic Artefacts)

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

Planningtorock – W (DFA)

Planningtorock’s (Janine Rostron) second release is rooted in the expression of her sexuality which is conveyed by the sweaty atmosphere that recall the cabaret clubs of her adopted home Berlin. Her pitched-down masculine voice drawling sensually “I know my feelings” on opener ‘Doorway’ and “I’m a believer of circular/suckular love” on ‘Manifesto’ coupled with lavish, thick orchestration throughout makes “W” a challenging but rewarding album.

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