Tag Archive: Stroboscopic Artefacts


Some Releases we missed in March

Unfortunately we were unable to listen to some of the releases we recommend for March those releases are Mi Ami’ “Decade” album, the self titled début albums from Geoff Barrow (Portishead) side project Quakers and Voices From The Lake plus King Felix (aka Laurel Halo) “Spring EP”, which I believe may have been put back to the 9th April. But now its time to discuss both a release we missed out of our recommendations and then are recommendations. Let us know what you think of the releases we talk about in the comments or via our Twitter.

Andrew Bird – “Break It Yourself” (Bella Union)

Though this is the first Andrew Bird album I’ve listen to properly I’d always been intrigued by his music since seeing him supporting The Handsome Family in the early ‘00s. I was prompted to check out “Break It Yourself” after enjoying his brilliant contribution to the “Congotronics vs. Rockers” compilation from 2010. The first that struck me about the album was it aesthetic similarities to his Bella Union label mate Peter Broderick both share a love of creating unique sonic married with traditional song writing and play violin though Bird utilises his in many more ways than Broderick. On repeat plays I noticed the album divides into three distinctive types of song one is the more country influenced songs, the next the indie rock tracks (the most disappointing category lacking the imagination and lightness of touch evident elsewhere) and the soundscape based epics/interludes. The highlights of the first type include the strummed acoustic guitar, shape shocks of violin, shuffling beats of ‘Danse Carribe’, the unpredictable ‘Give It Away’ and the sparse ‘Lusitania’. The second type features the album few let downs including ‘Eyeoneye’ which I’m perplexed as to how this song has gained so much acclaim and attention to maybe the single but it’s the worst song on the album. Many of the soundscapes appear towards the end of the album creating a natural climax the best of these is the epic ‘A Hole in the Ocean Floor’ which I’m lost for words to describe though Pitchfork got pretty close with “majestic” “fever dream”. Overall “Break It Yourself” is an excellent addition to Bird’s highly acclaimed back catalogue.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

Breton – “Other People’s Problems” (FatCat)

The biggest disappointment of the month is the debut album from London based collective Breton, who Sonic Fiction first tipped for big things back in 2011. Breton combine post-punk sounds and aesthetics and sounds with those Dubstep and Electro over the course of their previous three EP’s had produced mixed results but I still had high hopes for this album. However, the album fails on all fronts lacking in both melody and imagination, on paper (and the earlier releases) the combination of sounds is exciting but the problem is that the sounds are generic rather than mould breaking and the unique combination doesn’t make up for this. This is compounded by the singer’s flat and monotonous vocals which quickly grate as the album progresses through it first few tracks. I’m not some who demands that singers/vocalists are able to sing five octaves above middle C, in fact some of my favourite singers struggle to hold a note at all. But Breton’s singer doesn’t have the vocal personality to make up for his lack of singing ability. Breton could be so much more, a Cabaret Voltaire for the 21st Century (they work in both music and video) but they fall well short on this album.

Grinderman – “Grinderman 2 RMX” (Mute)

Last year’s “Grinderman 2” album was one of the biggest disappoints of 2011, the band’s debut album had reignited Nick Cave with its complete abandonment of his usual writing methods and the effect was felt on the next Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album “Dig, Lazarus, Dig” the second album was set-up to repeat the trick. However, what we got was a lot of lumpen and unsubtle music that seemed to fall victim to the clichés the debut had avoided. This new remix album goes some way to right the wrongs of “Grinderman 2”. The highlights including Nick Zinner’s remix of ‘Bellringer Blues’, Barry Adamson’s cinematic take on ‘Palaces of Montezuma’, Cat’s Eyes version of ‘When My Baby Comes’ (featuring a fantastic shoegaze inspired second half), Factory Floor noisy dancefloor take on ‘Evil’ and the bass heavy version of ‘Heathen Child’ by Andrew Weatherall all share a subtle the original lacked while also delivering the visceral punch the track demand. There are a few interesting remixes that caught me out, I wasn’t expecting Josh Homme to deliver such a dynamic and ethereal version of ‘Mickey Mouse…’ here re-titled ‘Mickey Bloody Mouse’ or the yearning violin and noir country stylings of Six Toes and Matt Berninger intriguing take on ‘Evil’ all of which expand the emotional and sonic palette of the original. There are a few tracks that complete miss the mark too UNKLE produce a dull dirge for their version of ‘Worm Tamer’ (‘Hyper Worm Tamer’), A Place to Bury Strangers & Micheal Cliffe unconvincingly tack on cosmic synths to ‘Worm Tamer’ & ‘Evil’ respectively and Robert Fripp adds unnecessary fret-wank to ‘Super Heathen Child’. Grinderman’s swansong does have some great tracks that make-up for the disappointment of “Grinderman 2” but it’s still a 60/40 split that doesn’t fully convince.

Yeti Lane – “The Echo Show” (Sonic Cathedral)

I only heard of Yeti Lane after reading a review of ‘The Echo Show’ in Uncut magazine so I can’t comment on the progress they’ve made on their second album. However. I can say that it’s an album that lives up to the hype of the positive reviews it’s been receiving. The duo strike a balance between the space-rock of Spacemen 3 and the dream-pop of the likes of the Cocteau Twins, while their synth sounds recall krautrock acts like Harmonia. The album bursts into life with a wall of feedback guitar riffs and synths that set the tone perfectly. The album continues into the warm and more spacious with the focus on electronic sounds though they are offset by twanging guitars. This is followed by the first of four interludes which acts as segues or palette cleansers and help glue the album together. ‘Logic Winds’ (8-bit video game style synth and guitar chime in harmony) and ‘Alba’ (slowly unfurling cosmic dream pop) demonstrate Yeti Lane’s ability to keep things interesting. The album ends with the Twinkling synth arpeggios, twanging guitars, churning synths and hurricane of guitar effects outro of ‘Faded Spectrum’ and the gentle fourth interlude that round out the album perfectly.

Carter Tutti Void – “Transverse” (Mute)

This live collaboration brings together Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti of Throbbing Gristle/Chris & Cosey/Carter Tutti fame with one of their direct descendents Nik Colk Void from dance floor noiseniks Factory Floor. Unsurprisingly the overall sound is raw and chaotic featuring no post-production touches, however this adds to the appeal rather than decreasing it. Carter provides most of the rhythmic sounds via a selection of drum machines, Korg Monotron micro synth and various effects devices, its Tutti and Void who provide most the harmonic and melodic content, though the sound rarely touches on conventional harmonic or melodic sounds/ideas. They provide these sounds through another Korg Monotron, laptop with various pieces of software and heavily processed guitar, Void even uses a drum and violin bow to create sounds and textures with her guitar. In a recent interview with FACT magazine Carter observed that “You can sense on the recording how we got into the groove, so to speak. We began to lock together more, and figure out what we were doing as the set progressed” and is the feeling you get across the four long form tracks. The grooves improve, the interaction between the sounds seems more responsive and the trio know when one of them should drop out/play more gently to let the others shine. By the last track ‘V4’ the trio are locked a hypnotic groove which pulls the listener in and keeps them locked in even in the tracks most chaotic moments. Overall the album is a great success and while fitting into the lineage of Carter and Tutti’s career. It’s also a unique document in its own right that demonstrates what can be achieved by experiment electronic music created in a short time with a few choices piece of gear. It’d great to hear these three work together again live or in the studio and even better if the other two members of Factory Floor were involved.

Mirrroring – “Foreign Body” (Kranky)

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

Thee Satisfaction – “awE naturalE” (Sub Pop)

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

Various Artists – “Stellate 1” (Stroboscopic Artefacts)

Stroboscopic Artefacts’ signifier is dark, abrasive and heady techno and “Stellate 1”, the first of a new series of conceptual releases, features Lucy, Borful Tang, Perc and Kevin Gorman who contribute two tracks each.  Fitting for Stroboscopic Artefacts’ brutal minimalist sonic and visual aesthetics, this is dark, uncompromising music made up of the deep textures and emotive, immersive atmospheres that typically sit underneath deep bass drums. Lucy’s opening tracks ‘Estragon’ and ‘Vladimir’ are brief, delicate pieces of melodic ambient music. Borful Tang’s two contributions are sinister noise excursions while Perc’s desolate ‘Paris’ and ‘Molineux’ twists swells and grainy textures into bleak soundscapes. Kevin Gorman’s ‘Frequency Phase’ in three parts delivers a melodic phrase played through a delay that builds on itself again and again. As the processing swallow the tune, it produces elegant tones that surpass the seemingly simple use of effects. “Stellate 1” promised to be an intellectual release that would tap into the places where electronic music began and by delivering eight unique and accomplished tracks from some of the leading names in present techno, this new series justifies and fulfils its aim and existence; creating anticipation for the next instalment.

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

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

Top Release of the Month

Julia Holter – “Ekstasis” (RVNG INTL)

The first thing that strikes me about the new album by Julia Holter is the brightness of its sound, gone is the shadowy and foggy atmosphere’s of last year’s excellent “Tragedy” replaced by a sharp and incisive production job to revival today’s most intelligent pop stars. Ok, so Holter’s not going to be the next million selling pop star but this album’s production is almost the opposite of “Tragedy”’s. Then there’s the effortless feel of a lot of the music, despite many of the tracks being over 6 minutes in length. There’s no feeling of over indulgence even when a saxophone rears its head on ‘Four Gardens’ and ‘This Is Ekstasis’ everything here earns its place and makes sense within the context of the songs. It would be tempting to compare Holter to her many contemporaries within the hypnogogic pop genre especially her friend and collaborator Nite Jewel. Though her use of delay and reverb create similar feelings/images the musical content aims instead to transport the listener further back than the 1980s and into the ancient world which Holter is so interested in. With “Ekstasis” Holter has created her own sound world that combines the elemental, experimental and electric with the ancient (sounding), accessible and acoustic. An artist who can switch with ease between different sounds and sections without breaking a sweat or alienating the listener, Holter is an artist with a bright and long future ahead of her.

Recommendations for March

Julia Holter – “Ekstasis” 5th March (RVNG ITNL Records)

Holter follows up last year’s excellent “Tragedy” with an album that preview tracks suggest it trades the shadowy and foggy atmospheres of “Tragedy”  for a bright production that reveals her musicality and skill in writing catchy yet innovative melodies. Released  through RVNG ITNL the same label as last month’s brilliant album by Blondes this promises to be just as good.

Yeti Lane – “The Echo Show” 5th March (Sonic Cathedral)

Yeti Lane’s second album sits perfectly between the repetitive drone based rock music of Spacemen 3 and shoegazers such as Ride and My Bloody Valentine and a poppier version of the music of synth pioneers like Jean Michel Jarre, all underpinned by motorik rhythms inspired by Neu! Sounds like a great combination!!!

Grinderman – “Grinderman 2 RMX” 12th March (Mute Records)

Last year’s “Grinderman 2” album was one of the biggest disappointments for me. However, this remix album sounds promising with contributions from amoungst others Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeah’s), UNKLE, Andrew Weatherall, Factory Floor and Barry Adamson.

Symmetry – “Themes for an Imaginary Film” 12th March (Republic of Music Records)

Originally released in January via iTunes this album from Johnny Jewel (The Chromatics/Glass Candy) features music original destined for the soundtrack to last years hit film “Drive”. However, the studio overruled director Nicholas Winding Refn and leading man Ryan Gosling and went with the experienced Cliff Martinez. Undettered Jewel simply sequenced the material into this epic and ambitious piece of work.

Various Artists – “Stellate 1” 15th March (Digital only)  (Stroboscopic Artefacts)

The Stellate Series is a new project for the Stroboscopic Artefacts label that takes a conceptual approach to curation. In their words, “Stellate 1 taps into the place where electronic music-making began. It delves into a liminal Post-War atmosphere where the very fabric of society was being completely re-thought and composers dug into dissonance to explore the essence of ‘making it new’.” Each of the Stellate Series will bring together two tracks by four artists who fall within Stroboscopic Artefacts’ brutal minimalist sonic and visual aesthetics. SASTE001 comprises the visions of Lucy, Borful Tang, Perc and Kevin Gorman. Fitting for the label, this is dark, uncompromising music made up of deep textures and rumbling bass lines and emotive and immersive soundscapes with brooding atmospheres.

Voices From The Lake –“Voices From The Lake” 12th March (UK)  (Prologue)

Voices From The Lake is a project by Italian DJ/producers Donato Dozzy and Neel. Following on from last year’s beautiful, calm “Silent Drop” EP, the self-titled album extends and deepens their ambient techno explorations with an emphasis on the ‘techno’ component.  Listening to the preview tracks from “Voices From The Lake” is an immersive experience, as the textured beats and unhurried rhythms have a deeply hypnotic effect with a natural progression and flow. The sounds develop and unfold at their own pace, creating a potent sense of tranquillity. Album opener ‘Iyo’ imposes scattered hats and delayed percussion against a humid backdrop. Its synth drones leads us into the next track ‘Vega’, which introduces a 4/4 bass drum underneath a soothing synth pad and layers of tiny hits of percussion. Rhythm, texture and atmosphere are the key components of this album, creating an enveloping physical presence that asks for intense concentration; a meditative state of listening. Using ambient techno’s characteristically sparse elements, Donato Dozzy and Neel have created a unique album that proves the art of creating an after-hours LP is still strong.

King Felix – “Spring EP” 19th March (Mute/ Liberation Technologies Records)

Back in January Mute Records announced the launch of a sub label called Liberation Technologies and its first release was to be an E.P. by Laurel Halo under the moniker King Felix. Rory Gibb of The Quietus described the E.P.’s sound as featuring “hazy melodies and club-driven percussion are a little reminiscent of the saturated tones of classic Detroit techno and electro, and far more dance floor driven than anything she’s done before. However, their very fluid approach to rhythm feels rather more modern, bringing to mind everything from the manic patter of Chicago footwork to the submerged disco of labels like Hippos In Tanks (who released “Hour Logic”) and Not Not Fun. The “Spring EP” will be released on 12″ vinyl and digital download.

Mi Ami – “Decades” 19th March (100% Silk Records)

We’ve bearly got to grips with Ital’s “Hive Mind” and Daniel Martin McCormack is at it again as part of duo Mi Ami with their third album “Decades”. The band have always combined post-punk and dance music influences and pre-release track ‘Time of Love’ shows that this continues with a particularly strong dub influence. You can listen to ‘Time of Love’ here.

Mirrroring – “Foreign Body” 19th March (Kranky Records)

Mirrorring is a collaborative project featuring Liz Harris aka Grouper and Jesy Fortino aka Tiny Vipers, it seems that the two parts of this project come from similar background to the members of A Winged Victory for the Sullen e.g. one members makes ambient music and the other modern classical  music. As A Winged Victory for the Sullen’s album impressed us so much last year, we look forward to hearing this.

Breton – “Other People’s Problems” 26th March 2012 (Fat Cat Records)

Following on from the 3 EPs they’ve released in the past 12 months Breton are releasing their début album. The band blend dubstep and post-punk influences into a potent and creative combination.

Carter Tutti Void – “Transverse” 26th March (Mute Records)

A unique collaboration between Chris Carter, Cosy Fanni Tutti (ex-Throbbing Gristle) and Nik Void from Factory Floor, created especially for the legendary Short Circuit  festival presented by Mute records at the Roundhouse, London in 2011. The tracks were prepared in the studio and then performed and recorded live in front of an audience. Outside of the trio, these recordings were unheard prior to the festival and the popularity of the performance left many being turned away at the door.

Quakers “Quakers” 26th March 2012 (Stones Throw Records)

Despite his comments in 2011 that a Portishead album was a long way off Geoff Barrow looks like having a busy 2012. In addition to running his Invada label, there’s a new Beak> album due and this from a 35 strong hip-hip collective featuring Barrow, Portishead studio engineer Stuart Matthews and the Australian DJ Katalyst. Guest rappers include Dead Prez, Prince Po and Aloe Blacc.

Thee Satisfaction – “awE naturalE” 26th March (Sub Pop)

Thee Satisfaction are an avant soul duo who featured on Shabazz Palaces album “Black Up” last year. They release their début album on Sub Pop in March, check out “Queens” here for a taste of whats to come.

“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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