Tag Archive: Talib Kweli


Disappointment of the Month

Daft Punk – “Random Access Memories” (Daft Life/Columbia)

Daft Punk’s fourth album came with a lot of hype and a long and innovative promotional campaign but now we get to hear what all the fuss is about. Opener ‘Give Life Back to Music’ gets us off to a solid start with Nile Rodgers guitar groove and Chic-esque piano chord progression taking centre stage. Things go off course on the next track ‘The Game of Love’ which sounds like “Something About Us” (from “Discovery” (2001) but if it was performed by lounge jazz musicians, it’s very cheesy and hints at the excess to come over the rest of the album. ‘Giorgio by Moroder’ starts off well with Moroder’s spoken word atop a disco groove but as it leaves Moroder behind the track gets more and more progressive rock in its excess, becoming overly indulgent and overly long in the process. Things pick up a little with ‘Within’ featuring beautifully played piano from Chilly Gonzales, however the quality dives again on the plodding ‘Instant Crush’ featuring The Strokes vocalist Julian Casablancas who delivers an out of tune sounding chorus that grates and it’s another song that suffers from being overly long and having too many solos.

The centre of the album sees the band go on a good run starting with ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’ and its heavy funk bass and drums and Rodgers amazing rhythm guitar which lifts with track to another, there’s also a great chorus section where Pharrell duets with the robots and the track finds a new energy level. ‘Touch’ finds a way to use the album’s prog tendencies for good, the song begins with a section that’s full of creepy atmospherics before Paul Williams lead vocals enters and along with piano to song a plaintive tune that gets lift up by wah-wah guitars, drums and bubbling synth lead this then leads to an amazing string section before returning to the plaintive tune for the songs climax. The run finishes with ‘Get Lucky’ a disco-pop master class that again features Pharrell and Nile Rodgers.

Next up, ‘Beyond’ tries but fails to reproduce the heavy funk of ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’, its end up plodding along instead of inspiring you to dance. ‘Motherboard’ reintroduces prog elements with Flute melodies and swan diving string dominating. ‘Fragments of Time’ is a pop twist on the failed jazz experiment of ‘Game of Love’, while ‘Doin’ It Right’ suffers from sounding like two disparate elements (Panda Bear’s vocals and the backing track) failing to gel. The album finishes as you’d expect with an epic six minute plus prog instrumental called ‘Contact’ which unfortunately just compounds the problems inherent on this album.

When Daft Punk get it right on this album they produce sublime music but this only accounts for one third of the albums track making “Random Access Memories” one of disappointments of year so far.

Talib Kweli – ‘Prisoner of Conscious’ (Blacksmith)

Talib Kweli’s fifth studio album is a disappointment, while it’s probably his most diverse work to date it’s comes up against a problem that Kweli has skirted before. That problem is that while he’s one of the best lyricists and MC’s in hip-hop today his choice of beats leads a lot to be desired. I’m not dismissing the beat makers who feature on “Prisoner of Conscious” all of them do good work but Kweli choose their blandest and dullest beats for most of this album.

After being impressed initially with his last album “Gutter Rainbows” I felt that as time went on it soon became clear that there was a clutch of good tracks and a lot of filler. It’s the same with “Prisoner of Conscious” where Kweli falls short on a majority of tracks. Kweli also seems to have been knowingly pursuing commercial success since his last major label album “Eardrum” and it’s on tracks such as ‘Favela Love’, ‘Hamster Wheel’, ‘Ready Set Go’ and ‘Turnt Up’ that his choice of bland commercial beats hurts Kweli the most with poor lyrical metaphors and storytelling compounding the feeling of disappointment.

Speaking of Kweli’s lyrics, “Prisoner of Conscious” was originally meant to be a sonic and lyrically break from Kweli’s conscious rap style. However, I couldn’t pick out a lyric that couldn’t have featured on one of his previous four albums, though the likes of ‘High Life’ certainly changes things up stylistically adopting the High Life music of West Africa for one of the albums few tracks of real quality, the others being straight hip-hop banger ‘Rocket Ships’ and the one successful stab at a commercial track ‘Come Here’. It seems that Kweli needs to revaluate and decide to either stick to what made his reputation in the first place or move aside for the new generation of MC’s.

The Child of Lov – “The Child of Lov” (Double Six/Domino)

The secretive artist The Child of Lov is a hip-hop producer from the Netherlands but he doesn’t make any old hip-hop and when you hear his processed vocals you’d swear he was from America’s Deep South. The album opens with the loping bass guitar, downtempo hip-hop beat and skewed soul vocals of ‘Call Me Up’ the atmospherics and vocals of which recalls “Return to Cookie Mountain” era TV on the Radio. It’s swiftly followed by ‘Heal’ with its uptempo drum break, nagging post-punk guitar riff and stabbing bass guitar. Next up is the sparse ballad ‘One Day’ that features Blur’s Damon Albarn, twisted twangy guitar melodies, rippling synth bass and a dusty hip-hop beat. ‘Living the Circle’ combines corroded synth bass and a heavy stuttering hip-hop beat with a computer game style synth melody to stunning, head nodding effect.

The second half the album sees electronic drums dominate whereas acoustic drums had pervaded in the first half. ‘Go With The Wind’ utilises a subtle electronic hip-hop drums, computer game synth bass and a weird lo-fi guitar riff that underline the uniqueness of this artists sound. ‘Fly’ is another great up tempo track with a thumping, purposeful bass drum pushing everything forward. The album closes with ‘Give It To The People’ on which there’s very little vocal processing and the track has a brighter, pop production pointing at potential development for The Child of Lov’s sound in the future. “The Child of Lov” is a great debut album that demonstrates that you don’t need to the biggest budget or sound to make something that can shine and be unique. I look forward to hearing more from The Child of Lov in the future.

Colleen – “The Weighing of the Heart” (Second Language)

‘The Weighing of the Heart’ is Colleen’s first album since 2008, it’s also the first her first album to feature her own singing and extensive use of percussion instruments. In interviews Colleen has explained the album took so long to make as she’d fallen out of with music and took a break from both creating and listening to music.

After her enforced hiatus she has returned with an album full of beautiful music yet unorthodox music that is uniquely her own straddling the genre’s of folk, chamber pop and world music and never losing it natural feel. Opener ‘Push the Boat onto the Sand’ is a fine example of mixing of genres of unorthodox use of both her viola (its tuned like a guitar and plucked not bowed) and song structure (she uses simple repeating loops, then replaces that loop with another and then another) it also evokes a sense of Spain where she lives and records. ‘Ursa Major Find’ uses the same structure but has a more intimate and angelic feel perfectly complimented by a melody played on an antiquated sounding keyboard. ‘Humming Fields’ with its offbeat bass drum pattern and music box style melody sounds like a group of musicians playing in a room, in fact this a trick that Colleen pulls off across the second half of album and you forget this is the work of a lone person. ‘Going Forth By Day’ starts with just a lone plucked viola melody before it evolves into a more rhythmic pattern and is joined by a wavering oboe melody, a lovely track.

Colleen saves the best til last through with the final three track on the album proving to be the highlights of a great album. This trio begins with ‘Moonlit Sky’ which sees the return of the oboe again complimenting the viola perfectly before the unexpected arrival of an organ that gives the track a dynamic lift and some extra warmth. It’s followed by the scrambling viola melody and gorgeous vocal harmonies and African percussion of ‘Breaking Up the Earth’ before the title track rounds everything off with echoing viola and yearning violin melodies.

All-in-all Colleen has created an album full of beautiful and orthodox music, with enough depth to keep listeners discovering some new with each new play.

G&D – “The Lighthouse” (SomeOthaShip)

g-and-d-the-lighthouse

The mysterious moniker G&D hides the behind it two disguised artists in Georgia Anne Muldrow (G) and Dudley Perkins (D) who’ve both been working together and individual as hip-hop artists for over two decades. However, both have found their profiles rise since 2006 (I only knew of Georgia Anne Mudrow’s existence last year due to her ‘Seeds’ album produced by Madlib). Some hip-hop heads might know Perkins from his time under the name Declaime but I imagine both of these artists are fairly new to most people.

On “The Lighthouse” their pedigree shows itself from the start, as the album kicks off with the cut up vocals samples, P-Funk synth solo and scratches of ‘Intro’. The album swiftly moves to the title track’s laidback percussion, cutting hip-hop beat and cosmic electric piano meanwhile the two vocalists float and flow over the top of a head nodding beat. ‘Fam Bam’ starts the move away from the psychedelic sound of that the artwork of the album suggests were in for. The track features a stuttering electronic hip-hop beat and reverberate claps that back Perkins mean rapping and Muldrow vocals and rapping that recall Erykah Badu and Seattle hip-hop duo Thee Satisfaction. ‘Electric’ combines a smooth bass line and sparse electronic hip-hop beat with another from Perkins with its feedbacking guitar and electronic sound it recalls Cannibal Ox. ‘Power’ brings back to P-Funk and Afro-centric lyrics from the duo, ‘No More War’ picks up where ‘Power’ leaves off with huge synth bass, a twinkling synth melody and shuffling electronic beat back Perkins and Muldrow’s duetting vocals. ‘Popstopper’ demonstrates the duo’s versatility with shuffling acoustic drums and popping funk bass backing Muldrow’s multi-layered lush vocals while a spooky synth stabs in and out of the mix. ‘Dance’ combines with guitar sound of ‘Electric’ with the popping funk bass of ‘Popstopper’ to get you on the floor! ‘Emo Funk’ and album closer ‘Majesty’ both show the duo can do slo-mo acoustic piano ballads albeit with their own unique twist. With ‘The Lighthouse’ G&D have arguably made the best underground hip-hop of year so far, check it out!!!

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Kirsty’s Recommendations

20th May

Laurel Halo – “Behind the Green Door” EP (Hyperdub)

Laurel Halo’s first release of 2013 is the EP “Behind the Green Door”. Recalling Halo’s earlier releases such as “Hour Logic” and the “Spring” EP under her King Felix alias, this EP’s central theme is stripped back techno married with ambient detail. Building on her new direction for live sets, “Behind the Green Door” uses hardware and live instruments, specifically a detuned piano, to create classic Detroit and modern techno influenced tracks of bass-driven rhythms, sinister melodies and lush harmony.

Listen to the very Detroit techno ‘Throw’, perhaps a nod to the Paperclip People (Carl Craig) track of the same name, below.

 

27th May

Laura Marling – “Once I Was An Eagle” (Virgin)

Laura Marling’s back with her fourth album in five years, “Once I Was An Eagle”. Since her the release of her debut album “Alas, I Cannot Swim” in 2008, Marling has released a further three, “Once I was An Eagle” included, in quick succession. The pinnacle of these being 2011’s brooding “A Creature I Don’t Know”. Each album has built on her blend of sharp, lyrical wordplay and a folky musical template built on harnessed anger. With the announcement of “Once I Was An Eagle” (for some reason all of her album titles feature six syllables), Marling has introduced the organ-heavy ‘Where Can I Go?’, displaying she’s at her best when she builds songs slowly from the subtle duo of her cool voice and acoustic guitar to a full band confrontation by the end.  The second taster is the rolling ‘Master Hunter’, which features the very Marling vocal performance of sounding both calm and pissed off.

Liam’s Recommendations

7th May 2013

Talib Kweli – ‘Prisoner of Conscious’ (Blacksmith)

After releasing ‘Gutter Rainbows’ Kweli is to release this new album that he promises will surprise his hardcore fans (and I imagine his critics who say he’s one dimensional) as he takes a different lyrical tack. Guests slots go to Mos Def, Curren$y, Jean Grae, Maino and Nelly?!?, production comes from Hi-Tek, Madlib, Oh No, Terence Martin, E. Jones, Rahki and Symbolic 1.

13th May 2012

Colleen – “The Weighing of the Heart” (Second Language)

The long awaited (5 years in the making) third album from Colleen finally arrives in May. FACT magazine have compared the album to fellow cellist Arthur Russell and two of the world best drone artists Grouper and Lichens. The album is influenced by obscure ethnic traditional music and religious texts and was recorded in a disused olive shop in Spain.

20th May 2013

Daft Punk – “Random Access Memories” (Columbia/Daft Life)

Recent reports confirm that the legendary French dance duo have been collaborating with Niles Rodgers of Chic, veteran songwriter Paul Williams and Panda Bear of Animal Collective on tracks due for inclusion on the album. Looking forward to hearing the results of those collaborations.

G&D – “The Lighthouse” (SomeOthaShip)

G&D sees rootsy singer and beatmaker Georgia Anne Muldrow team up with life-partner Dudley Perkins, aka Oxnard rapper and singer Declaime. Muldrow’s last album was last year’s Seeds, a dusky collection of psychotropic soul produced entirely by Madlib. Perkins, meanwhile, dropped the rap-heavy Self Study LP in 2011, produced by Muldrow. The pair clearly don’t give much of a hoot about the work-life partition; they operate the SomeOthaShip Connect label together, and have pooled resources on a full-length (2007′s The Message Uni Versa) and a string of short-form releases since. New album The Lighthouse, credited to G&D, will arrive in the height of May on SomeOthaShip. A heady brew of hip-hop, jazz and soul is promised – we wouldn’t expect any less.

This mix was inspired by the random/shuffle function on my MP3 player. Every so often to plays back two or three tracks in a row that suggest they might work well mixed together/played back to back. Some of these are obvious combination for instance the final three tracks LCD Soundsytem into Justice vs Simian into DJ Touche and some less so e.g. ‘Yippie’ by Mouse on Mars into “I Would Die 4 U” by Prince. So after writing a lot of these combinations into my mobile and saving them for later I decided to attempt to put some of them into a mix in Cubase and this mix is the result. I’m a DJ just a music producer and music fan putting some disparate tracks together and seeing if it gels together. Would great to hear what people think of the mix.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Liam’s Top Ten Albums of the Year… so far

Honourable Mentions

Peaking Lights – “936” – is  a lo-fi take on Dub that manages to cover a lot more ground than many of their more lauded peers. I can understand why the band have been compared to fellow Not Not Fun artist Sun Araw as they share many of his similar aesthetics (humid, reverb and delay heavy sound) and principle instrumentation (extended guitar lines, organ, repetitive but meandering vocals). Tom Tom Club also seems like a good reference point particularly for the vocals and ‘All the Sun That Shines’ and ‘Bird of Paradise (Dub Version)’. Definitely an album that’s worthy of soundtracking this summer like ‘On Patrol’ by Sun Araw soundtracked last summer.

Mogwai – “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will” – a mixed bag from Mogwai (a band that has been criticised in the past for producing overly samey music across an album) featuring both the familiar epic post-rock tracks that made them an internationally known force and new directions for the band including using a vocoder and development of Neu! and New Order style rhythms and grooves on ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ and ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’. I’ve read a lot of negative things about the use of the vocoder and more vocal tracks on this album and can’t say I agree with these opinions. The vocoder is employed subtly and sparingly and Stuart Braithwaite’s vocals have always been a good addition to Mogwai’s music and suit the song he sings on here. Overall I think this is Mogwai’s best album since ‘Happy Music for Happy People’ (2003).

Talib Kweli – “Gutter Rainbows” –  a return to form for Kweli after the overly commercial and guest heavy ‘Eardrum’  (2007). Kweli seems to more at ease and freer, the album’s tone and variety a sign that he may have been under pressure from Warners while making ‘Eardrum’. It’s also telling that all the guests and producers who appear on this album aren’t established major label artists/producers and I think that’s a big contributing factor. The quality on the album only really drops once for ‘How Do You Love Me’ which is a little too limp and sloppy amongst tracks that have a lot more bit and depth. The major highlights are ‘Cold Rain’ (production by Currency producer Ski Beats) and Jean Grae’s appearance on ‘Uh Oh’, however its Kweli whose personality comes across strongest, on what could be his best album yet.

Beastie Boys – “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two”

The Beasties Boys return to form after two patchy albums, full of short punchy songs that for the most part share a minimalist, lo-fi approach. It’s the Beasties gone back to basics and with found a new lease of life that explores new territory (for them) while remaining 100% Beastie Boys. Established with love this, new converts may well join the cause – all in all a triumph from restless creators always looking to evolve.

Dels – “GOB”

Dels has produced an authoritative début album that balances catchy, memorable tunes with experimentation, unexpected twists and turns and a signature sound that he can manipulate to give the album a curve. He starts with the heavy hitting, bouncy electro inspired tracks but the second half to that album covers more serious topics including the recent political problems in the U.K. and rape. Dels is able to change the pace and the atmosphere to suit these changes in subject and this is proof of an artist with more than one string to his bow and great future ahead of him. A Hip-Hop artist with substance to match his unique style.

Top Ten

10. White Denim – “D” – Though it may not be the album of the year I rashly predicted at the start of the month, though it has to be said ‘Anvil Everything’ and ‘Drug’ were pretty exciting tracks to be released in the run up to release. However this album is by no means a wash-out, it begins with a slightly misleading slice of Southern Rock but some reveals a diverse range from an ever developing and maturing band. From the wah-wah funk of ‘Burnished’ to the emotional ‘Street Joy’ via Latin rhythms of ‘River to Consider’ and many points in between this album is well worth investigation and like other White Denim album will probably prove to be another grown, rewarding repeated listening.

9. Low – “C’Mon” – A great album of two halves that sees Low experimenting with poppier sounds on the first half of the album and on ‘Something Turning Over’ while the reminder of the album revisits older sounds and influences but does so while providing some great songs. Some Low fans won’t (and don’t) like the poppier material but I think it can be seen as another string to their bow and not a conscious attempt to sell out. This is not a band producing Top Ten hits, but one dripping its toe into unknown waters and successful completing an experiment. The fact this album was recorded in a Duluth (Low’s home town) church gives the slow more open tracks and fantastic atmosphere and ambience and complaints some great songs. Once again Low show the patience and subtlety can go along way in a music world that seems constantly looking for something innovative and over simulating.

8. Chancha Via Circuito – “Rio Arriba” – A great hip-hop album that potential points a new way forward and demonstrates that there are really skilled producers working out the mainstream and America who can compete with their U.S. contemporaries. A breath of fresh Columbian air, this producer neatly side steps the comparisons to Jay Dilla to crave out his own unique style.

7. Tamikrest – “Toumastin” – Another great Taurag (desert blues) album that throws down the gauntlet to Tinariwen (whose next album is out 29th August). Though there’s a lot of familiarity to the Tamikrest sound these young men find a way of subtlety incorporating new influences into the template. From the funk bass that underpins ‘Tidit’ and ‘Tarhamanine Assinegh’ to the Western rock guitar of ‘Adjan Adaky’ and magnificent closer ‘Dihad Tedoun Itran’via the regular and clever employment of female vocals as a counterpoint to a very male sound, this shows there is more to Taurag than fans already know. The band masterful conquers both the more groovy based and moody and downbeat material with confidence and ease. A great album from a band full ideas and possible yet to reach their full potential.

6. TV on the Radio – ‘Nine Types of Light’ – This acts as a laid back sunny counterpart to their previous album ‘Dear, Science’ (2008). However, this isn’t an album that should be considered light or lacking in substance. Instead it’s a successful move into new territory for a band that continues to develop, improve and with this show that may just be one of the best bands of the last ten years. The album’s brighter moments indicates a softer R&B influence though in the latter stages of the album the band show their darker side on tracks like ‘Forgotten’ that strongly reminds me of the dense atmosphere of second album ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’  (2006) but always demonstrates what they have learnt since about space and light and shade. An album that proves sweet and sour can co-exist and that light is variable alternative not corporate cop-out.

5. Paris Suit Yourself – “My Main Shitstain”‘ – An eclectic début album is held together by a similarly punk spirit and commanding vocalist Luvinsky. The band produce a unique blend of street music that takes from soul, punk, post-punk and hip-hop while subtle embracing modern technology. The band is unafraid to wear to heart politically and graphically on its sleeve and are obviously confident in their own ability and style!! The world is there’s and I fully expect them to take it and make it their own.

4. Toro Y Moi – “Underneath the Pine” – From its chiming and droning intro track right through to the last rhythmic charge of ‘Elise’, it does no wrong. A fantastic concoction of ’80s style funk rhythms and grooves matched with emotive soundtrack backing, expert use of effects processing and the glorious rush of good pop music, a leap forward from his impressive début ‘Causers of This’. In the past its been difficult to pin down Toro Y Moi’s sound and find useful reference points but recently mid 90’s Stereolab seems apt for this playful experiment in pop music.

3. Wagon Christ – “Toomorrow” – It would be easy to dismiss this album as a repetition of everything that Vibert has done as Wagon Christ and there is some truth to that. However, he has produced an eclectic album full of great tracks (there’s not a duffer to be found) that will please hardcore Vibert fans and those new to this long-term dance music fixture. A must for fans of Ninja Tune, Warp and Planet Mu most esoteric output!!

2. tUnE-yArDs – “w h o k i l l” – tUnE-yArDs delivers on what was hinted at on her début album ‘Bird-Brains’, strong vocal performances and use of vocal layers are an ever-present as are the hip-hop rhythms that dominated her début. She also brings a host of surprises, the processing of vocals through a modular synth, pop melodies that pack a punch and day-glo indebted to both African music and dub yet at the same time all of her own. Though the album dips towards the end ‘Doorstop’ and ‘You, Yes You’ show there are yet more directions in which tUnE-yArDs sound can be developed. All-in-all a great album from a unique artist.

1. Gang Gang Dance – “Eye Contact” –  A breathtakingly ambitious album that brings together North African guitars, club beats, Indian pop vocals, grime and electro synth bass, twisted synth arpeggios are all bought together and work where it should fail spectacularly. There’s a new found clarity and a massive step-up in the quality of the tunes on ‘Eye Contact’ this is the record that their last album should have been and impress instant, whereas in the past songs were either growers or too awkward to be properly embraced. Interestingly after a few listens it becomes clear there’s some strong links to “Merriweather Post Pavilion” by Animal Collective (who are both friends and contemporaries of Gang Gang Dance) the use of psychedelic electronics and rhythms rooted in hip-hop are present on both albums. However, Gang Gang Dance add plenty to this and produce their own unique sound. An interest coincidence is that “Merriweather Post Pavilion” was Sonic Fiction’s Album of the Year 2009 and this is currently in poll position for this year. Will it still be No.1 in December?

Spotify playlist:

Liam’s Albums of the Year 2011 … so far

Vier’s Top Five Albums of the Year 2011… so far

5. Lucy – “Wordplay For Working Bees” (Stroboscopic Artefacts) Lucy bypasses the traditional 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 busyness of the crowds assembled 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.

4. Planningtorock – “W” (DFA) Planningtorock’s (Janine Rostron) second album is rooted in the expression of her sexuality, which is conveyed by the swagger and sweaty atmosphere that recall the cabaret clubs in her adopted home of Berlin. The lascivious drawl of her pitched-down voice (as demonstrated with: “I know my feelings” on opener ‘Doorway’ and “I’m a believer of circular/suckular love” on ‘Manifesto’) coupled with staccato strings and thick, sensual orchestration makes “W” a powerful and rewarding release.

3. Morphosis – “What Have We Learned” (Delsin/Morphine) Composed entirely with analogue equipment and recorded over three days, Morphosis’ first full-length is a collection of gritty, percussive clatter that recalls the dirtier side of Krautrock. Built on round bass drums and foggy static with assertive grooves and synths that engulf the listener, “What Have We Learned” is the techno release of the year.

2. Gang Gang Dance – “Eye Contact” (4AD) Building from the suggestions of bright pop displayed on a track such as ‘House Jam’ from their previous album “Saint Dymphna”, Gang Gang Dance have condensed their eclecticism and strengthened the pop melodies to create a highly impressive and ambitious fifth album. Singer Lizzie Bougatsos works her voice as instrument, in a way that justly recalls Karin Dreijer Andersson and Bjork, weaving it among the layers of polyrhythmic dance beats, electro-indebted synth riffs and glassy arpeggios. Key track ‘Mindkilla’ combines unhinged world-dance grooves with Bougatsos’ menacingly singing the lullaby ‘Mockingbird’, which encapsulates Gang Gang Dance’s approach for “Eye Contact”: ecstatic and woozy with an undercurrent of threat.

1. Nicolas Jaar – “Space Is Only Noise” (Circus Company) Much has been said of 22 year-old Jaar’s prodigious talent and his first album is rightly garnering critical acclaim. 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 in place of what could otherwise have been a pretentious clutter.

Honourable mentions:

Wolfgang Voigt – “Kafkatrax” (Profan) In typically eccentric fashion, Voigt has super-imposed his face on to Austrio-Hungarian writer Franz Kafka’s head for the artwork of Kafkatrax. The strange merge goes further with the music contained inside. Every sound except the bass drum is taken from a German audiobook 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 four alien yet groove-filled techno tracks.

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Spotify playlist:

Vier’s Albums of the Year 2011… so far

2011 through my (biased) eyes: January

January (and indeed 2011) kicked off reasonably well with ‘Red Barked Tree’ by Wire, a fine combination of subtle dreamy tracks that recalled shoegaze and new wave particularly Bill Nelson’s Red Noise (‘Please Take’, ‘Adapt’, ‘Down to This’) and a more typical Wire sound (‘Smash’, ‘A Flat Tent’ and ‘Two Minutes’ . The highlight of this was ‘Moreover’ with its creepy synth intro slashing guitar riff and effected vocals building in intensity throughout the track ending in a final crescendo. I was initially wrong footed by the dreamy songs, they completely the opposite to image of Wire I have and I was unsure of how they sat in Wire’s career arch. However, a little reading filled in a some gaps in my Wire particular the second phrase of their career in which they secretly pioneered a sound similar to that of the shoegaze bands that would follow them. For me the jury is still out in this way album, though the band do prove not purely trading on past glories. I will be revisiting this album later in the year to try to make my mind up about it.

Another post-punk band Gang of Four returned to the fray this month with ‘Content’ their first album since reforming in 2004. Unfortunately I feel this album is a massive disappointed, hackneyed and lazy reliving and ruining of past glories. For a band that has for so long riled against retro revivals and giving their audience an easy ride, it seems I (and possible many other fans) had Gang of Four all wrong. Minus the original rhythm section and with Andy Gill on production the band has become a pale imitation of its self. Jon King regularly lets the band down on the vocal and lyrically front undermining any political points he may be making, Gill fares better but still lacks the sharpness of his prime and rhythm section is one half lifeless (drummer Mark Heaney) and one part session muso of slap bass duties (bassist Thomas McNeice). These elements all combine to ruin what was which an amazing formula and reduced to a sub par Duran Duran/INXS played by Gang of Four.

Deerhoof were the next band to release a new album in January and I have to say that like Wire they produced a mix bag stylistically speaking. The album veers from Spanish flavoured tracks such as ‘Que Dorm, Nomes Somia’, ‘I Did Crimes for You’ and ‘No One Asked to Dance’, the chugging sprightly guitar powered riff-a-rama of ‘Let’s Dance the Jet’, ‘Secret Mobilization’ and the slightly mellower ‘C’Moon’ and the indie electro of ‘Super Duper Rescue Heads’ and ‘The Merry Barracks’ and a couple more genre de tours too!! This is a band who often can’t sit still for one song and I had to listen to each one several times to really start to get a hold on them, however Deerhoof’s music isn’t difficult possessing much rhythmic and melodic skill and dexterity. I’ve checked out some of band’s back catalogue (and will continue to) and I feel that through this album has some great highlights to maybe feels a little laboured and is maybe a transition to the bands next break through.

The first début album of year to blow my socks off this year is ‘Violet Cries’ by Esben and the Witch, traditional song structure is almost exclusively abandoned in favoured of tense post-rock style structures of building intensity and massive drops. The band has taken massive steps forward since their début E.P. and gothic-folk just won’t cut it as description. True theres goth influences I can hear Siouxsie and The Banshees in a lot of the melodies and textures used across this album, ‘Light Streams’ hints at Battles influence in its spiky guitar arpeggios and exploding drums. ‘Marine Fields Glow’ is a torch that recalls Portishead at their finest and the records ambition is pure Kate Bush. I have a feeling that this could rival These New Puritans – ‘Hidden’ as an ambitious album that successful combines many influences, though I’ll admit that Esben and the Witch’s influences are less varied and diffuse, the two albums share a similar medieval atmosphere.

The Dirtbombs returned with a novel concept album that really could have gone either way. Ten years after they released ‘Ultraglide in Black’ their album of Detroit soul and funk covers they released another celebration of Detroit’s musical history ‘Party Store’ there revising of classic Detroit techno tracks. Starting with a grease, grinding garage version ‘Cosmic Cars’ the album doesn’t really take off until track three ‘Good Life’ which combines heavy drum machine back beat, busy post-punk chicken scratch guitar, funk bass-line and singer Mike Collins falling a little short of the originals vocal heights. ‘Strings of Life’ ups the ante once again but is probably the closest to the original. ‘Alleys of the Mind’ continues a good run of tunes and returns to the grime of ‘Cosmic Cars’ but more successfully. The album’s centrepiece a 21 minutes plus version of ‘Bug in the Bass Bin’ features it composer Carl Craig jamming along on a modular synth and despite its length is the highlight of album, powering it through the remaining three tracks.

Talib Kweli made his return as an independent artist with new album ‘Gutter Rainbows’, a return to form after the overly commercial and guest heavy ‘Eardrum’  (2007). Kweli seems to more at ease and freer, the album’s tone and variety a sign that he may have been under pressure from Warners while making ‘Eardrum’. It’s also telling that all the guests and producers who appear on this album aren’t established major label artists/producers and I think that’s a big contributing factor. The quality on the album only really drops once for ‘How Do You Love Me’ which is a little too limp and sloppy amongst tracks that have a lot more bit and depth. The major highlights are ‘Cold Rain’ (production by Currency producer Ski Beats) and Jean Grae’s appearance on ‘Uh Oh’, however its Kweli whose personality comes across strongest, on what could be his best album yet.

I’ll be adding three new bands to our preview of the year and a new pages that will act as new music and film release schedules.

Just a couple of things to add before we move on to February:

1) You can find links to music news, album streams, our posts and more on our Twitter.

2) We’ve been scratching our heads trying to work out a way that we can share our playlists we more people (Spotify has its limitations). If anyone knows of an app/piece of software/website where we can create playlists from a legal database of music, please feel free to post in the comments or our Twitter. We have thought about Grooveshark but it’s not technically legal and is being sued by many record companies so may not last. iTunes is obvious one but I’ll be honest I don’t like it. So to recap, it has to be free, legal and with a pre-existing database of music that is updated regularly.

Spotify playlist *:

January 2011 playlist

*More tracks to be added as they become available

February recommendations

Asian Dub Foundation – ‘A History of Now’ (Cooking Vinyl) 7th February

ADF return with their seventh album the follow-up to the brilliant ‘Punkara’ (2008), the title track (available at the band’s website for your e-mail address) suggests it business as usual these innovators and that’s no bad thing, lets hope there’s plenty more on the rest of the album.

Beans – ‘End It All’ (Anti-Con) 14th February

Anti Pop Consortium member Beans returns with an album of 13 tracks by 13 different producers and with a smattering of guests. Producer’s include Four Tet, Bumps (Tortoise’s drummer), Tobacco, Clark and many more. T.V. on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe sings on the track ‘Mellow You Out’ which is a promising preview for the album. I’ve personally found Beans solo material hit and miss though I’ve lost touch with his solo activities in the last few years, however I think this could prove an interesting record.

Paris Suit Yourself – My Main Shitstain (Big Dada) 14th February

The début album from French-US collective (the first ‘rock’ band to sign to Big Dada) is one that is incredibly impressive while also suggesting areas that could be expanded on in the future. The first knock out album of the year stakes out similar territory to garage-funk band The Make-Up but with a more modern and street wise hip-hop edge. Though vocalist Luvinsky Atche doesn’t sound like Saul Williams his half sung, half spoken vocals are. The Pop Group and PiL also seem like good reference points for tracks such as ‘Decadence’ and ‘Yesterday Make You Cry’.

Mogwai – ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’ 14th February (Rock Action)

Another Mogwai album another great album title. Having a few tracks off the album I can honestly say that I think the boys are back up their with their best albums. As is always the case the development from the previous records is subtle and can take a few listens properly present themselves but they are there. More vocals is something they haven’t tried since ‘Happy Music for Happy People’ and its stands up and adds a more human feel and another layer of texture and harmony to the bands sound. Particularly highlights are the corroded guitar drones of ‘Rano Pano’ and the motorik groove of ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ (a real departure for the band).

Win Win – ‘Win Win’  14th February (Vice)

A three-way collaborative project comprising XXXchange (Spank Rock), Chris Delvin (of Baltimore DJ duo Delvin and Darko) and visual artist Ghostdad. Their self titled album is out on Vice on 15th February and features Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip), Andrew W.K., Naeem and Blaqstarr (Spank Rock) and Lizzie Bougatsos (Gang Gang Dance) to name a few. Having only heard one single its hard to say how this sound, however given the people involved its safe to assume it’ll be dirty but sleek and eclectic yet danceable.

Toro Y Moi – ‘Underneath the Pine’ 21st February (Car Park)

Toro Y Moi follows up last years excellent début album – ‘Causers of This’ with an album full of live instrumentation a straight up 80’s funk and pop influences. ‘Still Sound’ and ‘New Beat’ bristle with elastic energy and bounce. An album to brighten up the winter just ahead of spring rebirth.

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