Tag Archive: Tamikrest


Welcome to the first proper post of 2017. Some people reading the blog last year may have noticed that I tried to review more music by women, in fact I was trying to strike a 50-50 balance between the music I reviewed that was by men and music that I reviewed that was by women. I managed to get that balance. This year and beyond I want to try and achieve that balance in my own music collection. I know that I may never reach a 50-50 split as there are just less women making music but I feel like I manage to balance these things in the rest of my life (films, T.V. podcasts etc.) While the music industry seems uninterested in pushing women to the forefront of music (other than pop music). I personally love and respect women both in general and in terms of artistic expression especially in music but feel that my music collection doesn’t necessarily reflect it enough. So I want to tackle this lack of balance in my own collection and hope we can all spread this positive message far and wide.

I’ve come across lots of talented artists/bands/producers but I’ve decided to ask for some recommendations as female bands/artists/producers struggle to gain the same amount of attention as their male peers. To help with the recommendations process I have created a list of music that I own by/or featuring women. I hope that this list gives you an idea of my taste and avoids people recommending artists or releases that I already own. I’ve also included a list of priority purchases so you know what I’ve got in mind to buy in the future. I’d buy them all but my benefit won’t allow for that and I will still buy some music by men as this is about striking a balance rather than cutting something out completely. .

I’ve set up a new Twitter account, @HerSonicFiction, where I’ll share what female artists I’m listening to now. Feel free to Tweet your recommendations at me or put them in the comments below. If we can all use #HerSonicFiction then we can introduce each other to some great female artists and encourage even more people to listen to and buy music by women.

Albums I already own

Kate Bush – “Hounds of Love”

Elza Soares – “Woman at the End of the World”

Thao & the Get Down Stay Down – “Man Alive”

Lindstrom & Christabelle – “Real Life is no Cool”

Solange – “A Seat at the Table” & “True”

Aretha Franklin – “The Very Best Of”, “Amazing Grace” & “Lady Soul”

The Staple Singers – “Be Altitude: Respect Yourself”

The Slits – “Cut”

Erase Errata – “At Crystal Palace”

M.I.A – “Arular” & “Kala”

Julia Holter – “Ekstasis”, “Tragedy” & “Loud City Song”

Deerhoof – “Offend Maggie” & “Breakup Song”

Stereolab – “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” & “Mars Audiac Quartet”

Colleen – “Captain of None”

Bjork – “Post” & “Medulla”

Erykah Badu – “New Amerykah Part One: 4th World War”

Neneh Cherry & The Thing – “The Cherry Thing”

Junglepussy – “Pregnant with Succcess”

Suzanne Ciani – “Lixiviation 1969-1985”

Kelis – “Tasty” & “Kaleidoscope”

Ikara Colt – “Chat and Business”

Janelle Monae – “The Archandroid” & “The Electric Lady”

New Order – “Technique”

Pixies – “Come On Pilgrim”, “Surfer Rosa” & “Doolittle”

Thee Satisfaction – “Awe Naturale”, Transitions”, “THEESatisfaction Loves Erykah Badu”, “Snow Motion” & “EarthEE”

Sleigh Bells – “Treats”

Patti Smith – “Horses”

Solex “Solex vs Hitmeister”

The Raincoats – “The Raincoats”, “Odyshape” & “The Kitchen Tapes”

Talking Heads – “Talking Heads ’77”, “More Songs About Buildings & Food”, “Fear of Music” & “Remain in Light”

Tom Tom Club – “Tom Tom Club”

Tamikrest – “Chatma”

Tune-Yards – “Nikki Nack” & “Who Kill”

Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – “Fever to Tell”, “Show Your Bones”, “Its Blitz” & “Mosquito”

Jamila Woods – “Heavn”

NoName – “Telefone”

female-pressure – Various Artists – “Music- Awareness & Solidarity w- Rojava Revolution”

Priority purchases:

more Kate Bush – suggestions very welcome

Lauryn Hill – “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”

Missy Elliott – “Miss E…So Addictive” & “Under Construction”

FKA Twigs – “LP1”

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – “EARS”

Dawn Richard – “Redemption”

This post is the first of two that mark the end of Sonic Fiction for the foreseeable future and probably forever. It wasn’t an easy decision to make but I feel that as much as I’m still as passionate about all the music reviewed on the site I have to now focus purely on my own music career and improving those skills.

Last year this post was called “Top Ten Alternative Release of Year” but this year I decided to drop the word Alternative as I felt it was misleading, I haven’t come up with a decent replacement word so just left a genre name out. This last covers everything from funk to ambient via desert blues and there will be another list tomorrow for the Top Ten Hip-Hop Releases of the Year.

Thank to everyone whose read, commented on and retweeted/favourited/followed Sonic Fiction in its three years in existence. I will still keep the Sonic Fiction Twitter account alive as my own personal account so you can still find out about new music via that account.

1. Jamie Lidell – “Jamie Lidell” (Warp)

2. Boards of Canada – “Tomorrow’s Harvest” (Warp)

3. Janelle Monae – “The Electric Lady” (Wondaland)

4. Julia Holter – “Loud City” (Domino)

5. Factory Floor – “Factory Floor” (DFA)

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

7. Tamikrest – “Chatma” (Glitterbeat)

8. Mulatu Astatke – “Sketches of Ethiopia” (Harmonia Mundi/Jazz Village)

9. Moderat – “II” (Monkeytown)

10. Fuck Buttons – “Slow Focus” (ATP Recordings)

Jamie Lidell – “Jamie Lidell” (Warp)

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

Boards of Canada – “Tomorrow’s Harvest” (Warp)

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After all the mysterious codes, album playback’s in a desert and media hype we finally have the new album from Boards of Canada. “Tomorrow’s Harvest” doesn’t disappoint and stands up alongside the rest of Boards of Canada’s stellar back catalogue. There are two things that you notice after you first listen to the album 1) this isn’t a playful album filled with childlike nostalgia like “Music Has The Right To Children” (1998) 2) this is the most rhythmic Boards of Canada album to date from the drum beats the verge on hip-hop at times to the Vangelis style arpeggios and shifting synth textures.

The album opens with synthetic horn fanfare that purposefully recalls the introduction to an 80’s T.V. show, however this is a misleading and by second track and single ‘Reach for the Dead’ a few minutes later its clear this is going to a much darker proposition. The next track ‘White Cyclosa’ plunges us further into the darkness with its dread inducing synth drone, minimal echoing synth melody and unsettling shifting synth tones that rear their ugly head two minutes in. On ‘Jacquard Causeway’ a semi industrial beat competes with a curving synth melody and its counterpoint. As the song progresses more echoing synth melodies are added and the beat has acoustic layers added and feels looser as time goes on.

With its thin lightly modulated synth line and ethereal sounding vocal textures ‘Cold Earth’ is one of only tracks on the album that recalls earlier Boards of Canada releases albeit with a skittering beat and melody that jumps erratically around the beat and stereo field. ‘Sick Times’ also recalls earlier releases but with a darker, tenser atmosphere and thick, serrated electronic drums competing for the listener’s attention. ‘Collapse’ acts as the centrepiece to the albums palindrome structure it’s groaning reversed vocal effects set the disturbing tone and the Vangelis style arpeggio is another one of the albums key tropes. Next up is the album most playful track ‘Palace Posy’ with its bouncing synth bass and melody play off an almost head nodding hip-hop beat later a delayed synth stab and rhythmic synth melody kick and give the track yet more rhythmic variation, the closest thing to pop song that Boards of Canada have produced to date. ‘Split Your Infinities’ is another album highlight that opens with huge swath of synth drone and twinkling distant synth arpeggio, all this is underpinned by a crunchy beat and lo-fi vocal sample that come in, in the tracks second half. After the intensity of ‘Split Your Infinities’ and ‘Uritual’ the lighter and more pleasant ‘Nothing Is Real’ gives the listener a chance to relax, a pattern it repeated across the album’s structure.

The closer trio of tracks is one of the finest I’ve heard this year, starting with the digital degraded rhythmic synth riff and deep twanging bass guitar of ‘New Seeds’ which recalls Ennio Morricone’s finest soundtrack work but with a modern electronic twist. The track also has some great vocal textures and treated acoustic drums. ‘Come to Dust’ perfectly balances the darker and lighter elements of the album sound combining a deep  synth drone and distant vocal texture with a spacious beat and synth melody and topping it all off with a fast moving arpeggio. The album finishes with ‘Semena Mertvykh’ and the album deepest and darkest synth drone which is twinned with a synth melody so distant it sounds like its coming from down a deep pit, static and tape hiss add to the track’s creepy, dark atmosphere.

There was a eight year wait between Boards of Canada’s last album “The Campfire Headphase” and “Tomorrow’s Harvest” but the wait was worth it with Boards of Canada producing another exceptional album.

Janelle Monae – “The Electric Lady” (Bad Boy/Wondaland)

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“The Electric Lady” is Janelle Monae’s much anticipated follow-up to her delightfully insane and eclectic debut album “The Archandroid” (2010), which featured in my Top 20 Albums of the Year 2010 on this blog. The new doesn’t disappoint mixing up a whole range of musical genres across its nineteen tracks and continuing to explore Monae’s dystopian future where she plays the character of cyborg Cindi Merryweather. The main differences between the two albums is that on “The Electric Lady” there’s a romantic subplot and Monae has a few attempts at her own take on modern R&B a genre she’s expressed much frustration with in the past.

The album opens as “The Archandroid” did with a classical suite called ‘Suite IV Electric Overture’ which features twanging tremolo guitar, slow yet purposeful strings and a low slung head nodding, thin fuzz guitar and a heavenly choir. Around 1 minute 30 seconds in there a flourish of strings that leads into… ‘Give ‘Em What They Love’ featuring Prince. In fact, Prince is the most appropriate musical reference for this track with its slick funk rock guitar and thumping minimal beat. In the chorus a shuffling acoustic guitar enters adding to the slinky groove. In verse two Prince sing falsetto over his own perfectly poised guitar melody. There’s also a great guitar solo by Prince halfway through the song but Monae is the Purple One’s equal and is never in his shadow. Next up is the album’s first single ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ featuring Erykah Badu, the track kicks off with a funky guitar riff and subby bass drum and subtle tambourine groove. Then some P-Funk synth swiggles drop in before everything gets extra funky in the chorus. The track reminds of Thee Satisfaction albeit with major label production. Monae’s first attempt at a straight R&B is ‘Electric Lady’ featuring Solange. It opens with staccato vocals and fuzz guitar solo before the main head nodding funky beat and bass line drop and Monae and Solange’s vocals interweave creating harmonic heaven, later they create some fantastic melodies together too. The beat and bass line reminds me a lot of Solange’s tracks on her own ‘True’ EP and Monae has praised her as one of only artists pushing R&B forward. ‘Primetime’ featuring Miguel is another attempt at R&B this time Monae trys her hand at a ballad. In the intro Miguel adlibs over his own vocal distant vocal harmonies and a beat thumps and echoes out. Monae pushes the boat out vocally for the chorus before a cool fuzz guitar solo kicks. Things drop down again for Miguel’s first verse proper. Despite the cheesy lyrics, sounds and guitar solos, I really like this R&B and I don’t like R&B ballads.

‘Dance Apocalyptic’ is a fantastic pop song that combines acoustic rhythm guitar, upbeat drums and great claps. It strongly recalls ‘Hey Ya’ by Outkast, which is no bad thing. ‘Look Into My Eyes’, ‘Victory’ and ‘Can’t Live Without Your Love’ show that Monae can deliver emotive vocals, something that she’s been accused of lacking in the past. Meanwhile, ‘It’s Code’ and ‘Ghetto Woman’ add to the album funk quota the former combing flanged wah-wah guitars and thick bass with subtle yet bouncy drums and some nice twinkling vibraphone melody. I love the synth swiggles in the chorus. The later continues with the synth swiggles and pumping synth bass, recalls Stevie Wonder in his 70s prime.

The only real misstep on the album (apart the interludes which add nothing to the album musically or thematically) is the closing track ‘What An Experience’ with its 80’s style synth stabs and hip-hop drums come across as cheesy where the aim was for something emotive. However, this a minor complaint on an exceptional album that equals Monae’s debut in terms of both ambition and great tunes. You need “The Electric Lady” in your life.

Julia Holter – “Loud City Song” (Domino)

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Julia Holter returns with “Loud City Song” her third album in three years and the first to record in a studio instead of her bedroom studio. It is immediately evident that this album is both similar and different to those that preceded it. The album is again themed but this time instead of an Ancient Greek theme were transported to 1940’s Paris and the film/novel ‘Gigi’ and Holter’s home of Los Angeles the inspiration for the album. Holter also continues to play with both avant garde and pop music though whereas her previous albums felt grounded and homemade “Loud City Song” brings in elements of jazz and soundtrack music that make for more upbeat and sweeping arrangements.

‘Maxim’s I’ is a great example of the leap that Holter’s made on this superb album. It begins with quiet hi-hats & cymbals play in the distance overlapping each other. The tension rises with strings and heavy piano and a synth pad enter for the beginning of the song proper. A full drum kit plays beneath all of this and Holter’s sparse lead vocal. Then there’s a breakdown to piano and violin around 2 minutes 30 seconds in before a new drum beat and Holter enter creating something that sounds like a more muted version of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Histoire De Melody Nelson”. The first section and beat returns around 4 minutes in and is later joined by what sounds like a new thicker pad sound. Next up is ‘Horns Surrounding Me’ the most effective use of field recordings in one of her songs to date. The field recording of “the brisk footfall of her fellow passersby evokes claustrophobia, danger and paranoia (is she being chased? Or is it all in her head?)”, it sets the tone for the nervous and menacing song that follows perfectly.

‘Maxim’s II’ opens sharply with Holter’s lone vocal and surges of strings. Horns join in honking before a vibraphone enters followed by pounding drums and bass guitar. Everything breaks down around two minutes in with Holter sing over just a field recording. Then huge honking horns and orchestral percussion crash in and push the joyous track along. Around 4 minutes and 30 seconds in the beat breaks down into something more strict and industrial, globs of metallic guitar, thick synth drone and squawking sax make the tracks chaotic climax. Album closer ‘City Appearing’ is an example of something else Holter manages to deliver across the whole of the album which is expert use of dynamics and texture. It begins with just Holter’s naked voice and stark piano chords. Around 1 minute 30 seconds in a wet, subtle synth pad enters glistening and slow moving. A drum beat coated in reverb enters around 2 minutes 40 seconds in. Then 3 minutes 24 seconds in a double bass line enters giving the track new purpose. Around 5 minutes in the synth pad rises to a level that causes the track to feel both tense and swirly which is emphasised by the acoustic drums that shift about below the surface.

With “Loud City Song” Holter may have delivered her best and most fascinating album to, she has managed to make a record that is hugely ambitious and hugely satisfying for the listener. Holter has truly mastered using space, dynamics, texture and improvisation alongside melody, harmony and composing. She is able to paint pictures and evoke emotion with both field recordings and musical elements and effortless blend or move between the two. It is difficult to define, is she an experimental artist or a pop artist or both? Whatever she is it’s a joy to listen to and experience.

Factory Floor – “Factory Floor” (DFA)

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I’ve been a fan of Factory Floor since discovering them back in 2009 when The Quietus began championing their cause. Since then the trio have collaborated with the likes of Simon Fisher Turner, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, released a series of astonishing 12” singles and remixes and stunned many a gig and festival audience. All this has lead to one of most highly anticipated albums of the year and it doesn’t disappoint.

The album opens with ‘Turn It Up’ which sets the scene for the rest of the album perfectly. It opens with electronic percussion that’s swiftly followed by a bass drum, processed male vocals and intense electronic cowbell. Nik Colk’s vocals join the male vocals and the track starts to feel like a minimal Arthur Russell production but more industrial in feel. Chattering techno hi-hats cut in upping the tension. The vocals get increasingly more processed and alien as the track progresses recalling those of Laurel Halo circa ‘Logic Hour’. Next up is ‘Here Again’ which begins with a synth arpeggio that fades in and out of view. Live drums kick playing in a breakbeat style and female vocals echo out. The track reminds me of Chris & Cosey who Factory Floor have collaborated with. There a great clap that comes in around two minutess in. Another arpeggio comes in to play counterpoint to the original in the third minute. the second half of the track is dominated by lots of descending delay effects, rolling toms and chattering hi-hats Colk’s vocals hovering just above.

The single ‘Fall Back’ combines a thumping acoustic bass drum, throbbing synth arpeggio and slap in the face electronic snare and toms during its intro. Colk’s vocals cut in coated in  thick effects (pitched shifted, with maybe some reverb). The chattering hi-hats kick in around 2 minutes in and give the track extra forward momentum and a faster feel. I love the way the intensity builds and when the acid bass that kicks in part through with its great spluttering, squelchy sound. ‘Two Different Ways’ is an great track that shows off the band ability to make you dance as it does their industrial intensity. It starts off with electronic bass drum and snare, backing huge synth arpeggio, toms roll in and out and hi-hats tease, the female vocal drops in coated in reverb. Wood blocks kick in with a funky rhythm around three minutes in. Wet, gloopy delay effects drip over the mix around the four minute mark, then the track finds yet more momentum with the synth bass arpeggio growing stronger and stronger as the track progresses.

The album finishes with the one-two punch of ‘Work Out’ and ‘Breathe In’. The former picks up where ‘Two Different Ways’ left off as electronic drums and percussion thump and patter while a stabby bass synth plays over the top. Tom-toms fall all over the place. Colk’s vocal echoes out creating a harmony. In second half there are more delay effects and an arpeggio that add variety and intensity, as does noise mixed in with the hi-hats and synths. A funky more resonate synth enters around 5 minutes adding extra movement and impetus to the track. The latter is the perfect end to the album and strongly recalls Cabaret Voltaire in their mid 80’s electro prime.  A thick bass synths starts things off before being swiftly joined by a tough acoustic four to the floor beat and intermit processed vocals. The vocals are used as samples rather than typical use of lead vocals.

All-in-all Factory Floor have created a great debut album that both lives up to the four years of hype that preceded it and is also surprisingly accessible compared to what I (and most critics) had expected. Go out and get yourself a copy of “Factory Floor” you won’t regret it.

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

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‘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.

Tamikrest – “Chatma” (Glitterbeat)

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In 2011 “Toumastin” Tamikrest’s second album made number five in my Top Ten Albums of the Year and threw down the gauntlet to the kings of Tuarag (Sahara desert blues) kings Tinariwen. Now they return with a new album that pays title to the women, children and old people who are the victims of the war that’s been raging in their homeland. The band themselves had to escape to Algeria where they recorded “Chatma” (the title means ‘sisters’ in French). The album sees the band in fine form both solidifying what they’d achieved on the previous albums and adding to it with new elements (hand claps, synths), slower more reflective  tracks (something the band hadn’t done before), the addition of former Tinariwen singer Wonou Walet Sidati and a sharper, lusher production job.

The album opens with ‘Tisnant an Chatma’ and there synths are evident from intro before the lead guitar enters and Sidati talks in her native tongue. After about 30 seconds the assured drums and bass guitar and rhythm kick leading the way and picking up where the band left off on thier last album. An early highlight is ‘Itous’ which starts with a deep sparse bass line and hand percussion, swiftly followed by rhythm and lead guitars and interchanging lead vocals. Its more contemplative in tone than any Tamikrest track before it and puts down a marker for the rest of the album. More hand claps utilised around the 1 minute 20 second mark. I reaaly like the cutting, choppy rhythm guitar in the second half of the track. ‘Achaka Achail Aynian daghchilan’ continues the comtemplative tone with its combination of picked naturally reverberate acoustic guitar and quiet almost whispered male vocals and thick but not intrusive electric guitar chords.

Next up another change for Tamikrest in the faster tempo’d ‘Djanegh etoumast’ that opens with muted rhythm guitar riff before the lead guitar comes in a big chord is stuck and a faster rhythm of drums, percussion, bass and guitar kicks in. Shortly after the hand claps and vocal chants join in. There’s some great guitar solos in the instrumental sections. A drum break, bass solo and revered drum sounds introduced briefly after the three minute mark before the guitar drive back in to take the song to its climax. ‘Assikal’ sees the band exploiting the modern production techniques of reversing (a piano in this case). The guitar melodies float in before a male vocal sings quietl over, lots of overlapping reversed piano and then the loping percussion and lead guitar proper are slowly faded in. The track has a stately assured feel. Around two minutes the reversed piano and spoken word returns, the guitar echoes out infinetly. Three minutes fifty seconds in hand percussion and a wooden flute come in swiftly followed by the lead guitar, the one thing holding this whole complex track together.

A dirty analogue synth drone rises at the start of ‘Takma’ before hard drums bang and clatter, the lead guitar darts around the mix and chunks of fast and funky rhythm guitar and bass chugs below. It takes a moment to get used to this newly more uptempo Tamikrest but once I did the track and especially the synth and drums sounded great. The album closes with the brilliant ‘Timtar’, reversed guitars open the track giving way to the lead guitar and a deep bass drum, the melody is quite sparse compared to typical Tamikrest melodies. A wonderful gentle male vocal melody moves slow across the backing track. More drums enter around 2 minutes 30 seconds but they are subtle yet add just enough forward momentum to stop the track from stalling. The rhythm comes in towards to the end of the track to provide the same forward momentum.

All-in-all “Chatma” is the crowning achievement of Tamikrest’s career, the band managing to retain what made so great in the first and combine it with new elements and techniques to that enrich their Tuarag sound. Highly recommended for fans of Tuarag artists such as Tinariwen, Group Inerane and Group Doueh and those that like of sound of the descriptions in this review but have yet to explore this genre.

Mulatu Astatke – “Sketches of Ethiopia” (Harmonia Mundi/Jazz Village)

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I first came across Mulatu Astatke’s music after buying “Inspiration Information” (2009) a collborative album made with London’s funk/jazz/psychdelica band The Heliocentrics. The album hasn’t been off my mp3 player since and I’ve explored his impressive back catalogue of Ethio Jazz (the genre he pionneered in the late 60’s that combines tradtional Ethiopia modes and rhythms with those of Western jazz) albums. Four years later he returns with an album that gets closer to his aim of a perfect hybrid of Ethiopian music and jazz. The album features a number of tradtional that have been modified by Astatke so that they can play the 12 tone Western scales used in jazz.

The album opens with ‘Azmari’ the whole of Astake’s band in full swing, playing an Afro-funk/Latin jazz rhythm, brass stabs, upright bass underpins the patter of percussion and drums shift under everything. A krar (six-string lyre) flys in playing a counterpoint melody to the brass. There’s a great tense battle between the instruments around 2 minutes 40 seconds in, then the track breaksdown to upright bass twang, masinko (single-bowed lute) scraping and a vibraphone twinkling high above. The intros drums, percussion and melodies dive back in soon after. Next up is ‘Gamo’ a fast moving krar melody, upright bass line, clip-klopping percussion and African vocal chants open the track. Then the brass moves in and out with purpose. The track feels both Latin and African all at once (a trademark of Mulatu’s sound), it’s light yet not without substance. There’s a nice krar solo and low synth drones come in for the final minute or so, the interweaving male and female vocals are great too!!

‘Gambella’ starts with three sparse melodies playing out (vibes, piano & krar) over tumbling toms and waves of cymbals, this creates a forboding atmosphere but with shafts of light courtesy of the cymbals, vibes and high piano notes. The full beat, bass line and acoustic guitar melody kick in at 1 minute 30 seconds in before the horns strut in and blares out over the top. There’s great attitude in the male vocals, which are supported by the female backing vocals and they remind of how the vocals are used on Talking Heads “Remain In Light”. It’s followed by ‘Gumuz’ which begins with chanted male vocals and distant female vocal chants before phased guitar, double bass and a shuffling Latin rhythm slink in. An acoustic guitar plays a rhythm that gives the whole track forward momentum. There’s some nice electric piano chords that introduce themselves during a breakdown around 2 minutes 30 seconds and add warmth throughout the rest of the track. It’s the most modern of all the tracks I’ve hear from Astatke and he just about pulls it off, though some of the sounds are a little too smooth and polished and thus come off as a bit cheesy.

The album finishes with two great but contrasting tracks in ‘Motherland Abay’ and ‘Surma’. The former opens with sparse reverberate piano chords, swiftly followed a picked krar melody, chimes and the bowing of the masinko. Mulatu’s vibraphone twinkles in and out of the mix. This mix of instruments creates a desolate atmosphere. A washint (bamboo flute) enters and creates a haunting melody that swoops down on the listener. The masinko drives in low in the 4th minute before a light drum beat and stringed melody and trumpet take over the vibraphone playing sparsely above and around them. The latter combines a drum roll that brings in the horns, percussion and bass line. The track breaks down for the verse, that features a tightly coiled guitar riff (muted), an acoustic guitar melody, shuffling drums and the horns all backing guest Fatoumata Diawara lead vocals. The track feels a lot more like an Afrobeat or High Life track than the Ethio-Jazz of Mulatu’s usual tracks. It’s sound is sparser and more poppy than the rest of the album.

In “Sketches of Ethiopia” Astatke has created an album that comes close to matching both solo work from the late 60’s and early 70’s and the “Inspiration Information” album that are regarded as his best work. A little more time with the album will no doubt confirm if it equals these past achievements and reveal yet more detail of this meticulous yet effortless artist. Highly recommed to existing Astatke fans and fans of East African music.

Moderat – “II” (Monkeytown)

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Moderat released their first album four years ago it neatly combined the aggressive, dark techno, dancehall and hip-hop influenced side of electronica duo Modeselektor and the dreamy atmospherics and emotive vocals and guitars of electronica artist Apparat. Now the experienced trio are back with a new collaborative album “II”.

The album differs from their debut in that whereas the debut featured much more dramatic peaks and troughs across its running time, there was a handful of harder and danceable tracks were the beats were more prominent. This no problem as the trio are just as adept at slow burning and emotive tracks as they are club tracks.

Another difference is that the Moderat sound has been developed more organically, as the trio admitted in a recent interview with XLR8R that the previous album was “based on old ideas from all of us. We just had a folder and we put all of the ideas in there and we kind of recycled them”. The trio ended creating new ideas from scratch for “II” and this has led to a sound in which elements from the two different parts of the group are not fighting each other but complementing and contrasting with each other instead. All-in-all its a more well rounded and sonically consistent album.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/69467838″>Moderat “Bad Kingdom” | Monkeytown Rec.</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/pfadfinderei”>Pfadfinderei</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

After a brief intro track to the set the scene the album really gets going with ‘Bad Kingdom’ with its spiky synth bass, Apparat’s contrasting vocals (plain in the verse, dreamy and distant in the chorus) and brilliantly designed synth sound that bleep, squeal and honk. ‘Versions’ keeps the quality level and tempo high with airy fast moving pad and slinky percussion providing the energy behind rising and falling vocals and slow moving synth bass. ‘Milk’ provides the toughest and tensest track on the album with a slippery but hard techno synth bass and thin atmospherics setting the tone before another bass layer joins in thickening the sound and bringing with it reverse effects and the full drumbeat that features a very crisp and hard snare! An epic, emotive techno track should go down well in Berlin’s clubs. ‘Gita’ highlights Moderat’s ability to create incredibly detailed and texture tracks from seemingly just a few musical elements. It combines fuzzy digital bass synth, clicking, clacking electronic drums that back Apparat’s naked, and multi layered vocals. As the track progresses a synth pad and two melodies sneak underneath the vocals. After several listens I suddenly realised one of the melodies sounded like marbles falling from your hands and bouncing up into the air.

Overall it’s hard to find fault with “II”, my only real criticism is that I’d have liked some MC driven tracks like “BeatsWaySick” from the debut album but it’s a minor criticism. Moderat have created an album that could grow to be as great if not better than its predecessor was.

Fuck Buttons – “Slow Focus” (ATP Recordings)

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It has been four years since Fuck Buttons up their game on their second album “Tarot Sport” which made Sonic Fiction’s Top Ten Albums of the Year 2009. Both members have worked on other projects the most high profile of which was Benjamin John Power’s dark ambient side project Blanck Mass. Now they return with new album “Slow Focus” and the promise of a sound underpinned by hip-hop beats.

The album opens with ‘Brainfreeze’, which opens with the duo’s previous trademark tribal drums and thick snaking synth covered in grimy distortion that slink all over the drums. As the track progress more and more layers of synth are add until a new pad sound changes the song’s feel from claustrophobic to triumphant. Next up is ‘Year of the Dog’ and begins with synths bubbling up through a soup of reverb/delay before an aggressive arpeggio fly into view. Later in the track a disturbing cacophony of violins enters before the arpeggio reasserts itself and angelic sounding pad joins the melee.

Album centrepiece ‘The Red Wing’ kicks off with a hip-hop beat and chirping synth start this track before a corroding synth bass line enters. A synth riff enters and echoes out in the distance, the riff comes front and centre as the track evolves and the synth bass and synth drones gets stronger. ‘The Red Wing’ could easily be an epic track by either Boards Of Canada or El-P and that is no bad thing! ‘Sentients’ starts with resonate electronic percussion which suggests a Congotronics influence and spluttering synth blasts before a central hip-hop influenced beat kicks in. Another synth enters whistling like R2D2. A new counter point melody enters played by a resonate 8-bit vocal synth melody and is quickly following by a wave of corroded synth. Finally another pad enters giving the track a horror film/John Carpenter vibe.

‘Prince’s Prize’ and ‘Stalker’ both feature glassy FM synth melodies with the former utilising a double time hip-hop beat and reminding me of Gang Gang Dance and Mouse on Mars. While the latter adds glistening synth later after glistening synth layer until its epic climax.

The album ends with the tumbling brittle synth melody, thumping bass drum and huge ascending synth chord progression of ‘Hidden XS’ a transcendent finale to breathtaking album.

I was excited about ‘Slow Focus’ before hearing it but never thought that Fuck Buttons would find another level to take their synth noise sound to, however they have set the bar extra high with this brilliant album.

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In 2011 “Toumastin” Tamikrest’s second album made number five in my Top Ten Albums of the Year and threw down the gauntlet to the kings of Tuarag (Sahara desert blues) kings Tinariwen. Now they return with a new album that pays title to the women, children and old people who are the victims of the war that’s been raging in their homeland. The band themselves had to escape to Algeria where they recorded “Chatma” (the title means ‘sisters’ in French). The album sees the band in fine form both solidifying what they’d achieved on the previous albums and adding to it with new elements (hand claps, synths), slower more reflective  tracks (something the band hadn’t done before), the addition of former Tinariwen singer Wonou Walet Sidati and a sharper, lusher production job.

The album opens with ‘Tisnant an Chatma’ and there synths are evident from intro before the lead guitar enters and Sidati talks in her native tongue. After about 30 seconds the assured drums and bass guitar and rhythm kick leading the way and picking up where the band left off on thier last album. An early highlight is ‘Itous’ which starts with a deep sparse bass line and hand percussion, swiftly followed by rhythm and lead guitars and interchanging lead vocals. Its more contemplative in tone than any Tamikrest track before it and puts down a marker for the rest of the album. More hand claps utilised around the 1 minute 20 second mark. I reaaly like the cutting, choppy rhythm guitar in the second half of the track. ‘Achaka Achail Aynian daghchilan’ continues the comtemplative tone with its combination of picked naturally reverberate acoustic guitar and quiet almost whispered male vocals and thick but not intrusive electric guitar chords.

Next up another change for Tamikrest in the faster tempo’d ‘Djanegh etoumast’ that opens with muted rhythm guitar riff before the lead guitar comes in a big chord is stuck and a faster rhythm of drums, percussion, bass and guitar kicks in. Shortly after the hand claps and vocal chants join in. There’s some great guitar solos in the instrumental sections. A drum break, bass solo and revered drum sounds introduced briefly after the three minute mark before the guitar drive back in to take the song to its climax. ‘Assikal’ sees the band exploiting the modern production techniques of reversing (a piano in this case). The guitar melodies float in before a male vocal sings quietl over, lots of overlapping reversed piano and then the loping percussion and lead guitar proper are slowly faded in. The track has a stately assured feel. Around two minutes the reversed piano and spoken word returns, the guitar echoes out infinetly. Three minutes fifty seconds in hand percussion and a wooden flute come in swiftly followed by the lead guitar, the one thing holding this whole complex track together.

A dirty analogue synth drone rises at the start of ‘Takma’ before hard drums bang and clatter, the lead guitar darts around the mix and chunks of fast and funky rhythm guitar and bass chugs below. It takes a moment to get used to this newly more uptempo Tamikrest but once I did the track and especially the synth and drums sounded great. The album closes with the brilliant ‘Timtar’, reversed guitars open the track giving way to the lead guitar and a deep bass drum, the melody is quite sparse compared to typical Tamikrest melodies. A wonderful gentle male vocal melody moves slow across the backing track. More drums enter around 2 minutes 30 seconds but they are subtle yet add just enough forward momentum to stop the track from stalling. The rhythm comes in towards to the end of the track to provide the same forward momentum.

All-in-all “Chatma” is the crowning achievement of Tamikrest’s career, the band managing to retain what made so great in the first and combine it with new elements and techniques to that enrich their Tuarag sound. Highly recommended for fans of Tuarag artists such as Tinariwen, Group Inerane and Group Doueh and those that like of sound of the descriptions in this review but have yet to explore this genre.

Honourable Mentions

Death In Vegas – “Trans Love Energies”

This album came out nowhere back in September and knocked me for six, a great comeback album if ever there was one. Admittedly it’s not always the subtlest of albums, both in terms of wearing its influences on its sleeves and in terms of its sometimes simplistic nature. However, these complaints are minor with Richard Fearless finding a balance between his art-rock and electronic music influences and blending them into a visceral whole. Though it may not be the most original album released this year it’s a joy to listen to and Fearless show he’s still a master of his music domain. His whispered vocals (which sometimes recall Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers) and those of collaborator Kate Stelmanis (Austra) are the icing on the cake. It is well worth getting the 2 CD edition too, which features remixes and instrumental versions of album tracks plus five non-album tracks all of which equal the quality of the album itself.

Spank Rock – “Everything Is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar”

After 5 years Spank Rock returned this year with a second album ‘Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar’. This combines tracks that consolidate what Spank Rock achieved on previous album ‘YoYoYoYoYo’ and while moving into new areas like four-to-floor dance music, grungy distortion and Can sampling single ‘Energy’. Spank Rock also tries out singing on ‘The Dance’, ‘Baby’ (on which he achieves an excellent Prince impersonation) and ‘Energy’ and does so with aplomb. The triple dance floor whammy of ‘The Dance’, ‘#1 Hit’ and ‘Turn It Off’ are the biggest departures but also the greatest successes. During the second half of the album the majority tracks recall ‘YoYoYoYoYo’s’ electro sound but here it’s been expanded and built upon to incorporate tribal vibes, industrial touches, grungy distortion and on ‘Baby’ a phat funk groove. Like on his debut, Spank Rock pushes the envelope of electro hip-hop successfully bringing together disparate elements and combining them as if they should be together. An excellent album full of energy, humour and electro.

DELS – “GOB”

Dels produced an authoritative debut album that balances catchy, memorable tunes with experimentation, unexpected twists and turns and a signature sound on a complete and engaging record. The first half is full of heavy hitting, bouncy electro inspired tracks but the second half to the album covers more serious topics including the recent political problems in the UK, rape and domestic violence. 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. Dels is a hip-hop artist with substance to match his unique style.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen – “A Winged Victory for the Sullen”

A Winged Victory for the Sullen is a collaboration between Adam Wiltzie of Texan ambient duo Stars of the Lid and contemporary pianist Dustin O’ Halloran and their self titled debut album is where their two styles meet in the middle. The music shifts in and out of focus as the two musicians interact, knowing when to play together and when to let the other have space, when to build a wave of sound and when to leave room between them. One of the remarkable things about the album is how cohesive it sounds, as if the duo had been working together for years and understood each other’s every musical move and how to compliment it. The reason for choosing this album is best summed up by Sam Cleeve of Drowned in Sound “While Wiltzie and O’Halloran both have their obvious contemporaries to draw parallels between (Hammock; Eno/Frahm; Arnalds), this emotive disc balances a hushed intimacy and vast expanse that places it in a unique sonic terrain.”

Toro Y Moi – “Underneath the Pine”

Back in February I described Toro Y Moi’s “Underneath the Pine” in the following way, “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 riffs and grooves matched with emotive soundtrack backing and the glorious rush of good pop music, it’s a leap forward from his impressive début ‘Causers of This’” Since then I’ve had more time to contemplate the album and its subtleties, discovering the stylistic similarities to Stereolab (who featured in his mix for The Quietus) and deepening my admiration for the lush atmospherics present in the tracks and the way that the singles ‘New Beat’ and ‘Still Sound’’s infectious upbeat energy contrast with the album’s more thoughtful moments such as ‘Good Hold’ and opener ‘Intro/Chi Chi’. On the surface “Underneath the Pine” is full of simple pleasures but reveals more and more with each new play.

Top Ten Album’s of the Year

10. Battles – “Gloss Drop” (Warp Records)

 As with any Battles release there’s a lot to take in and one listen simply won’t cut it in terms of any real in-depth analysis. The trio made a good first impression proving they can do great things without former member Tyondai Braxton, whom was always seen as a key band member. This is definitely a Battles album yet they’ve shed some of the uptight, over thought jazz-prog that had previously manifested itself in a frustrating way. This is a looser, freer band. Drummer John Stanier is able to make his techno influences much more explicit, this and the Carribbean/Latin/Calypso touches that are littered throughout the album add a new rhythmic interest and lightness of touch that are both great new additions to the Battles sound. This isn’t a band trying to play techno or calypso through; rather they are trying to fold these influences into their already established sound. Another interesting facet of the sound is that on many of the tracks feature ambience and background sounds that evoke grey concrete that is juxtaposed with the lighter and happier calypso influenced melodies and riffs. ‘Gloss Drop’ is a bold statement from band that could have collapsed but has instead shown a new strength.

9. Chancha Via Circuito – “Rio Arriba” (ZZK Records)

This album by an Argentine hip-hop producer Pedro Canale fuses J Dilla-esque beats to traditional Columbian cumbia percussion samples, melodies and vocal samples to create a heady and humid hybrid that recalls walking through the South American jungle after dark. Like all the best hip-hop producers Canale has a deep understanding of the music that he is sampling but doesn’t respect it to the point that it limits his innovation. His music and grooves feel organic but also as if they’ve been subtly subverted in his sampler. “Rio Arriba” isn’t all about the beats. He uses atmosphere to evoke a time and place and is one of the only new hip-hop producers I’ve heard who achieves this to such a high level, you don’t just hear the time and place either but feel the emotions of the singers and the instrumental tracks so brilliantly convey. It’s difficult to properly describe Chancha Via Circuito’s music but with “Rio Arriba” he has created the debut album of the year.

8. The Horrors – “Skying” (XL Records)

I’ll admit to never having been taken by The Horrors and other than the excellent track ‘Sea Within a Sea’ I didn’t see what all fuss was about with their last album “Primary Colours”. However, their new self-produced album “Skying” finds them striking a balance between clear melodic lines and thick, swirling psychedelia. Previously the band sounded muddy with the melody submerged low in the mix. There’s also a new feeling of purpose to tracks like ‘Still Life’, ‘Moving Further Away’ and ‘Endless Blue’. The band combine the motorik rhythms of Neu!, the English psychedelia of late 80s Julian Cope and the power ballad dynamics of Simple Minds (not something I thought I’d ever be recommending) into a punchy pop-rock package. They’ve left behind the restrictions of recreating gothic post-punk sounds and the doom laden, muddy psychedelia of previous albums and have emerged as a band that delivers where once they merely promised.

7. Tune-Yards –“Who Kill” (4AD Records)

Tune-Yards delivers on what was hinted at on her debut album ‘Bird-Brains’. Strong vocal performances and use of vocal layering are ever present as are the hip-hop rhythms that dominated her debut. She also brings a host of surprises, the processing of vocals through a modular synth, pop melodies that pack a punch and a day-glo sound 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. In addition to this the album reflects its time through its politically engaged lyrics and of protests both personal and local. In a year dominated by protests and political upheaval, “Who Kill” provided a vibrant soundtrack. All-in-all this is a great album from a unique artist.

6. The Field – “Looping State of Mind”  (Kompakt)

This year Axel Willner delivered another great album as The Field and continued to evolve his glacial techno sound. His music is now warmer and more organic (see ‘Arpeggiated Love’ and ‘Burned Out’), while his grooves have become funkier and more human recalling those found on LCD Soundsystem’s “Sound of Silver”. The best way I can think to describe “Looping State of Mind” is LCD Soundsystem grooves matched with the inverted dance structures and Tangerine Dream influenced kosmische music of The Field’s typical productions. A match made in heaven.

5. Tamikrest – “Toumastin”  (Glitterhouse Records)

This is another great Taurag album that throws down the gauntlet to Tinariwen (who’s “Tassili was a massive disappointment). 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 masterfully conquers both the more groove based and moody and downbeat material with confidence and ease. This is great album from a band full ideas who’ve possibly yet to reach their full potential.

4. Beastie Boys – “Hot Sauce Committee Part 2” (Capitol/Grand Royale Records)

With this album the Beastie Boys returned to form creating their best album since “Hello Nasty” (1998). They went back to basics and came up with a collection of short punchy songs full of energy, hooks and humour. Though the album is a thoroughly Beastie Boys creation they do seem to have rebooted their sound, with the help of producer Philippe Zdar, concocting a new synthetic retro-futuristic Beasties sound. The album’s 16 tracks whizz by in a blur and it’s hard to pick out favourites in this heady brew but if pushed I’d go for ‘Make Some Noise’, ‘Non Stop Disco Powerpack’, ‘Too Many Rappers’ feat. Nas, ‘Don’t Play No Game I Can’t Win’ feat Santigold and excellent instrumental ‘Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament’. The only disappointment is that ‘Tadlock’s Glasses’ finishes far too soon.

3 . Mark McGuire – “Get Lost”  (Editions Mego Records)

At first “Get Lost” seemed like business as usual for Emeralds guitarist Mark McGuire, All the typical traits of McGuire’s guitar playing are present especially his fuzzy lead lines and repetitive yet hypnotic delay heavy rhythm patterns and guitar-synth drones aplenty. However, the more I listened to the album, the more it became clear it was almost a direct relative of the collaborative work of Brian Eno and Robert Fripp particularly 1975’s brilliant ‘Evening Star’ album. The colourful washes of sound swirl around the stereo image and immerse you but are perfectly balanced with the melodic lines that weave in and out of them. I didn’t think that McGuire could equal last year’s amazing “Living With Yourself” but with “Get Lost” he’s managed it and combined the best elements from all his previous releases into a cohesive whole.

2. Apparat – “The Devil’s Walk” (Mute Records)

On his new album Apparat displayed a new skill for writing immediate and engaging material, a difficult balance that has been masterfully struck without surrendering any of this enigmatic artist’s mystery. The album doesn’t instantly recall Apparat’s previous solo work and has more in common with the Moderat project he formed with Modeselektor in 2009, specifically the dark gothic atmosphere that pervades throughout. It seems appropriate that Apparat should switch to Mute Records for this release as many of tracks indirectly recall Depeche Mode at their finest and Apparat’s vocal even sounds like Marc Almond (Soft Cell) minus the camp edge. Apparat’s greatest achievement here is combining modern production techniques with strong song writing. His song are now more memorable and emotionally evocative.

1. Gang Gang Dance – “Eye Contact” (4AD Records)

A breathtakingly ambitious album featuring North African guitars, club beats, Indian pop vocals, grime and electro synth bass, and twisted synth arpeggios all working together where they could 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 album Gang Gang Dance have been threatening to make and impresses instantly whereas previous songs were either growers or too awkward to be properly embraced. 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, which is an upbeat opposite to the melancholy of Animal Collective. An interest coincidence is that “Merriweather Post Pavilion” was Sonic Fiction’s Album of the Year 2009 and ‘Eye Contact’ takes pole position for this year. From opening 11 minutes epic ‘Glass Jar’ to the closing ‘Thru and Thru’ with its twisting snake charmer like Eastern melody, tribal percussion and clubby beats and synths via the Sade-esque ‘Romance Layers’ beats the heart of exhilarating experimentation meeting the forward rush of club music and the exoticism of traditional music from around the world. As No.1 in my list there is no higher recommendation!

Spotify playlist:

Sonic Fiction Top Ten Album’s of the Year

Observations

Just like last year two words have loomed large for me this year: Ambient and African; and I have continued my exploration of these types of music. I’ve found myself getting deeper into Ambient music both old and new, especially with FACT publishing their 20 Best Ambient albums in the summer with Steve Reich and Pat Metheny’s – “Electric Counterpoint”, Main’s – “Firmament II”, Bobby Beausoleil soundtrack for “Lucifer’s Rising” and “Ambient 3: Day of Radiance” by Brian Eno and Laraaji  amongst my favourites so far. A spate of new releases towards the end of the year that I’ve enjoyed include “Music for Confluence” by Peter Broderick, “Tragedy” by Julia Holter and “Glimmer” by Jacaszek, “El Tren Fantasma” by Chris Watson, “Replica” by Oneohtrix Point Never and “Tragedy and Geometry” by Steve Hauschildt of Emeralds.  On the African side of things I started the year with the purchase of the Congotronics vs. Rockers compilation album, which was swiftly followed by the debut album of the Kasai Allstars and though I wasn’t listening to much African music during the summer I followed the progress of the Congotronics vs Rockers tour via their blog and towards the end of have enjoyed Analog Africa’s “Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso”, a great compilation covering the rich and varied music of this small and obscure country during the ‘70s.

Some releases have taken a little longer to grower on me than others for instance “A Creature I Don’t Know” by Laura Marling narrowly missed out on being part of my Honourable Mentions yet it has slowly but surely grown on me since its September release. I also recently revisited Laurel Halo’s “Hour Logic” EP and went from liking it to loving its infectious energy matched with abundant atmosphere. I’ve also been on and off with a few artists/albums the main culprit being Maria Minerva who I’ve liked and then found dull and then liked and then found dull again. Albums by The Rapture and Megafaun have also failed to fully convince me, though they still could.

Sonic Fiction’s predictions for up and coming new bands/artists for 2011 mostly seemed premature as many of artists with now release their debut albums next year. Still DELs and Balam Acab produced good debut albums and Laurel Halo and Blondes both had a steady stream of releases, maybe we’ll have better luck next year.

Still to come this week Vier’s Album’s of the Year and Observations.

by Liam Flanagan (Sonic Fiction editor)

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.

http://www.kompakt.fm/releases/kafkatrax_1/embedded

http://www.kompakt.fm/releases/kafkatrax_2/embedded

Spotify playlist:

Vier’s Albums of the Year 2011… so far

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