Tag Archive: The Black Dog


This is a monthly feature where classic and cult albums are revisited and reassessed for the modern listener. The only rule is that it must be a critically acclaimed or cult record released before 2000.

Brian Eno – “Another Green World” (Island/E.G. Records, 1975)

This month’s Classics Critiqued choice is many things. Universally recognised as the best album of Brian Eno’s 40 years plus musical career, a stepping stone to the creation of ambient music as we know it today and a modern classic that hasn’t aged in the way many albums released in 1975 have. “Another Green World” links electronic music’s past while looking forward into its future and would go on to be acknowledged by many as highly influential. Though in 1975 Eno had not yet taken the leap fully into the ambient music genre, it seems odd that “Another Green World” is perceived as a ‘song album and not an ambient album’ as only five of its fourteen tracks feature vocals. Geeta Dayal puts this down to the album’s sequencing as the vocal tracks are well spaced and longer than the brief instrumentals between them. In this article I will explore ideas about Eno’s creative process and the making of “Another Green World”, his ideas of exploiting the studio as musical instrument, the perception of Eno as a studio boffin and how he discovered ambient music and his founding concepts.

Before he made “Another Green World” Eno had released two solo albums in 1973 and ’74: “Here Comes the Warm Jets” and “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) respectively. With these albums he attempted to throw off people’s perception of him as the strutting peacock synthesizer operator of his previous band Roxy Music, which he was mostly successful at. He arrived at “Another Green World” with a sound that was hinting at a grey area between his rock music past and his ambient music future. This was the first time Eno had gone into the studio without any demos or songs completed. He used the guiding principle of his cybernetics hero Stafford Beer – “Instead of trying to specify in full detail, you specify it only somewhat. You then ride on the dynamics of the system in the direction you want to go.” All Eno had was the talent of his session musicians, a general concept, ideas for which instruments to use and his ace card: his musical ear and skill with synthesizers and processing sound.

Eno’s style is often described as being painterly but as Geeta Dayal expertly pointed out in her book on “Another Green World”, a filmmaking is a better analogy as Eno “has a knack for identifying and assembling the right mix of people to serve a larger vision, and the ability to coax unexpected performances out of collaborators.” This seems be crucial in both the creation of and our understanding of the album. Eno’s collaborators and engineer Rhett Davis recall Eno in a playful and experimental mood during the album’s creation. His experiments included creating 80 foot tape loops in the control room, breaking off in the middle of recording for a slice of cake, treating pianos with bits of metal under the strings or hammer, recording in stairwells and challenging Phil Collins to drum to a mathematical formula he wrote out, which frustrated Collins no end. Regular collaborator and lead guitarist Robert Fripp believed “The key to Brian, from my view, is his sense of play… Although Eno is considered an intellectual, and clearly he has more than sufficient wit, it’s Brian’s instinctive and intuitive choices that impress me. Instinct puts us in the moment, intellect is slower.”

The recording studio was an essential tool that Eno fully exploited on “Another Green World”. Recording in odd rooms/spaces and using the reverb  within Basing Street studio, a deconsecrated church, had a profound effect on the acoustic atmosphere present on the album as did Eno’s desire to push the limited analogue technology as far as it would go. Harold Budd, a future Eno collaborator, said of his use of the studio as an instrument, “The documentary aspect is part and parcel of most recording studios. You perform something and it’s captured, and it’s recorded and pressed and put out in the world. The part with Eno was just the opposite. You use the studio in order to get the sounds that are going to be captured, you know what I mean? It just put a reversal on it.” Eno himself said “… I strongly believe that recording studios have created a different type of musician and a different way of making music… Now this is obviously a very different way of working from any traditional compositional manner; it’s much more like a painting. So it’s clearly a method that is also available to the non-musician. You don’t have to have traditional technical competence to work that way.” In saying this Eno inadvertently planted the seed of the idea of the modern music ‘producer’ who can be anyone creating music with software and recording hardware in their own home, the completely autonomous non-musician and studio producer who needs no proven ability or experience.

“Another Green World” isn’t an album that has many direct decedents as can be said for most of Eno’s best work; he is a distinct artist who stands alone. However, the album and his other pure ambient albums that soon followed have influenced at least two generations of ambient musicians including Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, The Black Dog, Biosphere, Wolfgang Voigt (Kompakt co-founder) and a new generation that includes Oneohtrix Point Never, Emeralds, M83, Eluvium and others. The greatest legacy Eno and “Another Green World” have is the ideas behind them, the experiments, the imaginative titles that hint at what’s within, the inspirational devices such as the Oblique Strategies employed when the music itself wasn’t enough to fire the imagination. These ideas and the resulting album have remained central to electronic music for 37 years and I have no doubt they will continue to do so.

Stream “Another Green World” here.

Liam Flanagan (Sonic Fiction Editor)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Wolfgang Voigt – Kafkatrax (Kompakt/Profan)

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

7. Bjork – Biophilia (Nonesuch)

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

8. Skudge – “Phantom” (Skudge Records)

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

9. Gui Boratto – III (Kompakt)

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

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

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

Honourable mentions

Perc – Wicker & Steel (Perc Trax)

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

Lucy – Wordplay For Working Bees (Stroboscopic Artefacts)

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

Planningtorock – W (DFA)

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

Liam’s Albums of the Year 2010

I think its been a very strong year for music overall and a step up from 2009, though there’s been some high-profile disappointments e.g. Four Tet, MIA, Maximum Balloon etc the real musical landscape seems in a very health state and I think our review of the year bears this out. We’ve both tried to consider what and who has defined the year as well as our own tastes.

1. Oneohtrix Point Never – ‘Returnal’ (Editions Mego)

In any other year this wouldn’t have been anywhere near my Albums of the Year list but discovering Ambient music and  ‘Returnal’ itselfs excellence plus Oneohtrix’s dominance of year make this one un missable album.

2. Gorillaz – ‘Plastic Beach’ (EMI)

In terms of song based albums this was incredibly strong from the word go. Add to this the concept behind the album, its environmental message and the incendiary return of Bobby Womack. ‘Plastic Beach’ hangs together while cover an incredible range of musical genres including classical, Oriental, hip-hop, grime, electro, pop and rock to name but a few.

3. El Guincho – ‘Pop Negro’ (Young Turks)

El Guincho stepped his music up several gears on this his second album. Taking in Spanish pop, hip-hop, South American music and 80’s heartthrob Luther Vandross. This gave the album its unique sound combining crisp, heavy but danceable rhythms with a glossy production resulting in an album that always puts a smile on your face.

4. Konono No.1 – ‘Assume Crash Position’ (Crammed Discs)

This is another summer blockbuster, this time from Congo. Five years on from their début Konono No.1 returned and seemed to have completely flipped their formula on its head. Instead of the persistent distorted thumb pianos occupying the top of the mix they changed places with waves of reverb drenched sound that had previously hidden beneath them. This changed the sound dramatically creating a more relaxed atmosphere.

5. Mark McGuire – ‘Living with Yourself’ (Editions Mego)

2010 was a busy year for Mark McGuire as well as releasing Emeralds critically acclaimed ‘Does It Look Like I’m Here?’ he produced this his first properly distributed solo release. There’s a lot more space in this than Emeralds latest and ambience and melody share equal billing on this great guitar record.

6. Flying Lotus – ‘Cosmogramma’ (Warp)

With ‘Cosmogramma’ FlyLo has transcended any of the generic tags applied to his music. Yes there are snatches of hip-hop, jazz, chiptune, funk and soundtrack music sometimes all at once but the sound can never be pinned down. It may not quite live up to the hype that preceded it but its ambition takes it close.

7. Big Boi – ‘Sir Luscious Left Foot…’ (Def Jam)

I wasn’t a big fan of ‘Speakerboxx’ Big Boi’s side of the OutKast’s 2003 double album. But ‘Sir Luscious Left Foot…’ is completely different album stuffed full of phat, funky beats that could only come from a member of Atlanata’s finest.

8. Sun Araw – ‘On Patrol’ (Not Not Fun)

18 months ago I hadn’t even heard of Sun Araw, but since hearing his music for the first time this spring I’ve been pretty much addicted. This latest album brings new depth to his dub-infected beats and shimmering wah-wah freak outs. The atmosphere and noises go to the next level and I await his next full length journey with bated breath.

9. Lindstrom and Christabelle– ‘Real Life is No Cool’ (Smalltown Supersound)

Lindstrom took a break from his usual cosmic disco dabbling to create a credible pop record with irrepressible Christabelle. Despite its catchiness and production gloss Lindstrom still provides surprises and twists not traditionally found in pop. The highlight of this outstanding collection is the Dr. Dre aping ‘Lovesick’.

10. Matthew Dear – ‘Black City’ (Ghostly International)

Matthew Dear returned this year with a concept album that hung together brilliantly and restored the faith of those critics who’d deemed his earlier effort ‘Asa Breed’ erratic. The conceptual arch of the record made a real difference and makes for a darker but no less thrilling experience.

11. Hot Chip – ‘One Life Stand’ (EMI/DFA)

In some ways Hot Chip are their own worst enemies and this would have charted higher if it had more of the unpredictability of ‘Made In The Dark’. Having said that this record strikes a balance between warm and sweet and sentimental and sickly. Not an easy achievement by any means.

12. Errors – ‘Come Down with Me’ (Rock Action)

When this album I heard about this album I didn’t get that excited but as the release drew nearer I revisited their début and realised it was much better and warmer than I remembered. I had feared Errors would become a forgotten second tier post-rock band but instead they stepped up a gear with an album packed with highlights. Go see them live and buy the album you won’t regret it!!

13. Jamie Lidell – ‘Compass’ (Warp)

This album was definitely a grower at first half the material failed to make an impact on me; however repeat listening has paid dividends. Lidell has returned to his schizoid genre and mood hopping and this album benefits massively, from dust ball hip-hop of ‘The Ring’, the super deep bass of ‘She Needs Me’ and the desolate beauty of the title track.

14. The Black Dog – ‘Real Music for Airports’ (Soma)

Another great ambient album in that’s had a few (Oneohtrix, Emeralds etc), this time taking on the inventor and king of ambient music Eno himself and succeeding. Created using field recordings made in airports combined with synths, bass and beats The Black Dog blew Eno’s utopian ideal out of the water.

15. Baths – ‘Cerulean’ (Anticon)

I’ll admit that I’ve not been taken with Chillwave as it swept all before it in last year or so. Though Bath début album touches on similar sounds and ideas I believe (as do some journalists) that he isn’t a part of the genre. Baths cover everything from ambient instrumentals through to tracks featuring his angelic vocals and everything in between, his beat slip and slide with the elastic and liquid music that plays around them.

16. These New Puritans – ‘Hidden’ (Domino/Angular)

These New Puritans showed up a lot of their fellow ‘innovative’ indie bands this year by delivering this combination of medieval sounding brass and woodwinds, children’s choir and dancehall beats. It could have been a disaster but instead band leader Jack Barnett’s proved he is a great composer of ground breaking music.

17. Evan Caminiti – ‘West Winds’ (Three Lobed)

Since the end of last year and hearing Sunn O)))’s I’ve discovered more and more drone/doom metal music including Earth, Zaimph and Caminiti’s other project Barn Owl. This album is best of this year’s release and features seven of incredibly provocative pieces including one of my favourite tracks of this year ‘Glowing Sky’.

18. Janelle Monae – ‘The Archandroid’ (Bad Boy/Atlantic)

Like Flying Lotus Monae attempted to produce an ambitious sci-fi concept album and overall she succeeds, however during the second half of the album elements don’t gel as well and the last track could do with  being half as long. There are still many great moments but for now Monae shows the potential to become a truly great artist.

19. Kanye West – ‘My Beautiful Twisted Fantasy’ (Mercury)

This album would have easily been in my  Top Ten if it had only been released a couple of months earlier the lack of time to listen to and digest this means it just straps in because of its ambition and this point what seems to be a high proportion of great tracks.

20. Sleigh Bells – ‘Treats’ (Columbia)

When I first heard Sleigh Bells demos I’ll admit that I wasn’t 100% sure what all the fuss was about, I loved ‘Infinity Guitars’ but other than that they didn’t inspire. However, they’ve proved me wrong with this début album that blends cute pop vocals and melodies with crunching guitars and huge beats. A refreshing slap in the face from a band with a lot of potential to expand!!

Honourable mentions:

LCD Soundsystem – ‘This is Happening’

Caribou – ‘Swim’

Holy Fuck – ‘Latin’

Tobacco – ‘Maniac Meat’

Pocahaunted – ‘Make It Real’

Review of the Year – Observations

Two words seem to have loomed large for me musical this year Ambient and African. Both These types music that were almost completely new to me at the start of the year. Ambient music has actually helped change my perception of what music can be, I’d often dismissed it in the past as it wasn’t attention grabbing enough but I was missing the point. Though I still actively listen to it, I also use it while I work to help me focus (Brian Eno’s ‘Ambient#4: On Land’ is particularly good for this). Ambient has changed the way I choose what music to listen to and judge whether its good or not, I can appreciate subtlety much more.

Meanwhile I’ve gone from only having heard Konono No.1 and Amadou & Miriam to hearing King Sunny Ade, Tinariwen, Tony Allen, Fela Kuti, Mulatu Astake and compilations featuring Afrobeat, Funk and traditional music from Ghana, Nigeria, Benin and Togo. I’ve been most impressed by ‘African Scream Contest: Raw & Psychedelic Afro Sounds from Benin & Togo 70s’ (Analog Africa) which is pretty much as the title suggests, only don’t be expecting an African Hawkwind.

Finally I’ve noticed there’s been a massive increase in quality remix albums, it had seemed that they’d been completed derided and I couldn’t remember the last good/great one I heard. This year has been a bumper year, Health ‘Disco2’ is the pick of bunch 24 great and varied electronic remixes that putting the originals in brand new contexts. We were also treated to remix albums of Caribou (‘Swim Remixes’), Gonjasufi (‘The Califph’s Tea Party’), Errors (Celebrity Come Down With Me’), Bear In Heaven (Best Rest Forth Mouth’), the latest instalment in RVNG Records Frkwys series of remixes and collaborations that saw Juan Atkins, Hans-Joachim Irmer (Faust) and Gibby Hayes (Butthole Surfers) remixed (admittedly awful) psychedelic rock band Psychic Ills to stunning effect.

Vier’s Albums of the Year

20. The Knife, MT. Sims and Planningtorock – Tomorrow, In A Year (Brille): This was never going to be easy. The Knife don’t do easy. The first disk fights the listener at every step. It is confrontational, violent and refuses respite. It beats you into the place of  Charles Darwin, consumed by nervous excitement and anxiety as you walk on alien territory. The second disk offers some humanising introspection and displays The Knife’s (and their collaborators) powerful song writing ability to turn even routine biological observations into heartbreaking poetry. Tomorrow, In A Year isn’t enjoyable, it isn’t supposed to be. Much like Darwin’s vocation, you don’t have to like it or understand it but you must respect it and its objective.

19. Walls – Walls (Kompakt): Haunting and emotive, Walls’ blend of distant thumps and skewed vocals make a compelling, slow-grower.

18. Jatoma – Jatoma (Kompakt): A late entry to the list has given Jatoma a low position nonetheless the cloaked threesome’s debut deserves to be listened to. The sparkly, modulating synths and exacting drums hark back to Cluster and Kraftwerk and on the straighter dance tracks ‘Durian’ and ‘Bou’ the influence of The Field is channelled into gauzy loops and arpeggios.  This and Walls fit Kompakt perfectly and point the way to the next era of the Cologne label.

17. Washed Out – Life Of Leisure (Mexican Summer): This debut is the sound of summer nostalgia. Revealed by the cover’s lilac dream, warm washes of synths and the sighs and lilts of Ernest Greene’s drenched voice.

16. Caribou – Swim (City Slang): Opening with seasick standout ‘Odessa’, Swim is steady and deceptively dark. The accomplished production places an interesting stereo field on the tracks, giving the instruments and rhythms a side-to-side, rocking feel, which works impressively well both at home and in clubs – something few dance albums have fully mastered.

15. Holy Fuck – Latin (Young Turks): The four-piece adeptly construct tracks that are direct yet reveal deeper layers and sounds on repeat, demonstrating that as well as effected soundscapes they can make confident songs.

14. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (DFA): Of all the albums on the list This Is Happening was the most troublesome. When it hits it proves James Murphy is an incredible composer, lyricist and singer (tender crooning replaces the snot) and it proves LCD are an incendiary unit. So their third album should be top 3 but, but… when it doesn’t hit its pastiche-y, uninspired and, worst of all, irritating, because it could be fucking great if only those influences, which were previously sown together with love and affection, were not so glaringly obvious now. The total of their sum parts made LCD exciting yet for This… it is as if Murphy collected those sum parts then went missing but, but… even if for One Touch, Dance Yrself Clean and I Can Change alone it still deserves a place in the top 20.

13. Marc Houle – Drift (M-nus): The Techno Priest delivers an intense lecture in experimental techno as Drift travels from the suffocating winter darkness to the onset of spring. As the ice recedes Houle’s mood has lightened: the tracks develop playfully, analogue synths are tweaked and melodies shine. An eloquent representation of December’s freeze.

12. Black Dog – Music For Real Airports: Composed of field recordings and recalling Autechre and Plastikman, Music For Real Airports recreates an alienating environment where disconnected bleeps, beats and deep bass drums meet brittle hi-hats and ambient atmospherics that oppose Eno’s 1978 utopia.

11. El Guincho – Pop Negro (Young Turks): In direct contrast to Drift, Pop Negro is an aural Um Bongo – refreshing, bright yellow and highly addictive. El Guincho sings in his native, both joyous and yearning, Spanish, while intricate compositions of bouncing melodies, 808 claps and Latin pop are so full of life you bounce back to summer, Um Bongo in hand.

10. Harmonious Thelonious – Talking (Italic): German techno, Minimalism and African percussion are not the most obvious partners but Talking combines these influences with ease. The producer’s debut is a trance-inducing collection of hypnotic rhythmic patterns and danceable voodoo atmospheres. Its pulse is driven by African rhythms and European electronics that create a challenging, playful and deeply idiosyncratic record.

9. Zola Jesus – Stridulum II (Souterrain Transmissions): After sitting on the boundaries of my usual taste I checked out this release after she gained support from Fever Ray, with whom she shares a kinship of producing cathartic and oppressive yet seductive reassurances you want to selfishly take for yourself.

8. Magda – From The Fallen Page (M-nus): After the first listen I was disappointed that this wasn’t as varied or as distinctly ‘Magda’ as her much praised mixes are. With repeated listens her debut reveals her personality is more delicately placed alongside tongue-in-cheek glimpses of Italian horror movie sounds, dark atmospherics and awe-inspiring basslines.

7. Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal (Editions Mego): For me Returnal brings to mind GAS. Drum-less synthesiser constructs have the air of classical music’s rise and falls and dignified ambience but where GAS is isolation, Lopatin’s creations evoke a dreamy silvery trees and ghostly voices blanketed by a thick fog.

6. Matthew Dear – Black City (Ghostly International): Dear’s third album under his birth name sees him fully immersed in the role of the seamy narrator that Asa Breed hinted at. The thick Talking Heads-indebted productions and bodiless utterances swallow his voice as he recounts strangely alluring tales of desire and sleaze.

5. Konono No.1 – Assume Crash Position (Crammed Discs): Similar to other list entries the songs on Assume Crash Position instantly hit, giving out a warm, uplifting feel while endowing an ample amount of depth, breadth and emotional resonance. The Congolese group prove that artists don’t need the best equipment money can buy to create impressive music.

4. Marcel Dettmann – Dettmann (Ostgut Ton): Lovers of deep, warm techno should listen to this Berghain resident’s debut. Dettmann is an effortlessly lean example of present-day techno structured with an elegance that only German artists are achieving.

3. Ellen Allien – Dust (Bpitch Control): It isn’t the perfectly skewed electronic pop of Berlinette but thankfully it’s not the unrelentingly dull Sool. Allien is back doing what she does best. Belying her attention to detail, Dust is a collection of playful and immediate hymns to love, sex and dancing.

2. Pantha du Prince – Black Noise (Rough Trade): With a cover that isn’t what it first appears, the songs within unfurl and open up to reveal a meticulous mix of haunting chimes and clusters of percussion that build into something dark and forceful, giving Hendrik Weber’s Black Noise a sound that always seems to be on the edge of erupting into something devastating.

1. Thomas Fehlmann – Gute Luft (Kompakt): This took the pole position on the ‘Best Album’s Of The Year….So Far’ June piece and it remains there six months on. Though composed as a soundtrack to real-time documentary ‘24 Hour Berlin’, Gute Luft plays like a loving tribute to Fehlmann’s partner Gudrun Gut. Drums shuffle and rebound, claps and basslines thrust hips, synths bathe, sing, slink, embrace and reminisce, creating a perfect example of sensuous and dreamy elegance.

Mixes of note:

  • DJ Kicks: Apparat (!K7) (which features a new track from Telefon Tel Aviv, the first Joshua Eustis has made since Charlie Cooper passed away in 2009)

  • Ben Klock – Berghain Vol. 2 (Ostgut Ton)

  • Marcel Dettmann – Berghain Vol. 4 (Ostgut Ton)

  • V/A – Fünf (Ostgut Ton)

Honourable mentions:

  • Reboot – Shunyata (Cadenza)

  • Efdemin – Chicago (Dial)

  • Greie Gut Fraktion – Baustelle (Monika Enterprise)

Spotify playlist:

Sonic Fiction’s Albums of the Year 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of the Year – Observations

Due to the wealth of Berghain and Ostgut Ton releases I’ve been inspired to listen further to the spiritual forefathers: Basic Channel, GAS and Pole etc., all of whom I missed the first time round, owing to being at primary school. As discussed in my minimal techno piece these artists composed some of the most vital and interesting music of the nineties and are still essential: their material has birthed the recent dub-techno stirrings from Berlin and elsewhere. Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock, the Action Man poster boys of the resurgence in metallic, intense and climatic Berlin-centred techno, have released one effortless album, an EP and a handful of mixes. Listening to these is an education and an exciting preview of what is to come.

After reading the Kosmische Musik book (see below) I listened to Harmonia with Zuckerzeit and Tracks and Traces standing out. I went back to most of Cluster’s catalogue and found Sowiesoso and their 1977 collaboration with Eno to be the best introduction to the genre, though all are worth checking out.

On another note, 2010 has been absolutely dominated by doorstop. For a genre that was spawned from the underground we have witnessed a depressing inevitability in it going mainstream: advert soundtracks and daytime Radio 1 plays, guest spots and interviews (She-devil Fearne Cotton and dullstent! Skills!). It is everywhere, omnipresent, ubiquitous, all-pervading, as such I cannot hear, read or type that word anymore without wanting to burn it . Worst still is that duckstep is so ball-achingly tedious, a fact no one has critically addressed as everyone is falling over themselves praising the most monotonous and lifeless sound that has plagued this year’s musical landscape. Perhaps in 2011 it will go back from whence it came.

Books

Earlier this year I read Krautrock: Cosmic Rock and its Legacy, which is a comprehensively-written collection of the German Kosmische Musik artists. The author and journalists contribute an overview of Germany and the mindset of the generation born during and after WWII to put the work of the artists in a fascinating context. Also on the list was Anna Funder’s Stasiland, a collection of moving stories of those who lived under Communist rule in East Germany interspersed with Funder’s retrospective view (the book was published in 1997) on the regime, the people who upheld it and those who it destroyed and how Leipzig (where the Stasi headquarters were based) and Berlin have dealt with the effects of the Berlin Wall falling and the full extent of the regime being uncovered. Both are entirely worth reading.

For many years ambient music existed on the fringes of contemporary music, an underground concern often maligned as background muzak. In this article I explore the origins and ideology of ambient music and its recent resurgence at the hands of new and established artists.

There are some conflicting ideas about who invented ambient music and why but its origins are traceable back to the Futurism and Dada art movements of the early 20th century. Though widely known for creating new ways of painting and sculpting and pushing the boundaries of what could be classified as art, artists of these movements also experimented in music, sometimes incorporating non musical elements into compositions. Erik Satie is the most important of these composers. As a creator of what he named ‘furniture music’, described as being suitable for generating a perfect background atmosphere that would not distract the diners at a dinner party, Satie links Dada and Futurism with the beginnings of contemporary ambient music. Satie’s ideas influenced Brian Eno who having studied at art school gained an understanding of art, artists, like the Futurists and Dadaists, and music and later coined the term ‘ambient music’ in the mid 1970s.

The ambient music standard-setter is Eno’s universally critically acclaimed ‘Ambient #1: Music for Airports’ from 1978. Eno believed ambient music could be “actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener” and referred to “Ambient #4: On Land” (1982) as “environmental”. Both statements seem appropriate though there is a strong case for a strain of ambient music that doesn’t solely sit in the background with a recent development of artists such as Biosphere who put greater emphasis on the music’s emotional content. From the commencement of ambient music’s Eno era the divide between environmental and emotional ambient pieces has existed: Cluster’s ‘71’ and ‘II’ from 1971 and ’72 mixed synth washes and melodies with recordings of domestic appliances, kitchen utensils and industrial machinery and, conversely, the arpeggios and melodies of Tangerine Dream’s ‘Phaedra’ instil a dreamlike state of emotion and reflection.

Ambient releases were initially infrequent but when rave music was forced indoors due to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 a separate ‘chill-out’ room in clubs was created to allow attendees to come down while cushioned by ambient music and though there is now a distinct difference between what is called chill-out and ambient music the performers in these rooms became the ambient music leaders. This included The Orb with 1991’s ‘Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld and ‘U.F.Orb’ from 1992, The Irresistible Force’s ‘It’s Tomorrow Already’ (1998) and ‘Selected Ambient Works 85 – 92’ by rave pioneer Aphex Twin. Via these albums clubs, major record labels and corporations were shown the commercial potential of ambient music and the genre became overrun with sub standard cookie cutter releases and advert soundtracks, eventually leading ‘chill-out’ and its cash-in compilations to flood the late 90s-early 00s market. Commercial (over)exposure pushed many ambient artists underground and record labels like Touch specialised in finding the best new artists and revitalised the genre with releases from Biosphere, Chris Watson, Phillip Jeck and B.J. Nilsen and though these artists received acclaim the genre remained deep underground, until recently.

We are now experiencing a resurgence in ambient music, evident in recent releases from The Black Dog, Oneohtrix Point Never, Sunn O))), Sun Araw, Emeralds, and there are similarities to 80s new age music, and chillwave artists such as Washed Out. The Black Dog’s ‘Real Music for Airports’ challenges Eno’s original utopian vision and is in many ways more effective in realising and expressing the sounds and feeling of airports. Like The Black Dog, Sunn O))) create a heavier atmosphere and though these acts are not often categorised as creating ambient music they represent ‘dark ambient’, a rarely covered subgenre that is as engrossing as it is intimidating. ‘Monoliths and Dimensions’, the latest release from Sunn O))) evokes the sound of the earth’s crust splitting and reference Miles Davis on ‘Aghartha’, the brass and woodwind are utilised in an unconventional form to create texture and atmosphere. ‘Big Church’ employs droning guitars and bass with a colossal-sounding choir to create the feel that you are in fact in a cathedral but this is a simplification of what the group musically achieve, which is difficult to describe accurately. Sunn O))) are not for everyone but well worth listening to. ‘Returnal’ by Oneohtrix Point Never (OPN) and ‘Does It Look Like I’m Here’ by Emeralds share a similar affection for the sounds of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis but both artists stamp their own mark on these familiar instrumentations. OPN’s skill is being able to evoke places, emotions and memory. Glistening waves of synths effortlessly flow though the tracks due to his seamless manipulation of recordings and computer editing. ‘Does It Look Like I’m Here’ is a milestone for Emeralds as they have adapted a stronger song based approach and allowed guitarist Mark McGuire’s riffs and melodies more space in the mix. Here the songs flow easier than on the previous album ‘What Happened?’ and there is a greater sense of direction. Sun Araw’s albums all inhabit their own worlds and space: ‘Beach Head’ is like a super slow motion version of the Hawaiian scene depicted on the cover, ‘Heavy Deeds’ is urbane in vibe, revealed by the title, is indeed heavy as his wah-wah symphonies stretch out to infinity and latest album ‘On Patrol’ takes his techniques deeper and further out than ever before.

When writing and researching this piece I have discovered much about ambient music and its preconceptions. I’ve been guilty of paying too much heed to them and until last year I had not bothered to look beyond them. However, I’ve come to realise that ambient music is currently and historically rich and diverse despite lesser artists diluting its form and corporate misappropriation. The present selection of artists is further evidence of ambient music’s wealth and they promise an interesting, bold future.

Spotify playlist:

Altered States playlist

Three Decades of Techno

Part one: The Conception and Development of Techno

A “complete mistake…like George Clinton and Kraftwerk caught in an elevator with only a sequencer to keep them company.”

This piece will explore the beginnings of techno and the effect European music and artists, in particular Kraftwerk, had on young Detroit inhabitants and the parallel that runs between the group and the city and how this cyclical influence evolved into the genre.

Kraftwerk’s music was informed by the clanging, rhythmic noise emanating from the factories of their native Dusseldorf and the funk of James Brown and Motown, in parallel to the mechanical repetition heard from Detroit’s car factories that inspired Motown’s unique backbeats. The four-piece replaced traditional drums and guitars with machine drums and synthesisers which were utilised to create metronomic and melancholic yet funky odes to Autobahns and cross-European train travel perfection. Their propulsive grooves drove them into dance music territory and a dedicated rhythm section in Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flur brought them close to soul music and thus to Detroit. Bartos recalls, “we [Kraftwerk] were all fans of American music: soul, the whole Tamla Motown thing and of course James Brown. We always tried to make an American rhythm feel with a European approach to harmony and melody.”

This futuristic sound appealed to young Detroit inhabitants whose teenage rebellion forced them away from their parents’ R&B and jazz records towards Kraftwerk and other European artists like Giorgio Moroder. They believed they had found the polar opposite of R&B yet in truth they were still listening to soul music only through unfamiliar sources. Genre pioneer Derrick May recollects in 1992, “Kraftwerk was always…culty, but it was very Detroit too because of the industry in Detroit, and because of the mentality. That music automatically appeals to the people like a tribal calling … it sounded like somebody making music with hammers and nails.”

The sonic aesthetics of mechanics and industry are fetishes of the genre, which is reflected in the soundscapes created – robotic, precise and harsh. The exact drum beats and melodies written in step patterns with perfect quantisation, which would be unplayable by a human, feed into the obsession with impersonal industrial ‘hammers and nails’ clangour. Timbres are deliberately synthetic and multiple sounds are layered and affected to further convey the austere ‘machine music’ feel.  The atmosphere of techno is also indebted to its obsession with the future, whether this is one of streamlined technological perfection or an inhumane dystopia. A signifying code of techno and what defines it from disco and its cousin Chicago house is that its producers were, and still are, driven to find the limits of the technology. They experimented with hardware like Roland TR808 and TR909 drum machines, made deliberate errors and used them for roles they weren’t intended for. For example the Roland TB303 was a bass sequencer designed to accompany guitarists yet it was soon realised that it could be manipulated to create eerie, other-worldly sounds and effects, which have become a foundation of techno’s sound. The genre grew in popularity because of its ability to induce emotion. House was commonly viewed as emotionally vapid whereas techno producers prided themselves on communicating ‘intelligent’ thought.

The early flourishes of the genre thrived in Detroit’s environment because it lacked the fickleness of large cities like New York or Los Angeles and was analogous to Dusseldorf’s industry-based economy. The Northwest of the city was the wealthiest part of Detroit and in 1979 the average income was 34% higher than other areas. This was mainly due to assembly-line workers at car factories gaining promotion to office-based jobs. The children of these newly-wealthy employees felt a need “to distance themselves, says Juan Atkins, from the kids that were coming up in the projects, in the ghetto” and the negative stereotypes surrounding them. With few social outlets the NW youths filled the void by organising formal clubs, booking DJs, lights and equipment and hiring spaces. These had an elitist personality and were based on their beliefs of sophistication and exclusivity.

The city’s empty halls were tapped into with two or three club nights per school being established and multiple parties every weekend. At these teenagers were exposed to new wave and Italio-disco and as the attendees got older and bought cars they were able to visit night clubs further afield including ones that had been established by youths living in the East of the city, which tended to be more inclusive so more could attend. The music played was more funk-orientated and eclectic. Similar to the youth’s entrepreneurial approach to creating social opportunities they also realised the importance of radio programming and worked to conserve the variety of music played. New sounds were presented to the city’s residents and the young people fought to keep it available by petitioning radio DJs and stations, which opened the channels for discovery and acceptance of European dance music.

Three of the most noteworthy names in techno met at school in Belleville, an area outside Detroit. Inspired by the cold European music of Gary Numan and Georgio Moroder they had experienced listening to the local radio stations Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson (known as the Belleville Three) would theorise about how the artist made the songs and the steps the genre might take. Growing up financially comfortable they were able to buy turntables and a tape deck to learn to DJ and started remixing records and performed at friends’ parties, gaining experience and fine-tuning their knowledge of equipment. Atkins declares, “When I first heard synthesisers dropped on records it was great … so I got one.” From this Atkins, May and Saunderson began releasing music under various pseudonyms and each was playlisted on influential radio stations. They later founded the Music Institute, a club in Detroit’s centre that became a home for the second generation of techno DJs like Carl Craig, Stacey Pullen and Richie Hawtin.

In 1981 the triumvirate set up the record label Deep Space Soundworks to provide a platform for their music. Atkins’ project Cybotron sold 15,000 copies of the first single ‘Alleys Of Your Mind’ in Detroit alone and ‘Clear’ from the debut ‘Enter’ is particularly influential. A Kraftwerkian balance of techno-pop and club oomph the track set the template for Detroit techno: moody machine music to be appreciated nocturnally. After ending Cybotron Atkins progressed to releasing under the guise Model 500 and founded Metroplex Records in 1985 with releases ‘No UFO’s’, ‘Interference’ and ‘Nightdrive’ selling well.

After reconsidering a professional American football career, Kevin Saunderson turned to DJing and formed the record label KMS. Known for a denser, more mechanistic sound his releases as a member of Kreem and Reese & Santonio were well received in the UK underground and his house-inspired group Inner City gained eight appearances in the UK Top 40 and four number ones in the American dance charts. Derrick May gained the most commercial success of the cadre, producing tracks which are considered some of the most original and influential in techno. The classic sound incorporates streamlined percussion and string samples with a warmth that he had picked up on while spending time in Chicago. His Transmat record label was home to some of his best known hits like ‘Nude Photo’, ‘Strings of Life’ and ‘Kaos’, which were produced between ’87 and ’89 as Rhythim Is Rhythim. Though his releases nearly stopped during the ‘90s he maintained his profile as a DJ and positioned Transmat as arespected techno label worldwide.

May was the first of the Belleville three to tour the UK and was quickly followed by Atkins and Saunderson who were recruited for remixes and visited numerous times to perform at outdoor raves. By 1988 the UK had caught up with these futuristic sounds and artists such as the Black Dog, 808 State and LFO formed in large part to the Belleville Three’s influence while the second wave of Detroit techno grew momentum as the decade merged in to the ‘90s.

The second instalment of Three Decades of Techno will discuss the genre during the 1990s, focusing on minimal techno and its growth in Germany while neatly sidestepping rave.

Vier

Spotify playlist:

Three Decades of Techno: The early years

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