Tag Archive: Walls


Some Releases we missed in April and May

Kwes – “Meantime” (Warp)

The debut EP from Warp’s latest signing Kwes who been producing music for the likes of DELS and Micachu for a few years but this is his first solo release and the first to feature his vocals. The four tracks here only add up to 16 minutes music in total and so are merely a small taster of what’s to come but they certainly whet the appetite. Beginning with ‘Klee’ which brims with familiar synth sound though I can’t put my finger on where I’ve heard them before and delicate vibraphone melodies. We then move on to the first vocal track ‘Bashful’ where things get more up-beat and spacious and Kwes is accompanied by wobbly Rhodes piano on the delirious chorus. ‘Honey’ follows a similar pattern with woozy synth and lo-fi beats surrounding plaintive but sweet vocals. The best however is saved for last with the 7 minutes of ‘Igoyh’ providing the greatest evidence of this young producer immense talent with it gentle synths, soft focus feel and up lifting chorus making Kwes one to watch.

Blockhead – “Interludes After Midnight” (Ninja Tune)

I was quick to praise Blockhead’s last album “The Music Scene” (2010) but was quick to fell out of love with it on return visits. “Interludes After Midnight” promises to be an album that I enjoy for a lot longer as repeats reap greater rewards. The album consolidates everything that Blockhead has achieved in his solo career to date but crucially also learns lessons from “The Music Scene” and achieves it ambitious aims where that album had failed. In the end “The Music Scene” felt like Blockhead was just getting to know his new software Ableton Live but the album actually feels ‘live’ and can’t be directly attributed to the sounds or techniques of any particular software. Regular fans of the Ninja Tune labels output will instantly warm to this music and bares comparison to Bonobo’s solo work and “Sound Mirrors” by label head honchos Coldcut, as well as 70’s T.V. and soundtrack music, particular Bernard Herrman’s “Taxi Driver” score. The arrangements on “Interludes After Midnight” are inventive throughout a classic example being ‘Never Forget Your Token’ which starts out with electric piano and oddly pitched male vocals but ends with a twisted electric guitar unrecognizable from its first half. These arrangements could be jarring but instead feel completely natural as Blockhead’s well thought out concepts and production nous holds everything together. It’s rare to find a beat maker as distinct as Blockhead and he deserves far greater recognition and praise than he currently receives. All-in-all a superb instrumental hip-hop album; where ambition is matched by the quality of each track from top to bottom.

Forward Strategy Group – “Labour Division” (Perc Trax)

“Labour Division” is the debut album by U.K. techno duo Forward Strategy Group following a series of EP’s that have garnered much attention on the techno underground. The album begins with a tension building intro track ‘Indent’ before this really get going on the electro tinged ‘Mandate’ with its arpeggiated, tough bass synth underpinning delay heavy synth FX’s and minimal drums and hi-hats, a real techno juggernaut. From then on scene is set and the duo switch from the disjointed industrial rhythms of ‘Mandate’ and ‘Elegent Mistakes’ (which fits perfectly into Perc Trax current developments) and out and out techno thumpers all filled with tense and taut atmosphere, found sound and influences of 80’s electronic music and experimental post-punk sounds. Tension only lets up on ‘Nihil Novi’ a lighter and more spacious track that features noises that cut through the drums sound and like a steam train. Though “Labour Division” serves first and foremost as functional techno album with plenty of tracks that will be spun in DJ sets, there is also enough experimental sound design and percussion sounds and patterns that it sometimes recalls peers Factory Floor and Carter Tutti Void live electronic mutations. “Labour Division” is an album through and through, properly paced and conceptually put together not like a majority of techno albums that are either an extension of a DJ set or DJ tools. Like their label boss Perc and his own album “Wicker and Steel” Forward Strategy Group are leading the way in innovative techno music.

Biggest Disappointment of the Month

This month’s biggest disappointment isn’t a release as we haven’t been disappointed by anything this month. The disappointment is that Doseone’s new album “G Is For Deep” release date was moved to 11th June meaning we couldn’t write about an album that promised great things. Still it’ll be with us all soon.

Walls – “Coracle Remixe” (Kompakt)

‘Drunken Galleon’ (John Tejada mix) is one of the best remixes on the EP. Its solid rhythm and liquid guitar chords create a  soaring anthem for a sunset while the gentle synth melody lifts the track up, maintaining the sensitivity and emotion of the original.  For ‘Raw Umber/Twilight’, a standout from “Coracle”, brothers Wolfgang and Reinhard Voigt pull out its opening refrain and, in true Köln style, massage it into a sparkling and mesmeric lush techno track. Hard-edged electronic music producer Perc’s remix of ‘Sunporch’ consists of a punishing snare drum, squelching mids and echoing screams, twisting the original’s beauty into a mechanistic thump. Less impressive is the second remix of ‘Sunporch’ by Holy Other who trashes the original’s beauty to fit his own formula. It’s doomy and filled with sluggish tails of reverbed snare.

http://www.kompakt.fm/releases/coracle_remixe_12/embedded

Jherek Bischoff – “Composed” (Leaf Label)

On “Composed” Bischoff tries to mix and balance the worlds of contemporary classical and indie-pop with much success. However, sometimes he falls into the trap of selecting sounds and combinations of sounds that are a little too tasteful, meaning some of the tracks feel bland. He’s most successful when he abandon’s convention such as on the excellent single ‘Eyes’ (featuring David Byrne) and closer ‘Insomnia, Death and the Sea’ (featuring Dawn McCarthy) with its immense string drone recalling Fever Ray and its cinematic melody sticking in your head while the track sweeps you away with its intense climax. The album often recalls 60’s orchestral pop composer Burt Bacharach and Serge Gainsbourg but this no mere retread with Bischoff classical training and pop nous providing structural twists and turns that take this beyond atypical ‘lounge’ music. However, as stated earlier he does seem to play to safe in terms of sound palette and this leaves the listener dissatisfied, this taken into consideration it seems that this album should please fans of both these genres but may leave others wanting more.

Ursprung – “Ursprung” (Dial)

Acclaimed techno producer Pantha Du Prince and experimental artist Stephan Abry (Workshop) have collaborated under the name “Ursprung” (“origin” in German) and now deliver a self-titled ten-track album. The structure of “Ursprung” seems based on alternating a few standout showpieces with tracks that fulfill an experimental role yet don’t fully provide an exciting listen in return. The opening ‘Mummenschanz’ is a gentle track that weaves minimalist guitar chords and phrases into ambient textures above a pattering bass, understated melodic phrases and a  snare drum rhythm that sounds like a relaxed Neu! cut. ‘Ohne Worte’ features an interplay between guitar and bass drone and eventually evolves into an uneasy groove of guitar phrases that are pulled along by a thudding bass drum, percussion and metallic textures which builds to a frenetic climax. ‘Exodus Now’ is the album’s centrepiece: dense with guitar chords, cold synths, percussion, motorik, Neu!-inspired rhythms and buzzing noise. The hand of Hendrik Weber (Pantha Du Prince) can be heard in the fleet-footed hi-hats and bell-like percussion. The move to African-sounding percussion and a solid melody halfway through the track adds an extra dimension. Texturally and atmospherically ‘Exodus Now’ is mesmerizing, a true standout. Beginning with dissonant ambient sounds and processed guitar, ‘Lizzy’ is the closest thing on “Ursprung” to what could be called techno with its sort-of danceable bass line and complimentary techno drum rhythms, percussion adding a frenetic touch underneath a playful melody. Waking the listener up after the slumberous ‘Nightbirds’ is ‘Kalte Eiche’. A clap and glistening synth arpeggio are interrupted by a thundering bass drum and stuttering snare rhythm. Clipped male vocals sit above a second male voice that sings harmonic notes all the while the stuttering rhythm refuses to slot into place. ‘Kalte Eiche’’s unconventional structure is complex and constantly shifting, providing an exciting listen.

These five tracks are filled with emotional strength coupled with stunning atmospherics and textures, motorik rhythms and delicate minimalistic guitars underpinning it all.  The other five, while fascinating to listen to, are too cold and abstract to capture the listener’s heart. A track such as ‘Seiland’, a conversation between abstract bass, mid-frequency chords and rapid, high frequency notes, contains textures that are difficult to assign to a particular instrument thus creating a jarring listen. ‘In Aufruhr’ also fails to provide any depth to its watery textures and background atmospherics. Musically it compares to Harmonia but lacks their grace. After Pantha Du Prince’s astounding “This Bliss” and “Black Noise” listeners may expect the same union of beautiful melodies, emotional depth and high production values and half of “Ursprung” does deliver this but the other half, while being intelligently composed, the deficiency of the all important emotional content disappoints.

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

Laurel Halo – “Quarantine” (Hyperdub)

Laurel Halo’s debut album arrives on a wave of hype and it’s fair to say that the air expectation and nature of album don’t make great bed fellows. This is an experimental pop album with the emphasis being on the experimental, full of ambient noise, lush synth pads and dominated by Halo’s newly unadorned vocals. It’s these vocal that don’t sit right, especially in the albums first half and on the first playback. However, with repeat listen these elements feel less out of place and make sense within Halo’s compositions. At first it’s tempting to compare “Quarantine” to the work of her boyfriend and contemporary Oneohtrix Point Never, but this unfair as Halo has carved out her own niche and is trying to achieve different things with her music. She is subverting pop music from within, while Oneohtrix Point Never subverts it as an outsider. Another crucial difference is that “Quarantine” seems to have a more current sound, driven by producer based techno and electronic music rather than 80’s advert musak, this helps make sense of why the album has been released by Hyperdub a label at the forefront of dance music. In fact the album sit slap bang in the middle of a ven diagram of electronic pop, ambient and dance music, one third ambient sound, synths and noise, one third pop melody and vocal and one third subtly propulsive dance inspired arpeggios and production. “Quarantine” is the result of two and half years of development for Laurel Halo and consolidates and expands her sound demonstrating everything she’s learnt along the way but keep enough mysterious to keep the listener intrigued.

El-P – “Cancer for the Cure” (Fat Possum)

In some ways this is business as usual for El-P, all the usual signifiers are in place, his lurching, crushing beats, massive dirty synth bass-lines, stuttering vocal samples, stabbing instrument samples. However, one that’s no bad thing and two I believe this is an artist who subtly evolves his sound with each new release. The first difference that jumps out at me is that whereas in the past there were only hints of film music influences on El-P’s production’s “Cancer For The Cure” makes this explicit with a majority of the tracks shot through with a dystopian atmosphere akin to John Carpenter’s soundtracks to “Escape From New York” & “Assault on Precinct 13”. The album also features a couple of El-P’s most minimal and spacious tracks to date in ‘Stay Down’, ‘Sign Here’ and ‘The Jig Is Up’, in addition to this melodic vocals feature on ‘For My Upstairs Neighbor’, ‘Oh Hail No’ and ‘Works Every Time’. The album feels more thematically together than “I’ll Sleep When Your Dead” (which was great album) and this makes the album feel like it’ll maintain it impact over a longer time. “Cancer For The Cure” runs Killer Mike’s (El-P produced) “R.A.P. Music” album for best hip-hop album of year..so far!!!

Drokk – “Music Inspired by Mega City One” (Invada)

It’s hard to describe this album without overusing the words analogue synth(s) but here goes. The album uses just one synth as its primary mode of composition but Geoff Barrow (Portishead) and BBC composer Ben Salisbury manage to make limitation the mother of invention creating everything from intense drone heavy soundscape to arpeggio led tracks via more delicate and reflective moments. In many ways the album bears comparison with this year’s other imaginary soundtrack album “Themes for an Imaginary Film” by Symmetry and though it’s not as ambitious as Symmetry’s album its equal as satisfying a listen. Drawing on many classic synth soundtrack staples such as John Carpenter, Vangelis, Walter/Wendy Carlos and with hints of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and other T.V. music from the 70’s and 80’s. However, repeat plays reveal this isn’t an album that merely imitates and pays homage but is an equal to those great synth soundtrack composers, the album throbs with the tension of a Carpenter score, while Vangelis arpeggios abound and experimental sounds that the Radiophonic Workshop and Walter/Wendy Carlos are thrown in at the appropriate moment and to keep the listener guessing. If Symmetry’s album is the Hollywood blockbuster then “Drokk…” is a homemade marvel and all the better for it.

Top Release of the Month

Killer Mike – “R.A.P. Music” (William’s Street)

Killer Mike and El-P’s collaborative is called “R.A.P. Music” with good reason, it does everything that a modern hip-hop album should. The album has a consistency rarely present on guest and producer heavy albums while it manages to cover a lot of sonic and emotional territory without anything feeling off or put on. The music veers from huge sounding synthetic bangers (‘‘Big Beast’, ‘Southern Fried’ and ‘R.A.P. Music’) to emotive epics (‘Ghetto Gospel’, ‘Reagan’ and ‘Anywhere But Here’) via Southern rap flavoured tracks (‘Willie Burke Sherwood’, ‘Untitled’ and ‘Jo Jo’s Chillin’) and Killer Mike’s flow is just as diverse ranging from the enunciated words of ‘Reagan’ to the super speedy ‘Southern Fried’ and every point in between. What “R.A.P. Music” shows is that when hip-hop is stripped down to its core and rebuilt from button up, in addition to this despite his confident persona it’s clear that Killer Mike isn’t an egotist. He tells stories about other people in his life and discuss wider political issues, the lyrical themes that have been central to hip-hop since 1982 but feel so rare in 2012. “R.A.P. Music” is the first landmark hip-hop release of 2012 and I’m optimistic this can be a very good year for the genre as a whole.

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Drokk – “Music Inspired by Mega City One” (Stones Throw/Invada Records)

With “Music Inspired by Mega City One” Geoff Barrow (Portishead) and BBC composer Ben Salisbury have created an imaginary soundtrack that evokes the sprawling metropolis at the heart of the Judge Dredd comics. Centred around a Oberheim analogue synthesizer the duo’s aim is to revisit classic electronic soundtracks of the 70’s and 80’s especially the work of John Carpenter, Giorgio Moroder and Vangelis. A must for analogue synth and film music enthusiasts.

Killer Mike & El-P – “R.A.P. Music” 14th May (Williams Street Records)

For years Killer Mike and El-P have been friends and admired each others work and so it was only so long before they collaborated together. So far four tracks from the album have been unleashed upon the world and they’ve all been satifisying heavy hip-hop tracks showcasing the best of both contributors. El-P’s blistering beats and twisted sample mangling are the perfect foil for the socially conscious lyrics and unpredictable flow of Killer Mike.

El-P – “Cancer for the Cure” 21st May (Fat Possum Records)

After a few years away from the limelight this is El-P’s second release of May. Early reviews and pre-release track “The Full Retard” suggest its business as usual for the legendary underground hip-hop producer, though their are more guest than there has been on previous El-P solo albums. Its no bad thing if El-P produces more of the same as his style is his and his alone and I feel critics miss the subtle tweaks that he applies to his sound with each new release. Fans of undeground hip-hop could be in for a double whammy of quality hip-hop from El-P this month.

Pantha Du Prince and Stephan Abry – “Ursprung” 21st May (Dial)

Acclaimed techno producer Pantha Du Prince and the experimental artist Stephan Abry (Workshop) collaborate for “Ursprung” (meaning origin in German). Recalling Can, Cluster and Harmonia, the first track ‘Exodus Now’ is dense with guitar chords, thin synths, percussion, a motorik rhythm and buzzing noise. The hand of Hendrik Weber (Pantha Du Prince) can be heard in the fleet-footed hi-hats and high-pitched percussion, with a move to African-sounding percussion halfway through the track, adding an extra dimension. Texturally and atmospherically ‘Exodus Now’ is mesmerizing and “Ursprung” could be as sublime and intricate as Pantha Du Prince’s beautiful “Black Noise”, which Stephan Abry contributed to. The accompanying video was filmed in north Norway above the Arctic Circle in January 2012. Highly recommended.

Jherek Bischoff – “Composed” 28th May (Leaf  Label)

“Composed” is the latest album from contemporary classical composer/musician Bischoff and features a stellar array of guests, including ex-Talking Head David Byrne, Brazilian Tropicalismo legend Caetano Veloso, Craig Wedren (Shudder to Think), Mirah, Carla Bozulich (Evangelista, The Geraldine Fibbers), Faun Fables’ Dawn McCarthy, Nels Cline (Wilco) and Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier. You can watch a trailer featuring snippets of songs from the album here.

Doseone – “G Is For Deep” 28th May (Anticon)

His first solo album since 2007 promises to be a welcome return for the ex-cLOUDDEAD founder. Pre-release track ‘Last Life’ combines Doseone’s idiosyncratic vocal/rap stylings with his most pop oriented melody to date. It’s the sort of track that puts a smile on your face and it’s got me (Liam, Sonic Fiction Editor) very excited about “G Is For Deep”.

Drexciya – “Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller II” 21st May (Clone Classic Cuts)

Clone are revisiting Drexciya’s revered back catalogue via a series of compilations. The first focused on their earliest productions and this release, “Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller II”, travels through their EPs from the mid and late ’90s like “Return of Drexciya”, “Journey Home”, “The Quest” and the rare “Uncharted” EP. The collection also includes “The Davey Jones Locker,” which originally appeared on the compilation “True People: The Detroit Techno Album”. It’s due for release in the middle of May. This collection is ideal for collectors and those who are only just discovering the work of this mythical duo.

Laurel Halo – “Quarantine” 28th May (Hyperdub Records)

After a string of hugely impressive EP’s including the recent “Spring” EP as King Felix, Halo finally releases her debut album. Early reports that she’s shifted back towards the ethereal pop of her very earliest releases, in a recent interview Halo even went as far to say “I wanted to combine the sounds of my previous records into something cohesive”. She also said that she’d decided to remove the reverb and echo from her vocals resulting in “the vocals slicing through the mix, giving rhythmic contour to the tracks that was previously missing in delay haze”. All in all we can’t wait to her this album.

Walls – “Coracle Remixed” 28th May (Kompakt)

Walls’ “Coracle” 2011 album is treated to remixes from Holy Other, Perc, VOIGT&VOIGT (Wolfgang and Reinhard Voigt) and Jon Tejada among others. Holy Other’s take on ‘Sunporch’ warps Walls’ sound to fit his own trademark formula. It’s a doomy and sluggish affair with ominous slabs of reverbed snare and chords under a shifting guitar line. Hard-edged techno producer Perc’s remix of the same track features a punishing snare drum, squelching mids and echoing screams, twisting the original’s beauty into a mechanistic thump.

September was a busy and mostly satisfying month. In addition to the Sonic Fiction’s recommendations from last month there were impressive albums released by Laura Marling, Death In Vegas and A Winged Victory for the Sullen, plus a solid effort from The Duke Spirit, which is well worth checking out if you’re missing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Now to those recommendations:

This month’s biggest disappointment comes courtesy of DJ Shadow and his new album “The Less You Know, The Better”. Though I have to agree with those who criticised his last effort “The Outsider”, I actually found “The Private Press” to be a grower and so stayed open-minded about the new Shadow album. However, this unfocused and underwhelming effort needs more than an open mind to get you to like it. Eclectic is the appropriate word for this album and I have no problem with albums that flit between styles and moods, but this album rarely convinces or produces great moments/tracks. ‘Stay the Course’, ‘Warning Call’, ‘Enemy Lines’ and ‘(Not So) Sad and Lonely’ all try for some kind of rock as done by DJ Shadow but they come out bloated and hollow, it’s also not something I’d ever imagine Shadow making as it really doesn’t suit him. ‘Back to Front (Circular Logic)’ and ‘Circular Logic (Front to Back)’ are successful attempts at the atmospheric music that was once this artists signature, they bare a passing resemblance to some tracks from ‘The Private Press’, however they aren’t Shadow’s finest hour  either. Meanwhile ‘Border Crossing’, ‘I’ve Been Trying’, ‘Sad and Lonely’ and ‘Scale It Back’ all revisit the break beat based material Shadow released on Solesides in the mid to late 90’s and though these are better than a majority of material on the album, its feels like he’s on autopilot or way too early for any sort of revival of this style of hip-hop. Overall “The Less You Know, The Better” does prove one thing and that’s if we all knew less about DJ Shadow it’d probably be a slightly more impressive album.

I’ll be honest I’ve found it difficult to get my head around the new Roots Manuva album “4everevolution” and say anything meaningful about it that hasn’t already been stated. It’s definitely his most commercial release to date littered with catchy and clubby tracks, however few of these ever fully convince, his sung vocals are no match for his superior MC skills. It’s great when he gets stuck into some sociopolitical rhyming on ‘Skid Valley’ and ‘Who Goes There?’ the first time he approached such material in years. Although there’s nothing wrong with the music on “4everevolution” it just doesn’t grab me in the way earlier Roots Manuva albums have and doesn’t really suggest itself as a grower either. Still I believe Roots Manuva has it in him for at least one more great album, maybe next time.

The new self titled album from Megafaun certainly covers a lot of ground even introducing some new sounds, styles and instruments on this album. ‘Get Right’ combines the trademark Megafaun sound to Neu! style synth and motorik momentum. ‘Hope You Know’is an emotive and minimal piano ballad, another first for the band. ‘Resurrection’ is an Upbeat electrified folk rock filled out by Rhodes piano and pedal/lap steel guitar. Strings pop up across the album on the warm ‘Second Friend’, the abstract interlude ‘Serene Return’ and album closer ‘Everything’. The band push things out from their usual song based style on the aforementioned ‘Serene Return’, ‘State Meant’ and ‘Post Script’ which work a treat where they could have gone seriously wrong. This is an album that could be a grower, however so was their previous album ‘Gather, Form and Fly’ and repeated listens really paid off with that. It’s too early to tell if this album will equal the previous’ ones highlights but I think it’s worth giving the time to show whether it can or not.

“In The Grace of Your Love”, the long-awaited new album from The Rapture proved to be a mini triumph. Although time will tell us just how good this album is my first couple of spins left me impressed with the bands work. The only real missteps are ‘Rollar Coaster’ (pop era Talking Heads) and ‘Come Back to Me’ (an out-and-out dance tune that sounds like a dance production featuring Luke Jenner than a tune by The Rapture and suffers for it). The rest of album holds up a pretty high standard, the best examples being the rolling disco with post-punk guitars of ‘Children’, the funky title track and its near twin ‘Never Die Again’. Elsewhere the opener ‘Sail Away’ and ‘Miss You’ both combine dance music beats and backing and punchy rock dynamics that feels huge but not over bearing, ‘How Deep is Your Love?’ provides an epic house number and centre piece and closer ‘It Takes Time to be a Man’ is a surprising change with the band taking a soulful piece of with an almost hip-hop beat and feel. The glue that holds all of the album’s strands together is Luke Jenner’s stronger and more soulful vocal delivery, the band plays with a lot of black music influences and reference points but this is the first time Jenner has tried to sound ‘black’ and succeeds in this area most of the time. ‘In the Grace of Your Love’ develops further the sound the band adopted on their last album ‘Pieces of the People We Love’. Add to this the more explicit dance and disco influences that they now better incorporated into their sound and it seem this album will only get better with repeat listens.

“Coracle”, the new album from Kompakt’s Walls, opens with ‘Into Our Midst’, which sees the bass, drums and percussion pushed forward into a techno groove as a looped vocal sound plays against the swirling, arpeggio synths. ‘Sunporch’ continues on from ‘Into Our Midst’. A commanding bass line pulses through hi-hats and percussion and small snatches of melodies ebb and flow in the thick cloud of synths and guitar. Most of the tracks continue in this manner. “Coracle” is a seamless continuation of Walls’ debut and isn’t a great development of their sound. It is, however, a bolder, more confident release that emphasises percussive groove and harsher guitar buzz underneath the syrupy gauze of synths. ‘Raw Umber / Twilight’ begins with the background chatter that arose in earlier track ‘Vacant’ then unfurls into twinkling melodies and glassy synth arpeggios bedded into warm, hazy techno. This is the most beautiful track on the album and the one that condenses the album’s strongest elements into a potent song that perfectly encapsulates Walls’ sound.

“Get Lost” the new album from Mark McGuire came in for a bit of stick in The Wire magazine’s recent review. The reviewer claimed McGuire wasn’t contributed anything new to the ‘kosmische musik’ revival he and his band Emeralds are part of. I don’t believe that Mark McGuire and his band mates have never claimed to contributing anything new to this style of music, I think they’d readily admit being guilty of recreating the music of Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel and Cluster in their own way. As such this album is very similar to a large amount of McGuire’s back catalogue and with the first extensive use of guitar-synthesizers; instead of his trusty guitar-synth it moves his material closer to that of the ‘kosmische musik’ of Emeralds. A section of the album also sees a first for McGuire as he uses vocals on ‘When You’re Somewhere’. ‘Alama’ and ‘Alma (Reprise)/Chances Are’, the most explicit use of these is ‘Alma’ and it’s a success the warmth of McGuire vocals compliment that of his music. All the typical traits of McGuire’s guitar playing are present especially his fuzz lead lines and repetitive yet hypnotic delay heavy rhythm patterns, the album also features a lot of acoustic guitar which also featured prominently on last year’s “Living With Yourself”. It’s the synth drones and arpeggios though that dominates, and is the biggest departure for McGuire. “Get Lost” slots easily into McGuire hefty back catalogue and will delight long time fans, it may not add anything to ‘kosmische musik’ but that doesn’t mean it’s not an album that’s well worth having.

After 5 years Spank Rock returned this month with his second solo album “Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar”. Overall the album is a stormer combining tracks that consolidates what he’d achieved on previous album “YoYoYoYoYo” and 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 pulls off 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 greatest success on the album. During the second half of the album the majority of 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 début 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!

Another release on Kompakt is Gui Boratto’s “III”. His previous releases “Chromophobia” and “Take My Breath Away” are built on staccato rhythms that trip over themselves and push and pull against arpeggiated synths and gently overdriven, poppy melodies. “III” is all about slower grooves and dark, searing techno. Twin tracks ‘Geluchat’ and ‘Stems From Hell’ sound like Gui Boratto deep in Berghain. 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. This opening set also explains the black cover. Where the covers of Boratto’s previous albums are vibrant reds and blues, ‘III’ is hard and confrontational. It demands to be played loud. Next track ‘Striker’ features, for the first time, vocals from Gui Boratto and recalls Madga’s awe-inspiring basslines and her inclusion of sinister post-punk tracks in her mixes. Disappointingly the final track ‘This Is Not The End’, which features his wife Luciana Villanova, feels like a misstep and is too lightweight against the abrasive, pummelling techno. Finishing with ‘The Third’, a floating track of held chords and delayed melodies would have been a great finale; the sun rising after a night of dancing.

Kid Koala’s “Space Cadet” was definitely the best album experience this month. The “Space Cadet” CD accompanies the graphic novel of the same name perfectly. Kid Koala balances the need for musicality with an atmospheric and emotive sound that never fills contrived. Reading along with the soundtrack heightens everything on the page and the album stands up brilliantly on its own. A fine demonstration of this artist’s constantly developing skill as a composer and creator of turntable music that is capable of expressing emotion beyond humour.

This month’s best album is definitely Apparat’s “The Devil’s Walk”. I’ll admit that his last solo album ‘Walls’ did take quite a while to grow on me and reveal it charms. Not so this time Apparat now displays his ability to write both immediate and engaging material that is rich both in hooks and melody as it is in deep harmony and atmosphere. Fans of ‘Walls’ will not automatically recognise this as the Apparat they know and love. In fact that album has a lot more in common with his collaborative project Moderat (the best of this is ‘Song of Los’) and the ‘Orchestra of Bubbles’ album with Ellen Allien  particularly the string sounds employed throughout this album. ‘The Devil’s Walk’ occupies similar territory to the Moderat album with a dark, Gothic atmosphere and medieval sounds a constant throughout. The cover echoes these influences and this album coming out on electronic music pioneers Mute Records and at time indirectly recalls Depeche Mode at the finest. Apparat’s vocal’s even sound like Marc Almond (of Soft Cell fame) 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 emotional evocative.

Spotify Playlist:

September playlist

Coming up in October on Sonic Fiction:

Classics Critiqued – “The Modern Dance” by Pere Ubu

Recommendations – October

3rd October

Zola Jesus – “Conatus”

‘Vessel’, the first single recalls a gloopier ‘Enjoy’ by Bjork or perhaps a b-side from Homogenic while second single ‘Seekir’ promises a leap in production and instrumentation for her second album. Developing from ‘Stridulum II’, Zola Jesus allows the fervant electronic drums and wet synths to drown her voice before rising into one of her soon-to-be-trademark choruses.

10th October

Bjork – “Biophilia” (Nonesuch/One Little Indian)

Bjork doesn’t do anything in half measures. She is guaranteed to put her heart in every one of her albums and “Biophilia” continues this stream of strong artistic statements. First single ‘Crystalline’  is filled with delicate, glassy timbres, fizzing electronic drums and a female choir that celebrate Bjork’s proud return before jungle drums explode out of the ether. Critics may complain this is just a repetition of previous albums but “Biophilia” feels like a great comeback after four years away and really she could do almost anything and it would still top most albums around.

The Field – “Looping State Of Mind” (Kompakt)

Sweden’s Axel Willner (The Field) returns with his third album on Kompakt. “Looping State Of Mind” neatly builds 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 warm synth arpeggios, droning, pulsing pads and that  Kompakt schaffel. The eponymous loops feel like they could last forever; building and dropping and shuffling.

Wolfgang Voigt – “Kafkatrax” (Profan/Kompakt)

The Kompakt co-founder collects the Kafkatrax vinyl releases on a 10 track CD. Hearing the tense, disembodied voices, taken from audiobooks of Franz Kafka’s works, stretched and clipped and set against a never-ending bass drum is a fascinating listen in one unbroken stretch. The release is perfectly fitting for the idiosyncratic Voigt and Kafka’s paranoid, dystopian words.

August promised plenty with a good haul of releases to listen to, however a lot of acts delivered disappointing or average albums with the exception of Balam Acab hard to define debut and the latest offering from Steve Malkmus and The Jicks.

I’ve been genuinely struggling to come up with anything to say about “West” by Wooden Shjips, August’s biggest disappointment. Almost all the track bar the closer ‘Rising’ are practically identical only changing in tempo and intensity. The same elements are used throughout – fuzzed guitars, organ melodies, motorik drums and the only difference is from previously releases is that Ripley Johnson’s vocals are higher in the mix. The repetition on this album is boring and not hypnotic which is what the band was aiming for. My other big problem with the album is that there’s little to distinguish it from its influences Neu!, Spacemen 3 and the Velvet Underground, in fact you’d be better off buying an album each of those artists. There seems little point in repeating this music unless you can find some way of putting a personal stamp on it. Wooden Shjip’s have had a lot of of critical praise heaped on them and are supposedly the best of this type of music and the previous albums I’ve heard suggest they are good at what they do. However, even when on form I’m not convinced enough to buy one of their albums.

The new CSS album “La Liberacion” is a rather eclectic mix from the electro reggae of single ‘Hit Me Like A Rock’ featuring Bobby Gillespie to punk stylings of the title track and ‘Ruby Eyes’ via the breezy pop of ‘Partners in Crime’. Overall this is a very polished effort from the band that had thrilled us with the lo-fi feel of their debut album, in fact song like ‘Rhythm to the Rebels’ and the title track remind me of that album. Though the music itself successfully achieves a move into pop music territory the vocals of Lovefoxx leave a little to be desired. It’s not that I think she’s a terrible vocalist or that she needs to be a pitch perfect singer far from it, some of my favourite vocalists are often accused of not being able to hold a note. But against a more sophisticated backing she struggles to hold her own sometimes to the point of it being irritating. This album of exuberant pop that will delight many, however it’s often just a little too light weight for my tastes.

“Watch The Throne” is a hit and miss selection from Jay-Z and Kanye West that and doesn’t quite deliver to their usual high standards. Maybe if they’d stuck with the original mini-album format they’d have had a higher hit rate and tighter concept. Having said that it’s not all bad by any means and it’s interesting to hear Jay-Z able to adapt to the often up tempo and electronic beats and sounds that dominate the album. Highlights include the rolling bass line and cinematic strings ‘No Church in the Wild’ feat Frank Ocean, ‘Niggas In Paris’ which features a great section were Kanye slurs his first verse along to the lurching electro beat, the soul filled single ‘Otis’, the emotive piano stampede of ‘Murder to Excellence’ and the surprisingly successful ‘Made in America’ feat. Frank Ocean which manages to stay the right of mawkish. However, there’s a lot of throw away material that fails to make an impact and sounds like it was thrown together in five minutes. ‘Lift Off’ featuring Beyonce doesn’t quite make it as the big moment as it could have been but is an interesting combination of R&B/electro and hard(er) edge hip-hop beats, ‘That’s My Bitch’, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ and ‘Why I Love You’ feat. Mr. Hudson are the worst the first two feel lightweight and the lead sounds are annoying and the later features liberal use of Auto Tune that would work fine if it wasn’t for the awful 80’s guitar work playing in the background. The remaining tracks are all pretty middling fare and unfortunately with the possible expectations of ‘No Church in the Wild’, ‘Niggas in Paris’ and ‘Murder to Excellence’ I can’t see these tracks being remembered long after this year.

Tinariwen’s “Tassili” was an album that felt like a disappointment from an act that has proved to be very consisent across previous releases. However, there return to their acoustic roots sounds flat and their collaborations on this album are hit-and-miss the contributions of TV on the Radio Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe are the main disappointment, being left adrift on the chorus of ‘Tenere Taqqim Tossam’ where I was hoping they’d combine their unique harmonies with those of Tinariwen, but this never happens. Nels Cline’s slide guitar is an improvement but sometimes dominates the music too much, the only real success is The Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s deep and probing harmonics on ‘Ya Messinagh’. Elsewhere the band consolidate on previous triumphs or deliver inspid acoustic takes on them.

The new Sun Araw album ‘Ancient Romans’ is a bit of a mixed bag on first listen. The first three tracks (‘Lucretius’, ‘Crown Shell’ and ‘Crete’) and closer ‘Impluvium’ are big disappointments for different reasons, the first three mainly because they are too busy and seem to miss the whole point of Sun Araw’s repetitive and meditative music. ‘Impluvium’ lets itself down as it starts off seemingly to use modern production techniques such as chopped up vocals which is a first for Sun Araw however it ends up sound like antiquated rave music slowed down. The album isn’t a complete disaster and when it’s good, it’s very good. ‘At Delphi’ and ‘Fit for Caesar’ are cinematic and drone based triumphs that take what great about Sun Araw and times it by 100. ‘Lute and Lyre’ has its moments too starting off feeling a little weak it slowly draws the listener in and transfixes them, however this is spoilt by Stallones not being able to resist over complicating parts and flooding the mix.

Balam Acab’s ‘Wander/Wonder’ is one of the best albums I’ve heard this month, though it is disappointingly short at only 36 minutes and he does have a habit of repeating the same stylistic elements again and again. However, Acab’s grasp of music theory combined with his unique aesthetic are enough to ensure the quality of this release. At its best the album perfectly balances the digital and the organic, the tense and the relaxing, the watery and the bone dry, the artificially processed and real world sounds. Along with his label mates such as ooOoo and Clams Casino, Balam Acab is carving out his own sound world and it one that’s a great place to be.

I’ll admit that I haven’t paying much attention to what Steve Malkmus has been up to since he released his self titled debut solo album in 2001. At the time I was a huge Pavement fan and desperate for something to come out from Malkmus, the leader of a band I’d become obsessed with in my teens. However the following albums just seemed to bring more and more songs that sounded like pale imitations of Pavement songs and I drifted away from the alternative rock. After reading that there was a new Malkmus album due and it was being produced by Beck my interest was piqued. It turns out Malkmus is firing on all cylinders (I’ll have to revisit the previous four albums now as I feel I may missed out) and has delivered an eclectic album full to the brim with tunes. From the opening ‘Tigers’ (which reminds me of ‘Range Life’ by Pavement) to the closing ‘Gorgeous Georgie’ (the album most relaxed song) Malkmus delivers. The highlights include the folk inspired ‘No One Is (As Are I Be)’, the rambunctious single ‘Senator’, the funky and spare take on Alt. Rock of ‘Brain Gallop’ and ‘Stick Figures in Love’ which has a middle 8 that reminds me of ‘Third Uncle’ by Brian Eno and the bouncy ‘Forever 28’. The album’s second half features a selection of quieter, slower and more contemplative songs (‘Long Hard Book’, ‘Jumblegloss’, ‘All Over Gently’, ‘Fall Away’ and ‘Gorgeous Georgie’) which show that Malkmus is not a one trick pony . Another way forward is the increased usage and presence of The Jicks great rhythm section who on tracks like ‘All Over Gently’, ‘Forever 28’ and ‘Brain Gallop’ they suggest new rhythmic avenues for the band to explore in future. Even when “Mirror Traffic” sounds like Pavement I realise this no bad thing as Malkmus on top form equalling the legacy of his former band and not a creating pale imitations of his former glories. All power to the former Pavement man’s elbow!

Spotify playlist:

August 2011 playlist

Coming up in September on Sonic Fiction:

Classics Critiqued – “Thrills, Pills and Bellyaches” by the Happy Mondays – sorry that there was no Classics Critiqued in August I was unable to find any information when researching the piece on “Mr. Brubaker’s Strawberry Alarm Clock” BY Neotropic. This release come highly recommend to any fans of Ninja Tune artists!

Recommendations – September

Key * = albums that I’ve already heard, so I’m sharing my intial thoughts on them

^ = albums recommended by our electronic music columnist Vier

~ = this album release has been moved to the 3rd October

The Rapture – ‘In the Grace of Your Love’ (DFA, 5th September) *

The long awaited new album from The Rapture proves to be a mini triumph. Although time will tell us just how good this album is my first couple of spins left me impressed with the bands work. The only real missteps are ‘Rollar Coaster’ (pop era Talking Heads) and ‘Come Back to Me’ (an out-and-out dance tune that sounds like a dance production featuring Luke Jenner than a tune by The Rapture and suffers for it). The rest of album holds up a pretty high standard, the best examples being the rolling disco with post-punk guitars of ‘Children’, the funky title track and its near twin ‘Never Die Again’. Elsewhere the opener ‘Sail Away’ and ‘Miss You’ both combine dance music beats and backing and punchy rock dynamics that feels huge but not overbearing, ‘How Deep is Your Love?’ provides an epic house number and centre piece and closer ‘It Takes Time to be a Man’ is a surprising change with the band taking a soulful piece of with an almost hip-hop beat and feel. The glue that holds all of the album’s strands together is Luke Jenner’s stronger and more soulful vocal delivery, the band plays with a lot of black music influences and reference points but this is the first time Jenner has tried to sound ‘black’ and succeeds in this area most of the time. ‘In the Grace of Your Love’ develops further the sound the band adopted on their last album ‘Pieces of the People We Love’. Add to this the more explicit dance and disco influences that they now better incorporate into their sound and it seems this album will only get better with repeat listens.

Gui Boratto – “III” (Kompakt, 12th September) ^

The Brazillian techno artist returns with his third album for Kompakt. ‘The Drill’, an EP taken from the album, shows the emotive, harmonic approach  of his two previous albums imbued with a bold darkness.

Kid Koala – ‘Space Cadet’ (Ninja Tune, 19th September)

The Canadian turntablist and cartoonist returns with a “still picture score” for his new graphic novel. In addition to unique and amazing turntable skills their is room for new instruments including strings, horns and marimba. Can preview ‘Space Cadet’ at Ninja Tune’s website.

Megafaun – “Megafaun” (Crammed Discs, 19th September) *

The new self titled album from Megafaun certainly covers a lot of ground even introducing some new sounds, styles and instruments on this album. ‘Get Right’ combines the trademark Megafaun sound to Neu! style synth and motorik momentum. ‘Hope You Know’is an emotive and minimal piano ballad, another first for the band. ‘Resurrection’ is an upbeat electrified folk rock filled out by Rhodes piano and pedal/lap steel guitar. Strings pop up across the album on the warm ‘Second Friend’, the abstract interlude ‘Serene Return’ and album closer ‘Everything’. The band push things out from their usual song based style on the aforementioned ‘Serene Return’, ‘State Meant’ and ‘Post Script’ which work a treat where they could have gone seriously wrong. This is an album that could be a grower, however so was their previous album ‘Gather, Form and Fly’ and repeated listens really paid off with that. It’s too early to tell if this album will equal the previous’ ones highlights but I think it’s worth giving the time to show whether it can or not.

Apparat – ‘The Devil’s Walk’ (Mute, 26th September)

The German electronic music producer returns with the follow-up to his critically acclaimed album “Walls”. The two pre-release tracks ‘Ash/Black Veil’ and ‘Black Water’ show a new Gothic atmosphere pervading throughout. This seems like the perfect record to release on Mute Records who Apparat decided to release this new album through.

Roots Manuva – ’4everevolution’ (Big Dada, 26th September)

Roots Manuva returns with his fifth (official) studio album, which is reportedly an eclectic 17 track affair that covers everything Mr. Manuva has done thus far and much more. You can download first single “Watch Me Dance’ here.

Mark McGuire – ‘Get Lost’ (Editions Mego, 26th September)

McGuire’s third release on Edition Mego in under 2 years sees him recording all new material completely digitally (a lot of Emeralds and McGuire previous releases were recorded to tape) with a combination of electric and acoustic guitar, vocals (is this a first?) and guitar-synth. As a huge McGuire fan I (Liam editor/founder of Sonic Fiction) can’t wait!

DJ Shadow – ‘The Less You Know The Better’ (Island, 26th September 2011 ~)

DJ Shadow is back and the early signs are good after he released two tracks destined for this latest release. However, after being stung by ‘The Outsider’ some fans might be reticent about this new release. However, I’d say give it a shot as ‘The Private Press’ was a grower for me and it paid eventually.

Spank Rock – ‘Everything is Boring and Everyone is a Fucking Liar’ (Bad Blood, 26th September) – Its been along time coming but the follow-up to ‘YoYoYoYoYo’ is finally here!! Featuring all the usual members of Spank Rock plus Boys Noize has produced some tracks including the Can sampling ‘Energy’, which you can download here.

Walls – “Coracle” (Kompakt, 26th September) ^

The duo’s second album sees them once again capture a shimmering sound with swirling layers of guitars and synths and as first single ‘Sunporch’ displays they have now grounded their synth washes in authorative bass lines. ‘Coracle’ is an album to watch for Kompakt’s continuing evolution.

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.

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