Tag Archive: Zola Jesus


October was dominated by Bjork’s return after a four year break and the exciting news that her album “Biophilia” would be released with imaginative, synaesthesia-inspired iPhone/iPad apps. New Polish production duo Viadrina released their club-orientated “Bodymind” EP. The EP is a three-track collection that gives tech-house a new twist and the title track features one of the best vocal performances of recent techno releases:

Unfortunatly I was unable to listen BNJMN’s “Black Square”.

Here’s a round-up of last month’s recommendations.:

Zola Jesus – “Conatus”

This is a disappointing album so I’ve only presented the highlights. Second track ‘Avalanche’ has its foundations in “Stridulum”. The moody atmospherics and deploring vocals link to “Conatus”’ predecessor while the softer use of these elements bridges us to the album’s overall sound. The strongest track is ‘Vessel’ which recalls “Homogenic” or a gloopier ‘Enjoy’ from Bjork’s “Post”.

‘Ixode’ features an infectious 4/4 electro beat and synth pop pulses amid Jesus’ indecipherable, layered chanting then there’s a fantastic octave leap that pins you into your seat as a thwacking bass drum hits you. From ‘Ixode’ we segue into ‘Seekir’, which sees an ecstatic Zola Jesus raising her arms in a moment of victory as the bubbling bassline calls you to celebrate on the dancefloor before we are pulled into the dull murk of later tracks.

“Conatus” is imbued with crisper production and benefits from having the same-y claustrophobia and high drama that made up “Stridulum” dialled down. Yet if listened to in one session the album flags and suffers from repetitive tempos and themes. Her voice remains a force of nature but there is something lacking in this release. All of Zola Jesus’ songs share the same DNA: a high percentage of woe, a percentage of industrial clangs, a percentage of gloomy chords and a percentage of either hope or desperation. “Conatus” is more enjoyable if a few key tracks, such as ‘Vessel’ and ‘Seekir’, are downloaded and consumed in small bites. Despite Zola Jesus’ clear talent “Conatus” unfortunately seems destined to be broadcast over the system in Urban Outfitters.

Bjork – “Biophilia”

‘Thunderbolt’’s malevolent bass line and electronic drums provide a wild, tense energy underneath a female choir that flock around Bjork’s half sung, half spoken questioning of the human tendency to wish for miracles and plea for universal understanding. First single ‘Crystalline’ recalls the intimacy and fragility of “Verspertine” and once again demonstrates Bjork’s innate use of beautiful harmonies. ‘Crystalline’ is filled with the delicate, glassy timbres courtesy of a bespoke gameleste and fizzing electronic drums before a jungle breakbeat unexpectedly explodes out of the ether in proud celebration of Bjork’s return. The breathless swell of ‘Cosmogony’’s chorus conveys in one track the album’s overall sense of childlike wonder felt when considering the universe’s incredible creation and vastness. Bjork creates an uneasy balance between unsettling and calm in ‘Hollow’. Lulling vocals and a dreamy choir are interrupted by horror-film organs and staccato, digitalised drums. Crashing into life after the tender beauty of ‘Virus’ and ‘Sacrifice’ is the confrontational “Homogenic”-like ‘Mutual Core’, which could easily be the voice of Mother Nature scolding her selfish inhabitants or a song for the heartbroken.“You know I gave it all/ Trying to match our continents/To change seasonal shifts/ To form a mutual core//You know I gave it all/Can you hear the effort”  she admonishes as bass sounds and furious beats roll and thunder around her in thrilling bursts.

“Biophilia” has links with her 2007 album “Volta” and 1997’s “Homogenic” but where “Volta” bursts at the seams with sound, “Biophilia” is, for its endeavour to correlate science and nature with the patterns and structure of music, a restrained and spacious listen. Her voice and words anchor emotions to the science 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 a four year hiatus “Biophilia” underlines how greatly superior Bjork is from the majority of popular music and, regardless of the way the album has been delivered, she continues to electrify and surpass.

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

The Field – “Looping State of Mind”

‘Is This Power’ opens with krautrock drums and a gorgeous, ecstatic loop that could be enjoyed for hours build and build into a thrilling drop after 5 minutes. Breaking down to an arpeggiated bass line, resonant melody and shuffling drums The Field the expertly pulls the main loop back in and the track endlessly continues. Techno DJ and producer Marcel Dettmann remarked that if you “composed a loop that you could to listen to repeatedly then it’s a good loop”; ‘Is This Power’ embodies this statement. Next track ‘It’s Up There’ recalls his début album “From Here We Go Sublime”. Live drums push through liquid, slowly evolving synths and as with the previous track this song drops at 7 minutes to a dancing bass line and percussion to evoke the grooves of LCD Soundsystem’s “Sound of Silver”, making ‘Its Up There’ the funkiest thing Axel Willner has ever produced.

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. The layers on ‘Arpeggiated Love’ develop into a vast wall of sound where each instrument feels knitted together until a twinkling synth indicates a quick release and we are left with a singular voice calling out. Feeling the most loose and organic of the release, title track ‘Looping State Of Mind’ is a new direction. Balearic house and smooth guitars interlace with rushing percussion and synth drones that drop in and out in unexpected ways. ‘Then It’s White’ comes as a relief after the frenzy of the title track. Marrying human fluency with technology the track creates a strange combination of bliss and sombre. The piano and mournful, computer-warped voice subtly calls to mind Apparat while confirming The Field’s expanded production ability.

The Field has returned with his third album for 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.

Spotify playlist:

October playlist

Recommendations – November

Tresor Records – “20th Anniversary” (7th November, compilation mix, Tresor Records)

Two decades ago Tresor and its founder Dimitri Hegemann cultivated an essential Detroit-Berlin relationship, giving an important platform to techno and thus many heralded Detroit DJs and artists. This “20th Anniversary” compilation, mixed by Mike Huckaby, surveys the label’s expansive and integral Detroit-Berlin catalogue with 22 tracks from techno luminaries such as Robert Hood, Drexciya, Jeff Mills, Surgeon and Cristian Vogel.

Oneohtrix Point Never – “Replica” (7th November, Software)

Oneohtrix returns with the follow-up “Returnal” (2010) the winner of my Album of the Year 2010 on his own Software label. Though I’ve already listened to the album a couple of times I’ve yet to form any solid ideas about it. However I do think its a confident stride forward into a more overtly ‘pop’ (in the loosest sense of the world) direction. It still sounds like OPN but is possibly his most varied and upbeat collection to date.

Cabaret Voltaire – “Johnny YesNo Redux (Boxset” (14th November, Mute)

I’ve been a fan of the Cabs for many years but my rediscovery of them earlier this year has forced me to reassess their importance and the brilliant music they made. In addition to this they also released several videos via their video label DoubleVision. “Johnny YesNo” was the most famous of these and has now been reissued with a new version of the short film short in L.A. and a new soundtrack from Cabs founder Richard H. Kirk plus a CD of additional unreleased material in addition to the original film and its soundtrack.

Marcel Dettmann – “Conducted” (14th November, mix CD, Music Man Records).

Berlin-based DJ and techno producer Marcel Dettmann has gathered the work of his contemporaries Morphosis, Redshape and Shed and two of his all time favourites tracks ‘Sundog’ by Reel By Real  and Cheeba Starks to create only his second commercially available mix to date, following the lauded “Berghain 02” from 2008. According to the distributors, the mix is being sold as an “extensive package”, which will include an “extensive booklet” boasting sleeve notes, two accompanying 12”s and interviews conducted by Marcel Dettmann.

Check out this interview with Marcel Dettmann:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCGVV_ywnTg&feature=player_embedded

The Fall – “Ersatz G.B.” (14th November, Cherry Red)

The 29th studio album from Mark E. Smith and co., there’s no clue in the press release as to how it will sound but one we can rely on is the how John Peel once described the band “always the same, always different”.

Steve Hauschildt – “Tragedy & Geometry” (14th November, Kranky)

The new solo album from Emeralds synth player Hauschildt comes out on Kranky and will be his best distributed solo release to date. I have to honest, I haven’t heard any of Hauschildt’s previous releases but suspect it’ll be heavily influenced by the ‘kosmische musik’ of Tangerine Dream, Cluster and Ash Ra Tempel.

Chris Watson – “El Tren Fastasma” (14th November, Touch)

Not the sort of release that generally excites, the new album from sound recordist and ex-Cabaret Voltaire member Chris Watson promises much. Made up of recordings on the now retired Ghost Train cross-country route in Mexico ten years, the pre-release track ‘El Divisadero’ has proved more musical than you’d imagine and along with a recent interview on Pitchfork has wetted my appetite ahead of this release.

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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.

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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