It’s been a bumper crop of electronic music in the past month, of all shapes and sizes, so thanks to all the artists who submit. In fact, there’s been so much, I’ve had to bump some to either next month or – possibly – a supplemental edition, which may well appear about three days before the next proper column is due to arrive. Once again, it’s alphabetized to show no favour. (Jeremy Bye)
Dai Watts ~ Small Things
In my recent review of Graveyard Tapes, I blithely commented on the relative lack of instrumental works submitted to A Closer Listen that dealt with heartbreak. Almost immediately I was directed towards Small Things, a new album by Dai Watts that was written to soundtrack the collapse of a relationship over the course of five days. However, this is an album that doesn’t really capture the sense of desolation and loss that the background information suggests it might – it is, in fact, quite jaunty, the short pieces seeming to have escaped from the soundtrack to a French romantic comedy rather than the journey of despair that Watts suggests it is in his notes. The upbeat nature of the music is enough to banish all thoughts of the original inspiration of the work and just enjoy these brief but tuneful pieces: ironically it’s only the closing “The Homecoming” that would sneak onto a mix tape of sad songs. So it’s an unusual take on the subject, presumably from the point of view of someone who feels spiritually lifted by the break, rather than the rejected partner. But whatever the inspiration behind the music, it’s a enjoyable diversion to chase the blues away.
Darren McClure ~ Lines Inverted
Hailing from Northern Ireland, and now resident in Japan, Darren McClure has released music across a host of labels. This is his first release on Dekor Ind – actually it’s the first release by anybody on the label, so congratulations are in order to everyone concerned on this new project, and here’s hoping there will be many releases to follow. This is a strong opening statement, a download-only set of six tracks that ebb and flow with crisp digital precision, countered by a decent supply of glitch to send ripples across the steely-smooth surface. There’s the hint of a beat at times too, although the pulse is so funereal on “Air Contact” that you don’t notice when it stops. Lines Inverted moves at a stately pace throughout, giving the impression of icy-cold aloofness, a sense of detachment from the warmth of the world that is present in some of the other albums reviewed here – but it’s not humourless, as witnessed by the track “Sspelling”. By sticking resolutely to its own path, Darren McClure has maybe created a musical manifesto for this new label – don’t follow anyone else, stick to your beliefs.
DJ Rashad ~ Rollin EP
Hyperdub pick up the footwork/juke baton from Planet Mu who, having brought the fresh sound of Chicago to mainstream attention, seem to scaled back their interest in it. That doesn’t mean that the sound has gone stale or that the producers have run out of ideas but they might be happier operating below the radar with the occasional foray on a higher profile label, such as DJ Rashad here. On the Rollin EP he uses the main tools of the footwork trade – cut up R&B vocals, enthusiastic rhythms – to create five tracks which are custom made for dancers rather than listeners. Given their uncompromising approach – Rashad is clearly more DJ than producer and doesn’t spend much time on subtleties – it’s pretty pointless trying to resist the impulse to move.
FWY! ~ Any Exit
Splendid cassette release that occupies the imagined middle ground between early Seefeel and early-ish New Order. There’s plenty of bass-as-lead-instrument here, dominating many of the tunes, and let’s face it, that’s not a bad thing at all, especially when Peter Hook spends most of his time arguing with his former bandmates and covering his old bands’ hits. Several tracks luxuriate in swooning, blissed out rhythm and drone, with the lengthy “Irvine” the pick of the tracks. Elsewhere, there’s lively percussion propelling the tunes onward; at times it’s possible to imagine FWY! playing to a deserted Haçienda (see the movie 24 Hour Party People to get the full experience). This review may sound like Any Exit is a retro-tastic throwback, and whilst it does contain certain old school elements, it doesn’t feel like a pastiche and still has plenty of vibrancy in its grooves – “710 Again” may be the unlikely dancefloor smash among Darla collectors.
Melodium ~ Lixiviat
A concise collection that contains fresh recordings of some of Melodium‘s older, unreleased work. It may have an extra hint of polish that the original pieces lacked (I suspect that Laurent Girard’s recording equipment has improved over time at least), but Lixiviat is, essentially, what we expect from a Girard release; restrained percussion, delicate melodies and short running times. Given the quality of the pieces here, and remembering how consistent the Melodium discography is (and prolific – at least an album a year for over a decade), this should come with a warning; get hooked now and there’s rather a lot of catching up to do. By returning to his early works now, it might be that Girard is intending to pause Melodium for a while and pursue other musical ventures. Alternatively, he might have rediscovered a box of old cassettes and was suddenly inspired once again. Whatever the motivation behind it, Lixiviat is simply another in a long line of lovely albums.
Oval ~ Calidostópia
This free album was released with minimal fanfare last month, and is a bit of a departure from the normal sound of Oval. Sure, the glitchy stuff is still present, but here Markus Popp is collaborating with a variety of Brazilian musicians, so the usual sound of Oval sits underneath vocals and takes something of a backseat on a number of tracks. “Alpen”, with Aiace is one exception, with the musical backing interfered with in a very inappropriate manner whilst the singer maintains an air of calm at the eye of the laptop-storm. By contrast, on “Habitat” (with Maité Gadea) Popp is the model of restraint, allowing a guitar to do most of the work before a reflective coda. With a number of contrasting artists to work with, it’s no surprise that Calidostópia is an uneven work, with Popp not always judging the correct amount of Oval to add to the musical mix. It’s a fairly bold move of these traditional-sounding musicians to team up with the former dark prince of glitchtronica, so one can forgive any mistakes and enjoy the moments that do work.
Pick A Piper ~ Pick A Piper
This is the project of Caribou’s live drummer, Brad Weber and it’s fair to say he’s clearly been paying attention to Dan Snaith’s work whilst sat behind the kit. This means that there are hazy, sun-dappled tunes a-plenty and quite a lot of the wispy vocals that increasingly populate Caribou albums. Indeed, for an album by a sticksman, there’s not much in the way of indulgent drumming; it’s not until “Once Were Leaves” that the skins get a proper workout, and the majority of the songs here are stripped of any noodly diversions. “South To Polynesia”, the longest track here, threatens to tip into a jazz skronk-fest before retreating into – yikes – a proper, LCD Soundsystem-style song. Pick A Piper first appeared in 2009 with a download-only EP, but since then Weber’s clearly been working on his song-writing and the quartet, plus assorted guest vocalists from the likes of Ruby Suns and Born Ruffians, have made an album that’s edgy enough to intrigue but poppy enough to be a summer smash.
Scale ~ Go On A Bat, Accordion
The first appearance of a new alias for Sergey Galunenko, who also records as Galun. Given the number of acts who have operated under the name Scale, adopting that name when you have a pretty unique identity already seems a bit foolhardy but that’s musicians for you, I guess. I would have thought that a Russian beatboxer making a mini-album influenced by the footwork and juke sounds of Chicago would have been reckless as well but Go On A Bat, Accordion is here to prove me wrong on that count. This is, I think, the first instance of footwork getting a foothold outside of the US, which shows that there’s life in the young dog still. It’s slightly more refined than DJ Rashad’s work, with Scale using cleaner samples, and a crisper array of synth sounds to put his tracks together; there’s a definite sense of this being one step removed from the source. But that’s no bad thing; genres have to evolve otherwise they just wither away in a smaller and smaller niche.
Stygian Stride ~ Stygian Stride
Musicians going off to record electronic Krautrock-inspired side-projects seems to be a recurring theme recently, and Jimmy SeiTang of Psychic Ills and Rhyton is merely the latest with Stygian Stride. Clearly the half-dozen bands making this music back in the 1970s did not exhaust the possibilities and there seems to be plenty of scope left for the budding analogue synth wizard. To SeiTang’s credit, he’s avoided the technological assistance of laptops and MIDI sequencing so this is a much more traditional sounding album in the sense that it feels like there is a human behind the sounds rather than having been programmed to the nearest millisecond at the expense of any soul. The powerful, buzzing bass on “Athanor Ascension”, and the choral drone and birdsong of the brilliantly titled “Fade Into Bolivian” should be enough to convince the most stubborn sceptic that musicians who adopt this sound are not merely repeating the old ideas, but there’s a rich vein to be mined and there’s no sense in letting it waste away.
Various ~ Think and Change
The title is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and so is the music contained within. Perhaps inspired by Four Tet‘s recent subtle yet defined shift towards four-to-the-floor club-friendly tracks, the producers who have recorded for the Nonplus label provide fresh material that is for the most part a step away from the dubstep sound they normally make. As a physical artifact, it’s a little on the indulgent side, being 10 tracks on 10 sides of vinyl in a limited box set, but the speed it flew off the shelves suggests the label knew what they were doing. The digital release misses one track off the vinyl, but adds four more, so is ideal for all those laptop DJs who were wondering what they were going to do with those big round discs anyway. The aforementioned Mr Hebden contributes yet another classy track in the shape of “For These Times” (gotta love those Hawtin-esque snare rolls!), but he’s merely one of a veritable motherlode of producers here. As the label started off as an Instra:mental project and is now run by one half of that duo, Boddika, it makes sense that they both contribute, but there’s also Kassem Mosse, SCB, Martyn and Pearson Sound, who offers up the part-jungle, part-scary “Quivver”. If you’re looking for a digital edition, make sure you get a decent bitrate – there’s a lot of bass on this album and you’ll want to rattle the windows when you blast this out.