It’s a real mixed bag this month, from treated field recordings, through the arrival of a loved-up Mike Paradinas to the discovery of a previously unknown side-project of Jaki Liebezeit, the legendary drummer from Can. To be honest, I’d probably be happy listening to Jaki playing two biros on a biscuit tin, so I’m slightly ashamed at having missed earlier installments. Still, this site’s all about discovering new gems, and hopefully you’ll uncover one of your own in this list. (Jeremy Bye)
Betacicadae ~ Mouna
You’ll observe the word ‘cicada’ embedded in the artist name for it is this insect that is responsible for much of the background tone and texture of the music here; sometimes the insects are layered into a miasmic haze of swarming drone (“Creakaboo”), elsewhere, on “Seti”, they chirrup away as nature intended. Kevin Scott Davis has done the heavy-lifting, of course, treating the field recordings (not just insect life) from diverse locales with all due care and invention, and the result is an album that is constantly changing from one minute to the next. There’s plenty of variety here, from the vibraphones of the aforementioned “Seti” to “jjjjj” which goes from a subtle beat to blissed-out hum with a delicate wash of the sea by its end. At the heart of the record are the sounds of nature shifting from unobtrusive one moment to full-on intensity the next, but always managing to provide a steady centre for the album, giving it a cohesion that it otherwise might have lacked. The vinyl package looks particularly enticing; you get the bonus of extra surface noise.
Burnt Friedman & Jaki Liebezeit ~ Secret Rhythms 5
To borrow a line from Richard Allen, the first four volumes must have been secret because this is the first time I’ve heard of this series. The premise is simple enough; Can drummer Liebezeit provides majority of the percussion and electronic producer Friedman does the rest; for the most part he’s happy to keep a fairly low profile, adding subtle bits of kalimba and steel drums alongside Jaki’s impressive kit-work. There are other musicians involved but as far as I can tell their contributions were made before the bulk of the recording and Friedman has just utilised pre-existing work to go alongside his own. For the most part, this is seamlessly put together, Liebezeit’s inventive playing channelling global poly-rhythms with Friedman’s contribution a beneficial garnishing on top; the only point where things go awry is the final track which loses focus by adding too much to the mix (vocals and guitar for starters). But that’s pretty good going, really – I’m off to hunt down volumes 1-4.
Sound samples here
Dive Signals ~ Drift Studies
An album titled Drift Studies may make you leap to the conclusion that this is Dive Signals‘ ambient album but the steady, insistent beat that opens “Blindness” quickly disabuses us of that notion. The rhythm underpins a swirling, psychedelic melange of guitar and cymbal work, which eventually gives way to some calming analogue keyboard tones; these are continued with a little added graininess into “Time After (Drift Study 1)”. The drums are upfront a lot in the first half of the album, splashy ride-work giving a definite jazz-tinge to the work; as they underpin some taut guitar playing at times, there’s a definite hint of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing seeping through the cracks. A drum machine takes over for the latter stages of Drift Studies, so the rhythms lose some of the vitality in exchange for crisp accuracy – which the dubby groove of “In Theory” clearly needs. Plenty of variety, then, from a prolific artist; it might be interesting to see if Angel Ortega could put together an album of tracks of a similar feel rather than careering from one genre to another. Or you could grab his back-catalogue and compile your own.
(ghost) ~ Departure
Thoughtful, introspective electronica from Brian Froh. The key to Departure is the combination of calming atmospheres, sinewy bass and busy, creative rhythms. There is a definite cinematic feel to many of the tracks here and to his credit, Froh avoids playing it too safe; there’s always the sense of chances being taken and the tracks are regularly mixed up and folded in on themselves. Indeed, “Plans To Escape” threatens to collapse into chaos midway through when the piano is introduced but somehow, (ghost) gets it back on track; Froh considers himself a composer more than a producer so this may explain the invention in the arrangements even if some of the sounds utilised are a touch familiar. To his credit as well, he’s a fan of tunes and peppers his tracks with lots of them; “Distance” has melody and counter-melody darting and swirling in the rhythmic eddies, “Leaving It All Behind” threatens to soundtrack tumbleweed blowing across arid highways in Arizona. Fans of Ulrich Schnauss and Murcof are advised to investigate without delay; listening to Departure will certainly transport you.
The Green Kingdom ~ Dustloops: Memory Fragments
An agreeable mix of dub and trip-hop, possessing in places a laid-back summer vibe that will be familiar to anyone who’s drifted away one sunny afternoon to Nightmares On Wax. It’s not all smooth; “Seebreeze” has a few sinister sounds to potentially shake the relaxed feelings, but on the whole this is a mellow listen that nonetheless has enough going on to elevate it way above most albums that plough a similar field. There’s a whole lot of texture which give these tracks plenty of heft, and underline Michael Cottone’s dedication to his craft. I get the feeling that he could have generated a lot of these sounds easily, but they just wouldn’t have sounded as good, so he’s put in the effort and reaped the rewards. Or rather, we have; cast an ear to “dustloop4” or “Night Clatter” and get lost in the layers of sound that are built up. An album recommended to those who may want to chill out this summer to something with a bit of depth – you’ll be spending plenty of time in The Green Kingdom.
Heterotic ~ Love & Devotion
The last Mike Paradinas album came out six years ago, and as might be judged by the title Duntisbourne Abbots Soulmate Devastation Technique stemmed from a dark point in his life – it’s one of the few electronic ‘divorce albums’, a concept that perhaps sits better with country-rock of the 1970s. This year has seen him rejuvenated though, first with a limited set of early µ-Ziq tracks and now Heterotic, a collaboration with his wife Lara Rix-Martin. The title is the first clue that this is the sound of a happier Paradinas, and the music is a wonderfully bright mix of relaxed housey pop, with hints of Italo-disco thrown in for good measure; admittedly this is ‘house’ and ‘pop’ of the less obvious and more restrained bent; there’s a bit of melancholic techno in there too for good measure, as well as echoes of the old µ-Ziq sound on the closing track. The biggest surprise is the presence of Gravenhurst’s Nick Talbot on vocals, who doesn’t seem an obvious match for the music but actually fits in rather well; he’s almost acting as a cypher for Rix-Martin and Paradinas here, putting his normal lyrical concerns to one side in return for ‘All I recall is the back of your neck… sun-scented pools and summer’s last days’. A cheery Gravenhurst? Mike P making records again? Huge credit must go to Lara Rix-Martin for this – clearly, love can save the day.
Locust ~ You’ll Be Safe Forever
Mark van Hoen’s return to the fray as Locust after a 12 year gap has not attracted the hoopla in the same way that My Bloody Valentine or David Bowie have; this is probably how he would prefer it. The alternative reason is that van Hoen’s kept up a steady trickle of releases during that time under his own name and whilst he has a small army of fans, Locust’s earlier albums for R&S offshoot Apollo and Touch were often lost in the welter of similar(-ish) releases at the same time. Hopefully, You’ll Be Safe Forever will fare better, because it’s an intriguing release, the first half vacillating between big beat assaults (imagine an instrumental version of Björk’s “Army Of Me” times three) and short, calming ambient passages. “Do Not Fear” returns to the sound of Locust that is more familiar to fans of the earlier albums with a ghostly choir doing much to create a Seefeel-esque atmosphere, and this sets the stage for the remainder of the album. It’s a fascinating balancing of the old sounds and the new; I’m not convinced by the latter, because it doesn’t feel right for a Locust album, and I wonder how much of an effect the contribution of co-performer/producer Louis Sherman has had. The second half of You’ll Be Safe Forever works very well indeed; whether it is because it’s closer to the earlier work or simply that the duo make better music in this style is debatable. Anyway, I’m pleased Locust is back, and I hope I’m forgiven if I skip a couple of the tracks.
Quicksails ~ Mayville Dream
There’s nothing wrong with putting a few handclaps on a track – they were the original cowbell – and Quicksails‘ “The Many Roads Towards Mayville” certainly benefits from double-time synth-clap goodness. It gives the track a vibrancy and cohesion which isn’t always present elsewhere on the album, which travels outward into impressionistic areas of psychedelia, and not always with a beat to hold it down. After a couple of tracks like this, Mayville Dream is in danger of tipping into self-indulgent noodling, saved only by the brevity of the tracks themselves. There’s a distinct improvement on tracks with a beat; the percussion on “Bemus Has Wings To Fly”, and drums of “Closer To Towanda”, in which those handclaps make a welcome return. The injection of a bit of rhythm means Quicksails really sparkle, so the tracks when they opt against it sound a little lost and fractured, especially when measured against the synthy pulse that cropped up on the previous album Silver Balloons In Clusters. So Mayville Dream is, overall, a little off-kilter – but it is good to hear an artist pushing themselves to make something different than before, even if it doesn’t always succeed.
Ritornell ~ Aquarium Eyes
I reviewed the previous Ritornell album what seems like half a lifetime ago but I remember I was fairly non-committal about its polite take on jazztronica, which lacked a little… something. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what was absent but Golden Solitude felt somehow constricted, and any edginess had been smoothed away to leave nothing but friction-less surfaces; efficient but lacking personality. Not that the duo of Richard Eigner and Roman Gerold are likely to have paid any attention to me but such issues have for the most part been tackled on Aquarium Eyes; there’s more warmth for a start, and the playing feels distinctly more human, even when it’s been manipulated later (the bass on opener “The Morning Factory”, for example, or the drums on the title track). The real ‘human’ aspect comes in the form of Mimu who provides breathy, Björk-y vocals and abstract lyrics. She’s also present for a version of Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home A Heartache”, which seems to be a surprisingly popular choice of cover from Buck 65 to the Melvins. But it’s the splashes of piano and clangs of percussion that are the main focus on Aquarium Eyes and they give the album a lively edge; whatever was missing before has been most definitely found.
Solar Bears ~ Supermigration
It may be that Solar Bears‘ debut album on Planet Mu arrived at just the wrong moment; the label was at that time filling its roster with Footwork artists which may have caused the sunny electronic sounds of She Was Coloured In to be overlooked; if it had come out on, say, Tri Angle, it may have fared better. Hopefully, there will be no such problems this time round for the Irish duo; Supermigration will sit alongside Heterotic a lot more comfortably than it did the work of DJ Nate. There seems to be a more muscular sound on this album as well – “The Girl That Played With Light” sounds like a live band, with real drums, reminiscent of M83. Indeed, there’s a live ambience on many of the tracks; the Rhodes-y miniature “You And Me” sounding like it was composed on the spot. As is often the case (analogue synths? Hip-hoppy drums?? A duo??!), the spectre of Boards of Canada looms and frankly Solar Bears don’t help themselves with “Komplex” which cops the little synth flurry from “Roygbiv”. But that’s a minor quibble, really, more than countered by “Our Future Is Underground” by one-time Air collaborator Beth Hirsch. So that’s a review of an electronic duo that mentions both Air, M83 and BoC – the good news is, Solar Bears don’t sound out of place in that company.
Totsouko ~ ‘Tis True, ‘Tis Pity; and Pity ‘Tis ‘Tis True
Another title that might give a misdirect; this isn’t some work based upon Shakespeare’s Hamlet; at least I don’t think it is, although the title’s from a speech by Polonius (I google so you don’t have to). I do know that Greek producer Totsouko who clearly has been inspired by a woman – who she is will remain a enigma to us, but he’s obviously smitten (‘anyway thanks for the inspiration’ runs the message on the cover). The result is a busy little record of hip-hop inspired beats and vocal snippets grabbed from old films; sometimes the samples are used untreated but inventively, such as on “Confession”. Elsewhere, there’s chopping up and editing at work; “Selanik’da” is a prime example, as is “Does It Matter?” which adapts an old jazz singer’s vocals into more contemporary setting. “A Small Reminder”’s lively beat and orchestral instrumentation is tremendous fun; an album that has its roots in unrequited love could be forgiven for maudlin navel-gazing but Totsouko is surely trying to make this lady smile – works for me, hopefully it’ll work on her too.