After a brief summer hiatus, we’re back with a suitably bumper-sized edition, much in the same way the comics of my youth used to produce a Summer Special, which in theory were designed to keep the children quiet for a fortnight’s holiday but – once the Wordsearch and Spot the Difference had been done on the journey down – only served to underline the vast differences between a comic holiday (sun, sea and sandcastles) with the reader’s own (hills, rain, disappointment). Much of the music this month was listened to, and indeed written about, whilst travelling by train, so in the spirit of TV talent shows, this column has literally been on a journey. And, in the spirit of the British railway network, it’s late. (Jeremy Bye)
aiRless pRoject ~ Daydreaming of You
This EP opens with a breathy wisp of ambient music and bright, frosty bells but soon subverts the old familiar tropes by overlapping and interweaving the bells into a busy, bustling clamour. For the first 60 seconds or so aiRless pRoject nearly found themselves on the ‘heard it all before’ pile (they’re definitely on the ‘irritating band name to type’ pile), but their refreshing approach reprieved this brief release. There are ambient tones aplenty on here but it isn’t an ambient record, as there is far too much going on – “Dusty Beats” is pretty self-descriptive, but “Soul Realms” which has several hints of glassy synth and smooth drone takes a darker path with what sounds like a broken-up clock chopped up for percussion and various glitches fluttering across the spectrum. It’s a confident and bold-sounding release, not settling for the old and familiar but pushing gently at expectations.
An Ant and An Atom ~ There Is No One.
These five tracks have taken some two years from first inception to eventual release which indicates that either An Ant and An Atom is as slow at making music as your humble reviewer is at writing columns or, more probably, it has had a tortured genesis hinted at by the title “She Said She Couldn’t Change It, Then She Changed It, Then She Changed It Again”. So maybe there’s been personal trauma in the life of the Atom, but whatever the reasons behind the long gaps in making this record, at least it has seen the light of day. There Is No One. is an intense listen, high on atmosphere and heavy on emotion; the sparse piano at the heart of “She Said…” sits at the centre of the album, sounding suitably funereal. It’s not an easy listen, the over-riding emotion being that of sorrow, albeit the Atom is taking it out on his machinery, the circuits are pushed to screaming on several tracks. The beats on “If You Try, I’ll Run Away From You” virtually fall over themselves, as the atmospherics become less and less bearable; the moments of peace are few and far between. There aren’t many records that capture such emotional outpourings so well (and I stress this is just my own interpretation of the work, it could be an existential cri de couer if the title’s anything to go by), and this is an exhausting listen. But in a good way.
Big Mister Doom ~ Disconnected Repeater
The name could be that of a rapper, but in fact Big Mister Doom are an English duo purveying beautifully smooth chill-out music and they’ve turned the name into a character in its own right (check the cover). Although there’s a hint of hip hop in the beats, the overall sound sticks closer to the electronic pastoral world of Bonobo and the like – well composed and imaginatively arranged songs with a decent amount of depth below the tranquil surface. Opening “Genus” has a couple of nods to Four Tet in the steel-drum sounds and sampled chatter of small children but the dominating sounds of electric piano and crisp drums are the ones that stick in the mind and and are the main tools of that BMD utilise on the other tracks. It’s the closing “Extrapolate Yourself” that lingers longest, a slow burning atmospheric track that captures the sound of slowly-decaying dub. There’s two remixes popped on the end of the EP, from Planes and Huess but they don’t add to the original versions; for best results, stick to the four BMD tracks.
diamat ~ being is the sum of appearing
Fans of Ulrich Schnauss will find themselves on familiar ground with diamat, who produce similar expansive, shoegaze-inspired, electronica. The European trio, which include Attilo Bruzzone of port-royal, have taken their time over the eight tracks on this album, which move at a suitably stately pace. None of the songs here are in a particular hurry and there’s often a slow build-up as the instrumentation is layered on. The rush and release that many post-rock artists supply makes an occasional appearance as the drums kick up a notch, and these are the moments that make you want to stand on a hillside a scream triumphantly at nature. If there’s a drawback, it’s that the other parts of the album will leave you sitting chilled out in a particularly relaxed posture so actually climbing up a hillside in the first place is a remote likelihood (for example, we’re over half-way through the near ten minute duration of “Shane Vendrell” before the beat drops in). It’s a lush-sounding work, successfully navigating its way between verdant atmospheres and melancholic techno beats and maintaining n5md’s remarkably high hit-rate in 2013.
The Durian Brothers / Project Skalectrik ~ Split Series #22
The Split Series seems to be one of Fat Cat’s few remaining avant-garde side projects if their recent releases are anything to go by. I believed it dormant to the point of extinction but fortunately, here comes a new release in a long line that goes back some 15 years of mostly bleeding edge electronic music. Perhaps it’s the thought of stabbing 300 record sleeves 22 times each that has caused the output to slow, but this latest edition shows there’s life in the old dog yet; here the artists complement each other perfectly, both basing their work around turntables – but there’s no scratching to be found; both The Durian Brothers and Ekoplekz (recording here as Ensemble Skalectrik use the deck(s) in far more inventive and creative ways. Durian do for a turntable what Oval did for CDs, ending up with a field of glitch and tonal waves over a bed of thick percussion with the sound of static never far away. By way of contrast, Skalectrik goes for the layer-upon-layer approach in his melancholic, nostalgic creations to the end that it becomes impossible to tell what is off vinyl and what (if any) isn’t; the surface noise rises up like an ever-present spectre, like a dubby version of the early work of The Caretaker. I’m reviewing this off a digital copy, when clearly this is a release to be appreciated on vinyl: such an edition is potent enough to blow your mind.
Gavin Miller ~ Instruktion
It’s a conversation that I imagine field recordists have quite a lot when they are out in the, er, field – somebody wanders up to them and says ‘what are you doing?’. We can eavesdrop on such a discussion at the opening of Instruktion, and credit where credit is due, the recordist is a lot more polite than I might have been when faced with the enquiry ‘are you going to blow up seafood with that?’. It isn’t a passer-by that shatters the peace on this EP however, it is the rolling, churning bassline that drives the tracks forward in an agreeably single-minded manner. Gavin Miller is also in worriedaboutsatan, and it seems that band’s fanbase has already snaffled up all physical trace of this release, but the digital is well worth getting, operating in similar territory to Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom; a voyage into the dark heart of space disco with droning organs as an added bonus. Excellent work.
John Wizards ~ Lusaka By Night
Meet your new favourite band (although really it’s one guy in the studio): John Wizards. It’s the operational handle of South African John Withers who is joined by Rwandan vocalist Emmanuel Nzaramba on “Lusaka By Night”, which is a mélange of multiple musical styles from around the globe compressed into a three minute blast. The distinctive fluid guitar that is an African staple is present of course, but there’s Auto-tuned vocals and an amazing, woozy bassline underpinning it all. It is similar to The Very Best, but less controlled, gleefully pushing the levels into the red, like the DRC Music project last year. It’s a thrilling (s)mash-up; not merely being a great calling card for the forthcoming album, the debut EP features remixes from Ital Tek and LV which offer fresh dimensions to the originals. It’s “Lusaka By Night” that will get the repeat spins, though – get it now and then look smug when it tops the polls come December.
Mank ~ Gutta-percha
Ben Powell spends a fair amount of his time on research vessels at the North Pole, a location which doesn’t necessary lend itself to lounging by the pool during downtime. Rather than spending his time re-reading the latest Dan Brown or catching up with TOWIE, Powell makes music as Mank, presumably shut away in his cabin staring at his laptop which might lead to any number of comments from his shipmates. But when the results of his work are as powerful as Gutta-percha, that’s all the response Powell would need. There’s an icy quality that might be expected given the locale, but even the ambient pieces retain their humanity. In addition, on several tracks inventive percussion – walking the fine line between clatter and restraint – forms the basis for delicate but propulsive melodies that fizz around like fireflies occasionally leading to a swishing of sparks. “Systaltic” opens with a calming drift before gradually building up around a heartbeat to create a rather lovely piece; “Moloch” is centred around an analogue synth-sounding bass line and is furnished with blips and bleeps. As well as having the ice to gaze over, Powell probably hears a lot of sounds emanating from the equipment being used from the clang of metal on metal to the ship’s radar, so perhaps at a subliminal level, what he hears daily finds its way into his music. As a result, this is a convincing glimpse into a previously unimagined world – please, Mr Powell, don’t give up the day job.
Mieux ~ Neufant
After a period of inactivity, the UpMyAlley label is back, as if they’d never been away, with two fresh releases. Crack Ignaz is German hip hop (the instrumental versions are good, anyway) but it’s Mieux‘s Neufant that concerns us here. I’ve recently bought a pair of bass-boosting headphones and after the internal dialogue on whether or not it distorts the artist’s original intentions I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really detract from most electronic music and it is a positive boon to tracks like “Lusaka By Night” above, and the four tracks here. This is four-to-the-floor stuff, boosting the acid-effect with some squelchy keyboard lines on the faster tracks. However, the least frantic track, “Pearl”’s a winner, as Mieux opt for space and restraint rather than worrying too much about getting us moving. If you know an EDM fan who wants something that’s dialled back and has a bit of thought behind it, Mieux should be right up their alley.
Old Joy ~ It Slowly Disappears
In the spirit of Big Mister Doom above, you’d swear that a band calling itself Old Joy would be a folky, country act… and as it turns out there is, which might at some point lead to all sorts of confusion a little ways down the road. That doesn’t have to concern us here, as musically there’s no mix-up; our Old Joy is the project of Brussels-based Sébastian Monnoye who has put together a debut album full of lovely, warm tones over modest downtempo beats. There’s quite a lot of this style of electronica that crosses our path at the moment, not least from the n5md label, but It Slowly Disappears has enough to successfully set itself apart from the competitor. For starters, Monnoye has a way with an unexpected twist in his arrangements, such as the extra layer of crystalline synth that arrives mid-way through “Change”. In addition, he’s very good with manipulating found vocal samples; they can quite often bug me on repeated listens but it’s done so well here that I almost wished for more; the best since Totsouko’s album, that’s for sure. Superficially, it has all the tropes of a chill-out album, but it’s not really one to drift away to; it’s far too edgy and interesting for that, ending in the two-part “Ghosts” that is suitably intense and spooky.
Walton ~ Baby
A sort of teaser for the new album, as the lead track doesn’t appear on the forthcoming Beyond but “Can’t You See” does. Hey, I don’t make the rules – but “Baby” makes this worth springing for on its own, an insanely addictive reconstruction of R&B in a breakers’ yard. All sorts of mysterious metallic clangs and wobbles occur whilst a slightly mangled vocal (from a Brandy song) coos unaffectedly over the top. It’s the sort of track that has been deliberately designed to make writers reach for the old familiar line but in this case the cliché is correct: “Baby” shouldn’t make any sense, but it does, even in the instrumental version which allows focus to switch to the taut percussion track. In the middle, “Can’t You See” adopts a similar method, utilising more R&B style vocals but over a slightly less manic rhythm arrangement. Its smoother nature will give it greater longevity and including it on an album makes more sense, but for the sheer rush, “Baby” is a hard act to follow.
Various Artists ~ Atomnation’s Anniversary Compilation
It might seem a little premature for a young label to start bandying around words such as ‘anniversary’, especially when it’s not tied in to a year count – for Atomnation are not commemorating a decade of music but their first ten releases. Perhaps this is the ‘accelerated culture’ that Douglas Coupland mentioned all those years back, or maybe the label took a look at their catalogue, which dates all the way back to March 2012, and thought, this is worth celebrating. They’d have a point, too, for unless there is a serious drop-off in quality on the original releases these sample tracks are taken from – and it would have to be a cliff-top plummet – then Atomnation are cultivating something very special indeed. Applescal is most heavily featured, appearing twice under his usual identity and once as Yoshiba 87 and contributing a remix, and his sunny, melodic approach finds echoes from the other artists who appear here. Dave Douglas‘ opener, “California Poppy” is an instant charmer, Weval‘s “The Most” is a jazzified inversion of Radiohead’s “Everything In The Right Place” before going somewhere else altogether; Sau Poler‘s “Rutes” pretty percussion hints of early Four Tet without labouring the point. Normally at this stage, I’ll throw in the ‘you won’t like everything’ comment but such is the quality of the curating work on the label and consequently the Anniversary Compilation that if you like any one track, chances are high that you’ll have 9 other favourites. This is a winner.