If you’re a keen-eyed reader, you will have clocked the bonus numbering straight-away. Yes, this is Part 1 of 2, with the follow-up only days away. There’s a simple reason for this – since the start of the year, we’ve been getting more and more electronica submitted for review, which is fantastic – but it can lead to situations like this month, when there’s too much to reasonably fit into one column. Given that I had a month off, and there’s been a little bit of catching up to do since, this split feature will probably be a one time event. The reviews are approximately alphabetical, but there’s a three tape series in here so I’ve done a bit of shuffling. Happy reading – part 2 is on the way! (Jeremy Bye)
Ape Explorer ~ Family Hole
The order of the day for the enigmatic Ape Explorer is woozily off-kilter electronica peppered with samples of surprisingly English voices. Whether the Explorer is an anglophile or actually UK-based is a merely matter for idle speculation, although it does make a change from the American voices that are normally broken out to add a little extra texture to the work. That said, I did find the monologue on “Nightsweats” a mite challenging to sit through and it is perhaps an odd choice for an opening track. An English-accented voice narrates over some hazy electronic backing, but it seems to be edited to lose all rhythm and cadence which makes it an awkward, uncomfortable listen. Ape Explorer are good with atmospheres, though, and even better when the sounds have a rhythmic structure to provide some extra shape. “Flashback (2044)” has an almost techno beat to propel it along, whilst the closing “Puh Guh Xplor” is the best example of the trip-hoppy percussion that is prevalent elsewhere. It’s a strong debut release for Ape Explorer, packed with fresh ideas but also leaving plenty of scope for development – I doubt this is the last we’ll hear of them in these pages.
Bataille Solaire ~ Documentaires
The first of Constellation Tatsu’s trio of cassette releases this season is an unusual mix of cerebral synthesized explorations and earthy, vibrant beats and basslines – often in the space of the same track. Never let it be said that Bataille Solaire lack ambition, just be grateful they’ve got the chops to back it up. “Echelles Humaines” and “Microsupernova” are epic works, both in duration and scope, featuring layers of synths united in arpeggios, with nods to 70s Industrial and 90s IDM both present for that bit of extra texture. The other tracks lack the centrepiece heft of the aforementioned, and might seem less vital at first, but it’s actually the 2 minute “Mangrove” that’s the winner here, chucking all sorts of retro sounds (including a touch of jazz fusion keyboard solo) into the mix. There’s the odd moment which drifts into ambient introspection which nudges Documentaires just behind the other two Constellation Tatsu releases but it’s a mere fraction and it’s worth getting all three (see below for Grapefruit and Panabrite).
Floex ~ Gone
His first release for Denovali, Floex‘s excellent new EP also feels like it might the closing of a chapter with tracks entitled “Gone” and “Time To Go”. It is an intriguing combination of ambient-inspired pieces alongside a couple of beat-driven tunes. The opener, “Saturnin Fire And The Restless Ocean” contains many of the tropes of ambient music (soft organ notes, tasteful piano chords) but is too composed and too interesting, thanks mainly to the sampled metallophone, to be consigned to background music. Hidden Orchestra’s remix brings out even more of the track adding beats and a clarinet that might have been on Tomás Dvorák’s original version but was cut out by time the final mix was completed. It’s a fine example of the art of the remix, retaining enough of the original to be recognisable whilst being distinctively different. Floex doesn’t have to rely on remixers however, as the second track “Gone”, features beats and the vocalist from Never Sol and is possibly the strongest song here. There’s a bonus digital track, but the melancholic closer with a solitary piano gives a suitable sense of finality to the vinyl edition, the notes echoing away into silence.
Grapefruit ~ Stolen Highway
Astronauts on the Apollo mission were allowed to take a cassette of music with them on flights and the majority of them selected country music. It made sense that the men floating around earth, or journeying to the moon would want to hear something that tied them to the everyday, even mundane activities on earth and that was best provided in the steel guitars and plangent songs of lost love that characterised 50s and 60s country. You’d hope that astronauts nowadays would seek out something a little bit more interesting (indeed the inhabitants on the space station currently orbiting earth have been woken up by the sounds of the Village People and the theme to Wallace & Gromit) and I’d nominate Grapefruit as providers of the ideal soundtrack for take-off, as Stolen Highway, belying its none-more-country title, is full of spaced-out psychedelic electronica with the occasional rocky embellishment, usually in the shape of a wiggy guitar excursion (on the title track, and elsewhere). If you’re going to splash out on a trip aboard Richard Branson’s shuttle, then pop this tape in your Walkman; at around 40 minutes long it’ll probably last the entire flight.
M. Geddes Gengras ~ Collected Works, Vol. 1: The Moog Years
The sound of the Moog synthesizer crops up all over the albums reviewed in this column, whether as a real instrument or, more probably, as a pre-set or sample. The keyboards on M. Geddes Gengras‘ album are real enough, being his Moog Rogue and MG-1 synths, and the title gives notice that this is a work of significance, to be taken seriously and with no little gravity. The prolific Gengras’ Moog work has appeared on a lot of releases, notably between 2008-11, and it is the highlights of this flurry of activity that furnish this album. The opening bars conjure up a blasted, desolate landscape which sets the tone – both stately and bleak, the Moog sounding increasingly like a pipe organ played in a cathedral during a thunderstorm at night. The second half of the album is lighter and calmer with the doom-laden sounds dialled back in favour of a flutier selection of sounds with the consequence that the final three tracks are much more accessible; “Untitled #1” is the way in if you’re unsure, and “Magical Writing” is a tranquil piece. Due to the two-sides effect, this is an album that needs time to fully appreciate as a cohesive body of work. If you do get it, though, it’ll stay with you for a long time.
Lo Tide ~ Out In The Wild
A warning upfront to those who like their electronic instrumental and edgy: this review will feature references to ‘vocals’ and ‘chillout’. If in particular the former upset you best steer clear of Lo Tide, for half the songs on Out In The Wild have singing on them. Arguably, though it is the pure instrumental tracks, such as the opening “Allocated Time” and “Red Rooby” that leave the greatest impression, being particularly inventive when it comes to the percussion; the traditional 4/4 kick drum is abandoned in favour of a smorgasbord of different sounds. The harp is a doff of the cap to Four Tet, but overall this is a smoother work than Mr Hebden’s; for all the occasional off-kilter rhythms, this is a record that can happily soundtrack watching the sunset from your balcony, or a train journey home; basically any moment that might be synonymous with switching off and chilling out. The only drawback with reviewing an album like Out In The Wild is that it’s hard to convey total enthusiasm for the music because it’s precisely crafted to not set the pulses racing. But the transition towards the end of the album, as it gradually drifts away is perfect for slowly falling asleep to; not necessarily Wild, then, but effective.
nosunnofood ~ nosunnofood
A fresh release from man of many identities Edison, this is an album that hints at electronica and hip hop, but has a real, fresh, acoustic feel to it – similar to the work of Boom Bip and not many other producers. It’s chock full of strong themes and incidental melodies, played on acoustic guitars and xylophones and the like which weave in and out, over and under each other like a playful school of fish in a sun-dappled river. Edison dips into his box of production tricks from time to time, such as the fuzzy hum and subtle change of direction two-thirds of the way through “My Modesty, Your Venn Diagram” and the glitchy panning of electric tones that crop up on numerous tracks, lest we get too carried away with the acoustic instrumentation. nosunnofood has a terrific combination of sounds, never resting for a moment but continually searching for fresh invention. That it manages to balance these vibrant ideas with hummable melodies is quite an achievement. What will Edison come up with next?
Panabrite ~ Cortex Meridian
Panabrite last popped up on my musical radar with 2012’s The Baroque Album on Australia’s Preservation label, and very good it was too. There’s been a handful of other releases since, which I’ve missed before Cortex Meridian‘s appearance on Constellation Tatsu. With the Ape Explorer and Grapefruit cassettes above, it is part of their summer release programme, which, as I’m sure Preservation will agree, shows a great deal of Northern hemisphere bias. One can see why this was scheduled for a July/August release though, for this is light and airy electronic music, that brings to mind the pulsing white lines down the centre of a road on a late night drive home after a long day in the sun. The synthesizers pulse and chatter away melodically amongst themselves, occasionally venturing into little sound-whirlpools and eddies, and the drum machines play discreet and subtle rhythms when required. The tracks’ hidden depths make them seem longer than they actually are, which is a good thing, and “Night Sweat” (no relation to the Ape Explorer track) seems to travel through numerous time zones over its six-minute duration, constantly reinventing itself. However, the question must be asked – is there a serious epidemic effecting the artists on Constellation Tatsu that causes them to write songs named after nocturnal perspiration?
As Anja Garbarek sang “Stay Tuned… there is more to come”