For the northern hemisphere types, the changing of the clocks and the lengthening of the evenings are clear indications that the end of the year is drawing close. Still that means more excuses for staying in and listening to music, maybe catching up on a few albums you might have missed and dipping into a new book at the same time. I’ll be rounding up some of the records I’ve overlooked this year for a forthcoming column, but for now this is still all new and all fresh. Enjoy! (Jeremy Bye)
Bear Bones Lay Low ~ Occultciti
There are a couple of misdirections on Occultciti; first up, Bear Bones Lay Low sounds like it should be a ramshackle indie band from the mid-90s rather the sophisticated electronic project of Brussels-based Venezuelan Ernesto Gonzalez. The second is that the opening track is actually two pieces, and the first half, a rather impressionistic and noodly synth excursion doesn’t give any indication to the rest of the album; it’s not until the bass line arrives midway through “Conversacion Alienigena / Calle Siega” that there’s any hint of structure. And structure, in the shape of a beat (or pulse) and bassline is what benefits Occultciti; it gives a solid base for the other instruments to digress away from the themes into often lengthy solos. The influences on these excursions are suitably diverse; at times there’s hints of baroque, medieval, ragas, and 70s rock lead lines. There’s no getting away from it, this is an unusual album; whilst using many of the same elements as his peers, Gonzalez produces music that is altogether stranger, and spookier; “Saibot Ascends” is a long, pounding, metallic-edged epic enlivened with all manner of bleeps and pulses and closer “Asesino” sounds like an instrumental version of The Normal. Despite none of the six tracks sounding that related, they fit together well. File under: ‘too good to be strange’ and ‘greater than the sum of its parts’.
DAT Politics ~ Powermoon
The French outfit were once regulars on Kid606’s Tigerbeat6 label, and Powermoon sees them return to their spiritual home after a few years away. They retain the playful approach to electronic music that was a defining feature of their work, although I found the EP an uneven listen. There’s a real contrast between the sweetly poppy opener “Boogie Mind” and the messy Fall-meets-LCD-Soundsystem assault of “Fox Box Sound” that follows it; those two tracks alone should satisfy the breadth of DAT Politics fans’ tastebuds, although I could probably live without hearing the latter again. In the spirit of added value, there are two more danceable instrumentals and a collaboration with Drew Daniel’s Soft Pink Truth, “Hold That Pose (My Mother Told Me)”, which has a pulsing bass line that will cut through any resistance to dance in a heartbeat. The standout, though, is the floaty, melodic “Ghost Town”, which sounds like the best tune Lali Puna never recorded; it’s utterly lovely and is worth the cost of the album on its own.
Derek Carr ~ Binary Son
There’s no getting away from the likelihood that this album would be heralded to the rafters if it snuck out under a suitably enigmatic, mysterious identity rather than more mundane reality of being credited to an Irishman named Derek. Sadly for the fickle reviewer, there’s no chance to imagine the producer behind Binary Son operating in a hermetically sealed laboratory or working nights in a Detroit car factory. Which is about the sole drawback to Derek Carr’s work, for this is a fine mix of warm, soulful, techno-inspired music that harks back to the early days of IDM. From the opening clatter of percussion on “Boom!” to the elegiac closer “The Windmill”, Binary Son is a master-class in electronica with heart. It occupies similar territory to The Black Dog’s own Detroit-inspired excursions, but without the conspiracy theories or samples of number stations – instead Carr keeps his music clean, avoiding unnecessary grime or clutter in his arrangements, so it glides along smoothly, like a futuristic train to the city of tomorrow.
DSR Lines ~ Venndiagram
The day this column is no longer friend to solo analogue and modular synth albums will probably be the day I start feasting on brains, so here’s another, from Belgium’s DSR Lines, which I’ve been calling ‘desire’ rather than ‘D.S.R.’. Venndiagram is released by the same label as Occultciti, and is the straighter, more normal of the two by some distance. That’s not a negative observation in the slightest as I can easily imagine people liking one a lot more than the other, but you’ll have to try both before you make a decision. DSR Lines is the project of David Edren, boss of the Hare Akedod label, and has been active since 1999; there’s a tangible sense of experience and wisdom behind the music with each melody carefully plotted to weave in and out of the delicate hums and beats for maximum effectiveness. The music is restrained and tasteful and really rather gorgeous; get it, if you know what’s good for you.
Featureless Ghost ~ Trance State Or Identity
There’s often a fine line between the purely functional techno tracks that DJs use and the music that’s made with a view to being played outside of a club environment. It can be as little as a solitary extraneous melody line, or as much as several additional layers filling out the production. A track can retain its taut muscularity but rather than having to survive stripped down to the basics, may be clothed in a particular fetching arrangement – a bit like Arnie in the opening scenes of True Lies. Featureless Ghost focus on the dressing up on Trance State Or Identity, four tunes that have a surprising amount of depth to them rather than just focusing on the four-to-the-floor beat. Indeed, “Body Pillow” has all the elements of an Ultramarine track (clicky percussion, female vocals) but is a few bpm dancier. There’s hints of New Order, Orbital and Goldfrapp in these grooves, making Featureless Ghost a bit of a misnomer; there’s plenty going on here and it’s all good.
Ital Tek ~ Control
It’s been a bit of an oversight that Ital Tek has not been featured on the site before; it’s no fault of Alan Myson’s that for some unknown reason his previous album Nebula Dance was overlooked. There’s no time like the present to rectify such omissions, and Control maintains his high standard of releases, as well as signalling a continuation away from the dubstep that Myson was most associated with. The main influence here seems to be the current R&B sound but with all the stripped out instrumentation put back, in place of the vocals. This is most obvious on “Violet” which uses a “Moments In Love”-style sample in the same way FKA twigs did recently on “Ache”, although the style does occur elsewhere and it’s possible to imagine the hollow drum percussion and lurching bassline of “Ultra” being commandeered by a singer in the near future. Myson doesn’t just settle for one sound – he never has on any of his albums – and so alongside the R&B sounds, “Jupiter Ascent” is proper space-funk, and I would expect it to happily fit into a DJ’s set on many occasions. A mutant hybrid encompassing multiple genres wrapped up in stunning artwork – you wouldn’t really expect anything less from Ital Tek.
Nimble Animal ~ Bleak Moments
Dom Stephens, who is Nimble Animal, has recorded more beat-focused tracks in the past (as Outerwaves) as well as being in a folk outfit, but Bleak Moments is something different again, taking sampled feedback, and analogue synths and corralling the sounds into songs – downtempo, thoughtful compositions – as well as bold sonic pieces. There’s the odd vocal, too, although the propelling melody of “Mulled High” demonstrates that Stephens can write a tune without having to fall back on a singer’s contribution. Having said that, the dubby shuffle of standout track “Opal Fruits” does benefit from the added colour of a human voice. The results are in a similar area to Up In Flames-era Caribou, although there’s no sign of any jazz-inspired freeform freak-outs, and closer “Back N Forth” is nearer in spirit to more recent Snaith work on Andorra and Swim – a hook-laden winner with added hints of psychedelia thrown in for good measure. It’s not just for Caribou fans, of course, but if you’re missing the fuzzy shoegaze sound Nimble Animal will be just the ticket.
Rangefinder ~ Harmony State
I’d been listening to Rangefinder for a couple of weeks before I realised it was another project from the prolific Will Long; I just had it down as swathes of beautiful synth music, without making any connection to Celer – see the interview that Will gave to Richard for further clarification. In retrospect it makes perfect sense that the person behind some hundred releases and counting is also behind Harmony State as there are similarities between this and Long’s other work; the weight of emotion summoned up by a handful of layered synths being the most notable one. The cover may be some influence on the listening experience here this album feels bright and optimistic, with only a few moments of contemplation (such as the miniature pipe-organ effect on “Circulation”). Overall, though, it’s like listening to one of Tim DeLaughter (of the Polyphonic Spree)’s Sunshine mixtapes; bold, upbeat, and almost relentlessly full of good vibes – it’s a much-needed shot of colour in a monochromatic city.
Safiyya ~ Shareek Hayaat
I’m sure Brad Rose has time to sleep but, honestly, I’m not sure when. If the Discogs website is to be believed, he’s appeared on over 120 recordings and has been in around 30 different recording groups, as well as running the Digitalis record label, which must be virtually a full time job in itself – no wonder he had to close the Foxy Digitalis site at the start of the year. Fortunately for his work ethic, Rose is a good collaborator as the second Safiyya album proves. This is the duo of Rose and Pat Murano – who also runs his own label, records as Decimus and is in the No-Neck Blues Band – and like many of the best collaborators its hard to tell where one’s contribution ends and the other begins. The two side-long pieces on Shareek Hayaat are nebulous, electro-acoustic pieces, sometimes grounded in the sound of fizzing wires and struck bowls, or a beat with a indeterminate sense of rhythm. Their music creates an hypnotic, unsettling mood; the patterns are constantly changing although the organ section near the end of side two is stunning, and everything seems to coalesce around that point. A cursory web search suggests this is an album themed around two wives of Osama Bin Laden, although there’s nothing obvious in the music or artwork to suggest that. If it’s true, it is a suitably odd concept, but a fitting one for an unusual but compelling album.
Ssleeperhold ~ Ruleth
It’s not a hard and fast rule but it seems that a lot of artists who are influenced and inspired by 80s synth music – or at least their memories of it – go for the softer, dreamier aspects of the music. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but it does tend to overlook the more bombastic areas of production that were, arguably, more ubiquitous and more suitable for that particular decade. Ssleeperhold is not afraid to look beyond the pleasant stuff and has got fully immersed in the world of clattering drum rolls, brash bass lines and strident walls of synths. Think Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” or pretty much any soundtrack to a Simpson/Bruckheimer movie and you’re in the right area – and yes, Ruleth could be a complete, over-the-top, mess. Thankfully it isn’t, with a few tracks where the elements are turned down a bit, such as “Timeghosts II” closing side one by fading out in to fuzziness, which in turn, eases the way into “Ashes” on the second side. It’ll probably take a single track to decide whether you’re in or out for this record so by the time “F.I.S.T.” kicks in on the second side, with its little audio joke, you’re either fully on board or you hit stop a long time before. It’s certainly a different take on the decade, with a more abrasive nature than usual, and I found it refreshingly different to many other albums that take inspiration from the 80s.