Just scraping within the calendar year, here’s the final Electronic Observations for 2013. Thank you to everyone who has read it, and especially to the artists for making the music. This month’s column is later (and a bit shorter) than usual, but is a good way to close off the year – EO will be back in 2014, probably early February. Happy New Year! (Jeremy Bye)
The Angling Loser ~ Author of the Twilight
Angling is Britain’s most popular sport, according to a survey conducted a few years ago, although I must confess there is a lot about it that leaves me baffled. I understand the idea of finding solitude and tranquility in the countryside and consequently the need to keep our rivers free from pollution to help the fish population but I struggle to equate that with pulling a fish out of its environs via a hook in its cheek and then letting it asphyxiate on the river bank. The Angling Loser concentrates on the tranquil aspects of fishing, and is thus the aural equivalent of J.R. Hartley meets Wind in the Willows, all sun-dappled streams and hours spent watching the day go by. The pieces, named for different periods of the day, are long, relaxed guitar and synth excursions bathed in field recordings and given extra texture by excerpts from a fly-fishing manual. It’s quite, quite lovely – forget Beethoven’s 6th, this is a pastoral symphony.
Compound Eye ~ Journey From Anywhere
I was relatively late in discovering Coil, although I’m glad I did so whilst they were still active – sandwiched between Mouse On Mars and Plaid at a gig, improbably enough. The deaths of Jhonn Balance and, later, Peter Christopherson ended the project tragically early with, seemingly, very little in the vaults, so it’s left to former associates to carry the vision. Drew McDowall, a member of Coil for several years, teams up with Psychic Ills’ Tres Warren in Compound Eye, a duo that seems to take its cue from Coil’s Remote Viewer; both that album and Journey From Anywhere deal in hypnotic, psychedelic drone pieces that work most effectively the longer they are, so the listener is fully immersed. Some of the tracks seem to carry degrees of spiritual resonance, others gradually reveal deep pools of mysterious sound over their duration. It’s a fine drone album regardless of McDowall’s previous band, but I think Journey From Anywhere may touch some souls more deeply than others.
DJ Rashad ~ Double Cup
It’s been a little quiet this year in terms of footwork/juke albums but two additions in 2013 certainly count as proper artistic statements – one, RP Boo’s Legacy has been unfairly slept on by this column due to a lack of time and reviewer competence, so let’s not miss out on the other from DJ Rashad. Whilst Legacy feels almost spiky and awkward at times, Double Cup is a proper party album; nearly the whole album could be played out and slay the club. Rashad collaborates on all but two of the tracks here, which keeps the ideas fresh, and they fair tumble out in quick succession. In the wrong context, it just sounds a mess: the bass often lurches queasily, the vocal samples are frequently aggressive, and the mix is almost oppressively compressed. In the right location, however, Double Cup takes off, and with jungle breaks being co-opted into his sound, Rashad shows that footwork isn’t standing still.
Glossata ~ Pearls & Smoke
Formerly known as Alteria Percepsyne, the now more concisely named Glossata specialises in two things: expressively descriptive titles and – more importantly – beautiful and creative tracks of a dubby, techno nature. There’s so much to enjoy on Pearls & Smoke, it seems a shame to single out any highlights but a good place to start is the evolving dub of “Victoria’s Fading Eyes”, which could happily stick in a holding pattern for its duration but introduces new elements midway through, giving a fresh dynamic to the piece. Emily Griffiths, the producer behind Glossata, has a way of developing her tracks beyond merely sticking with one idea – sometimes the changes are scarcely perceptible but only become apparent after a while, and weirdly this results in time feeling stretched or shortened depending where you are in the album. Heartily recommended, this is an understated masterpiece of the genre.
Graze ~ Edges
Regular visitors to the site will have no doubt filled their boots with the overview of album cover art, but here’s a late entry for one of my favourites. A minimalist design, with clean lines and angles and a reflection hinting at added depths… it’s a pretty accurate indication of what’s going on musically. Graze, the duo of Canadians Adam Marshall and Christian Andersen, have made an album of techno that’s nearly all beats and bassline and not a lot else – but they are impressively creative with the limited palette they have chosen, and there’s a lot that only becomes apparent on repeated listens. Whilst the kick drum holds down a steady pulse, the rest of the kit provides a lot more variety and colour, and on several tracks the bassline is brought to the fore to play the lead melodic line. Edges certainly grips the listener – at times the music is taut, intense and engaging, but then that bass comes throbbing out of the speakers and resistance is futile.
Marina Rosenfeld ~ P.A./Hard Love
You can guarantee that Room40 will release at least half a dozen records each year that will, at the very least, be interesting, and there’s always a danger that one will get unwittingly overlooked, although Marina Rosenfeld‘s P.A./Hard Love isn’t going to fall into this category, even if I’m about 6 months late covering it. This album contains six pieces based on sound installations that Rosenfeld undertook in large areas, but rather than being a dry exploration of urban space, P.A./Hard Love is tempered by the presence of Warrior Queen, who may be familiar to you from her appearances on The Bug’s albums. So Rosenfeld’s impressionistic electronic pulses, glitches and scrapes become a disquieting backdrop for part-rap, part-poetry of Warrior Queen. Only on very rare moments, like a few brief bars on the title track, does Rosenfeld provide a more familiar riddim, but even then it’s amidst fractured chimes rather than pounding bass. It’s a fascinating collision of two disparate musical worlds and the result is one experimental album that works totally.
Om Unit ~ Threads
Threads is Jim Coles’ debut album as Om Unit – although he chalked up a few albums last decade under a different name, he rebooted himself in 2010 and has made regular appearances as a remixer and collaborator since with this new identity. It has that first album feel to it, too, with nods to numerous influences channelled through a dubstep mentality. So the music is sluggish, atmospheric and stripped down to its simplest elements a lot of the time, like the doom-laden, urban vibe of “Healing Rain”. This is balanced, however, with various guest appearances which tend to break the overall mood – whether the MC is American or British, they just don’t quite fit in. So there’s about a quarter of the album that could be sliced off to make a varied EP, whilst the rest makes a taut journey through the nocturnal world of dubstep and its antecedents. Recommended, then, but with a few reservations.
Shunya ~ 0
With some albums, it’s relatively easy to work out the influences behind an artist – and to be brutally honest, these are the ones that end up in the ‘reject’ pile. Shunya‘s 0 isn’t easy to pin down at all, in fact it’s possibly too scattershot to be a coherent listen but honestly, where else are you going to hear a track influenced by Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach, an hip hop tune with rapping and a tabla used in the beats, and an ethereal ambient flute piece in quick succession? Because that’s what we’ve got here. We’re never going to accuse an artist of having too many ideas, but it’s hard to tell whether this EP is a ‘here’s what I can do’ calling card, or a ‘no, I really like all this stuff’ artistic statement. Either way, the individual tracks are all really rather good, and if you can cope with the idea of what is essentially an untidy trip-hop record with you’ll probably end up loving this album. It worked for me.