I usually try to highlight new artists to this column, aware that given a mere ten or so reviews per month it’s probably better not to repeat myself. This month, things have fallen out a little differently with several artists making return appearances. It’s possibly because with this column running over a year, musicians have had plenty of time to record new work, some of which they are prepared to let me write about for a second time. Or maybe it’s just one of those strange coincidences…
Adderall Canyonly ~ Lucid In A Wasted Way
The name isn’t the only awkward aspect of Adderall Canyonly, as their music at times splices the worlds of rock and electronica – not always comfortably. “Minimal Man” sees AC lurch into a double-speed rock-out midway through the track; that’s followed by “LTS System” which seeks to do the same thing with a blast of synths, before the circuits turn on each other and everything goes a bit odd. Weirdly though, as soon as you’ve got used to the idea of the tracks flipping genres and punishing technology, Lucid In A Wasted Way settles down for a second half which is much more focused and disciplined, sticking with the synths for a series of tracks that allow the listener to take flight rather than feeling like they’re trapped on a rollercoaster ride. It’s a bit of a confusing experience for the listener; there are some excellent tracks here, particularly the closing title track, but it does not quite gel as an album. Still, it’s definitely worth a listen.
Bunai Carus ~ Veil
Bunai Carus are a duo from Montpellier in France, which automatically puts them in a favourable light because I vacationed there a few years back and had a great time. They make electronica influenced by acts I really like which is another positive; and, best of all, five EPs in, they are distancing themselves from their inspirations and finding their own voice. Admittedly, in places, Bunai Carus could still be mistaken for Plaid, but given their prolific output – their five releases have been in the space of nine months – it is probable that this too will be shaken off. Veil has a ring of confidence to it that transcends any influences, however, and the tracks combine melodic strength with rhythmic inventiveness in a very enjoyable manner. I think Bunai Carus will be a duo to keep an eye on in the coming months and if they keep this rate up, they will be on EP10 by Christmas.
Daniel Cox ~ Unreachable
It was bound to happen; having used Skrillex as shorthand for the EDM sound that I don’t really care for, EO is sent a bunch of records that feature the subterranean wubble bass and actually they sound pretty good. I’m putting this down to two things; one, watching Spring Breakers with its Skrillex soundtrack has at least given me some context for this music (yep, I watched it for research purposes). The other reason is that producers like Daniel Cox are a lot more thoughtful about their approach and don’t just bash the listener over the head with the sound, instead using it a bit here and there. Unreachable has the big ‘hit’ early on with “darkO”, before balancing it up with the floatier sound of excellent “r0mance” and the ambient pulse of closer “The Dawn Is Your Enemy”. Yes, with a bit of subtlety and restraint, even the least dynamic sounds of EDM can be rendered not merely listenable but actually enjoyable. Who’d a thunk?
Fade Runner ~ Fade Runner
Here’s a full album with a definite hint of EDM to it, not least in the way the bass sometimes hammers you into submission, but like Daniel Cox, Fade Runner also exercises a bit of control over his music. I detect a bit of Skream-esque dubstep influencing the sound too, and Sheath-era LFO (as a further tie-in to Mark Bell, there’s possibly a bit of Björk sampled on “Candle Light”). The whole album zips along in a sprightly manner, showcasing plenty of variety – the airy, percussive “Purple Neko” is a highlight, but the eastern-sounding “La Balade” that follows is pretty good too. That these tracks are placed towards the end of the record underlines that Fade Runner works really well as an album, with good pacing and intelligent sequencing. An impressive debut, with strong individual tracks arranged into an order that results in an album greater than the sum of its parts.
Farben & James DIN A4 ~ Farben Presents James DIN A4
Here’s a couple of names, one of which might be more familiar than the other, although both have a long history of electronic music-making behind them. James DIN A4 is the (slightly unwieldy) pseudonym of Dennis Busch, who also records as the snappier Joyride and Pop Dylan, among others. Busch makes audio collages, but ties them into a 4/4 beat which anchors them to a structure in the instances they might drift away. Jan Jelinek has taken some of Busch’s tracks and remixed them as Farben, which effectively means he’s stripped out most of the meandering aspects of the collages and produced taut, sinewy techno-ey tracks which have a similar yet nonetheless subtly different feel to his regular Farben work. Through remixing he’s not merely making James DIN A4 sound closer to Farben but vice versa as well; the results are crisp combination and beautiful slices of techno with a handful of cut-up interludes to recall the original works. It’s a fresh sound, I think it’ll do well.
Russell M. Harmon & Gavin Miller ~ Islands
Gavin Miller, once and (it seems) future member of worriedaboutsatan, is a veritable staple of Electronic Observations but he gets a pass by appearing on a lot of split releases; last time with Dalot on Wards, this time with Iceland-based musician Russell M. Harmon. Thematically it’s based around travel, history and memory and the sold out physical edition came with a time capsule; but as we’re all stuck with the digital edition it makes sense just to cover that. Harmon takes first watch with the spare, introspective piano of “Vela”, which bursts into the harsher, glitchier epic “Velorum”; an imaginative pairing upon which you can layer your own memories. Miller just about edges it in my book with the two-part “Who Is This Who Is Coming?”, which also starts with piano but introduces a pulse-quickening beat and before bringing out the harder-edged atmospherics. All three tracks fit seamlessly next to each other and on this form Harmon and Miller will be returning to these pages.
Heterotic ~ Weird Drift
We covered the first Heterotic album last year; at the time, a second instalment was promised and, perhaps surprisingly, it has actually arrived. Normally bands make this sort of announcement and then find it takes another three years for the follow-up to see the light of day – perhaps running his own label helps Mike Paradinas avoid these sort of pitfalls. Weird Drift is definitely not an album of cast offs from Love & Devotion; there are the odd diversions into up-tempo, disco-inflected pop (“Self-Importance”, “Sultana”) but overall this is a more introspective work, the beats toned down, the keyboards softer and floatier. A key difference in the feel is change of vocalist from Gravenhurst to Vezelay, whose delicate and breathier vocals sympathetically fit the music – and arguably are a better match than Nick Talbot on Love & Devotion. It’s an album I can see getting play throughout the year – it drifts along, but it’s too good to be called weird.
Marjen ~ Marjen
Last year, Marjen released When A Skin Is Dead, It Must Be Shed, a mini-EP which took less time to listen to than read the title. Now, he’s gone both minimalist with a self-titled tape, and maximalist with a total running time of 11 whole minutes! There’s no sign of the idea-deluge letting up though, as Marjen fairly sprints through a sequence of musical sketches on each side. There’s the underpinning of a springy, hip hop beat, and lots of Morricone-esque melodies packed into approximately four parts on each side. It still feels closer to electronica than hip-hop where shorter tracks are much more typical, but I think Marjen is slowly shifting in that direction; not quite J.Dilla territory yet, but if he cranks the beats up he might find himself getting some production requests.
Pinkcourtesyphone ~ A Ravishment Of Mirror
Pinkcourtesyphone is a new-ish nomenclature for Richard Chartier, an artist much beloved at A Closer Listen. Have a look round – he’s normally there or thereabouts on the end of year lists. With A Ravishment of Mirror, it’s likely he’ll be there or thereabouts again for this is a magnificent album – amid some pretty tough competition it is, I think, one of his best. This is lovely, warm electronic music, from the gradual build of the lengthy opening track to the melancholic ambience of closer “62,000 Valentines (for T. Hunter)”. I heard recently someone reminiscing about the anticipation for a 26 minute track on their favourite prog band’s new album – because if it’s that long it must be good, right? – and being inevitably disappointed. “Why Pretend / The Desire of Absence / Faulty Connections” is a powerful argument in favour of long tracks – it’s a track with a proper narrative and for a minimal electronic track it feels like a lushly orchestrated tone poem. Given the various dedications on the tracks, this might be one of Chartier’s most personal statements – it’s certainly one of his finest hours.
Yoshio Machida ~ Music From The SYNTHI
If you woke up this morning, and thought ‘you know, I really don’t have enough experimental synth music from Japan in my life’ then you’re in luck. For here comes Yoshio Machida with thirteen pieces made with the SYNTHI AKS, a veteran portable modular synthesizer – no keyboard, but plenty of knobs to twiddle. The result is at first disorientating, the panning is particularly noticeable on headphones, but the album gradually makes sense. Machida improvised these tracks so they are heavy on mood but light on melody – but then again, the phrase ‘experimental synth music from Japan’ doesn’t usually signify high quantities of McCartney-esque hummable tunes. There is the occasional rumbling rhythm, such as “Synthi Nº 26” but the nearest comparison in my mind is the work of Pan Sonic. Glitches, bleeps, burbles – it’s all here, right up until the tranquil closer “Nº 30”. Equal parts fascinating and enthralling, this is one for the true analogue synth lover.