It’s been a while – too long, really – since my last installment of EO. Many thanks to Rich for filling in the gap, but hopefully I’m back and meeting deadlines from now on. This column was supposed to appear on site in early December but didn’t, clearly. Apologies to all those artists I’ve inadvertently missed reviewing, don’t take it personally. But I think we’re back in the groove now. (Jeremy Bye)
AN ~ La Danse Des Substances
It’s always good to see a new label spring into existence, the weeks and months of work behind the scenes having finally paid off with a physical release ready to go out into the world. Disq An is the label of Alexandre Navarro who has opted to go with his own work as the label’s opening statement. This EP is a strong statement though, all impressionistic waves of sound, busy, glitchy atmospherics and clattering percussion. If my rudimentary French is up to scratch, La Danse Des Substances is a work centred around the different elements: earth, plants, the oceans, light, the sun itself; not a theme that is immediately obvious in the music but the tracks themselves are strong enough that the over-arching concept is a bonus feature. The tuned metallic clangs of “Rite Végétal” are especially persuasive, as are the choral textures of “Terre Lumière”; this is a strong, cohesive EP from AN, and an auspicious start to Disq An’s discography.
Da Wei ~ Matrix/Pattern
The familiar drum ‘n’ bass rhythm was so ubiquitous for a while that it seemed that virtually any sort of music was welded to it, with varying levels of success. It was a situation that may have been in Da Wei‘s minds when putting Matrix/Pattern together. Take the opener “Ark” as an example – it starts with a pleasant musical box theme before the beats come crashing in and the bassline sweeps all before it – but then a sampled rapper makes a surprise appearance, alongside what might be a clip from an old public health film, a few bars of a string quartet, and a few more elements besides. It’s the sort of magpie-arrangement that Venetian Snares used to employ, although he tended to have a more controlled chaos technique to drum programming, whereas Da Wei have less scattershot beats. Where they are strong is their melodic lines, which often have a Japanese influence and by clearing out some of the snare rush moments – and stopping the beats altogether at times – they make for a series of glossy, serene, thoughtful d ‘n’ b tracks.
Delicate Features ~ The Passenger
A while back, even before my previous EO column (which gives you some idea how long ago it was), BBC Radio 1 put together a new score for the film Drive. When it was announced it seemed like a fairly redundant, ill-conceived notion and in practice, that’s how it turned out – the only new bits that worked sounded like the original music, which is what you get for messing with one of best soundtracks in recent years. What Zane Lowe, the guy behind the new soundtrack, should have done is put a call through to Russian duo Delicate Features, who have put together a compelling, atmospheric album of what they call ‘memory pop’, which I’m quite happy to use. It’s a subtle work, one that sits quite happily next to the rediscovered new age albums of the 80s, with folky influences and restrained vocals from Radmila Nikogosian who is very much part of the fabric and not a lead instrument. I thought the hypnagogic pop ‘thing’ might have run its course by now but this is a vital addition to the genre.
Die Nachtstunde ~ Flüstern Macht Gemeinsam
I can’t speak for everyone, but in northern England we’re definitely still in winter mode, the fog so thick this morning I couldn’t see the end of the street. That doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy music which was created with other seasons in mind, and so it with this album from Die Nachtstunde, which was released on the first day of Autumn and has been hanging around on my hard drive since then. Still, I’m picking up on a vibe similar to Deepchord and Gas, and I always associate that music with crunching through the snow rather than fallen leaves. The dubby techno sound underpins much of Flüstern Macht Gemeinsam which the occasional airy, fluttery melody to lighten the mood (particularly the title track). As you might expect, these are extended explorations to get lost in, with all but one track under seven minutes, for that fully immerse experience. Designed for autumn, reviewed in winter, recommended for year-round listening.
Emmerichk ~ Late Nineties
Well, this is an interesting techno release that wears its influences boldly. The album’s name is a pretty sizeable clue in itself, as are titles like “The Jaguar” and “The Hood”; Emmerichk is referring back to the techno from the late 1990s, when Underground Resistance, Robert Hood, and the track “Knights of the Jaguar” were big deals for techno fans. So this is taut, muscular techno although arguably to aid home listening some of the harsher edges have been softened slightly. Overall, it is an uncompromising work, twelve segued tracks centred around crisp kick drums and precise martial basslines, with squiggly acidic lead synths, and the occasional slab of industrial noise (trains, etc) to give the sound a proper late night urban feel. It’s an impressive album, and it makes sense that it is released on Leftfield’s label Offshoot, as well as the ever-consistent Psychonavigation. It is a worthy tribute to a golden era of techno.
Kemper Norton ~ Loor
A friend of mine recently gave me a 4 CD compilation that he’d curated entitled Esoterica Britannica, which was five hours or so of folk, electronica and the fertile middle ground between the two. It is, needless to say, very good but there are one or two omissions that will no doubt make an appearance on volume 5. In particular Kemper Norton, an artist that sounds like a forgotten branch line train station, who, with Loor, has made an album that is very definition of the fertile middle ground between folk and electronica. It is often densely electronic, often drawing on acoustic instrumentation, but it’s interspersed with spare, stripped down folk songs that put Kemper Norton’s vocals front and centre. It’s an interesting mix, reminiscent of Coil and Piano Magic at times, although I’m not quite convinced by the vocals, which suffer from an uncertain delivery. They might grow in the future; certainly the instrumental pieces are the one I keep returning to but this is a fine album in a long tradition of eccentric British music.
Mark Barrage ~ Surplus Behaviour
When I was trying to make my own music as a youngster I had a very basic set up of keyboard, drum machine and a little tape recorder to capture the experiments on. A lack of talent combined with a lack of patience and application meant that the results weren’t very good and I rarely sit around wondering what might have been. Surplus Behaviour, however, takes me right back; Mark Barrage is, I’m happy to report, much better at the whole composition, arrangement and recording scenario but there is something about the hissy sound and rudimentary drum machine sound that means it could have actually been made on a basic portastudio in the early 80s. Unlike Kemper Norton and Pye Corner Audio, who make music that harks back to a different era, Surplus Behaviour sounds convincingly like it was found amongst a bunch of unlabelled C60 cassettes in a box in the garage. The title track has a dead-on synth solo before the track collapses on itself, “He’s My Dad” is all moody late night chords – it’s only a track like “Barrage V” with its noisy electronic fizzes that sounds too complex and shatters the illusion a little. I’m not sure this will appeal to everybody – you might have to buy into the rediscovered concept to appreciate it – but it’s a record bursting with ideas, better than I ever imagined of doing.
Pye Corner Audio ~ The Black Mist EP
Temporary label mate of Kemper Norton, and an artist who did make it onto Esoterica Britannica, Pye Corner Audio is often associated with the Ghost Box acts, given the way they portray their work as often being rediscovered music from some forgotten era of the 1970s. Sometimes, for all of the kinda, sorta, retro analogue synth vibe going on, Pye Corner Audio cranks up the kick drum and bass and produces the sort of track that must surely be a gnat’s crochet away from being a staple of techno DJs. “Black Mist” is one such track, the EP containing the extended version of a track that appeared on The Outer Church compilation, the closest comparison is when Carl Craig remixed Gonzalez & Russom. “Bulk Erase” is a dub-inflected track with a prominent bassline driving the track forward and is as strong as the title track but in a different way. The EP closes with a ragged-sounding remix of “Black Mist”, more atmospheric but less compelling. It’s good to get different aspects of an artist though and this EP does a lot with only three tracks.
Ricardo Donoso ~ Beginning Of The Shape EP
Denovali recently signed Ricardo Donoso and to celebrate released this free EP, to herald the two new full-length albums they released at the end of January. We’ve covered Saravú Exu at length elsewhere on the site, but those who are wavering about shelling out for an album – or just enjoy the gift of music freely given – should definitely investigate this. “Shape Collateral”, with its almost choral synths and pulsating bass is actually a lot similar to Pye Corner Audio than I was expecting, Donoso creating a compelling, evolving almost narrative track over the space of seven minutes. The sweeping vistas conjured up by “The View of the Overlook (Rendition)” are closer to what I imagined a Donoso EP might contain, being an emotionally-charged piece of synth-orchestral composition. The EP closes with a clanky, dubbed version of “Shape Collateral”; it keeps the choral synths but turns the pulsing beat right down – a nice variation but no comparison to the original mix. A great overview of an artist, though, and an enticing introduction.
Sapphirine Phlant ~ Odds And Ends
Well, this is an interesting release. Russian musician Valentin Chernov conjures up some captivating John Carpenter-style moments on Odds And Ends and plenty of intriguing bleeps and bloops; and he even has a go at SAW-era Aphex ambience – Chernov was inspired to make electronic music after hearing the Analord series a couple of years back, which explains that influence. It’s all pretty agreeable electronica, and one can trace a line from Pye Corner Audio and Ricardo Donoso through to Sapphirine Phlant, the latter has less experience but I think he will develop along similar lines. What he should avoid doing, if at all possible, is continue to stick tinny drum ‘n’ bass breakbeats on his tracks, which is what he does on “Seashore”, which sound out of step with the rest of the album and sound pretty flimsy. It is, thankfully, only one track and we try operate on the basis that one bad apple doesn’t spoil the cart; the remaining six tracks work well together and create a coherent statement which belies the scrapbook style the title indicates.