Electronic Observations 2015 #4

AKA The first annual quarterly review. This is the initial wave of catch up reviews for 2015. There will be more to come and hopefully over the next six months I’ll be a bit more on the pulse. (Jeremy Bye)

Beauty Product ~ Wild Parvenu: Maxi Single

a2282865233_16 The image of the sun-kissed clouds on the cover is a pretty accurate scene setter for Wild Parvenu, as this is ideal sunset viewing music, tailor-made for sitting on a tropical island beach with a cocktail in your hand. But even if you’re only sitting on a backyard chair with a beer, Beauty Product will transport you to that island without having to root around the back of the sock drawer for your passport. The title track is anchored by a spacey chord pattern, a too-slow-to-disco beat and an occasional bass burble pushing its way to the surface. This subtle arrangement allows for the odd burst of Chic-esque guitar and a few James Brown ‘yeah / wooh’ exclamations without sounding clichéd. “If Only I’d Known Where You Buried My Heart” is the most accessible track, belying its downcast title with a lively rhythm, cooing vocals and the high-pitched pinging of a syndrum – yes, it’s a little bit 80s but that’s no crime in this genre. Many of the elements of the first two tracks reappear in radically revised form in the final, lengthy, track which gradually builds as the sun slips beneath the horizon. Cracking stuff.

Available here

-b0b- ~ The Technical Academy Plays -b0b-

a3315523054_16Here’s a rediscovered curiosity, recorded in 1991 and performed by a group of algorithmic bots programmed by -b0b- who set up very clear parameters about what the bots could and could not play and then sat back to hear the results. Programmed on an Atari ST and played on a Roland U-110, it was conceptually ahead of its time, although the sounds do anchor the music to a specific time.  Given how the music is created, perhaps the presets used are forgivable. Listening to the album as a complete work is a rocky ride, though, veering between pleasant electronic compositions such as “Psx4” with its propelling, fluid bass line and the more challenging tracks which sound like a cross between Trout Mask Replica-era Magic Band and free jazz, with a similar discombobulating effect on the listener. However, the four parts of “Quartz” are less musically dense and at times quite lovely, closing with a piano improvisation that lies somewhere between Keith Tippett and Conlon Nancarrow. It’s one to file alongside Squarepusher x Z-Machines to show whose side you’re on when the robots do eventually rise.

Available here

David Borden ~ Music for Amplified Keyboard Instruments

SP036-350This was originally released in 1981 but has been introduced afresh to the world via the good offices of Spectrum Spools, who make a habit of discovering lost electronic gems. David Borden was something of an early electronic music pioneer, beta-testing the Moog Modular Synthesizer and forming the first all-synth ensemble, Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company in the late 60s. (Their name sort of gives the era away.) He continued to compose after Mother Mallard split but didn’t record Music for Amplified Keyboard Instruments until the 80s, at a time when works by electronic pioneers were not exactly in high demand. Perhaps contrary to the direction synth music was taking at the time, Borden’s compositions are played by three musicians on six keyboards and the results are, frankly, astonishing – this is an album that can comfortably sit beside Riley, Reich and Glass in the pantheon of minimalist composition. The two “Continuing Story of Counterpoint” tracks dominate in terms of length but the two shorter works, “Winter in Enfield” and especially the opener “Esty Point Summer 1978”, pack the greater emotional punch, with a direct simplicity and beauty. This is another release that shows there are still gems waiting to be discovered.

Available here

John T. Gast ~ Excerpts

ziq351-johntgastGast is an associate of the Hype Williams duo (Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland), and has made a string of low-key mixes and CDRs over the past few years, but his first release on Planet Mu should bring him to a wider audience. He has cleared away quite a lot of the hazy atmosphere that normally occurs on the Blunt / Copeland nexus, and front-loaded the album with crisp, taut electronica, spiced up with a fair amount of acid squiggles. After the pitched-down interlude “£”, however, the tracks on the whole turn more downbeat and introspective. Gast employs strings on “White Noise/Dys” over a sinewy bassline, although he does throw in a bunch of weird sounds in the second half of the track to keep the listener off-balance. The album gets better the further it goes, as Gast’s vision imposes itself more on the music – the tempo slows, and moves further away from the dancefloor. Excerpts is accurately named, however, because it does seem to be a collection of different styles, almost like a calling card, than a fully cohesive statement.

Available here

Konsul Gnadenwalze ~ Assur & Cyclades

a0803530052_16Heavy on dubby glitch and compellingly atmospheric, Assur & Cyclades is an accomplished release which at 25 minutes in length would normally be classified as an EP. Yet that concept seems to undersell it, as it’s a weighty, continuous piece in five parts with a heft and authority that belies its running time. Although entirely electronic, there are moments when the album feels almost symphonic in nature, such as the point almost midway through the suite where the synth strings swell and sweep all before them. Elsewhere, the dubbier parts aren’t too rigid and certainly lean towards an expansive, expressive approach. Overall, it’s a very fine combination of emotionally organic arrangements over crunchy beat programming. Konsul Gnadenwalze‘s approach is to keep their releases low-key and limited, and I’m none too sure about their hijab style outfits when playing live, but with a record like this they may accidentally find a wider audience.

Available here

Opaline ~ Memory Drain

a4288191604_16Proof that you can’t always judge an album by the opening track, part 83: Memory Drain‘s opener “Collider” is the convincing sound of somebody brutalising their home studio – all digital squeals and unpleasant cacophony. It made me dread the next 30 or so minutes. Instead, there’s a swift about turn into bubbling ambience, with the title track doing a passable nod to the likes of 36. Opaline builds on this sound, adding chattering rhythms here, a whooshy synth there, and the almost inevitable bit which sounds like a John Carpenter soundtrack. Memory Drain sounds like a heavily-analogue work, hand-played rather than sequenced, which adds to its appeal. Titles such as “Emerald Pavilion” and “Our Aurora”, combined with the retro-tinged sound, give the album a similar feeling to the obscure new age albums of the early 80s. As Memory Drain is new, it may not have the same cache as those lost recordings but it’s easily as good as its forebears and once the opener’s been negotiated, it is a warm and invigorating listen.

Available here

Claude Speeed ~ Sun Czar Temple

ziq339-claudespeeedA member of American Men, the Scottish outfit affiliated with LuckyMe (home of, among others, Hudson Mohawke and Jackmaster), Claude Speeed has decluttered the sound and slowed the pace with this solo EP on Planet Mu. The result is some epic-sounding electronica, crossed with the occasional nod to shoegaze with hazily distorted guitars. The arrangements are stripped down yet widescreen in scope, painting a big picture with broad strokes – chords held for days and distortion hewn from the living landscape. On “Traumzeuge” and, especially the closing “R U Sorry?”, Speeed transitions through several moods in the space of single tracks, hinting at a restless compositional nature.  Arguably these are the strongest tracks here, which is not to relegate the rest. “R U Sorry?” opens with huge chords, almost cathedral-like in scope, before introducing a gristly guitar and closing with a piano and harp coda.  It’s worth the price of admission alone.

Available here

Tairiq & Garfield ~ Childhood Swing

a0344389465_16Twin brothers Tairiq & Garfield may have a strong R&B / hip hop connection – their mother recorded for Eazy-E’s label, while their dad was in R&B outfit Shai – but this EP embraces a wider range of styles across its six tracks, with hip hop beats a rare element in their music (pretty much only “The Treatment” gets the, er, treatment). Although Hudson Mohawke is now Kanye West’s go-to producer, who’s to say that these dayglo, dazzling concoctions aren’t exactly what rappers are looking for today? These tracks tend to start gently before bursting into life, overloading the senses in a handful of bars and sweeping the listener along. The title suggests a sense of nostalgia.  Perhaps elements of the music they grew up with are woven into the arrangements – certainly on the mutant funk of the “Childhood Swing” itself – but this is  music that’s only looking ever forward. Someone pass this onto Mr. West, OK?

Available here

Universal Language ~ Free Association

a0721083169_16The none-more-techno sounding Universal Language – Global Communication’s label had the same name – tags his sextet of tracks with ‘Original Mix’ in brackets which indicates that there is no little thought and strategy behind the Free Association mini-album. There seems a strong likelihood that this will spawn a raft of remixes, which seems to somewhat undersell the original work. These dubby techno tracks weave their own spell on the listener, gently pulsing away and allowing the mind to spin off at various tangents. If there is a downside (and this is something that the remixers will surely fix), it is that these versions are a little clean, with precious little crackle, glitch or gristle disrupting the otherwise serene surface chords as they glide over the pulse. It’s odd to say but this is a record that could actually do with a flaw or two to rough up the smooth surfaces.

Available here

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