So here we are, again. New Music Friday.
There’s quite a lot of experimental energy knocking about in this week's column. Of course, jazz entries from Els Vandeweyer and Herbie Hancock were always going to push boundaries, particularly the more avant-garde work of the former. Shabazz Palaces also tend to do unusual things on their studio LPs, as do Sir Richard Bishop and Bo Ningen.
However, we weren’t expecting to hear anything from Plone or Ed O’Brien any time soon, let alone solo records which find the protagonists trying on different musical styles like changes of clothing. And then we have new innovations in beatmaking from RJD2, Free The Robots and Hodge. Better strap yourself in for this one.
A short but sweet first entry here from Bo Ningen. The band’s new Alcopop! 7” may only contain a single new song from the legendary heavy-psych band, but that’s fine because 1) it’s been several years since we got any new Bo Ningen material, so anything is welcome at this point, and 2) what a track. ‘B.C’ snakes for almost six minutes, growing from an opening chant that sounds like it’s been pitted against some Steve Reich phasing experiment into a lumbering Beak>-style rocker. Foodman takes the reins on the B-side here, and his ‘B.C.’ remix is so unusual that it could pass for Nurse With Wound.
Els Vandeweyer may have entitled her new LP ‘Debut’, but the Belgian vibraphonist/percussionist/composer has actually been around for some time - those with good memories may remember the 2006 album ‘Snug As A Gun’ that she made with her IMI Kollectief crew. Vandeweyer goes it alone here, creating wending pieces of free jazz busy enough to convince that there was more than one person behind them. Tracks like ‘A.O.M.’ foreground more traditional vibraphone techniques while ‘Betonplaten Straat’ rings unusual tones from that instrument and Vandeweyer’s other pieces of percussive equipment.
I like to think that you’re meant to pronounce EOB like the sound of a car zooming past you at high speed. EEEOBB!! But then, what do I know - I’m not the drummer of Radiohead, which EOB literally is. Yes, those letters stand for Ed O’Brien, and on ‘Earth’ he does a darn sight more than just thump tubs. This is a bright and vivacious record, one that spends a fair bit of time in Jon Hopkins territory as well as moving to ambient music, folk and crunchy indie. Super-producers Flood (U2, Depeche Mode, bucketloads of others) and Catherine Marks (Foals, The Killers, bucketloads of others) and a fleet of guests that includes Laura Marling and Colin Greenwood help O’Brien in his endeavours here.
Chris Alfaro aka Free The Robots has knocked about in the same LA beat scene as Teebs, Flying Lotus etc for upwards of a decade now. With ‘Datu’ he may just have created his finest full-length set to date. 'Datu' sees Alfaro working with samples of Filipino music, chopping, slicing and dicing them over some clear, crisp breaks. Some of the cuts work as a sort of free-associative take on Dilla-style hip-hop, but others - ‘Tunog sa Lasang’ for instance - roll with their rhythms to end up in a rather unusual sonic space.
Herbie Hancock turned 80 on 12th April. Happy birthday mate. ‘The Prisoner’ isn’t a new Hancock tome - it dates from 1969 (nice) - but it’s been given a new lick of paint by Blue Note Records for this latest edition. To modern ears this very much sounds like first-wave Hancock, the squelching fusion-funk of ‘Head Hunters’ still a way off yet. As such, ‘The Prisoner’s knotty post-bop should appeal to fans of Hancock’s other early work, which basically means anyone with even a passing interest in jazz.
Hodge has taken his sweet time getting round to releasing a debut LP. It's a good thing, then, that ‘Shadows In Blue’ was worth the wait. This is a buoyant set which pushes on from the bass-driven techno sound that Hodge has demonstrated on his previous EP releases. Parallels can be drawn between ‘Shadows In Blue’ and Nathan Micay’s recent album ‘Blue Spring’, both in the anime-cyberpunk flavour of their club cuts and in their explorations of less beat-driven, more contemplative electronic textures.
Plone make a (very) long overdue return with ‘Puzzlewood’, their first LP of the not-even-that-new-anymore-if-at-all century. The Brummie band may have aged a bit since dropping ‘For Beginner Piano’ way back in 1999, but they certainly haven’t lost their sense of youthful exuberance. The album’s technicolour artwork lets you know what you’re in store for from the off - ‘Puzzlewood’ is a zany and bushy-tailed electronica collection that squirrels off in all sorts of directions. Great entertainment.
Lord knows we need some good craic these days. Enter RJD2’s ‘The Fun Ones’, an album which makes good on the promise of its title with a set of funky plunderphonics jams. Whereas previous RJD2 LP ‘Dame Fortune’ found the one born Ramble Jon Krohn pushing himself to make strange, whacked out and occasionally rather challenging beat tracks, ‘The Fun Ones’ just kicks out the jams, rolling out like some back-in-the-day Madlib/DJ Shadow collaboration. A perfect one to slam down at the quarantine disco.
I’m going to level with you - ‘Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines’, one of two LPs Shabazz Palaces released in 2017, is one of the few records that I’ve ever regretted buying. Knowing what this great group is capable of, that album’s half-baked fonk musings were monstrously disappointing. Good news, then, that Ishmael Butler and Tendai "Baba" Maraire are back on it for their new LP ‘The Don Of Diamond Dreams’. These tracks blast the leftfield hip-hop of Oh No way out into the cosmos, putting space-meat on the bones of Butler’s George Clinton-type astral travelling. It’s good to have them back.
Former Sun City Girls fellow (Sir) Richard Bishop returns with another set of idiosyncratic, hallucinatory guitar music. ‘Oneiric Formulary’ features some of the most singular six-string tones we’ve heard in a long time - ‘The Coming of the Rats’, for instance, is a wholly unusual combination of scritch-scratch atmospherics and this weird, humming lead-line. Also in the mix are whirling-dervish folk numbers (‘Celerity’), ersatz exotica (‘Mit’s Linctus Codeine Co.’) and plenty else besides. Anyone who has developed a thirst for unusual guitar music off the back of Stephen Malkmus’ recent ‘Traditional Techniques’ LP would be well advised to give ‘Oneiric Formulary’ a spin.