I’m gonna come straight out the traps with this - the Rian Treanor LP below is an “album of the year” contender for me. It’s astonishingly good. Seriously, you have to hear it.
The rest of this week’s New Music Friday field’s pretty strong too y’know. The SUMAC record rivals Treanor’s for intensity, though sonically they’re poles apart (Treanor’s deals in hyper-futurist post-rave beats while SUMAC grind their way through seismic experimental metal). We have variations on the Detroit house/techno lineage from Byron The Aquarius and Theo Parrish, psychedelic rock invention courtesy of Death Valley Girls and Frankie And The Witch Fingers, and a trio of solo musings courtesy of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Pan Amsterdam and Pontiac Streator. All of this comes topped off with the long-awaited debut LP from Yorkshire rockers Working Men’s Club.
There’s a pleasing logic to Byron The Aquarius ending up on Steven Julien’s Apron Records. The UK label has long been a home for artists who put their own spin on the U.S. Midwest’s classic dance music sounds. Byron The Aquarius is closer to Detroit’s orbit than some Apron artists - he hails from Atlanta, Georgia - but he still approaches the continuum as a geographical outsider, and as such his ‘Apron EP’ is a pleasingly idiosyncratic take on Mills, Drexciya, Moodymann et al. Among the deep house shufflers and squelching techno takes, this record also offers up explorations of synth-funk, neo-soul and jazz-hop.
On ‘Under The Spell Of Joy’ the Los Angeles group Death Valley Girls find a sweet-spot between tub-thumping garage-rock and the sort of heavy psychedelic freakscapes one associates with labels like Cardinal Fuzz and Rocket Recordings. These tunes overwhelm you either through rhythmic drive - see the Stooges-esque proto-punk of a cut like ‘Hold My Hand’ - or their skyscraping, Spacemen 3-adjacent atmospherics (‘The Universe’, the title-track). The impassive, quasi-chanted vocals of bandleader Bonnie Bloomgarden can be spun both ways depending on what mood Death Valley Girls are in on a given song.
You’ll notice that the title of ‘Monsters Eating People Eating Monsters…’, the new LP from Frankie And The Witch Fingers, ends with an ellipsis. The band’s intention here is that you could go on like that forever if you were so inclined - eating people, on to eating monsters, back to eating people and so on ad infinitum. Each to their own of course, but if you spent all your time on the album’s name then you might miss the freakified heavy-psych sounds which lie within. At its most rabid ‘Monsters Eating People Eating Monsters’ resembles Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs while groovier numbers like ‘Cavehead’ verge on Goat. Just don’t twist your tongue up too much.
Like many records which were released in the first weeks of the lockdown, we’ve had to bide our time on a physical edition of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s ‘The Mosaic Of Transformation’. Now, a few months on from its digital drop, the wait is over, giving us the chance to delight at Smith’s verdant synthscapes all over again. ‘The Mosaic Of Transformation’ is the latest synthetic music wonder from an artist who is rapidly becoming a leader in her field. Running with the sounds of Terry Riley, Suzanne Ciani and other mid-century electronics masters, Smith fashions a series of tracks here which hum with life-affirming energy.
There’s a particular strain of NYC hip-hop that will continue to sprout flowers long after the city gets ‘Day After Tomorrow’-ed by rising sea levels. I don’t mean hard-bodied knuckle-head anthems ala M.O.P., though that sound’s still got plenty of gas in the tank - I’m talking about the more whimsical and ephemeral kind of street poetry which is delivered by artists like Wiki, MIKE and billy woods. Pan Amsterdam, the recently-minted rap alias of trumpeter/composer Leron Thomas, is very much part of this continuum. On the ‘Ha Chu’ LP we get Thomas mining meditative profundities from quotidian experience over beats which teeter between jazz-hop elegance and a somewhat choppier style. Jason Williamson and Iggy Pop are among the guest features.
Given that Pontiac Streator began turning heads with a couple of drops on Huerco S.’s West Mineral Ltd. it’s fitting that the Philadelphia-based producer now follows labelmates Exael and uon over to Motion Ward for the release of new LP ‘Triz’. The two labels have been incubating an innovative offshoot of ambient music between them, one which cross-pollinates illbient, fourth world and new-age influences with a sort of contemporary concrete sensibility, and it’s a style which is in full effect once more here. Strange and beguiling, ‘Triz’ is contemplative music for a world which provides us no easy answers at the time of writing.
As a music fan you’re always chasing those times when you hit play on a record and it makes you go; “this is it, this is the good stuff right here.” They’re moments made all the more special by their scarcity - and when I listened to Rian Treanor’s ‘File Under UK Metaplasm’ for the first time, I had one. Treanor’s been a startlingly original producer for several years now, turning out jerking, highwire electronic music for labels like The Death Of Rave and Planet Mu. On his second studio LP he synthesises the breakneck Tanzanian singeli sound fronted by Nyege Nyege Tapes into his thrillingly unpredictable style. The end result comes off like an early Warp release blasted into hyperspace. Amazing work.
SUMAC have one of the best hair games in the business - quite an achievement, given that their particular business is the very heaviest end of rock music. More to the point, behind those long, flowing locks and full beards hide some serious musical chops. Russian Circles, Old Man Gloom and Baptists are just a few of the other groups that this trio spend time playing in, and on ‘May You Be Held’ SUMAC channel their knack and knowhow into some epic experimental metal. On the side-long title-track alone the band take in Sunn O)))-esque drone, gravel-throated doom, wailing psych-rock and bugged-out free music.
As much as Theo Parrish is now held up as a paragon of silky Detroit club tracks, he’s long been a quixotic presence in his field, his productions more unpredictable and adventurous than those imitators who’ve smoothed out the creases in his sound. Parrish’s latest full-length ‘Wuddaji’ is a superb demonstration of the producer’s unique appeal - there are a couple of soul-flecked mid-set rollers here, but by and large this is a record full of stuttering beat experiments and loping low-lit loops. ‘Wuddaji’ also contains a track called ‘Radar Detector’, which (un)fortunately is not a Darwin Deez cover.
It was only a matter of time before the one of the new wave of moody British rock groups - your Shames, your black midis, your IDLESes - began to cross-pollinate their sound with rave revivalism. Indeed, the real question was whether whoever stepped up to this particular plate would get it right. On their eponymous debut LP, Yorkshire’s Working Men’s Club succeed impressively in their endeavours, smashing together lyrical disaffection and grinding guitars with programmed beats that range from industrial (‘A.A.A.A.’) to euphoric (‘Valleys’). Think Mark E. Smith if he’d sacked all of the Fall (again) and roped in Factory Floor to take care of the instrumentals.