All Hallows is upon us. As if this year could get any more terrifying...
While there’s nothing outright ghoulish among the selection below, a couple of the records could probably give you a fright under the right circumstances. There’s an eeriness to both the Black To Comm and HHY & The Kampala Unit albums which may induce chills, while Hyph11E’s caustic beats might shock you if they caught you off guard. Meanwhile the Oneohtrix Point Never and Tobacco LPs aren’t exactly spooky, but there’s plenty of the unheimlich to them. The other five here, though, are light on scares - which, in this spookiest of seasons, might be exactly the tonic we all need at the moment.
Having made hay with his sort of man-of-the-people take on Ghostface Killah’s shtick in the early 2010s, Action Bronson’s recording output ended up being increasingly uneven as the decade wore on and he became as much a television personality as he did a rap star. However, ‘Only For Dolphins’, Bronson’s first major release for a few years, indicates that the King of Queens may have refocused his energies on the booth. While the playfulness, charm and easy wit remain, this is as coherent a record as Bronson has made. The bars are tight while the beats sit in a luxurious pocket throughout, backboned by East Coast hip-hop while the samples explore Latin music, reggae, lounge soul and tropicalia.
As Black To Comm, Marc Richter (I'm guessing no relation to Max? Don't fact-check me on that) makes a strange sort of music which is hard to pin down. The immediate genre tag that comes to mind when listening to new LP ‘Oocyte Oil And Stolen Androgens’ is ambient, but though the five tracks here are largely weightless they are neither sufficiently calming to fully warrant the name nor gothic enough to sit comfortably within the dark ambient sphere. Jon Hassell is another potential way in, but these sounds are too syrupy to ever break into the verdant pastures of the Fourth World. This leaves us hauntological drone music, while the album’s ominous cover nods to Sunn O)))’s doom-metal, but ‘Oocyte Oil And Stolen Androgens’ ultimately evades them both. The only artist that this fascinating, hypnotic, ever-so-slightly creepy record brings readily to mind is Actress.
At this point, I’ve made my peace with the fact that Dizzee Rascal will never do anything as good as ‘Boy In Da Corner’ again. This is fine - for one thing, you can’t expect anyone to come out with a tectonic-plate-shifting masterpiece every couple of years; for another, freeing myself from such enormous expectation means that I can actually appreciate his new music in a way that I wasn’t able to around the time of‘ Maths & English’ (we’ll not talk about the Calvin Harris/Armand Van Helden era). ‘E3 AF’, Rascal’s latest outing, sees Dylan Mills settling into his status as an elder statesman of British rap, twisting up his tongue atop beats that bop and dip through a variety of styles which have emerged in grime’s wake - drill, Afroswing and road rap to name but three. Those who wish Dizzee would go back to the grime/garage well will be pleased to find a sample of Architects’ ‘Body Groove’ on ‘Body Loose’ - RIP Ashley Akabah.
The eagle-eyed among you will notice that ‘Good Sad Happy Bad’ is the name of a 2015 LP from art-rock outfit Micachu & The Shapes. Now for the confusing bit - Good Sad Happy Bad, the band we’re dealing with here who’ve just released the album ‘Shades’, both are and aren’t the same thing as Micachu & The Shapes. You see, both outfits share the same members (plus an additional multi-instrumentalist in CJ Calderwood in this instance), but a change of name has also seen them shuffle the line-up around. As Good Sad Happy Bad, Mica Levi moves to guitar and Raisa Khan takes up position as lead vocalist for most tracks. In terms of musical style, ‘Shades’ maintains the group’s ramshackle, slightly naïf charm but tightens the screws on the songwriting to create an oddball take on the C86 sound.
It’s so cool what Nyege Nyege Tapes are up to at the moment. Having burst onto the scene with a series of electrifying dance albums from artists scattered across Africa, 2020 has seen the Ugandan label deliver records which maintain the rhythmic thrust of those early releases but also explore more nocturnal atmospheres and freighted, challenging sonics. After the futuro-industrialism of Metal Preyers and Duma’s digitised grindcore, HHY & The Kampala Unit’s ‘Lithium Blast’ is the latest NNT drop to bowl us over. Born from an Nyege Nyege residency undertaken by HHY & The Macumbas’ Jonathan Saldanha, this album finds lurching polyrhythms flushed with acid-wash electronics, screwball dub science and futurist techno tones.
Speaking of cool labels, SVBKVLT, a Shanghai imprint with close links to Nyege Nyege Tapes, are also developing their sound in thrilling ways at the moment. SVBKVLT releases also have an livewire rhythmic sensibility about them, albeit one which is a little more icy and confrontational than NNT’s. However, an increasingly widescreen brand of sound design, one derived from epic films and first-person-shooter video games, has encroached on the label’s hard dance sounds of late. With its scorched-earth takes on industrial techno, drum ‘n’ bass and harsh noise wall, Hyph11E’s ‘Aperture’ is possibly the fullest realisation SVBKVLT’s new phase to date.
Mike Patton’s most piquant of rock bands deliver their first LP of this Millennium, though ‘The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny Demo’ is actually a re-recording of the first songs Mr. Bungle ever laid to tape way, way back in 1986. These tracks don’t quite hit the same level of clowns-in-an-insane-asylum hysteria as, say, 1991’s eponymous debut LP, and the sound steers a little closer to regular thrash/death metal tropes. However, these amped-up re-recordings, which feature Slayer’s Dave Lombardo and Anthrax’s Scott Ian, are easily some of the zaniest, wackiest tracks you’ll hear all year. Literally just lol that I get to listen to Mr. Bungle and call it work.
It’s a kind of ‘Magic Oneohtrix Point Never’. Having levelled up in the fame stakes with his score for ‘Uncut Gems’ - easily a favourite movie soundtrack of 2019 for myself and many others - the one born Daniel Lopatin has decided that, for his latest trick, he will transform his Oneohtrix Point Never project into a one-man radio station. Well, not quite - with its gleaming synth timbres, chamber-pop overtones and general air of surreal shininess, ‘Magic Oneohtrix Point Never’ is still recognisably an OPN album. However, Lopatin has attempted to invoke the sense of dial-hopping on shortwave frequencies throughout this thing, an effect he achieves with typically quixotic brilliance. In scope of vision and its unusual brilliance, ‘Magic Oneohtrix Point Never’ recalls other recent Warp LPs from Flying Lotus and Lorenzo Senni.
They do, y’know. And when these Trees Speak, you know what they say? They say “we love Krautrock”, that’s what they say. This Arizona-based band of brothers (I mean that literally - there’s two of them, and they’re related) continue to deliver potent experimental rock on ‘Shadow Forms’, an album which comes hot-ish on the heels of the ‘OHMS’ LP they released earlier this year. Like its predecessor, ‘Shadow Forms’ brings together various influences from the desert-psych continuum - Ennio Morricone scores, Seventies Library music, Can, Neu! and the rest - into a peyote-hazed whole.
It would be a bit of a stretch to say that ‘Hot Wet & Sassy’ is a pop album - this record is too grimy for the tag to fit comfortably. That said, Tobacco, the solo project of Black Moth Super Rainbow frontman Tom Fec has been delivering grizzled takes on synth-pop and bedroom-pop for a while now, so maybe it’s best to frame ‘Hot Wet & Sassy’ as another album beamed in from Tobacco’s bizarro-world version of pop. The end result is strange and slippery yet also oddly beguiling - sort of like a slightly more lo-fi version of what Oneohtrix albums sounded like a few years back.