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Staff reviews this week
Good or bad, here's what we think of this week's crop of new releases.
Please note: All views expressed are those of individual staff and not Norman Records as a whole.
8/10 according to our Andy on 3rd September 2015
Dam Funk has been the flag bearer for funk on Stones Throw for approaching a decade. Whilst his boogie jams seemed incongruous initially when filed alongside the more straight up hip-hop roster back in the late '90's, it seems the label has bent to his sound rather than the other way round. Having now released records such as Tuxedo, the synth heavy Minimal Wave compilations as well as the yacht rock and soft funk of The Stepkids it appears that Dam Funk helped bring the funk and electro to Peanut Butter Wolf's imprint.
In fact, Dam Funk is here to bring the funk to us all. This album opens with 'Junie's Transmission' featuring Junie Morrison of the Ohio Players who warns of the terrible consequences for a world without funk. I think that a word of warning is warranted here however, funk can be a misleading genre title. It is a style that has mutated over time - never necessarily a bad thing, but this could lead to misconceptions. This isn't an album of gritty two minute hard funk tracks, it isn't the extended JB's style brass heavy monsters that made James Brown king of the genre, this isn't even jazz funk or dance floor jazz in the style of Donald Byrd's 'Dominoes' or Idris Muhammed's 'Could Heaven Ever Be Like This'.
Dam Funk's sound is a 'modern funk' take on the genre, clearly influenced by the likes of Slave or Zapp, he also channels Prince - indeed he is a talented multi instrumentalist and increasingly confident singer himself. Dam Funk also takes in the g-funk hip hop sound, touches of deep house and boogie and creates an experimental, but accessible album. With a running time of over an hour and a half and spread out over a triple album, this is a major undertaking. However, the quality remains high.
Q-Tip demonstrates his ageless verbal dexterity as a guest on 'I'm Just Tryna Survive' with his flow matching the grooves perfectly. 'Glyde 2nyte' is a high class demonstration that Prince comparisons are not hyperbole. His old friend Snoop Dogg (check out their mini album collaboration 'Seven Days Of Funk') turns up on 'Just Ease Your Mind From All This Negativity'. A highlight for me is 'We Continue', a further song heralding the triumph of positivity boosted by the squelch an glide of funky synths and gliding melody.
The album is perhaps let down by its size, whilst there aren't any bad tracks, it loses cohesiveness cue to the variety of sounds. From the Moodymann -ish 'OBE', the g funk, some poppier moments, a couple of tracks that tread water, it feels more of a collection of ideas at times. However, it is a joyous listen, and testament to the talent of Dam Funk.
9/10 according to our Ant on 3rd September 2015
Rrose emerges from the dancefloor wreckage left in the wake of the recent ‘For Aquantice’ 12” for another session on the artist's own Eaux imprint. Taking us deep into ‘Vanishing Pools’ with an extended 5-track EP.
‘Hole’ furrow’s with pulse’s of clicky percussion, reverb coated rim-shots and distant, liquiform kicks. Immediately the sound recalls early Pan Sonic, gradually an all consuming synth yawns open its jaws and sizzles like pure electricity leaving trails of blue sparks. Rrose’s mastery of building tension is in full effect here; slowly draining the room of oxygen until we're almost breathless but never in danger of suffocation.
Climb out of the hole and ‘Purge’ then proceeds to cleanse the palate with throbbing monotone bassline and flickering, insectoid percussion with serpentine filtering that gives it the dynamics of an electronic rattlesnake moving in and out of alternate dimensions. Forward momentum is provided by rattling hi-hats and dense kicks while additional brain massage is achieved through siren like synth that’s pretty much guaranteed to have dancers tingling in a frenzy of shrieks and ecstatic fist pumping.
‘Curl’ moves into darker more “experimental” terrain, unusually distorted and dirty in comparison to the usual pristine Rrose sound. A monotonous bass loop chugs below morphing synths that combust from molten drones into devouring luminous embers.
The leisurely paced techno of ‘Adrift’ is the EP’s personal highlight; where acidic synth trickles like liquid mercury, forming radiant new alloys, while apparitions linger like the ghosts of Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works Vol. II’.
‘Undergrowth’ had me feeling like I was in a whiteout on the planet Hoth, attempting to conceal myself in the snow, safe from the blue lights of Imperial craft that puncture the blizzard from above.
For some moments after the record ends I feel like I’ve been wired into the mains supply; 240 volts of electricity still blistering through my body, the force responsible for the records creation still flowing through me. Who needs Ready Brek?
8/10 according to our Ant on 3rd September 2015
I can happily enjoy listening to full on techno at home in small doses but when all is said and done, music like Perc’s is constructed for an environment far removed from the nest. You only ever get half of the picture, so in reviewing this stuff I find I have to imagine I’m absorbing it under the intended circumstances i.e in some filthy warehouse at 2AM and not perched behind a computer screen. Perc’s music doesn’t rely on environment, but strobe lights, dry ice, darkness and sweaty bodies all act as a catalyst for the energy projected by the music.
His mug covered in porridge; Ali Wells is in typically bruising form on the titular ‘Gob’. I dunno where he got these kick drums from? I think he’s been torturing his drum machine, chained up in his basement, and now he’s set it free, it’s spewing out vicious kickdrums determined to tear the living shit out of a club and demolish the walls leaving unsuspecting dancers emerging from the rubble coated in a fine layer of brick dust. This is hard, pummeling techno from the school of The Mover/ PCP as resurrected a coupla years back when MPIA3 loaned Robert Armarni’s kick drums. Processed Human voices sound like they're being sucked down some giant plughole for a moment then back to the storm with razor sharp swishing metal percussion that threatens to cut your arms off should you foolishly wave them in the air.
The militant ‘Gruel’ wastes no time in its agenda to contort bodies. Constantly accelerating with bursts of jagged electronic scree reaching a screeching climax and cheekily avoiding any predictable big ‘drop’.
The apocalyptic ‘Change To Win’ sounds like a transmission from earth into space via failing technology that’s accidently producing power electronics; desperate pleas from humans reaching out for a better life on a different planet hoping to be heard amongst the distortion. Although this music is tough, uncompromising, even brutal it doesn’t project violence or hatred. The energy is positive --liberating body music that enables us to let go, be free from the shackles of control held by clowns in smart suits. This is the sound of anarchy in 2015 - file under music to smash the system.
7/10 according to our Ant on 3rd September 2015
A few years ago I witnessed Detroit mainstay Mike Huckaby take to a pair of Technics with a box of vinyl and nothing more. Much of the music he was playing wasn’t really my thing, despite being quite partial to his productions. However I have an enduring memory of his turntable skills; one of the finest technicians I’ve ever witnessed on the wheels of steel. As a DJ he know’s exactly how to control a dancefloor and this knowledge he applies to his productions. One such DJ tool is the sought after ‘Baseline ‘87’, originally released as a 10” in an edition of 300 copies on Sushitech and now repressed on his own S Y N T H imprint.
‘Baseline ‘87’ is essentially oldskool, garage flavoured Detroit house stripped to it’s bare, efficient essentials. Centered around a nostalgic bassline working into an irresistible, endless groove; achieved with with chunky, stomping 909 kicks and crisp hi-hats. Nothing fancy here, just functional dancefloor fuel with immaculate production. This no frills aesthetic is reflected in the title of ‘Musik For The Dancefloor’ which resides over on the flipside. A pleasant slab of dreamy Deep House/ Tech House, perfectly tooled for long mixes and again with the exquisite production we’ve come to expect from this man, whom produces sample packs, presets etc. for the likes of Waldorf and Native Instruments while still finding time to do inspiring work teaching his community’s youth skills in electronic music production. Solid stuff from one of the good guys.
9/10 according to our Clinton on 3rd September 2015
Suffering from our current policy of not having anything in stock at all, The Clientele release what could be said to be a 'greatest hits' collection. On one hand I could say that you should own all of their records already but as they keep a low-ish profile in the UK for a band who recently revelled in a 9.1 score on Pitchfork for the re-issue of their exquisite debut album 'Suburban Light' then they may have passed under your radar.
It's from that minor masterpiece that the first few tracks here are taken. I've long held the belief that the opening couplet here of 'Reflections After Jane' and 'We Could Walk Together' are probably the best songs ever made. So what do they sound like? Well imagine that in 1974 Nick Drake formed an indie pop trio and recorded in a sun dappled room using genuine '60's dust on the desk. The only subject matter would be dusk, tree-lined streets and the way the leaves start to turn yellow as the nights draw in.
Unlike many bands The Clientele never went bad. They may have emerged blinking out of their early haze into a brighter, clearer world but they still had that smoky, autumnal sound. 'Since K got Over Me' started to show that they could rock if they felt like it yet still sound like you are wrapped in a duvet on a winters day looking out onto a park. In fact everything is great here (as you might expect from a 'best of').
If you spend your days sitting wondering what a poetic English, autumnal version of Real Estate might sound like then this is for you. Comes with bonus early live session as download which I'm utterly straining at the leash to hear.
8/10 according to our Clinton on 2nd September 2015
When this was played in the office last week I somehow got the initial impression that it was the album where Sam Smith finally ‘does a Scott Walker’. Instead this is the latest missive from American oddball Willis Earl Beal. Now I had him down as some kind of whacked out bluesy Daniel Johnston sort but here he reinvents himself as a drifting, spacey soul man.
His voice would be impressive to pretty much anyone but luckily to those of us who run for the mute button when Smith and his ilk holler away on television, Earl chooses to use it in a way no-one could have predicted. The songs can barely be described as such….they are drifting quasi-ambient pieces over which he slowly intones words before seemingly drifting away into the ether. You come away from the thing not 100% sure you’ve enjoyed it but knowing you’ve heard something personal and effecting.
Each track moves along at a snails pace…it creeps along. The music is basically different varieties of ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ type synth and pulsing electronics. This home fi approach to instrumentation means that Beal can stretch his voice out and use different intonations without any worries that the music is actually going to change. ‘Like A Box’ is particularly impressive sounding like the great early TV on the Radio of 'Young Liars'.
It’s bleak throughout - this is soul noir from the bottom of a pit of despair. The kind of record Marvin Gaye should have made in his Belgium wilderness years. There’s something about this records naked honesty that after on listen it stays on your mind all day.
7/10 according to our Clinton on 2nd September 2015
This is the first collaboration between Hans-Joachim Roedelius (of Cluster, Harmonia etc.) and Christoph H. Müller (Gotan Project). It’s one of those records that could be described perfectly as a ‘fusion’ .....if fusion was a word I was allowed to use. Let's just say it's like a raspberry ripple and carrot ice-cream - it fuses two disparate elements in such a way that you’d think that they’d been here for life.
Roedelius’s warm slightly jazzy piano notes sit under huge electronic constructions which fizz and crackle. On opener ‘Time Has Come’ they initially sound right together and even more so when effects are added to the piano. This is the type of modernist record that you could see having been released in the late ’90’s/early 2000’s when to combine electronic and traditional instruments still sent people into a tailspin. On ‘QM' the beats take charge and here the piano sounds a little tacked on but when firmer, fuller piano is used on ‘Origami II’ the effect is much more impressive. The simple piano notes are augmented by increasing bass frequencies and finally the kind of bleeps that could only have been made in Germany. It’s perfectly produced - it has that kind of German precision you’d expect - you feel that the beats have been messed with for years before they let them out of their laboratory.
The best tracks sit in this perfect space between neo-classical warmth and electronic coldness but what you are left with is not lukewarm water, instead it’s less ambient than I maybe expected with clinical, pounding beats and squelch abounds. The soft ‘Himmel Uber Lima’ answers my prayer for something more drifting with its exquisite piano loops twinkling with severely distorted micro beats.
7/10 according to our Clinton on 2nd September 2015
This is the first time on vinyl for this early era Brian Jonestown record. Made for the princely sum of $17.36 it was recorded live in their house. You can almost see broken sitars and discarded drug paraphernalia lying about as you listen to the opener ‘Spanish Bee’. There hasn’t been too much care applied to whether the tambourine is in time but the soaring chorus reveals the songwriting knack is there behind the chaos. ‘IT Girl’ is much better recorded displaying the same hispanic feel as the opener and the same devil may care attitude to instrumentation. By the time the bluesy ’13’ rolls around you realise that this is BJM’s ‘Party’ record. It’s slipshod, ramshackle full of mistakes and values feel over execution. What holds it together are the glimpses of songwriting gold amid the carnage. ‘Ballad of Jim Jones’ comes across as Bob Dylan in ‘Basement Tapes’ sprawl and ‘Down’ pre-dates their later druggy psych jamzzz and sounds like it was recorded in 1969.
There’s a lot of skiffly early Beatles type things scattered about. If they gave a fuck about marketing this would be called Brian Jonestown Massacre ‘Raw and Ready’ or something inane. It’s as close as you are probably likely to get to hearing the sound of Newcombe and pals playing in your front room.
6/10 according to our Clinton on 3rd September 2015
Prepare your extra long raincoat. Ensure that there is a puddle nearby for the bottom ends to trail through. We have the darkest of early '80's goth rock all on one album so you never have to leave your bedsit and strain against the cold Northern wind ever again. This is comically bleak, guitars terrify, vocals make Peter Murphy sound like Sonia and there's a metronomic never changing drum thump like the final ache of life as it slips away. If anyone has nailed the sound of a particularly bleak and threatening underpass in Manchester in 1983 this lot have. It's unremittingly noir, there's a Dave Gahan quiver to the voice yet when they introduce a threat of a hook (as on 'Haunted') you can't get the damn thing out of your head. Think 'Black Celebration' era Depeche Mode, think 'Disintegration' era the Cure, think Bauhaus playing 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' for the rest of your life.
If that sounds up your particular damp, dark street then this is the perfect moment for when you are lost wandering along a godforsaken carriageway on the outskirts of Burnley as you look up at the foreboding moors as the rain lashes down on your soul.
6/10 according to our Clinton on 3rd September 2015
Not the best name for any band that want to be taken half way seriously but these idiots are anything but as they pilfer sounds from all over the place to put in a big sonic stew.
They like their delay pedals and this is exemplified best on opener 'Ambient Rab' where bright and sunny guitars are delayed until they are thoroughly sun dappled. Both 'Kenny Dub Headband' use elements of iItalo- house pianos and dubby bass. Whether this makes them sound dated or ahead of their time I'm not sure but the sound is very clean and clinical and computer generated. This doesn't stop there being moments of pure enjoyment though. 'Another Bird' is a stretched out dubby wonderland with a lovely rubbery bass line and borderline questionable Vini Reilly-esque guitar trills.
The album has been constructed out of alternate versions, mixes and lost things and there's the odd thing that should have stayed in the can such as the Stevie Nicks sample on 'Going Down' (too familiar). It will appeal to fans of stuff like Various Artists, Lemon Jelly and inquisitive Todd Terje listeners.
6/10 according to our Clinton on 2nd September 2015
One half of the increasingly terrible pop duo Foxygen. Diane Coffee is yet another male artist using a female name - a trend I’m starting to get thoroughly sick and tired of.
Anyone who was subjected to Foxygen’s ‘And Star Power ‘ shambles will understand the kind of complicated song structures at work here. They reference the kind of grandiose ’70’s weep ballad rock made by the likes of Todd Rungren and Badfinger with crazed Wings style tempo changes. Actually that’s just opener ‘Spring Breathes’ which seems to have gone on for half my life. ‘Mayflower’ blasts in and Coffee’s sweet androgynous vocals have been replaced by a glam rock style nasal croak. They’ve thrown the kitchen sink at it - there’s horns everywhere but I can’t honestly think of who will enjoy this music - it’s like a particularly bad episode of 1974 Top of the Pops with every song playing at once.
It’s nothing if not varied, ‘Soon To Be, Won’t To Be’ has the hazed updated '70’s melodies of the latest Toro Y Moi and perhaps a bit of early Tame Impala thrown in. The next thing you know there’s a 60’s girl group pastiche…oh and hang on now we’re in Alvin Stardust territory. It’s very clever but so were 10cc and they weren’t always great.
If ambitious 70’s style pop appeals to you then there’s loads of it here and no expense is spared.
6/10 according to our Clinton on 2nd September 2015
4/10 according to our Clinton on 2nd September 2015
8/10 according to our Jim on 30th August 2015
A new album by Asmus Tietchens can be quite an intimidating prospect. The Hamburg-based acoustics professor has been investigating the inner and outer realms of electronic sound production since the mid-sixties. He makes no concessions to mass marketing: the ‘press release’ for this disc simply features a quote, in German, from everyone’s favourite Romanian misanthropist philosopher, Emile Cioran, taken from a withering critique of French culture and high gastronomy. But you can forget about all that once you put the disc on and immerse yourself in the delicate, ethereal sounds that unfurl like wisps of light-reflecting dust.
The otherworldy tones and subtle dynamics here are rich in detail and complexity, but the drama is on a microscopic scale, giving that sense of being opened up to a new dimension of musical experience. Some of the weird tonal characteristics Tietchens favours remind me of Alvin Lucier’s ‘I Am Sitting In A Room’– where a narration is gradually blotted out by the resonant feedback of the room through a process of replaying and re-recording. Tietchens manipulates and arranges his strange resonances to open up a haunting sound world of tones that float eerily amidst watery, metallic glints. The disc’s final track builds into the most expansive composition with a melodic arc surging through the deceptive stillness, suggesting more cosmic dimensions that I can imagine gracing an intense, introspective sci-fi film that’s probably impossible to make.
7/10 according to our Jim on 30th August 2015
You can always count on Richard Chartier’s label, Line to introduce us to new levels of subtlety in ambient minimalism. This disc by Uruguay-born, New York-based multimedia artist, Richard Garet is based on an installation in which background noise is brought to the fore; lifting previously present but unconscious sounds into our active awareness. What we get on the disc is an hour-long journey through alien textures, radioactive static clicks, humming and buzzing of many kinds and intricate sonic patterning at all thresholds of the audible spectrum. It’s the kind of music that sounds like it could have been beamed to Earth from a remote intelligence in a distant solar system, but is actually being made by mundane domestic appliances like the microwave oven, fridge-freezer and mobile phone.
Part of the thrill of this kind of music is the insectoid, alien quality of these sounds that we’ve heard before but probably not really paid much attention to them. Garet seems to structure and arrange the sounds too so that there appears to be an ebb and flow of intensity with stark, desolate passages building into periods of furiously teeming activity. This is most definitely a challenging, but engrossing listen, with some of the most punishing high frequency sine-wave surfing I’ve heard since I last checked out Sachiko M and Toshimaru Nakamura’s sound-mixer feedback jams.
6/10 according to our Jim on 29th August 2015
Here’s an extremely limited 10” from Blackest Rainbow featuring the soundtrack to a disturbing, stop motion animation film, Canis. Apparently it’s about two men trapped in a house that’s under siege from a pack of wild dogs. There’s no dialogue in the film, just the sounds of dogs and vaguely human noises, and of course this. The music here is a stark and unforgiving series of droning ambiences, each one varying the level of density and distortion, providing a veritable smorgasbord of claustrophobic atmospheres ranging from generalised unease all they way through to full-on, ‘I’m being savaged alive’ horror. The tracks are monolithic with little distinguishing details beyond their overall level of intensity, with occasional details hidden in the depths of static- like the baby crying that I swear I heard in there at one point. So, one to check out if you’re a fan of the industrial soundtracks of weird cultish films like Eraserhead or Tetsuo.
9/10 according to our Laurie on 2nd September 2015
Lumisokea is a combination of an Italian and a Belgian, some pre-Wham synths and murdered instruments. When you encounter the words ‘Berlin’ and ‘Opal Tapes’ in the same sentence, a shiver runs down your spine, but as Mnemosyne progresses, those shivers move upwards toward the brain, troubled but ecstatic.
There are drones, but this is not a ‘drone album’. It’s an album of exploratory textures, electroacoustique if you will, that contain within them mastery of both imaginary spaces and unpredictable encounters. Your mouth will open at times, your eyes will widen at the raw unique taste of some of these noises, all on the border of pure horror. Tension builds during rhythmic pulse sequences where abstract hisses form the drum kit, mild sustained tones suddenly rasp upwards in ferocity, with huge clangs providing momentary relief before the following silence consumes you. Apparently they put gamelan bells, pianos and cellos through their nightmare machines, but they are but withered fragments of their former selves, resonant peaks in a flattened mountain range.
The track listing is redundant, there’s simply too much detail throughout, and it’s all amazing. If you enjoyed that Yair Elazar Glotman record that just came out, then think not once and get this.
8/10 according to our Laurie on 3rd September 2015
Ok, so we’re in the chicken shop, the guy behind the counter is fed up and wants his money. “U gonna pay for that m8?” Funkineven looks back his compadre, opens his mouth and out spills not words, but the detuned gloss of a sawtooth synth. His punctuation snaps like 808 snares as he reaches for his $5 at an even 112bpm, the shake of his hand sprawling the border between Detroit and hip-hop. “Man I’m glad I changed my name so I can go to get chicken in peace again,” he chirps, encircled by oblivious fans clad in Funkineven t-shirts. He exits onto the street and everyone starts dancing vigorously to the ‘Pulse’, the arcade-style grooves reaching boss level intensity, with grainy drums and soaring synth arps bouncing the crowd.
Back into the car, he settles into a slow roll down the boulevard - prime speed for an eating. While munching, the neon lights’ afterglow plays on the bonnet forming multicoloured synthetic dances to finish off the evening. What a night. What, a, night.
8/10 according to our Laurie on 3rd September 2015
This DJ by the name of Richard is following just a couple of 12 inchers with a full blown LP of dingey proportions, briefly shedding lights on the darker corners of the club to reveal dust, rave creatures and throbbing bass bins. The first two tracks set the spectrum - ‘No Balance’ introduces gothic synth harmonies, dark ambiences and light industrial noises, while ‘Nighthawk’ brings in an off kilter beat with shifting rhythms underneath a myriad of melodic synth cries and stabs.
It is at the third track, another atmospheric number, that you start to take note, this is a great album. The club ventures are propulsive and the breathers are suitably pensive and glowing. As is often the case, the trajectory between these two states isn’t quite as natural as you’d hope for in an electronic LP, but I’m sure that wouldn’t matter too much once ‘Savage Coast’ has left the club’s subwoofers in ruins, landing you a fat insurance claim to pay off. Now techno wasn’t such a good idea was it? Hang on, is this even techno? it’s sort of melodic techno or stompy house, but let’s avoid the tech house sub genre because that was tainted long ago by big-room producers with naught but a sample pack between them and success. Hooray for the digital age.
Anyway, there’s some nice melodic arp action on the uber-housey ‘Bane’, with similar things happening on ‘Vampire Dub’, with copious yearning emotions pulsing through the lot.
8/10 according to our Laurie on 2nd September 2015
As our faithful descriptive hound Tom points out, this is a somewhat challenging name for an LP. It’s not really artificial, the introductory track confronting you with acoustic drum lines, yet their composition is purely fabricated, spliced together in a groove imaginarium.
Savant is the man Kerry Leimer, a studio dweller who has been pulling musicians together in an artificial jam space, playing with only themselves to be later forced together into rather intuitive rhythmic exercises. The sleeve rather humorously references Leimer’s previous solo material, in a self-deprecating way highlighting that “the problem with electronic music is that you can’t dance to it. Like a friend said, ‘people want music that they can clean house to’.”. Brilliant.
They’re not traditional dance tracks by any means, they jauntily amble along bringing in strange treated sounds and disparate speech on top of leftfield funk, afrobeat and mutant bossa nova things. I tell ya, people would lose their shit if they heard this out. Highly colourful music, with just the right amount of imperfection to effortlessly defy its title.
8/10 according to our Laurie on 2nd September 2015
This is the Hammock / Dead Can Dance collab album that should have been. Cautiously chilling, this set of quietly sung spook meditations tries to occupy a space within all of us - our childhood origins and the mad spectrum of occurrences that such freedom entails. It tries and succeeds, funnily enough, sounding a little like a broken nursery rhyme uttered on that island from the Wicker Man.
Little toy music boxes twinkle for a second before their tuning flexes in this weird trippy way, smothered in echo, before being swallowed by some muted, distorted noisery. And this is just the bed that Carla dal Forno reclines uneasily onto, her distant voice small like a threatened innocence bends lazily in pitch. There are some serious crossovers with early 90s dream pop here, but Ian’s the expert, email him for the deets. Jangly dreamy guitars and disconnected bass wanderings, reverbed vocals and introspective watery keyboard tones, all heard through the machines of the bedroom electronica aficionado. Real darkness enters during ‘Under the House Hard to Breathe’, with minor melodies hiding every corner - Blackest Ever Black indeed.
8/10 according to our Laurie on 28th August 2015
A new CD from Isnaj Dui is always a treat, particularly for the cause of proving that the flute has a life far beyond the likes of Debussy and Jethro Tull. Katie English succeeds at this again and again, revitalising the instrument with unique techniques and modern electronic messery all gained from extensive studies of classical, electroacoustic and gamelan music.
You can definitely hear the influence of all of the above. As with the majority of Isnaj Dui’s recent output, the flute instantly begs pastoral descriptions but then things happen that you don’t expect - notes that break the loveliness, deep clunking noises, whirring electronically-altered textures. What was once a beautiful instrument becomes a foreboding series of slow throbs on tracks like ‘Ancestral Paths’, held loosely together by frail rhythmic clouds of tapped sounds colliding like neglected windchimes. Echoes of gamelan exist in these mildly dissonant phrases. ‘Flea Circus’ is a dark waltz that seems to be attempting to summon a pagan deity, while ‘Hoop Diving’ opposes with carefree ignorance.
A great textural outing here from the flute revisionist extraordinaire.
8/10 according to our Laurie on 28th August 2015
Kody Neilson is a crazy figure, a point that the media has insisted on making, this heralded as his ‘maturation’ compared to past monkey antics. Well sure, this isn’t as hi-NRG as The Mint Chicks, but that’s a band, and this is one person.
I was about to remark about how this is sort of like an electro Unknown Mortal Orchestra or and more indie Galaxians, but then found out that it is in fact the UMO guy’s brother. Do your fucking research Loz. Does melodic character run in the family? It seems to be so, it could almost be Ruban singing the octaves on here; likewise, the groovy funk edge of Multi-Love is present, but amplified and drenched in delicious effects, the synth-bass of ‘Submarine’ playing off Neilson’s trippy bubble choir. But the two groups are ultimately separate entities, the emphasis on hazy synth touches and a generally more upbeat electropop vibe carving Kody his own little niche while marking his family name in musical history. Daddy would be proud.
‘Little Dancing Baby’ is pure cheese for those so inclined. ‘Love Peace’ is so UMO it hurts, to undermine what was said 10 seconds ago. Anyway, this is fun, synthy and melodically rich, so a feast for pop ears.
7/10 according to our Laurie on 3rd September 2015
This redder than red 12” fills in a blank from Angels & Devils in the form of ‘Zim Zim Zim’, a pretty dangerous track that’s like being socked in the face by the biggest bug ever. It features Jamaican dancehall dude Burro Banton on MC duties, spitting acidic phrases that hit just as hard. As a result, it feels like an amped up version of slow dancehall, with the signature Bug maximal dub vibe all over.
The vocals take a break on an instrumental interpretation at A2, for those dub fans that don’t like Banton’s voice (who???). I think I prefer this one but I’m staunchly biased against vocals in general so don’t listen to me. It’s a bit different in makeup to A1 I think. If you’re looking for more music, then you’ve got nothing but etchings on the B side, some lovely looking etchings of that familiar Bug art style. Solid weighty things.
7/10 according to our Laurie on 2nd September 2015
Hello. The soft, Casio cadences of opener ‘Returning To Light’ almost tricks you into thinking that this is an post-80s balladeer feast, prime for a star spangled guitarist to emerge from the neon mist. But no, the layers build, and you’re in an expansive land of ambient pop, where voices work some soothing magic through electronic fog. Sort of like a neon mist actually, and the more of Fable and Fantasy that you hear, it sort of is along those halcyon trace lines - slightly simplistic melodic situations that are heavy on those classic keyboard sounds, updated for modern beatmaking and layered atmospheres. Pianos echo away sorrowful songs and acoustic guitars pull off a glassy, augmented strum. There’s a lot of heart-sleeve abrasion here, so prepare for late night tears with some white lightning and tissues.
It sort of reminds me of some KScope stuff, like later Anathema but nowhere near as cheez; North Atlantic Oscillation but with the prog replaced with pop and adept 90s chillout electronics. ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ is like Bryan Adams meets Boards of Canada. I’m partially joking. Goodbye.
7/10 according to our Laurie on 2nd September 2015
This is deep. Gimu is a Brazilian purveyor of rich cinematic ambience, burying grand, almost neo-classical elements deep in cavernous reverbed spaces and extremely downcast emotions. He abandoned the institution of ‘the band’ fully in 2010 to pursue a solitary life on top of a groan drone where he watches his former collaborators tote their guitars.
OTS, OTS is a record consumed by tumult; its heart bleeds difficulty and its pores sweat pain. Over the top of the usual yawning low melodies flits tiny tinkle noises, maximised by echo, and Burial-esque street crackle and the occasional snippet of voice. There are even some faint drums during opener ‘Hidden In Darkness’, sounding a funereal march on the other side of Gimu’s imaginary valley. The one issue with these sort of drone records is density. Or more precisely, a lack of varying density. Most fall into the trap of being fully enclosing at all times, and while this has a constant sort of artificial space throughout, it doesn’t succumb to it as much as some records. Tim Hecker got there first, dudes. But yeah, this mostly avoids that by using some pre-build sparse moments as well as counteracting the intensity with subtle classical instrumentation, a nice, singular sound to offset the cloud.
Things get real fuzzy at ‘Never Seen Never Known’ for all you overdriven drone-heads. Near the centre of the album are some positive harmonies for those after more peaceful moods.
7/10 according to our Laurie on 28th August 2015
Ah, the gruesome twosome’s remix EP. Yep, there are secrets hidden behind those innocent high school impressions of the members of 18+, secrets that I wouldn’t even understand. Have a listen to their LP ‘Trust’ and tell me I’m lying. Aside from the disappointment with their omission of a remix of ‘Eyes Shut’, this is an exciting release for sure.
Suicideyear make a trap tune out of ‘Cake’ that doesn’t piss me off. it’s much dreamier that the rest of the genre, and lacks the annoying hi-hats and arrogant vocal slices that will usher the style to a necessary grave. Mr. Mitch switches the lights off during the act, slowing the tempo to create a durty R&B dirge, weaving some strings and synths around Ms. 18+’s vocals. Things get funky Portuguese-style on Tia Maria Produções’ choppy house-esque rework of ‘OIXU’ that’s bouncier than Ian’s pump-up Jabba the Hutt. This one is undoubtedly the party tune, a crowd of smashed folk is going wild in my head.
’Crow’ gets changed slightly by the Puerto Rican Audri Nix, who records a translation of the lyrics, leaving the crow and its surrounding beats intact, because she knows they’re amazing as they are. So yeah there’s some cool stuff on here, nothing too groundbreaking, but great nonetheless. Out now on Houndstooth.
9/10 according to our Robin on 3rd September 2015
As time trundles slowly onward, so does my uneasy relationship with Liz Harris’ final Grouper album ‘Ruins’. Though it first felt like a different kind of drone pop discombobulation, I’ve come to see the record as a profound collection of accidental ballads, the type that sound as if Harris is mumbling personal truths from another room. As Grouper, she’s always let other sounds take priority, be they incidental or performative, and ‘The Original Faces’ is no different: here, she’s cast over by a band.
This record’s structure is as you might expect from Harris: it starts with a gorgeous tape warp that cuts out before it can fade or amble into a cadence, and from there the songs feel more like tone poems -- never quite complete, motivated by ambiguities. The gorgeous, summer sun strumming of “Covered In Shade” fades abruptly, before it can be clarified, and the bouncy rhythm section orienteering their way through “Covered In Shade” have to deal with a torrential downpour of distortion -- out here in Yorkshire, our days are sublimated by what the sky chooses to do, so hearing Helen’s guitar-scarred pop, it feels like the rain is coming down. The record’s final interlude to nowhere plays a toy melody overtop guitar that bleeds out in the distance, both sounds rattling onwards and then fading limply.
It’s the way the band coalesce with Harris’ voice, though, that’s most exciting: I want bass player Scott Simmons to score my life, to be there in rainstorms and thick snow and through the hard times. He grooves his way through harsh, terrestrial shoegaze, and earths the clouded vocals Harris provides. On “Violet” he combines with drummer Bindeman to create a palatable structure for Harris’ flatlining guitar dreams: it’s like a living room wrapped in a daydream. The thrashing “Grace” combines gnarly distortion with a bassline straight outta Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”. It is sublime. And for what it’s worth, there are plenty of moments where Harris sounds like Les Rallizes Denudes and her bandmates sound like Real Estate. At the same time. This is heaven; heaven is full of clouds ready to rain. Listen for a while and this record will make good on its loud, thrashing subtleties.
9/10 according to our Robin on 2nd September 2015
Laurie is taking a techno nap, so he’s requested backup for the final edition of today’s electronic releases, Helena Hauff’s wonderful ‘Discreet Desires’, which I will now try to describe in as much ernest as I can muster. After a slew of 12s and minute techno slices, Hauff has readied her first record of real completist content, with ten tunes shot through as many lens of electronic music: analogue video game sounds, scrap-metal industrial, gloomy new wave and endlessly spiralled Krautrock. Join me as I appreciate a bleep here, a bloop there, maybe even a programmed drum thing on the way. I own a laptop.
Hauff opens up with the majestically worked “Tripartite Pact”, a track that wows with a distorted backline and a rigid, punishing melody; it sounds like if Blanck Mass had worked on a Castlevania soundtrack, though Hauff quickly repositions herself for a post-punk influenced track that storms the gates with staccato industrial percussion, offset with wandering synth drones in the background. Hauff could teach seminars in juxtaposition, and here she creates a whole landscape with her sound, spooky and brutalist in its architecture of melody, and creating the horrible feeling of agoraphobia with the skyward background ambience.
Hauff has absorbed a lot of different genres but her sound is her own, a monotonous rewrite of electro that stems from improvisation but becomes discipline. These tracks are vignettes, as you can tell with the throbbing, awakening kick drum of “L’Homme Mort”, but ‘Discreet Desires’ casts an atmosphere of total goth darkness. Those who want their coldwave served in the parameters of noisy techno, grab this. Those who wish Mario was a goth, here’s your alternate soundtrack.
Predictive post-script from Laurie: I agree but Robin used none of the right words.
8/10 according to our Robin on 3rd September 2015
Review to follow....
8/10 according to our Robin on 3rd September 2015
Sundays & Cybele go down the pointlessly meandering route on their own take on psych magnificence. Listening to “Mystic Ocean”, the opener to their record ‘Gypsy House’, you’ll clock about twenty solos from lead dude Kazuo Tsubouchi -- each technically combining into one long solo slog, underpinned by gatekeeping chords and chance appearances of a sitar that sounds like it wishes it could fly away from this showmanship planet. Are you ready to rock and subsequently forget where you parked?
On ‘Gypsy House’ it’s clear that Sundays & Cybele can’t quite keep away from the guitars for more than a millisecond, but at times their pittar-patter of riffs can be a gorgeous thing: the twinkling, downward-spiralling riff of “Waiting For You” leads into more solo ambling, but this time it’s beautified and coated in warm organs and homely hand drumming. Wahing aside, this is one of this year’s most serene psych outings, though it soon transitions into the muted, hissed and generally rawked “Saint Song”.
“Angel” is the kind of classic rock stomper Boris would have been proud to call their own on either ‘Heavy Rocks’, while the record closes in earnest on the plaintive, Americana-blossomed “Into The Broken Seas Again”, full of dozing, twanging guitar that goes nowhere fast. Kiss it off with the minute detail “Diaspora”, a fun little percussive ditty, and you’ve got a well rounded psych record that’s most enjoyable when relaxing all cool.
8/10 according to our Robin on 1st September 2015
I’m starting at the end of all things, because I like “Too Late Now” a darn sight more than any guitar pop song I’ve heard this year. An unwavering plain verse treatise that suits Daniel Spencer’s passed down Dylan vocal, it both slithers along and flies by. Its cymbal-crushed rhythm is happening within reach of your ears, while the guitar’s watery tone makes the song feel like it’s travelling slowly out of sight. Fitting, then, that the song’s centring lyric feels both meaningful and intangible: “It’s much too late now / they just don’t write them like that”. Word.
So yeah, to rewind: Blank Realm are back with their psych-flecked garage rock, and this time it’s shooting in multiple directions: the enfranchised “No Views”, on which they mute their chords, pounce on their synths and yelp like Wolf Parade; the twanging punk ballad of “Cruel Night”, which offers up plenty of Spencer’s signature upward inflections; the hazy but lucid “Dream Date”, whose damp drumbeat plays over a lazy, elegiac guitar riff a la Kurt Vile. There are so many pastiches and homages flowing through ‘Illegals In Heaven', and Blank Realm perform each with the breezy, thoughtless perfection of an exhibition match. Think Deerhunter just enjoying the music, man on ‘Monomania’, only here the nostalgia finds order in the consistently monotone vocals of Spencer.
If anything’s holding Blank Realm back, it’s their dedication to channeling all this fuzz, punk and pop through the Big Music lens: at times the production’s bolder than London Grammar and the atmosphere as bold as the Waterboys, but it suits these guys better than those bands: there’s a chilliness inherent to the guitar tones that makes the band sound lost in the fog, not in awe of the world. Fine jams by genre experts.
7/10 according to our Robin on 2nd September 2015
When you’re left in grand museum showrooms after hours, you either scribble sunglasses on the portraits or record avant-garde records, and props to Susan Howe & David Grubbs for taking the integrity route and doing the latter. This duo have been working together for a long time, with Grubbs mustering minimalist compositions to go with Howe’s measured, terseley drawn out poems. The third player here is the museum, which the sleeve for ‘WOODSLIPPERCOUNTERCLATTER’ claims to be a resonant additive for this record. In honesty, I don’t notice it — Howe and Grubbs create an intimately uncomfortable record all on their own.
The first side of this record is unflinching; Grubbs lays down a chord that booms and reverberates and juxtaposes it with a sharper one way up the piano, keeping a steady sense of dread for Howe to project her diverse but interrelated thoughts onto. Howe’s style feels almost improvisational, in this context: every pause sounds like a moments thought, and she often comes back in with poetic U-turns: she names an object or preaches an aphorism, acting as if we’ve been having the relevant conversation with her all along.
On the flip, Howe cuts through the sounds of birds chirping and air breezing to speak in abstract terms, sounding something like a more surreal version of Godspeed’s sampled intro to “Sleep”. Eventually she hooks up with violent piano improvisations, her voice becoming fittingly furious and ascendant. Wordless intonations follow, which suggest Howe is as good at creating evocative sounds as she is at creating beguiling imagery. Cool, I love museum rock.
7/10 according to our Robin on 1st September 2015
Collecting lyrics by various poets (Iraqi-Assyrian poet Sargon Boulos, Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian poet Faiha Abdul Hadi, and the band's vocalist Tamer Abu Ghazaleh) with the sounds of oud, buzuk and some darling keyboards, Alif have made one of the year’s most versatile sounding records, traversing folk only to rectify it with a fine dosage of off-kilter electro-pop. On ‘Aynama-Rtama’, Alif make no effort to hide their lack of genre discipline, opening the record on a skittering drumbeat that sounds like it’s jumping over hurdles. The band launch into a full on jam of buzuk and bass as the song continues, enveloping us in something of a dance cut, before cutting out for a wild solo free from reason.
The places this record goes are bold and often genuinely unexpected, with the auto-tuned hums of “Yalla Tnam” pulling into what feels like a psych influenced piece: keyboards groan out of context as drums play out an entirely different, halfway-Krautrock scenario. With vocals slyly and rarely interspersed, these songs can take on meditative and private atmospheres, with “Al-Juththa|” striking out primarily as a lounge jazz jam before climaxing, with straddling acoustic instruments, into something fraught and desperate. The way this record can stretch and switch up tone is phenomenal: it keeps abstracting into new ideas, echoing the warped but flourescent artwork that adorns proceedings.
7/10 according to our Robin on 1st September 2015
Ingvild Langgård heard you liked trilogies and song cycles so she made the second song cycle in a trilogy. A folk record tinkling with sounds both natural and synthetic, it’s probably best described as an ecosystem, snugly coalescing many different elements into a larger whole. If that sounds corny, I don’t care: strings get to swell on this record, so why can’t I?
‘Blackwinged Night’ shows that one of Langgård’s greatest qualities is how she projects sounds: the vocal samples of “Too Much Sugar” are shot through a more processed kind of production, led into the background while theatrical elements come together at the front: strings, chiming bells and tinkling wooden xylophones. The reality is tabled for another day while a fantastical sound unfolds at the centre of things.
Langgård’s style evokes a Sandro Perri or latter-day Bjork in its lack of hooks or pop song bent: rather, these songs are about creating and then rerouting atmosphere, taking delight in changing direction. “Half Human” pauses its marching drumbeat for glassy arpeggios before bringing it back in bolder, while “The Void” slowly allows its rhythm to climates to the multiple intonations of voice set off. Here, Langgård evokes Laura Mvula, in that she creates a captivating song without ever forcing it towards one particular motif. Recommended for wilderness retreats that take a magical turn.
7/10 according to our Robin on 1st September 2015
Sounding a lot like the dude from Wheatus if he was backed by a palate of Tony Molina's breaching lo-fi guitars, Mike Krol is here dressed as a cop (questionable stuff, Mike) for the feedbacker-pop of ‘Turkey’. These songs fly by in a squalor of riffs, shredded chords and nuisance lyrical addendums. If you like mischief, compartmentalised into two minute songs, then get on this.
Fuzz pop has become easy sport thanks to early Weezer, with the aforementioned Molina leading the back in terms of freewheeling, almost cartoonish guitars that can trade between sweet-laced indie rock and grungy, metallic riffs. What Krol is doing with his nasal vocal and tight, thrashing rhythms is less fun, but it has plenty of whacky moments, like the unwinding guitars and unhinged vocal harmonies of “Left Out” or the random vocal interjections of “Suburban Wasteland”, which recall Malkmus losing it on “Stereo”.
And of course, it’s the simplicity that clinches a minor victory or two for ‘Turkey’: the love song lyrics of “This the News”, coupled with some grunge-grunting licks, or the defiant pop of “Cactuses”, which sounds caught halfway between the Beatles and Fountains of Wayne. Mike Krol, you’ve done it again: you’ve made another pop punk album. The genre still exists. Well done.
6/10 according to our Robin on 2nd September 2015
Now that skate-punk and emo are the same thing, a band shredding through sick-ass chords like Fidlar can say, with total sincerity, “Nobody understands me”. If the mark of a real good album in this mould is that it makes me laugh involuntarily, then ‘Too’ has done a good job: this record sounds like a parody of the genre’s it lives within, and I’m sitting here praying “40 OZ” is either not at all serious or doesn’t give a shit that it is.
Anthemic orgcore punk reached its overspill point about two years ago, but I’m sure everybody’s sick of hearing meta thinkpieces about its expiry date, so let’s just talk about the songs. They can veer off into tweedom, as the xylophonic outro to our first treat of a song suggests, or they can go full-blown pop-punk grunge, as on a track called… “Punks”? There are moments that sound less ludicrous, such as the warmly warped guitar riffing of “Why Generation”, which would be great if it stayed in that gear instead of exploding into another bubbly skater tune. If Wavves was telling jokes about himself, this would be his Third Man stand-up album.
I don’t know if I’m repressed or just don’t want to hear pop-punk songs about taking pills anymore, but it’s near impossible for me to take this record seriously. It’s got hooks double the number of songs on the album, so it’ll appeal to many a gruff punk not yet over-saturated by the market. God, though. I hate myself for not having a good time right now.
5/10 according to our Robin on 2nd September 2015
I believe this record is part of a secret competition among Dino Jr. members past and present, wherein they try to wring the most emotion out of a good plaintive folk record. It’s important, you know, this folk rock thing; if it hadn’t met up with indie music, where would we get the Annoying Boy Playing Guitar At The Party trope from? Lou Barlow obviously did a lot for the band in their early days, then fucked off to be in some other seminal indie rock band (the one no one talks about, also known as Grunge Pavement). Now here’s this thing, ‘Brace The Wave’, a record that showcases his softer side in case the Folk Implosion hadn’t already done that.
‘Brace The Wave’ is bare and its songwriting is simple: a song like “Nerve” is a fine example of how Barlow constructs chunky sounds even at the sparser levels, with chords bumping over coarse rhythms and acoustic strums getting encased in electric guitars and modest drums. “Moving” sees him take a more formal visit to his soft lo-fi days with an acoustic/bassline interpolation that recalls Angel Olsen (as a Dave Grohl indie rocker). Other moments revert to real folk traditionalism, with “Wave” taking in mandolin strums and real corny lyrics about longing — again, though, he can’t quite escape from his signature musical aesthetic, bringing in a grungy baseline and a typical Sebadoh melody.
I’m now remembering that the songs I like by Sebadoh were actually written by Loewenstein, which explains why little of this feels inventive to me: the production is bare and delicate, but the songs are variably overstuffed with instrumentation or underdeveloped in songwriting. A completely acoustic track like “Lazy” suggests that Barlow thinks folk music speaks for itself, and it meanders in and out of nothing in particular, never reaching a compelling idea. Good demos? Greg Demos.
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Timestamp: Thursday 3rd September, 18:09:50