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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.

Akkord
HTH040 (Regis / Fis Remixes)

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

8/10 according to our Ant on 22nd May 2015

Uncompromising Brummy techno master Regis and Kiwi grime bludgeoner Fis both take elements of ‘Gravure’ and ‘Continuum’ for the second set of Akkord remixes, preceded by The Haxan Cloak and Vatican Shadow 12” which is now a goner. Previously released as part of the HT035 CD, DJ’s can now get their mitts on the good old plastic stuff, except every DJ I seem to catch these days appears to have moved on from vinyl so go figure…

Anyway first up is Regis, who’s remix is pretty representative of his recent sound, first heard on his releases as Cub and the ‘In a Syrian Tongue’ 12” i.e not banging full on 4/4 techno -- a mode he nicely slipped back into for his recent Stave remix. Here the dubstep compatible tempo and linear steely rhythms remain rigid and functional with icy dub techno atmospherics, throbbing bass and glacial synth giving proceedings a cold Arctic feel that recalls a recent Monolake and overall I’m reminded of late period Scorn.

Aphex Twin endorsed New Zealander Fis has been pricking up ears with his releases on Tri-Angle and Loopy. His mix in stark contrast begins with lush pastoral ambient soundscapes which are torn through with heavily processed original components.

  • Available on:
    12" £8.99

Ben Watt & Robert Wyatt
Summer Into Winter / North Marine Drive

9 people love me. Be the 10th...

9/10 according to our Clinton on 22nd May 2015

Ben Watt’s first two solo records the Robert Wyatt collaboration ‘Summer Into Winter’ and ‘North Marine Drive’ are two of the most beautiful ‘bedsit’ records recorded in the cold days of the early 1980’s. I’d always assumed that they were Ben Watt records with Wyatt helping out on ‘Summer Into Winter’ but this re-issue sees them grouped together under both artists names. Slightly strange when you consider Wyatt only appears on 5 tracks.

Still, quibbling aside it’s wonderful. ‘Summer Into Winter’ is a bleak EP with shimmering guitar and Wyatt’s trademark loose piano playing and distinctive voice appearing from time to time. Tracks like ‘Aquamarine’ have gorgeous atmospheres that will appeal to fans of Durutti Column whilst ‘Slipping Slowly’ has amazing vocals drifting into the stratosphere. God I love this record. But perhaps not quite as much as ‘North Marine Drive’ a record I spent most of my adolescence playing over and over again. It’s a companion piece to Everything But the Girl partner Tracey Thorn’s ‘A Distant Shore’ - jazz inflected guitar playing and smokey vocals. ‘Some Things Don’t Matter’ makes you want to wear a beret and smoke a ‘funny’ cigarette. It’s the perfect example of a down at heel young man ruminating on love and life. It’s one of the few albums on which I’m completely ok to hear a saxophone.

Nothing is better though than the soft warmth of the title track - perfectly encompassing the wild beauty of Scarborough and the North Yorkshire coast in three minutes of brilliance. i think I’m going to go and cry.      

The Debutantes
Adams Apples / Kids

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

8/10 according to our Clinton on 22nd May 2015

When I reviewed the Debutantes previous tape I said they sounded a bit like September Girls...little knowing that actual September Girls were involved in it somehow.

Anyway listen carefully to opener ‘Adams Apples’ then you can just about hear a tune nestling under all the sludge. Yes you’ll like this if you like early My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain. Overleaf ‘Kids’ scrapes away all the racket to reveal a quite lovely tune with some ethereal type guitar noises and buried vocals.

It's a record of two sides but if you like C86 type stuff...well you’ve probably found heaven here. Another strong release on the ever-great Emotional Response.  

Valet
Nature

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

8/10 according to our Clinton on 22nd May 2015

The opening track ‘Sunday’ on this unassuming looking album sounds so much like a track off Slowdive’s ‘Pygmalion’ that you can see why the people at Kranky snapped the Kit Kat when they heard it. It features washes of Cocteau’s-like guitar, ethereal female vocals soaring away before opening up into the kind of epic track that will have middle aged men everywhere wishing they could grow a fringe again.

In fact the album often reminds me of how a fully realised version of the Dreamscape re-issue Kranky unleashed a couple of years ago might sound. They don’t just hark back to the golden years though, tracks like ‘Nature’ have nods to Beach House, Mazzy Star and Broadcast in them providing an immediately satisfying coagulation of some of the finest bands to emerge in the last couple of decade. Elsewhere there are hints of Cowboy Junkies and Brian Jonestown Massacre as the band hit the sweet spot between their hazy ‘60’s influences and their...um hazy influences.

On first couple of plays they have some potentially killer twists and turns up their sleeves. If you like any of the bands just mentioned I think you are going to like this.   Thanks Kranks.  

  • Available on:
    LP £12.99
    CD £12.29

Slow Steve
Steps

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

7/10 according to our Clinton on 22nd May 2015

Slow Steve isn’t Seasick Steve. Thank God. Instead he’s another type of Steve.... a slow one. He’s on Morr so you kind of know what you are getting, namely limp electronics and vocals.

Opener ‘Minuit’ is quite catchy though with a repetitive refrain going over and over again over some electronics that sound like they were made on a synth he built himself. This sounds like a lot of the stuff people did in the early 2000’s, Her Space Holiday and stuff on Tomlab. Elsewhere he repeats the trick using squelshy beats to create soundscapes over which he sings over. It sounds like many of the Animal Collective side projects but more...um...German.

I can’t imagine anyone wanting to get this over, say, the new Panda Bear  - it just doesn’t grab the listener enough but it exists quite happily in it’s own murky world of electronic pop. And it goes without saying that it’s preferable any day to the despairing Seasick Steve.

   

  • Available on:
    12" £13.99
    CD £11.49

Summer Camp
Bad Love (single)

2 people love me. Be the 3rd...

5/10 according to our Clinton on 21st May 2015

I'll give you a clue. Look at the title...particularly pay attention to the first word. It desperately, desperately wants to be MGMT's 'Time to Pretend' but has no idea how to do it so settles for a squiggly synth pattern and some gloopy keyboards and hopes for the best. Positives? It's still by far the best thing on the album.  They have a habit of self describing...see earlier album

  • Available on:
    7" £5.99

Thee Oh Sees
Mutilator Defeated At Last

8 people love me. Be the 9th...

8/10 according to our Hayley on 21st May 2015

Prolific Californian noisemakers Thee Oh Sees are back and thankfully sounding louder than ever: 2014’s ‘Drop’ was a comparatively mellow and varied offering following John Dwyer’s move from San Francisco to LA and his intention to take a “well deserved break”, making fans wonder if the days of heavy psych and skewed rhythmic churning were over. As evidenced on 'Mutilator Defeated At Last', though, it would appear not.

Adding yet another gem to their extensive discography (how many bands drop albums as often as this lot?) they continue an affinity for combining psych pop, kraut rock and lo-fi scuzz to great success. Here though, everything is much louder, faster and generally messier than before, never really relenting much in its 33 minute running time.  

‘Mutilator Defeated At Last’ runs at breakneck speed, and multi-instrumentalist John Dwyer adds his trademark skewed, fuzzy melodies to the ‘60s-pop flourishes that occasional appear on tracks like the excellent, riff-y 'Web' and the moody ‘Palace Doctor’. A little less lyrical than past ventures, the instrumental 'Holy Smoke' is a rare quiet moment: the introspective and melodic guitar lines interplay with sinister keys as it gradually builds pace; adding a nice contrast to what is essentially one big jam-fest. 

While they've always exhibited kraut rock tendencies, in part thanks to Nick Murray’s hyperactive motorik drumming style, the band’s Can influence is more prominent here than ever, as evidence in the driving sprawl of ‘Lupine Ossuary’ and ‘Rogue Planet’. ‘Sticky Hulks’' kaleidoscopic soundscapes sound like something straight off a Nuggets compilation and that's obviously no bad thing. 

Never quite reaching the dizzying heights of some of their best moments, such as the fuzzed up, poppy accessibility of ‘Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster’ from 2013’s ‘Floating Coffin’, ‘Mutilator Defeated At Last’ is a promising return to noise and chaos. Long may it continue. 

  • Available on:
    LP £15.29
    CD £12.89

Thomas Brinkmann
What You Hear (Is What You Hear)

6 people love me. Be the 7th...

10/10 according to our Jim on 20th May 2015

Just a couple of weeks ago I was waxing lyrical about a collaborative release by Mark Fell and Gábor Lázár; praising them for liberating their mercurial rhythms from the gridlocked template that has driven so much minimal techno into the mire. Well, this latest release by Thomas Brinkman is just as mind blowing as that record, but he does precisely the opposite: mining the sheer locked-in repetition of looped sound in the most bloody-minded way possible, and somehow generating the stunning series of vibrant soundscapes that grace this album in the process.

This album sounds like an extension of the techniques Brinkmann honed for his celebrated ‘Klick’ LP from 2000, in which he apparently used a custom built turntable with two separate tone arms for the left and right stereo output to loop sections of vinyl, layering the shifting sections of beats and texture patterns to create a hypnotic aural moiré effect. On this record the layering of looped sounds seems to have been multiplied exponentially to such an extent that each track emerges like a distinct planetary system, pulsating with its own peculiar resonances as all the labyrinthine intricacies of the internal looping structures subtly (or brutally) interact.

While this music is clearly rooted in the minimal techno that proliferated in the 90s, Brinkmann seems to have immersed himself so deeply in his production process that these tracks sound almost completely non-referential; something Brinkmann seems to allude to himself when expressing his conceptual aim of removing any notion of authorship from the act of creation –so that the music becomes a kind of self-perpetuating sound structure. And they are deeply fascinating sound structures, juddering with an earthy physicality, rattling monstrously or swirling with strange phase cancellation effects.

Take for example the dizzying, modulating dissonances of ‘Purpurrot’, listening to which feels like been sucked into a Bridget Riley-esque vortex; the sheer psychedelic quality of the sound having a physically disorienting effect that makes bands like Spacemen 3 sound like George Formby in comparison. Superb.

  • Available on:
    Double LP £21.69
    CD £14.39

Elysia Crampton
Moth / Lake

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

8/10 according to our Jim on 19th May 2015

Elysia Crampton is a half-Latina, transgender artist currently based in rural Virginia. She has a pretty unique take on the complexities of American history and identity that she has been exploring in her Shenandoah concept series; of which this single is the first installment. Matching both the density of her subject-matter and the luscious, hyper-vivid image adorning the cover, the two tracks here are rich in texture, atmosphere and the subtle (sub)cultural connections running through them.

Side A features a hallucinatory, quasi-religious narrative performed by vocalist Money Allah set against dramatically toothsome synths that twist and sweep exultingly. Side B puts a melancholy synth riff that reminds me of a less heavy 'Che' by Suicide against some amazingly atmospheric and rhythmical cricket/frog sounds. This is all tied together with a satisfyingly meaty and infectious electronic latin rhythm. As the track works its groove into a hypnotic peak, the hiss from the field recordings is gradually filtered to the fore- evoking that sense of losing yourself before fading out on some strange, slightly disturbing rustlings in the distance.  

Retribution Body
Aokigahara

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

7/10 according to our Jim on 23rd May 2015

Retribution Body is the recording moniker of Boston-based acoustics engineer Matthew Azevedo. Aokinghara is his debut release on Type and features two 20+ minute meditations on seismic low frequency rumble. The whole album has been recorded acoustically in a concert hall, so there is an airiness and sense of space to the sound that gives it quite a different feel to other low-end drone specialists like Earth, Sunn O))) or Eleh.

The first track, ‘Sea of Trees’, opens with a mild hum that soon starts to oscillate before being augmented by what sounds like a resonant guitar drone; both sounds coiling each other and generating complex, pulsating tonal artefacts. The oscillations and filtering becomes gradually more pronounced so that we get these strange drawn-out deep vowel sounds (like a bear yawning in slow motion) and shuddering intermodulation (like my car’s engine crapping out, in slow motion). Some oceanic piano playing comes in around half-way through the first track, which I actually thinks detracts rather than adds to the music here; sometimes I just want my drone straight!

‘Sea of Stars’ fades in with some amplifier hum/static that is rudely disrupted by thunderous bursts of crumbling distortion­– somehow reminding me of those staccato blasts of crazily distorted guitar we sometimes get from Keiji Haino. Again the track develops with these distressed clusters of sound punctuating an expansive drone that you can almost feel breathing in the room- an aura of mid frequency rattle riding it’s big waves. A slowly evolving melodic pattern of hanging, pitch-shifted guitar notes is introduced towards the end of the track, lending a sense of serenity to the album’s close– offering a pleasant departure from the melodramatic doominess that’s come to be associated with so much low-frequency drone music.

The Frozen Vaults
1816

2 people love me. Be the 3rd...

6/10 according to our Jim on 19th May 2015

The Frozen Vaults combine sweeping, cinematic arrangements with field recordings and electronic sound manipulation to produce an immersive listening experience. This album attempts to evoke the the spirit of 1816- which was apparently one of the coldest years ever recorded on Earth. So unsurprisingly what we get are chilly, mostly sombre tracks that have the impressionistic quality of the faded image adorning the cover. This impressionistic quality owes a lot to the crackling, breathy textures provided by the field recordings, aided perhaps by the use of atmospheric reverb around the lonesome guitar/piano arpeggios and stirring cello and violin lines.

The melodic aspects of the music, particularly the excellent violin work, reminds me a bit of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' soundtracks of recent years- albeit performed by a more virtuosic ensemble- which may be a good or a bad thing depending on your musical preference. Sometimes the combination of all the various elements and layers of sound seems a little over-egged and lapses into sentimental cliche (the version of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' for example); I sometimes wish they'd strip back the layers and let the bare bones of the music speak for itself. Nevertheless, it is an atmospheric album that will appeal to anyone who's already missing their winter hibernation.

Konntinent
Empire Line

5 people love me. Be the 6th...

9/10 according to our Laurie on 21st May 2015

It looked like that was gonna be it for Anthony Harrison’s Konntinent project. After a supposedly a final ambient peep in 2012, his new project Paco Sala would replace yesterday’s mournful tones, the original follow up to Opal Island shelved and sentiment left at the door.

Having something as pleasant as this burning a hole in your musical granary must have been largely impossible. Fragile and with a lingering storminess, The Empire Line doesn’t just exist as a heartfelt farewell, it’s a celebration of the good that can come from resurrecting something of value. Harrison’s ensemble is as elaborate as ever but quite stately, featuring a multitude of electronic and processed guitar layers, soft vocals, piano, Katie English’s flute skills and cello. Some of Harrison’s layers bubble up sporadically, others steadily brood in the corner or pulse away with a clock’s tick, mostly always conjuring the sound of solace.

The Empire Line is just as harmonically rich as it is peppered with sample fragments, forming a definite but evolving texture and leaving ample room for Harrison to mess with structure and timbre within a delicious organic context. And it really is delicious, so just sit down, make yourself comfortable and get lost in this.

  • Available on:
    CD £9.19

Wume
Maintain

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

9/10 according to our Laurie on 21st May 2015

Rather than dizzying with considered production, Baltimore duo Wume strip back to the tried and tested synth ‘n’ drum combo, garnering obligatory Kraftwerk-related comparisons. Yes, the synth sounds that Albert Schatz makes sound kinda cute and kooky (is kitsch the word?) and April Camlin’s drums are machine-level tight and repetitive, but these two seem to have more in common with classic psych and prog styles, without the ridiculous bombast.

The focus on bare instrumental elements lets Wume concentrate on the patterns themselves, their hypnotic power and possible complexity. You’ll find intricate polyrhythms that subtly change tack when a new synth line enters, bringing Maintain closer to the minimalism of Riley or Reich than Kraftwerk. If you want to treat yourself today, listen to the captivating repetitions of ‘Ostinaut’. Ostinato from space. The intricacy makes it seem like an electronic math rock, complete with grooves in odd times. The locked synth ‘n’ drums are occasionally joined by some some woozy vocals from Camlin that act more as an ornament than the centrepiece.

There are very few chord changes here, which lets you totally zone in as the patterns unfold over a drone note. It’s all very clever stuff, but isn’t jarring in any way or overthought. If you’re trippy or spliffy then this will be bliss, if you’re not then you’ll want to be. This is new-new-age for post-psych minimalists.

  • Available on:
    CD £12.19
    LP £16.79

Stellar OM Source
Nite-Glo

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

8/10 according to our Laurie on 22nd May 2015

Remember when day-glo was a thing? Sickly, brighter than bright versions of pedestrian colours would adorn jackets, glow sticks and paints that you could just about throw over anything and transform it into a DANGER sign. It’s sort of surprising that it took so long for the techno community to take these iconic rave shades and turn them upside down, but here we are - Nite-Glo.

Christelle Gauldi’s Stellar OM Source silence has been broken by this Nite-Glo, a reasonably lengthy 12” covering some seriously bubbling cosmic acid ground, terrain formed from shifting drum grooves and weird post-rave synth lines beamed in from outer Paris, where she learned the electroacoustic ropes before being drawn inescapably to dance. There are nasty 303s, particularly in final track ‘Sure’ which revolves around this hallowed synth until some chill Detroit chords join and Gauldi’s mastery becomes apparent, rising to an intense peak near the end. The flow in each tune is gradual and logical, helped along by the intuitive orchestra of hardware she has at her disposal, in a mobile studio according to the press info. Some sweet mid-paced acid with a hint of space, what more could you want? Maybe a Nolan film with this as the soundtrack? “Cmon TARS, lets spin some discs.” Yeah, right.

Doomsquad
Pageantry Suite

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

8/10 according to our Laurie on 21st May 2015

Robin doesn’t know what dancing is so he gave me this. For a squad of doom, they’re actually quite fun, making energetic, hazily produced dance-pop that might make Robin’s feet tap if it’s good. Already the word ‘tropical’ has been slapped on it, a word which has become synonymous with ‘tropical indie pop’ douchebaggery, but doesn’t adhere to the same contrived exoticism that bands in such styles do.

Pageantry Suite, out on Bella Union, features heavy use of smooth percussion rolls over a steady 4/4 groove, funky guitar jabs and just the right backdrop of synths, nowhere near being right in yer face which can often result in stinky cheese. Vocal wise, there are two of them - the lad has an unchained snarl and sometimes resorts to reading sermons (‘Apocalypso’ seems appropriately titled), but much better is the lass with sharp stabs of melodic dreaminess, smartly placed. It all sort of reminds me of Django Django or the starry MGMT, vaguely related to indie band vibes but with a strong funky/housy sway. The flip contains instrumentals of the first 2 tracks, which is nice for an anti-words person such as myself. Nice, danceable stuff - now lets see a jig, Robz.

  • Available on:
    12" £10.19

Submerse
Stay Home

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

8/10 according to our Laurie on 21st May 2015

Last I heard of Submerse was in 2013, after his relocation to Tokyo and domination of chill R&S sublabel Apollo. He’d rode the future garage wave, and emerged with a streetlit music of beats both complex and steady, backed by all sorts of mechanical and environmental hiss. Now he seems to have absorbed bits of footwork and even a smidgen of trap, including some stuttered vocal samples to form another ode to the city life he moves in parallel with.

Stay Home, out on the diverse Project: Mooncircle, charters a path from that nu-garage thing that fellow Apollonian (?) Synkro is so good at reinventing towards the smooth R&B of the 90s, as the record’s description states - a point which has probably come from the press release in a form of e-record-store chinese whispers. Soulful divas wax lyrical behind his sample arsenal and tinkling loungey keys bringing to mind Lapalux, Gold Panda and, during it’s more frantic moments, Machinedrum. It’s those ever so slightly glitchy but always-grooving beats that make this so great, especially when combined with his textural genius and those controlled pockets of '90's nostalgia.

Vatican Shadow / Cut Hands
Azar Swan Variations

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

8/10 according to our Laurie on 20th May 2015

Some of you might recognise these lads, one of which cast his Vatican Shadow all over Function last year for a dark, punishing LP while the other can’t get enough of his Afro Noise, whatever that is. I’m assuming Saharan field recordings.

The 2 tracks contained here are obfuscated reworks of comparatively sweeter songs by a duo called Azar Swan from their last LP And Blow Us a Kiss. The producers take it in turns to do the stuff, Vatican on the A and Cut on the B, and ne’er the two shall meet. Vatican Shadow’s remix of ‘We Hunger’ has a distinctly Modeselektor feel, albeit more cavernous and unafraid to blast us with near-white noise. There are almost anthemic melodies buried beneath the distortion, as if hearing 3am Glasto from 10 miles away, and to continue the ridiculous comparisons, reminds me of Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’. Cackle, ye techno nerds.

Anyway Cut Hands slows things down slightly but kinda amps up the noise into a leering roar that lies under most of the track. The noise troll under the bridge. In complete contrast, the vocal is much cleaner than the A, too clean for this reviewer, but the primal, evolving perc lines more than make up for it. Get if you like cacophony.

Wolfgang Voigt
Ruckverzauberung 10 / National Park

5 people love me. Be the 6th...

8/10 according to our Laurie on 20th May 2015

To sum up - this sounds like the cover. It seems that when presented as natural a setting as a national park, German stargazer Wolfgang Voigt turns to the lush timbres of the orchestra to create pastoral scenes much like Beethoven did 207 years ago. My apologies to Mr Gas if that seemed like a dig, because this is pure loveliness.

Commissioned for an actual national park and apparently all improvised, Ruckverzauberung… chronicles Voigt’s electronic playtime with recordings of these traditional instruments, resulting mostly in a smudged sonicscape, soft and lulling. The chords sustain for so long that you get lost in the gradual progress, and you stray from the path only to find another arrangement of the very same leaves. I would say that this is a green wonderland, but the office trolls will jump on the chance to make a 420 joke. All Ian could do to help me with this one was say “it’s well cosmic”.

Near the end, there’s an elongated swell of lush hiss that’s like a fine spray of cold water, proper Amazonian shit. It doesn’t steer very far away from consonance and never touches the techno that made Voigt who he is, but as a soundwalk through a forest of hidden speakers (as was the installation) it must have been great. And no doubt you can try it at (or outside) home too.

Luke Abbott
Music For A Flat Landscape (Original soundtrack to The Goob)

6 people love me. Be the 7th...

7/10 according to our Laurie on 21st May 2015

The Goob, from what I can get from imdb, is a gritty coming of age tale about a young lad and his mum’s new bloke and complications. ‘Goob’ is the name of the main character, the silliness of the word at odds with the pensive, restrained synthworks that Border Community mainstay Luke Abbott has laid underneath, playing at your emotions with assorted music machines.

I’m not sure leaving your emotions to a modular synth is a good idea, the erratic beasts. Abbott is all too familiar with this musical unpredictability, a theme he fully explored on last year’s Wysing Forest, a record that meandered much but settled on little. Those who enjoyed the exploratory, free feel of Wysing will find this one easy to dip into, as would anyone with patience really. It’s nice and calming, melodically pure and mostly devoid of rhythm. That may come as a source of frustration for those who long for the spangly-eyed upbeat Abbott we last heard on Holkham Drones and the cloud of associated EPs, but judging by his live set a few months back, he still knows how to coax infectious beats from his modular.

As a standalone piece of ambient electronica, it’s very good, and probably will contain even more value had you already watched The Goob. We may have to wait until his next release for some more ambitious tunes; this is not an essential piece of Abbott, but showcases a more intimate side of him in gentle chords and simple tones.

  • Available on:
    LP £13.99

Kutmah
Closure

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

7/10 according to our Laurie on 20th May 2015

Straight from LA we have Kutmah’s first beat tape from way back in the glory days of 2011, now made it to Vinyl thanks to Hit+Run, whose screenprinting has now reached legendary levels. The cover depicts one of his federal detainment dreams - the poor dude was called up by their draconian immigration centre despite philanthropic testament.

Whatever the case, these beats are mostly nice and chilled, painting Kutmah as a pacifist more than anything. No idea if you can judge a person by their music, but Varg Vikernes is a convincing case. Many samples combine to form vaguely Prefuse 73 / DJ Shadow rhythms and tones, all in the customary little snippets, just enough to betray the feel. They’re nothing spectacular, but you can be rewarded by listening into the finer subtle detail - it’s all about restraint. Those who like their hip-hop rap free will chill to this.

  • Available on:
    10" £16.99

Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Multi-Love

7 people love me. Be the 8th...

9/10 according to our Robin on 21st May 2015

Behold ‘Multi-Love’, wherein Unknown Mortal Orchestra get out of the psych pop game and take up a nice suburban retirement listening to Prince; wherein they forget the high-minded art practices and sing La La La La, La La La La, because it feels good; wherein their studio sounds like an open-air funk fairground, full of people in queues bursting into dance. Behold one of the best new pop records to be made in the realms of indie stuffiness.

I almost feel like describing the melodies and hooks on this record would suck them of their fun, but at the same time, ‘Multi-Love’ is written with a wink to its processes: the album cover shows a busy recording studio with guitars tucked away and soundboards ripe for the tinkering. The important thing, though, is that fluorescent pink light beaming down on the equipment: you can hear how proficient UMO are on this record, with all the instrumental calibrations coming together perfectly -- but you mainly remember the humming earworm choruses.

“Ur Life One Night” wobbles with wah funk guitar, held together neatly by drumming that sounds like stagehanding, an attempt at keeping the scene in place. Ruban Nielson sings a cheerful, giggly melody but stifles it a little to keep it in line with the record’s sleek, minimal aesthetic, rolling into the disco bassline of “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” like they’re DJs keeping the vibe up for everyone. They’re not, though, they’re a band: when the chorus of “Can’t Keep Checking” comes on, you’ll hear them together, tethered by handclaps and a synth line that serves as Nielson’s backing vocal.

The bookend of this record is UMO’s best work today, offsetting sparkly melodies with shades of melancholy: “Stage or Screen” has the most forlorn la la las in the history of recorded las, played out over a trembling guitar tone and fanfare synth. “Neccessary Evil” grooves under cover of darkness, its bold keyboard a red herring for a well hidden pop song. It’s strange, really: ‘Multi-Love’ could sound totally subtle at one moment and exalted in pop glory the next. How very sneaky. Or not.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
Quarters

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

9/10 according to our Robin on 21st May 2015

Clint’s insistent belief that psych rock is the greatest genre of all time and that we must protect it at all costs became suspect to me long ago, and the final nail in the coffin probably came when I saw King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard name their last record ‘I’m In Your Mind Fuzz’, a terribly on-the-nose phrase that’s pretty much the opposite of a post-rock song title. Alas, though, the bands keep coming back to the psych stomping ground, and I secretly think of King Gizzard as something of a treasure; ‘Quarters’ is certainly one of the most jubilant records you’ll hear in a long time, so hold on to it.

The deal for new record ‘Quarters’ is that you assume it’s an EP until it goes on for forty minutes and it isn’t written by Sufjan Stevens -- a cunning plot twist. In actuality, the record weaves four ten minute songs in and out of splendourful jams, knotty riffing and bubblegum singsong. Even compared to their last full-length, this is sugar for the ears, “The River” tidying up its more fanciful soloing with elegiac choruses that shine down bright lights in the form of vocal refrains. Slow jam “Infinite Rise” may tinker with guitar tones and rigid rhythms, but it’s the most proper song of this band’s lifespan, rollicking through bars slowly while letting the percussion gently erupt.

“God Is In The Rhythm” sounds like if psych was being played at a romcom prom, strangely echoing “Earth Angel” with a sweet, head-leaning chord sequence and a secure rhythm. There are shades of Jacco Gardner with a production that feels distanced but comforting. And that’s what ‘Quarters’ is -- a surprising comfort. There’s a sunshine to these songs, but not the fluorescence you’d expect -- it’s a kind of psych you’d listen to for warmth and sustenance on a rainy day. Fuck it -- I’m giving a psych album a 9, and you’re all just going to have to deal.

The Sly and Unseen
All Similarities and Technical Difficulties End Here

8 people love me. Be the 9th...

8/10 according to our Robin on 20th May 2015

Hibernate, the winter scarf of drone labels, continue to fend off nature’s cold bite with this gorgeously comforting record. ‘All Similarities & Technical Difficulties End Here’ is minimalist but sounds maximal, enveloping its listeners into creased harmonium drones, lightly sprinkled with the sounds of life: dogs barking, people chatting and xylophones twinkling are all reminders of Hibernate’s wonderful affection for homes and places.

You can hear the juxtaposition of the two sides of winter -- the cold and the warm -- played out in these songs. “Cold Wind On Erringden Moor” samples a brutish gale force but interpolates it with piano notes played absentmindedly, like someone tinkering away in the corner of a living room. It’s like being in the house and shut outside at the same time. The two sounds couldn’t be any more different: one is raw and immaterial, the other a soft composition.

Jonathan Lees and Katie English have made the kind of record that inspects and scrutinises every aspect of its landscape, with different instruments used for different parts, the record switching into a combination of slight plucks and whirring electronic drone on “Gusenitsa”, before purveying with ominous marching harmonium on “Of the Field Beyond”. This record can turn fears into tranquility in a heartbeat; it’s as if they were the ancestors of Natural Snow Buildings, but loving a different slab of countryside. Look out, too, for the bonus CD of remix material, in which familiar Hibernate family members turn these special sounds spectral.

Jon DeRosa
Black Halo

5 people love me. Be the 6th...

8/10 according to our Robin on 20th May 2015

The most variable and happily spontaneous of artists Jon DeRosa has opted once more to halt his tendencies towards ambient and country (I know, right?) in favour of his more direct and plaintive singer-songwriter style. When we last heard him in this particular mode, his baritone brooded and resigned itself; not much has changed on ‘Black Halo’, where the sincere schmaltz remains, echoing Stephin Merritt after a bad day, as well as the ornate arrangements of recent Cherry Ghost.

DeRosa’s voice is just gorgeous. It’s slow and immovable but it shifts through melodies seamlessly, taking the bitter lyrics of “The Sun is Crying” and coupling them with slow, lovely refrains. On “When Daddy Took The Treehouse Down”, his voice gently dances around scattershot muted guitar, summertime trumpet and swift violin, as if dodging them with zero effort whatsoever. It sounds a bit Belle & Sebastian, but DeRosa’s sardonic voice deftly destroys all chance of a twee pop tune.

This twinkly, out of fashion record has no right being this good, twinkling with tropes -- but at its centre, DeRaso sells it marvellously. “Lonely Sleep” is a perfect example of what he’s feeling for this particular project: it’s ornate and lush, and its song structure is indie pop meets old-time crooner. But DeRaso’s voice is so withering that it sounds like he’s actually plotting to murder the cliche.

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Golden Gunn
Golden Gunn

5 people love me. Be the 6th...

8/10 according to our Robin on 20th May 2015

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Steve Gunn and Mr. Hiss of the Golden Messengers had joined the Strokes, on the basis of that album artwork; in reality, though, they’ve teamed up to weave a terse strand of psychedelia into a rather pretty folk sound that just comes naturally. Originally released for the Hundred Years’ War/Record Store Day 2013, this reissue shows the artists playing it down, gently enveloping acoustic ditties with woozy synths and subtle additives.

‘Golden Gunn’ is repetitive, pretty and intuitive, and it takes on different strands of traditionalist folk: the interlocked picking of “Vysehrad” eventually gives into the smoky riffing of “Dickie’s Theme”, which flirts with country rock and uses what can only be described as a cowbell blastbeat to create a silky, ceramic sound. There’s Americana in this tune, but it’s encased in atmosphere.

If you like any of the artists collaborating here then there will be a lot to enjoy in ‘Golden Gunn’, though it doesn’t necessarily mirror either of their styles -- Gunn’s virtuosic resonance and the Messengers’ plaintive, twang-sourced folk come together for a distinct and measured sound, with plenty of weird extras to take in -- “The Sun Comes Up a Purple Diamond” squeezes out yawning twang that has the same meditative spirit of Eric Chenaux. Folk still sounds good sideways, though.

The KVB
Mirror Being

10 people love me. Be the 11th...

8/10 according to our Robin on 20th May 2015

Nothing says cold and calculated like a grayscale picture of pillars holding up a huge empty room, so props to the KVB for accurately prefacing their record. As someone who hates pillars and considers them arbitrary to our particular office’s structure, I’m relieved that this record is everything you could possibly want from our favourite darkwave crew; the band’s taut gothic fabrications remain, slithering through a record that toys with ambient scaping before using terrified beats to create the usual runaway atmosphere.

‘Mirror Being’ feels largely like an attempt by the KVB to give themselves over to atmosphere, with vocals heavily treated and largely ignored. They run through the Disappears-esque post-punk of “Obsession” like another strand of suffocating sound, indecipherable but unpleasantly spat among the layers of guitar and synth. The distortion of “Obsession” shows the duo trying to trigger dystopia, as if taking a beautiful sounding pastiche of sound and crumbling it in their hands.

On the flip, the panorama they’ve made starts to become panicked -- where the shoegazing drone intro of “Atlas” felt encompassing and omniscient, “Fields” utilises an industrial-strength beat to make the listener feel like they’re hurriedly looking behind themselves, scared of what’s around the corner. I say, does John Carpenter know about this riff raff? He should, because it’s awesome.

  • Available on:
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FJORDNE
Moonlit Invocations

5 people love me. Be the 6th...

8/10 according to our Robin on 18th May 2015

White Paddy Mountain's latest is a far cry from the inescapable drone fog of label mainstays such as Chihei Hatakeyama and Federico Durand; Fjordne's 'Moonlit Invocations' eschews our stoical and far-removed ideas of what ambient music should be, dressing it up in a tuxedo and giving it the last dance after a classy party has all but cleared out. There are smatterings of IDM here, but know that when I say that I really mean smatterings: the beats are unsubtle and they play against the looping ambient music like a pie to the face. There's a whimsy and a charm to the music Fujimoto Sunichiro is making, and you notice it immediately. 

Using elements of jazz, found sound and even giving a nod to vaporwave's syncopated pop sound, Sunichiro has made something both ethereal and humorist. "Glati" soars with processed vocal, sampled spoken word, piano that's sprinkled like fine fairy dust, and beats that sound like they've been spat out more than they have produced. The free percussion dovetail of "Autumn; Wind" makes for a track that sounds busily flustered, again buoying Sunichiro's fidgety compositional style: he's making soundscapes, of a sort, but they're full to the brim.

Sunichiro's sense of sound collage is colourful and angular: the busy nature of these songs makes it sound like he's driving certain sounds through the heart of others, trying to reconcile disparate ideas into something that sounds like pop music but is altogether something else: drones that constantly ripple and roar. Think Spheruleus' new easy listening IDM and turn up the gain.

Little Wings
Explains

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

7/10 according to our Robin on 22nd May 2015

Kyle Field has been releasing records both sad and ramshackle for many a moon, and on ‘Explains’ he sounds totally at ease with his process: this record of folk ballads relaxes even as it broods, inflecting the minor key like it’s a familiar friend stopping by for a visit, invoking ballads like they’re exhibitions. It’s a wonderfully and curiously arranged record, so I’m hardly surprised that Woodist -- the K Records of understated Americana -- have picked it up.

Field’s voice is at the crux of ‘Explains’, juxtaposing with the subtle arrangements of piano, brushed percussion and opaque strums. Field recalls both the vocal style and delivery of Jeffrey Lewis, albeit for quieter and more charming music -- he happily lets his voice flood the bars of his songs, modestly but nasally humming his lyrics in a way that makes the listener strain. On “Hill Hidden Nog”, he intones his lyrics breathlessly over a steady, sultry rhythm, as if hyperventilating within a still life painting. “Old Apocalypse Style” offers a similar sense of separation between Field and his twanging, sighing backdrop; his words recall Bill Callahan in that when you hear them, it feels like they belong to the parallel version of this world.

There’s some archetypical alt-country doing the rounds on this record, which is very good news for your future Sunday mornings; the slight electric guitar that slides through “A Blade of Grass” is both sad and satisfying in that strange way, and I’m ever thankful that the twang begins to sift through like heavy fog on vignette “The Sky”, sticking around among “Around This World” and on through the record’s resolution, tying the record together with a knot. Cool horse, too.

  • Available on:
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Weird Owl
Interstellar Skeletal

3 people love me. Be the 4th...

7/10 according to our Robin on 21st May 2015

Chillest of the chillers, Weird Owl sparkle psychedelic synths like a fog over lazily strummed chords of the chillwave kingdom, creating a record that sounds bold but irresistibly relaxed. If you’re wondering if there’s anything else to talk about, there’s not, since most of the drumbeats sound as dynamic as the ones by whoever Best Coast hasn’t fired at the moment.

Let’s try anyway, though. ‘Interstellar Skeletal’ actually sounds like something of an indie rock pastiche, marrying new trends to dying ones: the way these lazer-beam electronics cast dominion over the record recalls how Beach House would tether an epic sound to a largely laid-back songwriting sensibility, while the guitars on many of these tracks sound stuck between the War on Drugs and London Grammar -- they’re belted out but their tone is super sepia tone. The band’s combination of an almost kraut space opera vibe with a washed out, Washed Out atmosphere feels both instantly familiar and totally peculiar: you don’t expect them to burst out a climax on “God”, but the song screeches into life, rapturing the song into shoegaze heaven.

It’s nice to hear a band toying with certain boundaries, and that’s all you can really do with these genres now -- there’s not much wiggle room to turn psych rock or chillwave into something wholly new, so playing a couple of interesting games is your best bet. Also, they don’t sound like Weird Al or a Christopher Nolan movie, so props for that.

  • Available on:
    LP £13.69
    CD £11.69

Dirty Fences
Full Tramp

2 people love me. Be the 3rd...

7/10 according to our Robin on 20th May 2015

Today we’re listening to garage rock which motivates that most hedonistic urge: to hold a beer up in the air in jubilation and lose a little bit of it in the process. Dirty Fences’ ‘Full Tramp’ is full of anthemic hooks that are sure to spread like wildfire around a crowd of listeners, with songs like “Judy” and “Give Me A Kiss” toying with celebratory riffs and repeating mantras ‘til we’re red in the face with singalong material.

‘Full Tramp’ has a distinctly old-school feel, harkening back to the era of proto-garage before affectations or production had a thing to do with the songs. Dirty Fences march to their choruses as directly as a little band called Death, with everything else sounding serendipitous: riffs burst out almost incidentally, as another supplementary form of joy -- the guitars of “These Freaks” squeal and unwind as a sturdy chord sequence bounces the band back and forth. The ominous, psych-flecked stomp of “Heartbeater” only leads to a nifty little one-word chorus for the band to conjure some joint vocals on.

Nostalgia garage rock is never going to be world-beating, of course, but ‘Full Tramp’ is a proficiently deployed bit of garage rock with nothing out of place: the guitars are, of course, the focus, the band wringing a lot of joy out of showboating riffs that Jack Black would probably worship to at the altar. Good stuff -- look out for the cooed backing vocals on “High School Rip”, and swoon at your discretion.

  • Available on:
    LP £16.09
    CD £10.89

Sharron Kraus
Friends and Enemies; Lovers and Strangers

4 people love me. Be the 5th...

7/10 according to our Robin on 19th May 2015

Unless you live in Bon Iver’s house, listen to this outside. Sharron Kraus’ folkloric stylings and lush traditionalist arrangements are to be synched up with whatever nature you can get your hands on. I am currently a treacherous miscreant in so far as I am listening to her windswept folk music from the confines of a warehouse unit on an industrial estate, but: does it please you to know it’s raining and I’m very damp? Are you not entertained?

Kraus has been homaging her Welsh homeland for many years now, referencing the ornate folk of Fairport Convention, Lal Waterson and Alasdair Roberts through compositions for plucked guitar, flute, dulcimer and harp. Here she imagines tales of the country in its 11th century, though what you might notice more than anything the way she combines melody with an unnervingly raw production -- each beautiful flourish feels intimately one with its listener, the directness of her approach an attempt at breaching geographical distance and pulling the listener into the heartland. Whereas some artists might use this closeness to add warmth and specificity to their music, there’s none of Nick Drake’s comforting bass or Vashti Bunyan’s contentedness here: this is a dark record of minor keys and dishonest tranquility.

‘Friends and Enemies; Lovers and Strangers’ has a particular strand of folk DNA in it, a type that sounds ancient and conceives of a time long gone. Kraus’ interpretation, though, is fresh and crystalline, both recorded and performed as if these were wholly new stories.

  • Available on:
    LP £15.99

Zone Six
Love Machine

8 people love me. Be the 9th...

7/10 according to our Robin on 19th May 2015

It’s the usual from Zone Six, here, if you can call music made on the heels of an eleven year hiatus “the usual”; on ‘Love Machine’, the band continue to drive the same intuitive and meandering solos through a rhythm section as straight as a highway. Guitars and synth coalesce, unravel and then float forever, but you can hear the drums and bass steadying the course, making Zone Six’s figurative trip a safe one. Even psych rockers gotta wear seatbelts.

‘Love Machine’ is split into four stoned psych jams that spread themselves thin and concentrate on the dynamism of two fellows: Modulfix creates atmospheres chilling and quickly abandoned with the synth, while guitarist Rainer Neeff casts a spell of constancy over the record, shaking and oscillating his notes until whole songs are covered with vignette solos. That’s how “Love Monster” goes, while shorter companion “The Insight” takes a perfect circle of a riff as its starting point and brings in droning synth to create a genuinely gorgeous atmosphere. “Acidic” is the most decidedly kraut-kissed of the record, Neeff’s crunching and distorted guitar sounding reverent to the firm but climaxing backdrop Komet Lulu and Sula Bassana have developed.

Zone Six’s formula is one of the most simple in psych rock, but it takes a lot of tenacity to make it work, and the long-form pieces on this record are as good a woozy freakout as you’re going to experience: they start and then they can’t stop, because there’s so much you can do with a guitar, and these guys don’t want to miss out.

  • Available on:
    LP £9.99

Merzbow, Mats Gustafsson, Balazs Pandi, Thurston Moore
Cuts Of Guilt, Cuts Deeper

2 people love me. Be the 3rd...

6/10 according to our Robin on 21st May 2015

For a lot of y’all, this quartet is something of a dream team: he of noise wizardry, Merzbow, pumped up from harshing up the grindcore of Full of Hell, comes back to twist things into place and make good on his dissonant typecasting with friend Mats Gustafsson (who recently played reeds for a rather horrendous record with Phil Hinton). They bring along not only drummer Balazs Pandi, but also that humble, slipper-wearing noisemaker Thurston Moore. I’m still not on board with everyone thinking Moore is suddenly good at this free form stuff after a couple of pretty unbearable attempts, but everyone else is, so let’s just get on with it.

Of late there have been a lot of records working on the frenzied, surprisingly textural aesthetic that ‘Cuts of Guilt, Cuts Deeper’ goes for, with drums clattering towards a similar ineffable end on many of Haino’s and Ambarchi’s new works. Where a lot of solo Merzbow might have a rawer, more starkly upsetting approach, each artist is heard in total here: the electronics of Merzbow and Gustafsson squeal and even occasionally pulsate, moving between disorientation and a kind of rhythmic tension no one could ever hold on to. Moore’s guitar is as it always is: pointlessly and tragically being sucked into a black hole where no signs of life can be found.

The sound is freefalling and pretty much exactly what you’d expect from four abstract noise tinkerers, but there are moments where they try to create atmospheres from the space around them, extracting discordance from trumpets, nonlinear guitar riffing and drums that are missed more than they are hit. As always, it’s an intensely physical kind of music, and that’s what makes it exciting: this is what it sounds like when instruments dance.



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Timestamp: Saturday 23rd May, 15:51:23