Category Archives: album reviews
Plank!’s début album Animalism has never left my portable music-playing device since its release in 2012. Considering the turnover on that machine, this is testament to its greatness and staying power. The follow up by Plank (the exclamation mark has been dropped; wither exclamation mark), Hivemind has been clocking up some serious ear action as well (420mins according to LastFM), and I doubt it will leave its mobile digital home for some time.
Dave Rowe’s now signature looping guitars are a welcome greeting on the stalking and swooping opener ‘Grasshopper From Mars’. The single ‘Aphedelity’ stretches its antennae skilfully into space-disco and funk, and then knowingly strokes Gilmour’s guitars with its feelers. One of the many album highlights ‘Dark Web’, lures you into a sense of serene security, before sharpened mandibles bite and ensnare (in something akin to an antlion larvae trap).
The second half of the album is more airy in its moods. Seemingly morphing into one continuous track, it charts the graceful and the delicate, especially on the almost hauntological ‘Waterboatman’. Finally ‘Khepri’ appears, containing an astounding guitar/bass exploding run that is proving one my musical highlights of the year thus far. Indeed, on many re-listens I’ve found myself desperately urging the track to get to that moment so I can hear it again. It’s stupidly uplifting, beautiful and majestic and deliberately, one wonders, short in its lifespan.
So let us not discuss whether or not this is Prog, nu-Kraut or anything similar. Such bloated baggage would no doubt get in the way of the realisation that this is an incredible album of the finest instrumentalism. Buy it here.
The title and cover of this album from Brighton duo AK/DK (whom we spotted back here) tells you a lot of what you need to know (and can cause a build up of G.A.S.). Yet Synths + Drums + Noise + Space is so much more than the sum of its parts.
This is body-shock electro with an eye on melody and conscious crowd pleasing dynamics: there’s a finely honed dance-floor sensibility herein with all the rises and drops perfectly timed. Most tracks are propelled by blasting arps, crashing drums, and modules sampled and then held in tension. Yet rock dispositions are far from shunned; there’s enough here to blow your grunting face off when amplified proportionately. A case in point here is the fantastic ‘Modulator’ which echoes Holy Fuck at their finest – surely this is a set-ender for live shows? And ‘How To Hide Yourself’ stomps with an assured swagger, whilst gratifyingly slightly off-key vocals swirl in the middle distance.
Not that it’s required, but there are moments of respite amongst all the noise: ‘Morning Dragpipe’ is a drone offering to the sunrise and ‘Seq and You Shall Find’ (clever wording) is a soothing, caressing and wonky affair that harks back to Raymond Scott’s blip-blop Soothing Sounds for Baby.
Two word review? Outstanding debut. Buy.
Seq and You Shall Find:
I’m back! Did you miss me? Did you even notice? What? Git.
So I might try and catch up with some of the albums that have been girdering my bits for a few months. Well I might.
First up, Perc’s The Power and the Glory (which you’ve probably read so much about that my words are wasted, but it don’t bother me…that much).
It takes a singular vision to open an album with a track entitled ‘Rotting Sound’ and then fill it with fragments of rhythm so dismembered it would be impossible to reconstitute – this isn’t so much the desconstruction of electronica as having it hung, drawn and quartered and left marinating in its own fizzing juices in the four corners of nation.
So much of this album seems to almost buckle under its own weight of noise, grated fuzz and purposefully saturated outputs. Inchoate voicings and maniacal laughs parade in and out of view and conscious awareness, whilst distant strings and atmospheres sweetening the harsh pill of distortion and general pummelling. Yet there’s an order to funk here, delivered with such command that you dare not disobey.
Perc could be the true heir to Richard D James at his finest or, especially on the utterly magnificent ‘Dumpster’, Beltram on an ‘Energy Flash’ high.
And I don’t say such things without due consideration and forethought. Buy.
*crawls back under stone*
On first listen No Age’s An Object sounds more direct and less experimental than earlier albums. Many tracks, like the almost no wave ‘No Ground’, are sparse and relatively uncluttered, but in the background there are the usual drones, stutterings, and squalls of controlled feedback. The contrast between the relatively straight-ahead, structured songs and these aural meanderings works well, especially when the cello arrives on ‘An Impression’.
And that contrast does make some other tracks, like ‘I Won’t Be Your Generator’ or ‘C’mon Stimmung’, positively poppy – well, by No Age’s own standards.
Of course there are still dreamier, more expansive songs; the album closes with some lovely washes of sound on ‘Commerce, Comment, Commence’. When I say this record sounds less experimental, well, it’s all relative; there’s the usual mucking about with samples and recording effects that drew us to No Age in the first place. It’s just a little more controlled here, and it’s an interesting direction for Dean Spunt and Randy Randall to be taking. Looking forward to what comes next.
No Age’s Sub Pop page is here; you can buy An Object there and at the usual places, and you should.
This is an album about the English countryside, something I like to think I’m not really interested in.* But one of the first sounds you hear on this album of voices, found sounds and music is a car whooshing past (on ‘Dedham Vale’), and second track ‘Imber & Tyneham’ sounds like a folksong played by No Age, guitar and drums rattling through the track before ending in a looped peal of bells. The rhythm of ‘Bacup / Knaresborough’ is supplied by live firing, or perhaps firecrackers, looped. No idylls here, then, but ‘pastoral punk’, a curious, thoughtful set of songs about those other countrysides: villages seized by the MOD or abandoned in the middle ages, lost to the war or the waves. Christopher Tipton and Claire Titley founded Upset The Rhythm and this album shares that superb label’s qualities: it taps into a vein of genuinely creative, challenging English artistic work, but is not in the least precious or pretentious. Declaimed words over music that sounds like it is always on the edge of falling apart; in places it reminded me of the Blue Aeroplanes’ reading of Auden’s ‘Journal of An Airman’. In the end it’s the combination of the very ordinary and the very weird that stays with you, as on ‘Sipson’ where we are told “Please drive slowly through this village” and then that there are “dangerous substances, explosive atmospheres”. As this suggests, the lyrics respond to place, to signs and notices and overheard fragments. ‘Westonzoyland’ in particular sounds like notes from an old notebook. It does not come as much of surprise to discover that there is a map of the album.
I could write an essay on each of the thirteen tracks. As ‘Roughting Linn’ shows, though, this is also an album that reels you in with rhythms, sounds, and words.
*I’m not much of an urbanist either.
Cave, it is plainly apparent, have got da funk. Since their last outing they have developed, but not lost, their nu-Kraut motorik stylings, and have made an album that grooves and vamps on our collective bottoms. This is a welcome advance of their sound. And I say this even though I balked when the wah’d guitars on ‘Arrow’s Myth’ found their accompaniment in a sax. Yet, it bloody and quite simply works.
Importantly they still know how to riff with the best of them: there are moments on this five track album that call to mind the image of some decidedly lank haired and denim clad figure stumbling around Montreux in a stupor (see ‘Silver Headband’). More importantly, for these ears, they still deal in that trademark tension with riffs that expect resolution but never do (opener ‘Sweaty Fingers’). Cave, the big teases, are contemporary masters at this game. Buy here.
Ron Morelli (the much hyped boss of L.I.E.S records) has a refined ear for the improvisatory and obviously likes to indulge in the one-take approach. This is evident throughout Spit with its randomly screaming filters and flanged stutterings. Sounds suggest the fevered dreams of submariners (‘Radar Version’), sheet metal air conditioning ducts in distress (‘Sledgehammer II’) and the shuddering memories of other’s dialogue (‘Director Of…) The tracks that leave the lasting impact are those where relentlessly battering drum machines are left to run their course as delayed sweeps of notes journey round your head: please examine ‘No Real Reason’ and ‘Crack Microbes’ as case studies.
As noise – broadly defined and much contested – seems to be flavoursome for the techno/electronic community in 2013, you could do much worse than get a taste of Spit to sample such trends. Buy.
(Nb: I really don’t like the cover of this album, hence the mug shot above)
‘No Real Reason’:
Basic House is Steven Bishop founder and head of Opal Tapes, unreservedly my label of the year. On Oats, Bishop seems to act as a custodian of discarded, unloved and forgotten bits of electronica: all manner of aural debris is retrieved from the skips of studios and cracked hard drives, and then made centre stage and allowed to shine. With the über-glossy productions of EDM filling the earholes of the kids (not always, but often, a bad thing), the love and attention given to the sound of hiss on Oats, for example, is a refreshing lesson in the possibilities of the usually unwanted electronic. The same could be said of assembled and rhythmically deployed distorted noise, which is used to incredible effect on ‘B.G. Feathers’.
‘Est Oan’ really stands out. The elongated moan that opens the track, akin to the death cries of a cow, is one of the most disturbing things I’ve heard this year. Throw in whirling sobs and breath and your sleep patterns are guaranteed to be fucked (although the later more drone-ambient tracks of ‘La Coccinelle’, ‘C-Beat’ and ‘Wave and Comb’ may allow for some repose). Yet such nocturnal upset is a small price to pay for such excellence.
‘Est Oan – B.G. Feathers – Dry Contract’:
When I lived in Bristol I would often walk past a building akin to a garage that carried a small sign indicating it contained ‘The Institute of Grinding Technology’. Approximately every thirty seconds, without fail, the building would emit an ungodly hissing grating sound. Lord knows what went on therein. I could probably find out, but I don’t want to. That sound, that weird mechanic emanation, was and remains a source of fascination.
I give you this as a contrived introduction to Emptyset’s latest offering. Hence, if ‘The Institute of Grinding Technology’ are looking for some background music to their next staff party they would find much comfort in Recur.
Throughout Recur Emptyset seemingly act as conductors of a murmuration of mechanical locusts. Armed with serrated wings and antenna, these nine tunes swoop, contract and change shape. The most jagged of noises continually pierce and shred all that is comfort and fluff, leaving only sharp edges and abrasive surfaces behind. It’s relentlessly and incredibly intense like Demiurge, but all the more brilliant for it.
Recur is an album that composes emotions that others steer well clear of. This is why you should buy it.
‘Recur’ (Raagthma re-edit):
If I was going to compile my atlas of super-music cities, Toronto would be on there. I’m not going to, but Berlin and Bristol would be circled as well. Oh and Austin, Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago and New York. Ok, there would be lots of places, but Toronto would definitely be on there – as this release from Fresh Snow proves.
The question of how a place becomes a musical ‘scene’ is something for a different voice, but you certainly can hear the other sounds of Toronto through the orchestral and cinematic flourishes that layer Fresh Snow’s tunes. Yet this is not some apocalyptic neo-liberal revanchist OST that other contemporary Torontonians might wish to score. In fact, on the end-credits rolling ‘Helix Pass’ there’s a real jet-age optimism, infused with a lounge-core shininess, fully amplified by echoes of Stereolab and ‘Theme from Casanova’ by The Divine Comedy.
Fresh Snow can also do scuzz with the best of them – the guitars and electronics on ‘French Horse Hall of Fame’ and ‘BMX Based Tactics’ veritably char (although on the latter these give way to yearning second half, which in turn is mirrored by the Mercury Rev stylings of ‘Los Vientos Del Tiempo’). Elsewhere the compass points to Düsseldorf with the incredible motorik wig-out of ‘Saturation Complete’ and then back to Toronto with the tension fuelled melancholy, and brilliantly entitled, ‘Your Thirst for Magic has been Quenched by Death!’
Sometimes a band comes along and takes what you know and love and infuses it with such warmth and passion that it’s irresistible. Fresh Snow are one of those bands. Buy it here.