Monday, 12 July 2010

Short Circuitry 008

Keeping it simple and straightforward this month; Short Circuitry’s been swimming through a boundless ocean of heady delights, and inevitably any attempt to whittle it down is going to end up grossly inadequate. Still, top marks have been going to tunes that defiantly refuse to pander to the sheer heat and humidity that’s reduced this wasted copper wiring to little more than a weakly sparking wreck. In particular, regular injections of Rhythm & Sound’s seminal
With The Artists CD and the veritable dose of sonic frostbite that is the Moritz Von Oswald Trio’s Vertical Ascent have kept these drums rattling in some form of delicate equilibrium. Just about, anyway. Right, onward…

Digital Mystikz – Return II Space [DMZ]

It’s been said before, and it’ll doubtless be said countless times again in countless slightly offset permutations, but Digital Mystikz’s Mala is dubstep. Or, to qualify that statement further, he operates as the absolute epitome of a genre term that’s fast becoming slightly redundant, buckling under the pressure of its myriad mutations. One step further than that would be to state, quite simply, that his music – more than that of any other producer within this sphere – operates with an absolute purity of vision bordering on the obsessive. And to be fair, why shouldn’t it be so? Along with his fellow Mystikz, Coki and Loefah, he defined a genre, and almost everything that now lands under dubstep’s widening umbrella is in some way indebted to him.

So it’s unsurprising that the arrival of his fullest release yet, many miles down the line from where the DMZ label first began in 2004, is both long awaited and dogged by serious weight of anticipation. As with everything he releases though, quality control is absolute, honed through years of ultra-exclusive dubplate play on some of the world’s finest systems; on a basic level then Return II Space is ‘merely’ another set of all-encompassingly brilliant material to add to a catalogue that hardly suffers for a lack of it. These tracks capture the meditative communion of the FWD sound and expand outward. Viscous sub-bass both binds and separates the congregation, like the stuffy gusts of warm air that fill the space between tube commuters desperate to avoid each other’s gaze. On one hand then, as is so commonly associated with dubstep, his music speaks of urban alienation: the storms of dissonance that gather throughout ‘Mountain Dread March’ evoke the pitch individuality of a dance at Plastic People. But it also offers resolution, locked in the unsteady melody that rises to the surface during the latter’s final minutes, and encoded in the DNA of ‘Livin’ Different’s static positivity.

Well worth the wait then, and knowing the sheer volume of unreleased material Mala continues to sit on, there may well be another six years of anticipation before the next of its kind rears its head. Here’s hoping that’s not the case, but until then there’s enough locked in the furthest reaches of Return II Space to keep things heavy for the foreseeable future.

Various Artists – Workshop 10 [Workshop]

May saw the arrival of the tenth 12” on the Hardwax-affiliated Workshop imprint, home to deep cuts from the likes of Move D and the brilliant Kassem Mosse (more on him later), all unnamed to heighten the label’s chilly mystique. On the A-side two tracks from Lowtec delve into the kind of state your head might be after a night and day on the tiles at Panoramabar, the first chasing smokelike billows of melody that writhe around a steady four-to-the-floor pulse. It’s followed by a song for that evening’s twilight, which meanders in a gorgeous state of exhausted elation, seemingly happy to sit and contemplate the previous night’s excesses. On the flipside, Schweiz Rec brings jazzy explorations to the fore and Ron Deacon weaves fragments of found sound around a house backbone, but it’s really all about the A side on this little beauty.

A pause for thought: there’s something reliably lovely about buying music that’s untitled; it leaves room for it to breathe and absorb the listener’s own interpretation of theme and mood. Admittedly, the crypic or numeric names doled out by many a techno producer aren’t exactly screaming their intent to the world, but leaving something entirely unnamed is a bold and definitive statement at a time when it’s so easy to discover everything at the click of a mouse. Just try Googling ‘Untitled A1’ and see how you do: it ain’t happening.

Gunnar Wendel – '578' (Omar S Mixes) [FXHE]

And so now I’ve gotten to Kassem Mosse, here referred to by his real name, Gunnar Wendel. With an upcoming release on Nonplus, it seems he’s gaining a bit of a buzz – which is just fine with me, as his music’s marvelous, all grainy dubtech and nocturnal melancholy. For his own label FXHE, Detroit don Alex Omar Smith has reimagined one of my favourite techno tracks of the last few years, the spectrally beautiful ‘578’, in two competing forms. For my money the ‘Rude Boy Warm Mix’ is the keeper, leaving the original’s synth patter largely intact and upping the pace, and in doing so crafting a graceful slice of 4am deep house. Still, the slower Berlin mix on the flipside is hardly shabby either, and sees Smith rip the guts out of the track to leave only the tracest elements to spar behind its bewitching central theme. Lovely stuff.

LHF – EP1: Enter In Silence [Keysound]

Keysound boss and blogger of some repute Martin Clark describes London’s LHF collective better than I ever could: “like Sun Ra’s hijacked Rinse FM and is using it to communicate with the heavens”. The sheer wealth of ideas, influences and concepts packed into their debut EP is a little dizzying but thoroughly compelling. With any luck they’ll ‘do a Flying Lotus’ by the time of their album, and craft an entirely convincing and occasionally terrifying psychogeographical tryst round the hidden spaces of Greater London. I’m looking forward to the bit when they encounter a gang of muggers in a dark alley and scare them off with mystical magicks and glowing eyes.

Hyetal – Like Silver/Phoenix [Orca]

Hyetal is the jack in the Bristol deck (no prizes for guessing who takes the role of joker), constantly shapeshifting in his slightly less prominent role but providing some of the city’s most memorable recent releases. ‘Pixel Rainbow Sequence’ was a dazzling blaze of technicolour synthplay, curiously elegiac in tone, and his underrated The Last Time We Spoke 12” was one of my favourite things released last year. With this new 12” the prevailing wind really ought to begin shifting in Hyetal’s direction, as it’s hands down the best thing he’s put his name to yet. The shimmering waves of ‘Like Silver’ are good enough, but ‘Phoenix’ is utterly spectacular, an incandescent blaze of funk infused glory that leaves trails of superheated steam fizzing in its wake. It’s the soundtrack to a psychedelic session beneath the glowing vapours of the Aurora Borealis, and deserves to be played at the end of every rave from now until the end of time. It’s available to listen to in full here – get to know and fall in love.

George Fitzgerald – The Let Down EP [Hotflush]

George Fitzgerald could probably be summed up as the first post-Joy Orbison bass producer to work with the ‘Hyph Mngo’ man’s basic template and expand on it further; his The Let Down EP on Hotflush will doubtless draw many lazy comparisons from those less inclined to focus on the less overt details. Which is a shame really, as this is an even more impressive debut than ‘Hyph Mngo’ was a year ago. ‘The Let Down’ is a convulsing slab of dance energy, driven by a snarling beast of a bassline that prowls beneath the humid synths above, but ‘Weakness’ is what it’s all about. Hinged around a translucent vocal that rears out of the background before receding again, it takes the house/garage/techno/whatevs crossover to dizzying new spaces. They’re both available to peruse at his Soundcloud page.

Joe – Claptrap/Level Crossing [Hessle Audio]
Joe - Untitled/Digest [Apple Pips]

The mundanely named one Joe has finally returned to follow up last year’s blinding ‘Rut’ 12” with not one but two new EPs of material. And both are among the best to have emerged from the post-dubstep set this year. All of these tracks are pretty much entirely percussion, bar the odd patter of found sound and the occasional jazzy bursts of Rhodes that rebound off the traveling clatter of ‘Level Crossing’. And for such new tracks they all sound so lived in, so gritty, packed with miniscule details – the creaking of a door at the beginning of ‘Untitled’, tiny bursts of static hinting at forward motion – that belie the sheer minimalism of their construction. With both these 12”s Joe offers a masterclass in packing as much into music as possible whilst keeping the palette limited to the barest essentials. Just as convincingly innovative as the rest of the Hessle Audio stable then.

FaltyDL – Phrequaflex [Planet Mu]
Ital Tek – ‘Moment In Blue (FaltyDL Remix)’ [Planet Mu]

New York’s favourite (only?) IDM-informed two-step producer returns! And it’s about time, as his releases from last year showed no lack of awesome physical and emotional power. The first of two new EPs on Planet Mu, FaltyDL’s Phrequaflex takes as its starting point the jitterbug garage of his Love Is A Liability album. What’s amazing about this guy is his almost supernatural ability to keep The Funk – and I’m talking serious danceability here – in beats that are indecipherably complex, and packed with minute shifts and slippages that threaten to tear the music apart at any time. This release is no exception. Particular props to the razor sharp ‘Because You’ and the troubled soul of ‘My Friends Will Always Say’ though. On the same label, his remix of Ital Tek’s ‘Moment In Blue’ is a delicious four minutes of deep blue old-skool vibes.

Also rocking the Short Circuitry stereo:

Oriol – Night & Day [Planet Mu]
Planet Mu’s new signing Oriol explores the same wild jazzy house/boogie regions as fellow travelers Floating Points and Onra, but ramps up the Weather Reportage for his debut album. The results sound a little like Floating Points blasting round sunset Miami on a big-ass, fuck off chopper.

Kode9 – DJ Kicks [K7]
In which the Hyperdub boss squashes an accurate representation of his current DJ sets onto an eighty minute CD. Intense.

Roof Light – Kirkwood Gaps [Highpoint Lowlife]
Sadly, Thorsten Sideb0ard is winding down operations at Highpoint Lowlife HQ, but this is a reliably excellent bit of electronic gear from a consistently on-it label. Oceanic ambience, manic post/future-garage beats and spacey hip-hop all feature heavily, and the track titles are something to behold – ‘Marrying Maidens Fair Of Willow’, anyone?

Main photo: ‘Good Morning Hammersmith’, by Nico Hogg

Monday, 14 June 2010

Interview: Mount Kimbie [Hotflush]

Hotflush duo Mount Kimbie's stunning debut Crooks & Lovers is due out next month. It's a truly labyrinthine listen, flitting swiftly through mindstates and abruptly changing mood at seemingly arbitrary points. In advance of its release I caught up with the band's Dominic Maker to chat about its genesis, their influences and how their music comes together, in this interview for Drowned In Sound.

In the few hours since it's been published I've been given some food for thought by several comments, which I'm keen to expand on slightly here. It's largely to do with connection my article has drawn between the loop-heavy sound Mount Kimbie have put together on Crooks & Lovers and the current Wire-approved wave of US 'hypnagogic pop'. While I'm less than overly keen about its use as a genre signifier, it's seems to me that the idea of hypnagogia in music can be quite a useful tool to draw parallels between emergent sounds, despite their obvious differences. Hypnagogia being the bridge between waking and dream, that elusive period of time where the brain begins to draw unconscious associations between older and newer memories, and regularly brings forth inspiration that disappears as soon as the conscious brain attempts to track and record its logic.

During the interview the discussion point was techno: the way that a well-mixed techno set can lull the brain into a similar state of semi-consciousness as the lo-fi, New Age feel of artists like Sun Araw and Oneohtrix Point Never. Once again, it's a case of repetition with modification, and a certain amount of intuitive melodic or rhythmic development that seems to develop in a free-associative, rather than overtly conscious way. Mount Kimbie's sound on Crooks & Lovers is quite heavily loop-based, and follows a similar off-kilter sense of narrative, tapping into a similar middle ground.

The difference between the US crop and an band like Kimbie seems to be one of influence, and how it's channeled. Artists like Sun Araw, The Skaters or Emeralds keep hold of a distinctly American connection to a slacker-ish aesthetic that ties in with the films of someone like Van Sant; quiet, dreamlike US indie movies. Kimbie are part of a different lineage, connected with London and Berlin, and the evolution of the 'hardcore continuum' (itself a contested idea, hence the quotation marks), but mine parallel, sometimes meditative spaces. Of course, this line of thought exempts the obvious other influences that go into their music: Crooks & Lovers has similar ties to hip-hop and soul as James Blake's music, for example. But it might offer a way of extracting and considering one aspect of their sound.

Any comment's welcome, this is largely food for thought and any ideas, links or owt would be appreciated.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

10-20 - Isthmus [Highpoint Lowlife]

There’s a lot of love for the Highpoint Lowlife label round this way – they've been responsible for releasing some of my favourite records of the last twelve months, including TVO's stunning The Starry Wisdom EP and Production Unit's lovely new Ghost Tracks. They’ve can also take credit for putting out 10-20’s unique and strikingly prolific body of work over the past year or so. In the wake of the release of his excellent and continually intriguing self-titled debut – ‘Arcadeagle’ in particular has barely left my stereo since it first arrived here – he has put together no less than four EPs as part of his Landforms series. In an appropriate feat of naming, or an even more impressive feat of suggestive projection, each has perfectly matched its title, from Island’s humid density to the turbid and peculiarly opaque depths of Lake. They’ve worked well as a series, each showcasing a different slant to his sound and pulling away from the comfortably coherent feel of the album to explore stranger, more abstract territories.

So after the chilly soundscaping of Mountain it’s a welcome surprise that the final installment in the series shows 10-20 at his most direct and rhythmically straightforward. Of course, anyone familiar with his previous work will be well aware that even at their most beat-driven his tracks tend towards entropy, gradually peeling away and cracking at the seams to reveal tiny glimpses of the chaos that lies just beneath. Isthmus opens, in pleasingly cyclical fashion, with ‘Halogen’s reprise of the hip-hop influenced beat from Island’s ‘Hallow’, but stripped clean of that track’s tropical melody it’s an altogether more menacing beast. Carried along by a razor-edged synthline, it hints at a darkness that’s never fully explored, leaving a peculiar sense of foreboding as each element fades to nothingness.

The manic industrial percussion and chorus of dissonant bleeps ‘n’ bass that ushers in ‘Athens’ journeys deeper still, before a resolution of sorts is found in closer ‘Zizek’. Submerged in a wash of static crackle it harks back to Lake’s desaturated gloom, once again neatly closing the circle as a reminder that all four EPs work as a whole as well as in segments. Revisiting all four in one listen, it becomes more apparent how well Landforms works as a companion piece to 10-20’s debut effort. Two great albums in a year, each by turns beautiful, beguiling and terrifyingly abrasive: not bad at all.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Short Circuitry 007

Continuing along with the usual habit of posting the full transcripts of this column, the latest edition of Short Circuitry has just been published on MG. The actual article, complete with photos and videolinks, can be found up here, but here's the unaltered text.


After another one of those hiatuses – in typical style, a case of life imitating art and hitting the wonky flex – Short Circuitry returns, and it’s hit the magic Bond number. As seems to have been the case an awful lot lately, it’s proving to be a consistently exciting time to be a follower of electronic music. There have been a whole raft of releases in recent weeks setting the bar high for the dancefloor, not to mention a couple of upcoming ones looking to kick down the walls of the mainstream entirely.

I refer of course to the three-headed London-based beast consisting of Mount Kimbie and James Blake. While there was originally a physical connection between the two – Blake played in an earlier live incarnation of the band, alongside the core Kimbie duo of Kai Campos and Dominic Maker – at this point the two have parted ways to focus on their own material. In both cases it’s swiftly paying dividends. A year ago, if you’d told me someone making music as defiantly off-the-wall as Blake’s would be gaining glowing coverage from all corners of the music press, or that the same Mount Kimbie who wrote the spectral lullaby ‘Maybes’ would be remixing Foals, my eyebrow would probably have hit the ceiling. That both have achieved that and more may be testament to a greater open-mindedness amongst ‘indie’ fans than before – or perhaps it’s simply that both are making music that’s too special to stay confined to a narrow spectrum of listeners.

Following on swiftly from my glowing review of Blake’s The Bells Sketch EP in the last Short Circuitry (and I quote: “[The entire EP is] slowed to half-tempo and delicately strung out, as if he’s physically inserted fingers into the music’s core and gently teased apart each fibre. The title track is simply gorgeous, guided by a pair of interlocking vocals buried so deeply that they lose all nominative sense and reach some subconscious level where pure sonics matter more than words”), his new EP on R&S, CMYK, manages the feat of going one better. In fact, I’d probably stretch to saying it’s the finest 12” release of 2010 thus far. Entirely different in tone, its four tracks – though perhaps ‘songs’ would be a more appropriate word – operate at double the tempo, lending a sense of urgency quite opposed to the languid pace of something like ‘Buzzard & Kestrel’.

Where Blake really astonishes, both in his original tracks and his Harmonimix reworks of existing songs, is his ability to take sounds we’ve heard a thousand times before and make them extraordinary. The title track lands at a crossroads between the two: it takes an immediately recognisable sample from Kelis’ ‘Caught Out There’ and flips the context entirely. Shrouding her voice in stringy synth and wordless cries serves to effortlessly subvert the song’s sentiment, exposing the vulnerability and sadness beneath the original’s defiant roar. It’s quite spectacular, surprisingly affecting and quite possibly the best thing he’s written to date. The proviso is only there as closer ‘Postpone’ could quite easily give ‘CMYK’ a run for its money, its delicately harmonised melody running softly beneath delicate wisps of gospel song. In between, ‘Footnotes’ crafts muffled robotic soul out of a striking few elements, and the slow, sensuous groove of ‘I’ll Stay’ nods towards his former bandmates in Mount Kimbie.

For all their similarities in approach – in particular a welcome shift away from genre-isms toward music that encompasses a huge range of influences, from soul and R’n’B through dubstep, garage and Artificial Intelligence-era Warp – there are real differences between Blake’s music and the material that Mount Kimbie have put out this far. At the time it came out the Maybes EP was a real curveball for the Hotflush label, marking the beginning of a period of earthshaking releases, among them Joy Orbison’s ubiquitous ‘Hyph Mngo’ and label head Scuba’s frequently astonishing Triangulation album. ‘Maybes’ itself remains a triumph of understatement, exploiting a shockingly minimal set of elements for maxiumum emotional resonance. It’s the closest a ‘dubstep’ artist has come to writing a lullaby, and explores the cocooning, maternal properties of bass that are so often left by the wayside.

Their debut full-length Crooks & Lovers is out later this month and does a neat job of both encapsulating the ideas contained within their earlier EPs and expanding them further. Over the course of its eleven tracks it becomes obvious that what Mount Kimbie share with Blake is a willingness to throw everything at their music, with a healthy disregard for what it ‘should’ sound like. Both its slightly lopsided, ‘wonky’ feel and its use of vocals are key here, bringing the music’s human properties to the fore in a way that makes their rising popularity among wider circles an understandable phenomenon. So in a slightly odd development, the fizz and pop of ‘Carbonated’ reminds me of Puretone’s ‘Addicted To Bass’ as digital voices chatter about “basslines”, and ‘Mayor’, with its pitchshifted vocals and soft organ backing, thrashes around like the electroshocked cousin of ‘Maybes’.

What James Blake has done with CMYK, and Mount Kimbie have done with Crooks & Lovers, is to take their ostensibly dubstep-related sounds further back towards the genre’s original spirit. The earliest releases from artists like Kode9 and Digital Mystikz in the first half of the noughties were recklessly and restlessly experimental, often cutting out many elements considered crucial to dance music. Several years later, these two newer artists have brought the genre around full-circle, exploring in wide circles around its framework and in doing so making something that is no longer ‘dubstep’ in the traditional sense, but maintains the same essence that made it such a vital force.



Actress – Splazsh [Honest Jon’s]

Darren Cunningham’s second Actress full-length comes first in this list by virtue of being one of the finest albums of 2010 thus far. Cunningham’s music has always successfully managed to tread the fine line between densely impenetrable and moodily evocative, and Splazsh is a further refinement of the sound he began to piece together with his excellent Hazyville debut. Everything here is more fully realised, and further ramps up the sense of skunked-out claustrophobia – ‘Lost’ is the best techno(ish) tune I’ve heard in a long time, oppressively dense until a downpitched female vocal lifts it higher, and ‘Get Ohn (Fairlight Mix)’ finds a bleak beauty among rattling percussion. More so even than his earlier music Splazsh feels inhabited by phantoms, from the coldwave darkness of ‘Maze’ to the Radiophonic fuzz of the fantastically titled ‘Supreme Cunnilingus’. The result is an album that’s coherent despite its sheer scale, and a poignant vision of modern British techno/house/whatever-you-want-to-call-it.

Late – Losing You EP [Immerse]
Sepalcure – Love Pressure EP [Hotflush]

Ever since Burial reanimated the form with a blast of dusty electricity, I’ve been trying to work out exactly why garage beats have the ability to sound so haunting. I mean, it’s difficult to imagine that tracks like ‘Archangel’ or ‘Near Dark’ would have achieved anywhere near the same hazy, spectral beauty if they’d been powered by four-to-the-floor house beats. After their general resurgence over the last couple of years, both in dancefloor contexts and the sort of spaced out zones that both Immerse Records’ Late and new Hotflush signing Sepalcure operate within, I’ve come to the gradual conclusion that it’s down to their skeletal nature. Stripped of excess flesh and possessed of tiny snags and slippages in rhythm, two-step beats are already ghost forms of rave musics past. Placed alongside tiny snatches of vocal and ambient crackle they constitute a resurrection of sorts, a memory of a memory of a memory seen through the backward telescope of time.

Late’s upcoming double-pack for Immerse Records is undoubtedly in debt to Burial, but also shows a certain dubby, Berlin-inspired spaciousness that aligns it closely with other artists on the label. Lead track ‘Losing You’ offers immediate beauty, but it’s the delicate keyboard figures that drift through ‘Under These Conditions’ and the ultra-percussive burst of ‘Bittersweet’ that hold most water; the latter sounds like a Hessle track drowning beneath a sea of deep blue synth.

Sepalcure’s Love Pressure EP is tougher and more muscular than Late’s vision, but also feels less in thrall to the past, albeit without ever heading towards ‘future garage’ territory. Instead it’s one of those compelling crossover beasts that Hotflush do so well, adding elements of techno, slo-mo house and, on the purple-ish ‘Down’, the new school of psyched-out hip-hop. Scuba’s label has been on an impressive run of form recently, and shows little sign of letting up with upcoming releases from the man himself – the wispy Autonomic d’n’b stylings of ‘Eclipse’ – and George Fitzgerald’s eagerly awaited Weakness 12”. Count Sepalcure in there as well, then.

Sigha – Shake EP [Hotflush Two]

Oh, and another gem from Paul Rose’s stable. Sigha is one of the label’s less well-recognised talents, operating in a grey zone that seems to be quite easily ignored. Which is a damn shame, as his previous releases were seriously underrated gems, especially the Berlin-infused spaces of the Rawww EP. Hopefully the Shake EP should go some way towards righting that balance: the title track’s pulsing house and the broken techno stylings of ‘Shapes’ are both among the best things he’s put to tape, and he throws an entirely different style into the mix with the electric blue ambience of closer ‘Light Swells (In A Distant Space)’.

Kush Arora – Voodoo Sessions EP [Kush Arora Productions]
Hackman – More Than Ever EP [Pattern]

First up: heavy, sped-up soca and dancehall stylings from Kush Arora. This one kinda crept onto the radar rather than screaming its presence be known, but Arora’s Orientalist modal melodies on ‘Humidifier’ are madly addictive, somehow managing to infuse a hyperspeed funky-styled beat with a strangely calming atmosphere. That ability places him alongside Hackman in pushing a slightly jazzy, broken-beat feel onto modern bass music. For what seems like his hundredth release this year (hey, these ears ain’t complaining) Hackman brings out both his most manic – the title track’s wild bounce – and most relaxed material yet: check out the meditative house of ‘Nobody Minds’ for a little evidence of the guy’s versatility. Considering he’s only really emerged in the last year, it looks like there’ll be far exciting material to come from that camp. In both cases, certain quarters are beginning to throw around the buzzword ‘tropical’ – just don’t go there.

Baobinga – Riddim Team EP [Steak House]

Bristolian boy Baobinga heads up the esteemed bassmusicblog, and alongside that undertaking has still found a fair amount of time to throw together some killer tracks in the last couple of years. Most recent is his upcoming 12” for Steak House, which moves further towards the funky/bashment crossover stuff that label heads Monkey Steak have been pushing recently. ‘Wine Up’ and ‘Raggipahop’ are both heavy as hell chunks of digi-dancehall, and Ghislain Poirier’s remix of ‘Criss Like HD’ adds abrasive electro-house synths into the mix to intense effect. Pretty unrelenting stuff, and lacking the same variety of styles as Monkey Steak’s excellent last release for the label, but it’s a heady dancefloor cocktail nonetheless.

Lorn – Nothing Else [Brainfeeder]

As the first full-length album on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, it seems initially surprising that Lorn is from nowhere near their typical stomping ground of Los Angeles. But then again, after a couple of listens, it becomes obvious that Lorn’s music lacks the playful sense of sleaze, that distinctly LA-ish combination of humidity and hormones that permeates the rest of the collective’s music. Instead Lorn’s view of the world is bleak and aggressive, perhaps more introspective even than the mind-charting expanses of FlyLo’s Cosmogramma opus. It’s by turns beautiful – the mournful violin melodies of ‘Army Of Fear’ send shivers down the spine – and earsplittingly harsh, but never a less than entirely immersive listen. There’s a lot to be unearthed on Nothing Else, even if it takes a few listens to fully absorb its intricacies.


Also on the Short Circuitry playlist this month…

Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here? [Editions Mego]
Cult US synth-abusers put together their most immediate – and possibly best - album to date, all slow-building drones and epic kosmische workouts.

Ramadanman – Glut/Tempest [Hemlock]
David Kennedy’s new tunes for Hemlock are among the best he’s released, the lead track’s juke-inspired 808 clatter further refining his minimalist aesthetic and the swelling ‘Tempest’ an unexpectedly low-key synth workout.

Guido – Anidea [Punch Drunk]
Bristol’s Guido turns in an excellent album for the reliably great Punch Drunk label, fusing elements of US R’n’B, hip-hop and jazz to a dubstep framework, to electrifying effect.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Hiatus what?

So this blog has been on a slightly self-enforced hiatus recently, especially in terms of original content. Quite aside from anything else, it's in the build up to the imminent arrival of something larger - stay tuned for updates on that one.

In the interim period, here are some things CB/OB's been feeling of late...


Guido's quite astounding upcoming Anidea album. Due for release in a couple of weeks on Punch Drunk, it's a vindication of the quality of his earlier releases and then some, effortlessly dragging in elements of jazz, post-Timbaland R'n'B, dubstep, Final Fantasy and more or less everything else. Oh, and a gorgeous vocal turn from Yolanda on a re-energised 'Way U Make Me Feel'.


Flying Lotus' deeply heady new opus Cosmogramma. Spjazz. Proper mind-trip stuff, this demands a pair of good headphones and comfortable seat to absorb. There's as much for the mind as for the body over the course of its length, as his famous aunt's devotional harp and blasts of moody sax drift through the mix, binding everything together in softly coherent ways.


Drowned In Bristol - as of this week I've started writing a regular Bristol focus column for Drowned In Sound, aiming to cover bits of the music scene here alongside one-offs, interviews and more specific chats with labels and particular artists. The first one is up now, and covers (amongst other things) Dubkasm, Subloaded, Joker, Addison Groove and Tectonic's first non-dubstep release.

"As I write, my ears are still ringing from a thorough purging at Subloaded & Teachings In Dub at the Trinity Centre on the 16th April. A launch party for Dubkasm’s rather lovely Transform I remix album (more about that one below…), the later portion of the evening was taken up by back-to-back sets from some of the city’s most respected dubstep practitioners. In true MBV style earplugs were handed out on the door, and the volume at the entrance was about as high as you’d usually find right down at the front of most clubs. Physically punishing stuff, and real justification for the description of bass frequencies as carrying ‘weight’ – but particular mention should definitely be made of Guido. His set alongside Headhunter showcased tracks from his excellent upcoming album Anidea, melding a melodic suss ripped straight from R’n’B to truly mindbending slabs of sub-bass. Oh, and in the case of ‘Mad Sax’, cheekily sleazy grooves that thrust with bawdy seventies excess."


Erykah Badu's delectable follow-up to the raw and surprisingly furious New Amerykah Pt. 1: 4th World War. Subtitled Return Of The Ankh, it sees her turn her gaze inward and examine the chemical rush of love in each and every form. And with beats from Madlib, Dilla and Sa-Ra Creative Partners (amongst others), it sounds glorious as well.

"So where 4th World War was harsh and overbearingly physical, its follow up drifts through the air like the invisible scent of pheromones. In terms of pure sonics, tracks like ‘Window Seat’ and ’20 Feet Tall’ glide softly where earlier counterparts like ‘Soldier’ exuded a placeless sense of foreboding. Paired with Badu’s heady delivery, early highlight ‘Gone Baby, Don’t Be Long’ is simply gorgeous, riding off a sumptuous soul vocal backline and an ambiguous address, perhaps to her new young un – “I can’t wait to see what you’ll be”. The Madlib-produced ‘Umm Hmm’ hits another peak, assembled into a seamless patchwork quilt of rising chimes and sixties kitsch."

Full review up at Muso's Guide.


Following on from Erykah in a similar vain, Pursuit Grooves' Fox Trot Mannerisms album for Tectonic showed an entirely different and hitherto unexplored side of the label, one where deep blue nocturnes meet deeply contemplative soul/hip-hop hybrids. Certainly a fair distance from Bristol, given that she's from New York, but there are some real similarities to draw with Bristol in attitude and atmosphere.

"The other aspect Fox Trot Mannerisms shares with its label’s UK counterparts is a sense of the urbane. Although ‘Tweezers’ could almost be described as pastoral, with its fuzz of distant clicks akin to the chirps of nighttime crickets, Pursuit Grooves’ music has a strong affinity with city life. It’s a balmy summer evening’s breeze through suburban streets, or a twilight headphone stroll through a dodgy area of town where the music acts as a barrier to the real world – or, in the case of the dubstep-tinted ‘Start Something’, vividly enhances the surrounding environment."

Full review up at Sonic Router.


Some lovely slo-mo house/garage crossover gems from Kowton on the Idle Hands imprint. They take quite a while to sink in, crawling past at unnervingly sedate pace, but offer real hypnotic gains.

"In the case of these two tracks from Kowton, what immediately strikes the listener is just how slow they are. We’re used to escalating tempos in nuum music; certain quarters aside, drum ‘n’ bass continues to peak well above the sensible limit, and at the wobbly ends of dubstep some artists are pushing for 150bpm. So it’s a refreshing change to hear a producer slow their music down to a snail’s pace. In this case, these two tracks are a culmination of what Kowton started with his bewitching ‘Stasis (G Mix)’, stretching the beats out to allow ample space for swing and crafting house tracks that flex like garage. ‘Basic Music Knowledge’ does exactly that, brooding darkly over nocturnal pulses of sub-bass and percussion that hesitates just enough to introduce palpable tension. ‘Hunger’ is even better, filled with a sense of twilight yearning appropriate to its title, and so cavernous in depth that it feels far slower than its already soporific pace."

Full review just up at Sonic Router.


Typically confounding new material from Actress, whose 12"s on Honest Jon's and Nonplus+ find him exploring territories between skunked-out psychedelia and chilly Drexciyan electro.

"Similarly, both of the tracks on his first release for Honest Jon’s wrap themselves tightly around the listener while hinting at wide-open spaces just beyond the music’s confines. It’s a delicate balancing act – ‘Paint, Straw and Bubbles’ is almost impenetrably austere, its hypnotic spiral patterns so abstract that listening feels more like a feat of voyeuristic pleasure than one of physical connection. This distance only serves to enhance its atmosphere of deep-seated unease. ‘Maze (Long Version)’ on the flip offers more immediate gains, as thick bass frequencies and sparse electronic percussion generate a beautifully languid piece of stoned techno that seems far shorter than its six-minute runtime."

Full review up at Sonic Router.


The final transmission from Torsten Profrock's enigmatic T++ project. It's a real shame to see it end, but he's bowed out on a high with his most fully realised set of tracks yet, bound together with a strong sense of theme thanks to the source material.

"Working with this kind of disintegrating matter couldn’t be more right for T++. His music has always both signified and amplified the processes of decay, deconstructing his influences – techno, jungle, two-step – down to their barest elements before reanimating them with a blast of electricity. His remix of Shackleton’s ‘Death Is Not Final,’ itself a dusty approximation of flesh falling from bones, creaked like the undead: hard and permanent as ancient granite but also fluid, shot through with jittery junglist breaks and irresistible forward momentum. The same is true of Wireless, where he resurrects the musicians who originally recorded these tracks – at this point, who knows whether they’re dead or alive? - and gives each a new and eerily eternal life."

Full review up at Sonic Router.


Plus new and upcoming material from Greg Gow, Ramadanman, Shackleton and Lorn, LV's new 38 EP (a concept piece based on the oh-so-familiar 38 bus route, no less), classics from Ornette Coleman and Alice Coltrane and, finally, Kyle Hall's rather excellent Hyperdub 12". Over and out, for the time being.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

FaltyDL in 2010

Given that UK speed garage had its roots in New York and the experiments of luminaries like Todd Edwards, it was a pleasingly circular development that NYC-based FaltyDL put together last year’s best garage release in his Love Is A Liability album. Since then, his Bravery EP upped the head quotient, teasing apart his intricate beat programming to allow darkness into gaps in the mix, and his Party 12” for Ramp was a gorgeous piece of slow motion melancholy, almost diametrically opposed to its title.

So it’s good to hear that his recent flurry of one-offs has shown a continued restlessness in approach. His remix of Eprom’s ‘Never’ picks up somewhere near where Bravery’s ‘You Made Me Feel So Right’ left off, all angular rhythms and delicately sliced breakbeats. There’s more than a little Vibert/Squarepusher in his attitude to percussion, which manages to pull off the impressive trick of sounding both loosely sloppy and clinically precise at once. Despite sticking fairly closely to the source material’s sound palette, the effect of each track couldn’t be more different – the original a razor-sharp slice of funky-infused house, FaltyDL’s rephresh a dark and brooding asymmetric groove. His remix of The XX’s ‘Islands’, on the other hand, pares the rhythm back to its barest components, leaving the original vocal untouched over churning bass and interlocking layers of percussive noise.

Most impressive is his latest batch of new material. In my recent Short Circuitry piece for Muso’s Guide, I mentioned Adam Harper (of the rather excellent Rogue’s Foam blog) and his presenting the process of ‘wonkification’ as something separate from any specific genre. Just as new music from genre-defying artists like James Blake and Ikonika goes some way towards vindicating that idea, FaltyDL’s constant rewiring of established dance music forms feels like something very similar. Less recreation than reimagination, on the
All In the Place EP, released on Rush Hour, he takes on a greater house influence than before and twists it into his own distinct shapes. And the results are pretty spectacular, the title track in particular offering an abstract but dancefloor-ready journey through melodic house territory that sounds like no-one but FaltyDL. Which has always been one very interesting aspect of his music – despite taking on a range of different styles, his process of writing generates music that sounds uniquely his: deconstructed but energetic, and with a cunning ear for musicality. On rolling garage track ‘St. Mark’s’ his beats display the same magnetic properties that were so obvious on the Bravery EP. Each percussive element constantly attempts to escape from the force field holding it to the others, generating a restless and unstable energy that threatens to collapse at any time. The fact that it never does serves to ratchet the energy almost to breaking point.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Ikonika - Contact, Love, Want, Have [Hyperdub]

There's a sense of long-awaited resolution that comes with the news that Ikonika's debut album comes out next week, especially after my excitement at the announcement earlier this year. It helps of course that it's frequently brilliant, managing to preserve the lopsided 'what the fuck?'-factor of her early material and marry it with the kind of shimmering synths and broken percussion that's been making the more neon end of funky sound so electric recently.


Contact, Love, Want, Have is a narrative arc in itself, describing a sonic shift that has mirrored a general trend within dubstep over the last 18 months or so.

And it’s a hugely impressive statement of intent: streamlined without being overly smooth, melodic without being overly sentimental and danceable without ever straying too far towards simplicity. Opener ‘Ikonoklast (Insert Coin)’ is a sketchlike introduction, but its title also gives some clue as to what lies within. Much as it’s become commonplace for people to mention the influence of videogame music on Ikonika and her contemporaries, given an opening gambit like ‘Insert Coin’ it bears repeating. As a child of the Eighties and early Nineties, at times the music contained within these 14 tracks evokes real nostalgia - from the Road Rash-style momentum of ‘They Are All Losing The War’ to upcoming single ‘Idiot’s stupidly addictive and lopsided synth hook.

Above all else though, the crucial aspect of Contact, Love, Want, Have - and the element that should endear it to listeners far beyond its parent genre - is its compositional sophistication. For all the rough‘n’ready edges it displays, underpinning each pleasantly retro sounding synth patch is a keen ear for melodic development and a tangible lightness of touch. It’s there in ‘Idiot’ where each song cycle introduces a new layer of harmony, building to a surprisingly delicate climax. It’s there during the one-two punch of ‘Yoshimitzu’ and ‘Fish’, the former’s gorgeous shuffle beat and choral backing acting as a restrained counterpart to the latter’s escalating urgency. And it’s there in the album’s sequencing, passing through several distinct phases before reaching a concluding quartet of destructively brilliant house tunes. Each offers a slightly different take on funky, as though viewed through a gradually turning kaleidoscope – sedate and thoughtful on ‘Heston’, building incrementally to the blistering rapid-fire drums of ‘Look (Final Boss Stage)’.


Full review written for Drowned In Sound.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Deep Teknologi - T. Williams EP [Local Action]

I don't usually post my reviews from Sonic Router up here, but this record is so good it really does bear repeating. The music on Deep Teknologi's upcoming T. Williams EP is some of the most brutally functional and hypnotic funky to have emerged for ages. These ears are already seriously looking forward to whatever they do next.


As befits a nuum-generated music, funky seems to be undergoing a real creative expansion at the moment. It’s largely due to the magpie-like nature it shares with its closest cousins, reaching outward and grabbing any scrap of particularly shiny detritus to throw into the melting pot; from defiantly acoustic elements - traditional Middle Eastern melodies (Monkey Steak) and ritualistic drum-circle percussion (DVA) – to more typical electronic influences like first-wave Detroit (Roska) and Berlin (Cooly G, xxxy). Typically, the most interesting developments are happening at the bleeding edges, those regions that become increasingly difficult to define but ever harder to resist. The single most exciting aspect of these crossover points is that funky’s basic beat pattern remains an irresistibly danceable weapon, providing an unusually flexible backbone for experimentation. Recent tracks by Cooly G, DVA and this new release by Deep Teknologi’s
T.Williams, pushes the sound in strange and often difficult directions, which taken separately from such an addictive dancefloor structure could well lose momentum. The best funky is aimed intensely and inseparably toward both body and mind in equal measure, crucially remaining tied to its origins as club music.

On the new
T. Williams EP, Deep Teknologi place themselves firmly within that group of artists pushing the sound in unprecedented new directions. In terms of intent and pure sonics, these three tracks by co-founder T. Williams are probably closest to Cooly G’s recent Dub Organizer material – intrinsically related to house music in its purest form, but infused with London attitude. All share early grime’s sparseness – all synth stabs and trancelike repetition, 'Anthem' could be a cousin of Cooly’s Narst,’ bristling with barely restrained aggression which is never released, simply building over the track’s length and leaving real tension in its wake.

Arriving immediately afterwards,
‘Flooring' makes a b-line for Berlin, underpinned by slowly rotating columns of white noise and static synth before tearing apart to reveal a beating heart hidden within. All three tracks are sparing in the extreme, each containing only what is necessary and nothing more. This could as easily have resulted in a set of decent and merely functional DJ tools, but proves far more effective, highlighting each individual element like a high-powered lens. Afric’ is the best example of this: a simple organ figure pivoting above tightly locked percussion and bass, but brimming with such an excess of energy that it seems a wonder that there isn’t a set of musicians performing it live in front of you. Recalling Miles Davis and mnml (shhh) in equal measure, it’s one of the best dancefloor tunes I’ve heard in a long time, sending the mind out on a Sun Ra-style tangent towards the heart of the solar system.


Originally published at Sonic Router