Sunday, 27 September 2009

Clubroot - Fire Fly

I’ve raved a lot about Clubroot’s debut album, which came out earlier this year on Lo Dubs. A blend of the bleeding subs of Loefah and Kyptic Minds with all the poise and grace of Incunabula-era Autechre, it’s a warm, beautiful and ethereal listen.

He’s just finished a new track and made it available for free download on Soundcloud. It’s called ‘Fire Fly’, and like the most hypnotic moments from his debut it’s drenched in delay, with an ambient top end that lends it a hazy, aquatic atmosphere even as the slow garage beat cut crisply through the echoes. In short, well worth the two or three minutes it takes to download.

Grab it here.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Sometimes In Autumn [Shackleton Remix]

Today has been a good day for free music: RCRD LBL have hosted for download Shackleton’s contribution to the first release on Allez-Allez’s new label Amazing Sounds. And it’s wonderful. A ten minute long remix of ‘Sometimes In Autumn’ off Harmonia and Eno’s 1976 album Tracks & Traces, it passes through ambient drone into smoked out dub-techno atmospherics, underpinned by Shack’s distinctive, diffuse percussion patterns. It’s ten minutes of deeply meditative headspace shot through with Eastern mysticism, but uncoupled from the more direct nature of his music for Skull Disco it sees Shackleton further cement his status as a genuinely innovative musician, regardless of genre.

Get it here, and listen on repeat – I have been.

The 12” is due for release during the next month or so, backed with a second rework of the album’s full length by compadre Appleblim and his previous collaborator and fellow Bristolian explorer Komonazmuk. It’s going to be unmissable.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

King Cannibal - Hear The Night Roar [Ninja Tune]

In the wake of dubstep’s diversification and general leaching into the wider realms of bass music, there has been some fascinating music released that could loosely be tucked under the genre label of ‘digital dancehall’. The most high profile was The Bug’s career best London Zoo album, released late last year. Whilst its slower and more contemplative moments with Roger Robinson and Ricky Ranking were closer to the dub soundscapes he’s recently explored as King Midas Sound, the majority of London Zoo was taken up by grinding, bass heavy beats graced by a host of local MCs. Aside from unleashing some terrifying mutant sounds on the world – Flow Dan’s ‘Skeng’ and ‘Jah War’ both showcase his talent for genuinely unsettling monologues – Kevin Martin pulled off with aplomb the difficult feat of merging dancehall’s thrust with the deep, meditative aura of early Digital Mystikz. ‘Fukkaz’ in particular was a highlight, seeing Spaceape take a step away from his more dystopian musings with Kode9 towards the broken and ruined present.

Utilising the same basic ideas, steel city producer and fast-paced party DJ Toddla T has released both his debut album Skanky Skanky and a Fabriclive mix CD this year. Both borrow liberally from more or less every UK bass scene, and while neither strives for the kind of depth and longevity The Bug injects into his material, both coalesce into a pretty unique mismatch of distinctly British cheekiness, wrecking electro synth and pounding ragga riddims.

Which is where Dylan Richards comes in. His Hear The Night Roar album as King Cannibal takes The Bug’s acerbic psychosocial laments and runs amok, melding the none-deeper sub-meltdown of ‘Skeng’ with metallic chainsaw edges to devastating effect. The beat structures on opener proper ‘Aragami Style’ and ‘Murder Us’, featuring a sultry turn from Berlin’s Jahcoozi, are pure dancehall fire - all thump, tighten and release. Yet on the whole Hear The Night Roar is about as much a directly dancefloor-aimed album as London Zoo; which is to say, not a whole lot. Its essence is too deep for the majority, too thoughtful despite its violent intent to have the kind of visceral body-motion impact of more straightforward rave fodder. King Cannibal’s subs instead bleed atmosphere into the void; ‘So… Embrace The Minimum’ takes a Rhythm & Sound inspired trip into Berlin territory, the ghost of a 4/4 beat flitting between monochrome synth brushstrokes, and the entire record is haunted by barely human voices rising in the mix like a too-close whisper in the ear.

It’s strangely psychedelic in effect, and bracing in equal measure – ‘Dirt’ goes far beyond even the furthest reaches explored by Kevin Martin, Daddy Freddy’s Mike Patton-esque gibbering and throat-wrenching screams closer to digital hardcore or mechanistic metal than any definition of dance music. Similarly, the electronic blastbeats of ‘Colder Still’ align him as an aesthetic contemporary of many modern metalheads. It’s appropriate that The Bug cut his teeth working with Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick in the farthest reaches where the heavier side of electronica and avant metal collide – both genres explore fascinations with extremity, with how far music can be pushed whilst still retaining some semblance of order and structure. King Cannibal takes a similar conceptual approach to out-and-out sonic warfare, and has managed to produce an album of physical and emotional extremes. Its energy neither entirely positive nor entirely negative, the subtler touches on Hear The Night Roar – a rippling melodic drone over the top of the percussive maelstrom of ‘A Shining Force’, the tribal machinations that open ‘Flower Of Flesh and Blood’ - have an ethereal, ghostly kind of beauty.

To cautiously extend the comparisons to The Bug that little bit further whilst still distancing the finer subtleties of Dylan Richards’ sound from that of Kevin Martin, as on London Zoo there are still moments on here that will destroy the dancefloor. Yet the amount of thought, variation and reserve that has bled into Hear The Night Roar’s very structure extends its appeal a far way beyond. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard an electronic record that’s made me want to go back and listen to my old metal and hardcore albums, but I intend to have a root through my CD collection for some of the old gems this week.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Past times and Gold Panda

Seven-inch singles are all kinds of ace in all kinds of ways. I’ve just been reacquainted with this fact after a good year or so without any additions to my (admittedly pretty tiny) collection. Going back through the pile of forty or so it reads like a map of my changing musical tastes over the last seven or so years – from the first one I ever bought (Hell Is For Heroes’ ‘I Can Climb Mountains’, in fact – still great), through a healthy dose of Blood Brothers, a bit of psych-folk (Devendra Banhart, Espers – still great) and eccentric oddities (Semifinalists’ ‘You Said’, Munch Munch’s ‘Wedding’ – still great).

Semifinalists - 'You Said'

Earlier this week I picked up Gold Panda’s ‘Quitters Raga’, and it’s served as a perfect reminder of everything that’s great about the format. The title track is short, almost to the point of teasing, perfectly formed and drenched in the kind of kitsch and nostalgic feeling that almost inevitably accompanies dropping the needle onto a 45. Its central theme is a snippet of Indian raga, a slithering and pretty melody line that rises and falls as though alive and breathing – but awash in vinyl crackle and tape disintegration, out of focus but still vividly coloured, as though recorded off an ancient cassette player. As a result the melody itself feels little more than a memory, a tiny fragment half-recalled after returning from abroad that sticks in the mind and rattles around your consciousness for months after.

B-side ‘Fifth Avenue’ is a little closer to the material on his recent Miyamae 12”, an indistinct twilight haze set to a microscopic beat that rushes past, throwing up great splashes from the roadside like traffic in a tropical storm. There’s something about Gold Panda’s music that captures that exhilarating feeling when traveling of being immersed in a world both new and undiscovered yet strangely familiar in odd ways. Listening is a little like flicking though your photo albums months later and being reminded of all the little things you forgot. Miyamae is much the same – the 4/4 kick of ‘Back Home’ is surrounded by an almost overwhelmingly busy soundspace of samples, clicks and tiny traces of life, and ‘Miyuri’ sets a glorious Oriental cadence to panicked and glitchy percussion.

There’s already such a host of ideas packed into the five tracks spread across these two singles that it seems unlikely any further material from him will be less than intriguing. They’re both very much worth seeking out.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Spiders [Brainmath]

Brainmath continues to carve out its path as a wonderfully enigmatic label. Its first two releases were both by Zomby: both ‘Rumours & Revelations’ - a tripped-out cousin to Mujava’s ‘Township Funk’ - and ‘Digital Flora’ are diversions from his standard trajectory, excursions into outer- and inner-space respectively. A mysterious character in himself, rarely (if ever) showing up for booked DJ sets and keeping his face and name hidden in the press, it seems appropriate that the label follow his work up with an entirely anonymous 12”.

Even in the realms of dubstep, where anonymity and use of numerous pseudonyms are commonplace and tend to contribute to an ‘all about the music’ attitude, it’s hard not to feel a tangible sense of intrigue as to who has actually produced ‘Spiders’. This is in no small part due to the fact that it seems to gather together tiny shards of a host of different artists yet string them together into something not entirely like anyone else. Early Skull Disco may be the closest reference point – the drums rolls and intermesh like Shackleton, and its metallic grind and hard edges are a little reminiscent of Appleblim’s ‘Fear’ – but in sheer bassweight and all-pervading darkness it is more urban, akin to the cavernous depths of early Loefah.

Either way, the title ‘Spiders’ just about sums the track up. It’s spare and delicate yet ominous, tiny percussive points like the clacking of huge mandibles, barely audible static interference scuttling along like the swift motion of hundreds of alien appendages.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Once upon a time in the west

In honour of my re-relocation to the climes of Bristol at the end of this month, it seems appropriate to look at what’s set to be a full-on West Country takeover this autumn.

Geoff Barrow (he of Portishead fame) seems to have doubled his activity of late. His new musical project Beak>, a collaboration with two other local musicians, Matt Williams (the man also known as Team Brick) and Billy Fuller is just beginning to take flight. Their album is due out in September and the songs that have appeared on their MySpace sound lovely: ‘Air’ is a fleet-footed, airy skip across open terrain, keyboard drones gently brushing against an insistent bass pulse. By way of contrast, ‘Battery Point’ glimmers with a stately majesty not a million miles from Mogwai’s recent material. Given the fact that Barrow’s day project took over a decade to finish Three, it seems appropriate that Beak>’s debut was recorded under strictly constrained conditions – entirely live, with no overdubs – and the entire album was written in just twelve days.

Beak> make their live debut on 26th September at Barrow’s Invada Invasion event, which is taking place at the newly re-opened Colston Hall. It’s surprising it hasn’t sold out yet (although, to be fair, I haven’t checked in the last couple of days) as the line-up is one of the best of the year. As well as guest headliners Mogwai and distant friends Zu, Barrow’s roped in a stupidly impressive roster of Bristolian talent, including a solo performance from Team Brick, local boys made (very) good Fuck Buttons, Fuzz Against Junk and, as the poster so aptly puts it, ‘the sonic sorcery of Zun Zun Egui’. It’s going to be a very special all-dayer indeed.

Zun Zun Egui are a very special proposition all by themselves. They were hugely impressive when I first saw them early last year but they’ve really come on in leaps and bounds since then – at Green Man last month they vied with Dirty Three and Gang Gang Dance as the best thing all weekend. Theirs is a truly global sound. Sun-scorched guitars and a tough punk-rock sensibility don’t necessarily sound as though they’d sit easily with frenzied tropicalia and polyrhythmic Latin percussion – and to be fair, they often don’t. That’s part of the charm: the blend they manage to produce sounds both disjointed and entirely, oddly right. Kushal Gaya’s incomprehensible yelp and double-time chanting flows perfectly over stammered, mathy riffs and explosions of sunny keyboard melody. Just listen to ‘El Chuppakabra’ on their MySpace for a bit of an idea – then see them live.

I’ve waxed lyrical enough as it is to bother stating that the dubstep scene in Bristol is pretty much second to none. Whilst a large portion of the London lot have recently been soaking up house and funky influences, the focus in Bristol largely remains on the deeper side of the sound, indebted to both jungle and techno. Local producers have been nurtured over the last few years by the Tectonic and Punch Drunk labels, as well as the smaller, related imprints like Joker’s Kapsize and Kidkut’s fantastic Immerse Records.

The latest release on Immerse is a pair of hard, Detroit-infused steppers from October. While his recent material has tended more towards nocturnal, hypnotic techno, ‘Elephants’ and ‘Medium’ are slabs of lean, stripped back dubstep, unearthed from the archive still coated in grit and grime. Hyetal’s acid-fried ‘Pixel Rainbow Sequence’ has finally emerged as well, with a gorgeous, broken Peverelist remix on the flipside.

Bristol is an incredibly fertile ground for new labels – with a scene closely centred around Rooted Records, there’s a strong base of local support. Already the home of Peverelist’s Punch Drunk imprint, Rooted now acts as a base for a second label, Idle Hands. They recently announced their first release, an anonymous white label, which should hopefully be emerging pretty soon. The two tracks featured on it bear some sonic hallmarks reminiscent of a certain closely-linked producer, although they’re officially by an anonymous artist, and both are available to listen to in full on Idle Hands’ MySpace. To these ears, Side A is the more compelling of the two: a rolling beat drenched in subtle metallic sheen, its hypnotic main melody gradually unfocuses, as though viewed through a slowly-turned camera lens, before emerging into sharp relief once again. Its curiously repetitive quality calls to mind a perpetual motion machine; even as the track ends it merely feels as though you’ve lifted the needle off the plate, allowing its locked groove to continue to infinity.

Hench collective member Wedge has also set the first release from his new label, If Symptoms Persist, for autumn. ISP001’s lead off track is Wedge & Shadz’s beautifully downbeat ‘Running Away’, touching on Bristol’s soundsystem culture and musical heritage in its deep, dubwise bass movements. On the reverse Guido takes over remix duties, and surrounds the original’s vocals in his distinctive, technicolour synth-play and a manic final breakdown. Just today Resident Advisor have run a feature on Guido, along with his 'Purple Trio' associates Joker and Gemmy - entitled 'Bristol's Next Generation', it's well worth a read.

The third local(ish) label to emerge recently has been Steak House, run by Punch Drunk production duo Monkeysteak. Their first 12” gathers a pair of artists from the Iberian peninsula – Mr. Gasparov, who turns in a prettily understated piece of two-step techno (two-stepno?) and Octapush, whose two contributions kick into gear with the gritty urban energy of kuduro, a touch of garage and a dash of UK funky. They’re both very much worth checking out, and testament to the internet’s power for international bass cross-pollination.

Monday, 14 September 2009

New(ish) remixes

Anti-Pop Consortium – Volcano (Four Tet remix)

In the last couple of years, and certainly in the period of time following his jazzed-out Everything Ecstatic album, Kieran Hebden has gradually been moving away from the organic, folk-influenced sample-play that characterized his early music as Four Tet. Last year’s Ringer took its major cues from Hebden’s recent DJ work alongside Border Community and others, consisting of drawn-out minimalist techno workouts that suddenly explode in a flurry of shuffling drums. The same influences have obviously permeated his remix work too – his latest, of Anti-Pop Consortium’s new single ‘Volcano’ takes nothing but the vocal track from the original and surrounds it in sharp, crystalline synthetic architecture. The effect is otherworldly, Hebden’s instrumental shimmering with grace and fragility yet given muscular poise by scathing turns from Beans, M. Sayyid and High Priest. It might be the greatest remix he’s ever put together – and that’s a big statement given some of his previous work.

Gang Gang Dance – Bebey (DJ/rupture and Matt Shadetek remix)

The spectral opener to Gang Gang Dance’s wonderful Saint Dymphna has been given the cut, chop and paste treatment by DJ/rupture and Matt Shadetek, who bolster the tightly syncopated tribal drum patterns of the original with a four-to-the-floor kick, lending it an even greater sense of urgency. Gang Gang’s cascading melodies and Liz Bougatsos’ inhuman shrieks are dissected and rebuilt into new, strange shapes, stuttering and looping over the metronomic pulse – yet the wash of ambient pads that underpins everything retains a calm, soothing aura even in the midst of each tiny burst of chaos.

Untold – Stop What You’re Doing (James Blake remix)

Hemlock artist and Mount Kimbie live associate James Blake has outdone himself - and even Untold’s mighty original - with a seriously warped take on the already off-kilter ‘Stop What You’re Doing’. Untold’s original is something of a sequel to his mightily strange ‘Anaconda’, and is due to come out on his new Gonna Work Out Fine EP in the next month or so; Blake’s remix is due a little later on its remix package. I haven’t had any luck finding any full versions of it on the internet for listening purposes (there’s a snippet on Hemlock’s Myspace), but it’s been rinsed by every DJ with a copy – Blackdown’s been playing it on his radio show, and Ben UFO knocked FWD>> to its feet when he dropped it in Plastic People a few weeks ago. Blake keeps the central melody intact but tears away Untold’s militarily precise drums, instead attaching a lurching synth and vocoder attack which swaggers drunkenly before collapsing in a heap. Quite simply, it’s fucking awesome.

Fever Say – Seven (Martyn’s Seventh Remix)

Karin Dreijer Andersson has managed to recruit some fantastic artists to remix the singles from her eponymous Fever Ray album. The latest single, ‘Seven’ has been reworked by (amongst others) Marcel Dettmann, Crookers and Martyn, whose contribution is his most overtly garage-infused track yet. Part of Fever Ray’s charm is in its odd combination of Andersson’s oft-mundane musings on home life with a turn of phrase and ethereal musical backing that verges on the fantastic. On his ‘Seventh Remix’ Martyn goes one step further, taking her talk of the kitchen sink and dishwasher tablets out of its frosty Scandinavian setting and melding it to a distinctly urban two-step shuffle. It changes little across its length, and loses some of the original’s ghostly beauty, but brings a little Arctic shiver to the warmth of London’s dance. NME gave away a low-bitrate mp3 version as a pre-release promo – find it here.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Short Circuitry: August 2009

I’ve just finished the next instalment of Short Circuitry, CB/OB’s monthly electronic music column for Muso’s Guide.

This edition covers Shackleton’s return to the live fray and his forthcoming Three EPs release on Perlon, along with August’s other releases in the dubstep and garage sphere including new material from Hyetal, Shortstuff, Zomby and Rustie. Flying Lotus’ LA EP 3x3 is reviewed, and amongst the more abstract material is Vladislav Delay’s new album, the latest collaboration between Fennesz and Sparklehorse and the first of 10-20’s new Landforms EP series.

The full article is here.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

September moves

It’s been a busy week on this end. September always seems to bring with it a flurry of excellent new releases – this week has seen Yo La Tengo’s Popular Songs emerge. In typical fashion it’s a veritable treasure box of style and substance, shifting from downbeat art-pop through a couple of Ira Kaplan’s frenzied guitar workouts to saccharine neo-shoegaze. And it’s absolutely awesome. Having spent a week or so in its company, I feel safe in declaring it their best since the beautifully downbeat And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. I reviewed the record for Drowned In Sound – the full article is here.

Autumn is also shaping up to be a mighty fine period for dubstep releases. Kode9’s Hyperdub fifth anniversary celebrations have just begun with the emergence of the first in a series of 12”s, leading up to the full two-CD compilation later in the year. 5.1’s main draw is Kode9 & the Spaceape’s first collaborative track in a while. A departure from his recent moves toward UK funky territory, ‘Time Patrol’ pitches itself somewhere between Kode9’s older output and that of his current Hyperdub roster, propelled by woozy, pitchbent synths and harsh orchestral stabs. Yet the beat itself sets the track apart: a lonely, broken thing that somehow manages to sound both deeply unbalanced and utterly focused at once, it provides the perfect foil for Spaceape’s loaded whisperings and the passive aggression of guest vocalist Chacha.

The big hitter aside, the material on the flip is just as devastating. The unknown Black Chow’s contribution ‘Purple Smoke’ fits its title; a plaintive female Japanese vocalist swathed in a cocoon of maternal bass, its old school Bristol vibe drifts in on a dense cloud of skunk vapour. On the other hand, Flying Lotus’ simple-yet-effective ‘Disco Balls’ is one of his most upbeat offerings for quite some time, rocking back and forth on dancefloor-wrecking fuzz bass and an almost impossibly swung beat. The contrast with his recent forays into ambient headspace on the most recent LA EP couldn’t be greater – wherever he goes next, it seems unlikely he’ll put a foot wrong.

Whilst on the subject of Flying Lotus it seems appropriate to mention one of his close collaborators and contemporaries, Nosaj Thing. I only became aware of his material through a remix of FlyLo’s ‘Camel’, a gorgeous, wispy dissection of the original’s urban sleaze, but hadn’t paid a whole lot of attention to any of his other material. Foolish really – his debut album Drift is a hidden gem, one of those records that may end up roundly and undeservedly ignored come most end-of-year lists.

Taking as his basis the same characteristic Brainfeeder-esque awkward, loping hip-hop beats, Nosaj Thing’s music is infused with a distinctly different energy. Whilst FlyLo’s Los Angeles was rooted in the harsh truth of his city surroundings, Drift feels cut loose from the trappings of strict reality. It’s gorgeously haunted in its detail – ‘Fog’ is tightly wrapped in whispering echoes, and ‘IOIO’ drags along a fragile, nostalgic melody in the midst of churning bass. I only got round to listening to the album this week, which seems a shame – though not as much of a shame as if it went roundly undiscovered. It seems pretty difficult to get hold of a copy on CD or vinyl as of yet. Hopefully that’ll change.

Sam Shepherd, the artist generally known as Floating Points, has gradually become one of the most talked about producers of the year. After his essential 12” release for Planet Mu earlier in the year (‘J&W Beat’ b/w ‘K&G Beat’), a reworking of his future soul and garage influences, his latest, the Vacuum EP, has finally emerged on Eglo. And in typical chameleon style, it’s entirely different from everything that’s come before: ‘Vacuum Boogie’ touches on spaced-out house, and the two slabs of slow-motion melodic interplay on the flip reference touchstones as far apart as El-B, Ricardo Villalobos and Miles Davis circa In A Silent Way.

Every release from Shepherd this far has been at the very least worthy of investigation, and at its best has reached the bar set by this year’s other essential artists. With productions this musically accomplished and emotionally ‘mature’ (what a horrible word, as though restraint and subtlety equals some level of maturity), this early on in his career, it’s unlikely that what comes next will in any way disappoint.

Photography by Nico Hogg, used with thanks.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Vladislav Delay - Tummaa [The Leaf Label]

Sasu Ripatti is a busy and prolific man. The Finnish born percussionist and electronic artist until recently lived in Berlin, where he worked concurrently on music for both his Luomo and Vladislav Delay aliases. His output as Luomo falls roughly under the section marked ‘dancefloor’, exploring the experimental possibilities of house and techno. By contrast, Vladislav Delay acts as an outlet for the music he described in a recent interview with The Quietus as separate from the needs of a crowd and ‘only representing my musical wishes and visions’. As such, it touches on more abstract territory, applying the aesthetics of his background in jazz and live percussion to minimalist, expressive electronica.

In June the Moritz Von Oswald Trio released their debut, Vertical Ascent, featuring Ripatti on drums. Comparisons to Von Oswald’s seminal previous work are pretty much inevitable, and to an extent accurate: Vertical Ascent shares Basic Channel’s focus on subtle, intricate shifts in emphasis and grayscale brush strokes. The striking difference is in the Trio’s distinctly live dynamics - across its four extended tracks, Ripatti’s jazzy polyrhythmic percussion is a driving force, offsetting the cool, chrome sheen with a decidedly human sensibility.

This warmer, sentient feel has bled into this month’s Vladislav Delay album, Tummaa, released on The Leaf Label. Even to someone largely unfamiliar with his previous work it comes across as a departure. Mostly recorded live and largely improvised, its trio of players use Ripatti’s fragmented rhythmic architecture as a backbone from which to explore the circumstances of its origin, in the perpetual darkness of the Scandinavian winter. A collection more of texture and atmosphere than of overt melodic progression, nature’s influence permeates Tummaa - a result of its organic composition process but also its tonal palette, all greens, deep blues and white. It’s also strikingly beautiful.

It’s difficult to do justice to music this all-encompassing. Tummaa is almost impossibly dense in spite of its sparseness, drenched in exquisite tension and constantly poised on the edge of resolution, but rarely reaching it. The fractal blasts of brittle echo that carry opener ‘Melankolia’ seem almost entirely random in their placing, yet as they bind to the song’s mournful piano theme they coalesce to form an anxious, fidgety rhythm. Release, when it comes, is spare – a diminished chord hangs in space for several seconds before fading into the ether. Best of all is the title track, stormy arctic winds wrapped tightly around an insistent strummed chord shift that builds incrementally to a maelstrom of drifting feedback.

In its press release and several interviews Ripatti has touched on the important effect the Finnish ‘kaamos’ – the wintertime darkness - had on the composition of this record. Thick snow has the unnerving tendency to absorb and muffle sound, leaving the surrounding environment eerily silent. Tummaa’s almost inexplicable heaviness, even during its quietest moments, is testament to this influence. At their best, the soundscapes contained within are at once deep blue and purest white, both moving and motionless, and coated in starlight.