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.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't listened to Yo La Tengo in a long time but this post just put them in mind again. I'm gonna part with some money.