Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Track of the day: October 28th

Rhythm & Sound feat. Savage - Smile

Basic Channel duo Moritz von Oswald and Mark Ernestus have been responsible for some compelling and truly beautiful music, but nothing simultaneously touches the neural centres controlling both aesthetic appreciation and contemplation like ‘Smile’.

Released under their Rhythm & Sound alias, usually better known for its work with Paul St. Hilaire, Von Oswald and Ernestus cloak Savage’s barely audible ruminations in tessellated layers of static wash; the entire history of dub’s studio experimentation locked in an eternal battle with itself as a metronomic pulse drives it ever-forward. For something so minimal it’s strikingly emotionally charged, a sense of aching loneliness captured in tense chord stabs and Savage’s striking admission, ‘Every time we fight/We lose’.

Rarely has a track composed largely of white noise sounded so fully realised.

Video: Vladislav Delay - Toive

A video for the Vladislav Delay piece 'Toive', taken from his wild and elementally brilliant Tummaa album, has been commissioned by The Leaf Label. Directed by Carolina Melis and Lorenzo Sportiello, it sets his crystalline textures and slow decay to their very reverse, as ice structures gradually coalesce out of nothingness. I don't usually watch music videos but this one's a gem, perfectly fitting Sasu Ripatti's deep purple and green brushes of ambient texture and sudden shards of melody.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport

It’s hard not to wonder whether, in a few hundred years’ time, people might not look back on 2009 as the beginning of the end. When we’ve managed to wreak a hitherto unprecedented amount of havoc on our planet’s natural systems, and the sci-fi option of attempting to escape our increasingly hostile living prison is beginning to look ever more appealing, will people look back at our generation - who flicked the switch on the first machine humankind ever built with the potential (however minimal) to instantly destroy ourselves in a cataclysmic inversion - as the moment where it all went from bad to worse? Luckily for us all, the Large Hadron Collider at Cern didn’t trigger the birth of an Earth-eating black hole, but as far as Fuck Buttons’ Tarot Sport is concerned it might as well have done.

The closest approximation to witnessing your entire world’s basic physical properties distort and shift around you, accelerating to break point before merely ceasing to be, Fuck Buttons seem pretty damned excited by this development.
From start to finish, Tarot Sport pulls the listener through ever heightening rushes of serotonin that at times threaten to overwhelm entirely. Put simply, it’s fucking magical.

The full ten-minute version of ‘Surf Solar’ blazes from the starting line in a whirl of fluorescent colour, gradually building momentum across its length until its core finally goes nova, decimating light years’ worth of sonic debris before finally receding. After being cruelly chopped down to a shadow of its current self for the radio edit a couple of months ago, it’s a stunning resurrection. Still, even mid-way through such a dramatic opener it remains apparent that Fuck Buttons are still taking the same fundamental approach to song-building that they did with Street Horrrsing – a series of simple repetitions, each stretched to breaking point before the next shift.
Both ‘Olympians’ and ‘The Lisbon Maru’ could almost have appeared on their debut, such are the tectonically slow movements that propel their surprisingly fragile melodic structures.

Yet given an adrenaline shot of focus, Tarot Sport hones the Buttons’ occasional vague excesses into something sleek and streamlined, bookended by the most apocalyptic rave music this Earth has ever witnessed. They’ve been performing closer ‘Flight of the Feathered Serpent’ for a couple of years now, but in recorded form its thumping techno flex is certainly the finest nine minutes they’ve ever recorded – an ever-escalating, tribal thing that twice sends trails of firework vapour blazing into the night sky.

It’s hard to keep count of the number of identikit Ibiza dance compilations released every year with the same scantily clad partygoers on the cover promising pure, unadulterated thrills. Tarot Sport’s mere existence is tantamount to sending them all to the corner with a dunce cap jammed firmly on their collective head – this is what real euphoria sounds like. It’s managed to tap into the spirit of reckless abandon of nineties dance music in the least obvious way, and the results are stellar. If you need any more evidence, look closer at the cover: I’m pretty sure that if you concentrate hard enough, that mess of fleshy appendages resolves itself into an immaculately tanned girl in a bikini.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Tune of the day: October 26th

RSD - Koto

To put it simply, Rob Smith is a legend. His pioneering music as one half of Smith & Mighty and his production work across the last two decades sculpted the now well-known ‘Bristol sound’ into an instantly recognisable hallmark. A blend of dub sensibilities and soundsystem culture that bled from the vibrant musical communities operating out of St. Paul’s with the ferocious and uncompromising spirit of punk rock, its results are still being felt today – most keenly in the local dubstep scene, which Smith is now closely aligned with.

Last month Rooted Records owner Tom Peverelist compiled on his fantastic Punch Drunk label all of Smith’s singles as RSD, gathering together some of his earliest tunes – the junglist swing of ‘Pretty Bright Light’ a notable highlight – alongside rarer material. ‘Koto’, taken from the compilation Good Energy, fuses a delicately plucked Oriental melody to a sweeping string backdrop more than a little reminiscent of his contemporaries Massive Attack circa Blue Lines, to dazzling effect. The CD itself is well worth tracking down.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Track of the day: October 22nd

Glover Gill & Tosca Tango Orchestra – 'Ballade 3'

I’ve recently rediscovered Richard Linklater’s bewitching Waking Life, a synaesthetic drift through the life of a man struggling to comprehend his current consciousness. It really is a wonderful film, subtly exploring the nature of reality and dream without ever being predisposed to pass judgment on the truth of either, and lent an extra dimension by the use of then-pioneering rotoscope animation techniques to manipulate the characters’ filmed environment. The result is a constantly shifting and unnervingly alive backdrop to a series of increasingly intense social interactions that reach a crescendo and diminish to an indefinite close – not dissimilar from a dream’s sudden end. One of Waking Life’s less overt successes lies in its soundtrack, a haunting and evocative score by Glover Gill that encircles the film’s subject matter without overwhelming the narrative drive. The soundtrack stays with you long after the film’s close – the gradually overlapping layers of ‘Ballade 3’ form its emotional core.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Track of the day: October 21st

There's a whole wealth of music that it just doesn't feel appropriate to review on CB/OB or cover in a traditional way (mainly because so much of it has already been written about to death). With this in mind, and with the aim of avoiding an overload of writing without enough of its subject, this is the first of a daily 'Track Of The Day' segment, which will hopefully cover songs both old and new that just don't quite fit in anywhere else. Today...

Tom Waits - Jockey Full Of Bourbon

Rain Dogs has to rank as unequivocally my favourite Tom Waits record - unfortunate in some ways as it was the first I bought, and none of his (uniformly excellent) others have yet topped its blend of feral atmosphere, tongue-in-cheek bravado and gruff lunacy. It's an album to lose oneself in, next to impossible to stop listening once the sharpened chords and swung sax of 'Singapore' announce its arrival, and even harder to pick a single track from. 'Jockey Full Of Bourbon' is less a highlight then, and more a song appropriate for today's transition to full autumn - a dusty bar-room drawl that transports the listener straight to a hot, smokey basement somewhere, anywhere but here.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Audion - Hecatomb

Under his Audion alias, Matthew Dear has put out some fantastic material over the last few months. Both ‘I Am The Car’ and ‘Look At The Moon’ were modern lessons in how to do minimalist techno the right way, all hypnotic bass cycles and haunted, nocturnal synth pads. I was unfortunate enough to manage to miss the London leg of his impressive looking Hecatomb tour, in which he integrates his recent work with all-encompassing whirlpools of light and synaesthetic patterns, due to exhaustion during the last few hours of Field Day.

Still, as he’s done a few times in the past, he’s giving away a new track ‘Instant In You’ for free if you join his mailing list. It’s a pretty good deal given that the only emails I’ve received from the list have been offering me free music, and the track itself – a slow moving, gently luminescent number - is well worth more than a cursory listen.

Photography: 'Sainsbury's, Redhill' by Nico Hogg

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


In the midst of a move to Bristol, normal service has been operating minimally here at CB/OB (now based in a fourth floor flat with a dynamite view of Jamaica Street). It’s been one of those ‘waiting ages for a bus’ weeks with music though – suddenly everything you’re eagerly awaiting seems to all come along at once. Aside from wallet woes this week with new plates from Shackleton, A Made Up Sound and Moderat, there’s been a whole host of great new 12”s, as well as some other bits and pieces, on the CB/OB stereo over the last couple of weeks. So here’s a roundup of the artists making regular hi-fi appearances during the city transition.

Pausal – Pausal EP [Highpoint Lowlife]

There’s scant information available about Pausal, only a brief description of this EP reissue on the Highpoint Lowlife site. Given it’s wondrous, trance-like qualities it’s a good thing it has been re-released in the interests of avoiding its disappearance beneath the radar altogether, although admittedly it’s still likely destined to become a little-known gem.

Sonically the duo’s closest contemporaries are probably Tired Sounds…-era Stars of the Lid, all rising ambience and gently shimmering swathes of melody, wrapped up in a glacial cocoon of feedback and slow, ponderous motion. A cursory listen would probably lead the casual listener to dismiss the four pieces on this EP as pale imitations of the Texan pioneers, but as with SotL there is a great deal more buried just beneath Pausal’s surface that rewards careful and patient listening.

Melodic progression is barely overt at all – often an entire track will remain centred on a single chord for its entire length, the tiniest hints of nostalgia and recognition captured in hidden elements that emerge for fractionally small periods of time before ducking again beneath the surface. The EP’s centerpiece, the twelve minute ‘Place (Revisited)’, encapsulates perfectly the title’s dual sense of comfortable recognition and of unease at the smaller elements you hadn’t remembered; all trapped in crystal shards of guitar and the merest suggestion of choral voices that phosphoresce vividly as they blossom into full life.

‘Heroes=Dogs’ begins with the same sort of menacing mechanical grind that opens Godspeed You Black Emperor!’s ‘The Dead Flag Blues’, but whilst the Canadian troupe peel away the drone to allow each constituent part to breathe separately Pausal’s sound palette – synthesised strings, guitar feedback and hints of found sound – coalesces into a single, inseperable force that swells and swells like some monstrous tidal rise. Finally each element is stripped away again leaving only the machine’s soft cry for company as the piece ends.

Brackles – Rawkus/Air Pie [Planet Mu]
Shortstuff - Progression/Relapse/A [Formant]

The Blunted Robots crew are making real ripples in the post-dubstep/future-garage/whatever-you-want-to-call-it pond at the moment. The label’s second twelve, another set of tunes from Martin Kemp, is due in the next month or so, and the label’s main co-conspirators Brackles and Shortstuff have seen their profiles skyrocket in the last six months off the back of a series of incendiary plates for Planet Mu, Apple Pips and Ramp.

Planet Mu has just released a second set of tunes from Brackles, following on from May’s fantastically warped and mind-altering ‘LHC’. Compared to what had come before, the existence of both ‘LHC’ and his pair of tracks on Apple Pips felt less the product of natural evolution and more like a total rewiring of dubstep’s genetic structure, razor sharp synth spirals offset by a broken post-garage shuffle and lurching slabs of sub-bass. So it’s surprising given its track title that ‘Rawkus’ is probably the most graceful thing he’s yet put his name to. It’s still indisputably Brackles, filled with a knowing humour and a biting dancefloor edge, but sleeker and more streamlined, somehow sexier. ‘Air Pie’ on the flip is disoriented, ‘Rawkus’ staggering onto the dancefloor a couple of hours and a few pints of cider later, co-ordination diminished along with most of its sex appeal but with an unshakeable rakish charm.

In a similar vein, after the sheer sonic firepower of Shortstuff’s debut on Ramp, his second 12” in as many months is almost the entire opposite, softer, subtler and all the better for it. There’s a contemplative flexibility to his production that takes him further from a darkened club and a huge system than his other BR stablemates – ‘Relapse’ is shot through with barely audible bursts of melody buried deep in the mix under its circling eight-note motif. ‘Progression’ is simply beautiful, its muted arabesque chimes calling to mind the shifting sands and richly textured tech-scapes of Peverelist alongside early Shackleton’s dense plumes of shisha smoke. It’s as rich a solo listening experience as anything your average IDM-type label would put out – if not more so, as its firm anchors to the dancefloor ensure its effect is physically tangible as opposed to entirely abstract.

Idle Hands – 001 [Idle Hands]

Away from a Peverelist reference and straight to the latest label output from his shop, Rooted Records (now conveniently about five minutes’ walk from my flat). Idle Hands’ first release is an anonymous 12”, briefly covered in my ‘autumn in Bristol’ piece, with two pulsing experiments in repetitive minimalism, sonically very close to the output of a closely linked producer. To these ears side A is the superior cut – increasingly direct stabs of tech synth converge and separate over a subtly shifting beat to hypnotic, lulling effect. When the needle tails off at the end it feels unnatural for the track to finish at all, leaving the impression that you’ve merely tuned in to a six-minute long fragment of some perpetual alien transmission, its many permutations stretching out into astral infinity.

Wicked A - A Nie Dvamata S Bobi Piem Kafe (Ramadanman remix) [White]

It’s been a fair while in David Kennedy time – so about two months - since we’ve had any new output from his Ramadanman alias. This remix of an unknown Hungarian (?) band has sneaked out on white label with a minimum of fanfare - the track itself’s central section a notable exception, dominated as it is by an escalating and addictive brass line so suited to mixing into other sets that he’s kindly provided a ‘horns-apella’ on the flipside. Kennedy takes his sense of unconventional percussive playfulness to new heights, with a stop-start rhythm and vocal fragments as faithful to the original’s European roots as to his own vision. I don’t imagine it’ll be available for very long but it’s a white label well worthy of investigation.

F & Headhunter – Night Dive/Dedale [Transistor]

The dubstep-techno crossover continues unabated, but away from the more austere and experimental ends of the genre – Shackleton’s new material on Perlon, which arguably has freed itself entirely from any limiting concept of genre, or Scuba’s recent forays into new tempo territory – Bristolian Headhunter and France's F both fly the flag for the more direct, dancefloor-ready side of the sound. On this shared 12”, F’s ‘Night Dive’ pushes his nocturnal side further into aquatic realms over a four-four stomp, but the real gem is their collaborative effort ‘Dedale’, which sets a queasily churning beat and dissonant chord blocks over some of the deepest and darkest bass pressure this side of early Loefah. The sub-bass is so glutinous it binds the rest of the track’s elements together into a marshy, seething whole, a bizarre but effective mover.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Memories Of The Future: Hyperdub in 2009

The latest edition of CB/OB's monthly column for Muso's Guide, Short Circuitry, has just been published. A special edition of sorts to tie in with the release of Hyperdub's Five Years compilation, it takes a diversion to Tempa's recent The Roots Of El-B collection, a look back to the early days of Kode9's label and forward to its recent explosions in colour, shape and texture.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Scuba - Speak/Negative [Naked Lunch]

The resurgence of garage beats in dubstep recently seems to have permeated far beyond the immediate confines of the ‘what you call it?’ London lot – even as far as Berlin, as Scuba’s new EP on Naked Lunch is drenched in London dance atmospherics.

The past twelve months have been good to Paul Rose. Not only has his recent music has been scattered all over with scant regard for genre boundaries, from the driving techno pulse of ‘Klinik’ to the diffuse atmospheres of his A Mutual Antipathy full length, but his label Hotflush has been going from strength to strength, given a handy profile boost by the man-of-the-moment Joy Orbison’s anthem ‘Hyph Mngo’. Still, even by Rose’s own lofty standards he’s really outdone himself with his latest 12” of new material.

‘Speak’ continues the trend for warped, washing Berlin grayscale over muted but skipping beat patterns – yet in typical Scuba style it really doesn’t sound like anyone else, prioritising tangible and eerie urban landscaping above the forceful drive of his closest contemporaries. Yet it’s ‘Negative’ that sucks the breath abruptly from your body when its gorgeous, phantom two-step beat and looped, cyclic female vocal hits in full force. At 2562’s album launch party at Corsica Studios last Friday it made an appearance early in the evening and literally immersed the small crowd in aquatic vibes – physically drowning in sound. Combined with the lights drawing slow-moving blue trails across the walls ceiling and floor it was an experience akin to total sensory deprivation, for a blissful few seconds spent somewhere between outer and inner space. It’s by far the most compulsive track Rose has ever produced and will take some beating - by himself or by anyone else - for my favourite of the year.

Still, it might just happen. His new Aesaunic EP is due to drop on October 19th and it sounds set to be pretty incredible. Hotflush have issued a four-minute preview of the entire EP on Youtube – the vibe seems to fit his recent chameleon like productivity, ranging from ‘Negative’ style garage explorations to slow and considered 4/4.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Instra:mental - Watching You/Tramma

I’ve never been one for buying drum ‘n’ bass – a large proportion of the genre doesn’t interest me, and such a large proportion of it seems to have the same kind of thuggish jump-up vibe that’s currently giving dubstep an (unjustified) reputation as macho, overtly masculine music. So it’s a surprise to me that one of the most exciting 12”s I’ve bought for a while has come from London duo Instra:mental. Admittedly extremely free in their attitude towards genre boundaries, the second plate on their own Nonplus+ records combines the sort of broken, dissected beats common in the techier end of dubstep with luminous synth lines and discreet, futurist bass bleeps.

In so much as a tune at about 170bpm can be defined as d’n’b, lead track ‘Watching You’ is a drum ‘n’ bass workout, but stripped back to its core elements it seems almost a shame to pigeonhole it there. Warming up with a glitchy, spacious beat, the only sign of any expected breakbeat energy is the occasional graceful pivot of snares at the high end – but these elements are downplayed to serve the track’s purpose. Instead, dancefloor driven beat chemistry is replaced with phosphorescent melodic cascades and dBridge’s vocal yearnings, heavily effected and awash in machine soul. It’s unmistakably a song, written for discrete listening as an individual piece, as opposed to a track that only peaks as part of a longer mix. As much as anything else, it’s absolutely gorgeous – the textures the duo manage to craft are so tangible, so sumptuous and fully fleshed it feels as though you could melt into them.

‘Tramma’ on the flip is an excursion into dubstep tempo territory, and driven by a rolling beat and a hypnotic hi-hat figure it shares much with the Detroit and Berlin-inspired end of that genre. In fact, its gradual addition and subtraction of textural layering has as much in common with Shed’s moonlight-bathed forays as with the perpetual motion experiments of Peverelist. Once again, it’s the subtleties that really matter here; consistent, churning low end and repetitive beat architecture is offset by washes of white noise, sudden flashes of airy melody and gritty, dystopian urban landscaping.

It’s the first time I’ve really listened to Instra:mental’s music properly, and has immediately led me to seek out as much of their other material as possible – they seem to be doing something pretty unique in blending elements of a whole host of influences into something that doesn’t sound less than the sum of its constituent parts. It’s the most rewarding kind of experimentation that immediately sounds perfectly integrated and remarkably complete. They’re due to release a new 12” on Appleblim’s Apple Pips label in the near future, and it seems unlikely it will be less than impressive.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

September sounds – the month in albums, and a look into autumn

The days are getting shorter and for some reason it feels as though the summer’s just ended, bleeding almost imperceptibly into an autumnal crash. September was a funny one, seemingly short but with an impressive array of brilliant full-lengths released. In fact, it has arguably been one of the best months of 2009 so far for unmissable albums. I’ve only covered a fraction on CB/OB as I’ve written about them for other publications, so here comes a selection of the best September sounds, as we move into colder times ahead.

HEALTH – Get Colour

In their second full-length Get Colour, LA noiseniks HEALTH have almost effortlessly achieved the potential merely hinted at on their first self-titled album. Whilst HEALTH was disjointed, a series of sketches that promised much but delivered in small doses rather than the full chemical hit, one blast from the opening salvo of ‘In Heat’ immediately dissipates any suspicions that the follow-up would be similarly patchy. ‘Die Slow’ churns and gurns, ‘Before Tigers’ exposes the melodic heart that beats at its core between bursts of seismic guitar and in ‘Severin’ HEALTH finally manage to put to tape a track that fully captures their feral live energy. I can’t see this one falling short of the top ten of the year. My full review of the record is up at Gigwise.

Anti-Pop Consortium – Fluorescent Black

Messrs Beans, M. Sayyid, Earl Blaize and High Priest have managed to outdo themselves with their comeback, several years after APC dissolved following the sonic brainmelt of Arrhythmia. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Four Tet’s chiming, post-minimalist take on ‘Volcano’ was impressive enough, but the original succeeds in being just as earth-shaking, the chorus’ jarring harmony giving way to scathing and insightful social commentary and arrogant swagger. ‘C Thru U’ and ‘Reflections’ both belie a massive UK influence on their sound, both on MC flow and beat structure, and ‘NY To Tokyo’s 4/4 stomp makes it more explicit – featuring as it does charming chatter from London impresario Roots Manuva. I reviewed the record for DiS, it’s up here.

Tyondai Braxton – Central Market

I’m not sure how many would agree with me on this, but I found Battles’ Mirrored to be something of a disappointment. Not that I was entirely surprised. Bar the jazzy, stuttering expressions of early piece ‘Tras’ – and the burlesque shapes of ‘Atlas’, naturally - they were always a band more to admire than to love. Live they transcend this limitation impressively, taking the clinically leaning precision of their recorded oeuvre and stretching it out into densely patterned dance jams, complete with Tyondai Braxton’s cartoon character vocals. It’s good to hear Braxton taking his solo material in an entirely different and far more compelling direction. A collaboration with the Wordless Music Orchestra, Central Market sees him fully explore his impressive influences, the result a staggered but often intensely rewarding trip through bursts of spastic synth, sweeps of string and brass and Disney whistles. Full review up at Gigwise.

Mary Anne Hobbs – Wild Angels

Anyone reading this is unlikely to need to ask who Mary Anne Hobbs is – the lady herself of UK bass sounds, her unending championship of dubstep has been one of the main reasons for its recent crossover into a more mainstream level of consciousness. Following on from her last two compilations for Planet Mu, Wild Angels sees her compile a set more weighted towards the colourful end of dubstep-related electronica – Hudson Mohawke’s ‘Spotted’, Gemmy’s ‘Rainbow Road’ and Floating Points’ quite incredible ‘Esthian III’ all twist any preconceptions of the genre into new and wonderful shapes. Of particular merit is Hyetal’s expedition to inner space on ‘We Should Light A Fire’; it’s broken arpeggios and techy flexing have been soundtracking my life for ages, so it’s fantastic to see it get a wider release.

Volcano Choir – Unmap

After the diminishing returns of his Blood Bank EP as Bon Iver, Justin Vernon has successfully managed to avoid the tag of indie-folk one-hit-wonder with Volcano Choir’s debut, Unmap. A collaboration between himself and Collections of Colonies of Bees, it explores pastoral spaces in a manner not unlike Do Make Say Think – yet strewn with Vernon’s lost-and-losing vocals and the spiraling guitar shapes of highlight ‘Island, IS’, it successfully establishes itself as being unlike anything else released this year. ‘Seeplymouth’ (below) is magisterial, a miniature orchestra of bleeps and chimes ringing amidst gradually deepening piles of russet leaves, a perfect soundtrack to the beginning of autumn. Full review up at Gigwise.

And to look ahead…

FaltyDL – Bravery

Yes, it’s not released for another couple of weeks but Drew Lustman’s second album(ish) release this year proves itself to easily equal (if not better – the jury’s still out on that one) Love Is A Liability, itself one of my outright favourites of 2009. The title track staggers in LA Brainfeeder stylee before a gorgeous Warped vocal showdown, ‘You Made Me Feel So Right’ takes the dysfunctional urban shapes of Burial and wraps them in a blanket of unseasonal warmth and ‘Tronman’ takes Lustman’s two-step adventures into deeply dissonant territory. A triumph through and through, and indeed a brave move. My full review of the record is up at the excellent Sonic Router blog.

Photo: 'Mozart Estate' by Nico Hogg, used with thanks.