It would have been dishonest to pick anything else for our choice for record of the year 2017 - ‘Grafts' has more or less been on constant rotation here since the very start of the year and has dug its claws deep into our psyche in the months since. A blissfully introspective 22 minute piece for keys, samplers and EQs in three parts; it’s instantly easy on the ear - rarely a mark of longevity - but it continues to resonate and transfix regardless of how intimately you become acquainted with its uncanny, cunning manoeuvres.
Uncompromisingly distinct while redolent of modal minimalism, 70s, new age, and folk music, it effectively blurs distinctions between traditional composition and more open, overlapping genres that hover in the half-light between acoustic and electronic refinement.
Rather than anything grandiose or explicitly seductive, the effect of Grafts is best compared with the subtle intoxication of micro-dosing on LSD or the clarity afforded by quiet meditation, in a sense dilating the listener’s focus to a heightened awareness of the piece’s intricate peripheral tones as much as its melodic centre ground, with a beautifully understated, surreal resolution. The piece flickers with gentle optimism, never at random, illuminating unseen spaces that quickly gradient into nothingness.
In both concept and execution, Grafts resonates with Kara-Lis Coverdale’s established roots as an improvisational virtuoso and accomplished pianist as much as her academically informed approach to electroacoustic composition that showcases a distinct omnivorous appetite for the digital.
It’s a record that seems to unravel in perpetuity; exposing new layers with every repeated listen. It never fully commits to a resolution either, lingering like a slowly dispersing plume of smoke as you reach its end and head straight back to the beginning - something we've done countless times.
If you're yet to sink into this incredible piece of music - we genuinely envy what's in store for you. If you're familiar with it already, you'll know exactly what we're talking about.
Burial skulks back to the ‘floor with the deep, bumping swang of Rodent, backed by a footwork flexing Kode 9 remix.
Switching tack from the sublime, beat-less Subtemple 12”, Rodent follows in the vein of Burial’s remix for Mønic’s Deep Summer with a tender grip on deep garage house styles, cruising out on a 120bpm chassis flecked with looped R&B vox, ambient synth voices and flinty percussion, with a certain crackle of anxiety that’s more minutes-before-come-up than anything darkside. Eyes down in the darnce.
Kobe 9 ain’t having any of that on his remix, tho. His take on Rodent is razor sharp, alert and hungry, pinning scuttling footwork hi-hats and palpitating subs around that vocal motif at a quickened pace akin to tracks off his excellent Nothing album, drawing a jagged line from his ‘90s junglist roots right up to the modern nanosec.
Lanark Artefax scales up a dazzling Braindance sound for Whities, firming up his electro rhythms and dynamic production for the clubs following more abstract, tentative aces on Cong Burn Waves and UIQ over the last coupla years. If AFX and Objekt adopted a sprog, it would probably grow up to sound just like Whities 011…
Flickering Debris acts as an excellent, vertiginous intro, tilting up like a rollercoaster car in the final moments before it goes into freefall, but then cannily deferring the gratification of the drop and leaving us suspended in choral hyperspace. The drop, if you want to call it that, comes proper with the hard, fine-tuned electro of Touch Absence, which arguably matches the clinical edge of Objekt’s white labels with the lushness of mid ‘90s AFX, although it also kinda takes us back to that SCSI/Finlow/Datathief era at the turn of the century.
Hyphen To Splice follows into more abstracted, messed up designs somewhere between, say, the emotive nuance of Oneohtrix Point Never or Maxwell Sterling, and Rian Treanor’s bendy metrics, leaving the majestically vaulted chorales and sweeping recursive electronics of Voices Near The Hypocentre to blossom in delirious, mind-bending fractals.
Whities offer a flighty suite of ambient, classical and techno fusions from Jules Venturini (aka Catch ov South London Analogue Material) for the label’s last release of 2017.
While Venturini’s own label specialises in brute industrial techno forms, his own output, as evidenced here, is more open-minded and fanciful, establishing airier coordinates with pendulous, phased string loops and bleeping electrical disturbance eventually precipitating a direct techno groove in Flying Kites, kinda like Maxwell Sterling meets a kick drum, whereas the swooning, weightless string cadence of Keep Me Close comes off like some mutated Arthur Russell instrumental, and spends his techno pound proper on the James Holden-esque Trace Of Smoke.
From the ashes of the excellent /\\Aught label comes Chained Library with a deadly smart incision on the whole abstract and noisy techno paradigm from the enigmatically monikered Agnes.
The label’s first release - preceding a vinyl issue of Xth Réflexion’s /\\05-06 - offers two extended tracts of stoically convincing and oblique rhythmic noise threaded with ghost ion the machine fluctuations that keep us utterly rapt for the duration.
We could compare it to a stoned Russell Haswell getting fixated on the minute of his thing, or perhaps more pertinently a Zbigniew Karkowski piece, but as with the best of its ilk, there’s just something about these pieces that’s deeply fucking satisfying, but we can’t quite place our finger on or explain.
As one of the standout projects unveiled by the excellent but sadly now defunct /\ \ Aught label (2014-2015), Xth Réflexion’s /\ \ 05 + /\ \ 06 tapes transmitted some of the most enigmatic dub techno mutations since Chain Reaction kicked the bucket in 2003. Now brought to vinyl by a mysterious new label, Chained Library, we’re given a firmly tangible, if decidedly elusive reminder of Xth Réflexion’s raving, abstract excellence here.
Collecting /\ \ 05 + /\ \ 06 in their entirety - 10 tracks to be precise - Xth Réflexion’s first vinyl plunges listeners into a world of kinetic dub ephemera, feeling out a grayscale palette of cracked rhythms, silty chords and atmospheric grit with a sublime appreciation of flux and drift that feels to emulate the sensation or dynamic of brownian motion with an intoxicating appeal akin to the systolic diffusion of opioids or air-con in a sparsely furnished, humid room.
They scale and skid between tempos with naturally fluid agility, sucking us in with the flux of acousmatic source material, strobing dub rhythms and coruscating noise in 01 before winding up the tightly coiled, double-time flex of highlight, 02 and jabbing out the panicked underwater coda of 04 on the first disc, before the 2nd wraps up wickedly restless square bass squirm and rhythmic noise in 05 and 06, along with the desiccated structures of 07, plus the Voices From The Lake-style roil of 08 and the Lee Gamble-like immersion 10.
Striking the finest balance between abstraction and just-about-buoyant dub function, they are, by some distance, the best examples we’ve heard crawl out of the whole grey area in the last few years. A really strong look for anyone looking for solutions to grid-locked rhythm and sound problems.
P.S. if you’re worried about the packaging affecting the fidelity of the vinyl, we’re pretty sure that’s supposed to be the point, especially considering that the originals were presented on tape.
Ryan Carlile and Spencer Doran traverse the outer reaches on this killer Visible Cloaks document for RVNG.
We just knew last year's debut Visible Cloaks offering for RVNG, the Miyako Koda-featuring Visible Cloaks single Valve, would be the prelude to something greater from Ryan Carlile and Spencer Doran. Reassemblage marks the Portland pair's second album and further expands upon the Visible Cloaks 'verse, calling on Motion Graphics and Root Strata alum Matt Carlson for assistance.
Inspiration for the album stems from a video essay of the same name by Trin T Minha-ha, which explored the impossibility of ascribing meaning to ethnographic images. With this in mind, Visible Cloaks set about transposing the inherent futurism of acts discovered on their inspirational Fairlights, Mallets and Bamboo mixes well into the 21st Century through modern sound design.
This results in an album whose eleven tracks possess a startlingly lucid and vibrant vision, forming new structures and ideas in the process. The aforementioned Valve features early in Reassemblage, Miyako Koda's presence gaining even more meaning within the context of Carlile and Doran's intentions for the album.
Elsewhere, vocals are deployed with a more abstract bent, VC playfully skewering Matt Carlson's voice through digital manipulation on Neume for one of the album's forays through musique plastique. Circles offers a genuinely spine-tingling moment of modern classical, whilst Motion Graphics follows his avant-jazz Future Times gripper with some illuminating assistance on the digital tranquility of Bloodstream.
Wonderful stuff all round.
PAN lead on from the sublime Mono No Aware set with Stack Music; an enchanting demonstration of Jörg Hiller aka Konrad Sprenger’s computer-filleted electric guitar parts, rendering the bewildering results of his studies into rhythmic patterns based on the Euclidean algorithm. Fret not though if further maths boxes your brain a bit like it does mine - just imagine Jim O’Rourke processing John Fahey improvisations in real time and you’ve got a good grasp of the bittersweet, bluesy, worldly beauty consolidated inside Stack Music.
In solitary pursuit of a shimmering harmonic geist that evades digital music, Konrad Sprenger’s first new album under that moniker since 2009 follows his more recent credits as Jörg Hiller on the 41’ 36” compilation for Hamburg’s Sky Walking label, and his Motor Guitars on Oren Ambarchi’s Hubris album, in a lush development of his studies of mechanical instruments such as the Pianola and Orchestrion, and the way they effectively worked like early computer systems for creating unique combinations of pitches.
Applying a scientific approach to modified electric guitar parts, Sprenger effectively uses the tactility of his instrument, in conjunction with the spatialising and tuning possibilities of a computer and informed by the history of 20th century experimentation, to create a contemporary antecedent of those early musical machines’ complex harmonic voices, effectively yielding a microcosm of uniquely scaled tunings that magnify and patently recall the efficiently expressive strokes and nuanced infidelities of early American folk music as much as the keening cadences of spiritual jazz, the all-encompassing purity of sacred minimalism, and the transcendent pulses that connect krautrock to techno.
Stack Music documents his research and technique in action during a number of residences and live performances in recent years, unfolding in a palindromic suite bookended by two shorter part - the spiralling meditation of Opening, recorded at Phill Niblick’s Intermedia Foundation Loft, and which transitions from almost baroque pointillism to see-sawing blues via Krauty flight; and the whirligig lushness of Largo’s passage from fairground to the cosmos - while two 18 minute parts, Finale and Rondo cover sweeping landscapes that condense vast geographies and time frames into staggered, avant-orchestral movements with an astral railroad travelling momentum.