Krautrock revivalists Phantom Horse come correct with their fourth album, bringing the cosmic experimentation of Cluster, Tangerine Dream's glassy soundtrack work and JD Emmanuel's DIY minimalism into the same sonic space.
Over their last three full-lengths, Ulf Schuette and Niklas Dommaschk have proved more than capable of crafting the kind of astral-traveling Krautrock that barely exists any more. Sure, there are plenty of bands nabbing the motorik beat and calling it a day, but Phantom Horse do things differently, reanimating a similar mind-altered mood as "Zuckerzeit"-era Cluster, all rolling beatbox rhythms and sweaty synth cycles.
"Mehr Null" continues this tradition, exploring the limits of their sound and pushing into similar territory as Texan new age synth don JD Emmanuel or even Klaus Schulze at his most kosmische. Most of the tracks here are extended jams, allowing loops and melodies to rise and fall with the efficiency of trance but the glassy, euphoric mood of Tangerine Dream's soundtrack work. It's expertly crafted stuff, harking back to simpler times without relying completely on empty nostalgic tropes.
Bella Union have signed Laura Groves, who is for our money one of the most unique yet memorable singer-songwriters of our time, following a string of choice work with Bullion, and lending her voice to records by Sampha, The Paul Institute and Darkstar.
Sparkling with pop magic and spelt with a storyteller’s suss, ‘A Private Road’ is the definitive Laura Groves record. It’s mostly self-produced and performed by the West Yorkshire lass, and draws from her observations of life in her South London dream grounds, describing, as she says; “snapshots of late night journeys across the river, the sparks of love that transform us and keep us going, the dead ends that the mind can lead us down, the erotic, the visible and invisible places we pass through as they merge and are erased and overwritten.” It’s hard not to compare her chops here to her previous releases with Bullion, but that’s probably because they’re both besotted with classic pop, from Fleetwood Mac to Paddy McAloon and Sade, who all richly inform her crystalline, poetic distillations of daily doings and ephemeral atmospheres.
Anyone seeking highlights should run to her lead single ‘Infinite Wisdom’ for the kind of husky but effervescent vox heard on her Nautic releases, gilded with a melodic glyde, and likewise ’Sunset’ which channels Sade via Hype Williams in acres of fuzzy reverb, and allow yourself to melt into the blissed McAloonian turns of phrase on her velvet-coated centrepiece, ‘Red.’
Deep techno hypnotism from Italy’s D-Leria, working in the slipstream of Shifted and Donato Dozzy style minimalism
From sleepwalker tekkers to squelching modular killers and serpentine zingers, D-Leria does it with finesse in each part of the ’Still Standing’ EP. ‘Tribalism’ is an unmissable charge of frenzied Afro-latin syncopation, and the rinsing modular madness of ‘Noises From The Floor’ hits square between the eyes of Blawan and Surgeon, while ‘Divergeneces’ emulates the hydrodynamics of Shifted or PAS at their fluid best, and ‘A Life On The Run’ breaks thru the 150bpm barrier for anyone chomping at the bit for full throttle rave gear.
Charming and spirited bass and harp quarantine jams from husband and wife duo Dezron Douglas & Brandee Younger - one for fans of Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane.
"If you haven't lost your mind yet, God is good. If you have lost your mind that's cool too." Dezron Douglas and Brandee Younger's "Force Majeure" was recorded during lockdown, when the husband and wife duo would livestream duets every Friday morning. Douglas is a bassist and producer and Brandee Younger a harpist who's recorded with Lauren Hill and Drake, among others, so they have a pretty solid starting point here. The interplay between the artists is the key though. Sure, they are both adept players, but their lightness and humor is infectious - they even kept some of the back-and-forth banter from the streams (the bickering about how to pronounce "Force Majeure" is extremely cute).
If you're looking for something positive to shine through some of the seemingly-endless grey of lockdown, "Force Majeure" offers a spiritual salve that should appeal to anyone into florid harp-led jazz. Sunny and gorgeous stuff.
Japanese sound artist Sugai Ken follows acclaimed full-lengths for RVNG and Discrepant with this quirky, understated musing on Dutch-Japanese water management projects at the turn of the 19th century. Seriously.
In some ways, music is a very obvious way to explore our history. Whether it's through the use of instruments dreamed up long before we were born or the investigation of musical practices that were perfected hundreds of years ago, history and sound is lashed together in almost imperceptible ways. On "Tone River", Ken makes a more obvious link with a project commissioned by the Dutch Embassy in Tokyo. The short, low-key work is a musical response to the Dutch influence on Japan's water management. In the early 19th century, as the country shifted from feudalism into modern democracy, Japan's government called on Dutch traders in the bay of Nagasaki to assist them on large-scale projects, one of which was the Tone River, a huge body of water that stretches 322 kilometers across Japan's biggest island, Honshu.
Ken responded to the brief by visiting three points on the river and capturing a selection of field recordings using an array of microphones, including hydrophones for detailed underwater sounds. The result is whisper-soft patchwork of calming sloshing and dripping, interspersed with Ken's charming, spacious synthwork. Fans of Hiroshi Yoshimura or Visible Cloaks should find plenty here; the combination of liquid sounds with delicate marimba and blurry drones is truly absorbing. Ken's experiments are historical in nature, but they never hammer you over the head with concept, they simply breathe.
Released as two separate vinyl LP’s, Mark Fell & Will Guthrie’s Infoldings / Diffractions is now also available as one combined digital edition, released via Koshiro Hino’s (Goat, YPY) newly minted NAKID label. Informed/inspired by Gamelan and South Indian Carnatic musics, this set comes with a big recommendation if you’re into Autechre, Michael Ranta, The Necks, Milford Graves.
Infoldings / Diffractions combines synthesis and sinew in unpredictable, pointillist arrangements where Guthrie plays against patterns derived from Max MSP patches by Fell. The album’s four longform tracks are in this sense different to the man-machine concept of Fell’s acclaimed ‘Intra’ album, where he triggered performances by Portugal’s Drumming Grupo De Percussão to play a metallophone designed by Iannis Xenakis. Here, the pair find common/contrasting purpose in a probing of rhythmic signatures, with groundbreaking, unusual results.
Recorded at HFG, Karlsruhe (where Fell is guest professor), and finished later in respective isolation, the pieces were edited from iterations of call-and-response between Fell’s rhythmic patterns and Guthrie’s overdubs. They effectively propose beguiling and convincing solutions to electronic music’s problems with grid-lock, using illusive generative processing that appears to make physical actions seem unfeasibly effortless, while melting the computer’s clock to a real-time, free-hand syncopation.
Taking the influence of gamelan and fusing it with the heaving computer music that Fell has obsessively picked-at over the last four decades, the duo here zoom into a sound that’s almost effortlessly engaging; each piece is almost twenty minutes in length but they shift and mutate into polyrhythmic outer-realms and eerie universes of microtonality that are hard to fathom in one sitting.
There are trace echoes of free jazz hanging from the rafters, the post-everything chatter of Humcrush and Food drummer Thomas Strønen’s mind-expanding solo material or even Autechre at their most confounding. The genius here is that just when you convince yourself that this music could only possibly have been generated by a computer, Guthrie’s unmistakably human flex edges into focus - playing with your perception - your expectations - in the most bold, innovative way imaginable.
In all, it’s one of the most liquid, forward iterations of computer music you’ll likely hear this - or any other - year.
Originally released in 2005, "Happiness Will Befall" shows a softer side to Aussie power ambient mainstay Lawrence English. Hazy guitar and electronics that reminds of Fennesz at his most peaceful or Oren Ambarchi's flawless "Grapes From the Estate".
English pieced the record together over two months, attempting to make sense of memories accumulated traveling through Singapore, South India, New Zealand and Australia. The result is a sequence of calming meditations using heavily processed guitar that remind of Fennesz's early work, Ben Frost's debut "Steel Wound" or Oren Ambarchi's earlier work.
A marked contrast with his more recent records - such as 2014's "Wilderness of Mirrors" and 2017's "Cruel Optimism" - "Happiness Will Before" is calm and slow-paced, drifting gently and bringing in delicate digital tones and processed field recordings to offset the guitar's subtle flutter. Just lovely.
Hot on the heels of "skins n slime" arrives a skeletal 30-minute flutter of dimly-lit piano flourishes and surprisingly sparse stringwork from virtuoso Thom Yorke and Mica Levi collaborator Oliver Coates.
Since Oliver Coates was branded a musical genius while he was breaking test score records at the Royal Academy of Music, he's been doing everything he can to subvert the expectation of what a virtuoso cellist can and can't do. As obsessed with UK garage and tweaky IDM as he is with classical music, he's attempted over a slew of albums to fashion the cello into new forms, recreating familiar sounds or simply crafting new ones. With October's "skins n slime" he took this process even further, but with "Sidestepped" there's a far more delicate restraint to his approach.
Bringing to mind the otherworldly soundtrack work of Coates' sometime collaborator Mica Levi, "Sidestepped" pairs Coates' eerie cello tones with sparse, muted piano. Over half an hour it builds slowly and assuredly, breezily attracting dust and noise until it erupts in a crescendo of Jefre Cantu-Ledesma-style power ambient fuzz. Yum.
Fuzz'd-out progbient doom from Turkish composer Elif Yalvaç, who maps out her memories of Nordic landscapes with guitars, synths, field recordings and a Game Boy. Microsound, but make it epic.
Like most of us over the last few months of oscillating lockdown and quarantine, Turkish sound artist Elif Yalvaç has had a difficult run, punctuated by "challenging personal circumstances". She's channeled these feelings into "Mountains Become Stepping Stones", her second full-length and first for NNA Tapes, using it as a chance to reflect on her travels outside of Turkey - particularly around Iceland and Norway - and her emotional inner world.
On tracks like 'Under the Aura 1' and 'Bifröst' she evokes the prog rock she fell in love with as a young music obsessive, dissolving echoing guitars and ominous strings into waves of static and reverberating drones. Meanwhile, on 'Freak Box' she maximizes microsound techniques learned studying at Istanbul's MIAM, pushing miniscule clicks and glitches into a tsunami of white noise and electrical interference.
This introspective collection of ominous ambience and fractured noise is another eerie exploration of 2020's cultural meltdown, one steeped in anxiety and anchored by memory. "There were threats that, sometimes, felt bigger than the threat of the virus," Yalvaç explains of her unique experience. Thankfully, she was able to escape into the music.
Shadowy UK label ANA cough up a proper bedsitter special debut from Bearer full of damp towel ambience and bong-bubbling rhythms after smart work by Gamba, Beyaz, Rezka, and kru
Weighing up as the label’s most significant solo outing after 2019’s ‘Diktat’ compilation, ‘Precincts’ extends a dank invitation to Bearer’s twilight world where low-flying beats scud and ricochet below cobwebbed atmospheres stained with licks of nicotine jazz. Like the rest of the styles on ANA, Bearer achieves a quality of mood with minimalist means in a way beyond their young years, drawing on a latent, hypnagogic downbeat vibe that’s permeated the best UK trip hop, dub techno/dubstep and offbeat mutations since the late ’90s.
From the malfunctioning air vent of ’Sig Int’ to the blank eyed white-out of ’Sig Ext’, it’s the sound of urban decay and stoner paranoia creeping in and up the walls, settling heavy in the air. Spindly guitars pick out desert bluesy figures from the smoke in ‘Pinhul’, and ’Torpa’ beckons toward a mouldy pillow vibe, while sultry rhythms and hazed jazz chords creep across the scene in ’Sur’. He gets right under the skin like a Kevin Martin dub geist in ‘Blu’, with ’Sion’ beautifully recalling Raime at their most sylvan, jazz mag romantic, before passing out into Pessimistic voodoo on ‘Bone’ and the more fractured designs of ‘Rife’ prang off at more intriguing new sci-fi-industrial angles.
A strong look for isolated wintery times.
A transcendent collection of cuts snipped from a bumper 5CD set of unheard Basho material recorded between 1965 and 1985. American Primitive guitar / Fahey / Takoma / Six Organs of Admittance fans pay attention.
Filmmaker Liam Barker discovered legendary guitarist Robbie Basho after coming across Tompkins Square's reissue of "Venus in Cancer" and what followed was an "incredible fact-finding expedition" that resulted in his full-length documentary "Voice of the Eagle : The Enigma of Robbie Basho". While he was putting together the film, he came across a treasure trove of unheard Basho material, which he's now compiled as a generous five-disc set - this special album snips the very best from that bounty.
Taken from across Basho's career, the record features seven pieces that highlight the breadth of his skill as a guitarist, songwriter and vocalist. He's best known for bringing his interest in Indian classical music, Japanese music and Native American music into American folk and blues forms, and centering the steel string guitar, playing it almost like the Indian sarod. Here, that influence is obvious from the outset, as Basho hollers over an ethereal folk jangle on opener 'If I Had Possession' and becoming even more evident on long, spiritual jam 'Gypsy Rosary'.
Plenty of Basho's music has been reissued over the last few years as interest in the American Primitive style has surged, and while many of his records are uneven, this short, sharp collection should slake the thirst of any astral travelers thirsty for more. Fans of John Fahey, Six Organs of Admittance, Jack Rose, Glenn Jones et al, you know what to do.
Shanghai’s SVBKVLT throw down a killer 2nd ‘CACHE’ compilation bristling with exclusive new zingers from the extended label firm, including Slikback, Hyp11E, Tzusing, Hodge, Gabber Modus Operandi, 33EMYBW, Gooooose, Nahash and more.
Chasing up one of the definitive club comps of recent years, ‘Cache02’ finds Shanghai’s best label is in rude health with a full spectrum coverage of styles from hyperpop to clobbering hardcore rave, mutant drill and back-alley EBM techno by some of the most crucial artists in operation right now.
Gooooose does wicked slow/fast footwork with Memphis rap cowbells and jibber-jawed edits in ‘Cows,’ and the Sbvkvlt/Hakuna Kulala axis twysts out a properly fwd kongo-tekno thriller in ‘Mushen’ by Slikback & Hyph11E. Indonesian mentalists Gabber Modus Operandi go ham with the possessed vox and thunderous kicks of ‘Pedas,’ and 33EMYBW nails Photek-levels of martial dance moves on ‘Coupling.’
Tzusing & Hodge supply the set’s big-room peak with a steaming EBM hammer tune ‘LCD,’ and Shanghai-based UK producer Swimful makes his mark with the glyding drill synths and knifepoint grime drums of ‘Muckle.’ Impressive introductions are also made to Seoul’s NET GALA with the vivid trance futurism of ‘Alternet,’ and the weird, scorched drill soul of Nahash on ‘The Way That I.’
LuckyMe-signed "Akira" fanatic Nathan Micay (fka Bwana) patchworks contemporary soundtrack tropes convincingly on this original score for BBC/HBO finance drama "Industry".
In just under a decade, Micay has shifted his interest from rolling post dubstep to progressive, trancey house and deep, gurgling ambient music, now snapped up to craft the score to prestige series "Industry". It makes sense that Micay has made the jump to soundtracks - in 2016 he released "Capsule's Pride", a collection of sci-fi electronics made in tribute to "Akira" (and Geinoh Yamashirogumi's abiding score). Apparently the "Industry" production team were impressed by last year's elegiac 'Blue Spring' and this full album fleshes out Micay's euphoric framework out into widescreen.
Interspersed with dialog snipped from the TV show, this suite of orchestra-injected electronix snatches liberally from the Christopher Nolan/Hans Zimmer sound-world (ticking clocks, ominous whooshes - you know the score) giving a sense of tried-and-tested urgency to proceedings. At times it sounds too familiar; any of these tracks could be stapled to almost any moody 2019-2020 movie trailer and it would work, but that's prob the point..
A new set of previously unreleased fragments
"The Com camp tapped the Internet’s foremost Com Truise archivist, Polychora (formerly Comrade), whose YouTube channel has diligently documented Seth Haley’s musical output since his earliest Komputer Cast (Haley’s podcast mix series) days. Polychora’s vault and input helped Haley and the team locate and curate the ultimate sequence of career-spanning off-album material, showcasing an artist in perpetual orbit of hazy machinist nostalgia. Haley’s singular style of melodic beat music is the work of countless iterations; with In Decay, Too, his idiosyncratic exercises, experiments, and pivots pause for a rightful wave of appreciation.
Following the smeared introductory tones of “Zeta,” the album locks into its first robotic groove on “Compress— Fuse,” a trademark Truise treatment with cascading synth lines and deep, sinister low-end bass stabs. Further down is the suspiciously bright “False Ascendancy,” which lures listeners through a labyrinth of drum patterns and siren-like keys, all colliding into “Constant Fracture.” The track pushes to the point of stress, reaching the album’s apex with a punishing series of blows before fading to relief, where the beatless and contemplative “Trajectory” awaits.
In 2019, Com Truise left his previous sci-fi narratives behind for the visceral Persuasion System, a markedly more human record, which now makes In Decay, Too something like a bookend to an era. One last transmission from coordinates unknown; a culminating exhale ahead of what’s still yet to come."
Bedouin introduce Tokyo’s Hiiro Issiki with a debut album of noisy, emotional bluster and trudging industrial rhythms.
“If you stand long enough at this bus shelter, it will begin to snow. The horizon that ends the road outward often feels like it will crawl closer, but it remains the same distance, the same traffic. When running on a track and the centrifugal force begins to carry you, and you feel as if racing the other user on the track is the winning solution, remember to race the track itself. The track does not move. The meditation of punching a brick wall is still a meditation. The moment you decide to walk, as the horizon is not far off, the moment you race the white chalk lines on the clay field you're running, when the bricks break before you, you find you the outcome. Place your phone in your pocket and sit back in the seat of this bus, place your head between your knees, and brace for impact. The scream of glass is only a second, then the peace of glitter as it becomes particles around you is overwhelming in beauty. You are the outcome. You are what made it this far in a single day, a mayfly's life-cycle, a work shift, several movies streaming in a dark room on a laptop, a cat's fur glowing. Turn the key for your flat and enter. Welcome home. Again.”
Properly charming songs from psyche folk foremen Youngs and O’Sullivan, stripped down to essentials with some of their most pop and wryly punkish results for Tim Burgess’ label
Conceptually bound to using only four chords and never changing key, the pair, respectively known for some of the most vital experimental psych/folk songwriting from this septic isle in recent decades, inventively work within their constraints with hugely diverse and enchanting efforts spanning post-punk jitters and sublime folk soul and country hitters created between their Glasgow and London bases at either end of the country.
Written using what they term “the glittering formula”, the 12 songs are nakedly endearing, succinct cycles that never outstay their welcome, making room for the Suicide like clip of ‘First Throw Of The Ocean’ and strung-out folk blooz beauties such as ‘Touch of The Sun’, alongside chamber doowop in ‘Don’t Hang With Angels’ and gems reminding of the late, great Blue Gene Tyranny in ‘In The August Dream’, and right thru to cod-dub lilt and droll kosmiche synth-pop throughout the album’s gently kaleidoscopic turns.