Anna Von Hausswolff showing off her range and versatility as she veers from Liz Fraser or Lisa Gerrard-like dynamic warbling to smoky Nico-esque curdles and operatics in the vein of Diamanda Galás. A masterclass.
When Anna Von Hausswolff made her Southern Lord debut in 2020 with 'All Thoughts Fly', it felt like a dramatic left turn. Previous albums had made use of the pipe organ, but in the context of Von Hausswolff's dramatic experimental pop songs, her powerful singing voice was nowhere to be found. So for newer listeners who might have only heard the instrumental material, 'Live at Montreaux Jazz Festival' is a crucial primer, scraping together the best bits of 2015's "The Miraculous" and 2018's "Dead Magic".
The album was recorded in 2018, when Von Hausswolff was opening for Nick Cave in Switzerland on the Lake Geneva shoreline. It was a smart match; Von Hausswolff's velveteen pop inversions are rebellious, her commanding performance betrays a rock 'n roll pedigree. Live albums, even the best live albums, often fail to capture the imagination simply because they're less-than-brilliant versions of songs rendered in the studio. But here we manage to get a sense of who Von Hausswolff is as an artist; she excels on stage, and her voice - sounding like goth-era Liz Fraser on opening track 'The Truth the Glow the Fall' and prog-era Kate Bush on 'Pomperipossa' - has to be heard live to be believed.
There's no studio trickery and yet it's all fireworks from beginning to end. Von Hausswolff adds operatic grace and grandeur to a backdrop of lurching sludge rawk on 'Ugly and Vengeful', and levitates with folksy closeness on the near-ambient 'Källans Återuppståndelse'. Sometimes a voice can scrape into the soul - Von Hausswolff deserves to be mentioned alongside the greats.
Precision-tooled bliss and quietly quizzical turns of phrase by the hallowed duo, newly expanded and reissued with 22 minutes of previously unheard works, all remastered as part of the V.I.R.U.S. reissue series .
An experimental, contemporary evergreen, ‘Revep’, along with ‘Vrioon’, ‘Insen’, ‘UTP’, and ’Summvs’ makes up one of the finest, most rarified series of releases in the electronic sphere thesed last 15 years. Made newly available for the first time this decade, the future-proofed recordings still uniquely enchant with its makers’ mixture of free-flowing lines of melodic thought and effortlessly obsessive electronic detailing that leaves no nanosecond spare of expressive nuance.
Notably including a glitch version of Sakamoto’s beloved ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’ in ‘Ax Mr. L’, the album’s distinguished pleasures are now enhanced by no fewer than three new works, spanning a spine-playing tribute to Le Corbusier’s famous building in Marseille (‘City Radieuse’) and the two parts of pulsating, reverberant atmosphere to ‘Veru’ sure to pique interests of those who’ve lived with, and loved, the album over the years.
The type of recording that rewards playback on proper soundsystems, but nonetheless carries itself most elegantly otherwise, it delivers shivers from the opening flurry of severed piano notes in ’Siisx’, and its descent to the left hand keys, and upwards into city-at-night vapours, on more brooding sibling piece ‘Mur’, with the aforementioned ‘ax Mr. L’ beautifully marking the distance travelled from Sakamoto’s soundtrack to ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’, circa his seminal works with David Sylvian.
Following 2020's Touch-released "The Key", Chicago-based duo Steven Hess and Michael Vallera look into their city's industrial past with a lengthy and faded set of low-light dark ambience, punctuated by Hess's expert percussion. RIYL Lustmord, Deathprod, Scanner.
Hess and Vallera haven't exactly switched up their sound since their self-titled 2011 debut album, but they've refined it, sculpting their gaseous dark ambience into a sonic signature that's never sounded more dialed in. "Of Endless Light" feels as if they're heading to the core of their inspiration and motivation, tapping into the industrial heart of Chicago with grinding, humming tracks that sound like a chorus of heavy machines whirring in unison. As usual their sonic pallete is guitar, percussion and field recordings, but the duo have a way of molding these elements into clouds of melancholy scrapes and tones. It's a soundtrack to the loss of a city to gentrification - the sound of sterilization as deeply-held memories slowly slip away.
The two veteran players capture the mood with long-form experiments, using melodic motifs like whispers in a crowd and burying traffic sounds and industrial growls under layers of processed percussion and guitar. It's tempting to find a way to lash Cleared's music to Chicago's post-rock past, but at this point any trace of that music is all but gone.
Never before heard outside Palestine, aside from a few copies not confiscated by the Israeli army, Riad Awwad’s reaction to the First Intifada 1987 will be greeted by many keen ears 35 after it was recorded.
Using custom-built electronic equipment and starring acclaimed Palestinian writer Mahmoud Darwish, plus Riad Awwad’s sisters Hanan, Alia, and Nariman, ‘The Intifada 1987’ is a properly curious artefact recorded in the Awwad familiy’s living room just one week after the sustained series of Palestinian protests and civil unrest began, due to an IDF truck killing four Palestinian workers, apparently in retaliation to the killing of a Jew in Gaza days earlier. While its roots are heavier than most of us can imagine, the music balances the mournful with remarkably ebullient synths and pulsating rhythms that wrest a certain optimism from violent backdrops.
The album was originally pressed up on cassette in edition of 300 and sold in the Old City of Jerusalem and across the West Bank. Despite attempts to confiscate all copies they could find, and arresting, interrogating and detaining Riad for several months, the tape remained in a personal collection of some 5000 tapes bought by artist and music collector/archivist Mo’min Swaitat, and now emerges some generations later via the Majazz project.
While Riad is no longer around to see its reissue - he spent his life playing music before founding a school, teaching kids to make their own electronic equipment, and was tragically killed in a 2005 car accident - ‘The Intifada 1987’ stands as vibrant testament to a powerful story, uniquely rendered with eeriest FX on the likes of ‘Palestinian’, the plangent lament ’40 Years’, or the bubbling beauty ‘Intifada’ starring his sisters spiralling vocals, and liberally driven by knees-up pomp with the likes of his brassy ‘Graves’, and discoid zingers such as ‘Im From Jerusalem’.
Will Bankhead aka Guild 22 offers up a rare mixtape of his own, stitching a gorgeous sequence of folk songs into a precious, personal one for his label, The Trilogy Tapes.
‘The Cyclone Of Holy Cove’ was, according to the author “made for winter, during a heatwave”, and features a reel of as yet undisclosed folk songs sung in myriad tongues. They’re mostly instrumental, vocal works, running a gamut from northern European, choral, shanty-like to overtone singing, but notably includes a number of gamelan, percussion and thumb piano works that we can loosely ascribe as SE Asian and Subsaharan in provenance.
It’s the sort of tracklist that eludes ID requests and plays out like a dream rummage in the back of Bankhead’s head or dustiest reliquaries of his enviable collection of oddities. You’re going to have to take it on faith that it’s a proper, rare pearl...
‘Sign’ is Autechre’s first new album-album proper since ‘Elseq’ and contains some of their most emosh compositions in eons, perhaps since ‘Tri Repetae’.
Practically pocket-sized in comparison to their sprawling torrent of live material and radio recordings in recent years, ’Sign’ is a return to the sort of concision found circa ‘Exai’ and their earlier albums. Effectively they’ve gotten better to grips with their live set-up, and the hyper ideas found in their work-in-progress demonstrations on the five volume ‘Elseq’ and 8hrs of ‘NTS Sessions’ have been refined into moments of crystalline ambient baroque beauty and liquid-limbed swag on ’Sign’.
After their music has undergone what could be called a growth spurt in recent years, the acrid plasma of their complex, hyper-inorganic systems feels to congeal, create more intricate snaps across the album, from the lush cosmic collisions of ‘M4 Lema’, to the rhizomic arp weaving on ‘F7’, while refining their tendons and muscle in the gyrostep of ‘au14’ and ‘such.mefd2’. The anthropomorphisation of their synthesis accelerates with the album’s 2nd half with the elegiac catharsis of ‘Metaz form8’ displaying a greater emotional intelligence, while their shapeshifting synthesis grows semblances of glowing hair and teeth and skin in ’th red a’, and even a plaintive human heartache in the systolic thud and bloo pads of ‘psin AM’ that rawly bleeds out in the album’s future classic closer ‘r cazt’.
This LP was hinted at by Autechre as one of two albums ready for 2020, so we’ll take it this is their “U Ok Hun?” one to some possibly more hardcore turns in the future. Have it.
Iridescent with rhythmelody, the 2nd of two new albums from Japanese environmental ambient pioneer Takada plays to the percussionist’s sweeter side on her first solo recordings this century
In lucid contrast to the brooding solemnity of her collaboration with Buddhist monks, Shomyo of Koya-san, the durational sides of ‘Cutting Branches For A Temporary Shelter’ land featherlight and quietly joyful on the mind. Echoing the genteel appeal of her seminal debut ‘Through The Looking Glass’ (1983), and using instruments conserved in the collections of the MEG Museum, Takada here performs her live rendition of ’Nhemamusasa’, a traditional standard of the Shona people, for mbira, which gained international fame for its version by Paul F. Berliner on the 1983 LP ‘The Soul of Mbira’.
Returning to a recurrent theme through her work, notably on 1990’s ‘African Percussion Meeting’ with Kakraba Robi, in ‘Cutting Branches For A Temporary Shelter’ the now 70 year old Takada lets her rhythms flow beautifully fluidly and easy, eschewing the more puckered melodies of her previous works for a more fluid flow of lilting melodic cadence. Slowly rousing with the delicately radiant touch that opens its ‘In The Morning’ section, Takada tentatively finds her rhythm and plays out its glittering permutations for 21 ineffably elegant minutes, whereas the ‘In The Night’ section finds her pulling back, to play more with space and overtones, and so gently that it appears she’s trying not to wake someone or disturb the museum exhibits.
Dang-Khoa Chau aka Đ.K. gives up a self-released treat, sidewinding into psychedelic realms of radiant gamelan and slow, humid bangers, highly recommended if yr into ’Forest of Evil' period Demdike, early Shackleton, DJ Python.
A pivotal presence in the Parisian scene thanks to his rounds for Antinote, L.I.E.S., Second Circle, and most recently 12th isle & Good Morning Tapes; Đ.K now takes matters into his own hands to issue some golden material, drawing on his South East Asian heritage and sultry, stylized nEuropean club music for a properly hypnotic seven track trip.
In deep pursuit of atavistic urges, and modelled with electronic futurism, his ‘Gate Of Enlightenment’ calls up a spectra of spirits that invoke altered states; vocal swirls meet purposeful gamelan in ‘Enlightenment Process’, aligning for the deftly weight trample of ‘Middle Path’ with its mystic horns, and a slippery sort of dancehall swivel in ‘Sacred Creatures.’
‘His ‘Day of Mourning’ makes room for contemplation with sound sensitive instincts heightened to unnerving degrees, while ‘Metal Frames’ yokes back to the ‘floor with something like an industrialised echo of the Ghost In The Shell OST, while the closing couplet see his percussive proprioceptions at their most devilish and immersive.
Utterly engrossing, landscape-scale reverie by Andrew Chalk & Timo Van Luijk’s beloved Elodie, finely nestled among the beauties of A Colourful Storm - deeply romantic, melancholic, transportive music by highly attuned collaborators and psychopomps...
“Chalk and van Luijk embody a bold, free-spirited approach to music making whose improvisational processes can be traced to a distinct period of Europe's post-industrial landscape: the former’s Ferial Confine project finding a home on Broken Flag (Ramleh, Kleistwahr) while the latter co-founded Noise-Maker’s Fifes, a Belgian audiovisual project employing unusual homemade instruments.
More than two decades of ambitious solo and collaborative work would solidify both Chalk and van Luijk as masterful craftsmen exploring (and exposing) the tension between composition and free play. Their individual lists of collaborators boasts a certain fin-de-siècle faction of the avant-garde: Christoph Heemann, Giancarlo Toniutti, David Jackman and Colin Potter, to name but a few, have recorded with Chalk while van Luijk has also welcomed Heemann as well as a guard of other artists including Raymond Dijkstra, Kris Vanderstraeten and Frederik Croene.
Elodie’s first documented recording, 2011’s Echos Pastoraux, betrayed a musical interplay of extremely accomplished standards, Chalk and van Luijk’s pastoral mise-en-scène daubed with Daisuke Suzuki’s Asiatic elements creating a sound world at once mystical and eerie. A figment of two imaginations, Elodie materialised almost fully formed with each subsequent recording patiently revealing glimpses into a world concerned with time dilation, the phantasmagoric and spirits of the everyday.
Enteha is one of the duo’s more subdued and melancholic pieces and can be seen as a human response to seasonal transition, foretold by the concluding passages of 2020’s Le Nid d'Ivoire. It’s one of their uniquely longform explorations of mood and atmosphere as an air of romance drifts deftly into mystery and despair. The delicate hues of autumnal haze. The deceptive optimism of morning light. A work of supremely understated beauty, Enteha develops at an hypnagogic, if not unconscious, level and will appeal to anyone who finds solace in Harmonia, Gas, Joanna Brouk, Roberto Musci, Zoviet France and other investigators of pastoral arcana.”
UKF pioneer Lil Silva serves a stellar, richly soulful debut album studded with guest stars; serpentwithfeet, Sampha & Ghetts, Little Dragon, Skiifall and many more
A decade in the works, ‘Yesterday Is Heavy’ mounts the definitive portrait of Lil Silva’s distinctive take on UK dance-pop and classic soul tropes. After clocking up some of the biggest anthems of the Funky era at the end of the ‘00s, and emerging from that chrysalis as one of UKF’s most enduring artists, Lil Silva has gone on to work with Mark Ronson & Adele, and produced cuts for Duval Timothy, while increasingly finding his own voice on solo recordings, with thanks to encouragement of pals Jamie Woon and Sampha. ‘Yesterday Is Heavy’ now puts all that experience at the service of a full bodied first album that plays to the breath of his talents, marrying deftly rude drum programming with deep burning vibes and vocals in an effortless end-of-summer bounty.
Heartily rooted in Lil Silva’s dual British and Jamaican heritage, the record looks at “generations of black britons as monuments” and “the idea that despite time being able to wear down your appearance, what’s inside of you can never depreciate”. As such it is emblematic of the way in which Lil Silva’s music helped introduce a critical phase shift in UK music, when its spectrum of ravers were introduced to the ‘floor by new mutations of golden era garage, bassline, deep house, soca and grime that became known as UKF, and set templates for the proceeding decade of dance-pop. That energy now properly feeds forward into ‘Yesterday Is Heavy’, but is finely tempered to a more timeless agenda that beautifully transcends the boundaries of classic soul, R&B and club music.
Abundant with plush string orchestrations and vocal harmonies, its an ultimately optimistic love note to his people and an advance on his music’s therapeutically calming, soulful qualities. From the percolated dubstep soul of ‘Another Sketch’ to its languid curtain closer featuring US R&B starlet serpentwithfeet, its all oozing with good vibes, Silva’s signature falsetto gelling with Little Dragon not the twinkle-toed broken beat of ‘Be Cool’ and the cool water soul of ‘Leave’ ft. Charlotte Day Wilson, while properly tugging on classic Al Green nerves in the standout ‘September’ and jazz-led bassline of ‘To The Floor’ that bring his roots full circle into the album’s heavier 2nd half with club-ready zingers such as the glittering keys and whipsmart swang of ‘What If?’ ft. Skiifall, and a singular display of his solo strengths with the lush light/dark club pressure gauge of its massive highlight ‘Colours’.
Members Only: The Iconic Membership Cards & Passes From The Acid House & Rave Eras - documenting the acid house and early rave scenes.
"Members Only is a showcase of the iconic membership cards and passes (VIP, Access All Areas etc) of the acid house and rave generations. In A to Z format, the book features over 500 items of memorabilia from the late 80s and 90s and covers all the legendary and pioneering events of the eras, including: Amnesia House; Biology; Dreamscape; Eclipse; Energy; Fantazia; Genesis; FAC51 Hacienda; Jungle Fever; Labrynth, Ministry of Sound; Rage; Raindance; Shoom; Spectrum; Sterns; Club UK; World Dance. The book, whilst featuring all of the iconic events, clubs and parties, legal and illegal, also includes quotes from the pioneering event founders, DJs, MCs, PAs; ravers.
Features contributions from over 35 of the pioneers of the acid house and rave eras, such as Justin Berkmann (Ministry of Sound), Danny Rampling (Shoom), Jarvis Sandy & Tarquin de Meza (Biology), Wayne Anthony (Genesis‘88), David Pratley (Helter Skelter); and Joe Wieczorek (Labrynth). With in-depth historical articles from Sarah HB (renowned DJ and broadcaster, Kiss FM, BBC Radio 1 etc) and Anton Le-Pirate (founder, creator & pioneer of the original Energy; World Dance; Tribal Dance; Freedom To Party events and many others.), plus a rare Q&A with Jenni Rampling (Shoom)."
Leading light of Chicago contemporary jazz, Makaya McCraven makes it official with XL on a sterling solo debut for the label after his reimagining of a Gil Scott-Heron classic
Collaborator with everyone from Jeff Parker (Tortoise) to Emma-Jean Thackray, drummer/composer McCraven’s reputation as a player, producer and bandleader precedes him over some dozen albums for likes of International Anthem Recording Company and Blue Note. With the swooning designs of ‘In These Times’ he hustles a sprawling ensemble to his beat-driven, richly spirited sound, naturally refracting and recombining the spectra of jazz into a succinct and yet cinematic 11-part arrangement. Recorded with notables including Jeff Parker, Junius Paul, Brandee Younger, Joel Ross, and Marquis Hill, in five different studios and four live performance spaces, and benefiting from obsessive post-production detailing, it’s the definitive statement for a new decade from an artist whose sound could easily be mistaken as hailing from any year since the ‘70s, but distinguished by its contemporary beats.
Stemming from personal experience, and observing broader cultural life as a working class musician, there’s a effortlessly wide appeal to proceedings. It’s possible to attribute that appeal to McCraven’s crucial balance of needlepoint beats and orchestral composition on ‘In These Times’, flowing with a rare vibrancy between the heart-in-mouth communal lift of it titular opener and the strident blues-fusion jamming on ‘The Knew Untitled’. Echoes deep South African jazz tradition surface in ‘The Fours’, and his signature stick work is key to the lip-bitingly tight jazz-folk fusion of ‘High Fives’ or the melancholy, polymetric swoon of ‘Seventh String’, whereas the lounging modal shuffle of ‘Dream Another’ and Brandee Younger’s cascading harp strings on ‘Lullaby’ lucidly dial up Alice Coltrane comparisons. We can even hear parallels with Barry Adamson on the cinematic turns of phrase nestled in ‘This Place That Place’ and it ain’t hard to hear his well-watered, Afro-American roots - and those of Chicago - in the swag of ‘So Ubiji’.
Greg Anderson & Stephen O’Malley’s Sunn 0))) mark 20 years of shaking our foundations with ‘Life Metal’, their 8th studio album and first all analog recording, engineered by none other than Steve Albini.
Under a title that pricks trve metal seriousness (it’s an inside joke about Norwegian metal “sellouts”), ‘Life Metal’ is offered as the closest possible representation of the band’s staggering live prowess. Recorded specifically and intensely over a period of just 2 weeks with Steve Albini at Electrical Audio after initial sketches made in LA - contrasting with the 2 year process behind 2009’s ‘Monoliths & Dimensions’ - their intent was to capture the sensation of physically standing in front of their amps whilst they play, aiming to better convey the sensation of being drenched in distorted tonal colour and ravaged by gut rumbling subharmonics. And it’s fair to say they’ve nailed it, like. The sense of resonant space and blistering air throughout the album is viscerally clear and present, but also manifest in a newfound sense of depth to their wall of sound, which is now almost more coral/spongiform, porous to a broader set of world views, energies and influences, yet still unmistakably Sunn 0))).
Of course, you’ll need a decent amp and speakers to really feel the lower registers, but this is perhaps one of the first Sunn 0))) albums that’s not so brutally dedicated to the low end. While it’s certainly there, a lot of information is also contained within the mid and even upper ranges of their frequency spectrum, most likely due to the way Albini’s entirely analog signal chain - from mic to tape to vinyl, with no DAT used - truly captures the complexity and shuddering movement of overtones emerging form their claw handed riffs. The appearances of trusted allies such as Hildur Guðnadóttir, who provides eerily absorbing vocals in ‘Between Sleipnir’s Breaths’ and a flooring section on the unruly oddity Haldorophone worthy of comparison with Tony Conrad in closer ‘Novæ’, or Antony Pateras’ pipe organ burning into ’Troubled Air’, also serve vital variables that marble and colour the record, lending an elemental iridescence that highlights the depth of ‘Life Metal’s character.
After following these guys for much of their unique artistic trajectory, and paying dues whenever they’re playing live in our city, it’s ever more rewarding to find new subtleties and aspects to Sunn 0)))’s always the same, ever amorphous sound.
Gobsmacking industrial and dark ambient reworks of Aussie post punks My Disco by Regis and Lustmord...
Unfeasibly tight, cultishly adored Aussie post-punk trio, My Disco take a proper pasting from Regis and Lustmord in stupendous remixes of Our Decade and 1991 from their Severe LP for Temporary Residence; the latest in a string of killers from Downwards in 2016 including EPs from JK Flesh, Simon Shreeve, and Dva Damas.
Hammering motorik rhythms with mathematic precision since 2003, My Disco arguably broached a wider consciousness with their 3rd LP, Little Joy for Temporary Residence in 2010. The group’s 4th LP Severe was issued to underground acclaim in 2015, providing a shocking reminder of the trio’s minimalist tension and vitality, and bearing strong material that well warrants these killer remixes from Regis and Lustmord.
Taking on Our Decade, Regis masterfully eviscerates the original’s drawling gothic vox in favour of white hot sheets of processed, coruscating guitar whilst the groove is brought right upfront with a clattering swagger that’s gagging for the dance.
On the flip, Lustmord isn’t up for playing around with his take on 1991, submitting a gravely greyscale and super wide overhaul perfused with curdled vocals and stark drums like something out of a Scott Walker storyboard.
It’s hard to deny that these are remarkable pieces of work, rendering Lustmord’s best outing since The Word As Power, and quite possibly providing a hint of where Regis is headed on his long-rumoured LP for Blackest Ever Black.
Radical “discomposer” Klein renders her naturally avant slant on classical paradigms with utterly captivating results featuring guest vox by Charlotte Church for the Pentatone label. A massive RIYL Alice Coltrane, Actress, Robert AA Lowe, Wanda Group, Yvette Janine Jackson, Mark Leckey.
Five years since her cult first release ‘Only’ sent everyone reeling, Klein is now clearly one of the most thrilling figures in new music. ‘Harmattan’ is her perfectly unexpected but logically Queen like move into classical music, offering a more pronounced and quietly profound example of her string arrangements set in diaphanous ambient/electro-acoustic space, and only occasionally dusted with her vocal sorcery, beside a guest appearance by rogue angel Charlotte Church and London-based grime MC, Jawnino. Aye, rub your peepers again and give yourself a lil pinch as ‘Harmattan’ unfolds one of the most hypnotic dream sequences of 2021; a beguiling and confounding high water mark of any genre.
Forming a “personal journey from childhood to now, titled after the West African season”, Klein’s executive aesthetic decision to mostly do away with drums and location recordings in ‘Harmattan’ results in what theorist and poet Fred Moten describes as “a soundtrack of epic revolt against beginnings and ends.” The links to her usual gospel, R&B and grime touchstones are felt more implied, even psychically charged, as the recording unfurls from angular, jabbed keys in ‘For Solo Piano’, thru scenes of devotional woodwind thizzed with fireworks on ‘Roc,’ to effusive Delian synth modes in ‘Champions’, with track titles such as ‘Not A Gangster But Still From Endz’ and ‘Trapping In C Major’ more literally locating her music’s background, and no doubt giving us chuckles to see this on a *proper* classical label run by former heads of Universal and Philips Classics labels.
Front to back the album is a lowkey head-melting upending of convention. Mysteriously working in space between instrumental and electronic dimensions, the palpable acoustic textures of her first pieces give way to increasingly detached and enigmatic tones of distant orchestral percussion recalling Yvette Janine Jackson’s approach in the transition from ‘Trapping…’ to ‘Unknown Opps’, and from alien tones to Alice Coltrane-like cosmic symphonic in ‘The Haunting of Grace’, with seven minute centrepiece ‘Ray’ extending to more ambiguous, cinematic drone horizons, and the nerve-tweaking turn of phrase in ‘Made for Ibadan’ gives way to her curdled duet with Chazza Church on the exceptionally spellbinding highlight ’Skyfall.’
You can probably tell we’re a bit taken with this one, so we’ll stop short of over hyping and let you take it all in in your own time. But suffice it to say; it’s magisterial, life affirming stuff that’s bound to light up the weirdos but also transcend classical music’s putative audience. Seriously, bravo!
Finally reissued, 2004's "The Dead Texan" is a weightless audiovisual collaboration between Stars of the Lid's Adam Wiltzie and Christina Vantzou. Soft-focus, melancholy guitar drones have rarely sounded so entrancing >> literally the roots of Celer, Eluvium, Benoît Pioulard et al.
Back in the early '00s, Adam Wiltzie - then based in Belgium - connected with Christina Vantzou to devise a record that was a few paces from Stars of the Lid's blurry, dreamworld minimalism. A selection of 11 of his smeared, widescreen pieces (lovingly drawn using piano, guitar and electronics) were paired with 11 short visual pieces from Vantzou, and the resulting album pre-empted both the contemporary trend for audio/visual releases and the obsession with nostalgic, beatless music. At the time, Wiltzie revealed that he thought the music was too aggressive for Stars of the Lid, but don't get it twisted - this isn't grumbly power ambient. Wiltzie's perceived aggression has to be seen against Stars of the Lid's "The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid", a career-high double album that's as delicate as a whisper wrapped in silk and packed down with cotton wool.
Comparatively, "The Dead Texan" puts its cards on the table: piano motifs anchor many of the tracks, accompanied by swelling orchestral guitar drones and evocative, rumbling bass. Rather than attempt to reference the ambivalent surrealism of David Lynch's cinematic world as he did with Stars of the Lid, Wiltzie leans into the spiritual levity of Terrence Malick. It's music that makes sense when you consider his background. Every time you think it might go over the top, Wiltzie pulls it back, teasing his own limits.
Listening two decades later, the album still sounds relevant. And while there are a litany of artists who have attempted to mine this same musical seam, few have reached the high water mark set by "The Dead Texan". Romantic, effusive and desperately mired in a sense of frustrated longing that's only more palpable in a time of global chaos.
Landing light and fragrant on the mind, Seoul’s Salamanda grace NYC’s Human Pitch with an airspun follow-up to their ambient snacks for GMT and Métreon
After charming with ‘Allez!’ for Good Morning Tapes, the duo coax their rhythmelodic eastern percussions and vox into a lather of gently hiccupping structures on ‘ashbalkum’, their 3rd album to date. Echoing aspects of Korean classical music as much as Japanese environmental ambient concerns, their lissom sound is redolent of of Woo’s lilting confections and the fragility of Susuma Yokota, but packs a subtle, underlying swagger of their own where it matters, lending a fine balance of ying/yang energies that may well equalise heads in need, and suggest a purpose intended for both armchairs and ambient dancefloors.
Nimbly swaying between ambient downbeat froth and prevailing currents of dembow, Salamanda veil their slinky impulses with a gorgeous harmonic lightshow of tuned percussions and nuanced synth and vocal hues. The fantasy begins with breathy coos and aqueous, laminal textures in ‘Overdose’ that slosh into puckered, Reichian melodic phrasing on ‘Melting Hazard’, and given weight with the ruder swang of ‘Rumble Bumble’ that gives a calm but insistent momentum to the album; from its almost early Wild Bunch or DJ Krush vibes on ‘Coconut warrior’ thru the pan-slosh dembow of ‘Hard Luck Story’, to the dream motion evinced by ‘Kiddo Caterpillar’, and Susumu Yokota-like twinkle of ‘Catching Tails’.
First legit reissue of two mbaqanga classics from 1971, including the cut plagiarised in 1981 by Malcolm McLaren and Bow Wow Wow as “Jungle Boy”.
"This 7" spotlights the country’s premier mbaqanga girl group, the Mahotella Queens, and one of the most memorable singles the group ever produced. With its pulsating rhythm, sunny guitar phrases and resonant close harmony, “Umculo Kawupheli” (“The music never ends”) celebrates music as a source of joy and healing. Within a year of its release, the single had surpassed sales of 25,000 units, earning the group yet another gold disc. The tune was included on at least three Queens LPs over the next year and also formed the core of two documentary films about the group.
The reach and influence of “Umculo Kawupheli” spread far beyond its intended destination. In 1981, the song was plagiarised note-for-note by punk rock manager Malcolm McLaren, who replaced the meaningful isiZulu words with soundalike English gibberish to create “Jungle Boy (See Jungle)” for his new wave band Bow Wow Wow. The song’s origins were not acknowledged and all composing royalties went to McLaren and the artists.
After McLaren more flagrantly lifted additional mbaqanga songs for his solo 1983 record Duck Rock, the fledgling Earthworks label brought the plagiarisms to light by licensing 1974’s Umculo Kawupheli compilation for the Western market as Duck Food. Two further releases – the Earthworks compilation The Indestructible Beat of Soweto and Paul Simon’s Graceland – resulted in the first overseas tours by the Queens, ensuring the wider world was able to hear authentic mbaqanga as originally intended, directly from the pioneers of the style.’”
Completely unexpected and striking slowcore pop vapors from Ellen Arkbro, who teams up with renowned Swedish pianist Johan Graden for an album of delicately downtempo songs led by Arkbro's emotional, smoky vocals. RIYL Stina Nordenstam, Jessica Bailiff, Low, Movietone, Emiliana Torrini.
If you heard Ellen Arkbro's chilly 2017 debut "For Organ and Brass", you'll know how confounding the Swedish composer's music can be. Like her friends and contemporaries Kali Malone and Maria W Horn, Arkbro is able to bring an unexpected level of warmth and humanity to music that deals with heady, academic themes. "I get along without you very well" features Johan Graden, an in-demand pianist who's currently based in Amman, making for an unusual set of pop songs that might surprise Arkbro's regular listeners.
An active member of the Jordanian experimental pop scene, Graden brings an uncomplicated, soothing weightlessness to his playing that immediately draws you in. 'Close' wheezes calmly, with breathy woodwind wisping over plucked high register double bass and cautious organ groans, but it's Arkbro's voice that's the revelation here: comforting and assured, it lightly cuts through the delicate instrumentation. The closest parallels might be Susanna Wallumrød's expertly sedated avant-pop or Jessica Bailiff's euphoric half-speed smolders - Arkbro and Graden sound similarly driven by loose-but-technical lounge jazz modalities and narcotic early '00s indie ooze.
The duo continue in this groove guided by an effortless charm that speaks to the power of their friendship. The more melancholy moments - like 'Out of luck' or the brassy 'Temple' - balance the atmosphere with Arkbro's levitational magic. Her vocals are powerfully present - never hesitant or shy, but calm, collected and oddly tactile. When she does lean in, as she does on the piano-led 'Other side', she sounds as if she's singing into a close mic in an intimate cabaret, as a spotlight picks out the detail from the room's omnipresent mist. Her voice is delicately imperfect, cracking as she intones and reminding us of the human splendor that's present when you step away from digital precision. Lovely.
Convincingly bleak, high-minded material from composer and sound artist Siavash Amini in collaboration with author Eugene Thacker. Claustrophobic, heavily processed doomdrones for anyone into Helm, Félicia Atkinson or Yann Novak.
Unfathomably prolific, Amini has released over 20 albums in the last decade, and "Songs for Sad Poets" follows his Hallowed Ground-released "TAR" and "FORAS". Here he teams up with New York-based poet Thacker, a writer whose poetry and philosophical works are intertwined. It's solid inspiration for Amini, who uses sound to interpret Thacker's poetry: none of the poems are read out loud on the tracks, but Amini's sonic treatments are meant to correspond to the words. The album is informed by the legacy of cursed poets ("poètes maudits") and the German-language tradition of song cycles, but despite being so steeped in history and tradition it doesn't take a handful of Masters degrees to get yer head around this one.
Amini is a gifted engineer, and uses processed instruments, field recordings and blasted electronics to create a constantly-moving atmosphere that sounds poetic without succumbing to the usual airs and graces.
Ian William Craig turns in an emotionally pulpous soundtrack to quantum theory-inspired video-game Magnesium_173. Somewhere between Sigur Ros, Lyra Pramuk and William Basinski.
Vancouver-based singer and composer Ian William Craig has been turning out elegiac beauties for a decade now, alternating between Sean McCann's ace Recital imprint and FatCat's 130701. "Music for Magnesium_173" draws Craig in a slightly different direction, having been written to accompany the Steam-released "Magnesium_173", an independent video-game from Graham Johnson released last summer. Heavily delayed while in development, the game was stalled back in 2018 leading Craig to release the "Thresholder" EP with material originally intended for the score. He subsequently wrote new tracks which were lost when his computer was stolen; this final set of tracks was constructed using some remaining stems and old Logic projects.
Inspired by quantum mechanics, the game itself is a puzzler that expects the player to explore its unconventional world, so was designed with the music in mind as a crucial part of the experience. Craig approaches the challenge by creating a coherent musical landscape that plays to his strengths. His vocals are the emotional core, backed up by modular synth drones processed with tape saturation and mechanical grit. The early tracks, like soaring opener 'Blue Suit Glitch' and 'Viridian' do a good job of setting the scene, dissolving Sigur Ros-style coos into ferric muck and the occasional oscillator freakout. But it's when the album settles into its own pace that it hits its peak: 'Sentimental Drift' is the eye of the duck, a slow-moving choral micro-epic that burns with the frothy passion of Lyra Pramuk's "Fountain", complete with with tear-inducing bass harmonies.
Dutch electronic music boffins Albert van Abbe and Jochem Paap (Speedy J) plumb the depths of early synthesisers at Willem Twee studios, Den Bosch, for wickedly coarse, rudimentary results comparable to rawest Pan Sonic, CMvH or H30 apparitions, or early explorations of Gottfried Michael Konig and Dick Raaijmakers
Electronic music with gristle and genuine enigma, ‘General Audio’ gives voice to an array of 1950s test and measure equipment originally designed for the maintenance of audio and radio transmitters. Repurposing archaic gear to find new-old sounds, techno experimenters van Abbe and Paap get down to some of the grubbiest cuts in either artist’s extensive catalogues, making critical use of the esteemed Willem Twee studios’ acoustics as variable in creation of the album’s unusual tonalities, timbre and mechanical pulses.
“The record opens with 220Lock-in, a gently undulating drone composition. Effervescent at the top end and fathoms deep at the bottom, it shifts ominously with ring modulated tones that build and then give way to thick washes of white noise. A single synth flourish provides a surprising final moment. The record continues with WZ-1Wobbel Zusatz, a low-sunk percussive piece with an off-kilter rhythm and wet spring reverb doing the bulk of the sonic heavy lifting. Deep in the mix, delicate shifts in pitch and tone deliver a kind of arcane musicality, and as the recording approaches its final moments the piece descends into an exhilarating chaos, with sonic components falling slowly by the wayside. Pegelmesser riffs on a similar reverb characteristic, but this time a driven, arp-like lead propels the work forward. Crisp shifts in colour and distortion arrive unexpectedly, providing a curious musical sensation once more – and harsher moments of feedback break up the recording in its later stages. On Rel 3L 212c LC-pi the pair strip things back, with more present percussive components and subtle distortion lines, before Wandel ups the ante with a corrosive dirge broken up by sporadic submerged synth hits. The penultimate recording SR 250 Boxcar Averager shows off impressive pitch modulation, resulting in a variety of intriguing sensations. Cinematic and remarkably visual, it charts a strange and affecting course, the synth lead underpinned by a repetitive percussive motif and all manner of sends delivering fascinating details. Nim Bin closes the record and once more van Abbe and Paap invite that subtle musicality into the recording. A tight VCO modulation drives the piece while various percussive synth strikes provide a kind of rhythmic component, though they remain untethered to any time signature – a neat conclusion to an intriguing and exploratory record.”
Oooosh! Durban gqom trio Illumination Boiz hit double hard with a volley of urgent, bone-rattling missiles offset with blazing vocals and strapping EBM arps
Notably more gassed than many gqom cuts that we’ve heard, at least, Illumination Boiz use of vocals and rampant technoid bass really ratchet the levels on their ‘Illumination Order EP’. In key with the London label Hi-NRG’s name, they push the style to seething degrees between ‘Izandla Phezulu’, with its attention-grabbing vocals, and to incendiary effect with the muscular EBM-style bass arps and top line drama synced to signature gqom rhythms on ‘Men Down’ - we seriously cannot wait to see this one go off in a dance - while ‘E15 African Staps’ is all about the martial trills and whistles on a Zulu warfaring flex, and then that grinding 16th note arp and ascendent lead just zips it up another gear. It would be daft not to invest in this sort of artillery if you got a proper club to mash up.
Pink Siifu collaborator Lord Byron comes correct with his anxious latest full-length "VLADIMIR", a slippery set of loose-limbed Southern rap experiments that showcase his dextrous rhymes.
Hailing from Dallas, Texas, Lord Byron has been churning out essential hyper-lyrical gems since 2013's supremely underrated "Dark Arts Vol. 2". Since then he's released umpteen projects, including the self-titled Kryptonite album, a collaboration with Jade Fox and Pink Siifu. "VLADIMIR" then is the sound of a rapper who's completely in control of his flow, working with regular producer Ben Hixon to realize a coherent palette. And from the first few moments of opener 'OBSERVE' it's pretty clear we've been dropped into a tight sonic universe: Hixon's beat is twitchy and robotic, with galvanized hits and gusty "Silent Hill" pads leaving a wide open space for Byron to spit catchy couplets and absurd non-sequiturs.
The stifling airlock vibes don't last for long, 'YOU SEE IT' is classic slow 'n sleazed Southern funk, and Byron sounds fully lubricated dancing between taut snares and languid plucks, sounding somewhere between OutKast, Main Attrakionz and G-Side. 'HIGHLOW' flips the script again, driving Byron into a snaking minimal trap zone with a single synth lead and blown out beats, while 'SIMPLE' dials up the sleaze, fuzzing Byron's AutoTuned croon over canned piano loops. 'PURPLE REIGN' is our pick of the bunch, a doomy low-end focused neon burner that gives Byron the widest space to crack his knuckles. "It's hard to be us, if you ain't us," he deadpans. "But if you is us, it's easy. Honestly."
Strictly zingers from All Centre co-owner DJ Pitch, including the baddest UKG flip of Rebekah Del Rio’s ‘Llorando’!!!
For their 3rd drop on the label, DJ Pitch cracks the glass on two VIP essentials dialling up late ‘90s/early ‘00s into the contemporary future. ‘Scared’ sets it off on a killer sort of dembow slant with pendulous early ‘00s tresillo rhythms underlined by swooping subs, punctuated by supremely ace modem dial-up drops, and swept by epic vocal and synth washes certain to give the club tingles.
Better yet, ‘Coffee Time!’ fits a sample of Rebekeh Del Rios’ extraordinary rendition of ‘Llorando’, as famously used in pivotal scene to Lynch’s ‘Mulholland Drive’, to a sort of hybrid UKG/dembow swivel echoing current Miami mutations, with subtle mobile phone interference textures priming the way for that belting sample and dark garage bass wamp. Fucking ice cold. Sheer classico!!!
Staggering, career-defining work from Norwegian vanguard Helge Sten (aka Deathprod), who drives relentlessly forward on this illuminating new tome, using Harry Partch's extremely rare metal and glass instruments to pen a major new work that’s been years in the making and somehow resets modern experimental mores. Truly one of the most exceptional, most unclassifiable albums we've heard in ages - one that does a rare thing of having immediate impact - only to further expand deeper into the psyche with every listen. If yr into anything from Harry Bertoia to Harry Partch to Hindustani Classical music or Michael O'Shea - it’s crucial listening.
When Helge Sten was a teenager, he found himself drawn to the outsider experiments of American theorist and instrument builder Harry Partch. He went on to study electronic music at art school, and by the age of 20 was already recording music using homemade electronic instruments and tape machines that helped define the term "dark ambient", despite it existing a few paces outside of the genre's now-established modes. Sten was not academically trained in music theory or acoustic instrumentation, but instead developed listening and production skills that established him as a cult figure in the Norwegian music scene, performing in genre-agnostic ensemble Supersilent and engineering a grip of by-now classic releases for the Rune Grammofon and Smalltown Supersound labels. All of this experience plays into Sten's latest album "Sow Your Gold in the White Foliated Earth" - the most ambitious and bewildering record of his career so far.
Sten might not have done it on purpose, but it sounds as if this album is an attempt to course-correct an experimental landscape that's been plateaued by aesthetic repetition and gobby purposelessness. Crucially, there's very little to link this album to Sten's classic (and endlessly referenced) plates like 2004's doomy "Morals and Dogma" or 1994's "Treetop Drive" other than pure vibes. The wavering, murky oscillations are all but gone, replaced by sonorous clangs and dulcimer-like hammered strings. Sten concocts a brew of complex, mysterious tonality and rich, scientifically-engineered textures that harmonises with a contemporary wave of artists exploring non-standard tuning and pre-baroque instrumentation, while simultaneously pushing the sound into a new epoch. It's really that good.
Sten's starting point for the record came in 2014, when Oslo's Ultima Festival granted him access to Harry Partch's collection of custom-made instruments. Partch's primary interest was in microtonality, a reaction against the Western standard of equal temperament. When the Western hierarchy decreed that music should be standardised using 12 intervals, we lost a system of emotional expression that we've not fully managed to claw back. And while plenty of artists have attempted to break down that system, it's still a controlling - often invisible - force that limits our prospects as artists and listeners: even our contemporary technology is invariably soft-locked into following a system that's no longer materially relevant.
While many 20th century avant-garde composers tried to modify the equal temperament system, Harry Partch was fascinated by a different method of tuning entirely: just (or pure) intonation, an ancient system that allows a much larger number of intervals. More recently, artists like Mark Fell, Kali Malone, Duane Pitre, Caterina Barbieri, Ellen Arkbro - even Aphex Twin - have experimented rigorously with just intonation, helping to re-introduce it into the modern experimental lexicon. And while microtonality isn't alien to non-Western forms such as Chinese, Middle Eastern or Indian classical music, it breaks down the logic of Western hegemony to hint at a flexibility that opens the floodgates for complex emotional expression.
Partch's instruments use 43 intervals, which gives players access to a rich spread of microtones to experiment with. This was a fascinating challenge for Sten's collaborators, the Cologne-based Ensemble Musikfabrik, who were compelled to re-train themselves to play in this mode, even going through the costly and intricate process of assembling an entire set of Partch's instruments. 'Sow Your Gold in the White Foliated Earth' isn't a recording from the shows, but Sten's audio score. He sat with the material for years, and slowly fell in love with its unblemished, unhurried and chillingly dry purity; a snapshot of Sten interfacing with history.
It's impossible not to be moved by the scope of 'Sow Your Gold In The White Foliated Earth', and it's not crucial to have any level of academic training to notice its overlaid nuances - for Sten himself the project was a ritualistic rather than an intellectual endeavour. As a seasoned minimalist and composer, Sten is able to give the instruments space to breathe without ever overdramatising their impact, and as a sonic philosopher he's able to broadcast a musical worldview that's not stifling, nostalgic or familiar, but completely new - rejuvenating even. We've had this one on repeat since it landed on our desks some weeks ago and have been ruined by its seemingly endless hidden layers, slowly revealing themselves with each new listen. For our money. it’s unquestionably one of the most startling, satisfying records of recent times.
Autumn-toned indie rock guitars and burnished vocals for the Flying Nun and Sonic Youth heads...
"Ridgewood, New York's arbiters of high culture Can’t Read deliver eight indie rock bangers on their inaugural cassette for Primordial Void. The arrangements on these tracks are masterful. Like the leaves of autumn, the brainchildren of this outfit descend upon us with riffs that are crisp, sometimes crunchy, and usually pretty dreamy. To go into the discrepancies of subgenre does not do this band any justice - though I will say “Call” is the feel good song of the summer. In keeping with PV labelmeister Marcel Sletten’s pledge for honest music, this is an enduring sound made by hardworking individuals. For those fans of Lilys, Luxurious Bags, or the Flying Nun catalog, I implore you to stop reading and lend Mind’s Eye your ears." - Marc Matchak”
The big room trifecta of Joy O and the Overmono bro’s sweeten their garage techno canter with a spangled Abra vocal
Carbonated for the peak hours, ‘Blind Date’ builds your pill rush with simmering swing and Abra’s feathered vocal snippets before unleashing its motherload of detuned rave pressure timed for the lighting guy to do his thing.
Wickedly offbeat techno pressure from Alex Tsiridis on Blawan & Pariah’s label
So ye, after just finding out that we’ve been playing Rhyw’s last EP for his and Mor Elian’s Fever AM at the wrong speed in clubs for months now (sounds fucking class at 100bpm, though!), the ‘Honey Badger’ EP hauls ass at a pacier clip with four cuts of skudgy techno pressure that we imagine will also swill a good crowd on the wrong or right speeds, too.
‘Honey Badger’ whips it on a scudding techno title with razor-cut edit stutters to unknot your knobbly knees, and ’Sharknado’ in particular sounds like sped up futurist dembow-dancehall, adjacent current NAAFI cuts. ‘Kirkhusa’ comes on a tangier, broken acid swivel with squirrelly synth details, and ‘Foamcore’ works out like his Voam labelmate Peder Mannerfelt on a sort of busy soca/UKF-techno flex.
DJ Q’s first record in 7 years is a full-body workout touching on all UKG’s decimal places between 2-step, 4/4, Reese-fuelled jungle house and thee sweetest R&G ft. Shola Ama, Todd Edwards, and Finn
Of course he’s not been slacking since 2015’s ‘Poison/Rocky’ one-two, dashing out dozens of digital bits over the interim, but ‘Est. 2003’ is his first record, proper, in too long. The Huddersfield G takes the opportunity to bring a phalanx of friends and regular collaborators on board, notably UKG queen Shola Ama, Todd “Da God” Edwards, and its renaissance lad Finn - plus Hans Glider, Sharda, Star.One, and Lily Mckenzie - but there’s no doubt that Q is the star of his own show.
To play percivals, the glyding jungle-house/speed garage presha of ‘Speedy Gs’ with Finn is a precious one, and who can deny a spot of Shola on the sparkling R&G bubble ’n parry ‘I Can’t Stay’? Sharda’s sometimes overly busy productions are wickedly yoked back into the squiggly lead motif of ‘Heavy Like Lead’, and Todd Edwards’ lends a certain lick of debonaire flavour to ’Sweet Day’, but left to his own devices Q gets it right on the sweetspot with classic tekkerz in the G-funked flex of ‘Close Your Eyes’ for a potential late summer anthem, and those puckered 2-step drums and vocal/chord chops on ‘All That I Could’ are worthy of a big lip-smacking chef’s kiss. Mwah.
Lawrence English's latest solo album is his deepest and most rewarding yet, drowning eerie anime-inspired pads in cyberpunqued TV static and fogged grey noise. Patient, personal and incredibly moving >> RIYL Akira Yamaoka's "Silent Hill" OST, Thomas Köner, Deathprod.
If Room 40 boss English can be credited with at least partially prompting the global interest in "power ambient" - the high-dynamism sound that pairs heavy metal theatrics with synthesized drone textures - it makes sense that on his most self-scrutinizing album to date, he's taken a step back. To "Approach" his current reality, English has scrutinized his distant past, a period he barely speaks about, when he was locked into a grueling performance of hegemonic masculinity at an all boys school in Australia. With this in mind, his most widely-acclaimed "power ambient" tomes make more sense; 2014's "Wilderness of Mirrors" and 2017's "Cruel Optimism" were barbed commentaries on the global spiral into fascism, and English's way of reflecting was via deafening performative noise. On the former, he took the raw material left by stentorian staples Earth, MBV and Swans and fashioned it into a moving lament, and with the latter he considered power in all its forms as a "protest against the immediate threat of abhorrent possible futures."
If those albums revealed English's ability to mimic and deconstruct power - and therefore hegemonic masculinity - using tangentially ambient methodology, "Approach" allows us to visualize the confusion, fear and tenderness that lurks beneath the surface. To aid his self-investigation, English refers to two of his most formative cultural interface points: Yoshihisa Tagami's sci-fi manga "Grey" that English read when he was just 13, and William Gibson's cyberpunk classic "Neuromancer". Gibson's book begins with the line, "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel," and English subtly portrays this by drowning his tracks in static. While his previous albums operated in a relatively similar mode, their ruthless volume and tidal intensity now becomes almost numb: the armor has been stripped away, revealing raw nerves underneath. "Grey" serves as the album's narrative reference, and English assembles "Approach" to mirror the serial's storyline and themes, using the terse titular lead as a de-facto stand-in for his own young self.
The album plays then as a lament to a conflicted and confused past, as well as an homage to the bright beacons of hope who helped guide the young artist through his most difficult times. Beneath the static, resonant pads are dulled into near silence, buzzing occasionally with mystery, hope or anguish. English's dead channel fuzz is the album's connecting tissue, but harmonic elements are allowed to ring through occasionally, like foghorns in the night. These faint mood stabilizers guide us through the most disturbing moments, inviting comparison to Akira Yamaoka's brilliant "Silent Hill" soundtracks or Thomas Köner's exceptional early run of "dark ambient" tomes. Here, English has reduced his power to broken simmer that's disrupted by beauty and alluring unease - it's an original way to encapsulate his grab-bag of ideas and influences, succinctly illustrating a 1980s cyberpunk lost future, a damaged childhood and a contemporary desire for understanding and reconciliation. More than that though, "Approach" is an album that feels both relevant and artistically nourishing - few ambient albums so cleverly wrap up these strange and uncertain feelings.
The killer first EP from Durban-based trio Illumination Boiz was originally released back in 2018 and still sounds essential, full throated gqom floor-fillers with memorable vocals and heavy-as-f production.
The Hi-NRG label was established primarily to put out Illumination Boiz's music, and "Illumination Boiz EP" was the first indication of where the then trio (now a duo) would head. Based in Durban, the de-facto home of gqom, the music is exactly as you'd hope coming straight from the source: lithe assemblages of looped chants, thick syncopated kick-sub blasts and ruff trapdoor slams, engineered with serious dancefloor intent. But it's the vocals that send this stuff over the edge, from the winding abstract meandering and singalong bursts on opening banger 'New Gqomu Benuza Wena' to the psychedelic lyricism of 'Sikwenza Konke'.
Save some energy for closing track 'Let The World Dance' and you get to hear the Boiz disassemble EDM into a stuttering experimental gqom tumble of swung kicks and tape-stop effects that has our head fully spinning.
Shrouded in clouds of reverb, Appropriate Savagery’s 2nd Vaknar album embeds a brooding sort of romantic sci-fi thriller narrative
Following from 2020’s ‘The Same Demons Drawn on a Crumpled Piece of Paper’, David Lacroix’s next album on Vaknar - label behind releases from Kevin Drumm, Perila & Ulla, Celer - also heads in pursuit of a pulpy, elusive narrative muse evoked thru its melancholy melodic drift and suggestive song titles. There’s a sort of misty Tokyo at night soundtrack quality to proceedings, perfusing half-heard vocals and drizzly atmospheres between the sleepy dreamy qualities of ‘Fingers Crossed, Blank Page & Loaded Rifle’ and elegiac curtain closer ‘And Yet, You’ll Hear The Nicest Things About Him’, following a shadowy silhouette of a protagonist between the mournful keys of ‘Invisible, In Plain Sight (Part I-II)’ to noirish scenes on ‘’Just For a Few Hours (February 28, 2021 Overdose)’ and Bladerunner-esque ‘On Forever Barren Lands, We Shall Find Salvation Together’, and a passage of reverberating industrial ambient, ‘This Curved Bronze Medallion On Her Salty Lips.’
Grittily iridescent ambient billow from Canada’s Steve Bates, rendering maximalist panoramas from a mix of lo-fi Casio SK-1 sampled textures and organ recordings made in Chile.
‘All The Things That Happen’ is Bates’ sixth solo album since 2006, and first for Montreal’s Constellation. It richly resonates the label’s explorative, emotive aesthetics with an innovative, experimental approach done at the service of resoundingly sore arrangements where grand harmonic movements struggle against the self-imposed limitations of his equipment. The 9 pieces seethe with feeling, red-lining his structures to the bitrate limits of the SK-1, beloved by many for its integral bite and texture, pulping results that recall the absorbing ambient noise of Andrew Chalk as much as Emeralds’ free-jazzed kosmiche synth noise.
“"This was supposed to be an ambient record; quiet, minimal and sad. These tracks all started off that way but I kept reaching for more texture and noise. Somehow the noisier the record got, the less sad it was also. I was listening to, and loving, a lot of music by Andrew Chalk and I had finished a year-long run of listening to Eno’s Ambient 1 and 4. I prefer On Land to Music for Airports although I love both. On Land just has a darkness and uncertainty that appeals to me. Adding more noise also got me excited about ways this material could be played live even though it also felt like that could never happen again. In 2022, I opened for Godspeed You! Black Emperor in Saskatoon to give it a try and was pleasantly pleased to hear it all live and loud."
A fixture of Winnipeg's burgeoning anarcho-punk and social justice community in the 80s-90s, Bates played in hardcore and indie rock bands (XOXO, Bulletproof Nothing) while contemporaneously continuing to fiddle obsessively with the shortwave radio his father bought him as a child — sensibilities that continue to meld and inform his sound work to this day. Bates founded the Send + Receive Festival in 1998, a crucial development in putting Winnipeg on the map for avant music and experimental sound art, which he helmed for seven years. Moving to Tiohti:áke/Montréal in 2005 he took on the Sound Coordinator position at Hexagram (Concordia University), released solo and duo work on ORAL_records and two albums with his Black Seas Ensemble on The Dim Coast, while pursuing myriad other ongoing audio research, installation and collaborative projects. His exhibition and site-specific works have been presented throughout North America and Europe, Chile and Senegal.”
Ice cold gqom direct from source in Durban, SA via London’s Hi-NRG - knee knocking bass trills and martial percussion to darken the dance
A “super-group” of as-yet-undisclosed membership, Da Gold Dust trade in 24 karat nastiness. ‘Chaos Da Return’ sounds like it was recorded in a mine shaft with 10 second reverbs, with boots-on-the-ground trampling rhythms and knife-edge string pad tension holding the heaviest chthonic pressure. Danker yet, ‘Dance Nation’ summons heavier bass trills and monotone chant that will sound deadly in the fug of a proper club setting, and ’Sizokhonga’ eases off a degree to allow more space in the drums, building incrementally to oblivion.
Alhaji Waziri Oshomah, “the greatest entertainer in all of Edo State”, delivers a joyful sermon of Muslim Highlife on the same Luaka Bop series that gave us The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane.
Hailing from Afenmailand in southern Nigeria, Oshomah has been releasing his unique brew of local styles and highlife, fused with Western pop and Islamic values, since the early ‘70s. For half a century he’s led various ensembles that bring the local Muslim and Christian communities together in harmonious dances, with lyrics warning about the vice of jealousy and the act of forgiveness, set to properly compelling grooves. Oshomah’s music is patently right up Luaka Bop’s street, brimming with spirit and good vibes for the times.
In typical West African highlife and Afrobeat styles, Oshomah and band take all the time they need to see out their grooves, often tipping over the 10 min mark, as they drill home the message of ‘Jealousy’ for 13 mins over killer strut and wigged-out Moog, or in effortlessly breezy style with the 18 mins of balmy palm wine guitar and mellifluous sway to ‘Alhaji Yesufu Sado Managing Director’. However, if we’re playing favourites, that’s got to be the heads-down organ burn and canter of ‘Omhona - Omhona’, or the brilliant closer ‘My Luck’ with its odd jaws-harp motifs and lissom lattice of spindly guitars and swingeing shuffle buoying a harmonic call-and-response between Oshomah and band.
Frazzled 8-bit antics from Brighton-based Mafu, dialling up comparisons to auld Kid606 and $hitmat
Mafu’s eponymous debut offers a buckshot of high-velocity old school gamer bleep shrapnel and silly breakcore just how they used to do it 20 years ago. It’s not big or clever but it is fun for wired kids and such, with nippy breakbeat techno rave spliced to daft samples in ‘who is she?’, helter skelter happy hardcore on ‘luv’, hitting near flashcore levels of rapid giddiness in ‘robobleP’, and with splashes of manic 8-bit jazziness in ‘same script’, choppier variation in ‘jazz one’, and multi-metered algoritymic business on ‘beat two’ for good measure.
Fascinating testament to the psychedelic, symphonic and salsa vision of Peru’s Luis David Aguilar; an unsung composer of experimental synth music, jazz, and avant orchestral works, entwined with cumbia rhythms and Andean tradition - another mind-spanking primer on the amazing Buh Records, tipped to fans of Alice Coltrane’s spiritual jazz flights or Mica Levi’s ‘Monos’ soundtrack.
Dosing 3rd eyes to a blindspot in Western record shelves, ‘Ayahuasca: Música para cine de (1978-1983)’ reaps a trio of multi-faceted musical fantasias dreamt by Luis David Aguilar (Arequipa, 1950), whose commercial music is well known in Peru, but hardly heard internationally beyond a few compilation appearances. Revolving two longform works and one svelte samba, this absorbing primer is rich with ideas that speak to Aguilar’s versatility, honed over years studying at the National Music Conservatory and later in practice for a range of TV and radio productions, including children’s songs, soundtracks and jingles. He is said to belong to the “Generation of the ‘70s” aligned with Peruvian classical composers Walter Casas, Seiji Asato, and Aurelio Tello, but also shares a spirit of experimentation with jazz and electronic explorers Manongo Mujica and Arturo Ruiz del Pozo that’s all easy to hear in the colourfully prismatic soundtrack compositions on board here.
As with the titular reference to the powerful psychedelic, Ayahuasca, Aguilar’s music is a shapeshifting and possibly transformative experience that may well dilate perceptions of Latin classical and experimental musics. Rooted in his classical studies, it ambitiously weaves in myriad influences that allowed him to speak to a broader audience via the medium of TV and radio, embracing the range of studios in Lima to unleash a sprawlingly free vision that transcended classical music’s strictures, as he expands below:
“The great attraction for me was that all of the music I created was recorded immediately, and because of my academic training, I was able to write scores for symphonic orchestra. My purpose was to introduce the sounds of classical instruments in the auditory memory of a vast audience. I had never experienced this possibility before. As an academic composer, I created works that were rarely performed. Most of them gathered dust in different places or, because of my lack of order and frequent relocations, they simply got lost. But during this period, all of the music I wrote came to life. I was also able to work with different recording studios and use their fantastic technical resources. In addition, this situation allowed me to create job opportunities for classically trained musicians (who at that time were very poorly paid). Over any other consideration, this had a clear social function, and the experience was totally worthy for me. In large measure, this is why I stopped working in academic settings.”
The results here characterise that freedom between the glorious arrangement of sweeping strings and the Choir of Cuba on his soundtrack to the film ‘El viento del ayahuasca [The Wind of Ayahuasca] (1983), by director Nora de Izcue, thru to the darker, proggier, psychedelic synth insights of his soundtrack to documentary ‘Anónimo cotidiano [Anonymous Everyday] (1979), by director Jorge Rey, with pipes and percussive timbres recalling the Andean enigma and drama of Mica Levi’s ‘Monos’ OST. Finally, the lissom salsa flourish of his music for ‘Los Constructores (The Builders - 1978)’ unusually incorporates tubular bells and prepared pianos in a way adjacent to Pierre Henry’s ‘Psych-rock’ (the theme tune for Futurama) with a devilish elegance that feels like lysergic lounge music.
Hard-nosed big room techno welters from the Detroit master Rob Hood for his M-Plant production line
Built for the biggest stages and soundsystems, the meat-motoring ‘Hectic’ launches a pounding assault on the crowd with cavernous kicks and attack mode monotone stabs in a 30 year echo of his earliest weaponry found on the ‘Toxin EP’ (1992), where ‘Amazon Dust’ follows with a coke-numbed slug of marching bass drum, rail-gun claps and icy bleeps following the coldest club hunch. Get the bags in. Nowt daft.
Serene ambient gauze and melodic salve from Shuta Yasukochi’s THME, convicting warmest lowkey styles to followers of The Boats/The Humble Bee/Tape Loop Orchestra/Tenniscoats
“Shuta Yasukochi is an artist from the Konagawa prefecture in Japan. ‘In Full Bloomʼ is Shutaʼs first outing on Vaknar, it sees the artist readapt the nature themed formula found in previous works, both sonically and in name, while expanding on the thematic by presenting the album in a story like arc, slowly unfolding throughout the duration of the album.
Thus, 'In Full Bloom' is most aptly experienced in its entirety, revealing the albums mediative like properties as the listener is slowly enveloped in Shutaʼs graciously rippling compositions; glimmering chimes and faint strings quietly protrude through layers of serene, reflective ambiance.”
Mogwai, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, New Order’s Stephen Morris & Factory Floor’s Gabe Gurnsey, plus The National and Yann Tiersen have a field day paying tribute to Neu!’s motorik templates
Up there with the deities of ‘70s krautrock such as fellow Düsseldorfers Kraftwerk, the likes of Harmonia, or Can - the drum + guitar engine of Klaus Dinger & Michael Rother cast a huge influence on everyone from Bowie to Joy Division and Stereolab during their formative run of albums in the early-mid decade. We can also add the list of illustrious contributors to this ‘Tribute’ album as acolytes of Neu!’s stripped back, hypnotically propulsive rhythms and wiry, spacey melody.
A descendent of sorts to 1999’s ‘A Homage to Neu!’, which featured rework by likes of Autechre, Khan, System 7, James Plotkin, this new set keeps Neu!’s legacy alive with faithful takes on the classic formula, resulting highlights in dual-drummers Morris & Gurnsey’s locked-in, pointillist spin on ‘Hallogallo’, a lushly gloopy evocation of the B-side to ‘Neu! 2’ from Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, and farther out slant on their style from soundtrack composer Yann Tiersen.
Bambi OFS is Cédric Dambrain (1979), composer, electronic musician and virtual instruments designer based in Brussels, Belgium. Dambrain’s approach to music is motivated by an exploration of perception thresholds, psychoacoustics, and the physiological impact of sound. This diversity of themes is matched by his wide range of production styles, which include electroacoustic computer music, compositions for ensembles, noise, sound installations and, more recently, club-oriented polyrythmic explorations.
"Dambrain has also been composing extensively for performance artists and music theatre. Spanning four tracks of intricate and ever-shifting rythmic progressions, Bambi OFS’ debut EP YAKKA frames a tense and glittering ethnofictional world, combining kaleidoscopic percussive textures with a precisely economical aesthetic. Extending on Cédric’s exploration of sound.space.perception as a unified phenomenon in his sound installations and noise projects, the record artwork features a photography shot by ethnomusicologist Judith Becker during a Bebuten ceremony in Bali: the picture evokes her inquiry in the trance phenomenon, in which she demonstrates that our ability to enjoy trance and its healing virtues is inversely proportional to our sense of separatedness from the rest of the world. Meshing together numerous influences, and reflecting on the self/other dichotomy, YAKKA is a playful invitation to reconsider our identification processes."
Founding members of Black Dice & Gang Gang Dance unite for a buoyant album of surf-house licks and grooves blessed with a typically loose, outernational charm.
An effortlessly natural fusion of their respective styles forged over the past few decades playing in revered bands, ‘Riders on the Storm’ is a frothy collection of succinct, upbeat, and endearingly melodic tunes lathering surf and highlife-toned guitars into indie-pop and synth wave melodies, swept with burbling house-not-house machine rhythm and glittering arps.
A brined, mid-fi echo of high gloss Yacht disco themes and effusive new wave and post-punk, it braids the ebullient spirits of Eric and Josh with the humble and admirable intention to act as a resistance against the shiftiness of the times, leaving aside any of the noisy or knowingly freaky aspects as the musicks in favour of a liberated and light-hearted approach that bubbles with a lowkey joy.
Wiggly jam ‘TA’ sets the tone for a lissom batch of leftfield ‘floor friendly gems spanning harmonised deep house/Afrobeat elements recalling Arthur Russell via a wet sandy towel on ‘thick Shake’, and percolated E2-E4 vibes on ‘Blob’, with a fine stripe of downbeat, underwater disco bop on ‘FIIK’ and 100% Silk-adjacent disco-house in ‘Distant Duos’, while the closing couplet of balcony-shuffle groove in ’Tequila’ and the groggy ‘Sandman’ take it home, sun-kissed and woozy from the good times.
James Manning aka Sa Pa returns with his most meticulously crafted plate so far, contorting the Porter Ricks blueprint into fictile throbs of fuzzed bass and tape-fucked white noise.
Sa Pa's latest is pegged to concepts of mythology, inspired by Japanese storytelling, Slavic folklore and "real world experiences". Like Porter Ricks before him, Manning is fascinated by the concept of water and how that influences techno; if Drexciya rooted their productions at the bottom of the sea to suggest shrouded hope in the aftermath of chattel slavery, Porter Ricks looked to the ocean as an aesthetic pointer, letting the concept of a murky unknown inform their aqueous beats. The most obvious reference here is closing track 'Buyan', referncing the mythological Slavic island with the power to appear and disappear at will.
Manning interprets the legend using a washing, static beat and liquefied abstractions that rise and fall like waves. Basically it's like Rhythm & Sound reimagined for one of Michel Redolfi's legendary underwater performances. Elsewhere, 'Calm & Stormy' projects the sound into more sodden territory, dispensing with a beat almost completely, leaving inclement hiss and pétillant low-end in a nod to Sasu Ripatti's early run. 'Face West' is a crack of light in comparison, an irregular loping kick that's lashed to glowing pads and unruly insectoid glitches - it sounds like a rudimentary raft hitting against the shore as the sun peeks out over a distant island.
But it's the record's least waterlogged moments that are the most satisfying: the opening track deploys rolling percussion and broken electrical whirrs; and 'Lovember' sticks out as the clear highlight; centering a slow hard-swung bass pluck around little else.
Craig Tattersall's latest Humble Bee missive is a tape-smudged flicker of melancholy made from stretched, ghosted pianos and barely-present vocals. Gorgeous music, for anyone into Basinski, Stephan Mathieu, or Pendant.
On "An Opposite Fall", released on Berlin's reliable Vaagner/Vaknar imprint, Tattersall bends piano sounds and tape loops into lulling, half-present pads that press against their saturated peaks, cracking as they distort. The opening side is warm and gentle, blessed with the same distant emotional quality as William Basinski's best work but possessing a subtle Northern charm. The piece dissipates in the final third, shifting from dense drone into echoing emptiness, with delicate piano improvisations set against household clatter.
'An Opposite Fall' on the flipside sounds like a dreamworld variation of the first, abstracting its predecessor's warmth and drifting into thrumming melancholy bliss.
Released in 2020, this pneumatic two-tracker form Durban's Illumination Boiz is just as essential as their debut, a lead-weight lesson in bass science and tense fwd momentum for fans of DJ Lag, Scratchclart, Menzi and Phelimuncasi.
'Tribal Warfare' might be the most obvious clutch on this one - it's the track that screams "gqom" the loudest, and centers all the elements Illumination Boiz are best known for: reverb-doused snares, cyclic chants, lysergic risers and that belly-pounding sub bass. But it's 'Core Tribe' that really piques our interest, blending a dembow-ish syncopated throb with mad-eyed beat FX, whistles, dub techno womps and frenetic snares. Brilliant.
Stone-cut dub experiments from London anarcho-collective SM-LL, keeping us guessing with three heavily satisfying steppers tipped to fans of Ilpo's cult Kangaroo 10”s, Logos, or Sleeparchive
Pound for pound heavyweight pressure for hard nosed dub heads right here. In three unrelenting parts the anonymous figure behind UAN0018 puts his machines thru their paces in permutations of offset bass, glitching electronics and recoiling dub FX cloaked in thick levels of ferric fog. We suspect they’re made on-the-fly, carrying a lugubrious but crafty momentum with the buoyant step of ‘White dub’ into the crushed skank of ‘Black dub’ and the echo chamber diffusion of ‘Bonus (Blackdub)’ recalling the label’s totally killer 2nd Vialan session.
Cold drill instrumentals from Peckham’s First Circle, strafing from shots fired on Precious Metals to the club modernists at Hi-NRG
Stripped to the shivering bone, the four cuts on ‘Mouse’ make canny use of dissonance and brooding pads as key ingredients in First Circle’s slant on the current sound of South London, not to mention everywhere else form manny to NYC. We’re best feeling the keening bittersweet tang of that lead on the hollow-tipped drums of ‘778’, and likewise the heads-down hypnosis of his glyding 808 subs and reverse string loops in ‘JML II.’
There’s a more aggressive drama to ‘Panellist’ for those that need it, while ‘Mouse’ finds links to current drill via its roots in grime and jungle with a 2nd half lash of glinting, filtered amens recalling what Kode9 does in his 3-deck DJ blends.
Barely conscious beauty from Dutch experimental ambient duo Muziekkamer, resurfacing from a sought-after 1982 tape via Belgium’s divine Stroom label
'Op Zee’ works its magic in the gentlest loops of faded synth filament and sedimental/sentimental ferric froth that could happily be played on repeat until the sandman comes. Secreted somewhere in the imagination next to Zoviet France, it shares something of a forlorn North Sea romantic allure that’s dead close to our hearts and does tingling things to the back of our head.
A real no brainer for anyone chasing the dragon of ambient musick’s most elusive yet quietly affective tendrils.