Plaid’s latest album finds the ex-Black Dog duo of Ed Handley and Andy Turner expanding their electronic musical palette in all directions. From moogy Jean-Jacques Perry -isms, to hip hop beats and scratching, to orchestral pieces and more, this album jumps about restlessly but always manages to entertain. Plaid have ably reinforced their “major league” status in the electronic arena.
Recorded three years after The Black Dog’s Peel Session, doggie duo Ed Handley and Andy Turner return (minus Ken Downie) to the Peel studios in their Plaid attire. This time the result is far more exuberant, with beats taking priority over melody. From the opener, an energetic reworking of the latin-flavored “Scoobs in Columbia,” to the propulsive, minimal techno of the closer, “Cold,” this four-track EP successfully balances rhythmic complexity with shifting electronic textures. Another fine entry in Warp’s “Peel Sessions” series.
One of the few women in contemporary electronic music returns for her third, eagerly-awaited release on the Mo’ Wax label. Following the “Melodious Thunk’ and “Rocking Chair’ EPs, this 10” finds Ms. Parker venturing into more abstract/experimental territory with two dark exercises in electro-dub. ‘Ballbreaker’ begins minimally and rather aimlessly before being focused by a heavy, stabbing synth pattern and some skittery, Autechre-ish beats. Eventually the whole thing decomposes at the end. “Some Other Level” uses similar textures but adds what sounds like an electric bass and strings for a fuller, and even funky, sound. Like its predecessor, this track too decomposes at the end. Parker is certainly widening her palette with this release and it makes her forthcoming album even more eagerly anticipated.
If you have an hour to spare between the next two Bill Laswell releases, you might want to check out this eclectic new project from Joe Goldring and Doug Scharin. Incorporating elements of dub, jazz, post-rock, ambient and ethnic musics, this mostly-instrumental album is by turns hypnotizing and exhilarating. Guitarist Goldring (Clodhopper) and percussionist Scharin (HIM, Directions in Music) anchor the sound, but the album is clearly a studio overdub creation, peppered with hauntingly beautiful strings and guitar textures, turntablist sounds and samples, bass and more bass. (One track even has three bass players!) The album starts and ends with two ambitious tracks of 15+ minutes that define the breadth of the group’s sound; in between are three shorter tracks which explore specific ideas. There’s much to admire in all of them.
Nocturnal Emissions is the alias of industrial music pioneer Nigel Ayers who, like Richard Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire, has tirelessly continued to explore his own electronic landscapes for the past 20 years. Ayers says his music evolves out of “a desire to create sounds which are outside the ‘normal’ listening experience – sounds that evoke dreamlike states or the exploration of strange realms.” Well he has certainly succeeded with this disc. Perhaps the most uncharted realms here for Nigel are the junglist rhythms which show up on several tracks,”Earthlights” being the most successful. Elsewhere we slide back into an almost subterranean ambience, with the occasional hint of birds or insects or…some totally alien life forms.
Wow. This is one absolutely GORGEOUS electronic album, probably the best I’ve heard all year! No. 9 is the pseudonym for one Joe Takayuki, and MICRO FILMS is his third solo release. Primarily electronic, the album also incorporates some acoustic guitar and environmental field recordings to convey a warmer, more organic vibe. At times it echoes the jazz sensibilities of Four Tet, the playfulness of Mice Parade, the rhythmic complexity of Squarepusher, the cut-up techniques of Herbert, the pastoral ambience of The Orb, and so much more. But that’s not to say it’s a pastiche or copy of anything else. It’s a truly original work by an original artist that I hope will be around for a long time to come. Time to join the No. 9 revolution!
Norwegian rockers Motorpsycho team up with the Jaga Jazzist horn section for another in the series of experimental EPs recorded “in the fishtank” at Konkurrent Studios, Amsterdam. The first two tracks here follow a post-rock template, quietly melodic and reminiscent of bands like Isotope 217. By track three, the horns start to dominate and you get a more downtown NYC kind of vibe: it’s jazz, but with a strong rock backbone. Track four is a pretty ferocious cover of the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s “Theme de Yoyo,” which finds both Psychos and Horns at their best. The final track is a 20-minute percussive jam that builds slowly, from a shimmering whisper to a cataclysmic scream. A truly successful collaboration that, like other releases in this series, just leaves the listener wanting more.
Arto’s fourth solo excursion into Brazilian-flavored pop is every bit as stylish and perhaps a bit more dissonant than past efforts, with those patented guitar distortions creeping even further into the mix. I really like the contrast between the smooth vocals and the shredding guitar…here’s hoping Arto continues along this path. Lyrics are in English and Portuguese, and just as impressionistic as ever. Guest appearances from Eyvind Kang, Vinicius Cantuaria, and former partner Peter Scherer, among others. Judging by the amount of label-hopping Arto’s done (Rykodisc, Bar/None, and now Righteous Babe), I gather these albums aren’t realizing their full “commercial potential.” Too damn bad.
Lexaunculpt is SoCal resident Alex Graham, and his “Double Density” EP is the first release on a promising new SoCal electronic label called Orange Records. Six tracks of subtle beauty and meticulous programming. Hippity-hopping beats and gorgeous melodies underscore this effort, while all manner of split-second sound textures keep things interesting throughout. Based on this release, I’d rank Lexaunculpt right up there with the very best electronic artists on the scene today.
These remixes of German post-rock duo (or trio?) Laub are all over the stylistic map. Ninja Tune’s Clifford Gilberto turns in a dramatic orchestral track that highlights the German vocals of Laub’s Bjork-like singer Antye. Electronauten’s contribution is a slab of digi-dub with whispered vox. Pole is up to his old pops and clicks. Infracom artist (and part-time member of Laub) Phoneheads offers a moody but melodic drum’n’bass treatment. Antye’s vocals show up again on Blond’s “trip hop” track, probably the most pop-oriented of the bunch. And Richard Thomas creates the most off-the-wall “remix,” a collage of sounds and textures that eschews whatever German title it might have been given in favor of “Skyscrapers and Earthquakes Happen Incessant Chime.” And there’s much more to explore.
Last time I checked, Briggan Krauss was a saxophone player, and a damned good one. But nothing I’d heard before could have prepared me for this…this MASTERPIECE of multi- tracked solo improvisation! There’s so much electronic processing going on here that often it’s hard to tell what the original sound sources were. But rest assured there is some RIGHTEOUS sax work, as well as plenty of guitar feedback and reverb, some Asian string instruments, turntablism and tape manipulations, drums, bells and gongs, and all manner of electronic buzzing and whirring. Plenty of textures, and plenty of moods: everything from the creepy to the cathartic. This is some of the most beautiful noise I’ve heard in a long while.
On their new single the godfathers of techno adhere closely to the classic Kraftwerk sound. “Expo 2000,” in all four variations here, features lush synthetic melodies and vocodered voices dropping in lines like “the 21st century…” and “man… nature…technology…” over and over. (In English and German!) The beats are firmly mid-tempo save for the “2002” mix (my favorite), which adds a funky bassline. Not a classic but certainly a respectable showing from these electro-pioneers.
Another delicious bomb from Miami’s Chocolate Industries label. Ko-Wreck Technique is a collaboration between Push Button Objects, providing the sonic crunch and fuzz, and world class turntablist DJ Craze, wailing away on the 1’s and 2’s. Two great tastes that taste great together! And if that’s not enough, for dessert you get a Plaid remix of the track “Metro Dade.” That one’s a real soundclash, with Plaid’s typically beautiful melodies wafting over and around the gritty original. But this four-track EP is more than just a hodge-podge of styles; it’s a unique and successful fusion that I hope will continue on to other projects.
Even before your needle hits the groove, this album’s epic-length title suggests that you’re about to experience a classic dub clash. And you will not be disappointed! Lloyd “King Jammy” James is a protege of King Tubby and one of the most successful producers in the history of reggae. And Japan’s Dry & Heavy are the most impressive new dub band to come down the pike in recent memory. Put them together and you’ve got a whole lotta bin shakin’ going on! This is a wonderfully gritty dub excursion, so full of reverb and distortion that it’s almost psychedelic. Tracks given the King Jammy treatment come from Dry & Heavy’s two most recent albums, ONE PUNCH and FULL CONTACT. You will almost feel the room cloud up as you listen.
Here’s the second release from Michigan trio Kiln, and their first for Ghostly International, quite simply one of the best electronic labels in the U.S. Kiln’s music veers from the burbly and dubby to the clicky and glitchy, while consistently maintaining a delicate melodic component that brings out the warmth between the beats. Definitely a candidate for headphone listening; there are many varied textures here that will tickle your earholes.
Zeljko (pronounced “Zhelko”) Kerleta is an architect from Yugoslavia, currently resident in London. He first started making music as soundtracks for presenting his architectural projects, then was so excited about the results that he abandoned architecture to concentrate exclusively on musical projects. He says his songs are all “soundtracks to short imaginary movies,” descriptions of which can be found in the album’s liner notes. Inspired by 60’s and 70’s jazz, as well as the London jazz dance scene, these short vignettes sound to me like the modern equivalent to all those albums of old production library music: extremely evocative but without much overall structure. There are some VERY cool sounds on here, though, and I think Kerleta is worth keeping an eye on.
This four-piece band from the UK has assimilated a variety of influences, from 70’s jazz fusion to Steve Reich minimalism to modern drum’n’bass, and recombined them in a wholly original manner. MESSAGES FROM THE HUB is their first proper album, following a compilation of EP tracks. It’s a languid, jazzy affair with REAL instruments and REAL electronics, an attempt at bringing the improvisational qualities of jazz into the electronic arena. Female vocals enhance a few tracks, including a cover of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.” Bandleader Jamie Odell also records as Audiomontage.
Carl Craig’s long-awaited “techno-jazz” project finally sees the light of day and boy, was it worth the wait! But calling this album “techno-jazz” would really be doing it a disservice. Craig draws on MANY aspects of black music, from rap to house to soul to electro and beyond, with jazz as the glue holding it all together. Without a doubt this is the most ambitious album EVER by a Detroit techno artist. A subtle and beautiful album, full of depth and character. Strong candidate for Album of the Year.
According to the liner notes, this is the third album from former Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper’s band, Hughscore. Hopper jokingly suggests this might be his “New Age” album. Well, it IS pretty quiet and contemplative in spots. But at other times it’s pretty out there. Of particular note is vocalist Elaine di Falco, who sings on five of the album’s nine tracks, and drummer Tucker Martine, who provides some exceptional backing. Whether you prefer the ethereal jazz vibes or the modern prog experimentalism, you’ll find something to like on this album.
Former Tangerine Dream-er Paul Haslinger returns with his second solo album of sampla-delic world fusion. The title and cover art of this one suggest a film soundtrack, but the music is far too busy and at times even too LOUD to function in that capacity. It does, however, take elements of soundtrack music and weave them in and around a plethora of sample library sound effects, ethnic vocals, and funky beats to create a captivating sonic stew. There’s one honest-to-God pop song (“When Worlds Collide”), a downtempo ballad with female vocals that wouldn’t sound out of place under the credits of the next James Bond film. The rest of the album is a bit more adventurous.
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