After the trials of ›Record Store Day‹ where I queued up for two whole hours only to find out that I had parted with £20 in exchange for a flat piece of cardboard it is somewhat of a relief to be writing about new music that is universally available to all. In fact this month is such a whopper of great releases that I have made the brave decision to spread the praise, scorn and sexual innuendo over two weeks. By JOHN BITTLES
This week we’ve got goth-punk from The Amazing Snakeheads, gorgeous deep house from Christian Löffler, the bass and dub soaked Loops Haunt, the sweeping melancholy of HTRK and sooo much more. Tune in next week for reviews of Howie B, Coves, DJ F and the majestic return of disco house don Mark E.
As it’s an album that I simply haven’t been able to stop playing over these last few weeks, I thought I would start with the deliciously deep and emotionally stirring ›Young Alaska‹ by Christian Löffler. Two long years after his sublime debut ›A Forest‹ wooed listeners the world over, comes the rather special ›Ki Records‹ released follow-up. Those wondering if he can ever hope to match the splendour of his previous long-player are in for a welcome surprise since it is a high point of a very distinguished career. Opening with the beautiful title track which sounds like a highlight from the ›Dial‹ roster the listener is immediately aware that they are in for a very special and smooth ride. If anything next track ›Mt. Grace‹ is even lovelier, pulling at your heartstrings as well as your feet. From this spell-binding beginning the record just swells and grows with each song a bona fide classic in an album that will sit proudly as one of the records of the year.
Sounding altogether more abrasive yet no less vital is the punkish snarl of ›Amphetamine Ballads‹ by Glasgow rockers The Amazing Snakeheads. Now, a record that sounds a little like a serial killer screaming abuse into your ear about all the things he is going to do to you while strumming a few cool basslines on his guitar may not seem like such a good idea at first. Yet give it two minutes and you will decide »fuck it, I’ll let him do with me what he wants«. Singer Dale Barclay has a sinister yet impassioned howl that messes with your mind, and conjures emotional turmoil with each and every vocal strain. From the very first lines of »She’s more beautiful than any woman I’ve met / And she fuckin’ knows it« you just know that however brutal or vulgar at least Dale means every single word. Those of a delicate disposition should probably stay well away. But, for those who seek a little rock n’ roll anger with their morning cornflakes this is a debut guaranteed to turn you on.
Soul, funk, trip-hop and more collide in ›New York Trouble/Electric Progression‹ by cheeky funksters Shawn Lee and Tim Love Lee. Reminiscent of a long lost soundtrack to some cool 60s spy show the record’s songs conjure images of car chases, femme fatales, damn cool hats and very bad attitudes. Upon first listen I was somewhat sceptical, but by the time ›Nightly Visits’‹ bass reverberated through my brain I was completely won over. With each track only about two minutes long it can be difficult to get into a groove. Most listeners will forgive this though if only due to the abundance of ideas and funky-assed sounds that make you want to hunt out that fedora hat and massive pimp shoes. A quirky, fun-filled delight that will satisfy the hipster in all of us.
A little bit different but no less essential is the return of deep house duo Shades of Gray who, this month, give us their second delicious long-player ›Unlock the Rhythm‹. From the very first thump of opener ›Never Alone‹ the album fills your mind with bottomless basslines, stunning depth and some of the best use of samples I‘ve heard in years. ›Back to You‹ has a lush disco feel, ›Let It Flow‹ is house music with a warm human heart, while ›Tonight Is The Night‹ has a bassline to die for. This is far too good an album to only be played by those who already love house music.
This month also sees Reset Robots’ Dave Robertson release ›Let Your Soul Outside‹, his rather good debut album on ›True Soul Records‹. The record’s 12 tracks twist and groove to a constant house beat that will be sure to buzz all those pleasure receptors in your mind. ›Guitar Man‹ opens the album with a burst of glorious melody that is practically guaranteed to reduce grown men to tears. ›Little Alice‹ picks up the pace recalling as it does the label Get Physical back when every release was great, while ›Sausage‹ has a simultaneously euphoric and sinister air that works so, so well. ›Cynthia‹ is a highlight with a sublime Detroit-style groove and a sound to blow your feeble little mind. While not likely to make those who dislike house music spit out their coffee in awe and shocked surprise this is still a rather excellent electronic album with a great big heart. And that is more than enough for me.
Even more electronic-based goodness comes in the form of ›Objects‹, the debut LP by St. Petersburg based enigma Kito Jempere. Techno, bass, rave ambient and more combine in an album which stimulates and excites in its ability to surprise. For instance ›Conversation‹ starts with a hushed ambient air, before shifting into deep house territory and ending with some furious acid to quite devastating effect. ›Gas Station‹ resembles 60s jazz, Typewriter has an eerie ambient vibe while ›In The Midnight‹ (with Yana Blinder)‹ is goth house to make the likes of Trentemøller very jealous indeed. Fans of forward thinking dance music have struck gold here!
Next we have some beautiful ambience with the nicely chilled ›Yearling‹ by duo Orcas out now on the ever reliable Morr Music. ›Petrichor‹ is a heart-stopping delight of glacial bliss opening the album in quite stunning form. Further on ›Infinite Stillness‹ sees the introduction of synths, vocals and guitars in a track which seems almost to soar high into the sky. The real highlight of the set though is ›Selah‹, which has a sense of yearning so strong it positively tugs at your soul. Echoes of The Smiths, Mazzy Star and shoegaze combine beautifully together with a wonderful sense of experimentation to create an album that will form an important part of any music lover’s day.
Opening with the disorientating clicks and clacks of ›Exits‹ and ›Trapdoors‹ it’s not until the brutal crunk of ›Hollowed‹ that the album Exits by Loops Haunt really hits its stride. Yet when it does, most of what follows is pretty damn good. The stop-start drama of ›Ellum Tonal‹ sets the scene while ›Howl‹ and ›Hex‹ both throb with sinister delight. The record as a whole seems content to inhabit a dark menacing landscape where icy ambience clashes majestically with booming bass and beats to create a somewhat unwelcoming world. Yet it is a sound with a lot going for it and is sure to find fans with those who like their music with an uneasy listening air.
›Psychic 9-5 Club‹ is the first album Jonnine Standish and Nigel Yang of HTRK have released as a duo after the untimely death of third member Sean Stewart in 2011. Whereas their previous output was perhaps a bit too angular and abrasive for these delicate little ears ›Psychic 9-5 Club‹ sees the band in sterling form. Melancholy torch songs with a heavy air of introspection and despair are the order of the day in a set that bewitches and entrances to quite stunning effect. Jonnine’s vocals are a thing of rare beauty, while the electronic backing music is rich and rewarding all on its own. Rarely has despair and desolation sounded this good.
Trance music has managed to garner itself something of a bad name over the years, yet, if it is done well (i.e. by the likes of Petar Dundov, Cosmic Baby or Marc Romboy) it is one of the most stimulating and spiritual genres of music there is. Just look at ›Takt‹, the debut album by Paris-based Traumer, out now on ›Herzblut‹,to see just how good trance music can be. Tracks like ›Azure‹, ›Cyclo‹ and ›Flume‹ positively scream out for you to get completely lost in the music and forget your troubles for a while. For me though, it’s the 22 minute long ›Marion‹ which is the real standout, being as it is, one of the most gloriously groove-laden tracks I have ever heard.
Also, please don’t miss out on ›Decay‹ by Efdemin – a stunning deep house journey with a mesmerising emotional core, ›A Series of Shocks‹ by Tobias – the best pure techno album you’ll hear all year, ›Built on Glass‹ by Chet Faker – if he’s too cool to care then why should I? and ›Escape Control‹ by Loud Neighbor – an analogue funk-filled affair with more than a passing nod to pop.
| JOHN BITTLES