Music | Bittles‘ Magazine
Some people say that there is no good music released in January and early February. But, as we all know, some people talk shit! It is true that no one is bothering to tour, and hot new releases are thin on the ground. Yet, there is still some wonderful music out there to be found. By JOHN BITTLES
This month alone we have Ghost Culture, the sound of New Order sitting alone at an acid house party, the glacial ambience of The Notwist, some experimental pop from Panda Bear, swirls of melodic techno from John Tejada and the deep house delights of Lake People, to name but a few. So get off that exercise bike, take a break from your jogging, indulge yourself with a kit kat and get unfit with some top music that is full-fat and startlingly good.
This month we will start with the dulcet tones and strange aural experiments of part-time Animal Collective member Panda Bear. The evocatively titled Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper is out now and sees our protagonist leaning ever more towards the realms of electronic pop. The record explores a strange and slightly sinister world which manages to be simultaneously welcoming and alien-sounding in its epic quest to entertain. Processed vocals and weird and wonderful noises spring out of nowhere to constantly keep the listener on their toes while the LP positively brims with an intriguing sense of otherness that sucks you right in. Surprisingly funky and fun in places, this will find favour with anyone who is tired of the rigid structures, throwaway choruses and one-dimensional song structures of traditional pop. Don’t let that put you off, even if you don’t consider yourself adventurous in spirit. Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper is a stunningly creative collection of music that richly rewards repeated plays.
Those who like their house music melodic and dreamy are going to love Signs Under Test, the new album from the super-talented John Tejada. In shops from the 2nd of February the record sees the Californian follow up the sublime The Predicting Machine with an eleven song set that is every bit as good. Two O One begins the ride with a driving beat and some soaring synths that sound as if they are crying in both wonder and pain while they surreptitiously work their way deep into your soul. From here we are taken on a journey into the heart of emotional electronica with Y O Why, Beacht, Vaalbara and Endorphins all wooing the listener with ease. In fact, I don’t think it is any exaggeration at all to say that this is beautiful house music that would make the perfect soundtrack for falling in love.
On a similar tip, and out on the ever-reliable Permanent Vacation label early February, comes Purposely Uncertain Field, the excellent debut album from house music’s rising star Lake People. With his first LP Martin Enke presents the listener with eleven tracks of the type of deep, melodic grooves that sound just as good at home as in the clubs. Opener Escape Velocity has a lush driving sense of momentum, Drifting Red meanwhile revels in a lush, tranquil air that is as welcome as gently drifting snow. In contrast, Lamb Shift is the type of technoid beast that could give the average dance fan a year of wet dreams, while Illuminated utilises the 303 to create dance floor joy. If you are a fan of house music in any of its myriad forms then it goes without saying that you need this in your life.
A bit more laid back but no less essential is Messier Objects, a collection of instrumental tracks released throughout the career of The Notwist. Out in February the record is a quietly beautiful thing with shimmering soundscapes sitting side by side with gentle piano pieces, mournful harmonies and experimental drones. Anyone with a love of ambient music, soundtracks or IDM will find much to delight them within the album’s seventeen tracks. Listened to in isolation most of these pieces create a vivid picture that brings to mind images of lonely pastoral moments, lost cityscapes or the radiance of a lover’s smile. If that all sounds a bit too pretentious for your tastes please don’t be put off since when consumed as a whole Messier Objects welcomes you with a warm hug and a smile. More than a mere curiosity, this is as good an album of instrumental pieces as has graced my ears.
Out now on Erol Alkan’s ever-essential Phantasy Sound label is the fabulously groovy debut album by Ghost Culture. Having been heralded as a name to watch right through 2014 with a trio of impressive EPs, the self-titled long-player sees James Greenwood maintain the mournful vocals and the analogue house grooves that we have come to know and love. Opening with the new wave synth-sounding Mouth, the album develops from here into something rich and varied that brings a bit of intelligence into its steady dance floor pulse. There is the sleaze-filled disco of Giudecca, the bad LSD trip of Arms, the bleep-filled clangs of Lying and any number of goodies in between. Imagine an album produced by Andrew Weatherall with vocals by The Horrors’ Faris Baldwin and you are close to envisaging how this sounds. In other words, this is mature house music with a melancholic soul.
Those who like their rock music with a decidedly druggy feel are in for a treat this month in the form of Irreal the new album from Disappears. Hailing from Chicago the band present an album made up of eight stoned tracks that sound like they exist within their own fucked-up little world. David Lynch-style dirges suddenly explode into dub soundscapes or post-punk explosions of angst to create one of the most thrilling pieces of guitar music you will hear all year. Fans of Vacant Lots, Suicide or Spacemen 3 will find themselves right at home within these long, languid grooves. Interpretation opens the album in sublime style with a six minute dirty rock throb, Another Thought meanwhile is the sound of a paranoid nightmare, leaving it to Mist Rites to thrill the listener to their very core. One of the most sonically adventurous and exciting albums I have heard in years.
Released in early February is Immersion, the rather fine debut LP by the hotly tipped Zenker Brothers. Coming out on the ‘too cool for school’ Ilian Tape label, hints of house, ambience, bass music and techno collide to form an album that feels like a fully realised and immersive listening experience. While tracks like the pummelling Aisel and High Club seem to loop themselves into a creative cul de sac there are still many musical gems to be discovered here. Mintro is a haunting opener with hints of Vangelis, while TSV WB shimmers within a dense Detroit techno groove. At times difficult and obtuse, yet there are plenty of musical nuggets to be found here if you are prepared to invest the time.
Out on cassette at the end of the month (what do you mean you don’t have a tape deck anymore?) is the long, slow drift of the excellent Eis Heauton by Berlin’s aptly named Driftmachine. Made up of four extended experiments in sound, the album is named after a Greek term meaning “conversation with oneself”. Spooky aural landscapes and dub-style textures dominate in a sonically rich record made up of ghostly whispers and half remembered dreams. Utilising ‘self-generating patches’ allowed the duo to, literally, give the machines the freedom to speak for themselves. And when the results are this enticing you wonder why we would we need the input of humans at all?
Another Berlin resident, Toni Kater has been releasing lush off-kilter pop music for over a decade now without any signs of losing her touch. This January sees her release album number four in the form of the quietly contemplative Eigentum. With lyrics full of unrestrained poetry that hint at a life full of incident as well as more than a whiff of pretension the record will find favour with those who like some soul and intellect with their pop. I found it a beautifully beguiling listen, with tracks like Heuschrecken, Kalte Augen and New York ist Tot revelling in a sense of romantic drama which can only be good for one’s heart. Melodic, yet intelligent Eigentum shows how pop can be as stimulating as a cold shower and still has a lot of intelligent things to say.
Last year’s Hardcore Traxx retrospective of the highly respected Dance Mania label was filled full of tough Chicago house tunes that had a sense of naivety and excitement all but lost in today’s music scene. This month sees crate diggers du jour Strut return to the label’s archives with Ghetto Madness, a further fifteen tracks of bouncy beats, ridiculous samples and early house rhythms that illustrate exactly why we all fell in love with dance music in the first place. Highlights are aplenty, yet special mention must go to The Freaks by DJ Deeon which has a fantastically elastic sounding bassline, the bleep techno of Computer Madness by Steve Poindexter and Houzmon’s The Groove which closes the show in truly epic style. Misty eyed ravers and body-popping club kids should be buying this on sight.
Keeping it on the dance floor next we have FabricLive 79 mixed by Detroit native and esteemed purveyor of electronic funk Jimmy Edgar. Out on the 19th of January the mix sees Jimmy pull together a rough, tough, jacking set which is made up predominantly of tracks from his own Ultramajic imprint. Sitting on just the right side of weird, the set is created very much with the dance floor at Fabric in mind, which means that it may appear a little one-dimensional when played on your shitty little stereo at home. Yet, just blast this loud on good headphones and with your eyes closed while mentally envisaging a dark and sweaty basement full of beautiful dancers and FabricLive 79 will truly come alive.
If all this electronic music is getting a bit much then perhaps you could find solace within the soft folk delights of Individ by San Francisco natives Dodos. Out now on Morr Music the LP recalls the introspective splendour of Turin Breaks, Athlete or Doves. The tender vocals and soaring guitars hark back to a simpler time and make for a welcome trip into a world of pastoral nostalgia. That is no bad thing though as Individ is an atmospheric and gloriously emotional record that is more than able to exist within its own terms. Introspective and windswept, this is the type of rock music that isn’t frightened of wearing its heart on its sleeve. Perhaps a little too one-paced for some, yet songs such as The Tide, Bubble and Goodbyes & Endings work with skill and a sense of yearning to create a wonderfully suggestive air. One for the romantics and the dreamers out there!
And this month we finish on a high with the splendid proto-house goodness of new beat prodigy Ro Maron. Collected is a 29 track two-disc retrospective of his work which sees the label Musique Pour La Danse kick off a new series that highlights ‘lost’ geniuses of the electronic world. And although not every track works (Acid Drill or Beat In The Street for example), it is amazing to hear how vital and ‘now’ many of these songs sound. The compilation features a rich and varied array of music that touches on elements of early acid, slo-mo house, ambience, disco, punk funk and, of course, the classic bleeps and blips of new beat. Something Scary, Welcome To My Acid house, Sleepwalker, Taste My Acid Fruit and Opus 303 are all stand-outs that perfectly highlight why Ro Maron fully deserves to be discovered by a new generation of house music fiends.
A special mention must also go to: Wilde Freiheit by Various – An excellent comp from the Wilde label celebrating 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall which is worth tracking down for Speckbrot by Julian & Der Fux alone, Von Wustrow Nach Paris by the label 3000Grad – a truly wonderful mix of deep and melodic house music mixed with aplomb by label heads Mollono.Bass, Dose by Raica – Chloe Harris presents eight tracks of beatless excellence that ably conjure up any number of strange and beautiful worlds, Transfer Of Energy (Feelings Of Power) by Egyptrixx – a full-powered body rocking collection of dance tunes to make your booty shake and Nelcorpo by Re-UP – the perfect example of the dance album as a journey. Far from essential, yet it is very easy to lose yourself within the grooves.