Music | Bittles’ Magazine: The music column from the end of the world
Ok, I admit that the world isn’t exactly brimming with hot new releases right now! For instance, the James Bay album is the sound of one long, wearisome yawn, while rather than enduring the relentless pounding of The Day Is My Enemy I asked a thug to repeatedly punch me in the head instead, and no matter how good the new Blur album might be, it’s still fucking Blur. By JOHN BITTLES
In fact, going through the huge amount of garbage to find the musical gems that make up this article was a bit of a struggle this month. Yet, it was more than worth those wasted hours torturing my ears since I discovered the 20 (Yes, 20) great new albums that were worthy of review. There is the crazed psychedelic rock of Föllakzoid and Moon Duo, glazed classical tranquillity from Henrik Schwarz, lush house by Joe Le Bon, George FitzGerald, and Lauer, mellow pop from Braids and Looper, and more.
So put on your reading hat, pour yourself a nice cup of tea (or gin), and let us begin…
This month it seems somehow fitting to start with the strange, yet percussively funky grooves of Actress, as he mixes the 49th in the DJ Kicks series with both skill and aplomb. After Nina Kraviz’s previous divisive edition, which was nowhere near as bad as naysayers would have you believe, it is left to Actress to get this esteemed series back on track. Heady, trippy, and deep as fuck, Darren Cunningham takes us on an epic 60 minute journey that will have techno heads frothing at the mouth, and the EBM brigade scratching their heads wondering what the hell is going on. A fine mixture of classics by Autechre, Chez Damier & Ron Trent, and Gherkin Jerks blend into present-day gems by Lorenzo Senni, STL, Shxcxchcxsh and more. The obligatory new, exclusive production, Bird Matrix is a fab bit of slow-burning electronic funk, and is well worth tracking down outside of the mix for the full 13 minute blast. While it may be a little too obscure and ‚difficult‘ at times to win over the novice, this is a deep, challenging affair which rewards attentive listening and patience. Give it time and Actress will take you places you’ve never been before! 8/10.
A string of top tracks on Hotflush, Aus Music and Hypercolour have long marked George FitzGerald as a UK house producer of note. Now signed to Domino offshoot Double Six Records, late April sees the release of his debut LP Fading Love. With expectations in the UK sky-high for this, on first listen it is hard to not be a little disappointed in the album’s ten songs. Gone is the druggy house sounds of his Aus releases, as is the liquid garage with which he made his name for Hotflush! This has been replaced by a smoother, more melodic and polished sound that would sit very comfortably on esteemed trance labels like Acker or Atomnation. Repeated plays prove that this is in no way a bad thing though! Songs such as Full Circle, Knife To The Heart, Beginning At The End and Shards are deeply emotional slices of intense poignant beauty that demonstrate an artist at the very top of his game. Deeply immersive and powerfully personal, Fading Love is a gorgeously evocative listen that gets better each and every time you press play. 9/10.
For those of you craving a bit of quality drone rock III, the fabulously psychedelic new album by Santiago-based trio Föllakzoid, may be just what you need. The record features four long, steady grooves that constantly shift in scope and pace, while influences including Neu and Spacemen 3 are used to create something sounding exotic, exciting and new. One listen to the 11 minute opener Electric was all it took for me! With an almost drone techno feel, (partly due to the band working on the album with Atom TM), the track is content to sit back and draw the listener in slowly but surely until they are completely enveloped in the Föllakzoid world. Piure brings to mind a Clint Eastwood western soundtrack, heard after ingesting far too many drugs, Earth is one long-promised eruption, while Feuerzeug recalls Toy at their giddy best. A true head-fuck of a listen, you haven’t seen the dark side until you’ve given Föllakzoid a try. 9/10.
If, like me, the news that Phillip Lauer was releasing an album on Permanent Vacation was enough to keep you horny for weeks, then prepare your pants for the arrival of Borndom which is coming out on the celebrated label in early May. The follow-up to Phillips, which was released on his Tuff City Kids‘ partner Gerd’s Running Back label in 2012, is every bit as good as we might expect. Filled with sunny melodies, funky grooves and Balearic bliss the album perfectly illustrates just how good dance music can be. Gammelan bubbles with a killer groove, Hump Acid sounds like a Chicago house record from 1987, Carpet resembles a lost 80s EBM classic, while Mausback could bring out the inner raver in anyone. Like that first little ray of sunshine heralding winter’s end, Borndom is all but guaranteed to bring a bit of happiness into your life. 9/10.
With lyrical subjects including slutshaming, abuse and pornography you might be forgiven for expecting Deep In The Iris, the brand new album by Montreal-based band Braids, to be something of a challenging, tortured affair. However there is a real sense of warmth and hope in the songs that form the follow-up to 2013’s excellent Flourish//Perish that lends them an almost pastoral feel. The band’s mix of electronics and acoustic instrumentation works well, even though the record lacks that stand-out moment that all great albums must have. The vocals by Raphaelle Standell-Preston are as evocative as ever, and more than make-up for the occasional weak lyric, or bland backing track. There is also more than enough here to emphasize how Braids are a band to fall in love with, stalk in your spare time, and adore. With repeated plays revealing numerous layers, Deep In The Iris is a must for anyone seeking a bit of depth and synths with their pop. 7/10.
If the Föllakzoid album reviewed above wasn’t enough to satisfy your cravings for fuzzed-out rock music that messes with your head, then Moon Duo may just be the band for you. This April sees them return to our turntables with the excellent and gorgeously deranged Shadow Of The Sun. Resembling Suicide, The Raveonettes and The Sisters Of Mercy all trapped in a jar and being shaken viciously by a curious young boy, the album is a dark, dirge-filled affair. Yet it is, at times, surprisingly funky too. In fact, if you can’t strut your stuff to songs such as Night Beat, Zero and Slow Down Low then, quite frankly, you don’t deserve to have feet. More pop and song-based than some of the current psychedelic crop, playing this loud on headphones as you walk down the street will suffice to bring out anybody’s inner cool. 8/10.
If even the very idea of house music being played on classical instruments is enough to give you the creeps then look away now for that is exactly what has happened with the new album from Innervisons main-man Henrik Schwarz’s. After pondering what would remain of his music should it be „played by classical musicians and omit the most important element, the beats“ he approached the Tokyo Secret Orchestra to see for himself. The result is Instruments, seven classic Henrik Schwarz tracks being re-arranged and played by a full chamber orchestra. Overall the album works surprisingly well! The strings alone on Walk Music Four could stir the stoniest of hearts, while Leave My Brain Alone sounds like a dusty record discovered by Mr Scruff, and I Exist Because Of You Too has an intriguingly playful air. Over the course of the entire album things can get a little dull. However, if you are looking for an album to impress that classy girl/boy you just met then Instruments could, in all likelihood, get you laid. 7/10.
The name Joe Le Bon may be new to some, but over the last 20 years Jarno Eerola has used this alias to give us a string of vintage, deep house tunes. This May sees the rightly revered Moods & Grooves label release his new album House Music Love Music. The LP consists of a total of 13 tracks that recall the ‚proper‘ house sound of Theo Parrish, Carl Craig or Larry Heard. Full of the type of music you would expect to hear Harri and Domenic play at the sacred dance floor of the Sub Club, from the very first beat you are aware that you are in for a real musical treat. Ghost On Cassette and the lush deepness of Berlin Panorama get things off to a bewitching start, pulsing with a rich, enticing air. From here we move to the gorgeous melodies of Lychenerstrasse 28, the quiet ambiance of Short Movies From Quito, the mid-paced techno of The White Bells, and more. A veritable feast for any house music lover, this harks back to a time when dance music positively brimmed with both heart and soul. 9/10.
With a cerebral focus and an ear for a sublime melody, HVOB won a world of fans in 2013 for their stunning self-titled debut LP. This year they return with the lush and emotional Trialog album which sees them meld an enticing mixture of trance, house, ambient and soul. The duo, who are comprised of Anna Müller & Paul Wallner bring a welcome sense of depth and artiness to the somewhat staid trance sound. Opener Azrael seduces with tinkling beats, a low synth throb and some spectral vocals that gently worm their way into your head and heart. There is a sense of stately grandeur to tracks such as Window, Oxid, Tender Skin and Ghost that could at first appear cold, but gradually draw the listener right in. Wonderfully heartfelt, HVOB may not be devastating any dance floors, but, if you give them a chance, they could well become your new best friend. 8/10.
Recalling vintage Depeche Mode or Faith-era The Cure in all their desolate splendour, Deeper see goth rock hero The Soft Moon make a welcome return with a long, shrill blast of angst ridden rock n‘ roll noise. After 2012’s disappointing Zeroes LP, Luis Vasquez retreated into a world of „total solitude“ to record the follow-up. Out now on the über-hip Captured Tracks imprint, the record sees Luis delve ever-deeper into his own psyche for some truly messed-up lyrics, and waves of glorious reverb drenched roars. More pop focused than Nine Inch Nails, yet noisy enough to help you through the pain, Deeper explores a nocturnal world from which none of us are ever truly safe. Highly recommended! 9/10.
Better known as a guitarist for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, John Frusciante took time off from stadium rock to immerse himself in the joys and technicalities of acid house. This April sees the release of his rather excellent self-titled album under the Trickfinger guise. I admit that as I first pressed play I was extremely sceptical, yet Mr Frusciante utilizes the 303 and various other pieces of hardware with a rare talent which won me over by the very first song. The LP is made up of intelligent and emotional acid that recalls the work of Recondite and Tale Of Us as much as Hardfloor or Acid Trax. After Below and Before Above open the record with a sedate, and poignant air that ably brings a tear to the eye. Rainover ups the pace and drags us towards the dance floor, Sain recalls the druggy delights of Plastikman, 85h is a heart-stopping array of raw emotion, while Phurip is a club destroying weapon, as thrilling as it is dumb. This is shit-hot house music for anyone who likes things deep, funky and raw; 8/10.
A special mention must also go to: Future Disco 8: Nighttime Networks by Various – Not as disco as you might expect, but with crackin‘ tunes by the likes of Andras Fox, HNNY, Tuff City Kids, Portable and Weval volume 8 of this deep house series sees Sean Brosnan creating a mix to keep you company right through the night, 8/10, Love Pours Into Death by Sunset Graves – Sonically dense electronics which shimmer with a sense of uneasiness and recall the likes of Vangelis or FSOL, 7/10, Rebel Rave 4 by Matthew Styles – A bumper 3 CD round-up of recent glories from the Crosstown Rebels label with Matthew’s mixed set the pick of the bunch, 7/10, Orcas by Lulacruza – Like a more pastoral version of Grouper, Orcas sees the electronic folk duo serve up a delicious palette of gentle calmness, 7/10, and Offgrid:Offline by Looper – Available on its own, or as part of a five CD set, this sees the Glaswegian electronic folksters return with an album so chilled you could use it to cool yourself on a hot summers day, 8/10.
Also worth checking are: Fabric 81 by Matt Tolfrey – A nicely varied bumpty, underground house mix by the Fabric stalwart which includes tracks by Genius Of Time, Nail, Jon Convex, Jozif, Kevin Yost and more, 6/10, Too by My Panda Shall Fly – An album of collaborations doesn’t always make for a coherent listen, yet Too is a mostly successful downbeat record for romantics and dreamers alike, 6/10, Toolroom Live 02 by Eelke Kleijn, Boris and Prok & Fitch – A 3 mix package of tough big-room house and trance with the more melodic opening set by Eelke Kleijn being the one to check, 5/10, and Last Future by SCHiLLiNG – Like aural porn for hipsters, Last Future sees the London based artist compose a sound heavily indebted to 90s era trip hop. Worthy of a good head-nodding session all the same, 6/10.