Music | Bittles’ Magazine: The music column from the end of the world
Ah, the humble 12 inch! It gives so much joy, but asks for little in return. This week we’ll be celebrating this musical format with reviews of some of the best new releases to hit the stores in March. By JOHN BITTLES
We have the celebrated return of the mighty Mr. Fingers on his own Alleviated imprint, superior house from Avalon Emerson, Nick Dow, Jori Hulkkonen and Recondite, the skewed electronica of Throwing Shade, Kyoka and Aisha Devi, the twisted pop of Emika and much more.
This month we’ll begin with the return of acid house royalty. Mr. Fingers, as I am sure you are aware, is the alias of one Larry Heard, who used the name in the 80s to release seminal tracks such as Washing Machine, Can You Feel It, Distant Planet and more. While, recently, the producer has only donned his Mr. Fingers alias for remixes of artists like Lana Del Rey, Sebo K and Matt Tolfrey, his new four track EP is the first new material released under this moniker since the mid 90s. I’ll be honest with you here, even if the Outer Acid EP was average I am such a fan of Larry Heard’s work that it would probably still make me scream with glee. Thankfully though, it is nothing short of superb! The title track opens proceedings in vintage style, its acid squiggles and hushed pads merging to create a dense, hypnotic state. Qwazers is a beautiful piece of music, with its gentle piano and spoken word vocal playing over the deepest of deep house beats. Nodyahed meanwhile is a shuffly house jam, while Aether’s sweeping chords recall wistful autumn days. Need I say more? 10/10.
Over rumbling drums, glitchy beats and a shrill drone comes one of the most beautiful synth lines you will ever hear. The track in question is The Frontier, and it heads up Avalon Emerson’s new three track EP for the Young Turks affiliated Whities label. Completely mesmerising, as soon as it begins to play it is impossible to do anything but listen, allowing the beats to take your mind to places far, far away. As her previous release for Shtum attests, Avalon Emerson creates house music which is deep and driving, but with an emotional heart that helps it enter the realms of the sublime. While it is possible to get lost forever in The Frontier’s Detroit flavoured grooves the remaining two tracks are no slouches either. 2000 Species Of Cacti is fast and furious, with a rave-style riff over soft house keys that tug at your soul, while The Frontier (High Desert Synthapella) allows the star of the lead track a show of its own. Trust me when I tell you that the purchase of this record really is a must. 10/10.
Recent Ninja Tune signing Throwing Shade’s new EP, House Of Silk, is just as otherworldly, visceral and addictive as anyone who has had the pleasure of hearing her music before would expect. Pop, electronica, R&B, and more collide in a five track collusion of sound. The EP opens with the stop/start beeps of Hashtag IRL, where the London-based producer cuts up nonsense lyrics reciting acronyms over gentle keys and a post dubstep throb. Next up, Marble Air uses melody and out of time beats to create an uplifting IDM-style gem. Star of the show though is the swoon inducing Ecco Echo, which pairs disjointed thumps with an oriental melody to create a vividly realised and rich aural world. Of the remaining tracks, Fear Of Silence morphs from its opening ambiance to create a futuristic italo disco jam, and Underneath My Eyelids ends the record with a soft air and glistening piano notes. With each of the five tracks a winner, House Of Silk is sure to make a very welcome addition to anybody’s home. 9/10.
Classically trained producer Emika’s Drei album from last year was something of an electronic pop masterpiece. Recalling the sonic experimentation of leftfield acts like Grimes or Fever Ray, her songs have a way of getting right under your skin (in a good way of course). This month the artist follows up her How To Make A Symphony Kickstarter campaign with the four-track aural collage of the Flashbacks EP. The Radio Edit of the title-track opens the record in style, its disconsolate vocals, ominous air, and smooth sub bass taking the pop template and distorting it until it resembles something dangerous and new. Next up, Restless Wings is a heady dose of electronica which ebbs and flows beautifully throughout its seven minute running time. Total Feat. Michaela Srumova is a bittersweet electronic torch song, while, to finish, Franck Vigroux turns Flashback into a brutal techno assault. Ignore the one-dimensional pounding of the remix though, as it’s the three originals which will win you over to the appeal of the dark. 8/10.
Recondite fans have had it pretty darn good these last few years. A string of EPs and albums for labels such as Innervisions, Life & Death and Acid Test have kept devotees of his slow, melodic grooves happier than a kid with two cones of ice cream. Mid-March sees the producer return to London institution Hotflush with the trance-tinged house of Phalanx/Warg. A-side Phalanx is a moody, subdued techno jam, its bass pulses and jaw-droppingly deep synth line echoing long in the mind. Creating an ominous atmosphere from the off, it oozes from the speakers to envelop your entire world. On the flip, Warg ups the pace a little, but maintains the mood, its slow-burning air enhanced by skittering synths and a bowel shaking low end thud. Whether heard on headphones, on home speakers, or in the darkened confines of a club, both these songs demand your attention, love and respect. 9/10.
Aisha Devi’s debut album Of Matter And Spirit came out last year on London label Houndstooth to huge critical acclaim. Its blend of dense electronics, dark ambiance, intellectualism and bone-rattling bass made for a strange, unsettling, complex body of work. This March three highlights from the LP are re-jigged in the Remix EP. Irish techno jinxsters Lakker kick us off with a disjointed, clanking refit of Anatomy Of Light. Deeply hypnotic and trippy as fuck, their percussion-heavy version is a dark, dangerous, yet beautiful thing. Just as good is the Throwing Shade refit of Kim & The Wheel Of Life, which transforms the original into an atmospheric ambient delight. On the flip, Berlin-based Mind:Body:Fitness create a deep, spooky echo on their remix of Mazda, while Killing Sound take first prize with their stunning mutated dub take on the same track. Reminiscent of Massive Attack should they ever fully submit to paranoia and despair, this is a song which will linger long in your soul. Pushing sonic boundaries at every turn, this is the real deal. 8/10.
Last year’s Pocket Harmony EP was an uplifting and highly emotional piece of house which ably signposted Scottish producer Nick Dow as one of electronic music’s future stars. His brand new EP Myrrh steadfastly confirms this belief, containing as it does, four tracks of electronic dance music so good they should be classed as legal highs. The record opens on solid ground with the melodic swirls and kick ass beat of the title track. Propulsive and sexy as hell, this is dance music so fresh and exciting it almost feels alive. Next up, Passing Wolf eases the pace a little, utilizing treated choral voices over a warm mid-paced groove. Theseus meanwhile takes us straight back to the dance floor with a steady techno-style build and a wonderfully elastic sounding lead synth which urges you to rhythmically move your limbs, which leaves it to Smokes‘ heady ambiance to close a mighty fine package with a quiet, reflective air. 8/10.
Sounding like it was created purely to cause devastation on the dance floor, Jack by house legend Brett Johnson is one of those songs which smacks you in the face and screams »I’M GONNA BE HUGE!« Out now as part of the Snack Attack EP, Jack blends a classic Chicago house groove, a gorgeously funk filled techno thump and a tongue in cheek spoken-word vocal to create one of the party tracks of the year. With both the original and dub mixes recalling the freak house delights of the likes of Green Velvet or Derrick Carter this is sure to be a mainstay of many DJs‘ sets for many months to come. While Jack is undoubtedly the highlight of the package, the boompty house jam that is Noisy Neighbours is also worthy of your time. The song builds from humble beginnings to slowly but surely transform into a spectacular piece of uninhibited funk. Following Lauren Lane’s fab Diary Of A Madwoman EP, Snack Attack firmly establishes Eats Everything’s fledgling Edible imprint as a label to watch. 8/10.
Techno icon Jori Hulkkonen made a very welcome return last year with the excellent synth pop inspired Oh But I Am LP. Featuring the producer’s own vocals over warm house beats its twelve tracks worked together perfectly to create a record which recalled the past while still managing to sound relevant and now. This month one of the album’s highlights, Black Books, gets the special attention it deserves in a bumper package containing five remixes of the tune. Pick of the bunch is the slow-paced melodic jam of the Doc L. Junior Robo-Dub mix, a Balearic inspired gem. Deep, spacious and heart-meltingly gorgeous, you could easily spend weeks of your life listening to this on repeat. Equally essential is the Kenny Glasgow version which sees the one time Art Department member creating a strange, yet mesmerising ear-worm. While the other mixes are nothing to get overly excited about, it’s these two remixes which make this an essential and vital release. 9/10.
Raster-Noton artist Kyoka is a Japanese producer who resides within the more experimental side of techno. IS (Is Superpowered), her debut full length from last year was a dense, dark trip into an electronic underworld, containing tracks so aurally overwhelming that listening to them made you feel as if you were struggling for air. Sh, Kyoka’s new four track EP, (six if you order the digital version through Raster-Noton’s website) explores similar waters and is every bit as good. Susurrus opens proceedings in heady, atmospheric fashion, its bass pulses and buzzing synths creating an eerie tension in the listener, much like the sensation of a stranger gently stroking your hair. Further in, Smash/Hush’s dislocated beats and hissing percussion create riddles for the mind, Shush sounds like the soundtrack to some particularly disturbing horror flick, while bonus track Soliloquy teases the listener with the mere ghost of a groove. Cerebral, unusual and brilliant, Sh is a disquieting listen, but an absorbing one all the same. 8/10.
A special mention must also go to: We Walked Home Together – Remix Pack III by El Txef A – Reinhart Voigt’s refit of The Love We Lost is deep and lush, Dave DK’s version of Mugarriantz is like the warmest of hugs, while El Txef A himself injects Claim Of Planet Earth with acid squiggles and emotional depth, 9/10, Sleepless EP by Matthew Styles – Out now on Damien Lazarus’s Crosstown Rebels imprint, this solid four-tracker mixes house and techno rhythms with aplomb, 7/10, The Itch by Vinny Villbass – After a few indifferent releases Balearic imprint Eskimo Recordings once again hit top form with this emotion heavy tech house groove, 8/10, Ambiq 2 Remixed by Ambiq – Head straight for the deep hypnotic shuffle of Thomas Fehlmann’s remix of Meta which uses the techno template to create something mind-blowing and new, 9/10, Kenzo by Def Mike – More deep house goodness from the Moodmusic label with the mid-paced throb of the title-track being the pick of the bunch for me, 8/10, Coluka by Ron Costa – Dance floor virgins take cover because this moody and melodic cut is a club slaying beast, 8/10, Rolling Ones by Rolling Ones – Jordan Poling joins forces with Tin Man for four tracks of lush acid, Chicago house-style, 8/10, and The Descent (Chapter II) by Pact Infernal – Pitch black ambiance to soundtrack late night trips down spooky corridors, 7/10.
And let’s not forget: Funkstar by Die Vogelperspektive – Over a slow-building, synth-heavy groove lead track Mighty Fat is one of the best reasons I can think of for getting out of bed. Yet, even this pales in comparison to the techno dub headfuck of the Stephan Zovsky Redub which has one of the phattest basslines you will hear all year, 9/10, The World Until Yesterday by Adventures In Daydreams – While the peak time build of the title track is a very useful little tool, it’s the subdued elegance of b-side Patch 62 which will have you rushing back for more, 7/10, Voodoo Remixes by Indoor Life – Four tracks from the 80s cult faves receive a new lease of life from Discodromo, Chocolate Garage Prod. and JD Twitch, 8/10, Progression EP by Mark Fanciulli – A three track EP which will appease any fan of quality deep house, out now on Carl Craig’s esteemed Planet E, 8/10, Leaves of Glass by Iggy Pop, Tarwater and Alva Noto – Seven tracks of ethereal electronica and spoken-word strangeness from a trio of leftfield legends, 7/10, Azra EP by Philipp Stoya – Yet another fantastic record of deep house goodness from the Compost Black Label series. Head straight for the Innervisions-style Rola which will have you dancing madly around your room, 8/10, and Wild Flowers by Solar Bears – Taken from the forthcoming Advancement LP, Pye Corner Audio’s remix of Wild Flowers is gorgeously chilled, 8/10.