Music | Bittles’ Magazine: The music column from the end of the world
With the Olympics failing to inspire, it can seem as if the only way to spend the long summer months is by playing endless rounds of tiddlywinks, or consuming copious amounts of Jammy Dodgers. But, that doesn’t have to be the case. There is a better way! For instance, you can take up ant farming, as my good friend Jeffrey has recently done, or immerse yourself in the wealth of fantastic new music which has recently come out. Personally, I would recommend the latter. By JOHN BITTLES
In the following column we review some of the best new albums hitting the shelves over the coming weeks. We have the shadowy electronica of Pye Corner Audio, pop introspection by Angel Olsen, the post dubstep blues of Zomby, some sleek house from Komapkt, Kornél Kovács and Foans, the experimental genius of Gudrun Gut and Momus, and lots more.
So, before someone starts chucking javelins in my direction, we had better begin…
Back in 2012 Sleep Games by Pye Corner Audio quickly established itself as one of the most engaging and enthralling albums of modern times. On the record, ghostly electroncia, John Carpenter style synths, and epic, ambient soundscapes converged to create a body of work which still sounds awe-inspiringly beautiful today. After the melancholy acid of his Head Technician reissue last month, Martin Jenkins returns to his Pye Corner Audio alias late August with the haunted landscapes of the Stasis LP. Conceived as a sequel of sorts to the aforementioned Sleep Games, Stasis is a rich, evocative listen that already seems destined to sit proudly as one of the albums of the year. Just listen to the low bass throb, vocodered vocals and ominous air of early track Lost Ways to hear exactly what I mean. Deep, dark and immersive, this is electronic music that speaks directly to the soul. Other highlights include the hazy ambiance of Ganzfeld Effect, the 80s style pulse of At the Heart Of Stasis, and the mid-paced acid swell of Pulse Threshold. Yet, from start to finish the standard never once slips, ensuring Stasis is an album in which you can happily lose yourself for hours on end. 10/10.
Every so often an artist will come along who appears to, almost single-handedly, make music seem fresh and exciting again. Such was the case back in 2008 when enigmatic producer Zomby first surfaced on the label Hyperdub with a pair of dark and dangerous dubstep EPs. While both were undeniably excellent, if anything Dedication, his debut LP, was superior in every way! Combining the best of dubstep, bass, house, techno and elctronica, the album was a spell-binding home listening experience which would still sound epic at a rave. Zomby returns to the Hyperdub imprint this September with the scuzzed-up beats and low-end wobble of his long awaited new LP. While previous album, With Love, was a little too ‚coffee table‘ for some, Ultra sees the producer once again embrace the power of the club. Reflection opens the record with a warm, futuristic sheen, setting us up nicely before the stop/start garage of Fly 2, the dark techno stomp of E.S.P., and the liquid drum n‘ bass pressure of S.D.Y.F. raise the quality sky high. While the collaboration with Burial will receive the bulk of the early attention, Ultra is a fully-realised return to form, and will make the perfect soundtrack to electronic dreams. 9/10.
Celebrated leftfield electronic artist Gudrun Gut has come up with an unusual idea for her latest LP, remixing eight traditional folk songs in her own unique style. With the original tracks on Vogelmixe (Bird Mixes) originating from Turkey, Cameroon, Morocco, Croatia, Cuba, Portugal etc, the album is more than a mere musical delight, helping re-confirm the positive effect immigration can have on culture and the arts. Opening track Heyder by Mesk is given a groove-laden bass bounce by the German artist, to create a song which recalls the smoky, laid back vibes of Gotan Project or Kid Loco. Next up, Gudrun Gut adds an ominous low-end throb, spooky samples and the ghost of dub to the south Cameroonian rhythms of ZaNeYen by Njamy Sitson. Other picks include the glitch-filled cerebral shuffle of Marhba by La Caravane Du Maghreb, the Spanish guitar licks of La Sombra Del Ayer by Ricardo, Rafael Y Pedro, and the dubstep bass quake of Heide’s Ein Kleines Wildvögelein. With the package also containing a bonus disc of original versions, Vogelmixe is both an excellent idea and a fabulous album. 8/10.
Angel Olsen’s debut album, Burn Your Fire For No Witness was a record of stunning sound design and sonic depths. The singer’s confessional and personal lyrics worked together with a rich musical backing to stirring effect. My Woman, the eagerly-awaited follow up LP is released on the 2nd of September, and is every bit as good. In the accompanying press release Angel Olsen suggests the album is about “the complicated mess of being a woman”, and over the course of ten songs she investigates the many ups and downs that can befall a sensitive person in the modern world. With the singer, at times, sounding so fragile that her voice might break at any second, (Intern, Heart Shaped Face, Those Were The Days), at others like she wants to punch you in the face, (Shut Up Kiss Me, Not Gonna Kill You), or, as if she’s far too cool to even give a damn, (Never Be Mine, Give It Up), she runs the full spectrum of emotions on here. So, whether you are in love, have been betrayed by love, or, are wondering if you will ever find love at all, My Woman is the record for you. 8/10.
A collaboration between brothers Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross and British artist Bobby Krlic who is, perhaps, better known as The Haxan Cloak, Almost Holy is a soundtrack which doesn’t need a visual element to resonate within the mind. The score has been designed to accompany Steve Hoover’s documentary Almost Holy, which is set in Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union and features pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko who the press release suggest “saves street kids, at times by forcible abduction, and brings them to his Pilgrim Republic rehabilitation center”. With the film highlighting the drug and homelessness problems besieging the young, together with a system that is too corrupt or overrun to care, the music skilfully conjures images of dejected souls and urban decay. Songs such as Punching Bag, Intervention, Pharmacies, and Graves are ghostly, haunting, and emotionally wrought. Incredibly moving from beginning to end, Almost Holy OST is a stunning aural journey which stays with you long after the credits have rolled. 9/10.
At times, the disposability of dance music can get a man down! There are too many labels and producers prepared to release functional tracks which, on their own, have absolutely nothing to say. Timeless classics such as Can You Feel It, Promised Land, and Let The Music Use You succeed because they marry funk, melody and, most importantly, soul. It is this vital ingredient that is usually missing from the simple 4/4 DJ tool, something Cologne-based label Kompakt know all too well. Over a long and distinguished career they have been responsible for releasing any number of bona fide anthems that you are happy to play year after year. This month, they present volume 16 of their annual compendium of gems from the previous twelve months. Featuring contributions from a string of house heroes such as Weval, The Orb, Dave DK, Frankey & Sandrino, John Tejada, Michael Mayer, Maceo Plex, Total 16 will bring a smile to even the most jaded of house fans. Over the course of 25 songs we get dynamic house, swoon-some techno and lush ambiance which sounds positively divine. Marrying pop hooks with the sounds of the underground, please consider Total 16 a must buy. 9/10.
Best known for his fun and playful productions, one third of the Studio Barnhus crew, Kornél Kovács, steps up a gear this month with the release of his funk-filled debut LP. The Bells is full of fresh sounding, groove-filled house tunes which glide like a soft summer breeze, and maintain a buoyant, mischievous air. With a lightness of touch, and an unhurried ambiance, the album recalls the likes of DJ Koze, Röyksopp, or even some nostalgia-inducing Trax tune from back in the day. Picks include, Dance…While The Record Spins, which will instantly have you throwing shapes on the floor, Szív Utca, which sounds a little like Deee-Lite rediscovering their groove, while the title track is a euphoric piece of mid-paced trance that brings to mind the glory days of label such as MFS. Studio Barnhus label head Axel Boman claims that The Bells is “one of our best, most innovative releases to date”. Having had the pleasure of listening to the record on repeat over these last few weeks I can only agree. 8/10.
Techno maverick Alex Smoke’s fifth album, Love Over Will, which was released back at the start of the year, exposed a seedy underworld where the producer’s own treated vocals merged with ominous clicks and clanks to create a dark and unsettling take on synth pop. Sounding like a fucked-up Joy Division, or Bauhaus with beats, the album was deep, political, and wasted no time in sucking the listener right into its unsettling world. The album resurfaces this August with the release of the Love Over Will Remixes LP. A game of two halves, the record is made up of six remixes by artists such as Lakker, Tale Of Us, and Tessela, and five dub versions created by Alex Smoke himself. Of the remixes, Lakker’s refit of Dire Need utilizes a gorgeous bass throb over disorientating samples to open the album in stunning style. Other picks include, the two epic house/techno versions of the same track by Tale Of Us, and the thumping, bass heavy dirge presented by Tessela on their take on Dust. Yet, as good as some of these remixes are, the real stars of the show are the quintet of dub versions which sit on the second half of the LP. Sounding like some gloriously messed-up take on 90s IDM, they are so strong in fact that you can’t help wishing R&S had commissioned an entire album like this. 7/10.
A special mention must also go to: International Dance Record by Harmonious Thelonious – Breezy electronica and exotic beats sit next to African rhythms and eccentric house on a record which finds the Düsseldorf producer in sparkling form. Recalling the tripped-out funk of the likes of DJ Sotofett, these eight hypnotic grooves are full of adventure and fun, 9/10, Schaum by Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek – Vibraphonist, Masayoshi Fujita joins forces with electronic explorer Jan Jelinek for an album of cerebral ambiance and sonic wonder, 8/10, Rose & Thorn by Wendy Bevan – Recalling the Gothic splendour of Siouxsie And The Banshees, or Zola Jesus, these electronic torch songs herald the new Queen of the dark, 8/10, Jumping the Shark by Alex Cameron – An album of singer-songwriter style synth pop which may be hard to place, but is very easy to like, 8/10, Far Islands And Near Places by Quentin Sirjacq – Nine light and airy instrumental pieces from the Parisian pianist, composer and multi-instrumentalist which will bring a nice warm glow to your heart, 8/10, and Vicarious Memories by These Hidden Hands – Uneasy listening, fractured beats, and deconstructed techno can be found in a strange, but rewarding album from the duo of Tommy Four Seven and Alain Paul, 7/10.
And let’s not forget: Frontier by Foans – After a quiet couple of months 100% Silk come back stronger than ever with this rather fabulous cassette. Featuring eight warm, analogue proto-house tracks, this is a must buy for anyone who likes their music passionate and quirky, 9/10, Mystre by LA Femme – Synth inspired pyschedelic pop which merges icy French vocals with electronic twists and turns, 8/10, Astronaut Meets Appleman by King Creosote – Fife artist Kenny Anderson follows his breakthrough album From Scotland With Love with the warm folk nostalgia of his new LP, 7/10, Marini’s On 57 – Sunset Hours Vol. 3 Compiled By Simon Mills – Head straight for the Dub Version of What About This Love by the legendary Mr. Fingers, and the melodic skank of Huldra by Gidge for some quality Balearic grooves, 7/10, and Public Intellectual: An Anthology 1986-2016 by Momus – A three disc compilation of some of the finest moments of Scottish artist Momus‘ career so far. Unashamedly leftfield and cerebral, songs such as The Hairstyle Of The Devil, Murderers,The Hope Of Women and I Was A Maoist Intellectual combine philosophy and alt-rock with aplomb, 8/10.