Bittles‘ Magazine | Record Review
You have to be very brave to release an album of new material in December! Any money that people have is being spent on presents, protection money to Santa, or on getting as drunk as humanely possible. So let us raise a glass and give a warm round of applause to those who have brought out new records in this most festive, yet culturally void of months. By JOHN BITTLES
The Smashing Pumpkins are back with the traditional American rock sound of Monuments to An Elegy, Baaz has shown how to make a great house album with the gorgeously deep Red Souvenirs and Lawrence gives us sunshine-infused ambience with A Day In The Life. Oh, and pop puppets Take That may or may not have a new LP out. But really, for depressive weirdos, and grunge survivors everywhere we can begin with only one band.
After the reissue of Adore earlier this year allowed us all to recall just how great a band The Smashing Pumpkins are, this month sees Billy Corgan and co return with some brand new sounds. Monuments to An Elegy may sound like the title of an old Muse cast-off, yet it is actually the second part of the terrifying pretentiously named Teargarden by Kaleidyscope series. Stung by criticism of the first part, 2012’s sprawling Oceania, Monuments sees the Pumpkins return to the short, sharp three minute rock song format so beloved by skinny jean wearing bores everywhere. The album is short at 32 minutes, and during some of the songs you really get the impression that Billy Corgan’s heart just isn’t in it. Now I don’t know about you, but I like my tortured geniuses to be constantly pushing themselves, while also dragging the listener ever deeper into their paranoid and increasingly fucked-up world. What I don’t want is them bowing to public opinion and giving us a simplified, watered down version of the sounds that we came to love them for. Sure, there are some rare gems (Tiberius, Anaise, Anti-Hero) to be found here, but too much proves to be limp and uninspired. And for a band that have previously hit the glorious heights The Smashing Pumpkins have, that simply isn’t good enough.
Much better, and coming out on LA’s ever-wonderful Not Not Fun label this December is the delightfully spooky-sounding and strangely titled Avrokosm by soundtrack obsessive Antoni Maiovvi. Containing six tracks of sinister synth action which sounds like a lost Goblin score, this is the ideal album for those who love to listen to music with their mind open and their eyes closed. Opener, The Lovers sounds gorgeously futuristic and positively shimmers with a dramatic sense of romanticism. But that is only the beginning of the tale, as from here, the listener is treated to the 90s IDM of Ignite, the disco gone bad soundscapes of Temple, the heartfelt yearning of Afternoon Youth, and so much more. Also out now on the same label, and well worth tracking down, is the stunningly crazed Finding The Floor by Profligate.
London institution Fabric have been on quite a run this year with their long established and highly respected mix series. Previous editions by the likes of Illum Sphere, Raresh Erol Alkan and Deetron have helped breath new life into the tired mix-CD format. And this December it falls to Berghain resident and house music advocate Prosumer to finish 2014 off with a flourish. Starting out with some classic Chicago and New York house sounds, the mix constantly shifts and changes while maintaining a consistent high quality that simply commands that the listener gets down and grooves. I Believe by A Black Man, A Black Man And Another Black Man, Dance by Earth People, The Search by I-F and Carden Eden by Tuff City Kids all stand out in a set that oozes quality from beginning to end. A special mention must also go to Fantastic Piano by Axel Boman which helps bring the set to a beautifully ecstatic-sounding close. Who said big clubs don’t do quality underground music anymore?
A little more sedate but no less wonderful is this month’s essential ambient album, the beatless majesty of A Day In The Life by Dial Records main-man and house hero Lawrence. Out now on the always mind-expanding Mule Musiq, the record contains twelve short tracks, or sketches even, that impose such a sense of calmness and tranquilly upon the listener that it is impossible not to get sucked in. Best consumed as a whole, the album has a wonderfully real sense of place and mood. The definition of music to take you on a trip, this is warm and furry and as far removed from new age nonsense as it is possible to get! Seriously, if you have had a long and stressful day at work stick this on and feel your worries and your petty grievances simply drift away.
Max Cooper is one of those supremely talented producers who never seem to get the props and sales that their music deserves. Hopefully, the Human LP, which came out in March of this year will help change that. For those who need even more persuasion though, those nice people at Traum have pulled together the highlights from Max’s previous EPs into one handy full-length compilation. Featuring fifteen tracks of sublime electronica and the type of emotional house that could bring a tear to even the driest of eyes, Traum Collection is a real beacon within a world of bland corporate house. Working best with the sedate pace of tracks like Sea Of Sound (Ambient Rework), Gravity Well or Enveloped this may not be an essential purchase but you will find lots to enjoy here all the same.
Switzerland-based group Schwarz are one of those bands who make dark as night pop music that throbs with quiet intensity within a strong electronic pulse. Like Zola Jesus, Purity Ring and Fever Ray before them, the music Schwarz create is absolutely perfect for staring forlornly out a darkened window, or for bringing out your inner goth. The album opens with the eerie whistles and synth pulse of Intronaut, before the brooding Lullaby introduces the listener to a lonely and desolate world where the sun no longer shines. The band are more than a one trick pony though, as from here we get the vampire disco of Cracks & Dust, the widescreen rock of Sighs, the wall of sound of Concrete Blocks and all manner of sinister pop delights in-between. Out since early November this is far too good an album to be ignored!
Top value release of the month has got to go to the bulging, yet excellent package that makes up label comp Tour De Traum IX. As if over three hours of music spread over two long, deep and groovy mixes wasn’t enough, the digital version of this also includes each individual track for all your DJing needs. What this means is that with one purchase you will have enough quality electronic music to keep you happy, literally, for months. The annual Tour De Traum series has long been a highlight of my year, and has become a must-buy for any self-respecting dance music fan. With part nine mixed as ever by label head Riley Reinhold, it contains only the lushest house, the grooviest techno, the smoothest electronica and the most spine-tingling trance you are ever likely to hear. Quality, and quantity! What’s not to like?
Dropping out of Berlin based Office Recordings this month, and sure to be a firm favourite for those who like their house music deep and groovy is Red Souvenirs, the fantastic debut album by Baaz. If you’re not sure what to expect then I can heartily recommend you have a listen to the shimmering keys of Endori which is so good it will make a firm believer of you. The dub techno of Spacehub, the skewed beats of Pressyn and the lush ambience of Everyone are also top notch. For me though, it is the house tracks which are the real star of the show here, with Tweeny Tea, Glass Voice and What If… stunning the listener into submission with their immaculately deep grooves. With music this good I think it’s fair to say that Baaz is going to have quite a career.
Fans of quality techno are also in for a treat this December with the release of Fernweh, the new eight track LP from techno luminary Heiko Laux. While a lot of techno can be perfectly summed-up with the phrase »bang, bang, bang, doff,« Heiko Laux has always maintained a touch of subtlety, together with a hint of melody within his hard as nails tracks. Brace opens proceedings with a calm, yet strangely unsettling air, paving the way for Hexagon and the stunning title track to introduce the beats that will move a dance floor. The later is a deliciously deep groover, while final tune Align is a special tune indeed. Maybe not essential home listening, yet for those who like their beats tough there is much to get excited about here.
This month we finish with MadTech 01, a compilation of highlights from Kerri Chandler’s MadTech Records. This label has had quite a run since its inception in 2012 with releases from the likes of Mia Dora, No Artificial Colours and Josh Butler delighting those who like their house music techy and deep. Featuring fourteen exclusive tracks that will be aural seduction for the nation’s cooler basement clubs, this is a club based selection that is, actually, a whole lot of fun. The low-slung funk of Hundred Monsters by Artifact, the slo-mo house of Yablolo by Eros Blanka and the furiously funky Ever Before by Kocleo are all Viagra for the feet. And while some tracks really don’t work and loop themselves into a world of tedium this is a solid comp for house-heads everywhere.
A special mention must also go to: Faith In Strangers by Andy Stott – Dub-inflected electronic music with enough bass and depth to fill the odd ocean or two, Inner Pocket Moves Vol 2 mixed by Pavel Petrov – A great mix of tracks from Cologne’s Trapez label that manages to be deep, groovy and damned exciting too, A Retrospective Of One by Vitalik Recordings – Featuring tracks and remixes by the likes of Gerd, Mark Henning and Appleblim, this is a cool as… compilation of quality house, Power Of Anonymity by Steffi – A stunning sophomore album of quality IDM style electronica, old school electro and booming house, out now on Ostgut Ton.