Music | Bittles’ Magazine: The music column from the end of the world
With the temperature getting colder and snow in the air, what is better than gathering the family around the fire and listening to some tunes? Dad wants the Beatles, Mum Take That, while the kids demand One Direction and Thirty Seconds To Mars. But what you need is something all the family can enjoy! By JOHN BITTLES
Luckily this December brings a stream of releases that could even put a smile on Granny’s grouchy old face. We have the alien art-house visions of Arca, the sub-aquatic warmth of Deepchord, the slacker rock stirrings of Cass McCombs, the stoned shoegaze of The Telescopes, the funk-strewn acid of Paranoid London and lots more.
So, start warming those chestnuts, turn all iPhones and tablets off, and let us begin…
This month we’ll start by entering Venezuelan artist Arca’s strange, electronic world. While last year’s debut full-length Xen was something of a disappointment, expectations have still been sky-high for the follow-up from the moment it was announced. His previous work with the likes of Bjork and FKA twigs highlighted how Arca was a single-minded entity whose unique mindset and vision marked him out as someone who could take music to places it had never been. At times angry and punishing, at others soft and tranquil, Mutant may be far from an easy listen, yet it is a thrilling one all the same. Fractured beats will rise out of nowhere to pound the listener into submission. Then, just as you feel like you can’t take any more, they will suddenly dissolve to be replaced by a beautiful hush, or a melancholic piano line. While Xen seemed like a mere collection of sketches, Mutant is a far more coherent and focused album which still manages to sound like nothing else around. If you have this on as background music it will irritate and jar, but if you listen to it with every ounce of your being and soul it reveals itself to be one of the most beguiling works of art you will hear this year. 9/10.
What is there left to say about Deepchord’s Rod Modell which hasn’t been said before? His Coldest Season and Vantage Isle Sessions LPs remain two of the finest examples of dub techno known to man. As Deepchord and Echospace the producer has created some of richest downtempo electronic music I have ever heard. After the ambient feel of his previous album 20 Electrostatic Soundfields, Rod revisits his trademark deep, echoing dubscapes with the double CD package of Ultraviolet Music. Out now of Soma, the record’s unhurried atmospherics combine with dense low-end pulses and a luxurious sense of space to create a rich aural world. Played in the likes of Plastic People (RIP), Watergate or The Sub Club many of these songs will transform your night from great to majestic. But even if you don’t have access to a top quality soundsystem, find yourself a lonely darkened room and a good pair of headphones to experience one of the most luxurious listening events of the year. 10/10.
Composed of hard to find gems from his back catalogue A Folk Set Apart: Rarities, B-sides & Space Junk, Etc is so good it could almost give singer-songwriters a good name. Cass McCombs‘ Big Wheels And Others album from 2013 firmly cemented his place among the likes of Mac Demarco and Kurt Vile as one of the new breed of American folk singers who actually have something to say. His new record is a spiky gem; by turns playful, angry and forlorn. Even after the first listen you’ll discover many of these songs lingering long in the mind, (something of a rarity in today’s throwaway times). I Cannot Lie opens proceedings with a quirky slice of laid back funk, a great introduction for what is to come. From here A.Y.D. and Oatmeal recall the bratty punk of The Strokes, while Twins, Minimum Wage and Poet’s Day are heartfelt reflections which give some soul to all the studied cool. In the shops from the 11th of December, this is a lot more fun than an album of cast-offs and b-sides has any right to be. 8/10.
Liam Blackburn of Indigo and Akkord fame adopts his new Ancestral Voices moniker this month to give us an album’s worth of spell-bindingly good mid-paced techno grooves. The record Night Of Visions is out now on Samarai Horo, and finds the producer exploring a side of electronic music which is menacing, bass-infused and sexy as hell. Reminiscent of Senking’s wonderful Closing Ice album from earlier this year, Night Of Visions is the sonic equivalent of a large dog growling at you from somewhere in the dark. After an atmospheric opener, Ritual Terre slips right into your consciousness with its low, sinister pulse. Further in, Selva is a haunting piece of electronica which suddenly morphs into mutated drum n‘ bass, La Purga is the sound of someone slowly creeping up on you from behind, while The Feathered Serpent will make anyone’s heart pound. Unbelievably immersive and aurally thrilling, this is an album which simply must be heard. 10/10.
A highlight of any music fan’s year, the Tour De Traum series reaches its 11th volume this December with a bumper collection of electronic dance which will make you swoon as well as move. Compiled and mixed, as always, by Traum label-head Riley Reinhold, the album’s two mixes take in over four hours of music which will induce signs of devotion in those who like their house instrumental, emotional and with a melodic core. Spacious and with a stunning level of depth, tracks by the likes of Dominik Eulberg, Microtrauma, Sebatian Mullaert and Mario Hammer & The Lonely Robot lend the album both a dance floor focus and a melancholy air. While its very length may seem somewhat intimidating, neither of the two mixes feel anywhere near as long as they are. This is electronic music which touches you, and will never throw you out of bed. With the majority of the forty tracks on offer having been created by artists who are new names to me, Tour De Traum XI is educational, beautiful and funky as fuck. 9/10.
My reissue of the month comes in the form of Splashdown: The Complete Creation Recordings 1990-1992, a two CD compilation from indie faves The Telescopes. The band made a triumphant return this year with the drawling energy of brand new album Hidden Fields. Splashdown collects together the band’s early EPs, their #Untitled Second LP, and various b-sides and rarities. And what a collection it is! The scuzzy rock and narcotic ballads of The Telescopes led to them being placed in the same bracket as the likes of Lush, The Jesus & Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine back when shoegaze seemingly ruled the world. Yet, what is ably demonstrated in this retrospective is just how versatile and varied their output has been. From the pain-filled noise of Deep Hole Ends, the funk-strewn jangle of Everso, to the traditional indie stirrings of Flying the band have proven themselves to be the masters of whatever they try. Anyone out there lamenting the death of guitar bands, or who longs for a time when music touched both your heart and soul, this is for you. 9/10.
The name Paranoid London has been causing quite a stir among taste-makers, bloggers and those who frequent the ‚cooler‘ clubs for quite a while now. Their dirty, acid-flecked house music is perfect for losing yourself within a groove. This month the band release their self-titled debut album, a killer collection of tough, moody house with a liberal smattering of 303s and 808s throughout. Make no mistake, this is dance music best listened to on a good PA in a dark, sweaty basement. Light Tunnel opens the album with clattering hi-hats, pulsing acid lines and a deep, fuck-me groove. From here the gems come thick and fast; Transmission 5 is a Chicago-inspired spoken word jam, Paris Dub 3 is full of dark echoing funk, Lovin U (Ahh Shit) a jackin‘ dance floor destroyer and 300 Hangovers A Year reminiscent of Hardfloor at their very best. Needless to say, if you haven’t danced to Paranoid London yet, you must be frequenting the wrong clubs. 8/10.
Let’s be honest here, remix albums are usually crap! Name me five remix albums which you can enjoy listening to from beginning to end and I’ll give you a condescending pat on the head. No exception to this is Claustrophobia Remixes, a collection of refits of tracks taken from Scuba’s excellent Claustrophobia LP from earlier this year. In amongst the sludge though, some of the individual tracks on here are great. For instance, Tallmen 785’s version of Levitation eases the listener in with a welcome mid 90s Harthouse throb. Other picks include Function’s moodily mid-paced refit of Why You Feel So Low and the dark electronic trip of Family Entertainment by Ø, while Tuff City Kids revamp Transience into an airy house groove which makes a welcome respite from all the thumping techno which came before. With many of these refits one dimensional and forgettable though, you may want to seek out the original album for an all-round listening experience with musical depth, 5/10.
Last year’s debut album After Forever earned Joey Anderson nothing but praise, it’s disjointed rhythms and luxuriant house grooves appealing to clubbers‘ minds as much as their feet. The follow-up is a game of two halves; the first deep and soulful, the second a migraine-inducing mess. Out now on Amsterdam label Dekmantel, Invisible Switch’s redeeming feature is that it contains lush house and thumping beats which would grace anybody’s night. After the title-track’s ambient atmospherics, the record kicks off properly with the emo house of Organ To Dust. Other highlights include Reset, which is deep and unsettling, Tell Us Where which glories within some Detroit strings and Beige Mantis, which is a bangin‘ tool, while Blind Light ends the album with some discordant noise. Not everything works though, with the unfocused stomp of tracks like Amarna and 18 Arms functional at best. Yet, DJs, and those who like their beats experimental and tough will find a few gems here to enrich their lives. 6/10.
This week we’ll finish on a high with a compilation that will have any house fan drooling with glee. Exclusive mail order imprint KX ends the year 2015 with KX2015, an epic two CD collection of emotionally charged dance music. Fans of Kompakt, Dial or Mule will be in seventh heaven here, while wondering how they hadn’t discovered this excellent label before. Featuring a string of highlights from the year KX2015 focuses on a series of little known producers who all seem destined for big things. Each track is a piece of wonder on its own, but special mention must go to the gorgeous mid-paced swoon of Snowhaze by Christerk, the majestic synth line on Deeyo by Roy Rosenfeld & Guy Mantzur, and the warm melodic groove of Gossip by Pieter Steijger. If you still aren’t convinced, just have a listen to the beautiful euphoria of Sil or Pisces by Elijah Simmons for all the persuasion you’ll need. Yet everything here is excellent, with my favourite tracks changing after each and every play. So, if you are looking for a little beauty in your life then KX2015 may just be the place to begin. 9/10.
A special mention must also go to: Access by Lazare Hoche – Proper house music which sounds as timeless as it does great. Fans of Moodymann, Theo Parrish or Larry Heard will wet themselves with glee, 9/10, Fer-De-Lance by V/A – Belgian label Electronical Reeds celebrates five years in the game with a fab compilation of deep, soulful house, 8/10, Amour by Architecture – Dreamy ambiance and focused techno combine in a quality record which constantly shifts and morphs, 7/10, Duke Of York by Hox – Edvard Graham Lewis from Wire teams up with Andreas Karperyd for a dark, dirty electronic pop record which is strange but fun, 6/10, Rosmarie by Less – Deep, spacious electronica, disjointed techno and eerie grooves seduce in an album which sucks the listener right in to its rich sonic world, 8/10 and Durian Riders by Ultrademon – Melodic dance music with a light, playful feel, guaranteed to cheer you up on a cold, miserable day, 7/10.
And let’s not forget: Lingua Franca by Len Leise – The first in a set of mini-albums on Balearic staple International Feel finds the mysterious producer in fabulously laid-back form, 7/10, The Universe Smiles Upon You by Khruangbin – A winning album of low-slung bass and cosmic funk which could bring out the inner cool in anyone, 8/10, Pop Ambient 2016 by V/A – The latest edition of Kompakt’s annual round-up of all things glacial and chilled features gems by The Orb, Mikkel Metal, Davis DK and more, 7/10, Dog by Max Graef Band – Raw, busy funk music is the order of the day in a jazz-infused record which will have you clicking your fingers and strutting your stuff, 7/10, Asylum Kau Wela by V/A – Gorgeous deep house and melodic techno feature heavily in a spell-binding collection which brings with it a healthy dose of the sun, 8/10, I Live In Barcelona by V/A – Art Department’s Jonny White compiles a bumpty electronic trawl through the musical offerings of Barcelona which manages to pick out one or two aural delights, 6/10, and La Demeure; Il Y A Peril En La Demure by Grischa Lichtenberger – cerebral techno with an experimental edge which is yet another winner from the Raster-Noton crew, 8/10.