Music | Bittles’ Magazine: The music column from the end of the world
With the sad passing of musical icon Prince this week, it has genuinely been difficult to get excited about new music again. The need to wallow in his legacy was overwhelming, with albums such as Purple Rain, Sign O The Times and 1999 demanding both tears and repeated plays. Yet Prince himself was never one to dwell on the past, or stand still. He constantly strove forward, reinventing himself, and bringing out new material with such regularity that all but the most ardent of fans struggled to keep up. By JOHN BITTLES
With this in mind I tore myself away from the umpteenth listen to Controversy to immerse myself in the mountain of new music which had been sent my way. Among the twenty five albums reviewed in the following we have the skewed indie funk of Suuns and Luh, deep house dopeness from Stimming, DJ Koze’s Pampa Records and Sieren, booty shaking electro from Egyptian Lover, the techno textures of Juan Atkins & Moritz Von Oswald and Lucy, the spacious electronica of CocaineJesus, and tons more.
So without further ado, let us begin…
Montreal band Suuns have long approached the rigid confines of rock music a little differently to most. Hence new album Hold/Still sounds like no other guitar album you will hear this year! Across eleven dense, intelligent, yet surprisingly subtle tracks the band create a rich and varied aural kaleidoscope to produce what may just be their best album yet. At times angry, thoughtful, druggy and tranquil, there is literally something for everyone here. After the feedback squall of opener Fall, Instrument warms and seduces with its tense techno throb and Velvet Underground style drawl. Of the other songs on offer, UN-NO is psychedelic, hazy and, somehow, funky as fuck, Mortise And Tenon utilizes a downbeat pulse over vocalist Shemie’s distinctive vocals to stunning effect, while Nobody Can Save Me Now is a stoner lament you can happily listen to on repeat for days. Tired of listening to hackneyed sounding rock music which takes no chances and has absolutely nothing to say? Then Sunns may just be the band for you. 10/10.
DJ Koze’s Pampa Records imprint is one of those labels which most house music fans will eagerly buy on sight. Since its inception the label has released killer tracks by the likes of Axel Boman, Stimming, Isolée, DJ Koze himself, and many more. Late April sees Pampa release their first ever label compilation with DJ Koze Presents Pampa Vol. 1. The record’s nineteen songs see familiar faces mix with some welcome new names to create a gorgeous set which highlights all that is good about house music in 2016. In the build-up to the release much attention has, understandably, been given to the label head’s melodic trance-tinged remix of Roman Flügel’s 9 Years, which is an early highlight on the album and simply divine. From here, Ada’s You And Me is the best thing the producer has released in years, Pacemaker by Jackmate Feat. Nik Reiff contains a gorgeous pulsating groove, Glow by Lawrence is sumptuous and deep, No. 17 by Stimming is smoke-filled electronic jazz, while Gold Panda’s Black Voices is stunning from beginning to end. Yet, with each and every track on offer hitting the mark this is a compilation which deserves to be heard. 9/10.
Los Angeles native Greg Broussard first donned his Egyptian Lover alias in the early 80s to create a series of legendary cassettes which helped pave the way for electro, hip hop, techno and more. With most of the beats created on a Roland TR 808 drum machine, his early productions were sparse, alien sounding, and dripping with funk. This month the label Stones Throw bring out a much-needed retrospective with the lovingly compiled 1983-1988. Across twenty-two block-rocking tracks Mr. Lover hits us with dirty rhythms, cheeky samples, proto-house grooves and more. While some of the lyrics may seem a little dated and un-PC these days, there is no denying that tracks such as Spray It Super AJ, Dial-A-Freak, And My Beat Goes Boom, My House (On The Nile), or Kinky Nation sound far better than the vast majority of ‚dance‘ music released today. From a time when it wasn’t uncool to be fun, and there were no rules to adhere to since there simply were no rules, Egyptian Lover is a producer all of us should re-explore. 9/10.
CocaineJesus is yet another musical enigma to be discovered by the UK-based label Dream Catalogue. The producer himself has previously referred to his endeavours as “Underwater sea world adventure desert house”, which seems a pretty apt description to me. One listen to his debut LP We’re Worried About You confirms that the artist has a unique vision, seemingly seeing the world in colourful aural hues. Dreamy and elegant sounding electronica merges with hushed jazz signatures, hazy ambiance, and a wistful air to create a truly mesmerising LP. Like most downtempo music this is definitely best when listened to in one long, luxurious whole. Yet, there are tracks which stand out! These include the gentle summer’s breeze of You Don’t Forget Girls With Grey Eyes, the Selected Ambient Works style IDM of Ascension Friends, the emotional synth throb of Emulate Love and the nostalgic fairytale tones of No Summer For You. Far more than a simple ‚imaginary soundtrack‘, We’re Worried About You is an album filled with graceful flourishes, swoon-inducing sighs, and moments so beautiful you could die. So what you waiting for? Go to the label’s Bandcamp page to order your copy now. 9/10.
Cologne-based label Ki Records have, over the last few years, released some of the most breathtakingly beautiful house and downtempo music to ever grace my ears. They have long been the master of the album format with LPs by Christian Lfler (everyone should hear A Forest at least once before they die), Monokle, Colo and Sean Pineiro demanding repeated plays. April 2016 heralds the arrival of former Project Mooncircle artist Sieren into the Ki Records fold with the melodic house beats and laid-back tones of Transients Of Light. Opener, See You, utilizes futuristic beat patterns, cut-up vocals, and swatches of melody to create a song so good you just have to hear more. From here, Hold On is the sound of your heart stopping because it is overwhelmed at the sheer beauty of the world, Chroma resembles a pastoral Burial, while Glow brings things to an epic close with echoing samples, fractured beats and a lush synth tone. Sounding like summer gently nuzzling on your neck, Transients Of Light is house music with both depth and soul. 8/10.
Two bona fide techno legends return this month as Detroit icon Juan Atkins joins forces with dub techno pioneer Moritz Von Oswald to renew their celebrated Borderland project. Their debut album under this moniker, which compiled their sought after EPs, arrived back in 2013 and formed a gloriously eclectic analogue jam. For the follow-up, titled Transport, they worked together with the plan to create a fully realised LP. This results in a more focused listen than Transport’s predecessor, with each track seguing together nicely to give the record a pleasant, fluent flow. The title track gets us off to a blistering start, its Kraftwerk-style bleeps merging with an ominous throb to recall John Carpenter’s soundtrack to Assault On Precinct 13. Next up, Odyssey is a looser, funkier affair, its subdued bass kick and heady acid line held together by some evocative synths. Other highlights include the alien beats on Merkur, the Detroit style grandeur of Riod and the beautifully emotive dance floor assault of Zeolites. At times bangin‘, others chilled, Transport is the work of two producers of incredible pedigree at the very top of their game. 8/10.
For anyone with even a passing interest in electronic music the compilation Close To The Noise Floor – Formative UK Electronica 1975-1984 should prove to be very informative indeed. Who knew that in the UK during the period closely associated with glam, prog and punk rock, a whole host of bedroom producers were busy experimenting with basic electronics to create a plethora of fantastic tunes? Inspired by punk DIY aesthetics as much as the German Kosmische sounds arising from mainland Europe, acts such as OMD, Human League, John Foxx, Throbbing Gristle, Muslimgauze and more were creating strange and wonderful music which still sounds futuristic and essential today. Across four CDs the compilers have tracked down all manner of electronic oddities and funk-filled jams, with many positively dripping with a sense of alienated otherness and a spirit of adventure which is sadly absent in the music world today. With most of the acts on here being new names to all but the most dedicated of aural geeks, this is both a fantastic compilation and a historical document which constantly hits the listener with surprise after surprise. 9/10.
Inspired by a trip to a remote cabin in the Italian Alps, Stimming’s fourth album, Alpe Lusia, is quiet, contemplative, and takes house music to places it very rarely goes. Out now on Hamburg institution Diynamic, the record adds a reflective air to the producer’s trademark deep house sound to create what could well be Stimming’s most enjoyable long-player yet. The album opens with the subdued bass tones and keyboard chimes of Prepare, a track which confidently lulls you into a relaxed state before suddenly erupting into a lush gospel-style chorus just before the end. In contrast, Pressing Plant comes across as something created purely for the floor, with its percussive clanks, car alarm synths and shuffling beats creating a cerebral, yet dynamic club destroying bomb. Other picks include the orchestral romanticism of Trains Of Hope, the glitch techno pulse of 22 Degree Halo, and the warm trance tones of For My Better Half. It’s all good though, making Alpe Lusia a house album which ably transcends the confines of the dance floor to become something much more. 8/10.
Techno fans rejoice, as Stroboscopic Artefacts boss Lucy makes a very welcome return this May with the dark ambiance, fractured rhythms and dense textures of the Self Mythology LP. According to the press sheet, the producer’s third full-length has a central narrative involving “Old legends and fairytales” which helps make it a fully realised body of work. With nine tracks spread across a double dose of vinyl Self Mythology may not reach the giddy heights of his previous album, Churches Schools And Guns, but it does come pretty close. After the eerie atmospherics of opener Baba Yaga’s Hut, Dissonance Emancipation introduces disconnected choral voices, tribal bass, and a shamanistic air to create an early highlight which relentlessly worms its way into your brain. From here though things become a little flat, and don’t really pick up again until we reach the album’s last few tracks. So, with some songs seemingly content to merely sit in the background, Self Mythology feels a bit of a mitigated triumph rather than something which startles and amazes. From a producer of Lucy’s standard that is a shame! 7/10.
After a critically acclaimed debut LP, indie darlings Wu Lyf broke the golden rule of maintaining a successful career by splitting up. With no sign of the band reforming, those who are still mourning the loss of lead singer Ellery Robert’s fervent vocals need despair no more as he makes a welcome return this May with new band Luh. Together with new partner in crime, Ebony Hoorn, Ellery has created the synth pop classic Spiritual Songs For Lovers To Sing. With production undertaken by Tri Angle maverick The Haxan Cloak, the backing music is, at times, dense, electronic, otherworldly and, most importantly, stirring. And while some may still find Ellery Robert’s voice a bit of an acquired taste, there can be no denying that he sings each line as if he means each and every word. The opening trilogy of songs , II, United and Beneath The Concrete hit you like a short, sharp punch to the gut to make as good an opening to an album I have heard all year. The standard remains high throughout though, with the duo creating a solid and eventful LP which is sure to find favour with hipster romantics everywhere. 7/10.
A special mention must also go to: Dreams by Winter Sleep – A very welcome reissue of this limited release from 2012, where moments of melancholy wistfulness sit nicely next to deep introspection, emotional synth flourishes and more, 8/10, The Dancing Behavior by Damian Schwartz – Tight, crisp beats work seamlessly with sci-fi synths and mournful melodies to create an excellent album of house/techno which sounds as if it has been beamed directly from the streets of Detroit, 8/10, Shame Over by Murena Murena – One listen to the the fucked-up funk strut of Drag Race will tell you all you need to know about an album which is quirky, crazy and an awful lot of fun, 7/10, Dots & Pearls 3 Mixed by Daniel Stefanik – A deep, groovy techno mix from the Leipzig-based DJ and producer which may just be the funkiest thing Cocoon have released in years, 8/10, If Nine Was Eight by Ritornell – Head straight for the Cinematic Orchestra-style strings and mournful jazz of Old People Feat. Mira Lu Kovacs for a glorious piece of vintage soul, 7/10, Adventures by Slow Steve – Ex-Fenster member Rémi Letournelle’s debut solo LP ably recalls Laika, Lali Puna, and the days when we all thought pop-infused electronica would take over the world, 6/10 and Electric Friends by Der Dritte Raum – To someone who was a fan of their output on Harthouse back in the day it was a very pleasant surprise to hear a new album by the band. Understandably more mellow than during their heyday, these eleven tunes still pack a welcome punch, 7/10.
And let’s not forget: Tragedy Of Truth by Milton Bradley – Deep, penetrating techno rhythms from the Berlin native which are stunning in both scope and depth, 8/10, Singing Saw by Kevin Morby – Fans of Richard Hawleys’s rich baritone and regret-filled lyrics will find much to adore here. A note of warning though, as Kevin Morby’s opulent and evocative voice is looking for a new heart in which to make its home, 8/10, Adrian by The Hearing – Helsinki-based artist Ringa Manner makes a confident debut with a set of dark, evocative synth-pop which recalls the likes of Grimes and Fever Ray, 7/10, Neptune by Higher Authorities – Hazy psychedelica and drug addled grooves aplenty feature in an enjoyable record which will make the perfect soundtrack to those smoke-filled lazy days, 6/10, NoGeo by Logan Takahashi – Over nine weird electronic sounding lullabies the Teengirl Fantasy member manages to inject melody and personality where lesser hands would merely leave noise, 6/10, Meshes by Joasihno – A strange, electronic dream created with aplomb by The Notwist’s Cico Beck, which slowly but steadily wins you over with its hazy alien grooves, 7/10, Love Letter For Fire by Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop – Those expecting an ode to the joys of pyromania will be disappointed. Yet, the album’s gentle folk tunes are not without their charm, 6/10, and Instinct & Memory by Surachai – Tough as fuck beats, tortured electronics, paranoid throbs and an eerie sense of unease permeates each and every track in a record which exists in its own world of perpetual gloom. Perfect for bringing out your inner goth! 7/10.