Music | Bittles’ Magazine: The music column from the end of the world
Is it just me, or was Record Store Day 2017 a tiny bit crap? The last time I was surrounded by that amount of middle-aged, balding men, reeking of sweat, I had walked into a strip-club by mistake. So, rather than relive the horrors of that day, I will dispense with the waffle and dive straight into the reviews. By JOHN BITTLES
The electronic musings of Darren Jordan Cunningham’s Actress project have long been a favourite of those who enjoy a bit of cerebral resonance with their beats. While 2014’s Ghettoville disappointed, there was more than enough goodwill left over from the dusty grooves of his R.I.P. album and his excellent DJ Kicks mix to ensure that expectations for a new LP were suitably high Thankfully the futuristic funk and controlled passion of AZD doesn’t let us down! Out now on the always reliable Ninja Tune label the album is a dense listening experience which makes the ideal soundtrack for lonely dance floors and fevered heads. After the short intro of Nimbus, Untitled 7 gets us off to a stunning start with its deep, steady groove. From here Fantasynth’s shuffling beats and solitary melody line recall the twisted genius of Howie B and Dancing In The Smoke deconstructs the ghost of Chicago house and takes it to a gloriously darkened place. Meanwhile Faure In Chrome and There’s An Angel In The Shower’s disquieting ambiance are so good you could wallow in them for days. With closer Visa ending things on a spine tingling high, AZD is a record tailor-made for repeated plays. 9/10.
Hector Romero has long been a vital component of New York’s house music scene. With residencies and appearances in clubs such as Limelight, Save The Robots and The Roxy he is renowned for soul infused, vocal heavy sets. This month sees the release of Weaving Genres, his debut mix CD, which contains thirteen new and exclusive cuts and remixes by the likes of Louie Vega, Joi Cardwell, David Morales, Reboot and more. The album is out now on Nervous Records and is a must buy for anyone who has ever experienced the joys of dance. Seriously, in a time of po faced techno and snooze inducing deep house, it is refreshing to come across a selection of house tracks designed with only one thing in mind: to make your body move. Highlights include Louie Vega’s string drenched remix of Bourgie Bourgie by John Davis & The Monster Orchestra, the smudged bass, and deep, heady rush of the B-Boy Mix of Dancing by Benji Candelario, Hector Romero & Michelle Rivera, and David Morales‘ gloriously uplifting refit of Angel Moraes‘ Stand Up. Every track is a winner though, with Hector Romero’s mixing superb throughout, on an album which will make your hips swing one minute, your heart soar the next. 9/10.
Cologne artist Wolfgang Voigt resurrects his revered ambient project this month, with the first album of original GAS material to surface since Pop way back in 2000. Following up the excellent retrospective boxset from last year, his new album Narkopop finds the enigmatic producer in majestic form. Recalling the atmospheric soundscapes of Vangelis, Gigi Masin, or Global Communication, the record’s ten tracks wash over the listener like a partly formed dream. Take Narkopop 2 for example, its unsettling synths and evocative air mix perfectly with the ghost of a beat to create a wormhole effect which sucks the listener straight into its warm, yet isolated world. Other picks include, Narkopop 3, which seduces with its rich, lethargic air, the spectral bass and cobwebbed melodies of Narkopop 5, the gradual swell of Narkopop 7, and seventeen minute long closer Narkopop 10. While the vinyl version is retailing at a hefty £59.99, putting it out of the price range of most, Narkopop is is an album which will add a sense of class to any self-respecting downtempo fan’s home. 9/10.
Since its inception back in 2011, the Air Texture series of compilations has featured artists such as Bvdub, Loscil, Deadbeat, and BNJMN, compiling the freshest selections of lush ambient jams. Out mid-April, Volume V sees Jonah Sharp of Spacetime Continuum fame and Juju & Jordash take a disc each to showcase their own unique styles. Starting out with his own Flux, Jonah’s set takes in the likes of Move D, Patrice Scott, I:Cube and Claude Young to give the listener 70 mesmerising minutes of aural gold. Light and airy when it needs to be, his selections make for a welcome alternative to the horror score soundscapes found in the majority of ambient releases today. Sounding like a long lost set from a 90s chill-out room, the faint melodies, drifting synths and stoned beats on offer work superbly to make for one of the most enjoyable albums I have heard in years. On disc two, drone techno duo Juju & Jordash serve up a trippier, stranger mix. As great as this is, it is the nostalgic romanticism of Spacetime Continuum’s set which will live long in the mind. 8.5/10.
Next up, we have the funk strewn disco house of New York duo Soul Clap’s edition of Fabric’s long-running mix series. Fabric 93 is available in all good record shops now, and contains a total of 34 smooth tracks mixed together as only Eli Goldstein and Charles Levine know how. Fans of their Dancing In The Charles sets will find much to enjoy in Fabric 93’s smooth, disco infused jams. After a gentle, sun-kissed beginning, the beats glide their way into the mix with the Hidden Spheres remix of Gem by Jesse Futerman & I-Robots and Early Werk Feat. Carlos Mena by Ancient Deep. From here the likes of Tom Trago, Château Flight, Youandewan, Joakim, and Soul Clap themselves all feature in a set which may seem overly polite to some, but which is still an awful lot of fun. Keeping the best to last, the triple blast of Maajo by Maajo, Path To Wisdom by Jimi Tenor & Tony Allen and the shiver-inducing piano refrain of Bittersweet Stipped by the irresistible Scott Grooves ends things on a spectacular high. While, not as barrier breaking as some of the recent Fabric mixes, this will find favour with any house disciple looking to get lost in a groove. 8/10.
If you are anything like me, you will have celebrated your 25th birthday with one too many drinks in a bar wondering where all your friends have gotten to, and if that drunk is going to punch you, or offer to buy you a drink. Not so Scottish techno institution Soma! Instead, they gathered together luminaries such as Robert Hood, Jeff Mills, Daft Punk, Josh Wink, Deepchord, label heads Slam, and loads more for a five record boxset of tough, rugged beats. While some tracks on Soma 25 can cause repetitive strain injuries to your ears with a series of functional and insistent thumps, there are more than enough gems to be found here to make tracking this down worthy of any techno fan’s time. Jeff Mills‘ A Tale From The Parallel Universe is gloriously trippy, its dense electro recalling Drexciya at their very best. Other picks include the shadowy acid of S.O.M.A 25 by Andrew Weatherall’s The Woodleigh Research Facility project, the heady thump of Vril’s refit of X Track by Percy X, the vintage techno stylings of 808 Planet by Funk D’Void, and Deepchord’s stunning remixes of Cry and BeeBear by Joe Stawarz. Not perfect then! But, then again, who is? 7/10.
A special mention must also go to: Flight by HCMJ – London label Dream Catalogue strike gold yet again with an album of epic ambiance, ominous drones, and moments of heart-wrenching beauty to warm your very soul, 9/10, Birds Flying High by Mollono.Bass & Ava Asante – 3000Grad label heads Mollono.Bass team up with vocalist and violinist Ava Asante for a record of chilled textures, exotic beats and melodic house grooves, 8.5/10, Lost Days by Greg Gow – Having been a big part of the Toronto techno scene since the 1990s, the producer steps up with the rich, Detroit rhythms and tough, focused beats of his debut LP, 7/10, Still Life by Little Cub – South London trio Little Cub make soft, electronic influenced indie which nods towards Heaven 17, OMD, and, er, Keane. With thoughtful lyrics, and a delightfully downbeat air, Still Life will make the perfect accompaniment to sitting alone in your bedroom staring out at the rain, 7/10, S/W by Second Woman – If you can ignore the too cool for school cover and overly ironic track titles, then you’ll find an album of deconstructed techno and inspired ambient grooves, 8/10, and Skryptöm: 10 Years by V/A – French label Skryptöm celebrate 10 years in the game with a bumper collection of tough techno gems from the likes of Laurent Garnier, Inigo Kennedy, Maxime Dangles, Scan X and more, 8.5/10.
And let’s not forget: Where The Light Shines Through 1981-2017 by Sad Lovers & Giants – With hints of Soft Cell, The Cure, House Of Love, Magazine and more it seems strange that Watford band Sad Lovers & Giants never gained the following their brand of experimental indie deserved. This welcome retrospective compiles singles, oddities and more in a jam-packed five CD boxset. Trust me when I tell you that this isn’t just for hardcore fans, 9/10, Auto by Chmmr – Even Brenden arrives on Prins Thomas‘ Full Pupp label with the hazy Italo and breezy Balearica of his debut LP, 8/10, Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records by Jan Jelinek – Now available on vinyl for the first time since its initial release sixteen years ago, Jan Jelinek’s jazz encrusted classic is a master class in dusty dub textures and soft-focus electronica, 8/10, Kindisch Stories presented by Dance Spirit – Get Physical offshoot Kindisch continue their Presents series with a slow burning collection of mid-paced house grooves, 8/10, Collected Pieces by Mary Littimore – Out now on Ghostly International, the six glacial soundscapes which make up the harpist’s new release are perfect for closing your eyes and allowing the world to gently drift away, 7/10, and Unseen Forces by Justin Walter – Since its inception in 1993 American label Kranky have unleashed some of the richest, most rewarding downtempo music to tickle a kitten’s behind. A perfect example is Michigan trumpeter Justin Walter’s atmospheric and melancholy drenched new LP, 8/10.