Music | Bittles’ Magazine: The music column from the end of the world
After a summer filled with festivals, the act of listening to music in the sanctuary of your own home can appear a little strange. For a while every summer I briefly conclude that the best way to appreciate the bands or DJs that you love is while standing in a mud strewn field with ten thousand other people while the rain lashes down on your head. By JOHN BITTLES
Maybe it’s just me, but there does seem to be a certain romanticism in singing along to your favourite tunes after not having slept for two days and rocking a look lovingly referred to as ‚resembling a drowned rat‘.
Whether you have indulged in festival season this year or not, the following albums are pretty much guaranteed to instil feelings of wonder in even the most jaded of souls. We have the psychedelic hip hop of Shabazz Palaces, the synth heavy techno of Blondes, the wilful eclecticism of BadBadNotGood, the leftfield guitar jangle of James, and loads more.
So, pitch up your tent, get a bottle of warm cider in you, and let us begin…
Never ones for taking the easy route, Seattle hip hop duo Shabazz Palaces made a welcome return this summer with a sprawling concept album spread over two LPs. Out now on Sub Pop, Quazarz vs The Jealous Machines, and Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star find the cosmic funk explorers Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire on sparkling form. Going where few rap artists dare, both records are available separately and are well worth tracking down. Featuring some of the most gloriously deranged and essential hip hop to have seduced these ears, elements of soul, pop, R&B, electronica and more form the backing for Ishmael’s wonderfully woozy flow. Quazarz vs The Jealous Machines opens with Welcome To Quazarz and Gorgeous Sleeper Cell’s heady IDM, and maintains a hazy drawl over the majority of its twelve tracks. Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star picks up where the first one left off, but ups the pace and the bass to give us one of the most electrifying records of the year. Just listen to the low end throb of When Cats Claw, the soul drenched swoon of Shine A Light (Feat. Thadillac), or the darkened dirge of Parallax (Feat. The Palaceer Lazaro) to hear exactly what I mean. With more ideas than most people’s careers, you owe it to yourself to give this a go. 9/10.
Composed of a total of seven (yes, that’s right, SEVEN) discs, Manchester: North Of England collects together over 140 songs to illustrate how Manchester’s unique blend of arrogance and creativity have made it such a beacon of talent. Concentrating on ‚independent music‘ released between 1977 and 1993, Manchester: North Of England is a comprehensive and exhaustive collection which will make the perfect birthday present for a certain generation of pasty skinned gentlemen, i.e. me). Headline acts such as Joy Division, The Fall, New Order, Happy Mondays, Morrissey, The Stone Roses, 808 State, and Oasis are, of course, all involved. Yet, as ever with this type of thing, the real joy is in finding those forgotten favourites which you had lost track of over time. Voodoo Ray by A Guy Called Gerald, The Only Rhyme That Bites by MC Tunes vs 808 State, And It Wasn’t A Dream by Ruthless Rap Assassins, and Dream Beam by Hypnotone all brought back special memories for me. Touching on punk, pop, indie, rap and acid house, this is a ridiculously varied collection which is thoroughly deserving of several hours of your time. 9/10.
New York duo Blondes are welcomed into the R&S family this August with the warm synth tones and polished techno grooves of their highly anticipated new LP. Composed of ten gentle yet driving tracks, Warmth is an album you could easily find yourself getting lost in for a very long time. At its best the LP things strips down to the barest of elements to create something hypnotic, yet containing a hefty emotional punch. After years with RVNG Intl., Sam Haar and Zach Steinman aka Blondes sought a challenge by moving to pastures new. The resulting relocation to the the legendary Belgian label R&S suits the band remarkably well. Opener, OP Actual merges the gentle electronica of Bochum Welt with a mesmerising house pulse to create a track which plants itself down on your settee, cracks open a beer and sets up home in the mind. Other picks include the 3am dance floor throb of Quality Of Life, the melody drenched techno of Trust, the euphoric rave rush of KDM, and the tribal infused discordance of closer Cleo. Good sound systems were created for this! 8/10.
Those who like their music slightly left of centre take note as Canadian band BadBadNotGood follow last year’s IV album on Innovative Leisure with a gorgeously funk-filled entry into the Late Night Tales mix series. Released at the end of July, the album finds the quartet blending tracks by the likes of Stereolab, Thundercat and The Beach Boys into one eclectic, yet surprisingly coherent whole. Olson by mysterious Scottish oddities Boards Of Canada opens the mix in gloriously trippy style and does a great job in preparing the listener for the disparate yet essential delights to come. Next, the smooth pop croon of Vida Antiga by Erasmo Carlos merges into the passionate soul of Gene Williams‘ Don’t Let Your Love Fade Away to show that this is an album to keep the listener on their toes. From here, we have the mellow reggae tones of People Make The World Go Round by The Chosen Few, the lovelorn soul of Oh Honey by Delegation, the 70s strut of Disco Dancer by Kiki Gyan, and lots more. With an abundance of obscurities and off-kilter grooves, BadBadNotGood’s Late Night Tales selection is both an education and a pleasure. 8/10.
Long before Sit Down and Laid catapulted them into the stratosphere, James (who are also included in the Manchester retrospective reviewed above), released two albums of rich, melancholic indie pop in the form of Stutter and Strip-Mine. Now the good people at Cherry Red Records have lovingly revisited and revived these once lost early songs in Justhipper: The Complete Sire & Blanco y Negro Recordings 1986-1988. With vocalist Tim Booth in fine voice throughout, this double CD showcases a band unafraid of exposing their influences and taking chances as they search for their own sound. The results will, hopefully, lead to these often overlooked classics receiving some well deserved attention and love. Although not everything on here has aged well, the pop encrusted post punk of So Many Ways, the Morrisseyisms of Johnny Yen, the jerky strut of bonus track Justhipper, the euphoric folk of What For, and the melancholic lushness of Stripmining are practically guaranteed to make people of a certain age go a little misty eyed. 7.5/10.
A special mention must also go to: Althaea by Trailer Trash Tracys – It’s not often these days that you find a ‚rock‘ album full of ideas, passion and intelligence, yet, that is exactly what we get with London duo Trailer Trash Traceys‘ stunning sophomore LP, 9/10, Balance Presents Natura Sonoris Mixed By Henry Saiz – Over two hours long, and packed full of exclusives from his own Natura Sonoris label, Spanish artist Henry Saiz’s album creates an epic and melodic journey into the land where techno and trance collide, 8.5/10, Something’s Changing by Lucy Rose – With a voice that could melt icebergs and a gentle folk touch, Lucy Rose’s music has a sense of quiet longing which is stunning to behold, 8/10, Reservoir by Gordi – Australian artist Sophie Payten arrives on Jajjaguwar this August with the lyrical intimacy and electronic grandeur of her debut album, 7.5/10, New Cult Fear by Cardopusher – A fast and furious selection of electronic funk, 7/10, Dieter Von Deurne And The Politics by Dieter Von Deurne And The Politics – Sounding like it has skipped straight from the 90s, Antwerp artist Dieter Sermeus‘ new project will remind any alt rock fan of simpler times, 7/10, and Eroica by Wendy & Lisa – Originally released in 1990, this lost funk classic by Prince affiliates Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman receives a welcome reissue, now with a bonus disc of rarities, 8/10.
And let’s not forget: Ruinism by Lapalux – Inspired by the state of hypnagogia, Stuart Howard’s third album arrived on Flying Lotus‘ Brainfeeder label back in June, and its lush, intelligent beats still sound out of this world, 8.5/10, Infinity Ultra by Claude Speeed – Berlin-based Glaswegian Claude Speeed returns to Planet Mu with a record full of intergalactic space jams. Often dense, exhilarating and noisy, it’s when the playfulness of tracks like Ambien Rave comes to the fore that Infinity Ultra truly soars, 8/10, Out In The Storm by Waxahatchee – For her fourth album Katie Crutchfield ramps up the guitars to give us a Sonic Youth indebted blast of passionate yet angular rock, 8/10, Several Shades Of The Same Color by Patricia – Released over three separate records, Patricia offers a killer selection of woozy house and cerebral techno gems, 8/10, Zen Brakes Vol. 2 by Bogus Order – Sparkling electronica with an erratic trip hop touch, as the duo behind Ninja Tune’s first ever release return with a collection of roguish tracks, 7/10, Eucalyptus by Avery Tare – The Animal Collective member keeps things deliciously strange on his latest solo LP with 15 pop heavy jams, 7.5/10, Poouli by Daniele Baldelli & DJ Rocca – If you are planning a relaxing holiday by the beach this summer then these laidback grooves will be the perfect soundtrack, 8/10, and Get Physical Presents Words Don’t Come Easy Pt. 5 by V/A – Across 20 tracks and two mixes, long-running imprint Get Physical keep things soft and sensual with a winning selection of vocal led house tunes, 8/10.