An Ode To Better Times: New Album Reviews

Music | Bittles’ Magazine: The music column from the end of the world

In the wrong hands, nostalgia can be little more than a marketing tool, something which can be watered down, bottled up and sold. Yet, when done right it can arouse a wealth of emotions in the listener.
There is a distinct tinge of nostalgia to this week’s album reviews. From Kölsch’s homage to his teenage years on 1989 to 90s indebted new LPs from Bicep and Steffi. And if that isn’t enough, we have Dimitri From Paris delving into the Salsoul label’s archives, Lone’s wistful leap into the DJ Kicks series, and the return of 90s trip hop icon Tricky. By JOHN BITTELS

So, conjure a favourite cherished memory and let us begin…

Belfast duo Bicep have, through hard work and an abundance of talent, become one of the most in demand house acts around today. Their killer DJ sets, cheeky edits, and releases for labels such as Throne Of Blood, Aus and their own Feel My Bicep have seen their star rise and rise. This autumn the duo step into the album format with their self titled debut LP. Sounding like a mixture of Airdrawndagger era Sasha and Aphex Twin’s revered Selected Ambient Works 85-92, the album pairs the best of 90s progressive house and IDM with style. Opener Orca is suitably epic, tough yet with a melancholic resonance that lingers long in the mind. Next track Glue is even better; soft breakbreaks and subdued melodies join forces to create something which stirs the very soul. In an album of stand-outs, the soaring trance kick of Kites, the Harthouse with heart techno throb of Opal, the bittersweet stirrings of Rain, and Aura’s ecstatic rush are all worthy of special praise. Moving, stirring and passionate, Bicep is an album you would be a fool to miss. 9.5/10.

Lone DJKicksAfter a decade in the music game Lone takes a step into the unknown this week by releasing his very first commercially available mix CD. His contribution to the highly regarded DJ Kicks series is out now, and is startlingly good. The album contains four new and exclusive tracks, three of which are available in a separate 12inch release, and should be considered a must for any fan of Matt Culter’s retro-futuristic house. Created in his living room using a pair of CDJs, the record is a deeply personal collection of hazy hip hop, electronica and more. While the mixing style may be a little rough and ready for some, the set is unfussy and an awful lot of fun. With many tracks sounding like pensive memories conjured while lounging on a lonely summer’s day, the mix brings to mind James Lavelle’s Mo’Wax one minute, the output of Lone’s own Magicwire imprint the next. With those exclusives merging seamlessly with songs by Boards Of Canada, Gnork, John Beltram, Ross From Friends, Balil and Radiohead, this is one DJ Kicks you will never want to end. 9/10.

Tricky - UnuniformAfter admitting that his previous two albums were created with the purpose of paying off his tax bill (both are excellent though!), UK hip hop icon Tricky makes a welcome return this month with the nocturnal strains of his new LP. Ununiform is out now, and finds the artist sounding more at ease within his own skin than he has for a long time. As the comparatively playful air of Martina Topley-Bird collaboration and lead single When We Die attests, the record, while far from easy listening, is his most accessible album in years. Rather than hiding in the shadows, Tricky’s voice is confidently pushed to the fore on Obia Intro, his distinctive Bristol drawl rising above a gorgeously loose bassline to send shivers down the spine. Other picks include the gospel soul introspection of New Stole, where Francesca Belmonte’s passionate vocals are given centre stage, the dark trip hop menace of Wait For Signal, the epic piano refrain on Blood Of My Blood, and the Hell Is Round The Corner companion piece The Only Way. While some of the noisier tracks can still be a strain for sensitive ears, Ununiform will both appease long-term fans and act as a welcoming introduction to Tricky’s singular world. 8.5/10.

Steffi - World of the waking stateAs anyone who has had the pleasure of hearing her recent Fabric mix will know, Berlin native Steffi is one of the most accomplished and exciting musicians working in the world of electronic music today. This September the Panorama Bar resident returns to the long-player format with the heady electronica, thoughtful soul-searching and subdued electro pulses on World Of Waking State. Released on the always excellent Ostgut Ton label, the album strays away from the demands of the dance floor for the most part, content to exist within a mid-paced, dream like state. Opener Different Entities pairs tender synths with shuffling beats to create a track which brings to mind the best of Autechre. Further in, All Living Things adds a welcome sense of warmth to obtuse beats, The Meaning Of Memory is so beautiful you want to take it home to meet your mum, Kokkie is a fabulously hazy foray into Warp style IDM, and Bounces Of Nature’s lively rhythms and angular programming sounds like they came straight from Detroit. Wonderfully melodic and restrained, World Of Waking State is a brave and uncompromising record which fully rewards repeated plays. 8.5/10.

Kölsch 1989This Autumn Danish producer Kölsch finishes his childhood inspired trilogy of albums with the emotion heavy swirl of 1989. The follow-up to 1977 and 1983 finds Rune Reilly continuing to explore a melody rich sound which looks back to the glory days of trance for inspiration before charging off in musical directions entirely its own. Influenced by his early teens, a time which Rune describes in the press notes as »difficult time in my life, where I mostly just remember the greyness of it all ・ grey feelings, grey weather and my own grey face.« Unlike the image these words paint though, 1989 is full of bold, colourful epics. Gems include Khairo, a stunning classical inspired piece of trance that builds in tension until you feel the overwhelming urge to scream. Laith meanwhile retains the orchestral elements, but introduces a fab 80s electro squelch, Serij sounds like a beefed up remix of something you’d hear on Stranger Things, Gra is a lush slice of festival ready trance, while PUSH is a larger-than-life merging of Vangelis‘ Blade Runner and Hardfloor’s Acperience. With an abundance of melodic wonders, 1989 is a widescreen trip down memory lane. 8/10.

Midland - FABRICLIVE 94In what has been a fantastic year for London institution Fabric’s long-running mix series, late September saw the release of the perfect example of everything which can make this format such a treat. The Midland helmed Fabriclive 94 is out now, and features a wonderfully disparate collection of artists blended in the Graded boss’s unobtrusive style. Deep, propulsive and moody, the album’s 24 tracks work together fabulously to make a richly textured whole. Featuring big hitters such as Juju & Jordash, Daphni, Leif, Roman Flel, LFO, Kowton and Convextion, Midland’s set is a marvel of style and pace. Yet, the real joy is in the inclusion of the more lesser known names. For instance, the deep techno atmospherics of JauresSilence (Before Birth) is an early highlight, while the groove heavy dub of XXX by Ben Buitendijk and the calming swoon of Deep Felt Music by Vito Ricci are stand outs on a set which feels like a fully rounded night out. Job done, in other words! 8/10.

Salsoul MastermixA special mention must also got to: Dimitri From Paris Presents Salsoul Mastermix ・ Delving into Salsoul’s back-catalogue, disco disciple Dimitri From Paris re-jigs and re-edits 17 tracks from the vaults. With songs and remixes by legends such as Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, Walter Gibbons and Shep Pettibone included, this is worth any man’s gold, 9/10, Tacenda by Pieces Of Juno ・ Sounding like the house band in a David Lynch dream sequence, Tacenda is a brilliantly surreal album which insists you play on repeat, 8.5/10, Reborn After The Road by Several Definitions ・ Muscular yet melodic, this debut album from the rising Swiss artist merges trance, techno and progressive house with aplomb, 8/10, The New Monday by Shigeto ・ Echoes of Moodymann and St Germain abound in a jazz inflected record from Zach Saginaw, 7/10, In Oeland by PharaohsMark Barrott’s International Feel label come up trumps yet again with an indulgent mini LP which is both cheesy and chilled, 7/10, Exit Entrance by NHK yx Koyxen ・ With intricate drum programming and lush IDM style melodies Osaka痴 Kohei Matsunaga aka NHK yx Koyxen’s debut album for DFA is a mighty fine thing, 8/10, Dulce Compaa by DJ Python ・ Head straight for Todo Era Azul (Siempre Dub) for a gorgeously ethereal slice of cosmic house, 7.5/10, Rave Culture by Emmanuel ・ Sounding like 90s hardcore never went away, these ten rave inspired hard techno tracks go where others fear to pound, 7/10 and Strange Roads At Night by Ben Sun ・ Early October sees Voyeurhythm co-founder Ben Sun present the classic house tones of his debut LP. From the gospel tinged Work Again to the Chicago style thump of Still Missing this is gloriously good, 8.5/10.

| JOHN BITTLES

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