Music | Bittles’ Magazine: The music column from the end of the world
In the past, the time between December and February would see a dearth of quality new releases hitting the shops. But, as with many things, all that has changed in recent years. The music industry never stops, and this winter has found some fantastic new slabs of wax arrive on our shelves. This month we’ll both be looking back to some of the great releases which came to light at the end of 2019 and raving about some which are making the year 2020 a great place to be. By JOHN BITTLES
We have the deep house urgings of Roger Gerressen and the Scissor & Thread team, the crazed electronics of Squarepusher, the melancholy daydreams of Douglas Dare, Robin Saville’s ambient explorations, and lots more.
So, pull up a pew, tell the cat to be quiet, and let us begin…
Brooklyn label Scissor and Thread have long been known as a bastion of quality house and downtempo grooves. Run by Francis Harris and Anthony Collins, since its inception the imprint has released excellent music by Frank & Tony, Black Light Smoke, Aris Kindt and more. Late December found the label celebrate another stellar year in the game with Tailored Cuts Vol. 4. Containing ten tracks high on atmosphere, depth and melody, the purchase of this should be considered a must for any fan of sumptuous house jams. The Cocteau Twins style electronica of Our Earlier Years by Lights Fluorescent and the slow ambient drift of Tominori Hosoya’s We Are Here set the mood nicely, before Francis Harris’ St. Catherine And The Calm (LNS Remix) ups the pace with evocative synths and some beautifully deep bass. Further in, Schaefer Street by Alex Albrecht pres. Melquíades is an elegant dancefloor groove, Frank & Tony’s What You Believe recalls the classicism of Mr. Fingers, while Francis Harris’ remix of Tomi Chair’s Heat Exhaustion is a thing of rare splendour indeed. Every track’s a winner though, making Tailored Cuts Vol. 4 the perfect album to chase away those winter blues. 9.5/10.
Next, we have more house action, as mid-December saw Dutch producer Roger Gerressen follow 2017’s excellent Monoaware album with a gorgeously deep new LP. Available now on French label Yoyaku, Heading In A Backwards Direction is one of those records which makes people like me remember why we fell in love with this dance music lark in the first place. Elements of ambient, techno, dub, deep house and more combine on a record which sounds amazing on headphones, and even better on the dancefloor. Fragil (Dub) warms us up nicely with some lush atmospherics, setting the scene for the echo driven dub techno groove of Draxis. The musical equivalent of a Fitzcarraldo Editions essay, even at nine minutes long it still seems too short. From here, the melancholy IDM of Cerendipity, Continued Momentum’s echo-laden blend and the emotion rich B12 style Capturing Diversity all stand out. Stunningly heady and immersive, Heading In A Backwards Direction is shockingly good. 9/10.
Robin Saville is best known as one half of the duo ISAN, a band who have been crafting some of the most remarkable and delicate sounding electronica for well over 20 years now. This February Robin strikes out on his own with the melody rich ambiance and warm electronics of Build A Diorama. Formed of six tracks, the album is the aural equivalent of a long, all-enveloping hug. Utilizing field recordings, drones and acoustic instrumentation as the foundation of the album’s sound, Robin adds gentle electronic flourishes to create a world filled with wonder and majesty. Opener, Content Of Mind is startlingly beautiful, its soft chimes and hushed synths having the power to, seemingly, make time stand still. Other stand-outs include the nature filled ambiance of The Deepdale Halophyte Economy, Bosky’s optimistic air, the woozy synths of Euglena Dancing and the spellbinding splendour of closer Might I Have A Bit Of Earth?. At times close to divine, Build A Diorama is a record filled with the joy of sound. 9/10.
Out late February, Douglas Dare’s third long-player finds the English artist embrace the autoharp for an album of quiet reflection and pain-staking honesty. Produced together with Mike Lindsay of Tunng fame in a mere 12 days, Milkteeth merges elements of folk, electronica, classical and Douglas’ own voice to craft a thoroughly enticing listening experience. Opener I Am Free pairs gentle piano playing, hushed electronics and James Blake style vocals on a track which evokes the bittersweet feeling of memories from childhood. Red Arrows meanwhile is a softly spoken folk ditty, vocal harmonies sitting atop quiet strumming. Other picks include the delicately stirring Silly Games, the almost synth pop urgings of The Joy In Sarah’s Eyes, the nostalgia filled ambiance of The Window and the slow build rush of The Playground. Tailor made for those moments when the world seems blue, Milkteeth is an album I see myself listening to a lot over these coming months. 8/10.
It is reassuring to know that, in an everchanging world, some things do remain the same. So it is with Thomas Jenkinson who has been releasing hyper breaks and beats under the name Squarepusher since the mid-90s. This month sees him return to spiritual home Warp with Be Up A Hello, a collection of frantic beat collages, bass heavy jams and deranged grooves. While it would be possible to clear a dancefloor should you attempt to play any of these tunes in the wrong club, there is comfort to be found in the knowledge that someone is out there creating a racket just because they can. The uplifting synths and elastic sounding breaks of Oberlove opens proceedings in style, a sense of rose-tinted optimism hiding in plain sight within the grooves. Next up, Hitsonu sounds positively deranged, like a romantic comedy about a pneumatic drill and a hairdryer where you know by the opening credits everything is going to be well in the end. From here things get darker, with the fast acid punch of Nervelevers, the widescreen ambiance of Detroit People Mover and the head-mangling squelches of Merkev Bass keeping standards high. 7/10.
A special mention must also go to: All Encores by Nils Frahm – Originally released as three separate EPs, All Encores was combined late last year into one exquisitely evocative LP. Beautiful and poignant, the album finds the Berlin-based composer at the very top of his game, 9/10, //// by Joris Voorn – Joris Voorn’s new album is full of deep house beats and melodies so gorgeous they set up home in your soul, 8.5/10, Mono No Aware by Natasha Giordano – British label Soundtracking The Void come up trumps yet again with three tracks of dark, heavy ambiance which sneaks up on the listener like a spectre in the night, 8/10, Special Edition Part 1 by Fat Freddy’s Drop – The New Zealand seven-piece conjure a heavy mix of reggae and dub on their latest opus, 7.5/10, Dawn Chorus (Deluxe) by Jacques Green – The excellent Dawn Chorus gets the reissue treatment, now with a host of remixes. Stand-outs include Fort Romeau’s magnificently bittersweet take on Night Service and Ciel’s breaktastic interpretation of Stars, 7.5/10, Uncut Gems by Daniel Lopatin – The score for the Safdie Brothers’ film of the same name finds the artist better known as Oneohtrix Point Never creating a series of alluring atmospheric sketches, 7/10 and More Or Less Disco by V/A – Yuksek’s Partyfine label start the new year with a bang, with 13 tracks full of disco licks and cheeky charm, 8/10.