Electronic, Pop

Poliça and Stargaze- “Music For the Long Emergency” Review

Formed in 2011, Poliça have carved out a moderately successful career skirting various genres—a little of the tactile, atmospheric production of modern electronic music; flashes of electro-pop and brassy orchestral ornamentation. This latest salvo marks a schism from their previous works in several ways, both finding the group teaming up with Berlin-based orchestral collective Stargaze, and (at least ostensibly) casting off the autobiographical, relationship-centric narratives of their previous albums in favour of a grander political scope.

The political angle here will inevitably be contentious. Trump looms over chunks of the album as an abstract, unspecific bogeyman, particularly dominating “How Is This Happening”, which was apparently written on the day after the 2016 election. In a voice which could credibly be mistaken for Björk’s, singer Channy Leaneagh murmurs of her disbelief at the utterly transformed national landscape around her. The track dangerously skirts self-parody in its capitulation to drab stock phrases—“Our freedom isn’t really free”, “We have got a lot of work to do”—and in its inclusion of the now cliched device of the increasingly dissonant orchestral backing, although it surprisingly proves to be the only overtly political aside on what is billed as a political album.

Of course, other tracks could also be read through a political lens: the title track’s “Give me a worthy tool/To tell me it’s not over” is perhaps an assertion of continued political resistance, to latch onto a random example. However, the danger is of re-contextualizing the entire album through an only sporadic political narrative. Without this awareness of the circumstances of the album’s production and its flashes of overt politicization, most of the songs here are vague and open-ended enough to function equally well as micro, personal vignettes and macro, national critique.

The orchestral flourishes here are a double-edged sword, both enriching the otherwise spartan likes of “Speaking of Ghost” and producing a propensity for time-consuming, indulgent atonality of which “How Is This Happening” is the worst culprit. “Cursed” tramples through brash Dictaphone-rap and clattering junglist drums, with “Marrow” venturing into industrial chug, imposing orchestral swells and drooping, off-kilter synth lines. However, the album’s highlight is “Agree”, “Music For the Long Emergency” revealing a surprising knack for pop melody in perhaps its most straightforward cut. The track coheres beautifully, Stargaze’s strings in the chorus warming its tender, swooping melody. Perhaps the album’s potentially sour political gripes deserved to be sold through this sort of rich sweetness, even if their discordant musical backings were closer thematic matches. Write a catchy enough tune and people won’t realise what they’re singing until it’s too late. CO

C-

Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7TORzEfEVo&list=PLZqsyBiYZFQ0WKWZnSjMd02vvh7S2pCBs&index=4

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Electronic

Boards of Canada- “The Campfire Headphase” Review

20 years ago, Boards of Canada’s “Music Has the Right to Children” was released, promptly and justifiably being heralded as a watershed in what was homogenously termed “Electronic Music”. However, the inevitable puffy-eyed nostalgia flooding the album for its 20th anniversary runs the risk of beaching what is perhaps a greater work, 2005’s overlooked opus “The Campfire Headphase”. Lacking the transgressive innovation of “Music Has the Right to Children” only because of the shifting tides of popular music from 1998 to 2005, the more organic and less overtly electronic exterior of “The Campfire Headphase” discloses not a drought of creativity, but an abundance of it. Of all the duo’s releases, this is the album that most seamlessly and adroitly blends the earthly and the artificial; the woodland and the city; sacred pastoralism and profane urbanity. And isn’t that what Boards of Canada are all about?

A fair amount has already been written about the pair’s altered working practices on the album. “The Campfire Headphase” consists of fewer samples and digitally manipulated effects than their previous two full-length albums, instead incorporating the novelties of acoustic instrumentation. Indeed, it is the interplay of folksy finger-picking and glacial electronic futurism that define the album through the very difficulty of defining the album, providing it with a malleable identity that remains perpetually, tantalizingly in flux. This is captured in “Constants are Changing”, a hazy fever-dream of gently plucked guitar and swirling synths, the melody fluttering just out of reach.

The band’s new methods, beyond providing the album’s central intrigue, often yield astonishing results on a song-by-song basis. “Dayvan Cowboy” intercuts noise-rock fuzz, sparklingly reverberant guitar, splashy sampled drums and laconic lift-music keyboard into a surging, richly realized whole. The proto-vaporwave (if an album made in 2005 can be the “proto” precursor to a genre reliant on slowing down ‘80s songs) of “84 Pontiac Dream” drifts by with a slick, melancholy impersonality, culminating in a gorgeously wistful guitar epilogue, and “Chromakey Dreamcoat” spins a wobblingly askew riff into mordant, ghostly soundscapes.

By the time the flickering, underwater keyboard line of concluding track “Farewell Fire” has spooled off into darkness, “The Campfire Headphase” has established itself as a strikingly cohesive blend of the organic and the electronic, and the most coherently realised summation of its creators yet. The digitized naturalism of the album is both its central paradox and greatest strength, ironically drawing more attention for its virtual invisibility and seamlessness. An album equally suited to pastoralism and cyberpunk. A

CO

Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A2zKARkpDW4

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Hip Hop, Jungle, R&B, rap, Reggae, Urban

Celebration of Life – Legends of UK Jungle, Drum & Bass and Dance come together on Charity Single

 

Celebration of Life, a collaboration between some of the UK’s premiere talents from the worlds of jungle, drum & bass, reggae and dance; including Demolition Man; Jr. Dangerous; Navigator; Tippa Irie; General Levy; Alaska MC and Cowboy Ranger, not to mention it being mixed by Liondub at his own New York studios.

The is in support of Demelza, a hospice which provides support and respite for the parents and families of terminally ill children with special needs. The project is inspired by a little boy called Jaden who is suffering with an incurable brain disease. Despite his prognosis, he celebrated his 11th birthday in August, against all his doctor’s expectations, which has further inspired the project to achieve even greater exposure for the cause.

Watch the documentary about the project Below:

https://youtu.be/fuXbDleb310

Catch the artists headlining Jungle Fever at Ministry of Sound in London on December 22nd, where they will also be performing a second track in support of the project, “Think Positive” (produced by FLeCK, and also featuring the talents of Sweetie Irie, Ragga Twins, Joseph Lalibela & Johnny Dolla)

 

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Acoustic, Alternative, Electronic, experimental, Psychedelic, Punk, Rock

Johann Sebastian Punk ‘Phoney Music Entertainment’ Review

Anyone who’s been called “A bewildering lunatic” is probably a genius in my book, especially when you’re called a lunatic by Rolling Stone. Johann Sebastian Punk (great name) has just done a UK release for his new album ‘Phone Music Entertainment’ after bewildering audiences with it’s original release in his native Italy lets how it fairs to more developed (obviously) English Ears.

The album starts with a wash of synthesizers and trumpets, a clear sign of an artist who is striving for experimentation and to make something new. This sets the tone for album. By the time Johann’s voice comes in with some beautifully crunchy produced electronic drums, you know this is going to be no ordinary album.

‘Confession’ one of the singles taken from the album takes you on a slow dark journey through Johann’s mind, with cuts of wit (very characteristic of this strange, experimental punk) e.g ‘I don’t need a high graded school’. All this before reaching a beautifully pleasing crescendo.

My personal favourite ‘Manifest Destiny’ feels like a strange mixture between Radiohead, M85, Blur with Adam Ant on the vocals. Actual genius, enjoyable, creative, perfectly imperfect. Finishes the Album on a high. There’s something about Johann, he has a sound, if all falls into place he could be another David Bowie. Hes obviously a very talented writer and multi-instrumentalist, and an immensely interesting and slightly mad character.

Through experimentation, multiple instrumental experimentation, sampling and general madness Johann has created something rather magical. This is not everyone’s cup of tea and don’t get me wrong, Johann’s theatrical style is at danger of wearing thin, however the experimental instrumentation and sheer joy and charisma of how its done is what carries it through.

Listen to ‘Phoney Music Entertainment’ here.

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Electronic

Mavis Victory Project- “Don’t Go Away” Review

Few bands would cite both the Arctic Monkeys and Schoolboy Q among their influences, but Mavis Victory Project are only tenuously a “band” in the traditional sense. Their sound is closer to dank, seamy electronica than the guitar rock that “band” invariably suggests, although sweetly and incongruously they are comprised of four brothers and a childhood friend. Their new single “Don’t Go Away” infuses Mavis Victory Project with a vague but unshakeable squalor, albeit one meshed with a slick, careerist zeal: the types who hang around unsavoury raves in sunglasses and install chewing gum machines to slow juddering jaws.

The band’s clearest analogues vocally are perhaps Wild Beasts and Nine Inch Nails in Michael Ransom’s lascivious, breathy purrs, and the purview of another of their influences, Kanye West, is visible in the “New Slaves”-esque descending riff that carries the verses. There is a little of Die Antwoord in both the grubby industrial decay that pervades the video—all skeletal warehouses and clandestine underworld cultism—and the malevolent abrasiveness of Mavis Victory Project’s sound, although they are still a good few miles from “I FINK U FREEKY”.

However, “Don’t Go Away” is nonetheless something of an impassively wintry single, whose lyrics feel like placeholders and whose music feels stonily impenetrable. Although its verses bristle with a skittish mischief, the track’s chorus settles into a plodding banality, which only really unlatches at the track’s end. “As the year draws to an end, I wonder ‘Will I ever see you again?’/It feels like I’ve lost my oldest friend” mumbles Ransom in perhaps the song’s singular moment of confession, before it curtly and teasingly ends. Whether they can progress beyond intrigue and implication remains to be seen. CO

B-

Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IF8FE4E_J9E

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Electronic, Techno

nej!las- “Washout” Review

As gleefully improbable origin stories go, that of nej!las takes some beating. The founder of Global Health Conscious, an international charity that has raised some $2.5 million for UN refugee camps across the Middle East, she is now venturing into floorboard-rattling techno because why not, really. The paradoxically named “Washout” is the prow of her upcoming E.P., a bloodied slab of merciless, mirthless intensity reminiscent of the brutish electro of Trent Reznor’s soundtrack for “The Social Network”.

For all its brutalist repetition, “Washout” is surprisingly flighty in places, fading in and out between tangling, snaking keyboard riffs. As if teasing the listener, the relentless thud of the bass drum that serves as the track’s backbone occasionally slides out of sync between torrents of clicking hi-hats. The heavily distorted keyboards and restless percussion ferment an almost tribal, Teutonic pugilism but the track is still able to conjure a distinctive sense of space—the martial clatter of Woodkid or the soporific haze of Dashevsky compacted into spidery, fingernail-tapping claustrophobia.

Flying Lotus, one of nej!las’ primary influences, is clearly audible in “Washout”. Particularly, the end in which the track’s rhythmic digressions finally coagulate into a clattering, relentless chunter, like pebbles fountaining onto a tin roof, bears a striking resemblance to Flying Lotus’ “Do the Astral Plane”. However, the wired violence of nej!las is largely absent in his music, and is perhaps her USP.  CO

B+

Listen here: https://soundcloud.com/nejlasproducing/washout

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Dance, Electronic

Aphex Twin- “Selected Ambient Works 85-92” Review

Although it has been largely swamped in the general imagination by his far more interesting reputation as a reclusive, sardonic intransigent, there was a brief period when Aphex Twin’s murky trajectory intersected with the pop mainstream. He’s there, both visibly uneasy and wryly remote, in an ill-fated MTV interview from 1996. When quizzed about where he gets his inspiration from, he remarks that in the future he wants to “go away and be on my own again like I was growing up”. Thus, even this most half-hearted and fleeting of dalliances with fame, through the deliberately abrasive singles “Come to Daddy” and “Windowlicker”, was abruptly curtailed. Aphex Twin retreated into myth, where he has largely remained since.

“Selected Ambient Works 85-92”, now 25 years old, is probably the centrepiece of his cult, as well as a host of celebrity endorsements that he generally viewed with rueful distain. Pedestalized by the likes of Radiohead (who, typically, he wrote off as “really obvious and cheesy”), Björk and Mogwai, his complete antipathy towards stardom has not stopped a rabid fanbase from coalescing around him. Particularly, “Selected Ambient Works 85-92” gradually emerged as a keystone of the pompously named IDM (Intelligent Dance Music), which he also disparaged: “It’s basically saying ‘this is intelligent and everything else is stupid’”.

Indeed, “Selected Ambient Works 85-92”, in a classic act of Aphex subterfuge, isn’t really an ambient album, also providing a blueprint for modern electronic music and dance. Dreamy opener “Xtal” interlaces submersible keyboard chords, insistent off-beat hi-hats and murmured vocal samples, forming an alluring fusion of wistful ambience and mechanistic dance: a lethargic brother of the glitzy punch of acid house. “Green Calx” strays further, into squelching synth lines and impassively clinical beats. While remaining many miles from saccharine emotionalism, the album conjures up some strikingly emotive music from digital, inhuman elements—the choppy, percussive futurism of “Heliosphan” rifles through mossy chords and clattering junglist rhythms with barely a pause for breath.

Perhaps the defining feature of “Selected Ambient Works 85-92” is its vast influence. It’s difficult to imagine a Tycho, a Jon Hopkins or a Skrillex without Aphex Twin, and his increasingly eccentric sequels, such as 2001’s slipshod, sprawling “Drukqs”, revealed an idiosyncratic talent further honing his unusual aesthetic.  However, “Selected Ambient Works 85-92” is the windowsill from which these gnarled growths sprouted and remains to many the definitive Aphex Twin album. His playful contrarianism was encapsulated in an inevitably rare interview—ironically, in perhaps the only sincere moment of an otherwise brusque conversation, he interjected “I don’t like giving interviews. I don’t like disclosing too much.” By offering few public explanations for his work, he encourages it to be judged devoid of context, and this silence ultimately becomes its own context: his mystique deepens by the year. CO

A

Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0q1gCsZykg

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