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White Noise: June 2011

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Young Montana? - Limerence

Sacré Cool

Hot Heathrr


Jon Pritchard has really outdone himself these last 12 months. Aside from picking a recording title with an irritatingly pointless punctuation mark he has released a blisteringly choppy funk single (Sacré Cool, included in this LP), been crowned the best unsigned artist by BBC radio queen Mary Anne Hobbes and was subsequently signed to one of the big labels to watch these days, Alpha Pup records. However, with his signature sound seeming to take the chopped beats and samples of the LA-based Low End Theory crew back home to Coventry and ramping them up to eleven, his music asks the question of whether taking in such a huge range and quantity of samples and sounds can ever lead to a case of there just being too much there for a listener to really hold onto.

The answer generally appears to be no, and the fact that it would be asked a compliment rather than an insult. Although on first listen some of these tracks might seem to jump around melodically so frequently that there's nothing to really grab the listener, after a few listens gorgeous details begin to emerge and from there one can easily see Pritchard's accomplished and fluid control exerted across the structure of all of these tracks; frequently seeming to build and then immediately abandon musical motifs that reveal themselves to re-emerge surprisingly and satisfyingly just when you've almost forgotten them. On his most Dilla-esque cut, Bad.day, he sounds like Flylo on tranquilisers, with an exuberant vocal sample and horns fading in and out over a woozy soundscape, occasionally swinging back in with gusto; it's nice but it doesn't really sound that different from what a lot of other artists are offering however.

Luckily this isn't indicative of the bulk of the album, he's generally not content to pick a good sample and leave it to repeat, for example on Dreamhome the vocal sample is endlessly tweaked and distorted until the track eventually decays into a swirling mess that sounds like its actually running out of steam. These tracks often take on personalities of themselves; storming highlight Hot Heathrr begins in a formidably choppy fashion but 2 minutes in a short, pretty synthline introduces itself through the clipped beats and recedes, before showing up again later and dominating the second half of the track in a gorgeously low-key moment that shows he can do quiet as well as loud. Legwrap is the heaviest track on the album, sounding like super-glitchy dubstep more than anything else, before washing out and being replaced by a cheery chopped up tune resting under a sunny vocal sample. Indeed, one of Pritchard's greatest tricks on these tracks is the separate outro, either as a re-arrangement of track elements (like the degraded close of Suchbeats) or an entirely different tune as heard on Legwrap.

Another trick is the introduction of a super-choppy and pitchshifted vocal sample with the original vocal line played later in the track to show just how much it has been manipulated, such as in the otherwise unremarkable Midnight Snacks. I call these techniques tricks because the quality of the musical compositions makes them seem a little like gimmicks that are repeated more than strictly necessary, when clearly Pritchard has enough finesse to let the production speak for itself. Aside from this, a few tracks such as Repetition and Mynnd come off as a bit slight (although Mynnd's glacial intro and clever outro are nice), but this is no great problem.

After reaching this point on my first listening of the album I was willing to concede that it was interesting and very successful for a debut, but I was far from wowed. I then gave a listen to absolute standout closer Connct, in which a turbo-charged synthline, exquisitely hollow beats and what sounds like a sample of a music box playing the Swan Lake theme duel for control over the track; and the contrasting power and delicacy of the track really have to be heard to be appreciated. The love I felt for this track made me want to listen to the album all over again and dissect its details until I could really form an opinion on it, but I still haven't quite managed. Some of the tracks are stone-cold greats and some are just good, but it all tumbles and swirls around the listener so quickly that you might end up only liking little bits of each track. Either way, its an interesting and challenging listen and I highly recommend at least giving it a go, some people are sure to find a lot to like here.


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Shlohmo – Places EP


Forgot I Was Here

In order to carve some space out for yourself in the blossoming LA beats scene you have to do something a little different. Whether it's Flylo's ADHD composition, Baths' tremulous vocals or Nosaj Thing's swipe at dubstep, you need to have something unique about your music, even in such an intriguing genre so reliant on precision and mood. From Shlohmo's most recent release, Places, it seems that he's decided to take the whole thing to a deeply laid-back place, sacrificing hard beats for relaxing distant melodies and clattering beats that caress rather than attack your ears.

At only 4 tracks it's short even for an EP, but these beautifully textured pieces are all worth a few listens to fully take in and devour. Opener Places is the most nakedly beautiful track on here, using lazy guitar strings and snappy but relaxed beats that swim dazedly beneath his wordless vocals. This release is a surprising turn for Shlohmo for two reasons: firstly it deliberately subdues the energy of his earlier beat-sketches to craft something more introverted and melancholy, and secondly he uses no samples on this EP, instead crafting a lofi sound with his guitar, vocals and deft beats. These tracks are steeped in emotion such as Forgot I Was Here which is another stunner; the beats linger under a pretty interplay between steel guitar and piano, allowing an ambient guitar wash to sweep over its second half. Things I Lost is a deeper affair with ticking beats that seem to occur naturally in the dark soundscape crafted with heavy low-end reverb attracting the ears. Closer Empty Pools is a pretty and beatless exploration into shimmery guitars and natural effects, lingering lazily up until the close.

The EP is so beautifully natural as an electronic composition that it feels a shame there are only 4 tracks, but each one is a gentle, exquisite gem more than worth the time taken to explore and love them. So switch it on and get very lost in these lovely and lazy tracks, and we can look forward together to his LP due out in August.


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Saturday, 18 June 2011

Feature: Summer – Top 15 Albums

So following on from those surprisingly successful summer playlists, here I'm gonna present mini-reviews (although I dedicated more space to the top 4) in a countdown of some summery albums that might attract your ears, essentially its what I'm gonna be listening to over the coming months. A combination of review and list, I've put a score to show you my appraisal of the quality of the album but these are my top 15 (and an honourable mention) so whichever ones you like the sound of will likely be a good summer choice. I know it might seem counter-intuitive that some higher rated albums appear lower on the list, but it just expresses my summer preference; quality and appropriateness to summer are two different fields. You might also want to check out my reviews of Memory Tapes and Toro Y Moi, which are both irresistibly sunny LPs. So if you're getting ready for the summer here are some essentials. I put a whole lot of love and time into this list, so make sure you give these albums a real chance, I can promise you it won't make for a disappointing listen. Enjoy!

Didn't quite make the list... Delorean – Subiza

Real Love

Delorean were a straight-laced Spanish indie rock band before this record, where for the first time they brought Ibiza-flavoured synth-pop into their sound in much the same way Primal Scream incorporated Acid and Rave into their rock 20 years ago. The result is an irrefutably glittering summer album which doesn't mask its pop sensibilities, opener Stay Close begins with poppy Beach House-style swaying synths, and quickly develops a low-key rave piano rhythm that sails gloriously under the rocky vocals. The album doesn't let up its summer feel, Real Love's infectious beat and infectious “If we ever / will we ever” chorus will live in your head long after you've heard the track, and Infinite Desert's ethno-techno beats don't relent for a second.

There's also more variation than you'd expect for such a straight album, Come Wander is the most direct club-oriented track with a crystalline four to the floor beat, while Simple Graces' slow piano groove harks back to Hacienda days. It's not a perfect album though. The vocal levels are generally too high and the lyrics irritatingly meaningless when you can catch them (I also found singer Ekhi Lobetegi's voice rather irritating but that's just subjective) and this distracts the listener from the real fault of the album; its lack of depth. Although in genre terms they try a lot of different things here the tracks don't sound very varied as a whole, and after you've heard each track a few times it dawns on you that the compositions are not particularly rich, there are about 3 distinct layers on each track and little enjoyable detail that dance-pop fans will be looking for. It's an irresistibly fun and summery album which is easy to like, as long as you don't look too close.


15. Bonobo – Black Sands


In this album Bonobo, aka producer Simon Green, stepped away from his trip-hop roots and has combined the lazy snapping beats of his earlier work with dub and balearic nuances into Black Sands, a surprisingly consistent album full of lush detail that generally just oozes cool from start to finish. There a great display of range on show here, tracks like Kiara infuse a gorgeous (and expertly implemented) string sample with sharp, chopped up beats and a great dubby throb, We Could Forever is the irrefutable summer star of the album with loose percussion and a catchy jittering guitar, and 1009 is a surprisingly welcome low-key cut with shifting drums and a techno aesthetic packed into a short track.

The album isn't without its shortfalls, I can't help but feel the beats could really pack more of a punch than they do, and the variations on a theme of the soaring strings and beats sometimes goes awry, displaying the album's occasional unfavourable mis-step into lounge territory in tracks like El Toro. But it really is an inexpressibly cool LP, stylish and well-sequenced; just when you're wondering why All In Forms is a little formulaic or why there are three tracks featuring the smoldering vocals of Andreya Triana when The Keeper is clearly the best example of the cool downbeat sound he's aiming for (Eyesdown is a little light on depth and Stay the Same's liquid soft-jazz vagueries irritate as lyrics); a track like Animals or the surprising and beautiful waltz of closer Black Sands comes in to show you there's still more to love. The album may go down slightly too smoothly for real beat-fans (myself included) but otherwise its hard to fault in its gorgeous textures and smart beats, it's a great showcase for a producer still finding his sound, and on a sunny day it'd be all too easy to get lost in these lush and expansive soundscapes.


14. Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde

4th Time Around

Recorded at the peak of Dylan's career and consolidating the stellar work on Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde is one of Dylan's sunniest albums and one that also shows some of the greatest variation in themes and songwriting displayed in any of his (enormous) back catalogue. It really runs the gamut of lyricism, the infectious stomp of Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 introduces some of the more hilarious turns in his career, the laugh-out-loud bitterness of Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat (“Honey, can I jump on it sometime?”) and the likes of the satirical take on The Beatles' Nowegian Wood in the brilliant 4th Time Around.

But what makes this one of Dylan's best albums is how much material there is on here, and its consistency. Alongside these lighter tracks are some of Dylan's more poetic love songs, although there's no devastating Don't Think Twice, It's Alright or It Ain't Me, Babe we get the sincere longing of I Want You and the beautiful wordplay of extensive album closer Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands (“With your silhouette when the sunlight dims / Into your eyes where the moonlight swims”). I could go on about the elegaic, opulent poetry of Visions of Johanna or the evocative narrative wail of Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, but suffice to say this album is a demonstration of one of the most important men in music at the dizzying height of his career, so let his gravelly tones and sunny bluesy instrumentation guide you blissfully through a summer's day.


13. Clam's Casino – Clam's Casino


No one would think that a free mixtape of hip hop instrumentals divorced from their vocals could be this good. Clam's Casino is currently making a name for himself producing for the likes of Lil B, Soulja Boy and other Bay-area rappers, and while I've got to say these guys aren't quite to my tastes, with the vocals stripped away this mixtape shows itself as a richly layered and gorgeously mastered take on instrumental hip hop. These tracks are absolutely packed full of stuttering looped drums, clipped vocal samples and a very deft sense of building tension and release, the drums frequently dropping away in tracks like Motivation into a melodramatic hysterical absence until they pound back into your ears with more force than you could possibly have predicted.

Beneath the great effects plastered all over these tracks is the beating heart of a very skilful composer, and its a very consistent release, it barely drops off in quality over the course of its 45 minute runtime. The attention to detail is exquisite; Numb's background swooping flute-line perfectly compliment its head-nodding beats and great vocal sample, while the variety of sources for these samples is astonishing: Realest Alive is a messed-around version of Adele's Hometown Glory, Cold War mixes far-off gunshots with Janelle Monae's instantly recognisable vocals, and (one of many) standout track Illest Alive masterfully implements a sample from Bjork's Bachelorette. These beats always snap and drop in the right places, and this set of tunes is a perfect accompaniment to a heavy summer evening.


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12. Rhythm & Sound – W/ the Artists

(Not the best cover, I know)
King in my empire 

Dub evolved from the stripping away of vocals from reggae tracks for emcees to include their own lyrics or for audience participation on Jamaican soundsystems, and also gave way to the importance of producer as performer raising the fame of the likes of King Tubby and Lee Perry. But dub has always been about contraction, stripping away the excessive noise of reggae to hew a refined, purer expression of the soul of the music; rhythm and sound. Here the Berlin dub duo contract the help of seven of reggae crew The Wackies to superb effect, and provide a pure interpretation of the genre rich in condensed low-end sound and layered vocals.

Every track on this album is an essential dub cut, and the authenticity lent by the original reggae singers brings an enormous amount of feeling to the sparse, echoey soundscapes. Reggae legend Cornel Campbell and songstress Jennifer Lara kick off the LP with two variations on the same track, King In My Empire and Queen In My Empire respectively, and both are fantastic. The emptied soundscapes are not static either, while retaining the warmth and soul always present in even the sparest dub, they accommodate the vocalists flawlessly; stripped down to the core for Paul St. Hilaire's layered vocals in Jah Rule and picking up a more recognisable reggae beat for Shalom's atmospheric We Been Troddin'. You'll come to love every track on this LP, I have a soft spot for Love Joy's emotive turn as the cuckolded narrator of Best Friend but every turn is a triumph, making this one of the best recent dub releases and a fantastic soundtrack to the summer nights.


11. Washed Out – Life of Leisure EP

Feel it all around

Washed Out (or Ernest Greene) is a big cat on the chillwave scene, influencing it heavily from its glo-fi beginnings and in this, his most accomplished work to date (awaiting the new LP due out over the summer), you can easily see why. This EP evokes images of leafing through degrading snapshots of old sunny holidays, gauzy synth-pop cloaked in nostalgia and gorgeously hazy vocals.

The EP is a set of 6 beautiful tracks filtered through an 80s electronic haze; with video-gamey effects punctuating the jaded vocals that slip in and out of comprehensibility. Poppier cuts like New Theory and Lately are approachable and enchanting, while woozy centrepiece Feel It All Around delights with cheap synths and an infectious electronic chord that will haunt you long after the track is over. The range, too, is impressive, Hold Out is a more forceful song that alarms as much as it delights, while gorgeous closer You'll See It races with fluttering melodies and delights with its masterfully subdued production. Everything on this EP is heavily treated and faded away, evoking a nostalgic core that gives it a powerful warmth. Greene also chose to cut most of the tracks short without an outro, giving a pleasingly unfinished and decayed touch to the sounds. Chillwave is one of the most dedicated of summer genres, and this EP is indisputably one of its best moments.


10. Augustus Pablo – King David's Melody

King David's Melody

Dedicated Rastafarian Pablo named this album referencing spiritual leader Haile Selassie's claims to be descended from King David, a man whose flute and harp could soothe the heart and calm the soul. And a more appropriate name would be hard to find, as this is one of the finest and most relaxing dub records you'll find. Pablo's distinctive melodica stakes a claim as primary instrument in each track, but the expert compositions evoke a warmth that ties each track together with a cool vibe that's more self-assured and laid-back than many of his contemporaries.

The album is fantastic to listen to as a whole, lulling you into calm with warm beats and a rich composition that has all the right details. As a result, it's hard to pick out standout tracks. Opener and title track King David's Melody certainly makes you take notice with its grand intro, but quickly shapes up to be a loose and vibrant composition exhibiting all the brilliant aspects to come across the album. Elsewhere Mr. Bassie is a soothingly cheerful track with some great elastic melodica-lines, while penultimate track Cornerstone Dub cements the album title's reference to the king's magically relaxing instruments and Sufferers Trod has an inspired bass part that's a real treat for your speakers. Play this album from start to finish and let it massage your mind into the relaxed stupor that we all really deserve, don't we?


9. The Velvet Underground - Loaded

Who Loves the Sun

No one's going to claim that Loaded is The Velvet Underground's best album. White Light/ White Heat is always going to be their avant-garde masterpiece, and The Velvet Underground and Nico is without a doubt one of the greatest and musically most influential albums ever recorded. But it was on Loaded where The Velvet Underground finally lived up to Lou Reed's claim that they were a “rock'n'roll band from Long Island” - far from levelling this as an insult, I'm just saying this is the only time the band made an unashamedly fun and sunny rock & roll record.

From appropriately sunny opener Who Loves the Sun with its simple but gorgeous construction and brilliantly melodramatic lyrics (“Who loves the sun / who cares that it makes plants grow / who cares what it does since you broke my heart”) to the restrained and beautifully bittersweet closer Oh! Sweet Nuthin' this album shines with the perfect combination of sunny approachability and what can only be called damn good songwriting. Elsewhere I Found A Reason rehashes an old theme with a admirable purity of approach and an uncommon fragility, and tracks like Sweet Jane and Rock & Roll are effectively classics before they've even got going, Reed spitting out lyrical gems at every turn. The album isn't perfect and droops somewhat in the middle, but aside from being a striking turn to the conventional from pretty much the best band ever, it's loads of fun and perfectly suited to soundtrack a carefree summer.


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8. Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté – Ali & Toumani


Ali Farka Touré had quite a life, bridging musical gaps between his native land of Mali and the rest of the world while perfecting a guitar style entirely his own. In this, the last recording he made before his death, he returned to kora player (it's like a harp) Toumani Diabaté, with whom he had recorded once before, to craft an album of rare beauty and intimacy. Although joined by other instrumentalists, this album focusses on the interplay between the two instruments and both are proud masters of their technique and it was recorded over a period of only a few days of improvisation, the production masterfully creating the intimacy of two greats just sitting in a room together having a good time.

Although Farka Touré was close to the end when this was recorded, his guitar style is as unique and hypnotic as ever, and perfectly complimented by Diabaté on the kora, the relationship created between the instruments is something that has to be heard to be believed; such is the emotive power of these mostly instrumental pieces. Opener Ruby is supple and transportative, while in central track Samba Geladio the guitar provides a striking anchor for Diabaté's stunning variations. On tracks like the improvised Fantasy its easy to see how in tune the two are, the instruments dancing across each other as if it was a careful composition. This album is an essential and calming release not just as a beautiful piece of music, but also as the quiet and noble final testament to a truly great musician.


7. Lone – Emerald Fantasy Tracks

Cloud 909

As the only LP on this list from a dedicated dance producer, this album has big shoes to fill. Lone, or Nottingham-based Matt Cutler, has always had a knack for separating his singles and his LPs, the former being a steady stream of hugely gratifying and racing synth-warped house like Pineapple Crush or Once In A While, while the on his albums he has tended to drop the pace ever so slightly to allow an extended listen to his dense sound. This album is no different, and is definitely the best he has produced thus far, blending satisfying beats this pitch-shifted synths reminiscent of what Boards of Canada might do if they produced a dance LP, and the construction of the album staggers as it moves from strength to strength across its 40 minute playtime.

Kicking off with the knowingly-titled Cloud 909, a blend of his dream aesthetic and his game-y effects, straight beats are courted by a wash of off-kilter synths that shines gloriously while remaining utterly danceable. Following track Aquamarine is a similar experience, showing his masterful attention to detail and skill in removing and reintroducing hazy layers at the perfect moment. Moon Beam Harp showcases his consistent ability to create melodies that instantly delight over the top of incredibly proficient texturing, and is followed by the low-key Ultramarine which trades in low-end synth washes and almost-audible vocal sample snatches. What impresses the most about this LP, however, is that when Cutler slows the pace in oriental Rissotowe_4 and stunning closer The Birds Don't Fly This High he still unerringly hits the mark, showing that his tunes are suited as much to the long-player as to high-octane singles. The LP is consistently a joy to hear, and acts as a perfect soundtrack to nights of fresh, woozy summer dancing.


6. Tycho – Past is Prologue


It'd be impossible to review this album and not mention electronic goliaths Boards of Canada: from the pitch-drunk synths to the nostalgic evocations of half-heard vocal samples of educational documentaries, Scott Hansen aka Tycho is definitely treading a similar path. So why, you ask me, would I include this LP on the list when Boards of Canada are so clearly the best at what they do? I would contend that once you get beneath the surface of this glistening and pretty album, it quite rightly holds its own against (although admittedly is not quite in the same league as) any Geogaddi or Music Has The Right To Children. Tycho's sound has more of a summery sheen than BoC's darker output, it smooths out their rough edges and ultimately takes the same ideas into a different musical range.

That's not to say the tracks most similar to BoC are bad – Sunrise Projector fuses off-kilter synths with low-key hip hop beats gracefully, and Dictaphone's Lament's lovely textures are set off by a fantastic bassline. Tycho's production is masterfully detailed; the jingling percussion on PBS sets off the “yeah” vocal samples, the way Brother both leads into and stands pleasingly alone from A Circular Reeducation which in turn delights with a vocal sample that becomes more and more clipped as the song progresses until it fuses beautifully with the beat. The guy is clearly an expert at fixing his sounds so they never fail to meld together into a beautiful whole. And when he does move away from these familiar styles, such as in the fluttering synths of PBS and the fantastic near-drum and bass percussion of title track Past Is Prologue, his skill and worth is clearly apart from BoC. The ambient soundscapes never less than carry the beats beautifully, and the album is instantly a deeply enjoyable listen that will carry you away into an electronic dream-world across many a summer afternoon, if you let it.


5. Peaking Lights – 936

All the Sun That Shines

With their western-dub aesthetic, Peaking Lights' new album was a shoe-in for a top five spot in this list. Combining sinuous and addictive basslines with faded vocals and bouncing drum machines, in 936 Peaking Lights nail an atmosphere and stay there, exploring different variations on a chilled and melodic theme. Husband and wife duo Aaron Coyes and Indra Dunis have crafted one of the most simultaneously mellow and musically interesting albums released in a good while, and it doesn't sound quite like anything else.

After short atmospheric introduction Synthy, Peaking Lights set up their layers one by one: in standout track All The Sun That Shines we get a bouncing drum rhythm, followed by a simple but infinitely replayable and alluring bassline, topped off about a minute in by the single line of gauzy vocals, the textures are exquisitely moulded and the fusion of dub instrumental and pop sensibility is carried off without a flaw. They run quite a gamut of atmospheres across the 8 tracks, from dark and sensual Tiger Eyes (Laid Back) to extraordinary low-end centrepiece Birds of Paradise to the poppy and perfect Key Sparrow with its wonky piano melody, they give you a lot to love. The songs are rich, drenched in reverb and gorgeous low-end rhythms and densely layered without ever being less than fantastically listenable. This is an essential album for summer days and nights alike, and without a doubt one of the best albums released this year so far.


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4. The Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin

Feeling Yourself Disintegrate

This is one of the straightest and most accessible albums on this list. That's no crime, I don't discriminate based on ease, and Wayne Coyne and co. ought to receive credit for an achievement like this; an experimental rock album that vocalises ideas like the importance of love and hope that far from resorting to cliché or masking these themes, positively screams them out in a fantastic album that is without doubt one of the best rock releases of the last few decades. The style is more familiar now than it was on release; great riffs and lyrics combined with a huge and dense array of sound veering from vocoders to piano to synths to some brilliant old-fashioned harmonising. In essence this is almost a pop record, the songs are irrefutably catchy and open; but it is the sincerity of the instrumentation and lyrics along with a gorgeously detailed soundscape that sets it apart.

Almost every track on the album is a winner. Anthemic opener Race for the Prize is irresistibly sunny and weird in the good old-fashioned way, with a straight-up riff playing right into a chorus that expresses hope and humanity in simple terms without ever touching on cliché. In continuation A Spoonful Weighs a Ton glitters with piano and shimmering strings before exploding halfway through into a booming squelch that is playful and inventive, before seeping back into what came before. It's not easy to describe in words the brilliance of these tracks, and in writing they sound fairly standard, but the sheer exuberance and excitement of the instrumentations and Coyne's straining vocals will win you over straight away. The album continues with superb highlight The Spark That Bled that glitters ephemerally to Coyne's curiously oblique and profound lyrics “I accidentally touched my head / and noticed that I had been bleeding / for how long I didn't know” before rising strings break down into a straight-out bass groove that is pure audio ecstasy leading into the euphoric chorus line “I stood up and I said yeah” that has to be heard to be understood.

But what makes this album so special is after this run of brilliant anthems it plays around, and it does it a lot and to ceaselessly brilliant effect. Tracks like The Observer toy with differently paced instrumentals and booming beats in a one-two punch that consolidates any ideas that the music here is clearly just as important as the lyrics, while preceding cut What Is The Light? shifts from a stark beat to one of the albums most uplifting moments. Feeling Yourself Disintegrate (incidentally one of my favourite song titles) opens with a brilliant breath-note that switches between left and right audio lines to gorgeous effect before moving into a subdued and melancholic tune that never loses the charm of other tracks. Most surprising of all is that a few tracks on this album are deeply moving, Waitin' for a Superman expresses the need everyone has sometimes for a hero to lift them from the darkest of times with profoundly simple lyrics; “Is it getting heavy / I thought it was already as heavy as can be”, a quote from a conversation Coyne had with his brother about their father's imminent death- at the same time its a light and infectious song, this tension only increasing the emotive effect. Even more affecting is early track The Spiderbite Song which deals with drummer Steve Drozd's 'spiderbite' (trackmarks from a heroin addiction which threatened to take his arm) and bassist Michael Ivin's near-death experience in a car crash, to which all Coyne has to say is “cuz if it destroyed you / it would destroy me”, the purity of these lyrics is rare and deserves a great deal of respect.

The album ends in a dignified fashion with synthy instrumental Sleeping On the Roof, and you're left wondering what you've just experienced, and it will almost definitely require an immediate second listen just to get more shear enjoyment from this dense and moving tracks. This album is an incredibly rare release that is sunny and catchy without losing any artistic integrity, in fact utilising pop sensibilities to create moving contrasts that never weigh too heavily upon the listener. An endlessly rewarding and enjoyable album, it would fit right in on any summer's day.


3. Fennesz – Endless Summer

Endless Summer

This choice represents a departure from my motives for choosing the albums for this list so far. This album will not be a good one to play at the beach, or while hanging with friends in the heavy evenings; this album evokes a very different side of summer, drenched in electronic hiss and glitchy interruptions, it'd probably be best suited to a good set of headphones watching the sunset on a long walk. The album demands that you pay it your full attention. But not every acutely seasonal album has to express exactly what you'd expect, the washes of static do evoke rolling waves, the few glorious seconds Fennesz allows the untreated guitar to emerge from the fuzz every so often are deeply moving and sound just like the sun coming out at the perfect moment. For anyone with the faintest interest in electronic and ambient music, it will be clear (and not just from the title) that this is a profoundly beautiful album that has been constructed with summer in mind, this is essentially The Beach Boys boiled down to a hiss and the composition is uncommonly excellent.

After a-melodic and glitchy Made In Hong Kong makes the bridge from Fennesz' previous more challenging album to this one, title track Endless Summer introduces itself with something infrequently heard in albums this precise and intensely electronic; an untreated guitar, right down to the scrape of fingers changing chords. Fennesz melds the analogue and the digital consistently with a dexterity that never ceases to be both inventive and amazing. The album is bursting with gorgeously detailed tracks that are almost all highlights, A Year In A Minute and Got To Move On are coarser and glitchier, with static rips veiling and unveiling the analogue noise as if it is always masked, you can never get too close, evoking a desperate longing in the soundscape.

Meanwhile Caecilia adds a marimba to the distorted guitar riff that offsets the ringing synths that are allowed to fuse for a brief moment towards the end of the track before fading out as the guitar becomes looped and stuck, the song has run its course and now it is allowed to decay. Shisheido is as pretty as the album comes, allowing whole sounds to penetrate the prickly soundfield, while the significantly different Before I Leave engages rapidly repeated piano tones that penetrate a sparse ambient soundscape like light playing across glass. The album closes with the decaying loop of Happy Audio, destroying itself until all that is left is a stuttering drone. This is an album of rare beauty and compositional skill, and although its not to be broken out at parties, it is relentlessly brilliant and can be enjoyed almost infinitely due to its astute attention to detail. Fennesz is not making an LP of summer anthems, these are the distorted emotions of faded memories and incomprehensible distance, and it is begging to be heard.


2. The Avalanches – Since I Left You

Frontier Psychiatrist

I found it incredibly difficult to choose between the first and second places in this list. I think that ultimately I prefer this album to the number one spot, but nothing can quite beat the album below for summer suitability. Released at the end of 2000, Since I Left You was an artistic statement that pretty much summed up the ten years of music to follow. The album is entirely crafted out of over 3500 samples from other records, and though it's not unique in this respect, it easily places alongside the other masterpiece of sampling, DJ Shadow's moody instrumental hip hop album, Endtroducing. This was an all-encompassing statement of the future made of fractured pieces of the past, vaguely recognisable samples blurring past you at all points on this mind-boggling album. The producers Robbie Chater and Darren Seltmann have an astonishing natural proficiency at blending samples of styles from all different genres, and it's not difficult to see the work and skill that has gone into the LP.

It doesn't feel natural to break this album down into tracks, as is so necessary in a music review. As a whole it is a dance album, a party album, a chill-out album, a moving album, but most of all a consistently and ferociously enjoyable album. It can be all of these things because it is everything; including samples from almost every genre and country imaginable and fusing them into something that is simply perfect, there are no other words for it. Utterly timeless, the album sounds as fresh and exciting as it did when first released, and although it feels wrong I'll attempt to explain some highlights. Title track and opener Since I Left You is one of the most uplifting tracks in existence, rising flutes accompany simple harmonies and an infectious beat which all lays the ground for the simple vocal sample “Since I left you / I found a world so new” that adds a touch of melancholy to the summery track. The perfect interlacing of samples creates a power that is utterly transcendent, this track is a bittersweet emotion so powerful that words haven't been invented to describe it yet. The darker variations on the title track in Stay Another Season blitzes past beautifully with a gorgeous melodic addition of what sounds like a harp, into the pounding beats of Radio, the chilled vibes of Two Hearts in ¾ Time, all lying under melodic, pitched-up vocal snatches. Sounds repeat throughout the album, predicting and echoing tracks that have blazed past you. You almost recognise everything on this album, but it always presents itself as something new, greater than its individual parts could ever have been.

I could go on forever, but suffice to say the range on offer here is beyond brilliant. There is a particularly spectacular run towards the end of the album encompassing Electricity's hard-nosed, choppy funk moving fluidly into Tonight's off-kilter piano loops and leaving us with the storming brilliance of Frontier Psychiatrist which samples, out of anything, the Divine lines from a John Waters film to a swirling blur of hard-hitting beats and blistering horns. Later, Live at Dominoes contorts woozy treated samples around a regular beat and a vocoded voice degrades itself before your ears, before gorgeous closer Extra Kings harks back to the statement we've been longing to hear- “Ever since the day I left you” and the album has come to a glorious full-circle, ready to throw on once more for the top – and believe me, you will want to.

I haven't had space to really say anything about this album, and that fact makes me think perhaps its particular effect can't be explained in words. The album as a whole constitutes a richly, lusciously detailed piece of work that would be stellar even if it wasn't somehow made from thousands of samples. I've barely touched on half the tracks and failed to mention the other half, but there isn't a note worth passing over on this LP. It's always too much to take in, and that's the way it should be. “Tonight may have to last me all my life” a woman's voice sings somewhere far off on Tonight, and if that was my position now, I know what album I'd be listening to.


1. Primal Scream – Screamadelica

Come Together

What else was really going to occupy the top spot of this list? Screamadelica is the essential summer album, no more really needs to be said. But for the purposes of fairness, I'll go ahead. Before this album, Primal Scream were your average stoner-rock group, and then enter king of 90s dance Andy Weatherall who blurred boundaries that people weren't even aware of, fusing the best bits of rock with house and acid-dance euphoria and crafting this unequivocal masterpiece. The sun blazes from every corner of this album, the iconic cover art even looks a bit like a sun, a bit like a face. The album sounds a bit like dance, a bit like rock. You can listen to it while up dancing at 4am or chilling out in the early afternoon. By straddling all these divides, Screamadelica turns out to be an endlessly adaptive and musically flawless album.

Opener Movin' On Up fuses house beats, rock guitar, and pure rave piano into a conventional song structure, all overlaid with Bobby Gillespie's fantastic vocals that could be called those of a really enthusiastic stoner. From the first beat it's a classic 90s anthem, topped in this respect perhaps only by Loaded, a later cut that introduces itself with Peter Fonda's now-famous vocal sample before launching into one of the most euphoric tracks ever recorded. The horns blare out to the gospel backing “I've gone all delusional” - if these stripped house beats and groovy basslines are delusion then I want in, the track is no-holds-barred delight from beginning to end. Slip Inside This House is another classic, moving much more into acid territory with trippy slide guitars and drugged-out vocals all tied together with the beats and piano that give this album coherence and listenability. But even when these elements are stripped away, the results are still fantastic. Don't Fight It, Feel It is essentially rave goes pop, a woman's vocals masking a dirty bassline and clipped vocal samples with rare force and style. The beautifully textured layers of guitar breakdowns and piano come in at just the right moment, and it's the most obviously danceable track on the album.

The thing about this album is they just get everything right. Their more clearly drug-referencing cuts such as Inner Flight, which is a glistening and cracked out instrumental journey, and the dub symphony second Higher Than The Sun track, an unnerving and compelling electronic odyssey, are never too weird to be enjoyed by anyone, nor too conventional to ever stop feeling fresh. This is not to discount the earlier version of Higher Than The Sun, which basically tracks a series of emotional highs and lows all by itself, culminating in one of the most euphoric sounds I've ever heard in the form of a searing horn that can't support its own weight and is dragged back down into an harsh, acidic comedown. Acoustic track Damaged is a love story told with heartbreaking simplicity by Gillespie, you'll be singing along before you even know the words (“my, my, my”) and other notably downbeat track I'm Comin' Down is gloriously evocative of its title, sailing on downplayed percussion and synths that flit over a sparse soundscape occasionally penetrated by a gorgeous saxophone. The track closes with female vocal sample “yeah, I know that feeling”, a perfect touch that is one of hundreds of brilliant tiny details across the album. This is truly an album that could be enjoyed by anyone, while showcasing enough musical proficiency to impress anyone with its poppy aesthetic that makes it endlessly replayable and enjoyable.

This is all not even mentioning the fantastic slow-burn album standout, centrepiece Come Together, which builds over a vocal sample, slowly adding layers in several distinct movements that is each as satisfying and ebullient as the last, the track could literally go on forever and I don't think I would have any complaints. That this album sounds so fresh after 20 years is yet more testament to its brilliance, a drug-inflected acid-pop odyssey that practically radiates sunshine constantly throughout its hour-long course. And in the tradition of the perfect album, that hour is never long enough.


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Friday, 17 June 2011

Feature: Summer - Playlists


On Melancholy Hill – Gorillaz
Two Weeks – Grizzly Bear
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots – Flaming Lips
Haiti – Arcade Fire
Never Stops – Deerhunter
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea – Neutral Milk Hotel
What Would I Want? Sky – Animal Collective
Bros – Panda Bear
Do You Realize?? - Flaming Lips
Good Intentions Paving Company – Joanna Newsom
Silver Soul – Beach House
May I Walk With You? - Star Slinger
West Side – The Studio
Elastic Reality (Deep Dish Does X Mix) – Casa De
When I Grow Up (Version by Lissvik) – Fever Ray
Joanna – Superpitcher
Dictaphone's Lament – Tycho
Key Sparrow – Peaking Lights
Too High To Move – Quiet Village
Mornin' – Star Slinger
New Theory – Washed Out
Round and Round – Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
Plain Material – Memory Tapes
New Beat – Toro Y Moi
Despicable Dogs – Small Black
Bicycle – Memory Tapes
Live In Dreams – Wild Nothing
Feel It All Around – Washed Out
Loaded – Primal Scream
Just Like Heaven – The Cure
The Village Green Preservation Society – The Kinks
Sunday Morning – Velvet Underground
Waterfall – Stone Roses
Feel Flows – Beach Boys
Time of the Season – Zombies
Who Loves the Sun – Velvet Underground

In this first and biggest playlist I've arranged a great selection of tracks for just chilling out in the day, classic summer music essentially. Kicking off with Gorillaz' impossibly sunny On Melancholy Hill, the first few tracks are indie-rock classics that scream summer, from the pristine piano of Grizzly Bear's Two Weeks to Animal Collective's glorious sample of The Grateful Dead in What Would I Want? Sky, by way of a few of my very favourite artists, Joanna Newsom, Beach House and Panda Bear.
Star Slinger's effortlessly catchy May I Walk With You? starts off the second section of more dancey and electro-infused cuts, veering between the house and dub-tinged cuts of Casa De, Superpitcher and Peaking Lights and the balearic swoons of The Studio (whose D. Lissvik crafted the marvellous Fever Ray remix also selected) and Quiet Village's inspired vocal track, all rounded off with another classic Star Slinger track, the shining Mornin'.
The next phase is a set of some of the best chillwave of the last few years, a genre evoking too-bright snapshots of summers past through Washed Out's brilliant disco cuts, and Wild Nothing and Memory Tapes' mellower reflections on music past.
From here we go to some classic summer anthems from some real oldies; from some incredibly famous tracks of Primal Scream, The Cure and The Stone Roses to some real gems from The Velvet Underground and The Beach Boys (including the hilarious Kinks track lampooning the conservative British villages of the time). So lay back and get listening.

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