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Saturday, 18 June 2011

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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