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White Noise: October 2011

Monday, 31 October 2011

Damu – Unity



Ridin' The Hype (Feat. Trim)

If anything, 2011 has been most clearly marked by the emergent bass scene and the stratospheric rise of electronic atmospheric artists, and it is the haughty company of the latter that Damu seeks to join. The year has seen brilliant LPs from the likes of Rustie, Balam Acab and Nicolas Jaar preach the cinematic to dancier contemporaries, and Damu’s debut is technically great, but begs the question- does he have a distinctive enough artistic voice to join these ranks?

Before I answer that, I’d like to take a closer look at the tracks themselves, and how Damu has chosen to translate his early promise on the Mermaid and Ridin’ EPs into a full-length debut. It’s clear from the off that the most distinctive traits of his glittering sound are all present; iridescent synths, scattered and textured percussion, with some well-employed RnB samples littering the field. The sound is shown off well in the first few tracks; second cut Breathless is as vibrant as they come. An Amerie sample (recently heard in Jacques Greene’s What U R) and rushing instrumentals are engineered into a pacey tune, and showcase gloriously Damu’s ability to use a few colourful and intoxicating elements to conjure a sunny and irresistible groove. The same great sense of pacing is evident on the opposite end of the album, where Plasm rushes similarly but with darker synths rising to a fever pitch before dissolving in fuzz.

The first three proper tracks all offer the same approach as Breathless, such as After Indigo’s bassy dreamscape and the gorgeous L.O.V.E, in which scifi synths stabs and bouncy steel drums simmer under a lovely vocal sample. These sun-drenched compositions are irresistibly happy, and there’s enough know-how under the hood to make them equally worthy of the listener’s respect for Damu’s production prowess. Elsewhere straight-up dance number Ridin The Hype remixes one of Damu’s earlier releases with Trim’s deep vocals matched well by Damu’s energetic and shimmering sounds. The track shows this elastic instrumentation at its best; discrete melodies and shifting percussion puncture the soundfield perfectly and create a surprisingly cohesive whole.

This surprising level of cohesion is appreciated, and in fact a lot of Unity may come as a bit of a surprise to the listener. Beyond his sunny sounds the back end of the album offers some excellent cuts, from Plasm’s thrills to Ether, which  is a perfect example of how Damu makes a track airy and otherworldly while still being eminently danceable. Meanwhile closer Don’t Cry In My Bed is so energetic and lively with its RnB inflections and Dead Prez sampling that it’s an utter joy to hear.

Unfortunately, sometimes these surprises don’t really work in Damu’s favour. Brief interlude Weapon #3 hints at a darker tone to follow but isn’t really solid enough to denote the drastic change in tone that occurs midway through the LP. Next is the dark and mechanical Maths Is Fine For Sum, which builds from a near-ambient intro into a tumbling and surprisingly deft slice of 2step, reminiscent of early Aphex Twin. Following this is the similar Cheat When U Compete where bright synths invade a dark dubstep landscape, and here Damu appropriates his distinctive RnB vocals and locates them here where they sound lost and paranoid in the mix. It’s a clever move and these darker numbers are surprisingly technically proficient considering how drastically different they are, but they feel a tad soulless and generic to me. It’s almost as if in stretching to encompass more styles; these darker techno takes, the sub-Zomby synths of Waterfall of Light, he loses his voice somewhat. Creating music is always a case of balancing light and dark and, seeing that the opening and closing tracks are the strongest here (excepting midway standout Ridin The Hype), it seems Damu is far more at home and confident in the light.

I feel that Damu may have spread himself a little thin in terms of the ambition of this LP. He tries a lot of different tones and styles and they’re all fairly well produced, but generally its only the ones that mine his distinctive sound that feel special. Elsewhere, although these are richly layered tracks they can end up sounding a little thin and weightless, similar to a problem I had with SBTRKT’s self-titled LP earlier this year. I think the main reason that these stylistic variations don’t quite work is because when he goes beyond his distinctive style one is forced to ask whether these tracks actually sound particularly different from what others are doing, and the answer is that they don’t quite sound different enough. There’s a lot of Kimbie-esque percussion, Zomby-like synths and Rustie levels of energy and it means Damu’s voice isn’t wholly distinctive in Unity, and as a complete album experience it suffers considerably because of this.

I definitely don’t mean to say that Unity isn’t worth listening to, because it really is. Breathless, L.O.V.E, Ridin The Hype and Don’t Cry In My Bed are all fantastic tracks, and there are quite a few quality tunes besides. This is a very well-produced but not entirely individual debut LP that showcases an artist who doesn’t seem to be 100% sure what kind of music he wants to be making, and for an album called Unity this feels slightly disconcerting. But when all’s said and done, if there are tracks as good as some of these it’s hard to care too much about these missteps – this is effortlessly enjoyable and energetic music that is always surprising, and crucially Damu gets a lot more right than he does wrong.


Sunday, 30 October 2011

Video of the Week: Shlohmo – Sink

I’m surprised it’s already been a month since I started this little side project. To celebrate, I think we should take a little step into the stranger side of home-made fan videos. Here are some gorgeous and intriguing visuals set to one of my favourite tracks of the year, Shlohmo’s lush and blissed-out Sink.

The chilled out grooves commence in time with an intriguing artistic procedure; faces forming and seemingly building themselves up with flowing paint in stop motion. The beautiful colours and textures on display match Shlohmo’s intensely lush sound perfectly, while showing the artistic process reflects the analogue qualities to his sound; record hiss and percussive clicks. As the fantastic Oriental flute melodies unfold, the scene elaborates; cut-outs swirl in hypnotic liquid and faces construct and deconstruct themselves before your eyes. The screen becomes more and more crowded with colours, hands and objects, paper cut-outs are dragged across the ground, characters sketch themselves into existence with exuberance. The editing throughout is superb, creating an entirely unique vision that accompanies the song flawlessly. It’s a homage to artistic process and individual vision, and it’s absolutely beautiful to watch. Enjoy!

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Friday, 28 October 2011

BNJMN – Black Square

Primal Pathways

Open The Floodgates

Bournemouth-based producer Benjamin Thomas has had a very busy year. Coming to the fore through last years Blocks, his debut LP on esteemed Dutch label Rush Hour was a curio; a collection of introverted tracks that felt both indebted to the future and the past, not to mention one of the most interesting releases of the year. So how could BNJMN follow this logically, and even harder, in such a short space of time? He looked outwards. On Black Square, Thomas presents the listener with a glittering collection of immaculately sculpted electronic tracks that are far more accessible than on Plastic World, but they don’t suffer from this accessibility at all. He uses dance tropes; bassy percussion, techno effects, to craft cerebral electronic compositions rather than dancefloor stompers, and every one of these tracks is a beautiful little world to explore.

The compositions on offer here are so lush and varied that it’s impossible to get bored. Take second cut Primal Pathways, in which low-key clattering percussion contrasts with a searing synthline, the two elements coming together in epic fashion towards the close. Every few moments there’s another sound to enjoy and explore that it makes each of these tracks a real joy to listen to again and again. Furthermore there is a fantastic sense of range from one track to the next; each gives you a lot to chew on and is entirely different from the others. To his credit, there is no direct emotional suggestions in these tunes, tracks like River Way and Black Square leave the listener to make their own associations. When a mood does become clear, such as the powerful Wisdom of Uncertainty, in which tumultuous loops sizzle against alien percussion and invasive synth stabs, it is only to drastically heighten the atmosphere, leaving this as a forcefully paranoid track.

Another interesting aspect of Thomas’ work is his reluctance to use vocals. This conflicts sharply with the sample-heavy dance scene of today, and makes the tracks far more ambiguous as there are no lyrics or vocal tones to tell the listener how to feel. When they are used, as in the fantastic vocal loop running intermittently through thrumming Keep The Power Out, they are twisted and looped almost beyond recognition as human voices to great effect, here sounding like the continuous wash of the titular flowing current. Elsewhere Open The Floodgates is an intricately produced techno stomper, with a solid 4/4 rooting bubbly synths, and it wouldn’t sound out of place in a dark Berlin dancefloor.

There are two remarkable things about the sounds that Thomas produces. The first is the range of these compositions, both compared to each other and inside their own structures. Each spans its own journey, with melodic lines occasionally appearing briefly before receding. They rarely settle into samey loops because Thomas adds so much detail, resulting in beautifully organic compositions. However there is always a central sound that anchors the track together, like Lava’s shimmering melodic line. A perfect example of this range is standout title track Black Square, in which new loops and textures form an evenly paced, low-key techno affair that builds to an explosive firework display of soaring synths, liquid bubbling and that all-consuming mechanical whir that holds the track together. The other notable aspect is the shear breadth of noises he ekes from his machines; wonderful beats, dehumanised vocals and most distinctively of all; scorching, too-bright synthlines that streak burnt trails across the sound, recurring throughout the LP. This all comes together to create a wholly immersive landscape through his rich and unique array of sounds.

If there is any downside to this collection, it is its brevity, both as an LP and in terms of each track. The tunes often sound like richly textured but incredibly short techno tracks, with all the progression of a nine-minute slowburner packed into four minutes or less. Personally, I like the decision to keep them concise, but it may bother others that the tunes are so densely layered if they prefer a slower techno progression. The real downside is that occasionally these feel like sketches rather than tracks (you hear that, Zomby?), for example River Way, one of the most promising compositions, ends just after a minute of playtime. I’m willing to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt here and say that I like them as intended, and on the plus side for the majority of the time the short run-time works perfectly, as on haunting beatless closer Hallowed.  What does really feel a shame is that there are only nine tracks here, the whole lot clocks in just after half an hour, and it would be lovely to have more to enjoy. At least it’s not a huge problem, because the arrangements present are interesting and varied enough to keep revisiting.

I wasn’t expecting anything stunning when I first listened to this LP; but stunning is exactly what I found. These tunes are unique and cerebral, and each has the real power to transport the listener. Black Square is a lovely surprise; a concise set of glittering musical gems, discrete and polished, and each a joy to explore.


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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Feature: Artist Spotlight - Disclosure

The Free EP

Whole EP stream

Although Disclosure’s free EP was released about 4 months ago, I never got round to reviewing it, and having unearthed it recently on my iPod, I think this little collection really deserves a review. Better late than ever eh? Disclosure are south London brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, and with this free EP they really introduced themselves to the dance world with a bang rather than a whimper. The duo make pretty clear-cut bass music, with airy synths and swirling vocal samples, but they’ve managed to establish a distinctive sound and an incredibly impressive consistency of quality in their few releases, and there’s no better place to start than this EP.

Opener Carnival is a Technicolor mission statement, building from record hiss and a looped synth line into a vibrant beast of a track with great garage rhythms, quickly setting itself apart from similar songs through tight production and an irresistible energy that should get anyone moving. Although the first and last tracks on the EP, released as a double A-side earlier this year, have got more press than any of their other tracks, that’s not to say the rest is merely filler. Both My Intention Is War! and the stellar Blue You cut up lilting vocal lines before exploding into fantastic cuts of bass; the former dropping into a gorgeous groove, and the latter lifting off into woozy synths and on-point vocal samples.  

Just Your Type unfurls slowly through bubbling synths and textured percussion to a great release where a dirty vocal line contrasts with airy synths and quickfire snares. All five of these tracks are great dance tunes, but it’s the last that really takes the top spot for me. i love...that you know is without a doubt one of my favourite tracks of the year, fizzing into life with a dizzying synth line and relaxing vibes. It’s an odd mix, not quite dance (maybe a set-closer) and not quite home-listening, but the track is simply extraordinary. The sound is so detailed and all the surprisingly disparate elements complement each other so perfectly, resulting in a lush and atmospheric track that I find it almost impossible to stop listening to.

With this small but fully-formed collection Disclosure have certainly put their names on the map, and every one of these tracks is a gorgeous piece of bass ripe for dancing. Debut EPs are rarely this consistent and skilful.


Recent remixes

Since these tracks, Disclosure haven’t put out any more solo material, but they have dropped a few excellent remixes, which I’ll take a little look at here.

Work it out

Their recent ‘Booty Call’ edit of Q-Tip’s Work It Out turns the much-remixed track into a soulful dance cut, overlaying a great female vocal line with a choppy wobble and their trademark bubbling and beeping synth noises.

The pair do even better in their recent remix of Jack Dixon’s slow and funky Coconuts. This is a totally smooth rework, taking Dixon’s vocal line all the way to the top and unleashing a bass cut with that same ineffable energy, wrapping smooth chords and RnB sounds in the very real warmth that their tracks somehow always exude.

Disclosure haven’t released that much so far, but their star has been rising for over a year now and it’s easy to see why: the sheer warmth and energy of these tracks is wonderful, and they just keep getting it right with every release. I can’t wait to see what the pair of them get up to next.

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Monday, 24 October 2011

Tycho – Dive

A Walk



It’s been a long time since Scott Hansen’s last LP as Tycho, 2006’s Past Is Prologue. It was also a criminally overlooked release, not found on any review sites at the time (so I was like, totally there first), but the point here is that it’s an album I hold quite dear. For me Past Is Prologue is one of those records that is by no means perfect but keeps you coming back year after year, because nothing else feels quite like it. His music courts subtle emotions at a restrained distance, allowing the listener to draw associations for themselves; and Dive is once more a soundtrack that you can set to anything you choose, a product that is only complete in the listening by the subjective associations that it draws. Perhaps this is true of all music, but it strikes me as particularly true of these lush ambient compositions.

With Dive Tycho moves further away from the Boards of Canada comparisons that (slightly unfairly) haunted his debut, crafting a smooth and propulsive journey that is utterly his own. He has created a very beautiful and distinctive sound for himself and across this LP he mines it thoroughly, generally layering a shifting ambient wash with hip-hop or IDM beats and woozy pitchshifting synth melodies. This is a very organic sound, and as indicated by the title it reflects water in a lot of ways; actual samples, feelings of submersion and emergence, and eerily on-point aural calls to the feel of the sun on your skin, the undulating water and the crimson sky at sunset. Forgive me for being over-poetic, but this is poetic music, and it conjures very strong imagery. Added to this, his evocative titles give you a jumping off point to lose yourself in these tunes, as with the lullaby-esque Daydream’s ability to sweep you away.

Most of the tracks on offer here are stunning in their own right. Opener A Walk is one of my favourites, building on beautifully placid synths, immersing the listen in the half-breath samples and woozy beats, finally breaking through the surface with guitars and synths moulded fluidly. It highlights another particular success of Tycho’s, the complete fluency between acoustic and electronic instrumentation, no mean feat, which is present across the board on this album. Second cut Hours is a perfect example of everything that Tycho does best; hard-hitting beats, lush and detailed synths and that all-important hazy sheen that makes his tracks just so intoxicating.

It’s this very sheen that prompted a friend of mine to suggest that these tracks sound a little Easy Listening, but I think that could hardly be further from the truth. For me, this polished veneer is exactly what makes these songs sound unique; this album is full of cerebral tunes that engage curious corners of your mind, and a smoothing is necessary to create a sort of sunny distance that allows these compositions to completely hypnotise the listener. The precisely oriented sounds slip in and out of your consciousness; Ambient in Eno’s very definition of the sense (beats not withstanding). Yet still if you’re not in it for such an intense listen, this LP proves relaxing but gorgeously nuanced background music, and the sharp beats stop it from ever getting too boring or anaesthetized.

But if you do want to listen carefully to these songs, there’s so much to discover from both a technical and an emotional standpoint. The subtle chord changes, textured percussion and intricately layered synths will always give the interested listener more than enough to chew on. Take title track Dive; there is the ever-shifting percussion, the rushing aquatic effect heard just once before the 4-minute mark, the treated pitchshifting towards the end – if you enjoy taking the music you listen to apart it’s fascinating to work out how Tycho weaves these sounds together so deftly.

As the album progresses, the tone shifts somewhat. After the pacey postpunk bassline and (appropriately) soaring synths of the lovely Ascension, the following tracks take a darker tack. It’s a good move, too, because if it weren’t for this emotional redirection it could all come off as a little one-note. Melanine combines a brooding guitar melody with spacey synths in a near-beatless space to great effect, and follow-up Adrift is a definite album highlight; evoking its title adeptly with a lilting beat and swirling synthlines that part, cloud-like, to reveal a gorgeous guitar melody. The final tracks form a pretty one-two closer; Epigram is a short but sweet instrumental and the stunning Elegy is a slow-burn that combines all of Tycho’s best sounds with an achingly longing guitar refrain.

Although I really adore Tycho’s sound and admire his unique take on Ambient, that's not to say I don't have any gripes with Dive. Firstly there is the fact that most of these tracks have appeared in various forms in Tycho’s smaller releases over the last few years, and while most people won’t have known this and it shouldn’t really affect how the LP is judged, it’s still a little disappointing to not get a whole lot of new material. On the plus side, some of the older stuff has been reworked or remastered well, especially the great percussive outro added to Daydream which takes the track from a pretty interlude to an involving journey. The other issue is that, for a hardened Electronic music fan, there isn’t a great deal of range on offer here. Similar sounds are used again and again, and while this isn’t unusual in Ambient fields, Dive is just as much an instrumental hip hop album and so in some respect is suffers for a lack of variety. I can’t help but sometimes feel that the music could occasionally move beyond its allocated boundaries in terms of the sounds used. This won’t be a big problem for those, like me, who are so in love with Tycho’s hypnotic sound that they can just sink into it, but for those looking for a challenging or diverse listen this isn’t a particularly bountiful offering.

Minor problems aside, Dive deserves all the acclaim that its predecessor never received, and I hope it will help to put Hansen’s name more concretely on the map. After all, this is a consistently masterful collection of hypnotic and relaxing tracks of uncommon beauty, and it deserves to be heard.


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Sunday, 23 October 2011

Video of the Week: The Avalanches - Since I Left You

For the third weekly video instalment, I’ve picked pretty much my very favourite video, for what is essentially my very favourite song. For me, this video constitutes a wonderful idea that has been executed flawlessly and, crucially, adds a whole new dimension to the music without removing any of its original qualities. So follow the story and enjoy!

After the first time I watched this video I found myself wanting to watch it again almost immediately. 
We are essentially confronted by two people in a desperate situation who are faced with death. As the voice rings out 'welcome to paradise' they catch a glimpse and enter this other world, a shining dancehall with a dusty, aged quality. It feels like a space beyond space and time, added to the fact that this afterlife is shown in colour throughout, and 'real life' relegated to black and white. At the opening and close of the video there is a birdcage, an important symbol which I feel reflects one man's journey through transcending life, leaving the cage, and the decision of the other to stay. One miner begins to dance, tentatively at first but quickly gaining skills and soon after the judges are impressed and he seems very happy. Meanwhile, the miner who did not choose this death stands by the side simply playing the tambourine. One could say the dancing miner has indeed 'found a world so new' in opening himself up to a possibility, and it is a beautiful idea to make this moment of perfect happiness a scene of a death. The video combines human joy in spontaneity, sweetly pitched questions on the afterlife, and the universal love of dance to craft something truly extraordinary.

Pitchfork commented that like their music, this video “is about transforming the disparate and the out-of-place into something new and joyful”, and I couldn’t agree more; the incongruous miners mimic the strange samples blended into a smooth whole throughout their landmark LP. This is a beautifully simple, optimistic and touching video that I’ve rewatched so many times but has never once lost its power or sweetness. I really hope you enjoy it, see you next week with a new video.

Previous videos:

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Friday, 21 October 2011

Jacques Greene – Greene01

What U R
I Like You


Jacques Greene has spent the best part of a year ruling the bass scene roost, through an excellent series of EPs (including potential track of the year Another Girl) which fuse airy and melodic bass with a whole host of sexy RnB vocal tracks. On Greene01, a super-limited edition White Label release that we were quick enough to get our hands on, he proves once more (as if he needed to) that he’s top dog, with three absolutely superb slices of bassy goodness.

For any followers of Greene, it will come as no surprise that this EP wasn’t crafted for A-side abuse, because it’s practically impossible to pick a favourite out of these three fantastic tunes. Lead track What U R runs precise percussion alongside bubbling synths and a great Amerie sample. The cut exudes sensuality, replete with Amerie’s moans and repeated ‘Ooh so sexual, that’s what you are’, but Greene does well to not let the tune slip into a vocal lightweight. Instead he tightens the instrumentation and creates a great contrast between on-point bass mechanics and intoxicating vocals. Second cut I Like You is probably my favourite of the bunch, sampling a slo-mo Will Ferrel, of all people, alongside clipped percussion and a great melodic line. Midway through the track a shimmering synthline emerges through the ether, casting an almost unbearably euphoric light upon the track, and eventually it settles into an irresistibly bouncy tune.

Both tracks showcase Greene’s unerring skill at implementing deft percussion and samples against showstopping synth melodies, resulting in tracks which it’s near impossible not to love. Out of all three of these excellent tracks, however, it’s maybe the third cut, the Kelly Rowland remix Motivation that shines brightest. Here the vocal line is centre-stage and its simply gorgeous, playing against shuttering percussion and starry synths. It’s the space allowed to the vocal line that makes this track so perfect, and I fully expect the track to continue taking a prominent spot in many a DJ’s repertoire for the year to come.

I had the great chance to see Greene DJ at Point FMR in Paris a couple of weeks ago, and it goes without saying these tracks are even more sublime in the club setting. Everything Greene puts out is almost so on-point it hurts, and this EP represents the most complete and fantastic release he’s come out with so far. The bass scene’s star is still rising, and with these tracks it’s clear that there’s no one better to lead the pack.


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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Martyn – Ghost People

Whole album stream

I’ve always had a soft spot for Dutch producer Martyn. From his DnB beginnings to his phenomenal dubstep-inflected debut album Great Lengths, his releases have always been everything I look for in a dance producer: subtle, daring, and beautifully crafted. This second album is seeing release on FlyLo’s Brainfeeder label, and it’s no surprise: Martyn and the LA beat experimentalist go back a long way, supporting each other live and remixing each other’s tracks. Although the material spread across this varied and exciting LP can’t exactly be called ‘experimental’ in line with a lot of the beatsmith crowd, it is a hypnotic and open-ended dance experience in exactly the same way as Brainfeeder classic Los Angeles. Even though I set the bar high in anticipating this LP, Martyn has proven himself once more head and shoulders ahead of the majority of the dance crowd, and Ghost People is packed with really skilful compositions that are never too showy but always bursting with great ideas. Almost every track is great and provides a new take on an existing genre, and each is a joy to listen to.

It will become clear immediately that in contrast to his “very personal” debut, this is a much more club-centric approach, yet it all works fantastically; there is something utterly unique about every track here. The LP kicks off with Hyperdub’s resident poet Spaceape trading in the usual dark futurism over Martyn’s arpeggiating synths and scifi sounds, but it’s a rare slow moment on an album of dance tracks that seems to be designed to cater for every taste possible without losing any sense of coherence. The opener switches into serrated lead single Viper, in which dark textures weave themselves around the propulsive central loop. It’s a strong mission statement, and as the album continues the listener can only become more and more impressed. We’re fed straight into third cut and definite highlight Masks, in which a bouncing 4/4 beat is courted by abrasive textures of gorgeous subtlety, almost challenging the listener to disentangle the layers woven together so fluidly. Quite apart from this, the track is a massive dance tune in its own right, building up the snares and claps to an infectious treated synth line and a fantastically detailed soundfield that mutates and changes to always keep you delighted and on your toes. There's so much to uncover here, for example listen out for the stretched effect that threatens to overpower the track with electronic fuzz before disappearing to let the smooth beats regain ground.

One of the clear successes of this LP is that it should appeal just as much to home listeners as it does to DJs and the club crowd. For the dancers there’s the tracks discussed earlier but also the Lone-style sunny synths of excellent title track Ghost People, the heavy and paranoid mutations of Horror Vacui, the gritty 2step of Popgun and the shimmering arpeggios of Bauplan; all of which would sound excellent on the dancefloor. But at the same time those who listen on their headphones in the dark will love the submerged echoes of Ghost People that rear their head in ambient interlude I Saw You At Tule Lake, the ghostly samples that swirl through the misty synths of Twice As, and the shifting melodic wash that underpins Distortions, never once letting the track settle. Every noise here is treated to sound like a part of Martyn’s whole; and the constantly shifting synths and beats throughout the LP show a pragmatic sensibility of what’s going to get people moving combined with a loving knack for detail, a fusion which produces results that are simply stunning.

Martyn reaches out towards so many styles here; house, techno, garage, bass; and not only does he nail each one but he creates a sound which feels like it’s coming from a future where every tune is a polished and lovingly crafted piece of audio perfection. That’s how we wind up at closer We Are You In The Future, an absolutely epic closer in which rising ravey synth melodies vie for importance with constantly shifting beats, acid basslines and breathtaking breakdowns. In its 9 minute runtime it also runs through all the styles, tones and sounds found throughout the album, forming a perfect closer by briefly recapping the sounds he’s introduced us to whilst containing them all in one mammoth track. This one tune encompasses everything that Martyn is about: taking a staggeringly wide breadth of influences and using them to create a sound that overflows with ideas but is decidedly subtle and detailed, while always entirely embodying that ‘Martyn sound’.

There’s so much more to be said about these tracks, from discussing the intricacies of his beat programming to the squeak and groan sampled from a James Brown track (find it for yourself). This LP is a fantastic collection of dancefloor stunners with an incredibly strong sense of tone and refinement, and it’s a joy to lose yourself ever further in his sound. He has said that he wishes to “be known as someone who always surprises”, and with Ghost People he’s certainly surprised me, producing a superior follow-up to an excellent debut that is always on-point, and the result is that with this LP Martyn issues a bold and exciting statement from one of the most important voices in today’s dance scene.


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Monday, 17 October 2011

Modeselektor – Monkeytown




Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary, who make up the electronic duo Modeselektor, have been gaining quite a lot of hype recently. It's true that they’ve been producing under this moniker for 15 years now, but recent collabs with big names like Apparat and of course Thom Yorke have put their third album under the spotlight. Although they are fiercely opposed to being labelled within a specific genre, which is a largely sensible opposition given that a few short years ago no one was making the fusions that they were, they have still managed to retain a consistently distinctive sound; generally a meaty bass with crunky synths and hip hop leanings. Here in Monkeytown, they really come at the listener with a scattershot approach; a range of different sounds, a range of different vocalists, and also quite a range in terms of quality across these 11 tracks.

Although there is a sparkling array of guests, it’s Modeselektor’s solo compositions which offer the most consistency here.  German Clap in particular is an album highlight, marrying a threatening synth line with Altered Natives style drums and cold acid drips to stark and spectacular effect. Another standout is Grillwalker in which a bright arpeggiated synth bounces over a massive crunk bassline, creating a gorgeous contrast, but also perhaps revealing the problem with Modeselektor’s approach. These tracks vary little across their course, and when the tunes are good it’s because the one central conceit really works through repetition, but unfortunately that’s not always enough. Take for example opener Blue Clouds, in which a slightly melancholic synth line rises over bass throbs and heavy percussion. These are nice sounds, and the combination works, but for a whole six minutes it just feels a little uneventful, and this and a few other tracks left me crying out for a little unpredictability, or simply a few more ideas. One could suggest this is merely what a crunked-out synthesis of techno and hip hop ends up sounding like, but I’d argue that any great techno track, however repetitive its loops, oughtn’t be described as ‘uneventful’. Closer War Cry defies this predictability; it’s interesting because of the unique marriage of the martial male voices and the ever-building synths, breeding an atmosphere that is both considered and powerful, and it ends up being one of the most interesting cuts on the album. Tracks like this make me wonder where Modeselektor might have ended up if they’d taken their ideas a little further and branched out a little more over the course of the LP.

The same slightly uneven spread of quality applies to the guest tracks, which take up more than half of the album. To say something positive first, Modeselektor should be respected for showing their trademark humour even when recording some big name vocals; they manipulate Thom Yorke and Busdriver’s voice masterfully to suit the sounds, with a pleasing lack of respect for the integrity of the original vocal line. Both LA-based art rapper Busdriver and NY’s Anti Pop Consortium lend their rapping prowess to Modeselektor productions, and the result is a pair of tracks that treat the vocal lines sensitively and with a good ear while retaining that distinct Modeselektor sound, but neither does anything particularly interesting or different (although Busdriver’s lyrics to Pretentious Friends are pretty damn funny). On the other hand, a few of the collaborative tracks turn out to be some of the album’s best. Miss Platnum’s voice is chopped up in Berlin over glitchy beats and a great bass wash, and eventually her natural voice is left to harmonise with her own chopped vocals, in one of the albums most remarkable moments.

Elsewhere long-time Modeselektor producer Otto Von Schirach lends his expertise to the unexpected abrasive techno of Evil Twin which recalls Modeselektor’s earlier work. Here hard synth stabs help build the tune to a crushed finale, and it’s easily one of the most dancefloor-friendly cuts here. Sadly the same quality cannot be found in woeful PVT collaboration Green Light Go, in which heartfelt and sombre vocals sound terribly out of place on top of an instrumental which doesn’t sound particularly interesting anyway (this is all before the introduction of a very misplaced vocoder).

This brings us to the much-hyped continuation of Modeselektor’s love affair with Thom Yorke. What your take is on one of music’s biggest men will go most of the way towards whether you like these tracks, not just because his murmuring falsetto is ever-present, but more overtly because Modeselektor have decided to make these tracks actually sound very much like Radiohead tracks. Shipwreck is a muted and moody piece that sounds pretty nice, but it all really comes together on penultimate track This, where Yorke’s vocals are chopped and swirled around a rich and ominous synth-scape resulting in an atmospheric and subtle highlight.

Subtlety is something that it’s interesting to highlight in relation to the Yorke collab, because I’ve always felt that it’s a quality that Modeselektor lack as a production team. Granted their tunes are always on-point reflections of the contemporary dance scene, but they’ve always seemed to favour an all-out approach rather than focussing on the details. This hasn’t changed particularly on Monkeytown, and it’s something I feel quite acutely lacking, so it’s nice to see a tighter mastery over the details, if only for one track.

Modeselektor have always been remarkable in their bridging of largely independent genres, particularly techno and hip hop, but in the current musical climate where the amorphous mass of post dubstep/ bass music/ future garage is all pointing in a similar direction, fluidity between genres is no longer something particularly new. It’s not fair to hold this against the duo, and without a doubt this is a collection of on-point tunes that survey a remarkable breadth of dance trends, but for me it feels firmly lodged in the present rather than looking to the future. There are a lot of good tracks here but not enough great ones, and from such an anticipated release I suppose I expected a little more innovation. If you’re looking for a solid collection of contemporary and meaty tunes, then this is practically an all-you-can-eat buffet, but for those searching for consistency, subtlety or great originality, then there are other artists who are simply going in more interesting directions at the moment.


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Sunday, 16 October 2011

Video of the Week: The Flaming Lips - Powerless

For the second installation of my new video feature, I’ve chosen The Flaming Lips’ curious and beautiful video for Powerless¸ from their 2009 album Embryonic. In last week’s video I discussed how the visual can be tied to the musical in order to create an emotional effect, but here I’m focussing more on the aesthetics of a music video, and how vague symbols can be used to resonate with a wide audience.

The most obvious comment to be made here is that the video has an utterly unique visual tone, with a muted colour palette and extraordinary shots, often incorporating clever lens flares to give a sense of the heat and isolation of the woman’s situation. Aside from looking lush and visually striking, the video also appears to make an ambiguous point about the concept of power. The woman is intensely sexualised from the very start, wearing a tee shirt and tiny hot pants, with the occasional crotch-shot adding to the image. This sexuality is juxtaposed slightly unappealingly by the fact that she is tied up and trying to get free, creating the idea of a sexual object without any freedom. Then added to the situation is the monkey staring at her, perhaps symbolising the masculine oppressor watching over her, perhaps there’s an alternate reading of its role too. As Coyne intones “No one is ever really powerless” she calms and begins a transformation in perfect timing with the taut guitar riffs, and the visual effect of her body essentially glitching and transforming is a very arresting one. Transformation complete, she is no longer tied up, and desperately claws her way from her restraints and flees, dancing and rejoicing in her new freedom of movement. However, although she acts as if she is now free she does not take off her blindfold, and she is still watched over by her simian oppressor. Is this freedom or just an illusion of freedom in a wider prison? Either way, the video is extraordinary in its visual atmosphere, as well as giving you a lot to chew on intellectually, even if it doesn’t give any concrete answers.

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Friday, 14 October 2011

Feature: Guest Mix

I'm very pleased to post a guest mix by a mate of mine, London-based DJ Gully Moreland. Moving from garage to house to the bassier side of dubstep, this is a live all-vinyl mix that includes loads of White Noise's favourite tracks from the last year, as well as some old classics.


Here's the tracklist:

Tuff Jam - Key Dub
Kim English - Nite Life [Armand's Retail Mix]
Head High - It's A Love Thing [Island Mix]
Happy Clappers - I Believe [12" Master]
MZO Bullet - Casablanca [Hot City Remix]
Seiji - Easy
Unknown - Sicko Cell
Addison Groove - Work It
Pearson Sound vs. Rob Lee - Let Me See What U Workin With [Pearson Sound]
Breach - Fatherless
Breach - Fatherless [T. Williams Remix]
Omar and Zed Bias - Dancing
T. Williams - People's Choice
Altered Natives - Oh My Zipper

The mix is downloadable from Soundcloud, and if that isn't enough then check out his other excellent mix Jack Yo' Body, which was mixed for my birthday this year and includes a great selection of Acid House classics.

This is really hot stuff, so get listening and enjoy.

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L-Vis 1990 – Neon Dreams

Forever You (EP Version)

Lost In Love

James Connolly’s rise to dance importance has been close to meteoric, championing the club night cum label Night Slugs all the way to the top. Night Slugs has spent the last year releasing some of the most interesting and forward-thinking dance singles around, but Connolly stated early on that his debut album as L-Vis 1990 was going to be different. Signed to a sub-imprint of Island, aimed at telling the story of the last year of his life, here he has created a homage to digital pop that sounds like a cleaned up 90s French disco more than anything else. It raises the complex question of throwback that has been bandied around a lot recently: to what extent are you creating new music (i.e. drawing influences from the past), and to what extent are you merely lazily rehashing what has come before? The answer will differ from artist to artist, but it’s not the only uncomfortable question that this album raises.

Connolly is clearly a talented producer, as can be heard with ease in the woozily brilliant Forever You (included on an EP earlier this year) which could become a crossover hit if given the chance. Sadly, it’s the only track that can verifiably be called excellent on this album, and it came out almost a year ago. Elsewhere the largely instrumental tracks shine more than anything else; such as The Beach, a dark and pacey number with a sugary synth-pop tinge. He hits on another winner with the tight Illusions, in which hollow beats underpin meaty bass and a superb breakdown. The problem here is consistency, for every Beach there’s an overworked One More Day, and although the anaesthetized vocals suit the sparse and broody Play It Cool to a T, the exact same over-synthetic feel is the downfall of the too-clean Shy Light and make tracks like Feel The Void verge on self-parodic cheese.

The cheese factor also leads to the downfall of more vocal-heavy tracks, for example the inane lyrics of Lost In Love distract from its simple, clean charms. Likewise the overtly cinematic opener Vague Flashes is rendered ludicrous by the terrible writing (“Vague flashes that trickle over the galaxies for aeons / rapid eye movements laced in memories with neon”). The whole album makes you wonder why a greater effort wasn’t made to find more soulful and interesting vocalists, and why Connolly couldn’t pick between the underground and the pop mainstream, because he ends up fluttering weightlessly between the two: nowhere near enough grit for the underground and too restrained for the pop crowd.

Despite these problems, there are a few things that I think most reviewers have overlooked to the credit of this LP. The sound quality is lovely with warm honeyed synths, and the tracks are quite well sequenced and mixed together to allow for a diverse and easy listen. Another thought that occurs to me is that in essentially creating a digital pop/ disco throwback fusion, L-Vis is slightly ahead of the current trend. Dance music is slowing down now, and is now more than ever heavily recalling the enormous genres of the past, such as acid house, electro and disco. In this respect Connolly is looking to the future, but unfortunately a fair amount of these tracks fall more on the side of cheap euro-trash disco than the best of the genre. The issue that really surfaces is while a lot of contemporary producers look to past genres for inspiration, this album takes French electro and doesn’t really add anything new to the formula whatsoever, leaving most of the tracks sounding clean but dated. When they do sound fresh, such as on the meaty and intense Cruisin, it sounds good but not good enough to pick L-Vis out of the crowd.

It’ll be clear to anyone with a set of ears that this is nothing like any of Night Slugs’ output to date. And that’s okay, Connolly has admirably gone out to try and do something different. The problem is, this LP reaches towards pop, it reaches towards dance, it reaches towards throwback, but it doesn’t quite do any of these things consistently well enough to give it any sort of clear appeal. I don’t think Neon Dreams deserves the slating it’s critically received, because it’s an okay album. Some of it is even good, but that’s not what you expect from the head of one of the most interesting and important dance labels out there.


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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Rustie – Glass Swords

Hover Traps

City Star

Ultra Thizz

Rustie threw a curveball with his debut EP Sunburst for Warp, which took the decidedly unfashionable route of adding prog-rock and video-gamey stylings to his hyper-energetic production style, and as a whole it didn’t quite work out. Maybe he could have retreated from that sound and made something more conventional, sealing a more concrete future? No. In Glass Swords, Rustie’s gone balls deep in this sound, and it’s fantastic. By following through what he started, Rustie has created one of the tightest, most thrilling and original dance releases of the year.

Rustie (aka Russell Whyte) is Glaswegian, and this album is very much in line with Hudson Mohawke’s releases, as well as a good few of the Numbers lot. The LP is almost entirely composed of what sounds like the very biggest moments of other dance tracks twisted through a saccharine filter. The drops, build-ups, and all the bits in singles that make your hands shoot up into the air are crammed into nearly every second of this recording, and I would have been the first to say that I’m not sure that necessarily makes a good album.  However yet again, Rustie’s here to prove me wrong, because not only can fantastic production make uncool sounds seem dazzlingly fresh, it can also sustain a 40-minute stretch of pure energy coherently and without problems.

The point with this album is that it could all sound like an ADHD kid got a hold of some equipment and really went to town, making sugary and hyper-energetic dance tracks. And the first time you hear the sound, it could prove a little alien and difficult, but there’s only a very thin veneer hiding that these are almost all brilliantly skilled and exciting compositions. Intricate percussion, expertly applied vocals (often sounding chipmunked and backmasked), earth-shaking bass and even proggy guitar solos are mixed fluidly into his all-encompassing, all-smiling sound. What’s even more impressive is that on top of this, melodies and rhythms so often surprise and delight that the music makes you feel like a kid, lost in wonder at the fantastical sounds seething from every track; just look at playful and irresistible Hover Traps with its cheery synths reprised by a massive choppy bassline and scifi effects.

The same infectiously energetic unpredictability is present all over the album, as can be seen when the day-glo All Night suddenly and fluently brings in a deepy wobbly bass and sliding percussion without ever breaking stride.  These tracks are just bursting with exuberant detail daring to be found and enjoyed; check out the fantastic future-funk synthline that takes over the last minute of Surph or the way After Light builds into a chilled synthy number, almost entirely receding before explosively dropping with a fat bassline reminiscent of HudMo’s Thunder Bay. The variation within this distinctive sound is staggering, as Rustie glides fluidly from the propulsive techno wash of Globes past Ultra Thizz to the fantastic one-two of pacey Death Mountain and the foot-stomping bass of dubstep-inclined stunner Cry Flames.

Elsewhere breakout dancefloor single Ultra Thizz builds to an explosive, disorientating drop that just screams unabashed joy, before receding into choppy glitch-hop and back again. These tracks are genreless because Rustie fuses the necessary light and dark fluently, never settling for too long and thus ensuring the listener couldn’t possibly get bored. Granted, most of the LP is sugary and energetic, but then just when it could all get happy, you get a massive meaty track like City Star, with a glittering scifi intro precluding a huge bass and siren synths that make it sound like the gangsters have showed up in Rustie’s candyland. What’s more, unlike a lot of other LPs, these energetic bursts are allowed space to breathe: we’re given strange sci-fi interludes like opener Glass Swords, or Ice Caves and Flash Back, in which gamey synths and mad sounds are somehow put together so that they work perfectly and are a pure joy to listen to.

When looked at objectively, this is simply an album bursting with energetic tracks, every single one of which is an absolute pleasure to listen to. In the dance world, it’s laudable when someone does something well and when someone tries to do something new, but here both are the case, and Rustie deserves a lot of respect for that. Against all odds, this LP is brilliant, and the unlikelihood of this makes it all the more enjoyable. Here are a sugary combination of unfashionable genres that under Rustie’s disciplined hand are impossible to hate or cringe at, because he’s taken sounds that are devastatingly out-of-use and thoroughly modernized them. I’d argue that in doing so, he’s making an LP with its finger closer to the pulse of today’s dance scene than any dubstep knock-off could possibly have, because it’s focussed solely on the future, and proclaims loud and clear that anything can be made fantastic with the right person at the helm. It’s about moving towards the future of our sounds, and with a release as exciting and masterful as this, Rustie can undeniably be called the right person for the job.


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Peace, The Illest – Hungry EP

Honey B!


Broken Ribs

Salvador Narrete is just the latest to emerge from Glasgow’s seething pool of electronic producers, and this is a promising but not quite great EP that still points he could join the ranks of HudMo, Rustie, Koreless and all the rest yet.

The EP kicks off with two tracks of instrumental trip-hop, and while the first, Bow Down, is a little slight, Ballet is a well-executed trip-hop piece with rising and wailing synths reminiscent of slo-mo M83 and some remarkably strong vocal sampling adding a great deal to the atmosphere. It’s not the most complex composition, and the percussion falls just the wrong side of generic, but the mood it builds is strong enough to carry the track, and it’s worth remembering the fact that with proper studio mixing these tunes would sound a lot richer.

Things start to get a little more interesting with the final three tracks, toeing the line evenly between dance and headphone-fodder. Honey B! is a sunny track, twisting a vocal line into a great digital melody with shuttering percussion and a relaxed groove. Penultimate track Sunburst is the standout here, with footwork-style vocal looping building at first not to the bassy drop you’d expect but instead to a sugary love-in, only later dropping into mad swirling synths reminiscent of Young Montana?’s debut. The unpredictability of the track makes it a real delight on first listen, and the production is lush enough to bring you back for repeated spins. The piano piece Coda and the intro to closer Broken Ribs show there’s quite a range possible on further releases, but for me the final track lacks the requisite grit to really contrast with its smooth vocal sampling and epic synth chords.

For a first release, Narrete shows that he wants to mine a number of genres and that he has a good sensibility in terms of construction, as well as surprisingly consistent great use of vocals throughout the tracks. However, I can’t help but feel that the pieces are slightly unbalanced between the light and dark necessary in electronic composition, occasionally feeling saccharine. On top of this, there’s a shallow aspect to the sound that could easily be fixed by proper studio mixing. There’s not quite enough on show here for me to feel it’s a great debut EP, but there’s enough range on show to point towards a very exciting future for the Peace project.


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Monday, 10 October 2011

Djrum – Mountains EP

Mountains Pt.1

I have to admit that I hadn’t heard about Djrum before seeing this new release, but he’s certainly on my radar now. His potently atmospheric 2step creations vaguely recall Synkro and Indigo in their cinematic aspirations, but this is clearly a producer with his own sound and ideas, and here they are showcased beautifully.

Opener Undercoat unravels slowly and dramatically, taking its time to unfold the layers before a dark, lurching beat is laid down under a repeated, half-heard vocal line that powerfully adds to the atmosphere. The track settles into a dusty groove, a dubby vista punctuated by lost voices and slick beats. In fact, all four of these tracks take the form of dreamy and cinematic 2step landscapes. The dreamy quality is reinforced by perfectly implemented ghostly vocals, desolate echoes and twisted samples; notably 30-second snatch of an old reggae track at the end of the opener followed by breathing noises; conjuring the feeling of awakening from a dream. The cinematic quality can be put down to his synth-eschewing sample approach, creating an aged feel but also the presence of symphonic sounds more at home in neo-classical than dance. What’s most remarkable is that this all forms a coherent sound, with all four tracks mining their own territory with style and heavy-hitting emotive impact.

The three-part title track demonstrates Djrum’s ability to bring sounds and techniques from a wide variety of genres and incorporate them seamlessly into his own dark, filmic sound. Mountains Pt.1 is a pacey and brooding techno number, a steady 4/4 beat is briefly silenced by deeply evocative strings and desolate vocals. Pts 2 & 3 are even better, picking up just where the swooping strings of the first left off. Here the sound is fuller, less sparse, picking up pace over a mutating and sometimes-submerged beat. Weighed down by its own pace, the second half of the track is a painful and emotive ambient epilogue, with only a hint of a beat that is eventually choked out by seesawing string samples and resonant vocal echoes. After the building tension and isolation of these three tracks, final cut and potential dancefloor number Turiya is a beautiful release, where Djrum tailors his subtle and evocative sounds into a gorgeous bassy number.

The whole EP has a beautifully aged quality, and although the ghostly sounds recall Burial, there is a much tighter focus on atmosphere across these tracks. The EP straddles home-listening atmospherics with a dance-centric host of influences (hip hop, techno, bass music, and of course dubstep) to fantastic effect, creating a sound that isn’t groundbreaking but is wonderfully distinctive and exhilarating. I can’t wait to see what he comes out with next, because more in either the ambient-focused direction of the title tracks or the dancier opening and closing numbers would be very exciting indeed.


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Sunday, 9 October 2011

Video of the Week: Seekae - Void

This is the first in a new series of posts, in which I’m going to pick out some of my favourite music videos and put them up here for anyone to see. I’ve always been really interested in how beautiful and thought-provoking music videos can be, as marriages of the audio and the visual. It’s disappointing that so many are high-budget and poorly conceived advertising pieces, because the artistic potential in setting a series of moving images to music gives you a power to collage and infer in a way you can’t in your average film or TV show where narrative is the most important thing. I’ve seen a fair amount of great music videos in my time, and I think they’re worth sharing if anyone is interested. As a side-note, I’m not differentiating between official and fan-made videos, they both carry the same artistic value for me. Enjoy!

The video I’ve chosen to open this feature is for Void by Seekae, the Australian electronic trio with two good LPs to their name. I’m not sure if it’s an official or fan-made video, but whoever put it together has created something really special. The lush and transcendent piece is expertly applied to a collage of images from the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, which broke up and exploded, killing all of its crew, just over a minute after launch. The result is an immensely moving visual piece, carefully edited with the gravity of the preparations, the immensity  of the launch, and the catastrophe of the crash all synchronising perfectly with the music as a single work. Not only are the visual clips chosen aesthetically beautiful, but they have been sequenced wonderfully, for example the looped man foretelling of the explosion before the song begins, a dark precursor to the accident that is bound to fill the viewer with dread. This makes the smiling images of the astronauts getting on unbearably painful, and the majesty of the launch sequence shadowed by the real death that proceeded it. The fact that these are real images weighs heavily on the viewer, and reading around the subject makes it all the more tragic; for example learning the fact that the fair-haired woman in the video wasn’t even an astronaut, she was a teacher who had a won a competition from thousands to be the first teacher in space, only to end up burning up in the shuttle. It’s a sobering and affecting video, but proves more than anything the artistic capabilities of the music video, and how far beyond a puff-piece the format can be taken.

I hope you find the video interesting, there will be another one next week.

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Friday, 7 October 2011

The Field – Looping State of Mind

Label: Kompakt

Is This Power
Burned Out
Then It's White

Axel Willner’s production as The Field has always been of special interest to techno fans, and it’s not hard to see why. On his extraordinary debut album, From Here We Go Sublime, Willner burst onto the scene with a fully-formed sound; a fusion of techno loops with adopted stylings from a host of other genres, primarily house and shoegaze. Not only were his genre adoptions fluid and dazzling, he used these styles to craft a series of variations on looping themes that encompassed a phenomenal range of emotions and subjects, whether compelling (Over The Ice), playful (Paw In The Face), trippy (Mobilia), or deeply warm and nostalgic (Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime), to name a few. On his third album for the terminally on-point Kompakt imprint he continues along this set path but confidently expands his range after the slight hesitance of his sophomore album Yesterday and Today. In a world where the hypnotic art of looping is swiftly becoming more recognised and respected, Willner crafts a set of painstakingly produced and gorgeously layered techno tracks that show yet again why is he regarded as one of the best in his... well, field.

From the off Willner rises head and shoulders above the majority of his peers with stunning opener Is This Power. The track is perfectly titled as the mood shifts midway from a woozily ecstatic power trip to a moody doubt implied by the questioning resonance of the title, moving finally into an emotive fusion of the two as an uneasy, propulsive trip. While all these emotional complexities are demonstrated it is easy to forget what becomes perfectly clear when the bass drops back in halfway through; that this is still techno, practically in its purest form (a series of loops tied to a 4/4 beat), and eminently danceable. The track is emblematic of one of Willner’s most unique characteristics as a techno artist: he crafts giant pacing machines of sound that mine not the darkness of your average techno but curious and subtle emotions. This is fluidly demonstrated in the uncomfortable guitar of Is This Power or the static plateau of its excellent and driving successor It’s Up There that takes the place of a climax, making the listener wonder just what they’ve been climbing for.

Words like ‘propulsive’ and ‘driving’ are so apt to describe these tracks, and The Field’s releases have always been defined by the masterly way Willner conveys machine-like forward motion in his tracks. What’s notable about this release is that the sounds are richer; the use of live drums and bass lends a warmth to these elaborate pieces. The tracks are then micro-edited to create a perfect fusion of acoustic and electronic, resulting in pieces that feel organic but retain this astonishing mechanical drive. Another interesting element of the sound that has changed is that vocals are now far lower in the mix, taking a backseat to the swirling techno soundscapes. This works fantastically in tracks like the gorgeous Burned Out, in which near-inaudible words drift across seesawing synths and loose keys before the track deconstructs itself, a natural unravelling at the close as the loops appear to play themselves out one by one to beautiful effect. That said, Willner has always had a way with the outro (remember when you first heard A Paw In The Face on his debut and the guitar loop reeled out at the end, revealing itself to be culled from Lionel Richie’s Hello?)

Elsewhere on the LP Willner pulls success after success out of the bag. Arpeggiated Love sounds most like the tracks from his debut, and this serves to highlight his dextrous grasp over The Field’s past and future, alongside his ability to broaden his range without sacrificing the refined quality that marks his compositions. This is all without mentioning storming title track Looping State of Mind, in which his shoegaze influences rise to the fore with a great ambient wash. However the album’s absolute standout moment is when Willner breaks from all convention, leaving his formula for the climax-less penultimate track Then It’s White. Ethereal voices and gently melancholic keys drift lost in a loose percussive landscape, building ever so slowly to devastating emotional effect.

As a listener, one gets the impression that the beats, the loops, the gorgeous sonic details in these swirling soundscapes are Willner’s tools in the sense of the traditional craftsman; as he hones each to its perfect size and then places it with great care and delicacy so that each element sounds fantastic in its own right but even better as a part of a whole. Not only this, but many of the tracks are surprisingly emotionally affecting, and others ever so danceable. There’s no higher praise you can really give to a techno LP. Boiled down to a sentence, this is a collection of rich and beautiful techno tracks from a man who’s not only at the top of his game, but keeps on showing he’s got so much more to give.


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Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Sully – Carrier

2 Hearts

A dance LP is a curious thing to create, and you tend to have to make one of two decisions in order to come up with something good. Either make it clear that what you’re releasing is a collection of dance tunes, along the lines of Altered Natives and his Tenement Yard collections, or turn those dance tracks into something more artful, with careful sequencing and an emotional arc, like Zomby or Machinedrum’s releases from this year. Sully’s debut LP suffers for not picking sides; there are some brilliant tracks here but it is not really presented as a collection, and although there is a loose sense of progression from beginning to end, it doesn’t quite describe the vague narrative arc an album tends to paint.  

The sense of progression comes from the simple fact that the LP is essentially cut halfway down the middle. The first few tracks hark back to Sully’s most recent (excellent) single, The Loot, mining dark 2-step territories and verging on early dubstep sounds. Opener It’s Your Love sets the tone as a brooding end of the night piece, demonstrating Sully’s tight production skills and keen ear for including sparse atmospheric details. The thing that really saves this release is that a lot of the tracks are great stand-alone tunes, and second track 2 Hearts is one of the best. Throughout each cut he combines a sparse selection of sounds perfectly, and here a great drum track gives way to a paranoid, rising synth line and an echoing vocal scream that cuts right through you. He continues the variations on a 2-step theme with In Some Pattern, which came out a while ago as the B-side to his last single, in which colourful laser synths pierce the darkness to create a choppy, digital propulsion that works well but feels a little weak compared to the last couple of tracks. Encona is the last one in this mould, in which Sully evokes an old-school garage feel by going crazy on the effects.

After this the second half of the album begins proper, in which Sully brings in heavy footwork influences, smoothing them out and imbuing them with his dark, distinctive sound. Each of these pieces brings interesting and varied aspects to the mould, but inevitably some are more successful than others. Let You is a spare track with a fantastic vocal sample and booming bass, bringing together all the elements fluently and with admirably precise micro-edits throughout. Scram is another great track, with a creeping chord sequence and dark field of percussion. Trust is where Sully really hits the mark in his fusion of footwork and 2-step styles, with a rich and varied field of microscopic percussive and vocal edits that goes down so smooth, with a real tinge of melancholy to the sound. Other tracks don’t quite hit the mark so squarely; I Know is okay but brings nothing new to the table, while piano-based footwork ballad Bonafide is a really interesting idea that never quite emotes enough to pull on the heartstrings.

Sully is one of the UK’s most distinctive and skilful producers around at the moment, and so many of these tracks are great that it seems a shame so little attention was played to ensuring the LP can be listened through like an album, because most of the tracks seem to sound stronger and more varied when played in isolation from the others. If you’re looking for a full-length electronic album to lose yourself in, this might not be your first choice. But if you want to get your finger on the pulse of the UK dance scene or are looking for a few great tracks for a digital mix, you’ll find more than enough in Carrier.


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