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White Noise: July 2012

Monday, 30 July 2012

Bicep – You / Don’t

Label: Aus

Having sharpened their dance teeth running the keyed-in Feel My Bicep blog, the Northern Irish production duo cut a fierce mission statement with their excellent vinyl-only debut, $tripper, earlier this year, a powerful combination of big Jersey house sounds and an intensely sweaty groove. The pair, now based in London, were plucked early for Will Saul’s always-discerning Aus imprint, and on You / Don’t they’ve more than delivered on the hype, collaborating with a couple of fresh faces to create one of the summer’s first essential 12”s.


If their first single was particularly extravagant on the use of that big 90s house sound, this single is more acutely focused on drama. On the breathtaking A-side You, Bicep combine forces with Ejeca. Their sounds are cast onto a dramatic widescreen where sweeping synths introduce a pacing 2step rhythm, with an impeccably subdued array of vocal moans and tight blips ramping up the tension, all capped off by a cinematic scream. By the time the undulating lead vocal takes its position, you’ll already be sold on the magic of this track, an expertly structured and infectiously catchy cross-section of today’s UK bass scene that no DJ should be without. Panorama Bar resident Steffi offers a deep house rework of You that charms with bouncing vintage synths and big, bright synth sweeps, but her remix definitely lacks the drama and individuality of the two original tracks on offer here, resulting in a pleasant but missable addition to the two original tunes.


On the flipside Bicep team up with a different collaborator, Omar Odyssey to create a very different track that still holds on to the mood of You, with bouncing house sounds served up bristling and nervy. Don’t is an icy, far more stripped-down affair than the A-side, offering an irresistible stomp alongside an ominous rising synth progression and those well-chosen vocal snips that give way later in the track to a low-end that would clearly devastate any dancefloor when paired with a good soundsystem. Bicep have spent the best part of this year looking squarely at the top, and if they continue to put out releases as effortlessly cool, masterfully put-together and endlessly replayable as these two original tracks, they might just get there.


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Friday, 27 July 2012

John Roberts – Paper Frames

Label: Dial

The EP is one of the most common forms of output for any producer affiliated with the world of electronic and dance music. Whether a collection of dancefloor stompers or hints at a new musical direction, EPs tend to sit comfortably between a long-form musical concept in an LP or the quick-fix nature of a 12” single. Occasionally an EP comes out that really wows in its depth and quality, something seen more as a cohesive statement than a collection of tracks, such as Floating Points’ rightly lauded Shadows EP from last year. When John Roberts rose to prominence in 2010 for his revelatory Glass Eights album, he appeared as a cut above, and no one would have expected him to approach the EP format as a mere collection of loosely-related tracks. At the same time, it wasn’t exactly expected that Roberts would take two years to form another solo release, so I’m sure I wasn’t the only one keen to see if Roberts still had it in him to proceed from the shadow of his debut.

Paper Frames

Not only has Roberts pulled off another stunner with Paper Frames, he also proves that the gestation period was necessary, changing up his style enough to justify the long wait. Glass Eights showcased a producer with a genuinely unique approach to Deep House; overtly beautiful melodies often structured in a symphonic style, with organic qualities to both the composition and the delicately interwoven instrumental samples. Being able to do all this while remaining danceable is no mean feat, but yet again Roberts has pulled it off.

Roberts has always taken incidental tracks more seriously than a lot of his contemporaries, one need look no further than the shining Interlude (Telephone) or the sumptuously orchestral Went from his debut album to see that. Paper Frames shows that he continues to understand the importance of these interludes, with two shorter tracks lending this release a depth and cohesion of sound unusual in EP releases. Untitled II kicks off proceedings with swooping cello and piano creating atmosphere in spades, all underpinned by tumbling percussion that can barely hold onto a rhythm (a stunning effect pulled off by canny micro-edits). It’s a gorgeous piece in its own right, and functions perfectly as an introduction to the A-side’s heavy-hitter, title track Paper Frames. Here Roberts moves away from his previous 4/4 drum patterns for a shifting stomp that staggers powerfully through the track along with a wide array of gracefully layered found-sounds and music-box tinkles. Not only is Roberts doing something defiantly new, he pulls it off with a confidence and quality that rewards repeated listeners in the clever details and careful arrangements.

Crushing Shells

The B-side opens out with the soothing Untitled IV, where languid piano chords fall in organic patterns, preparing the listeners for the EP’s final punch. Crushing Shells delivers with style, a collection of subtle twinkles and strings giving way to a woody 4/4 stomp. The final bar pulls back the beat in a disorientating rhythmic loop, perhaps hinting at the less dancefloor-friendly nature of the release. At the same time, there’s a great deal of movement on display, from the tense piano samples to that loping house groove, and Roberts never lets the quality slip for even a second. Clocking in at just 13 minutes, this is a slight release but the individuality and attention to detail once again astounds, and proves that Roberts has got so much more to give. By expanding his horizons while remaining attached to that tasteful classical palette, it seems he can do no wrong.


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Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Pablo Nouvelle – You Do Me Wrong

Label: Outpost

An inevitable aspect of being a music critic is the impossible amount of music you’re sent every week by artists: revered legends, PR-crazed labels and budding young unknowns constantly fill your inbox with downloads and Soundcloud links. It’s impossible to get through and listen to everything, so as a writer you have to become accustomed to rooting out the things that look like they sound good, scanning for familiar names or keywords to let you know you’re on to something. But every so often you just listen to a release by chance and it really appeals, as was the case for me with the second single courtesy of Swiss producer Pablo Nouvelle, aka Fabio Friedli.

Having given a brief listen to his first single, Is It Okay, on release a few months ago, I encountered what appeared to be a fairly run-of-the-mill mixture of Hip Hop instrumentals glazed with poppy vocals and structures, but here the Swiss producer has really stepped up his game. It appears that this coincided with his discovery of soul music; “It was like looking behind the curtain of hip hop and understanding where it all came from. That changed my life.” By trading a pop veneer for relaxed instrumentals and soul samples, Friedli has created a quiet, relaxed single that wows on repeated listens just as much due to its simplicity as the production chops behind it.


First cut You Do Me Wrong is catchy and smooth, with a slow-mo hip hop groove underlying a warm guitar loop and a perfectly chosen vocal line (clipped from Marvin Gaye’s Ain’t That Peculiar) that emotes through its simplicity and repetition, lengthening occasionally to give the listener an alluring glimpse of the full phrase. It’s a short track and the minimal structure seems a well-considered decision rather than a lack of know-how, as the clipped vocal additions and beatless loop at the close perfectly add to the rich, chilled out sound.

B-side Be True To Me is admittedly a very similar track, employing another Gaye sample (this time it’s I’ll Be Doggone) with super-slow hip hop beats, hazy synth-work and a nagging one-line vocal that will squirrel inside your head and refuse to leave you alone. These tracks might not sound all that different, and this release is admittedly no great innovation, but allow these tracks time and you’ll find them increasingly enticing, with an impressive yet simple approach to mood and organic instrumentation that will create a deep, soulful atmosphere for those lazy summer nights.


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Monday, 23 July 2012

Dusky – Henry 85 / No More

Label: Simple Records

Although Deep House may not be a genre that many associate with the UK dance scene, Dusky (aka the duo of Alfie Granger-Howell and Nick Harriman) have been setting out to change that in the last year with a series of precision-built dance tracks, heavy on mood and movement. Following their debut album Stick By This and the excellent Lost Highway EP earlier this year, the title track of which still sounds like instant-classic material, they’ve taken up residence on Will Saul’s newly resurrected Simple Records imprint to add another great pair of tracks to the catalogue.

Henry 85

This single won’t amaze anyone with originality or blisteringly new sounds, but to search for these things in Dusky’s music would be somewhat missing the point. Each of their tunes takes a stripped-down approach to production; focusing solely on the mood and the groove, and just like on previous releases, here it’s pulled off effortlessly. A-side Henry 85 is a typically low-key burner, with a punchy 4/4 and melancholic synth atmospherics introducing a tight bass loop early on in the tune. A clear sense of space between elements and layers has always worked in Dusky’s favour in the past, and the deep echo of the vocals here, alongside the satisfying precision with which each layer clicks into place results in a track that may be solid rather than brilliant, but should perfectly suit any number of House sets focussing on the deeper end of the spectrum.

No More

Dusky fans shouldn’t worry though, because the real stunner here has been reserved for the B-side. No More is a perfect example of what the duo does best, with swung, pacing beats and rising synthlines creating a much heavier sense of anticipation leading up the drops. Add this to an array of great details; an occasional descending bassline, a vocal line emotive and catchy in equal parts, and that swinging synth note, and you’ve easily got one of the pair’s best tunes to date. This is all without mentioning how they milk that second drop, and how unbelievably satisfying it feels when it finally hits, smoothly re-entering rather than exploding in a display of understatement that really works.

Henry 85 (FCL Weemix)

Remix duties are here interestingly taken by Belgian House duo FCL, known for their superb series of the Vocals For Everyone EPs (if you don’t know Let's Go, you really owe it to yourself). They turn Henry 85 into a House stomper, with high Garage-referencing chimes and a rougher edge. It’s an unsurprisingly expert job as remixes go; the second half opening up to skittering percussion and bright synth bounces over the vocal loop before it really goes all out in the final two minutes. This single isn’t really a step forward for Dusky but it’s another great addition to their deep, moody canon; proving that the UK scene can do Deep House, and rarely is it heard so smooth and with so much soul.


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Saturday, 21 July 2012

Jacques Greene – Ready

Label: 3024

Coming out of 2011 as one of the most hotly-tipped breakthrough producers, Jacques Greene had big hopes to live up to this year. His bright, airy take on bass music in the likes of the Greene01 EP and dancefloor anthem Another Girl were pure sugar to the ears of dance fans saturated with gritty Techno and over-wobbly Brostep, but in 2012 we’ve been forced to ask if he’d remain relevant as a producer. His first release of the year, the Concealer EP on his very own Vase label, was a minor disappointment, merely showing more of the same, and I have to admit I was starting to lose faith in the young Canadian. Luckily for us, Greene has really changed up his game for the searing Ready EP on Martyn’s 3024 label, and the result is superb.


Fitting the generally darker output on 3024, on Ready Greene has traded in a lot of his RnB stylings for Techno referencing House music, and he makes the transition perfectly. The best elements of Greene’s former sounds are retained but re-invigorated to suit the new style; in the title track the skipping 2step beats have been traded in for a hard House bounce, and the edge of distortion adds some much-needed grit to the sound. Ready is monstrous and current, with racing synthwork that flatten Greene’s trademark synth arpeggios into bristling static while the dreamy female vocals are cast into a ghostly monochrome. It’s the perfect trade-off; the style is still Greene’s own but the adaptation to a darker House sound is completely fluid, resulting in a track that pulses with energy while retaining a few calm moments, and it promises to be huge on the dancefloor.


Second cut Prism is another killer, with brighter synthwork that sounds more alarm than song, and that same pent-up tension very close to the smooth surface. Pitchbent synths and acid 303 flourishes ride over a bassline that bursts forth around the 1.30 mark to show its full potential, while myriad percussive and atmospheric details create a living, breathing sound that displays a richness and warmth that has always been vital to Greene’s output, setting him apart from producers who prefer soundfields that are more spare (compare Ready to Joy O and Boddika’s recent Mercy to hear two sides of the same coin). The no-nonsense second drop of Prism is especially notable, as the track explodes with phenomenal power, bringing forth a constantly shifting soundfield. Third cut Dakou is just as necessary as the first cuts despite being a digital exclusive, referencing Greene’s earlier work much more clearly. Here iridescent synth arpeggios and a skipping 2step beat meet pacing snares and floaty vocals but it still all feels darker, punchier and more vital than Greene’s previous fare.


Jacques Greene has always had an edge over other producers by showing a talent at creating hard-hitting dance music tense enough to work wonders on the dancefloor while adding enough sonic detail and mutable structure to make his tracks a great experience for headphones too. Ready is no different, these are longer tracks but eminently listenable thanks to the deep atmospheres, unbridled energy and richness of sound. The Ready EP is an utter success for Greene; exquisite and perfectly structured, catchy yet tasteful, and a model release that should show others how to change up style while making music that remains relevant, emotive, and more powerful than ever.


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Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Koreless – Lost in Tokyo

Label: Vase Forever

“I’m not fussed about people saying “Wow! Single of the year!” or making big hitters that everyone is playing for a week. I’d rather make a beautiful album,” Glasgow’s Koreless, aka Lewis Roberts, stated in an interview for Dummy last year. This preference, in beauty rather than disposable thrills, has been clear on his output so far, since the pretty punches of Away catapulted him into the spotlight last year through Gilles Peterson’s tastemaking radio show. After Peterson did Roberts the honour of comparing his talents to the likes of James Blake and Ramadanman, his stunning 4D / MTI single last year proved that there was much more to come, but since then all has been quiet on the Koreless front.

Lost In Tokyo has been floating around in mixes for the best part of the year, and is finally seeing release this week on Jacques Greene’s fresh Vase label. The two have quite a history of collaboration besides the similarities in their airy approach to Bass music; Koreless expertly remixed Greene’s The Look release and the two collaborated on Arrow earlier this year, the dreamy standout cut from Greene’s Concealer EP. Koreless has an individual sound that fits perfectly in today’s bass scene; the airiest of wordless female vocals and minimal synth blips chart pretty melodies which are contrasted dramatically with cavernous atmospherics such as in last year’s killer MTI.

Lost In Tokyo continues this approach, with sensual vocals and bleeping synths shifting in pitch before the sound is dramatically widened with deep ambient tones and the subtlest of percussive touches. Koreless’ music has never sounded as slow and melancholy, and the melodies and minimal structure are undeniably gorgeous. The track would function perfectly as a pretty bridge in a mix but doesn’t seem overtly aimed as a dancefloor killer, and while previously Koreless twinned detailed atmospherics with huge bass bounces and sharp snares, Lost In Tokyo feels a slightly confusing A-side just because it’s not hugely danceable. It’s beautiful and will please those who are already fans of Koreless’ sound, but it uses similar elements to previous tracks and doesn’t quite show Roberts as a producer stepping out of the box. On the other hand it’s respectable to see an artist who has no problems with his music being overtly pretty, given how many producers are currently turning to the darker edges of Techno and decaying House for their new releases.

If Lost In Tokyo isn’t too danceable, Jacques Greene more than rectifies this with a superb and stylish remix on the B-side which turns the track into a taut House workout. The dreamy vocals and cold clicks remain but Greene adds hard-nosed beats, twinkling synth arpeggios and a bouncing bassline which dives dramatically underwater before the no-nonsense second drop. It’s a classy remix, retaining the atmosphere and evocative qualities of the original while making it much more suitable for the dancefloor.

Although Lost In Tokyo doesn’t show Koreless taking any dramatic steps away from his established sound, it’s a gorgeous song that’s sure to please your eardrums, and the superlative Jacques Greene remix continues a long line of great collaborations between the two. If you like your bass music pretty and sensual, Koreless has always nailed it and Lost In Tokyo is no different.


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Sunday, 15 July 2012

Darling Farah - Body

Label: Civil Music

A blustering electronic wind blows out over skittering snares. Out of the darkness, a deep kick intrudes, followed by a sophisticated beat pattern that loops over that ominous mechanical wind. One minute in, and you’re already waist-deep in the dark, percussive world of Darling Farah. As the opener, North, continues, tensions mounts through those tough beats and a rattling sub-bass, each detailed layer given space to breathe, mount and be recognised by the listener. It’s a low-key beginning to a Techno album but could hardly be more effective in introducing all the elements of Body that will set it apart for fans of the genre; powerful atmospherics in a spacious, reduced soundfield.

When it comes to the most minimal forms of electronic music, a sense of space is of paramount importance yet it seems to be something that so many budding producers don’t realise- the silence between sounds is just as important as the sounds themselves, and when something makes a sound, that sound has to count. Born in Detroit, 20 year old Darling Farah’s interest in Techno shouldn’t be surprising. What is surprising is how he fostered this interest and talent despite a move to the United Arab Emirates, a country where dancing is illegal outside of the home or a licensed club. Now based in London, and with a handful of confident EPs on Civil Music behind him, Darling Farah now brings us Body, his debut album that was entirely produced in just three months.


After the quiet atmospherics of the opening track, second cut Realised brings out the big sounds. And what sounds they are- there is a certain breed of producers, among whom I’d rank (off the top of my head) the likes of Actress, Floating Points, Andy Stott or BNJMN who have such distinct, vibrant sounds at their disposal that they immediately leap out at you compared to the generic Ableton lego-blocks used by the majority of artists. Farah easily joins this group, his sounds decayed and twisted to the point where each layer and effect has a life of its own, particularly at high volumes, as the sounds feel uncommonly rich and attract the listener to the details and structure. On Realised, a huge bouncing rhythm is driven forth by hissing pistons and whirring atmospherics, alongside some terrifying sub-bass towards the close- and that’s it. This is dance music at its most reduced and tempered. When each track is structured so carefully and the sounds are so perfectly complimentary the effect of only a few layers is staggering, proving to all maximalist producers how much can be done with so little.


Across Body Farah takes these basic tools, along with blistering synth winds, and applies them to a range of unique percussive constructions, from the minimal 4/4 of Fortune, cloaked in reverb and warm analogue hiss to the canned loops of All Eyes which heavily references Dub Techno with its echoing synth strokes. All the tracks here are dark but there’s a certain degree of range across the album, and the tracks tend to err on the shorter side, keeping Body listenable and making you pay attention to the details across repeated spins. When you start to become familiar with the tracks certain sounds leap out at the listener, particularly subtle human touches such as the background chatter deep in the mix of Fortune or the looped half-sigh that haunts the decaying synth melodies and slow building percussion of stunning title track Body.

Each track here is so finely wrought as to continually demand the listener’s attention. Curse casts chugging Techno into slow-motion, with a ghostly ambience and subtle synth sweeps accompanying the relentless kick which settles into the LP’s brightest moment, the beatless arpeggiated expanse of Aaangel, a brief respite which shines bravely yet coldly against the percussive onslaught surrounding it. The smattering of details I’ve highlighted are only some of the joys to be found in a dedicated listen to Body, and any Techno fan will want to listen again and again to catch the stuttering synths of Fortune Part II or the hollow beat at the end of closer Telling Me Everything which sounds like someone ominously dribbling a basketball.


The album’s darkest moment comes in the form of Bruised, a late track that hits like nothing else. Haunted synths underpin spare kick stabs before everything halts at the entrance of a devastating bass growl, a voice intoning darkly ‘this is it’ before the growl and vocals are pitched down to somehow become even more threatening, echoing out into the vast abyss this music always teeters next to. The beat patterns are expertly sequenced and Farah nails the sense of mood, but the same could be said of every one of these eleven tracks. This is an album of deeply atmospheric and spacious Techno music you’ll want to keep returning to. Just when you thought Actress rewrote the rulebook with RIP, there’s a new contender in town- Darling Farah’s debut is stylish, brave and thrilling.


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