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White Noise: April 2013

Monday, 29 April 2013

Pev – Aztec Chant

Label: Livity Sound

Aztec Chant

Hot off the success of his superb Kowton collab Raw Code, Bristol scene veteran Peverelist comes up with another awe-inspiring pair of club tracks that defy categorisation. On the subtly crafted A-side Pev’s trademark mind-bending beat patterns play host to throbbing sub-bass and exotic rhythms. The Bristolian has always had a knack for atmosphere, but when a rough-n-ready breakbeat intrudes into the subdued soundfield you’ll know you’re in for a treat. The junglist loop is sliced and diced to impressive effect in the track’s final minutes, as Pev takes an undulating approach to structure which cannily eschews traditional build-drop-breakdown dynamics.

B-side Livity has been floating around on the internet for a couple of years but its enduring power only highlights the timelessness of Pev’s creations, which sit confidently outside the dance world’s sometimes-oppressive trend continuum. A more peak-time affair than its sibling, here a searing synthline conjures unease, distorted across a dense field of hissing percussion, lending the track a viscerality which is cleverly counterpointed by the jangling keys that kick three minutes into the piece. It’s business as usual for Pev, effortlessly conjuring a pair of raw tracks that will please both the ‘floor and the headphone crowd, paying loving homage to the UK scene’s sonic history while never walking anyone’s path but his own.


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Friday, 26 April 2013

DjRum – Seven Lies

Label: 2nd Drop

In a sense, all music is sound collage. Musicians layer discrete instruments or synths to turn disassociated fragments into a coherent whole. Unfortunately in the dance world this transformative process frequently falls back on formula; with innumerable electronic tracks floating around on the web harbouring uninventive compositions forced into identical structures. Since he stepped onto the scene a couple of years back, DjRum has done it differently.

Felix Manuel first stepped into view with a couple of low-key (but certainly worthwhile) releases that toyed with dark atmospheres and dubbed-out effects.  On 2011’s superb Mountains EP a unique talent was announced; four crackling club constructions were filled by gorgeous vocal and instrumental samples, all underpinned by dusty beat patterns and low-end to spare. Already an interest in longer forms could be seen; such as in the combined 14-minute stretch of Mountains or the extended nocturnal discursions of his Watermark 12”. Here was an artist exploring laterally, unburdened by the structural formulas that relegate so much dance music to homogeneity. Now he returns to his stable at the reliable 2nd Drop imprint to drop the label’s first long-player, returning to his sample-heavy approach with a new warmth perfectly suited to the album format.

Como Los Cerdos / DAM / Arcana (Do I Need You) / Obsession / Lies / Honey / Anchors / Thankyou

Manuel’s approach to layers and samples is handled with a rare artisanal quality, each collection of found-sounds and machine music thoughtfully shaped into coherent songs that shift and mutate before your ears. Although his music seems to run to some unfathomable dream logic, his debut album, Seven Lies, never comes across as anything other than an artistic whole. A quick glance at the gorgeous cover art should assure the listener that this is a complete work, put together with delicacy, love, and more than a little grit; and all this just so happens to result in one of the most intoxicatingly atmospheric albums you’re likely to hear all year.

The individual quality to Manuel’s sounds are a direct result of his organic approach to structure and sampling. Opener Obsession is a perfect example; where a typical field of syncopated beats and airy synth work plays host to delicate wind and string samples which add a genuinely emotive strain to the sound. The following two tracks, Como Los Cerdos and the magnificent DAM continue to lope along with hip hop swagger, with head-nodding grooves drawing melodic influence from a maze of musical influences; obvious touchstones like garage, jazz and hip hop nestling against dub, opera and old movie samples. Manuel’s attention to structure is particular evident on the latter, DAM’s final minutes introducing swooping strings and ghosts of crackling grime bars that prove a fitting close.

A trio of powerful tracks follow that delve deeper and darker, most impressively on the constantly evolving garage stepper Arcana (Do I Need You). Here percussive accents, notably textured drum rolls and compressed claps, are accompanied by an increasingly heavy low-end, before Manuel allows the track to unspool beautifully in its final movement, the fractured re-emergence of the refrain showing his deft skill at processing vocals. Again, it’s the structure of these disparate elements which is so impressive; tracks like Lies work because of their contrast. Here an exercise in dub physics is played out, balancing Shadowbox’s fragile vocals with a nakedly beautiful harp line with generous bass weight and spare 2step mechanics. The album offers many such moments, where the listener may end up wondering just how Manuel conceived of piecing such different sounds together to endlessly imaginative ends.

Yet it is just over halfway through the album that a track arrives which is undoubtedly the culmination of DjRum’s work to date. Honey takes these soft / hard, light / dark binaries to their logical extreme, as a soulful vocal, ‘he’s a sinner’, is put through an electronic blender to startling effect. This is supplemented by cavernous bass stutters, mechanical clanking and serrated bass stabs which act as an unsettling counterpoint to the sweetened instrumental samples. Not once across the album does Manuel let the quality slip either; his attention to contrast, detail and space is played out across a variety of forms, which continue through Arcana’s cold, dubbed-out coda and moody penultimate cut Anchors.

By the close of Seven Lies, DjRum has taken the listener on a journey through his influences, in turns fragmented and coherent, powerful and beautiful, warm and brooding. It is precisely because of these contrasts that he is able to evoke atmospheres of such power: each song constructs a musical space of shifting dimensions that the listener is invited to inhabit, rather than a simple layering of separate elements. The ragged DnB assault of Thankyou proves the perfect closer, encapsulating all of Seven Lies’ strengths: tough and delicate, detailed with immaculate precision, a ninth slice of sonic engineering, never less than dazzling. Here is an album by an artist who plays only by his own rules, and the infinitesimal details of each soundscape demand to be played again and again. Yet precisely because of Manuel’s prescient ability to augment his atmosphere with organic samples, you’ll never completely unlock this album’s magical secrets.


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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Braille – The Storm

Label: Glass Table

While Praveen Sharma’s name might not be a frequent occurrence on the dance scene, the man certainly knows how to keep busy. Besides running Percussion Lab and releasing via non-dance project Praveen, Sharma’s no newcomer to the dance world. Many will know him best as one half of Sepalcure alongside the unfathomably prolific Machinedrum, yet Sharma’s two dance releases to date have both been worthwhile offerings; bassy takes on house sounds packed with soul, with highlights including The Year 3000 on Rush Hour and his ace Hotflush E. Two years on Sharma makes a welcome return as Braille, fusing kinetic rhythms with an impressive range of vocal and acoustic samples, to ultimately mixed results.

It’s worth pointing out that Braille has never really put out any bangers. Instead, his best cuts, such as the lush, relatively relaxed A Meaning or the stunning emotive rush of Breakup were impressive because of their attention to texture and detail. Sure, they were danceable, but the songs stood out because of deft sample manipulation and clever structure rather than raw muscularity. A couple of the tracks on The Storm are clearly targeted at the dancefloor, and as a result the EP is a bit of a mixed bag. Opener The Storm starts well, revolving chimes married to clean synth stabs and a typical set of great vocal work. But despite the impressive production, particularly the textured percussive work, it never convinces as a whole. The core elements wear thin, failing to keep up the energy over five minutes and lacking any progression to speak of, while others, such as the jazzy chords that occupy the track's final minutes, seem somewhat out of place. Later At a Glance suffers from the same problems, where rising synths and clever vocal clips create an urgency only to be undermined by an incongruous acid line. This odd addition has the unfortunate effect of detracting from the organic soundcraft that makes Braille’s work so interesting in the first place. When the dynamics of such busy music aren’t exactly right, the result is too dense to really enjoy (a criticism that could also be levelled at a few of Sepalcure’s productions).

The Storm / Me & U / At a Glance / Casper

However it’s by no means all bad news, as the other two tracks remind the listener just how great Sharma is when he’s on form. Standout Me & U has atmosphere in spades and crucially each element is given the space it deserves; the rousing gospel-style sample is perfectly placed alongside drowsy pitched-down vocals, while crisp percussive accents are all that’s necessary to compliment the lush arrangement of keys and samples. It’s a really impressive piece of music, which makes one wonder how the other tracks would sound had they been given a little more breathing room. Closer Casper is another great piece: while obvious parallels will be drawn given the 2step woodblock pattern and melancholy atmosphere, Sharma makes the track his own with gorgeous vocal manipulation throughout, whether in the foreground or muttering away deep in the mix. It’s also a deft exercise in structure; the energy slowly mounts around the 3-minute mark as the snares hit harder, the ghost voices (perhaps humorously hinted at by the title) grow louder and busier, before a soft synthline closes the track out with a sigh.

Given such a clear divide between the success of these tracks, it’s clear that Sharma is a very talented producer who needs to play more to his strengths, and perhaps pay more attention to the use of space in his compositions. Of course this is only one reviewer’s opinion, and the EP is a worthwhile listen for its successes; those blissful organic soundscapes that sit happily just outside the dance mainstream.


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Monday, 22 April 2013

Bicep – Stash

Label: Aus


Irish duo Bicep’s meteoric rise to stardom over the last twelve months has been an impressive journey. With an early interest in 90s revivalism and no-nonsense Jersey sounds added to the superb You / Don’t EP (whose A-side made the top ten of our Year End Roundup), the duo have been taking the scene by storm. However this ascent has not gone without its share of detractors. For every listener enamoured by Vision Of Love’s straight-up euphoria, there was someone dissatisfied by their wholesale appropriation of a decades-old style to cash in on a trend. This criticism did not seem unfounded at the time, but the duo’s choice to air years worth of unreleased material on their Beats In Space podcast hinted at something different; darker sonic territory explored with the deft craftsmanship that has marked out each of their releases to date. Now for their second release on Will Saul’s Aus imprint, the pair give some of their new material a chance to shine, effectively heading off any critics in the process.

Opener Stash should serve as a perfect transition for those familiar with Bicep’s previous material. While the moody bass line and twitching percussion may lack the wide-eyed ecstasy of their last EP’s piano stompers, the heavy 4/4 and shimmering synthwork provide ample compensation. On Courtside Drama an ambient synth wash locks into the analog sound that is currently sweeping the scene, as piping synth notes take a dreamy lead over a deep bass throb and syncopated drum patterns.

The Game

Up until this point it’s been a largely successful stylistic shift for the pair, but the first two tracks never truly amaze. Thankfully, this is because whoever is in charge has backloaded this EP, saving the two best cuts for last. While Stash is positioned as the primary club cut here, superb third track Rise outstrips the title track’s dancefloor credentials with ease. While many of the sounds are familiar; jangling syncopations and heavy kicks, here iridescent synthwork plays out with alacrity across a track whose structure is clearly indebted to slow-burning techno, easily making for one of Bicep’s most memorable tunes to date. The Wire-sampling closer The Game is just as impressive; languid synthworks recall Twin Peaks' sounds, playing out mysteriously over a spacious arrangement of hissing hi-hats and an echoing woodblock hit.

There’s nothing wrong with this EP’s first two cuts, it more feels like the stylistic switch-up took a moment to get going. Once they get deep on the B-side the effect is magical, and quite besides being great music, the Stash EP fiercely proves that Bicep have more than a few tricks left up their sleeve.


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Friday, 19 April 2013

Demdike Stare – Testpressing #001

Label: Modern Love

Boomkat’s Modern Love imprint undeniably has the market cornered on that oppressive intersection between techno and noise, doom and grit. From Andy Stott to Raime, Vatican Shadow to the brilliant Unknown / Hate project, each release’s quality is only matched by its overwhelming darkness. Now the imprint has invited regulars Demdike Stare, aka Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty, back to the fold for a fresh series of test pressing-style singles, and on the first the talented duo have turned out two of their most dangerous and untamed cuts to date.

While Demdike Stare are known for their expert use of musical textures and moods, rarely have they sounded as dynamic and uninhibited. Drawing from a profound knowledge of jungle, hardcore and noise tapes, Testpressing comprises a pair of pitch-black, unforgiving experiments in junglism. A-side Collision’s first half is dominated by a high-frequency snarl like an out of control buzz saw, while raw breakbeat dissections lurch across the soundfield. Halfway through the drum patterns break loose, drenched in distortion, wreaking havoc with a clattering urgency.

B-side Misappropriation is a no less powerful beast. After two minutes of the moody atmospherics that the pair do best, a punishing Eastern rhythm is unleashed, combined with threatening maracas, skittering bat-like squeaks and corrosive washes of unfiltered static. What these tracks lack in structural progression they more than make up for in sheer power, as the duo eke unearthly sounds from their machines, as vital as they are unforgiving.


See this review in context at Inverted Audio

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