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White Noise: June 2013

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Cliff Lothar - White Savage

Label: Viewlexx

The years have done nothing to dull the appeal of I-F’s Viewlexx label, the Dutch imprint which has spent the best part of fifteen years releasing a stream of steely Italo tracks and mutated Electro and House constructions. For their first release of 2013 Viewlexx welcomes Cliff Lothar to the stable, an apparent newcomer who works in the murky boundary between house and techno with style and skill, easily assuming a distinctive voice and atmosphere on this debut release.

Dro Friday

Opener Dro Friday proves a perfect introduction, a slo-mo house cut adorned by moody synth blips and curiously catchy vocals, all underpinned by a dangerous, lurching bassline. As an ethereal synth wash takes over the track’s second half the tune comes into its own, the all-pervading darkness never quite effacing the unmistakable sex appeal of these sounds. La Boce is a murkier affair, sharp hats and bright synths offset by a deep, squelching bassline. Halfway through the track becomes distinctly unsettling, the vocals crowding over each other, drawing to a fever pitch which is followed by an eerie calm.

On the B-side Lothar continues to pursue his shadowy visions on Ringleader, where a menacing pitched-down vocal intones over a propulsive, acid-laced rhythm. Finally Running Out Of Time continues on the acid-tip; a mutating array of burbling 303s, compressed hits and an ever-increasing urgency which reaches a dramatic climax in its final movement. While there is a powerful mood surrounding this release, it is perhaps Lothar’s emphasis on concision – none of these tracks break either 120bpm or the 6-minute mark – which makes for such an impressive package. Equal parts dark and seductive, it’s clear that after almost 20 years Viewlexx still knows how to pick a winner.


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Monday, 24 June 2013

Akkord - Navigate

Label: Houndstooth

With a rapid succession of intriguing releases skirting the UK’s darker dancefloors, Fabric’s Houndstooth imprint, helmed by local taste-maker Rob Booth, has stepped confidently into the limelight in 2013. Following an ace EP from Berlin’s Call Super and a fresh chapter from techno legend Dave Clarke, Houndstooth welcomes Mancunian bass scientists Akkord to the stage for their most extensive release to date.

Over two excellent self-released singles last year, the group combined exacting rhythmic experimentations with immaculately designed soundscapes, summoning portraits of dread in high definition that positively oozed atmosphere. On Navigate Akkord continue to toy with dubstep tropes and techno mechanics, offering a four-tracker that reveals myriad minute details over repeated listens.

Navigate / Compound / Destruction / Title Sequence

Befitting a dual interest in sound design and dancefloor muscle, two of these four tracks appear more suited to the club. First is the measured minimalism of Compound, a deeply textural experience made up of clipped percussive samples, buzzsaw bass swipes and dubbed-out vocal snatches. While it’s undoubtedly an impressive headphone listen, those looking for real dancing music should head straight to EP standout Destruction, a stunning exercise in rhythm where drums tumble and churn, ever-shifting, while a dangerous static hiss and ominous vocals bring an industrial slant to the track’s threatening second half.

Opener Navigate is just as beautifully produced, each snare and drum roll clicking satisfyingly in to place as a field of scifi whirs and blips augments the agitated percussion. Part of what made Akkord’s debut EP so impressive was the flawless marriage of atmospherics and club know-how, so the choice to focus closer Title Sequence solely on the former has the unfortunate result of removing half of a winning formula. While the track is undeniably pretty, melancholic chords and ghostly vocals plodding across a resigned soundfield, it lacks the visceral power of the rest of Akkord’s output, and as a result feels a tad sanitised.

Akkord and Houndstooth are clearly headed in an incredibly promising direction, and while this selection might not be as essential as their sterling debut, it’s still more than a worthwhile listen for their lovingly crafted sounds and timely re-appropriation of dubstep’s long-gone sense of dread. Meanwhile Houndstooth continue to go from strength to strength, offering another deeply impressive release that pushes sonic boundaries while promoting another relatively new production outfit.


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Sunday, 23 June 2013

Octo Octa - Between Two Selves

Label: 100% Silk

Since early days, Brooklyn’s Michael Morrison has marked himself as one of 100% Silk’s heavy hitters. In 2011 his Let Me See You EP came as a sort of mission statement for Amanda Brown’s imprint, pushing away from the murky psychedelia of parent-label Not Not Fun towards the brighter dance experimentations that define the label today. Morrison’s debut album as Octo Octa presents a slick refinement of his sound, and while it may not be a masterpiece, Between Two Selves offers some of the producer’s finest tracks to date.

Please Don't Leave

From the off the Octo Octa sound was clearly defined; polished reinterpretations of classic house styles, rich in iridescent synthwork and sensuous acappellas which notably made themselves known on early classic I’m Trying. Here Morrison takes advantage of the LP format to fully probe and explore his sounds, taking a more restrained approach by mining deeper textures to impressive effect. This new production expertise is particularly apparent on the LP’s superb opening run, starting with meditative opener Who Will I Become. This lush piece of sound design gets everything right: the patient kick drum playing anchor to a deeply atmospheric field of echoing claps, clipped vocals and bright synth flourishes which amplify its introspective mood.

Such deeper moments are among the album’s strongest, where Morrison blurs dancefloor tropes into colourful, impressionistic pieces of mood music. Bad Blood’s low-key RnB sampling gives way to a meaty kick-snare combo and shards of bright synths in the high end, while equally impressive follow-up Please Don’t Leave tugs at the heart strings, an emotionless vocal line lent a stirring power by a deep modulating synth wash, longing melodies and hammering percussion drowned deep in the mix. Later Uneasy treads a similar track of haze, clipped synth notes and tough drum patterns constantly shifting and mutating to give the impression of a real journey.

Come Closer

While the eight tracks that make up the album are remarkably coherent, it is somewhat surprising that some of Between Two Selves’ dancier moments are also its more forgettable songs. Work Me’s upbeat melodics and crowded composition feel a little messy compared to the album’s more polished moments, while the polite breakbeat of His Kiss never quite convinces. Yet not all of the LP’s harder moments fall short; in particular the forlorn arrangement of Come Closer has a menacing edge to its regular bass bounce and shimmering synthwork which makes for one of the album’s standout moments.

Octo Octa closes the album with Fear, a significantly darker outing than all that comes before. Combining the reverb-laden synths of dub techno, skittering percussion and a cavernous warehouse atmosphere, it serves to highlight the shadowy dancefloor potential of Morrison’s productions. Fear also has the knock-on effect of reminding the listener of the relative sonic homogeneity of all which came before, as he suddenly appears able to branch out successfully into a radically different sound. Ultimately, though, it’s best seen as an unusual and powerful conclusion to a cohesive and irresistibly moody LP, numbering among the best so far not only for Morrison, but for the wider 100% Silk stable itself.


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Friday, 21 June 2013

Koreless – Yugen

Label: Young Turks

Lewis Roberts’ output as Koreless has never really been focused on the dancefloor. Instead notable singles such as Away and the excellent 4D / MTI 12” wore their subdued beat patterns lightly, the songs concentrating on breathy vocal manipulations and sweetened melodies, capturing an ephemeral beauty in their slight constructions.

On his most substantial release to date Roberts has radically restricted his sound palette, leaving only the minor-key synthwork and an occasional looped vocal, all painted thickly onto an emotional widescreen. While such a shift is undoubtedly laudable and can work given the right context (Koreless’ phenomenal live show serves as proof), Yugen proves an ultimately unsatisfying affair, a few brilliant ideas spread thinly across 25 minutes which leave you hungry for a little more range and depth to the sound.


This is not to say that Yugen is not a worthwhile listen: indeed Koreless shows the power of his new approach on lead track Sun. Here sweeping, maximalist synths summon references to Vangelis in their raw emotive pull and M83 in their epic swells, as a rhythmic loop adds urgency and a shard of a female vocal sample adds a touch of humanity. It’s a heady and surprising combination that makes you feel in your gut rather than your brain, forcing the listener to engage by dint of its unapologetic emotional grandeur.

This breathtaking concoction represents the pinnacle of Koreless’ work within this particular sonic spectrum, and as a result the other tracks on the EP suffer for their similarity to varying degrees. Opener Ivana is pretty and short enough to pack a punch, the same looped vocal mechanised in a manipulation of the human voice at once violent and sensuous. Later No Sun plays out as the dark shadow of its counterpart, yet the prominence of a mournful chord progression does not save the listener from a certain fatigue with the limited range of sounds on display.

The remainder of the EP is populated by similarly dreamy arrangements of bittersweet melodies, where the toybox twinkling of Last Remnants feels saccharine over the same tired, filtered synthwork, while the more substantial Never’s keening synth modulations offer only a ghostly imprint of Sun’s more powerful emotional punch. While Koreless’ dedication to his new sound is certainly impressive, the results feel too indistinct and superficial to really leave a lasting impact.


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Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Jon Hopkins - Immunity

Label: Domino

Up until now, Jon Hopkins’ most notable work was as a collaborator. Whether scoring award-baiting film soundtracks or collaborating with Brian Eno and even Coldplay, Hopkins’ solo work, even 2009’s Insides, had yet to thrust him into the limelight as a musician. After four long years including nine months in his East London studio (the door to which you can hear being symbolically unlocked in the album’s opening moments), Hopkins’ fourth album, Immunity, is set to change all of this. Here is a truly magnificent album, impressing through both craft and atmosphere, offering the listener a tactile, breathlessly vital world of electronic music to explore and revisit again and again.

We Disappear / Open Eye Signal / Breathe This Air / Collider / Abandon Window / Form By Firelight / Sun Harmonics / Immunity

With Immunity, Hopkins presents an album of two halves. In the first four tracks, he offers his most club-ready material to date, evoking a breathing world of lush textures and organic technoid constructions. Opener We Disappear is a blissful introduction to the sound, evocative melodies and a heaving bass throb pitted against distorted IDM tweaks and skipping percussive patterns. What is so remarkable throughout the album is that Hopkins' varied sounds always cohere wonderfully where one might expect it them to feel jarring. This duality is also present on third cut Breathe This Air, where the physicality of its machine-music pulse dances elegantly with mournful keys, erupting into an airy, tear-stained stepper which is nothing short of transcendent.

The rhythmic adventurousness of the release is brought to the fore on two titanic dance tracks, starting with visceral lead-single Open Eye Signal. Here an ominous hum lurks under celestial choral samples, dominated by an elastic propulsion; skittering percussion and powerful analog synthwork. It’s impossible to describe how deeply involving this music can be, forcing the listener to inhabit these sounds, conjuring stark visual imagery due to Hopkins’ cinematic grasp of detail and atmospherics. The same effect is pulled off on epic album centrepiece Collider, a mutating trip of harrowing synth textures and tunnelling drums that builds to a stunning, coruscating finale.

Open Eye Signal

By Collider’s close the album has reached fever pitch, and it is here that Hopkins masterfully shifts gear, opening the second half with the elegiac ambience of Abandon Window. Comprised solely of a mournful piano sequence and warm, cavernous electronic textures, the track emotes powerfully through its patience and longing, serving more as a beautiful palette-cleanser than a dissonant change in style. For the album’s second half Hopkins continues to explore the relationship between synthetic and acoustic sounds, whether on the flickering, heavenly hip hop of Form by Firelight or the serene, immaculately designed journey of the 12-minute Sun Harmonics.

Hopkins’ versatility as a producer and the coherence of his vision across Immunity is nothing short of staggering. On the closing title track, the tension that has been so masterfully constructed is given a beautiful, uplifting resolution with twinkling keys and half-heard vocals. While it's not quite as revelatory as everything which has come before, Immunity is a dreamy, hopeful end to an album which is as close to perfect as anything released so far this year, a rare triumph of originality and execution in a saturated musical landscape. Immunity demands to be heard, to be travelled with and loved, and will surely allow Hopkins to claim his rightful place in the spotlight.


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