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White Noise: July 2013

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Special Request - Hardcore

Label: Houndstooth

After the astounding success of his viciously compelling 2006 single Erotic Discourse, Paul Woolford somewhat disappeared from view. While the producer continued to work, notably issuing 2011’s excellent Stolen collaboration with Psychatron, it wasn’t until Woolford donned his Special Request guise last year that the world really started paying attention. Across a series of four self-released, vinyl-only singles, Special Request evoked the crushed, blistering power of the warehouse rave through a modernisation of classic jungle and DnB templates. With standout tracks Lolita and Mindwash, Woolford has decimated many of the UK’s discerning dancefloors over the last year, and now for the first time he turns to the rising star of Fabric-affiliated label Houndstooth to issue his fullest Special Request excursion to date.

Woolford offers two original cuts here, opening the EP with the hefty stomp of Wall To Wall. All the Special Request trademarks are here: the sunken kick compressed to within an inch of its life alongside a stark, brutal percussive field, all mixed with a healthy dose of distortion. The clipped, syncopated vocal cuts and swandiving bass hits towards the close cap off a tune of powerfully destructive proportions, yet the track is still somehow outshone by Woolford’s other offering, the nasty pirate-radio homage of Broken Dreams. Here rebounding bass notes underpin a mutating array of surgical break cuts, resulting in a tune that conjures the breathless energy of the UK’s hardcore continuum at its best without ever sounding like pastiche. The energy just lets up once, as the rhythm is interrupted by a blissed-out breather of a female vocal, serving to prepare the listener and the ‘floor for another three minutes of mayhem.

So far, this is what we’ve come to expect from Special Request; a pair of formidable excursions into breakbeat science, even if this is indeed an uncommonly fine pair. Yet this is where Houndstooth’s expert guiding voice makes itself heard, as the two original cuts are backed by a superb pair of remixes every bit as fascinating as Woolford’s original pieces. Firstly Brooklyn house youngster Anthony Naples takes on Mindwash in his ‘Eternal Mix’, an appropriately titled rework that looks at hardcore through a thick gauze of nostalgia and deterioration, sapping the strength of Woolford’s breaks and layering mournful pads and vocal clips over the top. It’s a brilliant idea, and more than anything proves Naples’ capabilities outside of the house mould, but one can’t help but feel that the track is over far too soon, disappointingly fading out after only three minutes.

The second choice of remixer is just as inspired, as Houndstooth invites jungle distortionist Lee Gamble to take on the unreleased Capsules. This beautifully patient rework builds a detailed field of ambience, both glossy and desiccated, rounding off a powerhouse EP on a sublimely atmospheric, introspective note. Woolford seems unstoppable at the moment, as his junglist tendencies rule the underground while his latest Hotflush release Untitled is set to take over Ibiza. What Houndstooth have drawn from him is another stellar addition to the Special Request canon and an exceptional pair of remixes, a package that rejoices in the power of real ‘ardcore while simultaneously mourning its loss.


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Monday, 29 July 2013

Walton - Beyond

Label: Hyperdub

‘A song for yesterday, today, tomorrow and beyond,’ a pitched-down voice intones on Beyond’s opening track. It’s a perfect introduction to the debut album of Hyperdub’s Sam Walton, who established himself over a handful of EPs as a genre-bending bass futuristic of rare talent and confidence. Now on Hyperdub’s first LP of the year, Walton combines the sounds of house, garage and grime into a rich, singular experience that impresses on first listen and still demands to be visited time and again.

Much of Beyond is concerned with a subtle interplay between light and dark, as Walton effortlessly flicks through genres with palpable zeal. This duality is perfected right out of the gate on Need To Feel, where a breathy vocal is laced over gentle chords with remarkable softness. Yet at each moment of delicacy, Walton brings it all back down to the ‘floor, here with a deep tunnelling bassline and taut synth tones. Across the album as a whole, these thrilling contrasts provide many of the highlights, particularly unforgettably when a sultry RnB acappella meets the tough, mechanised beat pattern in You & Me.

Need To Feel

The interplay between different hues is a strong look for Walton, but his productions are just as stylishly effective when he heads straight into the darkness. The dangerous acid licks of Help Me Out make for one of the LP’s early highlights, while later crushed grime instrumental Frisbee pose a hauntingly stark listen. These compositions amaze at every turn because they are so busy yet never cluttered, exemplified on the low-slung Grit where a detailed percussive field, husky vocals and a venomous bassline are kept under tight control; enhanced rather than hindered by the richness of the composition. Each of these cuts could easily kill on the dancefloor, yet Walton saves his best shot at the darkness for the end in penultimate track Amazon, where an alchemic fusion of a rugged house stomp, whispered vocals and noir grime notes make for a stunning album finale.

While Walton’s earlier productions were marked by their stark monochrome hues, many of Beyond’s impressive moments are found when a new melodic sensibility begins to take hold. The lusty one-two punch of Love On The Dancefloor and Every Night in particular cements the album’s emotional core. The former is a chilled affair, all soft pads and murmuring vocals that cushion the beat. It’s not miles away from a laid-back Sepalcure cut, but it all feels like an introduction when compared to Every Night, an effervescent party-starter which pitches the same seductive vocal to an intriguingly masculine tone.

Every Night

Just as the ‘I’m gonna dance away my clothes off’ vocal recurs across these two songs, Walton laces the entire album with melodies and samples which are later re-appropriated. A remarkable example can be found on the beautiful interlude Take, where a mournful vocal is finally drowned in tear-strained, heavy-handed piano chords which are later slyly referenced amidst Grit’s bristling percussion. The effect lends an authentic coherence to an album that crosses so many styles and moods, precluding the jarring effect to which many hybrid-genre albums unfortunately succumb. More than anything, these subtle cues show how much love and care has gone into these tracks, a fact which really pays off considering Walton’s deft grasp over genre and tone. Hyperdub’s Kode9 could clearly see the talent here from the very start, but for listeners Beyond is a true coming of age, fitting flawlessly into the label’s esteemed canon: an uncommonly accomplished debut, a sonic world that becomes more inviting with each listen.


Read this review in context at Inverted Audio.

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Friday, 26 July 2013

Komon - Walk The Walk

Label: Aus

Will Saul’s Aus imprint has really proven itself over the past year, issuing a reliable stream of big-hitters that have managed to please both the scenesters and the dancefloors. With a blend of fresh talent and star players, the label has become a no-nonsense source for good club music, rarely breaking the mould but always offering on-point artists producing at their biggest and best, with recent highlights coming from Leon VynehallBicepDusky, and Midland. The latest addition to the stable is Bristol’s Komon, the recent Appleblim-collaborator who fits the Aus style to a tee, here trading in ‘floor-destroying, low-slung house rollers.

Both are impressive pieces of soundcraft, with the titular A-side’s swaggering bassline anchoring DnB-style bass throbs and ethereal diva moans. It’s a powerful track, if not particularly interesting, and B-side Poly Sum does one better. Here a glittering system of arpeggios burble over a strong, club-focused bass riff and a euphoric vocal hook. It results in an striking alchemic fusion; all the tear-streaked ecstasy of trance twinned with hard-nosed modern house sensibilities. There’s nothing game-changing here, but when Aus keep turning out such expertly-tuned club shakers, it’s hard to complain.


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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Zomby - With Love

Label: 4AD

While some critics may think that Zomby’s notorious personality is not relevant to a discussion of his music, one might equally argue the opposite. The obnoxious web presence is perhaps not wholly unmerited, masking as it does a producer who is eminently talented. At the same time, the infamous no-shows at headlining spots across his career correlate neatly with an artist who rarely finishes his own tracks, instead releasing albums of beautiful sketches which range from tantalising to frustrating in their brevity. On With Love, his third full length (and second for major indie label 4AD), Zomby’s character is more pertinent than ever; as the album’s first disc could almost be called a summary of the producer’s evolving style over the last half decade.

It’s testament to Zomby’s musicality and his unique voice that he has legions of fans despite the notoriety: the man makes good music. Yet still, With Love is a something of a hard sell. 33 tracks stretched over two discs - parts of the album show Zomby at his best, yet as a whole the LP is somewhat unwieldy. Some may find the abundance gratifying: if you’re going to keep all the songs under four minutes in length, you may as well offer a lot of them. On the other hand, it’s difficult not to feel that trimmed down to the fifteen finest, With Love could be one of the year’s best albums. It will ultimately come down to a question of individual taste, but there is undeniably a lot to love here.

Ascension / Sunshine In November / Overdose / Memories

With Love’s first disc offers a cross-section of Zomby’s musical history, from the ravey breaks of Where Were U In ’92? on Overdose and 777 to the delicate darkness of Dedication recalled on If I Will. Being Zomby, there is of course the obligatory RnB sample, here on Rendezvous, where Brandy's voice is turned distant and anaesthetised. It’s a nocturnal, sometimes unsettling listen, where the mood can stray from urgent to calm within seconds, conjuring an effective dissonance. In what is becoming a trademark, the album deals in myriad references to the UK’s hardcore continuum; here jungle and hardcore rub shoulders with grime and garage, all woven into a sound indisputably Zomby’s own.

The disc hits its stride with Horrid, all tunnelling bass hits and bristling, paranoid synthwork. From here is a run of some of the artist’s best work to date; If I Will’s urgent vocal is set over a field of cheap grime strings and crystalline xylophone-esque melodies, through the low-slung lope and glittering piano of Isis to the dazed breaks of It’s Time. The disc reaches its zenith with Memories, a delicately-crafted duel between soft and hard synthwork, set over a military beat pattern. Yet after this, With Love’s first disc seems to lose its edge. Aside from the mournful darkness of Pray For Me, the same ideas are reworked with less flair, giving the disc’s second half the distinct taint of excess.


The album’s second disc looks further to Zomby’s future as an artist, but it doesn’t venture that far from his established sound. Here the familiar atmospheres, forged by fragile synthwork painted in bright digital strokes, are supported by skittering 808 percussion, like a tasteful zombification of the current trap trend. These tracks are at their best when Zomby grows introspective, and the run from Reflection In Black Glass to Sunshine In November is where the majority of the disc’s highlights are hidden. These two beautiful beatless sketches are ruthlessly brief, but stunning nonetheless. They also sandwich album highlight Soliloquy, the closest With Love gets to an actual song with a real sense of structure, progression and melodic richness.

The complexity of this late-album highlight illuminates just how impressive Zomby’s work can be when it’s simple: for the album’s best 40-odd minutes he works with just a few sonic layers and practically zero structural progression yet the results are utterly enchanting. Some may justifiably call this album excessive, or denounce the brief tracks as lazy sketches, but since Dedication Zomby’s music has been something that demands to be taken on its own terms. Perhaps the magic of his productions depends on these qualities: if Zomby sat down to write ten 6-minute tracks as a coherent album, would the end result be this good? This reviewer thinks not. With Love is the latest beautiful, messy release from an increasingly singular artist, who deserves to be appreciated because of, rather than despite, his flaws.


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Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Guy Andrews - Annum

Label: Fina

Guy Andrews. Drums. If these two terms aren’t yet synonymous in your head, they soon will be. On a pair of impressive releases for Hemlock and Hotflush Andrews showed an ability to forge innovatively structured tracks which had a wealth of ambient detail backing up his big, powerful drum patterns. It wasn’t just the force of his beats, but rather the organic quality to the percussive textures which made Andrews’ early releases stand out from the crowd. While Andrews’ few releases have yet to catapult him into the spotlight, he draws ever closer with this release on the Fina imprint, for the first time drawing a wealth of emotive melody into his expanding sound palette.

Opener Divide is a strong mission statement for this more mature sound. Tropically-flavoured melodics open up to a growling bass riff and, at the two-minute mark, the welcome return of those formidable drums. Punctuated by sharp claps and clipped synth notes, the pleasant surprise of a sweeping string section proves Andrews’ newfound melodic direction a welcome change. 7AM is cut from much the same cloth; a stretched bass groove introducing the 4/4. Yet Andrews knows better than to repeat material; the rich synthwork that dominates the track’s second half is both epic and involving, building to a hard-earned climax as impressive through headphones as it would surely be on the dancefloor.

Leading the B-side, Fixture is a tougher beast. Compressed kicks give on to a gritty locked groove, a shifting array of percussive accents keeping the tension building throughout. The incorporation of more retro-flavoured synths seems to hint at a brighter conclusion, but Fixture quickly drops back into darker territory, the second drop leading into an accomplished techno roller not unlike a cleaned-up version of the Sheworks sound. With closer Tapes Andrews shifts the formula once more, offering a moody house number peppered with claps and vocal snips, a sophisticated arrangement whose searing synths emerge and recede as the track draws to its rugged close.

It’s fitting that Andrews should end the EP on a high-point, but Annum is an enviable accomplishment from the first note to the last. After a year out one might expect something special and here it is; a complex and varied EP that pushes Andrews ever closer to the recognition he so clearly deserves.


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Friday, 19 July 2013

Floorplan - Paradise

Label: M-Plant

Across the jazz-inflected, conceptual night-rides of his Motor series, Detroit techno pioneer Robert Hood has more than proved worthy of his legendary status. While the militaristic precision of Hood’s productions ensured feet stayed glued to the dancefloor, an edge of humanity, even melancholia always lurked deep within, emotionally tying Hood’s impressionistic productions to each and every listener. Hood’s Floorplan moniker has always been true to its name: across a series of EPs, some highlights of which are presented here; Hood drew elements of disco, soul and gospel into his toughened techno loops. On his debut album as Floorplan, Hood issues a proper club album, ten masterfully produced tracks of driving, uplifting rhythms that skirt the borders of house and techno.

While a lot of the melodic elements of house can be found on Paradise, a cold mechanical heartbeat pulses at the core of each track. The formula is generally the same; a thundering 4/4 kick is adorned with repetitive synth stabs and a range of melodic accents, sometimes even incorporating vocal samples (although these are mostly clipped to monosyllabic fragments of melody). Despite the familiar structure, Hood’s deft control over his machines has resulted in an album varied enough to be listened to at home, with a handful of tracks poised to destroy the 5am dancefloor crowd in the hands of any DJ skilled enough to use them.


So admittedly, there is a DJ tool quality to these tracks; Change and Altered Ego take a strong groove and run with it, hypnotically twisting rather than dramatically changing across the 7-minute runtimes. Yet these numbers perform flawlessly as gimmick-free grooves, the rhythmic complexity of the likes of Eclipse and Higher! meaning that there’s hardly any need for a melodic hook.

Yet when Hood does go for melody, he takes it by the jugular. His outspoken religiosity is brought to the mind on beautiful highlight Never Grow Old, where an emotive sample is followed rather than led by a thundering section of twitching drum patterns. Likewise the urgent call of Baby, Baby is a remarkable fusion of disco sounds and reinforced techno beats, a chimeric creation as curiously uplifting as it is gloriously propulsive. Finally the blissful piano lead of Confess is skilfully woven across an increasingly insistent percussive field.

Nor is Paradise a case of two flavours doled out equally, the final suite of Chord Principle and Above The Clouds hint at the versatility found on the Motor series, a child’s laugh and eerie organ stabs rendering the first distinctly unsettling, while a dubbed-out synthline takes the latter into misty techno territory. But listeners don’t need to be told that Hood is great, or that he is versatile – a career littered with groundbreaking innovation and stunning musical achievement speaks for itself. Paradise is just another step along the road, a beautifully produced set of peak-time tracks which is unlikely to disappoint.


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