Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Shobaleader One: D'demonstrator (Review)

I'd be lying if I said I'd been keeping up to date with Warp's new releases after trawling their back catalogue for classics, but as I went to pick up more stuff from bleep.com I noticed 'Pushers new album. I knew it was coming, I'd heard Cryptic Motion, so I decided to check it out. And I was stunned.



Squarepusher is back, with a new "band" and this time bringing what I can only describe as his own twisted vision of Electro House to the table, or as Warp describes it: "The perplexingly titled 'Shobaleader One' is a dizzy whirl of proggy, vocodered soul; double-jointed electro-funk; Daft Punk-esque disco; electrifying finger-taps and various other mutations of speed-metal and fluorescent pop music". And with that in mind, my first album review:


It begins with Plug Me in, opening with some simple guitar chords we've seen before on Ultravisitor and Just A Souvenir. And then the beat drops, and the vocals too which carefully dance the line between vocoded and auto tuned, and all of a sudden it's a different beast entirely from anything we've heard before. Almost perfect opener IMO, just a bit too laid back in comparison to the rest of the album. 9/10



Here is where the Electro dabbling starts, set to some funky guitar riffs and even more almost incomprehensible vocoded verses. And while it's not going to set the floors on fire like We Are From Venice, it's damn fine electro, just with added guitars. think Pourriture X or Planisphere Part 4, only less crunchy. Overall, a very decent song, but it can get tedious after a while if you're looping it as I am. 8/10



I honestly have no idea how to describe this track. There's nothing to compare it to but I'll do my best :). One of the more laid back tracks on the album, Into The Blue keeps it fairly simple and focuses on the lyrics, sounds like some crazy futuristic pop from the 80's. I can hate or love this track depending on when it comes up, so I'm going with my gut feeling at the moment.6/10





Frisco Wave is a very strange track indeed, it sounds like a more modern track from Aphex Twin's unreleased Melodies From Mars; and that's not a bad thing at all. No vocals on this one, and as the first instrumental (minus a few random vocalisations) track of the album it's not too shabby, something about it just hits all the right places. Perhaps it's that melody, rising and falling in waves (no pun intended), which is too damn catchy for it's own good! 9/10



Megazine (the track used in the D'demonstrator trailer) is what happens when 'Pusher decides he wants to do some Metal fused with his new Electro style. and he knows how to make it last, introducing the now expected vocoders over the top and some droney synths in the background. And just when you're getting tired of it, there's a kick ass guitar solo in the last quarter that injects the track with some much needed freshness at the right moment, and because of that Megazine gets an 8/10.



By far my favourite track on the album, Abstract Lover is a slow moving electro number, the satisfying beats lead into the synth-esque guitar riffing which is simply amazing. the way it merges and flows with the beats is just fantastic and the vocals only add to the winning combination. Already in my list of favourite songs ever and one of the best electro tunes I've heard in a long while, I only wish it was longer than three minutes. 10/10



This one's a bit of a mash. It's like Jazz mashed with an 80's power ballad and some hair metal. Yeah. The track gets much better after about a minute or so if you haven't given up on it by that time, only just my least favourite but still good, if only for the later parts. 5/10



I shouldn't really need to explain this one, but I will anyway. Released earlier as a single, it's pretty much the gateway to the album. In short: if you like Cryptic Motion, you will like D'demonstrator. One of the best tracks here as it pretty much encompasses everything the album is about. only compliant: could be a bit shorter, but that's me being picky 10/10



and the finale, which like Megazine is straight up screechy guitars in your face. This time with added kicks, even more guitars over the top and some soft synths for good measure. And while that kickdrum does come across as a bit obnoxious at first, it soon slides into it's place in the mix. It sets out to be as outrageously filthy as it can, and it succeeds.8/10



And that rounds up my first review, I would've included the Japanese bonus track, but it was hard to find a 320 of it, regardless it's similar to Planck and Megazine so if you like them, check it out, it's brilliantly titled "On Fire Again"



Now for Shobaleader One, the 'band' itself, I love the look and the anonyminity of them, it really adds to the aesthetic of the album as a whole. Odds are we'll never find out who they are (yet), they all have adopted psuedonyms and according to 'Pusher they come from a metal background but also are "mad into" R'n B. you can certainly feel that style on the record, as they set out to make what the Square man himself calls "Space Pop".

At the moment he says he's writing more material for them to perform as it's an "ongoing experiment", and is in touch with Andre 3000 from Outkast after he stated he'd like to collab with him. Make of that what you will, I'm off :).

What the hell is a Shobaleader?,
-Claude Van Foxbat

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

A Very Warped History 3: 1994 (2 Of 2)

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This post. this was the one I anxiously awaited doing when I started this series. Some of you will like it, many of you will probably not, Some of you may even grow to love it as much as I do, as is the case with the majority of these Warped posts. It peaked at number #11 in the UK album charts, being another case of Warp's success stories and probably their most unconventional and experimental release. And you know it's going to be good when Aphex himself describes it as "like standing in a power station on Acid" But that's enough chit chat, let's get stuck into it shall we?

Selected Ambient Works Volume II is one of my favourite albums of all time, (and I'm not kidding when I say it owes me weeks of my life back, it's over two hours long) I'm sure most of you think of grinding beats and snare rushes when you think of AFX, but this album is full on ambient in the style of Brian Eno's soundscapes of his "Ambient: X" series. It's unique in that none of the tracks (apart from one) are actually named, Instead of a tracklist on the rear you are given this image:


Confusing right? that is, until you learn that the symbols match up with pictures in the linear notes. an example of one can be seen here, showing the one named track, Blue Calx, and a full decode and explanation can be found on this page. I love that idea, leaving the names entirely up to the listener/viewer, and is only the beginning of the mysterious properties of SAW2. Also, no matter how natural and smooth the tracks sound, remind yourself that ALL these tracks are electronic. Yes, I was blown away too.

Now, onto the actual tracks; as mentioned before it is entirely ambient with only one or two tracks featuring any kind of beats at all, but it's not about that, it's about the textures and compositions of them. Some are dark, some are light, but each has it's own specific feel. Here are some of my favourites (leaving out most of the more sinister tracks to make it easier to listen to)

Take for example, Track One (or Cliffs, if you've seen the pie charts). This is where you'll decide if you like, dislike or love the album. I'll let the music talk for me on this one. turn the lights off, relax, and just listen


Arguably the most "known" track from SAW2 is 'Rhubarb', it's been used in plenty of things from animation shorts to service testing for the BBC. And it's also arguably one of the best, I can't really describe the feeling, a combination of melancholy and nostalgia maybe? Regardless, give it the same treatment as Cliffs and you can't go wrong.


I feel the album flows much better with all the mellow tracks together, but that's not to say I hate the more sinister pieces. sometimes you gotta creep yourself out you know? oh, and this track isn't included on the US release so enjoy, it's a semi-exclusive! (2019 update; thanks to the advent of streaming, no longer as exclusive. Hope this works for all you in the US)


Moving back to the relaxed side of the spectrum, the opener from the second CD and the explicitly named track, Blue Calx. Picture a more ambient version of Nil from the first half of this post and this is what you'll get. You know what to do. (2019 update: oddly not named on the spotify track listing for some reason. Oh well, much the same for all the others I suppose)


Another quasi-popular track and one of the more accessible from the album is Z Twig, much like Rhubarb it has that "I've heard this before but I dont know where" feeling. Stay tuned for this one cropping up again in a themed post soon, I have other plans for it.... planned.


Time now for Exclusive number two, released only on the vinyl version and hard as hell to find a decent rip of on the net (I Scoured for months to find this copy), enjoy a 320 of probably the best track from the whole album; Stone In Focus. It's not posted on any blogs as far as I can tell. it's fascinating in that the little click in the background changes tempo sporadically, and the song speeds and slows in the same way. Amazing stuff. (2019 update, not on spotify this one, so youtube embed it's got to be. Also not as rare as it was 10 years ago, you can buy it digital and direct from the man himself here


Annnnnd time for one last track before I wrap this one up, Lichen is more of a classical piece, it's lovely for doing nothing at all to. So much so that AFX himself used to put it in his sets as a cool down song in the late 90's, and the crowds loved it, maybe for the occasional wave of bass, maybe for the smoothness of the sounds. You decide for yourself.


So there you have it, Selected Ambient Works Volume II in a nutshell. And it sums up Warp pretty well too: a label releasing experimental music that are moderately popular, and then become cult classics that people like me get to rant and rave about.

To all those who aren't a fan of Ambience; I apologise, BUT I will say that you should really tune in for the next few entries as we enter the prime time of Warp in the mid-nineties, they're a lot more accessible and less... shall we say "out there"

Imagine, You Are A Cloud,
-Claude Van Foxbat

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

A Very Warped History 3: 1994 (1 Of 2)

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And so I return to my regularly scheduled programming, the next Warped entry. 1994 was a big year for Warp (and for me, cuz I was born). Two legendary albums came out in that year, and they both deserve separate posts in my opinion so I'm splitting it into two.

The first of which is Autechre's Amber. Released only six months after Incunabula it's a very similar style (albeit with some experimental and ambient pieces thrown in) for this would be their last album in this style moving onto more Aphexy style IDM after this release. It's a more refined Incunabula but while that may take a few listens to grow on you, Amber shoots straight for your heart.


With such a short time span between albums they share certain aspects (even sharing the same number of tracks) but while Incunabula was cold and metallic, Amber goes for a smoother, more natural approach while maintaining it's predecessor's elements. Like so.


Only three tracks in and Autechre experiment with a quasi-ambient track, Silverside. Combining heavy beats and muffled vocals, it has ties to Autriche from the first album, and even sounds like it uses the same effects that are at the end of Kalpol Introl. but enough comparison, just listen.


Here things take an upbeat turn with Slip, it's very smooth with catchy hooks and various other bleeps. It's one of my favourite examples of early IDM along with Aphex's Selected Ambient Works 85-92. I once heard it described as "music to write code to" so you can guess what it sounds like.



The next few tracks on the album are more Ambient experiments, and this one is hands down my favourite track from the album, tracks like these were what I was referring to with the "shoots for your heart" comment. I can't say much more that that if I'm honest, it's a wonderful song packed with emotion, Give it a listen, it deserves it



Another of the Ambient pieces, it's beauty lies in the simplicity. The same few synth notes play through the entire 6 minutes (although it seems like only 3), along with various other added effects to break it up. Very, very hypnotic.


For the final stretch Autechre return to the stylings of the opening tracks like Montreal, but much softer. the intro to this reminds me of rain (I've never listened to it when it is raining though, sorry Adam) but before I have time to think about that, the driving bassline hits and it just gets better from there. Things take a mellow turn around 4:40 which is a pleasant surprise!


Amber ends on the same note it began on, strong bassy notes and heavy beats with other synths laid over it but this one has a twist, it slows down gradually throughout, making the beats heavier and the bass notes softer, until it gradually fades out. an great end to a fantastic album if I do say so.


That ends another Warped instalment, as we enter the prime time of their releases, we'll be seeing some really classic stuff. And the next half of this post is only the beginning, So please stay tuned for that, you won't wanna miss it!

Let's Do The Warp Again,
-Claude Van Foxbat

Monday, 2 August 2010

A Very Warped History 2 : 1993

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A few years after the release of LFO, Warp was still enjoying moderate success, carving itself a niche as the label of experimental artists and revolutionary ideas. In 1992, Warp started what they called the Artificial Intelligence series. Designed to show the creative and flexible sounds that could be achieved with electronic equipment, Warp themselves described it as "Electronic Listening Music" to not be played as background or in DJ sets, but to be listened to with "an open mind"

The cover to the first compilation features an Android asleep in an armchair surrounded by Kraftwerk and Pink Floyd albums. Steve Beckett explains:


"You could sit down and listen to it like you would a Kraftwerk or Pink Floyd album. That's why we put those sleeves on the cover of Artificial Intelligence - to get it into people's minds that you weren't supposed to dance to it! ”
—Steve Beckett, Co-Founder of Warp, on the Artificial Intelligence I compilation


The artificial Intelligence Series Consists of 8 albums (2 of which are compilations) by artists such as Autechre, F.U.S.E, Black Dog Productions and Polygon Window (AKA Aphex Twin)

Obviously I can't post all of these albums, so it came down to Polygon Window or Autechre, and Autechre won in the IDM department (which is a term I hate, but will use for easy identification and whatnot)
Incunabula (derived from the Latin for something in it's infancy or in early development) is a very strange album indeed, it wasn't actually intended to BE an album, it was simply a compilation Autechre sent in to Warp shortly after they were signed. It sounds incredibly futuristic for it's time (as did almost all of the AI series) yet Incunabula resonates on a higher level, the music is cold and metallic with futuristic stylings; yet it manages to be warm, fuzzy and nostalgic at the same time thanks to the analogue equipment.



The limited edition was pressed on silver vinyl, combined with the artwork, very reminiscent of Kraftwerk no?
Anyway, The introduction from the album will back up everything I've said, featuring the signature warm synths and industrial-esque beats


and while I'm here I have some more tracks from this truly classic milestone in the history of IDM to share with you.

This track sums up almost the entire album perfectly, using simple bleeps to create something intricate


Autriche follows the same pattern, this time throwing muffled vocal samples in with the synths and beats. A treat for headphone users


Eggshell was originally released on AI 1 compilation as The Egg, which was a more dance floor friendly version of Shell, which on the album is a nine minute example of how the equipment of the era could be pushed to do extraordinary things


Lowride doesn't fit with the rest, it's not dark or industrial at all it's almost chillout, a genre which hadn't really been coined yet. As it's name suggests it takes more than a little inspiration from hip hop, and the intoxicating bassline does wonders too.


The final track caps everything off nicely with a slow and lumbering quasi-ambient intro eventually giving way to more beats and bloops. A must listen


also, a nice bonus for all of you bothered to read all this, Aphex Twin's other release from 1993, On. Released in November of 1993, the Twin begins to experiment with IDM moving away from his acid house roots. The result was another incredible hit for the style, and cemented it's place in the world of electronic music as a legitimate genre



On is a lovely piece starting off soft with a piano and a rainstorm sample. However it soon morphs into a monster that is the baby of Acid and AFX's newly evolving style. and it still sounds fresh today


The other standout track is 73-Yips which is Aphex's last attempt at anything Acidy. It goes down a treat though, definitely a staple for anyone who is a fan of the Twin.


and after all that, I must leave. Sorry for the wall of text, but the story of warp demands to be heard :D

Dispensing the modern classics,
-Claude Van Foxbat

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A Very Warped History: Intro



Chances are if you know your stuff about electronic music, you've seen this logo. It's the watermark of the legendary Warp records (which was originally called Warped Records, changed due to it's difficulty to make out over the phone.)
Founded in 1989 by Steve Beckett and Rob Mitchell, they and their new label set out to change electronic music forever, and they would, later becoming home to acts like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Autechre and Boards Of Canada

The label's first release (Forgemasters' "Track With No Name") was limited to a 500 copy pressing and was distributed in a borrowed car to record shops all over Sheffield. Despite these humble beginnings, Warp's first commercial success would come less than a year later in 1990, with the release of LFO's self titled 12" (with a Purple sleeve by The Designer's Republic) which would rise to number 12 in the UK singles chart. Reports flooded in of club soundsystems blowing out due to the low frequency basslines throughout the track, which only added to it's popularity. This release marked only the beginning of Warp's legacy in the world of Electronic music.


Why am I telling you this you ask? well, a fan requested I do a best of Warp post, but it soon became apparent to me that one post was simply not enough. So over the next few weeks/months/years/so on Myself and fellow new writer Here will be documenting the history of Warp records, and showing you their landmark releases.
but enough talk, enjoy the sounds of LFO's classic, 'cause this is what the next few are going to sound like :)


Tune in next time for more classic releases and words,
-Claude Van Foxbat