Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A Very Warped History 9: 2001 (1 Of 2)

    Previous Part                                                                                                       Next Part   

2001. Aphex Twin releases the long awaited sequel to the cult classic Richard D. James Album. Press reaction was somewhat mixed upon release, something tells me they were expecting RDJ Album 2.0 (and rule #1 of Aphex Twin is never expect anything). So when it came to picking up this album about a year ago I had the press were telling me it was a letdown, and a friend of mine actually said not to bother with it. But my mind was saying "hey, it's Aphex it can't be THAT bad right? Besides, I've bought a few albums that the press didn't much care for that weren't all that bad". And with that, I dove straight in without even listening to any of the tracks.

Drukqs, while not his "best" album (certainly his longest, clocking in at 30 tracks) it does have it's moments and is also arguably his most personal album, with the skittering beats and everything that makes that sound so uniqley his turned up to 11 (His reasoning being that he wanted to push the new software of 2001 to it's limits.) and the track titles being in Cornish. However these tracks that we've come to know the Twin by are intersected with some lovely poignant piano pieces, (actually programmed to be played by sequencers rather than actually "played") These pieces contrast so much with the tracks proceeding them that it shouldn't flow well at all. But it does. In fact the album OPENS with one of them.

I quite liked the atmosphere the first track gave, this was my first time listening to the album so I had no idea what was coming next. And then it hit me. the first time I listened to the album I was on a very long road trip back from the middle of the English countryside and I had to actually stop myself from grinning like a madman. All the press complaints suddenly made no sense. The mangled and cut up beats, the soft melodic synths, this was still undoubtedly Aphex Twin.

This juxtaposition of sounds continues on later tracks, for example on this one the synths lines introduced at 1:08 just sound fantastic to my ears even more so when it joins the rest of the mix. This is followed by a change in styles around 2:44 where for once Aphex adopts an almost conventional drumbeat, interjected by a brilliantly executed sample after which Aphex resumes his regular beat carving techniques, all leading up to that crescendo of noise at 3:54. A favourite of mine for sure.

Probably the most known piano based track on here, odds are you've heard Avril 14th somewhere before. But that doesn't take away any of the beauty from it, to think that something like this could come from the same guy who made Ventolin is a real testament to his musical flexibility. Oh, and be sure to listen through headphones, for this one and a few others Aphex put microphones inside the piano, so if you listen carefully, you can hear the internal mechanisms working away.

This next one... This next one. I can't even begin to describe it, it's just an eight minute journey though the mindset of Drukqs and perhaps the best track here. filled with ups downs and twists and turns. Just immerse yourself in it.

Another piano piece and the most obviously Cornish titled song on the LP there's not a real lot to say about this one, it's like the others we've heard so far, though this one is a bit more dreamy compared to the sounds on Avril 14th and Jynweythek.

Aphex Twin - Hy A Scullyas Lyf A Dhagrow

QKThr (Or Penty Harmonium, as it's called on the vinyl) bucks the trend with the piano bits, as the vinyl title suggests it's played on a harmonium instead, leading to that rustic seaside shanty sound that plays into the album's "personal" feel

Afx237 v.7 is another tune you might recognise, Chris Cunningham used it in his now infamous short film Rubber Johnny. It also breaks the trend set by other Aphex style tracks so far on the album, moving away from the tried and tested light synths and beat barrages of Vordhosbn and the like, and instead bringing a much more experimental feel to the sounds.

And topping it all off is the final track and yet another piano solo, Nanou 2. the (presumably) sequel to Nannou from the Windowlicker EP ends the LP on the same not it began on, only this is a lot more melancholic, with some sparse keys punctuating the otherwise silent track. In my mind is a perfect closing track for Drukqs, especially since it's the last we've heard from AFX in ten years (Analords excluded).

You'll notice that as we progress through the years a lot less of these releases will be tarred with the "Classic" label. Perhaps they haven't been out long enough to be considered Classic, perhaps that label was thrown around too much in the early 90's, I don't know. The latest record I saw described as a classic from Warp was Flying Lotus' Cosmogramma and while it's a good album, I don't think it's worthy of that title; It just didn't have that same connection with me like the older stuff from Warp, I don't know what it was but it was lacking that something to make it extra special. And I leave you with that thought.

Sounds Of The Post-Millenium,
- Claude Van Foxbat

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Mind Bokeh (Album Review)

So Bibio's new album Mind Bokeh is meant to be released on the 4th. wait, what's this in my post today? A package from Warp? No, it couldn't be... surely not...

Oh. A full two days early? Yup, and since the US has had it since the 29th I'm gonna review it real quick. Mind Bokeh is UK Based electronic musician Stephen Wilkinson A.K.A Bibio's sixth studio album, and his first after 2009's Ambivalence Avenue, though fans of that record's "Folktronica" sound will find little to pique their interest here, to quote the man himself: "I'm looking to move away from that, I don't simply want to be repeating myself". In fact, as well as having little connection to the sound of Ambivalence the tracks on this LP have almost no connection to each other, either. A few reviews have complained about this lack of cohesion, I personally don't mind it but I can see why it's been criticised. If you approach it with an open mind it shouldn't be too bad, to quote Bibio again: "I called the album Mind Bokeh because I'm interested in the effect of defocussing your mind"

Onto the tracks, the only single so far and the first track: Excuses, a tune that's less like Bibio and more like one from James Blake's recent self titled debut. Well, that is after the 2 minute melodic intro. after that though is fantastic, establishing the experimental nature of the album. Stay tuned for the sonic onslaught at 4:21.

Another dive into the experimental, with Bibio expanding upon his known style, with some discordant keys and off kilter beats thrown in, which I wasn't a fan of a first but I grew to like them the more I listened to it. It gives the whole thing a hazy 60's psychedelic vibe that he does oh so well.

One of my favourites from the album, I knew from the first 30 seconds or so that Anything New had all the workings to be my spring/summer jam for this year, lighthearted and catchy with smidgens of the "Folktronica" stylings, it's definitely an early highlight and one of the standouts on the album.

Wake Up! sounds like it would be an excellent track to do just that to, if the intro is anything to go by. The main focus here is on his own vocals which fans will know he does very well, not much goes on in the background until about 1:50 where there's a sort of psuedo-breakdown with some synths. This part doesn't really do it for me, in my opinion the track works better with his vocals than without.

Light Seep could pass as a B-side from Bibio's past with the heavy use of that ever so funky wah-wah guitar, but like so many other tracks on this album it deviates from that style with some synth hits here and there and even a solo about halfway through. Another one of my favourites.

This track has been compared to French rockers Phoenix, and is destined to appear in some flashy advertisement some day. Coming in exactly halfway through the album, it's another example of him trying to cover as much ground as it can within it's 12 tracks. In a lot of reviews this track is critiqued for not sounding like anything before or after it, and while that's true, I like it. It's nice to see him try something outside of his known style, same could be said for the whole album really.

Artists' Valley treads familiar Hip Hop ground, reminiscent of earlier tracks like Excuses and Anything New. The majority of this track is instrumental, and a damn fine one at that, everything flows so well I can't think of any particular elements to pick out. Clocking in at six minutes, it's quite lengthy, but true to the album's concept I've found myself surprised by it ending, feeling like it had only been on for about 3 minutes instead of 6.

I was unsure of this next track for a long time, the sampler video didn't really give a lot of insight into what it sounded like, and I was divided while actually listening to the track. It was good, but it needed that extra something to push it over the edge. I wasn't disappointed, the excellently executed squelchy synth solo at 1:51 pushed this track from good to amazing in a heartbeat. Absolutely brilliant stuff.

Bibio lists one of his major influences as Boards Of Canada, and his favourite album the classic Music Has The Right To Children. And it's particularly evident on the title track of the album, a brief soundscape similar to the ones BoC are famed for. This is sort of an opposite though, not because it's bad, but because while BoC's soundscapes feel (and are) short, this one is short but feels like it lasts forever and that isn't a bad thing at all.

More Excuses is well... More of Excuses. albeit with different lyrics and backing, this time sounding less like James Blake and more like the Bibio we know. Like it's bigger brother, it also has an amazing ending section, from 2:40 onwards a storm of breakbeats is unleashed along with the now mandatory synthesizer accompaniment.

Another track that the press didn't really like, Feminine Eye is the shortest track here, just shy of two minutes. Because of that there's not a real lot to say about it, it's got that lovely 60's feel we've heard earlier and even some sax towards the end. It's not amazing, but it's not objectively awful either, I'd call it decent.

The final track is another ambient-ish piece, the main guitar riff that forms the melodic backbone of the song gets cut up, distorted and more over the six minutes. While the track is fantastic as a whole, I wouldn't recommend it for repeat listening, I really dug it the first time and I still do, but around 5 minutes or so I always find myself looking for other tracks to put on.

It's a brave move to release something so varied, with no real reference point. Bibio pulls it off, if only just. While I like the album, I feel it would have been better to have more hip hop based stuff thrown in to break up the more experimental stuff, à la Aphex Twin's Drukqs. That said, there are some real gold tracks in here, and you should definitely check it out. Though if you're new to Bibio I'd highly recommend you start with Ambivalence Avenue and then move onto this, if you're already a fan just dive right in.

Final Verdict: Overall decent album, a bit ropey in places. Enjoyable though incoherent. 8/10 Love it? Hate it? tell me what you think in the comments :)

How Was I Supposed To Know?,
-Claude Van Foxbat