Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Peaks & Valleys

Rochelle Blumenfeld - Desert Canyon (2015)

What a week of ups and downs it has been, seems like there's always something waiting just around the corner, for better or worse. Still, given me a chance to catch up on some writing, which I am sorely behind on. the list of post ideas keeps on growing, but I'm going to try and schedule them out over this weekend - bit of a change from my off-the-cuff mode of operating I'd been using for a while! But let's pin that for now and talk tunes. Going a little thematic with this one for the selections, let's go.

Kicking off with some of Ben Prunty's solo work. I just missed a January sale on his Bandcamp page unfortunately, but they're on my radar now at least. Fans of Prunty's suitably spacey OST for FTL will find themselves in similar company here - Dusty Road opening with those lone, almost chiptune stabs. It soon evolves though, and by the 1 minute mark is quite similar to some of the Battle themes from FTL, building to an almost post-rock style crescendo come the 2 minute mark. I'm doing the track a bit of disservice by giving it the bullet point treatment, give it a spin to get the full effect.

Taking a trip back to 2007 next - it's been a little while since I did some nostalgia-posting about the days of electro house but here we are again! Very occasionally a track will come back up out of the blue and just blindside me, I was listening to Ed Banger's Ménage-À-Trois mix CD from Mixmag earlier this week, which pretty much did that on every single track. The real highlight was a little something from PUZIQUe, a short-lived duo of Boys Noize and D.I.M. They had a few killer remixes out around that time but I had pretty much forgotten about 'em in all honesty, until Don't Go Reminded me. A real tune, a shining example of the sound a li'l teenage me would go mad for, much like Surkin's White Knight Two later in this same compilation. Annoyingly a but tricky to get a legit stream of, so I'm splitting the difference once again - one legit, one knock-off soundcloud upload.

And finally, a little something that I picked up a while ago but just plain didn't mention. Not for any particular reason, I like to hold onto things every now and then for occasions like this. Astral Engineering is an alias of Simon Rees that's one of those delightfully obscure tales of electronic music - self-releasing 2 albums in 1993, then disappearing for nearly 20 years before coming back with new material in the 2010s. Music For Insomniacs gathers some of the 90's material that was never before released. It's a nice experience in all, reminds me a bit of Alter Ego's debut from 1994 in terms of it being one big continuous techy ambient jam. Drifting sets up that vibe nicely in all it's spacey, dubby glory. The end's a little abrupt as it's supposed to mix into the next track, I highly recommend the whole thing if you need a little bit of a midweek float. You can get the album for free if you'd like to boot.

And that'll about wrap it up for today as I said I have a few more ideas in the pipeline that I'm going to try and get out soon enough, but for now I hope you've enjoyed this slightly eclectic selection. I'll be back soon enough with more but until next time, as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


Tuesday, 24 January 2023

Like the deserts miss the rain - the return of Everything But The Girl

Colour me surprised to find a new upload on the official Everything But The Girl channel last week. First things first I didn’t even know they had a channel and second I haven’t even browsed that much EBTG content there so who knows how the algorithm decided to suggest it my way. This post was supposed to go up last week but I postponed it a little while I ironed out those previously mentioned tech issues, it was the right move to make in hindsight as I’ve had a little more time to spend with it and think on what I was going to say. So let’s get into it.

First, some backstory (albeit an extremely condensed one). EBTG started out as a folky kinda pop band duo back in the 80’s. Around 1995, hot off the heels of the now legendary Todd Terry mix of Missing they would take a more electronic approach - it’s here that most of the stuff I’ve posted of them comes from: 1996’s Walking Wounded and ’99’s Temperamental leaning heavily on the side of Drum & Bass.

And that’s about where the story ends, outside of some album reissues with old demos included and some solo albums from both Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt, there hasn’t been any *new* EBTG material since 1999. Until now, that is. They have a new album penciled in for April 2023, having been recorded in 2021 (which despite what you might think, isn’t a product of lockdowns so say the band). First single is the first track off the album Nothing Left To Lose, a fittingly melancholy title given the content of previous EBTG albums. More thoughts after the video itself.

It sounds cliché to say, but really it is like they never left, from the jump we’re back in 2-step garage town and there’s some proper shelf rattling bass backing it up as well, sort of retro but with a distinctly modern feel. The 24 year gap has done nothing to dull the duo’s production chops. EBTG’s work, especially Temperamental had a real focus on city spaces which I think the sound reflects very well.

And of course, it wouldn’t be a return to EBTG without Tracey Thorn’s vocals. Her delivery on some of the previous records is among my favourites, and her lyricism is usually full of colourful wordplay hiding the bleakness in the content. On first listen, I wasn’t sure it was her on the vocals, but after a few more listens it became more and more clear that it is. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about phrasing this part, her voice has changed quite a bit since the Temperamental days (but again, it has been *24* years, so that’s to be expected), feeling a lot more mature than the fragility of, say, her guest vocal on Massive Attack’s Protection. To be perfectly clear I don’t mean that to be negative at all - her vocals are still incredibly effective and evocative, and twins excellently with the sounds on display here. I find myself replaying the explosion in sound at 2:54, backed by Thorn’s plea to “Kiss me while the world decays” over and over again.

I’m interested to see where the rest of the album goes, previous ones weren’t always strictly Drum & Bass so this change in sound isn’t too unexpected, I would love to see an update to the ‘classic’ sound in future singles but I also wouldn’t complain if it were all in this vein. I’ll certainly be keeping tabs on it going forward, and if I’m feeling up for it might actually do a review when the time comes.

I’ve got this far and not even mentioned the video at all! It’s a fairly simple setup all things considered, but the camerawork and choreography is pretty great. Feels like a bit of a callback to the days where music videos were more common on TV than they are now - where artists like Aphex Twin and such would make wild videos to get the people talking. Slightly unrelated but my favourite of their previous ones is the video for Five Fathoms, which is just a bunch of guerrilla footage of a town center’s denizens on some night out in 1999, with a pretty heavy focus on a DDR machine for extra nostalgia!

But that’ll about do it for today, hope you dig the tune as much as I do, I’ll be back around soon enough with more but until then, as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


Saturday, 21 January 2023

Tech Troubles

Y'know, there was a time when a bug or glitch would pop up and I'd say 'ooooooh', crack my knuckles and set to work troubleshooting. That's a passion that's faded with time, maybe it's an age thing, maybe it's to do with my IRL job having quite a lot of that in it as it is. At any rate, there's been a few issues come up this week that have really made me just go 'UGH' - like downloading 100GB+ worth of game only for there to a massive remote code execution exploit come out only days later. There's also been a couple with this site actually, so you may have seen some weirdness during the week (which is also why this post is a little delayed). But let's put a cap on that for now and talk some tunes instead.
Pictured - how it be with technology sometimes

I put Moderat's debut back into rotation a while back, and I've been enjoying it more than I remember. For a record I've always had kind of mixed feelings about, I will say it starts off incredibly strongly - there are times where it feels like the trio of Modeselektor and Apparat are trying to find their feet, especially in comparison to the eventual later albums under the Moderat moniker - but the one-two punch of A New Error and Rusty Nails are both perfect examples of their collaboration. For both you can distinctly tell the parts that each brought to the table: Apparat's lyricism and delivery of course being the most prominent on Rusty Nails, but there are also shades of his Walls work on the opening track too. Today though, I'm feeling the classic Modeselektor bass that is all over A New Error

I've been revisiting a lot of The Knife lately as well, specifically their respective offshoot solo efforts. I did always end up paying more attention to Karin's rather than Olof's, but he has also done a lot less solo work than his sibling. A string of EPs under the name Oni Ayhun are the main offering from him - a collection of four releases over about 3 years. There's some real gems among the tracks, and today I'm going with probably the most popular one of the bunch, the B-side to OAR003, creatively titled OAR003-B.

A staple of many a mix around the time of its release, it still crops up from time to time, most recently in the DJ mixes included with GTA V's nightclub update. I has a bit of that Silent Shout style to it, but overall it's very different. You could be forgiven for thinking it's older than it is, in parts it definitely feels like that is the case. Despite it's quite hefty runtime of 11 minutes, it's not hard to see why it's popular - I love the constant working and reworking of the melody and I have a well documented weakness for key changes too. Unfortunatley it's not readily available on legit streaming, so I'm going to split the difference with a hooky soundcloud upload and a legitimate YT one.

Also in the pipeline are plans to do a few more Retro Reviews in the near future, including the bits of the Artificial Intelligence series I missed during my massive History of Warp series (which I am going to edit soon to replace the spotify players with Bandcamp ones where I can). I know I go on and on about those albums and that sound specifically, but I've never actually covered the main compilations that bookend the series of albums! And I never got around to covering Speedy J's Ginger either come to think of it.

J's contributions to the compilations are very nice indeed, I've gone with Symmetry for this one as it's a bit of a rarity, only appearing on the Japanese version of G Spot as the closing tune. And what a good closing tune it is, it would be my personal choice to cap off te AI series, an ambient trek with spacey arpeggios and swirling synths - it encapsulates that Hi Tech feel that underpinned the entire series, only in this very skeletal ambient fashion, building to an eventual crescendo in the final quarter or so. Lovely stuff and a textbook example of the 'Electronic Listening Music' Warp were shooting for.

And that'll be all for now, like I mentioned I've got more than a few ideas waiting to go, it's just a question of finding time to type them up! There might be a couple short ones I can pepper throughout to make the gaps shorter though. I hope you've found something to enjoy from the selections today, I'll be back soon enogugh with more but until then - as always - stay safe and enjoy the music.


Monday, 16 January 2023

How does it feel? (Blue Monday 2023)

It is THE Blue Monday, so I'm going to use that as an excuse to talk about all things Blue Monday. I don't think there's many singular tracks I could make an entire post out of - I know I've done it or similar for Kraftwerk's The Model way back when - but that is a testament to the lasting impact some of these tracks have.

Blue Monday is nothing short of iconic, and not just in the electronic music world either, much like The Model mentioned above, BM is one of the early examples of electronic music breaking through into popular culture. A quick breakdown for those unaware: New Order was formed from the tragic end of Joy Division, and would continue in a similar sort of style until around 1983 where things would take a decidedly electronic turn.

It's from this era that Blue Monday comes about, and it made a massive splash - with the original '83 pressing, the '88 re-release and 1995 version selling a cumulative total of approximately over 10 million. And it's not hard to see why, if there were a recipe for 80's synthpop, this would be it: the opening kickdrum flurry sets the stage, a moment that has become a pop culture icon on its own, and the catchy melancholy is of course another defining feature, and one that comes back into fashion every now and then (see: Electroclash around 2002). It's a bit of a pain to find a legal stream of, so I'm doing my usual routine of the crimped soundcloud player (which to be fair in this instance at least plays one of the most prominent bits of it), and then the whole thing on YT. The video is at least pretty cool for this one rather than just a static thumbnail!

And that could have been enough for today on it's own, a celebraation of this sepcific track. But I'm feeling a little inspired so I thought I'd put a couple more examples down just off the top of my head. First things first we have Flunk's cover from their debut album For Sleepyheads Only. Covers can be a divise topic at the best of times, something that is especially true with a track as massive as Blue Monday.

I can certainly see people crying blasphemy at this trip hopped version but it's pretty inoffensive, once it breaks free of the breathy-indie intro around 1:25 it becomes a lot less cliché and sets into a nice groove. Even so, it's very much in that vein of early 00's 'chillout' which has sometimes dated things a little more than usual, I have a well documented love for that style, plus added nostalgia glasses for this one so you'll have to take my opinion with a grain of salt!

It would spawn an accompanying EP of remixes, expanding the genres to include Drum & Bass, Electro, Disco and more. A couple of my favourites ended up on the compilation remix album Treat Me Like You Do, the remix album is pretty unique in that some of the tracks still mix together seamlessly rather than being standalone, so I'm using the EP for this next bit for a cleaner cut. Of them all, the second mix by Jori Hulkkonen might take the cake.

It turns it back around in the direction of the original with some 80's throwback synth to start off with, all coming to a peak with a re-interpretation of that kickdrum kick-off. It'd be easy to turn the whole thing into a retrofit remix and just emulate the original to a T, but after than initial nostalgia burst it does find it's own feet, bursting into a funky house infused number that's more Disco than it is New Wave. An interesting approach to take, but I like the inclusion of the knowing wink to the original before going off in a new direction.

And finally, HEALTH's version made for the Atomic Blonde OST, which I have very mixed feelings about. I've loved the new electronic direction HEALTH took since 2015's Death Magic, and on paper a version of BM with that sound would be very nice indeed, it could put quite an aggressive spin on things. In reality though I was expecting something more in line with the poppier approach they took for their cover of High Pressure Days made for the GTA V OST.

The end result though is a pretty by-the-numbers cover, incorporating all the key identifiers of the original - those kicks, that melody and even the synth choral accompaniment, just filtered through a HEALTH lens. The vocals feel a little flat, which I guess is in line with the original, but I feel like given some of HEALTH's other output it could have been a little more dynamic. There's a great breakdown in the middle section which spices things up a touch and gives it a little more of the edge, but otherwise it's played pretty straight - given that it's only appeared on the OST album that could be at the label's request, but that's conjecture on my part. Not my favourite cover, not my favourite HEALTH track either, but still fine.

Not to end on such a dour note, but then again I suppose that is on brand for the 'Blue Monday' after all. The concept itself might be total tosh but I'll take any and all opportunities to talk about a bit of New Order and relations. This one was a little off the cuff and I feel like it's gotten a little long, but that's OK as the next post in the pipeline is going to be a fair bit shorter, no ETA on it as of yet but you can probably expect it by the end of the week if all goes well. Until then, as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.