Sunday 30 August 2020

Retro Reviews: Everything But The Girl - Walking Wounded

Another instalment of this intermittent series today, with an album that spurred me onto doing this in the first place. It's the oldest album I've covered in the retro reviews series so far; Everything But The Girl's Walking Wounded from 1996. EBTG are an interesting band for their progression alone: staring off as a pop-come-indie band back in the mid-80's, by this point in the 90's they'd transformed into an electronic act making Drum & Bass and House. Despite this change, Walking Wounded is a good jumping in point if you're looking to explore their more electronic avenues as it's the first major release featuring this new electronic direction. Let's get stuck in.

As intro tracks go, there is no better demonstration of the overarching sound of this album than Before Today: 90's jungle backed with some deliciously smooth synths, all tied together with the sultry delivery of Tracey Thorn. I say this every time I bring up this album, but I still can't get over (despite the slightly dated sounds) how clean the production is. In my mind Jungle always has a bit of a rough 'round the edges aesthetic, especially in this era, but I have to remind myself acts like Everything But The Girl and Omni Trio were putting out stuff like this around then too (and I adore both of them).

Things take a delightfully retro turn next with Wrong, most definitely erring on the side of House this time. Picture the kind of house that would bleed onto the radio from time to time back in the 90's and you're most of the way there to how this one sounds. It's very much in the spirit of their own previous big radio hit Missing, from the album previous to this one Amplified Heart, specifically the Todd Terry remix from 1995. While treading the same ground as Missing, I think it's still pretty nice, Thorn's vocals are always a treat and even though Ben Watt's taken more than a few pointers from Todd Terry's mix here, his work throughout this album is slick and versatile.

I normally try to jump around the tracklists when writing these retro reviews but this album in particular perfectly summarises it's overall sound almost perfectly in the first 3 tracks. Single in contrast to the other two tracks so far is a more downtempo piece that's more in the style of the Trip Hop that was floating around at the time. For me this is where Thorn's vocals are at their best (though I will admit I am biased because my favourite is her work with Massive Attack on Protection which is very much like this). This particular breed of melancholy has been a constant throughout EBTG's work, and this album is no exception, even on the more upbeat tracks as we'll see with the next track. Watt's production is given some time to shine here in the latter quarter and shines as always. There's some muted sax in the background that runs the risk of dating the track but honestly I think it still works.

Moving onto the title track next, something I've not really talked about yet that I always bring up in regards to this album is the overall high-tech vibe it has. As was the trend in the 1990's, remember this is 1996: the beginning of the PlayStaton era, 3D CGI and Eastern Influenced graphic design a la The Designer's Republic as seen on the cover are very much in vogue at the time. It's a period I have more than a tinge of nostalgia for as I was a young Foxbat at the time, and in a sea of albums and designs that look or sound incredibly dated now a good 2 decades on, Walking Wounded always stood out to me as one that had aged well. Giving it a bit of a more critical close up now though there are definitely marks of the time on it, the string-styled accompaniment on the choruses is a little dated, but other than that I think it's still solid. The Jungle bassline remains killer and surprisingly powerful, it certainly gave my desk a bit of a dusting off when I had my speakers up just a touch too high. It was the first single from the album and I think that was a great choice as it makes a great demo of the new direction EBTG were taking, I will always love the intro here which for me properly encapsulates that high-tech feeling I mentioned.

I will admit here the album takes a bit of a stumble, nothing deal breaking but the tracks just don't do it for me like the choices so far do. Mirrorball for example hearkens back to their pre-electronic days, a downtempo acoustic jam about youth that, while charming, seems a little out of place up against the moody atmospheric Drum & Bass of the title track. Still there's plenty left to enjoy; Good Cop Bad Cop gives both halves of EBTG to flex in their respective areas: Thorn laying down some vocals that this time are more in line with the R&B vocals featured on some Drum & Bass of the time, and Watt's command of the production is as good as ever, although those strings make another appearance. I'd have maybe liked another track or so at the end, as it stands this is essentially the end of the album proper, Good Cop Bad Cop works fine as a final track but the whole thing feels a bit light at 9 tracks not counting the 2 remixes on the end.

It was only natural after the success of Missing that they hit up Todd Terry for another remix. This time reworking Wrong. Much like his mix of Missing the treatment is minimal, the addition of a little more dancefloor friendly House-y beat mainly. While the remix of Missing was a great flip and transformation of a folky tune into a House one, it doesn't feel like Todd's done much here. Which isn't inherently a bad thing but it is a little disappointing, a feeling that maybe wouldn't have been as strong if it were an extended edit out to like 6 mins or something similar. Still, the song's as good as ever, even if there's been no major changes.

And finally, another choice remixer for this album: Omni Trio. I mentioned them in passing above, bringing them on board to do a remix or hell even any of the Moving Shadow crew of the time was a choice move. And it certainly worked out very well in this case. Much more of a remix than Terry's above, here Omni Trio brings their own unique style of D&B to the table and it works very very well. Fragments of Thorn's vocals back a lush, almost chillout piece with a deceptively thick bassline and sparkling keys that is Omni Trio's style to a T. The way those additional drums cascade into the mix at 2:11 is an absolute masterstroke. My only complaints are first that the chorus never shows up, while I like the bits and pieces of Thorn's vocals sprinkled throughout, I would have liked the chorus to appear once or twice and I think it would have worked fine with the instrumentation. And second that it just kind of... ends. There's a little bit of a skip before to signify it but it just feels kinda abrupt, but that is small potatoes.

And that does it for another Retro Review. Walking Wounded is a good, albeit short album. It does take a bit of a turn in the latter part of the tracklist, but those opening songs are incredibly strong and very much make up for any rough patches. And that kind of thing is understandable as well given this was the band's first all-in-electronic album, and when you consider that context I think that the strong tracks are absolutely phenomenal. Certainly check out this album (Especially the re-issue with a second disc of more remixes, demos and live recordings, some of them are belters), and what would ultimately be their final follow up Temperamental which continues with that electronic sound. As always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


Wednesday 26 August 2020

Rising Action

Talking some tracks that could have easily been (and almost were) included in the post a couple of weeks ago: "Destroy Me". All from one artist this time as well in Zamilska. I, like probably many, was first introduced to their works via Ruiner, a cyberpunk hyper-violent twin stick shooter. Like Hotline Miami before it, the soundtrack choices were absolutely impeccable and Zamilska's contributions certainly stand out.

What sticks out to me about all the tracks I've chosen today is the reason for the title of the post, they're always building. Much like some of Clark's works, just when you think things have peaked something else is introduced to the mix. Zamilska's bandcamp mentions a bunch of influences including Noise and modern World Music, and that influence doesn't take long to show on tracks like Closer; the haunting chants of the intro soon giving way to rumbling electronics and a downright anxious synth. And really that's all of my choices today to a T, to sum them up in one word: Pressure. These tracks are absolutely unrelenting and once they get momentum just do not stop.

And it's this tension that permeates the entirety of their catalogue, even down to the choice of titles: all of them track single, punchy words. The intro of Smash sounds more like your traditional synthwave affair, but it's not long before a bit of that World influence from before makes an appearance, albeit distant in the back of the mix (and it won't appear in the main body for some time after that). It's potentially the most conventional of my picks so far, very stripped down compared to continuous cacophony of Closer, yet it's still very effective in building that tension over time. The sprinkling of some backing synths that evoke the 2010's blog electro sound to me during the last half is a real treat too.

Ruin sees a return to the Closer style of sound, this time with a hint of glitch influence on there to boot, when the beat is introduced it sounds like the arm of a disk drive stuck in a particularly nice sounding rhythmic loop. It too is a brilliant example of Zamilska's penchant for excellently building up; while there's not as many layers as some of the other examples here, it still grows into a lumbering monster by the halfway mark, there's barely any room between the elements to breathe. There are no real breakdowns save for something dropping out of the mix for a few bars, and any possible area of silence is filled with noise. Overthinking, represented in musical form.

I will admit it's taken me a little time to warm to Zamilska, the tracks posted are still my favourites and granted all of them are from the Ruiner OST (though I think Closer doesn't actually appear on the OST you can buy), but between the last post I made and now it's a vibe I'm very much into right now. I've yet to check out their latest album (from 2019) in any capacity, but I am very interested in where they take the sound going forward, and the progressions made in the ~3 years since Undone.


Sunday 23 August 2020

Tiding Over

Eyvind Earle - Grazing In Peace (1970)

Hey all, just dropping by with a quick one to see out the weekend. I do have a bigger post planned but I want to be able to give it a little more attention, so rather than leave you all till Wednesday with no updates I thought I'd knock something up quick. Keeping it Knife themed as I work out my complicated relationship with Fever Ray's second album Plunge. I absolutely adore the debut, as I do most things Karin Dreijer is involved with but the second is more of a mixed bag. It's... edgier, to put it mildly, there's a marked change in not only sound but approach to the subjects covered which is to be expected given the near decade between the first album and this (and the release of the incredibly politically influenced Shaking The Habitual from their other band The Knife as well). I might not agree with all the directions Karin took with the Fever Ray project (the eye-searing orange and blue color scheme of the bandcamp page for one) but I still admire them as an artist, and given I like 99% of their other output I think I'll survive. That said, there are little glimpses of the original Fever Ray here and there; Mustn't Hurry most definitely sounds like it could have been a b-side or even a solo single like the couple that were made after the first album: icy electronics and Karin's unique and trademark vocals are the order of the day here. It's been a while since I listened to it in full and I am absolutely stunned by the sounds, I was enjoying myself throughout but the little break and extremely powerful synth line introduced around 2:40 placed me firmly in love territory once again.

Took a bit of a road trip in sound recently too; looking over all the artists that Erlend Øye collaborated with on the incredibly smooth 2003 album Unrest. I've been in search of things to fill my love for that early 2000's DIY electronic sound and what better way than to go to the sources? In doing so I found Minizza, and while I've yet to take a full dive I'm liking what I hear so far, and they seem to have been fairly active since that era too. This one in particular is a real tale of back-and-forth influence: Apart from producing some tracks for Øye's album mentioned above, Minizza also did this electronic cover/rework of (Øye's folk/indie band) Kings Of Convenience's Winning A Battle, Losing The War, which Øye then included on his DJ-Kicks compilation! I do always enjoy hearing acoustic songs being flipped like this and this one's a really solid example, swapping the gitar for that poppy arpeggiated synth really gives the whole thing a different feel, and obvious bias of mine, bonus points for the subtly treated vocals too. I will say I am not a fan of the horns(?) introduced around 3 mins in, I can't help but feel they sound a little goofy, which I know is rich coming from someone who un-ironically loves Eurobeat. Still, they aren't around for long so it's not a massive detriment.

A similar tale with our last offering today actually. Ochre's A Midsummer Nice Dream, It's a lesser know IDM album that I found in the days when I was really into exploring lesser known artists of the genre. I had a copy on an old phone with plans to pick it up soon. Three guesses as to how that went. Anyway, it's an album I'd have sudden memories of and go dig out every so often, and purely on a whim I decided to look it up. I was nicely surprised to find there's a 15th anniversary re-issue out, chock full of bonus tracks as you'd expect. It's a lovely album, if a bit tame if you're hardcore into the Drill & Bass or otherwise intense side of IDM, but I've taken a long break from the sound myself, and between this and the lush glitch of Kensuke Ushio under his Agraph alias I've really enjoying being submersed in that world again. Here's a perfect example of that in REM Sleep Research; those gorgeous sounds are on display from the get go and are lovingly contrasted with skittering beats and occasional miscellaneous squelches. Ochre really gives the songs room to breathe here, there's brilliantly placed breaks that let everything slide into a stripped back or even full ambient mode toward the end which I certainly appreciate.


Wednesday 19 August 2020

Ilictromix: Matthew Prain (2014)

A re-post and archival of one of the series of mixes Adam sourced for us a long time ago. There's a couple more of these in the archives but I will spread them out between new posts! In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy the music. -CVF

This year I have been on a huge Drone/Ambient kick, so I'm really excited for this weeks Ilictromix! It comes to us from Matthew Prain a 23 year old Brisbane resident. I never knew that such moody dense music was coming out of Australia's scene, but after listening to his EP's and this mix my ears and attention are going down under. Also Surprising is how bright and cheery he is for how dark the material is that he puts out. I was introduced to his work after I fell in with the track "You Should Have Told Me (From The Beginning)" So I asked him a couple of questions and invited him to make a mix for us and luckily he agreed.

IL: So how did you get started and how long have you been producing? 
MP:  I started producing music in 2007, but I was really just messing around with pre-made loops and remixing Nine Inch Nails' songs at that point. I made some albums along the way under many lame pseudonyms until I finally got into film music in 2011.

IL: Minimalist and drone are some hard sub-genres to get into though what led you down that road? 
MP: I've always been interested in minimalist music where it's fairly repetitive in nature with only slight changes over time. The synthesizer I used in the EP (the Buchla Music Easel) was basically perfect for that style.

IL: So what are you listening to now then? 
MP: Lately I've been intrigued by the sounds of Death Grips and Tune-Yards, but my most recent favorite album would have to be Half-Eaten Guitar by Wyrd Visions - it's easily the most unique thing I've heard in a long time.

IL:  Oh you know how much we love Death Grips here! So then if right now you could work with any artists who would it be? 
MP:  I would have to say Phil Elverum of Mount Eerie, since I always go back to listening to his music at some point. Plus, it would be pretty cool to combine more electronic elements with his style of music...

IL: So how do you find inspiration for such dense textures and creating moody atmospheres? 
MP:  I guess the inspiration came from wanting to do an electronic album that was more personal and revealing, which I've always tended to avoid doing with most of my music. I was also inspired by Alessandro Cortini's solo albums to restrict myself creatively with using only a Buchla synthesizer, as well attempting to make it somewhat more performable live. Sound-wise, my inspiration comes from a combination of non-electronic artists like Mount Eerie and Wyrd Visions, and electronic artists like Tim Hecker, Andy Stott, and Boards of Canada.

IL: Oh ok that makes sense, So what Equipment are you using? 
MP: Apart from the Buchla Music Easel and a EHX Cathedral reverb pedal, I record with Ableton Live on a Mac. Tracks 2 and 4 were the only tracks that were multitracked while tracks 1, 3, and 5 were performed live in one take.

IL: If you could mail a letter to yourself 5 years ago what would it say? 
MP:  "You will stop listening to NIN in a few years time."

IL: Do you have a favorite flavor of Ice-Cream? 
MP: Chocolate easily, but sometimes vanilla depending on the mood. No extra gnarly toppings though - I like my ice cream to be minimal as well!

IL: So the EP is just stellar! Whats next for you? Rumors have it your going to sell out and make a Trap album? 
MP: I'm currently working on "Part 2" of Thoughts, so I can turn it into a complete album. The rumors are true - I'm planning on working with Kenny G to make a new style of trap music called "easy listening trap".

Andy Stott - Numb
Oval - Textuell
Boards of Canada - Reach For The Dead
Andy Stott - Execution
Tim Hecker - October, Part 1
Tim Hecker - October, Part 2
Aphex Twin - "Rhubarb"
Tim Hecker - Black Refraction

You can find more of Matthew Prain here: 



Monday 17 August 2020

Retro Reviews: The Knife - Hannah Med H Soundtrack

This one has been a long time coming. After a noted absence The Knife announced on Friday that they would be putting almost everything released on their label Rabid Records on Spotify and Bandcamp (though being the massive fan that I am, noticed there is a distinct lack of Karin's old non-electronic band Honey Is Cool). Not that there was anything wrong with their own store but it's still nice to see, and if anything gives me an excuse to talk about them more, so I am doing!

The Knife are one of my favourite acts of all time; after being introduced to Karin Dreijer via Röyksopp's ethereal anthem What Else Is There?, she had already become one of my favourite vocalists. It took me a little while to jump on the Knife train but I was absolutely immersed when I did, I don't quite remember when it was but it was a whirlwind of sound as I picked up almost their entire discography up until that point in one swoop. But enough nostalgia, today we'll be talking about the black sheep of the Knife's output, their soundtrack to Swedish indie film Hannah Med H.

And I say black sheep for a couple of reasons: First, this is one of the albums that was curiously missing from Spotify and second because while it was released the same year as their sophomore album Deep Cuts, it exists in this strange valley between the DIY indie sound of their first album and the out-and-out electropop of the second. And this makes itself immediately known from the first track; Real Life Television embodies that odd transitional stage from the get go. To be clear, this isn't a critique of the album, in fact I quite like the slightly menacing undertones that tracks like this have and while I won't talk about it too much their work very much suits the film (though admittedly it has been years since I've seen it).

This does lead to an internal dichotomy within the album however, where more atmospheric soundtrack-style tracks like the above rub shoulders with more conventional Knife songs. Here we start to see more of a move in that direction with the introduction of Karin's vocals, albeit without proper lyrics. Hannah's Conscious with it's powerful synth stabs would fit right in on Deep Cuts, though curiously if you have one of the later releases like I do, this and a handful of other tracks from this soundtrack are included on their self-titled debut. It definitely feels as if they're testing the water of how close they can get to the Deep Cuts sound while still maintaining that soundtrack element, and I think it works very well in that respect: the song stands alone fine but it can also play under dialogue without being *too* distracting.

I could honestly do a track-by-track breakdown of this album but I will skip some just to rein in the length. Jumping back to that contrast I was talking about, it only gets more pronounced as the album progresses, there is one scene in a Nightclub where they obviously needed some diegetic music to make it seem real, so The Knife lay down a pounding techno track with those trademark pitch shifted-down vocals in Handy-Man which is completely unlike anything on either of their releases so far, I still like it but it definitely sticks out in the track-list.

There are other examples of this that I think work better: the track New Year's Eve (that fitting plays in the background of a New Year's party) just bleeds that Deep Cuts style of sound, from the sugary sweet synths of the intro, to the Steel Pans that would define the early tacks of that album it is all there. In context it makes sense; it It certainly feels like a track that could play at a party circa the early 2000's I can't shake the feeling that this could very well be an otherwise unreleased demo from Deep Cuts, just reworked slightly to fit here, especially given that the lyrics have nothing to do with NYE. That is purely conjecture though, I have no proof of that but I think the description is spot on.

Like I say when so many releases finally make it to full streaming / bandcamp coverage, I am mostly happy that people have easier access to these releases because there is often some really good stuff on them. Some of the tracks from this OST made it onto the re-issues of their debut album as mentioned above, but some of them remained exclusive, This Is Now is one such example, and it's one of my favourites from this album. Its got a very unique style to it, the descending notes of the intro are unlike anything on either of the two albums before and after it and it is beautiful to listen to. It still feels as if they're holding back a little bit, while we get full vocal accompaniment from Karin on this one, her voice is almost in the background of the mix. I suppose this is understandable as it's for a soundtrack and all, and truth be told I do enjoy that kind of dreamy atmosphere that it gives the whole thing, which also compliments the film very well too.

As much I as love Karin's contributions to Knife projects, I must say that the Hannah Med H soundtrack is home to some of my all time top ten instrumentals from them too. Take The Bridge, I was taken in by it's charmingly euro-sounding intro anyway but it only gets better as the track goes on. The peak being the hands down euphoric breakdown at around 1:48, maybe it's my love of 90's trance talking but I could happily listen to those synth power chords all day, and the way it just slides back into the main body of the mix with the rapid fire crashes is fantastic. It's been a very long time since I first heard this one and it's still as excellent as ever. What I wouldn't give for an album of instrumentals like this from the sibling duo. Like I always say when talking about soundtracks too; I enjoy tracks like this too because they are just so much more interesting that your usual cinematic orchestral string affair, the electronics here convey that sense of tension perfectly well without them.

Keeping on that intense theme we have Wanting To Kill, and a better title for a track there never was. It is the embodiment of those closing lines of mine above: from the beginning until the end it is non-stop techno-fuelled intensity. There are so many things I love about this one: the way that those swooping bass pulses telegraph progressions in the song, the absolutely relentless beats and the way those claps build up to bombastic levels over the runtime. And all of it perfect in representing that feeling. And that's perhaps something I haven't praised enough so far when it comes to this soundtrack; the versatility of The Knife is on full show here, the same band that could make the heartfelt electronic-come-acoustic N.Y. Hotel can also flawlessly deliver pounding techno as well.

And speaking of versatility and that acoustic sound, there is actually a few tracks on here that embody that too, this is going to be the final selection of mine but the album does continue past this point. Vegetarian Restaurant is potentially my most played out of all the tracks I've talked about so far, I cannot ever skip over it whenever it comes up (and sometimes have to repeat it once more to get my fill), it's made its way into many a playlist and mix-tape and has played host to some amazing memories over the years. I know I try to avoid getting nostalgia tinged when writing these but I feel it's especially important here, as to me this track has that same quality that so many Boards Of Canada tracks have, where they already do feel nostalgic even if it's your first ever listen. The band themselves obviously think highly of it too, as this is once again another one of the tracks from this OST that were included in the re-issues of their debut. And that makes more sense than all of the others so far, as it does share a lot of sound DNA with N.Y. Hotel mentioned above from that album. Once again I know they evolved past this sound as a band but man, I could go for even just an EP of jams like this.

And that does it for my quick rundown retrospective. It's a hard one to review as an 'album' as if you do that it's super all over the place with sudden 180s in sound and all that. But I think it's still a solid addition to their discography, and home to some of those sweet exclusives I talked about. I don't think this is an ideal jumping in point if this is your first proper look at The Knife, definitely go with Deep Cuts if that's the case, the self titled debut The Knife also works too, but I feel that Deep Cuts better sets up the direction they'd take going forward, leading to one of my top ten albums in Silent Shout, but that is a tale for another day.

Do check out their whole Bandcamp if you have a minute, it's home to some albums I would recommend to any fan of electronic stuff, Silent Shout for one, but also Karin's first album under her Fever Ray alias, the self-titled Fever Ray, is nigh perfect and worth a look if you missed it back in 2009 or have just never heard it before. And as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


Friday 14 August 2020

What I've Misplaced (But Never Lost)

A couple of mis-clicks on my Spotify sent me on an unscheduled trip down memory lane, specifically a roundup of my most listened to of 2017. And really, not a lot has changed. There's a big smattering of pop punk in there as I was deep in making my "Non-Electronic Nostalgia" playlist but otherwise it's still identifiably Van Foxbat™. Still, there's some stuff that I picked up around the time and has been buried that these kind of playlists do a really good job of digging up, so I thought I'd rundown some of them today.

Roy Lichtenstein - Interior with Waterlilies (1991)

First on the bill is DMX Krew, I found this one completely by accident, it's an oft-overlooked b-side that wasn't available on early digital versions if I recall correctly. It's at odds with all the other DMX Krew productions I've posted so far too, there's no Funk or ironic retro electronic sensibilities to grin at here, instead December Darkness is out and out no-nonsense Deep House and I absolutely adore it. I remembered doing so and wondered if I would still like it as much, I was on a bit of a deep house kick at the time and was kind of obsessed with some Juno-60 demos by some blokes on youtube that sounded a bit like this but with more pitch bends. I am happy to report that is the case, the intro alone had me falling all over again, and the layering of different elements throughout is just fantastic.

Visiting old flames of mine Kittin & Hacker next, after a long quiet they came out with two EPs in 2015 fittingly called Lost Tracks, salvaged demos and half finished songs from the First Album era is my understanding. If you're a fan of the stripped electronics on parts of that album you will find a lot to love here, my favourite being track 1, Leather Forever. Hacker's production is on point here, not too minimal and complimenting Kittin's vocals incredibly well, the synth surges on the choruses might be some of my favourite things he's ever done. Likewise Kittin is on it as usual, she's very firmly in the electroclash style on this one: Stoic, almost disinterested delivery. Slightly melodic while still bordering on monotone, and of course hints of her French accent now and then. While it is very much a cliché of the genre by now, Kittin does it brilliantly (and not for a lack of singing talent, as we've seen on her other works).

Another thing I really like about this track in particular is the inclusion of Fetish and Kink, I'm honestly surprised that given the standard Electroclash output it's not more prominent, doubly so given that Kittin used to do live shows of this era in Nurse outfits (as seen on the cover of First Album) and leather dresses. It's an aesthetic that suits the music very well, and while there are a few other acts that have dabbled in that imagery I'd still say it's slightly rare which is unfortunate.

Finally, a very early relic of the 'tunes you pick up on a compilation and never hear of again' category, more on that in a minute. Tangent 2002: Disco Nouveau is a solid (if slightly dated) compilation centered around the idea of a bunch of artists of the time taking on that Disco sound in their own way, and there are some big names on there: Susumu Yokota, ADULT. and even DMX Krew as mentioned above. Some of it is very of-the-era, but as you all might know that early 00's techy new wave revival is very much my scene. I've talked about a couple of tracks from this comp before (the ADULT. track in particular is especially strong), but there are more than a few I've forgotten about.

Enter Memory Boy, an alias of John Selway, only ever used for a small handful of remixes and for this track (There Is No) Electricity, which is tucked away at the very end of this compilation. I'd never heard of it outside of this compilation, though Discogs tells me it appeared on a bunch of other compilations including a Dr. Lektroluv one that I'd also forgotten about. This strikes me as odd because in all my electroclash excursions I can't believe I'd never encountered it, it ticks all my boxes for that new-wave revival sound I was talking about a minute ago and is absolutely at home on a compilation based on (then) modern takes on Disco. I'm not a fan of the fade-out to a field recording of a city but otherwise I have no complaints: slightly treated vocals and slick retro electro sounds should have told you that already!

I hope you enjoyed this return to our usual MO of output, it was a lot of fun opening the box of old and having plenty of "Oh man, I remember this!" moments. I might have to 'accidentally' take a few other trips into older playlists and see if there's anything else I've forgotten, missed or otherwise not picked up over the years, I'll be sure to share the results of my digital archaeology here!

As always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


Wednesday 12 August 2020

Back To It

Thought I'd be a little late on this one but I think I'm going to pull it out of the bag. It's been a... strange week so far, between going back to work proper (on a limited basis) and the 3-4 days of intense heat back to back it's all been slightly surreal. It doesn't help I am one who intensely dislikes heat because I find it incredibly uncomfortable, but that's where the comfort songs come in. It's times like this I turn back to Eurobeat; It is pretty hard to be super mad or ornery when you've got the 160bpm lovechild of disco courtesy of Japan and Italy in your ears. And over the past few months I've been carefully slipping my toe back into the world of it because I decided I needed more, and yet I'm still constantly surprised with how shall we say unique the album art looks. Tracks after:

This is probably the best one of the bunch, I quite like it actually

Like so many other genres and songs I like it has become a bit of a meme in recent times but like I always say in these cases, I don't mind how people discover electronic music, if they like what they hear (ironically or no) then that's all good. And really I can understand that when it comes to Eurobeat, it's absolutely full to bursting with cliché lyrics (that often don't make sense as they're written by non-native speakers), some incredibly forced rhymes and sickly sweet synths. And yet despite it all, I can't help but like it, it does what it sets out to do well and doesn't pretend to be any deeper than that. We're not going to dive into the deep end yet, I thought I'd start off with a much more conventional one; I reckon you could turn Turn The Beat Around into a house track with a couple of small tweaks, or at least make a solid cover using the base elements. I will say get ready to hear extremely similar synths throughout the next few selections, it's a recurring staple of the genre.

Something I do like about Eurobeat is that unlike say your Euphoric Trance or similar, there are actually plenty of male vocalists in the genre too, my favourite of which being Christian Codenotti's work under the Ace alias, where you can definitely hear the Italo influence. This compilation doesn't show that off too well unfortunately and has a 70/30 split of vocals, but that Italo influence is definitely still there; Time After Time is an impassioned song about someone who seemingly can't make their mind up about someone, the choruses ending with "I don't need you in my life" while the verses are all loved-up which strikes me as very Disco-like in concept. Additionally, like Disco, the pop structure is also very evident here. Which is fine, but I would very much like a bit more of those post-chorus instrumentals. There are some pretty cool breaks in the last quarter though which do scratch that itch a bit though.

And finally one track from the sequel compilation. Vol. 4 in comparison to 3 is much more guilty of the sin of cheese but I have been absolutely relishing in it. I've been rotating through 4-5 tracks from Volume 4 that are intensely catchy, what's doing it right now is the machine gun rhythm of the chorus on Too Smart To Get My Heart. It's just an absolute blast to listen to, catch me in the shower vogue-ing and singing along to the few lyrics I can concretely make out. It's a fantastic injection of energy if you're having a pretty slow morning. I'm very aware by this point this is a very selfish post and that these eurobeat jaunts are potentially more alienating than when I go on about Ambient for pages at a time, but I hope this has brought a little levity to you wherever you are, even if it's just to have a giggle at the Eurobeat in all it's kitschy glory.

And with that, I'll be back soon with something a little more palatable. But as I mentioned above I hope that if you are reading this that you are well. And as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


Sunday 9 August 2020

One Year Older

It's that time of year again where by happy coincidence the blog and I share a birthday. It's been a bit of a rollercoaster for the last couple, this year doubly so. But I'm not to wallow in the current state of things (too much), in instead I thought I'd put together a list of tunes from the last 12 months or so that have really meant a lot to me.

Helen Frankenthaler - Yearning (1973)

Starting with back in December / January where I revisited the Everything But The Girl album Walking Wounded, a great album on its own but I had yet to check out the fancy expanded edition put out some time ago that has a second disc of remixes and the like to boot. It's there I would find what quickly shot up the list of my favourite of their works: a demo of what would become Before Today on the final album called Above The Law. I've always loved Tracey Thorn's vocals since I was first introduced to them on Massive Attack's Protection, her delivery is often really powerful and carries so much feeling. I mentioned last time I posted this that track sticks out on the album: being a demo it's got a slightly rough sound in comparison to the super polished smoothness of the rest of Walking Wounded. Which on paper wouldn't be something I'd like, in fact I probably would have argued it as a negative. But after spending a lot of time with this one I think it works perfectly, it twins beautifully with Thorn's impassioned, almost desperate delivery on the choruses.

Keeping it older for now, I put Garoad's soundtracks for VA​-​11 HALL​-​A back in rotation after a long absence, they're delightfully retro in parts. This one in particular could easily be a shared B-Side with Mitch Murder's brand of synthwave-esque stuff. I didn't realise how much I'd missed this kind of melodic slow jam until I had them back in rotation. It makes for very good 'doing stuff' music as is to be expected from the OST of a Visual Novel about bar-tending, I knew when this was one of the first tracks you hear that it was going to definitely be something that was almost designed for me. Garoad's done some other soundtracks and a solo EP that I still desperately need to check out, but like so many other things that I love I'm trying to pace myself and not dive in all at once and get burned. With a sequel to VA​-​11 HALL​-​A on the horizon the equally punnily titled N1RV-Ann-A, here's hoping we get more sweet synths heading our way soon.

And of course I can't write a post about favourites of the last 12 months without mentioning Rei Harakami. I simultaneously can't believe it took me so long to finally get fully immersed in his works but am also very happy that I waited until no because I feel like I appreciate them more now that I would have years ago. And really what is there to say about Harakami's work that I haven't said already? Supremely lush synth work, incredibly smooth productions and an ambient sensibility make for some electronic music that is just an absolute joy to listen to. 2005's Lust is a perfect diving in point, home to some of my favourite 'Harakami in a nutshell' tunes such as the title track. But since I've talked about that one a couple of times already, lets look at Come Here Go There instead. It fits the bill of everything I've mentioned so far, with the addition of a surprisingly intense kick drum being added for the final minute or so. It's just divine, if your taste is at all similar to mine, you absolutely need some Harakami in your collection, perhaps not this album, but go exploring the discography!

It has also taken me a very long time to branch out when it comes to ADULT., partly because I made that mistake of diving headlong into their discography and picking up almost half of it in one go a few years ago so for a long time I didn't feel like I needed more. Enter this year though where I finally got around to looking at their stuff that was newer than what I had. After a couple of tries I settled on The Way Things Fall, which was again almost tailor made for me. It was the punky electro of the ADULT. that I had, but this time with an almost more electropop edge. I'd almost say that this makes this album in particular more approachable than their early work but it's not a huge change. If you like this, there's a high chance you'd also like Anxiety Always for example. The biggest change here is Nicola Kuperus' vocals being more dynamic, as much as I love her stoic monotone on tracks like Hand To Phone I don't think it would have worked as well here so it's a welcome change, her lyricism remains on point; full of visceral imagery and interesting rhythms. Not to overlook Adam Lee Miller's production, the nervous synths throughout this track are perfectly selected and the little bits of 808 that poke through every now and then really lend themselves to that now slightly retro edge that ADULT. have.

And finally, HEALTH's Death Magic. It's not their newest release sure but it's a damn fine album. The whole thing is permeated with this kind of nihilistic outlook that is thematically completely at odds with the thundering instrumentals and I adore it for that. There are lots of little flourishes that make HEALTH even further blur the lines between a traditional band and an electronic act; only after looking up a live version of this track did I even know that what I thought were synth pads backing up the whole thing is actually just a really distorted (or otherwise messed with by pedals) Guitar. I've mentioned before how much I like the more electronic direction they took starting with this album but it bears repeating, it's like they tapped into a sound that I didn't know I needed until I heard it. I've been holding onto Dark Enough for a while now for just such an occasion as I think it perfectly sums up all I've talked about above. Whenever it comes up I cannot help but listen to it in full as soon as I hear that incredibly powerful intro.

I think that'll about do us for today. I didn't cover some stuff I had planned because in hindsight it would have clashed with the overall vibe of this post, but that's OK because it would have been a little long that way too, it'll easily roll over into the next post. As always: Stay safe and enjoy the music all,


Thursday 6 August 2020

Shopping List (...?)

As mentioned in previous posts, I'm currently sizing up my ever growing wishlist to see what will make the cut come this Friday, and truth be told I've been slacking a bit, and there have also been new additions in the last few mins before I started writing this post to complicate things further. Even then this post is still going to contain one thing I already own (two things if you count the B12 track that I already have from another album) but I'm getting sidetracked. Today's order is lovely bleepy early to mid 90's techno, the kind that Warp was putting out around that time as part of their {Artificial Intelligence} series (of which two of these choices are from!) Let's go.
Jeffrey Smart - The Four Closed Shops (1982)

I might as well get into the Warp stuff first off, starting with my favourite underrated entry in the series of LPs: Richie Hawtin's Dimension Intrusion. I could never get into Hawtin's output as Plastikman but I absolutely adore this album, its a shame none of the tracks appeared on either of the Artifical Intelligence compilations because for me they are up there with the big names in terms of demonstrating what that series was all about. That's not to say that you can't hear the direction that Hawtin would take, one of the tracks on Dimension Intrusion is a 13 minute slow arpeggio only punctuated by bass pads and occasional samples from THX 1138. I've chosen the title track this time around, it's one of the more upbeat bits of the album actually which gets super ambient in places but it also shows off both the differences and similarities with Hawtin's later more minimal work. It was never re-issued internationally after it's 1993 pressing, but it's now real easy to get your hands on now as Hawtin himself published a 25th anniversary edition to his Bandcamp, albeit with a slightly different tracklist to the original release.

Next up is a bit of a strange one. I can't remember how exactly this one came to my attention, I do have some vague memories of a discogs reccomend but even then I don't really remember the page, likewise I don't remember what made me even find it on bandcamp either. I think I may have heard it in a live set maybe? I definitely do remember hearing it somewhere with the incorrect title and having to listen to the whole thing to find that initial track that caught my interest. Anyway, that's irrelevant, as it hits the same buttons for me as the Warp brand of electronic at the time, in fact coming out around 1994 after the Warp crew and others had taken techno from the dancefloor to the home stereo. It's not quite as cool and hi-tech as the Warp stuff to my ears, but it also wouldn't sound very out of place on one of the compilations either. I have to agree with the Resident Advisor review that says the whole album has a much more warm feel than it's contemporaries I listed, it's techno that feels very tactile and for want of a better term (also borrowed from the RA article), Cosy. Very much embodying that 'home listening' concept that the original Artificial Intelligence compilation was based on.

Taking a bit of a turn around with B12, another of my favourite examples of this kind of sound. B12 are pretty much the opposite of what I mentioned above; in contrast their brand of listening electronic is that cool, hi-tech sound that drew me to this kind of stuff in the first place. With album titles like Time Tourist, its cover art featuring retro-futuristic covers of a Neo-London is certainly in line with that "Future Music" aesthetic, which as you all probably know is supremely up my street. Telefone 529 originally appeared on Electro-Soma in 1993, as well as on the first Artificial Intelligence compilation under their 'Musicology' alias. As noted on the cover of that compilation, Kraftwerk among others were the inspiration for this new wave of electronic, and that influence is plain to see here from the track being focused on technology (though this time ironically Phones and not Computers as in Kraftwerk's case) to the repeating samples of automated phone operators.

And finally a little bit more from DMX Krew. Purely instrumental this time which means yet again no self-aware retro lyricism, but as the title would suggest the track itself is very funky indeed. I was hooked even before the first of many wobbly bass warbles came through, but even then, every layer of the composition of Wave Funk is incredibly well done. As Ed messes with the filters toward the end making the main hook go from bouncy to squelchy, to nervous and back again I can't help but grin. It's only short especially considering its the title track and all but I honestly can't complain, nothing else on the EP has anywhere near this level of funk so it just makes the whole thing even sweeter. If you're in the mood for some analogue jams and have completely rinsed the Analords over the last decade like I have, this EP and it's sequels are definitely ones to look out for.


Monday 3 August 2020

Digital Digging

I've been looking through my Bandcamp collection and Wishlist in prep of the upcoming Friday, where they're continuing the tradition they've had recently of waiving their cut of the sales for that day. I've been taking advantage of this because it feels nice to do, and also it turns out having a set date to get music on actually makes me actually decide on things instead of throwing them in the pile of "to get to". Anyway, here are the results of that perusal.

Yiannis Tsaroychis - Cafe "Neon" At Night (1965)

I don't even have that much in my Bandcamp collection but already its easy for things to get a little lost, take The Flashbulb's Love As A Dark Hallway, I picked it up some time ago but then never really mentioned it here. I think the main reason for that is that it was an album I'd loved from afar for a couple of years by the time I got it, so while it was new it wasn't 'new' y'know? To cut a ramble short definitely check out The Flashbulb, Benn Jordan is a fantastic musician and his work under The Flashbulb moniker is often a lovely mix of ambient sensibilities and fairly accessible IDM. I'd almost argue it's easier to introduce folk to the genre with Flashbulb (although now I'm writing this, that's not counting the more melodic Aphex Twin pieces!), all the key elements are there just not as face melty as some others. Pastorial Whiskers almost sounds like it could be something from Squarepusher funnily enough, especially the Hello Everything era with those swooping synths and jazzy bass guitar work. One last side note I do like how Benn included different album art for each individual track for this album, it's a nice touch, a shame most music players don't support it fully though.

It's a similar tale with this next album actually, maybe even a longer one than the above. I first fell in with this one back on Grooveshark of all places, back when it would have been a new release in 2013. For all it's flaws I did really like its recommended system, it was better at showing you new stuff than Spotify at any rate which at least for me gets stuck in a loop of the same few albums and tracks, but I'm digressing again. It's been a while since I listened to it properly, the one album is very much lost in my usual MO of shuffling everything I own. Which is a shame because its a very slickly done slice of Ambient and IDM and is totally in line with that techy sounding vibe I've been after lately. There's definitely more than a bit of Burial influence on here and it sounds a lot like there's a touch of Moderat as well, especially the II album, they were only released a few months apart actually! It can get a little long in the tooth for me on some days, but as you might expect with my recent techy kick I'm very much into it today.

Third verse same as the first! I was a long time admirer of Soichi Terada's work on various soundtracks but his solo work was at that point either only on vinyl, out of print or just tricky to get hold of. Thankfully that's changed in recent times and a compilation of his various solo pieces is now easily grab-able on BC, Sounds From The Far East is essentially a 'best of' of Terada's House works, as much as I love his Drum & Bass from Ape Escape he has a real knack for the slower tempos too. Part of the reason I love Terada's work so much is that it sounds like he has so much fun when making them, something you can hear in the production and is reflected in the album art for this comp too. It's an unfortunate casualty of the digital version having a different tracklist curse, but it's not too hard to find the missing / replaced tracks out there if you're so inclined like I was. There are a ton of tracks I could pick but I went with one of my favourite deep house bits in Purple Haze which wastes no time getting into the swing of things, and is full of the hallmarks of Terada's sound of this era: sweeping synths, big kicks and bouncy basslines.

Something new (to me) to wrap up, once again making me further amend my "I don't like minimal" sign to say "I don't like a lot of minimal" (although this is technically tech house but the point stands if you give it a listen!) I checked out Swayzak based off the electro-poppy State Of Grace and I Dance Alone, and was greeted with this and similar tracks instead. I was surprised for sure, but then again this isn't the first time I've seen an artist make a dramatic 180 in sound. I've yet to take a proper dive in but I have found more than a few tracks to catch my ear that are once again scratching that techy itch I have. Low-Rez Skyline is fairly sedate which makes for really good at-the-computer music, there's a lot of little flourishes and switch ups throughout that keep things fresh and interesting for me. It echoes of one of my other favourite Tech/Deep House pieces: Marshall Jefferson's Mushrooms remixed by Salt City Orchestra, albeit minus the absolutely stellar spoken word element. If you asked me originally I'd say that Skyline could benefit from that type of treatment too, but now I'm not so sure. It's a little lengthy at almost 10 minutes, but that makes it one of the shorter tracks from this album, I could see that being a deal breaker for some and on paper I would include myself in that, but I'm only now beginning to feel it growing stale after my fourth or so listen in a row when prepping this post.

And that'll do us for today. Stay tuned this week as both mine and coincidentally the blog's birthday come up on Saturday, I don't know what if anything I'm gonna do yet but I hope to come up with something. There'll be certainly no party this year that's for sure. And on that note, as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.