Sunday 28 February 2021

Missed Connections

You ever find a track or an album and find yourself thinking 'Man, had I found this X years / months / etc. ago I would have been really into this?" It's something I'd not really considered myself until recently but it has happened to me a few times now. When it does happen it makes me feel a little sad in a sense - if only I'd have found these tracks earlier, y''know? Still there's no time like the present is there, So I'm going to scroll through my archives and see what I can come up with that I remember this happening with.

Nina Tokhtaman Valetova - Entropy (2015)

Above & Beyond are one of those acts that gets recommended to me a lot but I've never really taken a deep dive on, I like bits and pieces of what I've heard and their remixes from time to time though. One thing I did see come up again and again on my semi-regular trips into the world of Trance was the one and so far only OceanLab album. Sirens Of The Sea has that distinct Anjunabeats style on the cover, with liberal use of Helvetica as so many other techy trancy covers did at the time - I've been aware of it but never really listened, put off a bit by the 'Vocal Trance' label which in my experience hasn't been great (though hypocritically I do have that love for the 90's stuff that probably falls under that label). Still, I really liked 'Satellite' around the time it came out, I figured I could at least see what the album had in store.

While tracks like 'Satellite' are in the spirit of Trance as I know it - there's quite a bit of variety in sound on here, though as mentioned above, I do only really swim around in the shallow end when it comes to the genre (no pun intended!). Tracks like On A Good Day take me right back to when I was really getting into Progressive House around Dadmau5's Random Album Title era. I still carry a bit of a torch for this sound, admittedly a bit tinged by nostalgia, but I can't help but smile a little bit when the drop approaches. It totally could have been one of those tracks that bled onto the radio in that time, it was in fact released as a single but in 2009, so it was well within that window. And this is really the track that spurred this post - I still like it for sure, though IMO the piano has dated a bit - but man, back then the younger Van Foxbat would be so into this.

TeddyLoid next - an artist that's been a bit of a mixed bag for me. See, the reason I went to check out TeddyLoid in the first place is because of the beautifully bombastic Fly Away, a track that in the spirit of this post takes me right back to the glory days of Blog House and that I would be lying if I didn't say I loved. So on the strength of that I looked up 'Loid's other stuff, and it's true that you find quite a few tracks in the same vein - but you also get some dubstep digressions in there as well, the kind you might expect of the mid 2010s era, the kind that's perhaps a tad obnoxious. I don't mean that as a knock to the tracks themselves - they are absolutely well made and (as is the point of this post!) would have been supremely up my alley around the time. That's also not to say there isn't the occasional track that I still kinda like despite all of that.

All You Ever Need combines my love of euphoric trance with these supremely powerful electro stabs that I can't deny still stir something in me. Lion Rebels too, while being one of the biggest offenders for the out and out robo-wub dubstep sound has it's moments to shine - that vocal break with TeddyLoid's now trademark autotune treatment (which again I am biased towards) sounds brilliant. The full track is this interesting clash of then contemporary dubstep, the dancehall stuff that Dubstep was incorporating around the time and topped with with Japanese vocals instead (at least until that break). The whole concoction is an an interesting mix even if it's not for you.

Apologies for the 40 second previews, the version of this album on streaming is the 'Reloaded' version which has a different mix on it. To make up for it I'm including the two I mentioned above.

Bringing it full circle with more dubstep, this time in the classic style. As the title of this compilation suggests, this is all hand-picked Skream tracks circa 2004-2006 which is a little before I got into dubstep proper but is still my favourite era of it's sound. I found these completely by happenstance when looking over discogs to see who had official bandcamps (because BC's search function sometimes bugs out a bit). There's not as much on there as I was expecting, not just from his main discography there was a time when Skream used to give out free EPs of bits and pieces every so often and Bandcamp is a pretty perfect platform for that. Though having said that, there were plenty of bootleg re/mixes on those free EPs so it might be a bit of a rights minefield.

But I digress, onto this compilation: These tracks are definitely not as refined as the ones actually released around the time (something that's only highlighted more if you go back and listen to Skream's deubt from '06 as I did after hearing this) but I think that's to be expected with the 'Unreleased' label and all - from an archival front it's nice to see tracks like this see the light of day as well. Over the three volumes it's really interesting to see Skream's sound develop and change with both experience and access to technology - while the later ones may be a little more slick in their production, I do still love me a dubplate that sounds like it was knocked out in someone's bedroom one weekend like this one.

And that'll wrap it up for this time. This was meant to be a little quickie, but since I had to jumble up the post with the Daft Punk announcement so I came back and added a bit to this one. It's been a fairly productive week, I've tried to focus a bit more on writing new stuff rather than restoring - which apart from me biting off a bit more than is comfortable with the Moby Retro Review has been surprisingly smooth sailing, I'll try and keep it up!

And as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


Thursday 25 February 2021

Retro Reviews: Moby - 18

It's been a long time since I've done one of these hasn't it? About 5 months by my count. This week is an album that I've been meaning to look at for a long time, I was originally going to be covering it's demographic-crossing older brother Play but I think it'd be much more interesting to focus on the follow up to that one - 18. However, there are still going to be tons of comparisons between the two as they are intrinsically linked - with the added benefit of nearly 20 years of hinsight this is going to be one of the more detailed Retro Reviews I've done (And I am now kicking myself for not calling this series Retro Perspectives instead).

It's an curious tale for sure, it's not technically Moby's 'difficult second album', but it might has well have been given the sheer number of people that were suddenly introduced to him via Play, combined with the label naturally wanting more of that sweet licensing money that it brought them in spades. The pressure must have been something else, though Moby says otherwise in interviews from the era, at least on the commercial front. I have a fair few gripes with Moby as a person, but I'm not going to let that influence this piece - I'm trying to keep it about the art and not the artist as it were. It's not somehting that's completely avoidable naturally, but I'm not going to air out all my grievances at once here. And with that, let's begin.

Well, what can you expect from 18? How do you follow up from Play - an album that was originally intended to be your last one, one that suddenly gained massive commercial success 9+ months after it's release? To sum it up slightly cynically: More of the same. It's a methodology I can sympathise with, having worked in the creative space it's very easy and appealing to stick to working with a specific style/format/medium that gains you the most praise from various sources. But with that comes the risk of stagnation. And that's a very real risk: Moby certainly wasn't the only one to be doing stuff in that vein, tracks like Blue Boy's Remember Me from '96 originally, predate Play and tread much the same ground, albeit in a more Big Beat style rather than Downtempo.

18 was Recorded between 2000 and 2002 - a fairly significant amount of time all things considered, (but still around the same time it took to record Play) and as was the case with so many albums at the time with a slight delay to alter some content in the wake of 9/11, an event that must have been particularly traumatic for Moby given his home studio was in Manhattan. Would a quicker release have helped a little bit? Maybe, but you'd run the risk of burning people out or having a slightly unfinished record if you chucked it out as soon as possible.

18 also marks a change in method when it comes to Moby's production, transitioning to software based production using ProTools - on the whole there are much less samples than on Play, but they aren't completely absent. There's plenty to be said about Moby's use of samples and his choice of them - these are typically R&B, Soul or even Gospel records. Some tracks from Play where pretty much entirely sample based, Run On for example was pretty much the entire original 'Run On for a Long Time' from Bill Landford and The Landfordairs, just with some additional noodling from Moby. I'm not going to touch too much on the ethical side of things here (and I've made my opinion known in the past anyway), but these samples definitely contribute a lot to that sound that defined Moby's work at the time - and it's always interesting to hear an Artist's influences in that way. Cutting back on them was a wise move both for Moby to start to further define his original works, and probably cut costs by not having to licence as many samples, but in doing so potentially alienates some of that popular audience that was attracted to Play in the first place.

But enough Preamble - let's talk the actual music. 18 opens in quite a bold fashion compared to the sample heavy Honey from the last album, instead we have We Are All Made Of Stars: an all-original song that does away with the electronics almost entirely and swaps it out for an of-the-era rock sound. A late addition to the album, penned after 9/11 and chosen as the lead single from the album - it's an odd choice for certain. One that I'd argue is deliberate though, what better way toe expand your radio appeal in the early 00's than going with some fairly safe pop-rock? Intended to 'inspire hope', It may come across as a little trite now both lyrically and musically but it's not bad, but certainly alienating (no pun intended) to anyone looking for something similar to the last album.

It's not long before echoes of Play come back though - In This World could have easily been a B-Side from the last album. While there are less samples this time around, the ones that are there are excellently sourced. Based around the incredibly powerful vocal from 'Lord Don't Leave Me' by The Davis Sisters, it's the distilled essence of the sound of Moby from this era - backed with piano chords and lush (if a bit overwrought) strings. It is still very well produced no doubt and perhaps it's the nostalgia talking but I do still like it. There is however that undeniable commercial slant to the entire thing, tracks like this are totally advertising bait (and it was in fact used as such by Renault) - but whether the track itself sounds inherently commercial, or that is just the benefit of hindsight I'm not so sure.

The trend continues on the next track (and single), with the similarly titled In My Heart opening with dancing piano arpeggios that you will certainly have heard in some promotional video or in the background of a TV show at some point, garnished with the now expected gospel sample. Great Escape deviates from this quite substantially though - featuring dream pop duo Azure Ray on the vocal front, it's an almost ambient showcase of strings that's a bit underwhelming. The vocals are great but they're let down by the cliché string accompaniment. Though admittedly there may be some bias to that as I'm not a huge fan of strings like this anyway but I can't help feel it would be improved were it more akin to something like UNKLE's Chaos for example.

On the flipside, Signs Of Love is where I think Moby shines through, it's got more in common with some of my favourite underrated bits from Play like If Things Were Perfect. Rather than the moody melancholy of Perfect though, Signs has that more uplifting sound that opened the album, at least on the instrumentation - the lyrical content can be a bit bleak at times. Having said that, Moby's slightly treated vocals are a treat to listen to too, they're much more melodic than that example from Play. I think it's aged much more gracefully than some tracks here - while it's still very clearly a product of the early 2000's it sounds a fair bit fresher. Though maybe that's a virtue of this one not being completely overplayed as it wasn't a single.

One Of These Mornings also fits this bill, and is one of my favourite barring the big 6 singles. Once again Moby's choice in samples remains stellar - the vocal taken from from The Caravans 'Walk Around Heaven All Day' is incredibly powerful. There's not a real lot done to the sample in the grand scheme of things, but it is still more varied than some other examples from Moby's catalogue, rather than just repeating over and over a la Honey for example. For me, this is one of the standout tracks on the album, partially because it's not one that's been played out to death as a single. It still suffers a bit from those grandiose string swells in the second half but that could just be my personal bias at show again, the first half is absolutely lovely either way. Slightly off topic, but there's also a version Moby re-did with Patti LaBelle on the vocals for the 2006 Miami Vice movie - the instrumentation on that one is slightly updated for the era, much more sedate than the album version, which lets Patti's vocal take centre stage. I think I still prefer the album version, but it's interesting to hear an updated, 100% sample-less version nonetheless.

I was originally going to try and skip over as many tracks that were singles as possible, but so far I'm at 3/6 and I'm about to make it four. If tracks like In This World and the like were Moby fishing for those sweet advertising licences, then Extreme Ways is him angling to do the same for film soundtracks. Moby had been featured on plenty of film soundtracks before this already, as evidenced by the existence of the cheekily titled 'I Like To Score' compilation, But even then there is an undeniably intentional 'cinematic' sound to this one - I always thought the high tension screeching strings of the intro may have been influenced by Moby's work with the James Bond Theme from '97, though that mix is a more standard techno/breakbeat affair. It's another standout of the tracklist just because of how different it is by virtue of leaning on that more pop-rock sound again, though bits of the rest of 18's sound do peek through on the choruses.

We're at the mid-point in the tracklist now, and it takes a little bit of a turn. Jam For The Ladies evokes the more Hip Hop parts of previous albums, Honey for starters - and a great bit of wordplay on the title: with MC Lyte and Angie Stone on the vocals and an overall theme of empowerment the track is a Jam For the ladies and not a Jam for the ladies. But man is it ever retro sounding, and not in an early 2000's way - parts of Jam sound almost 90's in their execution (though I think that may have been the point). It's not a bad track by any means, but it does stick out on the album in terms of sound for better or worse.

But Jam also marks the end of any upbeat moments (barring a few exceptions) - from here on out the rest of the album is firmly in downtempo territory. We have another single next too - Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday). As is to be expected at this point Moby's sample choices remain on point, this time Sunday by Sylvia Robinson. The sample is a little bit more jarringly cut this time around - there's distinct stops as cuts from the original end, it's a problem that's not really avoidable and not a complaint, but other tracks on this album definitely sound smoother. Other than that, at the risk of sounding reductive this one is more of the same: Radio friendly electronica. The Piano on this one sounds a little stiff, distinctly digital (which to be fair, it probably was), but there are other flourishes I appreciate - flashes of acoustic guitar and lavishings of other lush synths over the top mitigate that a bit.

It's at this point the album hits a bit of a rocky patch for me. The title track 18 is a bit if a let down. There's nothing wrong with it and it's not bad really, but it is just yet another piano & strings piece in a sea of them, this time with no sample to inject some flavour into it. The intro is lovely - but it soon falls into the same trap of becoming needlessly grandiose again. And that's really my main complaint with 18 as a whole, there are no really bad bits of the album - just bits where it's just a bit bland, something that only gets more pronounced as we're very familiar with the formula at this point.

It rebounds nicely on Sleep Alone though; actually going against the tried and tested formula that I just talked about. This is by far the most Trip-Hop style track on the album, a change up in style that the album could have used more of scattered throughout. This is also one of the tracks that had some alterations done to it in the wake of 9/11. It's easy with hindsight to criticise the changes as being over-encompassing but I think the changes made here actually work better: "Pieces of fire touch your hair" being replaced with "Pieces of light" is an improvement for sure, I think the changed line sounds nicer and fits better with the overall moody melancholy of the track. Though having said that I'm surprised that the some lines like "City once full of people... is desolate" made it in unaltered.

At Least We Tried returns to that now staple format once again though, to the point where I mistakenly believed that the vocal on this one was sampled as well. Turns out it's not, and is original from Freedom Bremner. You can forgive me for thinking that though as it's about as repetitive as the sampled vocals, it wouldn't have hurt to have an extra verse or two there for variety.

Harbour is a slightly odd one again, apparently originally written by Moby in 1984, it again leans back on that pop-rock vibe. It's an interesting move for sure, as someone in the creative field it's not often you can go back to an older piece and not be struck by how much you've improved since then! The guitar backing here is a welcome addition, it sounds great and is a refreshing change of pace - especially those distant solos put in here and there. The string backing does return on the choruses but it's a little more sedate than previous tracks and I think actually compliments well with Sinead O'Connor's vocal here. I'm not so sure about they lyrical content in spots, but I can't deny that Sinead's treatment of them is brilliant.

We're entering the final stretch now: Look Back In shares a little bit more sound history with Play once again - the hazy beats of this one sounding a little like Down Slow. While fairly short, it's not long before it also falls victim to the curse of the strings on this album, and as a result it comes out sounding like one of the most corporate songs on here.

The Rafters, by contrast is an absolutely brilliant piece, right from the get-go we're hit with a distinctly different flavour of sample, setting up with a House style build up too (one time where an overly MIDI sounding Piano is actually a good thing!). When the full fat of the track kicks in its like night & day - as good of a sound that Moby's use of the R&B / Gospel has throughout the majority of this album, I think it would have been wise to embrace this sound a little bit more too: Gospel isn't always the slightly dreary melancholy that most of the past samples have been. The upbeat nature of this track is just so infectiously catchy that I can't believe that there isn't more of it to be had on the album, or that this wasn't one of the singles either - it would have played excellently into that 'inspiring hope' angle that Moby envisioned as well.

And finally: I'm Not Worried At All. Actually another one of my favourites and I think a great album closer, though it does end a little abruptly. It's again another one of those tracks where it doesn't feel like much has been done to the sample other than cutting it up into bits, but I think in this case it works really well. And for as much as I've knocked the piano & strings formula in the latter half of this overview, I can't deny that it works really, really well here - could be that it's not quite as overpowering as on previous tracks. It's a beautiful piece, one that I think genuinely does capture that hopeful vibe Moby had in mind. Honourable mention to the source of the sample in 'He'll Roll Your Burdens Away' by The Banks Brothers and The Greater Harvest Back Home Choir for being a major source of that feeling.

It's worth noting that after 18 Moby's next album - 2005's Hotel, leans more toward the rock front again. Perhaps disappointing for fans, but just think how much the electronic landscape changed between those years, a re-run of something like Play or 18 would have sounded pretty dated by then. Truth be told I haven't kept up with many of his releases past this point so I can't really comment further! Closing thoughts - if you're a fan of Play, 18 is worth a listen for sure - it was always going to be difficult to follow up that album but I think 18 does a good job of it, though perhaps lacking that instant pop appeal of the previous album in places. It has its moments where it stumbles but it comes back around by the end. On the whole it is a fine album, but overexposure and time have made it perhaps a bit more generic than when it was new. It's probably for the best that Moby moved away from this style after this album though, I don't know if it'd stretch to another full length, which is fine as these two albums together provide more than enough to get stuck into as-is, doubly so if you pick up the respective B-Side albums for each of them as well.

Apologies for the length and if this feels a bit fragmented. It's easily the longest Retro Review I've done so far and I've done it in bits across multiple days, I've tried to proof-read before publishing but some errors may have slipped through. Still, this was a fun exercise, though the length may have put me off doing another for a while! But as always: Stay safe and enjoy the music.


Monday 22 February 2021

Our Work Is (Never) Over

Where do I begin here? Well, it hurts a bit that's for sure. I'm probably really underselling it there: I owe Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo a hell of a lot, for if it weren't for them, I wouldn't have followed a link on a Daft Punk fansite years ago that led to this very page you are reading now. And that's just this blog - not to mention the thousands of hours I've gotten out of their discography both as Daft Punk and in their respective solo efforts.

I wish they'd have left it till 22/2/22 to keep it cyclical with their adoption of the robot personas on 9/9/99 actually! The re-use of the imagery from Electroma where Bangalter's persona is destroyed and Guy-Manuel continues to walk off into the sunset, while fitting, makes me feel like there's going to be a million and one conspiracies about the two splitting on uneven terms or something. Not that we'll probably know, the two were very secretive and who can blame them after all? Besides, the Robot personas were just so cool to boot.

I'm kind of jumping all over the place here so apologies, but I have a lot of feelings to work through. I appreciate each of their albums in it's own unique way, would I have liked another album from the two? Sure, but Random Access Memories is also a great bookend to their career, it was a real labour of love as evidenced by the inclusion of Giorgio Moroder and all the tales about little touches that the two would do, like choosing a certain microphone to record an individual element that only goes to show how true that is.

As varied as their discography, the various collaborations also make their output unique to boot, with no fewer than 3 films to their name in the forms of D.A.F.T, a full on original anime feature film in Interstella 5555 to the art house cinema of Electroma that is the source of this video. Discovery may be one of my favourite albums of all time for sure, but it being essentially one giant music video when twinned with Interstella takes it beyond just music - it's one of my favourite experiences of all time.

This is the fourth time I've seen one of my all time favourites disband. First with DJ Mehdi, gone before his time. Second with Broadcast, cut short by the untimely death of Trish Keenan. And third in The Knife, that one hit me something fierce as they too are responsible for one of my favourite albums of all time in Silent Shout. Does it get easier? Not really, but at least this way there's still the prospect of solo work from the two of them. If you've yet to check out Roulé or Crydamoure I highly recommend it - they are quite different from the output of their combined works, but there are some real golden tracks on both of them.

So while there won't be any more 'Daft Punk' records for the time being, there's still more than enough to get stuck into if you go looking - beyond just the main albums there's a world of bootlegs, remixes, rarities and live sets to keep you going. They might not be around anymore but their music lives on, and music is forever.

I leave you now with one of my favourite bits of Daft Punk video - I was going to chuck the Encore from Alive 2007 here because that absolutely blew me away the first time I saw it (and it too, is an almost perfect retrospective of their discography both solo and together up until that point) but I suddenly had a memory trigger in my head as I was about to go looking, and I figured I'd mix it up since everyone's going to be talking about their robot personas today. So instead here is a then relatively unknown Daft Punk playing their first ever live show in the USA at Even Further in Wisconsin. I just love the raw energy of it, these rough as hell live versions of tracks from Homework, the squealing 303s, and the fact you can see Bangalter get so into it even in the first 30 seconds is just brilliantly infectious.

It's a stark contrast from their funkier output later on, but I personally love all sides of Daft Punk. Discovery is certainly the more accessible album, but Homework has its moments like Da Funk and Around The World that made a big splash on their release and almost heralded what Daft Punk would become. So, I thought I'd shine some light on it to close out on. This piece of video is a great piece of electronic music history and I'm so happy it's been preserved all these years later.

The two have certainly earned their place in the history of electronic music and their legacy will continue for years to come. As I said way back at the top, I wouldn't be here writing this had I not fallen into a Daft Punk Superfan™ phase all those years ago, so perhaps I owe them more than some. So play them out One More Time, and as always - stay safe and enjoy the music.


Friday 19 February 2021

In The Meantime...

Natalia Goncharova - La Forêt [The Forest] (1913)

I thought I'd have the Retro Review done in due time, but it's turning out to be a bigger job than I thought. So in lieu of making you wait for however long it takes, I'm here to write another quick one to stem the tide. Been enjoying a lot of late 90's stuff as of late, keeping it vaguely Warp themed we have Björk's Homogenic. I say vaguely because this album has a bunch of production work done by Mark Bell of LFO as well as Guy Sigsworth and others. Together they make this album have a great hi-tech feel, not quite the same as the bleepy techno of the early 90's I've mentioned a lot recently, but of the same sphere. That's of course not even mentioning Björk's vocal work - which is as stunning as always. The big one from this album is obviously All Is Full Of Love (though I prefer the Single version to the one on the album), but I think my favourite might have to be Immature.

All this Warp talk as of late and I've not even mentioned perhaps the act most associated with them - the eternal Aphex Twin. Keeping it late 90's too with the Richard D. James Album and it, too, is an incredibly futuristic piece. I believe this is around the time Aphex was moving from analogue to pure digital production and the difference is pretty clear. The album before this (...I Care Because You Do) had an air of DIY to it, a lot of rough sounds and crunchy bits. In contrast the RDJ Album is smooth as all get out, even when the beats are being mangled. The unassumingly titled 4 is absolutely stunning for a track from 1996, and I believe it to be one of the best opening tracks of an album that I have heard so far.

And finally, Rei Harakami again. I've said in previous posts how I can't believe it took me so long to get into Harakami's works, especially considering they were always recommended to me. Now that I have though, I love them all a whole lot, to the point where I've had to stop myself from just making entire posts about bits and pieces of his works (not that I don't want to, but I thought I'd save them for a rainy day!). Unlike the last times I've brought Harakami up though, today we're keeping in theme and talking about his debut album from 1997 - Unrest.

The tracks I've shared in the past all show off Harakami's unique style of almost ambient electronic - and you can definitely hear signposts of where his sound would evolve even on this record, which still has that downtempo but not quite fully downtempo feel. Tracks like this are exactly why I love Harakami's work so much, from the opening it simply nails his brand of lusciously smooth electronic and it only gets better from there with smatterings of flourishes scattered throughout and that bouncy bass line make it a joy to listen to. His works are also quite easy to get hold of too, as they were re-issued around 2015 and are readily available digitally as you can see here. If you like what you hear here, I would dive right into one of his later album [Lust] for more of the same!

As always, stay safe and enjoy the music.


Tuesday 16 February 2021

This Means Warp

Horace Pippin - The Warped Table (1940)

Seem to have hit a bit of a dry spell, though that may be me being spoiled by the massive influx of new stuff I was discovering in the final few months of last year - I've been spending a lot more time with Warp Records as of late, not only because of that recent nostalgia kick of mine but also thanks to their appearance on Bandcamp.

Truth be told, a lot of the stuff I've got lined up isn't really 'new' so much as it is things I've been meaning to get to for a while, with the possible exception of this one! I posted around the time it came out, the 25th anniversiary edition of Smokers Delight, one of my favourite albums of all time (and one I was supposed to see performed live and in full before the virus) comes with a bunch of bonus tracks. And for my money, the best one is the first, Aquaself. I'm pretty sure these are new tracks NOW made in the spirit of the album and not forgotten B-sides - at any rate it demonstrates NOW's ability to make a killer groove, full of gorgeous floruishes in sound and steel pan harkeneing back to the original LP, it effortlessly sails through it's 6 minute runtime.

B12 next, there isn't much of their work on the Warp Bandcamp (but then again I don't think they released much on Warp at all) but what is there is sweet as. Time Tourist, while not my favourite album of theirs has the aesthetic of the futuristic Warp techno of the time down to a fine art. With it's cover envisioning a retro-futuristic take on London and track titles like The Silicon Garden, it really brings back the wide-eyed tech-optimist in me. This one in particular sounds a little like some of the stuff Oneohtrix Point Never was making in the R Plus Seven era, albeit much less experimental - it's gorgeous hi-tech ambient electronic to get absolutely lost in. A real hidden gem in the Warp catalogue, definitely look up B12 if you love this sound as much as I.

And finally, speaking of hidden gems - Broadcast. My favourite example of one from Warp. I just adore everything that Broadcast put out, I'd admired them from a distance for a long time but shortly after I decided to explore in earnest the band was cut short with the untimely death of Trish Keenan. Keenan was and is up there on my list of all time favourite vocalists and Broadcast showed tremendous versatility over their fairly short release history - going from 60's revival psychedelia on The Noise Made By People to the stripped and skeletal DIY electronics of Tender Buttons. Still Feels Like Tears is originally from the Pendulum EP: a track from the Haha Sound era, but you can hear precursors of Tender Buttons in those backing synths. Keenan is also on point from the get go - establishing that hazy, dreamy retro vibe from the very beginning. The real highlight is her main vocal here though, I love everything about her tone on the choruses, excellently enhanced by the slightly off-kilter instrumentation.

Slightly shorter post this time, trying to break things up a bit. I started another Retro Review today but that too looks like it will be very lengthy to say the least. So to buy me some time and break up the text a bit I thought I'd put this one up first! I hope you enjoy and as always: Stay safe and enjoy the music.


Sunday 14 February 2021

Colors of Love - Another Valentine's Mixtape

After being on the back burner for nearly a year, I present to you another valentine's mixtape. I say a year because immediately after I finished last years I had a handful f leftover tracks that I really wanted to have put in but missed their shot. Guess what this year's mix is made up of? I don't want you to feel like this is 'the leftovers' or anything, each of these tunes stands on their own! Stay tuned for a bit of commentary by me after the player and tracklist!

Monk - L
Mitsunori Ikeda - Fallen Angel
Phil - Crazy & Ready
Chromeo - Bonafied Lovin'
R·O·N - Adult Bath
Tsutchie - Deeper Than Words
Clammbon By Nujabes - Imaginary Folklore
Röyksopp - In Space

I may have been a bit over-ambitious again this time, it feels to me a bit clunkier in parts than my last attempt at this kind of thing but I guess that's the price I pay for trying to put Eurobeat into Chromeo - the selection is unique at the very least! I tried this time to get a nice even balance of upbeat and downbeat this time - there's four tracks of each so it's balanced in a sense! We open with the beautifully hazy L from Monk. I was first introduced to this one from the soundtrack to OlliOlli2, which is full of other tracks with this style of hazy, compressed indie electronic, I love it but it's easy to have too much of it too. From there it's the one track that really pained me to miss out of last year's tape - Mitsunori Ikeda's Fallen Angel, yet another cut from the Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt soundtrack - which is also full of absolute stonking tunes. Fallen Angel is far too funky to just be an ending theme, and Aimee B just straight up kills it on the vocal front as well.

I spent a fair bit of time deciding what to put next... I knew I wanted some Eurobeat in there (after all a good 80% of Eurobeat lyrics are either about love or are innuendos) but the question was finding one that was mostly accessible. Which is tough when you're as into the genre as I am, it's kind of warped my perception of cheese a bit! But there are plenty of tracks out there that wear the disco influence on their sleeve, and Crazy & Ready is one of them, much closer to the House side of the spectrum of Eurobeat. That's not to say it's not still got that earnest cheese that I love - some of the lyrics are choice and the synth melodies should carry a warning label for how sugary sweet they are!

From there it's the surprising first appearance of Chromeo. And really what is there to say about them? They've been at it for well over a decade at this point and they are still doing what they do exceptionally well. I did almost put a track from their 'Quarantine Casanova' EP here, but I couldn't find one to mix well (and in hindsight it probably would have been in poor taste too). Instead I went for the tried ad tested fallback Bonafied Lovin' from Fancy Footwork. It's the album of theirs I'm most attached to but if you like the sound they have here, you could pretty much pick up their entire discography and not be disappointed. We're around the halfway point now and we begin our slide into downtempo, and what better way to signify that change than with Adult Bath. Perhaps not strictly electronic but I just had to include it for it's sound alone, and as I said just before it nicely sets us up for the more hip-hop final half.

Another track that I missed off of last years, Tsutchie with Deeper Than Words. I found Tsutchie during my dive into the world of Japanese hip hop a little while back and quickly became one of my favourite names in that space. There's no shortage of Tsutchie tunes that could go here - often super slick and smooth, it was no question of whether Tsutchie would make the mix but which one would I choose. Keeping it in that sphere for the time being, a super lush produced track from Nujabes. There are two versions of this one, Folklore and the one that I went with, Imaginary Folklore. It's one of Nujabes' more popular songs and it's not hard ot hear why, it's easily one of the best examples of his distinctly lo-fi production methodology and is just a gorgeous listen.

Finally, we round out with Röyksopp's In Space. I've been revisiting their debut Melody A.M. as of late - it turns 20 years old this year and it does sound very early 00's in it's overall style but it's aged very gracefully. and one that I still very highly recommend if you are at all into Electronic music, doubly if you like downtempo stuff as much as I. My heart told me to pick Sparks yet again as it's one of my favourite songs of all time, but I switched it up and went with a full instrumental piece instead. In Space perhaps shows off that turn of the 2000's sound more than most tracks from the album (a friend lovingly calls Melody A.M. 'Advertising Music - The Album') but it's still a lovely listen and I think closes this little selection out nicely.

Right, the commentary was a little longer than I expected but that'll about do it for us. I hope you like some of my selections here, and I'll be back soon enough with more. And as always: Stay safe and enjoy the music.


Tuesday 9 February 2021

Always Returning

Going to knock something out right quick for old times sake. I've taken a break from the IV of non-stop Hi-NRG and Eurobeat that brings me up to operational speed most days and swapped it from something a little more familiar. My love of techy glitchy things is well known by this point, but it's been a while since I had a whole post dedicated to it - so let's do that.

Grace Cossington Smith - Bed Time (1922)

I've said before one of the things I like about my recent Bandcamp scoops is that I get notified when new things from artists are coming out, gone are the days of me being surprised by a new album because I didn't check an artist's socials. It hasn't stopped to wishlist pile from getting larger and larger but it's something.

Enter Ocoeur, an artist who I found in almost a stereotypical way for me at this point: heard them on Grooveshark when that was still a thing and it just snowballed from there. This was during that time when I was sailing through the Warp Records catalog for anything and everything experimental and was always hungry for more. The downside for that was that I think a lot of the stuff I was listening to got lost in the undertow - like Light As A Feather for example. There's a couple of tracks from it that I've absolutely rinsed but coming back to it now it's almost like a completely new album. A track that has surprisingly not come up much for how often I re-start my shuffle from the top is 1.11 - a great distillation of the album as a whole. A typically lush juxtaposition of skittering beats and smooth synths, backed with the occasional intentional recording artifact. Perhaps a touch generic if you're very familiar with the genre, but I always have a soft spot for tracks like this.

Speaking of that era, one of the artists I also picked up in that time was The Flashbulb. His style is quite a bit different from the stuff you'd normally think of when it comes to the 'IDM' label. There's a lot more acoustic elements, particularly on this album - the beautifully bleak titled Soundtrack To A Vacant Life, though that's maybe not too removed from the genre given the Piano pieces on Aphex Twin's Drukqs. Anyway, the track I've chosen is part of the extended intro alongside the opening track Prelude.

Kirilian Voyager highlights some things I really like about The Flashbulb, I think his use of vocal samples like on the intro of this one is fantastic, it's from the movie 'Waking Life' which is equally fitting - though I can see it coming off as a bit trite nowadays (especially the later track on this album Suspended In A Sunbeam sampling Carl Sagan). The rest of the song is quite different from the Ocoeur one above, sporting an almost post-rock influence to the instrumentation with some little glitchy bits here and there for added flavour. The album as a whole is a really good introduction to The Flashbulb if you're new, though it is a little long at 31 tracks! I'd recommend listening to Warm Hands In Cold Fog and Submerged Renewed for both a more traditional IDM sound and a good cross section of the album too.

To round us out, one of the bigger names. One of my potentially most unpopular opinions when it comes to electronic music is about Autechre: I can't really get into any of their stuff after Tri Repetae. On paper I should at least like the album after that as well as it's really the last one before they went all in on the abstractness but I've yet to have it click (come back to this post in a couple years and see if that's changed!). That's not to say I don't at least admire their later work - they are absolute wizards when it comes to making what has now become their brand of experimental electronic, but it's not for me. In contrast, I think their first album Incunabula is an absolutely divine piece of that early 90's Warp sound, but I'm going to revisit their second album Amber today.

It's been a long time since I talked about Amber since the Warped History posts roundabout 10 years ago now, shy of re-posting one of my favourite ambient pieces from it Nine every so ofter, it's not come up too much. If ever there was a release that deftly avoided the 'difficult second album' trope - Amber may just be it. Released just one year after their debut, it sees the overall sound get much more refined and you can almost hear the signposts being laid of the eventual direction they would take into Tri Repetae and beyond. Despite the short gap between them it sounds quite far removed from the charmingly retro vibe of their debut, and as a whole sounds very, very modern for a release from 1994 - a trend that would continue for Autechre going forward.

Nil is one of my favourites from the album, and probably one of the more accessible Autechre tunes out there - it's much more melodic than their later work for certain, and in hindsight almost tame compared to even the follow up Tri Repetae. It creates a really great atmosphere though, well structured with peaks and valleys throughout - my favourite of which being the ambient break being pierced by those lush keys at around 3:30 or so.

The republishing quest continues - aside from a couple of unrecoverable posts it's been fairly smooth sailing. I'm trying to put up as much of it as I can but there are missing players here and there. Still, some of it has been pleasantly surprising in how easy it was too, and great little slices of history like us hyping up Madeon before he blew up. Good times. Right, that'll do it for this instalment, I might get another small one in before the Valentine's Mixtape hits but if I don't - I'll see you then!

And as always - stay safe and enjoy the music.


Saturday 6 February 2021

What's in my (digital) bag

First Bandcamp Friday of the year yesterday, and I had plenty of stuff to go at thanks to the extra month of prep time and Warp Records making most of their catalogue available there too. I got some usual suspects this time - things I've mentioned in previous posts (partly as a reminder to myself!) and things I'd been generally eyeing. Some non-electronic stuff in there too but I won't be talking about those too much. So - What's in the bag?

Sam Francis - From Tokyo #3 (1970)

Despite the art chosen for this post, there's no Yokota or Rei Harakami this time - instead we have Squarepusher. I talked a bit about the Lamental EP when it was near release and a couple of times since, and those posts focused on two tracks in particular - MIDI Sans Frontieres and Detroit People Mover. The reason I kept talking about these tracks is that they are absolutely divine pieces of Ambient, and I've been saying for years that every time Squarepusher turns his hand to that kind of sound it's always brilliant and leaves me wanting more. That's not to say that the EP is full on Ambient though - the (Avec Batterie) version of MIDI Sans... gives it a beat reminiscent of tracks like Iambic 9 Poetry from Ultravisitor, or the Jazzier parts of Just A Souvenir. Between the two I can't say which I like more, they compliment each other really well - though I will concede that Avec is certainly the more Squarepusher sounding of the two.

There's another great ambient guitar piece on the EP too - once again evoking Every Day I Love and Tommib Help Buss from Ultravisitor. 'Les Mains Dansent' is a short little interlude almost in the middle of the track list, it's short but really lends this very heartfelt atmosphere to the EP. Not that I haven't been a fan of Squarepusher's more recent work, though I admit I haven't really listened in a lot of depth, but it's an absolute delight to hear his return to this kind of sound.

Anyway, the track in question I'm going to actually post today is the opener - The Paris Track. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect going in (when do you ever with a Squarepusher release though?), his more recent work has run the gamut from dark electro to acoustic (or at least, played on instruments) versions of his old material with Shobaleader One. Paris Track seems to bridge that gap for me, the opening is very much in the style of the rest of this EP - smooth but haunting synths guiding us in. However once the meat of the track hits around 50 seconds in the whole thing becomes undeniably Squarepusher with an injection of slightly acidic synth accompaniment, I know a lot of fans have been disappointed with some of the changes in sound on newer releases, and to me I feel like this almost bridges the gap between the two. This track could have almost been a B-Side from Hello Everything, the structure itself is very much old-school 'Pusher - not quite as intense 'Drill & Bass' of Come On My Selector perhaps, but definitely more familiar. I'm very happy with this EP, if the album accompanying it, Be Up A Hello is at all similar I may have to add that soon too

Another scoop this week was more from E.R.P. - better known as Convextion. I've been slowly drop-feeding myself all things E.R.P. because so far every single release I've heard is like a direct line to that part of me that loves that early 90's ambient techno that Warp was pioneering and the Pith EP has been no different - it too is full of those spacey vibes that I love oh so much. Having said that, the main body of this EP is much more on the pure Electro side of things than the usual brand of stuff I post when talking about this specific genre, the opening track Luctu wouldn't have sounded out of place on the Elektroids LP on Warp (the Elektroids themselves being the legendary Gerald Donald and James Stinson). It hits a great balance of E.R.P.'s lush, sometimes melancholic synths with these newfound electro stabs, this is new and differnet territory for my listening of E.R.P., but I am very much into it!

Tuga is the prime example of this - I immediately slammed it into my playlist of futuristic electro. It's as if you took all my favourite Doppelerffekt tracks and combined them here, albeit perhaps not quite as dark. not to repeat myself but tracks like this really appeal to me, this is the kind of stuff I was fascinated by when I was younger and as I say every time, to me this is still the sound of the future. Title track Pith also epitomises this for me, perhaps even stronger. By far and away the track that's most Ambient Techno on the EP, it embodies that ideal I mentioned in the first half of that forward looking kind of techno from the 90's. It is definitely tied for my favourite on the EP, and it only just missed being posted literally as I type this. I do love it, but at times that beat can get a little repetitive for my liking, not all the time but still. With that in mind, I'm going to have to go back one step to the bouncy Tuga.

Cheating a bit for the final one. One thing I did do this time was finally get around to replacing the vintage Sébastien Tellier remixes I had from way back in the blog days with proper decent quality ones. But those have already been posted to death and just a touch more than a decade ago(!) too. So instead I thought I'd shine a light on another Warp release I think is worth your time now that it's more easily accessible, I picked up a physical copy a long time ago so it's not technically 'in my bag' as it were!

Plone are a fairly obscure entry in the world of Warp Records, I originally became aware of them as they were supporting acts for some Broadcast gigs back when (so you'll find them recommended if you ever get really into Broadcast) - and Mike Bainbridge of Plone also played Keyboards for their live shows in the Haha Sound era. They are more electronic than Broadcast for certain but they are most definitely sonic cousins at the very least - much like Boards Of Canada, Plone's sound originally is all tinged with nostalgia, full of vintage keyboards but with a distinctly more pop style overall - much like the Polyphonic Size track I talked about a while back now I think about it. It's been a long time since I talked about them but that's pretty much how I sum them up: theirs is a very unique and playful style of electronic that I didn't really see replicated until the 2010's.

The oddest part of the Plone story however is how it just suddenly stops. They looked as if they were set to become yet another staple act on Warp, their sound was a nice compliment to the lineup they were building, and Plone would release successful singles, an album and even contributed to the 10th anniversary Warp10 and We Are Reasonable People (WAP100) compilations. But after that, they pretty much just disappeared, their time on Warp only being around 2 years total. There is an unreleased second album floating around the internet, there's no solid proof it's legitimate (but if it's a fake, the sound is imitated almost perfectly) but things went quiet after that. They did however return out of nowhere in 2019 and announce that they would be releasing a new album Puzzlewood on Ghost Box in 2020. A surprising return to be sure, but a happy one. Though true to myself I have yet to check out the new album yet!

Their debut, For Beginner Piano is an ideal (and until recently, the only) place to hear this playful sound in action. Tracks like Plock just radiate that vintage, slightly weird electronic pop vibe that you might have heard courtesy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. I've picked Marbles to post - it's as good a demonstration as any track from the album. I especially love this one because I have a bootleg recording of it from a Peel Session that they did, and hearing a track like this on a slightly tinny and radio compressed recording only enhances that atmosphere. Plone is a little ray of sunshine in musical form, and if the weather where you are is anything like how it is today for me, I think we could all do with some right about now.

Righto, so it goes for another Bandcamp Friday. In hindsight I should maybe actually post these on the day but hopefully if you dig them, you can wishlist them for the next Friday at the very least. Apologies for the slightly bigger gap this week, I was hanging on for this and also hashing out ideas for another mixtape so it shouldn't be as long next time.

And as always - Stay safe and enjoy the music.


Monday 1 February 2021

Think of Fire

I'm taking one of those turns again where I get a bit ticked off to put it mildly. I normally let stuff go pretty easy because for a while now I've tried to live a life that's mostly free of negativity, but I do turn bitter every now and then, but that's OK, it's healthier to release than just sit there slowly building up into a foaming rage. Enter the past couple of days... If I were at all religious I would definitely consider them tests that's for sure. A combination of entitled arseholes, general idiocy and frankly plain irresponsibility has me quietly seething off to one side but I'm going to try and follow my credo of limited negativity - and do a controlled release with some audio assistance.

Yves Klein - La marque du Feu ['The Trace of Fire'] (1961)

Death Magic again sprang to mind. So many pieces of this album could go here, but for instant impact it has to be SALVIA. The sheer sudden intensity of it makes it nigh on perfect for just this occasion. The machine gun beat appears unrelenting, it blindsides you and contiunes to layer on the intensity. And just when you think you can no longer breathe - suddenly you're falling free in a daze. But it's not long before it all comes crashing back down again around you. The cycle repeats once more, only this time the serenity stays. A short and brutal track, SALVIA is the musical equivalent of a sucker punch.

Coming up again after the recent mention - ADULT.'s later work is also a great shout for this theme. While the Why Bother? album is sometimes a little too noisy for my tastes - the EP before it D.U.M.E. really hits the spot, maybe it's the overall shorter length making it easier to digest. At any rate - Hold Your Breath is another great distillation of this mood and perhaps the most obviously Punk influenced tune from ADULT. I've mentioned so far. It might not have the sudden plunge of SALVIA, but it does have Nicola Kuperus putting in one hell of a performance - her frantic delivery wavers between cold and calculating to borderline manic throughout, giving the whole proceedings a beautifully disjointed feel.

I couldn't do a post in this vein without mentioning this one. The Autumnal Crush will destroy you in the most pleasent way. The opening is slightly misleading on this front, but it's not long before things get fairly intense. Something I always loved about this track (and sort of gets spoiled if you read this before listening) is that it absolutley does not let up, the intial post-introduction is already pretty heavy, but it just keeps on going and going with more and more layers - an experience befitting of the Crush in it's title. But like SALVIA, it does eventually let go, and for the remainder of its 7 minute runtime it becomes a much calmer beast. And with that, it's probably the most fitting track here by a long shot. Truly, if there were a piece of Clark's work I could point to that I think best demonstrated why I use that 'Melodic Grit' descriptor - Autumnal Crush would be up there.

Apologies for the slightly shorter (and a little more poetic than usual) post - I didn't really plan this one out! I could have put a couple more selections here but as I said in the opening paragraph, I'm trying not to dwell on things too much these days. And I don't know about you but I certainly feel a little better having written this out and immersed myself in that sound.

I'll be back later this week with more, but until then - as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.