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.


No comments: