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Reviewed this week
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It would be fair to called Joined Ends, Oliver Thomas Johnson's second album under his familiar Dorian Concept alias, "long-promised". It was being touted for release back in 2011, soon after he signed with Ninja Tune. Interestingly, it's a very different beast to his 2009 debut album, When Planets Explode, and the club-friendly singles that followed. A veritable technicolour blast of warm chords, shimmering synthesizer melodies, dream-pop vocals and skittering low-end rhythms, Joined Ends ripples with unfussy positivity. It's far from a straightforward set - Johnson is too imaginative a producer for that - but it certainly has a singular vision. It may not be the album we were expecting, but it's an impressive set nonetheless.
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Mark Van Hoen's legacy as Locust just can't be argued with, from the early days on Apollo through significant albums for Touch and more recently Editions Mego, and it's the latter that he returns to for this latest offering. It's the kind of romantic electronica that revels in melancholy and places composition in front of sound design. The piano that leads the way on "Shadows Cast By Planes" is testament to that, while the vibes and flute-like sounds that take centre stage in "Colonnades" too remain clean and controlled. If the cinematic bombast of Vangelis shot through with a British bitterness sounds appealing then After The Rain has much to offer.
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After the meteoric impact of his self-released singles and spots on Hessle Audio, Power Vacuum and Bleep, the electronic music world has been waiting patiently for TJ Hertz to step up and share a wider vista of his sound world. This debut LP for PAN does not disappoint, channelling the electronica quality of his most crushing club music and giving it a chance to roam that bit more freely. The beats still hit hard on the likes of "Ratchet", but that's not their only purpose. With sound design and general production fireworks at the forefront, whether you can dance to this or not is unimportant; what matters is how completely edge-of-your-seat thrilling it is to listen to, from every space age sweep to each grubby reverb impulse. We always knew he had it in him, and Objekt has more than delivered on that promise.
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Blackest Ever Black's unwavering commitment to gracing 2014 with some of the most distinct sounds continues apace as their latest long player sees the return of William Bennett's Cut Hands project. Entitled Festival Of The Dead, this new album feels like the next logical progression in the Cut Hands sound, with the label describing it as "most potent distillation yet" of Bennett's "malign percussive energy". If you checked lead track "The Claw" which was made available to stream when BEB first announced the album, you will no doubt have an idea of what to expect but this relentless, bracing approach shown there is not the only card played by Bennett across the album. Indeed it's the moments where the sonics get twisted and chewed up (such as the suitably named "Parataxic Distortion") that prove most memorable.
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Finally, a reissue of Boards Of Canada's seminal Hi Scores LP from 1996! Along with the likes of Aphex Twin, LFO and Squarepusher, Boards of Canada have helped to define how we see electronic music today, and Hi Scores is arguably their most complete when it comes to the dancefloor. The title track is a twisted, floaty bundle of breaks and beats, but it doesn't end there. Tracks like "Nlogax" are inherently Detroitian in nature thanks to the bleepy drum machines; all we can say is that if you haven't gripped this album yet, you shouldn't miss the opportunity to cop it now.
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Comprised of two brothers who worked on their music in relative solitude, Woo is one of those cult offerings in the unclassifiable junction between all kinds of music that Emotional Rescue thrives on reissuing. There is a very sweet natured soul murmuring away at the core of this remastered LP, but never does it feel saccharine (thanks no doubt to the resoundingly lo-fi nature of the production). With its dreamlike repetitive mantras and more fleeting, fluttering elements, there is something quite beguiling and meditative about the sound of Woo, whether in their more tangible acoustic guitar moments or their most light and airy synth jams, but what comes through the most is the overwhelming romance of the music.
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Ambient-drone legend Fennesz has been a pioneer in the science of sound for many years, and London's Touch has been responsible for releasing arguably his best and most important work to date. For its latest release, Touch has reissued the inimitable Venice as a 10th anniversary edition, and the album still sounds as fresh today as it did 10 years ago. It's ambient, for sure, but of a certain variety and quality. Filled with organic sounds and field recordings, tracks like "Rivers Of Sand" have become the blueprint for much of the work made in the same genre today, tailor-made for fans of Oneohtrix Point Never and a lot of the output on Bill Kouligas' PAN label. Unmissable.
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Girlhood is an acclaimed new French movie about a disillusioned young girl who joins a female gang in order to escape her dead end life. To add to the drama French electronic producer Para One has been drafted in to score the flick. It's a richly rewarding 10-track listen that fully complements the film's highs and lows: from the sweeping synth emotion of beatless opener "Neon" to the glass chime whimsy of closer "Girlhoood (reprise)", taking in the otherworldly synthpop of "Slow Down" along the way.
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Paranoia Department return to the incorrigible Entropy label with furious anger for the third instalment of their Metaphysical Hinterland Akt series - the very best in stripped beats mechanical, sci-fi acoustics. The movement is structured yet fluid, where tracks like "Incorporeality" create a dense layer of sound amid all the FX trickery and hollow drums. Think Shed but with an extra dosage of eeriness to it! Tasty.
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Drifting into earshot on Cleaning Tapes with this concise single of elegiac beauty, S Maharba brings a laconic indie twang to ambient electronic music that finds shoegaze string plucks drowning in hazy, distant processing amongst all kinds of fuzzy sonic artefacts. It's overall a warm and friendly experience, and it's well shaped out despite the large swathes of pads and drones, with "Memorial" in particular doing a fine job of cradling your ears with its dulcet tones. "For Someone" takes a more defined path with its carefully orchestrated melodic swells. There is a more oppressive feel to "Her Who Sang To Me", while "Michelle" works around a more discernible beat and something approaching a song structure, but still the detail makes the music soar.
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Boxcutter returns to his own Kinnego imprint with two dreamy departures... "Retina Grains" salutes jungle's softest sentiments. Big splashy cymbals and jazz-sprinkled keys, if you can image the results of a collaboration between Squarepusher and Bukem, you wouldn't be far off. "Travel By Dragonfly", meanwhile, is a much slower, strutting affair. The main focus on the majestic web of interwoven harp, string and wooden block elements, but the groove is carried by a solid hip-hop sentiment making it just as ideal for dancefloors as it is headphones.
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The ever prolific Kevin Drumm is back on Editions Mego after his last outing on the label with the Relief single in 2012. Trouble is a long-form piece that deals in the most subtle harmonic tones, from barely audible sub drifts to distant cries of strings from his signature weapon of choice, the tabletop guitar. There are moments when the sound swells ominously, and progressively over the duration of nearly an hour the sound reshapes itself with glacial progress. Occasionally it falls away again, only to re-emerge in a marginally altered configuration, but over the slow-moving course of the album the subtle shifts are less significant than the overall swell of the piece as a single solid experience.
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Editions Mego, one of our favourite electronic labels out there and one of the few game-changers around, drop another bomb-load of sonic artillery in the form of a collaborative EP by Stilluppsteypa, BJ Nilsen and Anla Courtis! Recorded between Berlin, Reykjavik and Buenos Aires, the tracks give the sensation of time space thanks to their aural freedom. "Aurora Australis", for example, sounds like the beginning of a storm, while "Fish Is God" paints a monstrous picture with its odd, mutated voices and freezing cold wall of sound. Stunning.
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New to Sahko and releasing in general, Finnish band Modern Feelings are here to send your head spinning in a whirlwind of free jazz and noise. Their debut album was purportedly recorded along to an inspirational soundtrack of muzak, giving rise to this polar opposite melee of tumbledown drums, strangled guitars and every other possible sound source that can be thrown in the arrhythmic blender. Within this chaos comes a delicacy and dexterity that may be applied to each individual player on their own insular journey rather than the band as a cohesive whole, but somewhere in the mix something magic is created. With the noisier elements moving away from the band dynamic to a more electronic focus and then moving back to a more grounded instrumental foundation, there is quite a range of frequencies expressed on Modern Feelings, but they're unified in their power to confound.
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As 2014 has rolled on, Powell's Diagonal label has really gathered a sense of momentum and direction with its succession of releases. With the Juno office stereo still in recovery from the most excellent Shit & Shine LP Powder Horn, this new double pronged noise sermon from the masterful Russell Haswell only adds to their impressive year. Comprised of two 10-minute tracks, Double A is at times as bracing as anything else from the Haswell canon, with the scratched, spasmodic improvised sonics of lead track "Foxy" potentially capable of scaring Richard D James back into hiding. "One Take Dub No Edit" is described by Diagonal as a "flashback to a vital time when futurist Latin freestyle and industrial funk were the dancer's choice" and is perhaps the closest concession to the dancefloor from Haswell yet.
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Greece's George Issakidis returns to the inimitable Kill The DJ imprint with a second EP of wavy electronics and silky digital beats. The title track "Cherry Red" is a proper groover, where the glitchy percussion sits tighly next to one hell of a bassline, reminding us of dBridge's more recent 4/4 output. There's a few remixes inside, too, where It's A Fine Line transforms the title track into a bleepy, Kraftwerk-inspired number, while Dzir retains the humongous bass conjured by Issakidis albeit for a noticeably deeper turn in the beats and percussion. Brilliant stuff - don't miss it.
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Comprised of spare material from his recent Human Voice long player, Dntel offers a few more gems of emotive electro up to Leaving Records for a cassette and digital release that should fill his fans boots comfortably. "Enid" comes on in warm swathes with its gently pitch-bending synth lines and relaxed funk, while "Unease" inhabits a more hectic albeit beatless space made up of darting and whirring arpeggios moving at a peppy pace. There's more angular house styles at work on "Boredom" as it moves from paranoid rubber tone squeal to smooth pad and back again, and there's even something approaching footwork in the snagging groove of "Pepper Shake", proving that Dntel can nail a whole spread of styles and make them his own.
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Pat Mahoney and Dennis McNany's Museum of Love project has always been an enticing proposition. The duo's two singles to date, "Down South" and "Monotronic", tickled the fancy of all those with a penchant for wide-eyed, Balearic-leaning pop - all soft-focus electronics, shuffling rhythms and yearning vocals. This much-discussed debut album continues in a similar vein - albeit with a little more grittiness in places - with Mahoney doing his best Bryan Ferry impression over McNany's warm, loose and melodious production. It's a formula that guarantees great results, from the low-slung, disco-influenced shuffle of the trumpet-laden "The Who's Who Of Who Cares", to the classic DFA swagger of the raucous rock-out "The Large Glass".
Exclusives
WOO - Into The Heart Of Love (Emotional Rescue)
MODERN FEELINGS - Modern Feelings (Sahko Finland)
TCF - 415C47197F78E811FEEB7862288306EC4137FD4EC3DED8B (Liberation Technologies)