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Reviewed this week
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It's rare that an electronic album is the biggest album of the year, or at least the most hyped. That's certainly the case with Syro, Richard D James first official release under his Aphex Twin moniker for some 13 years. So, is it any good? For starters, it sounds like an Aphex Twin album. Listen through to the 12 tracks, and many of his familiar staples are present - the "Digeridoo" era rave breakbeats, the mangled synth-funk mash-ups, the intoxicating ambient-era melodies, the warped basslines and the skittish drill & bass style rhythms. There's madness, beauty and intensity in spades. In other words, it's an Aphex Twin album, and - as so many have pointed out since the album's release was announced - there's no-one else quite like Richard D James.
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Swiss eccentric Robi Insinna seems to be having something of an identity crisis. This sixth solo full length is credited to both Headman - his now familiar alias for coursing, punk-funk influenced dancefloor attacks - and his given name. As if that wasn't enough to baffle the easily confused, 6 also includes contributions from an impressive array of guest bands, producers and vocalists, including Hiem's Bozzwell, Red Axes, Brassica and The Emperor Machine. Musically, it's business as usual, with the ten murky but stylish tracks variously fusing coldwave synths, punk-funk basslines, dub disco grooves, spiralling electronics and a smidgeon of acid house into wonky and entertaining new shapes.
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After winning hearts from critics and listeners alike with his two 2012 albums, Lee Gamble delivers a hotly anticipated follow-up for his spiritual home, Pan. The tone of Koch is similarly concerned with plush ambient tones and murky atmospherics, while the beats meander from techno thrust (as on "Motor System") via fractious weirdo house shuffle (see "Nueme") through to intricate broken beat minimalism (courtesy of "Voxel City Spirals"). These differences are bound together by the immersive tones that linger consistently over the album, giving rise to a release that should satisfy anyone craving more of the goodness that populated Diversion 1994-1996.
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Dominic Fernow dons his Prurient hat for this split release with Karl O'Connor as Ugandan Methods. As you might expect, it's not for the light-hearted; "Call 1" features the Downwards boss' dense, grainy broken beats mixed with Fernow's wounded screeches amid bursts of white noise. "Call 2" is built on a similar approach, but this time the churning noise and dense drums are interspersed with dramatic, dark synths that spiral and twist. The third "Call" provides a surprise, heading back to the loopy techno of early Downwards, but it's only a temporary deviation and the fourth and final "Call" sees the duo deliver a drum-led, droning rhythm.
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Leeds label First Word drops another Yoshi Horikawa bomb on us after his thrilling debut LP for the label, and this time it's a remix affair of some tracks from the same Vapor LP, with three killer remixers moulding and mutating his beat science into new forms. First up, Daisuke Tanabe goes psychedelic for his version of "Kingdom Of Frogs", while Kidkanevil injects some gnarly half-step trickery onto the "Stars" tune, and Fulgeance Disco Aishiteru bring "Beers" down to a slow-paced, quasi-hip-hop groove for those pensive hours. Big!
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Following on from the tough techno of its first compilation sampler, Field follow it up with a deeper and more reflective approach. Remote's "Echo Of You" has some dance floor bearing, thanks to its gentle, dubby beats, but it's all about the wispy, floaty synths. There are no beats at all on Varg's "Ohns Odegard" and instead, the listener is treated to gentle, soft-focus synths unfolding and unravelling slowly, like rain drizzling its way down a window on a grey morning. Against this backdrop, Polar Inertia's "Sonic Outlaws" sounds out of place, but its pulsing, tunnelling groove seeks to seduce the listener rather than hammer them into submission.
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The combination of Richard H. Kirk and Minimal Wave was never going to disappoint, but the four tracks on this Never Lose Your Shadow 12" are still very special! Digging deep through the archives of the Cabaret Voltaire frontman, Veronica Vasicka presents a quartet of solo recordings that have never been committed to wax before. The highlight is undoubtedly the title track, a lolloping 10-minute track of hypnotic industrial action made all the more memorable by Kirk's acerbic intonations about "the blind leading the blind". If you've caught a Vasicka DJ set recently you will have probably lost yourself to these ten minutes. Complementing this are three tracks recorded in the same late '70s period which are distinctly more experimental in tone and just as vital.

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Emerging techno artist Manni Dee - known for his productions on Black Sun Records, 2nd Drop and Candela Rising - collates 16 tracks of leftfield electronics, ambient melodies, spoken word - and beyond. Aside from sourcing music from known producers WANDA GROUP, Shelley Parker and Rush Hour's BNJMN, there's a range of other fascinating music to unearth. Check out U's "Over" for some dense industrial techno mixed with Atari/Commodore 64 bleeps and the hazy murmur of a grime MC, while on the flipside of that there's the folky toy tones of Memotone's "Abbot Bromley Horn Dance" and the rainforest percussion of Alphabeat Heaven's "Mujo". There's a lot to discover here thanks to Manni Dee.
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American synth obsessive TSTI has commissioned a series of remixes that help to consolidate his reputation as an important player in the modern dark wave sound. Synth Alien's take on "Love & Truth" and Museum's version of "Because You Told Me To" are low-slung, pulsing numbers, while Soft Riot's take on "Queen Of Swoons" adds some catchy disco stabs to the track. TSTI's approach is best suited to mid-tempos and this is most audible on Heinrich Dressel's slowed down electronic disco version of "Love & Truth" and the DSX take on "Acquaintance". Fuelled by heavy EBM bass, the vocals sound like Dave Gahan around the time of Black Celebration.
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Once again wiping the floor with all before her, Holly Herndon brings her uncompromising sound back to Rvng Intl with another exercise in vocal led experimentalism rich in wild dynamics and staggering sonic detail. Herndon is wise to place her voice at the front of the mix - from the core lyrics to the processed hums and haws, they give her a peerless sound. When it's worked into the mix with pinging and swelling hits of subby bass and glitchy percussion stretched across an epic narrative, it makes for another stunning slice of electronica that floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.
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Originally released back in the early '80s, Veronica Vasicka's label has done its audience a fine service by re-releasing Portrait by Swiss duo Guyers Connection. Full of self-conscious vocals and in places decidedly lo-fi synth lines, it's surprising and disappointing that this collection wasn't a big hit first time round. After all, both "Pogo of Techno" and "Keep the City Clean" are as catchy as an oddball Yazoo, "Die Grille" is a jaw-dropping, windswept synth composition and "National Und Stander" sees the duo fuse ponderous piano lines with pulsing, rippling basslines. Best of all though is "Ein Glas Voll Gurken" a breathy synth-pop song that could have conquered charts had it been sung in English.
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Not much is known about Ueno Masaaki other than he's a Japanese artist that's debuting on Raster-Noton with a burgeoning new sound. It's a cutting edge sound that fits in perfectly with demeanour of Raster-Noton and all tracks on Vortices sound like dry, micro-loop reductions of Aoki Takamasa's music. Masaaki's inclusion to the label's Unun series follows previous releases by Mika Vainio and Emptyset - and if that's who label founder Byetone wishes to associate the Japanese artist with than we can expect great things in the future.
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Stephan Laubner aka STL usually indulges in gritty, tape-kissed house groovers, but his Lunatik Sound System project is reserved solely for his most daring moments. Beats, arrangements and hooks are dissolved to wandering slices of percussion, floaty drones and odd melodies covered with a pinch of machine noise for good measure. It's soundtrack music at its most finest, where tracks like "The Golden Mandala" truly make you lose sense of space and time by taking you to another dimension. Fans, you know, newcomers, get to know. Another sublime Something release!
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Having previously impressed with his 2013 debut album, the cassette and digital-only Japan, Suicideyear (AKA producer James Prudhomme) delivers the follow-up for Oneohtrix Point Never's Software imprint. Remembrance is a fine set, all told, with Prudhomme exploring a range of moods and textures via an attractive and evocative blend of IDM rhythms, dreamy chords and often bold synthesizer melodies. While there are thrilling upbeat moments - see the cascading, picturesque electronics of "U S", or the reverb-heavy chimes of "I Don't Care About Death Because I Smoke" - many of the album's highlights are much more considered, bittersweet even. The hazy, futuristic church music of "Remembrance", for example, is simply stunning.
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With their debut album, Different Fountains reveal themselves to be an outfit capable of delivering on many different levels. The first half of Shrimp That Sleep, which comes to light on Belgian leftfield powerhouse Meakusma, is peppered with song writing sensibility and live band dynamics shot through with warm and lilting electronics. "Catch 23" has a whisper of The Whitest Boy Alive about it, with indie pop replaced by a more psychedelic undertone, but as the album progresses so the vocals dip and the content becomes more abstract. "Deep Home" works around a 4/4 framework with brooding atmospherics, while "Muybridge" makes for something of a highlight with its dubby approach infused with Eastern mysticism in a non-explicit way. As you can tell, it's an eclectic ride and yet a wonderfully cohesive one too.
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Zex Model is a project from producer Paul Von Aphid that is, according to its Bandcamp page, "dedicated to mutant sounds of 80s WaxTrax and Nettwerk". Certainly, there is no shortage of tortured sounds and disturbing vocals on First Mutation; "Mutation" and "Kreation" are both tough, stomping grooves that channel EBM bass aggression through the kind of slamming techno rhythm that Terrence Fixmer would make. However, "Dominate DNA" and "Grind the Grey Hell" are more in keeping with the output of '80s acts like Ministry, with shotgun blasts accompanying the deranged shrieks and cyber pulses, while the 'live bootleg' take on "Motormouth" is a bleak industrial number.
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Postal Service member Jimmy Tamborello has always had a knack for manipulating sound. Sometimes, this has meant subverting accepted genres - lo-fi rock, for example, or IDM. At others, his approach is much more melodious, mixing skewed sounds and popping electronic rhythms with elements of pop. Human Voice, his first album in two years, continues in the latter vein. By and large, it's a thoroughly positive affair, with cheery electronic melodies and cut-up, pitched down vocal samples riding cheeky rhythms and slack-tuned drums. As a result, Human Voice is hard to pin down, being neither straight up ambient or IDM. Regardless, it's a wonderfully evocative and entertaining set.
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With a mind-bending array of releases behind him, largely on cassette, it's not easy to get a firm grip on what Hans Dens' Innercity project is all about, but then that's not necessarily what it's about. In the same spirit of adventure that possesses the likes of Ekoplekz, the music on A Lion Baptism is a chaotic blend of noise and drone studies with a nod to Musique Concrete in the manic and detailed deployment of samples. At times this can reach discernible musical peaks, only to be manhandled by another barrage of sonic grot wielded with a thrilling impulsiveness. The diversity on the release will keep your brain on its toes, touching upon so many different tones and moods across the eight track savagery.
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After Order Of Noise presented Vessel as a fearsome force within and without the Young Echo collective, Seb Gainsborough brings his foremost alias back for another bout of long-playing exploration, and this time he's crafted a wholly different sound from homemade instruments. The drums rattle and thud with a tacit live-ness, while the synths wail, groan and strain their way through grand and opulent sound scapes to chill the spine and un-nerve the soul. It's a masterfully well-sculpted record with moments of light bleeding into bottomless pits of murk, and it further establishes Vessel as a powerful force in forward-thrusting electronic music.
Exclusives
APHEX TWIN - Syro (Warp)
HUDSON MOHAWKE - Never Lose Your Shadow (Warp)
RAS G - Raw Fruit Vol 3 (Leaving)