If 2013 was the year that classic house made a comeback, it could also be viewed as the time when artists like Scuba drew on this source to drive their own creativity. That's not to suggest that Update - a "story so far" compilation from Scuba's back catalogue aimed at newcomers - is all about Kerri Chandler grooves or Larry Heard's drums. Indeed, tracks like "The Hope" and "Never" see the UK producer head in a decidely commerical direction and on "So You Think You're Special" and "Before" he turns his hand to slowburn ambient pop. But there is an underlying element from yesteryear on Update, be that on the soulful vocals of "Adrenalin" or the sweeping keys and dramatic break down of "You Got Me". 2013 belonged to classic house, but Scuba's ability to adapt was never far behind.
With his sizable history on labels like Fat City and Tectonic, Illum Sphere makes the leap to Ninja Tune with this esoteric concoction of slow house thud and starry-eyed melodics. "Sleeprunner" features all of the producer's strongest characteristics, from warm and immersive basslines to emotive strings, but all realised through a decidedly unconventional framework befitting of the reputation he has made for himself. Zed Bias meanwhile creates an equally housey version of the track that lays on some rigid claps, cheeky sub bass and fluttering arpeggios in a distinctly summery style. Clearly feeling doubly inspired from his first go at the track, Illum Sphere comes back around for a "re-run" of "Sleeprunner" that turns the track into a slow-release techno peppered with undulating acid lines and rugged drums.
Dropping single number 3 for his Ultramajic imprint, Jimmy Edgar is bringing some no-nonsense electro heat to the boil across three tracks and then sprinkling all kinds of unusual spices to twist the proceedings up. "Ultraviolet" is the most straight-up affair, strutting on a rigid groove and gnarly synth lines that spit out a clear message that it's time to party. "Qlinda" is more curious with its insistent vocal snippets nagging away against the relatively austere deep house groove, but there's still room for some of the choppy edit trickery that Edgar made his name on. "Mercurio" meanwhile gets on a Dance Mania hype that keeps the mood raw and rough, mixing in a touch of footwork and darting into breakdowns and build ups erratically to keep the dancers on their toes.
Kinetic Image sees the tireless Dutch producer known as Boris Bunnik offer up third album under the Conforce moniker. If you are starting to feel that Bunnik has dealt a deal with the devil that trades sleep for productivity you are not alone - Kinetic Image is his second album this year following the issue of a Versalife longplayer on Clone West Coast and let's not go into all the various EPs and 12"s Bunnik has put one of his various names to this year. Issued by Delsin, Kinetic Image sees Bunnik draw on the experience of his recent non-dancefloor focused output to deliver an album that moves away from regimented 4/4 beats and into slower, more surreptitious tempos. The subaqueous electro vibe we've come to associate with Bunnik still remains and the Dutchman's loyal fans will love this set.
ASC rarely ever produces something not worthy of applause, and he's been in exceptionally fine form as of late, continuing his intricate, pseudo-jungle experiments on his own Auxiliary label. Coated in an unmistakable sci-fi layer of darkness, our picks out of the eight leviathans have to be "Los Angeles 2019" and "Debris" - check and don't miss.
Here's a simple concept that works: members of the extended Hivern Discs crew remixing tracks from The xx's 2012 sophomore album, Coexist. Predictably, the results are exceptionally strong. Marc Pional kicks things off with a sublime analogue acid house take on "Fiction", which fuses the original vocals and melodies with classic Mr Fingers style grooves and chords. The Mistakes Are OK remix of "Reunion" is a chiming downtempo delight - woozy and wide-eyed, with just the right amount of percussive shuffle - while Round's remix of "Missing" blends tactitle positivity and delay-laden dreaminess with enveloping grooves to great effect. Most startling of all, though is the New Jackson version of "Swept Away", which adds a little subdued jazz swing to the emotion-rich original.
Although Funkineven's been an Eglozoid from the label's early days, recent times have seen the producer and DJ develop an independent streak, establishing his own Apron label and laying down collaborative roots with like-minded stateside artists Kyle Hall and Delroy Edwards. The bond is still strong however, and Funkineven makes a superb return to Eglo colours here with "Egypt" a cut described quite aptly by the label as a "Sakamoto-esque journey over the pyramids," combining throbbing sub bass with pulsating synth buzz. On the virtual flip is Gifted & Blessed's "Reflexes", a highlight amongst highlights of the Eglo Records Vol 1 compilation issued earlier this year and here committed to wax for the very first time. The track's fractured analogue nature is a fine accompaniment to Funkineven's A-side.
After their all-conquering album has begun its march into end of year lists, Planet Mu follow up on the success of South African band John Wizards with this single, which lifts the sun-soaked indie rock lilt of "Muizenberg" and offers it up for remixing purposes. Seiji steps up first with a fractured version that taps into the purple dubstep sound as a touchstone for the day-glo synths and grinding bass swells to work from, making for a dazzling slice of modern electronica. The 2 Bears instead opt for a slickly produced house effort that piles the crafty studio trickery on heavy for a dynamic and effervescent revision befitting of the original's summer baiting tones.
Rafael Anton Irisarri is most widely known for his ambient-leaning, 4/4 works under the Sight Below moniker, which saw him release a number of corkers in Ghostly International over the years. This new EP characterises a new sound for the man, most vividly displayed through a noisier, droned-out perspective. We welcome it warmly and await some more of these delightful, electro-organic excursions. Recommended.
The ever on-point Blackest Ever Black turn to the melodic musings of experimentalist Secret Boyfriend for their latest album release, seeing a fusion of indie sensibilities meld with leftfield electronics for a curious blend of heartfelt songwriting and lo-fi production. The sound sources seem infinite, from strangled guitars to scuffed drums, muffled vocals to grainy samples, while discernible song structures sit next to freeform drone studies without ever making the jump feel uncomfortable. There are hidden depths in the layers of noise that will be unearthed for many moons to come, such is the nature of this distinctive album.
It's been a productive year for Louis Johnstone, having sprung onto the radar with releases for Opal Tapes and Notown amongst others, giving the Brighton-based noise artist the chance to further develop his dense and curious take on noise. With an emphasis on found sound and subtle frequencies, the two sides of this long player for NNA Tapes are equally exemplary of Johnstone's bewitching sonic tapestries, moving between impulsive sections that veer from icy high-frequency tones to distant 'real-world' clattering. There's no direct route into this music, just a requirement at the door that you sign away all baggage and let the evocative imagery unfurl around you.
Montgomery Clunk aka CLNK heads back to Error Broadcast for a puristic, no frills, artillery of tracks for his new Black Ecstasy LP. Bringing together alien sounds and minimalist jacking, the producer treads through no-nonsense techno and deranged electronic beats. Aside from the wonderful title track, check "CPR" and "Home" for the utter truth. It's all pretty gnarly, though.
If you can picture the very furthest, coldest, darkest part of Norway, that's where Helge Tommervag (aka Mind Over Midi) resides. If you want to get an idea of what it's like there, and can do without the frostbite, then this EP is the perfect solution. Although titled "Polychrome", the sounds on this release are purely monochromatic - all sweeping, icy synthscapes, where digital snowflakes float onto glitchy branches under an ink-black sky and found sounds nestle in electronic burrows. Haunting.
Neil O'Connor is an enigmatic character who appears every few years to release an album. Each one kooky, each one different. This is his first as Somadrone (an alias we like to think references the drug soma in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World) since 2010's Depth Of Field LP. This time around O'Connor delivers a flustering array of synthy, folky, pop-rock, with vocals comparable to The Whitest Boy Alive and instrumentation of a similar cadence Acido Records' releases. If Somadrone is a reference to Huxely's Brave New World, it makes the trippiness of The First Wave an enjoyable, hangover-free, aural hallucinogen you'll want to revisit time and time again.