Live tracks from HTRK and Tropic Of Cancer feature on the forthcoming Part Time Punks Radio Sessions 12″ from Ghostly International, due out later this month.
There’s an undeniably liberated feeling about the soaring tone of “Her Fantasy”, the opening track and lead single from Matthew Dear’s latest album Beams. The rousing chord progression could lend itself to summertime radio, arguably more so than the previous ventures Dear has taken into arch pop music, but more than its accessibility the song sounds like a man celebrating the plain of freedom his creative path has led him to.
“Life always finds way of throwing a curve ball at you.” Coming from Jonnine Standish, lead singer of Australian duo HTRK, it’s an understatement. The band have experienced more up and downs in the past two years than most bands can expect in a lifetime; tragedy struck in March 2010 when original band member Sean Stewart took his own life. Standish and fellow band member Nigel Yang completed the recording of their third studio album Work (Work, Work) as a duo, in recording sessions that turned out to be a grieving process as well as a creative one.
The album, which was two-thirds completed while Sean was still alive, served as the ultimate sonic monument to Sean’s memory. A dark, dense, richly textured set, it requires months, rather than days or weeks, to wrap your head around. It is a dense, burdened, at times painful, but always beautiful odyssey through post-punk, industrial and dub experiments. The album received a mixed, almost confused critical response – many writers seemingly didn’t know how to approach it – but HTRK have been quietly championed by the likes of UK techno stalwart Regis and revered leftfield producer Actress among many others.
Since releasing Work (Work, Work) last year, the band have left their temporary home in East London and returned to their native Australia (Nigel in Sydney, Jonnine in Melbourne), where they have commenced work on their next, as yet unnamed album. As Aaron Coultate found out, it’s been a time of new beginnings for the pair, with the spectre of hope looming over plans for album number four.
Out of a garage in Princeton, New Jersey, self-confessed synthesizer obsessive Rich Haley has been making odd but interesting music for the best part of a decade. He first utilized the brilliant Com Truise moniker in the summer of 2010, when his Cyanide Sisters EP dropped on AMDISCS. Initially distributed free of charge, it got tongues wagging sufficiently to prick the ears of Ghostly International – hence this timely reissue, complete with a slew of new tracks.
Haley’s musical ethos is seemingly simple. His music, whether upbeat, downtempo, dancefloor-minded or sofa-centric, is entirely made with synthesizers and computers. Sonically, there are some parallels with the work of, say, Emperor Machine – circa Vertical Tones & Horizontal Noise, rather than his more recent dancefloor offerings – and Mark Pritchard and Dave Brinskworth’s Harmonic 33 releases for Warp. Yet Haley’s sound is largely far more bold and positive, with less distinct horror influences. His synths might be old, but he wants them to make sweet, melodious noise, rather than dark and fuzzy atmospheric sketches.
In many ways, Cyanide Sisters is something of a musical calling card. It demonstrates Haley’s ability to craft pieces that defy easy categorization. “5891″, for example, sounds like a mangled, next-level rework of Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls”, while “BASF Ace” could be the mutant offspring of Autechre and Bootsy Collins. There are more simplistically optimistic offerings, too – check “Sunripened”, “Slow Peels” and the title track – as well as crunchier offerings that fit into the synth-wave formula. Whatever you call it, Haley’s music is playful, emotive and joyously addictive. If left-of-centre analogue funk is your thing, look no further.
The buzz has been building for fledgling Chelmsford producer Gold Panda for a while now, and after lauded remixes for the likes of Bloc Party, Simian Mobile Disco, HEALTH, and Lemonade (to name a few), as well as the release of some quality singles, Gold Panda has dropped his debut album Lucky Shiner on the cusp of autumn.
For those of you unfamiliar with Gold Panda’s sound, an immediate reference point could be imagining the gifted lovechild of Four Tet and The Field. But this is not to imply that Gold Panda sounds too much like either of these artists, just that his music evokes them. Therefore, beatier tracks like “Vanilla Minus”, “Snow & Taxis”, and “Marriage” will no doubt remind listeners of The Field’s knack for hypnotic loop-based techno. Yet what makes it different is Gold Panda’s talent for adding a distinct emotional element to his songs, one that is quite strong but doesn’t fully reveal itself until repeated listens.
Gold Panda’s ability to eke out emotion, coupled with a quirky, more abstract air, is where the Four Tet comparison comes in — with tracks like “Same Dream China”, “After We Talked”, and the already revered “You”, being excellent examples of this side of Gold Panda’s musical palette. “Same Dream China” is an early highlight, which features Steve Reich chimes that build on a loop, subtle bass, and a tweaked sample of a traditional stringed Chinese instrument.
There really is something infectious with Lucky Shiner, which simply comes down to the fact that it invokes an introspective yet warm mood in the end – one that seems to correspond snugly with the beginning of the autumn season. There are no lyrics throughout the album, but it still plays out as deeply personal, and judging by the track titles this seems to be the case. Hence, what we have is a smattering of Gold Panda’s autobiography thus far, told aurally, with a touch of his passion for Eastern cultures thrown in for good measure. “Lucky Shiner” is a solid and diverse debut, and worth every bit of anticipation and hype bestowed upon it. Check it.
Hot on the heels of his critically acclaimed debut album “Skulltaste”, Brian Lindgren aka Mux Mool returns with an EP of remixes, one new track, and his own remix of “Wax Rose Saturday”, which he has dubbed a “remux”. The album opens with Mool’s remux, and you’d never know it came from the original track if he didn’t tell you. This new “Wax Rose” is pure analogue and a much warmer affair than the bleepy original, sounding a bit like labelmate Dabrye, with some smooth vocoder thrown in for good measure. It gets one’s head bobbing, and segues nicely into new track “Valley Girls”, which is one of the best songs he has released to date – a simple slow jam with a subtle yet spooky synthline that bumps so nice you’ll want to play it twice before moving on to the remixes.
Daso’s remix of “Enceladus” is the clear-cut highlight here, a sprawling 7 minute 4/4 banger that has the dancefloor in its sights from the get go. Hints of house and disco are meshed in with Mool’s original dirty funk to smashing effect, creating a definite hitter for all you late-night DJs hoping to carry the party until the wee ones. Shigeto’s take on “Morning Strut” switches the rhythm around while still maintaining the original track’s piano line. Paul White tweaks “Wolf Tone Symphony” and Alex B tries his hand at “Hog Knuckles” by upping the pitch and tempo, but that track is arguably already pitch perfect in its original form. Nevertheless, this is an excellent addendum to Mux Mool’s sound in 2010, and definitely worth checking out.
He’s a man who comes with many guises. Primarily he’s known as one Justin K. Broadrick, guitarist in seminal grindcore band Napalm Death and industrial/metal outfit Godflesh. Later on in the ‘90s, he turned to electronic music, collaborating with Ninja Tune signing The Bug (aka Kevin Martin of King Midas Sound) under the alias Techno Animal. Then he metamorphosed into Jesu in 2002 – a metal project specializing in slow, melancholic soundscapes, of which Pale Sketches was an original release back in 2007. Finally, he appears to us today, under the Pale Sketcher moniker as a “de-mixer” and musical deviant, demixin” the Jesu album of 2007 into something rather peculiar, experimental and deeply intriguing.
Kicking off with “Don’t Dream It (Mirage Mix)”, Pale Sketcher goes in deep, transforming the original into something which, intentional or not, is very much a sound of now, as clinking, chiming sounds are contrasted against dark, grumbling bass and arcane rhythms. Moving forwards with dreamy, ethereal piece, “Can I Go Now (Gone Version)” come replete with a pious melody and shuffling beats, whilst the absence of sound that Pale Sketcher seeks to achieve in his demixes becomes ever more apparent in ambient cut “Wash It All Away (Cleansed Dub)”. Shimmering, trance-like murmurings and a stripped back guitar provide some sort of absolution here, it would seem.
See also “The Playgrounds Are Empty (Slumber Mix)”, up next, with its heavy-lidded, dreary vocals and tranquilised, numbing atmospherics, which pertain to the same ambient sensibility. “Tiny Universe (Interstella)” bridges the gap between these two central tracks and the final section, with vocal-led “Supple Hope (2009 mix)” leading smoothly in to “Dummy (Bahnhoff version)” – an intricately textured piece with a vaguely oppressive atmosphere and a distinctly downtempo vibe. Concluding track, “Plans That Fade (Faded Dub)”, enacts the process described in the title, yet far from fading away into nothingness, it serves to reinforce Pale Sketcher’s intention of demixing and deconstructing to create something new, and in doing so, entirely reconstructing his Pale Sketches.
Matthew Dear returns with his new album, Black City as an epic 10-track journey through varying sounds from more experimental electronica to more erratic trip-hoppy influences and almost 80s sounding moments. Playing with more digital sounds than expected, he seems to have taken one step closer to blur the lines into his aliases as Audion and Jabberjaw here, most notably on the title track where soaring synths and a catchy bassline are met with a housier beat.
Having grown up in Detroit, the Ghostly International/Spectral Sounds’ co-founder along with Samuel Valenti IV, has evidently been influenced by the heavier and darker techno sounds in the scene around him as heard in his other musical projects. However under his own name, he has always maintained a more acoustic and analogue sound with softer vocals and instrumental samples. In comparison to his first three albums Leave Luck to Heaven, Asa Breed and Backstroke, the highly anticipated fourth instalment shows his already highly reputable production skills have improved even more.
“Slowdance” off the new album stands out with synthy effects and a slower pace, whilst tracks like “Monkey” are strong and intense, littered with disturbing primate-focused lyrics. Ending on “Gem”, an anthemic piano piece with soft vocals, we’re left to mull over a genre-defying and generally slower paced full length.
Review: Flora Wong
Solvent’s fourth artist album, Subject to Shift is an aptly named record, displaying the Toronto based producer’s shift in sound for the project. Known for his hook-laden synth-pop, his latest album, the first in nearly six years, sees the producer moving into a more future acid tinged, angst-riddled place with lots of melancholy and moodiness. Delving deeper and darker than before, Jason Amm, the man behind the alias, deals with much more sombre moods and uses his beloved vocoder less than on his three previous LPs. The cute, happy and playful robots made with the pleasant buzz and hums of analogue synthesizers from his last full length, 2004’s Apples & Synthesizers are scarcely present, replaced instead with a mixture of dystopian, acid tinged futurism and bittersweet romantic ache.
Solvent’s bright synth tones are still in effect but tend to operate under new, darker conceits on this record. Tracks like “Formulate” hint at Amm’s previous dancefloor leanings but do so in a much more menacing style with a micro-disco throb and slippery vocoder lead. “Don’t Forget the Phone” wraps an arsenal of dark vocal hooks around a jaunty schaffel beat to convey the paranoia involved within a breakup whilst lead single “Loss For Words” and “Caught A Glimpse” explore Amm’s new world of technology aided melancholy. “Take Me Home” is sinister whilst “Panoramic” finishes the record off in beautiful style. There are still the kind of glistening dancefloor moments of old but unlike his previous releases, Subject to Shift is strewn together by Amm’s heartfelt vocals.
Running with an astute sense and beauty and emotional openness from start to finish, this album is arguably Solvent’s finest work to date. It is without question grander and takes the listener to a more rewarding place, but fans of his older material will still be able to appreciate some of its familiarity, whilst also admiring Amm’s artistry growth. Pulled together by live vocals and drenched in its creator’s emotions, Subject To Shift feels, despite being machine-made, wholly human.
Review: Tom Jones
Having teased listeners with a trickle of singles and EP’s dating back to 2006′s Lost and Found, producer Brian Lindgren aka Mux Mool finally drops his first full-length album Skulltaste, and we’re pleased to say it’s well worth the wait.
With an array of different sounds and styles at his command, Mux Mool creates a deliciously psychedelic roller-coaster ride of an album, with opener The Balled of Gloria Featherbottom setting the tone perfectly via a rush of galloping arpeggios and dirty breaks. While it’s hard to spot influences in such a mercurial and maverick talent (anything goes, from Four Tet to the Cocteau Twins) there’s certainly an appreciation of J Dilla at work in songs like Hog Knuckles, which like much of the album sounds like kaleidoscopic instrumental hip-hop.
Skulltaste’s title track is a weird and wheezing hip-hop shuffle, and Breakfast Enthusiast keeps the trippy mid tempo vibe going, adding lashings of heavy bass into the mix. Enceladus however is pure dancefloor genius though, upping the tempo into the 120bpm’s and sounding similar to German producer Siriusmo’s sideways approach to electro. The dynamic arrangements are what make Mux Mool so special. “Dandelion” starts off thread bare, but then builds to a thrilling mix of strings and chiming keys. “Wax Rose Saturday” switches up styles mid-song, while 1st and 4th progresses from a simple bass and drum groove into an epic and effortless drumroll that will leave your jaw gaping wide open.
On a more glitchy, slo-mo tip “Death 9000″ uses big swathes of ambient vinyl crackle and hiss to create a grainy soundscape which is embellished with retro synths and vicious vocoders. “Get Better John” though is brighter and more uptempo, with 90s style hip-hop drums anchoring buzzing synths that seem to be trying to escape into the stratosphere. Fans of Hudson Mohawke, Flying Lotus and Debruit will definitely dig where Mux Mool is coming from, but there’s really so much great stuff here it demands to be heard by all.
Review: Oliver Keens
Todd Osborn’s (almost) self titled debut album drew plaudits from across the globe, the American producer lauded for his blend of old and new in addition to his adaptation of varying styles. Such was the appeal of this highly creative, nostalgia-soaked dance album that it has managed to lure a host of respected and influential producers into reworking the original tracks. Such is the quality and ingenuity of those remixes, that Ghostly International has decided to release them on a new EP of their own.
Bullion opens the release with their twist on “Afrika.” The UK based producer swaps African percussion for warm, soulful electro whose humble bass makes it markedly more Americanised than its African influenced predecessor. Bogdan Raczynski’s effort transforms “Ruling” from its deep Chicago sound into a frantic mellay of dots and lines built around a flopping bassline. Lukid brings an ambient and instrumental hip hop feel to what Osborne had woven a dream-like, 1990s sound into “There.”
The digital version of this release also includes Luke Vibert’s energetic, snappy version of “Outta Sight,” not to mention an Arto Mwambe remix of “Wait a Minute.” The Frankfurt duo retain the jazz chords that are merged with disco and funk in the original but give it a deep house makeover for the remix.
These remixes have managed to keep up the standard of creativity and innovation set by the original album – and that’s no mean feat.
Review: Tom Jones