Music Reviews



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Artist: Maxime Iko
Title: Pray For Us
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: BPitch
With a coronovirus stamping all over European raves and parties, a techno EP entitled “Pray For Us” is either well or badly timed depending on how you look at it, as it ends up carrying even more tension and dancefloor darkness than it intended- and it already carried a lot, with opening track “Dagyde” a relentless thumper of kicks and brooding atmospherics that’s a leap back to the almost naive-sounding tone of techno’s early dark side.

The title track, as A2, is equally unforgiving, a thick kick and short bass pattern that almost never lets up for six minutes, this time with the fairly subtly-handled addition of pitched-down vocals about the apocalypse that (thankfully) sound more like a classic house spoken-word cliché than any kind of fresh statement of the world’s current problems.

The B side has a little more variety. “Telekinesis” is gentler, but only relatively speaking- still a tribal techno workout, but this time a touch more sparse with a nice plinky high synth line, holding back some nice sinister chords as a nice twist for its second half. But it’s final track “Words”, with its extra electro elements and intriguing whispered “unnecessary” vocal chant and strangely mesmerising melodic loop, that ends up stealing the show.

Right now it feels like there will be more people dancing round their living rooms than to clubs on this one, but nevertheless it’s another rich DJ weapon that delivers exactly what you want from BPitch.
Mar 16 2020
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Artist: Automatisme
Title: Alter-
Format: 2 x 12" vinyl
Label: Mille Plateaux
“Alter-” is two styles of electronica experiments interspersed on a single release, “Alter-Rate” and “Alter-Scape”.

There are six numbered “Alter-Rate” pieces, which take relatively simple minimal techno sounds- soft kicks and hits, light percussive sounds and modular synthesis pulses and waves- and then bend their time signatures and rhythm patterns, not just a little bit a lot, glitching and spontaneously adjusting them so that none of the traditional 4/4 root pattern can be discerned. They are skittish, never sitting at one arrangement for very long. At times, such as the latter half of “Alter-Rate 3” or the somewhat Aphex Twin-ish “Alter-Rate 7”, they are frantic, chaotic affairs, while at others, such as the first half of “Alter-Rate 2”, they are more spacious and gentle- the unpredictable bubbling of the latter sounding a little like a playful old Radiophonic Workshop analogue sketch piece, but with a lot more sub-bass.

(A notable exception to the above is “Alter-Rate 6”, which spends several minutes in a surprisingly regular and 4/4 minimal techno formation, to mix things up a bit.)

Conversely, the four “Alter-Scape” pieces are described as ‘ambient’, but they still have an inherent rhythm. However it is true that they are far more static, providing a regular breathing pattern that ends up serving as an interlude between the irregular offerings of the “Alter-Rate”s. There’s a distantly industrial feel to “Alter-Scape 3” that eschews the more relaxed side of ambient and which I’d primarily describe as drone, while “Alter-Scape 4” has that more typical melodic tone to it.

There’s high-concept art theory behind this album’s approach to time and sound, and appropriately, much of the sound here feels like it belongs in a live context or, even better, an installation, surrounding you from all sides and tied in with other stimuli. As an hour-long home listen, you would be more advised to ignore the descriptive references to ‘club music’, grab some headphones, turn the lights off and dive in. It’s not revolutionary but it’s head-bending enough to make it worth the dive.
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Artist: Zelienople
Title: Hold You Up
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: Miasmah
Chicago-based trio Zelienople’s first album in five years is an understated one. Channeling a relatively conventional set-up variously comprising vocal, piano, guitar and drums through a tunnel of progressive and post-rock abstraction and experimentation, whilst imbuing it with a constant sense of fragile introspection, results in a very personal-sounding half dozen long and moody tracks.

Heavy use of reverb and delay give tracks like “Breathe” an otherworldly feel, and there’s a little bit of a lo-fi, echo-heavy vibe on most of the instruments that give a wrapping sense of isolation that mostly comes across as very cold. Breathiness and looseness is integral to the character of the vocal, which works well in tracks such as journeying piece (and highlight) “You Have It”.

The publicity for the album refers to “driving rhythms” and “underground pop”, but the implementation of this is more low-key than you might expect. There’s certainly an edge-of-pop structure around songs like “Hold You Up” (albeit in eight-minute extended mix form) but generally the performance is so gentle and lackadaisical- but not in a bad way- that it doesn’t channel a pop energy. Instead it can come across like the sound of Joy Division falling asleep. Trio member Mike Weis’s studies of Korean Shaman and Buddhist music is more openly apparent.

A bit of variety comes in the fairly modestly handled use of different instrumentation, such as what seems to be bass clarinet and flute synth sounds that creep in to “Just An Unkind Time”, but this is so subtle that it’s hard to be confident as to what they even are.

Although the grunginess and washy production qualities of this aren’t always to my taste, nevertheless there’s a purity of expression and a musical richness that seeps through here and makes it a very worthwhile listen for those times of indulgent rather than enforced isolation.
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Artist: Deep Woods
Title: L.O.V.E.
Format: 12" vinyl + Download
Label: 3Bridge
Greg Cuoco a.k.a. Deep Woods is the boss of the 3Bridge label and on “L.O.V.E.” he lays out a nice template for the reliable, chilled out house styles that it’s defined by. The original mix borders on lounge house, somehow managing to blend funk guitar, disco elements, Rhodes-like keys and junior spoken word samples without managing to sound glib or cheesy, which is quite a feat.

For me it’s the ‘deep mix’ on the B-side though, a rolling tech-house affair with an infectious, somewhat post-breaks bassline and plenty of dub delay on the sparser keys.

Warm, smile-inducing, high-quality, feel-good house.
Mar 11 2020
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Artist: Nazar
Title: Guerilla
Format: CD & Vinyl
Label: Hyperdub
Angola-born, now Manchester-based Nazar describes his sound as ‘weaponising’ the sound of kuduro, Angola’s upbeat music and dance style, coining the term ‘Rough Kuduro’ for a fusion that brings in much darker elements equally inspired by the country- horrors, politics, and division.

It’s exemplified perfectly on tracks like “Diverted”, which on the surface sounds like a complex, slightly grime-ish bit of intelligent electronica, but under which a more sinister tone constantly lurks, next to the sub-bass. The real details are in the shadows. The politics is often quite covert, and while the track “UN Sanctions” has an obviously political title, it’s essentially an instrumental, with tiny indistinguishable vocal cut-up snippets. If you don’t like politics in your music, you’ll be relieved that it doesn’t get in the way here.

The grime comparisons are even more prominent in tracks like “Bunker”, where guest vocal lines from Shannen talk about guns and bombs and other nouns repeatedly heard in grime tracks. But unlike some other MC’s, whose constant lines about weapons feels like it’s a smoke mask in front of a middle class suburban lifestyle, this material has very believable credentials, and feels real. This means that I find myself wishing there was a bit more exposition in these lyrics, and simply more of them- which is unusual, as with grime albums I’m more likely to find myself wishing for an instrumental version as the production normally outweighs the rap.

Other highlights include the sheer cinematic drama shared by opener “Retaliation” and the urgency-building “Intercept”. The measured chaos of “Immortal”, which shifts well away from the traditional cool minimalism into a frantic array of siren-like synths and panic, shows off the breadth on display, juxtaposed as it is against the pseudo-ballad of following track “Mother”. Across the board there’s just a little bit more weirdness than you might expect- with the sidechained throbbing and bubbling sounds of “Arms Deal” an example of the genuine oddity threaded through the production.

The overall result is yet another perfect fit for the Hyperdub label- bass-rich, sharply produced, EQ-navigating electronica that suits both chin-stroking and hip-shaking in equal measure. Top notch.
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