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Albums - Issue 600

TWO - Live At Sydney Opera House

Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto

TWO – Live At Sydney Opera House

Noton

Sublime live ambience
9.0
“Ambiance” is French for “atmosphere”, and as any failed restaurateur will ruefully tell you, there’s no formula for getting it right. The same is true of ambient music: producers can brush up on Brian Eno’s back catalogue and swathe gauzy synths in reverb and delay, but if they don’t have a certain ineffable magic, then the results are as enchanting as a candlelit dinner for one in a motorway services café. Whatever that magic is, it’s undeniably present in Berlin-based electronic artist Alva Noto and Tokyo-born, New York-based Ryuichi Sakomoto’s long-running collaborative project. Fusing elements from their respective backgrounds, such as Noto’s deep drones and the poignant piano playing of Sakomoto’s soundtrack work – most famously ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’ – the pair have produced five albums of sparse but spellbinding music, whose subtly cinematic qualities were recognised when they were commissioned to score the Oscar-winning ‘The Revenant’. ‘The Revenant Theme’ closes this live recording of the final concert of their 2018 tour. It’s no Hollywood show-stopper – being as bleak as the frozen landscapes in the film – but here the ominous bells and sombre tones sound almost over-egged compared to the preceding hour, which contains some of the most delicate music imaginable. Sakomoto’s piano playing floats like the spirit of Erik Satie through the subtle clicks and muted pulse of Nicolai’s machines, the restraint making tracks like ‘BERLIN’ and ‘MORNING + IANO’ all the more powerful and moving. It’s cerebral and abstract music to be sure, but also intimate and tactile: you can almost feel the air vibrating across the Opera House and raising the hairs on your neck. The very nature of the performance means ‘TWO’ can’t quite create the same atmosphere that must have been there on the night, but it comes as close to capturing it as possible.
Paul Clarke
Big World

Drones Club

Big World

Joyrider

A superb debut
9.0
Drones Club is a fitting moniker for this English trio, dovetailing nicely with their lofty conceptual ambitions; half the name alludes to technology in one of its more nefarious manifestations, the other to the human element. Both are explored on this superb debut. One of the most coherent fusions of live and electronic arrangements we’ve heard this year, ‘Big World’ equally delivers on its thematic premise, exploring the tension between a cynical response to dystopian despair, and tempered optimism. After a somewhat morose opening, the bittersweet question is posed: “How can we be free in a fucked-up place… with these tears on our faces.” More important is how these sentiments contrast with the often uplifting soundscapes. The lyricism of this masked, anonymous trio truly does resonate, and they’re audaciously successful in this ambitious album.
Angus Paterson
Cartas Na Manga

DJ NIGGA FOX

Cartas Na Manga

Principe Discos

Afro-Portuguese rave heat
8.0
DJ Nigga Fox is a standout talent from Lisbon’s Afro-Portuguese Kuduro scene, and his audacious fusion of homegrown, club-inspired sounds have won him international acclaim. With ‘Cartas Na Manga’, he returns to pioneering local label Príncipe, and although these nine new tracks sound sleeker than his earlier work, he never loses sight of Kuduro’s gritty soulfulness. The instrumentation maintains a healthy breathing space throughout, with house-flavoured piano stabs, acidic bleeps, Kuduro’s polyrhythmic percussion, and jazz-infused basslines all shining together. Despite the buzz surrounding him and his Afro-Portuguese contemporaries, his productions seem unaffected by this outside noise and hype, or any pressures to conform to traditional dance music genre constraints. As his name is chanted throughout the album, it’s as if he’s writing his sonic signature across them, asserting his unique voice.
Tanya Akinola
Deep Rave Memory

Richard Fearless

Deep Rave Memory

Drone

UK techno for broken hearts
8.0
Talk about taking your time. Those who had money on the debut album from Richard Fearless (under his own name) never materialising finally find themselves coming up short. As does anyone hoping this collection would set new benchmarks in the sonic explorations of a guy who, under the Death In Vegas banner, has perplexed as many as he has won over. On first play it almost feels like a missed opportunity, not fully expressing those wildly experimental tendencies. Don’t be fooled, though. Tear up presumptions and what’s left is a drum, synth, and bass-perfect ode to UK techno. Produced at Metal Box, amid an industrial Thames-side landscape, it’s obvious but accurate to suggest surrounds have been distilled onto record. ‘Devil On Horseback’ interprets the aesthetics and unrelenting energy of factories, while still feeling erratic and manic. ‘New Perspective’’s tense orchestral overture and off-beat, eerie hook conjures images of lights flickering into life, dusk settling over a dystopian panorama. Even at its least intense — melancholic downtempo closer ‘Broken Beauty’ or epic ambient intro ‘Vision of You’ — ‘Deep Rave Memory’ sounds born in a place built by machines and inhabited by humans; mathematical, precise, heartbroken, and emotional.
Martin Guttridge-Hewitt
High Fives & Devil Eyes

SCAR

High Fives & Devil Eyes

Metalheadz

Lethal drum & bass beats
7.5
Production team Steve Kielty and Michael Borthwick are SCAR, a drum & bass crack unit who specialise in neck snapping breaks and nightmarish bass blurts. Releasing on Goldie’s Metalheadz label since 2014, they’ve gradually refined and tightened their style into a lethal dancefloor aimed concoction. On their second album, ‘High Fives & Devil Eyes’, SCAR continue in a similar vein, with meticulous sound design meeting razor sharp rhythms. Here, there’s little room for musicality. ‘State Of Delusion’ is all jagged bass rips and stepping drums; ‘Stolen Memories’ has looming melancholy pads and curlicues of synth amid its immaculately produced beat chatter. But it’s on tracks like ‘Funk Control’ where SCAR really come into their own, updating the classic tech-step beat pattern with a minimalist modern approach and menacing leviathan bass. ‘High Fives & Devil Eyes’ is built for club use, and proud of it.
Ben Murphy
Oderbruch

Shed

Oderbruch

Ostgut Ton

Shed scales it right back
7.5
After an album as grandiose as ‘The Final Experiment’, it makes sense that Shed’s creative instincts would push him towards reigning in the scale for an effort that’s comparatively contained and restrained. ‘Oderbuch’ delves into much of the same dreamy ambience, a little more intertwined with a percussive techno momentum this time, although there’s also something a little more intimate and personal that’s initially difficult to put your finger on. It turns out it’s his heartfelt ode to the titular Oderbruch region in Germany’s east, where he grew up and still spends much of his time. Shed takes time to flesh out the rich percussion of these otherwise tempered soundscapes, and the decidedly retro edge to these synthy soundscapes sit perfectly with the nostalgic energies that he's exploring.
Angus Paterson
Of Desire, Longing

Speaker Music

Of Desire, Longing

Planet Mu

Captivating skeletal ambience
9.0
The sound of Speaker Music’s ‘Of Desire, Longing’ is skeletal. Two tracks, each 23 minutes long, build up a wall of glitch-infused noise that surrounds and envelopes the listener. The experimental ambience of the sound makes use of very little instrumentation — plucked pianos, streaks of guitar, synth walls, sampled soundscapes, chopped up horns, minimal drums — to create an entire world. Erected on barely anything, this work is a genre pastiche that is as viscous and dense as it is squishy. It manages to wear multiple sashes, a smorgasbord of genres that make it indecipherable as any one thing. ‘Of Desire, Longing’ is unconventional and riveting. Lithe in its ability to not be any one genre, it is also pensive and potent, finding Speaker Music unmoored and at his captivating best.
Dhruva Balram
Atlantics

Fatima Al Qadiri

Original Music From Atlantics

Milan

Stunning soundtrack atmospherics
9.0
Fatima Al Qadiri’s music sounds like a practice of divination; a midi keyboard is her chosen tool to interpret earthly structures and prophesize alternate realities. It’s fitting, then, that she was hand-picked by Senegalese director Mati Diop to score her critically acclaimed film Atlantics, a supernatural romance story. The score’s crashing waves, washes of muddy, melancholic synths, and brooding strings paint a sensual and haunting backdrop. Al Qadiri skilfully plays with dynamics: utilising silence and volume in optimal moments, and weaving these elements into the dizzying streets of Dakar and an eerie nocturnal seaside. Like a body of water, the score flows around the story, gently nudging it forward. Like her previous releases, Al Qadiri mashes together discordant cultural, political, and sonic elements, and ties them to narratives that are often forgotten or misrepresented. Like the characters in the film, we’re in an entrancing spell, and convinced that Diop and Al Qadiri are a formidable collaboration.
Tanya Akinola
Planet Heart

Calibre

Planet Heart

Signature

Tenderness from a D&B legend
8.0
Having been a longtime fan of Calibre’s ethereal and soulful style of drum & bass, this introspective ambient album is a lovely, fresh take on his music. Written over the course of four years, mostly on an island off one of the most western points of his native Ireland, and released on his Signature imprint, ‘Planet Heart’ is a largely beatless affair. Dedicated to the death of a close friend, the album conveys a sense of great personal loss through its melancholic spaciousness. The few rhythmic tracks on it operate at a much less frenetic pace than most of his two decades-long drum & bass output, but some core elements of Calibre’s sound are still present. The transcendent and emotive passages that have always elevated his bass music into a league of its own are the foundation of many of its moments, especially in the floating, hands-in-the-air feel of ‘Colby Park’ and ‘Sheven’. The soft and steady propulsion of ‘Walking in Circles’ and ‘Thought Fields’ explore weightless realms, creates arcs of cinematic passages, before eventually giving way to the two most organic compositions of the album to finish it out, 'Pine’ and 'Down That Road’.
Zara Wladawsky

Omar Souleyman

Shlon

Mad Decent

Dizzying Syrian bangers
6.5
Syria’s greatest wedding singer returns, stubbornly dedicated to boosting Syrian dabke wedding music with techno umpf. His fiery energy is still miraculously intact, too, putting his heart and soul into every syllable throughout. After so many years of repeating the same basics, however, Schlon sees the sound starting — ever so slightly — to wear. Backed up again by the phenomenal keyboards and pounding beats of Hasan Alo, the album does bring back some traditional colour in the form of near-constant saz string shredding. The saz and keyboard shredding to be fair, is flooring, and the high points are as dizzying as ever. Lead single ‘Layle’ being a particularly hard banger waiting to be dropped into mixes throughout the land. At its core, Schlon offers nothing that we haven’t heard several times before from the same artist — but, admittedly, we love it every time.
Tristan Bath
The Blue Hour

LSB & DRS

The Blue Hour

Footnotes

Crisp and reflective drum & bass
7.0
The new album from drum & bass producer LSB and MC DRS has an apt title. An introspective record wrapped in indigo jazz tones, it finds the duo in reflective mood. DRS is celebrated for flipping from yearning soul vocals into incisive rhymes; LSB is respected for subtle liquid drum & bass on Soul:R and Spearhead. Here, they pool their considerable experience, with pianos, double bass, trumpet, and guitars forming a low-key backdrop to crisp beats and LSB’s tales of lost love. He weaves memorable metaphors such as “like a sports car with no brakes” on ‘Snake Pass’, and on the gorgeous flute laden ‘Letting Go’, the duo imagine Erykah Badu’s ‘Baduizm’ at a frisky pace. At its best, ‘The Blue Hour’ is an ideal companion piece to records by new jazz artists like Ezra Collective or Nubya Garcia.
Ben Murphy
Uncut Gems

Daniel Lopatin

Uncut Gems

Warp Records

A thrilling synth-led soundtrack
8.5
Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never, has created another stunning soundtrack, this time to Josh and Benny Safdie’s latest film. The Brooklyn-based artist’s music has always been rooted in conceptual soundscapes with sharp detail and a huge depth of emotion, so his forays into soundtracking over the last six years has seemed like a natural progression — this work draws from, and complements, his output as OPN. For ‘Uncut Gems,’ he provides soaring, celestial synth passages that convey happiness, sadness, drama, stillness, and movement through his meticulous sound design and arrangements. Since the movie is a crime thriller, many tracks that hang onto unnerving and tensile moments: spiralling into further heightened intensity, often utilising thundering percussion and haunting pads with little resolve or release. It’s always an interesting one to listen to a soundtrack before seeing the film, but many of the pieces hold their own as great electronic instrumental music, which is never that surprising when Lopatin is at the helm.
Zara Wladawsky
Upsurge

Stenny

Upsurge

Ilian Tape

Deep modern techno
8.0
Already an integral name to the Illian Tape discography, Stenny’s debut album delves deep into ideas that transcend the dancefloor. ‘Water Maze’ provides an atmospheric beginning; subtle melodies dance across grainy tape loops and distant basslines. ‘Sensitive Habitat’ begins by building with his archetypal, emotive soundscapes, over an expansive four minutes. ‘BRFB’ is a more sinister affair, stripping back on melody to focus on percussion and bass hits, making this an essential DJ tool. ‘Swordfish’ mirrors some of his more dancefloor-focused releases, with off kilter beats and snarling synths. ‘Whyrl’ twists the tempo again with its jungle breaks, but gliding notes and ascending melodies bring this into a deeper sphere. ‘Dew’ provides another moment of crescendo, exploring high-powered ambience. ‘In A Distant Light’ completes the album, with a fast-paced, moody outro that’s faintly reminiscent of a Burial record. Essential listening from start to finish.
Anna Wall