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Albums - Issue 596

Matt Playford - Solar

Mat Playford

Solar

Awesome Soundwave

Cosmic techno
9.0
Matt Playford has always gone against the grain. He has made music utterly according to his own whim, rather than with the dancefloor, DJ support or chart places in mind. His latest album is another case in point as it journeys to the edge of the cosmos on a rich sound palette that features additional composition and arrangement by friend and studio wizard Steve ‘Bertie’ Burton. What’s more, it was made in a studio powered exclusively by a bank of solar panels Playford had installed a few years ago, and was written standing up with a view it being performed live. Burton’s other key contribution is strings, which he layered into a number of tracks. Add them into Playford’s own accomplished synth and key work and you have a record that is as melodically majestic as any you will have heard. While much of the album soars on a heavenly vibe as a result of these soaring sequences and glistening pads, ‘tracks like Ptolmey’ stop it getting all too sentimental with more rugged progressive techno, and the beeps and squeaks of ‘Nympheum’ break things up with a tip of the hat to yesteryear. Elsewhere, ambient piece ‘Celestial Mechanic’ is dominated by the feeling that you’re discovering a beautiful new cosmic body for the first time. The suspensory pads and optimistic keys exude beauty, while ‘Lucid Cross Rhodes’ is back on the spaceship and racing through the galaxy on rubbery drums as warm solar winds and distance stars race by. ‘Solar’ is a familiar vision of Space with plenty of the motifs you would expect. It follows a grand and epic storytelling arc, but is executed with the sort of musicality that will mean you keep on coming back to it.
Kristan J Caryl
PTU - Am I Who I Am

PTU

Am I Who I Am

трип

Wonderfully weird
9.0
Russia’s PTU has remained something of an enigma; with practically no interviews online and only a few releases spanning their fifteen-plus-year existence, the duo is as hard to pin down as their awesomely uncategorisable take on techno. Following on from their 2017 EP, and a few singles and live tapes, mostly on Nina Kraviz’s adventurous трип label, their debut album is comprised of twelve tracks that throw together live jams on obscure vintage Soviet synths and fragments of samples that careen through their bonkers and bracing soundscapes. This improvisational rawness and eschewing of structural electronic music tropes brings to mind elements of IDM, or even free jazz, and it makes for an incredibly thrilling and refreshing listen that cements PTU as properly coming into their own as inimitable leftfield artists.
Zara Wladawsky
FD - Better Days

FD

Better Days

The North Quarter

Piano & bass
7.0
After nearly a decade of singles, ‘Better Days’ is UK artist FD aka Freddie Dixon’s debut album. Nestling in the classy, melodic, tasteful end of D&B, there's a supple sense of dynamics that prevents ‘Better Days’ from getting stuck in a dead end of placid, pretty piano. ‘Top2Bottom’ injects a classic reggae horn blast to ruffle its serene mood; ‘Deadly Styles’ eventually lets insect itching and space-warping FX take over its smokey keys. But for the most part, ‘Better Days’ is dependably easy on the ear. ‘Knots’ has a post-Burial ambience and misty 2-step shuffle, ‘Got a Feeling’ is peak-time jazzy D&B, the irresistible ‘Ribs’ – the best, most joyous track here – seems equal parts broken beat and classic Chicago house. Need some additions to your mellow playlist? FD has you covered.
Sunil Chauhan
 Helm - Chemical Flowers

Helm

Chemical Flowers

PAN

Beautifully beguiling
8.0
Helm, aka Luke Younger, is a master manipulator. A sonic subverter who obsessively records mundane everyday sounds and flips them into otherworldly musical landscapes. He has a background in noise and experimental music so isn’t afraid to exist outside the usual rules, and that’s what he does on ‘Chemical Flowers’. This is never challenge for the sake of it, though – there is always a purpose to every creeping synth, glitchy horror movie motif or detuned pad. It’s expansive musique concrète that speaks of an untold danger but never reveals one. From empty but suspenseful tracks like ‘Toxic Racecourse’ to darker, more transient cuts like ‘You Are The Database’ and the disturbing ambient architecture and exotic strings of ‘I Knew You Would Respond’, this is a compelling piece of work with a subtle sense of narrative.
Kristan J Caryl
Antwood - Delphi

ANTWOOD

Delphi

Planet Mu

Window to a weirder world
7.0
Like the two before it, Canadian producer Tristan Douglas’s third Antwood record is a concept album, but while the themes of those two (AI evolution and commercialisation of online content) were relatively digestible, ‘Delphi’ goes deeper into Douglas’s psyche, exploring the emotional turmoil of a fictional character created by the producer and his girlfriend. In reality, there’s probably too much work involved for listeners to really engage with the concept, but musically, it’s the kind of epic sonic tapestry that Douglas excels at, piecing together ambient, IDM, footwork, glitch, sound design, sinister samples and piano wanderings. There are brilliant flashes that save things from getting too self-absorbed (the industrial thump underneath ‘Club Dread’, the hyper-kinetic and visceral ‘Portal’, the footwork-indebted blasts in ‘Cave Moth’), although it’s hard not to lose the thread of ‘Delphi’ occasionally. An overly-esoteric but musically rich journey.
Tristan Parker
Cassius - Dreems

Cassius

Dreems

Caroline International

French kings
9.0
It's 20 years since those iconic Frenchmen Cassius – Philippe Zdar and Hubert 'Boom Bass' Blanc-Francard – smashed things up with their stunning debut set '1999', unleashed amid a glut of French electronica which brought us Daft Punk, Air and Motorbass, Zdar's spin-off alter ego with Etienne De Crecy, while foreshadowing the likes of Justice and the Ed Banger crew. Three years since their last set 'Ibifornia', their fifth long-player 'Dreems' finds them as slickly produced and relevant as ever. 'Don't Let Me Be' is shimmering, soaring, slinky boogie-pop and truly irresistible for it. The 'Fame' brings the moody vibes of Grace Jones and Flash and The Pan's classic Walking In The Rain, while the robotic 'Rock Non Stop' is a bona fide disco devastator. The bumping 'Because Oui!' even finds Beastie Boy Mike D on the mic, delivering over classic house vibes. So, two decades on, it appears that Cassius are still at the top of their game. Long may they reign.
Ben Arnold
Equiknoxx - Eternal Children

Equiknoxx

Eternal Children

Equiknoxx Music

Playful bass
8.0
Don’t let the hypnotic melodies and tense emptiness of ‘Solomon Is A Cup’ fool you – this latest offering from five-strong outfit Equiknoxx is packed with curveballs, but it’s also as upfront and uncompromising as anything you’ll hear this month, when it wants to be. ‘Brooklyn’, which follows the aforementioned opener, raises fists and gun-fingers high in the air; a broken, stepping, proud workout that’s guaranteed to create sweat in many basements. Tracks like ‘Manchester’ – featuring Brent Bird and legendary party Swing Ting’s MC Fox – and ‘The Corner’ have clear roots in tropical soundsystems, but sexy R&B (‘Rescue Me’) and glitchy future rhythms (‘Good Sandra’) are also here. The sum total as inspired by the dancehall roots this crew clearly have as it is the outer-limits of experimental bass. Forward-thinking yet familiar, challenging but immediately engaging.
Martin Guttridge-Hewitt

Anthony Naples

Fog FM

Incienso

Tuned in
7.0
Despite the title, ‘Fog FM’ is New York producer Anthony Naples’ clearest album yet. Whereas last year’s ‘Take Me With You’ LP was as fuzzy and rambling as the conversations at the afterparties it was designed to soundtrack, ‘Fog FM’ is full of tunes perfectly calibrated for the club that got you in that messy state beforehand. Styled as a radio broadcast, bar a couple of ambient interludes the dial doesn’t shift too far in style and tempo from the sophisticated house of the opening ‘A.I.R’. Yet although tracks like ‘Benefit’ and ‘Purple Iris’ stretch their legs longer and are steadier on their feet than anything from ‘Take Me With You’ or 2015’s sketchier ‘Body Pill’ album, there’s still the certain wooziness and warmth to them that’s fast becoming his signature sound: one that feels like it’s scrawled across all his records in faded and flickering neon.
Paul Clarke
BABii - HiiDE

BABii

HiiDE

Deathwaltz Originals

Secretive songs
8.5
Margate-based singer, songwriter and apparent otherworldly creature BABii might only be on her first full length record, but it’s as accomplished as many third or fourth-LP efforts we’ve heard. Existing in some hinterland between our zone and some fantastical ice-covered elsewhere, it’s equal parts innocence, heartbreak and joy. Some would call it alt-R&B, others electronic pop, we’re not really bothered providing you understand how good the sum total actually is. One for fans of FKA twigs, Grimes and that school of business, the combination of sweet lyrical delivery, immersive melodic touches and sharp percussive edges might not sound overly original, but from the first staccato, distorted vocal stabs on opener ‘SYMMETRii’, the delivery immediately stands out. From thereon we move through a masterclass of harmonisation, perhaps best realised on the dramatic and intense ‘POiiSON’, and rhythmic vocalisation (check ‘PHANTOM’ – which also wins for warmest on the record – and closer ‘SEiiZURE’ if you don’t believe us). Difficult to properly describe, as hypnotic and intoxicating as it is fresh and immediate, those looking for crossover with enough depth to please the heads and plenty of lush to keep the charts happy could do far worse than this.
Kristan J Caryl
A Sagittariun - Return To Telepathic Heights

A Sagittariun

Return To Telepathic Heights

Running Back

Mind tricks
8.0
After two albums, A Sagittariun recently revealed himself to be former head honcho of Bristol’s NRK Records Nick Harris, although you might have suspected two other ‘90s electronic veterans and West Country natives were behind the alias instead. The celestial techno and panoramic ambient of 2013’s ‘Dream Ritual’ and 2016’s ‘Elasticity’ LPs were clearly influenced by Mark Pritchard and Tom Middleton’s Reload and Global Communications records, and by making his third LP a concept album about an interplanetary war, Harris obviously shares the same inspirations as his predecessors’ Jedi Knights project. ‘Lazer Battle At The OK Corral’ has a similarly itchy electro-funk groove, and tracks like ‘Zeus I, Prepare For Launch’ are basically remakes of ‘90s deep house and IDM classics, but his understanding of what made them so fun at the time means ‘Return To Telepathic Heights’ is more ‘The Force Awakens’ than ‘The Phantom Menace’.
Paul Clarke
Aïsha Devi - S.L.F

Aïsha Devi

S.L.F

Houndstooth

Rave rituals
9.0
Swiss-Nepalese producer Aïsha Devi has always had something otherworldly and exceptional about her, and a recent support slot for Aphex Twin in New York goes some way to confirm this. Even some of her track titles (‘Teta 7hz (Tool)’) sound like Richard D. James creations. Houndstooth-released mini album ‘S.L.F’ follows 2018’s superb ‘DNA Feelings’ and smashes together styles including trap (‘The Favor of Fire’), rave (‘Two Serpents’), trance (‘Uupar-Theory’) and dream-pop. Completely uncategorisable as a record, the whole thing hits hard: whispers of the rave – peppery breaks and flashes of strobe synths – are at the fore, but filtered through a transcendental prism, with gongs and chimes echoing throughout Devi’s metaphysical productions. Completely hypnotic and reminiscent of greats like Arca, with ‘S.L.F’, Devi takes the rave to an even higher place.
Felicity Martin
Matias Aguayo - Support Alien Invasion

Matias Aguayo

Support Alien Invasion

Crammed Discs

Extra-terrestrial techno
8.0
In a time of political uncertainty and a surge in toxic far right views, ‘Support Alien Invasion’ carries a powerful message. Matias Aguayo wants us to welcome and appreciate those that may appear different to us as it’ll undoubtedly enrich our lives. He conveys his plea via a compelling clutch of tracks, veering between desolate techno and elegant ambient instrumentals that sound like little else in 2019. ‘Insurgentes’ is a tangle of menacing rumbles of bass, handclaps and warped vocals while ‘Laisse-moi parler’ is a wonky stomper, surely destined for the final stretch of off-kilter DJ sets. Plenty here is unconventional thanks to Aguayo’s love of offbeat drum patterns and tribal percussion, yet it remains fascinating throughout. And much like its core statement, ‘Support Alien Invasion’ takes inspiration from across the globe to produce a truly unique listening experience.
Lee Wakefield
Avicii - TIM

Avicii

TIM

Universal

A fitting tribute
9.0
‘TIM’ is nearly impossible to separate from the circumstances around its release. Commenced after Avicii's widely publicised retirement from the touring circuit (and by association, EDM culture), his tragic suicide meant it was never completed. It might have stayed that way if his family hadn’t reached out and asked production partners Vargas & Logola to add the finishing touches. ‘TIM’ is a testament to Bergling’s immense talent, while also feeling oddly removed from his personal struggles. Opener ‘Peace of Mind’ takes on a significance it mightn’t otherwise, though what’s striking is how upbeat it all sounds. The craftsmanship of its colourful pop arrangements are often breathtaking; it’s no accident Nile Rodgers labelled Avicii a musical genius while he was on his ascent. Rather than a melancholy ode to a fallen star, ‘TIM’ sounds more like its creator celebrating his newfound musical freedom.
Angus Paterson
Tycho - Weather

Tycho

Weather

Ninja Tune

Same bliss, new twist
9.0
San-Fran producer Scott Hansen aka Tycho reached the zenith of a musical vision he'd developed over a trilogy of albums with 2016’s mesmerising ‘Epoch’. Where to go to from there? Fortunately, he realised something of a creative reset was necessary, and the result is an album that is both understated and simmers on a deeper level. Essentially delivering more of the Tycho we know and love, ‘Weather’ also represents a sharp stylistic left turn. The biggest addition are the ethereal vocals of Saint Sinner. She’s the perfect match for Hansen’s otherworldly soundscapes and adds the singer-songwriter focus needed to take things forward. ‘Weather’ also differs from its predecessors in that its soundscapes are crisp and stark, rather than dense and busy; focused, disciplined and swift compositions that are less inclined to spin off into luxurious psychedelic flourishes. Let this one get under your skin.
Angus Paterson