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Albums - Issue 590

Silk Road Assassins - State of Ruin

SILK ROAD ASSASSINS

State of Ruin

Planet Mu

Scoring big
8.0
We live in a golden era for electronic music production, raising the question of what place pure criticism has in 2019? That relentless release schedule, never busier, packs quality not just quantity, meaning positive praise is rightly handed out like the fashion were about to change. Subjectivity has become the only constant differentiator. In many ways, then, Mike Paradinas’ genre-spanning Planet Mu is an anomaly. Renowned for its exploratory approach to A&R, stopping short of IDM but embracing the farthest reaches of bass-y avenues, the label is certainly consistent but it’s also particularly picky when it comes to putting any fresh material out. An imprint for which a new offering remains a real event. So, enter 2019’s first album from the stable. The three heads behind Silk Road Assassins – Tom E Vercetti, Chemist and Lovedr0id – ply their trade as video game sound designers and music producers, and the contents of ‘State of Ruin’ reflect that. Spatial, thoughtful, score-esque tracks venture into – or perhaps back from – the outer reaches of trap and instrumental grime, making for an aural trip most are likely to consider headphone rather than dancefloor fodder. The glittery low-slung rhythm of ‘Saint’, or ‘Split Matter’’s sci-fi pan-pipes and stepping drums exemplify the point. Less sweat-inducing bombs, more generous smatterings of twinkled melodies and elegant, polished ‘scapes, in an age when ferocious techno and raw, obscure rhythms have become shorthand for a mythicised underground the slow vibes (although not always BPMs) and polished aesthetics here represent a pleasing break from the norm. Ultimately, this accentuates the opening point – all tunes are exceptionally well-produced, minutely detailed and exquisitely engineered. It’s unarguably a good record, but the answer of how relevant it is sits in the eye of the beholder.
Martin Guttridge-Hewitt

Angel-Ho

Death Becomes Her

Hyperdub

Challenging the club
7.0
Disrupting gender norms and raising a middle finger to white cis-heteronormativity, Angel-Ho takes on identity politics via the medium of straight-up bangers on her debut album for Hyperdub. The Cape Town artist is the founder of the NON Worldwide collective, and the DJ/producer has had a handful of releases, most notably her debut EP on Rabit’s Halcyon veil (said record was mastered by Arca). ‘Death Becomes Her’ employs the kinds of strobe-lit deconstructed club and pop sounds that can be filed next to Fade To Mind. The album’s guests include Gaika and Asmara as well as Cape Town MCs K-$ and Queezy, making for a rich, abrasive and at times stressful sound, which Angel-Ho’s pop culture-referencing and fierce vocal fits over. There’s the Teriyaki Boyz-recalling ‘Drama’, disruptive drum patterns (‘Jacomina’), and the neon club stomper ‘Like A Girl’ – challenging conventions never sounded so good.
Felicity Martin
Murlo - Dolos

Murlo

Dolos

Coil Records

Enigmatic debut statement
8.0
This might be the first album proper from Manchester producer and visual artist Murlo (Chris Pell), but by now we’re no strangers to his leftfield electronics and fusing of contemporary club sounds, thanks to a string of releases on various underground labels (plus the odd internet-applauded Rihanna rework). Most notably, Brooklyn’s Mixpak hosted two extended EPs, 2017’s ‘Club Coil’ and 2015’s ‘Odyssey’, but ‘Dolos’ feels like a weightier and more accomplished project than those records, offering a wider and more engaging palette where they sometimes became too linear. That’s not to say it doesn’t sound like Murlo. The glitchy melodies and rhythmic flourishes are still present and correct, just accentuated and used as springboards to explore grander musical ideas. Album opener and first single ‘Evaporate’ is a bright, bubbling sprint of a track that – like much of the work here – defies easy categorisation, which is no bad thing. Instrumental grime, R&B, hip-hop, off-kilter house and IDM all play a part in Murlo’s sound, but melded into something else entirely. It’s a complex record overall, but also ultimately colourful at its best moments, such as the heady synth whirls of ‘Romance’, and euphoric, uplifting stomper ‘End of the Road’.
Tristan Parker
Tommy Guerrero x Trevor Jackson - Dub Tunes

Tommy Guerrero x Trevor Jackson

Dub Tunes

Ed Banger

Dubbed out
9.0
This is an unexpected treat. San Francisco skateboarding legend Tommy Guerrero made one of the most criminally underrated LPs on Mo’ Wax, ‘Soul Food Taqueria’, mixing mellow guitar and post-rock atmospheres with funk and hip-hop beats. His return is somewhat different: an archetypal dub record in the vein of Augustus Pablo, doused in effects and heavy on the bass. ‘Cosmosis’ is especially good, with its irresistible b-line and galactic shimmers, and ‘Waiting On The Wind’ has subtle shades of his earlier work in its melodic bass guitar. To make the package even more enticing, versatile DJ/producer and former Output and Playgroup man Trevor Jackson adds his own dub mixes, which are possibly even better. ‘Floating Lotus’ becomes a cold, industrial, Kraftwerkian electronic piece, while ‘Reflections Of Now’ sounds like African Head Charge recording for L.I.E.S. Pretty epic all round, then.
Ben Murphy
Catz 'N Dogz - Friendship

Catz 'N Dogz

Friendship

Pets Recordings

It's a long road
6.0
Grzegorz Demiañczuk and Wojciech Tarañczuk unleash their fourth album as Catz n' Dogz. But whichever way you slice it, at 16 tracks 'Friendship' is an unwieldy affair. Initial signs are kind of promising. 'There', with James Yuill, is an emotive, balearic anthem. 'Mind', with Rosalie, offers mournful chord changes and sweeping strings. But things first stumble with 'Yi Fang', featuring Polish rapper Taco Hemingway. “Am I gonna ruin this,” he asks, through his auto-tune. A bit, yes. 'Never Go Down' has pleasing ‘80s pop callbacks, and 'This Feels Real' is all shimmering synths and spine-tingles. But despite the pleasing, burbling acid of 'Questions', a tiresomely spiritual spoken word is jarring. 'Friendship' feels like it wants to have crossover moments, but also keep its underground chops. Have its cake and eat it, basically. But instead it rambles on, in need of a sturdy edit and some tough love.
Ben Arnold
Lee Gamble - In A Paraventral Scale

Lee Gamble

In A Paraventral Scale

Hyperdub

Bass mutations
7.0
Avant-garde sound design and bass music combine in DJ, producer and trickster Lee Gamble’s records. In the past, he’s delighted in spaghettifying elements of jungle, techno and ambient, pulling them in like a black hole and spitting the utterly changed shards out the other side. He’s done something similar on the first part of his new trilogy of albums, ‘Flush Real Pharynx’. These records evoke, Gamble says, the “Semioblitz”, or sensory onslaught of information and sounds that hum from modern cities, and also in virtual spaces. That comes across on part one ‘In A Paraventral Scale’ as a mishmash of disparate fragments, as on the sub-bass booms, minimalist patterns and eventual electro rhythms of ‘Moscow’. Gamble is most successful when he squeezes his experimentation into clubbier beats, as on ‘In The Wreck Room’. It’s original, though avowedly left field stuff.
Ben Murphy
Daniel Thorne - Lines Of Sight

Daniel Thorne

Lines Of Sight

Erased Tapes

Double vision
7.0
Australian-born, Liverpool-based composer and saxophonist Daniel Thorne delivers his debut album here and it’s all about dualities and ambiguities – not only in the sounds you hear but also the way those sounds confuse your conceptions about how this music was made. Analogue and digital, improvisatory and programmed, tactile and gaseous, this music ripples between worlds – opener ‘From Inside Looking Out’ flowing from caesuras of droning strings to bubbling brass, ‘From The Other Side Of The World’ taking man-made plangent chords and letting them evanesce into a ghostly ether, ‘From The Heavens’ delving deep into proggy/krautrock weirdness with a full-fat chrome-plated sound. I’m reminded in parts of Bark Psychosis’ ‘Hex’ , Talk Talk’s ‘Laughingstock’ but also the more recent ‘Exit Rumination’ by C.Diab – like that 2018 masterpiece, ‘Lines Of Sight’ offers both solace and intrigue, delight and disturbance. Check it.
Neil Kulkarni
Efdemin - New Atlantis

Efdemin

New Atlantis

Ostgut Ton

Focused musical narrative Focused musical narrative Focused musical narrative
9.0
For his fourth artist album, Berlin’s Efdemin opens with the evocative ‘Oh, Lovely Appearance of Death’ that he builds around a spoken-word recital from veteran Californian artist William T. Wiley. It’s a captivating intro that confidently establishes ‘New Atlantis’ as a blend of the kind of deep, dubby techno Efdemin is known for with his more experimental projects. Named after Francis Bacon’s infamous 17th Century novel, which fittingly channels the same futurism that inspired techno’s early pioneers, it's home to an abundance of long, rich dancefloor-friendly journeys which are weaved elegantly into the album’s more cerebral excursions. Both flesh out their soundscapes with a hefty amount of live instrumentation, and best of all, Efdemin has a swift and focused story to tell that ensures ‘New Atlantis’ doesn’t outstay its welcome, neatly concluding with another spoken-word musical piece that bookends its thematic explorations.
Angus Paterson
Jayda G - Significant Changes

Jayda G

Significant Changes

Ninja Tune

No phones on the floor
7.0
It’s no denying Vancouver-born Jayda G has had an exceptional year; nailing her first Australian tour, appearing at various festivals worldwide and this month holding down a new residency at XOYO. Dropping her much anticipated debut album ‘Significant Changes’ is sure to set another landmark in her skyrocketing career. ‘Renewal’ unfolds with washed out R&B style vocals and Rhodes chords, while ‘Stanley’s Get Down’ – a tongue-in-cheek dig at people on their iPhones on the dancefloor – is funk-driven affair. The two collaborative tracks with singer Alexa Dash breathe disco into the LP, with ‘Orca’s Reprise’ and the ‘Conclusion’ providing instrumental moments with slow building strings, pianos and swirling synths. Some of the album takes inspiration from her Master’s degree in environmental toxicology, but mostly from the club experiences and feel-good vibe that’s she’s become renowned for spinning on the dancefloor.
Anna Wall
Set Mo - Surrender

Set Mo

Surrender

Set Mo Records

Summer festival sounds
6.5
After putting out a track a month in 2018, chart house duo Set Mo would be excused a rest. But instead, the Aussie pair kick off 2019 with a debut album that brims with 16 super-shiny and summery dance tracks that make you feel the sun’s warmth on your face even though we’re still in deepest winter. It’s a perfectly polished crossover sound that will be too sentimental and trite for many, but in the wake of acts like Clean Bandit and Rudimental it makes perfect sense. Glossy vocals soar over dazzling synths, poignant breakdowns allow crowds to poise for pouting and the (very gentle range of moods and tempos caters to sunrise, sunset and every pool and beach party in between. The accumulative effect of so many homogenous tunes is tiring, but no doubt many of these will be huge once festival season kicks in.
Kristan J Caryl
Yves Jarvis  - The Same But By Different Means

Yves Jarvis

The Same But By Different Means

Anti

Shapeshifter
8.0
On ‘The Truth’, his first album as Yves Jarvis, Canadian musician Jean-Sebastian Audet talks about why he changed his artist name from Un Blond. At least we think so – it’s difficult to tell what he’s actually saying behind the veil of strummed guitar, wonky electronics and samples of chattering radios. Indeed, the music says more about his metamorphosis than the words. Un Blond LPs often covered gospel, country-fried blues and lo-fi R&B across their runtime, but here Audet often strives to cram them all and more into every track, while his tender voice is often dragged through psychedelic effects that recall Animal Collective’s most patchouli-scented moments. There are also more emotional layers – whereas 2017’s last Un Blonde album ‘Good Will Come To You’ dealt in simple if heartwarming sentiments the feelings of ‘The Same But By Different Means’ are more complicated but ultimately more rewarding to unravel.
Paul Clarke
Scott Gilmore - Two Roomed Motel

Scott Gilmore

Two Roomed Motel

Crammed Discs

Accomodating
7.0
It would get him seriously slated on Trip Advisor if he actually ran a motel, but the fact that Scott Gilmore has left his fingerprints all over ‘Two Roomed Motel’ is a large part of its charm. As on 2017’s debut album ‘Subtle Vertigo’, the Californian musician’s use of guitars and old synths gives his second album a handcrafted feel with far more character and quirks than much chill-out music as smooth and soulless as the corporate hotel lobbies it’s pumped into. Tracks like ‘Rooms We’ve Made’ and ‘Of Places Read’ drift lazily between ambient, krautrock, dream pop and soft rock, all coloured with a slight shade of kitsch and enveloped in a humid haze which means even Gilmore’s vocoded vocals seem to wilt in the heat. Decorated with bright melodies and run at a relaxing pace, ‘Two Roomed Motel’ sounds like somewhere you’d really want to stay.
Paul Clarke
Pom Pom - Untitled II

Pom Pom

Untitled II

A-TON

Anonymous alchemy
8.0
“Another side of Pom Pom,” is the only bit of writing to be found on the mystery producer’s newest release on Ostgut Ton sub-label, A-TON. The anonymous artist has already become legendary amongst underground techno circles with a fifty-plus strong catalogue dating back to 2001 largely on their own equally enigmatic Pom Pom label. Their signature sound is still very much present on this release; impeccably produced, thundering techno aimed at shadowy dancefloors. From the droning darkness of opener ‘Untitled 6’ (all the tracks follow this naming format) straight through to the teetering and spacious closer ‘Untitled 13,’ ‘Untitled II’ follows a nice arc that ebbs and flows over the course of the record. The more melodic pieces like ‘Untitled 7,’ ‘Untitled 9’ and ‘Untitled 11’ inject a bit of warmth and sparkle with their shimmering, punctuated synth lines. ‘Untitled 12’ delves into disjointed barrage of deconstructed club territory while still retaining much of Pom Pom’s style, and the filthy machine churn of ‘Untitled 10’ is infectiously danceable.
Zara Wladawsky
Modeselektor - Who Else

Modeselektor

Who Else

Monkeytown

Hold on tight
8.0
Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary have been working on the sketches of 'Who Else', their fourth album, for a couple of years, but crammed its construction into a month. The result is an urgent, concise eight tracks delivered in under an hour. Their rave origins frequently come to the fore. 'One United Power', which opens proceedings, has warehouse diva howls and LFO vibes. 'Wealth' finds them jamming with Bermondsey's Flohio, a grimy club banger, after which there's the stark brutality of ‘Prügelknabe’, an assault on the nervous system with more body-blow 909 toms than is healthy. Estonian rapper Tommy Cash (and what sounds like the kids from the local theatre school) ride on surging drums and contrasting moodiness for 'Who', and it's claxons ahoy for 'WMF Love Song', a murky and magnificent club jam with swing up the yin-yang. 'Wake Me Up When It's Over', contrasts soothing moments to ease your aches and pains with rasping stabs and piercing jungle loops. It's a rough ride. But totally worth it.
Ben Arnold