Ninja TuneMuscular music
First the promises, now the proof; after seven years fine-tuning skills in the studio and booth, Belfast wunderkinds Matt McBriar and Andy Ferguson, aka Bicep, are finally ready to unveil their much-hyped debut album. As en vogue as en vogue gets, despite their place atop the list of contemporary underground dance stars, this self-titled long form effort is more timeless than timely. Put simply, ‘Bicep’ is an accomplished showcase of sounds that have defined rave culture for far longer than the pair have been on the scene. The sum total being melancholic, reflective, ethereal and spatial, with musicality in the kind of epic proportions that could only work in those moments, and those situations. ‘Drift’ is like ‘Tubular Bells’ for the techno generation — a drum-less, dream-like arrangement that wouldn’t feel out of place on ‘Northern Exposure’. Neither would ‘Ayaya', another downtempo offering, this time with sparse breaks and chords creating a tripped out, sunrise on the beach vibe. More focused on the floor, ‘Spring’s piano riff, loose percussive tops, and distant vocal calls carves out pure acid house joy, packed with hands-in-the-air temptation but stopping well short of what chin-strokers could ridicule. These tracks — alongside closer ‘Aura’s powerful low-end refrains, straight fours, and gentle background melodies; and the snare-packed ‘Kites’ with its delicate, twinkling synths — will resonate amongst those yearning for more smiles at parties. Today so much of what we call ‘big’ is defined either by heaviness, challenging noises, or vast walls of distorted sound. Here, Bicep have done the almost unthinkable, crafting a classic album rooted in prog, both complex yet refreshingly quiet, uplifting without being overwhelming. The result is a genuinely positive experience — a record many of us definitely wanted, even if we didn’t realise it.
A Moment Apart
‘A Moment Apart’ is the result of ODESZA relentlessly touring their first album for Ninja Tune’s offshoot, Counter Records, over a three-year period that taught the Seattle duo a thing or two about growing their sound, encouraging them to shrug off any lingering reluctance of taking things “big”. While broadly they dwell in the same pensive musicality of the likes of Bonobo, the album’s surprisingly euphoric intro shows they’re not pulling any punches with their sense of scale. As they pile-drive through the different genres, wheeling out an all-star cast of vocal guests, by the halfway point they’re exploring indie-rock funk on ‘Late Night’ and joyous soul on ‘Across the Room’. Eventually they drive it home with an ambitious multi-song medley of mutant R&B, Enya-style sonic spirituality and inextricably even mainstage EDM in the form of ‘Falls.’ Unapologetically ambitious and pretty damn accomplished.
After a near-five-year disbandment, this is LCD Soundsystem’s reunion album (apparently urged to do so by none other than David Bowie...) following 2010’s ‘This Is Happening’, which brought us now-classics like ‘Dance Yrself Clean’. Having already been privy to the title cut and 'Call The Police’, it seemed unlikely that the New York dance-punk band would veer into completely new territory, and ‘American Dream’ is full of that chugging, taut sound with the expertly controlled build-ups and breakdowns — the sound responsible for nostalgic frenzies all over festivals last summer. Opener ‘Oh Baby’ is as LCD as it gets — those analogue synth stabs; the steadily crescendoing layers fit for arenas, and James Murphy’s trademark wit hasn’t left, either. The only anomalous moment of the LP is ‘How Do You Sleep?’, with its strangely long section of marching band-style drumming. For someone who’s been plagued with anxiety about his advancing age, and the end of his status as “the cool rock disco guy”, Murphy’s decision to step away from owning a wine bar and soundtracking subway commutes to put out another album is one that we can’t help but be thankful for. As danceable as ever, this is a glorious, invigorated return from LCD.
Kedr Livanskiy is the creation of Moscow synth sorceress Yana Kedrina. After her well received EPs ‘January Sun’ and ‘Sgoraet (Burning Down)’ on Mike Simonetti, Adam Gerrard and Mike Sniper’s 2MR, her debut album has arrived on the same label. ‘Ariadna’ is composed of modern, dark electro-pop: wintry, emotional and painted in shades of grey. Inspired by 1980s Russian electronic music, the record is all sung in her native tongue, but that only adds to the mystique of these haunting songs. ‘Your Name’ is all sepulchral gothic tones, twinkling IDM key effects and crisp old school drum machines, while ‘ACDC’ with Martin Newell is like a woozier Light Asylum, before a slamming breakbeat enters the picture. Elsewhere, Yana nods to early house on ‘Fire and Water’ and the dreamy ‘Za Oknom Vesna’. ‘Ariadna’ is a confident, captivating record from an artist destined for cult status.
Some years in the making, Lunice’s debut comes six years after his last EP, during which time he’s toured with Madonna and as half of TNGHT with Hudson Mohawke, become an architect of trap monsters, with ‘R U Ready’ inspiring a call from Kanye. ‘CCCLX’ is a hip-hop album, albeit one closer to the mutations of Future Brown than Future, with a feel that owes something to the operatic drugginess of Travis Scott. There’s guests aplenty, from CJ Flemings and Le1f to Denzel Curry (all good for gusto but mostly forgettable) and best of the lot, Canadian singer Syv de Blare, while on the production end, superstar hired-hand Mike Dean lends muted guitar to ‘CCCLX III (Costume)’. But it’s the backdrops that make ‘CCCLX’ worth investigating — one of only a handful of instrumentals, ‘Mazerati’ is icily sleek, like something early Ikonika might hand to Chief Keef. Lunice might want to be choosier about who he raises the curtain for.
While Exit may, overall, have favoured more rowdy business in recent years, the deeper leanings of label head, dBridge, mean a softer side has long been established too. Continuing in the vein of his 2016 ‘Driftin’ EP, Zed Bias offers up soul-food for hungry dancefloors on his debut LP for the imprint. Framing velveteen vox from some of the country’s most promising young talents (see: Harleighblu, Eva Lazarus, Bahia) within playful footwork structures, Dave Jones again develops a sound that’s both current and forward-thinking; that fits in, yet is completely his own. While the bouncing club tracks of classic Bias are far from forgotten, it’s subtle, grooving numbers (harking back to the label’s early Blackpocket EPs) which render this such a sublime work — and the combination of both which makes it one of the most Exit records that Exit Records has ever released.
Love What Survives
A bold return
Mount Kimbie have been away so long (four years since their last album, with only a few live shows and NTS guest spots otherwise) that you’d be forgiven for forgetting what they sound like. And you may as well, because ‘Love What Survives’ is a wholly new musical proposition a million miles away from their hypnagogic post-dubstep debut and the shoegazing electronics of their sophomore effort. Starting with surging, fuzzy electronics and a motorik kick down low, the album veers through sleazy noise with angsty vocal slurs to more soothing lullabies with Micachu. Then there are tropical-punk tracks like ‘SP12 Beat’ next to piano interludes and the fey, organ-laced collab with long time friend James Blake. It makes for a bold, adventurous album that reimagines a rich history of British music as something wholly new. In doing so it proves Dominic Maker and Kai Campos are artists in the truest sense.
Scintillatingly addictive mix of harsh electronics, glitchy beats, warped techno and industrial atmospheres from Alec Storey here — charting his movements around the country during the period of the referendum. The fractured anger of that period percolates through to the music — this is a tense, haunting album that comes from a place of discovery and despair. It’s music in perpetual transit, brave enough to never coalesce around a single idea or narrative, rather providing a splintered, frantic picture of where Alec, and the rest of us are at. Highlights have to be the happy hardcore-esque Ultramagnetic manoeuvres of ‘Manhattan To Moscow’, the dubby frightmare of ‘No Such Location’ and the way ‘Ajunlei 8’ takes Miami bass on a tour of Antarctica. Essential stuff throughout.
Lee Gamble’s latest LP marks his first release on Kode9’s esteemed Hyperdub label, and sees his woozy, deconstructed sound evolve in some ways, while remaining true to form in others. ‘Inta Centre’ opens the album via post-impressionist junglist wisps steeped in computer glitches, sequencing and endless delay that characterise much of the artist’s oeuvre. This sonic theme continues throughout ‘Mnestic Pressure’, but here it’s occasionally pitted against bass music tropes alongside freeform experimentalism. Far from being normal functional club fare though, more traditionally rhythmic tracks like ‘Istian’, ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Ignition Lockoff’ are still too non-linear and haunting to sound quite like anyone else’s output. Thank goodness for that — Lee’s music is at its finest when it conjures up hallucinatory memories of nights on the dancefloor as degraded by the mind, drawing on computers and technology to convey the human experience.
Man Duo is a fine combination of talents; Helsinki natives Jaakko Eino Kalevi and Sam Toroi have teamed once again up to create a new body of work that follows their debut 2012 album ‘Amateurs de Vérité’. Their super-expansive music tastes cross many genres and for their latest album project ‘Orbit’ they explore krautrock, electronica, retro ballads, disco and so much more. They composed, performed and recorded the album between Sami’s Helsinki home and Jaako’s Berlin studio and also features Canadian singer-songwriter Sean Nicholas Savage. Tracks like ‘One Formula’ combine dreamy synths with lyrics about cucumber slices that sets off in a playful direction. Tracks like ‘Vanessa’ lay colourful vocals over bright melodies into a rock 'n' roll guitar solo similar to something by Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page. ‘The Boss’ is slow-tempo, laden with a sparkling saxophone that closes proceedings in a harmonious fashion.
Although he’s one of Flying Lotus’ mates and has had Kendrick Lamar and Kid Cudi beg him for beats, Californian producer Jason Chung’s music always makes him sound like a lonely soul. Born of what he calls an ‘identity crisis’, Chung’s fourth album hardly sees him coming out of his shell. If anything, his contemplative beatscapes seem even more introspective, the chattering voices of ‘Form’ feeling like the rude intrusion of the outside world. He’s not completely alone however, Steve Spacek appears on the ghostly ‘All Points Back To U’, whilst Bob’s granddaughter Zuri Marley turns ‘Way We Were’ into a gently touching ballad. Other moments might very occasionally have you sharing her need for ‘a way to stay awake’, but there are many more — such as the empyrean vocal washes of ‘TM’ inspired by Chung’s meditation sessions — where it reaches the transcendental state he’s searching for.
The Great Distraction
Live electronic dance music often runs the risk of falling into crunchy jam-band territory, but when done right is refreshing and innovative. Vessels had already proclaimed a shift towards a dancier, euphoric sound from their post-rock origins with 2015’s ‘Dilate', and ‘The Great Distraction’ cements this change. This is immediately apparent as the first track 'Mobilise' unfurls with skittering machine percussion and poly-rhythms buoying wisping vocals that eventually give way to a single undulating and hypnotic synth-line. Next up, ‘Deflect The Light’ features vocals from The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne that dreamily mesh his sung melodies over shimmering electronics. Vessels also collaborate with John Grant, Vincent Neff (Django Django) and Harkin (Sky Larkin) on the LP, and each one goes down a treat.
Having more fun
New York duo Blondes’ trippy take-on techno is ‘psychedelic’ dance music in the sense of having subtly shifting textures that play on the mind’s eye, rather than conjuring up horrific hallucinations of trustafarians dancing to trance on a gap year in Goa. Brilliant as they are, they’ve sometimes been a bit too out-there for the dancefloor, although that’s now where Blondes have focused their fourth album. ‘Clipse’ chimes like clockwork for a fairly conventional deep-house workout, and the stabs on ‘Trust’ wouldn’t raise eyebrows on a Cocoon release. However, that track also contains ripping noises that could be the fabric of your mind being rent asunder, and elsewhere on ‘Trust’ the weirdness really spills through with all manner of twisted and hallucinatory sounds showing that — despite the more solid rhythmic structures here — Blondes are still best when they get blurry around the edges, and still best appreciated when you are too.
World Of The Waking State
Her best yet
With her third studio album, Dutch artist, Ostgut Ton regular and Dolly label boss Steffie Doms has really found her own sound. After classically inclined house on her debut, and an Underground Resistance indebted techno and electro sound on her sophomore effort, ‘World of the Waking State’ is a mellifluous album of moonlit sounds that seamlessly fuse techno, house and electro into something new and refreshing. Underpinned by punchy drum programming that is driving but never linear, the whole thing has a late-night neon glow that highlights flashes of masterfully micro-melodies and skittish percussion that oils the grooves. At times motorik and insistent, at others spaced out and cosmic, there is nothing functional or track-y here, but instead 10 pieces of symphonic electronic music that bare their own machine-made souls in rhythmically arresting and emotionally enthralling ways.