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Albums - Issue 577

Björk - Utopia



One Little Indian

Beauty in darkness
The ninth album from Icelandic singer, songwriter and musical mage Björk is an optimistic response to our age of uncertainty. Her last record ‘Vulnicura’ was a beautiful but raw account of a broken relationship, but ‘Utopia’ — as its title suggests — finds the artist in a far happier place. Of the record, she said to Dazed & Confused magazine, “If we don’t have the dream, we’re just not gonna change. Especially now, this kind of dream is an emergency.” To form this idealistic vision, she’s again worked with electronic music futurist Arca. His influence can be heard on the lead single ‘The Gate’, where Eastern synths and exotic flourishes of colourful sound drift in echoing expanses, and her voice, as powerful as ever, is the central feature. On the title track, a 13-piece flute orchestra forms the intricate backdrop to dolphin clicks and squeaks, and Björk’s voice doesn’t appear until over a minute in. This song really sounds like nothing else on earth, and the way her striking vocal navigates the space is like the tendril of a vividly-hued plant pushing its way towards light. ‘Sue Me’ is full of eerie detuned vocal samples that hover menacingly, while scraping digital clicks push the track onwards. ‘Claimstaker’, meanwhile, is underpinned by a snaking electronic riff that folds in on itself, before stirring strings emerge from the background. Unlike her first three albums ‘Debut’, ‘Post’ and ‘Homogenic’, on which Björk collaborated with electronic artists ranging from 808 State to Tricky, today her songs rarely contain a beat. Her realm now is very much the avant-garde, and ‘Utopia’ is designed to be heard as an operatic whole. You can’t help but wish she would return to the hypnotic songs of her past, that ‘Vulnicura’ — with tracks such as ‘Stonemilker’ — hinted at. Still, it’s hard not to fall under ‘Utopia’s heady spell.
Ben Murphy
Nick Hook and DJ Earl - 50 Backwoods

Nick Hook and DJ Earl

50 Backwoods

Fool's Gold

Eight days of experimentation
Eight days in a studio with no pre-plan is a daunting prospect, but thanks to two masterful workaholics — ever-creative producer Nick Hook and respected footwork stalwart DJ Earl — the resulting album is pretty damn sweet. At points it’s the logical marriage of Hook’s eclectic electronics and the funkier side of Earl’s footwork styles, but really it’s just a glorious, colourful experiment with a ton of great beats and sharp ideas. Things move from grooving, hazy jams (‘Energy’) to manic juke workouts (‘We The People’) to a kooky, infectious hip-hop cut — ‘Hook Chop’ — and a lot in-between, pretty much all of it hitting home. The (intentionally) meandering journey of ‘Liberate’ is a little frustrating at six-and-a-half minutes — though probably less so if you’re in the midst of the 50 backwoods that Hook claims the pair got through. Eight days well spent.
Tristan Parker
Nils Frahm - All Melody

Nils Frahm

All Melody

Erased Tapes

Merchant of ivories
German pianist Nils Frahm’s beautiful compositions have crossed over from the classical world to appeal to the avant-garde electronica community, and also frazzled ex-ravers previously more familiar with pianos in banging house breakdowns. As his audience has grown, so has his music. Whereas early works were recorded at home and last album ‘Spaces’ was compiled from performances in concert halls, ‘All Melody’ has been produced in Frahm’s vast new customised studio in Berlin, and he has used the space to create his most expansive music yet. His gentle piano pieces are now surrounded by live choirs and keening jazz trumpets, whilst the title track is a shimmering electronic epic along the lines of his previous ‘Says’. But while there are many more layers here, they don’t suffocate the intimacy that has been Frahm’s hallmark ever since he was sitting alone at his piano in his bedroom.
Paul Clarke
I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life


I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life


Weird 'n' wonderful
Tune-Yards’ first album as a duo (Merrill Garbus is joined by long-time collaborator Nate Brenner) sees Garbus uncovering latent power in her voice via an MPC and lending the whole thing a feel extremely redolent of that moment in the early ‘80s where torch/soul singing hit electronics (think Yazoo, Soft Cell and Eurythmics). This works when the sounds aren’t too polite — opener ‘Heart Attack’ is gloriously lush but fails to engage as the sounds never rupture, remaining coffee table pristine throughout. Things get more successful when the sonics fracture a little and hit harder — it allows the songwriting to depart from verse-chorus predictability and start feeling structurally guided by the ruggedness of the sounds. Dig the strung-out Telepathe-style drama of ‘Coast To Coast’, the dubby post-punk of ‘ABC123’ and the wonderfully downered fuzzy-funk of ‘Home’. The weirder TY get, the better.
Neil Kulkarni
T.R.A.C. - Life in Motion


Life In Motion

V Recordings

T.R.A.C.’s last full-length, the Marc Mac-helmed ‘The Network’, was a solid slice of East Coast rap classicism. This second New York-to-London pairing mostly ditches hip-hop for d&b, following last year’s ‘V Singles’ compilation of collaborations with the likes of Paul SG and Mr Joseph. Highly focused, T.R.A.C. maps out tightly coiled Black Thought-like patterns that are easy to admire. ‘Glimmer Of Light’ and ‘The Making Of’ make effective use of classic breaks, ‘Step Tune’ and ‘Higher Ground’ hit their jazzy targets, and the title track and ‘The Avenue’ will sate ‘The Network’ fans. But ‘Life in Motion’ too often sounds like it’s afraid to relax, lacking the highs of singles like ‘Tape Bang’, and their necessary sense of space. T.R.A.C.’s precision earns him technical points, but it also becomes ‘Life in Motion’s weakness.
Sunil Chauhan
Marcel Dettmann presents RAUCH

Marcel Dettmann

Marcel Dettmann presents RAUCH


Arresting, ambient experience
For their next trick, Ostgut’s experimental A-TON sub-label invited Marcel Dettmann to collaborate with Felix K, Sa Pa and Simon Hoffmann to interpret the work of photographer Friederike von Rauch, whose subject matter is images of post-World War II European monasteries. The audio-visual show was exhibited in Paris in November, and surely made for an arresting experience: the shadowy, greyed-out music alone evokes inescapable mental images of walking through vast brutalist structures with thronging metal sounds, dark drones and distant echoes round every corner. Presented as one 42-minute piece, heavy harmonies slowly shapeshift, barely-there rhythms appear from below and celestial pads occasionally break through the darkness to hint at the religious nature of the subject matter. It’s lonely architectural ambient on a grand scale, and listening to it is so intensely real that the buildings almost feel tangible.
Kristan J Caryl
De Lux - More Disco Songs About Love

De Lux

More Disco Songs About Love

Innovative Leisure

Shared house music
After pondering the future of humanity on their last album ‘Generation’, the loftiest question Los Angeles duo De Lux wrestled with on their recent ‘875 Dollars’ track was ‘What colour should we paint the bathroom?’ A song about happy memories of living with your mates, the album it preceded is full of similarly personal concerns such as ‘What’s the best crepe recipe?’ and ‘Should we pack this music lark in and get a proper job?’ The answer to the last one being ‘no’ because De Lux’s third album could be the musical equivalent of a TV show in which Phoenix, Talking Heads and Classixx all live together. They get on famously of course, which means that although ‘More Disco Songs About Love’ might occasionally lack tension, its feelgood funkiness is ideal for dancing around your bedroom to. Until your own flatmate starts shouting at you to turn it down.
Paul Clarke
Mike Dunn - My House From All Angles

Mike Dunn

My House From All Angles

Blackball Muzik

Powerful analogue manœuvres Powerful analogue manœuvres Powerful analogue manœuvres
“It’s my house...” cry the vocals on the bumpty-bump slam of ‘DJ Beat That Shhh’; an appropriately-titled party-starter given the timeless Chicago lyrics, and the fact the track appears on the first long-form outing in 27 years from Windy City house music legend Mike Dunn. To paraphrase another US musical landmark, don’t call this a comeback, though. Dunn’s not been away, nor missing from the forefront of any mind that knows Smart Bar from Music Box. His return to the album format proves how much the contemporary dance scene still needs its old school teachers, too. In this case it’s a lesson in soulful jackers, looped voice stompers, shuffling sleaze and classic acid, as adept at moving booties as enriching spirits. Dunn’s blueprints may be almost as old as the genre itself, but he still sounds fresh.
Martin Guttridge-Hewitt
Aria Rostami - Numb Years

Aria Rostami

Numb Years

Intimate Inanimate

A room of ones own
Occasionally, repetitive beats escape definition, fly the coop and head into another syncopated spectrum. They explore wider musicality without denying the essence of dance music. In many ways 'Numb Years' offers relatively simple explanations. The dirty, broken hypnosis of 'And Nayereh Untied The Green Limp Arms' — the album's first wonder — simultaneously nods to the scuzzy, smoked out heyday of Tyrant and contemporary heads-down Hessle. The warm, sublime beauty of 'And I Forgot Naked Subtle Pathways' celebrates dreamy, opiate chimes. 'When I Forgot Wilted Patterns' heads into cinematic instrumentation. 'And I Untied Naked Soft Eyebrows' is pure forward techno with prog-edges, and potentially the hook of the year. Yet as a package this can't be filed here or there. Within a track, pace and tempo often occupies one position, while overall ambience allies it to an entirely different space, time and genre. Perhaps what's most important, though, is that whether a dancefloor or living room floor moment, this album makes perfect sense. No single element or nuance sounds like it could exist in any other situation. It creates a space entirely of its own, seemingly unique but also overflowing with influences, and who knows when we last said that.
Martin Guttridge-Hewitt

Jonny L


XL Recordings

Still the future
1997 was a d&b vintage: Grooverider gave us ‘The Prototype Years’, Roni gave us ‘New Forms’ and Jonny L saw the year out with ‘Sawtooth’. A daring debut LP, ‘Sawtooth’ didn’t reflect over Jonny’s prior five years in the hardcore and jungle game but instead galvanised a new energy and focused fusion that he’d only teased before. And while most will recall and herald the pneumatic club-shakers such as the razor alien twists of ‘Piper’, paranoid tunnel warps of ‘S4’ and the tightly-coiled bounce of ‘Moving Thru Air’ for the album’s game-changer status, it’s the eclecticism and variety that have ensured its vintage maturity. ‘Treading’'s sinewy rippled arpeggio looping unapologetically over every break in Jonny’s palette, the fluttering jazzy charm of ‘Tychonic Cycle’ and the iced-out acid electro of ‘Detroit’ all revealed ageless layers to Jonny’s sound and legacy that are still wholly relevant 20 years later.
Yamaneko - Spa Commissions


Spa Commissions

Local Action

Bathtime bliss
Ever wanted to go to Champneys but can’t afford the price tag? Well, look no further than Yamaneko’s über relaxing third release for Local Action. With this LP it’s a case of doing what it says on the tin, as Yamaneko was actually commissioned to write music for a European spa earlier this year, and ‘Spa Commissions’ is the result. It sees him mining the ambient and New Age tendencies his music’s always had, all Enya-esque synths, lapping waves and rainfall – the kind of music it wouldn’t be insulting to say you fell asleep to. ‘Royal Beluga Comfort Zone’ sounds like being inside a giant gong, while ‘Flower Garden (Night)’ roots out that sort of transcendentalism Four Tet recently explored on ‘New Energy’. Completely beatless, it’s obviously not one for peak-time dancefloors, but it’ll even make your rush hour commute feel zen.
Felicity Martin
Errorsmith - Superlative Fatigue


Superlative Fatigue


Wild and wonky rhythms
Erik Wiegand has spent the last 20-some years perfecting the unknown; making music that sounds like nothing else but that still works on the dancefloor. At the heart of his sound is an obsession with inventive rhythms and mathematically precise loops, and his latest effort is the most vibrant and vital yet. Made from shiny neon synths that constantly bend and warp, sleek drums that are perfectly crisp and rubbery kicks that add warmth and goo, it reimagines techno, bass and dancehall into body-jerking grooves from a computer controller future. All eight tracks explore different things (from the choppy footwork of ‘Lightspeed’ to the stomping UK funky of ‘I’m Interesting, Cheerful & Sociable’) but they’re all tied together with de-humanised vocal sounds and a sense of oversized fun and crazy colour that makes the album as accessible as it is. It’s a subversive way to explore genuine sonic craziness, and one that ensures you will keep on coming back for more.
Kristan J Caryl
Darkhouse Family - The Offering


The Offering

First World

Sunshine in the dark
Cardiff’s Darkhouse Family have never been ones to root themselves in a genre, so it was anyone’s guess what their debut full-length would sound like — though it might still be a surprise for anyone who knows the duo purely through their gritty, sludgy banger ‘Brockwild’. ‘The Offering’ is the Darkhouse Family delving deep into funk, jazz and soul. It’s a warm, sunny record that soothes, bubbling with musicality rather than blasting with bass. Smoother moments like ‘Elements Of Life’ float along nicely, but numbers that really show off the riffing and ultra-tight drumming — like ‘Radiate’ and ‘The Accession’ — satisfy the most. The cosmic grooves that pepper ‘Space & Time’, ‘Heart Of Medina’ and the lounging funk of ‘Modaji Suite’ are also hard to resist. At its finest moments, ‘The Offering’ conjures up images of Gil Scott-Heron — and that’s never a bad thing.
Tristan Parker
Nabihah Iqbal - Weighing of the Heart

Nabihah Iqbal

Weighing Of The Heart

Ninja Tune

Woozy loveliness
Four years on since her 12” debut on Kassem Mosse’s Ominira imprint, producer, artist and NTS radio host Nabihah Iqbal has ditched her Throwing Shade moniker to release her most accomplished music to date. ‘Weighing Of The Heart’ splays out over eleven woozy pop tracks that sound somewhere in-between London and Los Angeles on an overcast summer’s day. Iqbal’s guitar snakes and jangles around gated snares, soft-focus synth-lines and her layers of vocals, heavily filtered and steeped in reverb. Lyrically, Iqbal is at odds with the blissed-out dreaminess of the music as she ruminates on doubt, regret and the trappings of mundanity. After a few listens though, there really isn’t a dud piece on this stand-out LP, and it brings elements of hypnagogic pop back in a way that still nods to the 1980s whilst being firmly rooted in the present.
Zara Wladawsky