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Albums - Issue 580

Mr Fingers - Cerebral Hemispheres

Mr Fingers

Cerebral Hemispheres

Alleviated

Brain food
8.0
From his first release in 1985 as Mr Fingers, ‘Mystery Of Love’, distinguished Chicagoan artist Larry Heard has dedicated his art to broadening the horizons of house. Though Heard has made all kinds of beats, from the atonal bleeps of 1988’s ‘Acid Indigestion’ as Gherkin Jerks to Afro-futurist ambient on 1996’s ‘Alien’ album, he’s best known for emotional dance tracks: classics such as ‘Can You Feel It?’ Heard has continued to release singles at a prolific rate, but ‘Cerebral Hemispheres’ is his first album under the Mr Fingers moniker for nearly 25 years. Over a sprawling 18 tracks, the producer demonstrates his range. ‘Urbane Sunset’ is a lush jazz funk piece with live guitar and saxophone; elsewhere, ‘Sands Of Aruba’ has him playing smoky organ chords over a smoothed out house beat and vocal. If that sounds a bit ‘cocktail bar’ on paper, Heard has the restraint and style to make these tracks impossibly cool. Jazz is a key element on the first half of ‘Cerebral Hemispheres’, which seems to arrive just as the genre is enjoying a revival thanks to artists such as Kamasi Washington and Shabaka Hutchings. As a result, the influence sounds very modern on ‘Tiger Lounge’, where sublime jazz guitar and subtle bass interlace with dub melodica and even touches of sitar. ‘A Day In Portugal’ is a lovely downtempo Balearic thing, and elsewhere, the title cut is composed of mystical machine oscillations and portentous touches of spoken word. It’s on the second half of the record where things spring to life though, and Heard endeavours to remind us he can do the weirder electronic stuff too. ‘Electron’ is an undulating sequence of synth rhythms with a cold ‘80s brittleness, and ‘Aether’ is a galactic balm of solar wind pads. The album is a treat for headphone listeners, and a glorious return.
Ben Murphy
Ty - A Work Of Heart

Ty

A Work Of Heart

Jazz Re:Freshed

Hearfelt
8.5
Ty has been one of the most vital, inspirational and compelling voices in UK rap music for well over a decade, so his return with this new opus is to be cherished. ‘A Work Of Heart’ charts Ty’s maturing consciousness and might just be his best yet. There’s a crisp, clear, jazzy, funky feel to much of the music here that suits the agit-pop narratives of tracks such as ‘Brixton Baby’ and ‘World Of Flaws’ perfectly, proffering just the right punch and panache to Ty’s ever-sharp rhymes. That jazz sense of improvisation keeps things loose yet tight, exploratory yet focused, and it’s simply glorious to hear someone at the peak of their lyrical powers not ‘spitting’ but almost sermonising, never breaking the music’s golden vibes with anything like hysteria or egoism. Rather, Ty seems to be settling into the same observational, tranquil distance of a Roger Robinson or Linton Kwesi Johnson, providing mournful, meaningful lines for each musical twist and torsion. Utterly enthralling throughout. Welcome back a true master with what is perhaps his masterpiece.
Neil Kulkarni
Alison Wonderland - Awake

Alison Wonderland

Awake

Virgin EMI

EDM and albums don’t mix
5.0
Alison Wonderland is one of the more exciting new faces to storm the festivals the past few years — EDM staples such as EDC Las Vegas, plus crossover touch points like Coachella — welcome at a time when the Tiëstos of the world are starting to look a little tired. Sporting an energy that’s more gritty and rock ‘n’ roll, her music works perfectly in such a euphoric setting. Squash it into the incompatible LP format, though, (‘Awake’ is Wonderland’s second), and the results are mixed. Mainstage theatrics aside, the music is still sugary and slickly-produced EDM pop, stirred in with a lite version of the trap that is thoroughly ubiquitous right now, plus regular doses of the kind of shrill, artless noise that’s standard in EDM. It’s all about (fairly predictable) thrills, lacking the subversion factor you get from this music at its best. From a functional perspective though, it’s a great selection of music for the DJ sets of an undeniably energetic and charismatic performer.
Angus Paterson
Tom Trago - Bergen

Tom Trago

Bergen

Dekmantel

Nether regions inspired
9.0
Amsterdam native and Voyage Direct label owner Tom Trago has been a name synonymous with Dekmantel for the best part of 10 years, with ‘Bergen’ marking his fourth studio album. It follows his first three on fellow Dutch label Rush Hour, and is somewhat of a coming of age for Tom. He’s come a long way since his debut single ‘Live With The BBQ’, a dusty 12” that came out in 2006 taking influences from funk, disco and classic techno. Returning to his roots (it was named after his hometown in The Netherlands), his latest body of work is a journey through analogue hardware rhythms and lo-fi retro synths. It travels through club playable material such as ‘Zeeweg’ with its rich acid tweaks and electro/breaks — a sound that is ever-present right now — through to the slow-evolving, ambient sublimities of ‘Underwater Wings’. ‘Always Be With You’ is a melancholy machine-made love song with soft whispers that stay with you long after the track ends. The album finale is ‘Working Machines’, which as the title suggests weaves LFO-heavy melodies with a subtly changing analogue bassline most likely recorded as a live jam. It sits in perfect harmony with Dekmantel’s high calibre of releases, that include Robert Hood and Redshape.
Anna Wall
Chrome Sparks - Chrome Sparks

Chrome Sparks

Chrome Sparks

Counter Records

All that glitters
6.0
Chrome Sparks aka Pittsburgh native Jeremy Malvin knows his gear. From the cover on down, this debut is a veritable love letter to retro tech. Skyscraping synths, heaving 808s, fluttering Moogs, airy vocoders: all are present and correct in their thickly textured, richly stacked glory. Somewhere between Daft Punk and Eric Prydz, Chrome Sparks’s languid, downtempo bass emotionalism comes embossed in a golden digital gleam, cultivating a mood of magisterial introspection. A stylish synthesist with an easy command of trap, prog house, 1970s soul and electro, ‘All Or Nothing’ echoes Childish Gambino, ‘What’s It Gonna Take’ brings to mind early Kelela, and ‘To Eternity’ is as good as classic Air. While executed with polish, Malvin hasn’t totally figured out where he is inside all these coordinates yet, but the synths are the real stars, and he gives them ample space to glisten, as they were made to do.
Sunil Chauhan
Booka Shade - Cut The Strings

Booka Shade

Cut The Strings

Blaufield

Dad house
5.0
The title of Booka Shade’s latest album suggests a new direction that isn’t really obvious from the music contained within. This LP is slightly broader in scope than last year’s collab-heavy ‘Galvany Street’, but still gets stuck in an accessible main room rut that has pretty much defined the duo since their 2005 ‘Body Language’ heyday. One thing’s for certain: the richness of the production throughout is superb (clearly the result of their access to vast swathes of gear). But every synth and drum line is so pristine that the overall effect is all too pleasant and inoffensive. When the duo pare things back and go for darker, techno-leaning tracks, they have slightly more success. More interesting is ‘Kolibri’, which is a stomping filter house track that has genuine energy as well as the sound of a sleazy bloke grunting in appreciation of… something. Much of the material on ‘Cut The Strings’ seems forced, like a pair of very comfortable producers going through the motions rather than reaching for real emotions.
Kristan J Caryl
Fahrland - Mixtape Vol. 1

Fahrland

Mixtape Vol. 1

Kompakt

Chaotic comeback
7.0
After one EP in 10 years, the artist formerly known as both Geiger and Nass reinvents himself as Fahrland following a move from Berlin to the peaceful countryside. On ‘Mixtape Vol. 1’ — which is actually an artist album — the synthetic minimal techno of his past has gone in place of a much richer palette of sound and breadth of styles. From plaintive organ pieces to vocoder vocals and slow motion electro-funk, sleazy deep house to hurried new age ambient, it sure is an eclectic journey. Individually, these tracks offer plenty of invention and originality — Fahrland coaxes real meaning out of his machines — but as a whole, they hold together less well. Even if the intention, as the title suggests, was to switch things up, the lack of any narrative or coherent style makes this one hard to really love.
Kristan J Caryl
Orlando - Orlando

Orlando

Orlando

Local Action

Au naturel
7.0
Previously affiliated with Mixpak and Gobstopper, New York’s Orlando (formerly Orlando Volcano) had positioned himself within the dancehall and digi-grime spheres; his productions always brimming with emotional complexity. Having lived across NY, London and Ireland, his continent hopping and global outlook is reflected in the collaborator choices on his debut album, which range from Mr Mitch to Octo Octa. The self-described environmentalist steeps his ambient pop soundscapes in a love of the natural world as much as the club. Steely, cubic synths and Auto-Tuned licks (courtesy of Jamaican dancehall artist Nemesis) are pitted against transcendental harp sounds and gentle steel pans that create ghost-like constructs and awe-inspiring visions of the natural world. It’s not often an album could soundtrack a David Attenborough documentary as well as an East London club, but Orlando has nailed this unlikely crossover.
Felicity Martin
Steve Bug & Langenberg - Paradise Sold

Steve Bug & Langenberg

Paradise Sold

Poker Flat

They're onto something
7.0
Langenberg, also known as producer Max Hassen, goes way back with Steve Bug — back to releases on Poker Flat's sister label, Dessous, established for more house-orientated vibrations. Emerging with a solid collaborative single late last year, ‘Chord Cluster’, which also features on ‘Paradise Sold’, it appeared they were onto something. Gently driving and deeply hypnotic, it's a good indicator of the quality on display here. ‘A Touch Of Detroit’ is, as you'd expect, just that, all brass stabs thick with delay, then later, a dash of welcome drama. ‘Paper Stabs’ swings in the right places, its abrasive synths tempered by some dreamy chords. ‘Late Harvest’ brings strong dub vibes, while tracks such as ‘Tales Of Beijing Duck’ and ‘Search For Xur’ mine that groovy tech-house seam a la Mobilee, another Berlin institution. Most pleasing.
Ben Arnold
Rival Consoles - Persona

Rival Consoles

Persona

Erased Tapes

Through the looking glass
7.0
Ryan Lee West goes seriously introspective on album number four, taking a deep look at perceptions of the self. Heavy stuff, but if you know anything of Rival Consoles, the ambient-leaning, mind-expanding electronics here will be familiar. Swooping soundscapes and swelling synth chords float in and out of earshot, making use of space and subtlety. The title track, for example, is a pulsing slow-burner that climbs and dips satisfyingly over seven minutes, over a hushed, kicking rhythm. Several tracks bring to mind the classical-electronic fusings of West’s Erased Tapes labelmate Nils Frahm, including glitchy highlight ‘I Think So’. Elsewhere, the punchier ‘Phantom Grip’ and blissful ‘Untravel’ both stand out, though a few moments on the album get a little too inward-looking and the thread gets lost — but only temporarily. Headphones music if ever there was.
Tristan Parker
Blocks & Escher

BLOCKS & ESCHER

Something Blue

Metalheadz

Magnum opus
9.5
Blocks & Escher releases have always been as sparse and idiosyncratic as the drum patterns they contain – a two-tracker here, a remix there – and, as such, are worth their weight in gold, each whisper of something new creating a deep buzz of anticipation. So when their debut album was announced (what now seems like a millenia ago), naturally, we were hype as fuck. Such expectation can cause doubts. Is it too Headz, not enough Narratives? But the balance is sublime. It’s an album steeped in wistful history – half-real, half-forgotten – from the nostalgic synth stabs of ‘Exhale’, ‘Gulls’ and the Goldie-esque vox of Jennifer Hall on ‘Sea’, to the beatless, sax-led intro to ‘One Touch’, and the thick fog of luscious pads used throughout. Appropriately themed around the ocean, ‘Something Blue’ can be both serene and violent, beautiful and deadly, and holds untold mysteries within its unfathomable depths.
Ben Hindle
Teleseen - The Emotional Life Of Savages

Teleseen

The Emotional Life Of Savages

Goldmin Music

Worldly electronic elegance
8.0
‘The Emotional Life Of Savages’ is a combination of many different things: producer Teleseen’s background in jazz, hip-hop and illbient; his love of Detroit techno; time spent among the flailing rhythms of Rio de Janeiro; and his DJ residency at Brooklyn party Africainoir. All those factors are distilled into six adventurous tracks that ooze an authentically global feel. Jazz house opener 'Myrtle Ave’ shows off real playing chops in the sonorous Rhodes chords, before ‘Fundos’ offers the first of many skittish rhythms and juke-like percussive patterns. ‘Temporada de Seca’ is a perfect track to drop on a terrace in the sun, with its bird calls and bossa beats, while ‘Espelhos’ is a high fidelity Floating Points style synth jam that reaches for the stars and swells your heart with cosmic vibes. Though these will work in the club, they also ooze the sort of detail that makes them perfect for more intimate listening sessions.
Kristan J Caryl
Mark Pritchard - The Four Worlds

Mark Pritchard

The Four Worlds

Warp

Outer-space eccentricity
8.0
Not just a clever title, Mark Pritchard’s latest long-player leaves Earth behind to find distant planets. And, as with any decent interstellar adventure, its contents are less about blast-off, and instead dominated by deep atmosphere. ‘Circle Of Fear’ offers delicate, echoed ivory keys, like a suspense-thriller score. ’S.O.S’, featuring the voice of psychedelic priestess Space Lady, invokes a failed mission’s funeral, organs meeting a spoken word distress call from a stranded shuttle. ‘Come Let Us’ is ritualistic electronica; chant-like lyrics, dark and unsettling synth refrains. Elsewhere, glistening harmonies conjure images of perspective-altering discoveries, and field recordings seem to originate from other universes. All of which means you probably don’t need to watch the accompanying 13-minute film from A/V artist Jonathan Zawada: ‘The Four Worlds’ aurally paints those landscapes vividly enough.
Martin Guttridge-Hewitt
Matt Karmil - Will

Matt Karmil

Will

Smalltown Supersound

Sensual subtlety
9.0
UK-born, Stockholm-based Karmil’s fourth full-length keeps up the high standards of his previous work, losing none of the stealth and subtlety that made 2016’s ‘++++’ such a delight, again pushing way beyond his house roots to craft sepulchral, frostbitten, gorgeously downered techno soundscapes resonant with suggestive cinematic imagery and deliciously visual detail. Opener ‘Sharehold’ starts things off at a glacial pace, tiny melodic lines coalescing into an open ground on which the rest of the album unfolds. Where there are beats, they’re minimalist — what ‘Will’ is more interested in is sewing textures together that you can wander in and inhabit, reaching a zenith on the utterly sublime drone/dreampop of the 17-minute ‘Maffe’, a track of such resonant wonder and documentary-like realism it’s up there with Astrid Sonne’s ‘Human Lines’. Superb.
Neil Kulkarni