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Albums - Issue 582

Leon Vynehall - Nothing is Still

Leon Vynehall

Nothing Is Still

Ninja Tune

A story worth listening to
8.0
Leon Vynehall clearly doesn’t like to take the easy route. Presumably because writing and recording a debut album isn’t enough work, he’s releasing a novella and series of short films to accompany it. And if that seems extravagant, it makes sense when you hear the epic album. Vynehall could easily have put out a record of the sophisticated, blissed-out house that he does so well. Again, though: too easy. Instead, he’s crafted a sprawling sonic journey based on the story of his late grandparents emigrating from Southampton to Brooklyn in the 1960s. Although this is an intensely personal record, you don’t have to know his grandparents’ story, touching as it is, to appreciate what’s here. As for the sonics, ‘Nothing Is Still’ covers a lot of ground. It’s driven by lush instrumentation, traversing through ambient, soundscapes, instrumentals, jazz and darker electronic trips, all dripping in musicality. There’s some beautiful stuff here. Opener ‘From The Sea/It Looms’ sets the tone with soaring strings, followed by ‘Movements’, sounding like the final number of the night in a smoky, ’60s Brooklyn jazz den — the kind of place his grandparents might have visited, perhaps. Vynehall is said to be a fan of minimalist composers such as Philip Glass and Terry Riley, and it’s easy to hear their influence in the arrangements. ‘Trouble — Parts I, II And III’ begins with a heady passage that could have been plucked from the ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ soundtrack or an Eno record. Anyone searching for ‘It’s Just (House Of Dupree)’ Part Two or other Vynehall bangers won’t find them here, but there are nods to the dancefloor in ‘English Oak’, which erupts into heady, hypnotic house. ‘Nothing Is Still’ is a bold, vast album, but it works. Spend some quality time with it and you’ll soon be absorbed into Vynehall’s world.
Tristan Parker
Oneohtrix Point Never - Age Of

Oneohtrix Point Never

Age Of

Warp

Usher off-cuts
8.5
Only an idiot would attempt to define Daniel Lopatin. For every track that signifies ‘Age Of’ could be Oneohtrix Point Never’s most melodic album to date, another muscles into earshot to remind us that nobody weaves breathtaking soundscapes quite like him. It also has the cinematic quality to match, examining the fall of mankind from a multitude of warped angles and conflicting voices, using his own croon and a host of collaborators (Kelsey Lu, Prurient, ANOHNI, James Blake) in a unique step for the composer. Veering from the abrasive, heavy-machinery snarl of ‘We’ll Take It’ to the seductive hypnotism of ‘The Station’, originally composed for Usher, and twisted euphoria of ‘Toys 2’, it results in arguably the most addictive, cohesive and, in parts, gorgeous, release of his career. Quite simply, ‘Age Of’ confirms Oneohtrix Point Never as a compelling and undoubtedly vital artist of recent times.
Anonymous
Walton - Black Lotus

Walton

Black Lotus

Tectonic

Lean ‘n’ mean
7.0
Sam Walton’s follow up to 2013’s ‘Beyond’ is a leaner affair than his Hyperdub-released debut. Less about house, the Mancunian producer’s lasers are aimed at grime again. Tracks like ‘Point Black’ point to Walton’s favoured furrow, dovetailing grime’s palette and rhythms, and dubstep's layering and sepulchral mood, often with Japanese and Chinese sounds retracing both scenes’ mid-2000s Asian fascination, as on the excellent ‘Koto Riddim VIP’. As on ‘Beyond’, Walton seems keen to avoid 2004 classicism, hence ‘Angry Drummer’s marching band drum lines and the delicate ‘drukQs’-ish melodies of ‘Erhu’. But grime is this album’s safety net, even as the genre's bolts of energy are pulled back to form tauter, carefully modulated shapes. A sober stylist, Walton isn’t out to dominate his sources, so much of this can seem like tweaked revivalism, but his facility with his influences is never in doubt.
Sunil Chauhan
Betonkust & Palmbomen II - Center Parcs

Betonkust & Palmbomen II

Center Parcs

Dekmantel

Holiday park hedonism
8.5
Whatever these two Dutchmen did while holed up in a largely-deserted Netherlands holiday park, it worked. Created onsite, recording hardware directly onto tape, the ‘Center Parcs’ sonic aesthetic is timely and timeless. Forward thinking, in that it’s difficult to draw easy comparisons, perhaps Com Truise or Bullion in some parts, it’s also a pastiche of more innocent and unpretentious eras gone by, when ‘pop’, ‘delightful’ and ‘entertainment under one roof’ were not considered filthy terms. ‘Nintendo Pantera’ is all sickly sweet chimed melodies and '80s power drums, and ‘Verminkte Toekan’ was clearly inspired by faux-tropical swimming pool rapids, with added synths and vibes. ‘De Rust Die Je Zocht’ brings the lo-fi psychedelia. Throw in ferocious elec-house (‘Renaat Egypte’), heavyweight slo-mo acid (‘Skytronic Cola’), and lush downbeat (‘24x33’) and we’re about ready to book a chalet.
Martin Guttridge-Hewitt
Skee Mask - Compro

Skee Mask

Compro

Ilian Tape

No compromise
8.0
Munich’s Ilian Tape label, run by the Zenker Brothers, has a highly recognisable sound at odds with the pervasive German underground techno aesthetic. Ilian Tape artists swirl breakbeats and electro elements into a sound design-heavy, otherworldly agglomeration, and Skee Mask is among the label’s most prolific. The latest moniker of Bryan Müller, who previously made contorted beats for the Boys Noize imprint as SCNTST, Skee Mask tracks are intricately layered and easy to get lost in. ‘Compro’ is his second album for the label, and acknowledges Müller’s love for downbeat IDM as much as his affection for tough, jungle referencing dancefloor material. ‘Rev8617’ is all stop-start dubwise breaks, with an alien synth line reminiscent of U-Ziq’s most melancholy music. ‘Euro To Break Boost’ ups the tempo, and arranges its breaks in a skittering fashion, while a distorted riff interjects like a shard of light through a gloomy warehouse window. ‘Soundboy Ext.’ is hyperactive jungle heard through a dimensional portal, and ‘Dial 274’ heads directly for the floor, with a punishing sub and tough break designed to do maximum damage. While Skee Mask uses familiar ingredients, it’s always in an experimental rather than retro fashion. He’s mapping new directions for non-linear beats in a thrilling way.
Ben Murphy
Ame - Dream House

Âme

Dream House

Innervisions

Better late than never
9.0
Given how ubiquitous in DJ boxes and festival line-ups Âme have become since ‘Rej’ sent shivers up the dancefloor’s spine in 2005, it’s a surprise to realise that ‘Dream House’ is the German duo’s first new album in 14 years. Even more surprising is that it contains little of the melodic techno you’d expect from their Innervisions label. Âme’s trademark bittersweet balance between melancholy and euphoria is still apparent, but on tracks such as ‘Positivland’ and ‘Deadlocked’, it’s slowed down and stretched out into widescreen cinematic forms. The latter features an appearance from octogenarian krautrock progenitor Roedelius, but with Matthew Herbert and Planningtorock also on board, ‘Dream House’ isn’t so much about looking either forward or back, but across all eras of electronic music to create something that will stand the test of time. Or at least until they get round to putting another album out.
Paul Clarke
WEN - EPHEM:ERA

Wen

EPHEM:ERA

Big Dada

Out of the shadows
9.0
Owen Darby is a producer who has always indulged our fantasies of the darkest, grimiest corners of the UK underground crossbreeding. Early cuts such as ‘Commotion’ and 2014 debut album ‘Signals’ were as dark as they come, fusing grime, techno and suspended vocal chops into something mutant, finding an instant home on Keysound and Tectonic. Since migrating onto Ninja Tune and Big Dada, Wen’s sound has taken a more dancefloor oriented, yet simultaneously delicate turn, favouring four-four over his previously more gun-fingers-at-the-ready sound. ‘EPHEM:ERA’ is a masterpiece of pointillist detailing, making use of grimey synths, spinback sounds and even samples of MCs chuckling to produce beatless dub, all-cylinders-firing tech-house and dusty rollers. It takes an artful producer to compile those genres into something that feels simultaneously weightless and fragile, but Wen manages it on this record, that’ll excite anyone with even a passing interest in UK dance music.
Felicity Martin
Proc Fiskal - Insula

Proc Fiskal

Insula

Hyperdub

Electrifying genre mutation
8.0
Drawing influences from 8-bit chiptune electronics, drum & bass and footwork, 21-year-old Joe Powers has an original take on instrumental grime. As Proc Fiskal, he debuted on Hyperdub with the speedy ‘The Highland Mob’ EP in 2017, and his ‘Hello Boss’ release on Cosmic Bridge saw him tackling halftime, albeit in his unique style. This Edinburgh producer might look to London for his beats, but on his debut album ‘Insula’, they’re decorated in fragmented melodies, often with an East Asian sound. ‘Apple Juice’ has snaking neon-green lead lines that entwine around its fractured rhythms, while ‘Dopamine’ has an enormous sub bass navigating speedy harmonic bleeps. Most compelling of all is Powers’ use of samples from film, TV and adverts, referencing Edinburgh or with Scottish accents, which gives ‘Insula’ a sense of place and identity while also injecting humour into its sometimes melancholy synth worlds.
Ben Murphy
Gang Gang Dance - Kazuashita

Gang Gang Dance

Kazuashita

4AD

Clearing up the confusion
7.0
A many-tentacled musical beast, what’s most impressive about Gang Gang Dance isn’t the amount of genres they embrace — from shoegaze to grime to synth-pop — but the fact they often manage to do so in one song without completely tying themselves in knots. Having said that, the New York experimental pop band’s sixth album is easier to untangle than most of their back catalogue, while still sounding like Cocteau Twins meditating in a yoga retreat while a dubstep soundsystem plays next door. Although they still sometimes just try to stuff too much into tracks like ‘Young Boy (Marika In America)’, in the main all the different elements in their soundclash of bass stabs, chiming guitars, new age synths and mixture of live drums and electronic beats are given enough space to breathe, with Lizzi Bougatsos’ vocals floating above them like an angel sucking a helium balloon.
Paul Clarke
Actress x The London Contemporary Orchestra - LAGEOS

Actress x The London Contemporary Orchestra

LAGEOS

Ninja Tune

Brutalist beats
7.0
Originally performed in 2016, Darren Cunningham’s collaboration with the LCO finally sees a release. In a year that’s already given us similar collaborative electronic composition from Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto as well as that amazing Mika Vainio, Ryoji Ikeda & Alva Noto live set, ‘LAGEOS’ sits nicely as an exploration of the brutalist architecture of the South Bank (the piece was initially performed at The Barbican), the ancient-futurist explorations of composers such as Iannis Xenakis but also the electronic sounds of the city itself. (On the title track you can even hear a bit of UK drill!) Actress, though clearly informed by the avant-garde, always makes his music accessible by sheer dint of the mournful majestic melodies he laces through it. What could have been a daunting work actually emerges as closer to Commodo’s melancholy or Dedekind Cut’s calm. Intriguingly suggestive music.
Neil Kulkarni
Makeness - Loud Patterns

Makeness

Loud Patterns

Secretly Canadian

Accomplished songwriting meets techno grit
7.5
Scottish producer Kyle Molleson aka Makeness finds inspiration in a certain unknowable place between avant-garde pop-rock and experimental electronics, a frisson between indie and techno. ‘Loud Patterns’ is his first attempt to crystallise these ideals into a long player, which bursts swiftly from the gate with its title track and ‘Fire Behind The Two Louis’, both impressive attempts to marry a certain Britpop harmony with a wilder, more psychedelic bloom of electronic sound. The album’s first half invites you to admire the songwriting while looking a little closer at the details lurking beneath the frame, while the latter half delves more into gritty psychedelic jams. You get a sense the conceptual transcendence he’s reaching for isn’t quite realised, though it leaves the door open for even more focused explorations in the future.
Angus Paterson
Boothroyd - Pure Country

Boothroyd

Pure Country

Fnord Communications

Musical satire
9.0
‘Pure Country’ is a brilliantly subversive record. It’s the work of someone (Peter Boothroyd, a hot UK composer who releases on Tri Angle and works with various grime artists) who so completely understands the cause and effect of certain musical sounds that he can manipulate them, and you, with playful ease. Importantly, the album falls short of pure mockery or gimmickry because the real emotions within cannot fail to lure you in, even if they’re tongue-in-cheek. A track like ‘Smile’ is a muted happy-go-lucky EDM banger melted into a Balearic sunset. ‘Jeep’ is the sort of sun-bleached contemporary house track a booze manufacturer would use in their summer ads, and ‘Gap’ is a new age approximation so simple that it utterly sends up the TV programmes who would use it to convey a sense of relaxing calm. Great stuff.
Kristan J Caryl
Seth Troxler - This Is Then

Seth Troxler

This Is Then

Play It Say It

Retrospective gems
6.0
You can’t knock Seth for his hard work over the years: constant touring, label managing, consistent releases, not to mention a pop-up BBQ restaurant. It’s no surprise, then, that his latest offering is a retrospective look at over a decade of a boundless back catalogue. It’ll jog your memory, with a few timeless gems such as the Visionquest remix of ‘Good Voodoo’ by Kiki (how time flies — this is a flashback to 2009) and the monologue tones of ‘Aphrika’ from the same year. Don’t sleep on the collaboration with Shaun Reeves, ‘Still Hot’: although originally released in ’08, its stripped back nature keeps it sounding just as relevant today. The LP is topped off with the end-of-the-night anthem style remix of ‘Seven’ by Fever Ray. Expect to see these club-friendly cuts head straight back into fashion like they never went away.
Anna Wall
Blawan - Wet Will Always Dry

Blawan

Wet Will Always Dry

Ternesc

Blawan-derful
9.5
After eight or so odd years of stellar releases, remixes and collaborations, ranging from reworking Radiohead’s ‘Bloom’ to his ferocious hardware project with Pariah, Karenn, UK producer Blawan has finally put together a stunning debut LP on his Ternesc imprint. ‘Wet Will Always Dry’ expertly combines the artist’s sound design prowess with his playfulness and innate sense of rhythm and flow to create a downright demented yet infectiously danceable album. From the clattering and tensile lilt of opener ‘Klade’ to the propulsive heft and oddly emotive arpeggios closing out ‘Nims’, thundering kicks provide the foundation for a myriad of mutant, industrial-leaning sonic experiments that slice through each track and differentiate them from each other while retaining an overall cohesiveness.
Zara Wladawsky
Moomin - Yesterday’s Tomorrow

Moomin

Yesterday’s Tomorrow

Wolf Music

At home anywhere
7.0
At the risk of failing to coin a new canon, Moomin’s third album is nothing if not ‘sophisticated dance music’: exceptionally produced, intelligently executed. The smooth house grooves of opener ‘Daysdays’ puts needle to record appropriately. All sharp hand claps, tracking highs and sexy lows, this one’s for beach bars and pool parties. That’s only part of the story, mind, albeit one continued through the loose funk loops of ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ and soulful fours of ‘In Our Lifetime’. Elsewhere you’ll find crunchy lo-fi house on ‘Shibuya Feelings’, a punchy effort dominated by compressed percussion; ‘949494’, which has one foot in smoky, jazz-inflected hip-hop; and, arguably the best of the lot, ‘Into The Woods’ and ‘Move On’: mature, stripped and rolling d&b triumphs equally at home mid-BBQ or rave. In short, a sophisticated piquant for refined palettes.
Martin Guttridge-Hewitt