| DJMag.com Skip to main content

Albums - Issue 584

Helena Hauff - Qualm

Helena Hauff

Qualm

Ninja Tune

Visceral electronics
9.0
Helena Hauff has quickly become one of the most fawned-over DJs of her time. After establishing her sound as a resident at Hamburg’s revered Golden Pudel club, she’s been catapulted onto the global circuit and made the transition perfectly. Importantly, she has never compromised or conformed. Her blistering sets mix up acid, EBM, techno, electro and post-punk into utterly in-your-face and arresting affairs that smash you over the head again and again. People love the sheer power of her playing style, and are likely to feel the same way about her debut album, ‘Qualm’. Track titles like ‘Primordial Sludge’, ‘Fag Butts in the Fire Bucket’ and ‘Entropy Created You And Me’ should give you an idea of the sounds on offer: they are raw and guttural, frazzled and fucked up. All twelve tracks are based on live hardware jams. They are often bare bones affairs with only a few main elements, but despite the minimal number of tools used, the effect is truly maximal. Opener ‘Barrow Boy’ is a prime example, with clattering 909s and distorted synths, coarse claps and overdriven machines making for a wall of noise that would make Phil Spector cry. The high tempo acid of ‘Lifestyle Guru’ is impressively wild and off grid, and the frantic ‘Hyper-Intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg’ is sure to prove disorienting in a strobe lit warehouse. There is brief respite from the aural assault with ‘Primordial Sludge’ and ‘Qualm’ – a pair of thoughtful sci-fi ambient tracks that still manage to be edgy and attention-grabbing – and after that there is a sense of serenity and ‘mission accomplished’ in the closing tracks that bring you back down to earth. Electronic music with a genuine ability to inspire shock and awe is hard to come by these days, but ‘Qualm’ does that and then some.
Kristan J Caryl
Vakula - A Voyage to Arcturus

Vakula

A Voyage to Arcturus

Apollo

Stream of consciousness
4.0
Vakula, aka Ukrainian producer Mikhaylo Vityu, first released ‘A Voyage to Arcturus’ in 2014 on vinyl, via his own Leleka imprint, named in honour of the pivotal 1920s sci-fi fantasy novel by David Lindsay. It's now available for the first time in digital format thanks to R&S Records' ambient offshoot Apollo. Having not experienced it the first time around, perhaps its cult status is somehow lost on this reviewer. New Sensations is a towering, ten-minute deep house masterpiece. ‘Joiwind’ and ‘Maskulls Keyhole’ straddle the italo-balearic axis with poise. But other than that, it just feels like a mess, with a preponderance for new age jazz-rock and ropey guitar solos. ‘Oceaxe’ and ‘The Womblash Forest’ sound like the Ozric Tentacles (not in a good way – there isn't a good way), album closer ‘Muspell’ like a Jamiroquai off-cut, before morphing into rote Ibiza compilation wallpaper music. Comparisons have been made to Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, Tangerine Dream. High praise, but rather wide of the mark.
Ben Arnold
Ital Tek - Bodied

Ital Tek

Bodied

Planet Mu

Bodying other producers
8.0
‘Bodied’ is possibly not what you’d expect from Ital Tek, whose ‘Hollowed’ in 2016 was such a foreboding yet danceable delight. On this new set, IT lets the beats abscond entirely in preference of creating detailed, minimal, gorgeous soundscapes closer to painstaking sound design than dance music. Where percussive elements occur they’re determinedly undanceable, attuned to more natural organic polyrhythms while the textures IT builds in each track are tactile, shot through with acoustic elements (voices, live instrument samples) that give the album a poise between artifice and authenticity, space and detail, sound and silence, melody and noise. It’s that palpable sense of music that can colour and soundtrack all aspects of life rather than just the dancefloor that makes ‘Bodied’ such a bold expansion of what Ital Tek does, a true progression from his roots. Superb.
Neil Kulkarni
Friction - Connections

Friction

Connections

Elevate

Joins the dots
8.0
Heading up the mighty Shogun Audio. Praised for his captivating 360 sets. Becoming the mouth piece for the scene to showcase its fruits to the nation as resident d&b DJ at Radio 1. With this as a resume, it’s hard to believe this is Friction’s debut album. From the rave-influenced synth in ‘Blue’ to the floor-destroying steps of ‘Stinker’, the record seamlessly represents the different elements of the varied genre. ‘Forever Dub’, with its quick jungle drums, warm, slightly pulsating sub and breakdowns laden with ragga-infused vocals and horns is one of our favourites. The dark, twisting risers and tech switches in ‘Killing Me’, paired with the uplifting pads and piano touches, are another highlight. One of Friction’s skills has always been his ability to balance accessible, crossover drum and bass with the rooted, gritty authenticity this genre prides itself on, and this album displays it perfectly.
Whisky Kicks
Donato Dozzy - Filo Loves The Acid

Donato Dozzy

Filo Loves The Acid

Tresor

Baked goods
7.5
‘Filo…’ is clearly in the right place. Italian master of immersive yet stripped jugular stuff Donato Dozzy’s latest is a tribute to 303s, acid coursing through its proverbial veins, taking no time to start unravelling spatial bleeps, tracking synths and wavy strings. It’s not all like the dreamy, eponymous opener, mind. ‘Vetta Reprise’ clocks in with a far greater beat count and tempo, deranged and frantic distant cousin of that serene mood builder. ‘TB Square’ is a cheeky stepper, ‘REP’ an ever-intensifying call to action. The difference between these summarises the album. To some ears this is techno. At times in uncompromising forms. For others, it will span dancefloor moments from deeper early doors to twilight hour sweat pit. Ultimately you’ll perceive what you like, so let’s say one thing: this is what fans want from the producer-DJ in question.
Martin Guttridge-Hewitt
Plant43 - From Deep Streams

Plant43

From Deep Streams

Shipwrec

Beat free zone
9.0
Electro advocate, producer and southeast Londoner Plant43 (Emile Facey) has a vast discography, packed with essential singles and albums on Ai, Semantica, Shipwrec and CPU. As one of the founders of the Bleep43 club event and electronic music information source, his knowledge of, and appreciation for machine made sounds is considerable. His new album, though, is a divergence from the detailed electro he’s known for, into beatless ambient pastures. It makes perfect sense, as Facey’s productions tend to have an atmospheric component. Here, he gives this compulsion free rein. ‘Under The Willows’ begins with billowing synth loops, opening out into panoramic pads, before a sense of unease is introduced by a spiky lead line. ‘Roots Grow Deeper’ is especially good: John Carpenter produced by ‘Amber’-era Autechre isn’t far off. It may be an ambient record, but this is intricate, melodic and bewitching stuff.
Ben Murphy
felicita - hej!

felicita

hej!

PC Music

Slavic folk-rave
6.0
Anyone acquainted with the day-glo, hi-NRG beats of PC Music’s hyper glossy aesthetic might take surprise at the gentle piano keys and slavic folk sounds of improvised opener ‘hej!’ on experimental Anglo-Polish producer felicita’s debut album. Described in the press release as a “nu-slavic folk tale”, plinky ivory tickles sit side by side with crackling strobe riffs (‘shook’) that oscillate so intensely it borders on nauseating. While ‘marzipan’ features the vocals of Chairlift vocalist Caroline Polachek – the cover of a Polish children’s song “that’s haunted [felicita] since I was a kid”. Pulling the listener between two poles so extreme that it can feel caustic, this is music that couldn’t be described as accessible, and is designed to trigger a response. Nevertheless, it makes an interesting exploration into the interplay between organic, human sounds and stark, robotic synths.
Felicity Martin
Pariah - Here From Where We Are

Pariah

Here From Where We Are

Houndstooth

Staying true to himself
7.0
It certainly feels like six years since Arthur Cayzer, better known as Pariah, last released a record. That’s evident in the sound he’s now arrived at – far removed from the lines between dubstep, UK garage, and techno he used to straddle on R&S. The Londoner claims his new full-length is a truer representation of himself; not what others expect of him. And, if that’s indeed the case, his real tastes are in line with a lot of producers right now: this is most principally an ambient album that has graduated from the depths of dancefloors he’s played to. Stand-out tracks here are ‘Seed Bank’, with its delicately pulsing synth lines and new age sound effects, and ‘Rain Soup’, with its soundtrack-like dynamics. ‘Linnaea’, on the other hand, is closest to his old sound – or a post-rave analysis of it – and happens to be a weak point.
Anonymous
Orbital - Monsters Exist

Orbital

Monsters Exist

ACP Recordings

Knee-jerk material
4.0
Two splits and comebacks later, their European tour already underway, the dance duo return with a new album that’s a touch jaded. Paul Hartnoll, the younger of the two brothers, said the tracks came “tumbling out” after a long stretch out of the studio, and this record does seem spontaneous in places. Among those tracks, their first single, ‘Tiny Foldable Cities’, tries too much over a half-time beat, while a bizarre Brian Cox appearance on ‘There Will Come A Time’ takes the edge off a fairly well thought out instrumental. ‘Analogue Test Oct 16’ and ‘Dressing Up In Other People’s Clothes’, meanwhile, both on the second disc, prove that restraint yields better results. Of course, maintaining consistency over thirty years in the business is a tall order, and the Orbital faithful will likely be satisfied with some new material – something they’ve been starved of lately.
Anonymous
Max Cooper - One Hundred Billion Sparks

Max Cooper

One Hundred Billion Sparks

Mesh

Fulfilling his thematic ambitions
9.5
With Max Cooper’s earlier albums, something didn’t quite gel in the mix – ‘Human’ and ‘Emergence’ were both lofty conceptual efforts that musically fell short of the opuses promised. Certainly, his Renaissance Man ambitions are staggering, having long ago shrugged off the limitations of dancefloor techno in favour of audacious audio-visual tours, extravagant experiments with spatialised sound and collaborations with classical composers. The PhD in computational biology he somehow squeezed into all of this points to a certain “scientist” mentality, which means his music doesn't always mesh with its accompanying ideas. These tensions only make the triumph of ‘One Hundred Billion Sparks’ all the more satisfying. Informed by a similar thematic throughline, which examines identity and our inherent energetic connections, these conceits elegantly intertwine with Cooper’s typical surplus of musical ideas. The ambient ‘Hope’ was a brave choice of early single, its mesmerising video further layering the transcendence Cooper is reaching for. More accompanying art will follow, though crucially, the album stands on its own. Moving nimbly from profound ambience to something resembling nightclub BPMs, often it’s an alluring mix of two. In ‘Platonic’, fractured swirls of broken beats meet with delicate harmonies that rise and fall in a gentle show of solidarity. Finally, Cooper’s intellectual excursions are communicating clearly, coherently and beautifully with his musical ideas.
Angus Paterson
Gui Boratto - Pentagram

Gui Boratto

Pentagram

Kompakt

A mixed adventure
7.0
Brazilian Gui Boratto has always been a perfect fit for Kompakt: his mature, melodic techno is the sort of slow release, grandiose music that requires patience. His fifth studio album is a development of that which dips into pop and main room rollers, but also veers off into more experimental territory. It’s not always a success: ‘The Phoenix’ is distinctly uncool euro-tech and ‘Forgotten’ sounds like dated electro-house, but ‘Pentagram’ is an interesting fusion of organic piano chords and colourful synth modulations, and ‘Forgive Me’ is an adventurous bit of multi-layered minimal that journeys to the heavens. One track that stands out as a break from the pristine metal surfaces all around it is ’Scene 2’, a sombre bit of classical piano laid over heavy hearted drums that could soundtrack the climatic moment in a spy thriller.
Kristan J Caryl
Gabe Gurnsey - Physical

Gabe Gurnsey

Physical

Phantasy Sound

Gurnsey’s journey
9.0
Factory Floor’s Gabe Gurnsey has made a marked departure from his usual sound with this solo debut LP, and that’s the only reference that can be made to his band in order to properly review this as the standalone work it is. ‘Physical’ trades in the industrial-tinged bracing techno that we’ve all come to love him for, and instead goes for a mixture of vocal-heavy retro synth pop and proto-house that’s equal parts upbeat, hedonistic and tense. Meant to soundtrack a night out in LA, where driving around is a central theme, ‘Physical’ does indeed go through the arc of experiences and emotions that Gurnsey is trying to convey. Optimistic energy opens ‘Ulta Clear Sound’, and slowly gets hazier, druggier and sexier via mutant midway tracks like ‘Sweet Heat’ and ‘Heavy Rubber’. There are three brief instrumental interludes that punctuate the second half of the album with moments of introspection and unraveling, adding an overarching broodiness best summed up via standout penultimate song ‘Night Track’.
Zara Wladawsky

Dorian Concept

The Nature Of Imitation

Brainfeeder

Counterfeit for purpose
8.0
Modern technology means artists can now take a few hours recreating sounds it would take past musicians years to perfect. Contrarian that he is, for his third album Dorian Concept spent four years simulating digital production techniques on hand-played instruments. If that suggests monastic patience from the Viennese producer the resulting album, in contrast, sounds like a man with a tiny attention span but massive musical appetite chewing up and spitting out jazz, hip-hop, bass music and electronica more quickly than any computer could. Indeed, so swiftly does the album shift and squirm – shimmering pianos suddenly being drowned in waves of bass or skippy jazz rhythms wrong-footed by wriggling squelches - that it’s hard to keep up. ‘The Nature Of Imitation’ is a far cry from the more restrained sound of 2014’s ‘Joined Ends’ LP and also – despite the title – from almost anything else you’ve heard.
Paul Clarke

Justice

Woman Worldwide

Ed Banger/Because

Decade-long duo
9.0
Justice’s latest live album ‘Woman Worldwide’ is a fitting celebration of the duo’s ten years together. Instead of a live recording (like on previous live albums), the duo decided to record a studio version. So gone is the live bootleg sound – but what’s replaced it is so much better; a pristine studio album, balancing the duo’s penchant for warm-sounding indie dance and gritty, cinematic French electro. Classics like ‘Waters of Nazareth’ x ‘We Are Your Friends’ which neatly segues into ‘Phantom 2 x ‘Alakazam!’ are so gritty you could grout a small bathroom with them. The album’s 16 tracks have been fettled for maximum impact and it really shows, especially on ‘Stop’ and ‘Randy’ (which take the Justice slap bass to new heights). Instead of a live album, we’ve got a Justice remix album – and it’s a wonderful thing.
Andrew Rafter