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Albums - Issue 591

DMX Krew - Glad To Be Sad

DMX Krew

Glad To Be Sad

Hypercolour

Electronic maverick breaks boundaries
8.0
Ed Upton is usually considered an electro artist, thanks to his label Breakin’ and early releases for Aphex Twin’s Rephlex Records. Yet as DMX Krew, he’s amassed a catalogue that encompasses all corners of machine music. His latest for regular home Hypercolour has a similar disregard for categories — as he told this reviewer in an interview last year: “I don’t want to repeat myself too much, so I try to avoid genres”. ‘Glad To Be Sad’ leaps from creepy ambient to crystalline acid-house, to loose, weird electronic funk. It’s a collection of tracks rather than a cohesive album perhaps, but each piece has Upton’s unmistakable signature imprinted on it. ‘Dark Moon’ has drifting lilac smudges of synth, a meandering acid bassline, and a melancholy sunset mood; ‘Drum Machine Pt.2’ is all minimalist, brittle beats and rising bubbles of synth tone. On each track, melody and mood are foregrounded, and beautiful riffs emerge as almost an afterthought — the kind that lesser producers would dine out on, but which Upton has in abundant supply. ‘Shell Game’ is a beatless parade of delicate sparkling notes, which are taken somewhere else entirely with the entrance of a glowering Juno bass riff. ‘Spare Parts’ pairs house rhythms and bleep bass with ’80s chords, and ‘Metal Mod Beat’ with its crushing drop-hammer snares and distorted clanks, is industrial darkness, the sound of the factory coming to life and asking for fresh blood. The synth-pop/disco vibe of ‘MR10stery’ will appeal to fans of his ‘Nu Romantix’ LP (reissued last year on Permanent Vacation), while ‘Jagged’ would almost be conventional Chicago house, if it weren’t for the ethereal keys that twinkle in the firmament above. For those with a similar disdain for pigeonholes, this record is a joy from beginning to end.
Ben Murphy
Lafawndah - Ancestor Boy

Lafawndah

Ancestor Boy

Concordia

Gallery-facing future-pop sensualism
8.0
Made in London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, New York and Paris, France-born, Egyptian-Iranian Lafawndah’s globetrotting debut isn’t as hard to peg as its cross-continental genesis might suggest. Maybe that’s because it’s been five years since she arrived, but it’s also credit to ‘Ancestor Boy’s finely sculpted, gallery-facing sound design where ‘80s world pop palettes, global bass lattices and Night Slugs-meets-Janet Jackson clanking abound. While it’s easy to place her within the same axis as FKA twigs, Kelela or DAWN, it’s her playful, sometimes Björk-inspired phrasing that gives ‘Ancestor Boy’ its edge. On the heaving ‘Daddy’, she twists, writhes and sneaks around the hook unexpectedly; on ‘Joseph’ she achieves a scaling Sade-like power. Fantastical lyrics also reveal a penchant for the mythical – the title track finds her asking, “Did he come from the mountains? Did he come from the sky?” By ‘Ancestor Boy’s end, you might be asking the same of her.
Sunil Chauhan
Ibibio Sound Machine - Doko Mien

Ibibio Sound Machine

Doko Mien

Merge Records

Worlds colliding
8.0
London-based multicultural octet Ibibio Sound Machine have a uniquely polyglot sound that incorporates Nigerian high-life, West African electronica, disco, funk and post-punk to delicious effect, as previously heard on their Merge debut ‘Uyai’. The eclecticism of ISM’s influences don’t affect one song at a time, each song takes on that welter of diversity within their own structures and sounds, and that’s what makes ‘Doko Mien’ so compelling. ‘I Need You To Be Sweet Like Sugar’ kicks things off on a gloriously noisy Betty Davis-style funk-fest, kept steady with some gorgeous Afro-ambient electronics. ‘Wanna Come Down’ is the most gorgeous full-phat disco you’ll hear this side of the new Chaka album, ‘Tell Me’ pulsates with ‘80s electro-pop textures before things slow down gorgeously on the jazzy soul-ambience of ‘I Know That You’re Thinking’. The highlight here, ‘Guess We Found A Way’, is a slice of radiant balladry that both Erykah Badu and Stimulator Jones would be proud of. You’ll have heard a billion things you could guess might be loved by ISM, but no-one is crushing different sound worlds together quite as compellingly as them right now. Stack next to ‘The Garner Tapes’. THAT good.
Neil Kulkarni
Tourist - Everyday

Tourist

Everyday

Monday Records

Run of the mill
4.0
William Philips, better known as Tourist, occupies the electronic pop space like many others. He layers his tracks in atmospheric ways, uses plenty of minor chords, and leaves the listener to sit and reflect – a sort of laptop Lana Del Rey who’s given up singing in favour of Burial-like soundscapes. The problem is, a lot here borders on, well, everyday. The Cornish producer plumps for varied styles across the album: house on tracks like ‘Apollo’ and ‘Hearts’, a dubstep feel on ‘Violet’. But when he leaves the beats altogether, letting the atmospherics shine, there’s strength. Like on last year’s single, ‘Someone Else’, which could easily soundtrack an emotionally charged film or something similarly juicy. Playing to those strengths is difficult as a producer, but Philips should take solace in them.
Jack Pepper
Placid Angles - First Blue Sky

Placid Angles

First Blue Sky

Magicwire

Circling around
9.0
It’s been 22 years since he released music under the moniker Placid Angles; ‘First Blue Sky’ provides a very welcome return for Michigan-born artist John Beltran. Displaying his expanse of knowledge through many musical genres the title track provides a dreamy backdrop, IDM and jungle breaks underneath a wash of soft synths. The ten tracks provide an exploration through different emotions and moods, varying soundscapes and merge genres effortlessly. Liquid d&b reminiscent of the early ‘00s and the emotive strings on ‘Earth and Everything’ sit naturally beside ambient moments like ‘1700’ that Beltran is best known for through prior albums like ‘Amazing Things’ on Delsin. ‘Breathe Her In’ harks back to his early roots in techno with classic 909 drum machine sequences. ‘Bad Minds’ is a firm nod back to the sounds of Detroit, perhaps alluding to his early release on Carl Craig’s Retroactive and displaying his astute ability to come full circle.
Anna Wall
Oscar G - For The Culture

Oscar G

For The Culture

Nervous NYC

Failure to murk
4.0
There is absolutely no doubting that Oscar Gaetan, aka Oscar G, has been behind some pivotal moments in house music, as Liberty City, Funky Green Dogs and, crucially, Murk, with his long-time production partner Ralph Falcon. But 'For The Culture' may not make into that pantheon of greatness. A pretty toothless cover of Tamia's 'So Into You' feels like a wasted opportunity, and as an opening track fails to inspire confidence. 'Bounce That Ass', 'Lift Me Up' and 'Synth Tartare' are blandly loud and 'big room'. 'More Free' features a sampled speech by former President Barack Obama, and is every bit as cloying as that sounds. There are a couple of moments. 'Moros y Christianos' is a solid, tribal jam and 'Damelo Papi' is pleasingly off the wall. Had there been more of that kind of thing, maybe 'For The Culture' could have landed a bit better.
Ben Arnold
Xeno & Oaklander - Hypnos

Xeno & Oaklander

Hypnos

Dais Records

Analogue beauty
8.0
The unstoppable rise of cold wave, dark wave and similarly synthy sounds, fuelled by the digging of labels like Minimal Wave and Dark Entries, means Xeno & Oaklander’s fourth album lands in a world where their classic analogue sound is more relevant than ever. The Brooklyn-based duo of Liz Wendelbo and Sean McBride have switched up their studio since 2016’s excellent ‘Topiary’, changing a monophonic set-up to a polyphonic one that adds even more depth to the emotional charge of their ‘80s-inspired melodies. Citing inspiration from ‘60s French chanteur Françoise Hardy and Talking Heads’ Tina Weymouth, you could add the likes of X-Ray Pop or Deux to the mix as Wendelbo sings in both French, like on ‘Angélique’, whose icy bass has shades of The Hacker, and English. From the proto-techno of ‘A World Without Sun’, which tackles climate change with a lyrical form reminiscent of Broadcast, to the epic slow-mo of ‘Athena’, there’s a grand unifying vision that makes ‘Hypnos’ irresistible.
Joe Roberts
Johannes Albert - Lichtenberg

Johannes Albert

Lichtenberg

Frank Music

Evolve not revolve
9.0
Berlin-based Johannes is an artist that is constantly evolving; as well as founding the label Frank Music he’s delved into plenty of side projects over the years (including HSN-X and Moon with Iron Curtis) and his latest LP ‘Lichtenberg’ may well be his most dynamic yet. Displaying another side of his production expertise it transgresses the archetypal deep house and recent italo disco records he’s become known for into traces of EBM, new wave and many other influences. ‘Phony Emotions’ begins the album with ambient infrastructures and recurring melody lines. ‘Copper Bolt’ uses his trademark machine drums under ever-evolving acid lines and retro synth stabs, while ‘Built-in Acceptance’ features longtime friend and collaborator Iron Curtis for a fast-paced affair with rising synths, unabated bassline and infrequent but gritty drum hits. Final track ‘Cell’, featuring Moritz Heppner, leaves the album on another subdued dream-like moment much like the one that it began with and once again proving Albert’s eclecticism as a producer.
Anna Wall
King Midas Sound - Solitude

King Midas Sound

Solitude

Cosmo Rhythmatic

Isolated sounds
7.0
Few albums are as punishing and ultimately devastating as King Midas Sound’s new album, ‘Solitude’. Inspired by “a loss that has been enforced and unexpected,” it remains mostly beatless throughout, bleak and desolate in its meticulous execution, with Kevin Martin, better known as The Bug, providing a scratchy, unforgiving canvas. Amongst the stark sonics, Roger Robinson provides clarity, his spoken word often foreboding and simple, yet never short of intrigue. “The fire will not burn bright,” he insists on recent single ‘You Disappear’, perhaps the only track on the album that promises any sort of optimism, while ‘The Lonely’ treats listeners to Robinson’s most brutal couplets: “I can even see the lonely in my face. It looks a bit like anger, but I’m not angry. Just empty”. Compose yourself, take a deep breath and dive into ‘Solitude’.
Lee Wakefield
Girl Unit - Song Feel

Girl Unit

Song Feel

Night Slugs

Feels good man
9.0
Solid gold anthem ‘Wut’ dropped a whole nine years ago (feel old yet?) and since, Phil Gamble hasn’t exactly been busy, with just an EP (‘Club Rez’) and a Kelela cut offered up in between. ‘Song Feel’ is an incredibly welcome return, zoning in almost instantly into the pop sphere from the off with the gloss-coated Taliwhoah-featuring ‘Stuck’ that sounds like the future of the Top 40. Elsewhere he pulls in Ms Boogie and Tampa rapper Thast for high drama trap, which sits next to ‘80s-influenced slow-burners and the emotional ‘B.A.C.K’, boasting trademark Night Slugs steely synths. ‘24 Hours’ might just be a little too upbeat for the whole thing, but what Girl Unit has done here is produce an artist album rather than a collection of club bangers, and we’re very on board. It’s hit us right in the feels.
Felicity Martin
Locked Groove - Sunset Service

Locked Groove

Sunset Service

Hotflush

Belgian beats
8.5
Seven years on from his first single, Locked Groove is finally coming out with his debut LP on Scuba’s Hotflush label, who also released his first records way back in 2012. The Belgian-born, Berlin-based artist has connected the past with the present to make a serotonin-fueled journey that joins the breaky rave, trance, techno and New Beat musical styles of his home country in the 1990s with modern production and arranging. The result is a deliciously nostalgic set of club fare full of hands-in-the-air build-ups, euphoric acid and ethereal passages with a cohesive feel throughout. That said, ‘Sunset Service’ is as equally suited to its individual tracks getting used by DJs as it is listened to in the context of the whole album soundtracking the morning after a night out…
Zara Wladawsky
Shlohmo - The End

Shlohmo

The End

Friends Music/Wedidit

Apocalypse now
8.0
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and Shlohmo feels fine. Well not quite – this album was inspired by doomsday cults after all – but Californian beatsmith Henry Laufer doesn’t sound quite as pissed off as he did on 2015’s ‘Dark Red’ LP. Sure, the album’s concept births some intense moments – the aptly-named ‘Headache’ and ‘Panic Attack’ live up to their titles with guitars like bombs crashing through the ceiling and palpitating IDM rhythms respectively. But elsewhere he seems less interested in sounding like Armageddon than soundtracking its aftermath. ‘The Best Of Me’ feels like wandering through the hollowed-out shell of his alt. R&B production for Banks, ‘We Sat In The Car’ resembles a Teebs track defrosted after a nuclear winter and the ambient ‘Still Life’ closes ‘The End’ not with Shlohmo raging against the dying of the light, but reflecting peacefully on its passing.
Paul Clarke
Devlin - The Outcast

Devlin

The Outcast

Devlin Music

Return to raw rhymes
8.0
There aren’t many artists who could move from resolutely underground to collaborating with Ed Sheeran – and then rhyme convincingly about not selling-out. Dagenham’s grime and UK rap player Devlin is one such artist, because seven years after that top ten hit (‘Watchtower’), he’s producing authentic, furious records like ‘The Outcast’. After 2017’s soul-bearing ‘The Devil In’, this is the sound of Devlin going in hard and having fun again, as he admits on hefty lead single ‘Fun to Me’. But make no mistake, this is an intense album with a few twists along the way, like the weirdly infectious ‘Scratchlin’ and the 8-bit glitch in ‘Live in the Booth’. Really, though, this is a record by Devlin, for Devlin: “I wrote this song for you, how thoughtful. Just kidding, I don’t give a shit if you think that it’s awful,” he sneers. We don’t and it isn’t.
Tristan Parker
Weval - The Weight

Weval

The Weight

Kompakt

Out of the dance
7.0
For their second album on Kompakt, the Dutch duo of Harm Coolen and Merijn Scholte Albers cast themselves even more free from the dancefloor than 2016’s self-titled debut: rhythmic drones and well defined kick drums have gone and have been replaced by a nostalgic, beautifully disengaged style that encourages you to daydream. Their arranging ability remains, however, so there are many layers of depth to the likes of ‘Someday’, which sits somewhere between Caribou and chill wave. Elsewhere, ’Couldn’t Do It Better’ is a sparse track of heavenly ambient, while ‘Silence On The Wall’ is all glistening keys and drifting, heat-damaged pads that place you by a riverbank on a hot summer’s day. This is not dance producers trying their hands at an immersive soundtrack, but skilled musicians blurring the lines between jazz, hip-hop, ambient and electronic film scores with a real sense of storytelling.
Kristan J Caryl