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Albums - Issue 593

Holly Herndon - Proto

Holly Herndon

Proto

4AD

Computer love
8.0
Rather than asking what machines can do for us, maybe we should be asking what we can do for them. This seems to have been the thinking of experimental producer and composer Holly Herndon and cohorts, who’ve been nurturing and teaching an AI system about the wonders of the human voice, in order to make it a key performer on her third album. Known as Spawn, the “AI baby” (as Herndon calls it) effectively becomes a member of a vocalist ensemble on the record – part of Hendon’s plan to show how technology can, in fact, be a humanising force. Thus, ‘Proto’ is driven by scores of voices, some simple or ghostly, some manipulated beyond recognition. Ethereal electronica swirls underneath most tracks, while some are stripped down to the pure vocals, such the life-affirming ‘Frontier’, based on the Sacred Harp choral tradition, which Hendon then peppers with glitchy beats. Sonically, ‘Proto’ is as avant-garde as we’ve come to expect from Hendon’s wild and mighty brain, but most of the album’s wayward leanings are tempered by plenty of beauty and harmony, such as the uplifting, punchy ‘Eternal’. As well as providing melody, voice is used as a primary source of rhythm on ‘Proto’, notably on the intensely jittery ‘Godmother’ (featuring hyper-progressive producer Jlin), a single from late 2018 using beatboxing snippets that Spawn derived from Hendon’s speech. It’s an unapologetically awkward listen, intended to shed light on the machine-learning process. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the human ends and the AI starts on ‘Proto’, which is all part of the fun. But for all the sci-fi-esque tech explorations used in its creation, it’s actually a very warm and human-sounding album – which again is the point. If the machines sound as good as this when they take over and enslave us, things won’t be so bad.
Tristan Parker
Ishmael Ensemble - A State of Flow

Ishmael Ensemble

A State of Flow

Severn Songs Records

Roll out
8.0
Bristol's Pete Cunningham – the saxophonist and bandleader of Ishmael Ensemble – brings together this debut set, following plaudits from everyone from Carl Craig to Caribou. 'A State of Flow' follows the 'Severn Songs' collection of tracks released earlier this year, all inspired by his home and the south west. There are nods to that here. 'Siren!' blazes with double bass and live breaks that instantly recall Roni Size and Reprazent, coupled with Cunningham's smoky horns. 'Full Circle' (another nod to Size maybe?) rolls with broken percussion and a heart-tugging vocal from Holysseus Fly, building to a chaotic psych wig out. 'Lapwing' introduces a four-four kick and echoes of Dan Snaith's Caribou project, an enveloping bass and ambient, hypnotic synths coupling with jazz chords. 'Yellow House', with vocals from Yama Warashi, readjusts the time signatures, intricate and complex, produced in cinematic widescreen. It's challenging, and all the more satisfying for that.
Ben Arnold
Ellen Allien - Alientronic

Ellen Allien

Alientronic

Bpitch Control

For the energy crew
7.0
‘Everything in its place’ could summarise Berlin veteran Ellen Allien’s entire career. Standout residencies at iconic venues in multiple countries, the boundless energy that always seems to accompany her sets, making frenzied fun from sledgehammer seriousness, a BPitch back catalogue defined by open-minded curation of excellent cuts across a breadth of styles, and pin-point accurate productions – whether 40 minutes of trippy experimentations (‘LISm’) or surreal electronic pop (‘Dust’). ‘Alientronic’ picks up where its predecessor – 2017’s ‘Nost’ – left off, and by that we mean a return to the roots of a name who has been part of Berlin’s raw, warehouse-y underground for longer than many have been legally allowed to drink. Less concerned with vast sonic explorations, this collection represents the stalwart’s vibe during a very frantic, very sweaty 6am set. Electro futurism on ‘Stimulation’, the broken beats and dark yet subtly-euphoric tones of ‘Exit To Humanity’, ’M.D.M.A.’ and ‘Electronic Joy’’s relentless atmospheric techno, punchy acidic arpeggiation dominating ‘Bowie In Harmony’, and ‘Empathy’’s spacey, almost-cinematic opening. Targeting dancefloor and dancefloor alone, here are eight tracks of might made for the stamina crew, by one of their long-standing leaders.
Martin Guttridge-Hewitt
Kez YM - Cross Section

Kez YM

Cross Section

Faces Records

Moving house
8.5
Berlin-via-Japan's Kazuki Yamaguchi has been stolidly chipping away at the coal face of house music since the late 2000s for the likes of Gerd's 4 Lux, Berlin Bass Collective, Cologne's Yore and Leicester's hidden gem City Fly. His debut long-player, for MCDE man Pablo Valentino's Faces, has been a fair while coming, but worth every second of the wait. From the first swinging Jersey beats and off-beat chords of opener 'Console Swing', you're fully locked in. 'Feel The Vibe' has warm organs, sliced and diced vocals and blasts of shining brass. 'Music Is Playing' is that wonky stripe of weirdo house to get Theo Parrish and Dixon Jr crowd on side. 'Thru The Night' is clamorous jazz mastery, while 'New Skyline' reverses its way to discotheque glory, a dusty, oddball vibe to tip the party people over the edge. Blazing.
Ben Arnold
Caterina Barbieri - Ecstatic Computation

Caterina Barbieri

Ecstatic Computation

Editions Mego

Computer love
9.0
Italian composer Caterina Barbieri creates deeply emotive and life-affirming music on this aptly named LP on the always excellent, future-facing Editions Mego label. With machines as her guide, she is able to create simple patterns that propel forward as they subtly evolve. Opener ‘Fantas’ mostly relies on one motif throughout, but the way it changes brings to mind a myriad of different feelings throughout its trance-like repetition and constant ebb and flow. Similar principles are used on the other pieces, and elements of modern deconstructed club music and trance ripple throughout. The human voice even makes an appearance on one of the most striking pieces, ‘Arrows Of Time’, where it is used to outline and arpeggiate a looping series of harpsichord chords. Barbieri is a master of conveying a lot with very little, and this release is one to come back to since it offers something new in each listen as so much can be left to interpretation.
Zara Wladawsky
Homemade Weapons - Gravity

Homemade Weapons

Gravity

Samurai

7.5
Though committed to grey minimalism, Andre Delgado likes to run busy, militaristic drum lines through his tracks. If he wanted to take ‘Gravity’ on the road, a drumming troupe could give it a whole new lease of life. ‘Lamia’ is anomalous – it’s a prime piece of deep half-time spaciousness with swelling low end and percussive micro-clutter that clangs like dustbin lids. The rest of ‘Gravity’ is more of a piece – ‘Zeitegeist’ is sheer pummelling, ‘Constants’ is gridlike lockstep, ‘Crewcut’ keeps its sinister mood simmering with buzzing airhangar-like mid-range and tribal dungeon kicks, while ‘Patrol’ is another barricade of precision-battering. ‘Networth’ and ‘Heretics’ should please Amenists, though arch traditionalists might find the micro-editing either too fussy or brutal. Still, spliced and diced with near-surgical rigour, Delgado’s straddling of containment and extremity is meticulous and monstrous.
Sunil Chauhan
Synkro - Images

Synkro

Images

Apollo

Atmospherics in full bloom
7.5
Manchester’s Synkro has a special talent for bass music embellished with dreamy soundscapes and incredible sound design, which he’s used to full effect for over than a decade (showcased on his recent ‘Memories’ anthology). ‘Images’ sees him exploring cinematic ambience in a format that’s less tethered to club-friendly formats, with ambient music from the ‘80s and ‘90s cited as influences (plus a recently acquired addiction to analogue gear). All the Synkro hallmarks are present – lush melodic soundscapes, evocative vocals simmering in the background and percussion layered with incredible detail – though the haunting atmospherics are pushed further to the fore. It’s all pristine quality, though it settles quickly into a loop and hits the same beats repeatedly. ‘Images’ is loaded with gorgeous ambient creations, it’s just a minor shame they don’t serve a higher purpose alongside each other.
Angus Paterson
Coco Bryce - Night On Earth

Coco Bryce

Night On Earth

Fresh86

Jungle wizard
9.0
Dutch producer Coco Bryce has been something of a pioneer of forward-thinking bass music for two decades, breaking off shards of breakbeat, drum ‘n’ bass, jungle and gabber to perfect his own unpredictable style as a DJ. But it’s the launch of his Myor imprint that has thrust Bryce into the limelight. It’s certainly deserved too, on the strength of new album ‘Night On Earth’. It’s obvious that Bryce is more than capable of crafting tracks that rattle bones and devastate dancefloors, easily found on any of his previous releases, but it’s his lightness of touch on this record that’s truly exquisite. The ambient jungle of ‘Wish We Didn’t’ hangs on an intoxicating vocal hook while the downtempo ‘Polar’ feels more like a brooding hip-hop instrumental, proving that Coco Bryce specialises in making bass music from another planet entirely.
Lee Wakefield
Basic Rhythm - On The Threshold

Basic Rhythm

On The Threshold

Planet Mu

Appetite for deconstruction
7.0
Anthoney Hart’s vision of the hardcore records he span on Essex pirate radio in the ‘90s might be blurred, but not with the rose tint of nostalgia. Rather, the red-eyed feeling of his third Basic Rhythm album is paranoia: the urban malaise conveyed by the grime MCs on 2018’s ‘East Man’ LP here communicated in more abstract forms. ‘A New Consciousness’ uses the same sample as Photek’s 1994 classic ‘Consciousness’, but the beats sound drugged and queasy before ‘Edge Of Darkness’s searing bassline tips you into the void. While ‘Slice Neck’ and ‘Fi Di Gal’ build breezeblock bass and relentless beats into solid walls of sound, ‘Yeah I Like It’ and ‘I Want You’ pull things apart, leaving plenty of space between the crawling rhythms and soulful vocal snippets. That makes them easier on the ears, but Basic Rhythm’s hardcore is in no way going soft.
Paul Clarke
Skittles - Poor On Purpose

Skittles

Poor On Purpose

Propatop

Mancunian goodness
9.0
Part of what makes so much of what’s coming out of Manchester at the moment (IAMDDB, Levelz, Black Josh, Mouse Outfit) so damn addictive is its sheer rampaging confidence, its self-sufficiency, its Manc self-assurance and indifference to what industry radars are attuned to. Skittles moves with some of those people but he’s got his own uniquely poised attitude, his own mordant, slightly introverted vision which finds its glorious flowering on this new set of self-produced beats and instrumentals laced with his utterly engrossing rhymes. Like so much of what’s so thrilling about Mancunian music at the moment Skittles sees no barriers, his sound fluidly melding grime (‘I Am The Danger’), electronic music, hip-hop and even ambient folk (‘Murder In People’) to frame his fractured, often hilarious, narratives from Manchester’s backstreets. If you’re not keeping your ears pointed up the M6, you’re missing out on some of the greatest UK music at the moment. Retune yourself.
Neil Kulkarni
HVL - Rhythmic Sonatas

HVL

Rhythmic Sonatas

Bassiani

Powerful lines
9.0
The conflict from the government that Georgian club Bassiani have faced in the past and a near closure last year – resulting in thousands from the electronic music community gathering to protest outside the parliament building of Tbisili – will go down in history. HVL's album illuminates a strong staying power that's impossible to be reckoned with. Beckoning memories from the dancefloor from his years as a resident, it's charged with undulating 303 acid lines, expressive melodies and urgent breaks. From the outset, ‘Eyes In The Sky’ is powerfully commanding; clattering drums and pulsating modular melodies are manipulated throughout the tracks expansive landscape. ‘Noboru’s Arp’ displays beautiful arpeggiations that drift across subtle electro beats, as intricate as it is compelling. There’s never a dull moment with junctures like the dreamy vocal skit 'Repeated Eye Contact' providing a surprise twist. Iconic.
Anna Wall
Bibio - Ribbons

Bibio

Ribbons

Warp

Country file
7.0
Ironically, while ‘folktronica’ introduced many people under 40 whose idea of ‘rave’ isn’t morris dancing to folk music – the idea of sampling traditional acoustic ballads over cut-up beats now feels as dated as your uncle’s Pentangle records did before they became cool again. But while Four Tet has largely forsaken the folk for the electronica in the last 15 years, after eight albums which also delved into squelchy funk and ambient, for ‘Ribbons’ folktronica’s other main progenitor Bibio aka Stephen Wilkinson has pretty much put down the beats to pick up a mandolin and go almost fully Fairport Convention. Tracks like ‘Curls’ and ‘Patchouli May’ paint enchanting green and pleasant scenes with fiddles, fey vocals and finger-picked guitar, but ‘Ribbons’ never gets chocolate box twee, since the ‘70s funk daubings on ‘Old Graffiti’ or ‘Pretty Ribbons And Lovely Flowers’ smeared electronics make for a more varied selection.
Paul Clarke

Stanton Warriors

Rise

New State

9.0
With 20 massive years in the game, it’s inspiring to know that the Stantons are still writing career and genre defining music. In the 3 short years since their last full-length, the scene has blown through countless “trends”, and it’s with this in mind that this album sounds so important. From the first listen, it’s clear that Mark & Dominic remain blissfully unaware of the anxieties of trying to fit in. Enjoying their shackle free creative space, they’ve delivered a truly grand trip to the disco with Summer garage anthems, deep late-night grooves and the peak-time bass jams they’re praised for. Rise has something for everyone, and the impeccable songwriting means this album will be adored for years to come. The planets aligned perfectly for the Stanton Warriors here, this album is 100% their sound and it’s sounding more current than ever.
Olly Gee
Stanton Warriors - Rise

Stanton Warriors

Rise

NewState

Round up the troops
9.0
With 20 massive years in the game, it’s inspiring to know that the Stantons are still writing career and genre-defining music. In the three short years since their last full-length, the scene has blown through countless ‘trends,’ and it’s with this in mind that this album sounds so important. From the first listen, it’s clear that Mark and Dominic remain blissfully unaware of the anxieties of trying to fit in. Enjoying their shackle-free creative space, they’ve delivered a truly grand trip to the disco with summer garage anthems, deep late-night grooves and the peak-time bass jams they’re praised for. ‘Rise’ has something for everyone, and the impeccable songwriting means this album will be adored for years to come. The planets aligned perfectly for the Stanton Warriors here. This album is 100% their sound, and it’s sounding more current than ever.
Olly Gee
Guti - The Year Of The Conga

Guti

The Year Of The Conga

Cuttin' Headz

Get in line
7.0
Argentinian DJ/producer Guti has always been a purveyor of rhythm; think percussive house music made for the clubs. His latest album is no exception. Just like the title suggests, it’s conga mayhem from the outset. ‘AEE’ couples them with tough machine hi-hats, while ‘La Orchestra Fantasma’ heads back to his Latin roots with hi-octane trumpets, wild piano lines (Guti is a classically trained jazz pianist) and other live instruments. ‘Like That’s tribal drums roll under recurring vox samples, but as with all the tracks never straying from club playability. Having had many of these cuts tested out by The Martinez Brothers, a release on their label Cuttin Headz seems like a perfect fit. The label is currently in high demand, and this marks the first album release on the imprint. Maybe this really could be the year of the conga…?
Anna Wall
Kedr Livanskiy - Your Need

Kedr Livanskiy

Your Need

2MR

Genre-blending at its finest
8.5
What with the current narrative of Russia being an evil power intent with destroying the West, it’s easy to forget that it’s also a powerhouse of electronic music. At the heart of Moscow’s burgeoning underground scene is singer/producer Kedr Livanskiy, a former punk musician who is now embracing more modern dance music in all its multitudinous strands. On ‘Your Need’, her second album, Livanskiy drapes her mother-tongue vocal over classy house (‘Sky Kisses’), ‘80s, ghetto house (‘Bounce 2’), breakbeat, and even trance meets dub (‘Your Need’). There’s a lot of dub, actually, and many of ‘Your Need’s cuts feel rooted in UK-originating sounds, though she’s fiercely experimental with them. When you have so many styles intermingling, it’s sometimes hard to get a sense of the work as a whole, but Livanskiy cleverly weaves a unifying thread throughout the LP. You ‘need’ to listen to this.
Felicity Martin