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Albums - Issue 598

For You And I

Loraine James

For You And I

Hyperdub

Intense intimacy and frenetic beats
9.0
London-based artist Loraine James’s ‘For You And I’ details sensuality, fear, anxiety, joy, and sadness. It finds an apt home in British label Hyperdub, blending glitch, IDM, footwork, and ambient. Divided into two thematic strands, ‘For You And I’ explores being in a queer relationship in London, and of her upbringing and lived experience. The album artwork shows the estate where James grew up – the place where she started making music, learnt of her father and uncle's passing, and came out to her mother. Quick-witted bars and mantras punctuate the beats. On opener ‘Glitch Bitch’, she loops “bitch suck it up bitch, bitch level up bitch” atop glistening keys, and on ‘London Ting // Dark As Fuck’, rapper Le3 Black spits over a rough, bass-heavy instrumental, a sonic sketch of the city’s landscape. This frenetic energy switches from darkness – in the dubbed-out ‘So Scared and ‘Hand Drops’, James reveals her anxieties around public displays of affection – to light, with the lush vocals of singer Theo floating over shimmering chords and muted percussion. It’s in the contrasting tones that James’s production talents are most apparent. When Le3 Black steps up for a second, gritty appearance, on ‘My Future’, James uses warped pads to evoke fear and hesitancy. Two album highlights, ‘Scraping My Feet’ and ‘Sick 9’, throw us into a vortex of stuttering kicks, effusive 4/4 rhythms, and layered textures – a confident balancing of the experimental and the club-ready. Between the IDM headiness and snapping polyrhythms, the softer touches towards the end of the album are bliss – the chimes of ‘Vowel // Consonant’ are a welcome wash of electronica among the glitches – but then, more contrast, blending abrasive drum kicks and glossy vocal cuts. All told, ‘For You And I’ is fantastic work, blending youthful adventurousness and earnest intimacy.
Amy Fielding
Annica

Teebs

Annica

Brainfeeder

Painting with sound
8.0
Mtendere Mandowa’s third full-length for Brainfeeder sees him craft a complex suite of mournful pop, with help from Panda Bear, Thomas Stankiewicz, and Anna Wise. The unplaceability of this music emerges from how the beats (spectral and hopeful) and arrangements (minimal and spacey) are carefully laced together. Guest vocals agitate the arrangements - there’s Sudan Archives, on the molten ‘Black Dove’, and Panda Bear, on the gorgeous ‘Studie’ – in ways that give us a real sense of collaboration, going beyond typical cameo vocal appearances. It’s striking that the best parts of ‘Annica’ feel like departures from any of Teebs’s previous work. ‘Threads’ takes an almost medieval strain of noise and threads it over beautifully detailed beatless avant-folk, and ‘Prayers’ is all graininess and light, joy creeping out from the shadows. ‘Annica’ is deep as Teebs has ever gone, and feels essential.
Neil Kulkarni
Dawn Chorus

Jacques Greene

Dawn Chorus

LuckyMe

A sweet sorbet
7.5
French-Canadian producer Jacques Greene’s sound has a muted kind of luxury to it. In blending laconic R&B and pulsing deep house in the studio, you get the sense that he’d enjoy driving around some neon metropolis alone at night, listening to Sade – ‘Diamond Life’ and DJ Sprinkles – ‘120 Midtown Blues’ back-to-back. For his second album, he’s created a rich atmosphere. Deep house grooves and ambient electronica are washed over muted percussion and live strings, with bright flickers of soulful house and rap vocals that feel like an after party confessional, the latter from Canadian rapper-and-poet Cadence Weapon. By working with cinema composer Brian Reitzell and British cellist Oliver Coates, Greene’s keen understanding of how to delicately layer many elements within a track just blossoms here. It’s a sweet sorbet of an album, fizzing gently on the tongue.
Lauren Martin
Face To Phase

Rroxymore

Face To Phase

Don't be Afraid

Jazzy techno vapours
8.5
In her hometown of Montepellier, French producer rRoxymore grew up in a jazz-loving home and a father who was friends with Sun Ra. The radical experimentalism and passion for genre-bending compositions imbued in jazz has stayed with her every since – through her studies of acousmatic music in Paris, to her DJing in her long-term home of Berlin, and her own music, collaborating with Planningtorock and Paula Temple, and releasing EPs on Timedance, Noise Manifesto, and Don’t Be Afraid. On her debut album, mastered by Basic Channel co-founder Mark Ernestus, she weaves recordings of raw noise, nature, and musical objects from her custom sound-bank into eight tracks of vaporous dub minimalism, frenetic percussive beats, and jazzy jams. In looking at contemporary underground house and techno from this multidisciplinary viewpoint, rRoxymore fills ‘Face To Phase’ with plenty of delightful, original ideas.
Lauren Martin
Look Up Sharp

Carla Dal Forno

Look Up Sharp

Kallista Records

Intimate downbeat reflections
8.0
From her early releases on doom-laden British label Blackest Ever Black to her latest self-released LP, ‘Look Up Sharp’, London-based Carla dal Forno’s DIY aesthetics have remained prevalent; think home studio recordings of low-slung bass guitar strums, intimate and melancholy vocals, and minimalistic yet expansive synth soundscapes. ‘Look Up Sharp’ feels naturally contemporary while reflecting glimmers of the past. ‘Don’t Follow Me’ begins with field recordings of fireworks juxtaposed with Forno’s ethereal vocals – her soft, reverbed tones that sail across the album – while ‘Took A Long Time’ is pensive, focusing on atmospherics and psychedelic synths. ‘Heart Of Hearts’ is a truly moving piece of music, with poignant strings building tension and emotion. As a whole, ‘Look Up Sharp’ breathes intimately down your neck: personal and comforting, while portraying strength and independence.
Anna Wall
Photonz Nuit

Photonz

Nuit

Dark Entries

Night moves
9.0
Directly after Violet’s impressive first album ‘Bed Of Roses’ comes a Dark Entries debut from another Portuguese talent. Lisbon’s Photonz has recorded for an enviable array of labels, from Don’t Be Afraid to Violet’s Naïve imprint, and on ‘Nuit’, he expands his repertoire, mixing various genres but always adding the otherworldliness that has become a signature. ‘Xentra’ has a percussive bustle that nods to his city’s kuduro sound, slowed and allied to xenomorphic synth sequences; ‘Shifting Symbols’ is an almost waltz-time breakbeat piece with spooky braindance riffs. Fans of his club material won’t be disappointed, though, as the superb ‘Ode To Nuit’ builds on his trippy take on NYC house, while the acid laced ‘Shakti’ is a spine-tingling epic. Photonz puts plenty of intelligence and heart into his music, but as the brilliant ‘Nuit’ proves, it’s never at the expense of dancefloor appeal.
Ben Murphy
Offworld

Special Request

Offworld

Houndstooth

Sugary sci-fi dreams
8.0
Paul Woolford is having himself quite a year. ‘Offworld’ is the third of four Special Request albums he’s promised for 2019, and it’s rooted in a simple premise: “What if Jam & Lewis signed to Metroplex?” Over the course of seven tracks, Woolford aims to find out, calling up the spirit of Inner City-esque techno-pop and marrying the sci-fi daydreams of early Detroit techno with shameless synth swells, sugary trance melodies, joyous vocal turns, and the undeniable cool of late-’80s electronic R&B, with all of its requisite snaps and claps. The music is absolutely dripping in nostalgia – the LP even closes with a fresh remix of UK outfit The Grid and their 1990 rave-pop gem ‘Floatation’ – yet the album never feels like an empty exercise. It’s more like a celebration, and an impeccable one at that.
Shawn Reynaldo
Order Is Chaos

Insolate

Order Is Chaos

Out Of Place

Powerhouse Croatian techno
7.5
A veritable powerhouse of the Croatian techno scene, Insolate has been establishing a global presence as a DJ and producer for over 20 years, delivering as a label boss at Out Of Place and the creative force behind their electrifying Traum events. Her debut album, ‘Order Is Chaos’, is a perfectly timed jewel of techno brilliance. A synapse jerking work from a veteran artist at her most effective, ‘Order Is Chaos’ sways and shudders from floor-obliterating bangers – like the acid-drenched ‘Circulation’, ‘Monolith’ featuring Matrixxman, and signature track ‘Lust’ – through to Nicholas Jaar-esque detours like ‘Mistakes Make Us Human’, which features trans-dimensional vocals by Sara Reinar. An all guns blazing debut, Insolate showcases her unique, brooding, and rough aesthetic.
Lauren Martin
Scrolls

Complete Walkthru

Scrolls

Numbers

8.5
Max McFerren’s excellent third album – his first for the Glaswegian imprint Numbers – finds the former New Yorker in a pensive mood, having upped sticks from the party epicentres of Brooklyn and Manhattan to rural South Carolina as he was formulating this latest work. ‘Lean In’ has clipped electric glockenspiel sounds, a busted up breakbeat, and warm sub, while ‘Honey Moon’ is all skittering, deep-layered percussion and voluminous, spinning piano chords. Expansive, ambient interlude ‘Leavin’ Church Early’ bleeds into ‘Believe I Can Do This’, a frisky, beguilingly wonky house vibe with rough-hewn lo-fi synth, only one of two tracks employing a four-to-the-floor kick. The other, the subtly frantic ‘Family By 22’ gets a burst of sturdy, upbeat techno out of the way in barely two minutes. ‘Linking Back’, the concise closer, with its filtered out break and synthetic bleeps, harks back to a distant rave. Apt, perhaps.
Ben Arnold
Timelines

Instra:mental

Timelines

Nonplus

Cinematic drum and bass
8.0
Beyond the slight disappointment that this isn’t new material, the question is: have these tracks stood the test of time? Produced during the late noughties, when Instra:mental and dBridge’s Club Autonomic podcasts, label, and events were revitalising a drum & bass scene that had become stagnant, simplified, and brash. The tracks on ‘Timelines’ range from classics of the era (the melancholic futurescape of ‘Watching You’, the cinematic percussiveness of ‘Pacific Heights’) to rare gems (the oceanic ‘Shine’ and technoid ‘Encke Gap’). The answer, of course, is that they do. Not just lush and thought provoking, many of the productions remain sonically and structurally imaginative by today’s standards. With the cyclical nature of music, and the daily drudgery of current affairs, the return of such a considered and emotive approach feels poignant. Now, about that new material...
Ben Hindle
Utility

Barker

Utility

Ostgut Ton

Dizzingly modern
9.0
Berghain resident and Leisure System co-founder Sam Barker has described his own approach as utilitarian. Ironically, it’s a description that could well be levelled at so much club music, often served up solely with DJ sets in mind. Barker’s ‘Utility’, though, sees its aim as being both a “pleasure-maximizer and consciousness-expander”, not just club furniture. Picking up from where his 2018 Ostgut Ton debut EP ‘Unbiasing’ left off, Barker pulls focus away from club genrefication by dissolving kick drums, letting a setup of modular synths along with self-built mechanical instruments and plate reverbs do the talking. The result harkens back to the proto-techno likes of Klaus Schulze, with synth pulsations driving every track bliss-ward. The arpeggiated sense of rhythm is strong enough that the kick drums are never missed, and Barker always gets heart, head, and feet buzzing with pleasure.
Tristan Bath
Topdown Dialectic

Topdown Dialectic

Vol. 2

Peak Oil

Drowning in dub
8.0
Anonymous artists are more likely to inspire eye-rolls than enthusiasm these days, yet Topdown Dialectic appears to be thriving in the shadows. The American producer and affiliate of the similarly anonymous Aught tape collective (that’s essentially the extent of the available biography) turned a lot of heads with last year’s self-titled album of dub-techno alchemy, and ‘Vol. 2’, a collection of eight untitled tracks (all of them exactly five minutes in length), finds them operating in similarly murky territory. In fairness, dub techno is far too bland of a descriptor for this album, which offers up a pastiche of smeared melodies, haunted vocal snippets, intermittent static, and echoing rhythms that's warmly inviting and subtly disorienting. It’s akin to walking along the bottom of a swimming pool, and although the danger of drowning is real, there’s no denying the wonder of the experience.
Shawn Reynaldo
Volume Massimo

Alessandro Cortini

Volume Massimo

Mute

One louder
8.0
Previously, Bologna-born, LA-based Alessandro Cortini was best known as the keyboardist for electro-rockers Nine Inch Nails, but in recent years, he’s garnered a big fan-base of his own. His prolific solo career is focused on reflective, instrumental electronics, yet maintains a depth of emotion drawn from his time contributing to songs in the band. Now signed to Mute, ‘Volume Massimo’ amplifies Cortini’s sound to stadium levels. So while ‘Amaro Amore’ has the burbling, analogue synth fuzz you might expect, there’s also a raw melancholic feeling you can imagine Depeche Mode seizing upon. ‘Sabbia’ has an enjoyably distorted synth figure interjecting over thrumming machine noise and a crushing beat, while the touches of guitar make it sound more like post-rock than anything else. While he may flirt with epic melodies, they’re always masked by distortion: a juxtaposition that makes ‘Volume Massimo’ a real pleasure.
Ben Murphy
Zonal

Zonal

Wrecked

Relapse Records

An industrial triple threat
8.0
When the infamous duo of JK Flesh and The Bug reunited in 2017 to form ZONAL, it wasn’t long before their enveloping and brutal live sets became the talk of the underground once again. The pair carved a definitive niche in the ’90s as Techno Animal, merging the sounds of industrial hip-hop, noise, extreme metal, and dub. Three decades later on ‘Wretched’, their debut album under the new moniker, the duo still navigate the cavernous depths of distortion with unparalleled expertise. Joining them on the album is Moor Mother. Like them, the Philadelphia Afrofuturist poet, rapper, producer, and activist is well acquainted with sonic aggression. Her ensnaring vocals dominate the album’s first half, echoing through the halls of noise and propped up by ferocious beats. The following six tracks drag you even further into instrumental darkness. Relentless, all-encompassing, irresistible.
Eoin Murray