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Albums - Issue 602

Workaround

Beatrice Dillon

Workaround

P A N

A debut like nothing else
8.5
It can sometimes feel like electronic music is stuck in an endless time loop, as even the most talented producers doggedly recycle the sounds of the past. Beatrice Dillon, however, seems committed to making something new. Following much-loved cassettes, EPs and collaborations with the likes of Call Super and Rupert Clervaux, she’s delivered her highly anticipated debut album ‘Workaround’, which quite simply sounds like nothing else. If the album does have a historical touchstone, it’s dub music. ‘Workaround’ may not resemble a King Tubby record, but Dillon has an affinity for hypnotically loping rhythms and thick sheets of bass. There’s a structure in place — the entire record is locked at 150bpm — yet her music remains light and supple; eschewing dub’s usual fog of echo and reverb, Dillon luxuriates in blank space, leaving room for her polyrhythms to dart and dance about. Bassweight may be at the foundation of ‘Workaround’, but nimble percussion defines it. Sharp, snappy and full of energy, Dillon’s beats may adhere to the grid, but only reluctantly, giving the album an oddly organic, jazz-like feel, an accomplishment for something so meticulously constructed. The human touches don’t end there, as ‘Workaround’ also features skilled contributions from artists like bhangra veteran Kuljit Bhamra (tabla), Jonny Lam (steel-pedal guitar) and Lucy Railton (cello), lending the album a hearty dose of “real” instrumentation, along with a sound palette that’s unique to UK club music. Nevertheless, the LP still pertains to that sphere; other guests include Laurel Halo, Batu and Untold, and the stabby synths of songs like ‘Clouds Strum’ and ‘Workaround Eight’ bring to mind Classical Curves-era Jam City. ‘Workaround’ is rich in these kinds of small references to electronic music’s past and present, yet Dillon never feels beholden to them. Her focus is set squarely on the future.
Shawn Reynaldo
Shopping

Shopping

All or Nothing

Fatcat Records

Minimalist punk with synth hooks
7.0
Shopping’s fourth album ‘All or Nothing’ is easily their strongest work to date. Where their previous records felt unpolished and stifled, but there appears to be more freedom to play around on this 10-track album. Using a template they’ve carved out - minimalist, dance-infused, punk-inspired - the British trio’s energy is uplifting. Funky bass-lines, minimal drums and off-kilter synths all combine to create catchy beats layered underneath politicised lyrics. Their lyrics sound more confident than ever before, too. ‘Lies’, ‘For Your Pleasure’ and ‘Initiative’ are stand-out songs on an album peppered with infectious hooks. On multiple listens, the album’s tracks do end up sounding too similar to one another, and having guests or more varied instrumentation would have helped elevate the project. But if nothing else, ‘All For Nothing’ is a hopeful call to arms for the future of Shopping.
Dhruva Balram
Calypso

Gigi Masin

Calypso

Apollo Records

An Italian ambient master
8.5
One of the welcome effects of the ambient revival has been the unearthing of unheard gems of the 1980s. When the Music From Memory label released a collection of enigmatic Venetian artist Gigi Masin’s works in 2014, it generated demand for more of his material. Sampled by everyone from Björk to Post Malone, after reissuing his private press 1986 record ‘Wind’, Masin stepped into the spotlight as never before. ‘Calypso’, though, is his most high profile appearance yet, landing on R&S’ down-tempo label Apollo and connecting the dots between the genre’s history and present. It’s also among Masin’s best ever records, combining a breath-taking emotional power with a sleeker electronic sound. The haunting synths, tiny details and trip-hop beats of ‘Bellamore’ have a wistful tone, but the beatless ‘Enter Venus’ is a psychedelic, almost techno track. The trumpet and elysian atmosphere of ‘Nefertiti’ evoke the horn playing of Peter Zummo or Jon Hassell, while ‘Khalifa Golf Club’ threads grand piano notes through a gently evolving electronic sequence. There are shades of Nils Frahm’s classical influence, touches of jazz, but ‘Calypso’ is hard to categorise. Laidback but never background, Gigi Masin’s music may be chilled, but there’s warmth at its heart.
Ben Murphy
Dark Matter

Moses Boyd

Dark Matter

Exodus Records

The jazz drummer looks further
8.5
A warm, textured sound runs throughout Moses Boyd’s ‘Dark Matter’: 10 tracks that showcase the South London drummer’s gifts while inviting kindred spirits in as guests. Joe Armon-Jones’ keys elevate ‘2 Far Gone’; Obongjayar’s vocals create the haunting atmosphere on ‘Dancing In The Dark’ while Poppy Ajudha’s shape-shifting voice on ‘Shades of You’ is infectious. Boyd’s drumming crafting melodies and a tactile, intense energy, but another talent of his is knowing when to let his guests shine, taking up space only when he deems it appropriate. There’s a jazz-kissed effect to ‘Dark Matter’, but Boyd blends in other sounds remarkably well: elements of reggae and dub rub up against dancehall and drum & bass, and there’s even smatterings of techno, house and garage. Deftly, it sounds like an ode to the various genres that the UK can claim and champion.
Dhruva Balram
Jon Hassell

Jon Hassell

Flash Of The Spirit

Tak:Til

A seminal work, reissued
8.5
A reissue of the 1987 collaborative album between American trumpeter and composer Jon Hassell and the Farafina percussion group from Burkina Faso, ‘Flash Of The Spirit’ seems to belong outside of any specific time and place. Building on the groundwork Miles Davis began on ‘Bitches Brew’ – the mercurial trumpet playing of his avowed hero has clearly influenced Hassell’s style – and his own collaborations with Brian Eno, Hassell created the concept of the fourth world: melding global music with electronics for what he called a “primitive/futuristic” sound. On ‘A Vampire Dances (Symmetry)’ and ‘Like Warriors Everywhere (Courage)’, Farafina’s polyrhythms weave around Hassell’s quicksilver trumpet playing and prismatic electronics: the results sound almost as alien as they do African, drawing from traditional music and the fertile ground of Afrofuturism to present a vision of a brave new world.
Paul Clarke
Freaks & Beaks

CLAUDE VONSTROKE

Freaks & Beaks

Dirtybird Records

Celebrations and crowd pleasers
7.0
It’s interesting that in the early days of Dirtybird, it embodied the sound of house and techno loosening its tie and embracing a sense of fun. Over the past decade, it’s evolved into something else. While not held in quite the same regard by dance music’s cultural gatekeepers, it remains an important label, leading a vibrant new generation of US house music. Claude VonStroke positions ‘Freaks & Beaks’ as a celebration of Dirtybird's 15th anniversary; as such, it’s fittingly celebratory, a dancefloor-focussed affair that's free of pretensions, baked with that same sense of fun (by now a familiar aesthetic). ‘Freaks Don’t Fail’ sets the tone early with its sweaty, hands-in-the-air party vibes, loaded up with bottom-end bass injections to assist its party grooves and wonky synth stabs cascading up and down the melodic spectrum.
Angus Paterson
Allied

Allied

Kailash

MethLab Recordings

Darker drum & bass
8.0
The Brighton-based producer and DJ Allied has been releasing future-facing leftfield bass music since 2007, and is finally dropping his debut album. A longform deep dive into clattering rhythms and epic soundscapes, ‘Kailash’ exists somewhere a way out on the darker fringes of drum & bass. On standout productions like ‘Dream State,’ wisps of tenderness are punctuated by crisp, funky beats to create something equally dancefloor-worthy and meditative. Elsewhere, on title track ‘Kailash’ and ‘Mumaration,’ traces of dub and Detroit techno peek through Allied’s productions, fusing their moody and expansive tones with the sleekness and driving tempos of drum & bass. His debut album may have been a long time coming, but it’s also framed as an end point: ‘Kailash’ will also be the very last release on London’s MethLab Recordings label before they, and the wider MethLab collective, shut down.
Zara Wladawsky
Emika

Emika

Klavírní Temná

Emika Records

Dark piano ambience
8.5
Berlin-based British-Czech artist Emika is known for being versatile. She’s released early dubstep infusions on Ninja Tune and left-leaning pop records on her own label, but she’s made some of her most intimate work sitting at the piano, tapping into her classical training. On her 2015 neo-classical album ‘Klavírní’, she went back to her parent’s home and fell in love with her childhood piano all over again. On ‘Klavírní Temná’, which translates loosely from Czech to “dark piano”, she explores feelings around motherhood and her fear of losing her identity and creativity. The album has a very particular tone - somewhat haunting, some - but her piano-playing is versatile, moving between airy and sweet to dense and impassioned. It’s all coated in the warbles of analogue tapes. ‘Klavírní Temná’ feels sincere, with Emika looking for catharsis through sound.
Tanya Akinola
MHYSA

MHYSA

NEVAEH

Hyperdub

Confessional storytelling through glitched R&B
7.5
MHYSA describes her debut album on Hyperdub as “a prayer for Black women and femmes to be taken to or find a new and better world away from the apocalypse”. As her voice weaves through found sounds and skeletal rhythms, listening to ‘NEVAEH’ feels like reading through the Maryland-born artist’s diary. Her lyrics come alive on beds of glowing ambience and melancholic strains of R&B. Her acapellas really shine - her interlude and reprise covers of ‘When The Saints’, have an eerie quality to them - and her production teases at more ruggedc club sounds, like the off-kilter beat of trap-leaning anthem ‘Sanaa Lathan’ and the warm strings and twinkling keys of ‘bbygurl’. In blending experimental electronic techniques into her R&B storytelling - of sex and sensuality, self love and Black empowerment - MHYSA’s made a confessional album for a new age.
Amy Fielding
Sign Libra

Sign Libra

Sea to Sea

RVNG Intl.

Synths for the cosmos
8.0
At music school in her hometown of Riga, Agata Melnikova aka Sign Libra was inspired by composers like Sergey Prokofiev, who imbued sonic personalities onto characters and environments. On her debut album ‘Closer to the Equator’, the Latvian explored a similar working process, putting a rainforest under a microscopic lens and coating it with a synthesized identity. On ‘Sea to Sea’, she focuses on the cosmos. Meditating over the moon’s darkest plains, which early astronomers believed to be masses of black seas, Melnikova’s concept is to breathe life into this dark liquid, with dripping, twinkling synths and flutes and her angelic vocal refrains. As a second album, it’s a strong effort, and Sign Libra’s unconventional and mystical approach to production is refreshing. A recommended listen for fans of ecological ambience, early Grimes and new-age dream pop.
Tanya Akinola
Rejoicer

Rejoicer

Spiritual Sleaze

Stones Throw

Tantric or treat
6.0
Making a record inspired by yoga and meditation that doesn’t sound smugly self-satisfied is as difficult as doing the lotus pose. Tel Aviv-based producer Rejoicer just about manages to pull it off on his second album though, largely because the lotus that has seemingly most influenced him is the man the Brainfeeder label. Apart from a few slightly drippy vocal tracks this time, ‘Spiritual Sleaze’ sits in the same spot as 2018’s ‘Energy Dreams’ LP, with ‘Crystal Lagoon’ and ‘Aura Sight’ full of fluttering keys, languid bass and gently pattering percussion. Despite the album title there’s nothing dirty about it, with both vibe and production as wholesome as someone quaffing a quinoa smoothie. However, the blunted beats and gossamer melodies should still appeal to those whose idea of a Zen state is being able to reach both their beer and the remote control from the sofa.
Paul Clarke

Caribou

Suddenly

City Slang

Their strongest work yet
9.0
‘Suddenly’ sees Caribou take us on a trip through the last 30 years of Caribou’s musical life. ‘Sunny’s Time’ is grime-infused with a stripped-back piano instrumental. ‘New Jade’ is a stirring, late 2000’s shoegaze tune while ‘Home’ — with its chopped-up samples and four-to-the-floor production — sounds like it belongs on an early ’90s New York house record. Obscure samples fill the holes within this project, while restrained singing throughout allows for rest and recuperation before diving back into the pockets of frenetic energy. Effortlessly melding together UK funky, garage, house, shoegaze and indie-pop, it toes the line of each genre without dipping into any completely. With ‘Suddenly’, Caribou may have created a near-perfect project and his strongest album to date.
Dhruva Balram
Tristan Arp

Tristan Arp

Suggested Forms

Human Pitch

House jams loosened by global rhythms
8.0
Growing up in Detroit, Tristan Arp was probably one of those hyperactive kids who couldn’t sit still in class. Now in NYC, there’s a twitchy energy to his colourful creations. ‘Suggested Forms’ shifts away from familiar house and techno structures towards the loose-limbed rhythms of the Caribbean, Latin America and Southeast Asia, with a bit of shuffling UK spirit thrown in. While ‘Suggested Forms’ isn’t exactly new — it largely consists of tracks that were previously released across a series of digital-only EPs for the Human Pitch label (of which he’s a co-founder) — the music (both the Tristan Arp originals and the reworks from Machine Woman, Beta Librae and Kelman Duran) is undeniably infectious, employing a boisterous blend of clattering drum patterns and slinky synths that’s sure to get even the most uptight raver bopping along to the beat.
Shawn Reynaldo
Li Yilei

Li Yilei

Unabled Form

LTR Records

Sound art with trippy rhythms
7.0
Li Yilei is a London-based Chinese artist whose work with performance art and music production blurs the lines between experimental electronic environments and the gallery space, using collage techniques to turn field recordings into imaginative stories. On ‘Unabled Form’, her debut album on LTR Records, she uses off-kilter rhythms to anchor these experimental recordings: sound that give the album a hallucinatory effect, which often becomes discordant. Inspired by her environment, Li Yilei finds charm in the mundane movements of everyday life - muffled conversations, the hum of a train - and reshapes what’s familiar into new forms. Opener ‘Flow Scale’ feels like being street-side in bustling traffic, and closer ‘A Pose. Debate’ feels claustrophobic, full of serrated twangs. But these sounds are smartly structured around the album’s midpoint, which reaches skyward with fluttering synths and droning pads that cushion the ears.
Tanya Akinola