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Albums - Issue 614

Jimmy Edgar

Cheetah Bend

Innovative Leisure

Taking hip-hop to a new dimension
“WHAT do they want us to know about space and spaceships?” pondered Jimmy Edgar on Twitter just as 2020 was drawing to what was for some a very welcome close. “That there is no time. It’s all NOW. Yesterday is a NOW and tomorrow is a NOW. Knowing the NOW is knowing how to navigate.” During a year that many struggled to navigate, the Detroit-born, LA-based artist certainly had his compass out, plotting a bold course with New Reality Now, his latest label venture. Dropping metallic trap productions swaggering with sub, he produced for a succession of MCs — B La B, Adam Killa, Bloody Jay, Rizzoo Rizzoo, OG Maco, Nia Kay — and signed off the label’s first year with ‘Feng Shui For Minds’, a various artists comp that delved into neo-ambient, sitting somewhere between new age and club. All this music, however, was just paving the way for ‘Cheetah Bend’, Edgar’s first artist album since 2012’s ‘Majenta’, and a full-dive into his hybridised vision of modern hip-hop — a world where shape-shifting, liquid-metal Cyberdyne Systems beats are clothed in the fur coat of virtuoso West Coast funk. You may already have heard of the album’s better-known guests. Having co-produced Kidd Kenn’s ‘Shake Sum’ at the start of the year, Edgar returns to the studio with SOPHIE for ‘Metal’, g-funk for machine elves. ‘Bent’, featuring Hudson Mohawke, staggers woozily through unknown realms until discovering nirvana. And the freaked-out staccato of ‘Get Up’ perfectly compliments Detroit rapper Danny Brown’s calls to battle inertia. Yet these aren’t necessarily the star turns. Edgar may see echoes of his own precociousness in 16-year-old star-on-the-make Matt Ox, who declares “If you wanna be the boss, then you better know the cost” on ’Pause’, its lean bounce punctuated by beautiful, wistful moments suspended in time. This emo-spirit pervades ‘Ready2Die’ too, Messer’s grand vocal, somewhere between modern pop and noughties nu-metal, meshing perfectly with the light and shade of Edgar’s soaring high-end production — to sound every bit a chart hit. There’s not a duff appearance. ‘Crank’ starts with a hint of Edgar’s electro past, before Rochelle Jordan — who has previously worked with J-E-T-S, Edgar’s project with Machinedrum — hypnotises over glacially cool chords. Semma nails a club hook on the tectonic ‘Cheetah’ and Millie Go Lightly steps out of the shadow of guest features to showcase the mighty presence of her own voice on ‘Be With You’. The funk, meanwhile, is heavy for diamond-toothed rapper 24hrs on ‘Notice’, spaced-out synths hazing out into squelchy Moog bass, and Edgar reprises his partnership with B La B on ‘Turn’, tiny vocals edits punctuating the bounce, the wrought low-end vibing itself into your emotional centre. Having so often placed himself at the fore, this time Edgar has sunk deep into the producer chair. Maybe those are snatched echoes of his voice in ‘Have A Great Now!’, a sonic vision of the part of heaven Roger Troutman occupies. Left with just the music to express himself, however, seems to have distilled his essence more deeply than ever. Edgar has done sexy many times, but has he ever done it as tinglingly as the breakdown of ‘Zigzag’, glitch and whoops melting into a rush of complex feelings, his synth solo speaking a language your body understands even if your mind doesn’t? Listen back to 2002’s ‘Optimo & Mod Conformance For Men’ under his Morris Nightingale moniker — released two years before his debut album on Warp — and you suspect that this is the “NOW” Edgar has always wanted to manifest. Hip-hop is in his heart. And after hearing ‘Cheetah Bend’, he’ll no doubt be in hip-hop’s heart too. JOE ROBERTS
Joe Roberts

Pauline Anna Strom

Angel Tears In Sunlight

RVNG Intl.

A parting gift
While tragic that a collection envisaged as a return to music turned out to be a posthumous release, the final album by Bay Area musician Pauline Anna Strom — who passed in 2020 — nonetheless leaves an indelible impression. Though she’d stopped releasing music by the end of the ‘80s, ‘Angel Tears In Sunlight’ is evidence that the decades Strom spent cohabiting with her pet iguanas and synthesizers left the born-blind composer level- headed and very much in-tune with her gear. It remains miraculous to think of a blind synth player operating their machinery, and the sounds produced by Strom clearly stem from a long-nurtured intuition for the machines themselves. These nine hopeful instrumentals are a fitting elegy to and by Strom, building a peaceful tropical paradise of keyboards we can safely assume her pet iguanas will find soothing in her absence. You can too, of course. TRISTAN BATH
Tristan Bath

QOQEQA

AXUXA

Kebrada

Latin American electronics
The brilliant third release on Peruvian production crew Dengue Dengue Dengue’s label comes from a promising solo artist. QOQEQA is Daniel Valle-Riestra, best known as half of Animal Chuki. Like the label bosses, QOQEQA’s electronic productions draw influences from Latin American sounds, merging traditional organic rhythms with machine beats. On ‘Kilo’, plaintive riffs echo in seas of reverb over Afro-Latin drums, sub-bass hits and chants, like a cumbia track played on the deck of a space station. The futuristic ‘Kshanti’ has an oppressive synth pad laid over tapped-out hand percussion, while ‘CalaXucla’ is even more dubby, with its delayed plucks and mournful accordion-like electronics, and ‘Tutume’ makes a feature of Andean panpipes amid its broken beat groove. Influenced by Latin dance music it may be, though the general mood is more saudade than celebration. BEN MURPHY
Ben Murphy

Jon Hester

Converge Part II

Rekids

In need of a club
How do you reconcile the notion of an entire double-album worth of dancefloor weapons, during a time when the dancefloor has effectively ceased to exist? This conundrum presents itself when diving into the second volume of Jon Hester’s ‘Converge’ album project. Much like the first instalment that arrived on Rekids last year, ‘Converge Part II’ consists of driving DJ tools from start to finish; steely opener ‘Stealth’ sets the tone for a solid run of slammers. They are all tracks that bear the mark of genuine techno craftsmanship, with deeper efforts like ‘Wonder’ proving particularly strong. Ultimately though, there’s also little to conceptually tie these eight selections together. If there’s any justice in the world, Hester will get the opportunity to give his ‘Converge’ compositions a proper workout in the clubs this year. Fingers crossed for that. ANGUS THOMAS PATERSON
Angus Paterson

Soul Intent

Everything And Nothing

Dope Plates

Rave nostalgia
Soul Intent, the production alias of Alex Judd, has become a familiar name thanks to his refined but broad-ranging take on drum & bass. For the last 15 years, he’s put out beats on 31, Randall’s Mac II imprint and Commercial Suicide, among others. ‘Everything And Nothing’ is his second album, and arrives on his own ’90s-referencing Dope Plates label. It’s a nostalgic tribute to his first exposure to jungle via tape-packs and an older sibling’s CD collection, merging scalpel-sharp production expertise with classic rave motifs. ‘The Rude Stepper’ is an immediate highlight, evoking the early techstep of No U-Turn and Prototype with its clanking breaks and metallic b-lines, and ‘Need Your Love’ with Acid Lab is a monstrous Amen roller. But on ‘Deckard’s Lullaby’, Soul Intent shows he has a more sensitive side, latching Blade Runner synth atmospheres to hardcore rhythms. A time-warp joy. BEN MURPHY
Ben Murphy

Calibre

Feeling Normal

Signature

No drum & bass here
“Feeling normal” sings the famously introspective Calibre on the title track to his new album, skipping beats striding through a landscape of sad piano. Whether or not it’s a response to the pandemic, his 17th long-player does reveal a new normal: no drum & bass. Instead, spacious, weighty, meditative soundscapes explore two-step and dubstep. There are huge subs to swim in, Eastern-influenced opener ‘Barren’ or the steppy ‘Miami’, guest vocals from Cimone and DRS, and lush, dubby instrumentation, as on ‘Regular Bull’. Listen to ‘Man Got Sandwich’ and you’ll imagine yourself lost in the dark and smoke of Berghain circa 2008. ‘Wrong’, meanwhile, transmutes melancholy to euphoria. It’s deep, heady stuff, expertly produced. Then he throws in mid-range wobbler ‘Good Times’, the soulful female vocal paired with dirty bass, and you also have a standout anthem just waiting for the good times to return. JOE ROBERTS
Joe Roberts

Brijean

Feelings

Ghostly International

Laid-back pop
Remember how lovely it was to be beachside, chilling with friends, mojito in one hand and spliff in another? No, we don’t either. But if the chance to partake in such activities ever arises, this new album from percussionist Brijean Murphy and multi-instrumentalist Doug Stuart would make a splendid soundtrack. Building on the hazy lounge-pop of last year’s ‘Walkie Talkie’, the LP’s 11 cuts serve as a party-music dreamscape, with Murphy’s blissful vocals and subtly propulsive percussion work gliding over lush, shimmering instrumentation and laid-back rhythms that hint at warmer climes. But ‘Feelings’ steers well clear of the kind of cocktail-jazz banality that this kind of music can sometimes suffer — listen to the heavenly coos of ‘Day Dreaming’ or the gorgeously floating, exotica-tinged ‘Lathered In Gold’ and just try to resist. Better yet, just give in to its atmospheric charms. BRUCE TANTUM
Bruce Tantum

Muqata’a

Kamil Manqus كَامِل مَنْقوص

Hundebiss

Immersive experiments
Ramallah-based Muqata’a continues to create immersive and imperfect worlds out of an assortment of found and hardware sounds on his evocative fifth album. Fragments of field recordings and local radio are woven throughout each piece; presented quite musically at times, while creating tension with their jarring non-linearity in other moments. When Muqata’a’s beats come in, they cycle through different half-time hip-hop influences, frenzied drum & bass and beyond with the same sense of glitchy rawness and dynamic immediacy that make up the rest of his compositions. As with Muqata’a’s previous work, 'Kamil Manqus كَامِل مَنْقوص' is also a homage to his heritage, which is its own beautiful political statement, delivered with the grace and finesse of an artist whose star keeps shining brighter and brighter. ZARA WLADAWSKY
Zara Wladawsky

Femi Kuti & Made Kuti

Legacy+

Partisan Records

Afrobeat mutation
This is in fact two separate albums by two generations of Kutis — 'Stop the Hate’ by Femi (son of Fela) Kuti, and ‘For(e)ward’ by Made (son of Femi) Kuti — but releasing them as a single package is a pretty smart move for the Kuti family brand. At first glance, there’s not much to be surprised by across this 90 minutes of music from the son and grandson of Afrobeat’s originator, both seemingly slotting into their bloodline’s taste for ensemble singing, jumpy rhythm sections, funked-up guitars, horn sections, and sharp (or perhaps, simple) political messaging. Listen closer though, and Made’s record — on which he plays every single instrument, Prince-style — is a complex mutation of the Afrobeat DNA. The tunes and arrangements are more ambitious than anything Femi offers, but it’s hardly surprising considering Made’s formal musical training. TRISTAN BATH
Tristan Bath

DMX Krew

Loose Gears

Hypercolour

Leftfield bangers
Edward Upton’s high productivity of late shows no signs of abating. His latest DMX Krew record, and fourth for Hypercolour, again finds him exploring multiple styles, all shot through with vivid splashes of synth melody. ‘Dejected Ambient Twerp’, in contrast to its title, is a playful braindance jaunt with a perky bassline and pinging keys. ‘Loose Gear’ is a slow house lament with a moody acid riff at its heart, and ‘Solar Transit’ is a four-four electro cut that manages to reconcile oodles of funk with serious sci-fi keys. The child’s vocal on ‘Sounds Good’, and various other oddball moments across the record, remind us that Upton has a sense of humour, but it’s never at the expense of the tune. Best of all, though, are tracks like ‘The Bombardier’, with its heads-down metallic riff and straight-ahead beats. ‘Loose Gears’ is, as you’d expect, excellent. BEN MURPHY
Ben Murphy

John Carpenter

Lost Themes III: Alive After Death

Sacred Bones

Cinematic wonder
Cult legend, film director and synthwave pioneer John Carpenter returns with his first release in five years, and it is unsurprisingly excellent. The third instalment of his ‘Lost Themes’ series continues the collaboration between him and bandmates, Daniel Davies and son, Cody Carpenter. Even though these tracks weren’t written for a specific film, Carpenter still bestows a cinematic feel to everything he composes. His prowess for conjuring vivid settings and scenarios are consistently in a league of their own, and sound as fresh as when he started in the 1970s. Analogue synths glisten and soar as their arpeggios ebb and flow with tension, while orchestral and electronic pads accentuate these melodies with dramatic chords. When drums and guitar enter, they do so with a demonic funk that evokes the deliciously evil movie moments his sound defines. ZARA WLADAWSKY
Zara Wladawsky

Bad Colours

PINK

Bastard Jazz

Hip-hop meets house
Based in Brooklyn, but born in London and raised in Maryland, traces of all those places are in the music of Bad Colours, aka Ibe Soliman. There are elements of UK garage, Bmore, hip-hop and house on his debut album ‘PINK’, while tracks like ‘CMYK’ merge the melted synths of Tame Impala or Toro y Moi with pleasingly off-grid drums suggestive of the LA beats scene. Bad Colours’ in-between rhythms will be familiar to lovers of Kaytranada, Flying Lotus’ ‘Do The Astral Plane’ or Andres: ‘Cookin’ loops up a rap vocal with bouncy bass, while ‘Feelin’’, with Jarv Dee, has the MC spitting over wonky keys and a rolling groove. Elsewhere, ‘HEYYY’ is a slow jam that will satisfy Dam-Funk fans. It’s all executed with considerable style, but feels like Bad Colours still has yet to find his own sound. BEN MURPHY
Ben Murphy

DJ Spen

Soulful Storm

Quantize

Irresistible soulful house
While some DJs change their spots with the season, DJ Spen has stuck to his sound. Baltimore’s Sean Spencer is one of America’s house music originals, releasing classic tracks on the Basement Boys label way back in 1995, and with a prolific output today via his own Quantize Recordings imprint. His second album ‘Soulful Storm’ takes inspiration from the Black roots of house — disco, soul, boogie, gospel — and wraps these references in slick electronic production. ‘Soulful Storm’ is a crisp roller with deep chords, M1 bass, Tasha LaRae’s exultant vocal, and bags of atmosphere. ‘Party People’ with ‘Gypsy Woman’ vocalist Crystal Waters is even better, with its infectious key riff and addictive hooks. Meanwhile, ‘Goin’ Home (To See My Savior)’ has filtered garage chords, gospel vocals and a bluesy harmonica riff. This is the way to do soulful house properly. BEN MURPHY
Ben Murphy

Aria Rostami & Daniel Blomquist

Still

Glacial Movements

Slow the tempo
It’s odd to find serendipity in such rough times, but this ambient set by US duo Aria Rostami & Daniel Blomquist has been sitting on ice for half a decade, yet its mood fits the odd moment of stasis we find ourselves in at the tip of 2021. The amorphous squall of submerged tones seldom slips into recognisable shapes, with the odd jangle of a piano, chime of a bell, or tendril of a dusty windy note hovering temporarily visible amid ‘Still’’s borderless headphone fog. On deeper listening, this is absolutely engaging music; slowing time and effectively capturing the odd tempo of life in recent months around much of the world. The atmospheres swell and judder into emotional climaxes, taking minutes at a time to evolve into dense dramas, before evaporating into thin air, but leaving behind a satisfying sense of peace. TRISTAN BATH
Tristan Bath

Black Coffee

Subconsciously

Ultra

Crossover move
The success of Black Coffee represents something bigger than his own span of residencies in nightclubs from Miami to Ibiza. Over the past 15 years, he’s become an indisputable ambassador for South African grooves, his sound featuring an unmistakable national flavour that’s helped lift plenty of his country’s artists to similar success. It’s this bigger picture that makes the overt pop tone of ‘Subconsciously’ a touch surprising. Making zero concessions to house purists, outside influences are pushed to the forefront and the red carpet is rolled out for an A-list cast that includes Usher, Pharrell Williams, David Guetta and Diplo. Loaded back-to-back with vocals, there’s certainly a soulful edge to these pop offerings. It is pure pop, though, as likely to alienate househeads as it is to cross over into mass-market playlists. ANGUS THOMAS PATERSON
Angus Paterson

Cristian Vogel

The Rebirth Of Wonky

Endless Process

Brilliantly bizarre
A quarter of a century of invention behind him, and Cristian Vogel’s complex and subtle catalogue continues to grow with a well-timed — and even better-titled — ‘Rebirth Of Wonky’. Rhythm and atmosphere swirl around each other bizarrely throughout this collection; Vogel a million lightyears down into his own little universe, long running in parallel to Autechre’s. As the title might suggest, the source material doesn’t always fall into step, deftly swerving expectations while remaining danceable. The ride is never boring, summoning a gigantic arsenal of styles — or rather, inventing its own variants along the way. ‘Acido Amigo’ feels like it’s amping up towards some higher-energy acid techno peaks, but drifts away, zen-like and out of reach. ‘The Rebirth Of Wonky’ is a phenomenal collection that sees Vogel at his most inventive, turning memories of electronic music past into something entirely new. TRISTAN BATH
Tristan Bath

NISSIM

Uneven Ground

NISSIM

Intricate rave
NISSIM’s debut album is an introspective and emotive crescendo that subtly ebbs and flows within its sustained release. The Berlin-based, Israeli-born artist’s roots in psy-trance can be indirectly felt in Uneven Ground’s ever-building and meditative gait, but musically it feels like a meticulous amalgamation of rave, techno and electronica. The LP starts and ends with its more tender productions, drawing on hypnotic melodies to create a sense of euphoria. Cavernous kicks and skittering beats propel the middle part of the album with wild percussive excursions that purposefully lack warmth as they slice through space in late-night, dancefloor-ready hi-definition. NISSIM’s skills as a top mixing and mastering engineer are a vital part of the album as well; his impossibly intricate sound design elevates his impeccable arrangements and rhythmic textures into crystalline realms. ZARA WLADAWSKY
Zara Wladawsky