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Albums - Issue 616

Digga D

Made in the Pyrex

CGM Records

Drill personality of the year
Digga D is what’s happening in music right now. Everything else is extra. Stories of this 20-year-old from West London have reached everywhere from UK Gossip TV’s Instagram to the BBC. In case they’re somehow yet to reach you: Digga was conceived in the ’90s, born in the noughties. He grew up to Jamaican heritage on the Ladbroke Grove estate and made his name with drill crew 1011, now known as CGM. He’s been streamed 300 million times, served four spells in prison and, as detailed in BBC documentary ‘Defending Digga D’, is now only able to release music through a strict procedure, running every lyric by his lawyer to ensure none of it encourages violence. Somehow his second mixtape — and first under these conditions — is one of the most daring, provocative and enjoyable records in recent memory. UK drill has always been a scene. It’s flourished in part because of the near-infinite number of rappers and crews competing for attention. Most of these artists obscure their identities, whether striving to keep their government names out of the press or hiding their faces entirely. This means personalities rarely shine through. Headie One is a transatlantic star, but shy, reclusive, private. LD claims godfather status, but is a man of the people, as proud of his disciples as his own achievements. Digga D is a celebrity. Enfant terrible, heartthrob, poster boy and public enemy number one in certain parts of London: whichever cliché you’re using; chances are you’re talking about him. He knows this. And he loves it. “She said that she’s seen me on UK Gossip. Cool, we established I’m toxic,” he raps on ‘Toxic’. Watch the video to see Digga in his element. This tape is all him. Even mentions of other rappers are censored. On the darkest, least chart-friendly track ‘Bluuwuu’: “This one’s old like xxxx. I see my man turn into Usain Bolt and xxxx turn into Gatlin”. The blanks — which Digga surely knew were coming — actually fuck up the rhyme scheme. But the track is power. And proper heads will work out the missing names. Bafflingly, Digga’s even been barred from mentioning Ladbroke Grove in his lyrics, as he explained in a recent YouTube video, itself taken down within 24 hours. The only other London drill artists on the album are CGM members ZK and Sav’O. But that’s not to say Digga doesn’t challenge himself. On chart smash ‘Bringing It Back’ he spars with grime MC and fellow Ladbroke Grover AJ Tracey. Both go in. Then there’s the duet with Birmingham’s most popping driller du jour. M1llionz tends to steal the show with most of his features, but ‘No Chorus’ is balanced like a Champions League final, providing the satisfying feeling of hearing the two best MCs in the country go toe to toe. And Digga’s even better on his own. With malevolent charisma, he raps the unspeakable directly into your ear, like the Devil on your shoulder. Singles ‘Woi’ and ‘Chingy’ have been out for a while now, but you won’t skip them. They’re too good. The only disappointment is brevity: not including previously released stuff, the new music here totals under 20 minutes. The best of it is G-Unit tribute ‘My Brucky’, where Digga sings awkwardly but charmingly, and ‘Window’, a dancehall tune worthy of Digga’s beloved Vybz Kartel. A feature-length album will soon come. For now, ‘Made in the Pyrex’ shows a rapper with the reckless energy of a young Dizzee, the shock factor of peak Kanye, and the dimples of LL Cool J. All while being totally, unapologetically Digga D. SAM DAVIES
Sam Davies

Felipe Gordon

A Landscape Onomatopeya

Shall Not Fade

Melting pot from Colombia
On ‘A Landscape Onomatopoeya’, Felipe Gordon, the Colombian artist, shuffles through genres at will. There are tracks that span house, hip-hop, jazz, Latin American jazz and, at times, Gordon throws back to ‘90s Detroit house in particular. The 10 tracks are neatly split into genre sections, allowing them to fold into each other naturally. ‘How Do U Spell That Spell’ kicks things off, with a jazzy introduction and a warm vocal loop, before ‘Wes’ and ‘She Will Come’, a pair of lovely, soulful throwbacks. Throughout the album, Gordon’s arrangement is superb and showcases the growth the Colombian producer has undergone. With so many different genres melded together, it is a polished project, which doesn’t do any of the genres a disservice. Released on UK label Shall Not Fade, Felipe Gordon’s latest album further cements the producer as an exciting talent. DHRUVA BALRAM
Dhruva Balram

LAUER

Answers 2 Trouble

Permanent Vacation

Leaning into his loves
While the dizzying spectrum of sounds he’s explored alongside Gerd Janson as Tuff City Kids shows the versatile confidence that Lauer brings to his studio work, it seems that when allowed the indulgence, he’ll inevitably return to his preferred stomping grounds of ’80s synth-pop. Albeit, recreated with all the trimmings afforded by modern technology. Conjured in the fresh surrounds of his new purpose-built studio, ‘Answers 2 Trouble’ sees Lauer leaning this way even more than on his preceding ‘80s-drenched effort ‘Power’. There’s the sense he feels less obliged than ever to ground it in house or techno, or otherwise cater to the whims of the dancefloor, with this energy instead diverted to songwriting, arrangements and vocal collaborations. If you’re of the musical persuasion to join Lauer on such an unapologetic, uncompromising neon-drenched joyride, then you’re in for a treat. ANGUS PATERSON
Angus Paterson

Ø [Phase]

Before This

Modwerks

UK techno tensions
London techno fixture Ø [Phase] continues his legacy of intricate textures and hypnotic soundscapes over propulsive rhythms on his third album. Released on his new Modwerks label, ‘Before This’ is a deep dive into the brooding, cerebral UK techno that’s defined the artist’s catalogue for over 20 years. Immaculately produced, Ø continues to draw on his skills as a mastering engineer; crafting his compositions in meticulous hi-definition, he subtly shifts their arrangements and sound design in ways that evoke altered states. Standout tracks like ‘Human Error’ marry a minimalist 909 groove with subdued rave pads and a sci-fi Jeff Millsian feel; it all ebbs and flows hypnotically, conjuring tripped-out sunrise feels. ‘Liquid Form’ and ‘TechNoir’ traverse psychedelic realms as their underlying tensions unfurl, toying with the senses as they tunnel into the consciousness. ‘Before This’ makes us really miss techno raving. ZARA WLADAWSKY
Zara Wladawsky

Facta

Blush

Wisdom Teeth

A sign of summer
Wisdom Teeth co-founder Facta’s recent singles have had a melodic delicacy — the early ’90s ambient house of the deceptively-titled ‘MPH’, the lush mid-section of the otherwise wiry ‘Rose Red’ — and now, his debut album expands on this beautifully. Bookended by beatless pieces, the sunny glow of ‘Sistine Plucks’ and the more pensive ‘Low Bridge Lights’, there’s still a rhythmic underpinning — a dembow under the shimmering synth haze and vibe-like lead of ‘On Deck’, ‘Diving Birds’ with Parris, the deepest, twinkling dub house — but built upon it are layers of ambience and musical engagement. ‘Verge’ is broken beat, somehow also recalling Goldie’s ‘Timeless’, ‘Iso Stream’ akin to the lush Japanese ambient being unearthed by Music From Memory. With its immersive mix of introspective reflection and blissed-out optimism, ‘Blush’ feels like a signal of this summer’s mood. JOE ROBERTS
Joe Roberts

Eomac

Cracks

Planet Mu

Grasping for meaning
The brittle vocal sample of ‘Mandate for Murder’ that opens Ian McDonnell’s new artist album as Eomac sounds like a subversive statement of intent; implying an escalation of the searing industrial, dubstep, and techno that arrived in such polished conceptual form on his previous efforts. However, it’s a red herring, as ‘Cracks’ shows McDonnell leaving his comfort zone, spontaneous and free from the constraints of clubland. As such, there’s the similar reach for meaning that’s echoed in a lot of music released in a post-pandemic world; the album’s title refers to the lights of inspiration that break through the cracks. As a creative pursuit, it’s admirable, without necessarily adding up to a whole lot. Those excellent Eomac dark drums sound as powerful as ever, as an album it’s also his least focussed and satisfying to date. ANGUS PATERSON
Angus Paterson

OMAAR

Drum Temple

NAAFI

Percussive thrills
High intensity drum-kicks power all 10 tracks on ‘Drum Temple’ from the highly esteemed Mexican producer, Omar Suárez. Released on Mexican label NAAFI, elements of UK funky, dubstep and techno infiltrate the project, but it’s the tight percussive cohesion that helps anchor it. Screeches, shakes, screams and haunting voices float through the ‘Drum Temple’ while the three remixes at the end allow for a bit of flourish. Tracks like ‘Traib’, ‘Ritmo’ and ‘Mystery Man’ are a signature of the producer, while ‘Jungle’ and ‘Drum Dance’ allow for an easy introduction. However, in the middle of the album, ‘Drum Temple’ places the listener in a meditative state. By the time the three remixes — by Nick Leon, Leo and WRACK — kick in, tranquillity is what ‘Drum Temple’ exudes. A fine addition to the NAAFI label’s evolving catalogue and aesthetic. DHRUVA BALRAM
Dhruva Balram

Modeselektor

Extended

Monkeytown

Slightly outmoded selektors
Modeselektor are a reliable pair, responsible for nearly two decades’ worth of genre-agnostic electronic music, shuffling between nu-IDM, dubwise techno and epic big-room. ‘Extended’ is their first ‘mixtape’, a term they’ve used to describe this all-original collection of audio sketches recorded during lockdown in 2020. They’re past their peak now: this record plods a little; spending too long on unremarkable techno cuts unlikely to surprise anyone. There are good bits though, namely the xylophone interlude ‘Tacken’ and misty closer ‘Devotion is Such a Strong Word’. The peak is the dark, deadly ‘Movement’ featuring Paul St. Hilaire — the unmistakable voice of Basic Channel’s Rhythm & Sound album ‘Showcase’ — one of those foggy dub cuts that make you feel stoned just listening. The album offers all 27 tracks in a 65-minute continuous mix, but ‘Movement’ is the one you want. SAM DAVIES
Sam Davies

Caterina Barbieri

Fantas Variations

Editions Mego

Avant electronics reworked
Italian musician Caterina Barbieri’s spellbinding compositions, created through synth exploration and AI program manipulation, have made her popular in the avant-garde music world. ‘Fantas Variations’ invites a selection of artists to rework her track ‘Fantas’, from the 2019 album ‘Ecstatic Computation’. Here, electronics are sometimes jettisoned in favour of live instruments. The haunting ‘Fantas For Two Organs’ by Kali Malone positions the work in what sounds like an echoing church, with funereal keys reverberating and the intimate sound of foot pedals being pressed. Baseck’s ‘Hardcore’ version replays the riff with nightmare hoover synths over a gabber beat and is a bit much, though Carlo Maria’s sublime ‘Resynthesized For 808 And 202’ take is a hypnotic IDM fever dream. Best is saved for last, with Kara-Lis Coverdale’s heartstring-plucking piano treatment. BEN MURPHY
Ben Murphy

For Those I Love

For Those I Love

September Recordings

Music as therapy
The debut album from Irish poet, producer and songwriter David Balfe is a confronting listen for those venturing into it unprepared. A mix of street poetry in the key of Mike Skinner and the melodic electronica of Four Tet, ‘For Those I Love’ is forged in the flames of grief. A tribute to best friend and former bandmate Paul Curran, who took his own life in 2018, from the opener ‘I Have a Love’ it’s a rolling narrative of memories and shared experiences. There’s a definite nihilism to moments of the journey; “All I feel is nothing. And right now, that’s all I can be.” Its exploration of class-based themes is equally potent. Balfe might seek therapy through music, but there’s anger at society’s failure to provide him with any other means. Raw, real, and painful. ANGUS PATERSON
Angus Paterson

Themba

Modern Africa Part 1 - Ekhaya

Armada Music

A celebration of South Africa
In Zulu, “ekhaya” means “home”. That’s the theme of the new album from South African house DJ and producer Themba, which pays tribute to the musical history and culture of his country. While his releases on Yoshitoshi and Knee Deep In Sound have been avowedly house, ‘Modern Africa Part 1 – Ekhaya’ is more of a listening experience, drawing on elements of South African jazz and disco. ‘Izindlu’ with Lizwi employs live guitar and massed vocals, while ‘Ashamed’ is soul tempo, with aquatic synth chords and funk bass surrounding Brenden Praise’s verses. ‘Mountain High’ assembles organic percussion and horns into a yearning epic, and ‘Heavy Weather’, with its rumbling thunder, is a hypnotic house piece decorated with trumpet redolent of Hugh Masekela and a bassline that tips a hat to the Afrobeat greats. Overall, the album is a meditative gem. BEN MURPHY
Ben Murphy

Andy Stott

Never The Right Time

Modern Love

Always 10 steps ahead
Andy Stott has been filtering pop and club music into his experimental work for a decade; slowing down and imbuing the upbeat with introspection, while deconstructing dancefloor tropes into meditative soundscapes. His latest album on the always-excellent Modern Love continues this tradition. Recorded throughout 2020, and replacing a near-finished album that was made in the “before times” but scrapped, ‘Never The Right Time’ brims with human tenderness. Singer Alison Skidmore returns with ethereal vocals on a handful of tracks, with loping drum machines and ambient cinematic interludes taking turns as the album’s foundation. While many artists’ recent releases have felt like a reaction to the upheaval of the past year, Andy Stott’s productions have always been glacial and woozy reflections on isolation, imperfection and yearning. Now, the world seems to have just caught up to him. ZARA WLADAWSKY
Zara Wladawsky

Cadence Weapon

Parallel World

Entertainment One

Standout Canadian rap
“Black is back” declares Canadian rapper Cadence Weapon, aka Rollie Pemberton, on ‘Africville’s Revenge’. The opener to his fifth album, it recalls the words of Public Enemy’s Chuck D 30 years previous. ‘Parallel World’ is similarly unflinching. Calling out Justin Trudeau’s blackface history on ‘Play No Games’, where E3 bass meets neo funk, gentrification, over the distorted boom of ‘Skyline’, and surveillance culture, through the eskibeat of ‘On Me’ featuring Manga Saint Hilare, Pemberton eloquently deconstructs racial injustice. By ‘Hard To Find’, his self-confident hook of “Vibes like mine, hard to find” falters into a softly spoken mantra: “Won’t you let my people go?” ‘Connect’ closes with an outpouring of despair and hope, and Pemberton’s measured rhythms transform into an impassioned incantation for something different. A moment of transcendence, searing his aching vulnerability into your soul. JOE ROBERTS
Joe Roberts

ROCHELLE JORDAN

Play With the Changes

Young Art Records

Beauty and the bass
The pairing of seductive R&B with percussive UK club sounds like jungle and grime is a proven formula, though still under-explored. Erika de Casier’s 2019 album ‘Essentials’ is an excellent example, as is MHYSA’s ‘NEVAEH’. London-born, Toronto-raised singer Rochelle Jordan’s ‘Play With the Changes’ is another welcome addition, a smooth, infectious party album with production from Machinedrum and Jimmy Edgar. It’s at its best when the producers’ writhing basslines bump against Jordan’s angelic voice, like on ‘LAY’, which has the vibe of spying on a forbidden love scene. Some of it sounds a bit like unused Disclosure or AlunaGeorge ideas circa 2013, and a harsh critic might argue it doesn’t offer much that you can’t get from Kelela’s ‘Cut 4 Me’, but with moments as irresistible as club serenade ‘COUNT IT’, it doesn’t really matter. A wicked album. SAM DAVIES
Sam Davies

Floating Points, Pharaoh Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra

Promises

Luaka Bop

Beatless jazz
It’s almost eerie that an instrumental record can so compellingly capture the mood of the world it’s been released into. Sam Shepherd recorded this album in the summer of 2020 during a socially distanced recording session with the London Symphony Orchestra. Over a hundred microphones were used to pick up their instruments, and Shepherd has said “the sound of that orchestra playing with so much space between them felt like this audible manifestation of the times we were living through”. It comes through loud and clear: this is one long, 46-minute track that stretches out like a never-ending lockdown, cut through by a simmering, faltering glimmer of hope, the sound of legendary saxophonist and John Coltrane associate Pharaoh Sanders lamenting a barely-remembered world through puffed cheeks. SAM DAVIES
Sam Davies

Seb Zito

Truth In My Steps

Edible

House DJ’s pirate radio inspiration
Though known for stripped-back tech-house, you can hear hints of jungle and UK garage threaded through FUSE London resident Seb Zito’s DJ sets and tracks. This debut album for Eats Everything’s Edible label delves deeper into these inspirations — so while there are bass pumping four-four cuts like ‘What’s This Seb’, ‘Mission FM’ is a love letter to pirate radio, spinning the dial through various stations before an irresistible speed garage beat mixes up airy synth stabs and acid blips with breaks, dub sirens and familiar samples. ‘Mans From London’ is straight up drum & bass, with an ambient interlude giving way to rolling drums and punchy sub, and ‘2am Lover’ with Black Coco is a crisp 2-step track with an infectious lyric and rude Reese bass. It’s when Zito steps outside the house framework that he’s at his best. BEN MURPHY
Ben Murphy

KUČKA

Wrestling

LuckyMe

Shimmering beats and vocals
Pop-infused melodies laid over idiosyncratic beats dominate ‘Wrestling’, the debut album from KUČKA. The Australia-raised, Los Angeles-based singer manages to fasten together varying genres into a self-written, self-produced and self-recorded project. On the eponymous opener, along with ‘Drowning’ and ‘Ascension’, KUČKA’s voice sparkles amidst the production. Towards the end of the album, this process is unearthed again, as her voice skates along the icy production on ‘Patience’ and ‘Eternity’. This is where she’s at her best: creating a sound where the shimmering genre-spanning production sits underneath her voice, refusing to crack. Here, they don’t battle for space within the grooves. This system comes undone near the middle of the album on tracks like ‘Joyride’ — where the influence of Flume, a collaborator and friend, can be felt — and ‘Sky Brown’ where production, in particular, is tiring. DHRUVA BALRAM
Dhruva Balram