Artist: Floating Points
Recording Label: Pluto
Sam Shepherd is a genius. Not just musically — although we'd be inclined to argue it based on 'Vacuum Boogie' alone. With a PHD in neuroscience, he's a classically trained musician who grew up singing in a choir, just as inspired by jazz as he is the elegant house styles of Pepe Braddock or Kerri Chandler, his work as the Floating Points Ensemble has him in command of an entire band.
But it's his dancefloor productions — some more arduous than others — that people love him for most. 'Nuits Sonores' — reportedly made on his laptop during a flight to the festival of the same name — has snuck into sets from Four Tet and Danny Daze, among many others, and 'King Bromeliad' (also on Eglo) was probably the most inventive club track of 2014.
However, on 'Elaenia', his eagerly awaited debut album, we're not treated to warped, off-kilter club tracks such as these. Instead it's an opus galvanised by the arrival of a vintage reel-to-reel recorder known as a Studer A80, on which he spent five years crafting the seven tracks that make up the album using a set-up involving Oberheim OB8, Arp Odyssey, Fender Rhodes, Rhodes Chroma, Buchla 101 as well as 200e and 100 series modular synths.
The result is a densely absorbing listen swelling with texture that's, suited more to headphones than anything he's ever made for the dancefloor. Opener 'Nespole' is a nebulous galaxy of stars and squelchy dark matter with thick, reedy synths washed with delicate strings. 'Silhouttes (I, II & II)' is an emotive Bonobo-style schtick that drafts in jazzy live drums alongside real bass, keys, strings and brass alongside Sam's signature synth touches.
From here, you expect Shepherd to really take off. 'Elaenia', however, is a scarce, tonal soundscape, 'Argenté' is a beatless arpeggio that builds dramatically and 'Thin Air' is an aquatic sonic sketch. Then 'For Marmish' slowly meanders with elegant organs, and 'Perforation Six' finishes the album as a grubby but harmonic big beat track; like Radiohead at their dubby finest.
Indeed, the path of the album might lack any real drive or volition but as always there's no doubting Shepherd and his exquisite chops. But we already knew that...
Artist: Auntie Flo
Album: Theory of Flo
Recording Label: Huntleys & Palmers
He’s been making waves for a while but it seems the tipping point’s arrived for Auntie Flo, aka Brian d’Souza with the wonderful ‘Theory of Flo’. Not just cos the stars have aligned, but mostly because this is an incredible record that sounds like little else around right now.
Collaborating with South African producer Esa, effectively the second member of Auntie Flo, like Brian’s previous work, the new record fuses African influences with modern electronics, but this is a more widescreen affair. Recorded between London, Glasgow (where Brian is from) and Havana, Cuba, it sees the producer linking up with some original vocal talent.
‘Dance Ritual II’ is a brilliant mix of emotive pianos, stripped back breaks and the gorgeous African-inspired vocal of Anbuley, before morphing into a kind of UK funky piece and back again.
‘Dreamer’ is a beautiful, bittersweet cut of ascending riffs and thumb piano that threatens to explode into a house anthem but never does, its musicality unquantised and genuine rather than dialed in. ‘Mandla In Space’ is a dramatic, dark slab of house, rich with the kind of atmosphere only the best soundtrack composers are capable of.
Auntie Flo is also adept at making big dancefloor moves when it’s appropriate, as on the huge ‘So In Love’ with the vocals of Shingai (of the Noisettes and Dennis Ferrer fame). ‘Theory of Flo’ is massive and deserves all the praise it will undoubtedly get.
Artist: Flux Pavilion
Record Label: Ultra Music
Brostep might have fallen out of favour in the years since Flux Pavillion enjoyed a career-defining hit with ‘I Can’t Stop’, but he makes a valiant attempt with his debut album to transcend any such genre limitations, with an LP that draws on the strengths of his own musicality, as well the feel-good party vibes that shine through in his productions. ‘Tesla’ has its roots more in party breaks and hip hop than it does dubstep, and nearly every track features a spirited vocal contribution, showing Flux’s efforts to craft ‘songs’, instead of just records, has paid off.
There’s bonafide party anthems like ‘Never See the Light’ and ‘Who Wants To Rock’, some classic Flux appeal with ‘Vibrate’ and ‘International Anthem’, and even an overwrought brostep ballad to wrap things up. ‘Tesla’ doesn’t quite add up to a sum that’s greater than its parts, but it’s nonetheless a testament to Flux Pavilion’s good-natured appeal, which is hard to resist.
Artist: Jeff Mills
Album: The Exhibitionist 2
Record Label: Axis Records
Jeff Mills is truly one of a kind. So impassioned by techno is he that many get turned off and cry “pretension”, but for those who appreciate his ever more cerebral concepts there is no one who comes close. Having played with various orchestras and after soundtracking various sci-fi films recently, he now offers up DVD/CD combo Exhibitionist 2, which aims to reveal (both visually and socially) the inner workings of his mind as he creates his on-the-fly soundtracks.
The film itself—premiered at the Louvre, no less—is fascinating indeed, and the soundtrack is another seamless exercise in intergalactic techno. Few people can speak through their machines as well as Mills, whether it’s laying down a complex drum track, raining down alien melodies or suspending you in ever shifting synth patterns, this release proves that once more.
Album: Expression of Love
Record Label: Third Ear Recordings
South London's Warren Brown drops this, his second album for the immaculate Third Ear, the label that discovered him in 2009 and has since diligently nurtured his not inconsiderable talents. Let's get it out of the way from the off, 'Expression of Love' is blazingly good. The first bars of the first track, 'Say Nuttin', actually says it all. It's a languid, shaking groove, which after two minutes of lulling you into a near hypnotic state drop deep, life-affirming Detroit synths. ''Cosmic jazz' is the ultimate groove', says an American gent on 'Cosmic Jazz'.
Sort of reviews itself, that one. Then there's 'It's A Sign', sampling Gil Scott Heron with aplomb, 'Work', a crunchy, dark disco workout, and title track 'Expression of Love', a Rhodes-heavy, slo-mo deep funk bombshell. 'Turn The Lights Off' is a taut, thrilling houser, while album closer Cakewalk has a drop that is sent from the gods. And that's it. It's lean at seven tracks, but just as long as it needs to be. All killer, no filler, as they say.
Record Label: Universal
The first single from Avicii’s his sophomore album ‘Stories’ was telling enough. ‘Waiting For Love’ centres largely around the guest vocals of Cherry Ghost frontman Simon Aldred. The sugary EDM hook in the breakdown gives it away, but it’s actually one of the album’s more dancefloor-ready efforts; ‘Stories’ is an ode to how much the Swedish EDM hit machine has fallen in love with American country, blues and soul.
Avicii was already validated with the huge success of his debut album ‘True’, and he indulges his singer/songwriter aspirations even further here. ‘True Believer’ mixes feather-light trance builds with pop-soul vocals, while ‘Pure Grinding’ offers an eclectic mix of hip-hop and country, soulful croons and breakbeat grooves. However, ‘Stories’ feels more like a sophisticated collection of Avicii’s influences than a genuine crossover experiment, though it’s subversive purely for much it diverges from expectations, at a time when EDM truly is playing it safe.
Album: This Side Of Paradise
Record Label: Kompakt
Regulars on Germany's uber trendy Kompakt, Cologne duo COMA return with a brand new full-length this month. To say the pair are label staples would be an understatement — they've released every year on the imprint since '09. However, while their debut LP 'In Technicolour' embraced influences from everything from disco to minimal, 'This Side Of Paraside' has its roots firmly planted in dream pop, coupled with stabs of indie and the occasional house flourish.
Rare tracks like 'Poor Knight' could hold court in a DJ set, but the majority of the tracklist smacks more of a post-club comedown than primetime floor fodder. There's a few vocal collabs too, cue BPitch Control's Dillon and MIT singer Edi Winarni, who also appeared on 'In Technicolour'. Of all the LP's tracks 'Lora' is the standout, it's tender, ambient and wholly soothing — the perfect side to your 6am cab ride home. You’re welcome!
Artist: Luke Vibert
Record Label: Planet Mu
Of the 23 albums that Luke Vibert has released since 1993, only seven have come under the producer's own name. The many aliases that Vibert has adopted over the years go some way to explaining why he’s one of the UK’s most prolific producers. By keeping so many projects on the go at once, he’s been able to switch between styles and genres as he pleases.
‘Bizarster’, his seventh Luke Vibert album, is as heterogeneous as his discography. The album is a bricolage of the varied sounds that have held Vibert’s interest over years, shifting from searing jungle (‘Don’t Fuck Around’) to instrumental hip-hop (‘Ghetto Blast Ya’) and dubstep (‘Doozie’). While ‘Bizarster’’s restlessness makes for an exhilarating listen it can also be frustrating.
At times, you’re left with the sense that Vibert loses interest in ideas before he’s even had a chance to fully develop them.
Album: Co In Ci
Record Label: Skudge Records
Amsterdam's underground mainstay Aardvarck — also known as Mike Kivits — has been a pivotal part of the scene since the early '90s, and his early releases on the legendary Djax-Up-Beats and Delsin. 'Co In Ci' is his first long player since 2011's wildly eclectic 'Anti-Concept', which sprawled itself over nearly 30 tracks, some abstract minute-long sketches, others excursions in unctuous, electronic dub. This latest finds in him in sharper focus (just eight tracks), more precise in execution.
'Opener Do Da' finds a tough, distorted loop and works it, all clever nuances bringing it out of the darkness just enough. The gorgeous 'Hob' couples hypnotic, industrial percussion with airy pads, and perhaps the merest hint of a legendary drum loop we all know and love, all twisted up in the mix. There are flashes of ambience too. 'Pas' and 'Pop' are jarringly blissful, amid the machine funk, with their distant piano loops and swelling pads. It's a class act, basically.
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