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White Noise: December 2011

Saturday, 31 December 2011

20 Best Albums of 2011

Best of 2011


With electronic production becoming ever more ubiquitous in mainstream culture and ever more experimental on the fringes of music, it’s no surprise that it dominates my list of 2011’s best albums. My favourites of this year included a good few atmospheric electronic pieces, a few dance-focused LPs and some stranger fare, but the overriding point in common is the exploration of how computers are being used to create ever more evocative and thought-provoking music.

Obviously in choosing only twenty I’m missing so many of the year’s great releases, but when reflecting on a whole musical year the factor that stands out besides innovation and skill is longevity; the year-end list is the unique spot where a reviewer can look back and say ‘Yes, that was great, but am I still listening to it? Will it stay with me beyond this year?’ If the answer to these questions is a fervent ‘yes’, then that album is on this list.

PS - The list is arranged in sets of five as I feel when you get to the very best albums of the year they appeal to different people and fulfil different criteria, so it seems pointless to separate them. Click on the album titles to see my full reviews from earlier in the year.


#20-16


SBTRKT  - SBTRKT



Wildfire

On his debut full-length, the anonymous UK producer achieved the rare feat of marrying Dance and Pop with unerring success, crafting a fun and exuberant selection of accessible tunes.

Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972



The Piano Drop

The always brilliant Ambient / Drone producer released one of his very best works this year in Ravedeath, an evocative and haunting album that twists live organ recordings from an Icelandic church into a beautiful artistic statement with masterful electronic tweaking.




All The Sun That Shines

Husband and wife duo Peaking Lights exceeded expectations with their blissed out LP landing somewhere between western Dub and the more experimental side of rock.

Andy Stott – Passed Me By



New Ground

With Passed Me By, Andy Stott finally broke out to a wider audience who rightly adored his unique take on House; fatigued, innovative, and utterly hypnotic.




Surfer’s Hymn

Noah Lennox somehow met the stratospheric expectations heaped on his new LP before its release, refining his trademark sound of reverb-drenched vocals and hypnotic guitar loops into something fuller and more outward-looking.


#15-11





2 Hearts

Sully didn’t exactly surprise me on his debut LP, delivering dark 2step tracks crafted with the same skill and care as his previous output, but just how much I still listen to these tracks is a surprise. The London feel is embedded deeply into these tunes, and each cut is a self-contained gem of paranoid dance rhythms.

Roman Flugel – Fatty Folders



How To Spread Lies

This carefully-produced LP is a masterclass tour of Techno’s many faces, straddling influences as varied as Dubstep, Kraut-rock, Minimal and Deep House, while always remaining crisp, danceable, and enchanting listen after listen.

Shabazz Palaces – Black Up



An Echo From The Hosts That Profess Infinitum

This uncompromising Hip Hop album married unusual flow and polemical subjects with some of the most challenging and innovative production I’ve ever heard on a Hip Hop album, resulting in a stunning piece that sounds like it was sent straight from the future.




Mindkilla

Gang Gang’s staggering musical evolution continued unabated this year, and Eye Contact was business as usual from the Brooklyn band; fusing too many genres to mention to create an album of superb and enjoyable Dance Pop that not only sounds like nothing else, but also represents their most consistent release to date.




Arpeggiated Love

This beautiful set of finely micro-edited loops showed that there’s more than enough life in Axel Willner’s formula to sustain an entire career. These hypnotic tunes are nothing short of staggering, proving yet again that no one does loops like The Field.


#10-6





We Are You In The Future

Martyn’s latest was a true masterclass in Dance production, showing not only a producer bravely leaving his comfort zone (again), but a collection of varied and exciting tunes bursting with energy and atmosphere.


Coastal Brake

A lot of artists over the last year tried to create sun-drenched Electronic tunes that mesmerise through chilled vibes and warm synths, but Tycho’s mature and detailed album Dive put them all to shame. This hypnotic and rewarding LP does its stunning cover art justice, and will stay with you long after the flames of 2011’s more immediate releases have died out.




A Devil Lay Here

Dedication is the most introverted and frustrating (mainly down to track length) release of Zomby’s glittering career, and it says a lot about Zomby as a producer that these facts hardly mattered. The introversion in fact worked to this album’s advantage, and six months on this collection still sounds fresh and brilliant; a moody and varied selection of dance-infused Electronic tunes.




Black Square

Benjamin Thomas achieved quite a feat in releasing not one, but two superb albums in a single year. His second for Rush Hour, Black Square, was my favourite – a lush and innovative selection of beautiful Techno tunes that shift organically through an array of mesmerising sounds.




Scissors

Jamie Teasdale’s first solo release on leaving aggressive Dubstep duo Vex’d was an unexpected move, and all the better for it. Severant is an utterly unique LP presenting atmospheric and futuristic Electronic tunes, and by a long way one of the most engaging and innovative releases of the year.


#5-1





Places

The LA-based Beats scene slowed down quite dramatically in 2011, but from the hush emerged its brightest star, in the form of young producer Henry Laufer. Exceeding the promise of his early EPs, on Bad Vibes Laufer created the ultimate chill-out album; lush and beautiful organic instrumentation combined fluidly with electronic clicks and beats. Bad Vibes achieves that rare combination of being both an easy choice for relaxation and an incredibly rewarding close listen due to the quality of these compositions, and for these reasons it’s probably my most played LP of the year.




Now U Know Tha Deal 4 Real

Room(s) is an incredible achievement for dance veteran Travis Stewart; it somehow manages to combine almost every dance genre into an utterly brilliant full-length, traversing moods and styles with a rare ease while always maintaining the innovative details and tight production skills that keep the listener coming back for more.




I Got A Woman

Brilliant new producer Nic Jaar pulled out all the stops on his gorgeous debut album, appropriating vague influences from a huge variety of genres to create a sound entirely his own. These spacious and atmospheric compositions still sound exciting and unique almost a year after its release, and his future looks very bright.




Hover Traps

Rustie’s phenomenal debut album was surprising in so many ways; it was very distant from the producer first productions, it sounded like absolutely nothing else, but the biggest surprise was that he aimed so high on Glass Swords and track after track pulled it off with style. These tunes fuse every unfashionable genre in the book with style, creating a collection of unabashed joy, all underpinned by a display of masterful composition at its incandescent beating heart.




Apart

The young Alec Koone’s debut album is by no means the most accessible or exuberant album on this list, but for me it is easily the most beautiful. Here is an album of deeply emotive and expertly composed tracks that exists almost outside of genre; the tracks progressing like waves between enchanting synth highs and dark dubby lows, all held together by ethereal vocals to magnificent effect. The tunes on Wander / Wonder are quiet and unassuming, but given time they reveal themselves to be one of the most atmospheric and rewarding collections I’ve heard in years.

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I'm off to see Scuba and Joy O tonight, I hope everyone has a great New Year's and look forward to much more from White Noise in 2012.

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Tuesday, 27 December 2011

25 Best Dance Singles of 2011


Best of 2011



It’s been an incredible year for dance music. While Bass music finally formed a concrete identity, a few keen artists continued to take House and Techno in new and exciting directions. Here are my very favourite tracks of the year across a variety of genres, each one sure to get bodies moving on any dancefloor. Although I’ve put these in a loose order, when the tracks are this good they’re all fantastic.

P.S – I’ve embedded a Youtube playlist of all the tracks at the top of the page in case you’d prefer to listen to the whole lot continuously.



25 - Braille - Breakup



Both Braille and Machinedrum have had busy years independently as well as with their collaboration project Sepalcure, but this track on Braille's A Meaning EP really stood out for me. Here Praveen Sharma harks back to classic House stylings with a very contemporary twist, combining great vocal snatches and clean beats with an uneasy synthline and lovely soft keys.

If you like this, check out the rest of Braille's A Meaning EP.

24 - Objekt – CLK Recovery



It’s been a breakthrough year for Berlin-based TJ Hertz, and nowhere is this more evident than on his second white label single. This is Techno at its most exciting and boundary-pushing, with deep mechanical beats and a rich soundfield guaranteed to bring that Berlin sound wherever you go.

If you like this, check out the monstrous B-side Unglued.

23 - Storm Queen – It Goes On (Vox)



The most recent entry on this list is from House stalwart Morgan Geist, of Metro Area fame. It didn’t seem likely he could follow up his last solo outing, but It Goes On pulls it off with style, building slowly and assuredly with superbly catchy vocals, eventually erupting into a stripped and euphoric breakdown before settling into some great and unexpected deviant sounds towards the close that ensure this tune can be played again and again.

If you like this, check out any of Morgan Geist or Carl Craig’s recent output.

22 - Ital – Culture Clubs



2011 has been a great year for the 100% Silk stable, an offshoot of leftfield indie label Not Not Fun, and no one has been releasing for the label with quite as much style as Ital. This unique dance cut revolves around several stripped but intoxicating elements; a shifting percussive click, woozy pitchbent synths and tumbling tropical melodies. It’s a hypnotic and drugged-out tune, and nothing else sounds quite like it.

If you like this, check out any of 100% Silk’s releases from this year, particularly Ital’s other work or the new-Disco stylings of Octo Octa.

21 - Teeth – Shawty



Who knew a spoken Beyoncé sample would become so ubiquitous this year? On this unsettling and sexy cut, a repeated vocal line from pop song Videophone is twisted to ghostly effect over percussion drenched in knife-edge tension and ethereal rising synths.

If you like this, check out FaltyDL’s excellent percussive remix of this tune.

20 - Eats Everything – Entrance Song



Eats Everything came out of nowhere this year to craft one of the best House tunes of the year. Slowly building over that warping vocal line, warm keys and neat claps give way at the drop to a massive bouncing beat that’s sure to get anyone on the dancefloor.

If you like this, check out the producer’s recent self-titled single.

19 - Huxley – Shower Scene



Sadly still going without a vinyl release, Huxley’s magnificent Shower Scene really has everything you could possibly want from a dance track. The stunning tune includes not one but two expertly applied vocal lines, a deep growling bassline and enough cunning micro-edits to keep the most ADHD-addled minds riveted throughout.

If you like this, check out recent tunes from Ethyl and Detroit Swindle, particularly the latter’s The Wraparound.

18 - Rustie – Ultra Thizz



Rustie followed no one but himself with his trailblazing approach to production this year. The most exuberant and ecstatic cut from his brilliant Glass Swords album is Ultra Thizz, which was released as a single in the Autumn. Irresistible chipmunk vocals are twinned with shifting handclaps and one of the most ballsy and colourful drops heard this decade, never mind this year.

If you like this, check out the rest of Rustie’s superb Glass Swords album.

17 - New York Transit Authority – Off The Traxx



Although released on a joint-single with White Noise favourite Redlight, under this new moniker Mensah dropped one of the most menacing and well-crafted slices of dance this side of Sicko Cell. Along with a suitable vocal line, lyrically bizarre but threatening in intonation, we hear dissonant effects applied liberally to make the track veer towards the unsettling, but it never falls short of  being a sure-fire hit on the dancefloor.

If you like this, check out Pearson Sound / Maurice Donovan’s output this year.

16 - SCB – Loss



The first of what was perhaps an inevitable pair of entries in the list for Hotflush label-head Paul Rose, Loss from his techno-based SCB guise was without a doubt one of the big DJ favourites this year. Rather than building to a drop this track introduces itself with all the elements already present; a gnawing vocal line that won’t leave your head, an occasional tumbling bassline punctuating the space and a lush synth wash. It all came together as an undeniable masterwork, cementing Scuba as potentially the year’s most exciting and varied producer.

If you like this, check out anything released by Scuba / SCB this year. Seriously, this guy has been on fire.

15 - Kahn – Like We Used To



Emerging from the nebulous Bristol post-dubstep scene, Kahn put out a couple of low-key but superb releases this year, and this was my favourite. Woozy synth washes introduce a pitch-perfect choppy vocal line, before a big bassline enters to form a tune that feels like it never quite settles down, but uses this fact to a clear advantage. The icing on the cake is the Zomby-esque introduction of an untreated synthline midway through the tune, proving that Kahn is a producer who really knows what he’s doing.

If you like this, check out Kahn’s excellent release from later this year, Illy / Tehran.

14 - Jamie xx – Far Nearer



Although this release was only one of many reasons for Jamie xx’s rise to prominence this year, alongside some great DJ sets and his album remixing Gil Scott Heron, it’s also a song that will very easily settle into its own little niche in your heart (yuck, I know). It’s hard to create a dancefloor knockout that tugs at the heartstrings, but here it’s pulled off with style, and it sounds effortless. The combination of those warm steel drums and a deep bass-driven dance tune is masterful, and those emotive vocal lines are just the icing on the cake. More than anything what stands out here is Jamie xx’s masterful sense of space in his tracks, displayed with style on The xx’s debut album and shown here again to remarkable effect.

If you like this, check out The xx’s debut album, or similarly emotive dance tunes released this year by the likes of Hackman in Close or Mano Le Tough with In My Arms.

13 - Deadboy – Wish U Were Here



Surprisingly absent from a lot of other site’s year-end lists, I’m unsure how White Noise favourite Deadboy managed to slip through the gaps this year with his excellent Here release. This fantastic lead single features a great vocal line set into a massive overall sound, with big synths duelling disco-tinged beats to great effect.

If you like this, check out Deadboy’s stellar back-catalogue, especially singles U Cheated and If U Want Me, as well as his soulful and melancholy classic Heartbreaker (along with Julio Bashmore’s stunning remixes released this year).

12 - Pearson Sound – Deep Inside Refix



David Kennedy hasn’t let up in 2011, and his various outings as Pearson Sound and Maurice Donovan continue to prove he is one of the Dance world’s very brightest stars. Nowhere is this clearer than on his rework of Hardrive’s 1993 anthem Deep Inside, where a cloying vocal line repeats across finely textured percussion and subtly overlaid synths.

If you like this, check out Kennedy’s fantastic classic House offerings as Maurice Donovan this year, such as Babeh and Call My Name.

11 - Martyn – Masks



This year Martyn made a clear shift towards House from his DnB / Dubstep origins, but his superb Ghost People LP proved that his skill wasn’t constrained to a single genre. This was most evident on lead single Masks, where a spectacular disaffected vocal punctuates a great swung rhythm, with a rich field of perfectly tuned synths adding up to a stunning dance cut that occupied a lot of space in some of the best DJ sets I’ve heard this year.

If you like this, check out the rest of Martyn’s fantastic Ghost People LP.

10 - Burial – Street Halo



Burial’s much-anticipated return to production was one of the most welcome returns of the year, and the Street Halo EP had another surprise up its sleeve in the form of his first true solo Dance production this side of his genre-defining masterpiece Untrue in 2006. Street Halo has all the classic signs of a Burial tune, dusty percussive clicks, ghostly vocal samples and ethereal synths, but added a massive gravelly bass throb that proved the producer could still get bodies moving when he wanted to.

If you like this, check out any of Burial’s superb releases, either his Garage-centric self-titled debut LP or masterful dubstep long-player Untrue. Also watch out for his Kindred EP out next month.

9 - Pangaea – Hex



Kicking off as fiery 2step with a thoroughly menacing synthline, Hessle label-head Pangaea’s biggest single of the year could at first sit easily alongside recent offerings from Sully or the rest of the dark UK Garage crowd. But when that downright-threatening reggae vocal line is brought into the mix, Hex becomes another beast entirely, and one of the strongest dance releases of the year.

If you like this, check out Sully’s Carrier LP from earlier this year.

8 - Unknown – Sicko Cell



The most surprising thing about this year’s most talked-about tune is just how strange it is. Eschewing most recognisable genre tropes; here Joy O the unknown producer combines sparse percussive elements with the ubiquitous cocaine-touting vocal line and that massive crunchy synthline to bizarre but intoxicating effect. It gets odder as you listen deeper; the ‘I’m so addicted’ vocal line is out of time, the near-inaudible noise that sounds like a cloth wiping glass in the song’s bulk, it’s all very unsettling. But in a lot of ways, it doesn’t really matter. The song works, and it’s massive.

If you like this, check out the work of similarly-minded UK producer Joy O.

7 - Classixx  - Into the Valley (Julio Bashmore Remix)



This tune came out of nowhere, apparently commissioned by Mountain Dew, but nothing could stop Bashmore’s massive remix from getting a lot of playtime this year. This tune is pure euphoria, combining old and new sounds; vintage-style House vocals twinned with bright contemporary synths and beats to intoxicating result.

If you like this, check out Julio Bashmore’s fantastic Everybody Needs a Theme Tune EP.

6 - Hackman – Close



Another tune that seems to have slipped from most year-end lists, this gorgeous single was one of my most played of the year. Beginning with warm and bouncy steel drums, the tune soon drops into a snarling bass throb, with an achingly emotive vocal line applied to stellar effect.

If you like this, check out Hackman’s recent Agree to Disagree 12” and watch out for his album out early next year.

5 - Jacques Greene- Another Girl



The best of a sparkling catalogue of releases from the Canadian producer this year, Another Girl is for me the most impressive examples of all the best qualities of today’s Bass scene. An eye for subtlety rather than big drops, airy vibes, and spliced RnB samples (here courtesy of Ciara) resulted in the perfect Bass tune. This is probably my most played track of the year, and I’m still not bored.

If you like this, check out Greene’s GREENE01 white label release which dropped in August.

4 - Blawan – Getting Me Down



One of the year’s first big releases is still one if it’s best. Blawan’s shown a staggering variety of styles are well and truly under his belt this year, but this genreless tune was a cut above the rest. Sharp percussion held up the track, which was topped off by a bassy growl and that vocal line, which is absolutely impossible to get out of your head.

If you like this, check out Blawan’s latest Peaches EP or his recent collaboration with Pariah as Karenn for his new tougher Techno sound.

3 - Scuba – Adrenalin



What is without a doubt one of the year’s most decadent tunes is also one of its finest. Scuba finally came out of the shell of his cerebral post-Dubstep work to produce the sublime Adrenalin EP, and the title track is an absolute monster. Taking influences from the unlikely world of Trance, this lush tune revels in vintage synths, a euphoric vocal line and includes a breakdown so long and finely wrought, you’ll be begging for the drop by the time it finally hits.

If you like this, check out the rest of Scuba’s Adrenalin EP or his great singles Loss and Mace as SCB.

2 - Mosca – Bax



It was hard to choose between this and Done Me Wrong on Mosca’s masterly double A-side out over the summer. Bax just edged it out, with an intoxicating synthline taking prime positions amongst a host of great vocal snippets, sharp percussion and a deep, growling bass. 2011 was truly the year that Mosca did no wrong, and out of all of this year’s dance releases, this 12” will be one of the most valuable any DJ could’ve bought this year.

If you like this, check out the amazing A-side Done Me Wrong, along with Mosca’s superb Wavey EP.

1 - Julio Bashmore – Battle For Middle You



Was number one really ever going to be anything else? Bristol-based producer Julio Bashmore defined this year’s sound before it had even really begun with his fantastic Everybody Needs a Theme Tune EP, and prime cut Battle For Middle You was the standout of the bunch. Every aspect of this track screams classic, from the unique synth effects and expert pacing to one of the heaviest, dirtiest drops I’ve ever heard in a club. I expect it’s a drop that I’ll hear time and time again as 2012 rolls on, and deservedly so. No one rocked the dancefloors like Bashmore this year.

If you like this, check out the rest of the Everybody Needs a Theme Tune EP, as well as his excellent remix work for the likes of Classixx and Deadboy.

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Friday, 16 December 2011

12 Best EPs of 2011


Best of 2011



We’ve had a mammoth year for Electronic and Dance music, and the EP format has not only seen a huge amount of great releases but also some redefining ones; from dance classics which are essentially triple A-sides (Mosca, Scuba, Jacques Greene) to releases which are LPs in all but name, like Floating Points’ staggering late-entry Shadows. Here are my 12 favourite EPs of the year, with links to my original review where available. The list is in no particular order, because when it comes down to the very best of the year, they’re all fantastic. Here’s to a great 2012.




Mountains Pt 1

On this spectacular EP DjRUM finally made good on all the promises made by his early work, producing four varied and exquisitely produced cuts situated somewhere between Dubstep, Garage and Ambient.




Sais

With Shadows, Floating Points produced what is sure to be one of the most lasting EPs of the year, including distended experimental pieces fusing Techno, Jazz influences and references to today’s nebulous Bass scene. Above all, it was his finest release to date, and sounded utterly like nothing else.




Breakup

If Sepalcure’s full-length didn’t quite meet my expectations this year, Praveen Sharma’s debut EP as Braille certainly exceeded them. Showing a straight-up House muscle unseen on the duo’s deviations, here Braille amazed with a selection of dancefloor powerhouses that showed a skill evident on Sepalcure’s compositions but a sound entirely Sharma’s own.




Motivation

This has been a great year for Greene and the Canadian Bass set, who brought a whole new meaning to RnB sampling. Not content to rest on his laurels after the killer Another Girl, here Greene focussed his attentions elsewhere, issuing on this White Label release not only the best RnB inflected track of the year in Motivation, but some fantastic forays outside the RnB bubble on this Triple-A side.




Let Me See You

The 100% Silk label has been flying high this year, and nowhere is this shown more clearly than in Octo Octa’s gorgeous debut EP. Every track on here is a winner, from the fantastic old-school sounds of the title track to end of the night stomper Coldwaves by way of the utter brilliance of EP standout I’m Trying.




No Think

I’ve already discussed my opinions on Sepalcure’s full-length, but at the beginning of the year their Fleur EP was a fierce mission statement. Defining the ill-defined Bass sound with lush and beautiful compositions, here the pair really flexed their muscles, veering from the rich beats of the title track to Ambient closer Inside by way of surprising Techno stunner No Think.

Bok Bok – Southside



Silo Pass

Night Slugs didn’t have quite as big a year in 2011 as they did in 2010, but their few releases like EPs from Bok Bok and Jam City continued their mind-bending sounds. On the Southside EP, label-head Bok Bok mixed Bass and Dubstep and Grime traits to create something gritty, brilliant, and utterly unique.




Rising Saudade

The anonymous group completed their three-part series of free EPs this year with Meet The Decline, their most accomplished release to date. Across the four tracks Downliners Sekt deconstructed popular Dance and Electronic tropes with unerring precision and skill, creating a brilliant set of dusty, fascinating tracks which offer gorgeous worlds to explore.




Orange Jack

It’s been a great year for Mosca, with his flawless double-A side Done Me Wrong / Bax dominating the sets of all the best DJs this year. On the Wavey EP, he released a surprising but brilliant set of Techno tunes that will be sure to fill up dancefloors in the year to come.




Stolen Dog

After a much-felt absence, the king of dusty and emotive Dubstep returned for his first solo release in four years. Every track here is a stunning construction of his trademark DIY percussion and deeply atmospheric sounds, from the late-night dance cut Street Halo to the gorgeous and melancholy Stolen Dog.

Scuba – Adrenalin



Adrenaline

Hotflush head Paul Rose finally came out of his shell this year, turning from his normal cerebral dance cuts to Adrenaline, which essentially made Trance cool for the first time in over ten years. Add this to a killer couple of tunes on the B-side (including the fantastically groovy Never), and you’ve got one of the most impressive and enjoyable releases of the year.




I See U

Lunice was another producer to emerge from the Canadian ether this year, releasing a sexy selection of Hip-Hop infused Bass cuts, none more sinister and alluring than summer anthem I See U.

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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Vessel – Wax Dance


Wax Dance

Blowback

Having only appeared on the scene within the last year, Bristol-based Sebastian Gainsborough is very quickly carving out a space for himself in the overflowing UK electronic scene. His debut 12” Nylon Sunset was an interesting and low-key House deviation, but here on Wax Dance, on the new A Future Without label, he showcases a radically matured sound. This EP is comprised of five brief but deeply atmospheric House deconstructions, with a dusty sound that is entirely unique and a great sign of things to come.

Despite the title of opener Wax Dance, there’s really not a great deal of dancing to be found on this EP. Instead here Vessel trades in warped samples and rich textures reminiscent of the deconstructed sound of Downliners Sekt, where vocal and percussive lines are twisted nearly beyond recognition into a vintage, ghostly sound. On the opener a lilting beat is accompanied by worn snares and fatigued synth washes, before the loops shift towards the close to welcome a clearer bassline and a treated vocal sample buried in the mix. The track lays down a clear tone for the EP that Vessel continues to explore with style.  On second cut James Dean a racing synthline is augmented by an intensely rich percussive field, along with a sinister vocal sample drawn across the sound. The richness of these compositions is a joy to hear, and the deep atmospherics allow for subtle pitchbending shifts midway through the tracks to be taken in the listeners stride.

On Cuba the sound is painted in brighter colours, with clearer synths tracing a bouncey path over shifting percussion before a high-pitched wash introduced in the breakdown dominates the second half of the track. The more colourful and upbeat elements of the track give the image of sunlight filtering through a dusty abandoned room, blending perfectly with the aged elements of the sound rather than sounding out of place or seismically different. On standout middle track Blowback percussive atmospherics and a locked ambient loop introduce a meaty bassline that cuts magnificently through the sound, aided by low-key electronic clicks and beeps. Meanwhile the similarly slow closer (running at a Hip Hop tempo), Trapped Wave, is the brightest of the bunch, with clearer synths and a throaty bassline building to the midway point before a sun-bleached synthline is introduced to gorgeous effect.

Despite the brevity of these tracks, each is carefully manicured with plenty of micro-edits to offer a rich and varied listen, and the complexity and level of polish to these tunes shows a startling rate of progression from the earlier singles released only this year. Here is a collection of texturally and atmospherically unique tunes that hint at a very talented producer, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for 2012.

7.5/10

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Monday, 12 December 2011

Yør – Rave EP


Rave

Golden Boy

2712

With this being only the second release on the Dutch Purple Maze label, Yør is helping the new imprint to get off to an impressive start in this EP. Across this release the producer crafts slow and rich Techno jams that are as deeply atmospheric as they are irresistibly danceable.

Gorgeous title track Rave lays down a fine 4/4 and places itself immediately in Deep House / Techno territory, with a moody reverb-drenched synthline complimenting textured percussion. By the time the track really gets started you have soft pads, starry effects and skittering percussion all laid over that central 4/4, and it all comes together to magnificent effect, balancing a deep Techno darkness with a soft warmth. The richness of the composition, both in terms of rewarding micro-edits and a great variety of sounds recall BNJMN’s latest LP, Black Square on Rush Hour, if his lush compositions were stretched out into end-of-the-night Techno tunes.  The similarly slow Golden Boy is just as exciting, albeit a tad brighter, with distorted House chords duelling a fantastic distended synth rattle for the majority of the tune. With so many artists putting together their tunes with the same software, it’s always welcome to hear an artist who uses sounds and synths that sound like nothing else, and in this respect Yør really excels.

Ten-minute closer 2712 is a real journey, taking the listener through an extended ambient sequence before the track proper begins. One hears lost vocal snatches and atmospheric static before the first kick,  which calls to mind other Techno experimentalists such as Sandwell District and Demdike Stare. After a long period of evocative textures and that single kick, a surprising chord sequence emerges from the ether, laying on a thick energy before the track recedes back towards its shadowy beginnings. It’s not a dancefloor stomper but 2712 is an intensely atmospheric and impressive piece, hinting at a definite mastery over the style and the possibility of a varied output from Yor in the future. Given the quality of this release, it’s a future that I’m quite excited to hear.

8/10

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Sunday, 11 December 2011

Video of the Week – Star Slinger: Mornin’

Continuing my theme of summery videos to combat the winter blues, here comes a slice of pure sunny joy courtesy of White Noise favourite Star Slinger, accompanied by a gorgeous and trippy video. Enjoy!


The way these images are treated and distorted, with kaleidoscopic visuals penetrating pastel-shaded, sun-drenched clips is a perfect expression of the track’s easy groove. Tiny details set in perfect synch to the sound, such as ghosted colour overlays of the girl, punch-drunk camera tilts and that superb lift-door opening moment compliment the song’s powerful joy to great effect, and leave us with this pure gem of a video.

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Saturday, 10 December 2011

4 Great Albums for Winter: #4 - Joanna Newsom

Ys


Emily

Sawdust & Diamonds

Cosmia

It’s been quite difficult for me to set about writing this review because for me Ys is an album unlike any other. Although I spend all my time reviewing dance and electronic music, Joanna Newsom and her music has always been very special to me; in fact she’s a musician for whom I have more respect than any other. There are many reasons for this: hers was the first music I truly loved, her beautiful poetry appealed to my literary side, and then there was the fact that the gentle orchestration was far less alienating than much of the ‘cool’ music when I first started getting involved. But more than anything, it’s because of the quality of her music, of her lyrics, of her voice. Joanna Newsom stands alone as an utterly uncompromising artist carving her own path through contemporary culture. Every song she commits to record is a cryptic jewel, requiring dedicated application in order to fully understand and appreciate. And though she’s an alienating artist at first listen, I’ve never encountered music as rewarding as hers, and I’ve chosen Ys because it is perhaps the best example of these qualities.

While her first and third albums, The Milk-Eyed Mender and Have One On Me, are still some of the greatest albums in my collection, Ys asks more of its listener, and in return it gives more back. The suite of five songs, in the style of Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle, mostly drift around the 10-minute mark, with the sprawling epic Only Skin stretching to an incredible 17 minutes. Each is packed with complex lyrical sequences, cryptic poetry and a symphonic musical style which travels in new directions constantly with little recourse to a verse-chorus-verse structure. It sounds like a demanding listen, and by all means it is, but there’s simply no other album for which I can say - I’ve been listening to it at least weekly for five years and it still gives me something new to love and admire every single time.

On her debut album, Newsom produced a collection of sweet and intricate folk songs, with poetic lyrics and nimble harp-playing that had quite a rootsy feel to it. On Ys, her musical style less evolved and more catapulted into an emotional and poetic widescreen; slight yet eloquent lyrics were now sprawling 15-minute narratives, her squeaky voice now stretched impressively across a range of emotions and tones, and her solo harpistry was now an entire orchestra, scored by none other than Van Dyke Parks. The vinyl release of Ys formed a book, with the inside sleeves forming pages of lyrics beautifully laid out, and the format is a perfect expression of how her music should be enjoyed; as stories of near-infinite depth to dive into. Her songs provide a perfect soundtrack to long wintry days, and consistently open up huge words to explore.

According to Newsom, the album deals with four separate events that happened to her over the course of the year, and if this is the case it must been a very busy year. Despite her loquacious lyrics and the surface impression of sweetness; each of these songs surprise in both thematic complexity and the level of darkness of subject matter at their heart. This darkness displays itself not in gratuitous or obvious lyrics, but through deep-run emotional turmoil and confusion, to powerful effect. The first song, Emily, is essentially a confessional letter to Newsom’s sister (who sings backing vocals), which details the complexities of their relationship.  Here I’ll offer a brief overview of the song’s themes and story just to exemplify how beautifully wrought and rewardingly deep her lyrics are.

Newsom explores with beautiful eloquence the landscape of her hometown and offers carefully chosen vignettes; telling interactions between the two that explore certain aspects of their relationship. While the ways in which the two help each other are clear, ‘you came and laid a cold compress upon the mess I’m in’, the narrator finds it difficult to reconcile her feelings of growing up and directionlessness, ‘the lines are fading in my kingdom...grope at the gate of the looming lake that was once a tidy pen’, with her desire to be independent. At the same time she explores her unconditional love and respect for her older sister, who she also to some extent perceives as having left their home behind. These conflicted feelings are expressed exquisitely, such as in the assonant line ‘the ties that bind / they are barbed and spined / and hold us close forever’, and are followed by a quiet plea for Emily to return home. Newsom begins with a sweetly sung demand, ‘come on home, the poppies are all grown knee-deep by now’ but quickly the idyll sours, and suddenly ‘everything with wings is restless, aimless, drunk and dour / butterflies and birds collide at hot, ungodly hours / and my clay-coloured motherlessness rangily reclines / come on home, now! / all my bones are dolorous with vines’. The desperation in her request for her sister to come home becomes rapidly apparent, demonstrated musically and lyrically with phenomenal emotional power. The final image of the two sisters staring to the heavens, staring ‘at this thing / joy / landlocked / in bodies that don’t keep / dumbstruck with the sweetness of being / til we don’t be’ contains a poetry and a philosophical profundity practically unimaginable as mere lyrics to a song. For while the lovely melodies of Emily will stay in your head, and her voice is a gorgeous thing to behold, Newsom’s lyrics can be analysed at the level of high poetry and there’s still almost always more to see.

It would take ten essays to get my teeth properly into the meanings of these songs, but for the sake of the review format I’ll cut it short. Second track Monkey & Bear is an allegorical fairytale that is highly interpretable, but on the surface is clearly the story of a manipulative relationship. Newsom toys with the ideas of being natural and staying true to yourself, with the animals’ complex relationship fleshed out magnificently across the course of the song. Bear’s final act, to wade into the sea and transcend her physical form, as she ‘shed the mantle of her diluvian shoulders / and with a sigh she allowed the burden of belly to drop like an apronfull of boulders’, is a gloriously ambiguous ending, and Newsom also always keeps a keen eye on the sounds of the words themselves, reeling off stunning lines such as ‘in the magnetic embrace / balletic and glacial of Bear’s insatiable shadow’ as if she was simply born to express herself perfectly.

The glittering gem at the centre of Ys is Sawdust & Diamonds, where Newsom removes the orchestra and lays her poly-rhythmic harp patterns bare for the audience to hear.  More cryptic and gorgeous lyrics hint at a long-standing relationship that has lost its passion, and through more abstract lyrics she conjures intimate images that, in sequence, tell of the her internal conflicts and eventual decision to leave her lover.  Here she compares herself and her lover to marionettes, holding the secret to their love in the form of a dove which, when torn open, reveals itself to be full not of a magical secret to their love, but of sawdust and diamonds, two entirely physical and un-mystical components. Again her lyrics will stay with you for a long time as beautiful poetry, as she dwells on the sad face of her love; ‘though our bones they make break, and our souls separate – why the long face? / and though our bodies recoil from the grip of the soil – why the long face?’ Elsewhere single lines offer stunning and layered readings into the song, whether it be all she sacrifices for her love, ‘though my wrists and my waist seemed so easy to break / still, my dear, I would have walked you to the very edge of the water’, or a simple loaded sentence such as ‘say my name in the morning, so I know when the wave breaks’.

I’ve been having trouble keeping these track summaries short, and this will prove hardest of all with fourth track Only Skin, a goliath undertaking which is arguably Newsom’s greatest song. The narrative here, again highly interpretable, seems to me the story of being ‘the other woman’, a mistress whose unconditional love is not enough to win her lover away from his spouse. The emotions and poetry in this song alone contain the scope and complexity of a classic novel, from the perfectly conjured opening dream sequence to the closing duet with then-boyfriend Bill Callahan, where her absolute love is shown nowhere more concisely than in the line ‘take my bones / I don’t need none’.

The closing track Cosmia is a real heartbreaker, dealing with the death of Newsom’s best friend Cassie, to whom Ys is dedicated. The recurring image of moths fluttering around an artificial lamp is a flawless analogue for human existence, with the friend seeing a ‘true light’ and transcending life rather than merely dying; ‘water were your limbs and the fire was your hair / and then the moonlight caught your eye / and you rose through the air’. The song deals with the extraordinary process of grief with the level of sophistication and tenderness that the subject deserves, bringing the conflicting thoughts of a mind in grief to life more clearly and with more truth than any other piece of art I've encountered on the subject.

I stated at the opening of this review that it would be difficult to write, but more than anything it’s frustrating. For me, as for any lover of literature, it will be frustrating to have to stop talking about Newsom’s music and lyrics, because there is always more to say. The album came out nearly five years ago today, and to date is definitively the best record I’ve ever heard. When words, ideas and musical styles are brought together so perfectly track after track, it’s a shame to ever stop discussing or to stop listening. Thankfully, I don’t ever have to.

10/10

4 Great albums for winter:

#4 - Joanna Newsom

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