Our fearless audio adventurer Kris Needs casts a beady ear over the whole wide musical world (well, some of it at least) and picks out a raft of recorded marvels for your listening pleasure
Swantje Lichtenstein & Jono Podmore
Let’s start with seven inches of pure pleasure and the first release for over 20 years from Metamono alchemist/Can collaborator Jono Podmore’s Psychomat imprint. Teaming up with Düsseldorf sound writer and performance artist Swantje Lichtenstein, the duo revisit a time when records were beautifully-packaged artefacts to be treasured. They also venture fearlessly back to the birth of electronic music when John Cage and others experimented with the human voice as an instrument as Swentje intones words written by Jono’s daughter about her art teacher. In among the bleeps and static textures, the vocal is broken, distended and mangled with the impact of an amplified whisper in the ear. Inspired by the Sussex town, this process continues on ‘Lewes’. Various remixes will be available through Bandcamp. Conceptual, fearless and great fun.
(Third Ear LP/CD/Download)
The earliest Chicago house explorations remain one of the boldest bodies of work in electronic music, but it’s rare to encounter an album where those original principles are revisited and given a modern makeover. HM505 is Chicago dancer-turned-DJ-producer Hakim Murphy, who’s been releasing records for over 10 years and started his Machining Dreams label in 2008. Hakim’s latest set boasts a genuinely unusual approach to acid house, planting spidery melodies and starburst tone clusters over often featherlight grooves, although tracks like ‘Lawndale’ suggest a parallel universe where Chicago’s venerable house blueprints are twisted, stretched and syphoned through a cosmic tea-strainer. ‘Late Night Deep’ speaks for itself as soft keyboards unfurl like hazy cosmic gas from a passing space hippo and ‘Hilt’d’ presents the 303 squelch audaciously recast in the 21st century. Massively recommended.
‘World Spiritual Classics Volume 1’
(Luaka Bop LP/CD/Download)
The remarkable story of Alice Coltrane is too long to attempt here, but more than fits this column’s quest for electronically-created unusualness. The catalyst for John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’, she used Wurlitzer, organ and synth in the spiritual music she created to heal her ravaged self and further the mission started with her shape-shifting sax titan husband. After tackling severe health problems through the teachings of guru Swami Satchidananda, she became spiritual director of Sai Anantam Ashram in California, releasing four cassettes between 1982 and 1995 to ashram members. With the help of the couple’s children and veteran engineer Baker Bigsby, New York’s Luaka Bop has assembled the highlights to create a lavish set where gospel and jazz jostle with eastern classicism; celebrating an often overlooked talent on the 10th anniversary of her passing.
Agents Of Time
Out there in the basic techno netherworld, three Italian DJs have launched their Obscura label from which to let fly their own party soundtracks and create a vehicle on which to map their rapidly evolving musical ideas. It’s a promising start, kicking off with the classic pump action of ‘Era’, a compelling mix of niggling acidic frequencies and classic string melodies before ‘Dungeon’ mounts a dark, creaking bassline peppered with hovering string flashes, flying low and tweaking the mole’s scrotum with iridescent space keys. On side two, ‘Rebellion’, the hardest of the four tracks, unzips an analogue banana and drops midway to let in a horde of twittering electronic bats before industrial jackhammer trouser press pulses steam in. ‘Lower World’ cleverly erects a jazz-inflected acid sequence, the one track here that suggests future Obscura releases should be regarded with interest by those who like it raw but inventive.
As spring windily makes its presence felt and the hares copy our rabbits and breakdance in the fields, this seems a timely spot for a slab of Ibiza-friendly deep house, produced by Spanish DJ Kiki Navarro, who has released tackle in the past on Pacha, the label offshoot of the island’s venerable club. Released on the glorious BBE, his latest blockbuster is ostensibly a cover version of Maze’s 1985 classic ‘Twilight’, but Kiki gives it a new respray using understated bubbling groove, deep strings and the whispered hook. Those synth strings are allowed to soar on Kiki’s acid dub, which manages to direct the 303 sounds to enhance the track’s overall dusky euphoria. On the B-side’s ‘Cranc’ we go all Motor City with jazzy stabs and pads underpinning some urgent synth jam action that makes you forget how ridiculous the current sculpted beard-and-bouffant combo looks. Perfect sunset whoopee wherever you hang your Y-fronts.
The second album on Monkeytown from the veteran London duo may start with the deep techno and familiar string melodies of its title track but, after second track ‘Domes’, it goes launching into Moroder soundtrack territory, all bets are off where they’ll go next. The different styles on display here create an arcane soundtrack, sculpted with rare emotion on futuristic instruments. Enhanced by field recordings, ‘Angels’ is a loincloth-elevating beauty not unlike Sven Väth’s first album, while the glacial patter of ‘Badd’ recalls early Aphex, flatulent flute-tootling goats and all. By ‘The Walker’, time is suspended as a ghostly stomp underpins Detroit-style dancefloor catharsis and ethereal synth laments, jerked back into focus by the spectrally jagged riot and dynamic melodic finesse of ‘Field Tower’; albeit in the new sonic dimension the duo have constructed for themselves.
Lot of albums this month, and many of them are pretty much essential. In this case partly to celebrate the often-neglected pipe organ as an early source of other-worldly sound. You can hear its spectral drone on Tim Buckley’s astonishing ‘Lorca’ and here now in the hands of Sigbjorn Apeland of Norwegian improvisational trio 1982, who celebrate their 10th anniversary with an album of immense atmosphere and depth. Joined by Nils Okland’s fiddle and drummer Oyvind Skabo’s skittering or metronomic pulses, the trio, who like to release USB sticks into the sea as The Bottlemail Project, present a wide spectrum over seven untitled tracks that recall Sun Ra’s mid-60s extra-terrestrial chamber music, Terry Riley’s minimalism or, when Okland hits an eastern blues-trance head of steam, 60s Druid outfit the Third Ear Band. As I say in the main reviews section, Hubro is currently on a roll for genuinely new and exciting music.
It’s rare that this column entertains non-physical releases, but starting in 2004, Vakant were early exponents of Berlin as this century’s techno epicentre. Plus, the music on this heavy hitting highlights collection is too good to ignore. Here stalwarts including Alex Smoke, Anonym and Tolga Fidan are joined by newcomers like the quirky Livio & Roby, providing an immaculate picture of this happening enclave. Anonym’s opening ‘Train To Lisboa’ is a bass-heavy stormer lashed with eerie sonar pulses before Smoke gives an all-too-rare glimpse of what makes him one of electronic music’s true pioneers on the astonishing ‘Above Division’. Over flickering locomotive groove, he builds pyramids of synthetic voices and soaring melodies into a grippingly emotional tour de force. A diverse selection that consolidate Vakant’s position as one of Europe’s great labels and shows that, in 2017, killer basslines still rule the harder dancefloors.
(Stones Throw CD)
Regular readers will know of my weakness for the sound of post-disco boogie, that electronic dance hybrid which emerged in the early 1980s and fuelled New York’s dancefloors with a sound best described as sexy, sparkling and inescapably happy, when done right. A brash descendant of this sound in its most derivatively diluted form often massages today’s UK charts, but Tuxedo (singer Mayer Hawthorne and G-Unit hip hop producer Jake One) head back to the source and reinstate the not-so-guilty fun aspect, recalling late-period Chic, Zapp and Shalamar in their follow-up to 2015’s debut album. Tracks such as ‘Fux With The Tux’, ‘Rotational’, ‘U Like It’ and ‘Shine’ evoke a time when dancefloors could mean heady escape, subtly rebuilding the long-hidden connection between disco and early hip hop. As the sun starts to poke out, this could provide a balmy summer soundtrack.