Tunes of the Month May 2016

 

  1. Desiigner- Panda- Recently visited the USA where this is huge, released in April in the UK but only now gaining attention.

 

2. DJ Q-Sonic- Made entirely from samples from the sonic games, who wouldn’t enjoy this? Also a reminder that DJ Q is unexpectedly one of the best producers in UK bass music.

 

3. Rene LaVice- Public Xerox- Finally getting a release after doing the rounds in the clubs for ages.

 

4. AlunaGeorge-  I Remember- Flume produced track which is getting heavy rotation on Radio 1.

May 20th-Melanie De Biasio- Blackened Cities

Over the last 5 years there has been a staggering resurgence in the interest in Jazz amongst contemporary musicians. This is best and most infamously exemplified by the work of the Brainfeeder label and Flying Lotus. But others have gotten in on this act too including: Four Tet and Neneh Cherry and of course Kendrick Lamar. Jazz musicians for their part have always embraced experimentalism and have been open to many of these collaborations, it was through just such a collaboration that I discovered the Belgian Jazz vocalist Melanie De Biasio. Last year Giles Peterson oversaw a beautiful remix project of the jazz vocalist’s work. And from first listening to Blackened Cities it is very clear the success of this project and jazz’s new found prominence has rubbed off on Melanie.

However, Blackened Cities is not De Biasio doing techno, far from it but what influence is apparent is found within the space which is granted to instrumentation. On previous efforts De Biasio’s voice is centre stage however on Blackened Cities it is almost pushed to the side. Instead of being in the forefront it is her voice intertwines more closely with the sounds happening around her. It’s a change in approach, which really alters this track and makes it sound out from previous work.

Traditional Jazz piano and instrumentation remains but contemporary electronics and effects are introduced to the extent that the start of this track sounds like something produced by Godspeed! You Black Emperor, which is certainly no bad thing.

The overall sound here is one of darkness and sparseness but beautifully so. The track feels like one which is built for daydreaming whilst starring out over a grey rolling sea on an early winter’s day. This sparseness is also perfectly balanced by the drums, which provide a late 90s trip hop feeling to Blackened Cities.

The jazz vocal stylings of De Biasio’s previous albums generated sufficient success and critical acclaim for her, not only generating five star ratings but breaking the top ten album chart in her home country. So there is a real sense of risk and experimentation to what is being done with Blackened Cities, a one track album at 24mins in length, however, what is being done here is done so beautifully and so successfully that De Biasio will generate even further (deserved) acclaim.

Some of De Biasio’s fans may be put off by this track however they are likely to be replaced be legions of news fans of enjoy her growing experimentation on show in Blackened Cities. Fans of Radiohead, 90s trip hop and the previously mentioned Godspeed! You Black Emperor really will find something to fall in love with here. This one’s for the daydreamers.

 

May 13th- Richie Brains- Who is Richie Brains?

Over the last 6 months mysterious anonymous tracks have been appearing on YouTube, Soundcloud and the Exit records website, diverse in style and attributed to Richie Brains. But just who is this Richie Brains? Well the imagery offers no clue as to who may be behind this brilliantly diverse drum and bass album and whilst the mask has since been removed during a live performance at Phonox I’m not going to tell you who Richie Brains is, after all that’s part of the fun.

What I will tell you is the clues are all present in this release: the album is being put out by Exit records, there is a taste for many styles; drum and bass, ragga, footwork and grime all appear whilst the vocal styles sound like a very familiar grime artist.

This project wouldn’t be half as fun and enjoyable without brilliant music to support it and that is exactly what you get from this album. Exit records has been known as a label that has explored and stretched the very meaning of drum and bass music and that is exactly what this album continues to do.

The vocal tracks lean closely towards grime and ragga whilst the instrumental tracks vary widely taking in ambient, drum and bass, footwork and dancehall. The diverse nature of this album can be seen as a product of the anonymous being/s behind it but also as an attempt to widen the pallet of drum and bass fans.

As a huge fan of the experimental side of drum and bass recent releases have disappointed me. Calyx and Teebee’s album was not as experimental or adventurous as could have been hoped for neither was the album from Rene LaVice. However, Richie Brains seeks to right these wrongs and from the very first track, Game Shades, things get off to a thrillingly experimental start. The track itself sounds like an off-cut from a John Carpenter soundtrack with a grime-y twist. It’s excellent.

The quality doesn’t really dip from here on in, Bring Dat Back featuring Killa P is a particular highlight and generated huge interest for the project when it appeared on YouTube earlier this year. Sounding a bit like a track by the Bug it takes the listener on an aggressive bass driven trip.

Drum and Bass has always been a genre which has been able to take on its influences and absorb them into new and interesting styles, hence both its diversity and longevity. It is this technique of borrowing musical influences but presenting them firmly in a drum and bass package that Richie Brains pulls off so well. There are few Drum and Bass releases this year where tracks as diverse as the Blips will be found sitting alongside a track like Buss It.

Through its diversity and brilliance Who is Richie Brains? Retains a sense of fun and is a truly enjoyable listen, which is both experimental and accessible. This is a great album for Drum and Bass heads, Exit records fans or those wishing to listen to be inducted as a junglist for the first time.

 

 

https://exitrecordsuk.bandcamp.com/album/exit-lp016-richie-brains-who-is-richie-brains-lp

 

May 6th- Skepta- Konnichiwa

Over the last 3 years a second wave of street credible grime with sales success has risen in the UK thanks to MCs such as Novelist, Stormzy, JME and Skepta. To say Skepta has been the most successful of these MCs would be an understatement; chart hits, success in the USA and a partnership between Boy Better Know and Drake have come to pass. However, an album has been a long time in the making, which has led some to fear that Skepta’s Konnichiwa is over due and that Skepta may have missed his moment. Nothing could be further from the case.

As expected Skepta’s latest does contain all the singles we’ve all heard before and a million times over, It Ain’t Safe, That’s Not Me and Shutdown are all present. However, such was their urgency and brilliance on release they still sound fresh collected here. First concern dealt with.

Konniciwa’s sound and the evolution of Skepta is really tied to the North London MC’s ability to filter a contemporary USA sound through grime’s traditional bass heavy battle beats. And when I say filtering US hip hop through grime that is exactly what I mean, for despite the clear influences of A$AP Mob, Drake and others, grime takes pride of place. Such production techniques and the evolution of Skepta’s sound are most obvious on Ladies Hit Squad and Numbers both of which feature prominent US Hip Hop heads in the shape of Pharrell Williams and A$AP Nast but each tracks retains its grime sensibilities.

Konnichiwa features a huge number of guest spots from Wiley and JME through to US figureheads like Pharrell. However, it is a credit to Skepta that he always remains the main focus of each track and centre strage with the spotlight firmly on him. Furthermore when he decides to go it alone like on Man, he flourishes, proving to any critics (and he has had them) that he is a more than capable lyricist.

Skepta has always faced criticism that he is not as strong a lyricist as his brother and BBK partner JME, whilst he certainly is not as playful, creative or adventurous as JME, Konnichiwa does highlight Skepta’s own talents and features some stand out lines, a personal favourite of mine being: “our love’s strong like Mufasa and Simba”. It’s this lyrical playfulness and the willingness to embrace innocent similes and metaphors that has always made the BBK camp stand out from it’s road rap heavy rivals.

More than anything Skepta’s Konnichiwa offers a snap shot of the current grime sound, one which is now more creative and embracing than it has been at any time in its past. But also one which this time around is doing things for itself. An ethic, which has always been embraced by Skepta, he has grafted for this and the exceptional quality of Konnichiwa is proof of his hard work.

Right now it is Skepta’s time and if anyone in the grime scene deserves their time in the spotlight it is Skepta.

May 6th- A tribute to XL Recordings

On the week ending 8th May many music lovers dreams came true as they were suddenly landed with surprise releases by Radiohead and James Blake alongside hugely anticipated releases from ANOHNI and Skepta.

However, almost in anticipation of this glut of music being released at the same time XL Recordings, the home of Radiohead played a very clever game. In teasing, audiences with the Burn the Witch video and then surprise releasing Radiohead’s new album, A Moon Shaped Pool, the band and the label garnered huge media attention and huge sales. Currently Radiohead’s album looks set to top the UK charts ahead of Skepta and Beyonce and also to be a huge success in the States, anticipation led to an explosion of success.

But during this week XL recordings didn’t only release the hugely successful Radiohead album with much less fanfare the label also put out the critically successful new release from Kaytranada 99.9%. An album, which was so warmly recieved not only did it have critics claiming it to be better than Radiohead’s and James Blake’s but also to be on a par with releases by J Dilla and DJ Shadow.

Both albums are nothing short of staggeringly brilliant, Kaytranada provides a hip hop soundtrack to the summer. Whilst Radiohead provide both their most accessible and darkest record in many years. Both are very different but each will end up high upon critics’ end of year best of lists.

The tactic of achieving high sales whilst also maintaining critical and underground success is one which XL Recordings have suceeded with many times previously. The success the label experienced with the Prodigy’s album Music for the Jilted Generation being the starting point. But just last year as the label shifted galaxies of records with Adele they were also releasing an electronic compilation called The Story Continues, which collected tracks from underground artist who all have an ear firmly tuned to the future.

In being able to maintain both critical and commercial success whilst continuing as an independent label XL Recordings walk a fine tight rope, which no other label has been able to balance along before or after their formation in 1989. Not only does the critical and commercial success of the label stand as tribute to this but so does the list of artists wishing to work with them: Radiohead after falling out with Parlophone and abandoning all labels eventually turned to XL Recordings, their label mates include the notoriously difficult Zomby, the White Stripes, Wiley, Vampire Weekend, Adele, Basement Jaxx, Badly Drawn Boy, the list is endless and amazingly diverse.Such diversity has seen many incredible albums. And Radiohead’s A Man Shaped Pool and Kaytranada’s 99.9% stand alongside any one of them as truly great musical masterpieces.

Last week may have been the biggest release week for new albums this year with Radiohead winning the sales battle. However, last week really only ever belonged to XL Recordings.

Tunes of the Month April 2016

  1. Dusky- Ingrid is a Hybrid- Beautiful house track with an old school vibe, perfect sunsetter and sure to be huge in Ibiza this summer.

 

2. Okzharp & Samrai- I Know (Gated)- Released on the hugely respected Keysound Recordings Okzharp & Samrai carry on the recent renaissance of jungle and ragga with this track.

3. Silkie- Sub Castle (Bowser Riddim)- Huge 8 bit grime instrumental from Silkie

4. Radiohead- Burn the Witch- the album is obviously reviewed here but this is such a stunning video and a great track it’s well worth highlighting by itself:

5. Slackk- Skeleton Crew- Dark, twisted grime-y RnB inflected track from the Boxed head honcho

6. Tigermonkey- Zooby Doo- Yes it’s a novelty track but there is something innocent about a novelty track from a TV advert. In years past campaigns would be launched on breakfast radio shows to get novelty tracks from adverts to number 1 this reminds me of that. Also listen to it once and it’ll never leave the far reaches of your brain:

April 29th- Patrice Baumel- Balance

The balance mix series is not only seen as being the premier house and techno mix series but in releases by Joris Voorn contains a mix which is frequently regarded as the best of all time. Being held in such high esteem means that taking up the mantle of producing a Balance mix is both a real challenge and honour for any DJ. These challenges are fully embraced by Dutch house/techno producer and DJ Patrice Baumel. Who turns in a mix, which has been compiled for your headphones, and to technically show what a great mix can be. This mix has not been made for the dance floor but that is no bad thing, especially given that last year some of the best DJ mixes: Nils Frahm Late Night Tales, Mumdance Fabriclive, Jon Hopkins Late Night Tales and DJ Koze DJ Kicks weren’t particularly dancefloor orientated either.

So instead of the dancefloor Baumel’s Balance mix is actually beautifully engineered to listen to through your headphones whilst curled up in the dark. Technically Baumel adopts a similar mixing technique to Joris Voorn, in that he takes an eclectic selection of tunes and merges, cuts and blurs the boundaries between them till something new and thrilling is created.

The tune selection on display here is varied to say the least and sees Baumel calling on tracks by FKA Twigs, M83, Nils Frahm, Underworld and Plastikman. However, due to his mixing style almost none of them are distinguishable, only small song fragments bubble to the surface and when they do like in FKA Twigs case they sound as if they are coming at you from somewhere inside a catastrophic K Hole.

This is not to say that during the mix Baumel doesn’t kick things up a notch and the middle section does contain pounding techno and progressive house beats with DJ Hell and Baumel’s own remix of Underworld providing that main room feel. But this mix isn’t about that feeling and if you approach it holding out for this then you’ll be disappointed.

To me the best DJ mixes don’t just aim to make you dance but act as a narrative to a musical journey. This vibe is one which Baumel’s balance mix strives towards. However, whilst being incredibly enjoyable and brilliantly compiled things never reach the dizzying heights of those he aspires to. Leaving the sense that this is certainly a mix to get, enjoy and listen to but that  Joris Voorn’s crown is safe at the moment.

Despite this criticism Patrice Baumel’s Balance mix is by far one of, if not the, stand out mix of 2016 so far, alongside Moodyman’s DJ Kicks, and is more than worth a listen.

 

http://www.balancemusic.com.au/