July 22nd- Fixate- March On EP

The second drum and bass appearance on my blog and a second recommended record for Exit Records, following the brilliant and diverse Richie Brains album. Exit Records continues to be the most exciting drum and bass label in the UK and represents a diversity of sound, which post LTJ Bukem and Andy C’s Bodyrock is often lost within the genre. I can safely and happily say Fixate’s new EP continues this Exit Records trend.

Things kick off with the heavy and aggressive March On, whilst the track itself features a pummeling bass unlike so many of their lesser affiliates a bass driven track doesn’t have to mean sped up to ridiculous levels for Fixate. Rather the aggression of the track comes from the strength of the bass not the rhythm. Things are subtle yet threatening and enough to get the blood pumping in any bass head’s veins.

The phenomenal Bandicoot is the real show stopper on Fixate’s EP. With its off-kilter rhythms, synth lead-in and Crash Bandicoot sampling drop, it is a display of diversity, restrain and bass driven brilliance. The track has been getting huge support from Toddla T and deservedly so.

Turbocharge sees Fixate employ a footwork stylised rhythm to the track, something which Exit Record affiliates have been experimenting with for some time, see Alix Perez and Richie Brains. The current love in between Drum and Bass and Footwork is an exciting one, which serves two purposes. One to reignite lost experimentalism in Drum Bass. And two to increase the awareness of one of this decade’s most exciting underground music scenes in Footwork. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, which produces great results on Fixate’s new release and will hopefully do so for others in the future.

The EP closes out with its weakest track Molecules, which is centred round an Indian drum sample. It’s not that it’s a bad track, it’s just not as good as what else is on offer here. Also, the Indian drum sample has been done to death in Drum and Bass, there are a lot more world music sounds and drum loops to sample. It would be refreshing to hear something new.

Fixate’s March On EP adds to Exit Records continuing cannon of experimental and exciting drum and bass records and is a release that anyone with an interest in the longevity of the genre should seek out straight away.

July 15th- Clams Casino- 32 Levels (the instrumentals)

Clams Casino’s 32 Levels is a well-rounded enjoyable hip hop and Alt R&B album, which has impressed critics. However, it is not that album I am recommending to you. Rather I am recommending you go out and buy the deluxe edition, which comes with the added bonus of having all the original instrumentals of each track on 32 Levels.

In recent years Clams Casino has thrilled with a selection of free downloadable Eps made up of instrumentals, which have gone on to be used by some of the biggest names in hip hop and Alt RnB today, such as Kelela. And again on his debut album, whilst the vocals are enjoyable and sometimes great, it is inevitably the beats which stand out.

Clams Casino’s sound is at first strange to the ear consisting of Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin style synths coupled with fractured and half time hip hop and trap beats. However it is a sound that is not only unique but works to brilliant effect. The strangeness of the sound becoming the artists’ trademark.

Unlike most hip hop producers Clams Casino is a big fan of subtlety, less is more, or in the case of the instrumentals less is beautiful. I say this as one of the stand out elements of 32 levels is the beauty which is darkly conveyed throughout, but particularly in opening track Level 1. This sense of shadowy beauty is further enhanced by Clams Casinos’ use of pitched up vocal samples, as heard on the track 32 Levels, the use of such production trickery really does create a sound that at times verges on disturbing whilst still successfully remaining within the realms of beauty.

The instrumental version of 32 Levels is short and with such multi-faceted tracks that often abruptly change direction the listener is always engaged and kept interested. If you pick up a copy of this, you will return to it again and again both to engage with its melancholic beauty but also to allow your ears to pick apart the album’s complexity.

The full version of 32 Levels has been a critical success and is sure to be a commercial one too. However, for fans of engaging and interesting music, grab the deluxe edition and enjoy the hauntingly beautiful instrumental talents of one of hip hops most unique producers.

 

 

 

July 8th- the Avalanches- Wildflower

Leaving gigantic gaps between your albums, in the case of the Avalanches 16 years, can go either 1 of 2 ways. Either everyone is reminded how much they loved and missed you, Portishead’s Third is a great example, or everyone is reminded of how dreadful you and the remnants of your band have become, Guns N Roses I am talking about you. Understandably therefore fans of the Avalanches have awaited their second album with a sense of trepidation. However, they need not fear Wildflower is exactly what those who loved the Avalanches at first sight would and could have hoped for.

Some critics have seen the material on Wildflower as pointless nostalgia from act they found irritating in the first place (ahem the NME). Such criticism is itself pointless 1. Why review an act you hate 2. Nostalgia really isn’t a negative but is rather a beautiful tool, which allows for reflection and often a flush of joy at past innocence.

Innocence is a theme the Avalanches often seek to replicate in their sound and Wildflower like their debut is littered with attempts to achieve this. Many of the melodies are almost nursery rhyme like. Whilst interludes between tracks are dotted with samples of children’s voices. During these dark times, a sense of innocence is a welcome relief from watching all our lives fall head-first down the crapper.

First single Frankie Sinatra is a bit of a marmite track, you are either going to love it or loathe it. Coming across all calypso samples and hip hop bass, it has been a turn off for some fans and a ramble rousing return for others. From my perspective Frankie Sinatra is a fun track that makes great use of a Sound of Music sample and allows Danny Brown to flex his bizarre scatter shot rapping style to full effect. On top of that the chorus is a real ear worm that you’ll be singing for weeks after hearing it. However, Frankie Sinatra, is an anomaly on an album of mostly chilled summer tracks.

There is beauty to be found all over Wildflower.  It’s locked within the psych-hop vibes of Sunshine and the title track and stashed by the bag load in the chilled summer evening beats which accompany nearly every track. 16 years away has not seen the Avalanches uncanny ability for making a beautiful beat fade.

As With Since I left You, Wildflower has a real sense of fun to it, there is humour in many of the samples and in the interludes between tracks. Such use of light relief is welcome in an era where hip hop and electronica have often lost the playfulness of their infant years, in-favour of masculine aggression and petty street boastfulness. The Avalanches make no attempt at either of these and are all the better for it.

Unlike Since I Left You, Wildflower is full of guest spots, however, unlike some lesser producers those tracks where a guest appears, such as Colours or Because I’m Me, never result in a sense of the Avalanches taking a back seat to their vocalist. Their style and sound remains at the forefront of the tracks. Such skill is a real credit to the strength of their production abilities and helps to mark the Avalanches out among their contemporaries.

The world has changed a hell of a lot in the last 16 years and whilst the Avalanches may have remained very similar, despite the introduction of folk and psychedelia to their sound (the Beach Boys have been a clear influence), the fact they have stood still has worked tremendously in the group’s favour. The Avalanches’ sound is one which is unique and alien to almost anything else in existence, standing still rather than re-inventing the wheel was just what the Avalanches needed to do. And on Wildflower they do this successfully.

Fans and geeks alike will also be delighted to note that the duo’s sampling remains as eclectic and brilliant as ever. If you are seeking to use this album as a tip-off to find new tracks you won’t be disappointed. Neither will you be disappointed if you are picking up a copy to witness the art of sampling done well, because the Avalanches do sampling very well.

And that’s really the key to Wildflower, the Avalanches do what they do and they do it very well. The return of the Avalanches much like the arrival of the Avalanches is a joy. Let’s just hope fans don’t have to wait another 16 years for their next joyous antipodean ear worm.

 

July 1st- Blood Orange- Freetown Sound

Dev Hynes is an unpredictable and accomplished song writer willing to turn his hand to almost any genre or style. From Hardcore Punk (as Test Icicles) to folk (as Lightspeed Champion) and soul and R&B (as Blood Orange). Hynes is willing to try it all but it is as Blood Orange that Hynes has started to make waves outside of cult acclaim.

Freetown Sound Hynes’ latest effort plays a lot like a mixtape. And Dev has been quoted as saying that he took influence from the Beastie Boys classic Paul’s Boutique, the flow of the album and use of sampling certainly supports that influence. It also feels as if Hynes took some influence from another great New York inspired mixtape album; David Holmes’ Let’s Get Killed. Freetown Sound is littered with vocal samples and recordings, which feel very similar to those now infamous recordings of New Yorkians, which Holmes made.

Despite the above influences the sound of Hynes’ latest effort is very different from the Beastie Boys or Holmes and takes in the alternative R&B, soul, funk and hip hop similar to the previous Blood Orange efforts. Everything sounds subtle and soft yet effective, rather than send you to sleep Freetown Sound strokes you gently into engaging with Hynes’ world and views.

Vocally Hynes’ voice is at its most polished and lush on Freetown Sound and frequently reaches impossibly high pitches. There is a strong recollection to 80s Prince about his vocal stylings this is most apparent on the gorgeous But You. Alongside But You there are several other tracks, which if there were justice in the world would be huge singles the most obvious of these is the tropical house inflected Best to You.

Hynes’ has always shown an adept ability to write a heart break anthem (see Solange’s Hynes’ penned Losing You) and Best to You has all these qualities. It is both catchy and cathartic with an almost subtle yet sing along chorus.

Throughout Freetown Sound Hynes’ asks and tackles some big questions such as: What is blackness? What is feminism? What does it mean to be a black women? What is sexuality? They are huge questions, which aren’t always answered; but then can they ever really be answered? What is commendable is not only the attempt to engage the listener in these subjects but to so it in a way, which is not Bono preachy or overly introverted. Hynes achieves both and on songs like Hands Up sends his statements and questions out openly into the world with all pretensions set aside.

Whilst Freetown Sound contains stand-alone tracks with anthemic brilliance the albums is also an engaging listen as a whole and makes much more sense heard this way. It would not be a stretch of the imagination or a surprise if Blood Orange were to receive a Mercury Music Prize nomination from this effort, it has that feel about it.

Dev Hynes’ is a brilliant and prolific song writer who when he is at his best (Falling off the Lavender Bridge, True EP, For Screening Purposes Only) is peerless. Freetown Sound is a further addition to his diverse and wonderful cannon of work.

Tunes of the Month June

You know the score, here’s the tracks i’ve been listening to this month.

 

  1. SG Lewis- Yours- Perfectly chilled and great for playing as a summer’s sun sunsets

 

2. Michael Mayer & Kolsch- With echoes of last year’s Four Tet remix of Eric Prydz’s track Opus this will be huge in Ibiza this year.

 

3.  Mykki Blanco & Woodkid- Highschool Never Ends- Brilliant video for an R&B track which is both beautiful and layered and produced in a complex and diverse fashion. Not to everyone’s taste but should be huge.

 

4. Cadenza- No Drama- Further proof if any was needed that UK grime and rap is strong at the moment.

 

5. Usher- Crash- Possible the best pop song of the year so far? No doubt about that. Welcome return from Usher.

June 24th- Olafur Arnalds- Late Night Tales

One of the standout mixes of last year was that which Nils Frahm contributed to the hugely respected Late Night Tales series. Following the positive reception for that release Late Night Tales have recruited Frahm’s friend and sometimes collaborator Olafur Arnalds to mix the latest release.

 The overall chilled vibe of the Late Night Tales series is of course retained as always and Arnalds is a perfect curator for this style effortlessly moving between chilled electronica and neo-classical string-laden tracks. The effect not only creates an album perfect for bed time but one which pulls all the right emotional strings. The tracks on show are truly beautiful.

 One of the plus points of a Late Night Tales release is the freedom which is given to the artist mixing the album and this is evident here. The tracks selected from Four Tet to Arnalds own efforts genuinely feel like tracks the artist himself enjoys and feels passionate about. Attaining this feeling can turn a run of the mill mix album into a classic, and this album has every sense of a classic about it.

 Arnalds has become known in the UK for his music being used in several high profile and often dark TV series. Those who found appeal in that side of his work will also find enjoyment in this album. As this is not purely a mix album for electronic music fans but one which can be enjoyed by music lovers of all persuasions.

 Once you’ve finished listening to Late Night Tales by Olafur Arnalds you will be left asking the question. Who thought that being sent to sleep could be so engaging and enjoyable?

http://latenighttales.co.uk/