October 28th- Max Richter-Black Mirror (Nosedive)

 

Contemporary classical music has been going through a bit of a spike in popularity recently part of this is due to the fantastic output of the Erased Tapes label alongside others such as Francesco Tristiano and Petre Inspirescu to mention just a few names who are pushing classical music forward and helping to develop a new audience for the genre outside of Radio 3. Central to and an inspiration for much of this has been the work of British composer Max Richter, who gained critical and commercial acclaim with his genre-splicing contemporary classical album The Blue Notebooks.

Richter’s use of piano, strings and synths often creates soundscapes, which are both haunting and beautiful. In other words he is the perfect person to compose a soundtrack to an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series, which has returned to critical acclaim on Netflix.

Throughout Richter’s soundtrack there is a juxtaposition of heart aching beauty and dark undertones. A great example of this is Dopamine 2, whereby strings and shimmery synth create an atmosphere of serenity before the use of string plucking and bass are introduced creating a much darker and jarring effect. The play-off between the two worlds Richter is creating is simply stunning.

Despite Richter’s ability with multiple instruments Piano takes central stage here apart from on a few electronic leading tracks like Nocturne. Many of the piano pieces on the soundtrack adopt a similar melody or key as to the lead track On Reflection, in doing so Richter drags the listener back to central haunting environment.

The overall effect Richter creates on this soundtrack is for the listener to feel trapped, through the use of similarity, repetition and juxtaposition the listener is transported into a similar state to that of the main protagonist in the Black Mirror episode. As far as conveying the central feeling of the character Richter is brilliantly successful. And whilst sometimes unsettling the overall sound is one of beauty.

However, step away from the Black Mirror episode and Richter’s soundtrack works very well as a stand-alone piece of music. Perfect listening for early morning train rides or late nights in bed when you are unable to sleep.  The fact this release is available for £1.96 on Itunes makes it an absolute steal and well worth your investment.

 

http://www.factmag.com/2016/10/27/max-richter-soundtrack-black-mirror-nosedive/

October 21st- Nicolas Jaar- Sirens

 

Subtlety, Space and Silence are not qualities, which many would associate with modern electronic music especially in this post-EDM, brostep-inspired environment, in which we now live. However these three qualities are ones, which Nicolas Jaar fully inhabits. As a producer Jaar first attracted attention with his staggeringly excellent album Space is Only Noise, which has been lauded by many as being among the greatest electronic albums ever released. After some free downloads and an award winning essential mix Jaar now returns with Sirens, which quietly builds upon those omnipresent qualities within his work of: subtlety, space and silence.

Sirens kicks off with around 20 seconds of silence almost making the listener question whether the record has actually started. Fooling the listener from the off and putting them on edge with silence is an old trick but an effective one, it leaves the listener feeling unsure and uncertain and primed for the unexpected (of which Sirens contains muchs of). The silence is gently broken by the use of an effect which sounds like it was borrowed from an LTJ Bukem Record circa 1997. The track Killing Time is, much like everything on Sirens, a slow burner, which has been broken in to many seperate acts and then re-assembled into one track, it’s a skill, which fans of Burial will be familiar with and it is well employed here by Jaar.

Much of what makes Sirens such an engaging and interesting listen happens in the background. It is almost as if the listener is being told to pay attention to what happens in the shadows or the most interesting moments  could pass you by. You figure Jaar is a people watcher.

The complexity of Sirens is staggering there are multiple layers to every track: uses of samples, gospels choirs, jazz instrumentation, classical instrumentation, techno and much, much more besides. It will take the average listener a lifetime to decipher every element of Sirens. However, unlike lesser artists, it is this complexity, which makes Sirens entertaining rather than unlistenable.

There is a certain bleakness to Sirens, which fans of Jaar’s work will be familiar with but this bleakness is often balanced with such beautiful instrumentation that often it attains a strange alluring quality, which adds to the mystery of the album and certainly keeps the listener from tumbling into a self-pity party.

The reviews, which have so far appeared for Sirens have been over whelmingly positive with the album being called high art and its creator a genius. Whether these compliments are true or not I shall leave down to you. However, I will say that Jaar is a musicians musician who has, in Sirens, created a complex beast, which lives within subtlety.

October 14th 2016- Kuedo- Slow Knife

It’s been a stand-out year for Planet MU with exceptional records from Konx-Om-Pax and Ital Tek and now to join that run is the new album from Kuedo. Kuedo is the new project of Jamie formerly of Bristolian dubstep duo Vex’d. For fans of Vex’d Jamie’s work as Kuedo will sound hugely different but none the less brilliant.

For the release of Slow Knife Jamie has claimed that he was influenced by film scores particularly those which are inflected with dark synths, think Vangelis and John Carpenter’s works and the soundtracks to the Alien films. This influence shows throughout. Slow Knife is the soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist.

Many of the tracks on Slow Knife feel as if they were born of and exist within darkness, however, beauty and light can also be found on tracks such as Love Theme. Jamie has put his synth to fantastic mood giving work and the listener is frequently transported from the sounds of a dark cave to those of light ascending to heaven and back again.

There are elements of Mumdance’s weightless genre especially in the deployment of subtle bass tones throughout the album. Additionally the synth heavy elements of this album will ensure that fans of Aphex Twin’s early and more ambient works will find much to love here.

Slow Knife is a beautiful album which easily does its creator and various reference points proud. Kuedo’s has with this album proved that it is most definitely the Slow Knife that cuts the deepest.

October 7th- Kate Tempest- Let Them Eat Chaos

Like only a handful of others before her; Bob Dylan, The Streets and Saul Williams, Kate Tempest blurs the line between poet and musician, this was put to brilliant effect on her acclaimed debut album Everybody Down and is once again in evidence here on Let Them Eat Chaos.

Part of what makes Tempest’s work so enjoyable is her ability to tell a story and maintain a cohesive narrative, all too regularly failing at one of these is the downfall of a concept album. But with concept album number 2 under her belt it is clear for Kate this isn’t a problem. Let Them Eat Chaos opens with two tracks which paint the scene and setting for the story we are to bear witness to, the setting being London in the here and now and more specifically a street familiar to the everyman. Let Them Eat Chaos is the story of the common man and woman in a socially and personally chaotic time. More than this it is the story of how our individual dramas often prevent us from seeing the impending greater storm that is just around the corner, in the case of Let Them Eat Chaos the storm is one of social disorder, xenophobia, the banking crisis and political corruption.

Each track on Let Them Eat Chaos tells the individual story of a character suffering with personal strife whether that be dissatisfaction, grief, love, loss, work, drink and drugs etc each character is awake at 4.18am traumatised in some respect by the thoughts of their own lives. Tempest tells each tale compassionately and passionately leaving the listener with the thought that there’s a little bit of me in each one of these people. Relatability really is one of the triumphs of Let Them Eat Chaos, the events and stories told will resonate with almost any millennial out there. Tempest has adopted an omnipresent approach to her generation looking at its problems from above and then sketching them out with stunning lyrical dexterity for all to observe.  Of course this is partially the point of Let The Eat Chaos to show that we are not alone in our problems and that even within difficulties there exists commonality.

The final track of Let Them Eat Chaos sees a literal and figurative storm break and each of our 7 characters leaving their various houses to observe the spectacle. Tempest is of course stating very clearly for the listener that sometimes despite our problems there is a greater storm which unites us. The imagery used is beautiful and her point is adeptly made. Adding further strength is the fact that Tempest doesn’t offer the listener any solutions to the various problems on show, this is not preaching to the choir but a state of the nation address. Let Them Eat Chaos says here we are, this is my strife and this is our society. The effect is refreshing in a time where every other musician is saying who you should vote for, who you should save, what celebrity is it and who is not, instead telling you how to think Tempest has painted an overview and left the choice up to you (though an awareness exists of what Kate thinks too).

Let Them Eat Chaos is a brilliant and complex piece of story-telling which only further cements Kate Tempest’s position as a reluctant voice of her confused, lost, embittered and embattled millennial generation.

 

Tunes of the Month September 2016

A little late putting this up but these are the tunes I was listening to in September:

 

Boston Bun- Get Into It- Starts off sounding like classic Trance track Nalin and Kane Beachball before going into a strong vocal house sound:

 

Altern8- Everybody (2 Bad Mice remix)- Released last year but getting a huge amount of attention this summer an old skl style remix of an Altern8 Classic:

 

Cadenza- People (DJ Zinc remix)- Zinc brings speed garage and old school jungle sounds to Cadenza’s latest with great effect:

September 30th- Bon Iver- 22, A Million

Ever since 1965 when Bob Dylan plugged in his guitar to an amp and went electric folk musicians have sought various ways to explore and expand their sound and audience through the use of electronics. Bright Eyes did this huge acclaim on his Digital Ash in a Digital Urn LP and more recently Laura Marling has also ditched the acoustic guitar for one with a power supply. The extension of folk going electric has also run to rock, with Radiohead infamously changing their sound with the release of Kid A, and more recently to hip hop, with Kanye West’s Yeezus taking on industrial techno. Bon Iver’s 22, A Million owes a lot to all of these releases in its change of direction and artistic vision but perhaps most greatly it is indebted to the last release, as the vocal and production styles of Justin Vernon’s close friend Yeezy are a very strong influence on 22, A Million.

All of the above highlights clearly that those who purchase a copy of 22, A Million expecting the delicate folk of Bon Iver’s debut LP are going to be disappointed. There are elements of delicate folk and that stunning icy high pitched voice appearing on tracks like 00000 Million but even here a sample of Fionn Regan echoes across parts of the track adding something different to what has gone before. This referencing of contemporary folk artists occurs in other places as on track 4 where Bon Iver samples Paulo Nutini, it almost feels as if when reverting to the folk of old Bon Iver still wishes to cut n paste to express.

22, A Million treads a different path from what has gone before it and is littered with samples, vocoder and synth, which is coupled effectively with the folk that made Bon Iver an international success. At points the fracturing and confrontational style becomes difficult for the listener but in a very good way, a way, which in fact is again very comparable to Kanye West’s Yeezus. The first two tracks of 22, A Million conform almost whole heartedly to this stylistic and confrontational change, so much so, that in fact when some acoustic guitar and non-mechanised vocals appear on track 5 they act as a form of welcome relief.

Bon Iver is with 22, A Million challenging his listener to explore something else. To explore a more fractured sound in a more fractured world, he is confronting what folk can and should be in a post-modern world permeated by technology and the results are staggeringly effective. Track 3 is a perfect example of this: It’s a folk love song fed through a brutal vocal effects machine, to the point whereby it sounds like a robot voice from a Kanye West nightmare, yet with the story telling lyricism and heart ache roots the track contains many folk elements.

Bon Iver has always painted a dark and tortured picture of the world on his LPs often portraying emotional and personal turmoil and 22, A Million does feel similar in this vein. Yet even when plumbing the depths of darkness, as he does here, Justin Vernon finds beauty and despite being as dark as the night 22, A Million is as beautiful as the moment you spot the light of the first visible star.

Like those that went before him Justin Vernon has successfully changed his style and with 22, A Million is a very worthy contender for album of the year.