Thank u January, next. Here’s some music you might’ve missed under the deluge of shit memes about how long it lasted. Last month was powered by street meat, desert synthwave, dank dub, DIY minimal wave, longform ambient, industrial collages, ASMR electronic fever dreams, perverse spoken word nostalgia and a few straight-up hits that’ll be in the end of year lists.
GUM TAKES TOOTH – Fights Physiology (Arrow LP)
A coldwave noise glitch-fest from UK duo Gum Takes Tooth, who self-identify as “aural mesmerism in a maze-like arrangement of sound system culture, riffs and pan-cultural psychedelics”. This is a hissing, industrial headbutt full of rhythmic false starts to stop you getting too comfortable. From the brilliant new album Arrow.
TEETH OF THE SEA – I’d Rather, Jack
Teeth of the Sea have been one of the most defiant bands of the last 10 years or so, hacking away at conventions and expectations, with a sound that sneaks around techno, prog, krautrock, psychedelia and darkened dub.
On this latest single they teamed up with Erol Alkan, who helps whip it into an rubbery electro gut punch, with noir trumpets, garbled stacked vocal samples and shattered guitar shreds just below the surface. Countdown to their fifth album Wraith, out February 22.
SLEAFORD MODS – Kebab Spider
The most Sleaford Mods song title yet, the song does actually feature an image of a spider crawling out of late night “street meat” after a pub scuffle. ‘Kebab Spider’ is a sort of rant against “shit jobs”, spoon-fed trash TV and the music industry (The Mods’ new album Eton Alive is out on their own new label Extreme Eating, since leaving Rough Trade after one album). The video has a Boiler Room vibe, among sub-bass and a rolling post-punk riff — only here the fans are getting stuck in instead of taking selfies.
DENISE CHAILA – Copper Bullet (Duel Citizenship EP)
Zambian-born Limerick-based MC Denise Chaila has just released one of the most striking and defiant debut Irish EPs in a long time. Chaila is a sometime Rusangano Family collaborator, and Rusangano’s Murli produces both tracks – with ‘Copper Bullet’ flitting between grainy 8-bit Sega boss level synths and a tense bassline on the same wavelength as Aphex Twin’s ‘Ventolin’.
She told Nialler9 on the song premiere that ‘Copper Bullet’ is her calling time on the idea of being a ‘female’ rapper, saying: “I’m not an honorary member of a boys’ club… it’s an outright rejection of anything and anybody who would make a sub-genre out of me.” The track is a repeat-repeat-repeat banger with Chaila shifting between intricate grime flow and traditional African singing.
STRATIS – Humanly Possible (New Face cassette, reissue)
Cologne cold wave act Stratis’s 1983 cassette album New Face has just been reissued by Dark Entries – a label with a 100 per cent bullseye rate of resurrecting cult electronic classics. ‘New Face’ isn’t as rudimentary as many other European DIY synth acts of the era, with elements of prog, cosmic jazz and motorik grooves among the sleek electro-pop. The track snakes along on a morphine-drip New Beat bassline, while the history of conflict in objects is chronologically charted out in one-word bullet points – “Stone… stick… dart… knife… dagger” etc, through various guns, tanks, warships, World Wars and the nuclear arms race. More here.
SHARON VAN ETTEN – Seventeen (Remind Me Tomorrow)
This year was just a week old when Sharon Van Etten surely released a singles that’ll be in the December best-of lists. ‘Seventeen’ is the highlight off her fifth album Remind Me Tomorrow, an unashamed hymn to nostalgia that channels the the best bits of Arcade Fire at their most epic, Bat For Lashes and even fellow New Jersey head Bruce Springsteen.
THE TWILIGHT SAD – [10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs] (It Won/t Be Like This All the Time LP)
Speaking of The Twilight Sad’s fifth album, frontman James Graham said it was their “most accessible without being cheese”. In the case of opener ‘[10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs]’ it’s not so much accessible as a goth-pop-post-punk bullet train that slams into your gut. Graham’s first line is, “We’re hanging on by a thread,” and that sense of jeopardy builds as he hurtles through the song in his fist-up Scottish accent. Another contender for pop song of the year already, ffs.
HAMA – Houmeissa (Houmeissa LP)
Nigerién Hama has hit the sweet spot you never knew you wanted – West African desert folk songs retooled into cosmic synthwave and soulful techno. This is some of the most addictive, straight-up joyous music I’ve ever heard, sure to be on loop through the rest of 2019. The title track glides by on classic 808 house kicks, with an infectious 90s video game motif floating through it. Pure bliss, and a real one-off.
THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA – A Caged Bird/Imitations of Life ft Roots Manuva
Some 17 years after their epic collaboration ‘All Things To All Men’, Britain’s greatest MC Roots Manuva once again teams up with experimental jazz/electronics outfit the Cinematic Orchestra in the lead single for their first album since 2007. While ‘All Things To All Men’ is shot through with the same introspection he showed on his masterpiece 2001 LP Run Come Save Me, here the older Roots has a not-so positive bird’s eye view of society, hovering over transcendent orchestration.
ELIZABETH VELDON – A Night In Winter
Extreme cheating here as A Night In Winter is a 16-hour ‘double album’ from the prolific Scottish electronic producer, but it its drone minimalism can either seep into your consciousness like unnerving Muzak, or can be as unnerving as a David Lynchian fever dream on deep listening. More here.
THE BLACK DOG – Brian Harvey E17 T.I. (From Conspiracy Tapes RMX: Deconstruction Day)
The Black Dog’s latest release compiles edits of their first five Conspiracy Tapes – a series of serene ambient pieces which plots their “journey into the dark side of the conspiracy world”. The album features 12-minute versions of the original hour-long pieces – five instrumental versions and five with recordings of their subjects, including a Flat Earther, anti-vaxxer, morgellon sufferer, Christian Scientist and former East 17 singer Brian Harvey, who’s been ‘trapped’ in his home for five years as a ‘Targeted Individual’.
Crucially, these aren’t hit pieces, but are presented without comment, and in the case of Harvey, with genuine compassion – sincere well wishes accompany the original release.
NILS FRAHM – Spells (Encore 2 EP)
Encore 2 collects four tracks that didn’t make Nils Frahm’s 2018 album All Melody, but it’s far from a series of sketches from the piano composer. ‘Spells’ is a 13-minute cosmic deep dive into analogue synth arpeggios and Koyaanisqatsi-style abstract choir chants. Magic.
RAINFOREST SPIRITUAL ENSLAVEMENT – Bridgetown Dub (Venus Flytrap Exotica EP)
Dominick Fernow takes a more ecological turn on Venus Flytrap Exotica – a sidestep from RSE’s usual tribal voodoo edge. The release deals with the “consequences of the Panama Canal and the controversial battle with malaria”, specifically through dank, humid dub dread and far-off thunderstorms on ‘Bridgetown Dub’. More here.
VATICAN SHADOW – Hellfire Hidden Tribes (Opium Crop Airstrikes EP)
Opium Crop Airstrikes is another politically-charged release from Dominick Fernow in his Vatican Shadow form. He describes it as a collection of “long-form industrial tracks in the style of Jordanian Descent”, a Vatican Shadow cassette from 2012. ‘Hellfire Hidden Tribes’ is a lurking sci-fi dystopia that recalls Black Rain’s ‘Now I’m Just a Number‘. More here.
SIAVASH AMINI & MATT FINNEY – Still Remember (Second Shift cassette album)
This new tape release from producer Amini and Alabama spoken word artist/poet Finney is a perverse nostalgia trip – what if your teenage years were just the start of “things slowly turning to shit”?
Second Shift is an emotionally draining listen, with Finney’s deadpan recollections of back porches, joints in the back of shit cars, fumbled sex on deserted building sites and abortion crises, amid slowly unfurling impressionistic ambient pieces that smudge grating noise into serene synth strings.
‘Still Remember’ sets the album up with Finney’s memory of falling in love for the first time, then the visceral pain of finding out the eventual ex was getting married to a mechanic twice her age. He ends up driving to a place they used to hang out and just vomiting on a mailbox, while the track bleeds out as an instrumental for another 10 minutes as the listener lets the harrowing image sink in.
CROATIAN AMOR – Dark Cut ft Jonnine Standish (Isa LP)
Danish producer Loke Rahbeck’s new album as Croatian Amor is an ASMR electronic fever dream, with seriously startling sound design that nails you to the spot with headphones in. He calls it “bubblegum industrial”, but it’s more like the expansive collage work of Arca or Elyssia Crampton. Dark Cut feels like a future generation take on trip-hop, with glancing metallic percussion and ball bearing smithereen effects offsetting Jonnine’s Standish’s soulful vocals.
TENDENCYITIS – 0020A (AA0020 EP)
Most releases on Copenhagen experimental label FLUF are made for recalibrating your synapses rather than dragging you to the nearest dancefloor. But on the 20th FLUF EP, Toronto producer Tendencyitis hangs everything on a discernible ‘beat’, while still indulging in typically FLUFfy electronic abstractions. If you listen carefully you can just about trace the acid-burn outlines of Daft Punk’s Burnin’, but it’s petrol bombed with shattered glass abrasions before you’re dancing too comfortably.
LAIBACH – 4’33’’
Enjoy the silence — Slovenian industrial act Laibach indulge their performance art side with their unique take on John Cage’s famous avant-garde composition. Laibach’s version is a four-minute, 33 second four-way chess game between three members of Laibach and Croatian performance artist Vlasta Delimar, with the only sound the odd crackle from a John Cage vinyl recording that plays on a floating turntable. No one makes a first move.
JAC BERROCAL, DAVID FENECH & VINCENT EPPLAY – Equivoque (Ice Exposure LP)
Ice Exposure is a tense, volatile retch from the outskirts of spoken word, jazz, pitch black dub, no wave rock and splintered electronics. A lot of the album hangs on Berrocal’s avant-garde trumpet wails and raspy French and English prose, rattling around an industrial noir sound palette. A compelling side-step into a dark side back alley. Berrocal is in his 70s too – talk about staying restless.
BLACK TO COMM – Ten Tons of Rain in a Plastic Cup (Seven Horses For Seven Kings LP)
Apple Music has the new Black To Comm album filed under ‘Ambient’, but we’re a long way from the chillout room here. On Seven Horses For Seven Kings, German producer Marc Richter does evoke the odd tranquil mood with vaporous drones and minimal piano, but more often it’s a respite from scraped stringed instruments, gravelly noise and jarring atonal dub echoes. ‘Ten Tons…’ is a suitably heavy affair, landing somewhere between Scott Walker’s The Drift, a minor key sci-fi score and abject noise-horror. And who knows what was sampled for the demonic grunts.
AUTOEROTICHRIST – Benediction (split 7-inch with Prurient)
“‘Benediction’ is Autoerotichrist’s first recording in 15 years, and in Hospital Records’ words it’s “pure arcane and explosive noise in the way that is gone from our terrible world now”. Parts of it kinda sounds like someone pissing in a metal bucket while late 80s Ministry is soundchecking in the room next door, which is in fact a good thing”. Part of a split with Prurience, more here.