Come for the post-human electronics and synthwave, stay for the cosmic jazz, abject noise, punk, transcendent techno and malevolent grime, then leave after some wispy ambience and field recordings. Here’s the soundtrack of May 2019…
PATIENCE – No Roses (Dizzy Spells LP)
Patience, aka producer and vocalist Roxanne Clifford, serves up some blissful electronics that take a few cues from C86 indie-pop, naive Italo or a more beautifully lo-fi New Order. The album only lasts a half hour so go for the whole thing, but the wispy vocals and synth squiggles on No Roses might get the most repeat plays.
HOLLY HERNDON – Extreme Love (PROTO LP)
As a concept album, PROTO has a pretty strong conceit – producer Holly Herndon has collaborated with a choral ensemble and a nascent artificial intelligence called Spawn, taught by hundreds of vocal coaches. Once you know this it’s impossible to listen without prejudice, but you may as well welcome the hyperreal digital collision of zeroes, ones and carbon-based lifeforms, even if Extreme Love’s prophetic vision of a future post-human generation is a bit close to the bone for now.
CONCRETE LANDSCAPE – Basic Aerobic (In a Dramatic Gesture EP)
I found cassette label Detriti Records through Belarusian cold wave revivalists Molchat Doma and their transfixing performance at Tallinn Music Week in March. I’ve gone down a few Detriti wormholes on Bandcamp since, and found a label as evocative as Ghost Box for conjuring up misremembered nostalgia for the 70s and 80s.
Concrete Landscape is a side project of Montreal synthwave artist Saint-Samuel, and it’s a sci-fi cosmic disco slow jam master-stroke.
JOHANNA KNUTSSON – Ilnestorp (Tollarp Transmissions LP)
This largely beatless album from Swedish producer Johanna Knutsson gets its percussion from little electronic abstractions, scuffs and rattles. And in the case of Ilnestorp, the sound of digital bats echoing overhead. There’s a hint of the braindance ambience of Global Goon, but something even more alien, with comforting synth pads swirling around.
FLYING LOTUS – Actually Virtual ft Shabazz Palaces (Flamagra LP)
There’s a load to unpack on FlyLo’s new album Flamagra – a cosmic, jazzy concept album painting a world in which LA is lit by an eternal flame, that runs through 27 tracks over 67 minutes. He’s called on many collaborators here, but Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler is the perfect tag team partner, as he’s no stranger to electronic psychedelic abstractions in his day job.
MOUNT ALASKA – Triantáin
Dublin electronic duo Mount Alaska’s first release of 2019 was composed especially to mark the 20th anniversary of An Taobh Tuathail, Cian O’Cíobháin’s radio show on Radió Na Gaeltachta. In keeping with the minimalist geometry aesthetic on previous releases, Triantáin means triangle in Irish, while this track feeds off their trademark tension and release. There’s a lift-off brewing with the sci-fi synth motifs and a deceptively heavy kickdrum pulse, and you could imagine them shapeshifting and time-stretching this to mind-altering levels in their live show. A real centrepiece track.
ZOID – Four Sparks
“A techno song about the four sparks and subatomic particles that make up the human experience,” says Dublin producer Zoid of this taster track from his upcoming EP with Polish vocalist/visual artist Dorota Konchevska.
Get battered by the harsh overdriven kicks and humanoid electronic snarls and gurgles, but get brought back into the room by Konchevska’s reverbed jazzy vocals (but only just).
GEDDES GENGRAS – The Pump at the Way Station (I Am the Last of That Green and Warm Hued World LP)
Modular synth composer M. Geddes Gengras’s 2018 ambient album Light Pipe was a two-and-a-half-hour serene deep listening experience, and there are plenty of meditative passages on this album too. It’s an album based on Stephen King’s dystopian Dark Tower fantasy series, so there’s dread and discord flecked through it, but the 14-minute The Pump at the Way Station is a droney ambient balm (until the last ominous minute).
DAVE CLARKSON – Clear Well (from the album A Pocket Guide to Subterranea – Mysterious Caves of the British Isles)
I stumbled on this searching for field recordings and it lured me in with a false hope of ASMR trickling water and Famous Five smuggler’s cave innocence. Turns out Dave Clarkson has recorded sounds from caves with “Some left pure, some processed, some mangled, some untangled”. I was disappointed at first as I was all about the pure, but the mangling turned out to be more gripping after all. Clear Well has a human percussive echoey water drop effect that sounds like it’s from the mind of the Radiophonic Workshop’s John Baker, with added drones and distant chants.
THE LONDON SOUND SURVEY – Thames
The London Sound Survey is the project of Ian Rawes – a colossal online archive of field recordings of the city. He’s been called the “Alan Lomax of London psychogeography” by Time Out, who said it way better than I could.
Thames is the tiniest taster of the project, even if it immediately feels vast as it opens with the scraping drone of Tower Bridge being raised from the North Bascule Chamber. The iconic bridge is the album’s hulking lever, with sonic reports from the south chamber and the machine room, while nature gets a look-in with birds and other wildlife at Allhallows Marshes, and Maplin Sands is as close as you can possibly get to silence in London.
HELM – Leave Them All Behind (Chemical Flowers LP)
This passage halfway point through Helm’s new album could’ve soundtracked the scene in the HBO Chernobyl drama with the three plant workers fumbling in the dark up to their waists in radioactive water, trying to find a valve to switch off. The tension is ramped by the insistent bass pulse, metallic clanking and swirling water effects. The rest of the album doesn’t offer much respite, as it festers in urban decay. Don’t listen in the dark, or at least have a torch that works.
SLOWTHAI – Nothing Great About Britain (Nothing Great About Britain LP)
At one point here Slowthai reckons, “Hand on my heart I swear I’m proud to be British,” while a few seconds later calls the Queen a cunt, and also slips in references to Phil Mitchell, DM boots, Buckfast, the EDL, Ainsley Harriot and the unshakeable comparisons to him and Dizzee Rascal. Well, they’re both hyper MCs with a surreal and evocative reportage take on grime and hip-hop, and this intro track sets the stall out in no time.
SKEPTA – Greaze Mode (Ignorance Is Bliss LP)
Skepta’s proper comeback album Konnichiwa saved his career by finally banishing his pop wrong moves of the previous decade – becoming a modern grime classic and winning the Mercury Prize over the late David Bowie. No pressure then. Ignorance Is Bliss doesn’t really rip anything up, which is no bad thing, and Greaze Mode is the best beat on the record, all Mega Drive Shinobi vibes.
GEORGE CHEN – Jokland (Word Origami remix LP)
Deathbomb Arc is a hard label to pin down, veering between noise, hip-hop, breakcore, outlier punk, ambient and whatever else they feel like. Here’s a new path though – their first comedy album. It’s a deluxe version of George Chen’s Word Origami, but it’s been ‘remixed’ by noise and electronic artists, ranging from abrasive abstractions to vaporwave trance.
The highlight is Jokland, which whomps along on a classic shattered electro break, with Chen’s lines contorted and sliced into smithereens. Sounds like Cookie Puss if David Lynch was the fourth Beastie Boy.
EARTH – The Colour of Poison (Full Upon Her Burning Lips LP)
When you’re used to Dylan Carlson’s guitar downstrokes reverberating to infinity, it hits you head-on when a riff is muted in a full-stop. The Colour of Poison has many of these knife-chopped stops, with guttural Sabbath-y riffs punctuated by Adrienne Davies’ ominous cymbal chattering. After the relative maximalism of 2014’s Primitive and Deadly with guest vocals and a metal album feel, Full Upon Her Burning Lips lands somewhere between the bleached-out desert blues of their masterpiece The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, with enough downtuned guitar drone overdrive to keep you holding your stomach.
OTOBOKE BEAVER – Datsu: Hikage No Onna (Itekoma Hits LP)
I can’t make discern many lyrics from this album by Japanese garage punks Otoboke Beaver, but it starts on this opener with frontwoman Accorinrin trilling the line, “I hate a-yoooou” and they seal the deal in the split second. This is hyper-visceral noise with a sense of derailed abandon and pure joy.
PINCH POINTS – Ouch !! (Moving Parts LP)
Aussie “turbo punks” Pinch Points rattle through hyper references to The Fall and Wire, before you realise the singer is rhyming off the text of a review of their 2018 EP Mechanical Injury. As meta and snarky as it gets really – Mark E Smith would’ve been glowing with pride. The sparks are flying off the whole album, with the above nods making sense, and plenty of surf-rock grooves.
SKYJELLY – White Wolves (We Pull the Stars Over Our Heads Like Covers LP)
Immediate bonus point for the title of the album, but let’s not get too superficial. White Wolves is a freewheeling lo-fi psychedelic freak out that sounds like it could go on for a month, but it’s been distilled into 10 minutes. But even with the abstract vocal melodies and processed vulpine feedback howls there’s still a Damo Suzuki-like zen sprinkled over everything.
WALKING BOMBS AND GRIDFAILURE – Blood Offering Distraction (Suicide By Citizenship LP)
This record by David Brenner (Gridfailure) and Morgan Y. Evans (Walking Bombs) is a pretty bleak takedown of modern life in America, which ends on a track called Bleeding Out. Blood Offering Distraction is a festering, metallic industrial dirge coated in JG Thirwell Foetus malevolence.
ASEETHE – Throes (Throes LP)
“Where their previous album Hopes of Failure centred around hopelessness, Throes turns its focus toward wrath.” So says the press release, so you need to be in the mood for bleakness. Check out the album cover too – nothing good is happening to anyone on this record. If you’re into The Body, Swans, ISIS, Neurosis etc this will slot right into your dark heart. Think hypnotic blunt force trauma repetition, strangled, feral vocals and feedback drones. If that’s not a trigger warning you’re good to go.