The best music of a month that felt like two, shared without comment — apart from NO FUCKING SEA SHANTIES.
AIN’T ABOUT ME — The Self as a Matrix of Desires (from the album Ain’t About Me)
“Used to live on a cloud… used to feel untouchable,” whispers Berlin-based poet Lukasz Polowczyk over and over in this passage on his latest spoken word collection. The album is an intense, close-mic immersive listen, with thoughts ranging from the deeply introspective to the intergalactic, with dense ambient atmospherics by musician Jan Wagner.
MADLIB & FOUR TET — Hopprock (from the album Sound Ancestors)
By all accounts, Madlib could well be the most prolific beatmaker out there, recently telling NPR: “I usually wake up and start, sleep maybe three, four hours a night”, the rest of the time crafting new hip-hop, jazz and electronic worlds and trawling through the history of popular music on dusty records. He’s released only a fraction of these creations, but his Mount Rushmore head’s already been carved with his collaborations with MF Doom, Freddie Gibbs, J Dilla, and his Beat Konducta series, his Blue Note reworks and his literally thousands of beats floating round the internet.
This Sound Ancestors album has been in the pipeline for years, with Four Tet saying recently he wanted to be an editor and a curator of sorts, according to the same NPR interview: “Why not make a ‘big, bold’ album that encompassed the breadth of Madlib’s work, one that mixed the sample-based collages, the hip-hop beats, solo jazz miniatures, all without the distraction of guests or vocalists, updating his legacy and impact for a new era?”
He’s taken Madlib’s deluge of beats, edited, added extra layers of arrangement and steered it in a freewheeling direction, taking in soul, reggae, funk, hip-hop and beat surrealism. ‘Hopprock’ was the first cut, a much-needed jolt of psychedelic joy on the first Monday of January.
IKOQWE — Pele
Two figures from the Angolan and Portuguese underground have joined forces to form IKOQWE — a pair of burned and bandaged hip-hop and electronic renegades with antennae’ fashioned out of toilet brushes and drumsticks.
‘Pele’ (Skin) is the new single from Angola-born and Lisbon-raised electronic producer Batida, and Angolan rapper and activist Luaty Beirão, aka Ikonoklasta, a pile-up of old-school hip, slithery rhythms and double-talk wordplay.
OID & CHIKISS — Only Music Survives
Analogue coldwave pop artist Chikiss teams up with fellow Russian producer Andrei ‘OID’ Antonets for this dreamy synth take on Alba’s classic OTT Italo disco hit, with added Russian language, melancholy and longing.
GHLOW — Hold On
Stockholm electro-punk duo GHLOW lean more into their noisy tendencies on this lead single from their debut album Slash and Burn. It’s a gritty dirge that descends into a wall of muggy electronic sound and banjaxed guitars. A proper sneery one, this.
SLEAFORD MODS — Elocution (from the album Spare Ribs)
While not as violently direct in their Tory hammering as a certain Scouse grindcore act (see below), Sleaford Mods are masters at dissecting the sticky carpet version of a Brexit Britain wheezing through a pandemic and spiralling inequality. Andrew Fearn’s wiry post-punk electronic loops are becoming more intricate, and they’ve invited featured vocalists on board for the the first time, but there’s no dilution on Spare Ribs. Trust fund goons also get it from Jason Williamson in ‘Elocution’, who rolls his best middle class twit voice around some typical rent-a-quote fakery about supporting independent venues.
SOPHIE — BIPP (Autechre Mx)
The first big hype remix of the year was Sean Booth and Rob Brown reworking SOPHIE’S 2013 breakout gem ‘BIPP’, and sadly it came just before the Scottish producer’s passing over the weekend. There’s a bittersweet sense of coming full circle, as SOPHIE declared a “no remixes” policy in 2015, “unless it’s Autechre”. Delivering the remix, the pair announced: “Sorry this is so late… hope it’s still of some use.”
Oddly, for a pair that take electronic deconstruction and algorithmic sonics to extremes, this kinda sounds like the 7-inch played at 45, like they wanted to preserve some of its hyperkinetic pop magic. The sprightly hi-def garage takes on a muted, pitched down form, and it feels like a gentle tribute to a true one-off pop trailblazer.
YU SU — XIU (from the album Yellow River Blue)
Chinese artist Yu Su has framed this album as an ode to her travels (she’s now based in Vancouver) and trips on the Yellow River in her native Kaifeng in Henang Province. It’s a fluid, nimble passage through Chinese traditional instrumentation, ambient pop and experimental electronics, and this opener has an up-tempo sparkle that really does feel like an optimistic onward journey.
BALVANERA — Gleams
Some seductive thumping EBM from Buenos Aires duo Balvanera. This is the kind of good shit you’ll hear in a skuzzy 80s flick, when the cop is out of his depth looking for some crime lord in a goth club, getting the side-eye from a teenage Trent Reznor hanging from the ceiling in a cage.
BRONTIS — Off-World Harmony Supplies
Brighton-based electronic producer Ewan Hennelly aka Brontis is taking multimedia to a new level with his latest release. For starters, his new album Take Me Seriously is a 7-inch… comic book, with an accompanying download soundtrack. But lead single ‘Off-World Harmony Supplies’ adds another layer, with a video featuring Brontis in his ‘Our Hero’ yellow space shades mode. It’s a ‘scrolling’ video too — not a scrolling lyric video, though, but an actual paper scroll, unspooling some of his own surrealist sci-fi comic book art, over skittery, groovy Braindance electro.
Take Me Seriously isn’t out yet, so no Bandcamp links here, but more detail on the release here soon.
Teishi-1 — Obeyx Break
Dublin producer Teishi-1 with a case of electronic minimalism in two halves here — a stripped-down AFX-style jam with some Classics-era snappy laser percussion and industrial ambience, that unfolds into a part 2 knocked into shape with a comfort blanket Amen break and machine gun electro snares.
VENUS EX MACHINA – Nachtspiel (from the album Lux)
Nontokozo F Shiwa has arrived at her debut album after a tangled musical journey, from singing in the church choir in Zimbabwe, to studying Sound and Music Computing in London, scoring films, hosting installations, performance labs and building interactive digital and AI systems worldwide.
She’s created an immersive, tactile electronic universe out of waspy basslines, ghostly radio transmissions, sci-fi ambience and a Fiedel-style Terminator metallic finish. ‘Nachtspiel’ feels like parallel universe acid, with the sine wave coldness offset by jazzy African percussion.
MURCOF — Underwater Lament
Since his masterpiece debut album Martes in 2002, Mexican composer and producer Fernando Corona has been one of electronic music’s most epic world builders. His palette in recent years has abstract plucked strings, piano arrangements and industrial ambience, but his upcoming album The Alias Sessions is a collection of pieces Corona created for collaborative performances the Alias dance company, so there’s a lot more fluid movement, and ‘Underwater Lament’ is an immersive first dip.
MÖCHTE – All Times Now Nothing (from the compilation Wish You Were Avon)
This is kinda like a parallel Blue Jam universe, if Chris Morris had opted for dark ambient industrial rumbles over dreamy trip-hop. It’s just as surreal and distressing, with lines of time-stretched voices and robotic generated speech veering past each other, with lines like “you should be fucking flattered”, “until her eyes bleed” and “I want my 26 pounds back”.
It’s part of Bristol label Avon Terror Corps’ new charity comp Wish You Were Avon, so this was the most worthy way to enjoy sonic malevolence last month.
MANSLAUGHTER 777 — Do You Know Who Loves You
Manslaughter 777 is a new project from The Body’s Lee Buford and Braveyoung and MSC’s Zac Jones, exploring “bracing and imaginative takes on rhythmic-centric forms from dub, breakbeats, hip-hop and beyond”. New track hits dub and hip-hop at dense industrial angles, with clattering, metallic percussion, glitchy vocal snatches and degraded jungle breaks — check out if you’re into Dalek, Scorn, The Bug or Justin Broadrick’s various rumbling explorations.
CALSUTMORAN – DEVIL KNOCKS THRICE (from the album CYBERNETIC ALCHEMY)
With 50 Bandcamp releases since 2016, CALSUTMORAN has carved out a singular grotesque corner, squelching out a venomous ALL CAPS stream of biomechanical body horror that’s not quite of this earth. Using tranquilised hip-hop and dark ambient as a writhing larva, it’s bastardised with a glitchy HR Giger goes splatter death metal aesthetic, with a kind of mulchy sound design that David Kronenberg’s Foley artist would kill for. It relies on churning, gravelly drones and alien vocal rumbles to give it some twisted momentum, but ‘DEVIL KNOCKS THRICE’ does have some semblance of hip-hop, in the loosest, most depraved sense. For when you really need your head fucked, and chopped & screwed doesn’t quite cut it.
DIVIDE AND DISSOLVE — Denial (from the album Gas Lit)
Takiaya Reed and Sylvie Nehill create dissonant jazz and colossal drone and doom metal netherworlds out of guitar, drums, saxophone, and I’m guessing a rack of effects pedals that goes on forever. They do give you the odd nervous breather with dread-filled 70s horror movie interludes like the intro on ‘Denial’, but elsewhere this is a dense, brain-splintering exercise, given even more weight through its themes addressing race, gender and the existential climate crisis.
THE BODY — They Are Coming (from the album I’ve Seen All I Need To See)
Whoever ‘they’ are, you know this isn’t gonna fucking end well. The Body’s new album is another bleak trawl through abject suffering and sonic annihilation. There’s no guest list, no female choral interludes, no ambient breathing space. Just Chip King’s strangled, tormented howls buried under festered and frazzled sludge, and Lee Buford’s torture chamber percussion. The blackest, heaviest thing they’ve done yet, which is saying something. I mean, the track after this is called, ‘The Handle, The Blade’.
MIDRIFT GUILLOTINE – THE QUEEN CAN FUCK OFF TOO (From the EP DIG UP THATCHER AND BURN HER BONES)
If you’re born in Liverpool, I reckon you’ve got a genetic hatred for Thatcher, that just kinda festers as the years pile on. Even young kids have an ingrained hatred for the demon Iron Lady, judging by their ferocious screaming of every track title on this much-needed seditious EP from Midrift Guillotine, aka WINTERQUILT (whose kids intro the tracks), RAT STABBER, ZOMPOCC and SHROUDED SERENITY. This is raw as fuck splatter grindcore, that wishes nothing but violent ill will towards the Tories, while also donating all proceeds to Kirkby Food Bank in Liverpool. Charity never felt so Fuck Thatcher-y.
HOORS — The Government Owes Me a New Toilet (from the album Ivan Yates Went Bankrupt Running a Bookies in Ireland)
Mega prolific Kerry label Dollar Pickle Records is a manic hub of noise, gabba, deranged electronics and the most surreal, hilarious shitpost-y releases you’ll find in any corner of Irish Bandcamp. It’s as anarchic and seditious as Waterford Whispers desperately wants to be, with track titles like ‘Bleeding All Over Supermacs’ by ‘Brian Dobson’, and ‘If You Drink In Wetherspoon’s You’re A Fucking Blueshirt And I Will Kill You And Your Family’ by Yung Fern$ Report. With a name like HOORS, and tracks titles like ‘90% of Koalas Have Chlamydia’ you think you know what to expect — except they pull the rug from right under you. It’s eight tracks of comforting, droney ambient electronica that wouldn’t sound out of place on a late-90s Rephlex Braindance comp. Totally against the grain, which I guess is pretty anarchic in itself.
JUTE GYTE — Diapason
It was early January and I was ready to wince when I clicked on a new release by Jute Gyte — expecting the usual microtonal dissonant avant-garde black metal assault on the senses. Plus, it’s two-and-a-half hours, and a single track. But hold on, this is a press pause palette-cleanser, a sombre, ambient drone piece that’s soothing in a falling asleep to white noise kinda way, but still nervy enough to remind you who you’re really dealing with.