Monday, 20 March 2017

Call Super- Fabric 92

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Artist: Call Super/ Various Artists
Album: Fabric 92
Record Label: fabric

Revered UK producer and DJ Joe Seaton brings his masterful, shape-morphing skills to bare on maybe the finest Fabric Series contribution yet

Given that fabric's two Mix CD series, respectively titled simply 'Fabric' and 'Fabric: Live', are arguably the most successful and popular specimens of their kind, the sense of joy and want to continue down the trajectory of pushing the most exciting and forward-thing DJ's and mixes on a worldwide scale has been resumed without any kind of reserve or lapse in quality since the club's re-opening. The fabric series' have been a prolific way for those not able to regularly enjoy the club's cultural prevalence and the coming-of-age empowerment indulged in by many of the producers and DJ's who have made contributions to experience all facets of the dance genre. It's probably not controversial to say that without them the widespread appeal of dance music, especially in the UK, wouldn't be half as prevalent. 

Joe Seaton, aka Call Super (one of various aliases he releases music under), is a name that constantly drips from the tongue of anyone who has had more than a passing interest in club culture over the past five years or so. His often visionary productions and chameleon-esque approach to DJ'ing, honed especially by several incredible showcases with Berlin's Objekt over the years, have cemented themselves at the heart of the UK's beating late-night core. In many ways, he's the perfect candidate to succeed the reigns of the mix series from Nina Kraviz, whose Fabric 91 was one of the strangest but most technically adept chapters yet. 

In a statement released prior to Fabric 92, Seaton said: "The late hours seem strangely unrepresented within this series, and I thought I would start there instead of using this opportunity to add another peak time chapter to the collections". It's an almost impossibly smooth mix and as Seaton's words allude, it doesn't shy away from the most club-friendly elements of the dance sphere (Objekt's shape-shifting 'The Stitch-Up' and Call Super's own 'Acephale II' ensure that), but it's a selection that largely prioritises atmospheres and magnetic, sunken grooves and contains plenty of his penchant for dynamic shifts and disorientating turns. 

Although Seaton says that he wanted the mix to somewhat reflect how he plays in a club, the overriding sense of a non-live mix in his hands is an opportunity to draw in thinkers; people completely aware of the music's history, heritage and context and thus those seeking out dramatic paradigms or real emotion, and Fabric 92 has both in abundance. 

The soothing, barely there bubbling of Photek's 'T'Raenon' is balanced as a sleepy lull between the forthright, reflective groove of Two Full Minds' 'No Smoke' and Don't DJ's mind-warping 'Pornoire', which here is ever-so-slightly tweaked to slot in without a second's hesitation. Shortly after the "epic mix" of Carl Craig's 'A Wonderful Life' is transformed from being whisper-quiet into being totally sun-kissed and euphoric before melting gloriously into 'Acephale II', providing us with the mix's biggest moment of sheer, unadulterated ecstasy. 

The final 15 minutes or so feature this venture's most sumptuously reserved and textured gambit, which soars from the early acapella blues/soul of Walter Brown's rarity 'Keep On Walkin'' set flawlessly against the backdrop of Karen Gwyer's trance-inducing 'Hippie Fracca' and a brief, nightmarish flicker of Thomas Ankersmit & Valerio Tricola's drone demon 'Plague #7'. Yves Tumor's classic 'The Feeling When You Walk Away' manages to pack some sunset-drenched imagery into proceedings before the angry contemporary ragga of Speng Bond's 'Cutbacks' round things up with an inspired nod to the criminal justice bill and a government-lead mission to strike out at the poor & young.

Seaton said of the mix that he wanted it to be "primarily highly personal", and certainly Fabric 92 is the kind of mix that could only be achieved with an acute and unique, persistently evolving approach to DJ'ing. That Call Super has attempted unorthodox ideas and pushed different sounds and ideas out of their comfort zones to create fresh experiences and feelings should come as a surprise to no one familiar with his work, but it's particularly powerful in a context like the fabric mix series. Not only does it proudly carry on the tradition of bringing the more esoteric depths of dance music to the fore, but it's also the contribution to the series that has the most life-affirming sense of self and intrigue yet. 


Monday, 13 March 2017

Lessons In Hypnotism: Leif & Inga Mauer Reviewed

Inga Mauer. Image credit: Rene Passet Flickr 

Two of Techno's brightest names show off their mesmerising chops on two of 2017's most exciting dance releases thus far

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Artist: Leif
Album: July V/ Shoulders Back
Record Label: Tio Series

While it may run the risk of becoming "the cliched story" to cynical minds, one of dance music's proudest traditions is its record label culture. After years on the circuit as both a producer and DJ, it seems more like a natural step for the London-based Leif Knowles than it does for most. His esoteric deliveries and prolific output since the mid-noughties have certainly given him enough of a platform to launch something that celebrates those consistencies even further.

July V/ Shoulders Back is the debut release on his newly fashioned Tio Series imprint, and as expected it barrels through with all the character and nuance we've come to expect from him with a resolutely fresh twist. 'July V' grows from humble beginnings into a jarring, burbling series of jagged synth loops, growing into itself seamlessly and taking on fried, layered forms. It turns in a recognisably Leif-centric melodious heart around the mid-point before finding its feet in self-assured oddness again as it draws to a close.

By contrast, 'Shoulders Back' has more of a rigid structure from the start. Drawing on a more classically banging persuasion, its mesmerising lead synth is simpler in nature but just as enticing. Coupled with a deep-cut analogue bass lick and a well-measured but propulsive beat, it proves itself just as intriguing as the weirder recesses of Knowles' work.


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Artist: Inga Mauer
Album: Schtum 012
Record Label: Schtum

The new 12" by mysterious Russian producer Inga Mauer steps into contact with record label culture from a different direction. As its title suggests, it's the 12th release on rising German label Schtum, who have kick-started the likes of Avalon Emerson and Leibniz into prominence in recent years, and who have a penchant for soliciting both a hard-nosed and forward-thinking approach to techno. Mauer uses the four tracks on Schtum 012 to explore different traditions within a club-friendly framework and takes them to nearly impossibly sunken, no-nonsense depths.

Opener 'Dno' has a gloriously smooth and strident stomp to accompany its fat and fuzzy two-note synth lead that's packed with the ecstacy of a Hamburg sweatbox at 2am. 'Silences' is cavernous and dark but comes loaded with the kind of infectious, subterranean repetition that the likes of both Randomer and Roman Flugel have secured in the past. There's a real tinge of euphoria in the sense of the "doom of our time" atmospherics exorcised on the pounding closer 'Dystopia' via deceptively simple but hyper-coloured melodies and effervescent vocal samples. Best of all though is the warped, hallucinogenic crawl of 'My Flights Without You', all swamp-mired wobs and an increasingly banging but reserved groove, all an eerie base for the swirling vocal cuts floating in the foreground.


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Stormzy- Gang Signs & Prayer

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Artist: Stormzy
Album: Gang Signs & Prayer
Record Label: #Merky

Stormzy's debut LP extends both Grime's hardcore roots and contains a fresh-faced kind of humanity

The debut album from Stormzy, Gang Signs & Prayer, starts in the expected fashion. A dark, bubbling instrumental packed with menace and a hint of American trap propels him as his distinct, gun-shot flow brings to life Croydon industrial-estate fire. But then comes the assertion that "while you were fighting your girl, I was fighting my depression". It's subject matter that will rise again on the record's candid closer 'Lay Me Bare', but it's not completely uncharted territory for grime. Dizzee Rascal ended his seminal 2003 debut Boy In Da Corner with 'Do It!', a track that saw him confessing to suicidal urges that only guts were preventing him from obliging. 

But Gang Signs & Prayer is hardly a complete throwback triviality or a re-hashing of old ideas. Just like the best grime it comes loaded with gritty identity, but perhaps in a relatively untested manner it confronts and develops a recognisably human face for a genre so imbued with the cold, hard reality faced by vast swathes of London's misrepresented youth. 

There's plenty here that unashamedly harks back to grime's roots. 'Cold' is a searing banger that sees Stormzy wrap himself in the sort of gangsta mentality most honed by the likes of Giggs a decade previously. 'Bad Boys' is an eerie crawl through a desolate Lewisham warehouse at 3am, with a masterfully aggressive gambit from Ghetts and gems like "they think they're like Narcos, they're just some Netflix bad boys" adhering to the genre's perpetually dark but self-aware sense of humour. 

There are layers to be found in these heavier moments too. 'Mr. Skeng' addresses split personalities and a self-directed culture change in raucous fashion; one of many references to the connection that Stormzy will always have with his formative, gang-centric years as explored with more subtlety in the heartfelt pathos of '21 Gun Salute' and 'Don't Cry For Me'. 

The real moments of vulnerability that have lead many to herald Gang Signs & Prayer as a sea-change in personality come in the most lovelorn moments. 'Velvet/ Jenny Francis (Interlude)' is an overtly smooth, Drake-esque ode to the kind of love-life our protagonist can offer, while 'Cigarettes and Kush', featuring a beautiful gambit from Kehlani, uses narcotics as a metaphor for regret, misplaced entitlement and heart-broken longing. Unfortunately, despite its cosmic sonics 'Blinded By Your Grace pt. 2' lacks any real tact and proves beyond measure that there's almost no way to make the line "Let's hear it one time for the Lord" sound well-composed in rap verse. 

Gang Signs... isn't a fully recognised standard. It's occasionally inconsistent in its impact but it bristles with humanity and, perhaps most tellingly, approach-ability. It's certainly more adept than Skepta's Konnichiwa was last year at carving a (mostly) captivating personality, and it's also the first grime record for years that's left plenty of room for foreseeable growth. 


Key Tracks: 'Cold', 'First Things First', 'Cigarettes and Kush (ft. Kehlani)'
For Fans Of: Wiley, Kano 

Jesca Hoop- Memories Are Now

Artist: Jesca Hoop
Album: Memories Are Now
Record Label: Sub Pop

The California singer-songwriter's 7th full-length has noble intentions but is disappointingly lifeless. 

California-born (and now Manchester, UK based) singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop's early life experiences certainly give her plenty of grounds for introspection. Raised in a Mormon household and spending her early 20's working on a rehabilitation programme for wayward teens would be formative for most. Memories Are Now, her 7th LP, tries to directly collate these experiences and reflect on lessons learned. For all that warmth though, the record feels unfortunately lifeless. 

The opening title track revolves around a skeletal groove and beautiful harmonies, but its distant percussive clang means it never gains much traction. Although similarly beat-less, the delicate loneliness of 'The Lost Sky' feels much more epic and longing but by the end its repetition renders it comparably dull. 'Animal Kingdom Chaotic' is better, a nicely off-kilter exploration of human arrogance and power. 'Songs Of Old' is unexpectedly stark and slightly chilling, while absolute highlight 'Cut Connection', with its fuzzy, calmly stomping update of her previously minimalist tendencies  is likely to be effecting to anyone familiar with instability or depression (opening lyric: "I'm living the dream and in the dream I'm buried alive"). 

'Pegasi', however, veers too close to Juno soundtrack-esque cutesiness, and although 'The Coming' sees her indulge in biting, Father John Misty-like anti-religious satire the sludgy, cavernous guitar chords are disappointingly void of atmosphere or energy. 

There are a handful of lovely poetic nuances on Memories Are Now, but more often than not neither the music or lyricism is pounding enough to hit as hard as it'd like to. Hoop's introspection is almost always noble if too understated. 


Key Tracks: 'Cut Connection', 'Animal Kingdom Chaotic'
For Fans Of: PJ Harvey, Laura Marling

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

El Mahdy Jr.- Die Before You Die

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Artist: El Mahdy Jr.
Album: Die Before Your Die
Record Label: Boonarm Nation

You can download Die Before You Die on a "name-your-price" basis from Boonarm Nation's Bandcamp page HERE.

In a world where the Middle East is perpetually purveyed as a crisis-battered, war-torn mess in mainstream Western media, it's important to stay culturally astute. Ignoring an insider's perspective is as dangerous and evasive as it is wrong-headed, and in the same respect the fact that the Middle East has been, for thousands of years, a hub of academic and artistic progression gets swamped by post-truth right-wing deviancy. 

Based in Portland, Oregon, Boonarm Nation have been trying to ensure that this destructive (and now unnervingly powerful) mindset doesn't gain any more traction, and Algerian producer El Mahdy Jr.'s Die Before You Die mixtape is one of the finest examples of their emblematic work. 
Released in late 2016 as a limited edition cassette with no track-list, the tape is two sides (each clocking in at just under the 20-minute mark) of genre-hopping but identity drenched excellence, comprising of hand-picked tunes as well the airing of tracks supposedly set to be released on Mahdy Jr.'s forthcoming new album. 

Side A begins on a mystical and jarring mix of a lonely flute against deep-set and dark ambience, immediately suggestive of that aforementioned grim portrayal of bombed cities and demagoguery that we often get fed. From here it rolls on into avant-garde electronica which pits itself against a sweeping spoken word sample which asserts that "the word of love has become common, but the reality of love is a hidden treasure". This feels particularly symptomatic of a time where not only the romantic attributes of love are twisted, but community spirit has become even more ambiguous.

The mood on 'Side A' is consistently dark and glitchy until the 9-minute mark when traditional Algerian folk music rears its head for the first time, projecting reflective but colourful and even slightly catchy presence into the proceedings. It's a beautifully swift change of tact. In the side's final 6 minutes we're directed back to off-kilter beat experimentation and a mesh of haunting vocal samples which climaxes in a wonderfully fluid transition from kaleidoscopic guitar-based hypnotism into weirdo heaviness as the side ends. 

'Side B' follows on from the previous side's fiercely anti-social rhythms and ventures into cavernous dubstep, rip-roaring progressive hip-hop and deeply spiritual, trance-inducing harmonising. It feels far less cult-like than it does an endorsement of cohesion and in that context it's positively life affirming. From here the tape takes on a more celebratory tone, adding glorious brass and '60s psych-esque keyboards to its arsenal at the mid-point before transforming into an ethereal, epic guitar gambit that was made to soundtrack long drives across the Atlas Mountains or Sahara-baked lowlands. "What space are we holding on this planet?" enquires a cosmic vocal cut, with resonance that is both deeply evocative of humanitarian crisis AND  a desire to find a new world. 

Die Before You Die is a wind-swept time capsule of the varying cultural moods, expressions and beauties that lie at the centre of the Middle East's artistic revolution. It's sometimes fierce, sometimes anxious and always sensitive; all characteristics that allow it to bubble with effective atmosphere, despite how discombobulating it can sometimes be. 


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Grimmd- Demo I-II

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Artist: Grimmd
Album: Demo I-II
Record Label: Signal Rex

Anonymous Icelandic group's demos buried by the past emerge with plenty of thrilling darkness

Mysticism and anonymity arguably doesn't contribute half as much to any other genre as it does to black metal. Apparently recorded between 2010 and 2011 and re-released early this year by Signal Rex on limited edition cassette, Icelandic group Grimmd's Demo I-II leaves as much to the imagination of the listener as it does come across like a transmission wrenched from the darkest cavern of the deepest forest. 

The seven tracks on offer here certainly presume a chameleon-like approach within the bleak, raw-as-hell confines of the band's sound. There's the thick, off-kilter ugliness of opener 'Hvarf', the beautifully frost-bitten, cascadian epicness of 'Kvika' while 'Skjatti' adopts the same classicism but in a more condensed, demonic form. 

The following four tracks are all entitled 'Onefnt' and sound even more distant and tortured, especially the first which features this release's most nihilistic riffing and howling. The second is a rampaging, groove-ridden blast, while the fourth is a devastatingly slow and funereal crawl. 

There is plenty of black metal of Grimmd's ilk out there, and those well versed in the scene's anti-social fringes will find nothing particularly forward thinking here. All the same, this is fiercely secretive classicism generously distributed with often thrilling darkness. It also adds to the seemingly ever-increasing richness of Iceland's BM scene. 


Key Tracks: 'Kvika', 'Skjatti', 'Onefnt IV'
For Fans Of: Xasthur, Nidingr  

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Iron Reagan- Crossover Ministry

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Artist: Iron Reagan
Album: Crossover Ministry
Record Label: Relapse

Tony Foresta's secondary thrash crew prove themselves to be much more than jokers 

Though the idea of "fun" being a crucial component in thrash metal is likely to stay hidden from the uninitiated forever, whether via his day job in Municipal Waste or in Iron Reagan, vocalist Tony Foresta is swallowing all the old-school, hell-bent-for-denim joy he can.

Crossover Ministry, Iron Reagan's third full-length is as much a fusion of party-centric thrash, hardcore/ skater nihilism and dalliances in power-violence as we've come to expect. It might even be a joke amongst the band members as to just how much they wear their influences on their sleeves. For the most part however, it's a record that proves how much fun this music can be. 

Opener 'A Dying World' is dark, Slayer-esque classicism that sounds as authentic now as it might have done in the Reagan era. Similarly, 'Dead With My Friends' (perhaps accidentally) becomes a rollicking steam-roller that feels like a perfect mantra for these times. 'Condition Evolution' is another highlight complete with guttural growls, gang vocals and blistering riffing. The macabre assault of 'Blatant Violence' is a blood-pumping moment late on, while the rip-roaring Hardcore of 'DogsnotGod' rings with Henry Rollins-like sarcasm. 

The lack in sonic depth or variation does mean that cuts like 'More War' and 'Megachurch' (despite the latter's deliberately comical vocals) suffer via no distinction. However, Crossover Ministry's rough-around-the-edges dark and endlessly bpm-heightening rattle proves that Iron Reagan are a band to both party to and take seriously.


Key Tracks: 'Condition Evolution', 'Dead With My Friends', 'DogsnotGod'
For Fans Of: Suicidal Tendencies, Slayer