Sunday, 30 June 2013

Recommended Albums: June 2013 and Top Albums of 2013 thus far

Given the abundant strength of albums released in June on the whole, and that this month coincides with the half-way point of the year, the albums on this list are, in my mind, absolutely the best and I've spent a substantial amount of time listening to them. I would have included Boards of Canada's Tomorrow's Harvest if I'd listened to it more than once; consider it an honorary mention. Without further ado:

Jon Hopkins - Immunity
At times startling and propulsive, and at others serene and delicate, Jon Hopkins has really come into his own with Immunity, one of the finest electronic albums you'll hear this year. Scarily enough it's far from the only album in this section that can sport that claim.

Justin Walter - Lullabies and Nightmares
An album of extraordinary beauty. Justin Walter creates improvised pieces for trumpet and Electronic Valve Instrument with a quality that matches the record's title. Arthur Russell inspired? Not one to be overlooked.

These New Puritans - Field Of Reeds
Review coming soon, I promise!

Young Fathers - Tape Two
I'm not even sure what this is supposed to be anymore. Album, EP or mixtape? It's a brilliantly inventive 24 minutes of experimental hip hop that surpasses the original in quality and might just be my favourite release in the genre right now.

Melt Yourself Down - Melt Yourself Down
I've been carping on about this group for so long, I don't have much left to say, except listen, because it's truly excellent. Nubian and no wave rhythms set against an electronic background from a London jazz collective? Yes.

The Focus Group - The Elektrik Karousel
For the truly strange, there exists music that sounds like the creations of Oliver Postgate set loose in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, left to recreate their own fictional landscapes. The Focus Group keep these sounds in touch, though without a conventional song structure in sight.

Holden - The Inheritors
This one feels special. On only his second proper album James Holden turns techno inside out, making daring, soulful motions out of barely recognisable musical equipment. A true original.

Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels
The long-awaited, even fabled El-P and Killer Mike collaborative album. Run The Jewels doesn't compromise on lyrical content, otherworldly production or pure passion, even more surprising considering it's a free download. If you've yet to hear these MC's, this wouldn't be a bad point of entry:

Top Albums of 2013 thus far
These are my favourite albums, EPs, mixtapes and whatever else, the ones I've spent the most time with or find myself wanting to come back to the most at this present moment, from January to June 2013, in alphabetical order:

Bambooman - Hollowed EP [Sonic Router]
clipping - midcity (mixtape) [self-released]
Inga Copeland - Don't Look Back, That's Not Where You're Going (EP) [World Music / Hippos In Tanks]
Darkstar - News From Nowhere [Warp]
Demdike Stare - Testpressing#001 / Testpressing#002 / Testpressing#003 (EPs) [Modern Love]
Dutch Uncles - Out of Touch in the Wild [Memphis Industries]
FACT mix 384 - RP Boo (May '13)
Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge - Twelve Reasons To Die [Soul Temple]
A Hawk and A Hacksaw - You Have Already Gone To The Other World [LM Dupli-cation]
Hookworms - Pearl Mystic [Gringo]
Jon Hopkins - Immunity [Domino]
Iceage - You're Nothing [Matador]
The Knife - Shaking The Habitual [Brille / Rabid]
Steve Mason - Monkey Minds In The Devil's Time [Domino]
Melt Yourself Down - Melt Yourself Down [Leaf]
Merchandise - Totale Nite (EP) [Night-People]
My Bloody Valentine - m b v [self-released]
Pusha T - Wrath of Caine (mixtape)
RP Boo - Legacy [Planet Mu]
Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels [Fools Gold]
Savages - Silence Yourself [Matador / Pop Noire]
Serafina Steer - The Moths Are Real [Stolen Recordings]
Suede - Bloodsports [Suede Ltd]
Pete Swanson - Punk Authority (EP) [Software]
These New Puritans - Field of Reeds [Infectious Music]
Justin Walter - Lullabies and Nightmares [Kranky]
Young Fathers - Tape Two [Anticon]

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Single of the Week: Sophie - "Bipp"

This is one of those tracks that really shouldn't work. Numbers' new signing Sophie foregoes notions of taste and sensibility with the brilliantly goofy "Bipp", which comes across like Aqua for the post-millennial, post-ironic, post-everything (and post it now! Sorry) generation. There's an obvious dichotomy at play here; between the surprisingly beefy production and the near-ridiculous pitched-up female bubblegum vocal. Yet the song manages to avoid curling around its tail into gimmickry by feeling like a complete package, vocal and instrumental inseparable; produced so well it could even be said to echo Aphex Twin's more bizarre vocal experiments. That "Bipp" doesn't really find itself reaching for higher levels of intensity curiously works to its strength, giving the impression of instantly kicking off on its twisted plateau, screeching to a halt nigh on the pop standard time of three minutes.

Sophie's "Bipp" / "Elle" single is out now on Numbers. Purchase here.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Album Review: RP Boo - Legacy

"Sounds, that's what the speakers are for."
New sounds are hard to come by these days. This may be no bad thing, but to find something removed from the quotidian it's usually easier to relocate your search to another time or another place. The Chicago juke scene, which evolved out of house music around the same time Detroit house was calcifying into techno, is one such pocket of valuable innovation that seems to have captured the imaginations of like-minded UK producers and labels. Addison Groove's "Footcrab" came out a few years ago now, but more recently Kode9 of Hyperdub released a new EP from footwork mainstay DJ Rashad (as well as giving it a go himself), and Mike Paradinas has also been getting in on giving veterans of the scene their share of the spotlight by releasing old and new material on his Planet Mu label, most notably a new Traxman album Da Mind Of Traxman, and now RP Boo, arguably the originator of the style, finally gets his just reward with his debut LP Legacy.

FACT mix 384 - RP Boo (May '13)

RP Boo, real name Kavain Space, has never let a sense of the new and uninhabited cast his music away from any form of tradition. An initial listen of the aptly-titled Legacy, compiled from material worked on over the last decade, strikes the listener with a plethora of recognisable samples layered over each other in jarring, unpredictable ways; from classic Timbaland productions to Full Metal Jacket interjections to kaiju movie soundtracks (Space was the original producer for the famous "Godzilla" track). Some of the catchiest and most fitting vocal snippets come from Space himself, a habit which began from the frustration of having no other vocalists to work with. These elements may suggest Legacy to be an uneven, cacophonous listen, but in fact they lend themselves well to the album's character, which is often funny or playful. Its flow is surprisingly steady and uniform, owing mainly to footwork's constant 140BPM tempo but also the clear strength of the material here. Not one track rests on the sixteenth-note placement of hi-hats but instead a variety of ever-shifting drum patterns are offered; the soulful swing of "What'cha-Gonna Du" and mechanical stomp of "Robotbutizm" being two outlying examples.

Listening to Legacy, stuck somewhere between a conventional album and a "greatest hits" compilation of RP Boo's celebrated productions, makes me wonder how a form of music initially developed as a pure club experience, and later reappropriated for Chicago's local extreme dance competitions, has lent itself quite so wonderfully simply into the album format for the commercial market for the small country across the Atlantic, especially when it had no sights on ever leaving its niche scene. Of course the internet has played a huge part in diminishing the size of the globe, and seeing the juke/footwork sound from the north of the USA coming into fashion at the same time as trap-flavoured hip hop from the south (admittedly on a much smaller scale), I wouldn't be surprised if new producers took inspiration from these sounds. Perhaps this is the other role of Legacy: although it could be heard as signalling an ending to footwork's sheltered position and anonymity, it could also be a beginning.

Click to order RP Boo - Legacy on Planet Mu

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Single of the Week: ScHoolboy Q - "Collard Greens" (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

ScHoolboy Q has never been the most technically accomplished member of the TDE/Black Hippy collective, neither is he the most gifted with storytelling or creating cinematic albums. But he may be the most canny when it comes to production choices, and perhaps the upcoming Oxymoron will demonstrate that further. Recent mainstream/underground crossover rap albums like good kid, m.A.A.d city and LongLiveA$AP (and Danny Brown's Old will likely join them once it's released) suggest that now is an unusually steady time for ambitious, encompassing hip hop, and Q brings something worthy of competition with his peers with "Collard Greens", the primary draw of which is its knocking, almost dub-inspired beat. Q keeps the hooks coming even before Kendrick Lamar shows up, with an unusually energetic guest verse. A solid moment for the two of them. Let's hope there are more to come.

ScHoolboy Q's new album Oxymoron will be released later in the year.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Single of the Week: Lone - "Airglow Fires"

This last week has given us an unexpected burst of sunshine. It seems to have gone away now unfortunately, but for many it was enough to remind us that summer is quickly approaching. As ever it's probably best to jump on a plane if it's consistently good weather you're after, but wherever you go the new Lone single ought to make anyone feel reinvigorated. "Airglow Fires" is quintessential Lone, matching the kaleidoscopic, synthetic flavours worked to perfection on last year's Galaxy Garden LP with the wonkier stylings of his earlier hip hop-inspired singles. The producer has previously announced his debt to Madlib and Boards of Canada as his main influences, and perhaps for the first time both of their respective styles come together in Lone's music in equal measures. It's both an armchair and a dancefloor tour de force. For those on the lookout for that ubiquitous "summer anthem", you may need to look no further.

The "Airglow Fires" / "Begin To Begin" single will be available digitally from 14th July.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Single of the Week: Run The Jewels - "Banana Clipper" (feat. Big Boi)

I remember writing about a potential El-P/Killer Mike project not too long ago like it was the stuff of fables. But it looks as though an album - a self-titled under the Run The Jewels alias - is about to materialise soon. "Banana Clipper" shows how much of a natural fit these two MCs are, swapping lines quickly and efficiently over El-Producto's tough, booming beat. It's these vocal performances that fans of last years' R.A.P. Music and Cancer For Cure albums will find the most satisfying. It's hard to tell who sounds the nastiest: Mike is "talking grip pliers guys, to the top of your teeth"; El invites you in with "Wanna hang? Bring a rope, I got stools and a rope." The track is topped off by a rare guest appearance by Outkast's Big Boi, Mike's old Dungeon Family companion, essentially bragging about not being paid for his verse. A lot of song for under three minutes.

You can listen to and download "Banana Clipper" below. Run The Jewels will be released as a free download on Fools Gold Records later this month.