Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Singles of the Week: Big Sean, Lady Gaga, Julia Holter, Earl Sweatshirt

Big Sean ft. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica - "Control (HOF)"
Big Sean always seems to be the weakest rapper on any track he features on, so bringing out arguably the two most lyrically profound rappers in the 2013 rap game for a bonus track promoting his new album Hall Of Fame (left off the tracklist due to "sample clearance issues") either suggests a glutton for punishment or a sly move to draw in a wider audience. To Sean's credit, he sounds a lot more determined on "Control (HOF)" than usual, and a solid No I.D. beat cements this feeling. But the star of the piece is Kendrick, who once again proves to be untouchable, even going as far as to call out the current crop of popular MCs: "I got love for you all, but I’m tryna murder you ni**as/ Tryna make sure your core fans never heard of you ni**as". When the reclusive Jay Electronica feels like an afterthought to the piece, you know that a new standard of hip hop is being alluded to.
Listen to the track at inflexwetrust.com

Lady Gaga - "Applause"
Even if ARTPOP is a dreadful name for an album, it doesn't mean that Lady Gaga's new album doesn't have the potential to be another giant leap in the superstar's career. "Applause" is strides away from the disappointing Born This Way, with a scintillating synth track to rival Gaga's effervescent enthusiasm. It's the type of music you could call transcendental, that circumvents the analytic parts of the brain and heads straight for the gut. Which is not only what you'd expect from pop of this calibre but a great way of telling you to just listen to it.

Julia Holter - "Maxim's I"
Every single to come from Julia Holter's new Loud City Song album has offered something new. "World" was almost a spoken word piece, backed up with strings and harpsichord only at the most intense parts of the narrative. "In The Green Wild" was more rounded and accessible, but still the work of a musician both serene and eccentric. "Maxim's I" almost occupies a middle space between these two, but is still entirely different. It's surprisingly dense, with a four chord reverbed-organ motif blossoming like a flower and recoiling back again over a six minute time period.
You can stream Loud City Song ahead of its release on Domino Records next week via NPR First Listen.

Earl Sweatshirt - "Burgundy" feat. (Vince Staples)
Also released next week is Earl Sweatshirt's major label debut Doris. The singles to come off it so far have all suggested that the album will live up to the Earl mixtape from many years ago, none more so than the Vince Staples-stealing "Hive". Staples plays a minor role in the Pharrell-produced "Burgundy"; its triumphant attitude serves the purpose of letting you know that this album is going to be worth the wait, or even to get excited for.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Singles of the Week: Oneohtrix Point Never, Disappears, Factory Floor, Omar Souleyman

This section has been expanded. Now I will cover a few tracks instead of just one each week.

Oneohtrix Point Never - "Problem Areas"
The new Oneohtrix Point Never album, R Plus Seven, will be released on the 30th September and will be the prolific producer's first for Warp Records. "Problem Areas" shows the unique spliced up samples of the last Oneohtrix album Replica being taken even further; the natural harmonics of double bass, piano and church organ being rearranged in increasingly unnatural ways, amongst other indescribable synthesizer creations. It's a masterful three minutes of music, with an almost Autechre-level of stylised, adrift navel gazing. Visit pointnever.com for something extra special.

Disappears - "Ultra"
Disappears are a group on kranky that are set to release their fourth album Era later this month. They're giving away "Ultra" in advance: a brilliant slab of skeletal post-punk that almost spans ten minutes. This combination of sturdy motorik rhythm and pounding dub bass is hardly anything new but sometimes it takes a reminder like "Ultra" to appreciate these minimal, simple sounds. It's crowned with a vocalist that suggests two of my favourite singers, Michael Gira and Angus Andrew caught up in a The Fly-style genetic synthesis.

Factory Floor - "Turn It Up"
I'm probably looking forward to the long-delayed Factory Floor album more than any other at the moment, and "Turn It Up" offers plenty of evidence as to why. It's one of, if not the shortest track credited to the group, and offers something not heard from them before. It's almost all drums and drum machines (the Roland TS-808 is clearly one of them) and were it not for Nik Colk Void's sickeningly mangled vocals might have taken longer to get used to, but if you expected anything less from Factory Floor by this stage you've clearly not been paying close attention.

Omar Souleyman - "Wenu Wenu"
Omar Souleyman is the closest figure that Syrian dabke has to being a household name in this country, and that's set to be even more so now that Kieran Hebden, a.k.a. Four Tet has lent his many talents into the production of Souleyman's debut studio album Wenu Wenu. The title track bears all the hallmarks of the style: a constant 4/4 beat with a hip hop toughness, underneath ultra-colourful keyboards kicking around Middle Eastern scales like nobody's business. It's like a street party in a pair of headphones (and sunglasses).

Thursday, 1 August 2013

A note on the Upcoming Releases section

I've decided to delete the Upcoming Releases section of the blog due to it taking up too much time and effort to maintain. It wasn't getting any hits anyway. If you want to know what music to look out for over the horizon, there's always the monthly Culture Shock updates (of which there is a new one today here) and the Single of the Week feature in which each Tuesday I go over my favourite track to appear online each week. I have also neglected this feature for the last fortnight, but I'll be amending that soon.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Album Review: These New Puritans - Field Of Reeds

You asked if the islands
would float away,
if the stars run through me
like a river, like the air:
I said "yes".

I keep returning to the idea of a small island mentality. Forgive me; I didn't wish to begin another review with the same, half-formed lecture. There's certainly more to being British than this identity, but it's one that leans into offering an interpretation to the handful of themes presented on this new album by These New Puritans, Field Of Reeds. I don't wish to push this idea into the spotlight for very long, especially as it's not one I necessarily take; indeed the album seems to be one guided much more closely by expression than rationality or sensibility; lyrics are presented often as statements rather than rhymes, and their true meanings, if any, may be completely hidden (to borrow the title of the group's 2010 record) to the outside spectator. However, consider this passage from "Spiral", the album's fifth and mathematically central track:

Watch the fireworks from the beach
I've got meteors falling to earth

Presumably, it's a nighttime scene. The first line is picturesque, reminiscent of a film or novel, probably of main songwriter Jack Barnett's hometown of Southend-on-Sea. The "fireworks" of the first line are overtaken by "meteors" in the second, Barnett's own brilliant, passionate lights introducing chaos to the controlled, tranquil darkness.

On Field Of Reeds Jack Barnett is Cnut, his - I'll say it - magical approach to making music is the equivalent of waiting in front of approaching tides and commanding natural phenomena as if they were his own. Far from an omnipotent magus, as the record unfolds it feels as if the already dour, monotonous Barnett actually loses confidence in his abilities, as if in the knowledge that though no matter what complexities civilizations of the land develop eventually fiery rocks from space will fall from the sky, and waves of endless seawater will wash them all away, creating fertile conditions for wetland plants. It's not difficult to chart this idea across These New Puritans' musical evolution. The already alluded-to Hidden is a complete contrast in style, production and delivery, yet despite a redundant cliché to note at this late stage that album contained seeds of what this one grew into, even if those seeds were incubated a little differently than expected. No one could accuse These New Puritans of sounding like The Fall any more, for example; neither Aphex Twin or The Wu-Tang Clan. It would be a disservice to compare them to any musical figures cited as influences. Not that it's assured that the trio have stepped onto entirely uncharted musical territory, but it's no stretch to say that Field Of Reeds is unlike anything in British independent rock in 2013. Let's not even entertain the comparison.

Instead, now that I've properly managed to wedge my foot in the door of this review I'm going to detail and evaluate Field Of Reeds, predictably, chronologically. It seems the sensible option, being that the album is split into three sections of three tracks each, plus that means I can write whilst listening to it in order (but that's neither here nor there). There is a danger in this approach to spoil the enjoyment of a first listen, so if you haven't done so yet I'd strongly suggest you scroll down to the Soundcloud player before reading any further.

The first sound on the record is a piano, maybe even the magnetic resonator piano, a new instrument that colours much of Field Of Reeds. It proves to be a smart choice for Barnett, who has only recently learned to read sheet music, as on this first track he fumbles minor key variations around two chords without the need for indulgent embellishments. Plus the instrument's tone, and even its name suggest something unusual and metallic working beneath its familiar timbre. However the main focus of this opener is the apparent "field recording" of a singing woman, a loose a capella of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David-penned "This Guy's In Love With You". The vocal, heavy with reverb, is difficult to make out, and soon a lone trumpet replaces Barnett's piano, joined by a swelling of strings in its final third. A particularly striking element here, and indeed on many points of the album, is the guttural, ominous bass tones, presently only hinted but used to much more forceful effect later on.

Next is the single "Fragment Two", given the hindsight of the full album the only "fragment" that could be so. Even then it's something of a peculiarity; the somewhat upbeat, neat piano phrase quickly offset by the introduction of Barnet's monotone, throaty vocal. This track is one of maybe only three (by my count) that feature any form of regular drumming, all of which occur in the first half of the record, easing the listener up for the freer, melody-driven tracks that function as the majority. It's worth mentioning the quality of the production especially in relation to drum sounds. It's hard to tell whether these drums, played elegantly by Barnett's brother George, are acoustic or electronic; on "Fragment Two" and later "V (Island Song)" they have a satisfying, crisp sound in the treble register; a complete departure from the warlike snares, toms and Japanese taiko on the percussion-heavy Hidden that suggest, but aren't necessarily indebted to, the presence of outside co-producer Graham Sutton (of Bark Psychosis). Here too, another collaborator is introduced, namely Portuguese fado singer Elisa Rodrigues, who contributes vocals to much of the album. On "Fragment Two" she is relegated to a backing harmony during the final minute. It is a relief, however, to hear Barnett's own multitracked vocals swooping over his own funereal arrangement of piano, horns, organ and breaking glass; especially given that they're symbolic of a retraction of a previous statement that he was going to give up singing all together. It would have been hazardous to Field Of Reeds if he had done; even if his voice is technically unremarkable it has such an unusual, seductive timbre that it would be difficult to imagine the album without it.

Closing the album's first movement is "The Light In Your Name", the longest track so far. It's lyrics are more narrative than elsewhere on the album; the open-ended lines, such as "Your clothes without you in them", combine with low, sustained strings and piano notes to create a palpable sense of threat, that becomes more and more unbearable as shards of electronics interfere spontaneously and temporarily. Barnett's voice also intensifies, the rasp of his throat struggling above his limited range on the refrain for which the soft, effortless Rodrigues serves as a brilliant foil. George's drums eventually burst forth and would consume the piece whole if not for the singers' willingness to combat them with a rare, confident harmonised crescendo of their own. This being the conclusion to only the first movement (and first side of vinyl), and less than fifteen minutes into the album, serves as a powerful initiation. Similarly the central cluster of tracks provide the album with a brilliant, intricate core.

The second movement begins as unassuming (yet by this stage reassuring) as the first; Jack Barnett toying with a rising and falling piano phrase with choral backing. It only takes a minute or so for his left and right hands to loosen and start wondering in different directions. He is quickly joined by organ and drums, initiating the brilliant momentum that bodies "V (Island Song)". Little else is needed to make the track's nine minutes some of the most captivating on Field Of Reeds, save for the delightfully somber strings which dampen the second half of the piece like rain, turning it into a freer, if rhythmically rigid performance. Descriptions don't really do "V (Island Song)" justice: it feels too self-contained for that. Jack Barnett's piano phrase, and brother George's drums perpetuate whole worlds unto themselves.

"Spiral" follows. Its cataclysmic theme begins before Barnett's lyrical address; steady, descending brass and unfathomable, horrifyingly deep choral voices - the lowest provided by Adrian Peacock, owner of the deepest voice in Britain - immediately contrast all else which preceded it. These voices sound barely human at all, and call into memory Shadow Of The Colossus, an old videogame where the only inhabitants of a forgotten world are impossibly large black monsters that writhe in terrible pain when attacked by the player. Elisa Rodrigues leads a choir of children amidst Barnett's Cnutian chaos; bound together by song as if on scorched earth. All of this should sound ridiculous, yet contains the right amount of control for it to match Barnett's intentions. A woodwind section that brings the track to a close, unaccompanied by any of the shattering instrumentation that set it up, only reinforces this point.

Field Of Reeds' intensity, creative scope, and above all abundant quality have been assured several times over before "Organ Eternal". The record's potential to impose, often from the unusual quiet and sinister uses of grandiose instruments, is replicated on the titular introductory organ; its fledgling part akin to classical minimalism. Overall this is a calmer and less involving piece, settling instead on being "merely" gorgeous. It's not easy to dislike it, especially when more masterfully arranged strings are brought in. There isn't a spot on Field Of Reeds that isn't musically rich or uncaptivating.

If the tryptich structure of the record would have you believe that the third suite represents the arrival of the conclusion, and a steady rolling off of quality; the reality is more gratifying. "Nothing Else" is one of the album's longest pieces, reminiscent of "The Light In Your Name" with Barnett and Rodrigues's lead vocal overlaps replicating the exchanges of reality and fantasies of dreams. However the arrangement of strings and woodwind, assisted by Hans Ek, stays anchored to the ground; its organic shape giving it an almost cerebral quality that's well suited to the subject. It precedes "Dream", a relatively short and straightforward interlude, evolving the lyrical themes of its predecessor. These tracks are certainly calmer and more "sensible" than anything after "This Guy's In Love With You". This change of mood eases Field Of Reeds into its farewell, the incendiary title track.

"Field Of Reeds" most closely resembles "Spiral", with the choir of children replaced with one of men; Peacock's volcanic depths clearly distinguishable among them. Maybe not since Björk's Medulla has there been such a reminder of the incredible potency of stark human voices. Emotion is only heightened when Barnett's own voice, raw and unrefined as it is, whittles off a disparaging three-note ditty barely formed before leaving his mouth, closing the album in the same way as is started. For These New Puritans, "Field Of Reeds" is unparalleled in sheer affectation; as drained of hope and light as Joaquin Phoenix's face at the end of last year's The Master. If a tear doesn't roll down your cheek you're much hardier than me. It's a long ending, a temporal analogy of loss; of nature, of communication, of spirituality, of humanity itself. These New Puritans and their collaborators convey this despair so beautifully that it flexes itself back around to an emotionally complex lift; the territory of post rock and goth rock that only very lightly colour the album. A wonderful, monolithic album, you really have to find your own way through it. It will be here forever.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Playlist: 30 for January-June 2013

No Single of the Week today; instead here's a Spotify playlist of some of my favourite tracks from the first six months of 2013. It was really tough to narrow it down to only 30, but I've tried to make it as complete as possible. In no particular order:

Here are a bonus ten that don't feature in the Spotify library* at time of writing:

Neon Neon - "Mid Century Modern Nightmare"
Demdike Stare - "Collision"
Neneh Cherry + Afrika Baby Bam - "Nina" (Produced by Four Tet)
Steve Mason and Emilíana Torrini - "I Go Out"
Lone - "Airglow Fires"
Boards of Canada - "Nothing Is Real"
Run The Jewels - "Banana Clipper" (feat. Big Boi)
Ellery James Roberts - "Kerou's Lament (犠牲)"
Thundercat - "Heartbreaks + Setbacks"

Head here for a list of my favourite albums of the year thus far. Also I did an "Odds and Ends" special Culture Shock which is here.

*At least not in my library. I know for a fact that the Neon Neon album is available to some UK accounts. Why do we put up with this haphazard technology? I digress.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Single of the Week: Ellery James Roberts - "Kerou's Lament (犠牲)"

Somehow forgot to do this on Tuesday. Apologies.

The first solo track to be released from Ellery James Roberts, after disbanding his acclaimed group WU LYF last year following just one album, gives off a strong sense that the singer feels emancipated in a way rarely conveyed with such intensity. Borrowing from Lil B/Clams Casino's "I'm God" Roberts chooses his first singular musical statement to be one of world-beating anthemia. The gruff passion in his vocal delivery could easily be compared to that of Bruce Springsteen, punctuating mantras like "You fucked up this world but you won't fuck with me" with a individualised violence, as if speaking for a whole world of sufferers of greed and corruption. A truly singular vision. Perhaps it's time for the masses to sit up and pay attention.

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.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Recommended Albums: May 2013

Another month, more releases to trawl through. There's enough that I've virtually abandoned recently to suggest that the ones left range from pretty good to something special, even when they're not presented in traditional album form:

Savages - Silence Yourself
A post-punk debut that feels like the three decades preceding it didn't happen, Silence Yourself has some fantastic songs and a great overall feel and structure. Listen alongside Iceage's You're Nothing for the ultimate 2013 post-punk experience - it's just as good as that album.

Chance The Rapper - Acid Rap (mixtape)
Chance seems to take his cues from The College Dropout-era Kanye and J. Dilla without necessarily emulating either. "Fun", and "quirky" are words that come to mind. You won't need to listen to Acid Rap too many times for some of these hooks to lodge in your head.

Merchandise - Totale Nite (EP)
A heady 30 minutes of psychedelic space-rock rubbing shoulders with hardcore punk and occasional Depeche Mode-like gritty euphoria. Has to be heard to be believed I suppose.

DJ Rashad - Rollin EP
One of footwork's biggest names releases a 4-track EP on Hyperdub (and I finally hear it). It's hard to choose a highlight, but "Drums Please", a collab with DJ Manny is perhaps my favourite right now. A good month for footwork releases, as a scroll down will reveal...

RP Boo - Legacy / FACT mix 384 - RP Boo (May '13)
What RP Boo can't do with vocal samples isn't worth knowing. The footwork originator's debut album Legacy collects some of his best jackhammer beats from the last 10 years. Meanwhile on his FACT mix he spins some entirely different tracks into a constant 160BPM mix - the way they were meant to be heard.

Inga Copeland - Higher Powers (mixtape)
I've been playing Inga Copeland's Don't Look Back... EP so much that an extra 20 minutes of demo/ additional material was always going to sit well with me. Best here is "A World In Danger III", featuring familiar collaborator Scratcha DVA.

Vår - No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers
A debut concocted of militaristic snares, triumphant acoustic guitar and throbbing electronica, from members of  Iceage and Lower. "Vår" translates as "spring", and this group seems to capture a type of youthful abandon, as looming as the shadows of darker subject matter may be.

Bambooman - Hollowed EP
Strange, hypnotic, relaxing instrumental hip hop coming from a man from Leeds. Despite the shortness of the tracks here they come together as an astonishingly developed whole. A few here are definite keepers, and I'm looking forward to whatever comes next.

Them's your lot from me this month. The next Culture Shock mix ought to be coming tomorrow, featuring tracks from releases here (if not try a previous instalment). Next month expect new releases by Boards of Canada, Kanye West, Melt Yourself Down, Young Fathers, Run The Jewels, Holden, Austra and more (bring it on!)

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Single of the Week: Boards of Canada - "Reach For The Dead"

In all honesty I'm not sure if "Reach For The Dead" is the single best piece of music I've listened to all week. However, as with other Boards of Canada fans there's a certain substance to their music that induces a rush of excitement that no long-winded, "mysterious" advertising campaign can't match. I'm not saying I'm immune to this kind of hype: certainly "listen to Tomorrow's Harvest" has been scribbled over my unconscious like love notes to a girly friend, and I'm not trying too hard to resist setting myself up for disappointment. But that's also because I secretly believe that an album with tracks like "Reach For The Dead" simply won't be one.

With early releases such as Twoism and debut album Music Has The Right To Children (if you've only listen to one electronic album, make it this one) Boards of Canada seemed to extract and remove any trace of human arrangement from their music, presenting their CDs as discarded artefacts from another time: collections of music from advertisements, wildlife documentaries and instructional videos allowed to arrange themselves amongst urban decay. Gradually these urbane influences crept out of BoC's subsequent releases and became more pastoral, even more alien. I'm not sure if "Reach For The Dead" is an extension or a departure from this trajectory. Granted the opening hissy synth drone possesses the same haunting quality that has remained a constant in BoC's music (aided along with stretched out and twisted inhuman voice samples), but the lack of percussive elements throughout the first half of the track make this drone sound freer, perhaps lonelier (illustrated to great effect in deserted scenes of the accompanying music video). When the familiar electronic drums arrive they don't so much as propel the track into a new phase as ground it back into inescapable mechanical reality, a sound and theme so far out of time with Boards of Canada that has always sounded timeless.

Tomorrow's Harvest, the new album by Boards of Canada will be released on the 10th June on Warp Records. Pre-order on Bleep and receive an instant MP3 download of "Reach For The Dead".

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Single of the Week: Kanye West - "Black Skinhead" (Live on SNL)

You know, I was worried. Maybe I wasn't the only one. Maybe I still ought to be. The reputation of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the last Kanye West solo album is only for someone as brilliantly ambitious as the one who made it to be able to face. Far from shying from it, or introducing the new album with a relatively modest or "safe" sound (like those from the intermediary Watch the Throne and Cruel Summer projects), Kanye instead chose to debut two songs for his Saturday Night Live performance that demonstrated the next creative leap of his career.
"New Slaves" had already made it online, as shaky camera phone footage captured a projection of Kanye's head projected onto the side of buildings across the globe, but "Black Skinhead" was entirely new, and even more of a radical departure. Built on the industrial-glam shuffle that underpins Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People", it's surely going to be one of the most divisive stylistic changes in rap this year. But the SNL performance is nothing if thrilling: if MBDTF was Kanye facing and overcoming his demons, here he sounds indistinguishable from them, screaming and yelling in a way that overcomes ridicule by emulating the feeling of genuine menace.

"Black Skinhead" and "New Slaves" will feature on Kanye West's upcoming album Yeezus, out 18th June via G.O.O.D. Music / Def Jam.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Single of the Week: Holden - "Renata" / Daphni Remix

I included the first single from James Holden's forthcoming album The Inheritors, "Gone Feral", on this month's edition of the ever-popular Culture Shock, so I suggest you go there if you missed that. This new one, "Renata" is instantly warmer than its predecessor, with its resonant bass tones playing underneath chippy arpeggiators and Holden's signature knocking percussion. It's a slow but sure builder, not unlike Jon Hopkins' recent "Open Eye Signal" (same place), reaching a satisfying plateau about half way through before playing around with jazz rhythm patterns before closing.
Daphni's remix is, for my money, an improvement on Holden's mix. Dan Snaith's approach is usually fun and here he isolates a five-note motif, giving it a similar jazzy percussive treatment but this time with more of a swing, helped along with some chopped up R&B vocal snippets (almost positively Aaliyah, but I don't have time to check, you know the one). This version is more careful to reach its crescendo but is no less effective. I like the way that once the track has appeared to finish, it restarts not once, nor twice, but thrice; paring it back to a progressively 2-step/garage feel each time.
Holden's new album The Inheritors is out on the 17th June on Border Community. The "Renata" single, backed with remixes by Daphni and Steve Moore, is out a week earlier on 10th June.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Single of the Week: Janelle Monáe - "Q.U.E.E.N." (feat. Erykah Badu)

One of the best qualities reflected in Janelle Monáe's The Archandroid was its robustness, the feeling that it could take you anywhere at any moment, more than likely somewhere you never thought possible. This effect is achieved by that album's effortless track sequencing, which switched up neo-funk and contemporary classical like they were one and the same. Without hearing "Q.U.E.E.N." in the context of its parent album The Electric Lady then probably takes away something from the intended listening experience. However it's an accomplished piece on it's own merit. Erykah Badu brings her signature guest vocals but it's really Janelle who takes centre stage with her girl-friendly lyrics and from-the-shoes-up approach to singing, turning into rapping by the track's climactic final minute. Some nice lead guitar is the other main component of this funky jam.

Recommended Albums: April 2013

There was a lot to get through this month, but hopefully I've sorted out (my take on) the great from the merely good. It doesn't help that some of last month's albums spill into this month, or that some records absent from this month's schedule will undoubtedly find their way to me by this time next month, but such is the nature of these things:

Suede - Bloodsports
Having not been particularly familiar with Suede's previous output (I know they were huge, but I'm only young!) I was at first put off by the bombastic approach to production on Bloodsports. But now it's clear to me that it has some truly fantastic songs. Highly recommended to any type of rock music fan.

Steve Mason - Monkey Minds In The Devil's Time
Monkey Minds In The Devil's Time not only challenges conventions of singer-songwriter type music, bringing elements of musique concrète, country and electronica together, it also presents itself as a sharp and poignant commentary of the condition of modern Britain.

The Knife - Shaking The Habitual
With Shaking The Habitual the Knife pull off as many interesting ideas as the album has minutes (98 to be precise). A landmark album not only in Swedish electro pop but in the wider tradition of experimental double albums, it stands unique and proud.

A Hawk And A Hacksaw - You Have Already Gone To The Other World
Billed as an alternative soundtrack to accompany the Sergei Parajanov film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (i.e. a concept album around this story), there's little to fault with A Hawk And A Hacksaw's latest. Even without visual accompaniment it's an epic story made of Eastern European-inspired folk songs and mood music. Very enjoyable.

Bells Atlas - Bells Atlas EP
A short set - three songs plus two remixes - from the Oakland-based Bells Atlas, who "capture the spirit of an eclectic range of influences, including Highlife, Hip-Hop, Samba, R&B and aspects of Indie Pop".

James Blake - Overgrown
I haven't listened to this one as much as I'd have liked yet. Nevertheless two years after his debut James Blake is strikes again, with an immaculately produced album expansive enough to seamlessly feature guest placements from both Brian Eno and RZA. If you enjoyed the first you probably know that by now.

Big K.R.I.T. - King Remembered In Time
K.R.I.T.'s new tape reminds you why he expects to live up to his name. Some of the middle few tracks may be out of place in my opinion, but the rest easily matches the best of K.R.I.T.'s other mixtapes. He's Southern rap's answer to Kendrick Lamar, and if you've been following him pick it up below!

Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge - Twelve Reasons To Die
If any Wu-Tang member was going hold my attention with a new album, it was bound to be Ghostface. His new record charts the origin story of his persona, and Adrian Younge's live arrangements help him to successfully recreate the feel of a good old gangster flick.

Demdike Stare - Testpressing#001 / Testpressing#002 (EPs)
I've not given Demdike Stare enough dues with Single of the Week, but these new "Testpressing" releases spiral out of the duo's most experimental tendencies. Which means that each track is different; quite unlike anything I've heard in electronic music. Let's hope there's more to come in this series.

Neon Neon - Praxis Makes Perfect
A Neon Neon album is like a lesson in social history, only fun! The subject of this one is the infamous left wing publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. It has track names like "Hoops With Fidel". It's very good. For fans of Metronomy as well as Gruff Rhys/Super Furry Animals and Boom Bip's other projects.

Next month expect new releases by Deerhunter, Savages, the Fall, Daft Punk and more. Maybe by that time I'll have gotten around to the rest of this month's albums. Tracks from some of these albums/EPs can be found on my latest monthly mix Culture Shock (check the channel from tomorrow).

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Single of the Week: Thundercat - "Heartbreaks + Setbacks"

For many music fans (myself included, admittedly) this week's singles release schedule are dominated by two things: Record Store Day exclusives and the official (single edit) of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky". Thundercat, a.k.a. the Brainfeeder affiliated bassist, singer and composer Stephen Bruner resembles those more overt choices for a potential Single of the Week entry only in the sense that he is one) exclusively paving out a career of neo-soul that is equally influenced by the jazz fusion of artists such as Herbie Hancock and 80s television themes like the one he shares his moniker with, and two) unafraid of bringing some serious funk back into the field he associates himself with. "Heartbreaks + Setbacks" was produced by Flying Lotus and the often-overlooked Mono/Poly and together the three of them have put together a song richer in texture than even anything from Thundercat's first album The Golden Age Of Apocalypse: a lush arrangement of acoustic and electronic sounds including live (sounding, at least) drums and spacious, spacey synth patterns. However the two outlying qualities of the song are Bruner's soft, confident vocal and the dexterous notes coming from his bass guitar, mixed just high enough for it to be appreciated without taking over the song completely. If Daft Punk had instead released a single as fantastic as this last weekend there'd be twice as many people interested.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Album Review: The Knife - Shaking The Habitual

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me"
 Jeanette Winterson

There is nothing about the latest album by Swedish techno-pop icons the Knife that doesn't whiff of pretension, or scream for attention so loudly that you'll either be immediately turned against it or will highly admire its audacity. Shaking The Habitual follows on from Tomorrow In A Year, a collaborative album with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock from a few years ago that left listeners thoroughly divided, to the extent that the majority of Knife fans refuse to acknowledge it as a "real" Knife album. Perhaps rightly so, but siblings Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer most likely hold their Darwinian opera in higher esteem, as it appears to have cast a long shadow over their already ambitious creative output. They are also masters of knowing their audience and how to manipulate their perceptions, as the masterful PR campaign leading up to Shaking The Habitual has demonstrated. The gap between 2006's Silent Shout, or their ubiquitously loved 2004 single "Heartbeats" is so large at this stage this isn't by any means unexpected. Before we go any further, why not think about what you would have wanted from a 2013 Knife record, and then consider the group's own interpretation of their art:

There have certainly been other musicians in this confusing position before now, but not many have been so coquettish about it. Hearing a ten minute single as a taste for an album always seems like a tantalising prospect (ask Justin Timberlake's fans), but as they say, the proof is and forever shall be in the pudding. If and when you hear "Full Of Fire" you'll find yourself biting into a scathing, frothing piece of industrial (if it can even be called that), probably with pieces of glass and sharp grit sadistically thrown in for bad measure. And personally I find it strangely delicious, once my palette has adjusted to it. Listening to the whole thing unravel into a distorted mess as Karin delivers lines as tongue-in-cheek as "liberals giving me an nerve itch" never once feels irritating or overdeveloped. Further noise experiments pop up later as "Oryx" and "Crake", and are brief and inspired. Maybe José and his guitar will give them a go once television has advanced to neurological brainwave transmissions and Sony need a jingle.

That seems to be one of the main themes of this 98 minute album. Beyond remodelling themselves, and discussions in gender, ecocritical and postmodern politics (certainly more on those to come, don't wet yourself with excitement just yet!), the Knife are as keen to Shake The Album Format in as many ways to ensure they get as much out of their monstrous length as they possibly can. Naturally this has led to the argument that some of the tracks are needlessly long, and that others don't belong on a Knife album at all. The first red target to be painted is on "Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realised". In itself it's a fifth of the album's length, vocal-less, beat-less and stubborn as fuck. Situated at the end of CD1 it's presumably intended to separate the record's two halves; maybe even to procrastinate for the wonderfully bouncy "Raging Lung". It serves both roles excellently and without it the listener would be left with 79 near-continuous minutes of strange pop, which maybe wouldn't work as well. It sounds like I'm being terribly apologist, and certainly I've heard better tracks in this style, but as I say it works as both an interlude and an interesting musical motif in itself.

(If needs must there is a single CD version of Shaking The Habitual available that omits "Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realised, but I doubt the packaging is as good. Believe me when I say the double CD gatefold is lush.)

What about proper tunes, banging beats, good pop? Any of that? Of course! One of the great things about Shaking The Habitual is that it shows off previous qualities of the Knife in new contexts, including the duo's approach to lyrics, drum patterns and sounds, and Karin's versatile, bedspringy vocals (I'm becoming aware that she must be one of my favourite singers by now). The tribal, infectious fourth track "Without You My Life Would Be Boring" is the closest to traditional Knife in terms of both sound and length, but in the company of freakier manifestations takes on another layer of manic instability with Karin's rapid screech (and mentions of elf and tiger piss?). "A Tooth For An Eye" is slower but equally an infectious single, and "Stay Out Here", which finds Karin fluctuating vocal roles with visual artist Emily Roysdon and Light Asylum's Sharon Funchess, almost feels like an expansion on the more menacing corners of contemporary R&B. "Ready To Lose" also feels like familiar ground for the Knife, a closing track that may have dated as far back as Deep Cuts by the sounds of it. There's enough detail given to these songs, as much if not more than the more challenging moments, and they're far from effervescent, even if they are catchy.

But it's not all fun and games. Overriding all of the Knife's pop desires is their sense of political message, or rather various messages, as Shaking The Habitual is something of a grab-bag when it comes to these identities too. Think of it as a manifesto, one that eschews all of Karin and Olof's interpretations of gender, class and environmental politics on both a Scandinavian and a global level into one pink bubblegum bubble. Karin's lyrics are of course an obvious place to look. From the Salt-N-Pepa loan that gargles out the end of "Full Of Fire" to the "urge for penetration" that colours "Wrap Your Arms Around Me" she's definitely reaching for the admirable task of rebuilding perceptions of gender from the ground upwards. "Fracking Fluid Injection", a ten minute barren wind chamber of an instrumental towards the album's end is a clear inquisition of a different kind of penetration (though maybe not completely different): drilling for the release of natural gas from under the earth's surface. Further attention to political concerns envelop the album's visuals: the choice of Marit Östberg as the director for the "Full Of Fire" video was a bold message in itself, but the images of housekeeping protest and outdoor BDSM even more so.

If Shaking The Habitual can be said to be successful of anything it would be that it fully rewards listeners for the attention it lavishly invites. It completely embraces the spirit of unconventionality, from its eye-straining artwork to its demanding length. By doing so it becomes a rare thing in today's music culture: completely unique and unforgettable. The Knife called their first tour "An Audiovisual Experience", and the same name could apply easily to this set. It is more experience than album, and one of a growing number of releases that chooses to innovate with structure significantly more than has been done since the popularisation of the CD in the eighties. As an album of songs, Shaking The Habitual is undoubtedly going to disappoint some, but as an experience of time, craft and endurance, it's fast on its way to being a classic.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Single of the Week: Young Fathers - "I Heard"

I struggle to think what Young Fathers' latest, Tape Two is going to sound like. The Scottish hip hop trio clearly have some confidence in it, enough to release "The Guide" as a free download offcut; a track that strongly evokes the 90s post boom-bap feel of that decade's rap abstractioners. Between "The Guide" and new one "I Heard" Young Fathers have easily set themselves up to the group when it comes to UK hip hop, and one of the most forward groups in all of rap right now. "I Heard" doesn't even feature rapping for the most part, rather a old soul vocal that feels nothing if not sincere and heartfelt. The whole track is pinned by keyboard and click-track drum that themselves somehow sound sorrow in their simplicity. An atmospheric cloud (not in that sense) of synthesis wells up over the top to bring out the intensity further, and group vocals on the chorus merely cement its overall greatness.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Single of the Week: Deerhunter - "Monomania"

I have a lot of time for Deerhunter. I've been a fan since my first listen of their 2010 album Halcyon Digest, and have spent the 2 1/2 years since working backwards through their discography, and enjoying releases from side projects such as Atlas Sound and Lotus Plaza. Their self-described ambient punk sound reached its pinnacle with their previous LP, but Deerhunter aren't left barren without it. When they decide to scuzz it up, like they do with the title track to their forthcoming album Monomania (and presumably the rest of the album will follow suit), they're still able to craft excellent songs. Follow the details of "Monomania" like you would any other Deerhunter song; the bass, guitars and drums follow excellent, complimentary patterns. And singer Bradford Cox is as much of a personality as ever, as the band's performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon proves. It's essentially business as usual, only louder.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Recommended Albums: March 2013

March may be the month where album releases have really started to get tight. Most of these choices are either pretty odd or relentlessly heavy (or both), and all are memorable. Looking at April's release schedule it may cross your mind to look at March as the calm before the storm, but the albums and singles here are all top drawer stuff, so check them out if they appear interesting:

clipping - midcity
A name-your-price album/mixtape from an incredibly noisy hip-hop trio. I'm really enjoying the songwriting and tight lyricism clipping are bringing here, and admire the new ground they've found between the Death Grips, Shabazz Palaces and Jeremiah Jae influences.

David Bowie - The Next Day
A startlingly solid late-career album from one of popular music's most celebrated figures. Bowie may not be reinventing himself quite so freshly as he did during his astounding 70s run but draws from his many strengths already amassed to create the best kind of retrospective.

Hookworms - Pearl Mystic
The debut album from Leeds-based Hookworms is a nigh-on flawless foray into modern psychedelic rock, written and produced masterfully by key member MJ. If this doesn't break the top 10 albums of the year, 2013 will be especially rich in musical quality.

Gnod - Chauderlande
More of a compilation than a proper album, Chauderlande collects the six tracks that made up Gnod's two Chauderlande LPs and repackages them onto one CD. Still these tracks are absolute monsters. "Tron" and "Genocider" in particular are likely to be the heaviest psych rock opuses you'll ever have the pleasure of encountering.

Inga Copeland - Don't Look Back, That's Not Where You're Going (EP)
These are the first three solo tracks Inga Copeland has released, although they feature production from DVA and Martyn. They sound like highly twisted dance-pop tunes, with killer vocal hooks and squelchy basslines. If you want your brain scrambled, and for others to wonder why, choose this one.

Pete Swanson - Punk Authority (EP)
30 minutes of relentlessly harsh techno noise that doesn't forget the emphasis on rhythm and repetition. Each Pete Swanson release seems to be a honing of this formula, and with Punk Authority he may have produced his strongest results yet.

Next month expect new albums from the Knife, the Flaming Lips, James Blake, the Haxan Cloak, Phoenix and more. Tracks from some of these albums/EP's can be found on my latest monthly mix Culture Shock (check the channel from tomorrow).

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Single of the Week: Vampire Weekend - "Diane Young" / "Step"

Vampire Weekend are the band you may feel like punching at times, what with their gravel-handed approach to, well, everything. But they remain just agile enough to sidestep your misguided blows - that deserves credit. This double-A single, which takes two tracks from their upcoming third album Modern Vampires of the City, isn't too far removed from the band's regular territory, but even that seems to reach a pretty far distance. "Diane Young" is the faster of the two. I'm not sure if Vampire Weekend have been goofier than they are during these three minutes, but they've certainly come close. Thankfully they pull it off, with it being too loony to make it sour: Ezra Koenig's modulated Buddy Holly-ism's and a dangerously catchy inclusion of synth horns are the most characterful elements of this appeal, alongside the stuttered, rudderless instrumental section. The other side, "Step" is the steadier song. Producing a lyric video for this song may not have been a good idea, as Ezra's words aren't the most poetic or coherent, yet like Stephen Malkmus he has a way of making that factor not matter. It's still a pretty, carefree ballad with a strong melody, and I imagine it will translate well in a live setting. I don't this group are about to drop off any time soon.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Album Review: My Bloody Valentine - m b v

Whatever way you look at it, I really don't need to do this review. The Metacritic page for m b v, the new album from shoegaze pioneers and critic/fan faves My Bloody Valentine currently hosts 44 professional reviews, none of which rank the album below 6/10, and there have been innumerable other professional, semi-pro and in particular fan-written and videoed (see YouTube) insights into this critical hallowed ground. My two cents aren't going to be particularly gripping, or notable, or controversial. But here goes.

When the superlative-enticting Loveless, what was thought for years to be the last My Bloody Valentine album there'd ever be, was released on pre-Oasis Creation Records in 1991, I had yet to be born. So I'm not able or willing to approach this review from any substantial point of longing or nostalgia, or weightily fluctuate between belief and doubt in the skills and intentions of one of modern music's least understood reclusive geniuses; in short, no 22-year wait for me. This idea seems to be the first thing many of these reviews contain. Forgive me for deconstructing a little further, but the other main attribute to these pieces is their willingness to tell the reader a story, as the event that happened to them, in many cases less than a day before publication, needs to be framed as a highly significant cultural event. Do these people imagine that when people bring up the questions "where were you when the Twin Towers collapsed?" or "where were you when the Berlin Wall came down?", they'll be able to pipe in with "what do you remember about when that My Bloody Valentine album crashed the internet and we all sat there clicking the Refresh button waiting to get onto the site at midnight?"?

Of course I'm exaggerating. I doubt any of these people actually think that this new release, of limited commercial interest, will translate to a larger group of people. I can't know the minds of every music superfan, especially those who have properly reached the end of the 22-year journey and are shedding tears of joy and relief as their fingers hit the keys, but I do know that the days of a genuine event in music are most likely over (even if there have been a few noble attempts recently). Lord knows what the band themselves think about all this fanfare. You can't blame them for avoiding the spotlight; the discrepancy between the instant gratification-seeking "Now!" culture My Bloody Valentine have hungover into and the slow-burning, treated and re-treated to perfection formula they've worked from since 1988 seems to be massive. It's a relief then that m b v takes absolutely no interest in the 21st Century, or any concept of time but its own. It is simply, "the new record".

And not for humility's sake either. With little background information of the record we have no idea how much of it is recent material, or how much of it was written and recorded in the years immediately following Loveless. But it's of no importance. As an album in three parts of three tracks each (for argument's sake), the first section is the most pigheaded towards the idea of radical evolution. Which isn't to say it's ugly and unrefined; in fact completely the opposite: it serves as a reminder of the beautiful anguish of the previous record. The first track, "she found now", ensures the album begins not with a bang, but with a whimper, albeit a pretty, droney whimper. It makes sense that this song is sung by bandleader and crucial component Kevin Shields, whose studio experiments redefined the possibilities for guitar-based music; a radical change that has yet to be matched since (to those unfamiliar with My Bloody Valentine, this cannot be overstated). It's true that it shares similarities with another track that bears his lead vocals, "Sometimes", but this is far from a bad thing. It means that the album has a disarming yet familiar start, that shies away from controversy and comforts the listener into staying put for the remainder of the experience. What's most impressive about "she found now" is the sense of rhythm given by one delayed guitar. Given that Shields recorded the majority of the album by himself, with the exception of Bilinda Butcher's vocals and Colm Ó Cíosóig's drum parts, the track has an extra personal feel; and the listener can feel the meaning of the several years it may have taken to record and release it. The rest of the band appear on the next two songs, which feels like the true reintroduction. Bilinda sings in her signature indiscernible vowels over the solid rhythm Colm musters up for "only tomorrow"; her voice at times shifting up and swooping over Kevin's many buzzy guitar layers (I'm becoming increasingly aware that describing m b v's guitar sounds with words is an increasingly moot point, but believe me when I say the first guitar break here is truly awe-inspiring). "who sees you" completes this initial triptych, and furthers the idea of repeating and expanding on simple phrases from the previous track. On this one the guitars sound the most aggressive yet, which contradicts the paradisal softness of Kevin's vocal (subtly backed by Bilinda, to powerful effect). And two more incredible guitar breaks! Forget the time this music has taken to surface: when this formula can be executed to perfection over and over, I'm thankful to be able to listen to it at all.

The album then decides to break and do something entirely new for the band with its second act. The following track "is this and yes" has no guitars whatsoever, instead led by organic, astronomic keyboards and Bilinda's unusually forefronted vocals. Colm's bass drum is the only other addition to the song, which sounds like it was recorded inside the moon. It's definitely pretty, but to finally delve into criticism there is an issue with its length. Some reviewers feel as though it goes on for too long, like an unscheduled meander through the galaxy, but I'd say the opposite is actually true: I feel that given a couple minutes more it could stumble across something even more spacious and ultimately worthwhile. "if i am" is a little stronger, bringing Kevin and Colm back to the front; with the former dipping his guitar in gracious amounts of chorus, tremolo and flange, but struggles to make a mark when compared to the high quality of material elsewhere. I'd also say something about Debbie Googe's bass here like everyone else, if only because I've neglected to mention her involvement so far (whatever it was), except it really doesn't make a huge impression on me personally. The next track "new you" is a great improvement, especially because it allows for the return of Colm's heart-stopping drum breaks and those floaty, flute-y keyboards. Again Bilinda takes the trophy home for the sensuous doo doo doo's during the outro. Overall this segment of the album was the one that impressed me the least; the vanilla segment of this most Neapolitan record, but chocolate takes m b v somewhere entirely more adventurous and alien.

The opening guitar squeal of appropriately named "in another way" is so unexpected, uncharacteristic and perhaps a little tasteless that more than one reviewer has mislabelled it as the sound of "bagpipes". Three seconds later all is redeemed however when Colm's thunderous drums break through the clouds and lead a pack of loud, lively guitars onto the ravaged earth. It's maybe the most, well, punk rock-sounding song My Bloody Valentine have released since "You Made Me Realise". Thankfully vocals are kept to a minimum, leaving it to the other instruments to jam it out. It gives the feeling that the rulebook has truly been thrown out, for better or for worse. What follows is essentially a three-and-a-half minute studio experiment, "nothing is"; an exercise in rising intensity created using Kevin's choppy, buzzing guitar and Colm's very loud, booming drums, again using that weird "live looping" technique. It may come off as a little banal or worthless, but really I find it difficult to fault. Up to this point, m b v has been arguably everything that was demanded of it: a continuation of the sounds and experimental, involuted and ethereal (ugh) nature of Loveless, yet simultaneously a progression. Yet unbelievably the bravest, and possibly strongest track of the whole album was saved for last: "wonder 2". "Soon" this ain't; instead it's the heaviest song My Bloody Valentine have put their name to. The drum and bass-inspired rhythm section is a dead giveaway that Kevin at least began working on it during the 90s; only he could have paired it with the sweeping, aeroplane engine flanger effect and other assorted propulsive noise. As ever the structure is simple, the lyrics are a non-starter, but the texture is beyond anything you've ever heard. Imagine if it had been released during the 90s - it would have been copied a hundred times over by now.

This is the thing about My Bloody Valentine as a whole to me. "Texture" is the most important word. If music were texture alone I believe that Loveless would be the greatest album of all time, and I'm not the only person to think that. And certainly on that album its undefined, boundless, androgynously sexual, violently pleasurable multitude of textures were aided immensely by songwriting, structure, timing and above all inventiveness, which essentially when combined with its critical reception, influence and unintentional legendary status makes it the perfect album in this regard (the phrase "painted themselves into a corner" comes up more than once). After rumours of long bouts of depression and creative drought, Kevin Shields didn't ever need to follow Loveless up; it seemed to many to be an impossible task. Above all it shows a dedication to his role as a musician: many of his peers released great albums during their time, but furthered themselves with work that shattered the illusion of unapproachable, godlike craft. In this regard even a terrible album would have sufficed in allowing My Bloody Valentine to continue making music. But that's not what m b v is. It's not Loveless, but it's not weaker than a 6/10. It's a very reflexive listen, and if it succeeds at anything else it will hopefully bury the idea that an important album needs to be exemplary of its time. It's not of this time, or any other. And I enjoyed it very much.

Purchase m b v on a variety of formats from the My Bloody Valentine official webpage.