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Albums - Issue 594

Special Request - Vortex

Special Request

Vortex

Houndstooth

M3NT4L
9.0
Paul Woolford wants you to know he’s gone ker-a-zee on his latest Special Request album, allegedly the first of four. ‘Fuck all that conceptual guff m888,’ he declares in the PR for ‘Vortex’, before coming at you with track titles like ‘SP4NN3R3D’ and ‘A Gargantuan Melting Face Floating Effortlessly Through The Stratosphere’ (henceforth ‘AGMFFETTS’). ‘Vortex’, it doesn’t take much working out, is his tribute to Aphex Twin’s and Grant Wilson-Claridge’s infamous Rephlex label, meaning Woolford’s gone full braindance, kooky titles and all. It’s a sound he’d already hinted at – check the mean, morphing bass of ‘Trippethylophosphazene’ on 2017’s ‘Curtain Twitcher’ EP. But ‘Belgian Entrance’, an opener consisting of nothing but hoover modulations that seamlessly roll into ‘SP4NN3R3D’, a torrent of bit crushed beats that explode into grand, menacing electro, confirm he’s gone full Analord. The four-four of ‘Memory Lane’ is explicit about drawing on deeply loved sources, wistful interplaying melodies dissolving into an acid bassline, while ‘Ardkore Dolphin’ demonstrates Woolford’s mastery of breakbeats and soul-stirring mood. ‘Fahrenheit 451’ transforms the vocal from The House Crew’s ‘Keep The Fire Burning’ into a house stomper of filtering bass and panning hats. ‘Vortex 150’ could be ‘Erotic Discourse’ for 2019’s class of high tempo, metallic warping sounds now ramped up to 150bpm and accentuated by breaks, and the introspective twinkle and fax spasm bass of ‘Levitation’ stays at this heady speed. ‘Fett’ raises the stakes to 175bpm, little more than a kick under heavily corroded percussion, before closer ‘AGMFFETTS’ signs off with an ever-accelerating cosmic crescendo of arpeggios, the equivalent of a numberplate that says ‘M3NT4L’. Executed with Woolford’s impeccable production skills, it’s a heartfelt outpouring and follows a vein of influence also being explored elsewhere, like on Nina Kraviz’s Trip label. Hear these out and it won’t be just your brain dancing m888.
Joe Roberts
Hot Chip - A Bath Full of Ecstasy

Hot Chip

A Bath Full of Ecstasy

Domino

Uplifting to the max
7.0
Soft sonic bubbles, overwhelmingly positive songwriting sentiments and copious playful melodies. It’s not hard to understand how Hot Chip’s latest long form earned its name; a sickeningly sweet declaration of good feelings made palatable thanks to the inclusion of some welcome, more reflective interludes. Clearly intent on lifting listeners’ spirits, and arguing the case for vocoders in the process, songs such as ‘Melody of Love’ and ‘Positive’ are catchier than most infections, the title number introduces US chart-friendly electronic balladry to the equation, with ‘Hungry Child’ a bonafide pop-dance anthem in the making. Less sugar-coated, but not gritty, ’Spell’ reminds you this troupe have long-since mastered elements that move dancefloors, and at the other end of the spectrum (well, almost) ‘Clear Blue Skies’ approaches shoegaze. Who needs groundbreaking when things are this nice and well-executed?
Martin Guttridge-Hewitt
The Golden Filter - Autonomy

The Golden Filter

Autonomy

4gn3s

Soaring soundscapes
9.0
Penelope Trappes and Stephen Hindman’s first album ‘Volsupa’ delved into the realms of synth-pop. Nine years on following releases on Optimo, The Vinyl Factory and Brille, their work tells a compelling story thus far, wearing influences from new wave, EBM to electro with a consistent narrative that makes their productions so unmistakable. ‘Autonomy’ is perhaps their strongest work to date, adding another cinematic layer to their memoirs. Having refined their sound over the years, it is sonically exquisite; Penelope’s vocals glisten across every track, machine drums pack a punch, and soaring atmospheres defy space. Soundscapes like in ‘U O K’ are dramatically three dimensional, with time-stretched field recordings that roar across disorientating melodies. ‘Infinity’ quickens the BPM and consequently the heart rate with a post-punk rawness and unfaltering energy. ‘New Politik’ is a stripped back, emotional lament that turns from sorrow into exultation. Returning to dreamy synths on ‘All The Queens’, the album travels from dark to jovial in defiant fashion.
Anna Wall
Mr. Tophat - Dusk to Dawn Parts I, II and III

Mr. Tophat

Dusk to Dawn Parts I, II and III

Twilight Enterprise

Decade in the making
8.0
Rudolf Nordström’s debut album as Mr. Tophat is one that most artists hope to release after years of making long form work. ‘Dusk to Dawn’ is the culmination of over a decade of work, an album released in three parts. Drawing upon music and world history as inspiration, his production calls upon the Baroque period, ancient flutes, Brazilian samba, jazz, and the rock ‘n’ roll solo. Finely-tuned improvisation guides us through some tracks that are uplifting, and many that are jarring or contradictory, making the album an experiential listen as we navigate through a clash of musical cultures. Nordström’s brand of sound is unrestrictedly unconventional, with each piece of the album serving as a lens into the inner workings of Stockholm’s elite music creatives. This army disco illuminati are his collaborators on the album – Anne Marie Almedal, Robyn, Axel Boman and Kleerup – with Nordström serving as lead conductor. ‘Dusk to Dawn’ isn’t meant for radio, nor to soundtrack a mainstream club experience, but as a teaching tool about the nuance of composition.
Anonymous
Flying Lotus - Flamagra

Flying Lotus

Flamagra

Warp

Cosmic gold dust
9.0
The LA production maverick who is surely never bored launches another belting, brain-rewiring album into the stratosphere. ‘Flamagra’ totals 27 tracks and covers seriously varied ground, yet almost always rooted – however subtly – in the LA beat scene he helped pioneer. There’s super-slick hip-hop in tracks featuring Anderson .Paak (‘More’) and Denzel Curry (‘Black Balloons Reprise’), smart, sparkling synth-pop – ‘Spontaneous’ with Little Dragon – tripped-out space-funk galore (‘Post Requisite’, ‘Debbie is Depressed’, etc), and all manner of sideways jazz odysseys – the good kind. FlyLo now excels in making the abstract accessible and appealing. There are enough hooks and killer beats in ‘Flamagra’ to invite repeated listens, yet he still flies his own freak flag mighty high, attracting some hefty collaborators in the process: Solange, George Clinton, David Lynch, plus hip-hop hotshots and alt heroes. Thanks for obliterating our boredom for 67 delightfully weird minutes, FlyLo.
Tristan Parker
Tenderlonious - Hard Rain

Tenderlonious

Hard Rain

22a

Catching a breather
7.0
Unlike many producers, Ed Cawthorne aka Tenderlonious’ jazz credentials are much stronger than just sampling Miles Davis. After teaching himself saxophone and flute, the London-based musician is better known as a multi-instrumentalist with Ruby Rushton and the 22archestra than an electronic artist, making the studio-based synths and samples of his new album less a progression and more a return to his early days making beats in his bedroom. Although jazz is still a touchstone, ‘Hard Rains’ nods more towards house and hip-hop: Moodymann hangs over ‘Casey Jnr’s shuffling rhythm and keys and Madlib stalks ‘GU22’s lolloping drums. Shorter, sketchier and without live instrumentation, when compared to the last Tenderlonious or Ruby Rushton LPs ‘Hard Rain’ feels like something he’s come up with in his spare time – although given it’s his third album in 12 months the fact he’s found any is as impressive as the tunes.
Paul Clarke
Gene On Earth - Local Fuzz

Gene On Earth

Local Fuzz

Limousine Dream

Cruising music
9.0
Since the release of Limousine Dream 001, Gene has taken the vinyl world by storm. His eagerly awaited EPs have hit the shelves, and subsequently sold out like hot cakes in the blink of an eye. This summer feels like the perfect timing for a Gene On Earth debut LP, and it sure sounds scorching too. The glimmering melodies on ‘Marvin’s Garden’ are destined for Berlin’s open air clubs, and ‘Turbo Island’ reminisces with a hint of late ‘90s Orbital alongside Gene’s trademark groove-led machine drum signatures. ‘Beyond The Reef’ experiments with downtempo and IDM for an eclectic B2, while the rest of the album remains largely designed for the dance floor. There’s never a dull moment here, and no doubt these will become essential DJ fodder instantaneously. True to the name, Gene is living the limousine dream.
Anna Wall
Artefakt - Monsoon

Artefakt

Monsoon

Semantica

Urgent futurism
8.5
Dutch producers Robin Koek and Nick Lapien present their second long-player, moving from frequent collaborators Delsin to Svreca's Semantica, out of Madrid. From the chilly opening chords and metallic swoops of 'The Lost Centre', merging into the deep throb of the album's captivating title track, this feels both retro ambient and futurist at the same time. The urgent, arrhythmia heartbeat of 'Undulations', coupled with the clatter of percussion, arrives as if produced in widescreen. 'Vertigo', with its stuttering, propulsive kick and pulsing atmospherics, is moody and muscular, while 'Celluloid Dreams' builds layers upon layer of distant acid and sub-aqua pads, building drama and then fading into the distance. Closing gambit 'Nimbus' feels like 100 percent organic machine music, blissful pads and naturalistic sounds washing over a slo-mo chug. It's a thing of beauty.
Ben Arnold
Jonas Kopp - Non Virtual Reality

Jonas Kopp

Non Virtual Reality

Semantica

High-concept
7.0
‘This album,’ reads the introductory blurb to Jonas Kopp's third long-player, ‘was created to be a quantum frequency shuttle immersed in an individual experience from the subconscious to a collective consciousness unified to a high frequency of light.’ No, us neither, but all credit to the Argentinean producer, at least there's some thought gone into it, even if it is all a bit baffling. Following two previous long-form forays on the legendary Tresor, 'Non Virtual Reality', on Madrid's Semantica, is a complex morass of bleak ambience, rough-hewn frequencies, rich, electronic textures and murky soundscapes. It's not for everyone, granted, but jump on board Kopp's quantum frequency shuttle, and you can't help but be impressed by how 'all in' he's gone on this leftfield conceptual journey.
Ben Arnold
Jordan Rakei - Origin

Jordan Rakei

Origin

Ninja Tune

Evolution not revolution
7.5
Less than two years after his Ninja Tune debut ‘Wallflower’, Jordan Rakei returns with an effort that’s more polished in every respect. The jazzy musical arrangements are more ambitious; its electronic embellishments shimmer more beautifully; Rakei’s soulful vocals are delivered with even more craftsmanship. To a degree, ‘Origin’ makes you realise how much the formula was already perfected on his previous effort, as it traverses similar musical territory but without quite the same immediacy in its emotional resonance. While ‘Wallflower’ dealt with Rakei’s personal world and was nearly hypnotic in how it vibrated with the listener, ‘Origin’ instead explores dystopian themes and the threat posed by technology. It’s hard to shake the feeling that Rakei’s lyricism isn’t quite affecting in this context. Nonetheless, these feel like niggles when the musical results are so lush and gorgeous.
Angus Paterson
Plaid - Polymer

Plaid

Polymer

Warp

Experienced in sounds
7.0
Over the course of ten albums and 30 years of making music, Plaid have perfected a pretty pure style of electronica. At their best, it results in beautifully futuristic soundscapes that will never age, at their worst they dip int bloodless and meandering melodic doodling. ‘Polymer’ has moments of both, and a rather narrow sonic palette leaves you wondering if a little grit, dirt or menace would counter the metallic, reflective and harmonic surfaces and really make them pop. To that end, tracks like ‘Meds Fade’ and ‘All to Get Her’ go through pleasant and polite motions and fail to engage. But thankfully ‘Ops’ is a steppy and skeletal rhythm that will make any club skank, ‘Dancers’ is a heavenly celestial trip and ‘Recall’ is one of the highlights with its heavy and broken drum loops, darker textures and general sense of sonic bravery.
Kristan J Caryl
Man Power - This Is Not An Album

MAN POWER

This Is Not An Album

Now Now Now

Array of genres
8.5
Not one track on ‘This Is Not An Album’ sounds the same. While a dizzying whirlwind of genres and styles, each one is executed with blistering purpose. It sounds like Man Power’s having a hell of a lot of fun and it’s all the better for it. Touted as the first turbo-charged release from Now Now Now, sister label to Man Power’s own Me Me Me, it’s a direct response to the limitations of vinyl releases, allowing artists to pump out killer records as quickly as they wish. There’s little doubt that ‘This Is Not An Album’ reflects that immediacy; ‘I Feel Luv’ is a freewheeling stomper that sounds like it’s short-circuiting the longer it spins, while ‘Bullwinkle is an acid-tinged odyssey that you won’t want to end. A towering statement of intent from an essential label.
Lee Wakefield
Zamilska - Uncovered

Zamilska

Uncovered

Untuned Records

A gem
9.0
How can something so unsettling be so addictive? Polish producer/composer Zamilska’s music doesn’t allow your mind to file it somewhere safe and neutered, it’s too livid, too physically punchy and mentally disturbing, too resistant to notions of genre to feel comfortable with. Every time you play ‘Uncovered’ – and you will do over and over because it’s stunning – you hear new things, you dance new steps, and you wonder, what the hell is this music? It’s Zamilska music, no other explanation possible – the Polish producer and composer has been crafting intriguing transmissions for the past five years but ‘Uncovered’ is her best yet and her first international release. Thumping bass-heavy beats and lunging bass populate some tracks but the grainy, folky, almost-geological edge to this music comes you suspect from Zam’s grounding in heavy rock and industrial music. Heavy as fuck, sweet as poison, absolutely unique. Essential.
Neil Kulkarni
Konx-Om-Pax - Ways Of Seeing

Konx-om-Pax

Ways Of Seeing

Planet Mu

Total recall
8.0
If it’s true that ‘if you can remember the rave, you weren’t really there,’ then Tom Scholefield’s 2016 Konx-Om-Pax album ‘Caramel’ certainly suggested someone familiar with scrambled synapses after a night out. The blurry sounds felt like cloudy memories of house and techno, and it also had big blank spots as beats were either entirely absent or repressed beneath the smeared sonics. As a conceit it suited ‘Caramel’s concept, but sometimes meant tracks resembled breakdowns pulling away from the drop at the last moment. His third album jumps straight onto the dancefloor however. Inspired by moving to Berlin, ‘Ways Of Seeing’ pulses with energy, but whereas much music from that city is as monochrome as a photo negative, tracks like ‘Day Dreams’ are as bright and colourful as Scholefield’s video animations showcased at his gigs with Lone. Like Mat Cutler, Scholefield wears his ‘90s influences with pride – opener ‘LA Melody’ has a cheeky sample of FUSE’s ‘Substance Abuse’, ‘Missing Something’ could be Carl Craig and he’s even called a track ‘Rez’. But it’s his infectious rush of excitement more than the production polish that makes them feel shiny and new and has you reliving your own dancefloor glory days – whether they were two days or decades ago.
Paul Clarke