Katie Gately: Color (LP, Tri Angle, October 2016)

Wow, how brilliantly bonkers is this??? Vocally, Gately ranges from chirpy pop to melodramatic cabaret and incorporates eccentric yelps and shifts of tone and basically comes over like a Kate Bush for the attention-deficit generation. Musically, it’s equally full-on: synth-heavy, densely-layered, chaotic, over-the-top, and wickedly inventive. She never misses an opportunity for an extra flourish or parp or clang, and if she can squeeze a mariachi-style trumpet or a plinky little piano line in as well then all the better. To accuse this record of overshooting in its “chronic maximalism”, as the normally sound Resident Advisor did, seems to be missing the point: it’s like ordering an orangeade and then complaining it’s too orangey. I suspect that Gately would take that as a compliment. The key thing for me is that, for all that, it never feels random: every additional element seems to add rather than subtract, which is a bloody hard thing to pull off. Listening to this feels a little bit like riding an out-of-control fairground ride while you’re off-your-face drunk (probably): if you try to resist it or make sense of what’s happening to you, it’s probably going to be pretty unpleasant, but if you let yourself go, it’s a delirious thrill.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Brood Ma: Daze (LP, Tri Angle, February 2016)

I have to admit, this record frustrates me at times, as it doesn’t seem to be making the most of the producer’s obvious talents. But there are enough good bits here to make this a keeper. Presented as 13 tracks but effectively a 27 minute continuous mix, it manages to pull in grime, techno, industrial, noise, electronica, and sound effects — plus a bunch more things, probably, and that’s just in the first couple of minutes. The downside of the scattergun approach is that, for the first third or so of its running time, it mostly sounds unfocused, like a kid excited to show you all their toys and not really letting you see anything properly before jumping onto the next thing. It’s about track 7, Molten Brownian Motion, before things start making sense for me: at 2m58s it’s the second longest track here, and manages to finally lock into a groove — and one of an impressively pummelling intensity. For me, the wait is worth it: the next seven or eight minutes are a real visceral thrill. Things do start to drift again near the end, but then the final track, the 5-minute (!) long Nrg Jynx (Daze End Version) is a big snarling monster of bassy synths, machine-gun beats, and a stonking industrial howling and clattering, and all is forgiven.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Sd Laika: That’s Harakiri (CD, Tri Angle, April 2014)

Okay, I’m not a huge dubstep fan, but there seem to be some interesting people pushing the genre boundaries out there, and in a determinedly leftfield direction. Wen’s Signals would be one example, but this takes it further: there are tracks here which only seem to contain trace DNA betraying their origins. Like the Wen record, the production is excellent, and there are some jaw-dropping juxtapositions and sudden changes in direction. Take, say, You Were Wrong: it starts out with a big wobbly sublow, but then cuts to a combination of skittery drum machine and a chopped-up loop played, apparently, on an out of tune piano, and then the drums fade, leaving the piano meandering, then the bass comes back, then the drums, and the whole thing comes together in a joyful staccato syncopation. All this in three and a quarter minutes — the whole 11 tracks clock in at just over 32 minutes. It’s great fun and very clever. And yet, and yet… somehow the album as a whole doesn’t quite convince me, and seems destined to go down as a curiosity rather than a classic — as, in all honesty, the Wen record did. Perhaps the problem is that I’m not a huge dubstep fan, and I haven’t quite found the record to convince me.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Grime / Fwd.

The Haxan Cloak: Excavation (CD, Tri Angle, April 2013)

The album art for Excavation consists of a painting of a noose-like rope against a blank near-black background. This gives a subtle clue what kind of a musical experience we’re in for. And, indeed, the music is pretty doomtastic: deep deep bass sounds loom out of the speakers, industrial rhythms stutter and spurt, minor chords float around uncertainly, sawn-off yelps burst out. As such things go, this is quite a restrained affair (it doesn’t have the over-the-top theatricality of, say, Kreng’s Grimoire), and in fact I almost feel a little cheated that it doesn’t deliver the I’ll-eat-your-soul climax that it seems to have been threatening. But it has a good balance of moods, from the ambient to the darkly propulsive, and the editing is pleasingly crisp and precise. When I fancy something unapologetically bleak, this is a satisfying listen.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Industrial / Drone / Noise.

Balam Acab: Wander/Wonder (CD, Tri Angle, August 2011)

Shuffling underwater beats, swirling strings, delicate chimes — and vocals pitch-bent up to the verge of chipmunkery. Hey, what? Strangely, this works rather beautifully. The effect isn’t the least bit comic. I’ll admit that it took me one listen through to get over my confusion, and to forget the associations with the dafter ends of rave. But, in fact, this record drips with a loved-up psychedelia which is quite unlike anything I can think of (except, just maybe… if Alvin or one of his friends got bored of the pop career and decided to make a downtempo album, possibly produced by the Neptunes…). It is also utterly enchanting.

I bought this from Juno. They call it Dubstep / Grime, which seems kind of an odd choice to me, but what do I know?

Ayshay: Warn-U (CD single,Tri Angle, September 2011)

This record resists categorization rather brilliantly. The title track is mostly (as far as I can tell) mainly composed of three heavily processed loops of human voices, along with some gentle laptop effects (the only beat is a barely present pad). Two are wordless drones or chants, one a rumbling bass and the other a floating soprano. In between is something which appears to be the main vocal: there are words, and they sound kinda like English, but I couldn’t say for sure. I find the effect rather hypnotic and pleasingly disorientating. Tracks 2 and 3 continue in the same vein, indeed seemingly using some of the same components — there’s a risk of this becoming repetitive, but the tracks are short, and since she is inventing her own musical language it makes sense to hear the same phrases re-occurring. (Biographical note: This is the work of Arabic-American Fatima Al Qadiri, and the vocals are all apparently her own, pitch-shifted and autotuned all round the park. ‘Ayshay’ is Arabic for ‘whatever’.)

The fourth track is a ‘megamix’ which brings in the same layered vocals over a skittering semi-acoustic breakbeat (which I am tempted to describe as a kind of north African amen). There’s a definite raviness to it — by the end, she’s getting busy with the pitch bender on the snares, jungle-style — but it never quite takes light for me and, at 12 minutes, somewhat outstays its welcome.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic (which is, frankly, a cop-out… but an understandable one).