Kindohm: RISC Chip (LP, Conditional, December 2016)

Resident Adviser advise us that “It’s hard to think of a geekier scene than algorave”. A cynic might suggest that “think” might be more accurately replaced by “make up” — but, what the heck, it’s still technically the season of goodwill, let’s go with it.

At any rate, this rather juicy little number is the result of a combination of live-coding of algorithms (though, as ever, it’s not quite clear how much of it is “here’s on I made earlier” stuff cut-and-pasted in) and some analogue synths. Much of it is pretty hardcore stuff, in a kind of ravey–breaksy–chiptune kind of way. There are interludes of a gloopy electro nature which are slower, although never less than frenetic. Mike Hodnick manages to pull off the neat trick of being immensely technically proficient while sounding like he’s making it up as he goes along. Even the old chestnut of the cut-up vocals of people saying daft stuff about chips and artificial intelligence (the title track here samples extensively from Mission Impossible, it seems) manages to escape the cliché and sound fresh and interesting. All in all, this is a whole lot of fun.

I don’t know why all the properly banging stuff I’ve been buying recently has been heavy on the old-skool references. Perhaps I’m an old man reaching for the comforting sounds of his youth in troubling times. Must schedule an appointment with my navel to consider this…

I bought this from the label.

Svarte Greiner: Moss Garden (LP, Miasmah, November 2016)

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Erik K Skodvin out of Deaf Center. The last release I bought (although there’ve been a couple I’ve missed) under the Svarte Greiner alias was Kappe way back in 2009 (before I’d started this blog). I’m happy to report, though, that this is stunningly good. The A-side, The Marble, starts out as a sort of dark, drone, ambient, full of slow doom-laden cello semi-melodies and atmospheric clicking and clanking noises. And then about halfway through this… noise appears, it’s hard to describe, it’s sort of halfway between a buzzing and a fluttering, and it sort of jumps out of the mix and then gets sucked back in like some sort of insectine monster trying to break through a membrane from another world, or something. And then there’s this otherworldly shimmering noise, and — well, I’m not going to try and describe it sound-by-sound, but it’s amazing. The B-side, Garden, goes big on the spacious, resonant clangs and chimes and is also amazing. This is intensely atmospheric without ever being melodramatic, it’s sparse without being spartan, and it breaks significant new ground in a territory which I though I knew quite well. A controlled and powerful masterpiece.

I bought this from A Number Of Small Things.

Oren Ambarchi: Hubris (CD, Editions Mego, October 2016)

Oren Ambarchi has amassed a very impressive set of collaborators for this record — I shan’t list them here, you can get that and all sorts of technical information on the label’s site. Even more impressive is how he’s managed to weave all that together and end up with something not only cohesive but with a strong sense of Ambarchi’s own style.

The first track is a 22 minutes long and beautifully driving and hypnotic, bringing together elements of krautrock, techno, and disco grooves. There are a variety of guitar techniques and processes going on here, plus some electronic magic. One to lock in and lie back to.

The second track is a 2-minute palate-cleanser, dominated by heavily munged and cut up voices… I see why it’s there, but I have to admit I find it a little distracting.

The third track is 16½ minutes of sheer joy. It’s built around the same kind of looped guitar line as the first, but the surrounding matter is denser and more chaotic, starting with a sort of irregular percussion (that thing where there’s a couple of drum beats which are suddenly just a bit too loud is unmistakably Ricardo Villalobos) and progressing some lovely synth work from the mighty Keith Fullerton Whitman and thence to a total wig-out of a fuzzed-up guitar solo, jazzy and unhinged, the sort of thing which I would normally have no time but here it’s so superbly grounded by the discipline of those loops and it’s just soooo satisfying.

I bought this from the label.

Anna von Hausswolff: Källan (Betatype) (12″, Touch, November 2016)

What with the excellent recent records from Claire M Singer and Bethan Kellough, Touch have been on a pretty stunning run of form recently, and this release absolutely keeps up the good work. As with Solas, the composer is doing some awesome melodic drone work on a pipe organ, in this case the astonishing Acusticum organ at Piteå — but there the similarities end, as the other instruments here are electric guitars and percussion, of a suitably epic post-rock/post-metal persuasion. This is basically one 21-minute track split across the two sides, and frankly it’s a bit of a monster. (It’s not too surprising to learn from a Quietus interview that the staff at Lincoln cathedral were very nervous about letting her use their aging Henry Willis organ because they thought she’d break it.) This combination is new on me, and it’s hugely entertaining.

I bought this from the label.

Xosar: Let Go (LP, Black Opal, September 2016)

Apparently, Sheela Rahman has been releasing 12″s for a few years now, but this is my first encounter with her. And a thrilling encounter it is, too. The tracks explore a range of vaguely IDM-ish analogue techno and squelchy Chicago acid sounds (rather disproving my overly-neat thesis about techno LPs going either deep or broad, since this does a bit of both). There are some real bangers here, hard and furious drum machines dominating but always with enough bloopy melody to avoid making it a tough (or tuff) listen. Others tracks are more floaty and mysterious, although always with a propulsive core to keep things moving along. There’s a superb balance of hard vs gloopy, focus vs delirium, retro vs futurism… Basically, this makes me happy when I listen to it, and I’m giving it two very enthusiastic thumbs-ups.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Techno / House.

Monolake: VLSI (CD, Imbalance, October 2016)

Hooray, Monolake is back! And he’s great! Again! Last week I was pontificating (again) about The Nature Of The Techno Album. In contrast to Roman Flügel’s, this is definitely a record which goes deep rather than broad, sticking to one style and refining and exploring and inhabiting it. Well, I suppose you could argue that there are two styles here, the big, spacious beatless electronica thing and the skittering and glitched up techno thing, but they definitely feel like two sides of the same coin… or perhaps (pontificating again) two different ways of realizing the same idea. Obvious references are Raster-Noton and Plastikman (which I now see are the two references I made about Silence and Ghosts, so at least I’m consistently predictable). They’re equal partners here, too, the beat-free numbers fully developed tracks rather than just acting as an amuse-bouche before the proper-techno main-course. This focussed approach is, of course, a high-risk one: if you’re not absolutely killing it then people are going to get bored. Fortunately, Robert Henke is a cast-iron genius at this stuff and he’s on top top form here. The beat programming, the sound design, the sequencing, the melodies, the pacing, everything is just sublimely well-executed. I mean, sure, the tracks do sort of blend into each other a little bit, but who cares when they sound this good? It finishes with an absolute pair of crackers, too: Nmos is one of the most instantly satisfying tracks here, that skittering beat accompanied by big stabs of a really pleasing synth noise and snatches or distorted vocal sample; Glypnir is a stately, ominous, architectural closing statement; between them, they brilliantly sum up what this brilliant album is about.

(Closing aside: excited as I am to hear Jóhann Jóhannsson‘s soundtrack for Blade Runner 2049, I can’t help thinking that Henke would have been absolutely brilliant for it.)

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Electronic.

Roman Flügel: All The Right Noises (CD, Dial, October 2016)

Being someone who’s keen on a spot of the old repetitive beats, but doesn’t get much, I’ve mused much (and written here probably rather too often) on the curious creature that is the techno album. To make a very crude generalization, there seem to be two popular approaches: pick one sound that works for you and hope that people like it enough to stick with it for an hour or so; or cover a range of styles and hope that they cohere well enough to work across the long format. I often find the latter type hard to love. It is into this category that veteran producer Roman Flügel’s latest falls, covering ground from melodic synth music to swampy acid to spacy piano electronica to krautrock to ambient techno to blippy minimal to anthemic tech house. And, indeed, I wouldn’t say that I love this. But there’s a lot of good stuff on here, and it has a happy knack in its timing, where whenever I feel my attention wandering there’s another lovely moment to pull me back in. I like the touch of Selected Ambient Works 89–92 about Nameless Lake, and of wobbly feel-good Gui Boratto about Planet Zorg. But this album is at its best when it’s bringing these familiar elements together in surprising combinations, and I think the one track that really knocks it out of the park for me is Dust, which combines a sort of fluid blippy Ellen Allien-esque line (I don’t think it’s just the title which makes me think of her) with a big stately chord progression that sounds a bit like Trans-Europe Express. Would I prefer to listen to a whole album in that vein? I honestly don’t know. Still, All The Right Noises does come close to doing what it says on the tin, and is definitely worth a listen.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Techno / House.

East Of The Valley Blues: EOTVB (LP, Death Is Not The End, October 2016)

I guess that a duo of acoustic fingerstyle guitar is a little bit outside my normal range, although I did go a bit dappy about a Steve Gunn record a few years ago. Maybe it’s time for me to go through another phase, because this is a little gem. I’m too young (!) to remember John Fahey, but I gather this stuff is called American Primitive and he basically invented it. I seem to go for the less showy end of the genre, and this certainly ticks that box: it’s unpretentious, although not unambitious. Sonically, this is about as different as you can get from, say, a drone or minimal record, and likewise in terms of the technical skills on display, but I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to make the case that they have something in common, spiritually perhaps: these are long tracks, with subtle variations on repetitive elements, that build up to mesmeric effect. Whatever, I’m really loving this right now.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Folk / Roots.

Olafur Arnalds: Island Songs (LP, Decca, October 2016)

It’s probably a trite observation, but the last week of October was a good one for fans of Icelandic classical music, with Jóhann Jóhannsson’s splendid Orphée and this. Other than the coincidence of the composers’ nationality, these are actually pretty different records. Where JJ’s was clearly very personal, this is explicitly collaborative, each track featuring a different guest artist. Where JJ’s was partly inspired by his move from Denmark to Germany, this is something of a tribute to Arnald’s homeland: it’s the result of a 7-week journey around the island (which you can read more about on the album’s website), and all the guests are Icelandic (and some are seemingly non-professional). And where JJ’s 15 tracks felt like one grand work, the 7 numbers here (8 on the digital release) are much more varied and (unsurprisingly) feel more like a collection of chamber pieces. And a fine collection, too. The opening track, Árbakkinn, is a strong statement of intent, with poet Einar Georg Einarsson reciting sonorously over a delightful bit of piano and strings: I have no idea what he’s giffing on about, but it sounds great. Other highlights are Raddir, in which the South Iceland Chamber Choir chant rather beautifully to an organ accompaniment; Öldurót, which sees Arnalds teaming up with fellow composer Atli Örvarsson & the SinfoniaNord orchestra and combining electronics, piano, and strings to produce something Max Richter probably wouldn’t be too ashamed of; and Dalur, which combines Arnald’s close-miked piano with Brasstríó Mosfellsdals’ French horn. Perhaps inevitably, there are weaker numbers too, and for me Particles in particular doesn’t quite work: Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir of indie-folk-pop band Of Monsters And Men sings a rather bland English vocal which feels out of place. On the whole, though, this is pretty delightful stuff.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Early Electronic / Soundtracks, which is puzzling to me.

Jóhann Jóhannsson: Orphée (LP, Deutsche Grammafon, October 2016)

The first thing to say is that the 15 short pieces that make up Orphée are some of the most beguilingly beautiful classical music I’ve heard in a very long time. In fact, for a moment I considered leaving this note at that one sentence: everything else seems secondary. But I’m probably being overly sentimental, so we shall proceed. These works — or perhaps this work, for the tracks very much work together to form a greater whole — represent Jóhannsson’s first major solo effort since 2011’s awesome The Miners’ Hymns (sorry, but he’s wasted on soundtracks). They are primarily based around piano (played by Jóhannsson) and strings (the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, the AIR Lyndhurst string orchestra, with additional cello from the wonderful Hildur Guðnadóttir), with a few tracks additionally featuring organs, a choir (the Theatre Of Voices), electronics, and samples of numbers stations. The liner notes talk about the creative process involved, citing inspiration from Ovid’s telling of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, Maurice Blanchot‘s commentary on Ovid, Jean Cocteau’s magical 1950 film inspired by the myth (the use of numbers stations here is a reference to the mysterious radio broadcasts of abstract poetry in Cocteau’s movie), and Jóhannsson’s own relocation (he moved from Copenhagen to Berlin during the lengthy gestation of this project). All of which is fascinating stuff and adds real depth to my enjoyment. But the key thing is still that this is some of the most beguilingly beautiful classical music I’ve heard in a very long time.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Modern Classical / Ambient.