Saturday, June 29, 2013

New : Boards of Canada - 'Tomorrow's Harvest' / Tycho 'Dive'

One of the advantageous of being in a publicity-evasive electronic act is that you can probably get away with ageing extremely badly without anyone really noticing as there are no promo photos to accompany your releases. Seriously, Daft Punk have managed to navigate their way through fifteen years of cultural pertinence with a variety of upturned dustbins on their heads and Scotland's BOC have managed to last just as long ranked as one of electronic indie's biggest draws whilst hidden behind banks of dimly lit sequencers. I can remember seeing a photo of the pair fairly early on in their career and the only thing I can remember from it is that they both had beards. If this was indeed the case back then I can only assume said beards are now preposterously long and require plaiting and pinning back during their increasingly rare live performances, a bit like the knob-twiddling equivalent of ZZ Top. Anyway, it's a fairly healthy time for anyone who released a half decent album in the 90s to raise their heads above the parapet and the runaway success of 'Random Access Memories' must be encouraging to a band who've timed their releases in similar fashion, only now reaching their fourth full length after their much-feted beginnings in the electronica boom of the late 90s. There isn't much else to link the two bands admittedly, although I'd argue that world wasn't holding its breath for a new Daft Punk album but was very pleased for one to come along in 2013 and the same is probably true for 'Tomorrow's Harvest', a welcome return for a band absent from the airwaves since the muted success of 'The Campfire Headphase' in the mid-noughties. BOC always remind me of music you'd like on your headphones whilst walking round an art gallery, soothing and unintrusive yet sprinkled with clever ideas and evocative soundbites - the kaleidoscopic nostalgia buzz of their debut 'Music has the right to Children' from back in '98 and the let's get stoned in the woods throb of the 'In a Beautiful Place out in the Country' EP from 2000 gave way to a slightly sinister vibe for 2002's 'Geogaddi' which they've picked up again with this new one, stepping away from the 70s documentaries on rock formations and channelling something more atuned to those slightly scary sci-fi flicks from back in the day depicting barren planets and hypnotic soundwaves leading astronauts off the beaten track. I like to think that there's a film out there to accompany this stuff depicting intrepid space travellers exploring undiscovered ecospheres, pacing through crystal blue moon landscapes and taking samples of the mildly threatening wildlife. As with their earlier releases there's little point trying to pick favourites from the tracks present which blend seamlessly into one continuous melt of sound and colour and it's a record you'll need to give a few spins before the combined effects really start to sink in - fortunately the band's pedigree means that plenty of people will be willing to give them the time and I felt in fairly safe hands shelling out for a copy despite not being able to give the album a sample listen on Spotify for some reason. My money's worth was there waiting for me when I gave 'Tomorrow's Harvest' my full attention and it will surely provide a worthy soundtrack to many fun afternoons defrosting the fridge or recovering from a stinking hangover.

If you do pick up a copy of 'Tomorrow's Harvest', one thing you won't be doing is dancing your ass off to it with a Cheshire Cat grin reserved for those who've just chanced upon a set of stainless steel electronic anthems. For such thrills I would recommend a sneak peak at Tycho's stonking debut 'Dive' which dropped back in 2011 to moderate fanfare - the crystalline analogue throb and sunrise at the plankton colony reverb are present and correct, harking back to BOC's more accessible moments but Tycho's gameplan is focussed on providing satisfaction in five minute swathes rather than over the course of an entire LP. 'Dive' comprises ten such bursts all of which get to the point quickly and effectively without slipping into gimmickry, easing in melodic hooks that spiral through the songs like ink mixing with water to forge a set of memorable moments of serene electronica. In a way this reminds me of Apparat's 'The Devil's Walk' which also dropped to subdued acclaim back in '11 to hang in peripheral vision until someone decided to ruin it by sticking it on a car advert or something - Tycho may yet succumb to such a fate but for the moment he's safe from overkill so you should be able to enjoy 'Dive' on your own terms. Those BOC nature documentary synths resonate across most of the tracks but he eases the basslines into more prominent territory and rachets up the drum cracks to give a more recognisable frame to the material - there's even a spot of acoustic guitar in there to hang your coat on. The warm spearmint throb runs through every track but instead of numbing your head it gets into your bones and makes you want to shake a leg - this is one for those morning runs by the canal as opposed to the spiritually vulnerable lie-ins shaking off the Stella demons. You'll be picking playlist tracks off 'Dive' for some time to come and the diverse shades provided by the five remixes tagged on to last year's Deluxe version are worth the extra bucks to round out what is a thoroughly enjoyable journey through delectable fishtank techno. On this evidence Tycho is one sporting montage away from notching a breakthrough success that'll make his music unavoidable but it's equally plausible that he'll unleash a similarly gorgeous follow-up that'll have critics foaming at the mouth and see him spoken of with the same reverence as the reigning royals of the electronica world. Keep your eyes peeled either way, there's certainly more to this story - in the meantime bag 'Dive' and treat yourself to some fresh air and headphones for a glimpse of celestial glory.

Check out : BOC's 'Split Your Infinities' and Tycho's eight minute title track. Both sides win!

Monday, June 17, 2013

New : Deafheaven - 'Sunbather'

As someone who constantly daydreams about being a rock star despite never having even attempted learning how to sing or play an instrument I have been able to set aside plenty of time over the years to imagine just what sort of weird and wonderful music I would conjure up were I ever to actually delve into the realms of musical creativity. I think at some point along the way I came up with the idea of a genre splicing Shoegaze and Death Metal to forge a sound that combined the former's loved-up state of transcendent grace and the latter's abrasive thrashings in the darker side of the emotional spectrum. Pitching it to the major labels would have probably been quite a challenge but I was convinced the idea had legs and lo and behold only a few years later San Francisco's Deafheaven have only gone and brought my dream to life. I hadn't heard much about these guys until I chanced upon an E-music article describing them as 'The perfect middle ground between Slowdive and Marduk' which needless to say had me drooling onto my trainers in frenzied excitement and I duly bagged a copy of their 'Sunbather' LP to find out more - the contents are a puzzling mix at first but perseverance will reveal a layered cacophony of otherworldly sonic treats unlike much I've ever heard before. It's tempting to simply plant the creative flag at the crossroads between effects pedal psychedelia and windswept Black Metal soundscapes but in truth Deafheaven could have reached their final output via a number of circuitous routes through the sonisphere - Alcest's stonking 'Les Voyages de l'Ame' LP from early last year introduced emotional fragility and tear-cushioned sensual momentum to add shades of blue and green to BM's monochrome palette but they were still coming at things from a metal background, tracking back from the harsher elements of full frontal Satanism and Nihilism into a numbed, forgiving aura away from hateful reality. Deafheaven on the other hand appear to be arriving at their turbulent end product after several years labouring in the effects pedal indie  hinterland buoyed by a curiosity-fuelled trip through the Burzum back catalogue - they can strip paint with the best of 'em but it's unlikely you'll see them headlining Hole in the Sky any time soon. 'Sunbather' captures several of the now overfamiliar aspects of Chillwave indie but beams them through a bathful of sour milk and bloody hair to create a sound that pulls the genre through the looking glass into a vibrant world of negative shades and textures - your average Beach House fan will probably just pull faces but behind the screeching vocals and sandpaper riffing there's a cloud-covered realm of dreamlike sound to explore (it always bugs me how some people cream over MBV sticking five minutes of deafening feedback into 'You Made Me Realise' but can't deal with screaming vocals without curling their lips in disgust). The titles alone almost mock the Chillwave aesthetic, the title track and opener 'Dream House' both luring listeners in on a promise of lavender-scented fragility only to blast them with ten-minute deluges of abrasive noise, retaining the blastbeats 'n' scraping metal guitar rasp of standard BM infused with pink clouds of indie drone rock and epic end of the night wall of noise dynamics. There's a spot of the early noughties Isis/Cult of Luna hurricane metal in there along with the planet-sized theatrics of modern heavyweights like Shels and Amplifier and it wouldn't be an exaggeration to chuck in comparisons to the white noise floodwaves of MBV or the component tinkering of early Sonic Youth. The lads spread their charge wisely, never stormblasting for excess' sake and staggering their assault over waves of ten-minute plus journeys through raging whirlwinds of shrieking negativity purged by subdued clouds of sedated melody - this is the sonic equivalent of breaking up with your lover and shouting yourself hoarse whilst trashing your apartment before finally sinking into a drained state of resigned closure in a pile of smashed crockery. They'd excelled themselves here and their reluctance to temper the measure for populist appeal only makes 'Sunbather' all the more essential. The Chillwave boom was fun while it lasted but it's been dead and buried for a while and Deafheaven might just have found a way of using its corpse to new and thrilling effect here in 2013. 

Check out : closer 'The Pecan Tree', almost deceptively pastoral.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

New : The Knife - 'Shaking the Habitual'/Daft Punk - 'Random Access Memories'

Firstly my apologies for a prolonged absence on here - the reason for this is that I'm actually in the process of upgrading this blog to a different format and have been indulging in a spot of perfectionist tweaking whilst also augmenting the retroactive section of the site, but more on that later. Lame excuses thus dispatched, let us focus on two of this year's most significant electronic releases, The Knife's hot pink return from the artistic wilderness and Daft Punk's long awaited newbie that looks set to smash sales records all over the place. Both of these records look set to dominate the year's 'best of' lists and in truth both deserve all the praise they will undoubtedly receive, although the standard journalistic stampede to trumpet their combined qualities will probably gloss over much of their true merit. The Knife's effort is tailor made for the Guardian/Pitchfork set who cream themselves over anything bridging the gap between alternative music and modern art and the band's wordy, politicised press releases and 'challenging' performance art live shows will do nothing to put those people off whilst Daft Punk's streamlined commercial offering packs enough populist charm to seduce those simply looking for a new soundtrack to their Friday night but has plenty of depth and visceral charm to keep discerning listeners coming back for repeated listens.

I'd previously written The Knife off as unappealing clever bugger electronica on the strength of their mid-noughties material that seemed too comfortable in its own coolness for my liking - their calculated Nordic poise and reluctance to play too obviously to the elements of electronic music that actually make you want to dance made them seem like the aural equivalent of Ikea furniture, all crystallised consumer friendly charm but no beating heart beneath the surface, no humanoid flaws or righteous indignation. I may have been slightly harsh on them just because they're fucking Swedish but in any case such accusations would be thoroughly unfounded with this new slab of transgressive bleepery that comes after a protracted lull in activity stretching back to their operatic noodling on 2010's 'Tomorrow in a Year'. 'Shaking the Habitual' states its intention to lob a few curveballs in your direction from the very beginning, even the title making it clear that they're out to test boundaries - there's always a fine line between art house experimentalism and a splurging torrent of total bollocks and it's one they straddle throughout this LP with some degree of success. The tracks creep up toward the ten minute mark on several occasions and it's generally time put to good use, holding back from easy access hooks in favour of spiralling rabbit hole journeys into a murky world of underworld treasures. Their long form hypnotic pulse epics draw on the same propulsive energy that Underworld channelled on their late 90s meisterwerk 'Beaucoup Fish', moving the listener through different acts of throbbing muscle as momentum builds gradually to the point where you're powerless to resist - lead single 'Full of Fire' is the perfect example of this, a nine minute descent through the myriad sublevels of house music that seems to draw you nearer to the teeth-melting furnace as each minute passes. 'Networking' sounds like particles rebounding off every surface inside a plywood labyrinth as panic gradually sets in whilst you fumble around looking for a way out, the twittering flurry of activity taking place inside 'Without You My Life Would Be Boring' sounds like a UV-lit rave up in the exotic bird section of your local zoo and the paranoid metallic throb of 'Stay Out There' sounds like an evening of erratic shape-throwing locked into the basement of the Blair Witch mansion on a cocktail of very bad drugs. Where they connect to full effect The Knife are pretty much untouchable, constructing complex universes within their compositions that you can lose yourself in for hours - their reluctance to bow to stadium populism allows their artistic ambition to flourish on most tracks but proceedings spill out of the nightclub and into the art gallery on more than one occasion leaving passages on the record that all but their chin-stroking hardcore fanbase will simply skip past. Their talent in filling ten minute tracks with technicolor universes of sonic trickery is matched by their ability to spend the same amount of time achieving precisely nothing, meandering round in echoic circles for yonks on 'Fracking Fuel Injection' and throwing in the detached twangathon of 'A Cherry On Top' three tracks in to puncture any momentum they may have acquired along the way. The real patience tester is the record's twenty minute centrepiece 'Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized' which festers excruciatingly slowly like some instrumental Black Metal ode to decomposing forests - Varg Vikernes came out with shit like this whilst he was killing time in a Norwegian jail but The Knife have no such excuses for fucking with your head for such extensive periods. The shaking of the habitual in the title might just be that the average rave-sensitive listener will zone out during these less accessible passages but that's a debate that's too tedious to even contemplate right now so let's just celebrate this LP on its relative merits - where it connects, 'Shaking....' is as good an example of expansive, experimental dance music as you'll find and the cluster of rave-friendly fluo meteorites on display here are worth the asking price on their own. The rest will be there in the background if you want to delve that far down for the full art house experience so ultimately everyone goes home satisfied. Pitchfork will probably give this album of the year which is the only valid reason to dislike it but even that shouldn't put you off swimming deep in this day glo ocean.

Daft Punk's effort might not pull in the arthouse crowds quite as much as the Knife but their latest opus is perfectly timed to cross over to a new generation of listeners unfamiliar with their back catalogue along with a wide range of seasoned ravers, curious rock fans and anyone running a clothing store wondering what to stick on the stereo for the Saturday afternoon retail rush. The wily French duo have always succeeded in timing their runs at chart success to perfection, watching carefully as the electronic music landscape evolves in front of them and holding back from cheap thrills and token pot shots before finally unleashing that one classic nugget that goes on to become a universal dancefloor classic as well as a highly regarded critical success. I suspect that many of the skinny jeans 'n' champagne crowd bopping to this newbie were scarcely out of nappies when 'Homework' landed back in '97 alongside 'Dig your own hole' and 'Fat of the Land' as dance music blew up worldwide and took over from the fading energy of the Britpop era - whilst the Prodigy's jungle-hardened return to prominence a few years back saw them bring their 90s shtick into the modern age, it feels like the Punk have never really been away, their crystal-filtered synthesis of streamlined funk, disco and clubland glam remaining a constant undercurrent to the ever-evolving realm of dance music. 'Random Access Memories' sees the duo move away from the revivalist 80s aesthetics of their previous efforts towards a meatier, muscular blend of classic 70s funk and disco backed with a well-drilled studio band - the Manga-inspired rollerdisco rave of 'Discovery' and the bleep fetishism of their 'Tron' soundtrack linger in the background like glossy screen prints on the walls of a live venue suddenly brought to life by a crash helmet sporting troupe of performers playing right under your nose, coming out of the copy book to become fully fleshed-out human beings. The shimmering studio funk of Jacko's 'Off The Wall' runs through the more accessible cuts on here, opener 'Give Life Back To Music' unhooking the barrier and inviting you in through the disco doors before the smoooove vocoder funk of 'The Game of Love' sees you relax into a velvet couch for a spot of heavy petting and deep seductive bass. Jacko's influence looms large again on the Pharrell-assisted tracks, the effervescent glitterball disco of 'Lose Yourself To Dance' built to fill floors like classic Earth Wind and Fire whilst the effortlessly infectious single 'Get Lucky' has already repeated the trick of 'One More Time' in dominating radio playlists and smashing sales records across the world. They're not afraid to draft in a wider range of guest vocalists to vary the pitch though, Julian Casablancas getting the vocoder treatment to gorgeous effect on 'Instant Crush' whilst 70s MOR enthusiast Paul Williams puts in an equally impressive turn on end of the night Broadway ballad 'Touch' - clubland's producers also get a look in, 'Giorgio by Moroder' spinning out a nine minute tribute to disco's visionary architect whilst Animal Collective's Panda Bear flies the flag for modern electronica on 'Doin' It Right'. The glitter rains down on 70s soundtrack gems 'Beyond' and 'Motherboard' with such note perfect revivalist charm that you almost feel the room is suddenly coated in brown leather and orange wallpaper but the space age thrills return in force for stunning set closer 'Contact', the visionary sky gazing of their robotic material brought into human form with a clattering drumkit assault on the senses as the disco loops whip up a tornado of frenetic dancefloor mayhem that will leave crowds gasping for air as the curtain falls when the duo blow minds in the live setting with this shit over the coming months. Picking flaws in 'Random Access Memories' seems wholly pointless, this is a record that everyone will be able to hold close to their heart for at least the time it takes for it to get played to death and the next generation of ravers will be able to revere it as the stone cold classic of their time while reluctant rock fans will overcome their suspicions of studio electronica and latch onto the chunky dynamics of the live band busting out these disco eargasms. They've nailed the zeitgeist plenty of times in the past to massive commercial kickback but with this one Daft Punk have logged something they can retire on - this shit is going to be King Kong massive for at least the rest of the year and packs enough across the board gold-plated charm to surpass disco populism and transcend into the spheres of the true classics. I'd say go and check it out but the truth is you'll be hard pressed not to over the next few months so instead my advice is to bathe in this bubble bath of sonic delights on your own terms before you lose the record to shoe store saturation and endless media hyperbole. 'Random Access Memories' is too good to let everyone else ruin it for you.

Check out : The Knife's devastating 'Full of Fire' and the Punk's equally cosmic 'Touch'.