Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Demdike Stare - Wonderland (Album Review)

A sense of horror has been a crucial aspect of Demdike Stare since the projects inception back in 2009. The name itself explicitly connects the act to a distant English past, one wrought with superstition and a perceived presence of the uncanny. 'Demdike' alludes to a notorious witch trial, taking place under the rule of James 1 - the deeply superstitious author of 'Demonology' - a king who was profoundly fearful of witchcraft, Shakespeare famously writing Macbeth to appease his interest in the topic. The trial culminated with the nine year old Jennet Device condemning her entire family - including her grandmother Demdike - to execution for the practising of this crime.

Given the historical context, the duo's name certainly brings with it a claustrophobic, enveloping fear - the terror of being trapped within the unflinching gaze of a demonic entity. Musically a large chunk of the groups material seamlessly merges with the connotations of their name. A dense air of ghostly unease gathers atop sparing rhythms, while the collage-like artwork will often conjure up a folkloric infatuation with black magic.

Their interests have slightly altered on this latest release, 'Wonderland', as well as on their recent series of 12"s. The duo - comprising of Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker - maintain a sound which seems to exist in a state of monochrome, but here its surrounding mist recedes in favour of fevered and volatile rhythms. As the mist recedes, so does the acts connection to a number of their more weathered references, situating them more firmly with a certain lineage of musical history - specifically the last few decades of British rave music.  

Now, Demdike Stare have always had a strong connection with rave culture, but on 'Wonderland' we find them at their most directly dance focused. With a widespread maniacal grin, the duo barrel through a plethora of styles; techno, grime, hardcore, garage, industrial, jungle; a palpable menace being infused into each of these individual genres - a menace that's gleefully juxtaposed against the project's open playfulness. This menace maintains it's deranged verve throughout, thankfully never tilting over towards the morose or dour.

'Wonderland' is largely defined by it's jagged propulsion, yet during the latter third of the track 'Hardnoise', the beat gives way to unabashedly beautiful melodic tones; their rosy presence momentarily alarming due to the scraping, corrosive textures which characterised the album up to that point. Throughout the project rhythms typically build until inevitable implosion. Take the thrillingly shambling 'Airborne Latency', which forcibly scurries onward, the beat growing more caustic and impaired as it progresses. Clearly flummoxed, the rhythm eventually opts for the exit and withers away, while crackling ambience is left to swell up to the foreground.    

Previously the extensive use of library music within their sample heavy sound led to unavoidable hauntology interpretations, and although their recent output could feasibly be situated alongside Burial - an artist whose sound many describe as being the 'ghost of rave' - I don't really think the link holds much weight. Perhaps fellow Manchester artist Andy Stott would be a better comparison, notably due to the way both projects apply their singularly honed aesthetic to numerous dance styles, whilst doing so stretching and reconfiguring these forms.  

The switch towards the dancefloor in no way banishes the duo's previously mentioned supernatural qualities - malicious sonic spectres still regularly intrude upon the album, lacing these brittle rhythms with layers of vaporous ectoplasm. On the disconcerting 'Sourcer', what sounds like a heavily processed garage vocal takes the role of unholy incantation; whilst during the final moments of 'FullEdge (eMpty-40 Mix)', we're subjected to the retching of - what springs to mind as being - a malevolent spirit trapped inside an answering machine.

Rather than erasing all elements of the uncanny, Demdike Stare appear to have instead resituated them - proving that these components are not dependant upon extensive mood pieces, able to thrive similarly within a frantic rhythmic template. This ability to resurrect the supernatural, specifically within the urbane modern world, has always been one of Demdike Stares most enticing qualities. After all, the cliched idea of the supernatural - throughout literature, film etc. - is commonly/wrongly restricted to the rural, the rustic; whilst urban living is left deprived of the mystery that comes tied to this topic.

It should also be pointed out that the groups talents stretch further than merely creating music, now becoming increasing notorious for their own audacious DS label. This year alone we've seen them release Micachu's 'Taz and May Vids' - an EP which voraciously reshaped it's garage/2-step template - whilst Equiknoxx's 'Bird Sound Power' forged a mind bending collision between dancehall and juke. However, with their own release - 'Wonderland' - Demdike Stare have clearly conceived one of 2016's finest albums; a mangled tour of rave, from newly conceived perspectives, stretching towards the outer-limits of the hardcore-continuum.

Words by Eden Tizard

Twitter: @eden_tizard

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Albums & Tracks of 2016

Best Albums & Tracks Of 2016

Jesus Christ... what a year. It's important in life to avoid sliding towards a state nihilistic defeatism, but whilst sluding through 2016's ghastly horror show of unabiding misery (Trump, Brexit, Prince, Bowie, Alan Vega) what option do we have left? Of course this outlook isn't actually a viable option - political engagement is needed now more then ever - but you'd certainly be forgiven for taking a (very) brief retreat from current affairs... it is the holidays after all. 

Now, I'd be lying to you if I were to say that these albums - and tracks - would adequately function as a soundtrack for escapist goals (bar two or three notable exceptions). Instead many reflect/combat the dystopian present, whilst others bravely excavate a sense of utopianism amidst the dire state of affairs we currently find ourselves engulfed in. 

It's easy to say 'fuck you 2016', but in the long term we need to effectively face up to and challenge these issues - after all, its not looking like 2017 is shaping up to be any easier. In the mean time we'll have to avoid succumbing to the tyranny of apathy; whilst also finding other things to be optimistic about. But you know what? Despite this shitstorm of year, so much fantastic music has been released, music that's truly worth celebrating. Anyhow, I hope you find something out of this list that intrigues you.

Bar the top three (for albums) and Jessy Lanza (for tracks), this list is in no particular order:

Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch

Blood Bitch is a powerful album, with a thoughtful and compassionate sense of longing permeating its entirety; a desperate desire for something beyond this fearful conservative landscape. Crucially Jenny Hval’s record is never consumed by despair, baring with it a vital and endearing humour, easily excavated amongst its feelings of intense dissatisfaction. Musically, the album lurks around the lucid and impressionistic; interjected with rabid-dog panting, concréte explorations, and undulating synthesisers slowly ebbing above and below the surface. The themes of menstruation and vampires are explored in a non logical fashion – thankfully avoiding any dry academic style dissection. Above all, the album is Hval’s least self conscious effort, wisely letting a carnal instinct take firm president. For my money, Blood Bitch is the years most captivating and profound musical statement.

Babyfather - BBF Hosted By DJ Escrow/419

Many were shocked by results of both Brexit and the American election, but Dean Blunt was painfully aware of the insidious mindset bubbling clearly under the surface. Rage and discontent emanates from Blunt’s Babyfather work, a project smug journalists and onlookers wrongly regarded as an endeavour interested in pure novelty. Both BBF and the equally exceptional 419 mixtape finds Blunt at his most beat focused, evading the indie leanings of his most recent work. With Babyfather, Blunt unquestionably forged a path as one of Britain’s most conceptually radical artists - the Kate Bush sampling SYWALKER sounding flat out iconic.

Klein - Only/Lagata

Real oddball sounds here; the spectral and uncanny as present as the gritty or urbane. Aside from maybe Mica Levi, very few things come to mind whilst listening to Klein, one of the most singular UK artists to emerge over the past decade. Both Only and Lagata present bizarrely surreal concoctions, but concoctions that somehow still feel attached to a concrete landscape. These digitally garbled settings are populated by bodily moans and groans, mangled manipulations playing little heed to structure or reason. Klein is an artist who thrilling embodies the contradiction of feeling both timely and detached from everything else happening right now.

Rashad Becker - Traditional Music Of Notional Species. II

Words like otherworldly don't really do Rashad Becker justice. In fact it's near impossible to find sufficient adjectives, Becker's work - on the stellar Pan label - is not alien through a subversion or deconstruction of tropes, but through a genuine plunge into unknown sound. Its equally difficult to imagine the process in which these bent out of shape noises were made, more plausibly the sound of chemical leakage from a sci-fi power plant. Though it doesn't exactly become more welcoming with repeated listening, you certainly become far more accustomed to this corrosive environment, more able to marvel at its perverse grandeur. A truly outstanding, confounding listen.

Carla Del Forna - You Know What It's Like

Emerging from the Blackest Ever Black label - previously releasing the likes of Raime and Regis - Carla Del Forna's You Know What It's Like inhabits a murky region, songs which could feasibly dissipate upon the encountering of sunlight. They are, however, made all the more fascinating for it. Throughout 2016 I've gravitated towards music experimenting in the realms of the chromatic and vibrant, but You Know What It's Like proves that the dingy and opaque still holds intrigue and potential. Aside from creating one of the year's very best albums, Carla Del Forna has re-ignited my fascination with shadow.     

Equiknoxx - Bird Sound Power

A vital reconfiguration of dancehall, with an absurdly batshit logic dominating the proceedings. As an album, Bird Sound Power most importantly proves that to have an appreciation for a certain styles roots or lineage, it does not mean that you are forever confined to re-enacting that styles past. Along with Micachu's Taz and May Vids, the DDS label - run by the brilliant Demdike Stare (still need to listen to their latest release) - has further helped to sustain electronic music's rightful vanguard status, the sounds produced by Equiknoxx genuinely stretching the form they belong to; not abandoning dancehall, but violently and voraciously reshaping it.

Marie Davidson - Adieux Au Dancefloor

"For the most part the album sticks to the minimal, though you will stumble across sudden interjections of cavernous texture. It typically feels like a de-cluttering of sound, something which is actually quite refreshing given the state of density in electronic music. Besides, the tracks may be minimal, but their impact is unquestionably maximal; take the sweltering Inferno, by the songs end its achieved deliriously fevered heights; the writhing modulation left audibly unstable. The album concludes with the title track – Adieux Au Dancefloor – a sumptuous exercise in synth pop euphoria, situating Davidson at her most traditionally song based." Review

Peder Mannerfelt - Controlling Body

A high octane ringing sets the tone for Controlling Body, an album largely characterised by its foreboding malice. A divergence from his usual methods, Mannerfelt’s pallet has taken a turn towards the kaleidoscopic, with a chromatic vibrancy seeping across these nine tracks. Repetition - bordering on sadism - can be located on a piece like Limits To Growth, the neoliberal mantra (‘create growth’) being sardonically situated amongst hellishly potent synth stabs. Though at times a harrowing experience, Controlling Body can be seen as nothing but a transfixing accomplishment.

Arca - Entranas

Obtuse, confrontational, erratic. Throughout Entrañas we find Arca at his most violent yet concise. The Venezuelan producer typically suffers from a chronically aimless sensibility, with his confounding sounds not really put to good use. On Entrañas - his 25 minute mixtape - the dilemma is masterfully rectified. This formless suite - featuring the likes of Mica Levi - is a tangled (yet propulsive and focused) enigma. Similarly to its H.R. Giger style cover, the appeal comes from both a confounding futurism and garish horror.

Pattern Man - Pattern Man

"Mosquatino Story concludes the album with some of its most vivid lines. The narrative concluding with fragmentary propositions like “It’s either mastery or madness, and either one will free me.” These striking lines show Holland at his most interpretable, at other moments on the album seemingly random words will be employed, either for the effect of it’s sound or for their cumulative power. Like Mark E Smith, Holland understands the power of words within the context of music, playing a different function and having an entirely different impact when printed upon paper. Pattern Man should be played alongside eMMplekz’s Rook To TN34; 2016 seemingly the year for atypical, spoken word/electronic explorations." Review

You can find the release on bandcamp.

Frank Ocean - Blonde

Many applauded the boldness of Blonde. This was partially due to Frank Ocean's stature within the music industry - forgetting that a sense of risk is something the underground does not have a stranglehold on. In fact, a great deal of supposedly 'experimental' albums fearfully cocoon themselves in the comfort blankets of their own styles. To be fair its bold - almost impressionistic - nature should be celebrated, but perhaps the albums most endearing quality, is that amidst a brash cultural climate, Blonde resonates with a patience and humility; making the minuscule feel seismic.

Huerco S. - For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)

The beats have disintegrated on the latest from Huerco S. making way for the hushed and the textural. Simple melodies looped indefinitely, left to shift and toil before being abruptly ushered away - at least from our ears. Tracks feel gently fluid but constantly recede back into place, like their mobile within this setting but ultimately contained. Whilst creating For Those of you Who Have Never Huerco S. said that he hoped to achieve something 'timeless', he's undoubtedly done so.

Micachu - Taz and May Vids/Remain Calm (with Oliver Coates)

Classical music leaks into the sound of Mica Levi via osmosis. You'll often find her faulty electronics at least partially resembling a kind of woozy detuned string arrangement. Her residing knowledge as a trained musician remaining inescapably attached to the genetic makeup of her music. Oliver Coates has slightly more explicit ties to the classical field - most noticeably through his involvement with The London Contemporary Orchestra (an orchestra Mica has collaborated with). Throughout Remain Calm, Coates' cello commonly functions as a binding force, with down trodden electronics skirting rapidly between textures, equally emphasising the murky and the sky gazing. On the outstanding Taz and May Vids, Micachu (Mica Levi) exercises a similar wooziness, but here using it to reshape the garage/2-step template. 

Solange - A Seat At The Table

Looking across the majority of year end lists you'll find nothing but a climate of consensus, a great deal of top 10s just a reshuffling of the same handful of albums. With A Seat At The Table I'll happily and wholeheartedly join the consensus, the album more than deserving of its heaps of mountainous praise. Solange has singularly forged both a powerful exploration of black identity and a quietly psychedelic (and frankly fucking beautiful) modern soul record. An album of proud defiance, released in a increasingly hostile environment, Solange refuses to accept a marginalisation of black culture, singing: "Don't feel bad if you can't sing along, just be glad you got the whole wide world. This us, this shit is from us, Some shit you can't touch."

M.E.S.H - Damaged Merc

Though belonging to entirely disparate styles, Damaged Merc - released on Pan - can be oddly reminiscent of Jlin (footwork's harsh brutalist innovator). Notably the precision; its sharp, scraping textures; a militarised propulsion; on this release, M.E.S.H. shares a number of Jlin's attributes, one of the most notable being a startlingly odd contradiction - despite the production feeling relatively cluttered, an air of disconnected sparseness still hangs over this caustic yet enticing climate.

Yves Tumor - Serpent Music

"If most music is intent on reasserting the listener's own way of life, then for Yves it further represents an unfixed identity. This isn't just restricted to lyrical content - which for the most part is unintelligible - but to the actual structures and connotations of the music itself: the information surrounding the release, ranging from the influences to collaborators, will offer little help in attempts to decode or understand via context. The connections further blur the picture, rather than providing anything close to a concrete answer." Review

Jessy Lanza - Oh No

Footwork has reigned supreme now for several years as the undergrounds most consistently radical scene based sound. On Oh No's highlight - It Mean's I Love You - Jessy Lanza thrillingly situated these frenetic sounds within a pop setting, done so with respectful love - rather than shoehorned appropriation. Throughout the rest of the album, a myriad of styles are subtly merged to create a quintessentially 21st century pop record; the pioneering synth pop of Yellow Magic Orchestra, the innovative R&B of the late 90s, and various contemporary club sounds; all these forms are used gleefully and playfully, rather than an effort of slavish recreation. 

Gaika - Security

Earlier this year I had the immense pleasure of seeing Gaika live at the ICA. Now I've been very lucky this year, able to catch sets from; Cabaret Voltaire, Factory Floor. Babyfather, Jenny Hval, LCD Soundsystem; but Gaika surpassed them all. His vital and politically urgent mixtape - Security - amalgamated and mutated dancehall, the spacier end of dubstep, as well as the woozy electronics of Arca and Lotic. With his body of work to date, Gaika has cemented his position at the forefront of modern electronic music. 


Special Mention: A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here... Thank You For Your Service

The Tribe are back... bringing their fucking A game with 'em. Just got round to listening - need to give it some more time, but can easily see it becoming one of my 2016 favourites.


Jessy Lanza - It Means I Love You

Babyfather - SKYWALKER

Danny Brown - Ain't It Funny

Jenny Hval - Conceptual Romance

Solange - Crane's In The Sky

Factory Floor - Dial Me In

Powell - Do You Rotate?

The Bug - Iceman

Tim Hecker - Music of the Air/Casrati Stack

Steven Warick - Milennial Vague

Best Discovery of The Year: Patrick Cowley - Lift Off

Words by Eden Tizard

Twitter: @eden_tizard

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Broadcast's Use Of A Refracted Past

If venturing into the unknown is a central idea of the psychedelic ethos, then where do Broadcast stand within this picture? Their music is cluttered with references to all manner of different sources - some well known, though most cultish and largely forgotten. Their Psychedelia stems from a past which has been refracted and contorted, the original sources made into malleable sound, which can be stretched beyond recognition. This doesn't become a boorish post-modern pick'n'mix of trendy underground sounds, more a fully developed and singular world which can never be fully explored.

The fragmentary collage quality was something which slowly ebbed its way into the bands music. Beginning in the mid 90s the band were very much the antithesis to the hegemonic Britpop scene, which went hand in hand with the grim neoliberal reality of New Labour. Tony Blair gave the impression that capitalism was forever inescapable, despite his retreat from Thatcher's harsher policies and his implanting of some (though few) socially progressive ideas, he was a politician very much in the shadow of her ideology. Thatcher famously claimed that her greatest achievement was "Tony Blair and New Labour."

If politically the perception recalled Lydon's famous "no future" mantra, then British guitar music at the time offered little alternative. Unlike rave music which bravely surged onwards, splintering into dozens of compelling and innovative scenes, guitar music was intent on opting out of the present, and instead choosing to live in their rather dull fantasy of past. The whole scene also came with an ugly patriotic and laddish side. In response to the rise of globalisation (particularly America's rising influence) Britain became obsessed with its own musical ancestry - and with a very limited set of sources at that.

As much as I detest Britpop - a genre pretty much vapid in the ideas department - I should note that there were some who looked at the past in a far more exploratory manner, not bound up with the ridiculous idea that we need to restore things back to the way they were. The most obvious and popular example of this would be Pulp who excellently delved into the heart of the British psyche, exploring English identity in a frank - often hilarious - manner. A more underground example - and one entirely separate from Britpop - of using the past not just for the purpose of pastiche would be Broadcast.

The group were definitely voracious in their consumption of music's history. It would be daunting to list off all the different influences that feed their way into the bands music, either upfront on inadvertently. Archaic folk music, the avant-garde soundtracks of early Morricone, the radiophonic workshop, hip hop, contemporary electronic music, science fiction novels and the pioneering electronic psyche of the Untited States of America, are but a fraction of the whole picture which make up the Broadcast Universe.

Their signing to Warp provides a link - albeit a tenuous one - to dance culture, but really there isn't much you can do in the way of contextualising Broadcast among their peers, as clichéd as it sounds they were out there on their own. If Britpop's narrow set of influences meant it would inevitably become somewhat of a creative cul-de-sac, then Broadcast's eclecticism ensured they would not befall similar dead ends.

The groups early material can be found on the compilation 'Work and Non Work'. Their singular aesthetic becomes clear from the opening track 'Accidentals'. The backing lounge sample sounds weathered and worn down. The rough cut loops in a way which prevents any coffee table relaxation goals.

Trish Keenan's stunning voice - partially disconnected but always compelling - is the source of consistency within the bands music. Over the years the instrumental side would continuously undergo a process of metamorphism, her vocals remaining the binding force. She began playing music on the Birmingham folk scene, and an element of that can be detected in her voice, but like everything within Broadcast it cant be that simply codified or explained. Folk singing has certain implications to do with being 'down to earth', however in contrast with this connotation, Keenan's voice has a palpable sense of the uncanny.

By the time of their debut album 'The Noise Made By People' - released after the turn of the millennium - the sound had shifted towards almost Phil Spectorish proportions. The gorgeous pop of  'Come on Let's Go' could feasibly in some warped dimension be topping charts, but sadly this brings us to another grim reality. Broadcast struggled to produce and release their music, not due to a form of creative block, but largely due to financial reasons. They had a devoted following, but small in comparison to even other Warp artists like Aphex Twin or Boards of Canada.

On their 2003 album Haha Sound the group started to experiment with clashing forces. Beauty and abrasion were made inseparable from each other, the collage quality becoming all the more prominent. The albums opener 'Colour Me In' sets the tone for this newfound exploration of opposites, a nursery rhyme melody sits on top of maniacal and clattering percussion while snapshots of various synth tones attempt to penetrate the cacophony. Some tracks like 'Distortion' abandoned any pretence of traditional beauty, embracing the barrage of sound with a delirious and deranged grin.

What 'Haha Sound' started 'Tender Buttons' finished. The band were now stripped to a duo comprising of Keenan and James Cargill. On the album they shredded some of the unneeded excess, resulting in their most direct release. The delivery has a punchy motorik quality whilst the once lush musical textures are now scorched and distorted, often flirting with irritation. The confounding 'Arc of A Journey' manages to make the sound of faulty tech infinitely more moving than any tiresome dickhead with an acoustic guitar and trilby.

Around about the time of 'Tender Buttons' a theory started circulating. In an essay on the scene, Simon Reynolds coined the phrase Hauntology. This was in relation largely to the Ghost Box record label - run by the graphic designer Julian House and fellow music artist Jim Jupp. The idea basically cantered around a nostalgia for a lost future. A utopianism which was dreamed of but never realised. The music looked back to a time when the future didn't come with doom laden connotations but could be looked upon with a degree of wonder. This music was made by artists like Belbury Poly, The Focus Group and the Advisory Circle. The scene had a melancholic air - inevitable due to the theme of lost utopias - but also a playful sense of messing with the past.

Though not sharing the same sound a number of different artists were loosely linked to the scene. The dubstep of Burial was said to be a reaction to the reality of the rave dream not coming into fruition, Boards of Canada used warm analogue synths over contemporary electronics to explore ideas of innocence, childhood and nostalgia, whilst Arial Pink created a lo-fi interpretation of forgotten pop music. Broadcast are also a band which has been linked to this idea, and I think that there is some truth in that, however I still believe the band are not that easy to pigeonhole.

The link was made more undeniable due to the 2009 collaborative mini LP 'Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of The Radio Age'. The album seamlessly blends the worlds of both artists, creating possibly the most challenging release in the Broadcast Catalogue, but a fascinating evolution which was achieved through a collaboration with another fascinating artist. The collage component within Broadcast is brought even more to the forefront on the release - no doubt due to Julian House's influence - the songs themselves receding further and further from obvious viewpoint. What we're left with is series of fragments, clues and remnants. House is hugely influenced by the cut up styles of cult author William Burroughs. This album is very much a musical manifestation of this creative method, though not the easiest or best-loved release in the Broadcast catalogue, it remains endlessly fascinating.

Sadly aside from an incredible soundtrack album for the Peter Strickland masterpiece 'Berberian Sound Studio' - which delved into the strange world of 60s and 70s Italian Giallo cinema - the 'Witch Cults' LP is the last officially released Broadcast project (There is also the excellent compilation 'The Future Crayon'). In 2011 Trish Keenan tragically and suddenly passed away at only 41. The music left behind will no doubt be an endless source of cult fascination, after all the worlds which were created over the years that the band was active were genuinely apparelled. What musicians and artists can learn is that Broadcast were able to use the past for more than purposes of recreation. They managed  to uncover secrets, further blur the lines between styles and above all make some of the most astonishing and unique music of their generation.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Katie Gately (Interview)

The music of Katie Gately thrives in contradiction. The world of sound design and field recordings are known for a weighty seriousness, yet her sound cackles with a hilarious and absurdist humour. Experimental is synonymous with difficulty, but again Gately deviates from typical connotations, making her wildly experimental music as fun and instantaneous as it is challenging. Perhaps she has best described the coalition of seemingly incompatible elements herself when saying she wishes to make her songs "49% obnoxious and 51% fun"

Her new album "Color" will be available on Tri Angle Records October 14
Here's an old interview with Katie Gately:

Were you inspired to pursue vocal experimentation by contemporary artists like Holly Herndon or was it something you've been interested in to a while?

KG: I Was awestruck by Bjork's Medulla becuase it was so dynamic and based all on the human voice. I've kept that with me for the past decade on repeat. Inspiration for my own recording was also bolstered by the software Vst Melodyne, which can transform the human voice in supreme ways, less robotic than autotune.

Do you ever wish that you'd be able to perform your music or is composition ultimately the most important aspect?

KG: Composition is is my primary interest. If time and resources were not an issue, performance would certainly be a bigger priority!

On Pipes you restricted yourself by only allowing your voice in the composition. Did you find the process of limiting yourself helpful?

Yes profoundly helpful. I often will give myself 20 minutes and 10 samples and see what I can do in that window of time. The more options I have, the less I tend to care about what I'm making. It's almost as if the cramped space of limitation triggers more tension and emotion becaue I am trapped and have to build a way out with pre-determined tools.

Despite the more experimental elements in your music it is very melodically driven. Do you consider yourself a songwriter?

I consider myself more of a producer and vocalist than songwriter. Perhaps because I associate the word 'songwriting' more with traditional instrumentation and the folk tradition, but I am in love with melody and I'm always exploring it.

For a 15 minute song I thought Pivot was remarkably catchy. Do you think employing these melodic elements helps people to adjust to the stranger elements of your music?

Yes, for sure. I try to make things with my own strengths and weaknesses in mind. I find I have both a high pain tolerance yet also short attention span. So I like abrasiveness but not in long extended spurts, and I love catchy music but primarily if there is some darker element present.

Both Pipes and Pivot extend well beyond the 10 minute mark. What are the benefits as an artist of working on longer pieces?

I'm not sure ther are any benefits! It's difficult to succeed aesthetically and takes tons of time. Royalty wise its actually considers stupid. However it feels tremendous to try for. Long tacks can easily fall apart at any moment - I love that vulnerability. You get a more intimate peak into a person's mind.

How early in your life were you exposed to electronic music?

I had only really heard top 40 and classical until I was 18, but I read an interview with Thom Yorke around the time he was going on and on about Autechre and Aphex Twin, so I started listening to anything I could get my hands on.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Arca - Entrañas (Mixtape Review)

"Its ok to be a boy, but for a boy to look like a girl is degrading, because you think that being a girl is degrading, but secretly you'd love to know what it's like. Wouldn't you?"          

Gender and sexual identity has always been a crucial idea within the music of Arca. This sampled monologue from Charlotte Gainsbourg is the most explicitly it has been addressed. Amidst a relentlessly hostile environment, full of sudden ruptures and turbulence, this address is made clear and militantly upfront. Alejandro Ghersi's music under the moniker of Arca rarely allows for such an unambiguous message, it is widely known for wrestling with the complexity and fluidity of identity, offering few - if any - simplistic answers.

Arca, Lotic and Elysia Crampton are all part of a burgeoning scene, one which operates through a shared desire to make what is wrongly perceived as objective far more blurred. This stretches beyond the realms of topics explored in interviews, but to the very structure of the music itself. Nothing is fixed or solid within the releases by these artists. Any refernece is there to be mangled and contorted.

Entrañas is the most punishing and industrial of his discography, a weird contradicting mix of murky and epic, sounding like its writhing around in the mud with sudden flashes of... I don't think elegance is the right word, but something along those lines. A Cocteau Twins sample is unexpectedly used, Liz Frazer's voice - not the slightest bit ruined by the sea of boorish indie boys obsessively fawning over it - is imbeded amongst Arca's set of typical - or atypical - sounds. One trait being the strange warped note which has been compared to a digital harpsichord. In fact its fitting that the release features a collaboration with Mica Levi, as the sound of both artists are like a bent out of shape alien string section.

This exploration of sounds which are undeniably, well... let's just say on the grating end of the spectrum, could be mispercieved as shallow shock tactics. It's true that the mixtape has the capacity to make even the most avid Throbbing Gristle fan feel uneasy, but it does so in a genuinely cathartic manner (I know describing punishing music as cathartic is an overused idea, but it's one which is definitely applicable to this project)

If Helm's Olympic Mess is like an industrial music of the post-club climate, then Arca's may be percieved by some as the industrial of the post-human. I think claims which have been made relating to Arca's percieved inhuman sound are a tad fatalistic and reactionary, after all I've always thought Arca makes a mockery of the idea that technology makes us more distant. He uses the digital world to create a far more complicated and multi facated depiction of identity and emotion.

The mixtape culminates with the only identifiable song 'Sin Rumbo'. The lethargic, ponderous pace is interrupted with jerks of both natural and synthetic sounds, ending with the sample of fireworks, which remarkably comes across as melancholic rather than joyous. The track features what I believe are Arca's own vocals, resulting in probably the closest we'll ever see to a ballad. After finishing the release i'm reminded of Arca's continuous ability to bypass boundaries, bravely removing expected limitations on both sounds and ideas.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Laurel Halo - Quarantine (Album Review)

It's now been several years since the release of Laurel Halo's beguiling and misunderstood masterwork 'Quarantine'. Initially online commentators engaged in fearsome debates surrounding the most controversial aspect of the release, her vocals. Either seen as fearlessly upfront or unbearably flat, the vocal delivery throughout made no attempt to win over non believers. Unlike many underground releases, which hide traditionally not pristine vocals through pillow like layers of washy reverb, the vocals here cut straight through the mix.

I don't like to call the sexist card lightly, but there does seem to be an immense amount of leeway given to less than adequate male singers, as oppose to female. "Endearingly imperfect", or phrases of that sort, are commonly attached to male singers whose inability is somehow seen as more characterful than that of female vocalists. Perhaps the age old necessity for women to be only pretty, perfect and restrained persists. Halo makes no attempt to maintain her composure throughout this release, her vocals will often deliberately strain to reach notes, or stay flat to such an extent that they create a sort of monotonous drone.

To judge 'Quarantine' only on the vocal performance is to thoroughly miss the point. The album doesn't craft, so much as violently forge an alien landscape. Halo achieves a far more carnal and feral form of futurism, attacking the body as much as the musical form. When listening to 'Quarantine' you are constantly aware that it's her own beast, which is bizarre considering the albums inclusion of analogue synthesizers, something you might expect to create a nostalgic warmth or glow. However in this environment they perform no such function. The album is difficult to lump into any particular scene. Some link it to the hauntology or hypnagogic movement, due to it's use of analogue synths. However the album doesn't so much sound like the nostalgia for a lost future, more an ambiguous yet prescient prediction of a future yet to arrive.

Halo has said that "A lot of the tracks have this pressure-tank or recycled-air feeling to them-- when you're on an airplane and constantly breathing in the exhaust of your neighbours." Thematically there is a claustrophobic feeling persistent throughout. Simultaneously being suffocated, as well as isolated. The quote from Halo reveals a certain kind of paranoia of your surroundings. Many spend their entire day within the confines of minute office cubicles, breathing in copious amounts of artificial air. This record almost comes across as a soundtrack to this experience.

The song 'Carcass' musically embodies this feeling of walls slowly closing in, a hysteria caused not by any drastic or traumatic situation, just the sensation of being confined against your will in a synthetic environment. 'MK Ultra' on the other hand is named after a CIA experiment on human subjects. In an attempt to create the ideal soldier, they would force patients to take psychedelic drugs, as well as experiment with hypnosis, sexual abuse and sensory deprivation. This all adds to the ongoing feeling present on the record of either being mentally or physically trapped.

To characterise the themes as being devoid of the tactile, personal and human, would be an inaccuracy. Laurel Halo has said that "to me the bleak and raw was key, and I think people that have been heartbroken maybe get the record more." This adds another dimension to the album, but continues the idea of deprivation. However this time it is the feeling of being deprived from someone else, through rejection, betrayal or loss. The final track 'Light + Space', is an example of this other subject, which inhabits the record. The song is more sparse than a great deal of other tracks on the album, more hopeful and personal in tone also. It allows for a far more obviously beautiful vocal melody to play out over a weightless and directionless sonic surface.

The electronic musician-perhaps more than any other-is seen as a sonic architect. Someone who creates sound sculptures that draw little upon the natural noises which occur within our day to day environment. It's tempting to see Laurel Halo as an artists that embodies this idea. After all I used the phrase beguiling at the start of this review, and I really should stress this point. It's unlikely you'll find another album just like 'Quarantine'. Music should be a strange and unfamiliar experience. The dense theory surrounding much contemporary underground electronica, somewhat takes away from the raw pleasure of being plunged into rapid currents of jarring and unfamiliar sound.

What Laurel Halo has crafted is her own distinct form of digital psychedelia. This has been achieved through both her production skills and the use of her unedited voice. It's strange that the instrument responsible for some of most innovative sounds of the past decade is also the most primitive. What's more rudimentary than the human voice? The instrument appears to have a limitless capacity for generating as yet unheard of sounds. After all for thousands of years we have used it for all manner of purposes, from Gregorian chant and Mongolian throat singing, all the way through to rhythmic beat boxing.  A fresh wave of producers (including Laurel Halo, Holly Herndon and Katie Gately) have continued this trend by utilising and warping their voices as a thrilling new method for generating new sounds.

How this record will be looked back on in 20 years time is unclear. Sadly the likelihood is that it shall remain forever marginalised. Never appreciated to the extent it should be. The very vocals which condemn this release to eternal obscurity, are also the key driving force behind it's distinct vision. For now at least it can be seen as a startling reflection of a digital 21st century experience. It may not always be the most inviting record, but stands true to the obvious statement (but still one which needs repeating) that there are always exciting new avenues to explore within music. We don't have to listen to the bitter among us who proclaim musical creativity peaked decades ago. As Laurel Halo sings "Forward motion is the only answer".

Twitter - @eden_tizard