I so very much enjoyed doing a series of short reviews last month, that I thought I would do it again. I’m not sure whether this will become a monthly thing, but if it does I will also include my regular monthly Spotify playlist (as I have done below with this post) which will probably include at least some of the featured albums.
I am aiming for quite an eclectic approach here, so you may not like everything… but there again you might find something that you rather enjoy. If so that’s job done!
Yellow Blue River by Yu Su (bié Records/ Music From Memory)
This is the debut album from Vancouver’s Yu Su, inspired by a pre-pandemic tour of China in which she took in the sights and sounds of the music scene over there. This has resulted in a wonderfully eclectic and different dance album that encompasses many recognisable elements, yet with a real Chinese flavour to it. It feels bright and positive as we find ourselves wanting to groove to techno, dub, house… and many other rhythms. I love the way that nothing seems to be ruled out, yet everything is so seamlessly integrated.
This is also a multi-paced affair with more introspective numbers (Dusty) mixing with faster and more outwardly expressive tracks (Touch-Me-Not) revealing the depth of the talent on display here. All in all this is a really accomplished debut album that, for me, earns it’s place with more established artists such as Floating Points and Rival Consoles in my collection.
Nafs at Peace by Jaubi (Astigmatic Records)
I came to this album through the jazz flautist ‘Tenderlonious’ (Ed Cawthorne); someone who has, for me, been pushing the boundaries of contemporary jazz for some time (you can check out his impressive and eclectic back catalogue here). The majority of ‘Nafs at Peace’ was recorded as a result of him, along with Polish pianist/composer Marek “Latarnik” Pędziwiatr, visiting Pakistan in 2019 and taking part in a single of recording session in Lahore… followed by another in Oslo later the same year. This collaboration has already resulted in one recording on Tenderlonious’s 22a label (see above link), and I really recommend that you check this out too.
As with the Yu Su album there is a real meeting of cultures here, and most notably the spirituality of jazz, that’s found in some of the key works from the likes of John Coltrane and Don Cherry, with the Islamic spirituality that this album is formed around. This is suggested in the title of the album, which represents the ideal stage of ego for Muslims (see here for more on the Islamic concept of ‘Nafs’)… and certainly there is a beautiful and serene balance to this record in which you are simultaneously absorbed in a light intensity that is underpinned by some superbly accomplished musicianship, which seems to hold you in a number of musical traditions at the same time. This, then, is not an album that you can just observe… you need to get right inside it and submit to its exquisite splendour.
A Low Level Love by Manni Dee (Perc Trax)
When it comes to techno it’s not everything that hits the spot with me. However, when I do hear something I like I’m pretty much sold on it instantly and really run with it. Not being totally into it I’m aware that I’m only ever going to scratch the surface of the genre… something that is always brought home to me all to clearly when I stand in the back room of Spacehall Records in Berlin… it’s overwhelming. However, one of the labels that has been something of an arbiter for me over the years is Berlin’s Tresor label… I like the massive but largely nuanced sound that seems to be it’s forte… and it is through it that I first became aware of Manni Dee, who released his debut album through the imprint.
Dee has now released his second long player, this time on Perc Trax, and I have to say that it’s an absolute monster! Actually I’ll rephrase that, you come away with the feeling that you’ve listened to an absolute monster. Some of the tracks on here (such as ‘London in my System’), are as heavy as you will find anywhere. But there are plenty more numbers here which a subdued and subtle, and point to the fact that Dee is by no means a one-speed DJ. Actually there is a lot of nuance and a lot of sensitivity to this set which means that you really need to settle yourself in for the duration and really give this a go. Actually it may even convince you to give techno more of a go… because this is a superb showcase for the genre.
The Age of Oddities by Rutger Hoedemaekers (Fatcat Record)
Rutger Hoedemaekers is another Berlin-influenced artist who has released an absolutely stunning album this year. Although now living in Brussels, the Dutch-born composer spent thirteen years in the German capital during which time he founded a studio and, as a result, collaborated with a number of notable composers including Hildur Guðnadóttir and Jóhann Jóhannsson. It was as the result of the latter’s death that Hoedemaekers decided to leave Berlin and resurrect this album, that he had begun a few years earlier. The fruits of his collaborations are easy to see on this album, and much of it could be described as icily dark and panoramic. Yet the is clearly something more unique going on here… a depth that is Hoedemaekers‘ alone. A reflection of his own personal experience, as it comprehensively set out in the notes on the following Bandcamp page…
From the point of view of this listener it is something of an emotional experience. Hoedemaekers really seems to dig deep to create something that feels atmospherically cold, yet emotionally charged. His use of treated female voices as a separate instrument really takes many of the tracks onto some other ineffable plane… a sort of geyser-fulled cloud of unknowing as his intense and strong feelings hit the chilled sonics to create something that is quite otherworldly. In the end, though, you really need to sit with this music to develop a relationship with it… because if you do I am sure you will!
Playground by Estrada Orchestra (Sulatron Records)
In keeping with the theme of music that is both relaxing but fulfilling comes Estonia’s Estrada Orchestra, fundamentally a drone collective… but one with much more going on than that. There’s a free-jazz element to this music which works surprisingly well against the monotone background… vibrant colours standing out on a monochrome hinterland. The two long tracks here (Playground part 1 takes up the whole of side 1, while Playground parts 2 and 3 is on the flip side). So unlike the glacial movement of many drone music, there is a sense of dynamism which coruscates through the music here… and also a sense of unpredictability, you never really know what is going to come up next.
Yet the background is not just there for contrast… it acts as a sort of inner core, adding a sense of mystery to the proceedings, and especially through passages where the Ornette Coleman-style sax breaks through to cumulatively create broad soundscapes of power and depth. And that’s what this album is ultimately about for me… the sense of being able to see a panoramic sonic topography being mapped out in front of you. So while you can totally zone out to this music… you’re going to get far more than just a quiet 45 minutes sitting in your chair… you’re going to be on a really trip!
Available now from Sumatran Records here.
Violent Architecture by CHIHUAHUA (self-release)
If there is a developing theme to the albums here, it is probably that none of them really cleave to any particular genre… and this self-released LP from Manchester’s CHIHUAHUA is no exception. A casual listen might lead you in the direction of post-punk and noise, but there really is a lot more to this. In some ways the band reminds me of Hey Colossus in the way that they play around with these ideas and add other influences into the mix. However, by the same token you would never mistake the two bands, and both have their own fresh approach. For CHIHUAHUA there is certainly a sense of vibrancy in what is here, of a band that seem absolutely jam-packed with ideas and have a burning desire to get them out there…
Maybe it is because I haven’t been to a gig for 18 months, but listening to this album gives me the same sort of feeling as I do when watching an exciting band live… that sheer visceral energy and sense of almost overwhelming connection to what I’m hearing… this is the sort of band who those so-called ‘next big thing’ bands on big-ish labels could only dream of being. Why? Because CHIHUAHUA are constantly taking risks and pushing the sonic envelope here in a way that would never be allowed by the marketeers looking towards their next focus group.
An New Ontology of Evil by Primitive Knot (Deathbed Tapes)
It’s been a while since I last wrote about anything by Primitive Knot, the solo vehicle for Manchester multi-instrumentalist Jim Knot. Every time I get round to writing something on a new release, the next one has already come out. And so it was here, I started with the express idea of covering his ‘Fight The Future’ album, but ended up on this one. That’s not to rank one above the other (they are both ace), and anyway this is more about drawing your attention to his music more generally anyway… get doune the rabbit hole of his Bandcamp page (including a great new covers album which transforms some much loved tunes).
One of the tracks on that covers album is ‘Complications’ by Killing Joke, the band that inveigled its way into my reviews on these pages more than any. The fact that Knot it influenced by Jaz and co comes as no surprise, but I find many bands who seek to copy the great quartet to be difficult to love. I think that the difference here is that Jim is clearly his own man and is not scared to go his own way… and that way is heavy, sludgey with more than an edge that which is darkly metaphysical. This, for me, takes his music… actually in more than one way… out of the mundane into something that is altogether more interesting and vibrant.
Logue by KMRU (Injazero Records)
Joseph Kamaru is a Nigerian-born, Berlin-based, musician who has released this album as a sort of compendium of Bandcamp releases put out over the last few years. Unlike a lot of ‘ambient’ music I am struck by the immediacy of it… it is like you feel compelled to listen to if from start to finish. Using field recordings, many from his travels through East Africa… and then his first trips outside of that continent, you get a real sense of freshness and discovery listening to this music. Indeed, given the diversity of the sounds here, you are struck by how smoothly they are integrated into a sound that is universally beautiful and tranquil…
…and as I listen further into the set I am continually struck by, well, how deeply this album settles on me. There really is something about this music that is akin to placing ointment on a wound… whether it is the sense of travel at a time of inertia… or a sense of unity in an era of divergence, but it is a set which just seems to sonically rehydrate me in a way that I rarely get. Yet every track also feels like it is creating its own eco-system. So when I am at my ‘House in the Tall Grass’ listening to this I see a change in the ecosystem around me with each successive number, something which I find incredibly affective in a manner that is both bewitching and beguiling.
Quattro by Tanz Mein Herz (Standard In-Fi)
When I saw France play at the Liverpool Psych Fest a few years ago it was an experience that has been indelibly etched on my brain ever since. I was just blown away by the single drone that just seemed to get more and more relentless and increasingly powerful as the, surprisingly short, set progressed. It came as no surprise to me, therefore, to find that Tanz Mein Herz shared two members with the aforementioned drone band. However, while the opener ‘Alor’ is very much out of the single drone playbook, elsewhere on this album you find the monaural sounds being added to in a effective and pleasing manner.
This is drone plus if you like… there is the same sense of stasis underpinning all the tracks here, and the use of instruments such as the hurdy gurdy are also present… but there is much more laid on top which take you far away into the heavens… not aboard a space ship, but rather by getting the aural feel of lying back on a sandy beach and looking up at the night sky while a fire crackles beside you. You still get that sense of mesmeric inertia… but it is somehow complimented by cycles of repetition and that singular discipline to see the venture through.
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