Thursday, March 5, 2015

Pearson Sound ‎– Pearson Sound

01 Asphalt Sparkle
02 Glass Eye
03 Gristle
04 Crank Call
05 Swill
06 Six Congas
07 Headless
08 Russet
09 Rubber Tree

David Kennedy, the Leeds producer behind Pearson Sound, has been at the vanguard of British electronic music since his first singles (under another alias, Ramadanman) back in 2006. He's had a productive and popular career to date, a dozen singles credited to Pearson Sound and another dozen as Ramadanman, and he even bested the likes of James Blake and Actress in a 2010 list at Little White Earbuds. But it's nearly a decade into his music career, and only now is Kennedy settling on his first full-length album.

For those who've followed Kennedy's work, "settling" hasn't been his specialty; he's a restless character. He came up as a dubstep producer alongside Mala, Coki and Burial, but before long began to embrace the rumbles of bass emanating beyond South London — most notably the sound of Chicago footwork. Kennedy's 2011 Fabriclive mix (credited to both Ramadanman and Pearson Sound) doubled as an overview of bass music in the new decade, ranging from dubstep escapees Burial, Pinch and Mala to the tech-house of Julio Bashmore and darker techno tones of Levon Vincent. A recent single, "Raindrops," was iridescent and ambient.

But for his debut, there's a sense of patience to Pearson Sound's productions; of not rushing toward the next new thing, but instead carefully considering each and every sound, be it thunderous or minute. (Listen to "Asphalt Sparkle" without the right speaker set-up, though, and the earth-moving bass might sound downright slight.) Pearson gets a tone so deep and resonant that it's like a seismic event beneath the otherwise anthemic synth chords, making the entire track wobble like Jello. "Crank Call" literally vibrates, but with smaller sounds, the way a phone might buzz across a tabletop. Listen more closely, and beneath the hi-hats and ghostly pads, there's more ringing, as well as a heavy breather at the other end of the line.

No matter the tempo, Pearson Sound thrills. "Glass Eye" slots into the modern bass canon, its rumbling hits offset by splashes of cymbals, tricky drum programming and snares that wobble like spinning plates. But Kennedy is just as effective making dark, stomach-churning ambient sounds, the way he does in "Gristle." The exotic hand percussion of "Six Congas" sounds at once bright and body-moving, but with a foreboding undercurrent. In spite of its title, the beat of "Rubber Tree" emits sparks like metal against metal before sliding into feedback. It's a noisy yet masterful end to a debut nearly a decade in the making...

Skream - Still Lemonade EP

01 Still Lemonade
02 Still Lemonade (Redshape Remix)

Is the world ready for a Skream album on Crosstown Rebels? News that Oli Jones had signed up to the Damian Lazarus helmed label for his third studio LP probably came as a shock to many, but really it fits in well with the development in sound of Skream these past few years. Whilst full details of that LP are yet to surface, Crosstown lay down a marker of how it might sound with this Still Lemonade 12" from Skream. In original form, the track is tech house at it's most immediate and colourful and is complemented by a remix from Redshape that veers off into rhythmic abstraction nicely..

Hodge & Facta - Spheres of Costa Rica / Visions

01 Spheres of Costa Rica 
02 Visions

Tempa goes Bristolian with two lean and slinky riddims from Hodge & Facta. Both arrive at this 12" off the back of their strongest work, Hodge with the 'Mind Games' for Hotline and 'Amor Fati' for Dnuos Ytivil, and Facta on the 'Loveless' 12" for Idle Hands. Here, with 'Spheres Of Costa' they find a super-cooled balance of noirish chimes and humid, playfully tropical percussion for the early swingers, whereas 'Visions' is blatantly dark and moody, all Brizzle bass shifts and spiny drums worked for the 130bpm crew...

Joker - The Mainframe

01 Intro
02 Boss Mode
03 Wise Enough (Instrumental)
04 Midnight
05 An Intervening Episode
06 Lucy (Instrumental)
07 Scene 1 (Qo, NoS)
08 Scene 2 (Neon City)
09 Scene 3 (Spirit Ruins)
10 Mahogany
11 Love (Instrumental)
12 Fuzz Bop
13 Mixed Emotions

When dubstep went global, its most successful artists met a variety of fates. Some migrated to house and techno, while some stuck with an increasingly limited formula. Some, like Skream, ascended to bigger things. Others aimed just as high, and undershot spectacularly. Way back in 2008, the swaggering synths of Joker's "Gully Brook Lane" were an early indicator of the genre's stadium potential. But the tension in early Joker productions—between the austerity of dubstep and his taste for gleeful overload—didn't hold for long. Shortly after Magnetic Man showed how to make a dubstep album with pop appeal, Joker's 2011 LP The Vision got it quite badly wrong. It was grotesque and overcooked in places, but mostly it was just plain dull. 

Its followup, The Mainframe, certainly isn't that. This, perhaps, is Joker's "vision" finally realised. It's just as overblown as its predecessor—more so, even, thanks to a palette of expensive sounding orchestral plug-ins. But the vocal appearances are much more sparing, limited to unremarkable turns from Zak Abel and Rochelle, and a skeevy performance from Sam Frank on "Lucy," the album's one truly grim moment. 

Instead, the focus has shifted back onto Joker's instrumentals. The producer has described The Mainframe as a "story" that should be enjoyed "from start to finish," like a film, and for once that tired cliche is pretty accurate. The album is cinematic in sweep. There's an absurdly grandiose "Intro," and an "An Intervening Episode" whose luxurious wafts of guitar carry a hint of jazz-fusion. There are three consecutive "Scene"s guiding us through a succession of cartoon landscapes, from the steely menace of "Qo,noS" (a Star Trek reference) to the sci-fi pomp of "Neon City" and the sentimental "Spirit Ruins." The moody segues slotted between tracks are often as entertaining as the tracks themselves.

But all of this is really just embellishment. If The Mainframe is a film, then it's a Michael Bay blockbuster: slick and engaging but totally adolescent in worldview, its plot tortuous, its characters flimsily drawn, all of it an excuse for a string of eye-popping action set-pieces. When they come, they offer a pretty undeniable thrill. "Boss Mode"'s bassline crumples like a metal-on-metal impact rendered in hi-def CGI, while "Midnight" is part boogie update, part euphoric trance breakdown, and part Godzilla-sized dubstep banger. A track like "Mahogany," with its cheesy synthetic piano and searing synths, is bracingly naff, but compelling nonetheless.

Still, just as, an hour or so into Transformers 2, the adrenaline rush peters out and the clunky sentimentality starts to grate, so too does this album outstay its welcome. The title of mawkish closer "Mixed Emotions" sums it up nicely. The Mainframe feels like the album that Joker has wanted to make all along. Whether that’s a good thing is questionable...

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

J:Kenzo - Urban Gorilla

01 Urban Gorilla f. Juiceman            
02 Expansion           
03 Technoid 

Tuffened dubstep/grime hybrids from the Rinse FM DJ and producer. The tensile half-step lurch of 'Technoid' appears one side, backed with an 'Urban Gorilla' vocal version starring Juiceman, and the skippy cyber-grime styles of 'Expansion'...

Bruce - Just Getting Started / Tilikum

A1 Just Getting Started 
B1 Tilikum

True to the usual bullshit-averse attitude of his Livity Sound imprint, Peverelist is keeping background details on the producer behind this EP to a minimum. We know that this outing, for Livity Sound's sister label Dnuos Ytivil, is Bruce's debut, and that he has another coming up on Hessle Audio. Aside from that, there's an obvious desire to let the tunes do the talking here. That's fine though, because, as is generally the case with Livity and Livity-associated releases, the tunes are excellent.

"Just Getting Started" has a slightly less manic but similarly intense percussive spine as Hodge used on Dnuos Ytivil's last release, the excellent Amor Fati. A riotous hail of bass drums, toms and splintering snares, it adds various industrial wheezes and distorted screams along the way to produce a slice of rough, grainy techno. "Tilikum" has a slightly more stretched-out but no less vital feel. A bleak and restless beast, it only occasionally breaks its central emphasis on slowly thumping bass with freakout synth digressions and dense, foggy howls...

Bambounou - Centrum

01 Where 
02 Composer 
03 Fire Woman 
04 Excluding Natalia 
05 S.A.C. 
06 Each Other 
07 Oez 
08 At The Mirror 
09 0 To 1 

Jéremy Guindo-Zegiestowski has been a bit of a Renaissance man figure in Paris's ever-bustling dance music scene. His early work signalled an allegiance to the more UK-style, bass-heavy side of things—which earned him a regular spot in the 50WEAPONS roster starting in 2012. More recently, however, he's been moving towards house, especially with his growing role in the ClekClekBoom crew. 

50 Weapons will issue Centrum just as it handled the release of his debut album, Orbiting. Where that one was based around an idea of future life beyond earth, Centrum takes the focus back to our home planet, with a dystopian vision the press release describes as "a future where everything is in order and where no one can get out of the system." The label also states that the album takes more of a page from "ambient and techno" than the "bass and footwork influences" of the first LP...

Monday, March 2, 2015

Roman Flügel - Sliced Africa

1 Black Towers
2 Sliced Africa
3 Spiritual Enhancer

The venerated German producer appropriates African musics in a long-standing Teutonic tradition on his latest for Hamburg's Dial. 'Black Towers' stretches out for nearly 12 minutes of effortless, subtly shifting groove repetition and awning, earthly synth pads; 'Sliced Africa' locks down to a percolated bounce with natty keyboard melodies reminding of recent Fiedel and MMM styles, 'Spiritual Enhancer' gets off on a sort of slow-mo mix of Roedelius and old skool electro.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Andy Stott - Faith in Strangers

1 Time Away 
2 Violence 
3 On Oath 
4 Science and Industry 
5 No Surrender 
6 How it Was 
7 Damage  
8 Faith in Strangers
9 Missing

'Faith In Strangers’ was written and produced between January 2013 and June 2014, and was edited and sequenced in late July this year. Making use of on an array of instruments, field recordings, found sounds and vocal treatments, it’s a largely analogue variant of hi-tech production styles arcing from the dissonant to the sublime. The first two tracks recorded during these early sessions bookend the release, the opener ‘Time Away’ featuring Euphonium played by Kim Holly Thorpe and last track ‘Missing’ a contribution by Stott’s occasional vocal collaborator Alison Skidmore who also appeared on 2012’s ‘Luxury Problems’. Between these two points ‘Faith In Strangers’ heads off from the sparse and infected ‘Violence’ to the broken, downcast pop of ‘On Oath’ and the motorik, driving melancholy of ‘Science & Industry’ - three vocal tracks built around that angular production style that imbues proceedings with both a pioneering spirit and a resonating sense of familiarity. Things take a sharp turn with ‘No Surrender’- a sparkling analogue jam making way for a tough, smudged rhythmic assault, while ‘How It Was’ refracts sweaty Warehouse signatures and ‘Damage’ finds the sweet spot between RZA’s classic ‘Ghost Dog’ and Terror Danjah at his most brutal. ‘Faith in Strangers’ is next and offers perhaps the most beautiful and open track here, its vocal hook and chiming melody bound to the rest of the album via the almost inaudible hum of Stott’s mixing desk. It provides a haze of warmth and nostalgia that ties the nine loose joints that make up the LP into the most memorable and oddly cohesive of Stott’s career to date, built and rendered in the spirit of those rare albums that straddle innovation and tradition through darkness and light.