Sleep Through The Storm is the fifth album from James Vella’s A Lily. Beginning in 2006 with wake:sleep and continuing over the past fourteen years, Vella’s music under the A Lily name has been one of utmost flexibility, shifting his stylistic impulses refreshingly from drones to electronic pop with each release, without worrying about any sort of back catalogue compatibility issues.
His latest album finds Vella in a deeply contemplative frame of mind as he reflects on the parlous state of the world we call home in 2020. Outwardly simple yet richly complex beneath the surface, these eight pieces are the electronic equivalent of putting on a brave face when, inside, you are trying to manage the swirling emotions and myriad anxieties that seem to have existed in our daily realities for the past twenty years or more.
Opener ‘Endless Jasmine’ is presented as cluster of rapidly coruscating tones. Their presentation vividly recalls listening to peeling bells celebrating some joyous occasion, but instead they feel claustrophobic, relentlessly devoid of any sort of release. The deceptively beatific ‘A Softly Glitching Reality’ evokes the melodies of Vella’s work for piano, with subtly abrasive dissonance and slow filters giving the piece an uncertain, indecisive, troubled timbre.
The album’s centrepiece, the almost title track ‘Slept Through The Storm’ poses the question we’d all like to ask ourselves: what if this was all just a dream? What if that daily creeping dread and relentless non-specific unease and all the multitudes of hellish headlines we are confronted with were all just figments of our imagination? The track exists with a cautious optimism, spirals of wispy melodic cycles floating upwards, encircled by criss-crossing textural motifs.
‘Slept Through The Storm’ sets the tone for the remainder of the album, which proceeds with a gracefulness (if you’re feeling optimistic) or a sense of resignation (if you’re not). The album concludes with the slowly-evolving countermelody of ‘Slipped At The Edge Of The Pool’, a haunting, reflective, sweetly-fluctuating refrain that stays with you long after the album has ebbed away into a heavy, bereft silence.
Sleep Through The Storm by A Lily is released October 16 2020 by Bytes.
“In late 2004, after years of intense math calculations, four men determined the world wasn’t weird enough and decided to encase themselves in spray-painted fibreglass. They picked up some musical instruments, wrote a few songs and took to the road in an effort to generate a maniacal cyclone of fun and jubilation amid the cold thundering machine of life.” – The Killer Robots! biography.
I’m not sure how I never heard about The Killer Robots!, a ‘theatrical rock band’ from Orlando, FL where the band members wear huge robot costumes. They seem like a lot of irreverent fun, though I think you have to be a huge nerd to fully appreciate them; or maybe, given their predilection for on-stage pyrotechnics and tongue-in-cheek sci-fi-isms, you just need to be a fan of Muse.
Too big a concept to concentrate solely on music, The Robots seemed predestined to find a route into film. In 2016, they released their second movie (the first was called The Killer Robots And The Battle For The Cosmic Potato – yes, you did read that correctly). Co-opting the name from one of my favourite robot flicks from my youth, Crash & Burn was a B-movie-style adventure that followed the Robots as they tried to eliminate various nefarious villains in increasingly goofy chapters that was more like watching someone successfully playing a computer game than a traditional movie. The movie was started in 2010 and delivered on an amazingly small budget. The result was both deftly humorous but also, in its own inimitable way, a faithful tribute of sorts to the earliest sci-fi movies.
Killer Robots’ bassist founder Sam Gaffin, who put most of the film together single-handedly over five years, wrote a brilliant electronic score for the film that has now finally been made available through Bandcamp.
Containing 27 mostly short cues, Gaffin’s music is luridly vivid, with pieces like ‘Fury Of The Robots’ and ‘Prepping For Battle’ consisting of big orchestral melodies reminiscent of Eastern European military parade-ground demonstrations, mixed in with some tasty Neubauten-esque metal bashing. Befitting the rapid scene changes of the movies, most of these cues deliver a lot of intense action in a short space of time, their ideas being allowed to reach prominence before concluding rapidly. ‘Trog Goes Clubbing’ is a brilliant slice of futuristic techno, while ‘Max Talks Smack’ is determined electropunk, fusing rolling post-punk drums and a central electronic bassline that acts as the missing link between oompah music and Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft.
The concluding piece here, ‘Surfing On Space Junk’ sends the album out on a bang. Beginning with some eerie, theremin-esque wailing, the track suddenly opens out into a euphoric sequence of fizzy melodies and hi-NRG hooks that feels like you’re careering wildly through space, only just on the edge of control.
The Killer Robots! Crash & Burn OST by The Killer Robots! was released October 9 2020.
Dugo is the alias of Tokyo-based guitarist, electronic musician and video game soundtrack composer Takahiro Izutani. Recorded while suffering with – and thankfully recovering from – Covid-19, his new three-track EP carries a contemplative air, informed by staring the illness squarely in the face during enforced reclusion, and pondering what life would be like after.
Not for nothing, perhaps, does the EP’s title track last for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, perhaps an unintentional nod in the direction of John Cage’s most well-known piece, and one that encourages a contemplation of existence like no other. There is a beautiful clash of sounds and styles here, with a constantly-shifting electronic backdrop acting as the restless backdrop to Izutani’s expressive flamenco guitar shapes. Those shapes sit somewhere between meditative, jazz-inflected introspection and moments of gentle optimism, while an occasional percussion sound recalls the waves lapping at a pebble beach.
The EP’s other tracks play with the same timbres – ‘Crossing Probability’ has an urgency and determination, offset by delicate piano clusters that circle around his frantic fingerwork. ‘Finding’ is perhaps the most subtle moment here, beginning with what could be raindrops, recalling Jon Brion’s work for the Disney short The Blue Umbrella, before widening out into a landscape of minimalistic electro rhythms and unpredictable left-turns.
Philadelphia-based Alka release their fourth album, the portentously-titled Regarding The Auguries, on October 9th through Vince Clarke’s VeryRecords. Originally a solo IDM project of Bryan Michael, Alka is now reconfigured as a trio with visual artist Erika Tele and likeminded electronic producer Todd Steponick, a line-up familiar from their pre-lockdown live shows.
“I think we’ve always been working towards being a more cohesive unit,” explains Bryan. “We like calling ourselves a unit – I mean, are you really a ‘band’ in the electronic music world? When I started the Alka project it was really just me and a laptop, and while I had fun with that, eventually I got bored with the process. Recording this album was really collaborative – I might start an idea; I’ll send it to Todd; he’ll send it to Erika; they’ll send it back, I’ll hear something else and we do this back and forth until we get a sound we like. It’s spontaneous, but it was done in a kind of slow motion.”
We spoke to Bryan, Erika and Todd about some of their favourite albums and major influences. For more information on Regarding The Auguries, head to veryrecords.com.
Xymox – Twist Of Shadows Wing Records / Polydor, 1989
I can admire a band wanting to do something different. After two solid albums on 4AD, Clan Of Xymox was ready for a change. Perhaps a nod towards making their music more accessible, Twist Of Shadows’ production values are slightly different than their former releases whilst retaining the band’s signature gloomy vibe. Having dropped the ‘Clan Of’ from their moniker, switching from 4AD to Polygram, and partnering with fellow Dutch synthesist Bert Barten for songwriting and production efforts, Xymox went on to create what is quite possibly the best synthpop record of the late 80s. Decidedly less goth and more melancholic synthpop, Twist of Shadows is an underrated classic filled with beautifully dark vibes. The idea that something could be this introspective yet still synthpop is something I carry with me in our music as Alka. – Bryan
Newcleus – Space Is The Place Sunnyview, 1985
Space Is The Place, Newcleus’s second full-length album from 1985, following up from their first album Jam On Revenge in 1984, is soulful, melancholic, contemplative and upbeat at the same time. It brings out so much of the personality of the band, their originality and such a futuristic space narrative from the heydays of hip -hop. It’s so out of this world that it’s really a mystery as to why they are so much lesser known than their flashier hip-hop counterparts. Electro-funk took much more of an underground passage that slid beneath the louder mainstream rap and hip-hop, yet this band was creating imaginative, innovative live electronic funk! The first album Jam On Revenge, has the hit b-boy anthem ‘Jam On It’ (with an amazing video to go along), but this second album really resonates in my soul and inspired me as a person and artist. I have so much respect for this band, and am so humbled to share the airwaves with Cozmo D and his son DJ Dogtrane on Global Funk Radio. The composition, performance, writing and concept makes it a magical masterpiece – definitely one to experience. Come on and take a ride! – Erika
Coil – Horse Rotorvator Force & Form / K.422, 1986
After hearing ‘Ostia’ in the 80s on my local college radio station and future alma mater (WKDU Drexel) I was instantly enchanted with Coil. The cascading and meandering Fairlight guitar sample sounding like it was programmed by some broken medieval robot, punctuated by haunting strings and Jhonn Balance’s melancholic delivery. “There’s honey in the hollows and the contours of the body…” It’s just perfect. I loved how it was this deeply sad song yet somehow upbeat, clocking in at 126 BPM. The entire album is genuinely a masterpiece and an enigma of its time having been recorded on a hired Fairlight and Emulator II in 1986, both extremely expensive bits of gear for English underground musicians. I guess what I pull from Coil’s influence is their diversity in sound – one moment brooding drones, the next acid house, all while never losing the mystery. – Bryan
Julia Kent – Asperities The Leaf Label Ltd, 2015
There is no way to put on happy music in a century like this and not feel like you’re somehow lying to yourself. More vulnerability and confrontation with the uncomfortable than anything like an escape, Julia Kent‘s cello work resonates with nuanced reflection navigating real-world hardships. Similar to the way glaciers once steadily scraped landscapes bare and carved mountains and vales, what remains is that which may have had more integrity than the friction could take. Strengths, and a handle on the centre, but at a cost. Something of this mammoth, austere process feels inherent in the enduring heart of the artist working the cello, and the strewn grey boulders of Asperities is the evidence. In early Autumn 2020, its somber story quietly commiserates, like an intricate monument to hard-earned survival left to be found by others lost and struggling in the bleak grey stretches of time. Mysterious electronics occasionally emerge and remind of only more uncertainties. Anxieties over accelerating existential threats weigh and grind. Powerlessness and atomization frustrate through a pandemic under narcissistic mismanagement. Default anxieties fester in the mix. Asperities feels like it takes in all of these things, scores a harrowing way through, and consoles as we wait to heal. – Todd
Plaid – P-brane EP Warp, 2002
Something about Plaid‘s programming always intrigues and inspires me. It’s so intensely intricate and sonically rich but it’s the creeping melodies and chords changes that make my brain shiver with delight. It’s impossible to choose one album as their best but this particular EP was the sole reason for me to quit traditional guitar-based bands and return to my electronic roots with Alka once and for all. With shimmering almost new-age arps and delicate pads juxtaposed with complex, ever-evolving, and at times quite heavy rhythms, Plaid are at once eminently danceable and yet completely brooding and thoughtful. I challenge you to listen to the ending of ‘Coats’ and not get chills. – Bryan
Regarding The Auguries by Alka is released October 9 2020 by VeryRecords.
‘Phototaxis’ is the natural process of animals or plants moving towards the light. Ironic, perhaps that this latest nature-themed release from London-based electronic musician Simon Klee emerged a few days after the Autumnal equinox. But as those of us in the northern hemisphere head towards the darkness of a depressing Covid-shrouded winter, this could prove the perfect electronic tonic to lift our spirits.
The opener ‘Corixadae’ introduces gentle, gleaming synths that evoke shards of light on a spring morning, before a gentle beat unfurls into a gorgeous chunky melody. From here, the six tracks progress slowly yet purposefully, as layers of percussion crawl, build and recede, giving way to uplifting shimmering melodies.
The most joyous of these are ‘Light Radiates From Within Me’ and closing track ‘Transendence’. You can imagine these tunes soundtracking inspirational nature documentaries, as, say, an egret launches itself from its nest and makes its first swooping flight across a mountainous vista.
The only minor quibble is that such tracks draw to a close just as they’re getting going, giving the impression that Phototaxis could easily have been stretched to a full-length long player were these ideas allowed greater room to develop further.
In six months’ time, as we hopefully emerge into a warmer, more carefree world I for one will be digging this out again. Klee will probably choose this time to put out a release celebrating Autumn mists and the turning of the leaves.
Phototaxis by Simon Klee was released September 25 2020 by Subexotic Records.
‘Before The Storm Hits’ is the new single by Amongst The Pigeons, the avian-inspired alias of producer Daniel Parsons, and the first evidence of his forthcoming fourth album. The track finds Parsons in collaborative mode, with vocals from Fast Trains (Tom Wells).
Over snaking electronics and turbulent (but never intrusive) rhythms, ‘Before The Storm Hits’ is a moment charged with latent energy and the portentous uncertainty of not quite knowing what’s about to hit you. Think back to what life was like in January, back when COVID-19 vaguely felt like someone else’s issue and that nagging feeling that maybe your confidence wasn’t actually justified.
Many-layered and working short, sharp ideas that appear quickly and disappear just as rapidly, ‘Before The Storm Hits’ has a sculpted sonic anxiety about it; a restless, edgy disposition befitting the subject matter. Wells’ vocal is, in contrast, delivered with quietly detached soulfulness, for the most part a calming contrast to Parson’s electronics in spite of observational lyrics that sound nightmarishly bleak.
In 2019, to my immense disappointment, the Front & Follow label decided to shut up shop. It looked like either a temporary cessation of activities or a complete end of a 12-year run that had seen the Manchester-based imprint issue an incredible run of adventurous sonic material from a diverse set of artists.
Fortunately, 2020’s lockdown presented the ideal opportunity to bring the label back, specifically for the Isolation And Rejection series of artist compilations. From the off, the premise was simple – Justin Watson, who runs the label, put out an open call for artists to send in tracks that had been rejected by other compilers. Isolation And Rejection became something of a home for the unwanted, overlooked and unloved. All proceeds from the sales of the digital albums go to The Brick in Wigan, a charity focussed, like Isolation And Rejection, on the homeless.
In keeping with the previous three editions of the series, the tracks presented on the penultimate instalment are far from mere
offcuts or poor quality knock-offs. Volume 4 collects together twenty-four tracks from established, well-known artists like Kepier Widow, Howlround, Rupert Lally and Pulselovers – none of whom, frankly, should ever find their music on a compiler’s cutting room floor. These artists nestle evenly alongside material from less well-known individuals, creating a sense of even-handedness that is a credit to Watson and his label. That he selected an acoustic guitar strumfest – MJ Hibbett’s ‘Rocking Out But Quietly’ – as the album’s centrepiece is downright audacious amid the anxious, squalling, buzzing, droning and quietly ethereal electronics elsewhere, but then again Front & Follow were always defiantly atypical in their release schedules.
So here you get the woozy, hypnotic structures of Stellarays’ ‘Butterfly Control Tower’, all delicate melodies and an electro-shoegazery disposition; the nod in the direction of Cabaret Voltaire on Function Automat’s resolute ‘Data Data’; Earthborn Vision’s haunting, edgy electro pulses on ‘Effects Of Isolation’; Graham Reznick’s processed cello and choral vocal textures melding with stirring electronics on the beautiful ‘The Visit’; Kepier Widow’s brooding ‘Perfect Latency’. Elsewhere, Rupert Lally immerses himself in the same ambient sonic foreshore that inspired his Marine Life album with the pastoral ’It Learns From Its Mistakes’ and Lammergeiers delivers a psychedelic stew of amorphous, shapeshifting processed blues guitar riffs and grainy textures set to motorik rhythms on ‘Ephemeris’.
My personal favourite here comes from Joe Evans’ Runningonair. His ‘Cocktail Hour’ is a breezy slice of gentle exotica, all tranquil beats, discrete acid squelches, blurry shapes, vibes and jazzy piano, just perfect for mixing a Mai-Tai or three in the comfort of the Tiki bar you fashioned up because you had nothing else to do in lockdown. Cheers.
Isolation & Rejection Volume 4 is released September 25 2020 by Front & Follow.
For reasons that I don’t fully understand, for a significant proportion of lockdown I found myself drawn to the sea. Initially this was a strange feeling: in my mind’s eye I imagined the tranquillity of sunsets over rippling waves, the coolness of ocean spray and the scent of water in constant motion, but I was also reminded of how stressful I would find trips to the beach as a child – the embarrassment of changing into and out of swimming shorts under a towel, the uncomfortable feeling of sand between my toes and a sense of intense boredom that manifested itself, conservatively, seventeen minutes into a day by the sea. Nevertheless, the idea of the sea won out, and as soon as lockdown eased slightly, I took myself to the Cornish coast, to where I now find myself temporarily relocated.
Swiss-based electronic artist Rupert Lally’s latest album, Marine Life, also concerns itself with the sea, perhaps representing an emotive, wistful nod in the direction of his childhood growing up in Brighton. Across six deeply ambient pieces, Lally evokes both the calm quietude and intense volatility of the water. Taking together processed, degraded samples of orchestras and overlaying those with choral samples and plaintive synth accents, Lally has assembled a suite of sounds that drift gently between the acoustic and the electronic.
Pieces like ‘Deceptively Calm’ or ‘Shimmering Waves’ have a muted drama, an evolving pattern of beatific drones and constant cycles of minor crescendos smothered in a sort of hypnotic, though-provoking serenity. Like the ocean, what appears still on the surface might hide a restless, dangerous turbulence that prevails beneath; Lally’s work on Marine Life is sensitive to both, simultaneously carrying a reflectiveness but also a respect for the water and its latent, unpredictable power, best exemplified by a sequence of fluctuating discordancies on the title track.
A sense of danger floats to the choppy surface on ‘High Speed Crossing’ and the submerged pulse of ‘Diving Bell’, the former progressing on a submerged motorik rhythm that sounds like the close-up recording of a boat engine, and the latter on an unswerving sweeping sound reminiscent of sonar. These two pieces seem to symbolise, for me, mankind’s fragile relationship with the water and its untameable nature. I also found myself pondering how our continual disrespect for the natural order of the oceans have jeopardised the delicate ecosystem that it represents, feeling anxious about what overfishing, oil spills, engine emissions and plastic waste have done to those who call it home.
I found myself listening to Marine Life with the sound of seagulls chattering outside the Velux windows in the space I have commandeered for writing and reflection while I find myself here in Cornwall. It was a moment of natural, unexpected symbiosis that felt like it was completely in tune with the powerfully introspective yet elegiac tonalities of Lally’s latest work.
Marine Life by Rupert Lally is released September 21 2020 by Glass Reservoir in a limited edition of 50 CDs.
Gareth Jones is no stranger to helping artists shape astounding music. Having produced and mixed acts such as Depeche Mode, Erasure, Einstürzende Neubauten, MGMT, Can, Neu!, and beyond, it is safe to say Gareth knows his way around the studio. It is one thing to assist artists in honing their craft, however, and another to create original work, especially in a void of individualism.
With ElectroGenetic, his first solo release, Gareth has successfully managed to create a sonically-rich aural snapshot of his recent journey through loss. Although deeply personal, the emotions Gareth has managed to capture are immediately relatable as they are being told – not simply as one person’s reaction to the travails of life – but through the lens of an all-encompassing spiritualism.
ElectroGenetic sounds as the title suggests: a perfect blend of deep, earthly ambience accented with rich cosmic synth work. The listening experience of the nine-track ElectroGenetic (a seamless and flowing 40 minutes of morphing sounds) is a continuous journey one hardly knows they are on – much like life. Buzzing insect-like sferics hover over fields of sound in ‘Goonhilly’, low-pass filtered rhythms fluctuate atop ethereal beds in ‘Farewell’, choral swaths emerge from the depths as synth arps punctuate the darkness in ‘Trinity’, and effected spoken words reinforce a spiritual element throughout.
Gareth intricately blends raw modular electronics with floating atmospheres and the result is remarkably gentle and expressively emotive. There is a distance in the sound like someone observing a storm from afar. One is reminded of the pastoral ambience of O Yuki Conjugate’s Undercurrents (Into Dark Water) or the dream-laced techno of Air Liquide’s The Increased Difficulty Of Concentration.
With ElectroGenetic, Gareth presents a momentary journey through life – one fraught with sadness but never losing sight of a grand spiritual order to the perceived chaos. A journey immaculately reinterpreted through electronics, field recordings, poetry, and dreamcatchers. Gareth has made a deeply personal album based on a deeply personal journey but one that is relatable to all of us as it is presented by someone who is not only an expert in the field of sound manipulation but also cognisant of when it is best to abandon ego and let higher consciousness control the ebb and flow. Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, which inspired the final piece ‘Alone Together’, offers a touching summation of the album:
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.”
Rival Consoles released their seventh album, Articulation, at the end of July. The album continued Ryan Lee West’s deep explorations of electronic music, combining the recognisable rhythms and dramatic gestures of dance music, but filtering them through concepts that owed a debt to the natural world and modern classical music through graphic scores inspired by György Ligeti.
Further. spoke to Ryan about the album and his idiosyncratic approach to composition, the emotional potential of synthesisers and writing for strings.
It seems like you tore up your own compositional rulebook with this album, particularly in the use of something akin to a graphic score. Was that a conscious effort to challenge yourself? How did the visual score influence how you organised the tracks? Was it a freeing experience?
It was mainly a way to problem solve and to daydream possibilities. For example, say I have several pieces of music that are stuck. Perhaps they reach a point where I am bored of what I have tried to move them toward. I would sketch various structures and then try to recreate them. The beauty is that because it isn’t a science, simply drawing anything makes you re-consider things in a refreshed way.
My main issue is that because the computer is so quick and infinite at what it can do, I feel my creative choices are steered a lot – that the ideas don’t come from me, and that I am just randomly stumbling through some forest trying to grab onto things. This can produce great unexpected results of course, but for the most part I guess, I am sceptical about whether it is me or the computer that is making music.
In the process of sketching music structures and then trying to recreate them, it helps remove the influence of the computer and is a way to just be playful in a more simplistic way.
I also feel that electronic music in particular has a deep connection with graphic score like this, because electronic music is generally abstract, it feels perfect that the graphic score is a way to understand it.
The press release for the track ‘Vibrations On A String’ talks about you trying to ‘mimic the physical world with synths’ – placed in context next to the use of a different way of structuring the tracks, it sounds like you’re almost trying to rally against what me might call the traditions of electronic music. Why is that? Where’s that coming from do you think? Do you feel trapped by electronic music convention somehow?
I feel I am always doubting the authenticity of my ideas in electronic music. It’s easy to make something loud, multi-layered, chaotic or complex, but I find it extremely hard to create simple things that mean something to me, and I am kinda drawn to do this thing that is difficult. I think by trying to mimic nature is one way to help do this. As I grew up a guitarist, I’ve noticed that I am often making synths behave like post rock / shoegaze guitar parts at times. It’s not intentional, so I guess it’s more of an unconscious thing.
‘Sudden Awareness Of Now’ begins with birdsong, which is something that I’ve become acutely more aware of since lockdown began. To me, birds sound like tiny synth improvisations. Your notes on that track seem to reflect back this need to escape – from what? Are you a naturally restless creator?
Yeah, I think most makers are though. I mean I do subscribe to that cliché of escapism: I want music to escape into, or a film to escape into. When you are transported somewhere it is magical, so a part of me desires to do that with my own music, but of course it is sickly to force this, so I am trying to find moments of it that appear amongst my constant music making.
I’ve quoted this before for my Persona album, but there is this amazing video on YouTube of Legowelt demoing a synthesiser, and out of nowhere he just casually says “synthesizers are like translators for unknown human emotions”! I really love that, and I think there is some truth to it. So in Sudden Awareness of Now, I think there is a sense of nostalgia – hope, bittersweet regret, escape – but it’s not really fully certain; there is some unknown quality, and this is probably the strength of music, that you can describe feelings without the precision of language but with just as much power.
You’ve performed with the London Contemporary Orchestra – what was it like to fuse together electronic music with classical convention? It feels like that experience might have had an impact on your approach to your music, giving the tracks on Articulation a sort of depth and austerity that feels familiar from the world of classical music. Where do you think you might go next with Rival Consoles?
I think a lot of the parts of my music are influenced by strings, so there is some immediate crossover from synths into strings and strings into synths.
I have explored writing for strings a lot over the last ten years (though with a computer string library) although I did learn to play the violin to a pretty bad standard some years ago also! I do find a natural connection when writing for strings, especially as my main focus in my music is harmony, so it is something I definitely would like to explore more, and perhaps create a release with the LCO.