SoYo: so much to answer for. The People’s Republic of South Yorkshire has given the world more than its fair share of electronic music delights over the years. Sheffield of course draws most of the plaudits, with the likes of Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Warp Records et al having laid down a rich and well documented musical heritage.
But Mat Handley (Pulselovers) hails from Doncaster and his latest love letter to northern England’s electronic music scene Northern Minimalism 2 showcases influences not just from either side of the Pennines, but from Europe and across the Atlantic.
The four-track release starts off close to home with the blocky techno beats of ‘Danum Shield’, track reminiscent of latter-day Black Dog caught in a good mood. Things then move into more cerebral territory with ‘Frames Of Reference’. Handley’s frames of reference doubtless include early-90s Warp records, and te juddering, pulsating bass that lopes along, underpinning this track could easily be a nod to LFO’s eponymous hit.
We then head back in time and on to the smoke-filled dancefloors of the 70s and 80s with the electro funk of ‘Slope And Intercept’. But all too soon the lights come on and it’s time to head home – final track ‘Night Drive‘ sees us embark on a chilled-out, 3am journey out of the steel city, or possibly the motor city. Street lights twinkle and blur in passing as this stab of Detroit-style techno draws things to a close.
Released on Do It Thissen Records (‘do it yourself’ for any southern readers), this EP will appeal to fans, not just of northern techno (if such a thing exists), but anyone with a penchant for northern minimalism; not northern miserabilism.
With terrible regularity for the three years between 2017 and 2019, a murky troupe of Philadelphia-area artists known as The Shiver Bones Group released an annual Halloween Story Time record. Containing short stories narrated like macabre radio plays, backed with snatches of music, sound effects and all sorts of ghostly interventions, the Horror Too Horrible To Hear series came across like The Residents taking over the Night Vale podcast with typically warped readings of Edgar Allen Poe and M. R. James.
The Shiver Bones Group rose out of of a high school ‘zine called Sewage Waste Disposal Unit formed by three students – Michael LaLaLa, Matthew Kirscht and Bryan Michael. LaLaLa is an artist and purveyor of quirky electronic pop, while Kirscht has established himself as a collectible Halloween artist and illustrator for TOPPS’ enduring Garbage Pail Kids, whose gross characterisations can be imagined in the stories that The Shiver Bones Group released as Horror Too Horrible To Hear. Bryan Michael is a Poe enthusiast and one third of Philadelphia electronic music unit Alka, and was responsible for the FX and music on the three releases put out by the group, using a vintage 1984 E-Mu Emulator II. Other collaborators, each with the types of circumspect names one might find in the graveyard of The Haunted Mansion, drift in and out for each release like tortured wraiths.
Across the three releases you hear stories about killer ghost dogs, student-murdering ghoulish visitors, why you should never drape your arm over the bedside while sleeping, devil turkeys (yes, devil turkeys), rabid pumpkins containing chomping insectoid teeth and romantic dinners by patrons with restlessly haunted heads, each one backed with schlocky sounds and creepy fairground music for ice-cold crypts. These stories suggest vivid, terrifying imaginations filled with buckets of corn syrup blood and the most gruesomely illustrated, yet comedic, demons.
Sadly, a fourth Horror Too Horrible To Hear release was thwarted by LaLaLa, Kirscht and Michael being unable to convene to record a new instalment. For this year, you’ll just have to make do with Kirscht’s animated Bogey Wail short and his and LaLaLa’s in-demand Halloween postcards. Alka, meanwhile, have just dropped their new album Regarding The Auguries, a terrifying record that’s as horrible as these grim tales for reflecting back our realities rather than fiction.
Turn the lights down, light a jack-o’-lantern and settle into the sound of Horror Too Horrible To Hear at Bandcamp… if you dare.
Horror Too Horrible To Hear, Horrible Too Horrible To Hear Two and Horrible Three Horrible To Hear were released October 13 2017, October 13 2018 and October 17 2019 respectively. shiverbones.comshiverbones.bandcamp.com
Immy is London-born, Falmouth-based singer-songwriter Imogen Leach. ‘In The Morning’ is her debut single, showcasing a lightness of touch and a haunting vocal intonation that prompts comparison with the work of First Aid Kit. Ostensibly a frustrated paean to the transiency and impermanence of one-night stands, ‘In The Morning’ concludes with a firmness and resolution, even as Imogen delivers the song with a quietly stirring grace and subtlety. Expect great things. Released September 28 2020.
Spacelab – Kaleidomission (Wormhole World / HREA’M)
A joint release by the ever-dependable Wormhole World and HREA’M labels for Spacelab, a mysterious electronic project with absolutely no biographical backstory. Containing 36 short tracks, Kaleidomission is an exercise in plunderphonic dexterity, taking in freaky little segments of speech or birdsong culled from the ether, wonky loops of jazz drumming and ambient texture like ‘We Love Can’ and ‘Astral Dynamics’ that sound like they’re being broadcast from a broken AM transmitter in the overgrown grounds of Aleister Crowley’s house. The title of the standout skewed electronica of ‘Fucked Casio Melody’ requires no further explanation. Released October 16 2020.
Lagoss is a collaboration between Discrepant label head Gonçalo F. Cardoso and Tenerife-based electronica duo Tupperware. The 37 short tracks on Imaginary Island Music, Vol. 1 are like listening to Les Baxter or Martin Denny at a post-apocalyptic exotica club on a broken soundsystem. Swooning tropical lushness abounds here, but it’s skewed to the point of nauseating discordancy as vibraphones wobble and shimmer into dissonant sprawls and hip-hop / electro beats lurch awkwardly. If you listen closely to tracks like ‘Chipude’, you can hear the sound of waves lapping around a wrecked beach bar run by an old stoner dude in a Hawaiian shirt mixing Mai Tais for thirsty ghosts. Released October 9 2020.
For his first electronic album under his own name, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante (aka Trickfinger) delivers an energetic tribute to two vastly different things: his recently-departed feline companion Maya, present with him in the studio since RHCP’s Stadium Arcadium, and his hitherto unknown love of jungle and drum ‘n’ bass. A time machine back to the period 1991 – 1996, tracks like ‘Brand E’ and ‘Amethyblowl’ fizz with turbulent breakbeat edginess, while his instantly-recognisable awareness of melody offsets that rhythmic freneticism and intensity with stirring ambient colour. Released October 23 2020.
Volutes is the debut album by French duo Christine Ott and Mathieu Gabry. With a title referring to the spiralling patterns evident in both architecture and nature, Volutes is a breathtaking masterpiece full of gentle, emotive twists. With a palette of sounds including piano, electronics and the expressive violin of Anne Irène-Kempf, moments such as ‘Trapezian Fields’ are freighted with an unpredictable, austere, haunted quality full of intricate detail. Ott’s work with Yann Tiersen can be heard in the mesmerising Ondes Martenot-led ‘Ultraviolet’, wherein layers of the instrument’s characteristic reedy alien sounds are encircled by Irène-Kempf’s savagely heart-wrenching violin as it plunges into minor key despair. Un album d’une beauté poignante. Released October 16 2020.
Fragments is the debut album from LA’s Body/Negative, the pseudonym of nonbinary multi-instrumentalist and producer Andy Schiaffino, and follows their Epoche EP from 2019. Beginning with an instrumental cover of Elliott Smith’s ‘Figure 8’ that sounds like it’s being heard through the gauzy vestiges of sleep, Schiaffino has produced an ambient album full of unique personality and highly personal, almost diaristic reference points. Here you can just make out their classical musical roots poking through on pieces like ‘Catholic Guilt’, but they are presented like elusive memories appearing out of the haze of long-buried emotions, making the fifteen minutes of Fragments one of the most haunting and transcendent albums I’ve ever heard. Released October 23 2020.
Paradise Cinema is a trio consisting of Portico Quartet multi-instrumentalist Jack Wyllie with percussionists Khadim Mbaye and Tons Sambe. Recorded while Wylie was on location in Dakar, Senegal, his vision for the album was prompted by the ceaseless rhythms he’d hear through the night and the faded aspirations and historical grandeur of the city. The timbres on pieces like ‘Liberté’ are immediately recognisable from Wylie’s day job with Portico Quartet, all shimmering ambience and considered, absorbing electronics, but it is their fusion with the Mbaye and Sambe’s percussive backbone that focusses the attention. ‘It Will Be Summer Soon’ is a restless, urgent highlight, sounding like rush-hour traffic on a hopeful Senegalese morning. Released October 9 2020.
Espen Eriksen Trio – End Of Summer (Rune Grammofon)
Seven tracks of piano jazz from the versatile fingertips of Espen Eriksen, recorded in Oslo during lockdown after the trio of Eriksen, double bassist Lars Tormod Jenset and drummer Andreas Bye saw all of their shows cancel in quick succession. Released as the strangest of summers drew to a close and the dork Norwegian autumn commenced, pieces like ‘Transparent Darkness’ carry a ruminative, reflective quality in their melodic structures, while the Latin rhythms of the album’s title track carries a sense of quietly chilled optimism. There is also a sense of catharsis and energy in the pieces here, borne from the trio finally getting back together in the studio for a vibrant, socially-distanced session. Released September 25 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.
‘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.
On August 21 Further. favourites Novelty Island follow up their debut EP with Suddenly On Sea, a concept suite of five tracks based around a trip – you can use that word with whatever meaning you like – to an imaginary seaside town. With a nod squarely in the direction of The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, Suddenly On Sea is full of vivid imagery, strange characters, quirky buildings and a brilliantly diverse set of instrumentation – organs, samples of old 78s, burbling electronics and tinny beats.
Whereas Welcome To Novelty Island set its sights on distant planets, Suddenly On Sea is concerned with a bonkers alternative vision of seaside England, all hankies tied atop sunburned scalps, faded ballrooms and dimpled beer mugs. Today, Further. is delighted to bring you the first play of the fourth single from the EP, the jangly, oompah-bassed, lysergic recollections of ‘Thoughts Of The Fish Quay’, a sort of dream-like shanty to crayoned oceans and boats made out of tissue paper. Probably.
“We’ve reached the fourth track from the EP,” explains Novelty Island’s Tom McConnell. ”It’s like the summer holiday that no one can have this year. You’ve checked in at the ‘Jaunty View’ hotel, gone for a ballroom dance to hit-of-the-day, ‘Francesca Relax’, and sank a few pints at ‘The Desperately Strange’. Now you’ve been out a bit too long. The early hours have turned to daylight. People are going to work, but you’re walking further and further out to sea.”
So there you have it. It’s The Beatles meets Reggie Perrin, set at an LSD-ravaged Butlins resort where Vic and Bob are the entertainers – and it rocks, in its own inimitably wonky way. Listen to ‘Thoughts Of The Fish Quay’ below.
We’ve been championing Novelty Island at Further. since their second single ‘Saturn Alarms’ dropped into our inbox earlier this year. Welcome To Novelty Island, the band’s highly-anticipated debut EP, collects together last year’s first single ‘Magdapio Falls’, ‘Saturn Alarms’ and last month’s ‘Windows’ single with new track ‘The End Of The Whirl’, each discrete track highlighting the songwriting prowess and deft melding of retro-futurist sounds by the band’s Tom McConnell. McConnell hails from an indeterminate location somewhere in the north of England, and his group may or may not be named after an especially bonkers Vic and Bob skit.
‘Magdapio Falls’ is an understated singalong gem, featuring deft choruses, woozy retro synths and a wonky, space-age sensibility. Possessing an inner uncertainty and indecision in its lyrics, something about ‘Magdapio Falls’ feels like you’re being propelled gently through distant galaxies, the combination of delicate electronics and spiky guitars on the bridge having a brilliantly emotional quality, while Mellotron-esque chords nod back to The Beatles. Some of ‘Magdapio Falls’ sedateness creeps into ‘Windows’, a tender song filled with psychedelic, chill-out reference points that eddy and spin from its gauzy core – a trippy stew of languid beats, icicle-sharp melodies and delicate harmonies.
‘Saturn Alarms’ is the counterpoint to the languid, laidback structure of those songs, being an urgent rush through the turbulent reaches of our solar system and the omnipresent sauce junk floating around out there, replete with catchy vocals and star-scraping electronics. Poised somewhere between vintage electronic pop and wiry indie rock, the track was named after some inexplicable graffiti that McConnell spotted tagged onto his mother’s house in Liverpool, and thenceforth transformed into a tightly-executed pop monster.
New track ‘The End Of The Whirl’ buzzes on grimy, droning synths, vintage 1981 one-note melodies and a thudding glam-rock R&B stomp of a piano and drums rhythm. ‘All of this white noise is so hard to understand,’ sings McConnell as the track breaks down briefly into a slowed-up soundfield of accelerating synths and polyrhythms. Its upbeat, urgent, playful sounds and melodic juxtapositions are precisely what the world needs right now.
Welcome To Novelty Island was released March 20 2020.
Charlotte Spiral is a duo of vocalist Amy Spencer and multi-instrumentalist accomplice Avi Barath, two former Goldsmiths students now making stirring, yet endlessly fragile, music together.
Their debut EP, Ideal Life, contains three songs poised perilously on the tightrope between mournfulness and hope, each track a discrete soundworld of emotive layers over which Spencer’s tender, engaging vocal is allowed ample room to manoeuvre. ‘End Of Summer’ carries a tragic quality, its altered piano and gently shuffling jazz rhythm a perfect foil for Spencer’s quiet and understated anguish. There is a resigned tonality here, amplified by plaintive harmonies and a brutal, haunting dead stop following the line ‘Maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be.’
‘Wide Eyed’, with its unwavering Casio preset rhythm and languid, amorphous backdrop, is perhaps – by a whisker – the EP’s towering moment. We find ourselves being moved through Spencer’s innermost thoughts, comprising everything from a delicate defiance to a fear of being unloved, its diaristic outpourings laced with such pathos and longing that it would surely soften the heart of even the hardest and most curmudgeonly of souls, and whose arrangement stays with you long after it concludes.
Ideal Life by Charlotte Spiral is released February 7 2020. Charlotte Spiral play Servant Jazz Quarters on February 4 2020 – tickets can be purchased here.
When I was ten years old, I came to own my first computer – an Amstrad CPC464, complete with integrated cassette loader and accompanied by a green-screen monitor. I divided my leisure time between playing with my Star Wars figures and Transformers while waiting the interminable period for games to load on the Amstrad, programming rudimentary little things in BASIC or playing out on the street. My embarrassing attempts at making music with computers were a whole hardware upgrade and around five years away.
And so it’s hard not to be impressed by mOnkee kingdom, a six-track EP of short electronic music vignettes by ten year old Clement Street as electronic mOnkee. On the evidence of tracks like the skittish, hyperactive ‘demented robot’ or ‘NERDY’, it suggests that Clement was brought up listening to the music of Mike Paradinas’s Planet Mu imprint instead of more predictable children’s fare like The Wiggles.
These are tracks filled with imaginative clashes between hardcore vacuum cleaner non-melodies, flashes of calypso-jazz piano and beats that have a go-anywhere randomness, giving each piece an unpredictable, edgy dimension. For me, the standouts are ‘sci-fi-ify that sound’ and ‘twilight octopus’ thanks to the addition of some neat sounds that evoke the memories of my beloved Amstrad’s cassette-noise squealing.
Any fundraising I did as ten year old was confined to sponsored whatevers at school – rounders, silences, spelling tests, etc – but then again we lacked both imagination and the ability to crowdfund in 1986. As if it wasn’t impressive enough that Clement made the EP, proceeds from its sale go toward an ethical store being set up in St. Neots, Cambridgeshire that will offer things like eco refills, coffee and in-house production of vegan chocolate. The crowdfunding page can be reached here.
Further. launched in January 2019. Its objective was to create a place where I could review things that caught my attention but which didn’t ‘fit’ Documentary Evidence, or where I didn’t get to cover that particular release for Electronic Sound.
During the first quarter of the year I reviewed 15 albums or singles, published one interview, and included a guest review written by Erasure’s Vince Clarke. It was a modest start to the blog, a testing of the water if you will. I will try harder during the second quarter.
Below is the full list of content published during the first quarter. There’s also an accompanying Spotify playlist including tracks from each record (where available on that platform), along with ‘Gallery’ by Californian electronic pop artist Dresage which completely passed me by at the time.