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.
Stay Safe is a brief new release from New Orleans-based electronic composer Elizabeth Joan Kelly, comprising two new tracks (‘Stay Safe’ and ‘Cohntagious’) packed with more ideas in their fifty-odd second durations than most electronic musicians can muster in anything far longer.
The foreground of each these two pieces is a robotic voice delivering a public service announcement-style message offering advice and guidance during the global COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Stay Safe’ features a soothing female voice encouraging the public to stay home, delivered over a frantic, post-electro framework of twitchy beats, nauseating siren-style sounds and gently reverberating tones that eradicates any sense of reassurance. ‘Cohntagious’ – named for the inability of the synthesised and vaguely Johnny Rotten-esque robot voice to correctly pronounce ‘contagious’ – encourages you to avoid your partner if they’re exposed to the virus through their place of work, its backdrop a snarling, uncomfortable stew of jackhammer beats, post-industrial clanging and a general feel of unease.
Sounding like the infinitely looped announcements you might expect to hear in a post-apocalyptic urban wasteland where no one survived, something about what Elizabeth has done here seems to tap directly into the sensation of paranoid dread and existential panic that have become the cornerstones of our daily locked-down lives.
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
One of the earliest things I remember of the COVID-19 pandemic was how quiet the skies became. We live on a corridor that runs out of Heathrow, less than fifty miles south of us, and the unmistakeable drone of jet engines or the graceful plumes of parallel contrails, slowly dissipating behind an airliner, were part of the sonic and visual focal points of our skies.
I find myself returning to this recollection again when listening to ‘Three Sisters’ from Neil Stringfellow’s new Audio Obscura album. In ‘Three Sisters’, Francisco Cantú reads a story about his own lockdown experiences. He too notices the quietened skies and the sudden drop of air traffic by up to 95% as he contemplates the failure of the crops he tries to grow during lockdown. Where his forebears might have known instinctively how to work the land, Cantú watches as each of his crops – each one an ancient species common to North America – fails. It seems to underline, in a detached, almost resigned way, how little we understand of so much of that which sustains us.
Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene’s focus is squarely placed upon the proven reality that humankind has created the singularly destructive destiny we are now living through; whereas, at other points in Earth’s history, nature has wrecked devastation on our planet, setting in motion massive evolutionary changes and sculpting the way our home looks, the Anthropocene is entirely manmade. Even pandemics like COVID-19 are singled out in the words written by Stringfellow’s chosen experts, pre-eminent authorities on the Anthropocene like Professors Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin, as symptoms of what we have wrought.
For Stringfellow, the motivation to produce this album came from parenthood. Like a lot of us, the introduction of children into your life gives you pause to think and reflect about the world that they will inherit. In Stringfellow’s case, this set in motion a three-year process of developing the album, seeking permission to use texts, gathering samples of the likes of Greta Thunberg and choosing narrators and collaborators. Its release on the eve of Halloween is appropriate, for this is likely the most unsettling, chilling thing you will experience this weekend.
Presented with an unflinching gaze upon the state of the world, how this came to be, and the tipping point we find ourselves at – or more than likely already beyond – Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene is a contemplative sequence of fifteen pieces. Skipping electronics, eerie birdsong, delicate strings are Stringfellow’s chosen backdrop for narrations by Cantú, Anders Harboe, Julia Blackburn, Simon Medley and others. Each piece is draped in either mournful texture or a sense of violence – fractured sounds, broken rhythms, cycles of abrasive dissonance. The effect, on pieces like ‘Welcome To The Anthropocene’ or the plaintive ‘Magpies’ is arresting; at times an aggressive tonality seems to shake you violently out of your complacency, quickening your pulse and giving genuine shivers.
It is the messages that are important here. Stringfellow’s role is thus that of the curator, creating the conditions for these messages to reach your ears, often in the most brutal and direct of ways. The album was concluded in lockdown, and we hear snippets of BBC broadcasts from the summer, when lockdown panic seemed to be receding and the forgotten – or, as is the actual case, linked – virus was further down the headlines; where the focus on ecological disaster once more became our focus. Wildfires ravaged vast tracts of land, another species lurched closer to extinction, and so depressingly on and on. Nothing had changed; we were just looking elsewhere, and that rather sums up our collective attitude to impending environmental doom.
Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene borrow its title from the classic novel by Gabriel García Márquez. Like the way that Márquez’s book peeled back the layers of life story of its protagonists, Stringfellow’s album does something similar with the Anthropocene, explaining its origins and painting an anguished picture of its irreversibility. Unlike Márquez’s book, however, there is no dark humour at play here; no one falls out of a tree trying to rescue a parrot. In Stringfellow’s case, the character saws down the tree, murders the parrot and thus proceeds to take a blowtorch to an ancient rainforest. It presents a damning indictment of humankind’s legacy, and the worst of all possible gifts to our children.
Love In The Time Of The Anthropocene by Audio Obscura was released October 30 2020.
Music for post-humanity: Watching is the follow-up to Edinburgh electronic musician Steven Anderson’s Proto Human, described by its creator as a casual surveying of the end of civilisation either through technology or a virus. Proto Human was released in February of this year, just as the world was lurching toward who knows what thanks to COVID-19, and where technological dependency was suddenly a reality for all of us if we actually wanted to stay connected.
Watching imagines what comes next. This is an album of wide-open spaces, unhurried melodies and a serene, almost soothing sense of realism and perspective. Its purview is the notion that what is going on with the human race can’t be all that there is out in the galaxy, that life must exist somewhere beyond our understanding. The effect is to give tracks like the corporeally-minded ‘Blood And Bone’, the mystique-heavy ‘In The Corner’ and the questing ‘Helix Nebula’ a feeling of discovery, the use of vintage-sounding electronics evoking some of the earliest electronic music.
There is a feeling of weightlessness to some of these pieces, while others suggest a weight being lifted from your shoulders. Beats drift into view gradually, pads ebb and flow around you like healing waves of cathartic sound, and melodies eddy and spin with grace and evanescence. Pieces like ‘1420 Megahertz’ and the haunting ‘Stars Went Missing’ are draped in foggy layers of thick reverb, meaning that when strident synth patterns and a crisp electro beat creep into view they are never presented aggressively, reinforcing a sense of expansiveness and wonder.
Amid the most harrowing global events we hope to witness in our lives, Anderson has created an album that takes a step back and tries to focus its electronic attentions on far greater concerns through the lens of an almost scientific enlightenment. The thirteen tracks here are dominated by a stateliness and an unhurried, slowly-evolving sense of purpose, one that asks us to look skyward, away from the trials and tribulations of a virus-ravaged Earth.
Watching by Letters From Mouse is released October 30 by Music Is The Devil.
Have you ever been broken up with by the same person twice? I have. If you thought the first time hurt, it’s nothing compare to the second time, which is as brutal and barbaric as someone running a knife through your already broken heart.
That’s kind of how I feel as we reach the fifth and final part of Front & Follow’s Isolation And Rejection series. I had only just got over the feeling of emptiness that Justin Watson’s label left when he shuttered it’s operations last year, only to suddenly feel rejuvenated at the announcement of this project. And now, as it draws to a close like the darkening evenings of a lockdown Autumn, I feel utterly bereft again.
Still, in many ways, Watson saved the best for last, as this collection of rejects includes some of the best material to have appeared in this whole series, the proceeds of which have all gone to The Brick charity in Wigan. The album commences with three grubby, edgy electronic belters – Assembled Minds’s ‘The Eeerie Machine Hums A Barley Song To The Sun’, Accidental Tones’s ‘Mute’ and ARC Soundtracks’s ‘Exhibit F’ – and it really just stays at that same level throughout. Those three set a precarious tone to the album, one that feels like they’re reflecting back our sundry concerns – a bit of paranoia; a skewed sense of purpose; a nagging feeling that things don’t feel quite real.
And so it progresses, through Simpl_Machines’s hypnotic ‘The Worst In Me’, which sounds like an alternative take on a key cue from the original Teen Wolf; the ceasless mechanistic strut of Bit Cloudy’s ‘Secret Genes’; das fax mattinger’s noisy ‘Sommerhit’; Isobel Ccircle~’s textural ‘Devour Isolation’; Synthetic Villain’s dreamy ‘Rhythm & Weep (Remix)’, which sounds like electronica nodding in the direction of dreamy easy listening; The Kendal Mintcake’s scattergun electro beats and icicle-sharp – almost Christmas-y – melodies on ‘∞%y’; the pulsing nod in the direction of minimal techno on Quartersized’s ‘Limiting’; Laica’s dramatic, submerged atmospherics on the standout ‘(Kakinuma) Traces Of The Soul’.
As with the previous volumes, it’s the straying away from the electronic template that reinforces Watson’s curatorial even-handedness. Petrine Cross’s doomy ‘Absorbed In An Artificial Night’ is a heavily-distorted metal cut that sounds like an outtake from Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, that was rejected from Trent’s gloomy masterpiece for not being optimistic enough. Sam Underwood and Graham Dunning’s Mammoth Beat Organ (Google it right now!) deliver the acoustic ‘Mast’, which sounds like an afterhours visit to Brian Cant’s shop on Bric-A-Brac.
The album concludes with the folksy acapella ‘Lo-Fi Symphony For Portslade-by-Sea’ by Dominic Bradnum, a mournful, yet optimistic piece of vocal sentimentality that sounds like a fishermen’s chorus singing Depeche Mode’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’. It’s this savagely beautiful piece that I’ll be listening to for comfort as I once more mourn the loss of one of my favourite labels.
Isolation & Rejection Volume 5 is released October 30 2020 by Front & Follow. RIP. Again.
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.
YOVA – the duo of Jova Radevska and Mark Vernon – have today released their new single, ‘An Innocent Man’. Not a cover of a Billy Joel song, ‘An Innocent Man’ contains a tender narrative inspired by To Kill A Mockingbird, encapsulating Scout’s love and empathy toward her father and his anxiety at trying to do the right thing in the face of immense pressure.
Jova’s quiet lyrics are delivered over a fragile tapestry of music box and Ondes Martenot melodies from Rob Ellis, violin from Anna Phoebe and cello from Nick Holland. Its presenting is immediately arresting, carrying an introspection and uncertainty that leave you feeling ever-so-slightly changed at its conclusion. “It came about so unexpectedly,” explains Jova. “When jamming with Mark, I found myself starting to narrate scenes from To Kill A Mockingbird, completely unplanned, and that was that.” Much like the book that inspired it, ‘An Innocent Man’ gives you pause to reflect, both on a world still prepared to tolerate the racial injustices that Harper Lee so vividly documented, and also the strength of family ties.
The song is accompanied by a powerfully stirring animated video from Tim Burton collaborator Jess Cope that takes place inside a music box. Here we observe the care and affection of the song’s narrator toward her father, the heavy weight that he must bear in his pursuit of moral rectitude, and a savage reflection of a world still unable to tolerate equality.
Today, Further. brings you the lyric video for ‘An Innocent Man’. Jess Cope’s video will screened at various film festivals over the next few months.
An Innocent Man by YOVA is released October 23 2020. Listen here.
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.