Two new albums from Cardiff’s Oli Richards released over the past couple of months, each intently focussed on the dreamy qualities of drone and reverb.
Delay Cycle: Becoming is described by Richards as using the power of delay to “mimic the feeling of the repeated and ongoing shedding of emotional skin in the cyclical process of becoming a person”. With that sentiment at its centre, the album is a transcendent, and occasionally turbulent, experience. Across five pieces for guitar and electronics, Richards rarely leaves any sound untreated – small loops of unidentifiable provenance rise up, hang around and collapse in on themselves as delay, and its long decaying half-lives warp their original sonic fabric.
‘Just A Reflection’ is a case in point, a quiet – yet highly dramatic – rumination that feels like watching the unstoppable aging of a person through the lens of a timelapse camera, its clustered tones feeling like an accelerated heartbeat, even as they descend into a murky fog of shadowy, impenetrable noise. In contrast, the album’s opener, ‘If The Surface Is Fogged Up’, has a reflectiveness that bespeaks of fragile hope and optimism, its splintered guitar tones acting as beatific, shimmering, crystalline splinters. The album’s highlight might well be ‘As A Form Of Grace’, a many-layered exploration of guitar melody that has a lightness of touch, even as it is bathed in psychedelic fuzziness.
Richards’ album for Wormhole World finds itself in similarly contemplative territory, containing a triptych of pieces intended to soothe restless minds, yet which are frequently punctured by unanticipated moments of feisty noise. These moments act like distractions, like the clustered, insistent to-do lists that can enter the otherwise still mind of even the most experienced meditation practitioner.
Using a palette of electronics, processed guitar and submerged conversations, Sedative Songs is appropriately named. These pieces are like a warm, enveloping, and much-needed salve, which Richards insists should be best experienced in the dark. If anything, they are more complex than Delay: Reflection, nearing a many-layered almost modern classical state of depth. On pieces like the sixteen-minute opener, ‘Sedative In Spring’, you find yourself following sounds until they dissipate into nothingness, grabbing at the next elusive gesture until it too evaporates into quietude, moments of backward guitar and quiet organ-like drones adding a feeling of inertia and stasis.
Not for Richards the idea of long tones that stretch a melody out over a glacial timeframe: his approach is more dynamic, using ebbing and flowing layers of sonic interplay as a way of achieving the same, and ultimately calming, effect. Listened to as whole, in lightness or in dark, Sedative Songs is a truly beautiful, thought-provoking and necessary record.
Delay: Reflection by Goodparley was released September 18 2020 by Recordiau Prin. Sedative Songs by Goodparley was released November 13 2020 by Wormhole World.
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.
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.
Further. favourite Matthew Barton, a singer-songwriter originally from Rugby, released his debut EP Queen Of England yesterday.
Containing introspective, tender reflections on masculinity, isolation and a diaristic paean to the passing of his hero Prince, Queen Of England acts like a fully-realised window into Matthew’s vivid songwriting style. Stripped back, for the most part, to his voice and guitar, the tracks here are fragile yet evocative story-like vignettes.
We spoke to Matthew about the seven tracks on the EP and the different ideas and personal inspirations that they individually represent.
In the spring I was thinking about playing live, and I wanted a rhythmic, fun, rocking song to play. That was when ‘Cruising’ began. But then of course we went into lockdown and all live shows were cancelled.
As with many of my songs, it started on acoustic and then I recorded it on electric. It’s got a tiny bit of harmonica in there and a bit of slide and harmonium. I did the vocals in the garage and a plane flew overhead during the take, but I kept it in. I hope I do get to play it live one day.
QUEEN OF ENGLAND
‘Queen of England’ was written before 2020 happened, but it seems like it was a harbinger of things to come. It is a bleak picture, but we are living in these times for real. The harmonium playing ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ as the coda is, in my mind’s eye, a Salvation Army band at the end of the world. It’s like my song version of the This Is Fine meme.
An early version, without the guitar and autoharp, appeared on Z Tapes’ Covid compilation Hope For European Bedrooms in the Spring.
LADY JANE DAYS
During lockdown, Knifepunch Records, who are putting out the cassette version of Queen Of England, assembled a compilation of new songs – Songs To Stay Home To – the challenge being that each song had to be 100% written and recorded in quarantine. I was drawn to the autoharp and ‘Lady Jane Days’ emerged.
I was thinking about Lady Jane Grey in the Tower Of London and the nature of isolation. I recorded the vocals in my car, trying to avoid the sounds of dogs barking leaking into the recording.
The seeds of ‘Barb’ came when I was travelling in Hong Kong. I was walking along and some of the lyrics began to form; these are the moments I’m thankful to have a phone that I can just sing into, or write a note.
I was thinking about self-image, identity, ideals of masculinity… what is with the phrase “man up”” What about “woman up”?
I was in San Francisco on the day Prince died, with my friend Michael. Prince’s music filled the streets that day. ‘Alcatraz’ was the last song to come together for this EP, and the missing piece of the puzzle that I didn’t know was missing.
Another song, ‘Mamie’, was originally in its place, which you can find that on the cassette version, but there was something in ‘Alcatraz’ that demanded it be included. Just like ‘Lady Jane Days’ didn’t need to be longer, it never occurred to me to edit ‘Alcatraz’ from its seven minutes. I just let it be what it is.
Some of my favourite music has that Phil Spector sound – all 60s girl groups, Brill Building pop. I love the simplicity and the directness. ‘Judy Garland’ is my tip of the hat to that; it’s got my version of the Ronettes triple drum beat and a deconstructed surf guitar. It’s also my friend Alice’s favourite, and a fun one to play. The kitchen wall is often my Carnegie Hall, when I’m drying the dishes.
WHEN I WAS YOUNG
‘When I Was Young’ the oldest of these seven songs, and it resurfaced for me in the past year. It felt like there was something about the passing of time and this kind of nostalgic, wistful feeling. It was also the first one I finished.
I had a lot of fun layering the guitars and harmonies. I learned harmonies from listening to Fleetwood Mac records and Laura Nyro. If you haven’t got a harmony group, be your own, I say.
Queen Of England by Matthew Barton was released August 28 2020. A special cassette version is available through Knifepunch Records.
Often, during lockdown, positivity has felt like it’s been hiding. We grimly fixate on daily statistics, obediently join queues outside supermarkets like it’s a breadline in the final days of Communism, and try not to freak out when people start talking about similarities with the Great Depression.
It’s possibly a vain hope to think that a song could single-handedly lift us out of our collective malaise, but London-based Nadine Khouri’s cover of Annie’s plaintive ‘Tomorrow’, recorded at home, certainly did much to raise my sagging spirits.
Delivered in Khouri’s warm, enveloping, reassuring tone, her version of ‘Tomorrow’ is rendered as a gentle, optimistic folk song, replete with dreamy, subtle layers and a profoundly moving essence. Taking a ubiquitous show tune and turning it into an anthem of fragile optimism like Nadine has done highlights her imagination and dexterity as an arranger.
To accompany the song, Nadine asked her social media followers to send in footage (much of which was filmed from their windows) which was then assembled into a video to accompany the song. “I really wanted to do something directly involving others,” says Nadine. “I found myself really moved by these contributions, which kind of helped me retain my sanity between my four walls. If it weren’t obvious enough, this pandemic has really shown how interconnected we all are.”
Nadine Khouri’s cover of ‘Tomorrow’ is released through Bandcamp today.
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.
Recorded over a period of two years at their brilliantly-monikered CoCo Beat Studios in Brooklyn, Malfunction is the follow-up to The Fantastic Plastics’ 2015 debut album, Devolver. As with that first record, the order of events here is hyperactive tracks threaded with spiky guitar riffs, buzzing synths and chunky drums that offer up a futuristic vision of pop drawing a line back to the most effervescent and innovative moments of electrically-infused post-punk.
From the energetic forward motion and symbolism of ‘Numan’ (with its general nod in the direction of the erstwhile Gary Webb and possibly Wayne Knight’s annoying character in Seinfeld) to the insistent high-speed glam-punk of opening track ‘Disintegration’, Malfunction is (mostly) an upbeat record. The harmonic interplay between the band’s Tyson Plastic and Miranda Plastic has a gleeful charm, even if their outwardly euphoric tracks appear to mask a general cynicism at the state of the world today. The effect, on the sinewy, Cars-y ‘Telephone’ or the feisty political grandstanding of ‘Disconnect’ – a thinly-veiled bash at a certain high profile abusing the freedom of social media – is slightly disorienting: here you are, pogo-ing around like a complete lunatic, and then when you start to focus in on the lyrics, you realise you’re actually hearing a cheerful protest song.
The frantic pace drops just twice, once on the charming space-age instrumental vintage synth interlude ‘Neon Satellite’ and again – briefly – with the jangly guitar intro to the otherwise perky ‘Bad Day’. The latter has a brilliant, cutesy quality that wouldn’t go amiss on a kids’ TV show, even if its theme – about either being chronically hungover or clinically depressed – sit slightly uncomfortably with the joyous ‘la-la-la’ing and generally upbeat mood of Miranda’s delivery.
The standout track here, ‘Evacuate’, finds Tyson doing a brilliant impersonation of Phil Oakey’s leaden delivery, its lyrics and insistent guitar riffery urging us to get the hell out of dodge before the world ends. That it ends suddenly with a brief, dissonant electronic tone suggests we didn’t quite make it, but if this album was the last thing you heard before the world ended, frankly it doesn’t seem like the worst way to go.
Malfunction by The Fantastic Plastics was released October 4.
The Slowest Lift pairs together singer / guitarist Sophie Cooper with Vibracathedral Orchestral’s likeminded sonic experimentalist Julian Bradley. Third album Plutonic Shine finds their respective inputs – mournful, questing vocals, freeform electric guitar, murky synth passages – draped in a cloying, impenetrable distortion haze.
The effect on a track like ‘The Birds Float The Slowest’ is to leave you feeling gloriously disoriented. Starting with a looped electronic pulse, layers of guitar textures and clanging, overlapping riffs are allowed to growl and feed back freely while, at the centre of everything, Cooper offers a processed vocal line that is simultaneously both mesmerising and terrifying. The effect is akin to being willingly imprisoned inside some cavern of irrepressible, joyous noise.
Elsewhere, ‘Take Off Your Badge’ proceeds on whiny low-end synth melodies and washes of grimy fuzz with a vocal that is both sensual and cryptic, while ‘Sage Reach’ offers up a gently undulating fabric of interwoven drones to reach an absorbing, intricately-developed transcendence. ‘I’m Born’ is perhaps the chilling highlight of the brilliant nine tracks, its chilling, murky tonality, stentorian vocal refrains, splinters of unpredictable sound and an insistent, submerged rhythm sounding not unlike a new and harrowing take on Sonic Youth circa ‘Halloween’.
Plutonic Shine by The Slowest Lift was released on August 2 2019. A vinyl edition will be released by Feeding Tube later in 2019.
Bassists Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble both emerged from two vibrant post-punk scenes, Laswell in New York with Material and Wobble in London with Public Image Ltd. Both have spent the last forty odd years as deft collaborators, their playing threading effortlessly through everything from jazz to dub to electronica, while Laswell’s production nous has seen him involved in so many sessions that it’s generally hard to keep up with his discography.
Realm Of Spells is the pair’s first jointly-credited album since 2001’s Radioaxiom, a record that found Wobble sitting in alongside many players familiar from other Bill Laswell projects. Their new record evens things out slightly, with the whole project largely initiated by Wobble’s long-standing unit The Invaders Of The Heart (Marc Layton-Bennett, George King and Martin Chung), who provide the backbone of the nine tracks included here. Alongside The Invaders and the idiosyncratic bass approaches of Laswell and Wobble, the group were augmented by drummer / percussionist Hideo Yamaki and multi-instrumentalist Peter Apfelbaum, here playing sax on a number of stand-out pieces.
Though tracks like the serene, constantly-shifting electronically-enhanced dub of ‘Uncoiling’ link back to the sound of Radioaxiom, Realm Of Spells was directly influenced by Laswell and Wobble’s shared love of Miles Davis’s unparalleled electric period in the first half of the Seventies. You can hear that freedom of expression and borderless, flexible quality on tracks like ‘The Perfect Beat’ and the album’s nine-minute title track, melting pots of jazz, rock, electronics and funk with an unswerving, tight rhythm sections and cavernous basslines. ‘Dark Luminosity’ operates in similar territory, a snare-dominated groove and nagging low-end attacked by everything from delicate keyboard motifs to guitar lines that flip-flop between jazzy licks and prowling, angsty hooks, while the curt organ-led grooves of ‘At The Point Of Hustle’ sounds like Money Mark jamming with The Wailers.
Realm Of Spells by Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble is released on August 2 2019 by Jah Wobble Records. My interview with Laswell and Wobble will appear in the next issue of Electronic Sound.