A new Sigur Rós record. The world has waited four long years for just that. In 2009, they claimed to have another record almost ready, but it was supposedly scrapped, and as of the beginning of 2010 the band were assumed to be on indefinite hiatus as frontman Jónsi launched his solo career. For almost two years following that there was very little word from Sigur Rós. Anything they might have been doing was kept well under wraps. Then, they suddenly released "Inni", a heavily stylized live album/film. The album featured one new track from the studio, "Lúppulagið", which returns here on "Valtari" in the form of "Varðeldur" with some new components. Shortly after the release of "Inni", Sigur Rós announced "Valtari", which seems to feature much of the scrapped, ambient material of those earlier sessions from 2008/2009.
If you think you knew where Sigur Rós were headed, think again. Their last album, "Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust", featured more upbeat, pop songs that showcased danceable rhythms and Jónsi’s voice, loud and clear. "Valtari" is the polar opposite of that. There are three instrumental tracks on the album (all stacked at the very end), very few songs move much faster than a snail, and instruments enter and leave the mix, sometimes unrecognizable and disfigured. It’s an ambient album through and through. If one song remains reminiscent of classic Sigur Rós, it’s "Varúð," a crescendoing churner similar to "Glósóli" or "Festival" that features a beautiful, haunting chorus of Jónsi’s vocals.
The rest of the tracks are introverted masterworks, among Sigur Rós' best. From the first breath of "Ég Anda" to the last, reserved strains of "Fjögur píanó", “Valtari” crawls along with epic beauty. Much like the ship on the front cover, "Valtari" floats above the earth with no terrestrial destination; it’s about the journey. Each track is on par with the rest of Sigur Rós' discography, with “Ekki Mukk” perhaps being one of their greatest songs.
In terms of content, "Valtari" may be considered the spiritual successor to Sigur Rós' 2002 album ”()”, which also features much slower, darker music. They even feature the same number of tracks, all longer than six minutes. Sadly, for this reason, I don’t think "Valtari" will be very well received. Sigur Rós were beginning to turn a new leaf, showcasing a pop sensibility that worked rather well for them. They had become eclectic icons, and had even churned out a few “radio-friendly” tunes. People who normally were not open to a genre like post-rock went out and bought "Takk…" and "Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust". In the eyes of some, Sigur Rós might be throwing that away just to return to a sound they already explored thoroughly. My argument would be exactly the opposite: whereas ”()” explored the dynamic of a band shrouded in mystery and musing on the bigger, darker issues of a modern world, "Valtari" finds them in a completely different state. It is an album of introversion; Sigur Rós are reaching out to the listener, saying, “Here, come think with us. Have a drink and contemplate your life. Let our music be your guide, and maybe you’ll find the peace you’re looking for.”
"Valtari" is an ambient album; that should be remembered at all times while listening. I’ve heard disappointment from many fans regarding this album, and perhaps they were expecting something different, something more upbeat and consistent with their recent work. Perhaps the last three tracks, all ambient instrumentals, threw them off. Yet, these are some of the most haunting and tranquil songs of the band’s career. I, for one, believe this may be the greatest record they’ve made in a very long time. It’s somber and contemplative, like pressing pause on life, allowing you to remember your humanity with all its flaws and beauty. That and "Valtari"’s careful meditation on sound make it another stunning, flawless addition to Sigur Rós' already sprawling and impressive discography.
Darren Cunningham is London based producer Actress. Some see him as an understated genius, others as an over-analyzed dilettante. Which is it?
Actress’ 3rd LP, “R.I.P.”, falls right into place alongside recent efforts like Shlohmo’s “Bad Vibes” or Burial’s “Kindred EP” for their similar approach to their craft. Cunningham sounds and feels like a connoisseur for subtlety, yet, unlike the Shlohmo type, he fills the sonic gaps of his work in with some hard-hitting referential points. And unlike the masses of his technical field, Cunningham invests his work production elements recalling hip-hop, dance, techno and house, sometimes so subtly that it can pass you right by.
Actress’ technical skill and cerebral qualities are at an all-time high on “R.I.P.”.You’ll seldom encounter the level of detail and meditative exploration that occurs at every moment on this LP on other, more typical electronic albums. Actress has fully mastered a ‘less is more’ style, but can turn on a dime with same tools to create louder, heavier results.
Through the LP’s first half, we hear tracks “Marble Plexus”, where Cunningham deconstructs a house/techno skeleton and coats it with ambient sounds, which sounds like someone slowly dying of a brain aneurysm on a crowded dance floor, from an internal viewpoint. That’s a good sound. Trust me.
“R.I.P.” really takes off around when “Shadow from Tartarus” hits, as the album sheds its skin and reveals that Cunningham has been playing a part the whole time. "Shadow From Tartarus" reveals that even some of the most fundamental elements of the genres that Cunningham is experimenting with are superfluous to his ability to make interesting music: ordinary beats are an accessory for Actress. It’s a gorgeous turning point for the album, putting ambience just slightly aside and turning "R.I.P" into a two-tone sonic poem.
Whether you want to meticulously deconstruct these songs or simply fill an empty void with some ambient sound, "R.I.P." can meet your needs. Cunningham’s beats are subtle, clever joys to the ears and when the beats disappear, he fills the space in with even smarter sonic ideas. Cunningham approaches the question asked earlier, proving Actress as a work of understated genius, making “R.I.P.” one of the best dub or ambient album of the year so far.
For the longest time, I always dismissed Orbital as some spiritual continuation of Kraftwerk. To me, they came from the same mentality: create pleasant IDM that doesn’t try to stretch the imagination. It’s only now, after their first album in eight years, that I realize how wrong I was.
Since Orbital’s break-up in 2004, the electronic music scene has completely reinvented itself many times over. Gone are the days of rave, electronica, and breakbeat. Orbital reintroduces itself to a world consumed with dubstep, glitch, and electro-house. These days, you are more likely to hear an electronic song on the radio than a rock song. This means that Orbital have to adapt and change and still attempt to keep their fans.
That makes “Wonky” a different kind of release for Orbital. They have to adapt to these drastic shifts in sound. The core techno sound of Orbital is still there, but little dubstep flourishes and glitchy stutters make their way into the music, bringing what would normally be a somewhat dated release into modern times. This is most evident on the dubstep-infused "Beelzedub", which meanders its way just short of a Skrillex-y drop. While it might seem like a bit of a cop-out for Orbital to make dubstep, it’s really not. They take the genre and make it their own, and the complex production allows for the bass wobble to blend seamlessly with their signature bright harmonies.
"Wonky" caters to modern audiences, serving up beats of epic proportions. They attempt to boil their sound into a few short minutes in each song. That being said, be it for better or for worse, this isn’t the most steady release in Orbital’s catalog. They experiment quite a bit here, seemingly searching for a way to blend their signature sound with the new advancements in electronic music. The title track "Wonky" embodies the essence of, well, the genre wonky. It’s unstable, volatile, and generally edgy, with Lady Leshurr’s machine gun rap verses adding deep texture to the piece. "Never" finds Orbital in more blatant dream-pop territory, pairing soothing melodies, vocal stutters, and sweeping synths to make one entrancing texture. "Stringy Acid" is an interesting piece of house music; it mixes an unmistakable four-on-the-floor beat with beautiful, swirling strings that call Moby to mind.
It’s this kind of versatility that makes "Wonky" a great addition to Orbital’s catalog. Their return will require them to adapt to a quickly changing industry, and "Wonky" seems to be the start of that reinvention. They reach out to other more modern genres for inspiration, borrowing a little bit from each to craft this solid release (Even Zola Jesus, lady of the hour, makes her way onto the record). You can still hear the influence of 70s electronica in their music; some of the programmed beats and synths sound a little dated, but old habits die hard. I have the utmost confidence that Orbital’s follow-up will solidify their new place in the industry as the old-timers that still make great, relevant music.
Chromatics is a personal favourite of mine. 2007’s “Night Drive” is one of my favourite albums of all time: I fell asleep to that album every night for months. The production is perfect and the vocals where haunting. A lot of songs were leaked from “Kill For Love” before the release and I didn’t listen to any, I refused. This is a new Chromatics album we’re talking about. I could only listen to the album from start to finish. So the wait was killing me knowing that there were songs out there, while the constant stream of album delays and set backs certainly didn’t help. So now we’re here, I’ve waited a whole five years for this album and was it worth it? In a word, holyshityes.
Johnny Jewel has been working on this album for the whole of the five years since “Night Drive”, it isn’t one of those sit on your ass for 4 years and then get around to making it at some point type deals. Five whole years of working on new beats, trying things out, not scoring the film Drive, and releasing a two hour album under the pseudonym Symmetry, which was actually an outlet for him to be able to practice sounds gearing up for Chromatics, to get the ultimate sound. You have to admire Johnny Jewel’s dedication.
I see him as somewhat of an auteur, he’s put so much work in to his own Italians Do It Better label, which has one distinct sound across a board of many great bands. If it wasn’t for his hard work, specifically for the Holy Trinity of releases in 2007 ("B/E/A/T/B/O/X" by Glass Candy, "Night Drive" by Chromatics, and the After Dark compilation), this now very popular “italo disco” sound would still most likely be unheard.
As well as staying with the aesthetic they are oh so great at, there are some surprising additions to their sound. The album opener, "Into the Black" (a Neil Young cover) is extremely sparse of any electronics for almost the entire song and relies heavily on a mellow guitar riff. There are two songs that use vocoder and I initially thought they were horrible, but after listening intently every night these are dense and incredibly subtle and beautiful songs that leave me speechless. Over the five years it is obvious from hearing this that Jewel has gotten a lot better at making music, not that he wasn’t a mastermind already.
There are certain moments where the beats and the production really hit home and leave me without breath, such as “There’s A Light Out On The Horizon”. It was wise to keep it as an instrumental as it is the most space-y, thrilling beat on the whole thing. The techno and electronic beats wash over you like a baptism, you really do feel like you’re being reborn listening to this. I’m happy it doesn’t sound too much like the Terminator soundtrack too.
As always, at the heart of Chromatics’ music are the beautifully dramatic and lingering vocals. Ruth Radelet’s vocals are as gloving as ever and fit comfortably in this grand musical vision of some dirty 80s nightclub. Or something. Without the vocals, Chromatics wouldn’t be as poignant as they are. I can’t imagine her soft echo-y voice over any kind of music other than this; it’s a match made in heaven. Her vocals are what move the listener and is as vital to Chromatics’ music as oxygen is to the human body, which brings me to my gripes…
The album is extremely long, it’s an hour and 30 minutes, but it doesn’t need to be. The album length is frustrating as there are extremely long ambient songs that go nowhere and ruin the otherwise immaculate pacing of the album. Although not on the CD version of the album, “Kill For Love” closes with a 14 minute song that’s just a few ambient noises away from silence when the penultimate and amazing “The River” would suffice as a finisher. 30 minutes of music could easily be cut without anything being missed. Still, the amount of classic Chromatics tunes tremendously outweighs the slightly off-putting experimental songs.
I hate to criticize what direction a band didn’t go in instead of praising what they did do, but I would have loved to see the concept of the night drive continued. It seemed to be a recurring theme as a night drive was the cover for the Symmetry album and that was a kind of bridge between “Night Drive” and this. It’s a selfish critique and I’m sure as artists the want to progress rather than live in the past, and maybe that’s what I should stop doing, but it would have been perfect.
This isn’t the perfect album that "Night Drive" is, but nothing much is. What it is is a worthy follow up and a deep thrilling and shocking album that is a real masterpiece. “Kill For Love” is a drama in music form. "Night Drive" was an album that got me through a lot of tough times and I’m sure “Kill For Love” will be the new album I retreat back to when I need to relax. I now listen to this beautiful album in excitement as I wait for both the next Glass Candy album and After Dark 2, which are both planned for release before the year is up! I can’t recommend this album enough, it is an adventure you have to experience. Stream the whole thing below.
There are many nights I struggle to fall asleep, tossing and turning even as the sky begins to light up. This is something I’ve always struggled with, and I think I’m projecting it onto not just Clark’s sixth album, "Iradelphic", but his entire body of work, so allow me to try to remove that aspect of myself from this review. As it stands, Clark to me is the sound of endless nights, of robotic sleepless hazes that blur together. It is its own drug. So, with that said:
Chris Clark’s musical style is a full, distinct IDM with lots of strings, synths, glitches, rounded sounds, robust sounds, traditional instrumentation mixed with the most accessible and beautiful ambient soundscapes this side of Boards of Canada. "Iradelphic" is a major step towards the sound I first discovered in Clark, on his album “Body Riddle”, whereas his previous two albums - “Totems Flare” and “Turning Dragon” - felt much more manic and energetic. "Iradelphic" explores a more organic, cinematic sound crafted around a well-paced album experience.
If anything, the opening track, "Henderson Wrench", is a pretty good indication of the album’s direction, a softly complex string composition that drops and builds into a careful cacophony that inspires only the most overwrought alliteration - there is some seriously deft stringwork going on here, but it maintains harmony with the cluttered track, rather than sounding like a solo. The same driving complexity takes over the following track, "Com Touch”, though I’m not sure the pitchy, plinky synth is doing the track any favours, and the entire track suffers from a schizophrenic lack of focus unusual to Clark - it sounds like two different radio wavelengths at one point, and the inevitable build to static blowout is distracting and unwelcome, which is too bad, since the different elements of "Com Touch" could conceivably have been split into two of the strongest songs on the album. The vocal cutting deployed sparsely near the end of the track in particular deserves to be showcased on its own song. "Tooth Moves”, then, sounds like the sum of the two tracks before it, a jazzy mid-tempo drum beat complimenting drinfting synth, until it’s all drowned out by wailing, ridiculous synth again, like a reset button in the middle of the track to explore a new sound. This structure is… grating… to say the least.
Then there is an interlude, "Skyward Bruise/Descent”. It is a successful interlude, getting us from point A to point B, in the style of the album. It is a bland and serviceable as this paragraph. Thankfully, it is followed by…
"Open", featuring Martina Toppley-Bird, who is a wonderful complement to Clark’s sound. Her voice has the same haunted, understated beauty that Clark seems to strive for, and even the heavy, chaotic e-harpsichord doesn’t distract from the chemistry Toppley-Bird has with Clark’s semi-enhanced vocals. The following song, "Secret", relies much more heavily on her vocals and is a fantastic showcase for her, crafting a solid trip-hop beat, a skill Clark utilizes once or twice per album, incorporating more vocal samples intwined with a grinding synth and -subtle strings. Clark fulfils a Gorillaz like role for parts of this song, fading into the background to provide a platform for another artist’s vocals.
Clark sings by himself, with himself, on "Ghosted". Where other tracks have finely tuned string compositions that feature heft and class, this song sounds like someone absently strumming at strings. There’s more interesting music in tuning an instrument than this, which is disappointing in the context of the album. Directly after it is "Black Stone", a gorgeous piano piece that leads into the album’s strongest tracks, The Pining suite, opening with the aptly named "The Pining Pt 1".
The Pining suite, followed by "Broken Kite Footage", close the album in a grandiose, cinematic way. "The Pining Pt. 1’s" meandering, loose guitar evoke a sunlit, tree-lined road with opening credits careening across them. Something more subdued and mysterious lies under the surface in a slowly growing horn/synth combination that crescendos into chaos, drowning out the rest of the track. "The Pining Pt. 2" has a similarly jaunty tone, but with different, driving purpose - Pt. 1 is a sightseeing tour, but in Pt. 2, we have purpose, trading heavily on 90’s techno and industrial nostalgia while still playing heavily cinematic. If Pt. 1 is the opening credits, Pt. 2 is Angelina Joile hacking into the Gibson. "The Pining Pt. 3" is the credit titles, resolution, and "Broken Kite Footage" is the reward for ardent viewers who wait through the entire long credit crawl. "Broken Kite Footage" is by far the most ambient track on the album, a single drifting idea for four minutes.
Clark’s aesthetic lends itself to multiple playthroughs, and "Iradelphic" is no different. An occasionally slow exploration of a vast, yet refined, aesthetic makes for one of Clark’s most interesting albums to date.
Oh, man. You know that feeling you get when you’re rifling through shelves at a record shop, and you stumble on something that sounds intriguing, and then you play it, and it turns out to be amazing? Well, I had a similar experience recently. Of course, in my case it was a bunch of e-mails I was rifling through, but same difference. See, there was this message from a young guy called Malcom Lacey. Normally incoming stuff has some huge ream of press bumf attached, but this one didn’t. It was just a couple of lines, and not a lot in the way of hints about what to expect.
I like to think I’m a pretty generous guy. I tend to assume stuff will be at least all right, and then I have a listen to find out. I mean, sure, if it’s the latest “hit” by Shwawn Deezzy feat. MC Bustanut [Names were invented out of my own head and are not intended to refer to real people: if anybody actually goes by these names then a) I apologise, and b) seriously, change your name.] then I have a bit of an inkling it might not be my thing, but hey - nobody’s perfect. The point is, I wasn’t assuming the tracks were going to be bad. Also, I wasn’t expecting them to actually blow my mind.
Before I go any further, let me just give you a warning. It’s probably best not to listen to Arrange if you’re feeling a bit low. I played through debut album “Plantation” on the train, and just about broke down in tears a couple of times. A touch awkward.
Okay, I’m glad I got that off my chest. Arrange is the solo effort of the aforementioned Mr Lacey, who makes expansive, minimal music of disgustingly good quality despite only having been at it for a year. He’s inspired by the likes of Brian Eno and Akira Kosemura, which, if you have a listen to the tracks, will not surprise you in the least. Elegant piano refrains? Check. Sweeping ambient pads? Check. A whole bunch of Grammys? Presumably in the pipeline.
He touches on moments of pure Mogwai: “Golden Neighborhoods” especially has an “Auto Rock” feel to it. And in case you thought he was all about slow-paced ambience, “Sore” samples up some soul vocals and a funk beat for a quick detour into hip-hop. Did I mention that he sounds like Conor Oberst? No? He does. If Conor Oberst joined Memoryhouse, and agreed to sing at a half-whisper, this is pretty much what the end result would sound like. Can I just add as a little aside to Conor, Denise and Evan that this is an incredible idea, and they really should consider it.
If you’re looking for something light and disposable to stick on at a party, then you should probably keep looking. On the other hand, if you feel like something engrossing that you can lie in your room and mope to for an hour, head on over to Malcom’s Bandcamp, where you can download “Plantation”, and a bunch of EPs, for free. In the meantime, check out our hand-picked highlights below. Just, bring tissues.
I don’t claim to be an authority on the Newport music scene - that’s Newport, Wales, rather than the Rhode Island version - so I hope this won’t be taken the wrong way. When I thought of Newport and music, only two names sprang to mind: Feeder, and Goldie Lookin Chain. There’s now a third: Jewellers, who don’t really sound like either of them, at all. I leave it to you to decide if that’s a good thing.
Formed by two friends, Gareth Leaman and Gareth Young (you wouldn’t have guessed they’re Welsh), Jewellers started making music back when they left school. Now that they’ve both finished university, they’ve done the honourable thing and knocked that tinkering into a full-length album, “Sleep Education”. It’s pretty stunning.
Setting aside the guitars and the silly parody-rap lyrics, Jewellers make droning, minimal electronica with a confidence that suggests this is their fifth release on a major label, rather than a self-released debut. The chopped vocal loops can be a little creepy, sure, but I’m okay with that. It’s not an album that tries to smack you in the face, but - as the title suggests - draws you in slowly but surely.
I was instantly reminded of the also-superb Seams, or perhaps of a slightly more relaxed Dam Mantle. In terms of musical heritage, there’s a definite Röyksopp/Boards of Canada bent. Altogether, though, Jewellers are happy to leave things a little more understated than most.
If Seams’s meteoric rise of late is anything to go by, Jewellers have a hungry public awaiting them. In the meantime, the whole of “Sleep Education” is available for the princely sum of squat-diddly over at their Bandcamp page - did I mention that it’s excellent? There’s no excuse not to go download it right now; in the meantime, you can listen to it streamed in its entirety below and download a couple from us.