Monday, 12 January 2015

Spectrum's Best Albums of 2014, Part Two

You know the score. Our album of the year to follow shortly.

Andy Stott - Faith in Strangers (Modern Love)

Andy Stott's 2012 album Luxury Problems garnered about as much success as record ever could in the dark world of dub techno. The follow up is an astonishing piece of work that also features Stott's childhood piano teacher, Alison Skidmore, on vocals. In stark contrast to his monochrome previous effort, Faith in strangers displays a much greater breadth, drawing on elements as disparate as techno, dubstep, ambient music, post punk and US trap. That might sound like too many ingredients for one broth, but the result is as consistent and complete as it is varied. Particular standouts include the haunting title track and the spine tinglingly brutal Violence. Stott and Skidmore have created a murky, grime-encrusted, but beautiful world, where subtlety and power exist in equal measure. Reviews of Luxury Problems described an artist creating his definitive statement. Faith in Strangers finds Stott crafting an entirely new one. George Bate

Caribou - Our Love (City Slang)

When Dan Snaith released Jiaolong under his DJ alias Daphni in 2012, his journey from psychedelic indie popper to dance floor mover was complete. But Our Love is designed to do so much more than just encourage toe-tapping, it aims to pull at the heartstrings as well. Snaith has said that in terms of creation this was the simplest Caribou album he's made yet, and whilst that may be true, thematically it's as nuanced as ever. Snaith explores the full spectrum of human love, the good, the bad, and the ugly, all through the reflection of a disco ball hanging from a club ceiling. Granted, musically it's very much derivative; the title track itself could almost be a cover version of Inner City's Good Life, and I swear that Back Home is just a dance version of Damian Rice's Cannonball. But who cares when it's so multicoloured, so fun? GB

Gunnar Haslam - Mirrors and Copulation (Long Island Electrical Systems)

Over the past few years, Ron Morelli's L.I.E.S. (Long Island Electrical Systems), has become a reliable source for really weird dance music. Whilst the majority of Morelli's own output has come in the form of dark, almost beatless sketches on Dominic Fernow's (aka Prurient/Vatican Shadow) Hospital Productions, music on L.I.E.S. has spanned the continuum between filthy acid techno and blissed-out ambient material. Gunnar Haslam's second full length falls squarely in the middle of these two ends of the spectrum, featuring calm passages interspersed with beguiling cyclical bangers made with only the minimum of components. This is simple music, but it's done so thoroughly well. The album has a distinct sci-fi feel, but any track could have been made with equipment available twenty years ago, giving it a completely timeless feel. Equal parts intense and soothing, this is a joyous journey from start to finish. GB

Tycho - Awake (Ghostly International)

The cover for Scott Hansen’s most recent record is the perfect visual representation of the music contained within; all vivid colours and calming notes, basic elements conjuring up the most beautiful of marine sunsets. It can come as no surprise then that the San Franciscan is also a graphic artist who designs his own album sleeves. Building on from 2011’s Dive, and also issued on US independent Ghostly International, Awake is the first record that Hansen has recorded with the aid of a three-piece band. The result is meticulous, with dozens of picked cyclical guitar melodies weaving themselves in and out of gorgeous synth tones, glistening like calm waves in the sun. It’s hard to find a standpoint for this kind of music, though perhaps there are elements of Explosions in the Sky’s post rock, seen through rose tinted glasses, or The Field’s bright electronica. Blissful, sweet but never saccharine, Awake is the bright sound of those kind of summer days. GB

Perc - The Power and the Glory (Perc Trax)

It's something of an odd thing to say, but Perc's new record of savage industrial bangers is actually quite political. Case in point is David and George, a nod to our esteemed Bullingdon club leaders, which sets a deranged maniacal laugh over a static-suffused beat. It was also in the name of his 2012 EP, A New Brutality surely being a reaction to austerity Britain. Ali Wells has spoken about this at some length, and whilst he denies that his reaction to reading something unpleasant in the newspaper is to go home and make furious neck-breaker, it's undeniable that his political viewpoint somehow informs his work. If going out and listening to house music is a fantasy escape from 9-5 drudgery, then surely this kind of music provides a much more real catharsis. GB

Todd Terje - It's Album Time (Olsen)

Todd Terje aka Terje Olsen packs more than a few influences into the 50 or so minutes of his debut album, the aptly titled It's Album Time, which collects the choice cuts (Strandbar, Inspector Norse, Swing Star Parts 1 & 2) of his output from the past few years and places them in the context of other, newer productions. The Norwegian originally began training as a pianist but dropped out of music school due to the lack of jazz on the curriculum, and there are elements of lounge jazz on display here as well as house, disco and synthpop. The key thing which ties this album together is a real sense of fun; Terje is a perennial joker – even the name he releases under is a wisecrack on the name of classic house producer Todd Terry. That's not to say that the album doesn't have a sensitive side, which comes in the form of the tender Robert Palmer cover Johnny and Mary, featuring Bryan Ferry on vocals. Elsewhere though it's largely joy, house pianos and fluorescent arpeggios. GB

Jon Hopkins - Asleep Versions (Domino)

Since the release of 2013's excellent Immunity, Jon Hopkins has released a steady stream of re-workings of tracks from the record, the diversity of which has been testament to the range and depth of the source material. We've had club ready efforts from the likes of Objekt and Karenn, and poppier work from Hopkins himself in collaboration with Purity Ring. Now we get an EP length suite ostensibly designed to help the listener fall into a state of sleep. As relaxing as this little gem is, it's not going to be sending anyone into a slumber any time soon, there is simply too much gorgeous soundscape on offer. Longtime collaborator King Creosote is on hand to lend cherubic vocals to the gorgeous Immunity, as is Raphaelle Standell for the blissful Form by Firelight. The transformation of the source material is absolute; whilst some elements are still recognisable, the tracks are completely transfigured from the glitchy, energetic originals. For the most part Hopkins removes the elements of threat that were sometimes present in some of the album versions of these tracks, the only exception being the not-quite-ominous drones and Ben Frost-esque whines at the start of Open Eye Signal, which are soon swept away by more dreamy tones. This EP is yet further confirmation of Hopkins' status as a masterful sound architect. GB

DJ Dodger Stadium - Friend of Mine (Body High)

Don't let the slightly daft names of DJ Dodger Stadium members Jerome LOL and Samo Sound Boy fool you; their take on gospel-tinged house is gorgeous and affecting, it just so happens that the Body High label owners also have a sense of humour. The first track proper, Love Songs, sets the tone, placing a repeating lovelorn vocal over the top of warm synths and ratcheting snares to mesmerising effect. Overall it's not too dissimilar to the kind of house that was coming out of France between the late 90s and the early 2000s. It's a formula that the duo repeat time and again (1: longing diva vocal, 2: nice chords, 3: big drums), without ever making it outstay its welcome. GB

Marcel Dettman - Fabric 77 (Fabric)

The expectations are always going to be high when a hugely lauded DJ like Marcel Dettmann steps up to the decks to helm an instalment in the Fabric series. As a long-time resident at Berlin’s Berghain, Dettmann has been at the forefront of techno DJing for many years now, and has released two albums and dozens of EPs, mainly on the club’s in house label, Ostgut Ton, and his own imprint, MDR. Whilst his own productions are tough and austere, the selections he makes for his mixes carry something more of a warmth, a playfulness even, qualities unusual for this type of functional music. Dettmann’s mastery of peaks and troughs is evidenced throughout, with particular highlights including Answer Code Request’s ecstatic Transit 0.2 and the deranged pummelling BB 1.0 from Berghain accomplice and sometime commercial lawyer Norman Nodge. Fabric 77 takes the most sombre of techno and makes it fun. GB

Swans - To Be Kind (Mute)

Over the past couple of years, Swans have given new meaning to the musical phrase 'American primitive'. For one thing, their music is clearly indebted to the blues tradition (particularly its darkest manifestations), counter-intuitively using the all-encompassing, muscular sonic assault of noise rock to conjure the same visions of loneliness, longing, and spiritual fragility evoked by Leadbelly and Howlin' Wolf. For another, frontman Michael Gira is obsessed with the atavistic: seemingly envisioning music as a means of sandblasting off the layers of sedimented sociality to return to that in us which is basic and animal. That he does so without straying into repetition, with great variety and unwavering commitment, is deeply impressive, and just one hell of an enthralling listen. Nick Pierce

Livity Sound - Livity Sound Remixes (Livity Sound)

Whilst it's always the Hessle Audio crew whose productions get more attention, in my opinion it's Livity Sound boys (Peverelist, Kowton and Asusu) who do the sound they share in common, an odd combination of techno and Bristol's bass/dub heritage, better. This remix LP follows on from, and improves upon, the collective's compilation of originals from 2014. Livity Sound's material is ripe for remixing; whilst there's plenty of space in it, it's also sonically rich so there's plenty of scope for rhythmic rearrangement whilst retaining the overall texture. Overall, the remixers tend to nudge the tracks more towards more standard rhythms than those found on the more syncopated originals, which is no surprise given the names involved, such as UK techno stalwart Surgeon and Long Island Electrical Systems boss Ron Morelli. Whilst the tracks on display here are obviously meant to be heard in a DJ mix context, what is surprising is how well they function both for stand alone listening and as a suite or album. A release you can get your teeth into. GB

Francis Harris - Minutes of Sleep (Scissor and Thread)

This record might come as a surprise to anyone who knows Francis Harris from his earlier tech house guise Adultnapper, but the past few years have caused a sea change in Harris's life as well as his music. Harris lost his father several years ago, an event which led to the less dancefloor focused Leland in 2012. In the intervening time, he also lost his mother leading to the even more introspective Minutes of Sleep. This record, arriving on Harris's own Scissor and Thread imprint, sees him bringing contemplative downtempo jazz to the table, sometimes combining it with the house he made his name with, by combining the mournful horns with Theo Parrish-esque rhythms. It's an astonishing piece of work, sad without being depressing, grieving yet warm, and forms an excellent tribute to Harris's parents. GB