Friday, June 29, 2007

THE ORB: Orbsessions Vol. 2 (Maliscious Damage Records)

Orbsessions Vol. 2
Maliscious Damage Records 2007
11 Tracks. 76mins01secs

Buy it: CD | LP
The Orb | Maliscious Damage Records

The first installment in what is announced as a trilogy, delivered two years ago, delved deep into the Orb’s sonic archive, and provided, in the process, the beginning of a thread throughout the band’s career, seemingly marking various stages and incarnations of one of the most emblematic British acts to have emerged from the dance scene of the late eighties.

The Orb shot to fame during the rave revolution with the epic A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld and the seminal Little Fluffy Clouds, and rapidly became a major act alongside the likes of Orbital, 808 State and Banco De Gaia. Formed by Dr. Alex Paterson and KLF/JAMMS maverick Jimmy Cauty, the band has been through many personnel changes during its near twenty years of activity, Swiss musician Thomas Fehlmann being, alongside Paterson, the only remaining active member.

Subtitled ‘Finest Quality For The Connoisseur’, Orbsessions Vol. 2 collects another eleven previously unreleased tracks. While the first volume sounded at times slightly disparate, this second chapter appears like a much more cohesive piece. The sonic characteristics of the band are present all the way through, from deep rumbling dub effects to extensive sample use, but there is no trace of the band’s poppier tone of the early 2000s or the infectious minimalism of recent years. This album presents The Orb at their most elaborate and ornate, with contributions from Fehlmann, Andy Hughes, Hans Joachim Roedelius, vin100 and legendary producer Youth alongside Paterson,

Orbsessions Vol. 2 opens with the somewhat dark and haunting tones of D.A.D.O.E.S? Dense clouds of noise and echoes swallow any melodic attempt, while muted vocal samples and Berber chants punctuate the piece at regular intervals. Ralph’s Cupboard follows a much more familiar sound pattern as a melody circles above a hypnotic dub groove and intricate sound formations. From there on, the remaining tracks are set between these two points. 2026 is a stunning piece of progressive ambient that sparkles with hypnotic elegance, while It’s A Small World is a refined slice of bouncy electronic music in the great Orb tradition. Shem, with its vast soundscapes and beat-less facade, sits at the more experimental end of the spectrum, whereas Shem Version, which follows, feeds on a very similar drum pattern as Massive Attack’s Inertia Creeps, with which it also shares some of its dark oppressing atmospherics.

Later, Ba’albeck sounds like Perpetual Dawn given the Toxygene treatment. There is little more than a mechanical groove, at times supported by tabla and an occasional ‘ooo-ooo’ to keep the mind occupied, but its relentless drive is enough to keep it afloat. Jam On Your Honey shows similar characteristics, but feels even funkier and more playful.

It is something of a mystery why some of these tracks have remained until now unreleased. Spanning an undetermined period, although the overall sound seem to indicate that most of these date from the mid to late-nineties, there is an interesting sonic consistency throughout. Very much like its predecessor, Orbsessions Vol. 2 fills some gaps in the band’s work, but the selection is much more consistent here. While a new album is announced for later this summer, this second collection is a superb testament of the creative cauldron that The Orb continue to be.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

DEXTRO: Hearts And Minds (Gronland Records)

Hearts And Minds
Gronland Records 2007
04 Tracks. 25mins07secs
Format: 12’

Buy it: 12"
Dextro | Gronland Records

Ewan Mackenzie’s first stab as a recording artist came in the shape of the confident Consequence Music, his debut album, originally released on his own 16K imprint, and recently snapped up by London-based Gronland Records. This accompanying EP features the original album track, plus remixes from Arkham, Alias and Clark.

The original version of Hearts And Mind is a haunting piece of beautiful melodic electronica which resonates with the melancholy typical of Boards Of Canada records, but Mackenzie develops a rather tight and personal combination of electronic and acoustic sounds, upon which a distant processed voice floats, which contributes greatly to the enthralling aspect of the piece.

Although retaining the vocal influx and some of the acoustic tones of the original, Arkham beefs up Dextro’s dreamy electronic by applying a more dance floor-friendly beat structure and electronics which are not without recalling Spooky circa Gargantuan. In the remixer’s hand, Hearts And Mind becomes here a heady piece of vintage electronic music. Anticon’s Alias takes an entirely different path with his version, adding vocals, acoustic guitar and glockenspiel. Over the course of its six and a half minutes, his remix builds up considerable momentum, rising from delicate pop to a dense, shoegazer-esque wall of electronics before returning to gentler grounds. Last but certainly not least is Warp’s maverick Clark, whose take on Mackenzie’s track is a thoroughly deconstructed version of the original, with added abrasive twist. There is very little left of Dextro’s exquisite soundscapes left here. Instead, Clark sends beats bouncing on harsh noise formation, providing an interesting counterpoint to the rest of the EP.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

RUSUDEN: Fe IX/X 171 A (Soho Six Records)

Fe IX/X 171 A
Soho Six Records 2007
07 Tracks. 24mins23secs

Rusuden | Soho Six Records

Rusuden is the brainchild of Lexington, Kentucky, based musician Justin Morgan. Once a member of various rock and indie formations, Morgan switched to electronic instruments and computers in the later part of the nineties and began performing as Rusuden at the turn of the century. Following a series of self-released CDRs, his debut album, Formulae, was released on Sonicterror in 2003, and introduced his blend of glitched-up Detroit-infused electronica. The album was followed by a collection of remixes of tracks from the album by the likes of Wisp, The Gasman, Ochre, Multiplex and Morgan himself. Warm Human Antennae, Rusuden’s second album proper, was released in 2005 on Morgan’s own Soho Six imprint. While still essentially electronic, this record presented a much wider sonic scope, with guitar textures becoming quite predominant in a few tracks.

For his latest musical escapade, Rusuden has his eyes set firmly on the dance floor. The snappily titled Fe IX/X 171 A, a scientific term relating to the process of imaging solar activity via ultraviolet light, features seven slices of unadulterated old school electro with subtle injections of acid and ambient, tempered with an ounce of Germanic minimalism. The mood evokes in turn the Richard D James of Polygon Window, early Ritchie Hawtin, B12 or early Black Dog even. Fe IX/X 171 A also marks a new creative peak for Rusuden. Clocking at just twenty-five minutes for seven tracks, Fe IX/X 171 A is a very concise and tight affair. Morgan’s delivery is confident and efficient. His soundscapes fuse classic electronic tones and futuristic vision, particularly on Snogon, Zanika or Takkong, whilst he engineers much coarser formations on tracks such as Yametarans or Yadokirin. The compositions work on a variety of levels, as different elements become obvious with repeat listens. Cold bleeps, acid squirts and regimented beats reveal hidden lush warm analogue soundwaves, secondary melodies and even occasional voices to complete Rusuden’s intricate tapestry. Morgan keeps rhythms and melodies fluid and fresh, and excellent sonic consistency, all the way through as he focuses on setting feet as much as mind in motion.

Originally released as a clear blue vinyl, Fe IX/X 171 A has since received an extended digital release with five additional tracks recorded around the same period. With this return to purely electronic soundscapes, Morgan’s foray into classic electronica is his most convincing and accomplished record to date.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A HAWK AND A HACKSAW & THE HUN HANGÁR ENSEMBLE: A Hawk And A Hacksaw & The Hun Hangár Ensemble (The Leaf Label)

A Hawk And A Hacksaw & The Hun Hangár Ensemble
The Leaf Label 2007
08 Tracks. 29mins20secs

Buy it: CD
A Hawk & A Hacksaw | The Leaf Label

Originally the solo project of former Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes, A Hack And A Hacksaw is a totally unique project, which has taken Barnes in a variety of locations across the world. Beside his previous regular spot as drummer with Neutral Milk Hotel, Barnes has also served with Bablicon, Bright Eyes and Broadcast. He started working on his next project, A Hawk And A Hacksaw, toward the beginning of the century, and released his first album in 2003.

Feeding on a vast set of influences, ranging from Eastern European traditional music to avant-garde and beyond, the first self-titled A Hawk And A Hacksaw album, recorded in the quiet town of Saumur, on the border of the Loire, in France, totally disregarded traditional musical boundaries to create an exhilarating soundtrack out of field recordings over which pianos, accordions and various other instruments flourished into beautiful melodies. The scope of Barnes’s music continued to expand with his second album, Darkness At Noon, released a year later. On The Way The Wind Blows, Barnes was joined by violinist Heather Trost, now an active AHAAH member. The pair worked with Romanian ensemble Fanfare Ciocârlia, a popular twelve-piece formation which combines traditional Romanian music with influences from the whole Balkan region and beyond. Toward the end of 2006, Trost and Barnes discovered Fonó, a music workshop and centre for Hungarian music in the heart of Budapest. They convinced four musicians they met there to form an ensemble. Barnes and Trost consequently recorded a mini album with the Hun Hangár Ensemble, and they are set to tour with them in the summer. This very limited eponymous recording comes with an additional DVD documenting the work of AHAAH over the last couple of years.

The eight tracks of this mini album partly draw from traditional Hungarian, Serbian, Romanian and Klezmer folklore, and also feature two new compositions from Barnes and Trost. The album opens with the soft melancholic tone of Trost’s violin cast against a piano and a cimbalom, a traditional Hungarian instrument similar to a dulcimer. The mood changes with Zozobra as an accordion first, then the crystalline sound of the cimbalom, hurry through a fast-paced rhythmic section with strong Romani overtones. After these, the formation goes on to perform a series of traditional music themes, ranging from the vibrant melody of Serbian Cǒcek, supported by a vivid brass section, to the rampant melancholy of Oriental Hora and the beautiful Hungarian bagpipes motifs of Dudanotak. At times, tracks encompass a wide range of moods in just a few moments. Both Romanian Hora And Bulgar and Ihabibi begin with very melancholic melodies before gathering pace and swelling into rich harmonics and pulsating rhythms.

The additional DVD provides a further insight into the evolution of a band like no other. Over the years, Barnes has defined a strong musical identity, and with Trost now a regular feature in AHAAH, he continues to refine it as the band becomes more essential with each release. This limited release is a resounding example of how traditional and contemporary can fit in beautifully, something that AHAAH have become quite expert at.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

TAXI TAXI! Taxi Taxi! (Rumraket)

Taxi Taxi!
Rumraket 2007
06 Tracks. 18mins56secs

Buy it: CD

Somewhere between CocoRosie, The Sundays and Susanna & The Magical Orchestra is Taxi Taxi!, a duo formed by Stockholm-born and bred seventeen-year old twin sisters Miriam and Johanna Berhan. On the back of the interest generated by a couple of demos posted on the Internet, Taxi Taxi! have performed an impressive number of live dates in Scandinavia and have now been enrolled to take part in some of Europe’s biggest festival. Their eponymous debut EP has just been released on Efterklang’s Rumraket imprint.

In just six songs and nineteen minutes, the pair create achingly beautiful melodies built from sparse arrangements, with often little more than an acoustic guitar or a piano to fall back on. At times, echoes of a lonely accordion or harmonica flicker a moment, casting a delicate shadow over a song before vanishing again. Intriguingly alike, the two voices are hauntingly reminiscent of Harriet Wheeler, especially on opener All I Think Of and on the stunning Heart. While they often evolve separately, they at times get locked into rich harmonies which show vast emotional potential.

The songs are deceptively simple little vignettes caught between melancholy and reverie, with melodies as soft and light as morning dew, dropped over delicately fingerpicked guitars or airy piano lines. From the contrasted tones of All I Think Of or Water to the breathtaking Belle, To Hide This Way, Heart and Mary, Taxi Taxi! charm, touch and convince again and again. Despite their young age, the Berhan sisters show incredible control and maturity over the six songs of this EP, recorded with producer Björn Yttling, of Swedish pop band Peter, Björn and John. One of the most beautiful records you’re likely to hear all year.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Domino Recording Co. 2007
10 Tracks. 44mins45secs

Buy it: CD | LP
Kieran Hebden & Steve Reid | Domino Recording Co

Since he took some time off Fridge to concentrate on Four Tet, Kieran Hebden has become one of the most prominent artists of the British electronic scene of the last ten years. Three years ago, he met legendary percussionist Steve Reid, and the pair began working on live collaborations, resulting in the double-barrelled Exchange Session (volume one and two). The records were the result of improvisations, which were presented in their raw form, with no overdubs. Although split into bite size sections of barely more than thirty to forty minutes, these recordings suffered from lack of general focus necessary for this kind of project, and failed to capture the true energy of the live shows the duo had been performing earlier.

While recorded in the same conditions as the twin albums of last year, Tongues is a much more settled and balanced affair, and demonstrate how the two have learnt to channel their respective energy and work alongside each other in a more efficient fashion. Crucially, Hebden’s presence is much more prominent and consistent here. The fluid essence of Four Tet still doesn’t quite percolate through Reid’s ardent rhythmic sections, but he contributes to the lighter aspect of the great majority of the pieces here. The opening track captivates with its syncopated cuts and dense noise formations, evoking a jogger’s portable music device gone into spasmodic fit. Brain and even more so Out Time are refreshingly melodic and cheerful, the latter proving a rather seductive piece where lush harp samples cascade down a restrained rhythmic section.

Later on, the pair tackle the phone system hold favourite that is Greensleeves on music boxes and metallic percussions and manage to make it at once sound fresh and powerful. Reid leads almost entirely on Mirrors, with Hebden set slightly back, providing discreet electronics all the way through. Superheros sounds like a video games arcade in the middle of a civil war as dense clouds of analogue bleeps continuously hammer the driving rhythm set in motion by Reid. Rhythm Dance proves a much more hazardous piece. After layering soft electronics for just under a minute, Hebden seems to suddenly fall victim of a massive sonic fit before he gets some order in the chaotic sound collage he has spread at Reid’s feet as the tracks finally gets going. If, over its course, the pair manage to regain some interest, they struggle to limit the damage. The album concludes in rather subdued mood with the slightly sombre tones of Left Handed, Left Minded. Here, the pair tame their respective instruments to offer a beautifully restrained piece.

On Tongues, Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid have moved away from the lengthy and dense improvisations of their previous effort and refocused on the playful aspect of their collaboration, and while the album still shows signs of slight over-indulgence at times, Hebden and Reid manage to create here a record at once experimental and interesting.

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OPSVIK & JENNINGS: Commuter Anthems (Rune Grammofon)

Commuter Anthems
Rune Grammofon 2007
10 Tracks. 46mins36secs

Buy it: CD
Opsvik & Jennings | Rune Grammofon

Opsvik & Jennings first appeared as an entity two years ago with their debut album, the superb Fløyel Files, released on NCM East. While Norwegian-born bass player Eivind Jennings had already two albums under his belt, Overseas and Overseas II, published in 2003 and 2005 respectively on Fresh Sounds Records, and had contributed to a considerable number of albums and formations, guitarist Aaron Jennings, hailing from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a relative new comer. The pair met in New York where they both relocated in the late nineties.

Their second album, Commuter Anthems, released on Rune Grammofon, can best be described as a game of two halves. In the first section of the album, the pair adopt a rather more bucolic and chilled tone than that heard on Fløyel Files, with delicate melodies floating over air-thin instrumentations primarily formed around electric and acoustic guitars, banjo, concertina, horns and electronics. The album opens with the graceful guitar and piano motifs of The Last Country Village and Silverlake. While very much a continuation of some of the more melodic moments of Fløyel Files, these two pieces show a much more symbiotic approach to sound. The title track, which follows, has the light-hearted disposition and visionary approach of futuristic sixties pop music, underlined by a gentle melody and the prominent display of a Theremin in the background. The mood occasionally dips a tad, especially on the introvert Wrong Place Right Time, but even there, a discreet flute creates elegant patterns over a rather stern backdrop.

In its second half, the album takes a slightly jazzier turn, perhaps highlighting Opsvik’s influence over the pair’s work. Port Authority shows once again subtle sixties influences in its wonderfully melodic main theme, but later, the musical expression becomes more syncopated on I’ll Scrounge Along, where the pair work a much groovier sequence, with Opsvik’s bass taking a more central role. In contrast, Ways is a superbly evocative composition, with a clear cinematic feel. As the track unfolds, it goes through surprising transformations, evoking in turn early twentieth century music and orchestral grandeur before gently fading away in a circling melody. The Pendler is this album’s most ambitious piece, as Opsvik and Jennings appear to make good use of their full instrument arsenal, without ever loosing sight on the melodic aspect of the track. The album concludes with the short and sweet Apology / Goodbye, which dissolves before it is given time to fully develop, leaving the listener wanting more.

Commuter Anthems represents a slight departure for Opsvik & Jennings, who take their original sonic template and expand it in a range of directions, from jazz to folk and country music. The pair crafts beautiful melodies set in delicate yet complex soundscapes, creating often poetic compositions. Ultimately, Opsvik & Jennings defy classification with playful spirit and panache and present a truly enjoyable record.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Nitin Sawhney leads Aftershock London

The newly reopened Royal Festival Hall, on London’s South Bank, will play host to Aftershock London, a unique event set under the artistic direction of multi-instrumentalist and music producer Nitin Sawhney. The performance is the result of workshops that have taken place across the city over an eight-week period with young emerging musicians and artists. This performance, which is due to take place in the Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall, is the last in a series of showcases that have taken place across the city.

The performance will take place on Friday 15 June. This is a free event.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

SAVATH & SAVALAS: Golden Pollen (Anti)

Golden Pollen
Anti- 2007
16 Tracks. 52mins29secs

Buy it: CD
Guillermo Scott Herren | Anti-

Following a debut album, Folk Songs For Trains, Trees And Honey, concerned primarily with gentle acoustic-infused electronica, Guillermo Scott Herren turned to his father’s native Spanish roots, moved to Barcelona and covered his Savath & Savalas project with soft Mediterranean tones and moods with Appropa’t and its sister EP, Mañana, both released on Warp during 2004. While Folk Songs… was an entirely instrumental record, Appropa’t saw Herren venturing into song-based territory with Catalonian singer songwriter Eva Puyuelo Muns sharing vocal duties with him. For Golden Pollen, his first album for Los Angeles imprint Anti, it is Herren alone who steps behind the mic, with Swedish singer songwriter Jose Gonzalez landing a helping hand on one track.

Like on its predecessor, all the songs of Golden Pollen are sung in Spanish, and Herren makes extensive use of acoustic instruments, delicate melodies and occasional found sounds. Right from the short sequence that opens, the mood is set, and Herren never veers away from his template. All the way through, softly blushed vocals float above rich orchestrations and gentle rhythms to create airy pieces best suited for the time of the day when the torpor retreats and life returns. From the refined melodies of Apnea Obstructiva, Estrella De Dos Caras or El Solitario to the denser Concreto, Te Amo… Por Que Me Odias?, Vidas Animadas or Tormenta De La Flor, Herren crafts impeccable compositions which nothing seem to be able to derail. Everything is not quite as peaceful though. Three songs in, Paisaje begins in calm mood, with environmental noises bubbling in the background while a soft acoustic guitar carves delicate formations in the foreground, but soon voices and instruments appear in total melt down and struggle to stay in tune. Although Concreto, which follows, is not affected in such a way, there is still a partial feeling of misplacement that lingers over it for a while.

Once again, Herren has surrounded himself with an impressive cluster of musicians and artists here, including Jose Gonzalez, who takes care of the main vocal section on the beautiful Estrella De Dos Caras, or Los Angeles-based singer Mia Doi Todd, who guests on Intro, while Triosk drummer Laurence Pike, Danny Bensi and experimental vocalist and Battles member Tyondai Braxton provide drums, cello and additional vocals respectively all the way through.

While Appropa’t represented quite a new direction for Guillermo Scott Herren, and was linked to his move to Barcelona, Golden Pollen is less of a surprise, and perhaps lacks the spontaneity of its predecessor. This said, Herren certainly excels as much at assembling lush sun-drenched songs and chilled moods as he does intricate hip hop beats and shattering grooves. Golden Pollen requires a bit of time to settle and reveal its many depths, but once it does, it becomes a very enjoyable record indeed.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

THE BLACK DOG: Remixes 2 (Dust Science)

Remixes 2
Dust Science 2007
03 Tracks. 21mins33secs
Format: 12”

Dust Science Recordings

While they are currently said to be working on a new album, The Black Dog continues to show impeccable form with this second collection of remixes of tracks taken from their excellent Silenced LP released in 2005, courtesy of Orlando Voorn, Derailleur and Vector Lovers, all three taking the superbly crafted original Black Dog template for a spin on the dance floor.

Voorn’s reading of Sudden Intake turns the swelling ambient textures of the original into a refined piece of vintage techno conveyed by a driving beat and sumptuous silky synthetic waves. Voorn retains the dreamy aspect of the Black Dog track, expanding its scope quite drastically by processing the main melodic theme to superb effect, turning it into a hypnotic and haunting piece.

Alt/Return/Dash/Kill, revisited by recent Dust Science signing Derailleur, is a much more hard-edged affair, with sharp angles defining the outer limits of the track, while the more musical elements converge into dense sonic masses at the centre of the spectrum. Very much in line with his own work for Varial and Dust Science, the groove, built around a tribal drum sequence and a round bass line, underlined by short vocal samples, is relentless, effortlessly carrying the rest of the piece across its seven and a half minutes.

With its clean cut rhythmic pattern and dry minimal electro treatment, the Vector Lovers reworking of Machine Machina accentuates the dynamic of the Black Dog piece and emphasises its melody. The result is a warm and breathy piece of minimal German electro which progressively flourish over its course, yet it remains as utterly tight and precise in its most layered section as it is in its more arid parts.

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