September was a bumper month of music listening, taking in 5 Golden Years In The Wilderness, a 3 CD compilation celebrating 5 years of Buzzin' Fly, debut album Dear Painter, Paint Me by Heartthrob, Total 9, another celebratory compilation from German music label Kompakt, sixth album Thought So from Nightmares on Wax, Fabric 42 mixed by Ame, second album Gindofask by Octogen, an understated Resident Advisor Podcast from Steffi and big pop tunes from The Faint, with their fifth album Fasciination.
Heartthrob - Dear Painter, Paint Me
Clever minimal techno.
Mean and moody electronic music debut from Jesse Siminski aka Heartthrob. Opening track Futures Past typifies the album as a whole, its deep, understated, somewhat meanacing vibe, says "serious techno music". Take third track Signs for instance, it's got a subtle melody but you have to listen to over two minutes of minimal beats before registering a change in texture and then it's another two minutes before the real action starts... but when it does, the wonderful muffled metallic banging is very pleasant on the ear.
It's this teasing build-up that gives Heartthrob his distinctive edge over similar minimal / electro acts like Efdemin and Sascha Funke. This slow, steady approach reminds somewhat of Guided By Voices who were famous for doing the exact opposite: they would start a song, usually with the main chorus or melody and aim to finish the song as soon as possible after that.
At just eight tracks, with the average length clocking in at over seven minutes, this album could present a challenge for some listeners but perseverance is the key. It's a slow-grower but defintely worth the effort.
11 listens | 7/10
Kompakt - Total 9
Essential electronic music
The annual Total compilations from German electronic music label Kompakt aim to present an overview of what's been happening on the label recently as well as glimpse to what the future holds. As usual, there's lots of great treats, including an sublime cover version of Human Resource's Dominator by Jorg Burger (it's called Modernism Begins At Home) and a funky-sounding new track by Jurgen Paape called Come Into My Life, with vocals by Alison Degbe.
What makes these Total compilations so successful and enduring is that they remain unmixed. These days, the mix CD is ubiquitous, and pretty tired sometimes. It's refreshing to see that Kompakt retain the good sense to keep theses releases unmixed. I'd go as far as saying I'd prefer if more label compilations were left unmixed.
Anyway, out of 22 tracks, I'll pick some highlights which make essential listening. Check out the synth-beauty of Droplets (Early Night Mix) by Dubshape, which sounds like the most comtemporary track on the CD. Aubelia Petit's slightly out-of-tune vocals on I Can't Stop Loving You by Jonas Bering bring a certain charm to song the which appeals to me. Don't Look Back by Robert Babicz is what I'd call electronic music for grown-ups; with his many years of experience Babicz certainly knows how to produce excellent music. And sounding similarly well polished is another quality track from Gui Boratto called Annuciacion, which has a wonderful melancholic tune that builds up and drops (it could quite easily have been lifted from his debut album Chromophobia). Another vocal track hitting all the right notes is Time Is Over by Nicolas Stefan, with it's subtle trance elements. And closing the 2 CD set we get the satisfyingly thumping Tulipa by Maxime Dangles and in contrast the lightihearted piano refrain of Guduld by Freiland.
15 listens | 10/10
Nightmares on Wax - Thought So
Same usual laidback dubby grooves
Unless you're new to George Evelyn's Nightmares on Wax, then this new album won't present anything revalatory. It's not that the album is boring, it's just that all the tracks sound like they could have been lifted from any one of their previous albums... but that's not necessarily a bad thing (if it ain't broke etc.).
If anything there seems to be more vocal contributions than usual. It's these tracks which I remember most anyway. In particular, lead single, 195lbs with vocals by Ricky Ranking is a catchy reggae-infused skank while Be There offers a laidback and funky vocal refrain. Ironically, my favourite track is instrumental Pretty Dark, which is basically a simple, stripped-down synth with some guitar licks throughout, which some might call filler but I like the atmospheric vibe.
Overall, another decent album, but anyone new to NOW should check out Smokers Delight or Car Boot Soul first.
10 listens | 6/10
Fabric 42 - Ame
Tribal sounds, minimal beats and spoken word vocals
A strong entry in the Fabric series from German duo Kristian Beyer & Frank Wiedemann, aka Ame. Their approach to making music seems to be to push the boundaries and experiment. And they clearly don't like being pigeon-holed (which is always a problem when you have a massively successful single - Rej - and expectations to live up to). So on this note I'm going to immediately draw a comparison between this Fabric mix and the equivalent Ricardo Villalobos mix from last year (Fabric 36).
Both sets share a similar tribally sound although the main difference is that all Villalobos's tracks were his own compositions. The tribal element begins with the woo-woo refrain through That's A Nice Way To Give Me Feedback by Minilogue. It could easily have found a place on the Villalobos CD. From there the spoken vocals on Jens Zimmermann's ModMod BlubbBlub offers another cross-reference. Again the spoken word appears on Armandos Don't Take It before the tribally-sound returns with the excellent Something Is Raw by STL... great stuff. More spoken vocals on Raw Structure by Edward, you get the picture.
It's good to hear what Ame have been doing with Dixon and Henrik Schwarz, their D.P.O.M.B (Version 1) slotting into the mix seamlessly. And it's this attention to details, textures and sounds that makes this mix so bloody good. A lot to like.
11 listens | 9/10
Octogen - Gindofask
Amazing sophomore effort from Scottish electro master
Second full-length album from Glaswegian Marco Bernardi, aka Ocotgen, and it's a significant step forward in terms of quality on so many levels. As a whole it works, almost in a concepty way. From intro Please Intro Password, there's a really nice sci-fi feel, like you're entering some distant space colony and experiencing other-worldly delights via the music.
There's something quite irrestible about the opening bars of early single Square Bells which sets the album off on a great footing, making you feel right at home in this alien world, but before you get too comfortable you're reminded not to enter Sphxomite, by a very Adult. sounding vocal. From there it's almost like a journey through the musical influences of Bernardi, with Anthony Rother on Cyber Technological Flying Machine, Aphex Twin on The Journeyman, Vince Watson on Saturn Sun and Michael Mayer on Return Of The Hero. Don't get me wrong though, it's all original and very much stamped with the Ocotgen mark; it's these references that make the album such a success.
Top track? - all of them! It's that good.
13 listens | 10/10
Steffi - Resident Advisor Podcast
Minimal set with some surprises
The only problem with Resident Advisor podcasts is that there's just too many of them coming out. I've been downloading them every week now for a few months and generally find the quality varies dramatically (on various levels, like original file quality, quality of mixing, track choices etc.). On one hand this helps me to make a decision quickly on what to devote my listening time to but on the other there's the chance I'll miss out on something that takes time to appreciate (as most decent music falls into this frame).
This mix by Steffi attracted me for various reasons: after just a single listen-through it was obvious that she's a professional DJ who knows how to mix; it's mostly impossible to hear the join in most tracks. Of course her excellent choice of minimal tracks from the likes of Solitaire by John Daly, Something Is Raw by STL (also on the Ame Fabric mix) and DX Days by Legowelt make things fit together so well. Slotting in Pepe Bradock's Deep Burnt and Justin Martin's The Sad Piano near the end proves to be a masterstroke as well.
8 listens | 8/10
The Faint - Fasciination
Electro guitar pop
Fasciination is the fifth album of catchy pop tunes from Omaha-based quintet The Faint, following on reassuringly in the footsteps of their previous outings. There's no risk taking or deviation which shouldn't always be considered a negative. Like Nightmares On Wax, if it ain't broke.
When an album of sugary melodies and singalong choruses is just 35 minutes long it proves to be quite an effortless listening experience. Singalong you may do but remember the tracks later? No, there's not too many of those. There are exceptions, the rolling bassline of Psycho, sounding pleasantly like Franz Ferdinand and album highlight Mirror Error with it's opening guitar feedback echoed in the excellent oh-oh-oohhhhhhh chorus, which seems to distort as it reaches a crescendo.
The combinition of big electro beats, big melodies and big guitars proves to be a winning formula... why change it?
12 listens | 7/10
Buzzin' Fly - 5 Golden Years In The Wilderness
Fine, tuneful dance music
A 3 CD set looking back over the first five years of independent music label Buzzin' Fly proves Ben Watt has been doing things right! A great mix of new and old stuff (to me anyway) including a few remixes, all grouped together into three distinct categories: "up", "down" and "forward". The first two covering established tracks while the latter representing new stuff (tracks, recruits and potential).
At first, the "up" selection seems quite gentle, until you realise that Buzzin' Fly are the purveyors of fine, tuneful dance music; their stable of artists covering house, soul, funk, pop and downtempo. There's nothing more demanding than the gently stabbing parps of Lose Control by Darkmountaingroup or the wonderful tip-toeing steps of Nightowl by Justin Martin.
The downtempo selection of tunes is pure bliss, from the gentle sounds of water washing up on the beach at the beginning of One Week In Cuba by Kayot to the warm melancholy of Mon Age by Mlle Caro & Franck Garcia to the uplifting Barbi In Love by BarBQ. The "down" mix gradually builds up again, which prepares us for the more uptempo third CD.
Highlights on "forward" include Insomnia (Kemistry Remix) by Rodamaal, with the distinctive vocals of Claudia Franco, and Give Me A Funf by Gavin Herlihy. I'm not so keen on soul tracks like Here Today by The Good News, which don't quite seem to fit into the Buzzin' Fly scheme of things at the moment, but maybe that's where Ben Watt is planning to takes things with Buzzin' Fly?
Overall, a fitting testament to a great independent label.
9 listens | 8/10