Monday, March 27, 2006

On the menu

Year 2006 has brought many great records so far, incl. albums. Here are some short reviews, which are more to remind not surprise - I bet you have already checked these things.

Ellen Alien & Apparat – Orchestra of Bubbles [Bpitch Control]

This is the case when collaboration of 2 artists results in a new, probably better musical quality. Each of them has skillfully contributed something of their own sound. In general there are Ellen's trancey epic melodies + Apparat's top notch production qualities making the record sound more intelligent, more 'crisp'. Clicky electro beats (Under, Do Not Break), magnificent orchestral strings (Metric, Retina), tracks are mostly instrumental, just with few vocals (Way out, and some chopped vocals – so typical for Ellen – on some other pieces), slightly acid, phat, bubbling basslines… Most of the tracks are pretty "danceable", although, I suppose, the album is rather a listening pleasure.

There's some IDM/micro on the album, but it's not minimal at all, which is nice if you feel sort of bored of the trendy minimalism all around. Basically the LP sounds a bit pop, but this kind of deep and intelligent electronic pop you likely won't hear on a standard commercial radio. High quality shit for those who like traveling without moving!

Ellen Allien and Apparat - Under

The Knife – Silent Shout [Brille]

My first impression about the new Swedish band's album was quite reserved, because it was just so different from their former trademark - cheerful, silly and freaky synth-pop, so unique on its own which was much celebrated couple of years ago. Heartbeats was a true hymn those days (and still is). Furthermore, why to fuck up such a beautiful and powerful voice as Karin Andersson's with pitch-shifting. It's good as it is. Well, production is fairly good, but sometimes it's better to keep that lo-fi attitude. I was wondering why so many critics (incl. Sherburne and Pearson) are raving about it. So, these were my first thoughts about Silent Shout.

However, as the time passed by, I found it better and better, and at the moment I must admit that it is great. Probably it just didn't match my expectations at first. As a child given an apple instead of a candy. The new Knife is sharp, dark and cold. It's spooky, but no doubt there is some frozen beauty in it, and the vocal is still outstanding. There are some amazing slow pieces (like From Off to On and Na Na Na, which resembles Niobe so much), a couple of DJ-friendly tracks (the much praised Silent Shout – check also remixes, they are OK –, and Like a Pen, which I actually prefer better, – it has nice micropong clicks and chicagoish groove). If listen carefully you'll find something from the former Knife as well – especially on tracks Neverland and tangoish Marble Room (feat. another swedish electropop hero - Jay Jay Johansson). In general, it's a well polished, balanced record, yet intriguing, eccentric and urges one to use his/her imagination. What else is there? I'd say that it has some Scandinavian coldness and pagan mysticism. Silent Shout is not a record for latino heads, ya know, this is a different affair. If there were any discos at those ice hotels, this music would definetely fit there.

The Knife - Like a pen

Alex Smoke – Paradolia [Soma]

Mr. Smoke is a genuine persona in the contemporary electronic music, he has actually reinvented the minimal techno, adding more melodies and even singing occasionally. Actually the label "minimal" can't be really applied to describe this kind of music any more, probably one can call it post-techno or simply electronica or whatever. After all, who cares about labels if music is great…

The new LP just reassures that Alex Smoke is one of the best producers around. He is elaborating the same path, but the deeper in a forest, the better it gets. Subtle and complex rhythmic structures wrapped in abstract melodies. Some elements remind me of another Alex – Spanish minimal techno wizard Alex Under -, there's a bit of Akufen and Villalobos, too, but, however, A.Smoke has his own distinctive expression. His bleeping sound is so funky, but at the same time it is not obtrusive and straight-kicking, his music shines in a distant beauty. Technically, Paradolia has dance-music characteristics, although the record is more for listening than for dancing (probably the most danceable tracks are Meany and Snider). Gem!

Alex Smoke - Persona

Jimmy Edgar – Color Strip [Warp]

When techno was invented in Detroit, quite simple drum machines and hardware synthesizers were in use. Nowadays, production of electronic music is far more sophisticated, and a lot of things are made just on a laptop screen. Nevertheless, the spirit is the same – this funky, soulful, but so electronic and futuristic Detroit stuff (who says that robots can't be funky?).

This Jimmy Edgar's debut LP is a nice example of stripped down electrojazz, clickhop, datapop. Some IDM electro cuts (which sound like DMX Crew), some r'n'b beats put in a totally new context, even a nice electropop tune (My Beats). Colorful, smooth and groovy musique electronique par excellence.

Jimmy Edgar - My Beats

Nathan Fake – Drowning in A Sea of Love [Border Community]

The minimal techno maestro goes ambient and IDM. Anyway, one can't fake a talent – no matter in what stylistic categories his music falls, it is just brilliant. So light, even a bit childish. Some of the tracks would easily fit on a Kompakt's PopAmbient compilation. Melodies on this record are so overwhelming, cheerful and even sentimental, but they avoid being banal. On the other hand, for the contrast, there are some noisy drones as well (Falmer is the most explicit example) and some live recorded sounds (Fell, Stops, plus drums on The Sky was Pink seem to come from 'live' drumming). In some pieces there is obvious homage to My Bloody Valentine and shoegaze stuff in general. Hence, some similarity to Boards of Canada, too (who are also big fans of MBV as far I know).

Nathan Fake - You are here

Coldcut – Sound Mirrors [Ninja Tune]

Coldcut, the true pioneers of abstract hiphop/lounge, deliver a remarkable brew of innovative pop music. Apart from their usual socially conscious sampling/spoken word stuff, this time many references to rock music are found on da record. For instance, Whistle and a Prayer + Colours the Soul + Man in a Garage are mild, guitar driven songs, whereas Everything is Under Control is more straight and banging (and more pop) U2-ish kind of thing, which may seem too catchy and cliché if not untraditional arrangement. Furthermore, True Skool with Roots Manuva on a mic sounds like Jungle Brothers meet Asian Dub Foundation meet MIA. On Walk a Mile and This Island Earth there are garage vocals, which is not really my cup of tea, but it is probably homage to UK club sound. Sound Mirrors is a typical Coldcut's ambient track with a piano playing in a minor key. However, the strongest kick (listening on headphones) I got from Aid Dealer and Boogieman, those panning echoes are amazing!

Despite the obvious flirting with pop and London club music it's an interesting record, which masterly mirrors different music styles. Outcome is a rather unique combination, and it is hard to find any comparison, the nearest ones I can think of are DJ Shadow and Prefuse 73.

Coldcut - Aid Dealer

2 b continued...

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