Best of 2018 (50-41)
Ross From Friends
Ross From Friends follows on from first-rate 12"s for Magic Wire, Breaker Breaker and various guest appearances within the Lobster Theremin family of labels, with his much-hyped debut album Family Portrait, released via Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder imprint.
Currently riding atop the crest of house and techno producers looking towards 90's sitcoms for alias influence, Ross From Friends' debut album not only marks him out as the go-to selector in this scene but also acts as a statement of how far he has come since those first instant sell-out 12"s. Family Portrait is a very personal showcase of an artist who is producing some very serious top-shelf quality house, techno and hip-hop influenced electronic music.
Family Portrait "draws on the influence of his parents—whose relationship developed during a 1990 bus trip across Europe, throwing parties with a soundsystem his father built" so from the word go, it's pretty clear that Ross From Friends is well schooled in the art of sculpting tracks that go in proper when spun through a well-sized rig. Said to be the culmination of two years of intense studio time, Ross From Friends reportedly worked 20 hour days during the creation of the album, often spending months perfecting just one aspect of a track. This commitment to the cause shines through on the album's strongest moments, we are talking 'Parallel Sequence' which deploys some undercover breakbeats that threaten at any second to break through the track's foggy mirage of deep house pads, while 'The Knife' locks in some soulful vocal licks over a sparse drum beat, sort of reimagining skeletal grime minimalism with soul selections making up the middle. For our money it’s 'Thank God I'm A Lizard' and 'Wear Me Down' which go a long way to showing why so many choose to follow Ross From Friends wherever takes us.
Landing with the Brainfeeder don's stamp of approval, there are many parallels between the musical output of Ross From Friends and Flying Lotus. Where FlyLo draws out a very special night-vision mode of dusky L.A. hip-hop, envisioning wide open landscapes littered with the influence of soul, RNB and a full marks knowledge of classic up to present day hip-hop, Ross From Friends music has that same warm, heavily saturated sonic feel, yet the location is transported to his native South London and the influence of the city's house, broken beat, and techno taking centre stage. This and so much more make Family Portrait both the perfect soundtrack to long train rides through the city and the key head-turning moments in your favourite DJ's next set.
Twisted Crystal sees Guerilla Toss return to DFA with a fresh batch of pieces for their art-rock puzzle. This latest instalment in the NYC new wave group’s discography perfectly lodges itself in between the stay up forever post-punk styles of The Slits, Talking Heads and ESG, yet is cooked with the sort of ingredients that will please the taste-buds of anyone biting into the Glaswegian no wave and electro/techno contingent of Optimo, Sparky, Happy Meals and Golden Teacher…
From the word go, Twisted Crystal goes in almost instantly with the angular yet irresistible catchy rhythms that if you let them, will properly charm you right up good and proper. While lead singer Kassie Carlson's sing-speak vocals recall the heights of Laurie Anderson, Grace Jones, and Lizzy Mercier Descloux, on Twisted Crystal's nine avenues her delivery truly peaks with an addictive concoction that ensures her vocal personality is recognised from the word go.
Those familiar with the project will no doubt be aware of the group’s now trademark trusted Sequential Circuits Six Track Synthesizer and Clavia Drum Machine, these ever-present tools of the trade have seen the group fire through past gems for Digitalis, NNA Tapes and team up with Jays Glass Dubs for the recent excavations on DFA x Bokeh Versions. Yet here they are refined, moulded and polished across nine freshly sharpened electro-bangers by drummer/producer Peter Negroponte, whose passion for perfection and creation goes far beyond an all-consuming Tetris effect. At times, Guerilla Toss will let you loose in their neon maze of alternately pulsing time signatures, but by the time each track clicks to a close, all the roads bounce, meet, melt or snap back together into the one solid meditative groove. Twisted Crystal is an album that owes as much musically to Neu! and Cluster as it does to the slinky rhythms of liquid drum & bass and the early year 2000 onwards legendary legacy of its home imprint DFA.
If you let yourself enter into the sparkling Twisted Crystal world of Guerilla Toss they will be sure to ignite a swirling pop sound inside your head which like groups ever evolving electro punk-funk sound will evolve on and on and on.
The Sky Looks Different Here
No review yet
Lump was born of good timing and predestined compatibility. It began when Mike Lindsay – a prolific, Mercury prize-winning producer – was introduced to Grammy-nominated, Brit award-winning singer-songwriter Laura Marling after her show supporting Neil Young in London.
Lump is a heady blend of wonked-out guitars, Moog synths and pattering drums, set against droning, coiling clouds of flutes and voices. The lyrics are inspired by early-20th-century Surrealism and the absurdist poetry of Edward Lear and Ivor Cutler - a bizarre but compelling narrative about the commodification of curated public personas, the mundane absurdity of individualism, and the lengths we go to escape our own meaninglessness.
The composers are keen to stress that LUMP is a creation that passed through them, and they look upon it parentally. It is their understanding that, now it has come into being, LUMP is the artist, and it will continue to create itself from here on. Lindsay and Marling will assist it as necessary.
Ways Of Seeing
The Advisory Circle
Following on from last years' 'Autres Directions' under his own name, and a collaboration with Jim Jupp of Belbury Poly with the celeb matchup of the year in 'The Belbury Circle', Jon Brooks has returned to his Advisory Circle moniker for 'Ways Of Seeing'.
After a brief introduction (like we wouldn't know exactly who were listening to within ten seconds of kick-off), we get slowly arpeggiated saw waves and delayed blipping sinewaves dreamily meandering over the insistent percussive backdrop. Massive snare drums and swelling FM sweeps bulk out the forward-moving Italo throb.
'The April Interval' and it's later counterpart, the stunning 'Skyways' are beautifully redolent of the 80's library music Brooks (and the rest of us) clearly have a soft-spot for, they are stunning, saturated, key led melodic journeys, brimming with spine-tingling whimsy, perfectly measured production and that impeccable ear for progressions we've come to expect.
'Flight Capture' is possibly the greatest example of synth-led melody and textural intensity i've heard for a long time, combining the glimmering arpeggiated FM stabs and woozy bass throbs perfectly before slowly building into a shimmering Balearic tine-heavy refrain.
We get spoken-word musings in 'A Mechanical Eye', (though I have less in common with this man than the monologist from the last album, he also being a solid tea enthusiast), before the kosmische shifting arps and swirling pads of 'Airborne Seeds'.
A mindblowing tour-de-force once again from The Advisory Circle, and one that will be on my record player for some time to come. Stunningly immersive, beautifully produced and stunningly packaged. Album of the year material, for sure.
No review yet...
Both Directions At Once
June 8, 2018 (New York, NY) – On March 6, 1963, John Coltrane and his Classic Quartet— McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones –recorded an entire studio album at the legendary Van Gelder Studios. This music, which features unheard originals, is now finally released 55 years later. This is, in short, the holy grail of jazz.
The first week of March in 1963 was busy for John Coltrane. He was in the midst of a two-week run at Birdland and was gearing up to record the famed John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman album, which he did on March 7. But there was a session the day before that was the stuff of legend, until now.
On Wednesday, March 6, Coltrane and the quartet went to Van Gelder Studios in Englewood, NJ and cut a complete album’s worth of material, including several original compositions that were never recorded elsewhere. They spent the day committing these to tape, taking time with some, rehearsing them two, three times, playing them in different ways and in different configurations.
At the end of the day, Coltrane left Van Gelder Studios with a reference tape and brought it to the home in Queens that he shared with his wife, Naima. These tapes remained untouched for the next 54 years until Impulse! approached the family about finally releasing this lost album. Though the master tape was never found—Rudy Van Gelder wasn’t one for clutter—the reference tape was discovered to be in excellent condition.
As the legendary saxophonist Sonny Rollins so rightly put it, “This is like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid.” The musical implications of this album, the original compositions, the arrangements, the band, the year it was recorded, all amount to a rediscovery and re-contextualization of one of the most important musicians of our time.
Danny Bennett, President and CEO of the Verve Label Group and home of Impulse! records, says, “Jazz is more relevant today than ever. It’s becoming the alternative music of the 21st century, and no one embodies the boundary-breaking essence of jazz more than John Coltrane. He was a visionary who changed the course of music, and this lost album is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery. It gives us insight into his creative process and connects us to his artistry. This album is a cultural moment and coincides perfectly with our relaunch of the iconic Impulse! label.”
On this album, there are two completely unknown and never-before-heard originals. “Untitled Original 11383” and “Untitled Original 11386,” both played on soprano sax. “11383” features an arco bass solo by Jimmy Garrison, a relative rarity, and “11386” marks a significant structural change for the quartet, in that they keep returning to the theme between solos, not typical in the quartet’s repertoire.
In addition to the two unheard originals, “One Up, One Down” – released previously only on a bootleg recording from Birdland – is heard here as a studio recording for the first and only time. It contains a fascinating exchange between Elvin Jones and Coltrane.
“Impressions”, one of Coltrane’s most famous and oft-recorded compositions, is played here in a piano-less trio. In fact, McCoy Tyner lays out a number of times during this recording session. It’s one of the more interesting aspects of this session and reflects the harmonic possibilities that Coltrane was known to be discussing regularly with Ornette Coleman around this time.
This studio session also yielded Coltrane’s first recording of “Nature Boy,” which he would record again in 1965, and the two versions differ greatly. The one we know is exploratory, meandering. This version is tight, solo-less and clocking in at just over three minutes. The other non-original composition on the album is “Vilia,” from Franz Lehár’s operetta “The Merry Widow”. The soprano version on the Deluxe Edition is the only track from this session to have been previously released.
This incredible, once-in-a-lifetime discovery reveals a number of creative balances at work, like developing original melodies while rethinking familiar standards. Like trying out some tunes first on tenor saxophone, then on soprano. Using older techniques like the arpeggio runs of his “sheets of sound” while experimenting with false fingerings and other newer sounds. This session was pivotal, though to call it such overlooks the fact Coltrane was ever on pivot, always pushing the pedal down while still calling on older, tested ideas and devices.
Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album is a major addition to the Coltrane catalogue and the most important jazz discovery in recent memory.
The Brazilian innovator Gui Boratto returns with Pentagram, his sixth studio album in eleven years. Like his previous LPs, Pentagram will be distributed by the Cologne based record label Kompakt. Stunningly produced, every track on Pentagram achieves, with an almost surgical precision, the catchy dance floor hooks which Boratto’s name is now internationally synonymous with. Constructed using a doppelganger metaphor, the shift between the euphoric, trance outfit ‘Forgotten’ and the electro-rock inspired ‘Forgive Me’ occurs in the middle of the album and forms a satisfying microclimate of what Pentagram is capable of. Guaranteed to get you dancing, Pentagram is a continuation of the Boratto sound that audiences know and love, reinforced by small details such as Luciana Villanova’s vocals returning on ‘Overload’.
Cult Italian combo Calibro 35 celebrate ten years of bumping jazz grooves and mellow moochers with their 6th studio album "Decade". Their first album recorded with an enlarged orchestral-inspired line-up that features horns, strings and percussions. Mixed and recorded by Calibro's usual suspect and Grammy Award winner Tommaso Colliva, on the album all the influences collected by the band during their last ten years' journey like music, collaborations, movies, gigs, books find their space. "DECADE" is Calibro 35's "time capsule" and is as rare and complex as a timeless work.
Musically Calibro 35's inner influences like Ennio Morricone, listen for instance to the epic journey of the album's end credits "Travelers", Luis Bacalov and David Axelrod are still there but are now mixed with elements from afrobeat or cosmic jazz. "Psycheground" sounds like Tony Allen involved in writing a score for a vintage Hollywood production while Sun Ra lurks on "Modo". Everything is mixed up with new influences from modern musical languages. References to Jaga Jazzist, Budos Band or Alternative Jazz and Alternative Hip Hop new acts such as Makaya McCraven, Yussef Kamaal, Oddisee can all be found on the album. In tracks such as "Modulor "you realize that Decade is certainly not a point of arrival and expresses the ambition of the band to look further and evolve. All classic Calibro's vintage instruments such as clavinet, eco, analog synths, fuzz guitars are now supported by new ones such as Dan Bau, Balafon and Waterphone ("Polymeri") in the band's new wall of sound. Thanks to the enlarged line-up and the orchestrated parts involved, which pushed the band to experiment new methods of composition, Calibro 35 on "Decade" sound strong, full and tight as never before.
Theme For A Dream
Natureboy Flako moves deeper into the realms of experimental electronic fusion with his startling new album 'Theme For A Dream', the long-awaited follow-up to our 2015 album of the year 'Natureboy'. For those quick off the mark, we have an exclusive 100 copy run pressed on translucent coloured vinyl...
Where his previous recordings lent toward the sort of polyphonic rhythmic possibilities on offer from the splintering post-dubstep beat scene, 'Theme For A Dream' finds Flako fully adopting the Natureboy persona that was at the heart of his debut album, for an eight-track record that blends zig-zag jazzy bangers, spectral after-hours smokey expressions and 8-bit electronics, all executed with a mind fully focused within the teachings of a soulful, funk and fusion sound that stands as his core influence.
Keeping the rack mounts in his Berlin studio fully occupied, the sonic wizardry on 'Theme For A Dream' was made with extensive use of old and new analogue equipment such as the Juno 106, Korg's MS-20, ARP Odyssey or Roland’s SH-2000 synthesisers, alongside recordings of vocals, guitars and other instruments. This serves to create a dynamic and eclectic sound spectrum, all unique to his musical handwriting.
Opener 'From the Shadows' switches lane between breakneck snares and some serious bass tones that sound like a high rolling hip-hop refix of Kamasi Washington. This is sharply followed by 'Stream of Being' where the beats melt away on to leave something that sounds like Susumu Yokota's Acid Mt. Fuji gone prog in a post-global warming world. 'Theme for a Dream' continues with the big band style bass drops but mixes in some sparkling arpeggios that lay the groundwork for the beautifully toned selection of 'Nebulous Garden' which carries the spirit of fusion and funk while crying out for some sort of soundtrack inclusion. This switching between the multi-layered beats and more lost in the groove passages continues throughout the record giving it a complex feel so that you never really know what Natureboy Flako is going to spin your way next.
“I don’t think technology necessarily means not being natural. Technology can be very much in balance with nature, since it is mostly just trying to imitate or trying to understand something from within nature.”