Two recent electronic albums adopt differing attitudes to the past. One is met with a touch of indifference; the other, a mixture of adulation and castigation. Continue reading Colour: the sixth sense
It’s bottomless, the end of the world. You’re falling, you’re being swallowed up, you’re disintegrating, the universe expands, everything recedes to a singularity. That’s certainly the vision of Lars von Trier in Melancholia, and of Yannis Philippakis in “Moon”.
That’s not what James Blake‘s “Retrograde” is about—though the music video stylishly depicts an asteroid devastating a creepy country house—but that’s certainly what the song sounds like. Those keening, careening synths in the chorus, grating against each other like enraged celestial bodies. The forlorn piano-work, filtered through a decaying, ruined air. And the bass, monotonic, rumbling and tumbling around the lowest end of the audible spectrum when it occasionally chooses to intrude upon the song.
“Ignore everybody else—we’re alone now,” Blake urges his lover, but he’s chased by his own ghostly echo. Then, in the chorus, he has a revelation: “Suddenly I’m hit / Is this darkness or the dawn?” But all around him everything is exploding; the musical fireworks speak of an inner turmoil.
On Blake’s debut LP, there were undoubted weak spots, principally when he settled back on his piano stool, diverted his voice away from the laptop, and came off sounding too meek, too plaintive. “Retrograde” promises a lot: the piano’s there, but it’s smouldering; the vocals are unmeddled-with, but imbued with a lustful sleaze. The song hangs on a wordless, soulful vocal hook, which spirals into an effortless grace, but “Retrograde” won’t settle for mere prettiness and artifice. It’s uncomfortable in its own skin, threatening to run away but never actually doing so—like the title of the album it comes from, it’s overgrown. But distinctly not overwrought.
Regular readers will know how much I admire the music of Spoon. Any year without new music from Britt Daniel’s outfit is a marginally less enjoyable one; this one, I hope less so, thanks to his side-project with Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade, which is known as Divine Fits. They release an album, A Thing Called Divine Fits, at the end of August, and you can try a track out for size (geddit?) above. “Would That Not Be Nice” nods lovingly at the vocal manipulations of Transference, and the stripped-down garage rock guitars of Kill The Moonlight. There’s also a healthy shot of the Costello-does-soul vibe from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, via the long-limbed bassline. But you shouldn’t think of it as a career-spanning Spoon redux, compressed into four minutes. Continue reading How does it fit?
I thought One Life Stand would surely stand the test of time as the acme of Hot Chip‘s love affair with love. Just look at that title! With its lush, soulful electro-pop about monogamy and brotherhood, it seemed to set a benchmark that I didn’t think the band would try and beat. And yet. Continue reading Hot Chip — In Our Heads
Apparently Matthew Dear’s forthcoming album, Beams, is a brighter affair than its predecessor, the relentlessly sleazy Black City. So far we’ve heard “Headcage“, which confirms this notion, and the opener “Her Fantasy”, which gives the lie to it. The B-side to the latter is “Crimewaves” (see above), and it sees Dear nail the bipolar aesthetic firmly on the head.
The bouncy, nervous white-boy funk recalls Talking Heads at their most affected, while the vocals are multi-tracked and troubled. The way those stabs of simulated brass pierce through the orgiastic wash of background cooing makes the funhouse lead vocal that bit more warped. It’s as if the funfair ride has spiralled out of control, taking its crazed passenger on the trip of nightmares.
Near the end, there’s also a masterful about-turn which references, I’m sure, “Little People (Black City)”. What’s even more gauche is the way it gets to it: a messy soup of digital gloop, which slowly resolves into a stacked choral sucker-punch.
I said it on Twitter but I’ll say it again: Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Remember“, taken from last year’s Replica album, reminds me of an untethered and even-more-beatless take on Animal Collective’s “#1”. No bad thing: both tracks share hazy, lazy and gorgeous chord sequences and befuddled sonics. In the case of the AC track, the cyclical synthesizer-work spirals inexorably heavenwards; on “Remember”, its place is taken by massed choral chanting, like a demonic version of 10CC’s “I’m Not In Love”.
The first song to be previewed from Hot Chip’s forthcoming album In Our Heads was a whistle-stop (quasi-pun, I’m afraid) tour around the world in seven minutes. The first single, “Night And Day“, is not. Instead, it’s a slice of bouncy disco that wouldn’t look out of place amongst Joe Goddard’s record collection. There’s an elastic bassline, a helium-voiced chorus that recalls the Bee Gees (or, if you’re a little young, Scissor Sisters). Neat production tricks abound, from the odd squelch in between phrases, to the knowingly shadowy vocal fills at the end of the verses.
It’s less of an instant earworm than previous Hot Chip lead singles (“Ready For The Floor” and “Made In The Dark”), but I fear it’s going to work its way into my brain before long—even if it’s just the deadpan bridge with its black-humour couplets telling us to “Quit your jibber jabber”.
Back when I was at school, the guy alphabetically proximate to me in class was into a lot of teenage emo and pop-punk. Think Fall Out Boy, Green Day, I don’t even want to remember the names of the others—he’s already going to hate me for saying this. Anyway, he went to university, switched things round a bit, and now puts the name of MiniCritch (named in honour of our old Latin teacher) to his music, which veers between caustic house and the glitchy brand of reggaeton known as ‘Moombahton’. You should definitely check his stuff out.
His latest track is “Doctor Black” (see above), which rides along a seriously fat ground bass line and has frenetic lead synths that syncopate with the four-to-the-floor beat. There are also some comedy cut-up vocal samples, which give the whole thing, like the rest of MiniCritch’s stuff, an endearingly DIY feel. Near the end, a highly-resonant line kicks in an octave up, before the track cuts out like a dying robot.
Be sure to watch out for his next move: he drops new tracks and remixes whenever he’s busy being pedagogical.
The more time I spend with M83’s recent double-album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, the more I understand its place in the history of progressive music. By eschewing the shoegaze structures that characterised their breakthrough album, Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, the band has managed to weld together the perfect kind of lengthy, wandering album. There were hints of the pop ethic on their previous full-length, Saturdays = Youth, but this time round the choruses are bigger, the vocals clearer, and the studious techno marathons reduced to interstitial passages.
If you’re looking for the album’s clear antecedent, it’s got to be Pink Floyd’s The Wall, released in 1979, which was a sprawling opus of tangled emotions and paranoia, but also, crucially, had a fair few easily-strummable hits that were then dressed up in ceremonially progressive garb. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is an awful lot more triumphant than The Wall, and it’s not convoluted by even the sketchiest of narrative conceits. All the same, the parallels are plain to see. Continue reading M83 and his Wall of sound
The big news first: there’s a new Hot Chip album coming in June, and you can’t even believe how excited I am about that. In Your Heads drops in via Domino Records, and it’s going to have a hard job matching, let alone topping, the brilliance of One Life Stand. I praised that album’s lush pop sensibility, and the way it introduced old-fashioned romance to high-tech electro.
Hot Chip have matured into a bit of a national treasure: they write solid songs that are impeccably produced, and then tour them to within an inch of their lives, reinventing the arrangements every night. I think In Your Heads is going to be Mk. II of the Hot Chip lover’s Hot Chip album.
The band’s sudden burst of productivity has not been limited to the core unit, however. There have been spin-off acts aplenty, the most publicised of which is The 2 Bears (Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard and his mate Raf Rundell, dressed up in comedy furry bear outfits, making big-tent dance music). Now there is also New Build, which features Al Doyle (vest-wearing, bespectacled, also moonlighted in LCD Soundsystem) and Felix Martin (messes around with drum machines and synths at the back of the stage). They used to be called Lanark; they’ve spent five years making the album that will be called Yesterday Was Lived & Lost.
Judging by songs like “Mercy” (see above) and “Finding Reasons“, New Build manage to be both icier and more tropical than Hot Chip. The synth pads have a crystallised sheen that screams 1980s art gallery opening, and the pair’s vocals are detached and aloof; on the other hand, loose-limbed percussion runs amok, and Doyle’s scratchy electric guitar jumps up throughout. It all sounds rather promising—like the love-child of Tom Tom Club and Yazoo.
Hot Chip’s In Your Heads is released on 11th June, on Domino Records. New Build’s Yesterday Was Lived & Lost is released on 5th March, on Lanark.