Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Yin and yang synergy: Actress and Lone at Corsica Studios

First published in The Wire

Actress + Lone
Corsica Studios, London
2 February 2013

Celebrating the fourth birthday of London club night Them in the grubby cavities of Corsica Studios, this is an incongruous double bill on the face of it.

Last spring saw the release of two career defining albums by Darren Cunningham and Matt Cutler, aka Actress and Lone. On RIP Cunningham implemented austerity measures on his palette of stuttering techno and grimy synths to carve out a monochrome meditation inspired by Paradise Lost and the quasi-philosophy of “the music of the spheres” – serious stuff, in other words. Galaxy Garden, in contrast, transcended the Brainfeeder-indebted phunkiness of Cutler's earlier records (including Ecstasy & Friends, released on Cunningham's Werkdiscs label) in a riot of high-velocity euphoria that riffed on the melodic energy of '90s rave.

Playing first, Cutler brings the room to a peak-hour frenzy with a live set built largely from his two releases on the revived R&S Records – the latest album and the playful, uptempo Echolocations EP. Twisting acid squelch and metallic gamelan chimes are stacked atop hollow percussion and blissed out Balearic sighs, building a vision of earthly paradise that harks back to the techno-utopian fantasies of the Castlemorton era. Even the names of his tracks – 'Spirals'; 'Crystal Caverns 1991'; 'Earth's Lungs' – come from a halycon era, and this retro-futurist assemblage aligns Cutler with the digital maximalism of fellow Brit producers Rustie and Hudson Mohawke, whose colossal 'Cbat' he slips in mid-set.

"Vandross, Prince: they're saints to us." Inc. talk No World and stripping the blackness out of R&B

First published by Fact

Nearly two decades of musical training provided Californian duo inc. with a priceless sense of timing.

Armed with matching boyish visages and an acutely of-the-moment take on soft and soulful R&B, brothers Andrew and Daniel Aged found themselves on the sharp end of a trend with the release of their debut album, no world, on 4AD last month. 

But look past their well-timed entry into the divisive-but-blossoming genre of alt-R&B and you’ll find a pair of musicians who’ve been diligently putting in the hours since childhood, joining backing bands for enormo-stars like Pharrell, Elton John and Parliament and touring with personal heroes like Raphael Saadiq, all while barely out of their teens.

When they each tired of being “the only little white kid in the band”, the Ageds reconvened to form Teen Inc. (they soon dropped the inaccurate prefix), taking what they’d learned from the big boys to turn out the 3 EP in 2011, their own paean to funkified R&B and hyper-glossy New Jack Swing.

Nearly two years later, the sound of inc. has matured dramatically. Melancholic yet warm, no world draws on the gloopiest of late night radio slow jams and the glistening post-coital heat of neo-soul (D’Angelo and Maxwell are both revered as demigods by the brothers), while the occasional flutter of double-time trap drums hints at a maelstrom of heartache lurking beneath Andrew’s buttery-smooth voice.

The result is an almost archetypal expression of – yes – alt-R&B, the genre the internet hates to love. But where their peers like How To Dress Well and The Weeknd use vocal gymnastics to lay their hearts bare, inc. keep their cards close to their chest, burying vocals deep in the mix and forging a sound that complements their label’s legacy of misty-eyed dreampop.

The Aged brothers spoke to FACT about feeling like Jimi Hendrix, worshipping Saint Luther Vandross and stripping the blackness out of R&B – read the full interview on Fact.

Monday, 14 January 2013

A$AP Rocky – 'Long.Live.A$AP'

A$AP Rocky
Polo Grounds Music/RCA Records

As if being named after '80s hip hop’s most influential rapper wasn’t enough pressure on Rakim Mayers’ young shoulders, the delays that clogged the release of this big label debut mean Harlem’s own pretty motherfucker has a lot to live up to. By and large, it doesn’t fully deliver on the promise of A$AP Mob’s stoned’n’swagged 2011 mixtape ‘Live.Love.A$AP’, but Rocky’s decision to cleave himself from the likes of the terminally moronic A$AP Ant has proved a wise move.

Three outrageously bad tracks soil the mid-section of the album: the dopey ‘Fashion Killa’, the Skrillex-produced ‘Wild For The Night’ (in fairness, no more gruesome than you’d expect) and then the utterly risible ‘Fuckin’ Problems’, in which Kendrick Lamar, Drake and the ubiquitous 2 Chainz provide a modish chorus line as Rocky undoes all his good work as hip hop’s self-styled anti-homophobia ambassador with the unforgivable line, “Turn a dyke bitch out, have her fucking boys.”

But there are stunners too: the Clams Casino-produced ‘LVL’ and ‘Hell’, the bumping ‘1 Train’, featuring stonking verses from underground heroes Action Bronson, Yelawolf and Joey Bada$$, and a later quintet of gloomy and dissonant tracks like the sumptuous, Wu Tang-alike ‘Suddenly’.

He’s diluted his artistic credentials to gain broader appeal, but Rocky’s preternaturally charismatic and agile flow makes this patchy album something far more compelling.

Needing some Timeaway: an interview with Darkstar

First published in Loud And Quiet

In October 2010, Darkstar emerged from the then blooming scene we used to call post-dubstep with an album of ice cold urban romance, a quintessential night bus record with a surprisingly potent seam of '80s electronic pop running through its 10 tales of mechanical heartbreak. Half Human League, half machine, North was a milestone for the entire scene, proving to be the high waterwark of a moment that has since then splintered and lost cohesion, with artists like Mount Kimbie and James Blake moving further away from their dubstep origins with each release.

Darkstar, who formed in London but are originally from Wakefield, Leeds and Cheshire, spent over a year working on the follow-up to North. It wasn't an easy journey. Itching to get away from the grind of the capital, they sequestered themselves in a country house in Yorkshire's Colne Valley – to give you an idea of the rural surroundings, it's the next valley over from where Last of the Summer Wine is filmed – and diligently worked on the new songs, until a painful twist of fate forced a dramatic rethink.

It started as a writing trip, says James Young, the man who formed Darkstar along with fellow producer Aiden Whalley, before the addition of James Buttery on vocals.

“We just got a house in the country,” he says. “It's really weird up there though. Because you've got a lot of space and time on your hands you do lose focus. It's very difficult to maintain normality.”

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

My album of the year is Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland's 'Black Is Beautiful'

And I wrote about it for Dummy at the beginning of December as they counted down their top 10 albums of the year.

“Is it any good?” a friend asked, after I’d declared Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s Black Is Beautiful my album of 2012.

What a question. Surely it’s the motivation for these annual countdowns, as we collectively ask: is it any good? Can you quantify its goodness relative to the rest of the year’s musical product? Is it an album you can’t stop playing? Was it the soundtrack to your summer?

“It’s…” I struggled for the word. “It’s not good, exactly. I mean, I don’t really want to listen to it that often.” A sceptical face looks back at me. Try again. “It’s just… it, isn’t it? It’s not just the album of 2012 – it is 2012.”

When I first heard Hype Williams (the duo’s previous and apparently interchangeable name) near the end of 2010, something about their woozy conveyor belt of crusty-edged samples, squeezed, stretched loops and cassette-like fidelity transported me back to being a car-sick child, listening to my dad’s worn-out tapes on the way to the airport at dawn.

Tracks like 'Blue Dream' and 'The Throning' triggered a queasiness that I’ve never quite shaken off – all that lethargic, narcotic, pitch-shifting infinite loopiness burrowed into my brain and made me listen over and over, unsure of whether I actually liked what I was hearing, but convinced it was worth enduring.

Continue reading...

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Carter Tutti Void interview: "We did two run-throughs and said, right – let's take it to the Roundhouse"

First published in Loud And Quiet

For a simple rock and roll gig to attain legendary status, it must induce an element of fiction in its retelling. The people must whisper and proclaim and brag about it as though it wasn't quite real; a strange blip on the space-time continuum that allowed a thousand fans to squeeze into a room made for a hundred. Legends, by definition, tend to skirt the supernatural.

They also, by definition, belong to a previous era. The Sex Pistols at Manchester's Free Trade Hall, Public Enemy at Hammersmith Odeon, Throbbing Gristle's Prostitution Show at the ICA – take the venue's capacity and double it, and that's the number of fans who'll tell you, “I was there.” But the show that sowed the seed for this interview? Well, that was no simple rock and roll gig – and these are no ordinary legends.

And talking of Throbbing Gristle, those perverse pioneers of avant-garde noise and the shape-shifting genre we still call 'industrial', it's one half of that now defunct operation who sit before me today, forming two-thirds of a pan-generational supergroup which, following their single one hour show in May 2011, is also effectively defunct.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

PUMMELLED IN THE FACE: Naomi Punk crawl out of US rock's dirty underbelly

First published in Loud And Quiet

Naomi Punk
The Feeling
Captured Tracks

There is a great and mighty school of American music that posits that the best way to communicate your latest gosh darn fine pop song to your listeners is to PUMMEL THEM IN THE FACE with it over and over, taking up rust-ridden serrated guitars and crash cymbals to slice straight through their brains leaving nothing but mutilated chunks of cortex and gristle pulsating out of time on the kerb.

Well, the fine debut by Naomi Punk (who naturally hail from Olympia, Washington, spiritual home of riot grrrl and grunge) emerges from this very school, combining grubby lo-fi melodies with introspective slowcore darkness to excellent effect, even touching on that great unspoken canon of American rock genius stretching from Mars to Butthole Surfers to Royal Trux. Released on Couple Skate Records in the U.S. this spring, The Feeling well deserves its repress and international release.

A heart still beating: Ex-Throbbing Gristle members rework Nico's Desertshore

First published in Loud And Quiet

Chris Carter, Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson and Cosey Fanni Tutti (X-TG)
Desertshore/The Final Report
Industrial Records Ltd

At the time of Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson's unexpected death in 2010, the former Throbbing Gristle member had been arranging this reworking of Nico's Desertshore, a record so profoundly desolate it's impossible to believe it arrived in the same year as The Partridge Family.

Determined to complete the album in tribute to their departed bandmate, TG's Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti called in Marc Almond, Blixa Bargeld, Antony Hegarty, ex-porn star Sasha Grey and filmmaker Gaspar Noé to contribute voices in three languages to their own abrasive, mesmerising interpretations of Nico's monochrome classic, proudly showcasing both her lyrical gift and their own tact in handling the source material.

Then comes another eulogy, this time from the remaining TG members to their missing friend, constructed from their final sessions together. As if afraid of trivialising the preceding 50 minutes by lightening the tone, The Final Report is a Hadean landscape of lava and molten metal, obstinate and uncompromising, grainy and dark – with a still-beating heart.

A new French wave: Melody's Echo Chamber

First published in Loud And Quiet

Melody's Echo Chamber
Melody's Echo Chamber
Weird World
Out 5th November

As a classically trained multi-instrumentalist and singer from Paris, it's no huge surprise to hear shades of Stereolab's Lætitia Sadier all over Melody Prochet's accomplished debut record of delicate psychedelia, intricate melodies and all manner of fuzzy and frazzled twists and turns. Opening track and recent single 'I Follow You' sets the tone for an album of clever pop that never sounds like it's trying to be clever – close attention has been paid to knitting textures and tones together so you barely hear the joins, as softly distorted low-end sounds melt into buzzing guitars, twinkly synth echoes and Prochet's own husky and inviting voice.

Bringing in Tame Impala's Kevin Parker as producer was a wise move, adding some well-placed dirt and grime and plenty of chunky bass and beats to Melody's feminine sweetness. 'Mount Hopeless' introduces scuffed up breakbeat drums under a gorgeous duet of voices and winding guitar, while 'Crystallized' is a breezy motorik groove that owes a heavy debt to Broadcast, a band Prochet must be familiar with. 'Some Time Alone, Alone' has another sneakily addictive melody buried under wall of sound drums and twangy guitar, but its gentle strangeness prevents it from sounding like sickly retromania. An accomplished debut and a deeply satisfying listen, if collages of bleached out hypno-melodicism are your jam.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

An uneasy pact: Radiohead host an evening at the O2 Arena

First published in Loud And Quiet

O2 Arena
9th October 2012

One miserable day in the late 1990s, five successful young men called Radiohead decided to get off the bus, in a manner of speaking. From now on, they said, this stadium-filling rock band wouldn't be playing stadiums. They wouldn't be playing rock, either. So they binned their guitars, sent drummer Phil Selway on an extended tea break and totally recalibrated their musical compass.

It was a savvy and well-timed move; even if that drastic severance with guitar-based anthemic angst rock had produced nothing but the opening track to Kid A, it would've been a major success. The stadiums and guitars crept back in slowly, but their point was made.