For the second of the double-bill today, back to the normal programming with the best tracks of the past month.
2016 in Review:
254: Tracks (Mar)
251: Tracks (Feb)
248: Tracks (Jan)
Things have slowed down a bit, it seems, so I’m back to the usual ten tracks this month rather than the twenty of the last few. Even so, a few late arrivals meant that I’m already starting to consider next month and what will feature then…
Track of the Month
Carry A Knife To A Gunfight
Jason Novak (Acumen Nation, Acucrack, Cocksure) teams up with Sean Payne (Cyanotic) for a new project that seems to pick up where both artists have so far left off. Heavy bass and drums – and a pitch-dark, oppressive atmosphere – prevail throughout an impressive album, where textures appear more important that breakout songs, and it results in a cohesive, brilliant listen from start to finish. One of my favourite tracks so far is this one, where the tempo is brought down a touch and Novak’s vocals come to the fore, before being pulled back under by the onslaught of bass once more.
High Rise was an impressive film – Ben Wheatley nailing the Ballardian atmosphere perfectly – but it was crowned by this absolutely extraordinary cover. Apparently it will not be officially released other than as part of the film, and it was notable how fast it disappeared again when someone did put it online last week (the DMCA takedown notices suggest that the band are adamant it will not see a release other than in the film – Update: It was finally released on YouTube in mid-June). The genius of the cover here, of course, is to make explicit the dread and terror at the heart of one of ABBA’s best-known pop songs. Dread and terror – particularly of the unknown future at the end of a relationship – were of course part of the brilliance of ABBA’s output, but ABBA cloaked these feelings in soaring pop hooks. Portishead strip all this away and make it sound like a soundtrack to the end of civilization, and it is phenomenal.
Strange Little Birds
One of the benefits of bands revisiting older material in one way or another (as Garbage did last year with the re-issue of their debut, and live shows along with it), is that bands can rediscover what created the magic in the first place, and this song appears to suggest that exactly that has happened here. This very much returns to the production style of that first album, with a whole lot going on without ever getting buried in the mix, and Shirley Manson’s vocals going back to that period too. It also has an almighty, radio-friendly hook, as well, and a screamingly heavy breakdown that fits in well. Time has rather moved on – and the way music is consumed has changed rather a lot too – for another big success like the first album, perhaps, but the dedicated fan base that Garbage still have I’m sure will lap this up.
There have been a couple of releases since their resurrection in recent years, but this new EP seems to signal an increase in activity – particularly with their first US tour since the early 90s announced recently (finishing up with a headline slot at Cold Waves V in late September). The lead track from the EP is impressive, too, a stark whirlpool of synths and occasional beats, with Adi Newton’s trademark growled vocals making an appearance for a few lines. The Hacker this is not, but Clock DVA have long since moved beyond being concerned about mainstream appeal.
I’ve called them the “Queens of Synthpop” before, and their latest single (from forthcoming album Ath.Lon just reinforces the point. Featherlight synths, breathy vocals and sweet harmonies for the subtle chorus, this is the kind of song that could only be released in the spring, when the long sunny days of the summer are just around the corner, and there is a growing positivity of what’s to come.
Feeling My Heart Run Slow
Thirteen years on from the demise of his old band, Paul Draper’s first solo release is nearly here, and it is perhaps no surprise that there is at least an element of Mansun in it. Part of that might be down to his distinctive vocal style and range, I guess, but this also has a more electronic edge (another friend suggested it was ‘Mansun meets Numan’) and a killer of a chorus. Great to have new material from Draper again after so long, and it’ll be intriguing to see where else he goes with his solo work.
Asphalt for Eden
One of the most forward-looking, interesting hip-hop acts returned with live shows last year, and now their first new album in some years. MC Dälek picks up the thread from where he left off, really – socially aware raps are backed by hip-hop beats that work with electronics from just about any other genre you can think of, but thematically it is an aura of darkness and a grim inevitablility for the future – this song has the hook “fuck around and watch the whole world crumble”. In other words, we’re still sleepwalking towards catastrophe, and while we might be aware of it, we’re powerless to do anything about it as individuals while those in power do little. Not an album to put on if you’re feeling down, then, but this is essential, brilliant hip-hop.
Paper Mask EP
Not an industrial act that have been particularly prolific for one reason or another, it is still welcome to see Panic Lift back with new material. Falling into the melodic, synthpop/industrial fold, I guess, they have long had a good knack with a tune and chorus, and this does both well while also actually ensuring that this doesn’t sound like every single other band playing in the same scene (as a few others have been guilty of in the past). In other words, despite using the same building blocks as others, Panic Lift prove here that it is more than possible to do your own thing.
This Is The Age of the Naked Emperors
Take The Slow Train
Philip Jeays has ploughed his furrow for many years now, with no need to change his style to keep up with the times. His Brel-esque songs have a deep historical resonance, and he has long had a determination to comment on deeper issues than many singers do, covering war, love, high art, schooling, royalty and much, much more. Which brings me to this song. A solo version of this appeared on The Bunjies Test a couple of years ago, but this is a full band version – a viciously funny take on the dumbing down of popular culture, through the eyes of a ten-year old, who sees through the bullshit and calls it out as it is.
This London duo return after their intriguing debut a few years back, which was about as stark as electronic music can get. Similar, cavernous spaces are allowed again here – amid deep, deep bass rumbles and subtle percussive rhythms, though, there are delicate guitar picks and distorted power chords that cut like foxes howling in the night. This is dark, unsettling music for similarly unsettling times.
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