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Right From Real
Right From Real
Price: £10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Effervescent & Incandescent, 29 Sep 2014
This review is from: Right From Real (Audio CD)
This one really came out of nowhere and hit me hard. After hearing and enjoying the track 'Hologram' on Dummy mag, I stumbled upon the album stream on The Fader a few days ago and it blew my socks off. Arbutus Records seem to have found some great additions to their roster, as TOPS have also recently released a fine full length, but this album eclipses that and then some.

Firstly, this is simply vibrant synth pop. Mostly, quite ebullient and uplifting, twinkling arpeggios, rumbling piano chords and punctuating strings mix with Ainsworth's beautiful voice, to my mind reminiscent of Agnes Obel. Certain tracks become more ethereal and sweepingly cinematic in construction, whilst some are more rhythmic and forceful, but overall still clearly hook laden pop music. I'd like to compare her to Julia Holter but really this is far less abstruse and much more accessible in it's immediately engaging melodies, at times coming closer to an artist like Emika or The Knife, although the clearer comparison point is probably Bats for Lashes. However, all these comparisons are just tools of convenience for the potential listener, as the music is distinct enough as to never be imitative of any one of the host of female artists working in this sphere.

My only real gripe is that at just over half an hour in length, it only just feels long enough to be considered an LP rather than a long EP (personally I use 30 mins as the cut off point), and would have loved to have a couple more tracks, but I suppose 31 and a 1/2 minutes of top drawer cuts is better than 45 with some filler.

This has immediately become the best debut album I've heard this year, beating off close competition from Fatima al Qadiri and Leon Vynehall. (Technically Todd Terje's LP is up there as well but seeing as he's been releasing music for over a decade, it's so belated that if it was anything less than the brilliant effort it was, it would have been a huge disappointment.)

One More Step
One More Step
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars 'To all of you present and becoming fans', 24 Sep 2014
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This review is from: One More Step (Audio CD)
'Why should I take time to produce an album of such quality and with Henri-Pierre Noel as the central point.The reason is simple. This guy is internationally well known and his talents have all rights to be proclaimed all over the world. He is amongst the greatest composers and performers you could ever know.'

These are the words which begin Reveal Recordings' chief Peter Riden's liner notes for the original 1980 'One More Step'. Although he does dive into the realms of hyperbole when talking about H.P.N, it's fair to say, based on this album and previously reissued 1979 album 'Piano', that Noel had considerable talent and could have been internationally renowned. Even if at times this album can almost degenerate into the generic, Noel's skilful keyboard chops consistently elevate the music to higher levels.

Overall, the tracks on offer here can be divided into two categories; upbeat disco inflected jazz-funk filled with soul and sunshine, and downtempo bluesy tracks with lurching piano and lamenting organ that dissect the distance from his native Haiti and adopted Canada, landing somewhere in the Louisiana bayou. Both styles are enjoyable but I feel the latter compliments Noel's ornamental and lyrical piano playing, even though the former shows off some great syncopated boogie-woogie accompaniment and strong Latin grooves. Either way, it's all flawlessly arranged and performed.

So whilst there's nothing here that's going to immediately slap you in the face with it's brilliance or innovation, as a whole, it's consistently high quality funky jazz and well worth picking up if that's your cup of tea.

Pika Pika Fantajin
Pika Pika Fantajin
Price: £16.15

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 超可愛さを気に入らなくても, このアルバムはほとんど完璧なポップ・ミュージックだよ。, 21 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Pika Pika Fantajin (Audio CD)
After last year's excellent Nanda Collection, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu returns with another superb set of infectious pop songs.

Obviously when referring to Kyary's music most of the credit has to go to Yasutaka Nakata, who not only produces all of Kyary's musical output, but has been crafting top class electronic pop for well over a decade with Capsule and Perfume. I'm far from an expert on J-pop, in fact outside of YMO and that band's members respective solo projects, and with rare exceptions like Jet Set Radio's soundtrack, most of the Japanese music I listen to is nowhere near as unabashedly 'pop' as Kyary's music, however nearly everything I've heard from the Nakata stable has been really well produced (over compression and 'loudness war' mastering aside), masterfully arranged and most importantly catchy.

This album is not a huge departure from Nanda Collection's musical aesthetics but there are subtle differences I can detect. Firstly, on Nanda, there seemed be a a clear synthesis of the modern (synth timbres, production techniques, EDM/brostep influence etc) and the traditional (pentatonic melodies reminiscent of Japanese folk music, kazoo like synths implying hichiriki's etc), plus a real sense of childhood and innocence, which I felt was summoned up excellently by the use of struck idiophones like glockenspiels and music boxes, and the kind of propulsive, march-like rhythms on the songs, making for a kind of kawaii version of the Nutcracker. This as well as the ever present influence of video game soundtracks on most pop music of the last 20 years, specifically the nostalgia for 8- and 16-bit era tones.

On Pika Pika Fantajin, instead of the clear idiosyncrasy and cohesion of Nanda, instead the overall effect is of slightly greater variety and diversity across the album, but never sacrificing the ear worm factor for the sake of these goals. After the short introductory title track (again similar to Nanda and Revolution), we're straight into a run of three of the most catchy and immediately striking songs here, all rightly released as promotional singles. Each speaks for itself and are about as strong as anything Kyary has released, especially 'Kira Kira Killer', when those vocals harmonise upwards at the end of the chorus is pure joy. Then comes a slight misstep with 'Serious Hitomi' with some quite clunky distorted guitar parts that don't quite fit with the vibe of the rest of the album. But then we're back on form with a great cover of an old Capsule track, featuring some funky piano work at the core of the song, before onto another single 'Family Party' which again is a great track with a chorus that will lodge itself into your brain for days. Then comes the only fully English sung track 'Ring a Bell' which I wasn't sure about at first but once you get over it's high level of repetition, it's charms begin to shine through, particularly the call and response synth lines. 'Tokyo Highway' is a great electropop track but possibly due to quite uncharacteristic instrumentation could quite easily be a Perfume track. Next up are two really quite interesting songs, 'Koi Koi Koi', with it's eerily bouncing piano and strings, again a music box and popcorn synth twinkling around overhead, and 'Sungoi Aura', which also feels like a march with it's pumping tuba plodding underneath while flutes, reeds and synths emulating all sorts of strange instruments give a kind of folksy vibe out. Finally, 'Explorer' rounds things up, and is probably the Kyary-est song here. with big brash drum beats creating again that upbeat march sensibility with playful flutes soloing between lyrics.

Overall, another excellent album to add to a stellar catalogue. Kyary (and Nakata) haven't veered that far from the formula that has made her the most recognisable Japanese performer in the West and so-called 'Queen of J-pop'. If it it ain't broke... (Incidentally, this album's number of tracks and overall length is, give or take a few seconds, equal to her previous two albums - 12 tracks, 47 and a half minutes. That really is sticking to a winning formula.)

Also, something about the system that Japan uses to produce it's pop stars and it's 'idol' culture never really sat well with me and my views on how art should be separate from commerce, pop music as a business (half of the songs here have already been licensed as 'CM songs' or music for TV adverts) and the inherent cynicism and conservatism of industry, but this setup whereby Kyary handles the visual and presentational side of the KPP 'brand' while Yasutaka Nakata handles the nitty gritty of actually creating the music, shows that the system can work, and work well. Most artists who write their own music struggle to juggle the obligations of touring and promoting their current album as well as writing new music for future releases. With this setup, whilst Kyary fulfils all her public and media duties, Nakata can concentrate on just writing quality tunes, and with 3 great albums in as many years (not to mention Perfume's outstanding 'Level 3' album), the merits of the producer/performer exclusive relationship are there on show.

Finally, after having probably written far too much for a review of a cutesy pop album, I'd like to mention something about the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu persona that really interests me and is also something that many Western female singers could reflect upon. Kyary's image (to me at least) doesn't have any sex appeal yet it isn't knowingly unsexy, it's like it exists outside the spectrum of sexiness that many US/UK singers (in the pop sphere anyway) seem to either reinforce positively or actively try to negate in some way. The only important factor seeming to be the kawai-sa of her appearance and demeanour, and in fact Kyary's hyper kawaii elements almost become a grotesque parody of that culture itself. I'm not saying this obsession with cuteness is any better than a fixation on sexiness but I find it intriguing that Kyary seems to be breaking out of the Asian market into the West with a persona so at odds with that of other luminaries of pop music.

High Life
High Life
Price: £10.09

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't believe the Hyde, 30 Jun 2014
This review is from: High Life (Audio CD)
Firstly, I greatly prefer this over the previous Eno-Hyde collaborative album 'Someday World'.

The main problem (and also its saving grace) with this album is that nearly every single track ends better than it starts. I suppose that is kind of a good thing in that it shows development and progress through the song, and also means by the time the end comes you want the track to just keep going and expanding further, which obviously can't happen. Instead, after the build up and crescendo you enter again into a ponderous intro, the tepid first half of the next track, until things begin to boil up into the emotional climaxes. 'Lilac' being the most exemplary of this with the first 5 minutes plodding along with quite uninspired vocals (I don't particularly like Hyde's vocal delivery at the best of times and Eno tends to make the best of what he's got), then suddenly the guitar lines build up on top each other, the synth melodies bubble up and surface, the vocals rising in unison providing the finality the track warrants. This could just as easily describe the other stand out tracks 'Return' and 'Time to Waste It'. 'DBF' is an interesting track that sounds incredibly similar to something I've heard before (possibly a Captain Beefheart track or something from Miles Davis mid-70's output but I can't quite recollect exactly).The last track 'Cells & Bells' doesn't follow this pattern and merely meanders throughout in the more usual modern day Eno way, and 'Moulded Life' simply doesn't pique my interest at all, sounding like Wilko Johnson playing over an old NIN track.

So if you've just listened to the 30 second samples and aren't feeling it, try listening to the whole tracks as they really do improve across their duration. Overall, though, it's decent enough but both artists have done much better work in the past, and this isn't going to pull up any trees. Maybe I'm being hyper-critical based purely on each artist's (mainly 70s/80s Eno) previous work, but there doesn't seem any cohesion to the album, no underlying theme or concept tying the tracks together, it just seems a set of tracks that have come about after spending enough time in the studio together bouncing ideas around without any clear goal in mind. This was probably to be expected from a release so soon after 'Someday World' but I thought maybe they'd used up all the middle-of-the-road songs on the first LP and would put out something more esoteric or forward-thinking, which it fulfils but to a much lesser extent than I would have liked.

Also, I'm far more of an Eno fan than a Hyde fan, so I'd be interested to know if any big Hyde/Underworld nuts get more out of these collaborations than I do.

Oh, and the artwork is quite nice too.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 8, 2014 12:56 PM BST

Reality Testing
Reality Testing
Price: £9.55

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sumptuous, spacey, synthetic sonics, 16 Jun 2014
This review is from: Reality Testing (Audio CD)
Very nice album. Possibly not as immediately ear-catching as Galaxy Garden (nor is the artwork as eye-catching) but still a real aural treat.

Most of the early 90's rave/hardcore/Sega Megadrive influences of Galaxy Garden have vanished (or at least are heavily muted) apart from the previously released 'Airglow Fires', moments like the piano chords on 'Aurora Northern Quarter' and a few other, more discrete references, instead replaced by a much mellower, soulful hip hop/RnB/G-funk vibe across the record, closer in fact to his pre-Emerald fantasy Tracks output (only much more polished and idiosyncratic). The synthwork is still as lush as any Lone release with many of the same timbres and effects that appear across all of his output, but the context within which he uses them means things don't sound as glossy or neon as before. Still very rich and full sounding though and the more chilled out tracks mean you can feel truly immersed in the oscillations, which at times are very reminiscent of Boards of Canada. The twinkling arpeggios, glissandoing leads and cosy, liquid pads all create a really warm, comfortable atmosphere. If GG was like a being out in the blistering tropical sun, then RT is like curling up in front of the fireplace. This isn't to say there aren't any hooks or melodies because they are plenty there, in fact it's bursting with memorable riffs and synth lines (the flute riff on '2 is 8' is particularly catchy). So basically, it's stylistically and formally different to previous Lone material but timbrally, texturally, melodically, harmonically, and the overall aesthetics are clearly representative of the Lone moniker.

I'd like to make comparisons between someone who Lone has collaborated with in the past. The difference between Machinedrum's Room(s) and Vapor City are somewhat parallel to Galaxy Garden and Reality Testing. In both cases the earlier LP sounds more fresh and vibrant, whilst the later one smoothes things out, creating a dreamy, floaty album.

Whilst I'm not quite sure it's the best work Lone has produced, it is still a really top class album and will no doubt be one of my favourites of 2014 come the end of the year (at moment it's easily the best LP I've heard this year, comfortably surpassing other great records from Millie & Andrea, Fatima al Qadiri, Todd Terje, Mark McGuire, Martyn and Jokers of the Scene).
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 20, 2014 6:50 PM BST

It's Album Time
It's Album Time
Price: £9.99

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funky & Fun, 7 April 2014
This review is from: It's Album Time (Audio CD)
After releasing a series of dance floor dominating singles over the past few years, Todd Terje tries his hand at the long playing format, and the results are pretty successful. Whilst avoiding the traps and pitfalls of just producing a mere collection of singles, or worse still, padding out the hits with similar but less inspired filler, Terje does a Daft Punk and delves into dance musics 70's roots with a selection of retro tracks that just about evade the 'derivative' label.

As you'd expect there is a heavy disco influence (in the more European, heavily electronic Giorgio Moroder/Patrick Cowley/Koto vein rather than the live band, syncopated Nile Rodgers style), but on top of that there's tracks that are pure Herbie Hancock style jazz funk, spaced out lounge/easy listening reminiscent of Herb Alpert or Henry Mancini, some esoteric stuff that sounds like it could have been included in the Katamari Damacy soundtrack, like lost gems from the golden age of library music.

However, all this retro referencing and nods to musical influences is all well and good but the main thing here is that this record is just fun. It's good lighthearted catchy pop music and upbeat dance music. The only real exception is the the Robert Palmer cover with Bryan Ferry's vocals which is like an emotive centre amid all the campy spacesynth and Eurodisco. There are even a couple of mini song suites which does sound quite proggy on paper, but Terje completely sidesteps the chin stroking in favour of foot tapping. Plus the album closes with 'Inspector Norse', which is nice.

The album definitely isn't going to win any awards for innovation, with most of it sounding like it was streamed directly from the 70's and 80's, but it's an excellent soundtrack to the summer months, and compared to some other recent big name dance producers album efforts (say, Tensnake) it is pure class.

Chorus [VINYL]
Chorus [VINYL]
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Verse, 27 Feb 2014
This review is from: Chorus [VINYL] (Vinyl)
Title track is nice. Channels 0PN and Paul Lansky into a more dance-y framework, but not resembling any kind of established dance music genre (techno, house etc). However, I have heard it slotted into a mix and it worked quite well sandwiched inbetween I:Cube and Jam City.. Not great but definitely the stronger of the two tracks here. Post-modern without reaching into ironic/ kitsch territory.

'Solo Voice' is philosophically more in line with the academic modernism of Babbitt or Stockhausen, although using more minimalist Reich-ian techniques. Quite a basic pointillistic exercise in vocal loops but the use of various effects like panning and spatialisation help add interest.

Overall an okay-ish EP but if Herndon can develop the style employed on 'Chorus', her next LP could surprise me. Less intellectual squareness, more corporeal roundness please.

Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1995
Hardcore Traxx: Dance Mania Records 1986-1995
Price: £12.24

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Classic house and house classics, 11 Feb 2014
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A compilation of two halves. The first being classic Chicago house a la Trax and DJ International. The second being a collection of ghetto house classics.

Knowing Dance Mania more for its booty shaking ghetto sound, if anything I was more impressed with some of the tracks in that classic early house vein. Both the Da Posse ft. Martell tracks are absolute quality smooth house with nice jazzy piano. Equally both the Vincent Floyd tracks are excellent, the first being reminiscent of Larry Heard, the second closer to Derrick May. The Rhythm II Rhythm track is probably the highlight of the whole comp for me. The electric piano chords, those choral swells, the high pitched interconnecting synth bleeps, it all works so well. A couple of more jacking, techno-ier tracks sandwich the lovely deep house track by Strong Souls, aptly named 'Twinkles'. Both the Victor Romeo tracks are great also, be it the soulful vocal track of 'Love Will Find a Way' or the funkier, organ led 'Ride the Ride Rhythm'. Funnily enough my least favourite tracks are the two most famous. Maybe it's down to overexposure, but Hercules's (Marshall Jefferson) '7 Ways' and 'House Nation' seem to drag on forever over their 7-8 mins.

So overall first half impressions exceeded expectations. There is some very nice classic first wave house here. Now onto the half I most fancied beforehand.

Firstly, the names are include many legendary in the ghetto house/ghettotech/juke scenes: DJ Deeon, DJ Funk, Jammin' Gerald, Robert Armani and Paul Johnson is pretty big name in house in general. Whether these are their best work for Dance Mania is arguable but tracks like 'Feel My M.F. Bass', 'Hit it from the Back' and 'Work Out' are stone cold classics and both DJ Deeon's and DJ Funk's tracks are pretty much exemplary examples of that early ghetto sound. It's stripped back, bare boned music to dance to. It is pure club music to move your body to, so listening to it in its unmixed long form kind of deflates its efficacy. The tracks over 4.5 or 5 mins long can wear thin as in a ghetto mix you'd often only hear 2 or 3 mins tops before the next track kicks in, especially considering how basic and minimal some of these cuts are. In this context, it feels unnatural, a bit like placing street art or graffiti into the pristine blanched walls of an art gallery. However, there are some curveballs here. The 303 squelch on Deeon's 'Hypnosis', the Billie Jean bass on the hip hoppy 'Ghetto Shout Out', and the standout 'Toxic Waste' by Tim Harper, which is closer to chilled out techno than anything on here. Also, like any good ghetto, it includes enough of the genres lyrical keywords to fill the vulgarity/misogyny quota but it isn't as filled with lewd references as some of the slightly later stuff seems to be.

Finally, I'll add a lot of this sounds distinctly amateurish compared to modern in-the-box produced dance music (even the current underground Chicago stuff) but I think that's part of the charm. The fact that much of this was made on borrowed Rolands, in bedrooms, in like 5 hours, just adds to it's nostalgic value.

It's not a definitive compilation by any means but it gives good representation of Dance Mania's past output and is a great tool for people to learn about the history of their favourite music.

Along The Way
Along The Way
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £9.35

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If it ain't broke..., 10 Feb 2014
This review is from: Along The Way (Audio CD)
On his latest album Mark McGuire ploughs roughly the same furrow he has done with all his solo outings, which is basically polishing and refining the sound employed in Emeralds into a more easily palatable and clearly emotional tack. Maybe this is a bit more cinematic in style and, although his guitar work is still key, it doesn't dominate as much as previous releases, with some lovely synth work and nice piano and vocal augmentation. The whole album flows smoothly, no major dips, but the powerhouse 12-minute 'The Instinct" is the highest peak among the records numerous build-up-climax-release trajectories. There is nothing really original present here, its simply well crafted electronica, slightly ambient with some tasteful (possibly too tasteful to the point of sobriety) new age leanings, which seems to be en vogue in this post-hypnagogic/vaporwave age (which means instead of 70's era Tangerine Dream imitators we get 80's era imitations of TD imitators). This album always avoids sounding retro though, whilst still belonging to the heritage of the progressive electronic scene (not to the extent of Steve Hauschildt's solo work mind) and somehow having a nostalgic-like emotional quality to it.

I've seen Mark McGuire compared to Manuel Gottsching before but I prefer to draw parallels with that other great Krautrock guitarist Michael Rother. When Rother left Neu he sanded all the rough edges away from his sound and created these absolute pearls of albums filled with incredibly simple, almost naive, melody based tracks which just charge your soul. Whilst I don't think Mark McGuire has quite reached that same level of transcendental candour, he shows clear intent of not being afraid to be described as trite or schmaltzy in pursuit of a frank openness to his music. Moreover, both their music shares an inherent warmth.

If you like Mark McGuire or Emeralds previous releases then I can see no reason why you would't like this either. This does nothing new or clever, its just a nice 60 odd minutes of music, which sometimes is all you need.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 14, 2014 1:12 PM GMT

Price: £10.48

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Underwhelming, 27 Jan 2014
This review is from: Ghettoville (Audio CD)
Before I tackle the music I've got to mention the title: 'Ghettoville'. I suppose it is designed to conjure certain mental images, like 'Vapor City' or 'Galaxy Garden' but it just sounds like the kind of thing I'd imagine a school kid writing over a sketch he did in art class after playing GTA for weeks on end. But that's just an aside.

Alright, the music. Well, that's what it is: alright. It's okay. It's decent. Overall, fairly unmemorable but it has some good moments. The first half or so reminds me of the massively disappointing 'Spit' by Ron Morelli. Not dancefloor enough to be L.I.E.S brand of lo-fi techno, somewhat like a less noisy 'Colonial Patterns'. Much of the Detroit influence that made 'Splazsh' interesting seems to be lost here, replaced by a more hypnagogic vibe. Thankfully some more variety comes into play in the latter half of the album.

Listening to the 30-second samples I thought this might be a proper quality LP, and pre-release track 'Rap' showed good promise with it's vaporwave-style R&B slow jam stylings, and indeed this is one of the better tracks on the album. 'Gaze' is another standout, with some Floorplan style housy synths, as well as 'Image' with it's fat mosquito synth trills and on point snares. I think these work because they are less 'abstract' or 'ambient' and more akin to actual dance music. However, while there are these refreshing allusions to vaporwave, hip hop, house, even synth-funk, the bulk of the nearly 70 minutes running time is quite subdued, drudgery through hazy, hiss-soaked, vaguely outlined beats. Maybe if the highlights were edited into the standard 40-50 album running time, this would sound less aimless and some of the tunes less like vague sketches rather than complete tracks, or maybe not. I can forgive artists playing it safe or making more 'functional' tracks when they're aiming at the club but this is decidedly home listening fare, and even the 'ambient' label can't rescue unmemorable music. A plus is that the album artwork does somewhat resemble the musics mood.

I'll reiterate that I think it is a decent album. Flawed, amateurish (not to say Darren Cunningham is an amateur as he is clearly a very able and skilled producer), and although there were 2 years in between this and R.I.P, somehow slapdash. I'm sure these are qualities Actress purposefully wanted in there, but they just aren't doing it for me.

Also, Actress seems to have entered the ranks of artists in the world of underground electronic whose every new release gets the hype treatment from certain sections of the music press/blogosphere etc. Alongside other artists like Four Tet, Burial, Daft Punk (maybe too mainstream now), Aphex Twin, Autechre, BoC and possibly just entering this company OPN, James Blake, Flying Lotus and James Ferraro. These are all artists who are perceived to produced some accomplished works over a number of years and therefore a kind of imaginary critical standard is applied to all of their output (whether this has positive or negative effects on listeners' consumption of the music is, of course, entirely subjective and individual). For me, it means I expect these artists to be a cut above newcomers, lesser known (lesser hyped) artists and the mass of free music available on bandcamp, soundcloud etc. (apart from Autechre who I just don't like at all). With 'Ghettoville' I'm not sure Actress does anything to cement this status, and if anything it's less appealing than his previous two albums, particularly 'Splazsh'.

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