Thursday, 26 February 2015

Aphex Twin- Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt.2 EP

Artist: Aphex Twin
Album: Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt.2 EP
Record Label: Warp Records
Release Date: 26th January 2015

Richard D. James' latest experimentation engages some solid and well-worked ideas, but spends a lot of it's time feeling half-finished

There's an old idea that revolves and the music industry and music fans that once a band or artist gets to a certain stage in their career they can "do whatever they want". The most innovative artists, like Richard D. James for example, are able to attain that status sometimes after their first slew of releases. Whether under the guise of Aphex Twin or one of his various other outlets, James has been doing whatever he wants for the past 25 years, and it's mostly been completely solid too. These facts combined mean that a release as diasporic as "Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt.2 EP" is pretty much acceptable in any environment, no matter its duration or impact. 

With that in mind however, it's slightly easy to be cynical about "Computer Controlled...", especially in light of last year's excellent "Syro". Yes, he has every right to release something this lo-fi; it's not like it's totally vapid or poorly produced. There are some moments on here that show James' understanding of depth, texture and rhythm as well as ever. The problem is that these mostly feel like semi-forgotten half-cuts that he's had lying around for 20 years. You may argue in response that it's important to remember that those would be APHEX TWIN half-cuts, but unfortunately it's not quite enough in this case. 

There's a consistently brooding and stripped back tone to this EP that leaves a distinctly dark flavour in the mouth. "Diskhat ALL preparedmix13" is lead by resounding, heavy handed piano keys and an increasingly powerful organic drum groove. It's sparse in terms of melody and replacing it are atmospheric fade-ins and weird squelches; it's more about rhythm than actual music. "Diskhat" rolls along on an unashamed drum shuffle that could have come straight from the B-side of a peak-era Will Smith single. "DISKPREPT4" is one of the highlights; it's layered as well as being subdued and grows distinctly with a definable melody but once again is much more about the instrumentation involved. A gorgeous double-bass melody and nervously odd piano tinker combine mid-way through for a wholesome effect.

Other highlights arrive later on in the shape of "disk prep calrec2 barn dance (s l o)"'s ritualistic, eccentric "Wicker Man"-esque waltz and penultimate track "Piano un10 it happened" is a gorgeous, summery piano melody, one of the few injections into the songs here. But more often than not there are songs with not enough meat on them here, or that feel half-finished. There are random 8 second drum fills and "0035 1-Audio", while possessing a cool rhythm, cuts out abruptly after 30 seconds mid-stride. "hat 2b 2012b"'s deep-seated tub- thumping, although short-lived, feels like it outstays its welcome. 

It feels harsh to say that it's hard to see the point in "Computer Controlled...", because yes, James' artistic expression has always allowed him the space to do whatever he wants. It's just that there's not much in the way of substance here. As an Aphex Twin release, it's just disappointing that it's distinctly average. 


Key tracks: "DISPREPT4", "Piano un10 it happened", "disk prep clarec2 barn dance (s l o)"
For fans of: Squarepusher, BADBADNOTGOOD

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Xibalba- Tierra Y Libertad

Artist: Xibalba
Album: Tierra Y Libertad
Record Label: Southern Lord
Release Date: January 26th 2015

Spanish-inflected California Hardcore crew bring consistently thrilling and crushing weight to their Sludge/Crust hybrid

You know how every now and again you have one of those days where you just want to bulldoze your uptight arsehole of a boss' house down, or drive a steam-roller through your own garden fence just to prove you can DO something? Well it's quite probable that if you listen to Polmona, California mob Xibalba's latest full-length "Tierra Y Libertad" then this relatively short but wholesome LP will become the most satisfying soundtrack to those days. 

Opener "Enemigo" is as good a precedent as any for the brutality that is to come. It flits between monstrously groovy, sludgy chugging and two speeds of furious Hardcore drum pummeling. It melds their proudly worn influences rather seamlessly, and proves that they take just as much from Pantera and Crowbar as they do from Dismember and Madball. Repeated grunts of "I have scars too deep to feel" confirms that Hatebreed's cheesy sense of over-sized optimism this ain't. 

The anti-establishment savagery of "Guerilla" is almost a fists-in-the-air call to arms, whilst the magnificent "En Paz Descanse" starts as perhaps the album's most nail-bitingly harsh Death Metal-inflected turn before becoming a desperately slow battering of which Kirk Windstein would be proud. 

Only twice do they deviate from their admittedly exhilarating down-tuned formula. "Pausa" is a slice of eerie, thick harmonized dueling that at 1.16 in length leaves you feeling like they could have made slightly more of it. The closer "El Vacio", however, is 12 and a half minutes of epic, melodic and suitably miserable sludge in it's heaviest, most atmospheric guise. Despite the potential of becoming one dimensional, "Tierra Y Libertad" never becomes tiresome, and its bone-shattering weight and swagger is so immovable that if you don't violently nod your head at least once then you've a heart of stone. 


Key tracks: "En Paz Descanse", "El Vacio", "Enemigo"
For Fans of: Crowbar, Dismember

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Mark Ronson- Uptown Special


Artist: Mark Ronson
Album: Uptown Special
Record Label: Sony
Release Date: 12th January 2015

The mastermind song-writer's new full-length may not be exactly what people were expecting, but it's a superb lesson in eccentricity and pop craftsmanship nonetheless

There has been much written on this site in the past about the current state of pop music and how, a bit like another organisational body that has the attitudes of many in its palms, it needs to change. Certainly Mark Ronson has never been a totally conventional pop star; a purely music-orientated songwriter, his constantly behind-the-scenes stance on radio play and in videos has meant that he's managed to avoid being seduced in the wrong way by the whole fame thing. "Uptown Special", however, may be about to stake a claim for change in regards to Ronson's appreciation. In what way exactly remains unclear, but one thing's for certain; this is an album rich in artistic expressionism. 

What's clear from the get go on "Uptown Special" is how meticulously written, produced and considered the record is. Fans expecting more of the straight-up, shameless funk-pop that overnight megahit "Uptown Funk" alluded to should dash that expectation immediately, and that in turn is a testament to how Ronson is one of the most important mainstream songwriters of our time. There's no adherence to contemporary pop culture here; this is a joyous, organic excursion into a time-warp dream-scape fusing Ronson's record collection with his excellent craftsmanship. 

It begins with "Uptown's First Finale", a shady but warm interlude-esque intro complete with an understated vocal performance from Stevie Wonder and '80s Baywatch sunrise vibes, and leads straight into the equally as languid but more illustrious shuffle of "Summer Breaking" featuring Tame Impala's Kevin Parker. Tales of road trips and getting high perfectly suit the song's lunch-time beach-front feel. We're then thrust straight into the driver's seat with the fabulous "Feel Right". The track's James Brown/ Sly & the Family Stone sex panther funk's simple and addictive smoothness is spearheaded by an insatiable rhythm section and rapper Mystikal's spleen- rupturing vocal delivery. 

"I Can't Lose", featuring Keyone Starr, on vocals recalls the synth worship present on previous hits like "Bang Bang". Gorgeous keyboard chords entwine with another inexplicably tight rhythm oeuvre. The righteous stabs of brass and classic funk guitar noodling complement Starr's  assertions of "I can't lose when I'm around you" wondrously. The hypnotic lead guitar riff of the second Kevin Parker feature, "Daffodils", leads into increasingly Flaming Lips-style weirdness with its bleepy, oddball synth dalliances and rushes of guitar distortion. 

The sleepy, remorseful hue of "Crack in the Pearl" sees guest vocalist Andrew Wyatt introduce some break-up blues into the proceedings which offers another unexpected dimension, whilst the stomping Toto-esque '70s rock of "In Case of Fire" featuring Jeff Bhasker on vocals is a glorious re-injection of throwback energy; there's a sense of well-honed haze hanging over the track giving it a sense of precise, immediate but rapturous control. 

It's not as if "Uptown Special" is worlds away from the creed suggested by its lead-off single; these are pop-songs in the truest sense, and 30 years ago may have been top 10 charters in their own right. But the idiosyncracy, creativity and flow of the record shows that its about vastly more than shifting units; it's about sunsets on beaches with wine and good friends, or midday cruises along the golden coast... You know, the sort of things modern pop music SHOULD be about. 

Key Tracks: "Feel Right (ft. Mystikal)", "Daffodils (ft. Kevin Parker)", "In Case of Fire (ft. Jeff Bhasker)"
For Fans Of: Tame Impala, Smokey Robinson, Hall & Oates