So who really thought we wouldn’t be back here for more? It’s Bandcamp Friday and, as you well know, that means that Bandcamp waives their cut and everything you spend goes to your favourite artists, apart from the bit that PayPal takes so that a cadaverous billionaire with a funny, pasty-looking head can spaff it up against his rocket. Can’t be helped.
Hello again! You’re looking very well, I must say. That haircut you gave yourself suits you. Shall we crack on with a few recommendations?
Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan – Interim Report, March 1979
It’s ironic that in his bio, Gordon Chapman-Fox, aka Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan, murmurs disparagingly about the glut of ersatz John Carpenter soundtracks out there, since there’s more than a whiff of early eighties video-nasty soundtrack about Interim Report, March 1979. The album investigates the chasm between the utopian dream that underpinned the creation of Britain’s post-war new towns and the menacing, piss-stained reality that we ended up with, and it’s the Carpenter-ish influence that makes this record way more interesting than you might expect. There’s a tangible suspense in this music. Indeed, history buffs will recognise 1979 as the year it all went wrong – a spectre is stalking Warrington-Runcorn New Town – and you sense the impending and all-devouring ascension of the Milk-Snatcher against this mundane, glowering background.
Currently available for pre-orders (the first run on yellow vinyl is already spoken for, so move quickly Brutalism nerds!), and packaged to look and feel like a period artefact excavated from the Architecture and Morality section of the Birkenhead Polytechnic library, this is a deliciously hyper-specific, well-researched and suspenseful trip. I’m not one to speculate (like, moi?) but it feels as though in 2021 we find ourselves on a similar and perhaps more profoundly life-altering historical hinge-point. Tracks like the simmering and beleaguered, almost silent, ‘Shopping City‘, strike a familiar lingering chord.
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The stealthiest new release of 2021 is here: psych adventurers Kikagaku Moyo have put out an LP of cosmic jamming with Ryley Walker. Walker, now living in America, is one of my favourite musicians and you may recall him slogging his way around the live music scene in the UK a few years ago. Watching him grow from being a competent John Renbourn impersonator (no mean feat in itself) to becoming one of the most voraciously gifted and adventurous improvisers around was quite startlingly pleasurable and I can’t wait to have him back here. This will do for now.
Altin Gün – Yol
Dropping at the end of February, this exquisite slab of Turkish disco-psych from Amsterdam finds a renowned live band trading socially distanced licks over the internet and somehow transcending our era of enforced isolation. Traditional Anatolian folk and pop elements keep the affair grounded, but Yol is an album which keeps one starry eye fixed on the finer details of arrangement and production and will keep you guessing about what might be coming next. Rather than overpower the listener with its excursions into electro or cosmic funk, you get a sense of these influences permeating the band’s world. ‘Yüce Dağ Başında’ is a pretty decent taster of what to expect – a down-tempo, beach-ready wiggle through dub, disco and dream-pop.
Various – Indaba Is
Brownswood Recordings have excelled themselves with this showcase of contemporary South African jazz curated by pianist and singer Thandi Ntuli and Siyabonga Mthembu of The Brother Moves On. It features no fewer than 52 musicians across four sides of vinyl and aims to address the widespread misperception that South African jazz begins and ends with Hugh Masakela. Like the previous Brownswood compilations, We Out Here and Sunny Side Up, Indaba Is consists of new, specially recorded jams put together last summer, and spirals through the cosmopolitan sounds of the African townships. Expect the unexpected among galloping, syncopated rhythms, modal grooves and flowing, rootsy vocals.
Standouts include Ntuli’s shimmering, fleet-footed meditation on identity and community, ‘Dikeledi’ (‘Tears’), which looks hard at the tricky question of how to be who you are and where you are at any given time. But coming to jazz via doomcore, as one occasionally does, The Wretched’s Franz Fanon inspired wig-out What is History provides thoroughly shattering interlude that could be equally at home rubbing shoulders with the harder sounds of Sons of Kemet or even Duma.
Sarcastic Burn Victim – Blood & Stomach Pills
If jazz-doomcore is your thing, then there’s some truly skull-crunching horn action on Blood & Stomach Pills, in a micro-run of just 40 cassettes from Sarcastic Burn Victim, out today on Cruel Nature. Boasting such toe-tappers as ‘Bladders’, ‘Please Note the Pterodactyl is a Ninja’, and ‘Banzai Kablooey and The Cockatoo Banana House’, the album hurtles reprehensibly over a mangled landscape of blood-thirsty drums, uncontrollably shredded guitar noise and malevolent vocals. But it’s the horns that take us up into some next-level shit – skronking, impassioned and marvellous music.
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We’ve covered the Whole Lotta Roadies compilation before. It’s a compilation raising cash for unemployed stage crews with new versions of songs by such stalwarts of the Scottish music scene as Kathryn Joseph, Belle and Sebastian and Mogwai. It’s well worth a look if you haven’t already done so, but today is the last day you’ll be able to pick up their extraordinarily fetching ‘I’m With The Crew’ t-shirt.
No arrival – Converse
Not so much an album as a mysterious entity from another world, Converse, by Glaswegian enigma No Arrival, is one of the smartest bits of electronica I’ve come across lately. A compelling tapestry of shadowy, organic-sounding beats and shifting moods, there’s a quizzical, dissolving sense spaciousness throughout. The drama lies in how it maintains an ambiguity over what kind of spaciousness it’s exploring – are we indoors or outdoors? Are we giants or insects? Do we contain worlds or atoms?
There’s an effortless command of the elements of percussion and their relation to the delicate drones and samples woven around them. Easily up there with those early Boards of Canada albums. Titles like ‘The Orange Antagonist’ (who he?) and the magisterial ‘Chased by Cows’ drop thematic hints that this is might be a record that aims to embody the micro-realities of our lives in the isolation of lockdown, but it stays just this side of ever making that explicit and leaves a sense of a record that you’d willingly stay in with long after the pubs reopen.
Various – Remembrance Species
As part of an occasional series entitled ‘stuff I should have mentioned a few months ago’, may I present the compilation Remembrance Species. Clocking in at around three hours it gathers together an almost unintelligible quantity of music, all of which explores our planet’s vanishing biodiversity. The album accompanies an online exhibition and is raising funds for Umbral Axochiatl, an indigenous-led conservation charity in Mexico City protecting the world’s last pocket of wild axolotl, and Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick, Scotland.
There’s a lot to take in, but if you’re interested in how music might be used to understand or embody the natural world, it’s quite unmissable – as much for the bits where it doesn’t work as to where it does – a natural history lesson, political statement and genre-defying free-for-all. Personal favourites include Amy Cutler’s weird evocation of ‘The Many-Headed Moss’, the spectral field recordings that populate Nikki Sheth’s ‘Nocturnal Insights’ and Bell Lungs’ salty lament for falling seabird numbers, ‘Seabirds Calling’.
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Sly and the Family Drone are not only the best band on earth, but they’ve also got a rather stylish range of horror film inspired leisure-wear. The brand new Slyspiria T-Shirt / long-sleeve has just dropped in all its sumptuous, Argento-color glory, but you know you’ve got to collect them all, don’t you?
Various – Music for Another Sky
A more recent, and equally capaciously proportioned, benefit album, Music For Another Sky is a selection of ambient and experimental music raising money for the domestic violence charity Refuge. This is more than worth your support, but even if it wasn’t, this compilation stands as a remarkably good survey of the diversity and freshness of the contemporary ambient scene. Global in scope, it features tracks from the likes of KMRU, Stephanie Marchak, Whetman Chelmets, Veins Full of Static, Jeannine Schulz, Steve Hadfield, Slow Clinic, Isnuj Dui and Lucy Liyou.
Firestations – Melted Medium EP
Pre-orders open today for the next instalment of the incomparable Firestations’ continuing revitalisation of the medium of the EP. Following the same format as last year’s Automatic Tendencies EP, this sees a couple of new songs from the band, plus an alternate ‘sunken version’ of an old favourite and a remix, plus, excitingly, a cover version from an admirer, in this case, label-mate Clémentine March, who delivers a jaunty French-language treatment of the recent single ‘Le Scaphandre (Small Island)’
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The Leaf Label have a lucky dip, but with a back catalogue as preternaturally blessed with quality as theirs, it’s hardly gonna be luck, is it? Five LPs for twenty quid? Don’t mind if I do…
tAngerinecAt – Something Broke Inside
The splendid new single from tAngerinecAt, comprising non-binary duo Eugene Purpurovsky and Paul Chilton, is a forthright blend of Ukrainian hurdy-gurdy and good old-fashioned industrial Euro-sleaze. ‘Something Broke Inside’, in their own words, studies ‘the psychological aftermath of contaminated intimate relationships, angst, and isolation’, all breaking glass and pulsing, visceral despair. Yet it’s full of defiance, and there’s even a beguiling quality to it. Powerful, heady stuff. Be drawn into their world and keep an eye out for more from this band.
Laura Cannell and Kate Ellis – January Sounds
Violinist Laura Cannell’s The Earth With Her Crowns was an album that slowly grew on me last year, so I’m happy to say she’s back, this time with long-term collaborator Kate Ellis on cello. January Sounds is the first of twelve releases planned to be released monthly and entitled These Feral Lands. Conceived as a kind of musical diary for 2021, I already feel like I’ll be checking in regularly to see how they do. This first instalment feels suitably evocative of a frozen crepuscular walk, well bundled up, but with just the faintest nagging worry that maybe you should have put a new battery in your torch. The EP comes as a series of strictly limited edition CDs, and I can already catch the faint scent of a wounded collector in the stillness of the forest…
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In as much as Wormhole World ever have hit records, last year’s Forest Robots release, After Geography, was a veritable global smash. The bushwacking Californian has just dropped the pre-order for a surprise new LP, Amongst a Landscape of Spritual Reckoning. Don’t hang around if you fancy adding this one to your growing pile of Wormhole CDs.
University Challenged – Oh Temple!
Just out on Brighton’s Hive Mind Records, University Challenged is a kosmiche-pastoral supergroup made up of Ajay Saggar (Bhajan Bhoy), Oli Heffernan (Ivan The Tolerable) and Kohhei Matsuda (Bo Ningen). Their debut double LP, Oh Temple!, is a mesmeric, free-form, instrumental soundscape, which exerts an unexpectedly gentle quiddity considering the ear-pummelling live reputations of the musicians involved. Available now as a limited edition vinyl, and accompanied by a series of hypnotic self-made films, the album makes a series quiet, clandestine forays into a range of territory – prog-tinged modern classical, deep space jazz and new-age electronica – but without ever conforming to cliche.
Zouj – Anxious Sleep
Finding the soul in the synthetic, and the synthetic in the soulful is the mission statement of Zouj, who has just released his debut single on City Slang. Zouj is the latest incarnation of Adam Abdelkader Lenox, formerly of noise-poppers, Lingua Nada, and promises a futuristic take on the modern pop song, all wonky tempos and slithering distorted vocals. In his own words: ‘I’m trying to make my machines sound human by emulating errors, randomness and tempo ups-and-downs while I’m trying my best as a human to sound like a machine.’
‘Anxious Sleep’ makes a pretty good stab at reinventing the pop-song, which is to say that it obviously doesn’t but it’s a noble expression of intent nonetheless, and along the way captures something of an insomniac’s disjointed hyper-clarity. Zouj is a name to keep your eye on – an album of this could quite conceivably be quite a trip.
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Wiaiwya are touting their Valentine’s Day compilation I’m With Cupid – A Transatlantic POP Valentine and there’s talk of a special handmade denim-covered edition which can be embroidered with the initials of your choice – just the thing for the doe-eyed indie-pop-obsessed special someone in your life.
Urban Village – Udondolo
We’re back to South Africa for Udondolo, the debut LP from Urban Village. Further testament to the sophistication and richness of South Africa’s musical scene, Urban Village lay claim to Zulu guitar-pop, alt-folk, South Africa’s choral tradition, and even the occasional nod towards ole-time big-band swing, all synthesized with a smart, welcoming contemporary jazz mindset. Taking its name from a Zulu word meaning ‘Walking Stick’, Udondolo keeps up a resolute, perambulatory pace. Melancholic and socially conscious, it’s not without humour – ‘Marabi’ unexpectedly riffs on ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, while ‘Umuthi’ steals into Gracelands and mooches cheerfully away with the national guitar. An outstanding LP.
John MOuse – The Goat
First released last summer, John MOuse’s hi-nrg synth-pop lockdown odyssey got its vinyl release not long ago. I had been planning to just quietly obtain my copy today and not bother you all with the news, but fuck it, since this album was one of the unabashed highlights of 2020 and since according to the wild rumours that flow about the internet, Mr MOuse has a pile of them left that he would have sold out of had there been any chance of him playing any gigs, and since, furthermore, your humble correspondent is a bit slack about covering his friends and neighbours in the Welsh music scene, I’m gonna quite shamelessly bump this thread up at ya. In. Your. Face.
Somehow capturing the atmosphere of apocalyptic, barely-suppressed panic that has infused our lives over the last twelve months, yet without explicitly mentioning the pandemic once (good trick if you know how to do it), The Goat is a series of uneasy short stories, which starts as it means to go on with a man trapped in his flat by a pigeon. A masterpiece of closely observed satire that sometimes sounds like a Welsh Sparks, affronted by the house prices in Adamsdown.
Xqui – Ambients
There’s a lot of word of mouth going around about this album, and not surprisingly – it takes some audacity to entitle your album Ambients and further entitle the tracks ‘Ambients One‘ to ‘Ambients Nine‘ – but Xqui seems to have pulled it off. This is about as pure and as straight-down-the-line as it gets. A faultless, nine carat diamond of an album.
Steve Hadfield – Silly Baby LP
I’ll be frank. I’d avoided engaging with Steve Hadfield’s Silly Baby LP because I thought that an electronica collaboration with your newborn sounded like it would be a load of smug, self-indulgent shit. What next I thought? Where does it end? Field recordings of the interior of his scrotum? Get back on your Paw Patrol trike and ride that thing right back out of town, Hadfield, I thought to myself. The man’s a blatant charlatan.
Well, dear reader, when the facts change, I change my mind. Silly Baby LP is actually a bit of a tour-de-force. Not only does it tap into an under-exploited tradition of the child-like, even the child-ish, that exists within electronica (Yes, Aphex Twin, I see you looking at the milkman’s wife), but it’s also driven along by experimental IDM’s propensity to veer sharply from extremes of sleeplessness and anxiety to blissful oceanic states of disembodied goofiness and all-encompassing divinely-interconnected love. And when you consider the relentless psychedelic grind of child-rearing, the surprising thing is that no one’s done anything similar before. Marvellous stuff – and if you get in quick you might still be able to bag a physical copy with a hand-painted cover by Hadfield Jnr.
Pictish Trail – Dream Wall EP
New music from Pictish Trail is always welcome. Dream Wall EP is a coda to last year’s Thumb World album and is coming out in April accompanied by a quartet of remixes from Callum Easter, Kinbote, Bamboo and Good Dog. A bleary-eyed ballad about staying up late to write songs and not getting anywhere with them, ‘Dream Wall‘ is a yearning, woozy evocation of the hard graft of creative work, a stately and wistful salute to the erstwhile muse.
It’s a beautiful, delicate entry into the Pictish Trail songbook, in which he sounds entirely like a man wistfully postponing his 2020 tour for another year. I miss live music so much. Sometimes I’m afraid we’ll never get it back, or at least not in any form we recognise. The whole eco-system was so fragile anyway, so delicately balanced, so threatened by depredation, that it’s heartening to see such a fine specimen of the North Atlantic’s charismatic mega-fauna surface for a moment, give us a curious stare and vanish again into the waves.
Well, that’s all for me. Apologies for anyone I missed, but it’s been a particularly bumper harvest this time. Comments are open for you to add your own…