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THE 2008 REVIEW: Robert Rowlands

Robert Rowlands on Dec 21st 2008 08:20 pm

The 2008 Review

It has been the year of the credit crunch, the year moneyed ease took a clobbering, the year having a job suddenly became something you couldn’t take for granted. But a listen to most of the music made in 2008 shows few links with the panic in the markets or the shuffling of feet in the Job Centres. Any art form is only linked second hand to the era in which it is forged, but much of what has come through this year – especially in electronic music – has been the music of the good times, the music of the high point before the wave collapsed. Vampire Weekend epitomised that as well as anybody with a guitar this year. But in electronics, it was the beatific sound of artists such as Lindstrom and Air France that seemed to dominate. Sure, there were dark sounds out there – with Portishead’s gloomy opus Third perhaps the most obvious example – but the prevailing mood was not down but up. As the recession sinks in, and as the musical zeitgeist takes another twist, the music of 2009 may well have a far gloomier ring to it.

Minilogue: Animals1.

Cocoon Recordings

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Robert Rowlands on Aug 11th 2008 08:58 pm

INTERVIEW: Maurizio Bianchi & Emanuela De Angelis

Maurizio Bianchi is one of the leader of the Italian noise and experimental scene. He first appeared in 1979, and in the first five years of his career, he released a considerable amount of work on a variety of labels before retiring from the music scene completely. For the next thirteen years, he remained silent, but he resumed his relentless work pace. His latest project is a collaboration with Emanuela De Angelis Twenty years his junior, De Angelis has nevertheless an already impressive body of work behind her, as a member of various formations and, in recent years, as a solo artist. As MD+EDA, the pair have, for a moment, left behind their respective noise remit to investigate a much quieter realm, developed over the whole length of their first album together. Robert Rowlands caught up with the pair to discuss age difference, the pros and cons of working on a collaborative project and how their calm soundscapes are much noisier than it seems. Continue Reading »

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ITAL TEK: Cyclical (Planet Mu)

Robert Rowlands on Jul 1st 2008 11:07 pm

Ital Tek: Cyclical

Planet Mu 2008
11 Tracks. 55 mins 33 secs

iTAL tEK might well have chosen a daft name for himself, but the music here suggests he is a man who means serious business. The doleful atmospherics of Cyclical are undercarried by many of the same rhythms as the staples of the dubstep sound, but that is largely where the similarity with that work ends. Where others might veer towards rude boy dance hall bass-bins, Alan Myson, the man behind iTAL tEK, is working in a different direction entirely. Infusing his tracks with a depth often rare to the genre, he manages to lift his music well above the basic common denominators of the scene.

Burial might have won the garlands for this kind of sad-eyed examination of urban desolation already, but too often dubstep has found itself rooted in the sound of the club, leaving little to take away when the kick wears off. Continue Reading »

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BLACK DEVIL DISCO CLUB: Eight Oh Eight (Lo Recordings)

Robert Rowlands on Jul 1st 2008 10:51 pm

Black Devil Disco Club: Eight Oh Eight

Eight Oh Eight
Lo Recordings 2008
06 Tracks. 32mins26secs

Black Devil Disco Club have probably already guaranteed their own place in the musical annals of the era by mere virtue of their curio status. According to the official line, Rephlex unearthed their rarer than rare 1978 debut Disco Club in 2006, and released it again to an unsuspecting nation. How an album goes unheard for so long before re-emerging on the label of known prankster Richard D. James is anyone’s guess, but the truth is that nobody really seems sure who they are. Two shadowy Parisian musicians seem to be the main culprits. But many point the finger elsewhere, with James or Luke Vibert in the role of svengali. Continue Reading »

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VENETIAN SNARES: Detrimentalist (Planet Mu)

Robert Rowlands on Jun 30th 2008 08:59 pm

Venetian Snares: Detrimentalist

Planet Mu 2008
10 Tracks. 51mins27secs

One thing that Aaron Funk, the prolific Canadian musician behind Venetian Snares, cannot be accused of is boring the listener. Since first taking on the sometimes staid world of electronica in the late nineties with a battering ram, he has gleefully been launching assault after assault with his reconstructed drum ‘n’ bass sounds. Detrimentalist, like the many albums to have come before it, barely takes time out to breathe, such is the manic wellspring of energy at the core of the record. And whilst the dizzying aural barrage will deter the tender, there is a delightfully over the top vivacity at work in his music that at the very least ensures attention. Continue Reading »

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MRS JYNX: The Standoffish Cat (Planet Mu)

Robert Rowlands on Jun 4th 2008 12:40 am

Mrs Jynx: The Standoffish Cat

The Standoffish Cat
Planet Mu 2008
13 tracks. 58mins27secs

IDM, electronica, ambient techno – everyone has their own name for the music that shaped the electronic music scene of the 1990s. Everyone too has their own list of the heroes who dominated the scene, whether it be Aphex Twin, Autechre, Black Dog or one of countless other artists to have come to prominence in that era. Yet everyone also has their own theory about when IDM fell apart, and when the scene’s death was officially confirmed. For some, it was the slipshod meanderings of Aphex Twin’s Drukqs that drove the nail into the coffin, proving that Richard D. James, the movement’s leading voice, had finally lost his way. For others, it was the recondite nature of Autechre’s Confield that proved electronic music had lost its pulse and drifted into the obscure realms of academia. But whatever the moment, whatever the cause, few now would dispute that IDM as we once knew it is a dead movement. Continue Reading »

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NICOLA RATTI: From The Desert Came Saltwater (Anticipate Recordings)

Robert Rowlands on Jun 2nd 2008 09:09 pm

Nicola Ratti: From The Desert Came Saltwater

From The Desert Came Saltwater
Anticipate Recordings 2008
06 tracks. 44mins42secs

What most people know about Nicola Ratti could be written on the back of a postcard. The former guitarist of the now defunct Pin Pin Sugar is not exactly a household name, although work with Giuseppe Ielasi on 2007’s well-regarded Bellows will have gone some way to establishing him with a wider audience. He has also collaborated with Andrea Belfi, and is today a guitarist with underground Italian instrumentalists Ronin. But obscurity is probably not something that would worry someone like Ratti. After all, his sound virtually invites it. Hushed guitars played at half-pace on studied, earnest compositions are not easily going to grab the attention of the average listener. But this is the point, it seems, with his music, and with From The Desert Came Saltwater in particular. It is the sound of music stripped of verbosity and excess, a sound that in doing very little very slowly manages to lure its way insidiously into perception. Continue Reading »

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ELLEN ALLIEN: Sool (BPitch Control)

Robert Rowlands on Jun 2nd 2008 12:04 am

Ellen Alien: Sool

BPC 175
BPitch Control 2008
11 Tracks. 52mins54secs

Given Ellen Allien’s close links with the Berlin techno scene, this album is probably going to come as a surprise to many. While it does not abandon the dancefloor aesthetic of earlier records, the beat count has certainly slowed and a more inward-looking sound has superseded the skeletal techno of old. Whether the helping hand in the studio of fellow Berliner AGF has contributed to this more reflective sound is not easy to say, but the cut-up, Schaefferesque sound experiments of AGF’s Words Are Missing do definitely seep through into the mix from time to time on Sool. Perhaps this change of direction is a sign that Allien is moving away from the modern minimalist scene she has done so much to shape. But if not, it does at least suggest her sound is drawing on new sources. And after the largely disappointing Boogybytes techno compilation she DJed earlier this year, this would be no bad thing. Continue Reading »

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B12: Last Days Of Silence (B12 Records)

Robert Rowlands on May 31st 2008 04:28 pm

B12: Last Days Of Silence

Last Days Of Silence
B12 Records 2008
18 Tracks. 103mins34secs

Nothing endures in music quite like a mystery. Unreleased albums, unexplained break-ups – what we don’t know about a band often helps to define them as much as what we do. And the mysterious disappearance of B12 from the music scene ten years ago is a perfect case in point. Their silence since 1998, when they vanished from Warp with an EP ready for release, has forced fans ever since to pore endlessly over the back catalogue in the assumption that that was it. So the decision of English duo Mike Golding and Steve Rutter to return now will inevitably trigger questions about their lost decade. And alongside the anticipation, the big question many will of course be asking is: was it worth the wait? Continue Reading »

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MINILOGUE: Animals (Cocoon Recordings)

Robert Rowlands on May 21st 2008 09:12 pm

Minilogue: Animals

Cocoon Recordings 2008
26 Tracks. 154mins46secs

From the word go, it has to be said that this record is at the very least a welcome surprise. Faced with the task of picking apart a two and a half hour longplayer from an obscure pair of Swedish minimal techno lovers, the prospect seemed both daunting and perhaps a little off-putting. How could anything so ostensibly stripped back warrant 154 minutes of listening time? One could probably get through a short novel in that period. Indeed, cinematic epics are often less drawn out. But the vast scale of the material here soon becomes academic, because Minilogue have delivered an album many would not have thought them capable of. After years spent releasing twelve inches for the DJ set, here they have constructed an album of quite breathtaking allure.

Animals is divided into two quite deliberately different parts – the before and after of a night out, in a way. Continue Reading »

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808 STATE: Quadrastate (Rephlex)

Robert Rowlands on May 20th 2008 11:14 pm

808 State: Quadrastate

Rephlex 2008
13 Tracks. 66mins57secs

When 808 State first rolled onto the British club scene in 1988, the acid house phenomenon was beginning to seep into the nation’s underground culture. After the innovations of Detroit and Chicago, it was time for the UK to give things a go, and 808 State were just one of many producers of the time to pick up the baton. Taking their name from a ubiquitous drum machine of the period, they went on to release a string of albums that took on the house sound and treated it to some subtle but serious refraction. And Quadrastate is just one of the results of that time. Merely an EP at the time of its release, cut-offs and alternative mixes are thrown into the equation here to bring us a spatchcock album that many will now be hearing for the first time. Its most obvious claim to fame, of course, is album opener Pacific State, one of the defining tracks of eighties house and probably the stand-out track of 808’s long reign in the field of electronics. But this is merely the starting point for a bracing journey around the formulas of the house sound. Quadrastate’s interest to us now is probably largely historical, but its re-release is a good chance to look again at an era of English house music that is all too easily forgotten – while the scene’s US masters are perennially revered. Continue Reading »

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MEAT BEAT MANIFESTO: Autoimmune (Planet Mu)

Robert Rowlands on May 7th 2008 12:55 am

Meat Beat Manifesto: Autoimmune

Planet Mu 2008
10 Tracks. 50mins38secs

Meat Beat Manifesto have been on the music scene long enough now for the term veteran to seem almost painfully apt. Yet after ten albums and more than twenty years spent riding the choppy waves of contemporary music, they have somehow remained on the outskirts of things while like-minded artists have lapped up the applause. One need only think of what happened to Orbital after the brown album to see the vastly different trajectories the two superficially quite similar bands have taken in the last decade and a half. Indeed, while the Hartnoll brothers were almost instantly deified following their first appearance at Glastonbury in 1994, MBM moved to Trent Reznor’s Nothing Records and promptly slid out of view. But several records have followed since, and while the Orbital bandwagon has long since shuddered to a halt, Jack Dangers remains, his status assured through longevity as much as anything else. Continue Reading »

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