A roundup of the best electronica albums every monthColumns, Reviews March 08, 2013
Truant / Rough Sleeper [Hyperdub]
Over the course of his career, it’s possible you’ve read reams about London artist William Bevan aka Burial – and it’s as likely that most of this written material is gratuitously peppered with synonyms such as ‘prodigious’ and ‘innovative’, short praise for a man charged with shaping the path of bedroom production in the past decade. On his latest two-track EP release, you’ll quickly discover that both of Burial’s new tracks are loose frames that hold pretty snatches of experiments, connected but sparsely so. The dubstep/garage legend hits conventional notes with “Truant”; but the usual fractured words of his house music ghosts are soon interspersed with something more symphonic and heartfelt than, perhaps, even his game-changing sophomore effort, Untrue .
Though “Truant” is the earworm that’s bound to dominate your plays, it’s with the upbeat 13-minute second half that Bevan firmly treads alien territory. After all the melancholic crackles and echoes that he has trademarked, if ever you wondered what Burial might sound like happy, let “Rough Sleeper” drip in.
Allaying doubts of stagnancy and opening up entirely new sub genres that may well take years for reboots to completely explore is by now common Burial practice; my only complaint is that the release [as with his schoolfellow and occasional collaborator Four Tet’s newest 0181] sounds like brief snippets of a brewing opera you’re easily frustrated for being shut out of – which is to say, its components are too short. Truant / Rough Sleeper showcases what could perhaps have been enough material for a full length, and 25 minutes is simply too bare a snapshot of an album we can only ever hope to hear.
0181 [Text Records]
The offhand release of a new free EP by UK electronica wizard Kieran Hebdan aka Four Tet was cause enough for some social networking stir and speculation last month. Hebdan may not be My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and an unanticipated 0181 is no m b v [the Irish band’s surprise release after 22 years] – but in its own little way, this endearing collection has been years in the making as well. The EP sees his college-era oddments [rarities to the rest of us] wrung into one mammoth freefall composition that is unmistakably Four Tet and quite essential for anyone who has loved Pause  or even There Is Love In You , his last full length. 0181 is well curated, and revisiting a back catalog this intensive is bound to induce nostalgia in some. Four Tet flits from one interesting sound to the next, never letting up, nary a minute for a bond to develop between the music and the listener. Half remembered pieces of songs stream through you and leave no memory. Melancholy beginnings of piano ballads segue into shiny specters of pop. Juvenile whistles, jazz grooves and dreamy hip-hop influence, you’ll find it all here. Best of all, it works like a charm.
If this impressive afterthought is anything to go by, Hebden keeps some interesting goodies in his bag any time of year.
PillowFight [Bulk Recordings]
You may remember Dan the Automator from Deltron 3030’s eponymous debut album, or it’s likely that you’ll trace his name to the production of the massive Gorillaz debut. This January saw the release of his collaboration with violinist Emily Wells [on vocals] for their project PillowFight’s self-titled debut.
PillowFight is uneven, an album that’d sit better as an EP of select cuts – almost half of the record is terrific, the rest is stale and insipid. The opening track “Used To Think” can come as a pleasant surprise, where raunchy speakeasy lyrics [“You ply, ply, ply me with liquor”] blend smoothly into a sultry fifties confidence and Wells pulls it off with room to spare. But the opus is obviously intended to be “Get Your Shit Together”, a grand orchestral gesture that is sure to be a favorite. “Darlin,’ Darlin’” is a placeholder, slotting nicely enough into the somewhere in between. The album ends with three shiners, each worthy of thorough investigation. “I Work Hard” nearly leans on the seminal Gorillaz hit “Clint Eastwood” [produced also, of course, by Dan the Automator] for company and both “Sleeping Dogs” and “Lonely City” are standout compositions by themselves.
Choruses on these tracks are catchy and intelligent, and the topnotch production makes them immediately accessible to fans of a variety of genres, from pop to lounge to easy-listening. What disappointed me, however, was the disparity between these gems and the rest of the album, mainly fillers which sound like B-side hand-me-downs.
Trust [Ghostly International]
If you’ve been following British artist Gold Panda, you should know that his latest EP, Trust, is difficult to digest. On the one hand, it possesses inherently compulsive replay value – yet on the other, it offers little in terms of innovation or construction. It’s vintage Gold Panda for fans of Lucky Shiner  era hits like “You”, “Vanilla Minus” and “Marriage”, but there’s no “Quitter’s Raga” on this one to divide opinion. The crackling urgency of the lengthiest ingredient, “Burnt-Out Car In A Forest”, which clocks in at 6.12 minutes, is rather hit-or-miss. That said, the title track itself grabs attention directly, with tinkling bells travelling on to haunting overtones and wind instruments in characteristic Gold Panda style, one that has been imitated by a flurry of artists after him. A familiar Japanese melancholy that infuses so much of his deepest work finds unlikely expression in the static fuzz of dying television – “Casyam_59#02” is a definite grower. Even these by themselves are sufficient to make the EP a wonderful companion piece to long lonely hours hunched over a computer.
Lifafa I [self-released]
The much lauded electronic debut of Delhi band Peter Cat Recording Co.’s frontman, Suryakant Sawhney, snatches elements of everything in its environment and runs them through a rough lo-fi grinder in an interesting aural experiment. The track that gets it absolutely right is future retro lounge hit “Boa Gombay”, synth and alien vocals streaming through a mesh of muted percussive echo. For his part, Sawhney almost revels in lack of proficiency, and both – the flush, foot-tapping “Agnee” and the more introspective “Gopi” – make you feel like he may be on to something. But as Lifafa, Sawhney is soon mired in monotony and distances himself far too much to be able to carry the experiment off over an album-length release. Ideas take too long to build and are abandoned carelessly, their creator often gambling with whether some of them will fit in at all – “Swarm In Here” works, “Villain”, “Was It More?” and “Deviants” don’t. Regardless, Lifafa I is worthy of a few spins, if only for a brief glimpse at how truly independent our electronic scene has become.