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Our monthly round-up of electronica albums that must make it into your playlist

Tej S. Haldule Apr 01, 2013
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Apparat - Krieg Und Frieden (Music For Theatre)

(Mute Records)

 

[easyreview cat1title=”Krieg Und Frieden” cat1rating=4.5]

Memorable background music may be an oxymoron to some but it’s this invisible line that the best ambient producers tread. Apparat has been polishing his nails on flirtations in all sorts of genres – be it the dreamy, ever-popular Walls, his foray into collaboration with Modeselektor or the constant stream of experimental EPs and singles he’s churned out over a long career. Not only is Krieg Und Frieden the culmination of a trade learned over years, it is also the Berlin-based composer’s strongest work until date. Originally commissioned to compose for a German theatre production of Krieg Und Frieden (popularly known as ”˜War and Peace’ in the English canon), Apparat continued composing the electro-orchestral pieces outside the context of the theatre production and eventually developed them into an album. 

Krieg Und Frieden (Music For Theatre) is magnificently orchestral, grand in scope and best of all, manages to entertain and innovate in equal measure. It’s difficult to listen to the painstakingly mixed compositions and not be impressed by Apparat’s evolution into a phenomenally proficient producer over the past decade. His vision transforms the potentially ordinary into something vast and tragic with its own story to tell. Agitated snaps of long-lost radio transmissions and the spectral click of turning wheels cut in and out of familiarity on Krieg Und Frieden. While “44 (Noise Version)” and “Tod” are sweeping discordant portents, conventional classical instruments take precedence on “44,” “Blank Page” and the haunting “K&F Thema.” However, Krieg Und Frieden is so much more than the sum of its parts. If the distant heralding of “PV”’s manic peak doesn’t grab you by the throat, there may be very few things left in modern music that can. 

Apparat’s vocals sometimes mar an otherwise near-perfect record: the bleak, poppy “Light On” and piano ballad “A Violent Sky” would have served perfectly well on many of his earlier releases, but feel slightly out of place on this one.

Maybe it’s Tilo Baumgärtel’s expressive cover art, maybe it’s the charm inherent in every step of its making that contributes to  Krieg Und Frieden being the most terrific electronic release in months – whatever the case, this is not an album anybody should miss. 

 

Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety

(Software Label)

 

[easyreview cat1title=Anxiety cat1rating=3.5]

Experimental R&B manufactured electronically by a white man (Autre Ne Veut is American musician Arthur Ashin) isn’t what most people would call to their taste. As second albums go, Anxiety is high pitched and unstable. One thing is surprisingly clear, though: this is pop music – one can imagine it streaming through trashy denim showrooms as perfectly at ease as through a hipster’s vinyl deck.

But this is also densely layered pop designed to startle, and it all starts to come unhinged in the best possible way. Every song is laced with a jumpiness that slowly builds to desperation when it’s expressed – caged voices screaming in background, jittery percussion that ends as suddenly as it began. One of the album’s crowning achievements comes early on with “Counting”, uneasily placed trumpets coincide with synth climaxes, keeping things off kilter and on edge over the catchiest alternative R&B tune since Frank Ocean’s “Lost.” “Ego Free Sex Free” is both raunchy and endearing at once, but isn’t best followed up by “A Lie,” an admission of doubt so heartfelt that it falls flat. 

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“Warning” makes it easy to forgive, though – “What is this thing baby, that I can’t explain?” Ashin asks with a genuine pent up fear. “Just a feeling… more like a warning.” Themes suddenly drift to a confrontation of mortality with “Gonna Die”, which is the last truly worthwhile song off Anxiety. The tail-end of the album has its moments (the 80s guitar track on ”Don’t Ever Look Back” comes particularly to mind here), but is insipid in comparison.

Anxiety is very rewarding to the repeat listener, nearly hopping onto the podium with stellar contemporary R&B releases like Bilal’s Airtight’s Revenge (2010), the Weeknd’s House of Balloons (2011) and Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE (2012) though it eventually falls the slightest bit short.

iTAL tEK - Hyper Real EP

(Civil Music)

 

[easyreview cat1title=”Hyper Real” cat1rating=3.5]

Helplessly lost somewhere in the chasm between ”˜intelligent’ and ”˜dance,’ too many promising producers just forget ”˜fun.’ The Hyper Real EP is a welcome reminder of just how far iTAL tEK (British producer Alan Myson) can stretch his deep-space production chops to suck the listener in, but as far as genres go, this release is as distant from iTAL tEK’s once self-promoted ”˜dubstep’ tag as Nebula Dance (2012) was. “Hyper Real” and “Re Entry” consist of complex clusters of frantic sounds that are difficult to dissect and wait for the jittery percussion to kick in before they explode. “The Flood” comes closest to his previous work, absorbing the listener into more intimate, primitive recollections punctuated by the alien sounds of imagined cultures. It’s intense and atmospheric but sets a slower tempo to ease you into “Froze Up.” Sighs and breaks from house music collide into each other over and over, followed smoothly by sped up synths from another decade. However, the  final two remixed tracks seem unnecessary and bring very little novelty to the release.

Hyper Real EP  sounds far too similar to Nebula Dance, but this isn’t necessarily bad, mostly because Myson doesn’t seem to try to genre-bend for its own sake: he does it because it fits. With a crossover appeal, its energy can best be described as extremely involving dance music. Fans of his previous work have no reason to be disappointed.

Grouper - The Man Who Died In His Boat

(Kranky Records)

 

[easyreview cat1title=”The Man Who Died In His Boat” cat1rating=3]

Back in 2008, Grouper (Liz Harris, otherwise famous for growing up in the ”˜Fourth Way’ cult) gained sudden indie popularity with her third full-length Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill, an equally curiously titled collection of lo-fi dream pop. This album constitutes remnants of her recordings from the same time, a companion piece of the same sort. The Man Who Died In His Boat is perhaps best described as drone-folk music, nuanced background sentiment to fill every nook of your mind. The subtlest variations make themselves heard over time, floating nifty on seas of electronic reverb.

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The problem with The Man Who Died In His Boat is the monotony and its length, certain tracks lost in a haze and without recollection. The starkest exceptions are “Vital” and “Living Room”, both sparse and excruciatingly beautiful with Harris’ distant strumming wrung from somewhere deep within the guitar. They are what stay on beyond the duration of the album. 

Mmoths - Diaries EP

(SQE Music)

 

[easyreview cat1title=Diaries cat1rating=2.5]

Musicians seem to get younger every year and better – which is why, even though he’s releasing his second EP at 19, Irish ambient-pop producer Jack Colleran (Mmoths) doesn’t faze on account of his youth – his contemporary XXYYXX, for example, is 17 and has released two decent full-lengths already. Besides, what ought to matter anyway is the music he makes and with singles from last year’s debut release (like the gleaming, immediately memorable “Folding”) under his belt, he’s always seemed to be well on his way to consistency. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of skill and experience to craft the eerie and the mellow, atmospheres Mmoths seems to force into on this new record. It comes as no surprise: ”˜brooding’ is a popular adjective to aspire to nowadays – over the course of his ambient effort, Colleran wears it with the fresh pride of a 19-year-old with a meaningful neck tattoo.  

It’s evident that the punchiest link running through this EP is the voice of the guest performer. “One” is an arid build to the lively Young & Sick vocal track that layers the next composition, “For Her.” “For Her” is easy, hummable downtempo and instantly hearkens to the emotional intimacy of Mmoths EP (2012). Crisp vocals bring the opening minutes a much needed crescendo, and it’s especially interesting to listen to Mmoths adapt to Young & Sick’s R&B lilt. The subdued “Losing You” follows, flitting in and out of accessibility but keeping a raggedy pulse well and alive. It’s the second half that quickly turns into a disjointed exercise, although an ethereal near-saving grace is “All These Things” – Holly Miranda (of the Jealous Girlfriends) is just the right lack of sentiment and showboat. However, both “No One” and “Too Real” sound uninspired, like tracks that ought to have aged and matured before they were recorded. 

On the whole Diaries isn’t bad, but Colleran still disappoints.

 

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