Our monthly round-up of electronica albums that must make it into your playlist
Forest Swords -Â Engravings
(Tri Angle Records)
[easyreview cat1title = Engravings cat1rating = 4 cat1detail = ” “]
EngravingsÂ is forÂ the patient, for an audience with the time to digest stories and dream up their own. Matthew Barnes, known on-stage asÂ Forest Swords, struggled with hearing problems over the three years it took to craft this sophomore release – the painstaking effort, frustration and time he’s emptied into it make for a fantastic listen.Â
The ancient sadness that runs a unifying theme through the entire album begins on the opener “Ljoss.” Barnes punctuates longing echoes with fuzzy Oriental instrumentation here, plunging a guitar track into the mix when you least expect it; it feels like the most natural progression thing in the world. “Thor’s Stone” evokes haunting, monochromatic versions of Deep Forest flutes, and is the closest Forest Swords ever comes to dance music. “Irby Tremor” wrings a dusty cowboy guitar into jagged dub beats.Â
On paper, it’s confusing – the combinations seem almost ridiculous. Still, each track is a magnificent melting pot of so many elements that ought not to work that it’s all the more beautiful when they inevitably do. Most remarkably, Forest Swords has managed to build a sound that is always distinctly recognizable as his own.
“Onward,”Â Engravings’Â riskiest experiment, starts with oddly placed loops that could well have been captured off long-dead machinery in abandoned factories. The piano tiptoes in, violins and tribal percussion climb aboard for the climax. All you can do is sit back and wonder at how profoundly it makes sense.
Barnes kicks up the pace over a startling middle; star single “The Weight Of Gold” and his shadowy R&B moan that floats “An Hour” are, quite simply, meant to be experienced and not described. The lone guest over the 50- minute length is vocalist Anneka on “Anneka’s Battle,” a fitting feminine interlude. Forest Swords deftly slips ritualistic vocal samples where you’d expect instruments on “Gathering” – in fact, nearly the entire track is sketched along them. In the end, “The Plumes” segues into “Friend, You Will Never Learn,” and with these,Â EngravingsÂ trulyÂ seems to plumb the imagined depths of either Bergman or Kurosawa’s most desolate landscapes. Â
It’s impossible to say which of these forlorn sounds have been created and which have been found. Sufficiently enough, the record is a major discovery in itself.
ModeratÂ -Â II
(Mute Records/ Monkeytown)
[easyreview cat1title = II cat1rating = 3.5 cat1detail = ” “]
German giants Modeselektor and Apparat’s second combined release as Moderat has, unsurprisingly, kept a large fan following agape in anticipation. Surprisingly, the first single that they chose to unveil ahead of the LP, “Bad Kingdom,” was aÂ mishmash of popÂ clichÃ©s. Even with Sasha Ring’s redeeming voiceÂ traveling via a continuous female echo, it was a pale synthesized reflection of the hundreds that came before with absolutely nothing to recommend it. Thankfully, Moderat seemed only to be stopping by, there.Â
OnÂ II,Â ”Versions” and “Therapy” both succeed, picking up at post-rave abandon where Burial left off. Early UK remnants filter through; the album starts to get interesting.Â Apparat has tellingly learned a few tricks off his collaboration with DJ Koze (“Nices WÃ¶lkchen”) this year – “Let In The Light” solidifies between distant, garbled house music vocals, shifting into a bright lounge hit that leaves Moderat laughing: the joke’s on the listener. “Milk,” on the other hand, is earnest as they come and has been placed/positioned bang in the middle of the album for a reason. It snaps a minimal tech-house skeleton into shape, fleshing it into an endearingly club-friendly straggler over the 10-minute runtime.Â
What makes the album, though, is “Gita”; designed in the spaces between simple variations of an ”˜ay’, this is a true display of the electro veterans’ gathered prowess. It has the capacity to loom equally loud in stadiums as in the private recesses of your headphones.Â
If there was a track that’s closest to the Apparat we’ve known over the past many years, “Damage Done” would fit the bill. Ring’s soothing voice trails muted chill-out percussion straight into the conclusive dream haze of “This Time”.Â
Ultimately,Â IIÂ becomes aÂ compilation of Moderat’s go-to loves and compositions since their last album. Riding fresh on the heels of Apparat’s intimate solo triumphÂ Krieg Und Frieden, however, one can’t help but feel a little let down.
Shigeto -Â No Better Time Than Now
[easyreview cat1title = “No Better Time Than Now” cat1rating =Â 3.5 cat1detail = ” “]
Shigeto is both the alias and the middle name of Zachary Saginaw, a former drummer who seems to have found his calling as a producer on Ghostly International. His jazz/hip-hop inspired downtempo lean has often found itself dragged against Californian rapper and producer Flying Lotus or London-based electronica artist Gold Panda for comparison – and it can’t be denied that fans of either will probably admire Shigeto’s delicate, freeform approach. However, reducing his new LP to the status of an imitation would be doing it disservice.
“Detroit Part 1” is an early winner, focusing first on Hudson Mohawke style video game samples and then, interestingly, falling into gorgeous melody behind an African Kalimba.Â No Better Time Than NowÂ starts well.Â It’s true that Japanese wind chimes have been slightly overused these past couple of years, but Shigeto hopes to innovate by matching them against a sparkling, percussive bassline on “Ring Leader.”Â
The sorrow on centerpiece “Miss U” is a gently affecting one, it swells and ebbs easily to a warm synth line. This enchanting track lays the producer’s very best on offer.Â The album has a failing, however, in its inconsistency. “Ritual Howl” is a sped up heartbeat laced around more Japanese wind chimes, an effort that cements Shigeto’s expertise in fragile flourishes – but this isn’t always a good thing because he sometimes verges on losing sight of the big picture, the song as a whole.Â
The relative lack of spark over the second half is offset by the penultimate title track. It sounds glorious, like if an apocalyptic drone settled into a Four Tet jam and the two were forced into a tangible rhythm.
The LP closer “Silver Lining” uses another infective sample to drive lazy hip-hop beats, something that’ll keep its place in your playlist a little while longer than the rest.Â
In all, the results may not always be invigorating even in Shigeto’s now-seasoned hands, but his compositions are mostly detailed and impressive.Â Shigeto’s label’s website will tell you that his moniker translates into ”˜to grow’, and the intricacies ofÂ No Better Time Than NowÂ doÂ dutifullyÂ grow on you with every listen.Â
Kavinsky –Â Odd Look EP
[easyreview cat1title = “Odd Look” cat1rating = 3.5 cat1detail = ” “]
If you feared that Kavinsky’s first collaboration with controversial alt R&B star, the Weeknd, might not be up to the weight of their better individual efforts – don’t. Kavinsky himself (shunted into the spotlight when his retro synth-driven “Nightcall” was featured prominently on the soundtrack to cult smash hitÂ Drive)Â isn’t even really the star of his new remix EP. The original “Odd Look” (as found on his debut LPÂ OutRunÂ earlier this year) was doused in the choral whispers and 80s analog that are so typical of his productions: which isn’t to say it wasn’t enjoyable, just that it wasn’t a standout. In contrast, the Weeknd version is bred for instantÂ likability. It arches over layers of ominous synths, and works because he speeds up his usual smooth delivery ever so slightly. Even otherwise, the EP boasts four other remixes, and a couple are top-notch.Â A-Trak’s mix tops that list, winding at times between moombahton and trap. The Canadian DJ mangles the original into a different beast entirely, unabashedly straddling the fence between raunchy and intelligent. The tune is bound to catch attention.Â
The release is worth your time.Â
Holy Models –Â Swimming EP
[easyreview cat1title = Swimming cat1rating = 2.5 cat1detail = ” “]
Holy Models is a self-professed ”˜psychedelic daytime disco’ act from Australia, recently garnering interest for their first single, “Swimming.” It couples unaffected Depeche Mode-style singing with warp-hole synths to sound like MGMT if they were extremely stoned. The original itself is really catchy and worth several spins on a lazy afternoon, but the remixes on the EP fall woefully short for the most part. The exception is funk house producer Rocco Raimundo’s lounge mix, which surprises a steady throwaway beat with afterparty reverb and then quits while it’s ahead. Holy Models’ only other contribution is the B-side “To Be With You”, an infantile pop song that grapples with many things, chief amongst them its halfhearted psychedelic aspirations.