Our monthly round-up of electronica albums that must make it into your playlist
John Wizards – John Wizards
If opinions have been vastly divided about Cape Town project John Wizards, it’s only because nobody really knows what to make of these vibrant spurts of Afro-tropicalia.Â Band leader John Withers is an ad jingle composer by day and this sensibility leaks into his record as well. This debut plays more like a series of sun-drenched snippets hurtling between genres, tempered by the occasional vocals by Rwandan refugee Emmanuel Nzaramba – or even those of Withers himself (a notable early example being the breathy interlude on “Muizenberg”).Â
Marking out individual tracks sometimes seems an exercise in futility, with the meandering dub jam “Maria” its only disappointment over the first half. For all its psychedelia and autotune, lead single “Lusaka by Night” (named after a club in Tanzania) is pumped by a heart that’s essentially African before it is anything else. “Finally/Jet Up” eases a pretty piano line into old-school tech-house rave music, and “I’m Still A Serious Guy” is reggae poetry. There’s no breathing room between shifts in pace, but Withers deftly shows us how this can be a good thing. Like a man reveling in his ADHD, his productions flit from the festive to the introspective mid-gear. Never once does the release’s childish enthusiasm flag or become less infectious – it can, however, turn repetitive over the second half.
Still, all in all, John Wizards is the latest soundtrack to turning any old drab morning into a personal party.Â
65daysofstatic – Wild Light
With this latest offering, Brit darlings 65daysofstatic have sent pundits scrambling for adjectives all over again. Are they now rave guitars and drums to dance to, or simply post-rock pioneers taking their electronica phase very seriously? The answer doesn’t seem to matter really – least of all to the band itself. Their critical 2011 release We Were Exploding Anyway was a brave foray into European dance influence; where it was clearing a broad path for others to follow, however, Wild Light is an exploration of more refined avenues.
“Heat Death Infinity Splitter” marches into the album dressed for a funeral, like a dirge accompanying you through a dystopian wasteland. It’s a risky, noisy gambit to kick off proceedings, but one that pays off over a resounding finish.
65daysofstatic trademarks remain – the precise and punchy drumbeat, the timed electronic clicks and whirrs, the disarming crescendos. Now more than ever, on standouts like “Prisms” and “Blackspots”, the keening guitar-work is filled in by intricacies: the band has polished and layered their sound long enough to wield it with impunity. In an almost natural progression, the band has abandoned the bass-heavy in favor of more subdued and exactÂ electroÂ inclusions. For all their polish, though, what is missed most is the frantic rush of bangers like “Weak4” or “Tiger Girl”.Â
The obligatory piano-led staples that are found lining any post-rock release are called “The Undertow” and “Taipei” on this one, and don’t add much beyond variety.
The brunt of Wild Light’s strength lies, then, in its closing arguments. “Unmake The Wild Light” has micro-beats tripping into what is undeniably one of the most meaningful instrumental tracks to come out all year, genre notwithstanding. “Safe Passage” straddles a bare piano line into a massive synthesized symphonic break that’s bound to make you gasp.Â
Over multiple listens it becomes obvious why this is a record that was meant to be heard whole, all at once. Find out.
Big City Harmonics – Foreward EP
Samples are carefully picked and, although some might border on typical (“Crimson”), even more carefully placed. Hastak’s saving grace is an uncanny knack for timing and execution, be it the eerie vocal track that kicks in on “Windmill” or the glitchy percussion trailing EP shiner “Down And Out”.
It’s often difficult to know what to make of a debut release from a fledgling musician. Consider how terrifying it can be to submit that first ”˜official’ piece of art into a public space for appraisal – it’s not just the release that’s up for evaluation but the artist’s potential as well. Over Foreward EP’s runtime, Hastak name-drops a host of styles and artists that ought to feature on any essential chillout mix;Â the EP though derives from the very best and then, aspires to adapt around them. Coming from a fresh producer still tinkering with his sound, this is a definite step in the right direction.Â
Su Real – The Grind EP
TMPST – Serpentine EP
It’s easiest to expect a good producer to maintain quality through changes in time, influence and even style. Pakistani composer Asfandyar Khan’s sublime ambient LP Elsewhere (2012) brought with it expectations of exceptional music regardless of genre, but on his side project TMPST’s Serpentine EP, they are sometimes belied.Â
Not so on “Three For”, a post-dubstep miracle that clings onto spectral female vocals and flings you straight into the deep conclaves of club music.Â
Or on the innovative “Tie Pin Vow”, the bass off which seems cut directly out of a tabla and then processed over a two-step shuffle. Khan’s compositions here are as relaxed and his notes as spaced out as ever, but on the future-bass experiment “Blue Blocks” or closer “Magnolia”, what seems to be uncharacteristically lacking is soul. These freeform efforts seem content to wander over a steady bass, missteps that aren’t jarring as much as they’re surprising. This does not mean, however, that Serpentine EP isn’t a sign of good things to come – TMPST’s next release is slated to be on the impressive Karachi-based Forever South label, and Khan may just have been warming up.