That time of year again where synchronicity shines through and by happy coincidence both myself and the blog tally getting one more year older on the calendar on the same day. I hope I don’t sound especially sentimental when I say that this blog has been a massive part of my life – I think I’m coming up on 10 years of writing this year? It’s pretty wild to think about. But that’s part of the appeal to me, sure I might wince a bit at my teenage writings – but what I have here is a written log of my electronic music journey, one that’s going to continue for many more years to come.
Sir Terry Frost – Umea, Sweden (1979)
We’ve both come a long way since the days of bloghouse where I got my start. Genres have come and gone in the years since, but I like to think I’ve been pretty consistent. Though we are going to take a break from my usual format this time and do what I normally do around the blog’s birthday (and some seasonal holidays) a good old fashioned track dump like it’s 2010. Basically I’m just gonna be throwing down a whole bunch of tracks from across the genre spectrum – some classics that I’ve had for longer than I’ve been writing here to new(ish) stuff and everything in-between. Thanks for reading, and here’s to many more of these to come.
Kicking off with a bit of synthwave from Carpenter Brut. Brut’s stuff has a lot in common with the electro house of old in terms of sound, his brand of synthwave (at least in this Trilogy era) is free of the more super cliché bits that can be pitfalls of the genre – Brut’s slasher film aesthetic is a nice change of pace from the usual pink grids, pastel sunsets and cocaine white Countaches that come with the territory. I’m not as into the scene as I was back when this was new circa 2015 so take that comment with a grain of salt and all. The entire Trilogy compilation is a fantastic crash course into the world of Brut, gathering up his first three EPs into one tight package that I would say is near essential if you’re at all into the genre.
While I do love his more abrasive work on tracks like Turbo Killer and the first of his I ever heard, the brutal sounding Roller Mobster – I’ve gone with a different pick this time. Looking For Tracy Tzu has much more of a cinematic feel than those two (not entirely unexpected though, given Brut’s obvious horror flick influences), but even so still finely demonstrates Brut’s mastery of his own style, one of my favourites and just a fantastic track from a fantastic compilation.
A find from my eary bandcamp days (and one that’s been on my wishlist for a shamefully long time as well), when I started to broaden my horizons a little bit in the vast and infinite world of bandcamp. One of many tracks that have made me eat crow and walk back my “minimal isn’t really my bag” statement (one that’s still kind of true) – Antigone & François X’s We Move As One. The title track is a woozy sea of arpeggios, and my choice for this post Journey Home follows that same methodology but with a thudding 4/4 instead of the hazy ambience of the former. A colossal 7 minute number, it’s utterly hypnotic in its execution, effortlessly building to peaks and crashing down into valleys – another one of those tracks that again make me fall in love with electronic music all over again with it’s atmosphere. A stellar piece that makes me all wistful for the dancefloor.
Onto one of the older ones here, Misstress Barbara’s Never Could Have Your Heart. This one came into my life when I was beginning to branch back out into the world of electronic music, back then I was only really listening to stuff that I’d picked up from when more electronic stuff would bleed onto the radio – your Daft Punk and friends kinda deal. I don’t know the exact year I found this one but it can’t be later than the early 00’s, it was one of those magical moments where it solidified why I liked electronic music – I instantly could tell that I loved this sound and wanted more of it. I dig it out from time to time, and the love I have for it is still strong – that melody is so, so good and it was so much heavier than the more disco-influenced house I was familiar with at the time. And it all came full circle eventually, as I learned that the melody that I liked so much from this one is actually sampled or otherwise taken from Move’s D’s In/Out (Initial Mix) (around 2:20 if you want to skip straight to it) which is also another great record.
What is there to say about Nightmares on Wax that I haven’t already said over the years? A hometown hero of mine, generally nice bloke and provider of solid downtempo stuff for well over 20 years at this point. I’ve picked one from Smokers Delight again, one of the trio of albums that I have signed by the man himself and a quite easy and comfortable entry on my 10 top 10s list. An early highlight, Pipes Honour remains one of my first go-to tracks from the album, from the get go it establishes itself as one of the heralds of what the albums all about – if the title of it and the artwork didn’t give enough indication already. Together they make for one damn near essential piece of downtempo history, whether you partake of the titular smoking or not – if you are at all into anything downtempo I can highly recommend both this and the follow up album Carboot Soul for your collection. Another one with a deceptively thick bassline, run this one through your sub for a quick and easy way to dust your shelves!
Closing out this section with another easy entry on my 10 10s list, The Knife’s Silent Shout. Another exercise in aesthetic perfection, the complete polar opposite of the bubblegum electropop of Deep Cuts, Silent Shout is a much moodier affair – loaded with cool electronics and a melancholy tinge to the lyrics and delivery. Silent Shout draws from a much wider sound pool than Deep Cuts, there are fragments of all kinds of genres on here from Trance to Ambient – but as seen through the lens of The Knife.
Silent Shout also sees Karin & Olof refine their work on the vocal front, on the previous two albums there were a few tracks that played around with Karin’s voice, pitch shifting it around in order to play different roles – it’s a technique that worked really well (and would continue to do so on Karin’s solo project Fever Ray) but here it’s refined even more, and the duo lock in to a sound that not only compliments the sound and atmosphere of the album, but lends weight to the lyrical content and themes as well. There is no better demo of what I’ve just mentioned than the title track itself: they synths are just fantastic, and the sound of Karin dueting with her simultaneously pitched-down and pitched-up selves is a strong contender for my favourite vocal treatment of all time. It’s transitioned into track 2 of the album as I type this and I cannot overstate how much I love this album, the opening combo of the first four tracks is just flawless and an incredible experience. The Knife came to me at a weird time in my life but I’m ever so glas to have found them.
Rounding out with two more entires to bring things full circle. Warp has been a major staple of my listening history over the years and as a result a big part of my history with the blog as well – I spent an entire year writing album reviews of classic Warp albums not long after I first started after all. I’ve not been the best at keeping up with what’s new from them as I used to just because I’m a heck of a lot busier these days than when I was a teen, but I’ve made the effort to rectify that recently and I have not been disappointed.
Squarepusher’s latest EP Lamental was an early hightlight of me getting back on the Warp train, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect going in though, as anyone with a passing knowledge of Squarepusher’s work can tell you he can swing wildly in sound from one release to the next. Still, I had heard Midi Sans Frontieres a while back when he was giving out the stems for it, so I checked it out based on the strength of that. It’s a very solid EP and serves as a whirlwind tour of Squarepusher’s many sounds over the years – opening with The Paris Track, evocative of his older Drum & Bass style works a la A Journey To Reedham from the Big Loada EP but twinned with those new squelchy synths he’s so fond of. A downright beautiful ambient piece in Detroit People Mover, which I appreciate a whole lot as the rare times he does take on the genre it is always beautiful – see Tommib for proof of that. A solo guitar piece rounds out the retrospective tour, Les Mains Dansent could easily have been one of the handful of classical guitar bits featured on Ultravisitor, it’s most similar to the closing track Every Day I Love in my opinion.
I’m not going to lie, the sort of look back over his discography has tinted my opinion of this EP quite a bit as it made me all nostalgic for those days when I was exploring all that Warp had to offer (and loving it!). I’ve chosen Midi Sans Frontieres (Avec Batterie) this time, it and it’s ambient-style cousin (just called Midi Sans Frontieres) close out the tracklist and I adore them both. This version with the beat recalls bits of Ultravisitor again, the jazzy nature reminding me of Iambic 9 Poetry. It’s far from his ‘Drill & Bass’ of old, but I really like the sound of this EP and am interested to hear where Squarepusher goes next.
I did the same with another of my Warp favourites – Daniel Lopatin’s long time ambient / avant garde project Oneohtrix Point Never. I first found OPN via the Rifts compilation released in 2009, a gathering of his first few albums into one huge set. I actually bought my copy through Bleep, Warp’s official distributor that used to deal only in digital music but merged with the physical store Warpmart a while ago now. I distinctly remember thinking at the time that OPN would make a great addition to Warp’s roster, a feeling that only got stronger as I dove into his previous works and the Rifts comp started making waves. It wasn’t long before that actually happened, and since then Lopatin has gone from strength to strength – even branching out into film soundtracks in recent years. OPN’s work can be experimental to a fault at times, though I think both the Rifts compilation and R Plus Seven are fairly accessible if you want to get into his overall sound (and personally I think R Plus Seven is some of his finest work).
But we’re getting away from the point, I haven’t really checking in to a full release from Lopatin since around the release of R Plus Seven which is coming up on nearly 10 years old at this point. I think I did check out his two follow up albums in passing when they came out but like so many other records I intend to look into ended up on the back burner – so this time I did the same strategy as I did with Squarepusher and dove right into the latest EP of his, Nothing’s Special. It’s not a long one at just two tracks, one of which is just the album version of the track so I thought it’d be an easy entry.
It is just fantastic. I was rapt from the opening alone but that only continued as the track went on, I’m totally in love with it. e OPN has played with vocals previously in the past – normally heavily distorted as on the original version of Returnal or the cut up samples of the Replica album – though his work for the Good Time soundtrack featured an almost spoken work collaboration with Iggy Pop in The Pure And The Damned that sort of leads directly into this one. Damned is fantastic in its own right, the small bits of that iconic Juno sound from OPN’s early work never fails to make me smile.
But as I mentioned, Nothing Special feels like a refinement of that. The original has more in common with Returnal as mentioned above, albeit not as distorted – this time the vocals getting a melodic auto-tune-esque treatment and some great subtle and not-so-subtle glitch artifacts that sound amazing too. For me though, the real highlight is the new version for this EP, a collaboration with Rosalía taking over the vocals. Of the two, I think this one is easily my favourite (Shocking, I know given my bias towards treated vocals), there’s nothing wrong with the original but Rosalía makes the whole thing feel so much more passionate. OPN’s subtle and delicate treatment of her voice is nothing short of brilliant as well, rather than swimming in autotune as the original was, here it’s more selectively applied along with the subtle glitch artifacts as well, the whole thing comes across like a merging of humanity with technology which I just love, I’ve been unable to stop coming back to this one over the past week or so.
Perhaps not a track dump in the traditional sense, but more than I normally put up and of a much wider variety as well. Plus, I let myself write more than usual this time too, so apologies for the big gap between the last post and this one. As I close out this post I just want to drop a quick thank you to all that read – whether you’re fairly new or a long time veteran, your interest is greatly appreciated! I love being able to write out my thoughts like this on all kinds of electronic music, the blog has been a major rock for me over the years and now more than ever have I needed it, and my music collection as a whole. Likewise, I hope that it’s provided some consistency and levity in your own lives as well. Not to get too overbearingly sentimental or really parasocial on you or nothing though!
Once again, here’s to many more years of these to come. I’ll be back around soon enough as usual with more tales and tunes but until then – as always, stay safe and enjoy the music.