The Caretaker - An Empty Bliss Beyond This World

ARTIST: THE CARETAKER

ALBUM: AN EMPTY BLISS BEYOND THIS WORLD

LABEL (YEAR): HISTORY ALWAYS FAVOURS THE WINNERS (2011)

FOR FANS OF: V/VM, KIASMOS, JEFRE CANTU-LEDESMA  

Words by Alastair Pearson


James Leyland Kirby's 2011 album emerged partly in response to research conducted by the Boston University School of Medicine into the effects of music on the ability of people living with Alzheimer's disease to recall information. Researchers found a higher rate of accurate recall to sung information accompanied by music than to unaccompanied spoken information. Rather than suggesting the power of music to form memories, the research indicated that for those living with Alzheimer's disease, the 'complex neural networks' engaged in the processing of musical information 'are affected at a slower rate... than those areas of the brain typically associated with memory.’ In Bliss, muffled, disorientated phrases sampled from old 78s segue spasmodically against the comforting crackle of well-worn lacquer, offering a hand to hold through the maze of memories evoked by the faded playfulness of Kirby's source material.

Bliss is about memory, time and culture. From the moment the record starts you are dragged back in time by melodies from the ballroom, yet the album's scrambled continuity places the work firmly in the present. Having never lived in a time to have formed memories of formal dances with tuxedos and ballgowns, I nevertheless feel nostalgia for a time I have never lived in, for the swells and spikes that would evoke memories of a velvet-gloved hand upon my shoulder and the padding of patent leather shoes across thick hotel carpets. These are the memories of people living with Alzheimer's today, and Kirby's poignant work raises questions as to the sounds our memories will recall in years to come. In the age of instant 'capture and recollection via the internet', what will future generations point to as culturally nostalgic? One can only hope Miley Cyrus will be top of the list.

Genelec & Memphis Reigns - Scorpion Circles

ARTIST: GENELEC & MEMPHIS REIGNS

ALBUM: SCORPION CIRCLES

LABEL (YEAR): HHI (2002)

FOR FANS OF: CANNIBAL OX, DELTRON 3030, BINARY STAR

Words by Gummo Clare


If you’ve come across this album before, you’ll know that it’s become pretty sought-after online – I saw a Youtube commenter offering $250 just for a CD version, and vinyl copies seem to be pretty much non-existent. Neither Genelec nor Memphis Reigns have released a huge amount, and there’s not that much information about the record floating around online; this obviously adds to the album’s mystique (and, presumably value).

But otherwise, on paper, this album doesn’t necessarily offer much to explain its cult status or differentiate it from the swathes of underground hip-hop released in the early 2000s: the sci-fi-influenced lyrical themes that reappear throughout the record, and the brooding production immediately suggest heavy influences from better-known peers. Most obvious is the connection with DJ Shadow’s groundbreaking production on Endtroducing….., with clear nods to his work appearing on a number of tracks – the ‘Organ Donor’-channelling beat on ‘Organisms’, and the drums-and-piano loop on ‘Prepare (Interlude)’ in particular show unmistakable signs of Shadow’s influence.

While, alongside Shadow, parallels between this album and the sound that drives artists on El-P’s Def Jux label (especially Cannibal Ox) are obvious, there is one clear difference. Where El-P often relies on density to create a sense of darkness in his beats, on Scorpion Circles Genelec’s approach is spartan, employing a limited selection of samples to create a taut and often unsettling sonic landscape. He employs drum loops that stray from the funk breakbeat key to the boombap sound, with a select few other samples drenched in reverb, providing a sparse backdrop for his own rhymes alongside Memphis Reigns. His occasional sampling of Indian, Turkish, and Japanese traditional instruments throughout the record reminds me of the some of Madlib’s production; it also provides a consistent and strong sense of identity to the album.

Another standout feature on the record is the sparing, but vital, use of scratching. At points scratched breaks almost serve as an extra voice – the best example being the close of track ‘Sunwheel’, where the final scratched ‘verse’, over a loping sitar and double-bass-driven beat rounds off what is the standout tune on the album. Similarly, DJ Gamma Ray’s scratch feature on ‘Anarchist Cookbook’, a track that, in its subject matter, draws parallels to MF Doom’s cartoonish supervillain narratives, feels like a separate voice in itself. As MCs, the pair are more inventive lyrically than they are in terms of delivery; however, Memphis Reigns’ flow, which often cuts across bar lines and often offers couplets in unexpected places offers an interesting counterpoint to Genelec’s relatively straight rhythmic approach.

This record is an underappreciated gem, and it’s a record that I’ve found myself constantly coming back to since I came across it a couple of years ago.

Neurosis - A Sun That Never Sets

ARTIST: NEUROSIS

ALBUM: A SUN THAT NEVER SETS

LABEL (YEAR): RELAPSE RECORDS (2001)

FOR FANS OF: SWANS, MELVINS, GODFLESH  

Words by Chris Gaduzo


The sonic evolution of Neurosis is possibly one of the most exciting and remarkable of its kind, and one I simply love boring people with. In essence though, it goes like this: Hardcore band slows down, gets intense, gets darker, gets more experimental, creates the most interesting heavy music of the past 30 years. It is difficult to choose a favourite Neurosis album, but A Sun That Never Sets is the one that made me realise this band was something special.

The band had already delivered some outstanding albums; Through Silver in Blood saw the band wallowing in a dark mix of sludge, punk, psychedelia and ambient music that is still unparalleled in sonic intensity. The Steve Albini-produced Times of Grace saw the band once again deliver a fantastic album that summed up what they were all about in the 90s. However, it was simply not in Neurosis style to play it safe, and A Sun That Never Sets saw the beginning of another impressive stylistic change.

Opener ‘The Tide’ demonstrates this through its slow, acoustic sections, with Steve Von Till no longer yelling his vocals like on earlier material, but crooning similarly to Tom Waits. However, Neurosis are always a heavy band, and soon the listener is greeted with a sludgy outro where melodic synths battle Scott Kelly’s desperate howls for your attention. Elsewhere, ‘From The Hill’ sees the return of the mid-tempo march Neurosis helped create, yet the band never quite explodes into waves of riffs like they used to. Instead, these heavier moments are held back and unleashed for maximum effect on tracks like ‘Watchfire’ or the breathtaking closer ‘Stones from the Sky’.

Perhaps the most important thing about the direction Neurosis chose to take with A Sun That Never Sets is that they demonstrated how volume does not always equal heavy. Their sound at this point was totally reined in – another piece of their sonic puzzle, which on this album expanded to incorporate folk (see the key change in ‘Crawl Back In’), psychedelia (‘Falling Unknown’) and even tribal music (‘From Where its Roots Run’).

Linton Kwesi Johnson - LKJ In Dub

ARTIST: LINTON KEWSI JOHNSON

ALBUM: LKJ IN DUB

LABEL (YEAR): ISLAND RECORDS (1980)

FOR FANS OF: MATUMBI, BURNING SPEAR, LEE SCRATCH PERRY  

Words by Ciaran Davis


My auntie and uncle have impeccable music taste and an eclectic record collection. When I was a teenager, trips to visit my cousins would involve late night sessions listening to all sorts of records. From D.A.F to Public Image Ltd., I got into a variety of artists who were trying to do something different. Of all the things I listened to, Linton Kwesi Johnson's album, LKJ In Dub, stands out. LKJ is a poet who was born in Jamaica in 1952 and settled in Brixton in 1963.

I saw him recite poetry in St. George's Church, Sheffield in 2012 as part of a literary festival. His performance was vivid; poems such as 'Sonny's Lettah' still channel a furious, yet controlled anger. In the subsequent questions and answers session, Linton eloquently described the mechanisms behind the London riots and why they will happen again. Yet LKJ in Dub is a departure from the poetry that he is famous for. On this album his famous songs are reworked and the lyrics are often removed. The concept behind the album was in keeping with other dub albums; take songs that are familiar to the listener, ramp up the bass and mix it in the studio.

The most striking thing about the album is the artwork – a stark red background interspersed with bold black font depicting the album's title; your gaze gravitates towards it. The music on the album also emits a raw hypnotic quality. 'Bass Culture' is my favourite – the pulsing bass mixes with LKJ's lyrics to create a woozy atmosphere. In 'Victorious Dub', the bass and drums lurk in the background, creating a slightly frenetic vibe. I keep on returning to this album to get that warm analogue sound; it’s a timeless piece of music, perfect for after-parties.

Quarteto Em Cy - Querelas Do Brasil

ARTIST: QUARTETO EM CY

ALBUM: QUERELAS DO BRASIL

LABEL (YEAR): PHILLIPS (1978)

FOR FANS OF: GAL COSTA, TIM MAIA, TOM ZÉ  

 

Words by Jasper Morvaridi


I picked up Quarteto Em Cy’s Querelas Do Brasil in Eldica Records in Dalston. As soon as I put the needle on the record in the shop I was hooked.

Quartet Em Cy are a girl group who originally formed in 1959. Despite a short break from 1970-72, they’ve released some 38 records over the decades. This one, Querelas Do Brasil, dates from the end of the 70s. It really covers a lot of ground, from bossa nova tracks such as ‘Querelas Do Brasil’ and ‘Love, Love, Love’ to slow jams like ‘Angelica’ and ‘Sapato Velho’. My favourite on the record is without a doubt ‘Salve O Verde’ - a sort of psychedelic funk/soul jam with a heavy groove to it.

Despite my lack of understanding of the Portuguese language, in many ways the melodies and the music do the talking themselves, or rather, they tell the story. It’s this emotion the captures me the most.

In recent years Latin American music has been at the forefront of musical rediscovery, with labels such as Mr. Bongo reissuing LPs and 45s, Gilles Peterson investing in his Sonzeira project and the likes of Floating Points and Motor City Drum Ensemble putting it at the centre of their DJ sets. Where this upsurge has seen many records from the continent rocket in price on Discogs, Querelas Do Brasil is one that you can (and should) pick up for as little as a tenner. It’s well worth a go.


Wojtek Mazolewski Quintet - Polka

ARTIST: WOJTEK MAZOLEWSKI QUINTET

ALBUM: POLKA

LABEL (YEAR): AGORA SA (2014)  

FOR FANS OF:  UNITED VIBRATIONS, BILL EVANS, MAMMAL HANDS, GOGO PENGUIN

 

Words by Lexy Morvaridi


What makes an album great is the narrative that’s constructed as you listen to it – the ups, the downs and the in-betweens that create the overall flow. What makes an album even greater is the way in which the narrative nurtures diversity yet fits together as a whole. Polka is one of these greater albums.

Throughout this tapestry of jazz numbers the varied range of influences behind Wojtek Mazolewski is clear, from opening ambient piano-led ‘Roma I’ to the afro-tinged swing of ‘Punk-T Gdansk’; the reggae backbeat of ‘Get Free’ to the house driven bounce of ‘Sunday’.

Several tracks are named after cities across the world and the chief concept behind the record is to recreate the sounds of each city through Wojtek’s sentimental lens and he most definitely has his finger on the money with each composition.

‘Berlin’ is a carefully constructed electronic influenced minimalist track that has an equally dark music video to accompany it - conceptualised and directed by Jessica Comis, Michal Andrysiak and Shira Kela.

‘Paris’, meanwhile, sees a delicate floating melody throughout, which conjures images of walking the winding streets of the French capital as the sun sets on a summer’s evening.

To top it all off, the album squeezes in jazz covers of Rage Against the Machine and Nirvana (who’d have thought they would lend themselves so nicely to jazz?) Wojtek thought and delivered.

"A journey of self-discovery, transformation and liberation. Berlin is a city that allows people to explore hidden layers of their existence. In a city where desire manifests itself in myriad ways, we are confronted with an array of possibilities as to how we choose to lead our lives."

Susumu Yokota - Sakura

ARTIST: SUSUMU YOKOTA

ALBUM: SAKURA

LABEL (YEAR): SKINTONE/THE LEAF LABEL (1999/2000)  

FOR FANS OF:  BRIAN ENO, BOARDS OF CANADA, APHEX TWIN

 

Words by Aidan Daly


Sakura is an strange album. I can’t tell if I only think this because I found it around the same time I was reading Murakami’s Kafka On The Shore, and the subtle absurdity of the book leaked into my listening. It could well have been the other way round.

Either way, like much of Murakami, Sakura appears completely familiar and disembodied at the same time. Swells of serene loops make up the album’s meandering fifty-one minutes, yet each track remains rooted by a pulse, be it a rhythmic one or a repeating musical motif, which provides a framework for other elements to unfold around. Much of the music is disturbingly affectionate, a sensation made even more immediate through the sustained repetition that structures the album.

Appropriately, ‘Gekkoh’ makes use of Steve Reich’s ‘Pulses’ from Music for 18 Musicians, tastefully recycling it alongside strings and impatient, metronomic percussion. ‘Saku’ opens the album as dreamy ambient smog, until the track’s layers ebb away leaving only a reiterating, twitching hook – perversely mechanical given the rest of the track. ‘Hisen’ sluggishly morphs into a contemplative chord sequence, aided by violin samples, while ‘Azukiiro No Kaori’ sees a crescendo of knotted vocals gradually come to fill the mix, both touching and distancing simultaneously.

I always come back to Sakura. It’s accessible, and pleasant, but there’s an alienating undercurrent to it. It’s precisely this duality that makes the album so enticing – a sweet spot only Yokota knew how to exploit.


Throbbing Gristle - 20 Jazz Funk Greats

ARTIST: THROBBING GRISTLE

ALBUM: 20 JAZZ FUNK GREATS

LABEL (YEAR):  INDUSTRIAL RECORDS (1979)

FOR FANS OF: CABARET VOLTAIRE, EINSTÜRZENDE, NEUBATEN MONTE CAZAZZA, CURRENT 93

Words by Stef Fiorendi


Their name is as outrageous as their artistic performances; Throbbing Gristle, which in Yorkshire slang refers to an erection, were a collective of “wreckers of civilisation” and pioneers of industrial music in the UK.

20 Jazz Funk Greats is the third LP released by the controversial band, which was used to collaborate in the performances of the sleazy and subversive art clique, COUM Transmissions. The album is a zig-zag through jazz and funk to which dashes of disco, rock and exotica are added here and there, all disturbingly permeated with a gritty industrial vibe. From the Kraftwerk-like synths of ‘Walkabout’ to Cosey’s breathy vocals, and the Moroder-esque beats of ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ to the ominous dirge of ‘Persuasion’, the album mingles distress and ecstasy, deliberately swaying between sharp and slimy. The pornographic photography session described in ‘Persuasion’, the political anthem of ‘Convincing People’ and the deceptively cheerful cover photo on the suicide spot Beachy Head generate an illusionary flirt between irony and reality, rhythm and noise.

On first listening I twitched my mouth a bit. Probably a good soundtrack for one of the early Cronenberg films: dirty, brittle and harsh, yet curiously frisky.


Cannibal Ox - The Cold Vein

ARTIST: CaNNIBAL OX

ALBUM: THE COLD VEIN

LABEL (YEAR):  DEFINITIVE JUX (2001)

FOR FANS OF: WU-TANG CLAN, RUN THE JEWELS, DR OCTAGON

Words by Theo Kotz


I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t have much of a clue about Def Jux until recently. Well, I loved RJD2 as a teenager, and I’ve got a small collection of abstract indie hip-hop with Company Flow nestled between Dr Octagon and cLOUDDEAD that I break out now and again. But originally I didn’t clock the label connection and it wasn’t until Run The Jewels that I’d even heard producer EL-P’s name. I love those RTJ records, the burst-fire breakbeats and general contorted squawk of the production stripped away years of indifference like a solvent. It got me looking for the producer’s fingerprints wherever I could and to my delight there they were all over records I’d had for years, including this leviathan, The Cold Vein.

This record slew me when I first heard it. Unlike other music of that time I had discovered through research and recommendation, it came to me in isolation at a time when my life largely consisted of just that. There in the colourless fug of my existence, escape obscured by thick black smoke, I was collared and dragged into a world as murky and convoluted as my head.

The dense thicket of triple-stacked prose burned pictures of steel-blue New York into my brain. From El-P’s icy and phantasmal beats a cold and deathly city would loom in my mind’s eye, populated by Vast-Aire and Mega Vordul’s fey tales dripping in Miller-esque darkness and a real fear so rare in the bravado-laden world of millennial hip-hop. New York, that most over-subscribed font of inspiration, drawn anew; it was akin to seeing a familiar painting in the flesh for the first time. El-P’s production owed much to what the RZA had pioneered a decade earlier, heavily leaning on descending minor keys and brooding depths of bass, a relentlessly claustrophobic march punctuated by fleeting moments of flight and expansion.

Somewhere in between all of these elements: the overbearing aura of dread, the unabashedly overblown wordplay, the comic-book mythology, the skittish percussion, the high-minded opaque imagery….. somewhere Can Ox hit a sweet spot, a Bermuda triangle whose co-ordinates no-one’s managed to pin down since.


Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas

ARTIST: COCTEAU TWINS

ALBUM: HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS

LABEL (YEAR):  4AD (1990)

FOR FANS OF: THIS MORTAL COIL, SLOWDIVE, MY BLOODY VALENTINE

 

Words by Stef Fiorendi


Cocteau Twins are one of 4AD's flagship artists. They not only defined a genre but also an aesthetic: ethereal and sensuous soundscapes that go hand in hand with enigmatic and abstract sleeve artworks designed by Vaughan Oliver.

The entirety of Heaven or Las Vegas, Cocteau Twins' last album for 4AD, is a powerful and surrealistic dream in a world of technicolor. Elizabeth Fraser is the ethereal narrator, her unique soprano voice levitating over a vast open landscape, delicately and gradually filling the listener with lush, bursting energy. On 'Fotzepolitic' and 'Pitch the Baby', the thick and succinct basslines of Simon Raymonde bring things back to a human dimension, revealing a conceptual accessibility which prevents the listener/dreamer from completely drifting off to Heaven, and allows them to find a tangible contact with their own personal Las Vegas.

This album is luminous ecstasy, fuelled by the enigmatic and barely intelligible lyrics which create a sense of climactic mystery. Like the dichotomy between good and evil, Heaven or Las Vegas determines your transgression to other-worldly realms. It's either a spiritual connection with God or an uninhibited journey to Sin City. No judgement involved.