Paddy Steer

Bifurcation Arrows Misleading Visuals
Via Bandcamp

Stating a penchant for Sun Ra and “the underdog” in his interview for Luke Dewhurst, Paddy Steer wears his influences on his sleeve for his third album, Bifurcation Arrows Misleading Visuals. Like a Mancunian Herbie Hancock, the 808 State collaborator and one-man band effortlessly switches between cosmic analogue bleeps and bloops to abstract phrases of jazz-tinged complexity with little more than a drum kit, a glockenspiel and vintage analogue synthesisers.

Steer is always ready to consistently defy expectations, not just with the arrangement of songs, but their place in the album. He gets this right with the high octane, arpeggiated synths and mod-jazz glockenspiel on ‘Empathy Bypass Module Fitted’, which transforms into the downtempo ‘Cochineals’, an eccentric plodder full of discordant broken cuckoo clock sounds with an outburst of delightfully absurd Balkan-style horns. The constant juxtaposition is jarring and unpleasant though, as the excellently unsettling exotica of ‘Biomass Noon’ is followed by the abrasive, distorted neurosis of ‘Skin Spinning’.

Paddy is intent to cross genres, as shown on the ambient, East Asian string-influenced songs, ‘Lament’ and ‘Omni Peanut Puppet Master’, which, although make for lovely, ethereal listening, miss a large portion of Steer’s presence and conceptual touch.

With flashes of genius, Bifurcation Arrows Misleading Visuals can be a breadcrumb path of delectable puerility. At other times it can feel too disorientating, lacking the cohesiveness to blend Steer’s myriad of ideas together. Listening, there is no doubt about a master at work perfecting a meticulous craft, but the album can feel like one big in-joke, with Steer laughing, not us.

Josh Coulton

Letherette

Refresh EP
Ninja Tune

Letherette are currently one of the few active members of the British electronic scene who I would suggest, alongside Nathan Fake and Wagon Christ, best represent the more obscure of the high quality on offer. Channelling Moodymann by way of Wolverhampton, Letherette’s latest EP, Refresh, is house, but not as we know it – infinitely smarter, considerably stranger and shot through with an undeniable sense of fun. Where their 2013 self-titled full-length boasted a more structured approach, with standout track ‘Restless’ a strung-out highlight, Refresh opts for a more ‘anything goes’ attitude.

The tightly wound first bars of EP opener and lead single, ‘Rayon’, blossoms into a summery, jazzy bass track and sets the breathy tone for the rest of the EP. Consistent above everything, the four tracks come across as a self-contained project, rather than simply being the flung-together album rejects that often comprise these kind of records.

The tracks that bookend the release, the aforementioned ‘Rayon’ and closer ‘Don’t Think About Me’, are the most accomplished, with ‘Look No More’ the only undercooked misstep. But this is simply for criticism’s sake. If I hadn’t been looking for flaws then I would have remained inebriated with Refresh’s chopped up haze.

Letherette may not have the discography to line up with the comparisons mentioned, but this is their third straight release that has thoroughly impressed me, so anything is possible.

Kristofer Thomas

Cabbage

Le Chou EP
Play and Record Records

Take a break Russell Brand, there’s a new kid (well, kids) on the block forecasting a revolution. Irony would have it that those kids in question are a band named after the most uninspiring vegetable know to man, but still favoured by nans everywhere. Cabbage is a five-piece addition to the Manchester bloodline of musical malcontents, with a déjà vu sound of neo post-punk.

The group’s debut EP, Le Chou, is like something I’ve never heard before, all the while feeling familiar. This is easy to do, since the record is a frantic frenzy of different genres and influences. Debut single ‘Kevin’ is steeped in a satirical sound akin to The Clash and awash with crashing surf guitar. Lee Broadbent (vocals) paints a picture of an impending dystopian future where “all the kids will fight their wars”.

The theatrics of the band are evident across the album, particularly so on the brilliant ‘Dinner Lady’. A certain lunacy and dark humour comes through, thanks to rhythm guitars and completely bizarre lyrics, in which the titular dinner lady serves up poetic justice to the young Jack Wills patrons of a private school. A fantastic comment on economic inequality.

The mood then softens with the closing track, ‘White Noise’, whose chillingly mellow tone and trippy vocals make your head feel light and unnerved.

You couldn’t pin down a genre for these lads, but their idiosyncrasy and bonkers personality will keep me curious about what’s to come. An uprising has begun.

Kate Morris

Levelz

LVL 11
Via Bandcamp

On their new mixtape, LVL 11, Levelz firmly lay claim to being the greatest party starters in the North West. The big, squelchy beats that form the backbone of the record are spat over by lyrics that are witty, hard-hitting and unmistakably Manc, making references to Vimto and the urge to begin drug dealing to fund a party lifestyle.

The quality of the production belies the album’s giveaway nature – it’s available on a pay-what-you-want basis – and there’s a world’s worth of influences spread over its 13 tracks. The variety of beats is overwhelming and at times it feels like the entire cultural, social and musical fabric of Manchester is on show. One moment it’s bashment, the next tropical and there’s even some old school 90s G-Funk thrown in for good measure.

However enjoyable it is to listen to, this is not music for headphones. The acts behind Levelz cut their teeth in a clubbing environment at nights such as Hit & Run, Hoya:Hoya and Swing Ting, and the explosive energy of the record cries out to be performed. Whether your ears would survive a night of being bombarded by the bass is another point entirely.

Ultimately, they’re another Manchester act redefining what it is to be from this city. They acknowledge its legacy – all of their releases are numbered similarly to Factory Records’ – but at the same time distance themselves from its tropes by creating something new, exciting and fresh.

David Ewing