Lo Shea

Modulate EP

Liam O’Shea has been a big name in the Sheffield electronic music scene for the last couple of decades, building on his reputation as a resident DJ back in the 90s. Nowadays he’s not only a DJ but a business man, producing tracks through his renowned labels, Seaghdha and 100 Years, curating and managing the fantastic venue and art space Hope Works, and still finding time to make his own music under the Lo Shea moniker.

Released via the Hope Works label, Lo Shea’s latest EP Modulate is a four track record featuring a remix by Bristol-based Hodge for the finale, ‘Primitive Operations’, bringing an atmospheric techno layer to an already entrancing track. It’s not surprising to see O’Shea collaborating on his personal work, given his vast links across the scene, and it gives a glimpse into him not only as an artist, but as a listener and lover of other artists' music.

Modulate feels as though it’s been crafted to listen to as a whole. Opening track ‘A Way Through (Dub)’ starts minimal and industrial, with a slight build-up through the track, throwing up nostalgic synth sounds which wouldn’t feel out of place in the era O’Shea began his career. ‘Mark X’ picks up the pace and melody, strengthening the reminiscent sounds of the previous track, but with more of a club atmosphere. Both versions of ‘Primitive Operations’, with and without Hodge, again build on the industrial feel, which feels akin to the Steel City itself, an important influence on O’Shea’s musical career.

Tasha Franek

Community

Community

Community are up there with the most successful groups to emerge so far from The Lughole, a back-to-basics local venue that’s fast turning into one of the city’s most successful incubators of new bands via their label offshoot, Kids Of The Lughole.

Sticking firmly to that ethos, this self-titled release is short and sweet, with none of the five tracks crossing the two-and-a-half minute mark. The EP opens with a flurry of drums at the start of ‘Mushy Peas’ before settling into (well, for 60 seconds at least) a guitar-led groove sounding like The Fall at their most muscular.

Interesting cover art too, with the band’s name contracted and stylised as if a sequence of medieval runes. Below is a macabre image of a skull on a stick throwing its hands in the air, appropriated from a mid-sixteenth century illustration for Cosmographia, Sebastian Münster’s 1544 survey of the entire world.

Community’s focus is a little narrower, seemingly out to prove the continued relevance of the old adage that three chords are all you need to form a punk band, such as with the thrashy ‘That’s Magic’ (the vocals are buried deep in the mix, so they may indeed be about Paul Daniels). ‘Kids’ takes on more of a metal flavour, backed by big and bright cyclical riffs, while closer ‘March’ opens with a brief sample of studio chatter (the EP was recorded at the Audacious), before descending into two minutes of madness one last time.

Sam Gregory

Unearthly Trance

Stalking The Ghost

Exploiting every stepping stone on the path to ultimate heaviness that the doom and sludge genres have to offer, Stalking The Ghost is an album that uses its duration to take you on a journey to the core principles of massive, distorted riffing by getting progressively darker and heavier with each passing track.

'Into The Spiral' kicks off with an uptempo stoner groove but with the crushing element of darkness that pervades all of the album’s tracks, despite the thread of melody that holds it together. A clear highlight, 'Famine' is a monolith of dirty post-metal, with bellows melding into whispers and thick, titanic riffs giving way to bursts of atmospheric chords. 'Lion Strength' continues this contrasting sound, but suffers from some weaker textbook riffs, made more obvious by its lingering duration.

'Invisible Butchery', however, is the motherlode of heaviness. Full deathly growls and snail’s pace chord changes from the very outset herald complete auditory doom, maintaining a gloriously horrible tone, even when the tempo picks up.

As a sort of summation, 'The Great Cauldron' progresses through the various iterations of unadulterated weight that have come before. Finally, 'In The Forest's Keep' is like a haunting echo left after the storm that was Stalking The Ghost, its entirely clean but unsettling tone acting as both a cleansing and a message of eerie warning. This is not the end.

Richard Spencer

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

The Tourist

Coming of age in the internet era, when the promised democratisation of culture appeared to be coming true, when musicians and bloggers alike could reach international audiences without leaving their bedrooms, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah did not have the good grace to disappear once the hype machine dropped them.

The sprawl of sites sharing amateur music journalism was tamed into a more centralised Web 2.0, forcing acts whose careers were made by the dissemination of low-quality MP3s to either disappear or ascend to the middling levels of success afforded to indie bands. Alec Ounsworth opted for neither.

Despite what the curbed vocal tics and Kings of Convenience vibe of opening track ‘The Pilot’ might suggest, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah have not lost all of their bizarro charm at a time when, to survive, the more eccentric parts of guitar music have been shorn off. The yelps of ‘Satan Said Dance’ or the mumbling of ‘Over and Over Again’ return for The Tourist and, regardless of having pruned down membership to just the frontman, the record creates the illusion of a full band.

Ounsworth harmonises with himself, voice panning between speakers to simulate backing vocals. There’s a mix of programmed and live syncopated drums, analogue and electronic instrumentation, adding up to some thoroughly solid guitar pop. It’s not brilliant, but The Tourist is at least how a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah album in 2017 ought to sound.

Tom Baker

Dutch Uncles

Big Balloon

Hummingbirds are bloody difficult to photograph. It’s nigh impossible to catch a glimpse of what the wings of the birds look like because they’re constantly flapping at unfathomable speed. You just end up with a picture of a blur. It’s similarly difficult to put a pin in Dutch Uncles. On past efforts and on this, their fifth album, they refuse to stay still.       

It’s not as self-consciously cerebral or formalistic as math pop, nor as formulaically indebted to Gang of Four as much art rock, but Big Balloon nonetheless gets a significant amount of its forward momentum from Andy Proudfoot hammering his drums on the offbeat, Pete Broadhead’s jangling guitar chords and keyboard lines characteristic of those subgenres.

“I get so excited / ‘Til I can’t talk about it” frontman Duncan Wallis sings, as if by way of explanation, in a similarly nervous blue-eyed soul voice to Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip or Field Music’s Brewis brothers. ‘Same Plain Dream’ and ‘Combo Box’ here particularly recall the Mackem twosome thanks to a metallic bassline from Robin Richards.

The rest of the record rockets along with enough energy to force the rhythm of your own pulse to match it, but some of the most exhilarating moments come when you do manage to snatch a moment of stillness. Wallis’s voice unaccompanied returns on ‘Baskin’, before a juddering van de Graaf of electronic buzz, while the baroque strings of ‘Achameleon’ resemble the later, studio-bound records of XTC.

Tom Baker

Utah?

Utah?
Nitrogen EP

Utah?’s previous EP, Oxygen, featured incredible music and was formed of strong individual tracks bearing a good sense of cohesion. Nitrogen has a clearer sense of identity and a consistent style that dabbles in multiple genres but rests close to the ever-growing spectrum of instrumental grime.

What immediately stands out listening to Nitrogen for the first time is the pleasant, dry texture that gives a lo-fi finish to Utah?’s music, making it sound less digital and electronic.

The tracks on Nitrogen don’t sound like they’re crammed with instruments, but still take up a lot of space. This effect is clearest on the release’s stronger tracks, like ‘Closure’, a booming redesign of an older style of grime production that could have been released ten years ago or ten years from now. ‘Catalyst’ is a hip hop beat existing in the dimensions of the producer’s style, ‘Formula’ is classic Utah?, while ‘250ml’ is cut from the same cloth as ‘Closure’, but with a smoother side, one of the best tracks here.

This EP has a jarring start, with ‘Refraction’s soulless but melodic beat, and ends with the titular track ‘Nitrogen’, a musical reflection of ‘Refraction’ that’s more calming than it is positive. Utah?’s music has always sounded quite futuristic, but with Nitrogen he takes an intentional step back on the surface, while taking a few steps forward to deliver his best work yet.

Akeem Balogun