From his synthy contributions for Hot Chip to his rich production on ‘Gabriel’ featuring Valentina, it was impossible to anticipate what Joe Goddard’s new album would sound like.
What Goddard has produced has little semblance to either of these styles, but manages to bridge the gap between the two. Easy listening, pop, house, disco and 2-step rolled into one, Electric Lines isn’t exactly cohesive, but Goddard's broad collection of genre-spanning tracks are likely to attract the attention of a wide range of fans.
The album opener, ‘Ordinary Madness’, is reminiscent of M83’s 2016 track ‘Go!’, where synth meets sweet vocals. The spaciness of ‘Lose Your Love’ then builds quickly into ‘Home’, the standout of the album, a house track interspersed with disco interludes.
From there on in things get a little more serious and mellow. Even the 2-step rhythm of ‘Truth Is Light’ is dreamy and relaxing. The penultimate track, ‘Electric Lines’, is the only place where the Hot Chip sound is prominent through Alexis Taylor’s magical vocals.
You could argue that Goddard’s work peaks too early, but the distinctive story of each track is more significant than the motley album structure. In a recent interview with Talkhouse, Goddard acknowledges that his emphasis on music being ‘the answer’ may come across as idealistic, particularly coming from a white male, born and raised in an affluent city. Goddard is undeniably successful, however, in easing us through our most difficult times via his expansive repertoire.
One of the most distinctive sounding oeuvres in electronic music, the GAS albums of the 90s married the peerless production of Wolfgang Voigt’s other projects with the Germanic Romantic tradition of Goethe and Wagner, creating a dense and melancholic techno-pastoral.
With a hand adept at balancing tense discordance with somnambulant beauty, Voigt layered atmosphere upon atmosphere over a heartbeat of muffled kick drums and noise in loops that seemed to catch echoes of something sinister lost or buried in our millenial consciousness.
Fast forward 20 years, and a time in which Voigt could evoke muted disaster as a sinister relic of the past seems itself a saccharine memory of a more hopeful era. From something that caught a dark history before it faded, his music has evolved into something full of ominous foreboding, a sense that the worst is ahead of us. The new album, while unmistakably sharing a sonic lineage with the older material, has eschewed the loop for more orchestral arrangements. Instead catching the listener in a moment, Narkopop is at its best when it creates a sense of forwards propulsion, a scary pitching into the unknown.
This album looks to the future, not the past, but with its echoes of previous works - both by GAS and its musical forebears - Voigt gives us the uncanny sensation that we have been here before. A crucial and unsettling piece of music for our times from the man who has always insisted on electronic music being something more than ‘pop’.
British Sea Power
Let the Dancers Inherit the Party
It’s been a while since British Sea Power released a studio album, so when whispers of a crowdfunded record were heard towards the latter half of 2016 excitement began to brew. BSP fans were invited to help out by purchasing treats that ranged from pre-orders and bundles to a rather expensive tattoo which would serve as free admittance to all future headlining shows.
Having had the joy of listening to their new creation for the last couple of weeks, I can confirm that good things come to those who wait. Let The Dancers Inherit The Party is packed full of emotive and invigorating anthems, with rock, indie and pop tones laced throughout.
Though lyrically diverse, each track has a strong compatibility with its fellows, making for a consistently enjoyable piece of art. Personal highlights include ‘International Space Station’, which screams to be played in a grand, typically BSP-esque venue, late at night under the stars. I’m not sure whether it’s the connotation of space, but it feels reminiscent of Bowie’s big numbers, particularly ‘Heroes’.
‘Keep On Trying (Sechs Freunde)’ is another great poppy number which has a matching Dada-esque video. ‘Want To Be Free’ and ‘Alone Piano’ are really beautiful slower tracks which stir up your emotions and demonstrate the layered soundscaping which BSP do so well.
This 12-track album is truly delightful from start to finish and I can’t wait to hear it performed live, adding that final element of intimacy.
Fujiya & Miyagi
Fujiya & Miyagi
It's impossible to quantify the number of successful – let alone unsuccessful – rock songs built on the simple foundation of the 12-bar blues. As that boilerplate chord sequence has been the starting point for guitar bands for nearly a century, the respective root for electronic
musicians is the driving, pulsing keys-and-drums rhythm that begun around the time of Trans-Europe Express and has continued to be used up through the neon lights of Cliff Martinez's Drive score. Fujiya & Miyagi's self-titled sixth album is in thrall to this rhythm, embracing the teutonic influence of Tangerine Dream, where previous records were more indebted to the motorik rhythm section of Neu!
The lyrics mostly imitate the sparse repetition they accompany ("Keep on pullin’ / Keep on pushin’”) or else are standard torch song platitudes ("I will love you 'til the last beat of my heart"). The moments which disrupt the routine are the ones that stick, like the casually cruel refrain of "When I kiss you I no longer care," on the four-to-the-floor dance beat of 'Solitaire'.
They go full 'Losing My Edge' self-analysis on 'Extended Dance Mix', bemoaning in spoken word semi-lyricism that “on social media platforms the general consensus is / our popularity has declined since 2006." Then they compare the kick drum dependency of the more rote of their peers to sending an electric current through a dead frog to make its legs move. There’s life in it yet.
More known for delivering the uneasy listening side of electronic music, CPU Records imprint Computer Club slips into more comfortable sounds with its seventh outing by AB2088. Available on digital and cassette, a format receiving a renaissance, it's a journey through experimental techno that’s not only submersive but also highly thematic. Unlike most electronic LPs that are unstructured and invariably a collection of 12” A and B sides, Sagittarius very much works as a unified piece. With definite nods to the underwater sounds of Detroit legends Drexciya, Andy Brown’s debut album is of a very high quality, both production and ideas wise.
You can almost conjure up the imaginary sci-fi visuals as mellow openers ‘Lacu’ and ‘Permafrost’ make way for the more Germanic sounds of ‘Subsurface Ocean I’. ‘Hydrocarbon’ returns this conceptual release to the deep sounds of space, which at times feels like it could be a rescoring of the sci-fi classic Dune. ‘Subsurface Ocean II’ picks the pace up once again with bleeps and hypnotic loops akin to Hood, Banks and Mills’ seminal X102 release in the 90s.
In amongst the fierce, foreboding rhythms there are moments of pure electro funk, as ‘Bokglobules’ drifts in and out of focus, before ‘Cogen’ submerges us once again into a deep cinematic landscape. The entire album feels like it’s part of an interstellar journey and one that’s yet to be completed. With any luck, Brown will take us on another trip into space sometime very soon.
The Far Field
Dancing is inherently embarrassing. It requires a transcendence of social reserve, which is why most of us only ever do it when we’re off our faces.
There’s plenty of dance-worthy tracks on this album and the band’s debt to New Order is now way overdrawn. Michael Lowry drums with a Stephen Morris syncopation, William Cashion’s bass cribs the tunefulness of Hooky, while Gerrit Welmers’s synth washes are comparable to the 7” mix of ‘Temptation’.
Frontman Sam Herring’s voice soars through lyrics as courageously, wincingly sincere as his dance moves. The album is full of frank admissions of emotional weakness, including but not limited to the “I can’t take it, I can’t take it” refrain of standout single ‘Ran’. Yet it feels like something is being held back.
All at once Future Islands broke through to the mainstream and became a meme. The last time the synthpop four-piece played Sheffield, the most rapturous reception came not in response to the music, but to any time Herring broke into the loose-limbed dancing seen during their performance on David Letterman’s talk show. That performance went viral, which was perhaps inevitable.
But it’s a shame that, amidst the ironic gawping, Herring is reduced to a novelty. It diminishes the riches of his unusual voice, as prone to soulful crooning – utilised wonderfully during a recent BADBADNOTGOOD collaboration – as to throat-shredding howls. New album The Far Field is consequently a little more reserved in its ambitions, a little more one-note, as if on the defensive.
Katie Pham and The Moonbathers
When writing about music, the word 'sedate' used to be a perjorative tag, until laid-back bands like Stereolab and Beach House claimed it as a positive musical attribute that unfolds its charms at a different pace.
Add to that list Katie Pham and her two Moonbathers, whose sound is so sun-drenched it could’ve been recorded in a greenhouse. This four track EP, the Sheffield group's first on new label Cosmo Spring, finds them mining a similar vein as on their debut split for Delicious Clam, but with stronger tunes which show an increased confidence in the group’s songwriting.
Guitars chime through a thick cloud of hash smoke on opener 'Constant Comment', which showcases Pham’s way of writing vocal melodies that suit her breezy, care-free voice perfectly. What makes the group's music so consistently engaging is that below the sunny surface a meloncholic current flows, such as on 'Sweet Potato', with a guitar line that sways gently back and forth as Pham reveals that she's "trying to be detached but that's not me".
The undertones of bittersweet self-doubt that creep into their songs neatly curb tendencies towards any mumblecore tweeness that the title might imply. “I’ll always be here, until I’m not”, she sings on ‘Guinness Paltrow’, a propulsive highlight. On closer 'Feels Pretty Real', Pham tells us that she's "waiting for her life to start" as her own voice swirls beneath her in eddies of reverb. On this evidence, it'll be something special when it does.