Conjurer

Mire

I’ve been lucky enough to witness Conjurer play several times over the past 18 months and their rapid ascent up the ranks of underground metal comes as little surprise. Live, they’re an unrelenting tour de force and I’ll wager that significant slots on much larger stages await this incendiary four-piece, given the quality displayed on their debut album, Mire.

The Coventry quartet have been described as combining the sounds of Gojira, Opeth and Mastodon, a statement that seems paradoxical. While embracing a conglomerate of extreme metal styles, they have yet produced a sound that is distinctly theirs. Fans of their debut EP, I, will recognise the idiosyncrasies that put them on many a watchlist back in 2016. Savage twin vocals coalesce into a vortex of anguish, while guitars fuse progressive sludge with the ferocity of hardcore. Mire has seen the band capitalise on their technical prowess and ear for fresh and unforgiving riffery. There is even a brief sashay into clean vocals, which sits nicely in one of the more emotive tracks.

Lead single and title track ‘The Mire’ exemplifies the shattering intensity that Conjurer are becoming known for, traversing the euphoric realms of post-black metal, while track four, ‘Retch’, is a lesson in progressive sludge. The dynamic shift presented throughout several tracks brings great depth to this album and the textural passages of ‘Thankless’ are a welcome departure from the onslaught.

The progression made since their EP is impressive, with plenty of room for exploration in future releases too. There’s not a dull moment across this 45-minute offering and it’s not too early to presume this debut could make an appearance on several end-of-year lists come Christmas. Watch out big leagues – the Conjurer is coming for you.

Nick Gosling

Poliça

Music For The Long Emergency

Poliça’s fourth studio album feels worlds apart from their first releases in 2012, Dark Star and Lay Your Cards OutMusic For The Long Emergency was produced with Berlin-based orchestral collective s t a r g a z e, which adds both classical delicacy and crashing anger to lead vocalist Channy Leaneagh’s heavenly tones. If you’re expecting the album to be identifiable by Leaneagh’s vocals, you may be disappointed. Instrumental interludes are a big feature and vocal distortion takes some of gentleness from Leaneagh’s performance.

‘Fake Like’ is a surprising opening track, slow, underwhelming and greatly contrasting with the following song, ‘Marrow’, carried by angry and growly minor tones. ‘Speaking Of Ghosts’ is where the collaboration between Poliça and s t a r g a z e really becomes evident. A tender classical introduction turns into something more synthy, showcasing what both groups have to offer and how they can synchronise. ‘Agree’ and ‘How Is This Happening’ are the only distinctively Poliça tracks, mystifying and ethereal. 

Written a day after the 2016 US presidential election, ‘How Is This Happening’ gives a bold reflection on the surreal events of the previous day. The ten-minute track is a work in its own right, as is Music for the Long Emergency, which builds as if you’re approaching a crowd but realise you’re actually immersed in an eerie, stormy soundscape.

Collaboration with s t a r g a z e has resulted in the creation of a night-time album  – a dark and serious reflection on the unprecedented political events of the past three years.

Jennifer Martino

Erasure

World Beyond

Every so often you come across a really special musical collaboration, and the reworking of Erasure’s World Be Gone with the Brussels-based Echo Collective is one of them.

Following its original release in 2017, Erasure have put a classical twist on this once synth-driven album. The process of giving an already well-established album a new purpose is no easy feat, but World Beyond stands as its own entity, offering a new sound palette for fans of the band. 

The stripped-back record sees the mighty Echo Collective come into the spotlight, with some heart-wrenching chamber playing. Opening with ‘Oh What A World’, the string group enhance Andy Bell’s unique vocals, a trend continued throughout the record. The simple yet effective orchestrations allow Bell’s vocals to sit at the centre of each track, giving the lyrics a new lease of life.

Every track has a reflective theme, and this can certainly be heard through Bell’s voice, the immaculate orchestrations and the underlying messages. ‘Still It’s Not Over’ discusses the LGBT rights movement, and the orchestral reinterpretations offer a fresh context and new meaning to the songs and the topics they represent. 

World Beyond is a powerful collaboration. All tracks have been handled with the utmost care, making each a small work of art in its own right.

Alex Burns

Franz Von

Escapism

Franz Von has a voice and flow fit for hip-hop’s golden era, as well as a thorough understanding of the day-to-day struggle that drives the genre. Hearing him for the first time, his Sheffield accent stands out, refreshing in a predominantly American genre. He's a classic MC in style and content, but far from dated.

On ‘Energy Waves’, Von shows he can fit in with today’s more introspective and emotional hip-hop, but the entire release is a diverse bundle of music seamlessly held together by the rapper’s consistency.

Throughout the EP, Von focuses strictly on lyricism and delivery, allowing instrumentals and features to do their work. Opener ‘Hold On’ is the perfect introduction to Escapism and its immersion in the rich world of original hip-hop, with Tixxy Bang’s hook lifting the track with a vocal like a trip to the past. ‘Vision of Paradise’ is a weightless slice of optimism, while ‘Falling’ sounds like an opportunity Von took to enjoy Philippe Clegg's production.

Escapism flies by and it's clear that real care has been put into the work. Clegg’s production is vast and it's beyond impressive that Escapism was handled by one producer. Nothing shows this more than ‘Nice Trip’, one of the most interesting instrumentals presented here, and Von covers one of the most relevant issues in Britain today – homelessness and addiction. It’s one of the best Sheffield releases so far this year, a good show of the rapper's capabilities and the city's musical diversity.

Akeem Balogun

The Maghreban

01DEAS

01DEAS sees Ayman Rostom use his first full-length release as The Maghreban to take his eclectic, bass-heavy sound deeper with the help of a diverse cast of collaborators. The clearest example of this ambition is 'Hi Top Remix', which adds rapper A_F_R_O to a wonky B-side from 2015's self-released Now Easy EP. The result is a hip-hop track tight enough to sound purpose-built.

It's no surprise that Rostom has the chops to make this kind of transformation look effortless, as he's also known as the acclaimed hip-hop producer Dr. Zygote. You can, in fact, hear a strand of hip-hop through 01DEAS. The jazzy psychedelia of tracks like 'Crime Jazz' and 'Mr Brown' recalls classic west-coast instrumental jams of the Brainfeeder mould. A fondness for analogue equipment and the accompanying sonic artefacts reinforces this dusty, dreamy aesthetic.

Nonetheless, this is definitely still a Maghreban record. Opening track 'Eddies' sets the scene with a moody UK bass roller, while 'Strings' and 'Broken' are excellent deep house cuts. The soundsystem-influenced bassweight remains throughout and Rostom has succeeded in expanding his sound without sacrificing danceability.

My stand-out moments are the ones that take the aesthetic global: the Cuban rhythms on 'Sham', the afrobeat guitar on 'Mike's Afro', and the powerful performance by Zimbabwean vocalist Rutendo Machiridza on 'Revenge'.

Michael Hobson

Trembling Bells

Dungeness

Hot on the heels of 2016's mini-masterpiece, Wide Majestic Aire, Trembling Bells are back with their latest offering, full of merriment, madness and just a little wry humour.

Opener ‘Big Nothing’ sets the stage for an epic listen of dreamy, trippy nonsense of the good kind. Lavinia Blackwall hops and skips her way through songs with joy and reckless abandon, bringing a lilting, angelic, almost spectral element to Trembling Bells’ unique twist on traditional folk. This is especially so on early album number ‘Knockin' On The Coffin’, with its overtones of death.

As on Wide Majestic Aire’s ‘The Day Maya Deren Died’, founding father Alex Neilson enters the fray on the sublime ‘My Father Was A Collapsing Star’ and ‘This Is How The World Will End’, while ‘Christ's Entry Into Govan’ is an absolute belter, kicking things up a psychedelic notch with its gorgeous closing breakdown. It turns out that all Christ wants is a takeaway.

It’s as if you're being sucked into a whirlpool from which there's no escape, and from which you never want to leave. Trembling Bells are ripe for late-night and winter listening, with the cold arms of death making a return on ‘Death Knocked At My Door’. Religion and death are constant themes on this album.

Although less immediately listenable than Wide Majestic Aire, Dungeness rewards multiple listens, showcasing the band's diversity and willingness to defy convention. On that note, I'm off for a takeaway.

Jordan Ingram