96 Back

Provisional Electronics

CPU Recordings' latest signing 96 Back is as Sheffield as it comes, part of a new breed of local producers bringing fresh electro perspectives to the region's dance music scene. Evan Majumdar-Swift is the son of Matt Swift, promoter of the ultra-legendary Jive Turkey night that ran at the City Hall Ballroom back in the day. 96 Back has unleashed a four-track EP that very much fits with the direction of some of the label’s more recent output, which has that real Sheffield Bleep feel about it.

Aimed at the dancefloor, opening track ‘000’ has a back-in-the-day feel to it, reminiscent of some of the releases that came out on the seminal Network label in the early 90s. Majumdar-Swift displays a great maturity as ‘050’ takes us on a darker journey, with menacing bleeps and basslines cutting in and out amongst the frantic 808 beats.

The penultimate track, ‘085’, leans towards the smoother end of techno, with teasing basslines and chords that are truly forged from Sheffield metal. This strong quartet of tracks is completed by the console bleep-infused, driving electro of ‘100’.

This is the first and probably not the last release on CPU by an artist who carries Sheffield’s electronic music heritage forwards. The South Yorkshire connection is even more ingrained, as Warp and FON Studios engineer Rob Gordon mastered the tracks.

Andy Tattersall

Boss Keloid

Melted On The Inch

The sludge genre has produced a cornucopia of refreshing material recently and the latest comes courtesy of Boss Keloid. With Melted On The Inch, they've succeeded in unleashing a record which is monolithic yet infused with an old English charm.

In Alex Hurst, the quintet can boast one of the most interesting vocalists in the UK. His voice carries the ferocity and grit that is synonymous with the genre, but the eclectic use of layering and instrumentation is transcendent. Every member is at the top of their game, with accomplished performances and exceptionally cohesive songwriting. The addition of keys pushes their sound further towards prog, but never into self-indulgence.

Each song is a trip through the realms of possibility and each listen seemingly exists outside the standard perception of time. Lead track 'Chronosiam' sets a creative benchmark for the rest of the album, effortlessly segueing between crushing riffs and melodic, folk-infused ritual, a common theme throughout, though never repetitive.

It's quite simply one of the catchiest sludge records you will hear. While there is certainly no shortage in the riff department, the command of harmony, melody and texture is the real crux of their eccentric sound. One of the most fascinating bands in a style that has notably pushed boundaries, Boss Keloid have dropped an album that boasts an ear for enchantment and a knack for invention. Fans of every facet of so illustrious a body of work should take note, as rarely does a band blend such vivid styles with this much eminence and ease.

Nick Gosling

Courtney Barnett

Tell Me How You Really Feel

Following her full-length debut in 2015 and her collaborative project with Kurt Vile in 2017, Barnett opens her second album with the brooding, lo-fi 'Hopefulessness'. Juxtaposed with the instantaneous, high-tempo melodies of her debut, Barnett takes her time to let us settle in. Second track 'City Looks Pretty' sees us back in the swing of things with her blend of fuzzy guitar tones and storytelling. A slightly more psychedelic twist from the guitar layers adds a fresh dimension.

Songwriting is clearly Barnett’s calling. We're treated to tracks that could open a teen summer film ('Charity') and bluesy slabs of melancholy ('Need A Little Time'). Slight twinges of psychedelia return during the Beatles-esque 'Nameless, Faceless'. Instant lyrical classics, such as, “I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and spit out better words than you," indicate that although her sound is developing, Barnett hasn’t lost her sense of humour.

Along with an incredible title, Barnett develops her sound further from angsty punk on 'I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch', before final song 'Sunday Roast' bookends the album with a return to slow, brooding tones.

On this album Barnett wrestles with insecurity and frustration while maintaining hope and progressing her sound. It would've been easy for her to hash out some relatable lyrics over pop chords to tide her over, so the fact that she's delivered a concise yet diverse second album is a great sign of things to come.

Lewis Budden

Denis Jones

3333

The music and performance of Manchester-based, Skelmersdale native Denis Jones has constantly evolved with the expansion of his music-making arsenal.

By now a creative polyglot, who speaks the languages of live theatre scores, cross-cultural collaborations and cinematic synthetic sounds, Jones is long rehearsed in casting shamanic musical spells unbounded by sonic restraint or dogma to a single aural output. For 3333, his third LP and the follow-up to 2007’s Humdrum Virtue and 2010’s Red + Yellow =, Jones sets temporary, self-imposed parameters, with tracks cutting off where their clocked digits neatly align - 2:22, 3:33 or 4:44.

Although a useful concept for focusing artistry that can see improvised performances extend beyond standard long-player timings, it’s not one that affects the listen beyond making the album practical. Like his live sets, 3333’s tracks are loaded with kinetic layers. They vary in intensity, but remain typically robust, dense and delivered with vocals articulated through earnest urgency. Whereas the title track fires a cacophonous opening salvo, immediately introducing guest vocalist Leonore Wheatley, its subsequent eight bursts of audio stomp and flicker between the plodding squelches of ‘Don’t’, the whirring mechanics of ‘Don Benito’ and the sci-fi synths of ‘Eden’.

3333 often deliberately swerves convention, but track length brevity isn’t its only interwoven pop sensibility. Finding rhythm within the industrial smog, the relative clarity and funky shoulder-jutting grooves of ‘Jazz Squared’ connects the dots with ‘Render Me’, his lead-single guest appearance on Mr Scruff’s Friendly Bacteria. Even so, its hymns will likely preach more to the converted than the undecided.

Ian Pennington

DJ Koze

Knock Knock

Five years on from his psychedelic success, Amygdala, DJ Koze is back with a new release, Knock Knock, demonstrating how adeptly the DJ works with other musicians, showing off the versatility of his numerous collaborators.

‘Club der Ewigkeiten’ (‘Club of Eternity’) is the album’s opening track, an apt name given that Koze brings back his timeless and immediately recognisable flute melodies. In an interview with FACT, he also noted that the tracks he selected for the album were those that he “can listen to over and over in different conditions” - tracks for eternity.

The disco tones of ‘Pick Up’ get you going even before you recognise the sample he’s sneaked in. It’s Gladys Knight’s ‘Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)’, the track that’s already become a legendary sample on Midland’s ‘Final Credits’. Later on, Koze follows ‘Jesus’ with ‘Lord Knows’. Whether or not the religious connection is meant to be read into, the DJ could easily convince you to believe in whatever higher power inspires him to create such rich, soulful music.

Koze assembles his tracks like carefully-crafted patchwork quilts, and then weaves them together to form impressive and intricate works of art. This generous 16-track LP is no exception. His experimentation with sound is fascinating, particularly his use of subtle samples, which are key to building the bigger picture of this album. The DJ, producer and label owner must be praised for his ability to make electronic music truly magical.

Jennifer Martino

Isis Moray

Echolia

'Dark feminist techno bitch' is how Isis Moray describes herself, and on Echolia, her latest EP, it's not difficult to see why.

Released by burgeoning Sheffield-based label Sunk Records, it's a subtly vibrant soundscape of shifting textures, orbiting around a haunting sense of melancholy. At times, for example on opener 'Crystal', this brooding melancholy is indulged so unapologetically as to almost reach a point of foreboding. It's genuinely a little uneasy to listen to, but this is part of the artistry of the project. It conjures up feelings akin to tentatively picking at the scabs of painful memories.

Easy listening it is not, but that's not to say that Moray's tracks don't still sound good, because they definitely do. Her skill with a synthesiser is apparent and her heavily distorted vocals, which chime through the music like sunlight through cracks in a cellar wall, are reminiscent of Balam Acab at his most poignant.

On the title track, in particular, the various elements are brought together with a harmony which is positively infectious and which, for experimental electronica, is surprisingly rhythmic and easy to dance to. The final track, ‘Crawl’, is a slight tonal departure from the previous two, with a lighter feel bordering on the uplifting. A welcome finale, like watching the sun rise behind the curtains after a sleepless night.

Liam Casey

Jon Hopkins

Singularity

When you first listen to a record you can feel emotionally blindfolded, yet find those songs that draw in your soul and take you to an ideal place.

Singularity has that effect. It’s as though the album has a dual personality: half angelic sweetness through piano riffs and not-quite-there vocals, the other half confident in its idiosyncrasies. It carries a transcendent aesthetic, but Hopkins is still able to make the irregular feel comforting.

The initial track is a preparation for the journey you’re about to begin, as melodic synths and static noises allow you to find your feet, until a third of the way through you’re thrown into a rugged churn of breakbeats. On 'Emerald Rush', jarring patterns are submerged in soft, cyclical melodies and targeted thumps, soon straightened out by a virtuous vocal. 'Feel First Life' sees ambient swirls and piano notes pool around one another, guided by a celestial chorus.

The ambient journey continues into 'C O S M', as flickers of sound are slowly layered with smooth clicks and throbs. 'Luminous Beings' begins to build through a reverb of static engine chug, until it finds its rubbery rhythm veering into a dubby, minimal bassline. This 11-minute track descends gradually into closer 'Recovery', where stepping stones of piano filter into a gorgeous lullaby trance.

Hopkins places you in an aquarium of sound, and the fifth studio album by the sonic technician is meditative and personal, to be appreciated in one sitting.

Georgia Smith