Archelon

Tribe of Suns

Post-metal is a broad church – it’s the fate of generic descriptors to inflate like dying stars, after all – but Archelon’s riffs are forged on the slow, simple and sludgy side of the aisle.

That’s sludgy in style, however, rather than in sound. Tribe of Suns is admirably well recorded, the rich layers of bass and guitar separated but synchronised without devolving into a primordial mud of excessive effects or digital trickery, and it’s just as full and satisfying an experience on headphones as it is on speakers.

And when I say simple, I don’t mean simplistic. There’s lots of structural complexity and detail going on here, and while their melodicism is more Long Distance Calling than If These Trees Could Talk, that’s still a long, long way from being mere brutal bludgeon. No, not brutal, but perhaps brutalist would be fair? There’s an architectural mass and bulk to Archelon’s work that’s very Sheffield, something that captures the feeling of a long walk in the Lower Don Valley, all lowering clouds and long shadows, the layers of history left to decay.

Tribe of Suns is beautiful in the same way that a gutted steelworks at sunset is beautiful, or the cracked concrete plain of an abandoned industrial estate, haunted by the dark colours and the hidden glistening threat of buddleia and broken glass.

I believe music should reflect the world it’s made in – the spaces, but also the times. Post-metal may not be new, but Archelon are very now.

Paul Graham Raven

Nullptr

AFTRMTH

The latest tasty offering from the Sheffield-based CPU Records is served up by modular synthesis wizard Eddie Symons, aka Nullptr, an abbreviation for null pointer. Opening track ‘LPC-10’ has all of those typical CPU components, but also injects an early Warp Records feel, with nods to LFO and Sweet Exorcist.

The track twists and turns with an impatient bassline that cuts through the groove before a disembodied cybernetic voice encourages an increase in intensity. ‘POLYTOPES’ strides beautifully across the 808 soundscape, with ghostly pads and a relentless drum pattern that makes this a real floor-filler.

Fans of James Stinson’s project The Other People Place and similar releases will soak up this six-track vinyl release, as AFTRMTH marries high-quality electro with vibrant synths and beats that work beautifully together. Often electronica is criticised for just being ‘body music’, but here Symons has made something that will stir the mind, soul and body. ‘SKYLINE’ is another stunning piece of electro that will sound equally incredible at home and in a club.

‘MOTHERSHIP’ is in the mould of previous CPU releases and has a greater urgency about it, featuring a monster of a breakdown halfway through before resuming to stunning effect. The last track, ‘NEMESIS’, again dovetails really well with the label’s huge imprint on the scene.

After Symon’s debut LP on Detroit Underground, Optical, he has produced a sterling follow-up that exudes maturity, technical ability and musical mastery.

Andy Tattersall

James

Living in Extraordinary Times

James clearly have something to say. Living in Extraordinary Times, their fifteenth album and sixth since reuniting in 2007, opens with the militaristic hum of 'Hank', which finds Tim Booth's voice buried in distortion before breaking out into the open at the ninety second mark to announce that, "Democracy sells easy / NRA high fives... / Orlando, Sandy Hook and Columbine."

A stirring idealism has long underpinned James' biggest hits, but rarely have the band sounded so overtly political. "Land of the Free... Land of the Free!" cries Booth sarcastically during the spiky rush of 'Head', one of several tracks whose lyrics unmistakably target Trump's United States. It's a risky strategy, as political lyrics so rooted in the present age notoriously quickly.

Elsewhere, echoes of their rousing earlier work return, particularly on first single, 'Coming Home (Pt.2)', a semi-sequel to its 1989 near-namesake, 'Come Home'. The 2018 version is a paean to the false intimacy of Skyping home from foreign hotel rooms, though – as ever with this well-worn subject – it's difficult to feel the heartstrings tugging too hard for successful pop stars touring the globe. The line, "FaceTime on Father's Day / Five-thousand miles away," is a bit on the nose, even for James.

Even with an occasional foray into sentimentality, the yearning, heartfelt anthem is what James have always done best, represented here by house-piano epic 'Leviathan', motivational stadium sing-along 'Better Than That' and acoustic mea culpa 'Mask', with its soaring refrain, "I know I was wrong / Are you so sure that you're right?" It’s a niche they can continue to call their own.

Sam Gregory

Helena Hauff

Qualm

Helena Hauff’s follow-up to her 2015 debut LP for Ninja Tune is an uncompromising electronic workout, starting strongly with abrasive 808 drum patterns pushed to their very limit.

The Hamburg DJ and founder of the Return To Disorder label delivers a dozen tracks that begin with the bizarrely-titled ‘Barrow Boot Boys’, which sounds like it’s being played directly from a distorted block party soundsystem circa 1982. Fans of early US electro, German acts like Air Liquide and the output of Dutch techno imprint Djax-Up-Beats will be all over this.

303 acid basslines wobble in and out of focus, becoming smothered by insistent percussion that finally succumbs to an occasional bleeding four-on-the-floor kick drum. The strangely titled ‘Hyper-Intelligent Genetically Enriched Cyborg’ is a driving, warehouse stormer of a track, retaining the feeling that the machines in Helena’s studio were working overtime for this session.

Beats make way for calmer moments with the title track ‘Qualm’ (meaning 'fumes' or 'smoke' in German), which lasts for a short but sweet two-and-a-half minutes and gives a nod to classic seventies krautrock ambience.

‘No Qualms’ follows as a credible part two, with the same lush sounds as ‘Qualm’, except we hear the return of the heavy 808 drums to great effect. The album is as raw as any electronic album can be and it’s obvious that Helena has intentionally made it this way. It feels like a jam at times and that is part of the charm. It is what electronic music needs right now – an edge, unpredictability and a punk attitude.

Andy Tattersall