Beak>

>>>

BEAK>, if you don’t already know, are Geoff Barrow (yes, that one), Billy Fuller and Will Young (no, not that one).

Their third album is >>>, which makes an inevitable titular step after previous releases BEAK> and >>. It’s just come out on Invada Records/Temporary Residence. Great, now we’re all up to speed.

The electronic rock outfit aren’t ones to be rushed when it comes to releases, confidently putting out new material every few years, which is no mean feat considering BEAK> is essentially a side project for most of its members. As a result, this album is spacious and considered. It takes up space, indulging but never over-indulging itself, such as on ‘Allé Sauvage’, a seven-minute track that holds its nerve until the disparate threads come together in an unexpectedly warm embrace.

There’s a distinctive vein of pessimism on this record. Openers ‘The Brazilian’ and earlier single ‘Brean Down’ delight in tense, electronic foreboding and downcast psychedelic riffs. One of the rare lyrical moments contains the line: “The future’s kinda sketchy, so the people gotta get along.”

That’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom. There are moments of light and playfulness. ‘King of the Castle’ is (whisper it) pretty jaunty in its rhythmic progression and ‘Tesco’ is a masterclass in doing a lot with a little, undeniably invoking Boards of Canada.

>>> is to all intents and purposes a very nerdy record: tightly considered, confident, with a narrative arc. A proper grown-up album that will undoubtedly press different buttons in a live setting. They’re touring with Oh Sees and passing through Sheffield in October for Sensoria. Catch them to hear the breadth of their sprawling, calculated soundscapes up close.

Lucy Holt

Miss Information

Sequence

Released under the alias Miss Information, Miho Hatori's latest record, Sequence, is an organic outgrowth of her work as lead vocalist for surrealist trip-hop duo Cibo Matto. Musically, it recalls 2014’s Hotel Valentine at its most dark and strange. Thematically, nineties angst is directed at contemporary worries. The information age is presented as a misinformation age, exploring the ill effects of the sudden, bewildering abundance of data.

Cluttered beats create the sensation of sifting through this glut of information. ‘Viva! Madrid!’ juts trap-rap hi-hat rolls against Southeast Asian gong riffs and clattering metal found sounds. With the nursery-rhyme simplicity of its chorus recalling the hooks of horrorcore rap, it unsettles as much as it disorientates. On ‘Sandstorm’, Greg Fox and Patrick Higgins provide the clanging, rattling rhythms characteristic of their work with the band Zs. Hatori's vocals disintegrate as the song progresses, disembodied vocables sequenced in glitched-out rhythms.

Elsewhere, tracks express the increasing difficulty of meaningful human relationships, even as people are ever more connected. ‘Manhunter’ sends sonar pulses into an unresponsive void, accompanied by floating fretless bass and forlorn sax. On ‘A New Moon’, vocals are flanged and layered to inhuman effect, and the multiplication of Hatori's voice ironically renders it unintelligible.

There is the occasional sense of freedom from the encroaching blizzard of data. On ‘Silk Road’, the melody's mantric trudge begins to soar in a sunlit coda. ‘Theme’ is blissed out and beautiful. But there is ultimately no escape. ‘Outro’ only evokes further descent, its sounds gradually melting into indistinction.

Andrew Trayford

alt-J

Reduxer

Reduxer, the aptly titled new album from alt-J, finds the band revisiting their 2017 Mercury Prize nominated album Relaxer through a selection of guest rappers featuring on hip-hop infused remixes of the original tracks.

And what guests they are, ranging from our own up-and-coming British talent in the form of Rejjie Snow and Little Simz to the iconic flows of American hip-hop giants like Danny Brown, plus the brief but biting bars of G.O.O.D. Music’s Pusha T that introduce 'In Cold Blood' (you can almost picture Drake’s fresh scalp still hanging from his belt in the recording booth).

With these intermingled with voices often pushed aside in the Anglocentric world of popular music - Spanish, French, even Russian - the album has the feel of a smorgasbord of contemporary rap from around the world. Each is incorporated into the overall sound and bound together through alt-J’s curation. In this sense, the project is conceptually more reminiscent of a fully-realised album like Bonobo’s Migration in its eclecticism and maturity, rather than simply a collection of fun remixes, as is often the case with this kind of project.

In putting aside their own egos, alt-J manage to fully embrace their role as Kanye-like overseers. By reducing their own input and allowing their tracks to be manipulated and interpreted in ways which best accentuate the expression of their guests, the band manage to produce an album which is entirely their own vision, but which they themselves could never have created.

Liam Casey

Beyond Albedo

CONTACT

Leeds quartet Beyond Albedo modernise an otherwise traditional foundation of guitar, drums and sax with synths and electronic beats. On debut EP CONTACT, they balance straight-up tributes to their eclectic influences with a new creative vision.

Opener ‘Cosmic Lighthouse’ illustrates this tension. Synths and sax, shifting carnatically around a central drone, recall the East-West fusion and afro-spiritualism of Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders. The effect is that of surveying the deserted monuments of ancient alien empires. Programmed drums soon kick in, however, and these jazz tropes are decimated the moment they’re established. Hazy evocations of the past give way to pulsing sci-fi electronica, synths now driving the piece with bold, saw-toothed vitality.

Successive tracks reconcile, rather than contrast, the group’s contradictory elements. ‘Good Egg’ captures the cheerful, easy-listening vibes of fifties soul jazz, with keyboards that channel buzzing electric organ tones. The transition from polite dialogue between organ and sax to incomprehensible free jazz skronk is seamless.

The frenetic, ramshackle groove of ‘Tropical Protein’, littered with primitive synth blips and Casio-preset toms, brings to mind both the budget beats of South African electronic music and the exploded afro-dance-punk of Lizzy Mercier Descloux. The strangled sax riff embodies a nervous punk energy, and it transforms as the track progresses in a climactic sequence of counter-rhythmic upward modulations, the mounting tension eventually released in unbridled, freely-improvised runs and flurries.

With electronic and jazz elements uniting on a shared foundation of danceable rhythm, the EP closes with the group’s most successful experiment.

Andrew Trayford

Kurokuma

Dope Rider

Having followed Sheffield’s fiercest low-end purveyors for a couple of years now, I’ve witnessed the trio entrance even the most obstinate of crowds with their atomising brand of sludge.

Almost three years have passed since my first rite of passage and Kurokuma have consistently evolved. On Dope Rider, they’ve stepped into a more conceptual abyss, taking the name and artwork from Paul Kirchner’s comic strip of the 1970s, a suitably unique source of inspiration.

The signature wrecking ball attitude and world-eating rumble continues to offer a crust-shattering example of the might Kurokuma are capable of. Track 1 opens with a beat that is unmistakeably Joe Allen. I’m rarely able to distinguish drummers from one another, yet Joe's approach to groove is instantly recognisable and a focal point of Kurokuma's idiosyncratic sound.

As if they were a swarm of hornets, guitars circle menacingly above, vast layers of feedback and phase-ridden chords ringing out. What follows is the sonic rendering of a dying sun devouring itself. Herculean guitars and monolithic bass tremble throughout this EP, occasionally receding before returning with even greater intensity, while twin lead vocals display the psychotic call-and-response dynamic the band have become known for.

Once again, Kurokuma wade in a mire of sludge others simply lack the prowess to tread. After several short releases of consistently remarkable energy, they are a force of nature on the verge of flattening all which comes before them.

Nick Gosling

Low

Double Negative

Every single Low album has a unifying characteristic - the aftertaste. No matter what stage of their career you find them, they sound like no-one else, even if that means alienating both fans and newcomers. Double Negative is a harsh album, a tough pill of noise, saturation and over-clipping.

Like trying to have a conversation during a monsoon downpour, the songs on Double Negative pierce through walls of white noise and electronic manipulation. The album dares you to keep listening, and just about when you’re ready to throw in the towel, it hits you. Mimi Parker’s vocals on ‘Fly’ soothe before throwing you out to the digital wolves. Ever wondered what would happen if Belong and Xiu Xiu remixed a Low album? Double Negative is your answer.

It might sound like a bad experience, but you always get a reworking of the soul with every new Low album. Whether it’s the raw cruelty of Drums and Guns or the album-oriented rock sensibilities of The Invisible Way, there’s always an inherent darkness in their music.

Sounds weird? It is. Exponentially increase the ideas of ‘The Innocents’ from Ones and Sixes, their previous album, and let Parker and Alan Sparhawk’s vocals be the last remnants of humanity. That’s Double Negative, an album where Low are a ghost in the machine, a spectre of myriad unheard songs and lost feelings.

Sam J. Valdés López

Tony Allen & Jeff Mills

Tomorrow Comes The Harvest

Three genuine icons come together to bring about one of the most anticipated collaborations in recent times. Unless you have been living under a rock for half a century, you’ll likely be aware of the seminal works of Detroit techno master Jeff Mills and the legendary afrobeat drummer Tony Allen. Merge their collective, highly-functioning rhythmic minds and release the results on the seminal Blue Note label and you're onto a winner.

The respective masters of analogue and digital drums have put together something special, which is captured through stunning cover art straight out of the astro-vaults of Sun Ra. The opening track, ‘Locked and Loaded’, is as you would expect. Allen’s infectious Africa ‘70 drums intertwine with Mills’s input, which steps outside electronic music’s common inflexibility in accommodating a live beat. Deep, acidic basslines drift in and out, with Mills taking the lead on occasion, though often it’s Allen’s drums dictating the direction of the tracks.

Mills stated he was keen to “liberate himself from the tyranny of the sequencer” and was given the perfect opportunity with this project to partner up with one of the founders of afrobeat. Allen’s belief that “we’re working together to achieve something bigger than the both of us” is a tall order given their collective esteem, but they have succeeded in producing one of 2018’s finest records.

A giant leap from Lagos to Detroit, with a stop-off in deep space to enjoy the rapturous view.

Andy Tattersall