Brian Eno

Small Craft On A Milk Sea.
Warp Records.

Reviewer - Ben Dorey.

When I heard that Brian Eno was preparing a release for Warp I frothed at the mouth like a rabid dog. Eno is the godfather of modern ambient music. He invented the term and defined the genre with a set of groundbreaking releases in the latter part of the Seventies. A union with Warp, stalwarts of everything electronic and brainy over the past 20 years, promised an opportunity for Eno to do exactly what he wanted, perhaps marking a return to the form of those heady years past. Unfortunately the album failed to live up to my hype, but it is nonetheless full of interest and well worth a listen.

Opener 'Emerald and Lime' sets things off softly, with arpeggios on a piano falling over one another in strange chord progressions, before an eerie harmonica line enters, drenched in the subtly affected post production Eno thrives on. It feels like gently discovering a new aspect of a familiar place, washing various musical colours together like a painting. This continues into the next track, 'Complex Heaven', another moody ambient piece. Here slowly swelling drones and atonal noises are punctuated with minimal guitar and piano melodies, again creating the sense of a musical painting, rather than a linear story. This is one of the strongest features in Eno's early ambient work and what initially set him apart as a unique producer. It is a shame, then, that it is a quality lacking from a significant number of the other tracks on the album.

As of the fifth track, the sounds of collaborators John Hopkins and Leo Abrahams become more obvious and this is to the record's detriment, if only for the amount of space they occupy within the music. That timeless, non-linear quality I mentioned in the first tracks makes way for manic guitar and drum clattering which sound like a mixture between Eno's early collaborations with Robert Fripp and David Bowie's early Nineties experimentation. It is not without merit but fails to come up to the bar Eno has set with previous work. This is soundtrack music, rather than ambient - unsurprising when you consider that some of these are rejects from work Eno did for Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones. The issue is that Eno as an arranger has to take a back seat to virtuoso musicianship from his collaborators, and though all the tracks are saturated with his unmistakeable studio signature, the music itself, though substantial, lacks substance.

In the latter half of the record, the music returns at points to the ambient eeriness that Eno specialises in. 'Slow Ice, Old Moon' is a chilling track of heaving textures. You can almost hear the creaking of a glacier amongst its affected pad sounds and strange harmonies. 'Lesser Heaven' is the counterpart to the earlier complex one, with softly singing electric bells stumbling together to form lush chords. 'Calcium Needles' perfectly encapsulates the haunting environs of an underground chamber of stalactites, with dripping synths over a background of low bass and humanoid winds. In these moments the record manages to at least match the subtle brilliance of Eno's previous ambient works. It is just a shame that his first Warp release is a disjointed record, one with two very different faces that don't look good alongside one another.

http://warp.net/records/releases/brian-eno/small-craft-on-a-milk-sea

John Fairhurst.

Band.
Debt Records.

Reviewer - Lambertus Prent.

John Fairhurst first came to the attention of the world with the release of Joys of Spring, an intriguing blend of Eastern and Western music which more than amply showcased his deep understanding of both traditions admirably.

As should be evident from the title, Band is not a solo journey. After forming a backing band consisting of Ellis Davies, Alabaster de Plume, Dave Badlace and Rik Warren, John embarked on the unenviable task of attempting to better his instrumental debut, released on Manchester label Humble Soul in 2007. The result is a bit of a mixed bag, but one that is certainly heartfelt and accomplished.

Intro track 'Daylight' builds on the rawer elements of Joys of Spring, baring comparison to the after-hours drawl of 'Obnox Stomp', but perhaps with a little less stomp. A suitably mellow rendition of Mississippi John Hurt's 'Pay Day' follows, telling the story of a lover's feud and resulting separation with slow burning intensity. Sections that feature all five members singing in unison give this track more than a little gospel soul, with John's rasping, gravelly vocal tones taking the lead. This one has been a live favourite since its first performance, but it is pleasing to hear it done justice on tape.

'Lost My Mind' is another rowdy bar-room romp, with sliding blues guitar licks and an infectious refrain. This one drags a little due to a lack of chord changes or variation, but would definitely bring the house down in a live situation. Elsewhere, we have the high speed, nitro-injected blues of 'Big Dig', taking the recording into trashier, rockier territory, before we descend to the chirpy 'Earworm', which once again shows the virtuosity of Fairhurst's composition and guitar work. The track dies down halfway through, coming back with force with a sitar (or very sitar-like equivalent) tracing the melody ahead of a final repetition of the theme. The album closes with campfire balladry in the form of 'Goodbye', a solo acoustic track that sounds like a reworked Joys of Spring song.

If you take away the two interlude tracks ('Rant' and 'Wire Donkey'), that only leaves six tracks totalling 30 minutes, which in my opinion is more of a long EP than an album. This aside, my only criticisms of this recording stem from it being John's first vocal outing. He has been known to thrash it out at gigs, but until now he has kept quiet on record. He does a more-than-decent job of sounding like he smokes 40 a day (maybe he does), but my feeling is that there is still room for him to personalise his vocal delivery in much the same way as he has mastered the blues guitar form.

http://www.myspace.com/johnfairhurst

The Death Set

Slap Slap Slap Pound Up Down Snap.
Counter Records.

Reviewer - Tom Belshaw.

Remember 'Agadoo'? Remember the inherent meaning encapsulated within its ethereal beauty and how it spoke of a time more conflicted, of a people more disheartened by the very essence of their culture? Of course you don't, because it was about harassing a pineapple.

Songs about nothing generally hold about as much gravity as a helium filled effigy of X Factor's Cher Lloyd. It would seem that pure enthusiasm and aggressive conviction dilute novelty rather well. Imagine Black Lace in torn off denim/leather ensembles, screaming of a 'hula melody' while spitting on an adoring Wolverhampton crowd, and the whole idea of fruit abuse becomes a little more subversive.

'Slap Slap Slap Pound Up Down Snap' by Brooklyn/Baltimore-based punk electronica outfit The Death Set is testament to that ethos. Couple that with outstanding beats from Spank Rock producer XXXChange, and a little ditty about an über cool Brooklyn handshake becomes a two-minute paradoxical tour de force.

Clattering drums, androgynous screaming and more top end than you could shake a rack of compressors at coalesce with XXXChange's penchant for squelchy basslines and vocal stuttering superbly. Everything advances with such a frantic sense of urgency that the abrupt closure at 1:57 seems so untimely it warrants an immediate re-listen.

The single provides two B-sides in the form of surprisingly uplifting, 'bliss punk' offering 'Been Too Long', and an aggressive re-working of the already well-received Diplo collaboration, 'Yo David Chase! You P.O.V Shot Me In The Head'. The latter steps away from Diplo's droning synth funk to make room for neo punk sounds to come windmilling through like Sid Vicious in a space helmet and hi tops. The departure from the twee, glittery, hardcore-flavoured pop of their first full length release Worldwide isn't overtly striking, but it lends enough depth to their sound to gain them a deservedly larger fan base.

Combine the fact the single clocks in at a frustratingly short six minutes with the knowledge that the next LP, Michel Poiccard, is set to be released way into the murky future of March 2011, and it's going to be a distinct struggle to keep The Death Set as current as they should be.

It is, however, going to be more of a struggle to get over having to listen to 'Agadoo' to write this. That's three minutes I'll never get back.

http://www.thedeathset.com/

Checan

New Breed EP.
Tipping Point.

Reviewer - Ben Dorey.

Checan is an 18-year-old producer from Sheffield with a serious talent for making innovative, stylish garage. Though he has done a number of remixes for relatively big names before, this is his debut release of original material on Sheffield's Tipping Point Music and is already shaking things up, receiving multiple plays on Toddla T's Radio One show, amongst others.

Title track 'New Breed' starts with warm but affected synths and a sparse rhythm of claps and hats, slowly thinning out rather than swelling before the drop - a classy touch. Once the tune gets fully underway, DRS spits fairly standard UKG lyrics, but his flow complements the beats well and matches Checan's slightly nichey timbre, which comes through in increasing doses towards the tune's conclusion. The musical ideas could possibly be developed more, but the beats are tight and the young producer certainly knows his way around his synths.

But b-side 'Nervous' is where I fully realised the potential of Checan. A melodic and complex piece of future garage, it melds fluttering two-step rhythms with a delicious palette of melodic patterns and chord changes that wouldn't sound out of place on the Richard D James album. This is all carried along by a minimal but majestic sine wave bass line until the full beat drops, 4 and a half minutes in.

This is stunning music from a producer who could quite possibly be Sheffield's next big thing.

http://soundcloud.com/checan