Chrissy Murderbot.

Women's Studies.
Planet Mu.

Reviewer - Jack Scourfield.

If you haven't heard of 'juke' yet, you've clearly been living under a large rock deep in the Amazon Rainforest for the past year. Or at least, that's the kind of opening sentence you might find in a publication a lot snootier than Now Then.

In reality, you'd be readily excused for not having detailed knowledge of the Chicago sub-genre that's only fairly recently been lifted out of its natural habitat by Mike Paradinas and his Planet Mu label and given some exposure beyond the windy city, with releases from stalwart juke DJs Nate, Rocc and Rashad all causing medium-sized waves last year. Typing keywords such as 'juke', 'footwork' and 'dance' into the web will yield some genuinely jaw-dropping results, as dancers shuffle and flex their legs at an astonishing rate at Chicago juke parties, where the BPM typically hovers around the 160 mark.

The trouble is, once you take juke out of Chicago, you also take it out of context. I'm sure it'd be great fun to attend an inner-city juke jam, observing legs flying everywhere and probably spraining an ankle or two through attempts at mimicry. But step outside this party setting and juke can soon become your best bet if you're looking to inflict a headache upon yourself, fast. It's essentially a variant of hardcore dance - a bombardment of rapid beats usually accompanied by a fairly simplistic repetitive sample. Extensive listening can often become gratingly hard work. In recent times the likes of Addison Groove, Africa HiTech and Ramadanman have all run with the juke theme and moulded it into original productions within the UK realm, but now we get a taste of branching out from within the genre's heartland with the release of Chicago's own Chrissy Murderbot and his Planet Mu debut Women's Studies.

Women's Studies could well be the juke scene's most accessible release to date, partly because a lot of it isn't really juke. DJ Nate's Da Trak Genious and DJ Rocc's The Crack Capone may have been lauded highly in certain parts, but Chrissy Murderbot's full-length album is a lot more appealing than any of its Chicago predecessors. It shrugs off the idiosyncratic samples of many of his peers, and instead focuses on a more traditional song structure, but all the while weaving in juke undertones. Opener 'Break U Off' is a smooth R&B jam married in to the world of skittering 160bpm, while its successor 'New Juke Swing' is straight-up bastardised funky house; both not exactly commonplace dancefloor fillers, but neither are they demonic ankle-twisters. Lead single 'Bussin Down', featuring another Chicago scene heavyweight DJ Spinn, could be a genuine leftfield contender in end of the year song lists, while tracks like 'Pelvic Floor' that are brimming with irresistible old school rave piano riffs are clear indicators that this is an album aimed at areas of the dancefloor beyond those furiously flying feet.

If you enjoyed Toddla T's excellent Skanky Skanky then it'll take you no longer than a moment to appreciate the sheer goodwill of Women's Studies. It's a similar mishmash of genres that are drawn together to create a record that is purely about letting loose and having a good time. As with Toddla's LP, not all of the songs are of stunning quality, but more fool anyone who tries to deny the good vibes that flow from within. This could well turn out to be the year's most refreshing party album.

13 & God.

Own Your Ghost.
Alien Transistor.

Reviewer - Tom Belshaw.

When I was but 19 years old I spent seven long months working in a local boozer. I disliked it greatly but, to paraphrase my disgraced auntie, "I was young, I needed the money".

It was there I met a chap named Simon Babic, who shall be referred to as 'Simon Babic' for the sake of a disinterest in providing anonymity. One evening Monsieur Babic invited a small handful of his colleagues round to his digs, where he had laid on a lovely spread of Wotsits and cheap cider. We sat in a circle and waxed lyrical about philosophy and I experienced the first and only time I have been patronised while sitting on a bright pink pilates ball.

At the end of this evening, after many an inquiry regarding his choice in music, Signor Babic handed me two full hard drives containing his entire music collection. It was through this act of thoroughly pleasant piracy that I had discovered labels like Anticon and Definitive Jux and artists like RJD2, Atmosphere, Sage Francis, El-P, cLOUDDEAD and Sole. I spent the next two or so years passing this collection off as my own, introducing others to music they'd not heard before and enjoying the fact I was an über hipster by being a hipster before it was cool to be a hipster.

The May release of Own Your Ghost from former Anticon roster holders 13 & God made me start to Babic like a mother lover seeing as though I'd been out of the loop for a while. The collaboration between Oakland's Themselves and Germany's Notwist has been maturing since 2008. An inspiring mish mash of melancholy and blissed out guitar work coupled with the strange timbre of rapper Doseone and Germanic accented crooning makes for something pretty special.

From swansong 'Death Minor', with its menacingly mellow guitar strums, collapsing synth and wonderfully constructed spoken word set piece, to the aggressive tumbling beats of 'Sure As Debt' or the understated crunk of 'Janu Are', everything feels as though it's crafted with both groups' aesthetics perfectly intact.

Everything except 'Old Age', with its happy chords and saccharine lyrics, sounding more like something Cut Copy would fart out and blame on an unsuspecting bystander. Aside from that, the pure energy and excellent production on show here make for a really solid and tight album, which is pretty impressive for a seven-piece ensemble based on two different continents.

If Simon Babic were to buy one album this year, it'd most likely be this. And if you know him he'll probably give it to you for free.

Cex.

Tiny Creature.
Tigerbeat 6.

Reviewer - Fred Oxby.

Tiny Creature, the latest release from IDM producer Cex, marks his return to Tigerbeat6, the label he founded with Kid606 back in 2000. Although Cex (a.k.a. Rjyan Kidwell) has been rather prolific over the last 11 years, this record marks his return to the label after a nine-year spell of working with different imprints. Known for his forays into what can only be termed as 'comedy electronica' - complete with silly costumes, rapping during live performances and horrendously offensive album titles - it is often difficult to work out whether Cex's music is to be taken seriously or not.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Tiny Creature is presented to us as something of a concept album, attempting to tackle questions of lust and desire through the medium of electronica. No mean feat and one which, in my opinion, he doesn't quite pull off. While the release notes contain utterances of 'cybererotica' and comparisons to Nabakov and De Sade, this "miniature synthetic opera" is not offensive, sexy or lustful. If it's all a joke, it isn't a very good one. If it's meant to be taken seriously, it is the most pretentious concept album this side of Shoreditch high street. Nevertheless, this record happens to be a very accomplished piece of production and is best enjoyed at a distance from Kidwell's persona and pretensions of grandeur.

I would be hard pushed to cite a weak track on this release, since each piece fits in perfectly with the one before. Warm and intriguing analogue motifs flow through the record, accompanied by discrete glitchy beats and mellifluous pads. At times it is challenging without ever offending, while on occasion it is sublime in its delicacy. Kidwell's experience is on full show as he playfully references reggae on 'Megamuse' with synth skanks and toys. Autechre inspired melodic hellishness features on 'Constellation Face' and 'Critterpated', a 19-minute ambient work which is my stand-out track of the album.

Musically, this is one of Cex's most accomplished projects. It has the uncanny quality of remaining varied and interesting while also fitting neatly into the sound of modern electronica. If it didn't have so much clunky branding, which betrays an attempt to seem avant-garde, this record would be a lot easier to appreciate as a whole. Although on the other hand, maybe Cex should be lauded for his efforts to take one of the most serious genres on the planet and inject a bit of silliness. Hung jury all round.

Cobra Fist.

The Lost Scrolls EP.
Self Released.

Reviewer - Ben Dorey.

Cobra Fist are a new addition to Sheffield's musical landscape, with a gig supporting Gallops at the Harley in March being their only venture beyond the practice studio so far. Certainly one of the most surreal bands I've ever encountered, their music is like the soundtrack of a 90s arcade game boss battle. But it would be the best arcade game ever. The band's first EP is a strong showcase and comes rather nicely packaged in handmade sleeves made from old floppy discs.

The record mixes stoner rock, metal and 8-bit synth madness to build something both laughable and epic. It is serious and complex on one level, but what could be a rather tiring experience after a while is transformed by the tongue-in-cheek attitude they bring to their songs and stage show, which is delivered in colourful ninja regalia. The musicianship is admirable throughout, especially the drum lines, which would comfortably fill the footsteps of many a math rock hero. It's hard to fully describe the paradox of being fisted by a limbless animal, so I implore you to investigate for yourself.

Biodub.

Reisegefährte.
Ki Records.

Reviewer - Ben Dorey.

Newcomers in an ever-growing stable of independent German labels focusing on a particular sound have released their first album with Biodub's Reisegefährte. Walking a path between the moody ambient techno of producers such as Efdemin and Pantha du Prince and sparser but equally emotive Berlin club music, this is a record at home in your headphones as well as in a club. Well, at home in a few clubs in Germany. This is techno that stems as much from the patterns and sounds of the natural world as the industrial one, and as a result retains an organic, almost acoustic atmosphere that initially seems paradoxical in a clearly electronic release. Biodub would be a better name for the genre itself than the artist.

Stand-out tracks include the well-constructed 'Sub Surfing', the most heavily dub-influenced moment on the album, with its swooning landscape of synthesised skanks and lilting delayed rhythms literally 'surfing' the sub heavy dubwise bass. Also impressive is 'Subsistence', which begins in a swirl of warm chords and manipulated field recordings and ends with a thumping 4/4 deep house beat. The title track sits as a beautiful finisher, its subtle and ambient swells progressing like a dubby version of Wolfgang Voigt's earlier GAS projects.

There is nothing groundbreakingly original about this release, but then the German techno scene is based far more on progression than the revolutionary nature of musical trends in the UK. Immaculately produced and intricately constructed, this album is for anyone with a taste for music that demands you really listen.