Björk.

Biophilia.
One Little Indian.

Reviewer - Tom Belshaw.


Björk Guðmundsdóttir. The futuristic eskimo. The world's favourite conceptual elf. She's the mother of reinvention. She's Iceland's third biggest export behind Kerry Katona's dwindling showbiz career and local delicacy singed sheep heads. One time she dressed up like a swan.

As you may have guessed, Reykjavík's favourite art house pixie has never been my cup of tea, but with any new release comes an opportunity for change and I recalled there was a lot of buzz about her playing at Bestival. Unfortunately, even though I knew I'd be reviewing this album, I missed her live performance in lieu of an impromptu wrestling match with my flatmate amidst a thousand techno revellers. You can't win them all.

I set about listening with an open mind but was ultimately disappointed with this LP. Credit where it's due, lead single 'Crystalline' is sharply produced and features 52 seconds of pure joy in the form of an absurd jungle rinse out produced by 16Bit. Penultimate track 'Mutual Core' is, for all intents and purposes, absolute filth. It's Noisia-themed poundings beat the sense out of the melancholy that precedes it and it sounds glorious.

But the remaining efforts and their decidedly over-complicated themes fall very far from the tree. Convoluted recording methods and sporadic time signatures paradoxically make the tracks feel empty. The sparse, sombre tone that litters 90% of the album makes it feel incomplete and leaves you begging for substance as opposed to the conceptualism it offers.

Imagine my bamboozlement to find that the internet is all over it like a cheap suit. Reviewers are throwing 9s at it left, right and starboard, arguing that it's somehow 'redefined the relationship between technology and nature'. People are going ape for the way this album has been released. Through a corporate tie-in with Apple it exists as a series of apps. Each track is narrated and annotated and entirely context bound. The CD isn't the full experience; you have to buy the apps as well. Critics are claiming this will revolutionise the way music is distributed and in turn change the music industry completely.

If change means allowing artists to compromise the integrity of their musical output under the guise of it being a small piece of a larger whole, then yes, it will change the industry completely; it'll change it into Hollywood. And let me tell you, the day I buy into an Icelandic George Lucas is the day I stop my inappropriate festival wrestling ways. Never.

The Field.

Looping State of Mind.
Kompakt.

Reviewer - Fred Oxby.


It has now been four years since The Field became part of the musical landscape with his much appreciated From Here We Go Sublime. Since then, Axel Willner has been a busy man, remixing Thom Yorke, Battles and Sascha, as well as finding time to make Yesterday and Today, his most enjoyable second album. His third comes in the form of Looping State of Mind, a seven-track record on Cologne's Kompakt label.

While the first two albums had very little live recording, Looping State of Mind includes piano and double bass elements to complement the usual electronics and vocal samples. While Willner has always been a bit of a dab hand at the latter, these additions give a genuine sense of progression, adding a warmth which I found somewhat absent in the overall sound of earlier projects. As ever, the sound design and production is exquisite. In particular, the trademark manipulation of vocal samples and texture give the music a clear, original sound without feeling over-produced.

I think the sounds and ideas on Looping State of Mind represent true artistic evolution but also complement past works well. The sweeping textures and gentle melodies that fans of From Here We Go Sublime and Yesterday and Today will recognise as signature are still here, but in the sub-structures and rhythm there is something altogether more mature. The Field is no longer about texture and melody but groove as well, meaning that although Willner claims to no longer preoccupy himself with techno per se, he has produced something which is altogether more complete and, ultimately, more 'techno'. While there is still a huge amount of melodic richness, the beatmaking has improved, bringing the whole of the Field's sound forward.

There are, however, things which I don't like about this release and perhaps The Field in general. Occasionally, there is too much melodic activity, giving the music a cheesy feel. Constant synthy, chordy elements lend themselves well to atmospheric music but also become tiring after a while and for all their ingenuity and subtlety, the melodies do sometimes become too much for me to fully appreciate. Often though, Willner manages to surf the fine line between trance and melodic techno in style, and in these moments I find this music most rewarding. Like other giants of the genre like Nathan Fake and Max Cooper, the music can have an organic quality which much modern techno intentionally lacks, meaning that when all's said and done this record is much more about easy listening than dancefloor smashing.

Although I have considered this album in relation to previous works, this project certainly stands alone as a great piece of production and composition. While it is only in the details that the sound has really evolved, more of the same from the Field is not something I have tired of just yet.

Tim Hecker.

Dropped Pianos.
Kranky.

Reviewer - Ben Dorey.


Tim Hecker makes music that, despite being lumped in with ambient, generally trends towards the epic. Earlier this year he released Ravedeath, 1972, an album that sounded at points like a slow-motion apocalypse, but was also strangely euphoric. Recorded in a church in Reykjavík on a pipe organ, the large sonic environment of the album sounded incredible but lacked the intimacy of some of his earlier work.

Dropped Pianos is made up of sketches Hecker wrote when writing the album, seemingly before whatever happened in that Icelandic church injected euphoria into the project. Instead of the warm pipe organ we have a solitary piano that was dropped (get it?) from the final Ravedeath album, which sits coldly in hollow reverb leading the processions. The piano is so affected that it is barely recognisable, but the transformations are subtle enough to avoid any abrasiveness. The melodies are unashamedly half formed, but all the more beautiful for it.

'Sketch One' slowly builds out of fuzzy ambient textures in a wash of broken chords, the individual notes given incredible presence by the quality of the actual playing. Gradually the echoes grow in intensity to overwhelm the initially crisp piano in whirling analogue feedback. Hints at uplifting key changes reminiscent of Ravedeath keep appearing, but the chords formed by those overlapping echoes root us firmly in a sombre minor mode. 'Sketch Two' is a continuation of this theme, but with attention focused on different areas of the soundscape. The mechanical noises of the piano are accentuated and creaking doors and background noise are brought strangely to the fore.

'Sketch Three' is a short but emotive ambient soundscape, before 'Sketch Four' marks the return of the piano. Here, unlike in the opening pieces, the chords are fully formed, with Hecker emphasising each change just once. Simple and yet incredibly moving. 'Sketch Five' sees a return to the ideas of the first tracks, this time with piano lines layered on top of each other to create a lilting, limping effect. This is followed by the looping interlude of the sixth sketch. The shadows of earlier motifs return, reworked and expanded in the final three sketches with chilling effectiveness.

I know too well how it feels to spend inordinate amounts of hours in front of a piano playing with ideas that never come to fruition yet seem simultaneously like the most honest musical expressions you've ever made, so I empathise with this music in a way that means objectivity is a problem. But I honestly believe that even without the interesting context of its conception, Dropped Pianos is more than capable of standing on its own as a beautiful and hauntingly personal piece of music.

Various Artists.

24 Hour Album
For War on Want.

Reviewer - Sam Walby.

Last month, Sheffield's G2 Studios took on the unenviable task of recording, mixing and mastering a 15-track compilation in 24 hours. Captured on 8th and 9th October, the album is now on sale digitally for the benefit of global poverty charity War on Want. It includes contributions from a real mix of (mostly) Sheffield-based musicians, including Neil McSweeney, the Everly Pregnant Brothers and Oxo Foxo.

Ranging from comedy ukulele songs to strummed acoustic ballads and heavy rock, this compilation does a good job of packing it all in to less than one hour of recorded music. Neil McSweeney's contribution 'Sapling Bough' is characteristically down to earth and reflective, sailing along on a simple strummed chord progression and vocals that are honest and compelling. Wooderson's 'Blow Hard' owes at least a little of its verve to British Sea Power, particularly in the vocal delivery during the verses, while its power pop songwriting and guitar tone remind me of grandiose 90s groups like Manic Street Preachers, with a post-punk twist.

'7 Pukka Pies' by ukulele sextet Everly Pregnant Brothers is as comic as it sounds. A simple song about (you guessed it) the chip shop, in particular its pie selection and condiments, this one raises a smile and is well placed on an album recorded for charity. It's nice once in a while to hear a band that doesn't take itself too seriously (or at all seriously). Featuring a similar instrumental arrangement, the Early Cartographers' 'All Roads Lead to Other Roads' is uplifting and melodic, backed by a cascade of harmonised group vocals.

Driftrun's 'Final Scene' melts together traditional guitar-based indie with programmed drums and walls of synths to create something approaching epic, although it feels like this recording has perhaps not fully captured the energy of the Sheffield four-piece.

Probably the most interesting track on this compilation is 'The Hunting Song' by Oxo Foxo. Created by a soloist using a loop pedal and (presumably) pre-programmed beats, it is built with layers of lyrics and deep bass that springs to life at around the half-way mark. On her website she cites influences like Björk and Glasser, and I have to concede that she does sound similar to both, but there is something original in this track that needs to be explored further by the former member of Urgent Talk.

There is too much on this album to go into proper detail. Go to facebook.com/albuminaday to buy it and support War on Want.

Megadeth.

Th1t3en.
Roadrunner Records.

Reviewer - Tommy Poulton.

In April 1983, a young, angry, frizzy-haired ginger man was kicked out of Metallica. The injustice Dave Mustaine felt at Metallica's later success was to fuel his writing with Megadeth. In the assembly of Megadeth, Kerry King (possibly even with hair) was one of the founding members along with Mustaine, Dave Ellefson and Lee Rausch, but after touring King returned Slayer. Three years later he became a guitar warlord by releasing Reign in Blood, the album that every thrash album wishes it could be.

During the 80s Megadeth were up against stiff competition for recognition and Mustaine pulled it off. The initial help of as much speed as one could take, a lot of pent up anger and a taste for playing fast put Megadeth in the big boys' league of thrash - 'The Big Four' of Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth. Following three decades of occasional controversy, but mostly solid releases, Megadeth are continuing their now signature mature thrash sound with their thirteenth album, aptly named Th1rt3en.

Th1rt3en is a refreshing album for Megadeth since many ideas and reworkings of tracks are finally being released to the fans, including 'Black Swan', 'Millennium of the Blind' and 'New World Order'. The albums explodes with 'Sudden Death', a song originally recorded for the Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock video game. This track has a meaty guitar solo with some serious shredding, typical Mustaine style. Th1rt3en keeps true to the style they developed for Countdown To Extinction, with a leaning toward more classic rock song structures. There are some exceptions, such as the odd meandering snare drum introduction to 'Never Dead', which precedes a solid (if straightforward) thrash song.

The album features the heavy Roadrunner Records influence noticeable since the switch to the label for their United Abominations album. Since then there has been a slight diversion towards a more commercial style of metal, rather than sticking to their much-conquered thrash norms. This is most noticeable on lead single 'Public Enemy No.1', a poor example of radio friendly, insipid dross; almost the alcopop equivalent of a heavy metal track. For an album which contains so many amazing riffs to spawn a single of such mediocrity is easily the most disappointing element of an otherwise impressive effort.

Rust in Peace is probably Megadeth's masterpiece and is therefore always going to be the benchmark for any subsequent effort. For instance, while opener 'Sudden Death' is great, it regrettably lacks the bite present in 'Holy Wars... Punishment Due', the opening track on Rust in Peace. This album is admittedly not in the same league, but this should not take away from it too much - it is a strong release which should grace the shelves of any Megadeth fan.