Levon Vincent.

Fabric 63.
Fabric Records.


Reviewer - Jack Scourfield.


New York, New York, it's a helluva town! The gateway to the Land of the Free is a metropolis where they like their buildings big and their breakfasts even bigger, and where giant apes have felt too embarrassed to maraud ever since that incident in 1933. For those of you with little interest in the world of house music, for whom Shed is merely an outbuilding for storing bikes and the occasional hastily-filled jerrycan rather than a Teutonic techno mastermind, your experience of New York electronic music may not extend much further than Ross' experimental jams in that episode of Friends ("INFINITE TIME-IME-IME-IME").

While it may constantly play second fiddle to Detroit and Chicago in the house music history books, New York has a rich heritage of slick, sultry clubbing culture. With its unique garage house sound originating from the Paradise Garage discotheque in the 70s and 80s, the Big Apple has spawned dance music legends from Francois K to Kerri Chandler, with a couple of Todds (Terry and Edwards) along the way. Nowadays, New York house is typified by a smooth and refined pulse, often oozing understated class and ensuring that revelers don't so much dance as shimmer. Levon Vincent is arguably the don of the city's current scene, and for Fabric 63 he's pulled together previously unreleased work by fellow residents to brush the Fabric brand with a big fat slice of NYC.

Joey Anderson's 'Earth Calls' sets the tone of the mix with a steady throb that is gentle but focused. The key with this mix is that Vincent never 'drops' a tune. Each track is blurred into the next with the kind of stealth that the US Department of Defense invests billions of dollars in each year. DJ Jus- Ed's 'Blaze' ups the tempo, with newcomer JM De Frias' 'Intrinsic Motivation' providing a steady build of chiming tantalisation before Vincent introduces a couple of new tracks of his own - the whirring, uncompromising 'Stereo Systems' and the shuffling euphoria of 'Polar Bear'. The beauty of Vincent's body of work is his ability to craft tracks that can be devastatingly massive but with the most minimal of effort. 'Man or Mistress', one of the most lethal tracks of the past few years, is a prime example, and each of his unreleased efforts on Fabric 63 maintain the same qualities, while his established modern-day classic 'Double-Jointed Sex Freak II' sits resplendent at the core of the mix.

Fabric 63 leaves you with an education in both fluent mixing and the rich state of New York house. Charming both as an overall work and as a collection of songs, this entry into the London club's long-running CD series leaves you in no doubt that such products can still be thrillingly relevant. Now if you don't mind, I'm off to name my first-born child 'Double-Jointed Sex Freak II'.

Lone.

Galaxy Garden.
R&S Records.


Reviewer - Tom Belshaw.


Why do all Blink 182 songs sound the same? Why did Michael Jackson keep banging on about the colours black and white? Why in the name of all that is good in the world do people keep listening to Skrillex?

It's all about artists "doing a Glenn Miller" and finding their sound.

You can spot a Lone track a mile off. Any time you drift off and start to imagine a nightclub themed bonus stage on Ecco the Dolphin, or start seeing colours like aquamarine or fuschia, you're most likely listening to Lone. Either that or you ate the 'funny' fruit pastille your flat mate left on his windowsill when he moved out.

Lone's use of scattered chords and notes, akin to that of an autistic child playing Chopin, are all his own, like the 9th chord progression at the end of a blues song, or when Switch has to put his name in every bloody remix he does because he managed to find a sample that sounds vaguely like his moniker.

I'm a massive advocate of Lone's signature sonics, so when I say all his songs sound the same it's both informed and perfectly acceptable. It's the same principal as me getting away with talking Patois on account of my ex girlfriend being black.

You know where you stand with Lone. You know it's going to sound like someone playing a Mega Drive at a warehouse party. Like freshly washed bed sheets, his new offering is suitably familiar and yet different enough to pique interest.

The two collaborations with Sepalcure's Machinedrum are stand-out efforts. The output of both artists is seemingly made for partnership, and these tracks are packed to the gills with big 808s, lush pads and haunted vocals.

Floaty, early 90s rave culture is the order of the day for tracks like 'Raindance' and the absurdly good 'Crystal Caverns 1991', while everything else is smattered with healthy doses of Boards Of Canada and Chicago house. Frenetic yet perfectly under control, verging on intense but always subdued, and above all produced and mastered to the brink of perfection, this album is most definitely a progression from previous efforts, just not in the grandiose way you'd expect from a fifth album. So fixed is Lone on the idea of his own sound, he can obsess over fine-tuning it to make sure it will always stay familiar.

Blood Sport.

Fruits - The Tye Die Tapes Recordings.
Tye Die Tapes.


Reviewer - Ben dorey.


I first met Blood Sport early last summer, a hyperactive trio of young men in the beer garden of the West End flitting through subjects of conversation even faster than their music moves through areas of influence. Watching them play that night I was impressed by the way they carried the raw energy of post-punk into something altogether greater, a complex battery of affected vocals, instruments and Sub-Saharan polyrhythms. Carried over from the punk side was a certain amount of unneccesary attitude and bile that felt a little laid on during a summer's evening in a pub, but overall I was excited by the potential of the band.

Fast forward nine months and Blood Sport are an evolved beast, delving deeper into their African influences, developing as musicians and shedding the less favourable aspects of their punk influences whilst still being able to wield its energy when the music requires. The playing on the new recordings is simultaneously more complex and less showy, and the whole affair has got a lot more groove to it. Most noticeable is the way the guitar lines have moved further into their own sound, a complex rhythmic jingle-jangle that reminds me of Congolese veterans Kasai Allstars, but with Western cadences and distortions. This all cascades in lengthy patterns over an onslaught of ever-changing rhythms by drummer Sam Parkin to unique effect.

Opener 'Palomar' builds nicely, with energy slowly developing from looping guitar lines intertwining over an intricate beat, reminding me for a moment of Talking Heads until the band takes an abrupt turn into a wailing instrumental that cleverly ebbs and flows between ultra tight and loose through the band's admirable mastery of delay and reverb. '20202016' continues in the same style and key, with a faster tempo combined with a rather more frenetic drumbeat that stumbles over itself throughout upping the energy levels. This is the kind of track that has people dancing like idiots at Blood Sport's unbroken gigs.

'Warm Hammer' is a marked change in mood, showcasing a more introspective side of the band, with less afrobeat influences and more linear guitar lines. I won't pretend I could hear the lyrics past all the effects, but the song carries a powerful emotional element different to their other material. 'Ode to Finn and Jake' returns to the jaunty rhythms and riffing of afrobeat with some swaggering slow chords, before culminating in a maelstrom of noise that holds all the more power on these recordings due to the restraint shown elsewhere.

If this is a 'transition' release then I'm frothing at the prospect of what's next from this band.

Richard Hawley.

STANDING AT THE SKY'S EDGE.
PARLOPHONE.


Reviewer - BEN ECKERSLEY.


Over five studio albums, Richard Hawley has cemented his status as a local musical hero, very successfully carving out a niche that, whilst not hugely original, has set him well apart from the vast majority of acts from this city that have achieved national recognition. I associate his style deeply with that of Roy Orbison and other stars of the late 50s and 60s - deeply melodic and lushly orchestrated. It's easy to forget that his career began as a guitarist, not a singer - as a member of Longpigs, a touring member of Pulp, and (apparently) a guitar soloist on All Saints' unedifying cover of 'Under the Bridge'. It's to the guitar that Hawley has returned on Standing at the Sky's Edge, his follow up to 2009's Truelove's Gutter. For his first major label release, it's astounding how far he has travelled from the characteristic sound that made his name.

Expressing a desire to simplify things, this record is, in his own words, 'a live album with two guitars, bass, drums and rocket noises'. There is a range of rock influences present that will surprise many of his fans, and not a single violin can be found. It is filled with grinding distortion pedals and heavily imbued with reverb and delays. There are broad washes of sound, with hints of psychedelia, occasional bursts of Indian ragas, and a raw energetic undercurrent. The most obvious comparison is with The Verve's early work - their debut A Storm in Heaven could be a companion record.

As a long-term fan of Spiritualized and many post rock bands who share a similar musical realm, I was initially excited to hear this change in direction, but overall the album has left me unmoved. There are two critical weaknesses: one is self-indulgence, the other a failing of selfawareness. The indulgence comes in the form of solos - lengthy, ever present, and all doing very little to elevate or develop the music. The latter comes in the seeming rejection of his core strength as a writer of melodies. Unlike his previous albums, which are full of hummable tunes, the majority of songs here move around a tiny range of notes. I greatly admire Hawley's courage in such a wholesale change of direction, but in the end this is not an interesting album. Stand-out track 'Don't Stare at the Sun' is a surprising and beautifully tender moment. It is accompanied simply, without any of the pomp of his previous work, but is unmistakeably Hawley. And the tune is stuck in my head.

As an epilogue, Sky's Edge joins Lady's Bridge, Coles Corner, Lowedges and Truelove's Gutter in the Hawley Map Of Sheffield. It's the hill above Park Hill. Once the site of a now demolished estate, before that Sky's Edge was the home of a gambling ring and the site of scuffles between Sheffield's police and gangsters. Fascinating!

Serious Sam Barrett.

Serious Sam Barrett.
YaDig? Records.


Reviewer - Paul Robson.


Heartfelt tales and earnest yarns that echo from Leeds to Mississippi. Serious Sam Barrett's eponymous second album is a passionate group of songs that ramble and roam with sincere honesty. A record submersed in a mix of Blind Willie McTell, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and a thousand more guitar-playing troubadours. Mr Barrett's musical vision is very much stripped down to the bare bones, relying mostly upon his twelve-string guitar and vocal ability to deliver personal stories and experiences.

Serious Sam Barrett's style of music may come across as quite alien to modern ears at first in that it is soaked in nostalgia. This mood soon passes as your ears gradually begin to recognise the subtle details contained within each arrangement. The listener is left with the impression that there is no guitar line or lyric that is wasted. A very noticeable change from Serious Sam Barrett's first full-length album Close To Home is that he appears more comfortable in his singing ability. On Close To Home, he seemed to jump from a Yorkshire vernacular to Dylanesque-like phrasing which resulted in the music sounding conflicted. Some slight Dylan references do still creep in, but not in a way that seems intended.

The choice of sparse instrumentation gives the compositions immediacy and clarity. This minimal approach also allows Mr Barrett the perfect opportunity to display his technical control and fluid skill on the guitar. Whether the music requires a delicate or abrasive touch he seems to manage this task with utter aplomb. There are some examples however, in tracks like 'Hurry Back', 'Spiderweb Frame' and 'Streetlights' that do have a subtle use of a banjo or slide guitar to add an extra dimension.

Mr Barrett has created a set of simple and concise songs, but this is the record's major flaw. The use of little musical variation results in the tracks becoming repetitive. In a live setting, it is possible to imagine these compositions having a bewitching effect over the audience, but they fail to sustain attention across a whole record. Sam Barrett should well be applauded for his talent and his unwavering use of traditional styles over modern recording techniques. The recording industry needs artists who refuse to compromise their artistic integrity, but the music may have had more impact as two EPs rather than an album.