El-P.

cancer for cure.
fat possum records.

Reviewer - sam walby.


Cancer For Cure is the newest effort by Brooklyn-based rapper and producer El-P, the follow-up to his much lauded I'll Sleep When You're Dead. Formerly a member of seminal hip hop collective Company Flow - whose trailblazing 1997 record Funcrusher Plus is an undeniable cornerstone of underground hip hop - El-P has always been a man of many talents and many influences, and once again he puts the ears to the test with an album that only he could have created.

For the unacquainted, El-P's music is not adequately covered by the term 'hip hop'. His productions have as much in common with rock, metal, electronica and industrial, as evidenced by the sheer variety of his samples, the rage his voice harnesses, and by his 2007 collaborations with Nine Inch Nails and The Mars Volta. Classic hip hop stabs are merged with fuzzy distortion and meaty drums to create a volatile, experimental backing for his anarchic rapping. As with other El-P albums, this one takes a bit of work on the part of the listener, but once it gets its teeth in it won't let you go.

'Request Denied' kicks in with a rolling drum break, layers of analogue synth and a distorted guitar. It's over three minutes before the rapping begins, but when it does it keeps pace stunningly, showing that this is a rapper who still has plenty to say and the attitude to carry it. Fans will recognise his trademark dystopian bile on every track, but in particular on the fantastic 'Drones Over Bklyn' and the angular 'Oh Hail No'. First single 'The Full Retard' is hard hitting, built around a compulsive vocal hook and a catchy lead. Closing track '$ Vic/FTL (Me and You)' is probably the best example on this album of how far El-P strays from the hip hop template while still keeping the same syncopated swagger.

My only real criticism of Cancer For Cure is that while it is consistent, it isn't hugely different from his previous albums in terms of lyrical content and musical thrust. That's not to say there aren't loads of pleasant (and not so pleasant) surprises; just that fans could feel like he hasn't stepped out of the comfort zone as much as he might have.

Despite his obvious love of conspiracy theories, on this album El-P manages to stay just the right side of paranoid, and in a world that is coming ever closee to some of the dystopias he describes, Cancer For Cure could be more at home on this planet than any of his previous efforts.

Sigur Rós.

Valtari.
XL Recordings.

Reviewer - Fred Oxby.


Sigur Rós have returned, and it has been a long time coming. Back in 2010, rumours circulated that the Icelandic band would be releasing an unnamed follow-up to 2008's Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. But the album was not released. Instead, vocalist and guitarist Jónsi announced that he was going to spend more time on his solo project, leaving hopes of new material looking thin. Fortunately, this hiatus has been short lived and Sigur Rós return with Valtari, their sixth studio project.

It seems that early rumours that the band have moved towards a more ambient sound are true. The music has taken on an even more minimal feel than previous recordings. There is a more prominent electronic element to the mix, with field recordings and reverbed chips and chirps flooding the background. The rhythm section is still occasionally present, accompanying soaring vocals and rich textures without ever moving to the fore.

There are a number of stand-out moments which I could discuss in detail here, but what struck me most is that this release is more suited to being heard as one long piece of music than as individual tracks. In fact, it is more monochrome than other Sigur Rós records, because there is much less variety than before. Songs don't really build up to a crescendo in the way they used to, which is slightly disappointing because Valtari sometimes lacks the grit that a solid bit of percussion can offer.

But as usual, the band weave a rich tapestry of sounds that is well worth listening to. Jónsi's style as a vocalist and guitarist, playing his instrument with a bow while singing lyricless melodies, has a tremendously wide sound which adds depth and hypnotic melody. Organs and pianos accompany with saturated harmonies to create what is still undoubtedly one of the most recognisable sounds in so-called post-rock music. It's epic, and only seldomly crosses over into cheese.

I still feel genuine emotion in this music and that gives me reason enough to like it. While Sigur Rós have progressed towards a different style of composition, it is undoubtedly the Sigur Rós we know and love, making Valtari a most worthwhile listen.

Paul Littlewood.

Butterfly House.
Three Sixty Records.

Reviewer - Paul Robson.


Paul Littlewood has recorded an EP that flutters in and out of the subconscious. Butterfly House won't bring the place down with an earthshattering guitar riff or a foot-stomping groove. It will, however, ease its way into the listener's psyche. His music is reminiscent of Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock by Talk Talk in its use of repeated guitar patterns, subtle ambient textures and raw vocals. This is best heard late into the small hours or through headphones for greatest effect. Short pauses in sound become just as important for enhancing emotion.

Butterfly House is very much a solo venture, with one or two guitars accompanying Paul's voice. It utilises few studio effects and has little production wizardry. There are fleeting moments of electronic glitches or faint passages of guitar feedback, namely on 'Blindfold' and 'Citadel', but he has layered these sounds carefully so as not to detract from the recording. The sparse use of effects is evocative and otherworldly in its execution.

The EP opens with 'State Of Mind'. A faint guitar line slowly increases in volume before melding with a skittery percussive pattern. Paul's haunting vocals then emerge, supported by a deep bass. His voice sounds fragile, like he is almost on the verge of breaking into tears. On the final track, 'Falling Rocks', he utters the lyrics in a hushed tone before gently whining. Words seem to become redundant in conveying the exact emotion. This dynamic gives the record an edge that prevents it from being overly melodramatic.

It may well be sombre and cerebral, but this doesn't mean that it is mere background music. There is an air of unease that fluctuates throughout each composition, as expressed with the line: 'Lost at sea / it ain't easy,' from 'Daylight'. Paul Littlewood confronts human sadness in an unassuming manner and allows the listener time to absorb its meaning. Some of the songs can meander. The performance is continually heightened, but it soon fades before reaching its final destination. This is a problem because the audience never gets a sense of overall release after the successive build-up, but what Paul Littlewood has achieved is making poignant and ethereal blues music.

Drops.

believe you me.
heat death records.

Reviewer - joe davis.


Sheffield is no longer the city that inspired acts like The Human League through its turbulent political history; these days it is more often a playground of students who spend their time pondering metaphysics.

That sense of exploration is no more apparent than on Drops' debut EP Believe You Me. A literal one-man band, Drops is an acoustic project by local artist Liam Hennessy. Liam produces his music completely from scratch, writing, recording and producing every track from his bedroom. In this way, Believe You Me seems to be Liam Hennessy's take on the world around us.

The EP opens with 'You Have My Word'. A relaxed opener, the track begins with light drums and an addictive guitar riff drifting over your ears right from the get go, lulling you into a peaceful haze. As the track plays on, a clapping beat is introduced and a tinkle of key come into play, lifting you into the playfully fun space of the Drops experience. By the end of the track your worries have been washed away by the trill of the acoustic guitar.

The journey from the centre of reality gains speed with second track 'Star Map'. The tempo speeds up, with a heavier drumbeat and a more pronounced guitar strain hitting the backs of your ear drums. The experience of the music intensifies, resembling an acoustic interpretation of electronic music, sending you drifting through the world of the mind, bouncing from star to star. At which point you fall back down to earth with 'Autumn Walks'. The stuttered nature of the synthetic loop that runs through this track allows you to take stock of everything you've discovered.

This leads to closer 'Return Stones into Sea'. A heady clap, strong beat and light tune, along with an incessant chant that seems almost ritualistic, this song sees Liam saying goodbye to what he knew before he began this journey. And that's what this EP is - a journey. Liam Hennessy, using only the instruments at his disposal and the contours of his mind, takes his listener through the vast realms of human experience.

My Bloody Valentine.

Isn't Anything / EPs 1988-1991 / Loveless (Remastered).
Sony.

Reviewer - Jenny Sutton.


Let me just own up before I begin - I love this band. I was there. Back when wearing a bootleg MBV T-shirt set me off on all kinds of teenage sexual adventures. My Bloody Valentine have that kind of effect on people. These songs are soaked through with sex. Not in the sense of going out there to get some, at the bar, in the club, not the kind that relentlessly drives so much rock music. No. This is how it feels to be touched, to be kissed, on the inside. Kevin and Belinda were sometime lovers, and sometimes, for a moment there, it's hard to tell which of them is singing. Don't get me wrong - this is not loved-up music. This is love, and lovelessness, that is broken and bruised.

MBV came from that time, at the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s, that was moving from analogue into digital. You can hear both warped and distorted guitars, stretched audio tape and feedback, but also drum loops and samples. This was going to be the future, though it didn't quite turn out that way.

Of the two LPs, Isn't Anything is dense and tender, raw and spiky, while Loveless - with two versions in this package, the second remastered from the original tape - is more sonically lush. The EPs chart the journey in between. 'You Made Me Realise' was the bands first experiment in noise that darkens on 'Feed Me With Your Kiss'. 'Glider' and 'Soon' are maybe the greatest pair of tracks ever pressed onto one side of an EP. They sound like nothing before or since. 'To Here Knows When' is possibly the most beautiful song ever recorded. There are also some rarities that did the rounds on bootlegs, which are not as strong but worth your time.

Loveless is said to have bankrupted Creation Records. That makes good copy, but what it did or didn't cost depends on who you ask. And then, MBV kind of fell apart and there was no more until a few reunion gigs a couple of years ago. Kevin is promising new material, but you just don't know with Mr Shields, what that might mean or when. In the meantime, there are these remastered releases, which are admittedly steep if you buy all three, but I think if you don't like this music there must be something wrong with you. Though everyone secretly thinks that about the music that gets them the most.