Squarehead.

Elegante.
5ANDSEVEN.

Reviewer - Ben Dorey.


Squarehead has become such a regular playing around Sheffield and the UK over the past two years it's easy to forget that he is only 19 years old. With releases on several labels already behind him and tracks getting played on prime time shows on Radio 1 by the likes of Skream and Toddla T, his understanding of the nuances of house music surpasses most of those 20 years his senior who were there the first time around. His new 12" double A-Side is being released as the first vinyl for new Sheffield label 5andseven and is a perfect showcase for his style - warm, subtle and swaggering in equal measure.

Opener 'Elegante' commences with the smart kind of vocal work you expect these days from Squarehead over filtered 909 kicks and jacking percussion, before being undercut dramatically with a subtly out-of-key bass that changes the mood and makes the introduction of woozy analogue pads at the drop all the better. Like many of the man's productions, this is deceptive, sounding like simple music until you think about what's going on and realise how rich it is, with layer upon layer of rhythm and melody evolving constantly rather than dropping in an obvious way.

'Now is Good' continues in a similar vein, the whole track hanging around vocals carefully chopped up and applied rhythmically, hypnotically overlapping as the tune develops. This one has another raw sounding bass line sitting under all the playful melodic elements, appropriately carrying an echo of LFO and seminal Warp Records tracks amongst more obvious influences from London and Chicago.

This is an incredibly mature release that will hopefully confirm to the rest of the UK what we in Sheffield already know - that Squarehead will go on to be one of the most talented producers in the current resurgence of UK house music. Go grab it.

Great Deeds.

Self released.

Reviewer - Alan Byatt.


Disastrochimp is the new EP by Sheffield-based trio Great Deeds, who thrive within a world of chaotic guitar riffs, jaunty bass lines, and jazzy time signatures. They take influence from a variety of sub genres - math rock, progressive, post-punk and post-hardcore - to conjure up a cacophony of sound through high-speed tempos and battling instrumentation.

Since the early 70s Sheffield's music scene has flourished through its alternative outlook with the help of such bands as Cabaret Voltaire, Artery, and Heaven 17, who took creativity from such anti-establishment movements as avant-garde and dada. Although Great Deed's influences might have changed, the prospect of creating do-it-yourself, impulsive music remains, owing as much to the environment as to the artists themselves.

Opening track 'Bulb' steers its way through ringing feedback building to galloping drum beats and frantic guitar riffs. This chaotic approach continues with 'Tongue', a cross between post-hardcore At The Drive-In and math rock Everything Everything, with anxious vocals and stop-start motions. While the band's notable math rock aesthetics are all perfectly in line with their atypical rhythm structures and clean tones, their rawness and energy hints as punk ideals. These elements are all mathematically placed to give us such systematic and electric compositions as 'Leger', boasting a tight and heavy rhythm section and perhaps their biggest chorus.

'Blueprint' has a sparse musical nature compared to the other tracks, with thin sounding guitar lines and a non-committal vocal range. 'Brick' continues to manipulate the post-punk basslines best likened to that of Gang Of Four and mirrors the complex rhythm sections of Battles. The track also carries the weighting of the disjointed strangeness from the likes of DEVO, a band who similarly refuse to take themselves too seriously, but moulds this into their own form of weirdness with angular melodies and progressive edges.

Disastrochimp continues to develop from Great Deeds first EP Teach Yourself Jazz-Punk Volume 1, freeing their eclectic influences and ideas and allowing them to move freely through their own creativity, an opportunity that only such unconventional ideals can bring. This EP works best when listened to as a complete piece of work, allowing the time for Great Deeds to draw you into their world for 14 minutes of eccentricity.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!
Constellation Records.

Reviewer - Alex Adams.


It's been ten long years since we last had anything physical from apocalypse rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and what with the political climate at the moment, songs about everything going to shit could fit in nicely. That isn't to say Godspeed are all about doom. Previous works have managed to weave immense beauty and intimacy into their expansive soundscapes too. Yet for the opener to this album, 'Mladic', they opt for sheer anger. The song holds some real weight with Eastern-style wailing violins mixed with growling guitars and furious drumming. It's a song that demands attention and acceptance that this isn't just a reformation for the band, but a resurrection. But for all its roaring and screams, it lacks that expansiveness that elevates Godspeed to such high praise. It feels rather insular; less of a musical journey through desolation and more one long battle cry.

In stark contrast, the second "major" track 'We Drift Like Worried Fire' is a gently building crescendo of genuine joy and triumph. Different movements change up the pace and add variety, yet for all the rare sense of positivity that the song creates, it too often strays into the blandness and guitar-noodling that dragged down their previous album Yanqui U.X.O and made it feel so weak compared to their explosive earlier works.

The last two songs on the album - coming on a separate 7" vinyl - are quintessential drone and yet somehow tragically forgettable. 'Their Helicopters Sing' is one long demonic orchestra tune-up. 'Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable' - yeah, I have no idea either - has more of a bite to it with some added distortion but still ends up coming up short. These two tracks aren't especially bad but they lack any kind of punch or depth past the harsh noise. The expansiveness of previous albums is sorely missing.

One of the main problems I have with this album is that the main bulk of it isn't even new. 'Mladic' and 'We Float...' have been part of setlists since 2003, before the band went on hiatus. The drone tracks are the only new material we get, and they feel so limited, lacking the glorious vastness that Godspeed can create, that upon first listen the album seems slightly disappointing. But there is potential here; new sounds, new approaches. Godspeed may be on the brink of a transformation. This album may be the start of something much bigger and louder than before. I hope so.

Letherette.

Featurette.
Ninja Tune.

Reviewer - Jack Scourfield.


Cast your mind back, if you will, to 2010 - a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth, human beings only had one large eye in the middle of their face, and it was customary for townsfolk to be burned at the stake for being upbeat about the state of British sport. A year that saw student unrest sweep the country and BP take a huge steaming dump in the Gulf of Mexico before sloppily wiping their behinds with a dead cormorant. Despite all this, 2010 will undoubtedly live longest in the collective memory due to my review of Letherette's eponymous debut EP in the November issue of this very magazine.

Exactly two years on, Letherette are back with what is now their third EP and their first for Ninja Tune. Despite retreating to a mountain top monastery in Guam shortly after the last article was published and swearing never again to review EPs by Wolverhampton duos, I have once again returned to face the inevitability of my destiny after Now Then's editor bribed me back to UK shores with a combination of Rymans vouchers and Weetos.

So, the verdict? Not mind-blowing, but it's still pretty good. While I was holed away in Guam, the duo appear to have spent their time hanging out at mid-90s Parisian nightclubs and Chicago dancefloors circa 1987. Opening track 'Warstones' is much more overtly dancey than their previous outings, sounding not dissimilar to early Daft Punk but retaining Letherette's characteristic chopped vocal flecks, although it lacks a certain edge and could easily be filed away with any other disco resurgence track of the same ilk. 'Ettewards' is better, muffled rave piano stabs propped up by a veteran 4/4 beat, with soulful snatches of vocals strewn across them.

In the best sense possible, 'Surface' sounds like a bonus track from Kuedo's Severant, a gentle whir of drums underlying a twinkling melody, while the collaborative partnership of Jed and Lucia half-sing, half-sigh over the top. Final track 'Wecko' is a charmingly spaced slice of Brainfeeder-esque beatsmanship, incorporating chimes and an array of found sounds to firmly banish any troublesome worries to the naughty step for a 4:36 minute time out.

Overall, Letherette's third offering does their reputation no harm at all, but nor does it advance it in any great way. It is slightly too forgettable as a whole. This could be partly due to their shift from the comfortably obscure Ho Tep imprint to the more 'mainstream independent' Ninja Tune, where risks are likely to be more scrutinised. By me. Two years from now, when they're readying their debut LP for Simon Cowell's Syco label, I'll see you back on these pages for round three. But for now - one ticket to Guam please madam.

Cygnus.

Newmark Phase.
Central Processing Unit.

Reviewer - Ben Dorey.


Central Processing Unit is a new Sheffield label that is looking to create quite an impression. With branding by designers who helped carve another certain Sheffield electronic label's visual identity a couple of decades ago, their first release certainly looked impressive when it dropped into my hands. Thankfully the music is of an equally high quality.

Dallas-based Cygnus' Newmark Phase is a varied journey through B-Boy electro, techno and electronica that wouldn't have been out of place on the books of Warp in the 90s - full of lush synth melodies, electric percussion and the crackly textures of analogue gear being pushed to its limits. But this is not a backwards facing album, and a great deal here has been informed by more modern electronic dance music too.

Opener 'Atari Lovers' is a case in point - a dizzying, detuned dub techno synth line whirring progressively over a restrained plodding thud. It is for that very reason hypnotic and moody, with an overall sound that wouldn't be out of place amongst Delsin's current catalogue. This all changes with second track 'Bedroom Activities', which works waves of warm synth strings through saccharine peaks and troughs over a razor sharp bass line and heavy 808 breakbeats whilst playful melodies dance around in the higher frequencies.

'Biosoft' has slightly more of the aforementioned retro influences, with an initially pleasing synth melody getting gradually layered up into chords that sit awkwardly in the grey area between discordance and harmony. There are overtones of Autechre here, and a bizarre vocal line that is reminiscent of 'Beetles' on the Richard D. James album. The following two tracks retain the emotive harmonic sensibilities of those early Warp influences, but throw a handful of electro and Detroit grooviness into the mixing pot, with a Drexicyan level of swagger emerging in the rhythms and crunchy bass.

Other highlights include the title track, which like many here carries a sense of linear narrative that is refreshing in a genre which these days often hints at formal symmetry. Weird and wonderful synths hint at a theme for a full five minutes before the main rhythmic body of the song emerges and the filters are opened up on the melodic elements, switching us from a soft sound into a harsh one and back again with impressive confidence.

You can probably see a trend of influences running through this review, and it is true that Cygnus isn't doing anything particularly pioneering with this album. However, the quality of those influences and his skills in creating a sound evocative of them, combined with the fact that the album is so rich with fresh melodies, mean that this is far more than just a rehashing of ideas. It is a proper LP, with a sense of overall continuity well expressed despite the variety of styles touched upon. Despite its Dallas origin, it is a very appropriate release for a new Sheffield label, with a keen sense of the city's musical past pulsing through it all.