John Fairhurst.

Hungry Blues.
Self-released.

Reviewer – Tom Belshaw.

There’s something about a Northern accent that warms my cockles. I genuinely can’t think of a single thing that wouldn’t benefit from the addition of a salt of the earth type waxing lyrical. An outspoken local lad proclaiming “oooh bugger” certainly would have lightened the mood on the global downer that was 9/11, “proper watter” is how I would have preferred to hear BBC Look North’s weatherman Paul Hudson describe the true scale of 2004’s devastating tsunami, and the passing of Margaret Thatcher would have benefitted no end from the succinct summation of “abaat bloody time”.

The North has a distinct reputation for being a tad grim. If you’ve heard John Cooper Clarke’s homage to Salford being dead rubbish, ‘Evidently Chickentown’, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Even George Orwell noted the hard wrap afforded to the working poor of Lancashire in his book The Road To Wigan Pier, but the balmy tones of the southerly challenged makes all that bleakness seem trivial.

Aside from making me seem well read, the mention of Orwell brings us rather neatly to the topic at hand, Wigan-born bluesman John Fairhurst. The gritty North and the deep South are two bedfellows who on paper seem to have no relation to one another, as all bedfellows should. However, the melancholy and sadness of the blues seem like a perfect match for the disenfranchised working voices of the middle to top bit of the UK.

It’s that seemingly tenuous link that makes Fairhurst’s latest offering all the more special. Although a remarkably well-travelled man, his lyrics could quite easily be describing things closer to home. The descriptive journey through icy peaks in the sombre lullaby of ‘The Snow Lies Deep’ conjures images of my mum moaning about driving over the Pennines in winter. The tribal, ethereal loveliness of ‘Hungry Blues’ is punctuated by the memory of my grandad cracking open a tin of Pek® and informing me that ‘lunch’ was ready. But the proper Northern twang over the chipper, folky noodlings of ‘I Don’t Know’ is the biggest homely treat here.

The tagline “I don’t know where I’m going, but I know where I’ve been” may seem banal, but the ethos of home being a place of solace, however rubbish that home may be, is anything but. Cockles don’t get much toastier than this.

Various Artists.

Eglo Records Vol. 1.
Eglo Records.

Reviewer – Jack Scourfield.

Once, as I stood in a South London club pondering whether I should invest my remaining shrapnel in a bottle of water or a shot of whiskey, and if my keys felt more comfortable in my left or right trouser pocket, the highly acclaimed British musician Four Tet squeezed past me. If you’ve never had Four Tet squeeze past you, I’d recommend it. His curly barnet provides a playful tickle on the way and he carries a facial expression that reads, “I really am very sorry to be invading your personal space. Please accept this hair tickle by way of my most sincere apologies”.

Watching his ‘fro disappear into the crowd, and realising that my keys in fact felt best in the left pocket, I noticed that Eglo Records chieftan Sam Shepherd, aka Floating Points, was following close behind. In an impressive show of awareness considering the hour of night, I did what his eyes were clearly crying out for and forcibly stopped him in his tracks to tell him that he was the best producer in the whole world. He smiled coyly, indicated after Four Tet, and said, “I dunno, he’s pretty good”. I disputed his claim, gave him a pat on the back, and switched my keys back to the right pocket.

To this day, I would attest to Floating Points’ standing as one of the greatest and most underrated electronic producers of the past decade, with his own Eglo imprint the usual place for his jazzy deep house masterpieces. Four years since its inception, the label that he co-runs with Rinse FM DJ Alexander Nut releases a retrospective compilation featuring some of his finest creations, alongside several gems from the imprint’s other artists.

Nestled among these cuts are four previously unheard exclusives. The best of these is ‘Visit You’ by Eglo stalwart Fatima, who delivers mesmerising vocals over rising producer Budgie’s crisp, glistening funk. Eglo’s other soulful songstress, Shuanise, provides a classical jazz vocal coupled with a sloping beat on ‘Mercy’, The Abstract Eye (aka LA’s Gifted & Blessed) soundtrack a DMT-fuelled Tardis ride to the year 2830 on ‘Reflexes’, whilst Floating Points Ensemble stay true to form on ‘Wires’, stepping back from the dancefloor to deliver an odyssey of percussive, string-laden jazz.

Incorporating FunkinEven’s idiosyncratic brand of UK acid alongside ARP 101’s grime inflected aquatic boogie, as well as representing the label’s sizeable female contingent, these are two discs that demonstrate the continued understated brilliance of Eglo Records. Long may they reign.

Oxo Foxo.

Disguise EP.
Self-released.

Reviewer – Tasha Franek.

Foraging her way from the quiet depths of her own bedroom to the wild streets of Sheffield, Ruth O’Hare, otherwise known as Oxo Foxo, brings us her debut EP, Disguise. A fantasy fanatic with a fancy for all things wild and free, Foxo’s first record is peppered with the mythical. She encompasses her multi-instrumental talents with the aid of the increasingly popular loop pedal by layering vocals and strings to form a sweeping musical landscape very much in the mode of fellow dreamers Björk and Glasser. In her own words, “Disguise is about hiding, hunting and changing. It was written in the dark and recorded in secret.”

The EP begins by showcasing the enchanting possibilities of combining a loop pedal with such a melodic, gentle voice. ‘Turn It Back On’ plays on the build-up of harmonies, before dropping into a catchy pop template. As a whole, the album encapsulates pop music, though her fascination with loops and layers seems to give her sound a memorable and mysterious edge. This is perhaps more evident with the two slower paced tracks, ‘Blindfolded’ and ‘Starfish’. The latter is a brilliant example of Oxo Foxo’s dedication to the authenticity of her tracks. Not only are the harmonies relaxing, but they seem to perfectly capture the subject of the song, mirroring the feeling of being underwater, while the instruments capture the creatures of the ocean.

It is impossible to deny the quality of Foxo’s vocals, which hold their own against the host of other instruments being toyed with across the EP. Penultimate track ‘Snow Days’ demonstrates the sweetness and strength of her vocal range with an a cappella introduction, once again building up harmonies in loops and consciously building an animallike chorus. Probably my favourite track from the record, it seems to perfectly balance the delicate, natural minimalism and unusual fantasy elements that sum up the Oxo Foxo project.

Having already played several gigs across Sheffield, including Tramlines last year, Oxo Foxo continues to make her mark on the city as a brilliant up-and-coming recording artist with the release of Disguise, and I’m sure she will be keeping her fans wide-eyed and bushy-tailed with the promise of plenty of live performances as the sunshine comes out. A must-hear for all those who like their music cute and catchy.

The Black Dog.

Tranklements.
Dust Science.

Reviewer – Ben Dorey.

Recent years have seen The Black Dog divide their releases. Their EPs and singles seem more club-orientated, though still with depths that set them apart from most of their peers, while their albums see them dealing with more abstract themes and forms. In 2013 they have continued this pattern with The Return Ov Bleep and the new Darkhaus series serving up solid late-night dancefloor fare, while the new album Tranklements provides another sonic journey of an LP.

Themes from the back catalogue are still here, with the significance of industry in the music made explicit through the short ‘Bolt’ tracks which pull the record together. Yet unlike Liber Dogma, which paid obvious tribute to the experience of the external city with tracks like ‘Streets in the Sky’, this record seems to map landscapes that are more internal and psychological. Slowly building opener ‘Alien Boys’ is a case in point, with the title’s sense of detachment mirrored by a track which is in equal parts warm and cold, with rich pads ebbing and flowing under a bass-heavy electro beat while a melancholic acid loop trickles over the top. ‘Atavistic Resurgence’ continues the sense of internal tension, as delicate arpeggios and synth strings are brutally pinned down by distorted stabs and weighty beats.

‘Cult Mentality’ is one of the more straight-up techno tracks, with a solid four-to-the-floor kick and dubby chords and basslines that bear a resemblance to the softer side of recent releases from Fachwerk and Delsin. It’s a great track, though you wonder whether the song’s title and its relative accessibility are somehow linked. ‘Hymn for SoYo’ continues in pleasant sonic territory, though on closer inspection this track actually has a unique construction. The brutal disjuncture of ‘Bolt 3533f’ shocks any sense of security out of us fast, however, and soon we are into the throbbing discordance of ‘Pray Crash’ I and II, two of the hardest offerings on the record that would certainly do the job on a receptive dancefloor.

‘Internal Collapse’ goes back to far more inward looking territory. Soft ambience is shredded by immaculately made sound objects before a slow breakbeat enters. ‘Death Bingo’ is similar, again awash with the brilliantly detailed noise palette and chilly funk that you expect from the duo. After ‘Mind Object’ we are left with the immersive outro ‘Spatchka’, the kind of ambient track that you get so lost in that you let out a cathartic sigh at the end.

Another album of brilliant, uneasy listening from Sheffield’s finest. Come and see them in action at the album launch with Sheffield Techno Institute on 18th May at DLS. You won’t be disappointed.

Low Duo.

Dive and Slide into the Blue.
Self-released.

Reviewer – Simon Bell.

If you check out their website you could be mistaken for thinking the Greenwood brothers have been caught in a nostalgic sepia freeze frame from a mid-19th century period drama, a couple of Victorian traveling minstrels selling a potent home-brewed elixir while entertaining their customers with a few ditties. But these two gentlemen are hitting the road with an understated determination and attitude. I’m not sure how to describe it, but there is something unique about what Low Duo are putting out there.

Ever taken a dive or slid into the blue? Well, now’s the chance to find out what that might be like. Low Duo have worked with Kenny Jones (formally of the Small Faces and The Who) to produce eight songs worthy of time and attention. Leigh has a quite remarkable vocal range and I couldn’t help hearing echoes of Peter Murphy of Bauhaus, or Brett Anderson of Suede with an extra layer of falsetto, yet in a folk-indie context. I sense a slightly romantic, gothic ingredient in the twilight, just out of sight. There is a note of irony in their surreal storytelling and at times I’m left waiting for the full band to kick in. Teasingly, there is a big sound right on the edge of these tunes.

The arrangements and lyrics sum up a confident emerging talent. To put vocals and guitar together so simply risks you hearing all the glitches and dropped stitches. There aren’t any. The squeaky twangs of Adam’s guitar and the fading tremolo of Leigh's vocal add flavour and atmosphere to their melodies. The contrast of crunchy overdrive and acoustic guitar build their songs dynamically through the album.

If you are “sweet without the corn”, a “long-legged lover” or “an eagle that flies by a damaged wing”, this album will not disappoint; a collection of mature songs and a sound that deserves to be broadcast more widely.

Junip.

Junip.
City Slang.

Reviewer – Emma Milton.

The set up of Jose Gonzalez’ haunting vocals, Elias Araya’s drumming finesse and Tobias Winterkorn’s keyboard competence return with new material in the form of the self-titled album Junip, a follow-up to the delightful and delectable 2010 debut Fields. On first glance it may seem intricate, but this is musical beauty in its purest sense. Compared to older tracks you can tell their sound has not only matured, it’s intensified.

Opener and first single ‘Line of Fire’ immediately grabs your attention. This track is powerful yet harmonious, a happy medium that Junip accomplish so well across the board; music that is alluring yet emotionally exhausting.

There’s nothing more gratifying than a song that make the cogs turn, gets you thinking, but at the same time is undemanding. Take ‘Suddenly’, a majestic blend of breezy vocals and delicate synths, or ‘Walking Lightly’, which showcases the band’s dreamy experimental folk slant on production. Both require little attention but are so intricate and capturing to the ear. Change up two notches and we are transported to ‘Villain’, one of their more percussive, bluesy songs, and my lucid favourite in the form of ‘Your Life, Your Call’. If Hot Chip and Heaven 17 were to bizarrely come together in musical unison this song would be the congenial lovechild.

Influences and name dropping aside, when presented with an album consisting of the likes of ‘Head First’, ‘Baton’, ‘Beginnings’ and ‘After All is Said and Done’, you have to question why this band has only produced two albums in its 15-year existence. Take away the wild success of Gonzalez’ version of The Knife’s ‘Heartbeats’ and you realise that music of this calibre takes time. Junip’s ability to draw sounds from new realms and process them into something so stimulating and imaginative is striking, and we are treated to an emotional tide wave of melodies and the warm, sinuous tonal quality of Gonzalez’ voice. It isn’t often that music has the ability to take you on a real journey. On this album nothing is hurried and it all feels so effortless. Enjoy it at your leisure.

The Heliocentrics.

13 Degrees Of Reality.
Now-Again.

Reviewer – Joe Baker.

The Heliocentrics describe themselves as “a London collective of musicians who are linked by a common aim to create our own musical identity, not following trends or genres but making the music we want to hear but cannot find. A psychedelic music collective breaking boundaries between funk, rock, electronic, ethnic traditions and the experimental”. I’m not even going to try and better such a perfect description. Having worked with Ethopian Jazz legend Mulatu Astatke and Madlib’s Yesterday’s New Quintet, and collaborated with the likes of MF DOOM and Percee P, the musical respect The Heliocentrics enjoy from their peers is not to be understated.

13 Degrees of Reality, the follow up to 2008’s debut LP Out There, begins with the psychedelic “Feedback Intro”, a taste of things to come, and is followed by “Ethnicity”, a track a little reminiscent of early DJ Shadow productions which feels like it should only be played while lost in the desert, hallucinating. These two tracks set the foundations for the following 19 songs, a consistent melting pot of tightly arranged, hypnotic soundscapes, never veering too far off the signature sound but also not confined to one singular place. This is an album to dedicate an hour to, to be soaked up like a musical bath.

There are a number of skits and interludes that make the 21 tracks pass by in a blur of wailing guitars, delay and distortion, and the overall feeling remains the same throughout, giving the listening experience a hazy quality. Maybe not one to put on if you’re feeling a bit tense. My only criticism is that it can be difficult to differentiate between songs, and the album becomes a pretty overwhelming listen at times, especially at the more experimental points, which I suppose is to be expected.

I’ve started watching Breaking Bad recently, and The Heliocentrics would be the perfect soundtrack to some of the scenes; edgy, anxious and intense build-ups, before diverting to a very different place entirely before you’ve even realised.

Tuesday Born.

Wake.
Audio Doughnuts.

Reviewer – Jack Opus.

'Kwabena' by Tuesday Born caught my ear during the second half of 2011, so it was with great pleasure that I was asked to cover this forthcoming release from the man.

Arriving on 6th May via Audio Doughnuts, the release is a remix EP of 'Wake' from his Sleep From Stars EP, featuring the original mix and remixes from Two Inch Punch and Pàle.

The original track features the beautiful vocal tones of Sheffield-based Dnaë Wellington. This young vocalist and songwriter blew me away when I saw her band live and I urge you to take the next opportunity to hear her sing.

Drowned in ambient warmth, 'Wake' is a minimal piece featuring well arranged guitar licks and reversed chords which are balanced against low-end movement and Dnaë's vocal to great effect.

Two Inch Punch's remix utilises many of the same elements present in the original, but an 808 has been squeezed in to supplement the low end and the drum programming has been made more upbeat, providing a greater club focus to proceedings.

Pále again programs a more upbeat arrangement of the available elements, showcasing precise vocal chops and a driving sub bass support line. Personally I think this is the better of the two remixes because it stays true to the original while offering a fresh and well-executed interpretation.

Great stuff from the one-time Sheffield resident Tuesday Born. Ready for some more.