Zomby.

With Love.
4AD.

Reviewer – Jack Scourfield.

Night time in a bustling American metropolis. A well-dressed, masked figure lurks in the shadows. A hero to some, a villain to others. While this enigmatic maverick’s intentions are undoubtedly noble, his actions often cause controversy and uproar among the general public. So who is this man behind the mask?

As you’ve no doubt already surmised from the purposefully obtuse introduction, this description (with a bit of artistic license) fits multiple persons. Zomby is one of three. In the mind of the 4AD producer, he no doubt most closely resembles the first of the others – Bruce Wayne, aka Batman; cryptically cool, a doer of good, surrounded by luxury clothes and cutting-edge gadgetry. Sadly, the signs often point to him being more akin to the third option – Stanley Ipkiss, aka The Mask; a mischievous, troublesome character, spending his days getting into ridiculous confrontations, doing some good but inevitably leading a mass street-dance rendition of ‘Cuban Pete’ whilst dressed in garish mambo costume.

Perhaps not quite that last part, but Zomby’s cheese-grater charm online has drawn many detractors, so when he was accused of stealing beats on last album Dedication, a long line formed of people waiting to put the boot in. His latest effort, With Love, seems like a reaction to all this – almost too much so. The tracks – all 33 of them – seem more like sketches than fully realised songs, with no real cohesion between, as highlighted by the fact that each disk runs in alphabetical order. It seems that Zomby wanted With Love to be an ostentantious statement to the world, to prove he’s a producer to be reckoned with.

He’s succeeded. Everything that is great about Zomby is present here. From the wonderful glitchy chip-tune of opener ‘As Darkness Falls’, he guides us through his versatile repertoire of underground craftsmanship. The shimmering, meditative elements that surfaced on Dedication remain, but the raucous hardcore of his stellar debut Where Were U In ’92? also make a welcome return, with sonic firecrackers like ‘Overdose’ going in as hard as anything he’s previously released.

Split into two volumes, the first half largely deals with these inspirations from Zomby’s development, while the second is largely trap-based, an expanse of skidding drums that proves to be less exciting than the former volume but is perhaps a more logical, cohesive listen.

Zomby’s done it again. As The Mask would say: “Somebody stop him!”

Lone.

Airglow Fires / Begin To Begin.
R&S Records.

Reviewer – Tom Belshaw.

We seem to always be awaiting the return of the prodigal sun. It’s like a family member who’s perpetually away on foreign business. You learn to cope without them, come to terms with the fact they’re gone, then become infatuated to the point of worship when they come bouncing back.

The people of these British Isles have such a collective vitamin D deficiency that rickets are a genuine worry. We see our star so little that the Scottish water board have recently taken it upon themselves to add the vitamin to their national supply, although there won’t be any real benefit until it becomes one of the many additives in Irn-Bru.

Any opportunity to rekindle our estranged relationship with tanning is rinsed for all it’s worth. We thrive on anything the least bit summery. Cheap strawberries, disposable barbecues and the odd hosepipe ban make the grey days we have to endure seem a little more bearable, and there’s nothing quite like sun-drenched music to raise the spirits.

Just as we’re all a few showers away from a full washout, a ray of hope comes in the form of Lone. The first piece of fresh material from the Nottingham virtuoso in over a year, ‘Airglow Fires’ is a sun-kissed belter of the highest order. Bursting at the seams with lush choral pads, twinkling synths and a freshly baked Chicago groove, the whole package is a much welcomed dose of warmth. The track’s 2-step themed rhythm section and sporadic melody lend it a bounce that’s impossible to ignore. Floaty breakdowns and dense drops eventually wind down into a balmy beat skit, cut from the same cloth as the efforts from his sophomore album Lemurian.

Keeping with its toasty theme, B-side ‘Begin To Begin’ plays out as the perfect accompaniment to a tropical dusk. Muted stabs, soft cymbal rides and yet more dulcet pads lazily crawl through a sublime blanket of reverb. The whole track’s foundation is a drowsy 4/4 that perks things up enough to make it a real eyes closed swaying number.

Lone continues to adapt his style masterfully, and he seems to have tailored this adaptation to the season we covet the most. As we wait for the prodigal sun to grace us again, the return of the correct spelling will do just fine.

Darkstorm.

Mind Like Water.
Bad Taste Records.

Reviewer – Fred Oxby.

Darkstorm is a busy man. Aside from co-running one of the shining lights of the local music scene, Bad Taste Records, this producer's bread and butter has been production itself, providing rhythms for many of the north's most exciting vocalists. Mind Like Water, his latest offering on Bad Taste, comes in 14 parts, broadcasting a wide range of styles, influences and techniques in the process.

The release opens with the casual and classic ‘Catfish’, a soulful hip hop groove. Next comes ‘Swamp Shuffle’, which sprinkles dub into the mix. Darkstorm is never frenetic with his beats but his rhythms are often deceptively complex. The instrumental opening of the title track moves into the vocals of Rawkid and Coco over another laid-back swaggering groove, the double-time rapping providing energy. I am a huge fan of UK hip hop that leans towards grime and beyond, because it really separates the genre from material from over the Atlantic.

Darkstorm's beats often cry out for vocalists, which is unsurprising when you consider how this producer established himself. Close listening to legends like Madlib have served him well and this album shows a deep understanding of the role of groove and instrumentation in hip hop. As a fan of all things instrumental, I love hearing beats without vocals but some listeners might crave more guests to hold interest. When Darkstorm's production comes together with the right vocalist, like the wry and witty Trellion on ‘Un-Involved’ or the lyrically dexterous Hekla on ‘Warning’, the quality of the record really steps up a notch.

Later, an unexpected collaboration with Kayo Chingonyi kept me going. Chingonyi, based in London, has been a much admired poet for many years and his unrivalled skill at bringing nuance out of the most surprising words and images is spellbinding beneath the keyboard-led beat.

Something undeniable about this record is the extreme versatility on display. Straight-up hip hop is combined with house, techno, dubstep and grime, resulting in a potent showcase of not only Darkstorm's talents, but the ethos behind Bad Taste Records, a label which has never been concerned with sticking to one particular genre.

Sincerely, there is no weakness on this record, from the initial beats right down to Henry Krinkle's textured house remix of ‘Swamp Shuffle’ at the end. What may conceivably be absent is a genuine sense of continuity from start to finish but, when all’s said and done, this is a very strong release for both Darkstorm and Bad Taste.

The Janskys.

WHEN SILENCE SPEAKS.
SAWAYAKA SHEFFIELD.

REVIEWER – TASHA FRANEK.

It makes a pleasant change to come across an under-the-radar band that hasn’t just stepped onto the scene. With age and experience on their side, The Janskys prove that you don’t have to be under 25 to commit to an exciting musical adventure. Originally formed in 2007 from the loins of various other bands and solo projects, the group had a bit of a re-shuffle and took some time out after their debut record. After spending the last couple of years producing and perfecting album number two, The Janskys are back with When Silence Speaks.

It’s evident that the band draw influences from a collection of different decades and genres. From flashes of 60s psychedelia teamed with indie riffs to fun folky melodies with catchy rhythms, the album covers everything you could ask for in the eclectic world of rock and pop.

Opening track ‘After the Flood’ offers a soft and sweet introduction to the album, showcasing Damian Sackett's gentle vocals. There is a dreamy, ballad-like feel to this otherwise upbeat track, which proves to be an underlying theme throughout the album and an element which makes the record very easy to listen to in any situation. ‘Tell Me’ kicks in with a little more bite than its immediate predecessor, and while the wistful ambience continues, the guitar feels heavier. Inspiration from bands like Led Zeppelin, who on first impression seem worlds away from the sound that The Janskys are creating, suddenly start to become apparent.

The stunning two-minute instrumental ‘Interlude’ is a real treat and completely encapsulates the euphoria of the album. It also seems to separate the quite straightforward pop tracks of the first half from the more ground-breaking selection of songs that are yet to come. The sweeping guitar hook in ‘Brocco Bank’ brings an enchanting sombre atmosphere, perfectly complimented by vocals which melt effortlessly into each other as all good harmonies should. ‘I Fall Down’ and final track ‘Devil In Your Head’ are also winners in my mind, both toying with the folk side of the band’s style, particularly the latter, in which vocalist Pat Donoghue demonstrates exactly how reverb should be used.

A fine example of how slow and steady can win the race, I’m really glad that The Janskys took their time on this album because it has been fine tuned to production perfection. As with most bands I discover through an album, I’d like to hear the tracks live to experience the full extent of the passion behind the sound. For anybody who feels the same, pop along to Shakespeare’s on 12th July for the album launch.

Baths.

OBSIDIAN.
ANTICON.

REVIEWER – BEN ECKERSLEY.

I first heard Baths, stage name of LA-based producer Will Wiesenfeld, on a beautifully sunny day and fell immediately under the spell of debut album Cerulean’s blissfully woozy off-kilter beats, beautifully encompassing the dreamy soundscapes of Toro Y Moi alongside Flying Lotus-esque rhythmic invention. It was perfect summer music, shelved and forgotten as soon as the weather turned. But still, three summers later, my interest was piqued by his sophomore effort Obsidian, and I readied myself in a sunny spot in Endcliffe Park before listening. A few seconds in, upon hearing the opening lyrics (“Birth was like a fat black tongue / Dripping tar and dung and dye / Slowly into my shivering eyes”) leading to a refrain of “Where is God when you hate him most?”, I realised I’d made a fatal error. What I really needed was a bottle of whiskey and a hole to hide in.

Lyrically, the album is uncompromising - more examples: “Are you maybe here to help me hurt myself”, “You live in my house and we share a toilet seat”, “This isn’t the adulthood I thought I wrote” - though this seems entirely appropriate. Musically, the dreamy sunshine is all but gone, though what it has been replaced with is of depth and significance, sonically interesting and highly valid. This record, years in the making and inspired in part by an illness that left Wiesenfeld at times too weak to stand, is the sound of a young musician coming of age, moving in one deft step from the lovely-but-forgettable breeziness of his debut to a complex and engrossing record.

It’s a tricky album to describe because there’s an awful lot going on. It feels pulled between esoteric samples, complex synths and real instruments recorded with depth and clarity - I read on one site that Baths will tour as a full band - and does not sit in any genre easily. At times he seems like a folk singer-songwriter, his broken falsetto of Cerulean developed into a rich tenor. At other times a Stravinksy-esque piano alternates jarringly with heavy hip hop beats, and equally suddenly an 8-bit Casio synth is replaced by brooding strings. The darkness of the lyrics so often finds a home in abrasive textures and impressively complex harmony, drawing comparisons with The Postal Service and Radiohead’s In Rainbows. It’s not an easy listen, but a thoroughly worthwhile one.

The King Bains.

Vol III.
Self Released.

Reviewer – Louis Kempson-Seaton.

The journey begins with an acoustic cluster of brilliance that by no means sets the tone of this record. It will only get heavier and fuzzier from here on in. The notes of opener ‘Saviour’ fall like drops of acid and fizzle into the mud bank of a humid, alligator-riddled swamp somewhere. When the harmonious vocals begin you cannot help but think that if Bon Iver had been subjected to a torment-filled youth, this is how they’d sound. It could quite easily accompany the beginning of a Breaking Bad episode.

This is a record forged in fiery minds and I feel a necessity to warn you that it is not for the faint hearted. Track by track the fuzz-rock guitar develops with a few quieter sabbaticals like ‘Appalachian Woman’ in-between, presumably included for legal reasons so the fuzz doesn’t fracture your nose.

Elegantly simple but intricately complex, this isn’t three-chord rock and roll. This has taken some crafting. The King Bains display a multitude of talent, from the jagged vocals of ‘Not The One’ to the Bee Gees inspired harmonies of ‘Guardian Angel’, which breaks from the fuzz and offers a brief chance to regroup your thoughts.

Wasting no time, you’re driven into ‘Light Out of Me’, its no nonsense drums providing the final blast before closing the album with ‘Deadwood’ and ‘Saviour Reprise’, ending the album in the same way it began, except this time the vintage Bains fuzz has been cranked so that it goes at your jugular like a rabid pit bull.

The King Bains have forged a gang of hard-hitting tunes that bind like glue and complement each other to produce a record that The Black Keys would be proud of. With the majority of songs breaching the five-minute mark and climaxing with sheer brilliant noise, there is no escaping the evil in this record. If you’re looking for a soundtrack to your sins, this is it.

Che Ga Zebra.

What Girls Want.
Audacious Art Experiment.

Reviewer – Paul Robson.

“...an amorphous dough squeezed through the cookie cutter of the good life. Free jazz, free punk, free fun.” This is how Che Ga Zebra describe themselves, and listening to their new EP What Girls Want it’s hard to disagree. Jittery and fractured, they hark back to American groups like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.

A scrawl of guitar noise and the crash of cymbals opens 'Beach Bum' before letting loose with a guitar riff and lyrics like “Talking shit, smoking shit, checking out the beach babes.” The vocals are buried deep within the mix, drowned in a wash of feedback. Che Ga Zebra seem to be more concerned with their sound than writing songs that capture a situation. In fact the duo play with more freedom in both instrumentals, 'In The Pipeworks' and the title track. The lyrics are merely a hindrance as each piece threatens to explode in to a jazz freakout. So many ideas are compressed into short three-minute tracks they always appear to be on the verge of falling apart. This freewheeling aesthetic gives the music a sense of urgency and excitement.

It would be intriguing to hear Che Ga Zebra stretch their music over a longer running time to see if they could keep up the same intensity. Their style is more suited to the live environment and one hopes they don't compromise on their carefree attitude in the future.

Raffertie.

Sleep of Reason.
Ninja Tune.

Reviewer – Emma Louise Milton.

Known by friends and family as Benjamin Stefanski, British producer Raffertie has pioneered a new flourish of experimental and electronic fabrication via his own label Super Recordings, which houses everyone’s go-to powerhouse duo AlunaGeorge. Having established his own label, Raffertie is currently making waves in the production of his own exploratory and equally compelling sounds.

The Visual Acuity EP was Raffertie’s first physical release on Ninja Tune, painting pictures best described as vivid acid trips - a mind blowing escape to far musical dimensions, not all of which were entirely palatable. But Sleep of Reason has won me over 110%. Not only does the music itself seem to follow a more mature path, but there’s something nostalgic and haunting about it. “I wanted to create an album listeners could empathise with.” He delivers just that.

Opening track ‘Undertow’ is like a rude awakening, a soundtrack to your worst nightmare. All this pent up despair comes flooding out of nowhere. This is frighteningly good production. Suddenly we’re transported to ‘Rain’. What this track lacks in cheerfulness it makes up for in emotion. I can’t help but feel the apparent comparison to sounds of The XX.

The journey continues with songs like ‘One Track Mind’, comprising of powerful distorted synthesisers, and ‘Black Rainbow’, reminiscent of Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’. ‘Trust’, my personal favourite, uses Yadi’s emphatic vocals to refresh what can only be described as a relatively dark and thought provoking body of music.

All thirteen tracks are a statement in their own right, not one remotely similar to the next. This is an insight into one man’s refined production values. A genuine blend of musical know-how, and yet Raffertie still manages to balance a fusion of delicacy and control. The mix of predominant kick drums and gospel elements, layered among exquisite and stylised sidechaining, makes this LP so hypnotising, tender yet riveting. I’ll even go so far as to say it made me shed a tear in places.