Hot Diamond Aces
Turtle Knight EP
Everybody loves a good bit of funk, and the Hot Diamond Aces are no exception. Blending classic funk with elements of jazz and afro-beat, the Sheffield-based seven-piece's debut EP is an undeniably cheerful work that is confident and forthright in asserting itself. It's also, like all good funk, heated and impassioned, whilst managing to remain effortlessly cool.
Although the formats on Turtle Knight seem simple, this is deceptive, because the arrangements are complex, with highly skilled musicianship on display. Alex McGibbon's slick bass is prominent on 'Brother Duke' and 'Magic Alex', at the forefront of tight interplay with the brass section. Similar levels of mellow virtuosity are evident in Jacob Storey's tenor sax solo in 'Creature Kebab' and Dan Cliffe's guitar solo on the title track.
Musically, it is 'Creature Kebab' that is arguably the EP's stand-out. A tight section of improvisation coupled with an unlikely but fitting tempo change towards the end proves spirited and colourful. But at over six minutes, perhaps it’s the title track that presents itself as the show piece. An arresting build that never tires, but becomes more hypnotic with every modulation, rich harmonies that twist around some solid brass lines result in a dazzling piece of work. The most intriguing and successful elements of Turtle Knight are the afro-beat inflections, so slight and subtle in merging into the ensemble's smooth style.
The Hot Diamond Aces describe themselves as a “fully fledged party band”. Given that this EP is such an irresistible concoction, so positive and upbeat that you can’t help but groove away to it, you couldn’t argue with them there. A must for fans of both jazz and funk, and those simply wanting to hear something bright and affirmative.
Ether Club Records
Alice is most definitely out of her chains and stomping via the embodiment of every post grunge space rocker expressing themselves in seedy pits and private living rooms all over the country - a fresh wave of class with passionate riffs, accompanied by the emotive crush of a distinctly British vocalist.
Awooga belong to an up-and-coming collective of artists and musicians known as Fourth City, who are doing some valuable work bringing new ideas and creativity to the surface. One element of this venture, Ether Club Records, is flag-shipped by this astounding band who quite rightly live up to their name.
The first track, ‘Dwelling’, totally owns the post grunge feel and reminds us that these guys were appreciating music from its roots, but tells us that we’re onto something else now. I was blown away by the incredible Dark Side of the Moon feel that carried the intro of the third track, ‘Sword’, weighing in at over eight minutes. Before we get carried back into the 70s, electric guitars thrash their way through the smoke screen and remind us that this is Awooga. Next up is ‘Tide’, the single from the album. It punches the air with every bar, brings it on and sweeps it off its feet.
Vocalist and bassist Tam Ali provides a brilliant delivery of clean yet creative and heartfelt vocals to the formulated freedom. The tight-knit backdrop of sludgy guitars from James Borrowdale and the thumping drum lines from Taz Ali work on levels across the spectrum of what rock is meant to be. I would declare Artifacts a definite success. For three blokes the sound is massive, powerfully so, and the best bit is that they’re from Sheffield.
Rowan Blair Colver
Matthew Hedley Stoppard & The Glass Delusion
Adult Teeth Recording Company
When spoken word is put to original music, often the results are little more than the sum of their parts. But on their dual album, Runt County, with a measured, faux-naïve drawl much like that of fellow Yorkshireman Simon Armitage, poet Matthew Hedley Stoppard word-winds himself over a musical terrain laid down by Hull electronic act The Glass Delusion.
There’s a common thread between Hedley Stoppard’s patient, cumulative image building and The Glass Delusion’s sparse, tense compositions that pull the pair of them into the vicinity of compatibility. Dealing in observations and sideways descriptives, Hedley Stoppard’s lyrical style - and yes, it is lyrical - is not dissimilar to that of Alex Turner.
This is most evident on ‘Mothers Sleep But Milk Still Comes’, which details serene rural landscapes that are then sent out of focus by acutely specific details. While cooling synth noises spool tighter and together in the background, the unexpectedly manageable concepts of “flashing midnight’s knickers” and “a headache of dead flowers” are presented for our consideration.
The album as a whole is inescapably northern, not in a boorish or brash way, but in the sardonic sentiment of “Gomorrah and Morecambe” or the creepingly political “He grins like a Bolsover coal scene”. Although never overtly mentioned, this happily unhappy northernness is most prominent on album opener ‘Quite Contrary’, which reads like a soap opera of stills, of neighbours, suspicion and domesticity. The first line - “The fat worms shining in a wet dawn / Writhed and wriggled into the back garden of number 19, Kenning Street” - hints at the small-town brand of curiosity that Hedley Stoppard has made the main focus of the album.
Although they aren’t ‘songs’ in a sense we might necessarily feel comfortable with, Runt County has a sensitive reverence for the internal, hidden musicality of words that reveal themselves with a quiet humour.
Braver Than Fiction
King of Crows EP
Braver than Fiction, a five-piece alternative blues rock band from Sheffield, are definitely worth a listen. Vocalist Mel, with her deep, husky tones, sounds remarkably similar to Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac. The rest of the band is made up of Adam (bass), Jason (keyboards), Paul (drums) and Martin (guitar), although this talented bunch are all multi-instrumentalists. The band’s first single, ‘Your Little Fantasy’, was released quickly after their formation in 2013. Now the eagerly-awaited EP King of Crows has just been released, and they sound terrific.
Throughout this EP, you trace the clear influence of The Doors and other 60s and 70s bands with what sounds like a Hammond organ, especially in the foot-tapping title track. If influences from Fleetwood Mac and The Doors are not enough, you can hear Blondie-style guitar instrumentals in the first song. The band even hit you with early soul music on closing track, ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’, reminiscent of The Commitments’ version of ‘Never Loved A Man’, originally played by Aretha Franklin.
But throughout this EP, Mel sticks to her authentic voice and her different, well thought-out lyrics, keeping the band fresh and unique. A personal favourite is ‘Candle-blind’. The first 50 seconds delivers a bluesy bass, followed by 60s style keyboard and guitar, and finally the vocals, the cherry on a fantastic cake. Their next gig is in Manchester on 13 September, so get yourself across the Pennines.
Tough Love Records
The extensive blurb for Autobahn's second EP - which took me longer to read than it took me to listen to two of the three tracks on said EP - talks of it “[channelling] aggressive post-punk”. If you are wondering to which of the many iterations of that slippery sub-genre they might be referring, you'd be wise to ignore the passing mention of Black Flag. To me at least, Autobahn sound more like a young post-rock band who just recently unearthed their dad's Joy Division vinyl - less aggressive than bleakly portentous, and a mite more gothy than punk.
That's not a bad thing, to be clear - and, true to their name, there's more than a hint of the motorik to Autobahn's sound, especially on ‘Ulcer’, which pulses along like black-lit Saturday night street violence seen in fleeting glimpses through tinted windows. The somewhat schlocky Hammer Horror reverb on the vocals lends them an air of doom-laden prophecy, and there's a satisfying mix of dense sound and metronomic groove on display, but I'm nonetheless left with the impression of a band who've got one trick that they do really well, a perennial problem with the EP format. Would a full album or live set satisfy? I don't yet know, but I'd surely be willing to give it a listen.
Paul Graham Raven
UK bassweight prodigy Tessela returns to R&S Records with Rough 2, his second time gracing the label’s roster following Nancy’s Pantry back in October. This and other releases, most notably the wall-shaking ‘Hackney Parrot’, demonstrated his mastery of sub bass frequencies and the level to which he could craft the Amen break, already ubiquitous within electronic music, into something fresh and innovative.
Tessela, along with others like Special Request, Sully and Etch, forms part of a cohort of UK producers who have recently resurrected the sound and atmosphere of the 90s UK jungle scene, fusing it with the darker elements of 2-step, techno and grime. Despite his role in this process, Rough 2 sees Tessela delve into new and more experimental territory. The breaks may not be out in force on this EP compared to some of his previous output, but Russell still manages to conjure up the spirit of a dusty warehouse rave, piecing together sounds and styles borrowed from yesteryear.
The title track opens with dizzy hats, soon lurching into the sort of production Tessela has gained such notoriety for. Thunderous kicks and trademark old-school percussion samples battle it out beneath a melting pot of swung snares, deranged synth chords and laser sound effects. On the flip, ‘Butchwax’ provides the meat of the EP. Stomping along recklessly, the main beat is littered with stuttered samples and beefy snares, breaking down around the half way mark into a short percussive jam reminiscent of Hessle Audio’s Joe. ‘C’mon Let’s Dance’ takes things even further with four and a half minutes of fragmented mayhem, complete with overhead sirens. Tessela pushes the boundaries with this one, bolstering the multifaceted sound he’s increasingly making a name for in the process.
Linear Motions EP
Local lad James Bollington has been bubbling away under various guises for the past few years. Before his present incarnation he went under the moniker I Am The Car, while he’s also one half of intergalactic disco explorers Corner Control, and recently assembled a selection of tracks produced as part of his current Body Antoinette project for a ‘name your price’ release on Bandcamp.
The four tracks on Linear Motions are more feral and volatile than the shimmering creations of Corner Control, with the live and largely unpolished textures of the production work serving up a roughshod palette of acid house, DIY techno and effusive funk. Opener ‘EF’ is a hushed slab of the latter, a gently probing boogie number that belies the harsher, rawer onslaught of the subsequent ‘Linear Motions’ and ‘Inspection’, which both carry the coarse unpredictability of an Audion or Alex Smoke outing.
Closer ‘You Are A Horrible Person And All Your Dreams Will Come True’ is as great a song title as it is a disheartening sentiment, and the track itself rides between a melancholic synth refrain and a firmly pumping acidic pulse, rounding off an accomplished if somewhat ramshackle release.
Tell Me I Belong
All the way from the east coast of the US comes the latest release from Jim-E Stack, Tell Me I Belong. The LP is a self-confessed expression of personal journey, dipping in and out of his own influences to weave an electronic narrative that mirrors his life. As a guy who has never stuck around in one place for too long, Stack’s album was always sure to be a pick-n-mix of ideas. Combining genres from hip-hop to house, it is eclectic and exciting, flowing in and out of jittering rhythmic beats to heavy synth tracks, designed to appeal more to the thinker than the mover.
The difference in style from track to track is evident from the off. ‘Somewheres’, which features a variety of soft piano samples, is directly followed by the pounding kicks and fast tempo of ‘Run’. This pattern of juxtaposition throughout the album continues to highlight the main themes of the story - alienation, distance and questioning the need to fit in.
‘Reassuring’ is a personal highlight, a very accessible track which will no doubt be endlessly sampled in the deep house scene this summer and beyond. This track alone ties together various influences. The only disappointment for me, not only with this track but the album as a whole, is the length. With ten tracks lasting only 30 minutes, it’s perhaps a little too short and sweet, and many tracks feel like they’re pulled away before you can really get into them. That said, the album is a perfect preview of what Stack has to offer, and I’d love to get the opportunity to see him live in the UK in the very near future.