Diagrams

Chromatics
Full Time Hobby

Sam Genders is a name which might not be instantly familiar to you, but it's likely you've heard of him in one form or another. He's one half of Sam and Sofia, who've been putting on wonderful gigs in Sheffield of late. He was also in Tunng and The Accidental. Sam has now relocated to Gleadless Valley and is about to release his second solo album under the moniker Diagrams.

Diagrams' first album, Black Light, was a slightly dizzying array of styles and influences. It featured guest appearances from the likes of Micachu and Hannah Peel, and there was a strong emphasis on production. I saw the expanded live band at No Direction Home in 2012 and their set was one of the best of the festival.

His new album, Chromatics, has a rather different quality to it. It feels more settled and comfortable, mirroring an artist who appears to have found happiness and contentment. Sam recorded all of the songs on his laptop in a spare room in his lovely home. This has given him the opportunity to choose from a number of tracks to include on the album. The music itself feels more accomplished and assured.

Whilst he collaborates again on Chromatics, it's much more subtle and purposeful. Gone are many of the bells and whistles that were at play on Black Light, stripping things back to a more organic and minimalistic affair. Whilst ‘Desolation’ and ‘Dirty Broken Bliss’ could easily have featured on the last album, Chromatics is much more subdued and thoughtful. There's a confidence which brings to mind Gruff Rhys.

Chromatics is an excellent second album, outstripping Diagrams' debut both in terms of individual songs and as a whole. With wonderful songs like ‘You Can Talk To Me’ and the title track, you're likely to be hearing a lot more about Sam Genders this year.

Rob Aldam

Your Favourite Enemies

Between Illness & Migration
Hopeful Tragedy Records

The promo material accompanying Between Illness & Migration comes packed with half a dozen different suggested genres for the music of Your Favourite Enemies. This is not a unique experience for your humble correspondent. Over a decade or so of writing about music, I've watched genres come and go, then come back again, stumble outside, throw up in the gutter, hail a taxi, and then turn up years later with a new haircut and a different name. And it's partly my fault - or rather, the fault of music critics, that category of irrepressible categorisers. Given 300 to describe an album, is it any wonder we've historically relied on generic pigeonholes or phrases along the lines of "like [x] meets [y], but on mushrooms"?

Actually, don't answer that. My point is that genres have always been flags of convenience, and that their usefulness may be a thing of the past. Listening to Between Illness & Migration, I can identify bits of what would once have been called emo (or, later still, post-hardcore) alongside the alt-rock, noise, shoegaze and post-rock suggested by the PR blurb. There's hints of Slint, echoes of Sonic Youth and the noiseniks of the 90s, plus more contemporary outliers like Enablers. In short, there's a lot going on in here.

All of which is to say, if you were hoping I could put Your Favourite Enemies into a convenient generic box for you, you're shit outta luck - as am I, lazy critic that I am. But if you want me to tell you whether it's worth you giving them a listen so you can attempt to place them somewhere in your own personal musical taxonomy, well, that I can do. And, yes - it's worth it.

Paul Raven

Polybius

Be Seeing You
Self released

A glitter-like explosion of mechanical arpeggios and soot-stained notes happen once Polybius’ demo mode fades and we get into the grid-like maze straight from the Hellenistic period. A heavy dose of 80s electro is present, rendered through the eyes of 90s musicians like those found on the perfect soundtrack for Wipeout XL.

Be Seeing You is the debut (and possible farewell) of Polybius, a duo from Rotherham and Sheffield specialising in crucible forged electronics, keeping that South Yorkshire inspiration at hand, but never gripped so hard to make their fingers go white.

A tight mix of 14 tracks - some live, some palate-cleansing loops and some less anxious than others - Be Seeing You offers many ideas that never disorient or confound like the (fake) videogame that bears their name. Gothic atmospheres are deftly created, whether for mystical creatures (‘Latex’) or decommissioned industrial estates witnessing pandemonium (‘Mitsubishi Blues’).

The one groove Polybius are best at finds them going back and forth between a peppier version of the BBC Radiophonic, as displayed in the great ‘Salyut’, or in the seedy undertones of the ambient mix that is the smooth playing ’11:15’.

It’s a shame that the band recently declared on Facebook that they won’t be creating any more music in for foreseeable future. The expansiveness of ‘Yama’ and ‘Khora’ hint at a band that clearly has much to say. Whether they will speak again or become elusive like an original Polybius cabinet remains to be seen.

Sam J. Valdés López

Tanya Tagaq

Animism
Six Shooter Records

“...delving far beyond personal utterance, out beyond human identity, to summon voices from the flesh cavity haunts of animal spirits and primal energies..."

This is a quote published in The Wire describing Tanya Tagaq's music, and it’s hard to disagree after listening to her latest release, Animism. The title itself is defined as the belief that souls or spirits exist within animals, plants and other natural phenomena. Tanya Tagaq's vocal style is rooted in traditional Inuit throat singing, which she uses to channel sounds that are beautiful and otherworldly. She also grunts, growls and screams to give the music a primeval energy that can be unnerving.

Animism opens with 'Caribou', which features a more conventional singing performance from Tagaq, the song’s majestic strings and propulsive beat showing similarities with Björk. The album soon takes a more experimental turn with the following tracks ‘Uja’ and ‘Umingmak’. Jarring electronic beats and sharp strings support Tagaq's primitive grunting. She has mentioned in interviews that her performances are improvised, injecting the music with an air of urgency and uncertainty.

It’s difficult to categorize Tanya Tagaq because she has taken a traditional form and crossed it with a hybrid of electronic, jazz and avant-garde music. This fusion leads to moments of stark beauty, such as ‘Rabbit’, but pieces like ‘Tulugak’ overstay their welcome. Tagaq should be praised for making music that is bold and singular, but because of its visceral quality it works better in a live setting.

Paul Robson