Dark Dark Dark

Flood Tide 
Melodic

As fictional eulogy to a lost friend, portrait of the closed and the closing towns of post-industrial America, paean to the Bohemian dream of life on the move, collaboration with art collective the Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea, documentary of a DIY raft-building project on the Hudson River, and showcase of Dark Dark Dark's versatile turns at folk, jazz, Americana and ambient set pieces, Flood Tide is a truly multi-platform endeavour.
Written, directed, edited and produced by bassist Todd Chandler, and featuring the band themselves as the directionless protagonists, the film's gentle pace allows the music to take centre stage. The songs here provide emotional cues to the story arc that stand up as mini-narratives of their own. The busy click-clack that forms the rhythmic backbone of 'Jobs', for example, succumbs to the quiet guitar and piano meditation of 'Night', before 'Building' picks up a more industrious pace, with banjo and harmonica leading the jaunt.
The musicianship is simple but elegant throughout, with occasional flourishes of guitar, violin, double bass and brushed drums allowing the piano to lead the melody in most instances. The vocal numbers that are performed in the film - several cutely tied into the narrative as busking efforts, performed to support the characters' increasingly cash-strapped enterprise - are absent here, although we are treated to glimpses of the band's more lively repertoire, including the closing accordion shuffle of 'Quarry'.
As a collection of musical vignettes, Flood Tide offers a separate impression - a band putting their hand to a task outside their typical remit, and coming out with a beautifully sparse record that stands up entirely on its own merits.

Matthew Neale

Spit 'n' Strings

Heavier Than Elephants
Self released

Tuneful, humorous and at times acerbic and reflective, the debut release by Spit 'n' Strings is a mix of acoustic hip hop and witty social commentary. The band are from Sheffield and their Yorkshire accents come through strongly on Heavier Than Elephants, especially within the lead vocals of Tom Douglas, giving the music an authenticity, which is what good hip hop has always been known for. The other members are James McManus (guitar/vocals), Dave Murphy (bass/backing vocals) and Chris Basford (drums). 

Heavier Than Elephantshas a varied approach. There are tracks like 'Everything 'n' Nothing' and 'Supply and Demand' which touch on drug abuse and inner city violence, then there’s the likes of 'Radio 4', which comments on everyday fears of getting old and boring. Few rappers, British or otherwise, would compose a song as self-deprecating as 'Trail Blazer', whose chorus has the line, “He was a trail blazer and I was a shy boy.” Other surprises are 'Move Yer Body', a moving depiction of true friendship, and 'Butterflies', a sombre and cerebral love song. 

The LP has been expertly produced by Dave Sanderson at 2Fly Studios, who has given the record an open and welcoming feel, and the group’s use of live instruments instead of samples lends the music a warmth and accessibility. While Spit 'n' Strings haven't made anything particularly groundbreaking, they have shown that hip hop can laugh at itself, like Digital Underground and De la Soul once did. 

Paul Robson

Zun Zun Egui

Shackles’ Gift
Bella Union

Zun Zun Egui, formed by Mauritian guitarist and singer Kushal Gaya and Japanese keyboard player Yoshino Shigihara, don’t waste any time punching their way into your head space and rumbling the air waves with Shackles’ Gift. Their second album is flat-out raucous and unashamedly attention grabbing. More serious and intense than their 2011 album Katang, Shackles’ Gift forges a deeper fusion of Mauritian rhythms, driven by knock-out bass lines, fat guitar licks and thick layers of synths. The mix is beefy.

‘Rigid Man’ sets the pace and intent of the album. Not a moment is lost in revving up the urgency to make a point, it seems. Perhaps, in this instance, the point is that ‘world music’ or ‘ethnic music’ are terms that need re-thinking in light of the migration and crossover of sounds and rhythms from hugely diverse cultures. I recall Nitin Sawhney saying something to this effect at a Sensoria event a couple of years ago.

There is nothing musically rigid about ‘Rigid Man’. He is flying. ‘African Tree’ follows, requiring a leap of the imagination from Mauritius and into Gaya's musical roots. ‘Ruby’ and ‘I Want You To Know’ take a more crunch-punk tone and attitude with antagonistic scratchy guitar riffs. ‘Soul Scratch’ and ‘Tickle The Line’ are more soulful and dubby. ‘The Sweetest Part Of Life’ chants its way through to ‘Late Bloomer’, one of my personal favourites for its driving, trippy vibe and wonky guitar, culminating in ‘City Thunder’, which hunkers down to a fitting close. Hear it for yourself at The Harley on 5 March.

Simon Bell

Sievehead

Sievehead
Kids of the Lughole

The Lughole has become a fertile DIY venue for Sheffield's punk scene. Despite only opening its doors just over a year ago, it has proved to be a thriving space for local and touring bands alike. They've started a label, Kids of the Lughole, and the first release is Sievehead's self-titled 7”.
Sievehead are an exciting new band who seemingly arrived on the Sheffield scene from nowhere, but have made a huge impression in only a few months. They released a demo, which later sold out on a limited cassette run. The new record contains four songs, originally recorded for the demo by Ben Hunter at The Audacious Art Experiment, which have now been remastered by Daniel Husayn.
The three-piece is comprised of talented young musicians (Joe, Bry and singer Dave, aka Dirdsbead) and is synonymous with the kind of talent and creativity Sheffield's thriving DIY scene is spawning. In terms of sound, an easy comparison would be to liken them to a band they've already supported, Eagulls. While it's often difficult to replicate the energy of a live show on record, they've succeeded in harnessing their intense febrile spark on each of the songs. With the new production their songs feel even more fresh and vibrant.
'Desire', 'Tanned', 'Energy' and 'Shadows' all show a surprising strength of songwriting for a band in their infancy. A combination of strong musicianship and a great singer makes Sievehead a superior record. There are elements of DIY punk, garage rock, post punk and surf rock. They're one of the best new bands to emerge from this city in the last year. 2015 will be pivotal for them, and if Sievehead continue to progress at the same breakneck speed, who knows where they'll end up.

Rob Aldam

Fantasy FM

The Lost Tape
Klasse Recordings

It’s 1991. Rave culture is at its peak across the UK. Sheffield, and Yorkshire in general, is a well established part of the scene. It’s within this world that Luca Lozano and Omega III started DJing. It would be their future career, and one that would see them travel the world. On The Lost Tape they return to their roots, a world of bleep and bass with a bit of Yorkshire piss taking thrown in.
Part 1 sees Luca Lozano at the helm, opening with white noise, looping synths and a pirate radio intro from MC Weavo. Infinity’s ‘Judgement Day Part 2’ starts proceedings and soon descends into the likes of Nightmares on Wax and LFO. Old adverts for raves and radio stations drift in and out. Get lost and you could find yourself in the 90s, in the back of a steamed up hatchback on a cold Sheffield night.
Omega is in charge for the second half of the hour-long tape. The pace increases now and shout-outs from Weavo continue, this time “to all the jungle heads”, acknowledging the route the music starts heading down. Highlights range from ‘Hooligan 69’ to the madness of Zomby’s ‘Ecstasy Versions’. Omega’s selection is more engaging, tracks come quicker and it’s a great way to end the mixtape.
The Lost Tape takes you back to an era when dance music was changing the music landscape. Not only is this Luca and Omega’s history, but Sheffield’s history - a reminder of the way the North has always embraced dance music. Most importantly, in a time when electronic music takes itself far too seriously, it’s good to hear a couple of blokes putting the fun back in.

George Springthorpe

K.O.G & The Zongo Brigade

Akwaaba EP
Self released

Having enjoyed spell-binding performances from Fela Kuti’s son Seun and The Wailers at this year’s Glastonbury, I would normally save listening to such music for when it can be played live, with all its various theatrics. My opinion has since changed.

Enter K.O.G & The Zongo Brigade. Quite a mouthful, wouldn’t you say? If anything, their name is a reflection on the mishmash of genres, cultures, textures and instrumentation presented in this nine-piece’s debut live EP, Akwaaba, that packs a punch from the word go.

We are immediately thrown into the deep end of afro-rhythms and quick, syncopated vocals from front man Kwenu of Ghana, as the first track ‘Jabulani’ hits with character and a pulse that could only come from the heart of Africa. This is closely followed up by the reggae-influenced second track, ‘Moses’, that not only benefits from its oozing melody and crescendos, but its use of native tongue, giving the music passion and authenticity.

My only real criticism is track three, which quickly reverts back to the EP’s uptempo disposition but also includes a hip hop breakdown from a second vocalist. Although this is short-lived, it may be one of those things that should really only be saved for the stage.

But fear not, because the rest of the EP more than makes up for this. Pictures of Ghanian life are painted for us as Kwenu shouts “Motherland!” on ‘Heroes’. The EP goes out with a bang as ‘Franz Von Song’ adopts a catchy arpeggiated riff which will leave anyone desperate to see K.O.G & The Zongo Brigade tell their story live.

Tristan Shorrock

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma

A Year With 13 Moons
Mexican Summer Records

The Texan electronic music Einstein launches 2015 into an age of musical frontiers. With a cosmic flavour, this digital composer of over 20 years’ experience brings us a new twist on romantic ambience.

Like the sunrise on the Earth as seen from the lunar surface, the entrance of the album is bright, head-noisy and full of energy. Huge columns of sound sprinkle as if sunbeams creeping over the continents. A satellite signal manages to crumble through the natural chaos, clicking and beeping in frantic speculation, but for us the dawn is all there needs to be. Swathes of enchanting, hammered strings sweep us into the next track. The listener, safe and cosy in a little boat, surfs on the crest of a coursing shard of light.

Mechanical feels take the music further into sci-fi, detuned radio samples expertly woven into shoe-gazing atmosphere makes the next track, ‘Love After Love’, speak more of what the disk is doing, where it wants to go. This is a work of reminiscence. Still deeper it journeys, where the pulse becomes sensual, the echoing chord progression mirroring the ebb of gravity. Sometimes we are enough to just be, and this is where we are at.

A story unfolds, not only with clever track titles but in the technical direction of each track. Yes, they all sound like the same artist, and yes, they fit nicely together, but for electronic music their unique flavours are remarkably worked. Although entertained and pleasantly distracted from past moments, it doesn’t take long before the similar feel of the sunrise haunts us again, albeit with a new backdrop. As we travel from moon to moon, we encounter beauty in light several times.

Caution: May leave listener lost in thought.

Rowan Blair Colver