Alarmist

Popular Demain
Small Pond Recordings

Rhythm doesn’t always get the credit it deserves, at least in ‘popular music’. Of course, there are whole genres dedicated to worshipping the infinite possibilities of endlessly complex overlaying rhythms, but Dublin's Alarmist have attempted the not insignificant challenge of integrating a love of leftfield, jazz-inspired rhythmic tendencies into a commercially viable, modern instrumental band sound.

Popular Demaintakes a suave, jazz base, tightens it up and drags it into the electronic age, smoothing over the intricate rhythmic undercurrent with swathes of electronic texture and sweeping melody. Like GoGo Penguin, but with expanded, thicker instrumentation, Alarmist grab the listener's attention right from the outset, the stabbing, synthesised riff of ‘Petrichor’ setting the tone for the album with no hesitation. The guitar work underpins everything on this album, but very rarely takes the limelight. Riffs that lean towards the restrained, Mike Oldfield school of prog underlay many of the most intriguing passages.

Traces of sci-fi soundscapes are detectable at many points too, never more so than on the protracted but lush ending to the album, ‘Cordillera’, while ‘Boston Space’ is a distillation of the many elements that make up Alarmist’s sound. A thick techno bass riff gives way to spacey jazz ambience, with groovy riffs suddenly popping up in unexpected places.
Despite the often odd arrangements, which could boggle the attentive listener’s brain, Alarmist have created an album whose often disjointed rhythms and melodies have a strange catchiness that will stick in your mind long after the album concludes.

Richard Spencer

Arca

Mutant
Mute

Fresh from a contact high after co-producing Björk's Vulnicura, Alejandro Ghersi returns to solo work only a year after Xen, his debut full-length on Mute. With 20 tracks stretched over an hour, Mutant is the sound of the Venezuelan producer reaching out in every direction simultaneously. The instrumental hip hop of his first LP is largely jettisoned and, in its place, pure sound design.

Opener 'Alive' stutters and skips, the beats tripping over each other like three out-of-sync records playing at once. Some of the sounds Ghersi uses share a MIDI brightness with pop provocateurs PC Music, though where they construct Western chart fodder, Arca demolishes it. His melodies are stretched, morphed and finally pulled apart, like plastic warped in heat. If electronic music of the 80s sounds like being locked in a factory, Mutant is the inside of a 3D printer.

Below the day-glo synths lurks darkness. Rather than consistent beats, Ghersi mostly opts for weapons-grade sub-bass, used sparingly but with room-shaking effect on 'Sever'. When human voices improbably surface, as on 'Umbilical', they are mangled, cut into meaningless phonemes.

Other tracks exude an unembellished prettiness, such as the glow tones that wash in and out of 'Extent', and the delicate Satie-esque piano line that undermines the low-end violence of 'Sinner'. Mutant is a record that's impossible to grasp or define clearly, and it can be difficult at first to find a way in. Only the track titles – 'Anger', 'Faggots', 'Vanity' – hint at the meaning behind these abstract sound structures, and remind us why Arca is one of the most important voices in the increasingly homogenised electronic underground.

Sam Gregory

Roots Manuva

Bleeds
Big Dada

Roots Manuva is a name synonymous with hip hop in the UK. Forever changing and evolving his sound, his latest release, Bleeds, sees him working with the likes of Four Tet, Adrian Sherwood and young British producer Fred.

Covering everything from class and addiction to the benefits of a good cry, lyrically Bleeds is more of what you’d expect from Manuva. Tongue-in-cheek wordplay mixes with reflections on society and the personal psyche, a reaction to what he calls "today's climate of get money, get laid, get high". The sheer simplicity of the production on tracks like ‘Facety 2:11’ and ‘Stepping Hard’ couldn’t work better with this lyricism, the beats allowing the subject matter to come through and his delivery to shine.

If you listen to Roots Manuva for the bars, then it’s hard to fault Bleeds, but on occasion the production seems confused. ‘Hard Bastards’, with its string-heavy beat and anthemic chorus, won’t be to everybody’s taste. Neither will ‘Cargo’, a song about which the man himself says, “I’ve never played a stadium but I always thought I better have a stadium song, because one never knows what might come up in future.”

Bleeds is by no means a bad album. The lyrical content and Manuva’s ability to deliver it can’t be faulted. Tracks like ‘Fighting For’, with its strained chorus and piano loops, and the Barry White-sampling ‘Don’t Breathe Out’, are reminders of how good he can really be. It just means it’s even more of a shame when the production of some tracks lets this songwriting down.

George Springthorpe

Sieben

Norse EP
Red Room Records

The master of myth and melancholia returns, bearing the second instalment to his EP trilogy, Norse, a collection of four tracks as choppy as the North Sea.
Matt Howden is no stranger to travel. A well-known figure in experimental music scenes across Europe and beyond, this one-man band, equipped with violin and his bag of tricks, has a domination of sound worthy of an epic tale by itself.

Where to begin? 'Old Magic' takes us back into the dark history of humankind, yet reminds us that we are just the same as they were. Kindling messages of inner forces which were once yoked and harnessed by them now wait for us to relearn their mysteries. A heavy stroke of the strings echoed over variations of itself, wooden taps like distant drums, and melodies reminiscent of the hills carry us into this realm of the far north.

'Loki 2015' and 'Loki Rides Again' sandwich 'Ready For Rebellion' like a black curtain pulled either side. The meat, the bit we have to chew, warns us of the threat of change at any time. Once we accept the certainty of rebellion, and with it change, we begin to understand the forces that Loki himself represents. The two pieces dedicated to this dark lord of legend stand powerful and enchanting in a realm of smoke and mirrors. They draw us into an auditory illusion that is well known within the pages of old books. The portal to the realm of the Norse is open.

Rowan Blair Colver

SUNN O)))

Kannon
Southern Lord

To many people, SUNN O))) records all sound the same. 'Just play a fucking riiiff,' they’d say, dressed in the same Will Haven t-shirt they’ve worn for ten years, adamant that they are the best band ever. This just stinks of the same position that the 'it’s just noise' argument comes from - the old directed at the young.

But there is more here than meets the ears, eyes and gut. The subtle nuances and references, both inward and outward looking, mean everything to the hardened listener of any genre. After all, every punk song sounds the same, doesn’t it?

Kannon is an excellent example of this in action. Most people will note that it’s tonally very different to many of their collaborative efforts with Boris, Ulver and Scott Walker, but put it alongside many of their solo outings and you may struggle to pick it out. Sure, it’s a record for SUNN O))) fans, but all of them are.

Slowly pulsating 'riffs' that take so long you can’t really be sure if they are repeating or not, ringing feedback falling in and out of harmony, and Attila Csihar’s dark, monk-like chanting. This is SUNN O)))’s sound - physical, overbearing and terrifying. Kannon smashes all of those boxes, as well as regressing further by stripping away the more eclectic instrumentation. One for the SUNN O))) purists, then.

Gordon Barker

THE PICCADILLY TEARDROPS

DIED IN YOUR EYES
FAMILY OF GHOSTS RECORDS

The result of a collaboration between locals Kid Faces and Dean Honer, this album was recorded in winter in the basement of Portland Works, a former cutlery factory, “with just a bottle of vodka and the cold, damp air for company”.

It’s almost a cliché, but the plodding, old-school synth in these tracks feel like a product of that labour-intense environment of a bygone era. The Sheffield hallmark goes further than that - the experimental 'Scream' wouldn’t be out of place playing in the background in Rare and Racy.

Died in Your Eyes is the Piccadilly Teardrops’ first full album, and it’s a solid effort. The songs are described by Kid Faces as “unrelentingly miserable”. That’s somewhat overstating it, but the ominous mood is tangible.

After a strong start with catchy singles 'Struggle' and 'Got Your Back', the dystopia is re-established on the eponymous fourth track, a creepy spoken word interlude that recalls the opening to Just Jack’s 'Writer’s Block' in its concerning soliloquy. The smoothly-crafted 'Pollen', which props up the second half of the album, is the standout song here.

You get the impression the Piccadilly Teardrops are still finding their sound, so it’s unsurprising this album criss-crosses genres including pop, dance and their self-defined 'nu-dystopia'. At odds with their synth-heavy openings, the vocals in several songs threaten to enter ballad territory.

In fairness, if it was the end of the world, this wouldn’t be a bad way to go for a couple of Sheffield artists - sitting in the basement of a local creative hub, vodka in hand, quietly putting out music like this.

Dan Rawley

Trust Fund

Seems Unfair
Turnstyle

Even if you're one of those people who doesn't experience a clammy-palmed, lingering awkwardness as part of your daily existence, the songs Ellis Jones makes with an ever-shifting cast of his mates as Trust Fund communicate his anxious spirit so amiably that it's hard not to relate. His lyrics circle vaguely around shyness and a recurring general theme of 'feeling weird', but Ellis is not reticent about laying it all out in a way that feels vividly like he is speaking directly to his listener, with a simple elegance in his storytelling.

Seems Unfair is the second Trust Fund album but also the second this year, and it shares most immediately with its predecessor the anecdotal, sometimes stream-of-consciousness lyrics and the childlike vocal register. But on this album much of the rough-cut, lo-fi bedroom recording feel gives way to more fully-formed songs.

One of the most compelling things about Trust Fund, still not lost one bit here, has always been the dichotomy between guitar pop and doleful introspection. Even on 'Football' and 'Big Asda', maybe the most dynamic and infectiously catchy Trust Fund has ever sounded, a tinge of melancholy underpins every note. You're never left far from the impression that this is the work of a complex, inward-looking person destined forever to feel every tip of the scales magnified by ten, but it's always an enjoyable and engaging listen.

Thomas Sprackland