Holy Fuck

Congrats
Innovative Leisure

The instant momentum and musical drive catches on immediately. Frills and fills build into a frantic, Ladytron-esque pulsing rage against a Gameboy that drones and swells like a high tide at midnight. Short, snappy tablets of compressed beats bring savage new sounds that sit perfectly on the tongue as they fizz and flavour away in the frothy caverns of deliverance.

Highly effected production makes an instrument of the studio itself, the dials and tweaks adding a level of musicality that reaches further than the mastering level. Synthesisers fused with vocals which float through notes during ever-shifting escapist space age colours make this album feel a bit like Moby in places, but with a punky crispness to the direction.

A lot of care has been taken to make sure that, although this album continues a theme of sound, each track takes a unique twist. When making electronic music with computers, it's very easy to over-diversify, making a bunch of tracks which sound like they're from different albums. But it's just as easy to produce a formulaic record, making bare minimum adjustments to the sound. Congrats is just shy of both extremes and it works really well.

A dab hand at homemade sound engineering in a barn, Holy Fuck have been able to utilise technology at a much greater level for the first time. Perhaps biting the bullet to get that extra level of exposure, or a humble desire to grow, the move is a good one as this record has a great sharp edge with a smooth flow, just like a razor. Refined and to the point. Clean shaven.

Rowan Blair Colver

Loam

Popular Drones
Self released

I have no idea whether local trio Loam are fans of Leeds miserabilists iLiKETRAiNS, but on the basis of the Popular Drones EP, they'd make for a fine double bill. In both bands, bare instrument tones play simple figures in saturated sound spaces, creating narratives that are somehow both intimate and impersonal. Both bands also feature a deep, sonorous male lead vocal.

But there the similarity ends, with Loam's stylistic palette seeming a little wider or perhaps simply less settled, as befits a younger band. The five tracks here seem mismatched to me, but it might be fairer to say that the principles of the matching are not apparent, with the two short, lighter and brighter pieces at the back in sharp contrast to the three longer, richer and darker tracks at the front.

I prefer the doom 'n' gloomers myself, but only because the dark stuff feels more complete, as if each were a short film soundtrack in its own right, a bleary montage of six to a dozen scenes stitched neatly together.

Opener 'A Room (in Stockholm)' leverages the Scandi-noir aesthetic of its title to great effect, while 'Courting' feels more like a character piece, starring a version of Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan who's been stripped of his stagey narcissism and left with a wry and Luciferian self-loathing. Holding up the middle is 'Drift', an unsettling mix of inner monologues and muted effects pedal freak-outery that puts me in mind of Swans in their more tuneful moments, before the two bright sketches bring us to a close.

I think the problem isn't that the sketches are bolted on. It's that they need to be understood in the context of the larger, more connected work whose existence the longer pieces imply. Which is an elaborate way of saying: tell 'em to get on and make a full album, eh?

Paul Graham Raven

Throws

Throws
Full Time Hobby

The last time Tunng co-founders Sam Genders and Mike Lindsay worked together was on 2007’s Good Arrows, the folktronica outfit’s third album. Since then, Tunng have continued without Genders to produce two more full-lengths, paring down the eccentricities of their early output in favour of a more traditional songwriting approach.

Throws sees Genders and Lindsay back together with a new project and an eponymous debut, capturing the cathartic reunion of two former bandmates at it once again. Recorded in Lindsay’s studio in Reykjavík, the album draws inspiration not only from a rekindled musical connection, but also from the surrounding environment. “It’s just in the air,” says Genders, alluding to Iceland’s reputation for providing a certain kind of spiritual stimulation in the creative process.

The music itself is at times reminiscent of Tunng, the rustic and restrained folk of ‘Silence in Between’ and ‘Sun Gun’ offset by the use of synths and other percussive glitches, especially on the super wonky ‘Knife’. Time apart has also broadened the artistic capabilities of at least one half of Throws. Genders’s usually hushed and reserved vocal delivery is given new life on the album. ‘Learn Something’ and ‘High Pressure Front’ see a liberated falsetto take centre stage, especially on the latter’s northern soul-influenced second half, worlds apart from Tunng’s back catalogue. Additional musicians are plucked from Iceland’s musical community, including string quartet and frequent Sigur Rós collaborators Amiina and múm vocalist Sigurlaug Gísladóttir.

While Throws isn’t a game-changer, it is the sound of two people rediscovering their shared musical mojo and having a laugh in the process.

Aidan Daly

Dead Slow Hoot

I Suppose They Were Better Off As Dead
Self Released

Just over halfway through I Suppose They Were Better Off Dead, there’s a short, melancholy whistled solo over a gently strummed guitar. It’s the quietest moment on the record and a very rare moment of stasis in an EP otherwise bristling with energy, yet it’s the ideal point of entry. Immediately evoking the fear and desolation of Morricone’s Old West, it’s a perfect harbinger of the sombre thread that weaves this intriguing, haunting and intelligent EP together.

Dead Slow Hoot are a young and ambitious Sheffield band, and these six tracks comprise their second release. Tonally, the EP shifts from anthemic, Arcade Fire-esque choruses to the fuzzy, barren sonic landscapes of Mogwai with an impressive versatility.

Hugo Lynch’s laconic vocals recall many northern greats. You’ll hear shades of Cocker, Curtis and, above all, Morrissey in his imaginative and metaphor-laden lyrics. This is one of an ever-growing number of quality records produced in the studio of Screaming Maldini’s Nick Cox, and his production is as ever complex, multi-layered and detailed.

Despite this elaborate construction, dynamic range and malevolent energy, the emotional core of the EP is bittersweet and pensive, and it's all the better for it. It’s an absorbing record that I hope will continue to grow on me.

Ben Eckersley

Kate Simko

& London Electronic Orchestra
The Vinyl Factory

There’s no disputing Kate Simko’s talent, vision and restlessness. Trained in classical and jazz piano, she studied music in her hometown of Chicago and in Santiago, and recently completed a masters in Composition for Screen at the Royal College of Music. As a producer she has a number of releases, film scores and classical compositions under her belt. Tying it all together, in 2014 Simko launched the London Electronic Orchestra, combining her own brand of easy-going house with the sophisticated sounds of strings, harp and piano.

When it works, it works. Lead single ‘Tilted’ sees the balance between Simko’s production and the orchestra hit a sweet spot. The kicks are punchy and the rim shots snappy, while the synths hold back, quivering away in the background. The orchestra softens the setup with finesse, a recurring piano motif adding a touch of icy depth.

Likewise, ‘Standchen’ develops around a morose harp melody, with razor sharp hats and dense bass puncturing the otherwise delicate atmosphere. There’s also a beautiful rendition of The xx’s ‘Intro’, probably the best indication of Simko’s capacity for orchestral arrangement.

Often though, it sounds like she's tried too hard to push the concept at the expense of the final product. Possibly due to her background, there’s a distinctly academic feel to much of the album. The electronics veer into mechanical, unimaginative territory, while the string section too often falls back on its typecast role of providing shallow suspense. Despite its highlights, the LP fails to maintain a creative and meaningful relationship between traditional and modern.

Aidan Daly

Max Graef & Glenn Astro

The Yard Work Simulator
Ninja Tune

After offering a string of dreamy house releases over the past few years, Berliners Max Graef and Glenn Astro have collaborated on a Ninja Tune effort geared more towards late nights in city centre apartments than thronging dancefloors. Seemingly named after an obscure Simpsons reference, The Yark Work Simulator sounds, well, like a Ninja Tune record, complete with the usual thoughtful production and jazzy sensibilities.

Opening sketch 'Intro' could be a homage to the tape-splicing experiments of composer Pierre Schaeffer, updated with digital patterns and repetitions. Woozy keyboard textures preside on 'Money $ex Theme', named after the pair's startup label, which meanders here and there with no particular destination in mind.

At seven minutes, the title track sees sweeping synths pan across the mix and passes through several distinct phases before settling into its groove, as gloopy electronics lounge lazily over deliciously intricate drum programming. 'Flat Pete', the funkiest track here, is a hip hop cut-up jam in the vein of DJ Shadow, while 'China Nr. 04' sees the duo layer oscilating tones over a hiccuping beat, lending the tune a galloping rhythm.

It's possibly too low-key in parts. On some tracks, especially those that cross the five-minute mark, it can feel like Graef and Astro are phoning it in a bit. Others though, the 4/4 powered 'W313D' and the whirlwind of 'Magic Johnson', are bursting with so many ideas that the pair audibly struggle to fit them all in. There are no bangers here, but it's a rewarding home listen, with more detail surfacing on each repeat play.

Sam Gregory