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96 Back / Bonny 'Prince' Billy / Girl Ray / Otis Mensah

96 Back / Bonny 'Prince' Billy / Girl Ray / Otis Mensah
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96 Back - Issue In Surreal

Sheffield's Evan Majumdar-Swift ratchets up the tension with his third release for hometown label Central Processing Unit. Hot on the heels of this year's Excitable, Girl, we're treated to a reflective output of four tracks with matching remixes across two pieces of vinyl, plus the obligatory digital accompaniment. Gone are the days of the follow-up remix EP, as you get to binge on all the electro goodness at the same time, boxset style.

Mastered by Sheffield legend Rob Gordon, the EP kicks off with 'Knock Out', a sparse, high-tempo electro workout with all of the trademark sounds you'd now expect from a CPU release. The Jensen Interceptor remix takes the track into nastier territory, with a heavy four-to-the-floor panel beating that is unrelenting and teutonic. 'My Time Here' is an excitable feast of complex breakbeats, computer game analogues and rich breakdowns, most of which is taken away for the Happa & Jabes remix to be replaced by something utterly different.

The original and the Sync 24 remix of 'It's Bright Out' both work wonderfully together, with the latter softening an already sublime composition. To finish off, 'Typeface 333' is a swirling melting pot of analogue gurgles and bleeps that contrasts with the simpler re-version by Volruptus, which is arguably the standout track here. Cosmic strings, bass and drums transform the original, shedding much of the core structure and sound to create its own space for the dancefloor.

Andy Tattersall

Bonnie "Prince" Billy - I Made A Place

William Oldham is not a man to rest on his laurels. He has released 17 studio albums since becoming Bonnie "Prince" Billy in 1998. A musical chameleon, his work has spanned folk, Americana, country, roots, indie and punk.

What connects the dots is a strong DIY ethos and a striking artistic voice. When not re-appraising the work of his influences or collaborating with fellow artists, we now occasionally get a solo album out of the Kentuckian. It's been a five-year wait, but he returns with the magnificent I Made A Place.

Oldham is a man who absorbs influences into his skin, albeit not one who is content with merely aping his predecessors. I Made A Place once again displays his intense focus and singular vision. 'New Memory Box' is a lively jig for the modern cowboy, while on 'Dream Awhile' he puts on his troubadour hat and transports us back to a dim and distant time. 'The Devil's Throat' could even be described as jaunty. The title track transports the listener away to a far Scottish isle, before the nautical feel continues on the joyful and toe-tapping whimsy of 'Squid Eye'.

The album is a heady mix of wistful melancholy and joyful exuberance. The songs are as heartfelt as they are painfully honest. While he's never been the most cheerful of artists, there's a notable lightness and hopefulness on I Made A Place, one which pervades each track, a collection of songs which offer the promise of a better time.

Rob Aldam

Girl Ray - Girl

Three years after the release of their first single on Moshi Moshi, Girl Ray are continuing the NME C86 revival with their most recent effort, Girl. The LP sees vocalist Poppy Hankin combine the synths that put Girl Ray on the map with a new classical motif, something that their first album did not explore.

Indeed, the classical elements are what's most interesting about this album. They're present from track three, 'Just Down The Hall', in the form of strings, and continue on 'Let It Go' with its eccentric wind section. The first taster of the LP, 'Show Me More', is just as impressive, boasting the credential of being lo-fi music that isn't sad. The pop production is the child of The Strokes and The 1975, and it certainly isn't a bad thing to sound like the bands that respectively gave garage rock and indie pop their name.

The follow-up single 'Girl' further encapsulates Girl Ray's talent. It's a worthy title track, with poppy melodies that act as a teaser for the rest of the release. It's so catchy you have no choice but to listen on.

Hankin's witty lyricism is also commendable. On 'Keep It Tight' she sings, "Writing songs for album two," in her signature melancholic tone, an autobiographical reflection of her emotional state throughout writing Girl.

Girl truly excels in its upbeat pop production, continuing the undeniable mark which Girl Ray left on the music world with 2017's Earl Grey.

Sarah Bennett

Otis Mensah - Rap Poetics

The city's first poet laureate, Otis Mensah, has proven himself something of a Sheffield institution in recent years. This most recent venture follows a collection of well-received singles released in 2017 and an EP, Mum's House Philosopher, in 2018.

This new EP continues to showcase Mensah's unique brand of lo-fi hip-hop. The tracks are part political commentary scrutinising toxic masculinity and institutional racism, part emotional confessionalism. It opens with 'Ted Talks', with the searing line: "It might take a Nation of Millions to save a generation that's built on raping and pillaging," eventually progressing towards more personal material on the uplifting 'Blow Away Dream'. The understated but passionate style is reminiscent of scene heavyweights like Rejjie Snow and Loyle Carner.

The verses are the stars, expressed with crystal-clear complexity, and they're generally accompanied by paired-back beats which avoid the common trap of overproduction. This makes Rap Poetics a particularly engaging listen, allowing full appreciation of Mensah's skilful spoken word. The presence of a Sheffield twang in Mensah's melodic rapping is refreshing to hear in a genre dominated by London artists.

Rap Poetics marks a maturity in Mensah's style which is set to catapult him further towards the realms of hip-hop royalty. Who knows what this young artist could have in store. To quote the last track, 'Grand Finale': "You know my name, but you don't know me."

Georgina Collins

Otis Mensah gives a lecture on the relationship between hip hop and philosophy on Thursday 7 November at The Diamond (Lecture Theatre 4).

Next article in issue 140