SOUL FEEDING: a list-with-review of the best releases of the month, selected by our editors.
CÉCI – Vortex
Label: The Astral Plane Recordings
If there’s an album that I’ve really looked forward to hearing this month, it’s definitely Vortex by the Danish artist known as CÉCI, published by the Los Angeles label The Astral Plane Recordings.
The four-track visual EP she’s released between 2017 and 2018, has proven herself not only as an excellent singer, musician and sound designer but as a 360° artist, capable to direct (and dance in) her own videos.
Acting as a direct follow-up to this previous work, Vortex seems to start from the more deconstructed bits of CÉCI’s sound palette and uses them as a means to explore the “human form”. The way she proceeds in her research is precise, minimalistic, almost like she is a surgeon dissecting a body. Every skeletal click, noise and drum hit feels essential to her compositions, and so do the atmospheric synth pads that inhabit the background, acting as a liquid surface over which all the other elements organically surf.
Then you hear her mesmerizing voice signing, and you start to feel like the body that she has been dissecting this whole time is not anybody’s one, but it’s yours. And it’s not just your body, it’s your own self-consciousness that she is touching. Like she’s passing her hand through your mind. At the same time, you can hear her voice changing, shivering as if you are close to her, creating a magnificent sense of reciprocity.
In a word, Vortex is intimacy. Sonically generated intimacy, between the artist and the listener.
Editorial note: if you want to explore CÉCI‘s aesthetic even further be sure not to miss the amazing video Emilie Alstrup has directed for the album’s first single, “Heartbeat”.
By Michele Sinatti
FLORA – Limestone island
Album: Limestone island
FLORA, the joint project of Swedish producer Varg and Swedish singer/producer AnnaMelina, released their second EP, Limestone island. Since their very first work, Impatience, released in 2018, the duo has proposed a distinctive pop take on ambient music. In fact, Varg himself ironically defined FLORA’s genre as “analogue pop”, which actually sounds better than ambient pop and still seizes perfectly the essence of this new work.
In the title track the duo plays with heavy delay and reverb effects to create a crescendo that enlivens the delicate soundscape portrayed by the synthesizers and the drums, enhancing the haunting voice of AnnaMelina. On the other hand, the second track, “Juniper”, draws from deconstructed techno and hardcore sounds, paired with a slow, piano melody, resulting in a post-club emotional ballad.
If we want to find comparisons with other artists, while the first piece recalls the sound of the calmer moments of Blanck Mass‘ World Eater, the second one almost feels like a slowed down, R&B infused Lorenzo Senni track. With Limestone island, FLORA managed to release an accessible work, without giving up on the quality and experimentation that characterize both the solo projects of Varg and AnnaMelina; the result is a pleasant listening, probably not as groundbreaking as the other projects from Rönnberg but really interesting in its rendition.
By Carlo Casentini
King Midas Sound – Solitude
Artist: King Midas Sound
Label: Cosmo Rythmatic
How heavy can a heartbreak be? How desolate, empty and meaningless can life become after a break-up? How does one come to term with an all-encompassing loneliness after rejection and abandonment? Solitude, the new album by King Midas Sound (now the duo of Kevin Martin aka The Bug, and the poet and performer Roger Robinson), seeks to answer to these questions. And does it masterfully, making the album a no frills immersive and almost unbearable listening experience.
The press release describes Solitude as “a meditation on loss.” This meditation is built upon Robinson’s deep, penetrating voice standing out over Martin’s stripped-down-to-the-essential production. The former steals the show, delivering a spoken-word malaise with his low, warm voice. The latter creates a sonic texture of ominous drones, rain- and wind-like sounds in the distance, barely any melodies (the tear dropping piano notes on “Her body”) or beats (the skeletal drums on “Too late” and “Missing you”).
The atmosphere is rarefied, recalling a lonely walk on a foggy late night. It is also bleak, carrying an almost physical heaviness. Subverting the dubstep bass-weight paradigm of his previous output as The Bug, Martin has shifted to a ‘less is more’ approach to convey dread and oppressiveness. Gone are the blue melancholy and longing of Waiting for you (2009); Solitude is all about quiet despair and stark desolation, its content visually matched by the black and white (actually, black and grey) photo artwork by Daisuke Yokota.
The tracks feature several stages of post-breakup solitude. From cynical retrospection (“and I stuck to you / because it was better than sticking to nothing”) on “Zero” to all the activities done trying to feel alive on ”In the night”; from paranoid questions about the ex (“who is she sleeping with now / and what does she do”) on “Who”, to “Her body” with its memory of physical closeness and passion (“our wet tongues drawing maps on our necks / our bodies becoming fluid”).
Solitude is a breath-taking work of art that explores and digs out some of the most unpleasant feelings and situation one can encounter in life. That’s why it is so relatable, gut-wrenching and cathartic at the same time. A masterpiece for people not afraid of diving into the abyss.
By Lorenzo Montefinese
Lee Gamble – In A Paravental Scale
Artist: Lee Gamble
Album: In A Paravental Scale
Label: Hyperdub Records
Released by Hyperdub, In A Paraventral Scale is the first element of an ambitious thryptique entitled Flush Real Pharinx, which (according to forecasts), will see the light in the next months.
The latest Ep by Lee Gamble follows chronologically, but not aesthetically, his previous work Mnestic Pressure, dated 2017. While apparently detaching from more abstract forms of expression delivered with his last effort, the core idea here is the will of realizing a proper sonic documentary about the overload of everyday stimuli.
The sound has a cinematographic flavour, with a key-role given to audio panning, and could easily be the soundtrack of a recent sci-fi movie. With the opener Fata Morgana, recalling the weird physical phenomenon from which takes its name, Gamble creates a hazy atmosphere and delightful looped melodies that take the listener by the hand in the ear-pleasing Folding” inducing a sense of discovery.
Admirably blending refinement with immediacy, but with car engines too (as heard in “Bmw Shuanguan X5”), is difficult to say which role covers this first Ep at the moment. But for now, this progressive electronic effort is definitely enough to have a meditative pause. Ears out for the next chapters.
By Andrea Alfieri
Leon Vynehall – DJ KICKS!
Artist: Leon Vynehall
Album: DJ KICKS!
Leon Vynehall starts 2019 surfing the same wave of artistic craftsmanship he showed in 2018. If last year he delighted us with the unexpected orchestral turn of Nothing is still, now the British artist shows his eclecticism and his refined musical taste through a twenty-six-tracks, seventy-seven minutes long, mixed compilation.
The strength of this Dj Kicks resides in Vynehall’s idiosyncratic selection, but also in where the tracks are placed within the mix, and in how he manages the transitions. Apart from some typical beatmatching style, the latter are mostly quick and raw, a fade out/fade in approach that emphasizes the tracks themselves, rather than the artist’s mixing skills.
That said, let’s talk about the music. The first half nods more to home listening, though spiced here and there with some obscure ‘80s experimental industrial records. Things kick off with a gentle intro, followed by two tracks of narcotic dancehall and beats; less than 10 minutes in and Haruomi Hosono’s “Rose & Beast (薔薇と野獣 )” is the first highlight. After that, there is a shockingly diverse yet somehow coherent triplet of slow breakbeat, 90s soul and 80s synth pop, before Vynehall dives into a more industrial section. The British selector manages to build bridges not only between genres, but also between decades within the same genre. This is proved by four industrial/experimental tracks ranging from the 80s to present days.
Halfway through the mix, Vynehall eventually blinks to the dancefloor: starting with breakbeats, then switching to house and techno, always pulling together the new (tracks by Ploy, Peach and he himself) and the old (late 90s gems, mostly original UK-style tech house). Towards the end, the mix verges on more frenetic rhythms: jungle – again, two tracks from 1995 and 2017 hand in hand – an AFX’s breakcore madness, Jana Rush’s crepuscular footwork, and the closing track lets us breathe again with a piano solo piece.
Challenging and unpredictable, this Dj Kicks is going to be remembered as one of the most adventurous and accomplished in the entire catalogue.
By Lorenzo Montefinese
Loraine James – Button Mashing
Artist: Loraine James
Album: Button Mashing
Label: New York Haunted
It is hard to classify the music by Loraine James. Post-IDM, glitch, avant-garde electronic: someone even sees a reminiscence of jazz. Whatever you call it, it would be reductive for the large amount of influences and ideas behind the north-London producer’s compositions. For sure the four tracks of Button Mashing EP are assured bangers.
Following Detail, her 2017 first album, this new release marks James’ debut on Drvg Cvltvre’s New York Haunted label. Above all, the refinement of her productions is surprising. Every single element is perfectly calibrated: you do not feel like losing the groove even for a second. It’s impressive because this actually works despite an unconventional sound texture.
The schizophrenic “Bite Me Bit” opens the EP. It is a track made of high pitch samples and distorted rave drums: we can easily imagine dancing to it after 6 A.M. in a crowded club, with an irrepressible smile on the face. The subsequent “Commercial Drum Break” starts with an exciting drum solo. Despite its shortness, it’s a track that carries you into different atmospheres with long dreamy synth chords. In “Gays With Me (I’m Good)” an epic symphony of frenetic phrasings is the carpet for broken and obsessive vocal samples, while the 4/4 of “Lost My Train Of Thought” succeeds in making also techno lovers happy.
In less than twenty minutes, you can catch an uncommon variety of elements admirably mixed up together. It’s a wide spectrum of digital sounds narrowly set up in space, a stereophonic bath in which to dive. Highly recommended.
By Francesco Cellino
Miruky – DEPRIMO
If you’re not scared of being tossed around by a violent storm, then take a deep breath and fasten your seatbelt, because the very first EP of own productions by Miruky is incredibly intense.
Released via TAR, a Los Angeles-based label and collective which features artists worldwide, DEPRIMO hits hard, with cruelty, yet with a self-examining eye.
While personal informations circa the producer are unknown (Miruky is very fond of releasing music in anonymity, at the moment), we already know that a full-length entitled SECOND LIFE 2K99, is on the way and that his/her/their mysterious identity will be revealed as he/her/their achieves total self-awareness.
The starting point is the tension built in “Psycho”, the finishing line is crossed by the glitches and the reverbs of “Reality”. In between, violent screeches and sharp synths, digital stretches and machine gun kicks. The impetuosity of the multi-layered “Give Me the Freedom” and the emotional title-track “Deprimo” bring something hot to the table, too. Surely a huge influence has to be seen in SOPHIE’s last album and in the fascinating golden era of witch-house, manifesting itself in this release with an epic aura and even a sense of fragility.
Since it relies on four tracks for twelve minutes of music, you have no alternative but playing it again. Already waiting for the next recording by an artist as mysterious as promising.
By Andrea Alfieri
oqbqbo – Untitled
Label: Posh Isolation
This week Posh Isolation’s releases feature oqbqbo’s latest work, an untitled album consisting of six intriguingly named tracks. What makes her a choice of ours is definitely the stylistic completeness of her music and, above all, personality. Being Russian but living in Copenaghen after spending quite a long period in Tokyo made her live close to a wide range of radical traditions and cutting-edge music scenes at the same time.
As it seems to my ears, a meticulous research has been made on “lyrics”, in my opinion, a pivotal point to focus on, at least in the first half of the album. Air quotes are here necessary cause I’m of course not talking about meaningful words put in a sequence, but instead of their utilization and exploitation as tools for actually making the music.
The album opens with “Usnea”, immediately characterized by the usage of two specular set of distorted voices that seem to question and answer each other, one feminine and in a way seductive, the other one male, deep and weighty. They both go along with the song throughout the whole development of it, almost having the role of protagonists to play. In “Rei”, instead, the lyrics are condensed in the central part of the track, reciting something sensible. The moments of their inclusion and exclusion in/from the song are skillfully amalgamated with the rest being in a first ascendant and then descendant kind of bubbling climax. Going on, “The way of tea” ’s human sounds convey a singular feeling: the feeling of being in the middle of a ceremony of some sort. Solemnity is the key, suggested by long feeble whispers of voice with sporadic and sudden barrel organ-simile sounds.
From the fourth song, the whole second half of the album is less marked by voices, presenting three songs that are plain and equable, very similar to each other. “Linen Streams” and “Temple Tree” draw some above-mentioned parameters from the previous tracks, such as sporadic scrappy lyrics or the sullen glumness. We finally get to “All This Waiting”, as in a downwards escalation, that closes everything with the conscious loss of nonessential items.
A mature work that sums up oqbqbo’s aesthetic and emotional experience, and delivers it to the listener with great elegance.
By Margherita Rho
Various Artists – ANE001
Artist: Various Artists
Label: Angels Never Expire
Angels Never Expire is the sister label of Bristolian collective Super Kitchen, created with the intent of pushing a more avant-garde and experimental sound. The debut of the label is accompanied by the release of an eight tracks compilation featuring works from the likes of object blue, Mistareez, True North and other underground producers.
The pieces on ANE001 mainly move between ambient and UK Bass experimentations, and the whole compilation feels like it was intended for a more meditative listening. Nonetheless, every track has its distinctive traits, resulting in a really interesting and engaging work. For example, “Tea Pot” by Nara plays with exotic samples and choirs, steering significantly from ambient sounds but still perfectly fitting in the general mood of the compilation.
Other notable tracks are “Enxame” by Superficie, a deconstructed club piece characterized by piercing synths, and “Vacuum” by De Grandi, inspired by vintage trance sounds. For sure, the most awaited track of the compilation is “Forgiveness (With A Pearl In Hand)” by object blue: the London-based producer is on everyone’s lips right now, and this piece won’t let her fans down. “Forgiveness” is a superb ambient track, that highlights both the burgeoning creativity of the Tokyo-born, Beijing-raised producer and her enviable technical background.
ANE001 is a solid work, coherent and diverse at the same time, and it bodes well for the future of the British label.
By Carlo Casentini
Various Artists – Vague Culture 2
Artist: Various Artists
Album: Vague Culture 2
When making a compilation there are various criteria that you have to take in mind. Some are basic, like the number of artists, the order of the tracks or simply the genre. But when it comes to defining the concept, or the aim, of a compilation, things can get easily tricky. The concept is, in fact, able to connect and hold together all the different sounds of a compilation by finding a common theme for the artists to follow.
Well, the Vague Culture 2 compilation, published by the JEROME collective has nothing to do with that. In fact, the only criteria with which the twenty tracks that compose this gigantic work has been selected seems to be quality (which is really high) and consistency. Other than that, the participating artists have been given absolute stylistic freedom, just as it happened with the first instalment of the Vague Culture series. Thus you can find Astrosuka’s Latin deconstructed trance, Jaragon-Obelisk and Patti Dracula’s collaged, pop-industrial manifesto and Worli’s ambient techno, just to name a few, all in the same album.
This peculiar choice, other than providing an internal variety of rhythms and atmosphere as pleasant as extreme, is absolutely coherent with what has been JEROME’s purposes since its foundation: allowing artists to express themselves freely and offering to whoever is curious the possibility to explore the contemporary underground club music scene.
And since artists are those who shape the scene, artistically speaking, imposing any compositional rule would somehow betray the authenticity of what JEROME has been doing so far.
So, if you are looking for a thematic listening like the unforgettable Mono No Aware, Vague Culture 2 might not work for you, but if you are interested in finding out what is happening in the underground club music scene right now, just sit down and press play, you won’t be disappointed by this sincere sonic documentation.
By Michele Sinatti
Various Artists – DARK CORE SCALE
Artist: Various Artists
Album: DARK CORE SCALE
Proudly promoted by the Prague-based label, which looks at “experimental hybrid clubbing” since 2017, DARK CORE SCALE is a substantial collective effort. Despite seven out of the fifteen producers gathered being from the Czech Republic, artists from all over the world contributed to this compilation, which is the first-ever release for UNIZONE.
What happens when a fair amount of producers are asked to contribute to a collection of tracks is that, being requested a very dark and gloomy aesthetic, the worst aspects of the human mind soon emerge. Anxiety, fear, cowardice, opportunism and even more. In brief, let this compilation guide you through some obscure corners, as made clear by UNIZONE itself.
More in-depth, all fifteen tracks stand shoulder to shoulder with one another and carry the momentum of the previous track, healing wounds one at a time. The set of tracks is cavernous, heavy and moody (“SNAKE OIL”), walking at the step of post-club with “TRUE GAMER”, to gloomy rave-influenced shores (“RAH”).
On top of that, the compilation keeps going at an intense pace with samples and tribal beats complementing the whole sombre tone of the album. Eventually, Unizone offers us a dark corner in our favourite club to sit on our worries. A well-placed first shot for the Prague-based collective.
By Andrea Alfieri
Xiu Xiu – Girl With Basket of Fruit
Artist: Xiu Xiu
Album: Girl With Basket of Fruit
You never really know what to expect when approaching new music from Xiu Xiu. Following the infatuation for David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, two years ago Jamie Stewart’s band gave fans an easy listening album, made of nice electropop and new wave tracks. Today, they come back with the disturbing, abstract experimental rock of the past years.
Dramatic like a Caravaggio painting, “Girl With Basket of Fruit” plays with provocative and allegoric figures to create a gloomy imaginary. Partly, the tracks work thanks to the lyrics: halfway between being light-hearted and desperate, they are absolutely provocative, starting from the title. In the heartbreaking “Amargi ve Moo”, Stewart describes the body of her sister, sick of cancer. “Mary Turner, Mary Turner” instead is about a historical episode: the creepy lynching of an Afroamerican young woman at the beginning of the last century. Basically, you won’t find anything reassuring in this album.
Stewart’s ability to control the register and tone of voice is a plus point, but the whole musical texture is remarkable, especially thanks to the contribution of Swan’s Thor Harris on drums. In “Scisssssssors” the vertiginous rhythmic texture is noteworthy. But in the whole record you will never find conventional solutions: chaos, noises, ticks, cacophonic electronics are the masters even in the most melodic pieces. It sounds like the perfect soundtrack for hell: disturbing music surrounded by lamentations and strident voices.
Thank God or whatever you trust, at least in the end a glimmer of light seems to give hope: “Normal Love” is a surprising, soulful and touching ballad that little shares with the claustrophobic atmosphere of the album. If Stewart’s intent was to destabilize the listener, it is once again fully achieved.
By Francesco Cellino
Artwork by Francesco Battaglia