SOUL FEEDING: a list-with-review of the best releases of the month, selected by our editors.
Caterina Barbieri – Ecstatic Computation
Artist: Caterina Barbieri
Album: Ecstatic Computation
Label: Editions Mego
Caterina Barbieri is back with a new release that will keep us talking for a long time: the gorgeous Ecstatic Computation, out via Editions Mego. Following 2017’s acclaimed Patterns of Consciousness, this new work takes up many distinctive elements of the Italian producer: the minimalist taste for repetition and the hypnotic sequences of synthetic arpeggios are still, in fact, the absolute protagonists of her adventurous compositions. Nevertheless, this time Caterina seems to have refined her compositional and performative skills even further than in her previous works.
Take the first minutes of “Fantas”, the opening track: from a misty carpet, synths rise in sequence to create a labyrinth of loops that slowly invades the entire soundscape. The sequence of different patterns, that add up to or subtract from chasing each other, is the backbone of the track. But the patterns are not just repeating themselves: almost imperceptibly they change from time to time, with new elements that fit together unexpectedly. The effect is wonderfully unsettling, making you lose the perception of time and space. In the six tracks of the record, Caterina Barbieri explores the endless combinatorial possibilities of her music, alternating more contemplative moments (“Arrows of Time”) with more nervous ones (“Spine of Desire”). “Closest Approach To Your Orbit” perfectly contains these two aspects: the opening is a tangle of sounds that are only apparently anarchist, and after a while unravel in synthetic flashes on the rise.
Despite her rigorous and almost scientific approach to composition and production, also thanks to her classical background, Caterina Barbieri’s music is anything but cold. On the contrary, with “Ecstatic Computation” she manages to provoke emotions with music like only a few can do.
By Francesco Cellino
Cralias – Canon
Of the many talented artists working with the TAR crew right now, Cralias should definitely catch your attention (if he didn’t already). His latest release, Canon, is a short but convincing declaration of intent from the London based producer, who managed to synthesize in just four tracks his style and ideas.
Every piece in Canon has a different mood and relates to different inspirations and archetypes. “Life After Death” is a resolute interpretation of witch house, characterized by ethereal loops and dancey samples. While “Wounded” seems to have similar influences but a less dancefloor-oriented attitude, “Chloe” is the real game changer. In the third track of the EP, in facts, Cralias moves to totally different soundscapes, embracing Caribbean rhythms and choirs. Finally, “Breakdown” is a beautiful mix of hip-hop beats, deconstructed samples and vaporwave synths.
The common thread of Canon is undoubtedly the exaltation of the melody, that appears to be central to Cralias’s composing process. While having very different influences, his approach recalls the work of other contemporary artists like Mechatok and Sega Bodega. Canon mixes high-quality productions and interesting suggestions, that make it one of the most interesting releases of the month.
By Carlo Casentini
Holly Herndon – PROTO
Artist: Holly Herndon
When it comes to discourses about man and machines, it’s hard to resist to the dystopian retro-futuristic imagery. It’s as if we’re all in a battlefield, soldiers of mankind fighting against the machinic invaders. There are few exceptions to this dominant – and reductive – narrative, and Holly Herndon shines bright in this minority.
Now awarded a PhD at the Center For Computer Research In Music And Acoustics of Stanford University, the researcher-thinker-musician has based her discography on exploring and expanding the reaches of HuMachinic interdependency. On Platform (4AD, 2015), she covered topics such as data mining and platform capitalism, starting from the assumption that the computer is XXI century’s most intimate instrument. But if the boundaries between human and non-human were still somehow tangible there, on PROTO things fall apart, or rather are re-built and assembled erasing the dichotomy from scratch. Instead of fearing the machinic and retreating into folk conservatism or mindlessly embracing it, Holly Herndon has created a soundscape where machines are not a threat, but a creative aid. A.I. doesn’t take over, but helps us instead.
She introduces Spawn, an A.I. trained to recognize singers’ voices and sonically re-elaborate these inputs. The results are seamlessly woven together with Herndon’s and her collaborators’ vocal performances, to the point that the differences become almost unrecognizable. And why should we bother? PROTO’s best feature is not a choir and an A.I. appearing together, but their tangible codependency. What strikes the most is that, as electronic as it can be, this is an album revolving around voice, be it as a way to deliver verbal content, as an instrument, or whatever. From the unintelligible sounds of the newborn A.I. (“Birth”), to spoken word announcing a new species (“Extreme love”); from Spawn trying to emulate Jlin’s beats using Herndon’s voice data (“Godmother”), to beat-driven tracks raising the bar for contemporary avant-pop (“Alienation”, “Eternal”, “Frontier”), to recordings of Spawn’s live trainings (“Canaan”, “Evening shades”), PROTO sits comfortably in the avantgarde – both classical and popular – canon of artists who explored voice’s potential as a HuMachine device.
The presence of acapella and choral singing grounds the album in a folk, or even sacred music tradition; yet this tradition is updated for XXI century techno-digitalized mankind. “Who are we, what are we, what do we stand for, and what are we heading towards?”, read the liner notes. We may add: where’s the boundary between human and machine? Who and what are we listening to at each moment? We don’t know, and maybe that’s not the point at all. PROTO requires us to be more receptive and less inquisitive, more open to new forms of hybridization and less attached to stale dichotomies. There are no answers nor easy listening to be found here, but surely we have an art-pop testament of our multifaceted present, heading firmly towards the future.
By Lorenzo Montefinese
Kedr Livanskiy – Your Need
Artist: Kedr Livanskiy
Album: Your Need
Label: 2MR Records
The Russian scene confirms its pole position in the contemporary experimental music panorama once again. Your Need is the latest work by Kedr Livanskiy, for 2MR Records. Straight outta Moscow, she’s not new around, y’all gotta already know her excellent 2017 debut, Ariadna.
This album is built on the most meticulous way of making dance music. Everything that’s needed for exciting bodies on the dance floor is here majestically given to you. First, loud and fluent melodies combined with psychedelic human voices and cries let you swing and free your limbs, light-hearted, right as it should be.
Even more interesting is the myriad of different sourced the songs are constructed on. “Lugovoy (November Dub)” is the fulcrum of this contamination vein, as the title suggests it comes from a recalibration of dubstep along with usual Jamaican rhythms, but in a way looser and uninhibited. Latinos feelings also naturally come up in tracks like “Sky Kisses” and “Kisha”. Others instead, such as “Why Love”, suggest some kind of 80’s / 90’s vibrations, due to the echoed voice and the disco-like sound.
The lifeblood of Your Need flows vigorous and alive from the beginning to the end, there’s no break nor breather, only energy.
By Margherita Rho
LIBERATO – LIBERATO
For those of you who don’t know, LIBERATO is a music project born in 2017 in Naples. The union of the mysterious aura around his identity and the storytelling behind the tracks and their art films made it a powerful media phenomenon immediately on everyone’s lips. On May 9th – symbolic date of the artist, annual event for their release, as well as the title of their first song – the love story told in the songs throughout the years ends: the complete self-titled album is finally out with five new tracks.
English combined with Neapolitan dialect can be reconfirmed as LIBERATO’s calling card, however, the integration in “OI MARÌ” of Spanish (and here I might speechify for hours about how important this artistic choice is, both culturally and historically) brings to a sort of creole made of a vernacular base melted together with a sui generis Spanglish.
In the era of catchy melodies, the genius behind LIBERATO could not miss on some delicate flutes to recreate floating and airy atmospheres, like in “TU ME FAJE ASCÌ PAZZ'”, that, paired with the harshness of the dialect, give character to each other. An artistic development that left me almost speechless is definitely the choice of using guitars in “NIENTE”. Never I would have thought that a sound like that could fit well in LIBERATO, but I gotta say they give to it a mark of sad and melancholic romanticism.
The golden child, however, seems to be “NUNN’A VOGLIO ‘NCUNTRÀ”: 7 minutes of alternation of muffled basses, pop samplings, neomelodic-like sections and different languages constantly intertwining, minute by minute. The only disappointment, apparently, is the remake of “GAIOLA PORTAFORTUNA”, here simply renamed “GAIOLA” and slowly cadenced, that loses dynamicity if compared to the original single. It’s no more a serenade of a lover, but more like a depressing story of a romance, something that’s no longer real.
The brilliantly done production alone is not sufficient to define the reasons why LIBERATO is a pivotal point of contemporary culture. It is necessary to dig deep into the themes, to scrape the layer of apparent frivolousness for finally getting a mirror of everyday’s reality.
By Margherita Rho
Miedo Total – Volt Room
Artist: Miedo Total
Album: Volt Room
Label: JEROME Worldwide Recordings
Every time the people from JEROME Worldwide Recordings publish a new release on their Bandcamp page, I always download it and listen to it. Since they have a truly amazing selection of artists, by doing so, very few times I have been disappointed. Their latest release is yet another confirmation to that.
Meet Miedo Total, moniker of the Italian-born, London-based sound artist, producer and DJ Alex Comana. In his latest fatigue, Volt Room, he evolves the deconstructed sound of Catechism/Muzzle, building-up every track as a part of the same soundscape, which starts flowing at the moment you press play.
The album begins soft yet emotionally engaging with “Inno”, thanks to the wonderful layering of processed vocal lines pitched differently and the staccato strings. “Kompressor”, a personal favourite, instead, creates a dramatic tension between hardcore drums and ethereal synths, held together by the male and female vocal lines. Alongside “Rot”, this track shows that one of the main influence behind Volt Room, other than gabber and ambient, is clearly metal, especially for the way the drums and the vocals (in “Rot”, you can distinctly hear the so-called metal “growl”) are shaped.
The final track, “Greta”, opens up as a Tim Hecker-ish ambient suite, vaporous and haunting, leaving the space for a touching, deep vocal suite that culminates into an emotional speed-core gran finale. Then the curtain closes.
In this excellent work, Miedo Total not only turns the otherwise over-heard deconstructed club sounds and structure into something unique, but does so by creating such a grandiose atmosphere, that really makes you wonder if you’re listening to club music or classical music.
By Michele Sinatti
Mina – Flight Paths
Album: Flight Paths
Label: Earth Kicks
Exploration is the heart of experimentation, and music isn’t an exception. What makes Mina’s latest release, Flight Paths, so special is the combination of both a sonic investigation and a geographical one. Written while travelling in seven different countries, Flight Paths reflects the different interpretations of dance music that the artist met during her journey.
Ghana, Jamaica, Brazil, Peru, Spain, US and UK: Mina took up something from everywhere she went while collaborating with numerous local artists. More specifically, this LP focuses on dancehall, afrobeat and hip hop sonorities, continuously moving from one genre to another. For example, “Major” is a neoperreo banger, written in collaboration with Spanish master Merca Bae, while the following track, “Texas”, takes the listener to a Caribbean heated dancehall.
One of the most impressive pieces is “Infinity Riddim”, a bass-driven, melodic and poignant track made in collaboration with the New York-based producer Epic B. Another feat truly deserving a mention is “Meu Jeito”, that hosts hard-hitting Portuguese vocals by LYZZA. Finally, Gafacci and Bryte take on the afrobeat and grime part of the album, collaborating with Mina in the two massive hits “One Leg” and “Security”.
Flight Paths is many things: the debut full-length album from an already super prolific artist, a collection of cool party bangers, a musical and cultural exploration. So don’t sleep on it and jump on a plane with Mina and her international crew, you won’t be disappointed!
By Carlo Casentini
Mukqs – SD Biomix
Album: SD Biomics
Label: Orange Milk Records
Deconstructed club music is probably one of the most used and at the same time ambiguous terms among fans of a certain type of electronic music these days. It is an expression difficult to describe clearly, nevertheless, it defines something that in retrospect seems clear and recognizable to us. This is the case with the music of the American producer and Hausu Mountain label co-founder Max Allison, who records as Mukqs.
Sure, in his case the term “deconstructed” seems to fit perfectly also for the way in which his tracks are created: his new album SD Biomics (out this month via Orange Milk Records) was in fact born with more traditional arrangements, subsequently fragmented into samples that are then reconstructed. Like so many bricks, the patterns are stitched together between unlikely loops and sudden shifts in dynamics. It’s a creative process that subverts any established order, a joyous anarchy that probably owes a lot to Allison’s musical background – he is a member of improvisational Chicago noise group Good Willsmith.
Whether it’s about improvisation or chance, some really electrifying moments come out: “Distributing Mementos” for example opens with an ethereal and airy atmosphere, which suddenly gives way to a line of squirting synths and a drum machine that pulls punches in the face. “Petite Cake Set” instead plays a lot with sudden drops in tension and a completely anarchic mix that absolutely displaces the listener, while “All Seven Gods of Fortune”, a seven minutes long track, gives free rein to a continuous remodeling of the patterns that compose it, creating always different situations. Mukqs is like a demiurge who rules this chaos, an enchanter who dupes sounds like snakes to trace the trajectory unscrupulously.
By Francesco Cellino
Rainer Veil – Vanity
Artist: Rainer Veil
Label: Modern Love
Some albums feel like an intense experience capable of freezing times, taking you elsewhere and letting synesthetic images sprout up in your mind. Vanity, the new album Mancunian duo Rainer Veil just released via Modern Love, is one of these albums. If their previous EPs, Struck and New Brutalism, were carefully executed exercises with UK continuum rhythms and claustrophobic atmospheres, their first long player brings in some air and light, making for a cohesive hardcore continuum compendium, stripped down and surrounded by a foggy haze.
Most tracks are comprised of synth(etic) melodies and minimalist drums reminiscent of UK dance music heritage; their approach is a reductionist one, more contemplative than hyperkinetic.
There is plenty of material and influences to keep every listener satisfied, whether you fancy some trancey workout stitched on the remnants of bygone times euphoria (“Sim screen”, “FM2”, and the Senni-meets-UKgarage “In gold mills”), black&white weightless (“Third sync”, “Elements”), an emotional trap closure (“Digital spit”), and especially what constitutes the backbone of the album: rave skeletons re-constructed and rearranged to match what I expect to be the atmosphere of a grey, rainy day in Manchester. “Flex/Bliss” and “Repatterning” show how effective bare percussions, spooky synths, chopped vocals and dub echoes may be in the right hands. While “Shallow” and “Gauze” sound like the memories of some rave from your past slowly taking a more defined shape, with their echoed drums&bleeps&sirens&sobs. Hardcore relics live on in “Double down” and “Change is never easy”, although inward-looking rather than bursting with euphoria in the former, and disassembled into a zero-gravity spaceship in the latter.
Vanity has that greyscale Manchester vibe we may associate with artists such as Andy Stott or Synkro, and shares both a focus on space-in-the-mix and a drum programming/cinematic ambience balance with dubstep and post-dubstep, though it’s less austere and more intimate. Its rarefied atmosphere is Vanity’s strength, which gives an intangible quality even to the most muscular of the compositions. Like a synthetic origami, or perhaps like the stunning cover artwork, it seems to levitate in an abstract realm of sharp contrasts and beautiful grace.
By Lorenzo Montefinese
SHE Spells Doom – Neon Death
Artist: SHE Spells Doom
Album: Neon Death
As its fifteenth release, the French label Monstart has chosen Neon Death by the electronic music producer based between Lusaka (Zambia) and Geneva (Switzerland) SHE Spells Doom. This union of the two different European and African cultures creates a thick mixture that makes this artist’s productions unique.
Basically, SHE Spells Doom has an influence for each Kilometer that separates Geneva from Lusaka. They are approximately 10.000. In his music, we can listen to funk, hip-hop, Congolese rumba and soukous, echoes of the music of the late ‘80s, gqom, atmospheric sounds, the sci-fi and horror movies of Carpenter and Cronenberg and even more.
Dear SF readers and colleagues, I am not trying to find an excuse to finish this piece as soon as possible: SHE Spells Doom is really a unique artist, trust me, and you will understand what I mean as soon as you put your headphones on.
Being erratic, however, some may consider Neon Death as an experimental album. But I don’t think it’s an appropriate definition. To be experimental an author has to put a lot of effort into researching sounds and has to explore a high number of musical cul-de-sacs, in order to find the final result. SHE Spells Doom, on the contrary, gives the impression to create with a charming spontaneity.
The rarity of his music is not the result of a cold experiment, but the natural flux of his hot soul.
By Andre Predieri
Tim Hecker – Anoyo
Artist: Tim Hecker
At the beginning of last year, Tim Hecker seduced his entourage with his latest album named Konoyo. Here, the Canadian producer has embarked on a gently post-apocalyptic ambient odyssey composed of Japanese ancestral instruments. Eight months later, he introduces us to the twin brother album named Anoyo. This album was recorded during the same Japanese sessions as the magisterial Konoyo and it relies on the same bases as the latter. We are here again dealing with the reinterpretation of a traditional Japanese style, the gagaku, combined with drone and ambient experiments by Tim Hecker. Moreover, and as often with this producer, the two discs echo each other.
But as his big brother was more tortured and dark, Anoyo turns out brighter, more meditative and serene, as it takes on more of the gagaku elements than those from Konoyo’s fusion of natural and electronic. With six tracks, Tim Hecker imagines a world being reborn with his trademark ambient style that makes Anoyo’s soundscape desolate and enticing. The gagaku instrumentation is simply magical and dizzying. We immediately feel a more peaceful and clearer side listening to “Is but a simulated blur” and “Into the void” echoing. After the deaf and hypnotic percussions of “Not Alone”, we start again on good bases with a conclusion of the most liberated track named “You never were”.
Anoyo is additional proof that Tim Hecker remains one of the most inspired ambient musicians nowadays. Probably this is one of his most accessible works, that features a welcome, slightly more organic and percussive tone, without sacrificing any of the heavy, sustained, an almost distorted weight that has been part of his signature sound. An album that fits right into this evolving and progressing discography.
By Andrea Predieri
tropical interface – food chain
Artist: tropical interface
Album: food chain
Label: Hyperboloid Records
Whether you are a fan or not, you have to admit that tropical interface is one of the most representative artists when it comes to both deconstructed club and eco grime.
And, yes, I too haven’t been enthusiastic as I was in the past about his latest releases, which, don’t get me wrong, sound amazing, but don’t feel as interesting as his early works.
Luckily, in food chain the Russian producer and DJ decided to take a new approach and to refresh the hell out of his sound.
Mixing sound that comes straight from 80’s Miami synth-wave with juke, trance, hardcore and, of course, his trademark deconstructed rhythm, he brings to life four tracks that feel cheery and apocalyptic at the same time. There are so many things happening at the same time, that it’s quite hard to keep track of all of them without losing focus.
As if this general ambient, wasn’t enough to f*ck with your brain, to complicate the picture even more, tropical interface decided to use non 4/4 time signature that will piss-off a lot of DJs (and maybe enhance the creativity of a few).
Basically, we can say that food chain is a club mini-album which doesn’t seem to be meant for clubbing(?).
In any case is a super-enjoyable record from a producer with mad skills that, as influential as he has been for deconstructed club, is somehow still able to f*ck with the boundaries of this genre.
By Michele Sinatti
upsammy – Wild Chamber
Album: Wild Chamber
Label: Nous’klaer Audio
upsammy is one of the most talked about new artist of the European underground dance scene. And that is not surprising. Her talent as a DJ, able to mix different and distant genres, from hip-hop to IDM, earned her a residency in one of the most popular clubs of the continent, Amsterdam’s De School. What isn’t very well known is that her talent in mixing is equal to her talent in the studio as a producer. If you haven’t done it yet, then you’d better listen to Wild Chamber, her new mini-album released this month for the Rotterdam-based label Nous’klaer Audio.
Echoes of ’90s IDM, acid sprinkles and melodic psychedelia: everything is enthralling and groovy in its own way, however far from the most classical and conventional rhythmic structures. Listening to the record’s eight tracks you literally feel transported by a surprisingly relaxing and peaceful music. A variegated set of sounds populates Wild Chamber, from high-pitched jingling to arpeggiated and spatialized synths, to deep bass and electronic flashes. Likewise the decidedly varied and original drums, even where the matrix of the 90’s becomes more evident. Anyway, this variety, so cohesive in a few minutes, remains thrilling.
What makes the whole work great is a deep attention to sound construction, accurate even in the smallest details: you never feel like the tension is about to explode or sudden accelerations or disturbing elements are about to happen. There is a restlessness that never becomes subversive action. Everything remains wonderfully poised, in its slow but lopsided progress.
By Francesco Cellino