Highlights of 2017: Albums
Gaussian Curve- The Distance [Music From Memory]
It’s not as good as their first album, but that’s ok. 2014’s Clouds was impossibly good, the product of a collaboration between the UK’s Jonny Nash, Italy’s Gigi Masin and the Netherlands’ Marco Sterk (aka Young Marco) , consisting of improvised ‘one-take’ live jams. Natural and simple, yet spellbinding and incredibly listenable, it cemented the group as an ambient live force to be reckoned with.
Still, last year’s The Distance is excellent, emotive, rich and conceived in the same fashion as its predecessor, it has a value that’s not lost on repeat listens. The album is necessarily different from the first, hitting different notes, exploring more moods and inspiring new feelings.
Gaussian Curve’s greatest attribute is how transportative their music is, it’s easy to get lost in the tracks seamlessly moving from one to another. The ultimate in day dream sparking, ambient relaxation, here’s to hoping the collaboration continues.
Tzusing - 東方不敗 [L.I.E.S.]
With the release of his debut album Invincible East, 2017 was an immense year for Shanghai-based producer, Tsuzing. The album’s opening is utterly earth-shattering- one for the heads- madness inducing and with a punch that will stop anyone dead in their tracks. It’s prime industrial EBM mixed with an eastern flavour captured through the use of native Chinese instruments. The album’s title and ensuing narrative refers to the protagonist of Jin Yong’s novel ‘The Smiling, Proud Wanderer’, who has to battle to find the scroll containing the secrets of being a swordsman. Tsuzing has remarked of how the book tells a story of a character making the “ultimate sacrifice to attain knowledge and transform”, which he uses as a canvas for the album- a canvas painted with the haunting and militaristic tones of the producer, conveying his moody sentiments. Another stunning release from the always interesting, always surprising NY based record label.
Some tracks are scathing and eerie, whereas tracks like ‘Esther’ have a very absorbing effect with solemn sentiments, archaic tones, and slow powerful beats. ‘King of Hosts’ displays Tzusing’s talent for more dynamic drum patterns with his use of a triplet time signature. My favourite track has to be ‘Nature Is Not Created In The Image Of Man's Compassion’, which is slow and taunting with nimble, metallic drums and scything synths. The de-tuned bassline makes this a real head-spinner that’ll leave your psyche just a little weathered... Last two tracks, are further highlights: ‘Post-Soviet Models’ has an electrifying composition of dynamic bass and sprightly metallic tinkering. ‘Torque Pulsations’ is very much as it says, and manages to puts a definitive punctuation to the album’s close.
Punctuated throughout by heavy groans, dynamic percussion and powerful rhythm, the album is as much dystopian in its flavour as it is spiritually energizing. Its sound textures are tantalizing; the mood is austere, with an unmatched gravitas of anything that’s came out last year.
Mudd & Pollard - N7 Odyssey [Claremont 56]
N7 Odyssey is one of those albums you can listen to on repeat. The stunning album, released in March last year on one of our labels of 2017, the brilliant Claremont 56, comes from old ‘studio buddies’ Kevin Pollard and Claremont founder Paul “Mudd” Murphy. Following on from previous collaborative 12” works this was their first joint album, a release they set out to make over a decade ago that has been delayed over the years due to Paul having “his hands full running the Claremont 56 and Leng labels, while Kevin carved out a successful career as a soundtrack composer for both film and television.” It was certainly worth the wait, N7 Odyssey is a dreamlike voyage that track to track will set a smile on your face.
The beautiful double gatefold LP is made up of re-mastered versions of Mudd & Pollard’s previous singles and a handful of unheard tracks. The album, recorded in North London, is “built around the duo’s own fine musicianship, with Pollard handling synths, keyboards and electric piano, and Murphy guitar, bass and percussion, the album’s ten tracks offer a musical journey through their shared love of shuffling grooves, sun-kissed soundscapes and gentle positivity.”
Bjørn Torske & Prins Thomas - Square One [Smalltown Supersound]
Bjørn Torske, one of the founders of the Norwegian electronic scene, joined forces with another Scandi heavyweight Prins Thomas for Square One. Different countries have had different takes and interpretations of house and techno since it trickled out of the US. Norway, particularly because of artists like Torske and Thomas, have a distinct style that draws on a wide range of taste from dub, krautrock, eastern folk, post-punk and space rock (to name a few). Sometimes this is generalised as nu-disco but thats a bit lazy. Square One is a testament to these Norwegians different take on our beloved house and techno.
The album itself is really nice and slow, not really ever reaching over 100 BPM. Whilst there are a few tracks that would be good for the club floor, the album is more about creating these slightly wonky soundscapes. The album moves at a leisurely pace and its a move away from what the pair may have produced back in their younger days. It's more about creating drifting music for curious moods.
Alfa Mist - Antiphon [Pink Bird Recording Co.]
London based composer, producer and keyboardist Alfa Mist has been putting out largely hip hop and neo soul EP's since 2014 featuring the likes of Tom Misch and Jordan Rakei. In 2017 however, Alfa came into his own with the release of Antiphon.
The mainly instrumental record moves away from hip hip, but instead focuses on its Jazz origins. You’re welcomed to Antiphon by the introspective, 'Keep On', where we hear the likes of Jamie Houghton absolutely kill it on the drums, in fact all the instrumentalists on this record are second to non.
During an interview with Alfa Mist, he said that the LP came out of a conversation with his brothers discussing mental health and relationships, this is apparent throughout the record as introspection is a recurring theme.
Antiphon is a brilliant piece of work - beautiful tracks made for self reflection, played by fantastic musicians. It was self released, however you can get the physical via Pink Bird Recording Co, though there’s a chance it's sold out.
Islandman - Rest In Space [Music For Dreams]
An instant highlight from last year is Islandman’s Rest In Space album. The ten colourful cuts are as heavenly as they are unpredictable. Turkish producer and multi-instrumentalist Tolga Büyük aka Islandman, started his solo project in 2010 having previously been in Istanbul's psychedelic scene as part of live-performance band, Farfara. Since going solo he has self-released an array of EP’s and albums, but following his Balearic mix of José Manuel’s ‘Babylon’, on established label Music For Dreams last year, a handful of months after he followed up on the Danish imprint with this real musical treat, a true original. Throughout the LP Tolga mixes experimental electronics with distinctly Turkish instrumentation. Rumour has it that Islandman will be releasing another album on, also one of our labels of 2017, Music For Dreams later this year - so we look forward to that!
Vtgnike - Collection [Gost Zvuk]
Last year, Moscow-based Gost Zvuk marked its tenth release with arguably their most intriguing effort thus far. Channelling a sound that falls somewhere between current hardcore continuum trends and the sounds of the classic IDM era, Vtgnike meticulously crafts a sound unique to himself and with an exquisite sonic aesthetic. The results are a collection of coherent pieces that filter the sounds of drum & bass and jungle through a prism of extended ambient vignettes, and dynamically interrelate to give a singular narrative. A stunning adventure, and the perfect after-hours soundtrack.
Erol Alkan- Reworks Volume 1 [Phantasy Sound]
Erol Alkan has never been one to restrict himself to genre. He is now a dazzlingly successful producer and DJ and founder of the label Phantasy Sound, of which Daniel Avery is also a patron. He established himself as founder of the iconic night Trash, which stormed onto the scene in 1997, and remained at the apex of London nightlife for ten years as champion of previously neglected indie-electronica-pop music. His reworks of pop, rock, indie, house and techno tracks have come to define his DJ sets, and his glitteringly slick and imaginative production is a joy to listen to. Reworks Volume 1 is the first of his collated releases of all the reworks he has produced. It is absolutely fantastic, featuring reworks of Scissor Sisters, Hot Chip, Daft Punk and Metronomy, amongst others. His sound ranges from bouncy techno to minimalist melodic, through playful, vintage electronica. Definitely one to add to your collection.
Sorcerer - Jungle Hideout [Real Balearic]
Released at the start of last year but by no means forgotten throughout the course of it was Jungle Hideout, the third album from California native Daniel Judd, aka Sorcerer. Following on from his EP released in the summer of 2016 on Ibiza & London based label Real Balearic, Sorcerer returned with a whole load more Balearic sun-soaked sounds. Jungle Hideout is an easy listening, blissful journey, from start to finish the album is wonderful.
Various Artists - Mr Bongo Record Club Ii [Mr Bongo]
An aural assortment of globe trotting grooves that seamlessly blends genres, decades, cultures and continents. It’s hard to pick a stand out track but gospel infused disco epic, ‘Awake O Zion’, feel good Nigerian groover, ‘Enjoy Your Life’, afro-funk-jazz fusion, ‘The Time Is Come’ and finally Dee Edwards, ‘Put Your Love On The Line’ are all phenomenal. In a world where we increasingly consume music by impatiently skipping across streaming platforms, it seems evermore important to revive the escapism of a well curated longer release. Despite being a compilation of varied reissue hits (some well known, others much rarer), the release has an upbeat flow and continuity held together by the common denominator of funky and soulful sounds. The 2017 compilation fully revived the essence of extended listening for me via the stunning sounds of afro-funk, latin, world disco, jazz and soul.