Monday, 11 February 2019

Jonah Sharp / Bill Laswell ‎– Visitation (1994)

Style: Dub, Techno, Ambient
Format: CD
Label:  Subharmonic

Tracklist:
1.   Zurvan Akarana
2.   Aion

Credits:
Bill Laswell - Bass, Composer, Producer, Synthesizer
Jonah Sharp - Composer, Producer, Synthesizer



The manipulation of spirit through music is both a subject of historical fact and ongoing development. Traditional instruments have served spiritual purposes very well over the millennia, especially where rhythm is concerned. Where drums, rattles, and sistrae have served in the past, electronic instruments serve in the present and look to provide service in the future -- especially those that can easily produce a shift in sonic identity (samplers are good for this, but synthesizers, ever more complex, can take a bare mathematical notion and produce something formerly unknown from it.) Jonah Sharp and Bill Laswell, working in tandem, have produced a pair of ambient slabs built on a mixture of rhythmic anchor and rhythmic shift, in which bass underlies skittish, swirling synthesizer layers with a pulsing thread that almost helps to focus the electronics, before fading slowly away. What comes between the anchors is a sound of space and spirit -- while the synthesizers crisscross and swirl in their own pulsing rhythms, the sound is only truly rooted when the bass breathes in -- this, at least, is "Zurvan Akra." "Aion" is more subtle in its rhythmic interplay, though it is there, woven into the deep space fabric of things. Sharp and Laswell spend their time riding the cycles in the heart of the piece, producing something that, on the whole, might be seen as quite a piece for planetariums -- or Halloween spook shows. Even with the cycles and rhythms, it's very easy to let go and just drift, floating from one end to the other even through the deep bass passages. True space music.
Steven McDonald / AllMusic

PlanningToRock ‎– Have It All (2006)

Style: Electro, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Chicks On Speed Records

Tracklist:
01.   The PTR Show
02.   Bolton Wanderer
03.   Changes
04.   Local Foreigner
05.   Hiding Where I'll Find Me
06.   Take It Away
07.   Don't Want What You Don't Want
08.   Never Going Back
09.   I Wanna Bite Ya
10.   Think That Thought
11.   Have It All
12.   When Are You Gonna Start

Credits:
Mastered By – Lupo
Mixed By – Cornelius Rapp, PTR
Music By, Lyrics By, Performer, Producer – PlanningToRock

Some musicians are famous for departing their homeland (Scott Walker, for instance), while others don't find themselves until they leave. Janine Rostron, aka Planningtorock, is among the latter. Rostron left England for Berlin and ran into Peaches, Kevin Blechdom, Jamie Lidell, and Chicks On Speed along the way. While Planning... doesn't sound much like her fellow expats, she does share their flair for the theatrical-- she performs live in Elizabethan costumes and masks-- which is fitting considering her video work predated her music. 
Part travelogue, part self-help manual, Rostron's debut album details the transformational powers of getting the fuck out of town (in her case Bolton, England), and using the self-imposed alienation to examine personal truths and discover survival skills. "Bolton Wander" is a straightforward narrative of her move and the reasoning behind it. "Local Foreigner" moves on its belly, with eerie percussive vocal stabs and tambourines slithering in and out and Berlin's empty buildings echoing in the song's hollow corners. 
If half of Have It All is about leaving home, the other is about never going back. The sprightly "Changes" explains her metamorphosis. Here her lower vocals are backed by a higher, ghostlier version of the same, as if her different stages are duking it out for supremacy. Eventually the more confident Berliner wins out. On album centerpiece "I Wanna Bite Ya" Rostron flips "I hate your guts" on its head : "What happens if/ I start on your little finger/ What happens if/ I'm halfway up your elbow." This is Rostron's central strength: Her ability to collapse the distinction between threat and enticement, and make you forget that there ever was a distinction in the first place. It's violence rendered playful with a flirty xylophone trill, and sex stripped of any innocence by a guttural growl.

Despite her location and label, Rostron doesn't make dance music. Planningtorock also separates herself from her label mates by keeping her vocals pure, expressive, and soulful; she eschews electro's lifeless monotones and IDM's synth manipulations. The title track has the album's only true beat and bass lines. Most of tracks on Have It All stay away from bass-heavy dance beats, but her songs are more flexible without that backbone. Rostron's Janis Joplin-like runs are able to cover the distance between melody and primal scream, leaving her free to exploit her entire expressive range. 
Have It All* is only one part of a three-part system (along with her costuming/performance and her videos). After all, the album's first track, "The PTR Show" welcomes you to her show, not her album. But Have It All is unique on its own, and sounds like nothing else that's come out this year. The Knife's Silent Shout could be a reference point (and Rostron has remixed a song for them) but their otherworldliness and theatrics alienate the listener. Rostron invites us to become a part of her alienation, and injects the experience with a sense of humor. It repulses as it beckons; the more you ignore her, the closer she gets.
Jessica Suarez / Pitchfork

PlanningToRock ‎– W (2011)

Style: Electro, Synth-pop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: DFA

Tracklist:
1.01.   Doorway
1.02.   The One
1.03.   Manifesto
1.04.   Going Wrong
1.05.   I'm Yr Man
1.06.   The Breaks
1.07.   Living It Out
1.08.   Milky Blau
1.09.   Jam
1.10.   Black Thumber
1.11.   Janine
1.12.   #9
2.01.   Doorway (Jamroll Version)
2.02.   Privates
2.03.   My Valuable Hunting Knife
2.04.   Summer Save Me

Credits:
Percussion – Hjorleifur Jonsson
Mixed By – Christoffer Berg, PlanningToRock
Performer, Producer – PlanningToRock
Written-By, Lyrics By – PlanningToRock

Those arriving at Doorway – the opening track of W, Planningtorock’s second album – with no prior knowledge of its architect might be rather shocked to discover that the growled, baroque malevolence on display actually comes courtesy of a woman who spent her youth growing up in Bolton. Janine Rostron seems to revel in such confusion, playing with roles of identity in a provocative fashion, defying notions of conventional sexuality to such a degree that one song is entitled I Am Your Man. Even the video for Doorway features her with a mask that succeeds in making her look like Mr Spock’s glamorous sister. 
But though it’s frequently disconcerting, W is also thoroughly engrossing, creating an alternative musical universe in much the same way as The Knife, the Swedish act with whom she collaborated on 2010’s opera Tomorrow, In a Year. Evidently at home in the studio, Rostron imagines a darkly melodramatic world of shadows and sleek metallic edges, her electronic setting industrial and semi-gothic in a similar fashion to current critical faves EMA and Zola Jesus. Unlike them, however, Rostron refuses to ham it up, using technology to stretch her voice into unrecognisable shapes that hold an audience at a distance and render her almost robotic, as much a part of the artificial environment as the machines she employs. 
So when her slowed-down vocal on The Breaks delivers lines like "Don’t be surprised, I’m ripping out my eyes… We break too easily", it’s the replicants of Blade Runner that come to mind. This is underlined by arrangements that recall the lush orchestration of Vangelis’ soundtrack to Ridley Scott’s legendary film, with pizzicato strings and saxophone nestled amidst the brooding soundscapes of Going Wrong and Milky Blau, and Black Thumber conjuring up images of epic stargazing. 
There’s plenty of other unsettling trickery going on: Jam is a woozy experiment in key-shifting synths, metallic percussion and nightmarish vocals, Janine a minimalist cover of an old Arthur Russell tune rendered with little more than a rumbling bass synth and another decelerated vocal take. But Living It Out is a playful pop tune in debt to Giorgio Moroder, while Manifesto could be a 21st century take on Bow Wow Wow. James Murphy’s (of LCD Soundsystem) decision to sign this shape-shifting creature to DFA Records makes perfect sense given her blend of art, electronics and mischievous humour, and while it’s an undeniably alien world Rostron inhabits, it’s an altogether convincing one.
Wyndham Wallace / BBC Review

PlanningToRock ‎– All Love's Legal (2014)

Style: Abstract, House, Ambient
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Human Level

Tracklist
01.   Welcome
02.   All Love's Legal
03.   Human Drama
04.   Answer Land
05.   Let's Talk About Gender Baby
06.   Words Are Glass
07.   Misogyny Drop Dead
08.   Steps
09.   Beyond Binary Binds
10.   Public Love
11.   Purple Love
12.   Patriarchy Over & Outico

Planningtorock's message of gender equality and sexual freedom on All Love's Legal seems simplistic and dated at first. But in 2014, the simplest messages are often the most urgent ones. Western media coverage of the Sochi Oympics has brought attention to Russian anti-gay violence and legislation. But we're also sharing a planet with at least five countries where even vaguely defined homosexual behavior is worthy of the death penalty. Jam Rostron, the multimedia artist behind Planningtorock, sings "You can't illegalize love" on the title track on All Love's Legal. That slogan could fit on a t-shirt, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Nuance isn't translating so well today. 
Rostron's musical work, a kind of art-house house, has always been a smart platform for direct intentions. Her debut album Have It All laid down the small set of tools—violin, keyboards, drum machine, heavily processed vocals—that she would also use on her followup W. Setting aside Rostron's collaboration with the Knife, Tomorrow, in a Year, she's only gotten better at the balance. On All Love's Legal she refines further, adding or subtracting beats and strings until finding the right tension between her unambiguous gender politics and her unknowable voice. 
Despite the sparse instrumentation and arrangement, Rostron's songs evoke huge, cavernous spaces. By manipulating the attack and echo on her strings and synths, she creates the clouds of theatrical fog that cling to the melody on "Human Drama". You can hear the empty stage surrounding her. The bass and drums songs, like "Misogyny Drop Dead" and "All Love's Legal", drift out of sync, tugging at each other and galloping separately. Even the most straightforward dance track, the irresistibly in-sync "Let’s Talk About Gender Baby", feels off, but in a good way. Rostron repeats the titular phrase over her usual brooding bass line, but she extends the syllables a little too long, slurring her words on either the world's most self-aware dancefloor or your college's drunkest women's studies discussion section.
Jessica Suarez / Pitchfork

Paul Simon ‎– Graceland - 25th Anniversary Edition (1986)

Genre: Rock, Folk, World, Country
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label:  Legacy, Sony Music

Tracklist:
Graceland
01.   The Boy In The Bubble
02.   Graceland
03.   I Know What I Know
04.   Gumboots
05.   Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes
06.   You Can Call Me Al
07.   Under African Skies
08.   Homeless
09.   Crazy Love, Vol. II
10.   That Was Your Mother
11.   All Around The World Or The Myth Of Fingerprints
Bonus Tracks
12.   Homeless (Demo)
13.   Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes (Alternate Version)
14.   All Around The World Or The Myth Of Fingerprints (Early Version)
15.   You Can Call Me Al (Demo)
16.   Crazy Love (Demo)
17.   The Story Of "Graceland" - As Told By Paul Simon (Previously Unreleased)

Credits:
Producer – Paul Simon
Remastered By – Greg Calbi
Written-By – Paul Simon

Today it’s hard to remember the controversy surrounding this classic album on its original release in 1986.  Equally, it’s hard to credit just how low Paul Simon stood in the musical hierarchy back then. His work up to the mid-80s had not caught the public imagination; his glory days distant memories. Then came that trip to South Africa… 
The impact of Graceland on its release has been rarely equalled in rock’n’roll – arguably only Elvis’ 68 Comeback Special packed the same punch. Has there ever been a better opening brace than The Boy in the Bubble and Graceland? Is there not something wholly irresistible about You Can Call Me Al? Has Simon ever matched the poignancy of Homeless? Or the sheer exuberance of Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes? 
Graceland gave Simon a third bite of the cherry, following the Simon & Garfunkel years and a glittering 70s solo career. It may well stand as the pinnacle of his remarkable half-century career. Simon recently admitted that he felt that the album’s title-track was the best song he’d ever written. 
With the furore surrounding the recording of Graceland, the sheer quality of this groundbreaking record is too often overlooked. And just to qualify: Simon may have been naive and arrogant, but he did not break the cultural boycott when he went to record in apartheid South Africa. 
What he did was embrace the music of that troubled nation and put it on a world stage. Marrying the ebullience of township jive to his own innate pop sensibilities, Simon fashioned a record which was truly, blindingly original, and – listening to it a quarter of a century on – modern and timeless.
In truth, the audio disc of this anniversary edition disappoints, primarily because Paul Simon is a notoriously painstaking writer; what inspires him ends up on the finished album. So extras here extend to five demos of Graceland titles – three of which were available on the album’s 2004 reissue (You Can Call Me Al and Crazy Love are new, but instrumental) as is Simon narrating The Story of Graceland. Also included is the engrossing documentary Under African Skies, which follows him back to a liberated South Africa. 
Forget the boycotts and controversy, and marvel once again at the magic that Simon conjured up on Graceland.
Patrick Humphries / BBC Review

VA – Fuck Your Dreams, This Is Heaven (1986)

Style: Art Rock, Avantgarde, Soundtrack
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Crammed Discs, Music-Box

Tracklist:
1.   Minimal Compact - Still I'm Sad
2.   Niki Mono & Nikolas Klau - Flaming
3.   Peter Principle - No Man's Land
4.   Niki Mono & Minimal Compact - Marathon
5.   Minimal Compact - Late Nightt
6.   Nikolas Klau, Steven Brown, Peter Principle - Venus In Furs
7.   Niki Mono & Berry Sakharof - Dancing arefoot
8.   Steven Brown - Coming Back To Me
9.   Bruce Geduldig & Peter Principle - Ocean

Credits:
Concept By, Coordinator – Patrick De Geetere
Recorded By – Andy Robbins, Frankie Lievaart, Patrick De Geetere, Uri Barak

A rather strange idea, this original soundtrack has members of Minimal Compact and Tuxedomoon and vocalist Niki Mono diving into material by various disparate 1960s rock icons, with three tracks by Syd Barrett or Pink Floyd, a pair of Velvet Underground tunes, and a song each by the Yardbirds and Jefferson Airplane, as well as a Patti Smith piece and an original to round off the LP. The psychedelic '60s music gets transformed into chamber rock pieces, with somewhat subdued but lush piano and violins, stiff, clunky rhythms, and oozing with the peculiar Euro-decadence tendencies that both Minimal Compact and Tuxedomoon gravitate toward. Since the Velvet Underground pieces were already quite saturated in decadence, the transformation is not quite as radical as the slow and ponderous rendition of Jefferson Airplane's "Coming Back to Me" or the Yardbirds' "Still I'm Sad," with its chorus of deathly vocals. At times this gang almost trips over its own pretentiousness, but then a goofy sense of humor sneaks in on Pink Floyd's "Flaming." Whereas some groups, say the Grateful Dead, will suck the life out of a cover version and leave it at that, the musicians on Fuck Your Dreams suck the life out of these songs to turn them into strange and beautiful corpses. This may not be the best material by either Tuxedomoon or Minimal Compact, but it's certainly quite fascinating just the same.
Rolf Semprebon / AllMusic

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Steve Reich ‎– Sextet · Six Marimbas (1986)

Style: Contemporary, Post-Modern
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Nonesuch, BMG Direct Marketing

Sextet
1.   1st Movement
2.   2nd Movement
3.   3rd Movement
4.   4th Movement
5.   5th Movement
Six Marimbas
6.   Six Marimbas

Credits:
Composed By – Steve Reich
Engineer – Paul Goodman
Executive-Producer – Robert Hurwitz
Mixed By – Paul Goodman, Steve Reich, Tom Lazarus
Producer – Steve Reich

Although Reich's music during the '80s, as he gained in popularity, was increasingly written for larger, lusher ensembles (with, oftentimes, the concomitant loss of "edge"), he occasionally and happily reverted to more contained compositions such as those included here. "Sextet" is pared down to four percussionists and two keyboardists (the latter including synthesizers) and evokes early pieces of Reich's Drumming while incorporating his ongoing use of longer melodic lines. In five sections, it tends toward a buoyant and jazzy bubbliness, percolating with all manner of busy interaction and wonderfully intermeshed rhythms. One of the new techniques employed is having the vibraphonists bow their instruments, generating long, ghostly tones reminiscent of musical saws but cleaner and more precise. Since this cannot be done quickly, Reich writes patterns that interweave between performers, achieving a kind of hocketing effect where, by playing only every third or fourth note in a rhythmic line, the ensemble can produce what the listener perceives as a fast tempo even as each individual is playing slowly. The closing section is pure effervescent bliss. "Six Marimbas," scored for, unsurprisingly, six marimbas, sounds even closer to the pieces that originally brought Reich to renown and is, in fact, a rescoring of his "Six Pianos" from 1973. The pure, luscious tones of the marimbas make it even more successful than the original and the work is played with obvious delight and rigor by the percussion ensemble Nexus, who includes several members of Reich's working band of the early '70s. In sum, Sextet/Six Marimbas is one of the finest releases of mid-career Reich, entirely without the pretensions that marred some of his other work from the period, and is highly recommended.
Brian Olewnick / AllMusic

Sonic Youth ‎– EVOL (1986)

Style: Alternative Rock, Avantgarde, Indie Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Blast First, SST Records, Geffen Records

Tracklist:
1.   Tom Violence
2.   Shadow Of A Doubt
3.   Star Power
4.   In The Kingdom # 19
5.   Green Light
6.   Death To Our Friends
7.   Secret Girl
8.   Marilyn Moore
9.   Expressway To Yr. Skull

Credits: Drums – Steve Shelley Guitar, Vocals – Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, Thurston Moore
Engineer – Martin Bisi Producer – Martin Bisi, Sonic Youth

EVOL is, in my mind at least, the high point of Sonic Youth’s career. The opening chords of “Tom Violence” chime in in an odd, twisted manner, and as you allow Thurston Moore’s dragging vocals to take effect, you really feel the full force of what this album is about – it creates atmosphere in abundance, and allows Sonic Youth’s left field song writing style to set in without feeling out of place – a breakthrough for the band. Whilst albums such as “Confusion is Sex” and “Bad Moon Rising” certainly have their merits and are not the worthless relics of the band’s past that some writers would have you believe, it is truly with EVOL that Sonic Youth took a massive step into the history books, and it is unlikely that they will ever look back. 
Kim Gordon, who can often be heard offering banshee like shrieks on various tracks in the bands catalogue contributes one of her best efforts on “Shadow of a Doubt”, a suitable follow up to “Tom Violence”, and one that reinforces the album’s dream-like soundscape, her soft whispering vocals being backed by an instrumental track that flips from the ritualistic chord progression of the first track to the subtle, sugar coated guitar line that render Kim’s whispers more likeable than chilling or alienating. The following track, sole single “Star Power” was not an immediate stand out, but soon enough the frantic, rapid fire sweeps of guitar will get stuck in your head – Sonic Youth doing what they do best and providing an instrumental hook that is equally as catchy  Kim’s casual vocal delivery. Lee Ranaldo offers one of his distinctive tracks with the spoken word piece “In The Kingdom #19”, showcasing the band’s more art influenced roots, and generally adding to the overall impact of the album whilst being a strong track in itself. What’s noticeable about the album as a whole is that, unlike on follow ups “Sister and “Daydream Nation” (which both follow the general formula of this album to a degree), the instrumental passages and guitar feedback never disrupt the flow of the album – not to say that those two albums aren’t stellar in their own right, but on this album one feels Sonic Youth harnessed these exercises most effectively into the album’s overall vision. 
Even the “less than amazing” tracks here – midway duo “Green Light” and “Death to Our Friends” contribute to the album as a whole – although they may lack obvious killer hooks, melody, atmosphere or downright crazy moments (think of the anguished scream on “Marilyn Monroe”), they do not disrupt the flow of the album or beg you to skip over them, and in a way the extended feedback noise sections found on the likes of “Green Light” show how the band has recognised, in the most obvious way, how these exercises are better served as supplements to the whole rather than the whole itself. 
“Secret Girl”, with its lone piano and sombre vocal line, starts an incredible run through to the end of album, whether or not your copy has the cover track “Bubblegum” at the end. “Marilyn Monroe” is host to the kind of chiming, auspicious sounds that for some reason seem to interest me to no end, its cinematic style and characteristic sound playing perfectly into the hands of stunning album “closer” “Expressway to Yr Skull”, a sprawling, hooky song that perfectly sums up the sound and tone of the album.
The EDGE

Anita Baker ‎– Rapture (1986)

Genre: Jazz, Funk / Soul
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Elektra, WEA, Warner Bros. Records


Tracklist:
1.   Sweet Love
2.   You Bring Me Joy
3.   Caught Up In The Rapture
4.   Been So Long
5.   Mystery
6.   No One In The World
7.   Same Ole Love
8.   Watch Your Step

Credits:
Bass – David B. Washington, Freddy "Ready Freddie" Washington
Drums – Arthur Marbury III, Ricky Lawson
Guitar – Donald Griffin, Gregg Moore, Michael J. Powell
Keyboards – Anita Baker, Sir Gant, Vernon Fails
Percussion – Lawrence Fratangelo, Lorenzo Brown, Paulinho da Costa
Saxophone – Don Myrick, Donald Albright
Executive-Producer – Anita Baker
Producer – Gary Skardina, Marti Sharron, Michael J. Powell

Luther Vandross aside, soul music was at something of a crossroads by the mid-80s. Aretha Franklin had been listing since the advent of disco; Whitney Houston had set about her all-conquering pop dance career; and the machine-driven productions of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were becoming formulaic. However, Rapture, made by 29-year-old former Chapter 8 vocalist Anita Baker, reasserted the case for the genre. 
Baker’s first solo album, 1983’s The Songstress – a lush collection of quiet-storm soul – was appreciated by the aficionados, but ignored by the mainstream. By the time she signed to Elektra in 1985, she had been working as a secretary after her old label folded. Together with old Chapter 8 producer Michael J Powell, Baker corralled the best songs and session players to create an expensive-sounding album of – as it was described at the time – “fireside love songs with a little edge”. Baker had wanted to make a jazz album, Powell a soul one, and the creative tension led to a successful compromise. 
Baker’s voice rings like a bell. Her gospel past shines through on Been So Long and You Bring Me Joy. The re-working of The Manhattan Transfer's Mystery is remarkably assured.  It is, however, for three tracks on this album that she will always be remembered: Sweet Love, Caught Up in the Rapture and Same Ole Love. The lyrics, which could border on the trite in another artist's hands, are invested with so much passion and wonderment that they are like updates of old love sonnets.  
Rapture was much-loved when it was released and made Baker the doyen of sophisticated soul. It united highbrow (Rolling Stone and even leftfield UK magazine The Wire loved it) and the popular. It chimed especially with the American public, resting high in the albums chart; and the US industry, winning two Grammys. 
Baker went on to have a long-lasting, multiple-platinum US career. However, nothing since has quite hit the spot as this. Rapture survived being hijacked by the dinner party crowd and over-familiarity. Had it been recorded in the 60s, it would be as revered as Aretha Franklin’s Muscle Shoals recordings or Dusty in Memphis.
Daryl Waeslea / BBC Review

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Leon Vynehall ‎– Nothing Is Still (2018)

Style: Ambient, Downtempo, Deep House
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Ninja Tune

Tracklists:
01.   From The Sea/It Looms (Chapters I & II)
02.   Movements (Chapter III)
03.   Birds On The Tarmac (Footnote III)
04.   Julia (Footnote IV)
05.   Drinking It In Again (Chapter IV)
06.   Trouble - Parts I, II, & III (Chapter V)
07.   Envelopes (Chapter VI)
08.   English Oak (Chapter VII)
09.   Ice Cream (Chapter VIII)
10.   It Breaks (Chapter IX)

Credits:
Cello – Amy Langley, Jessica Cox
Flute – Finn Peters
Piano – Sam Beste
Saxophone – Finn Peters
Strings – The Dirty Pretty Strings
Written-By – Leon Vynehall, Ralph Vaughan Williams
Arranged By -  Amy Langley
Recorded By, Engineer, Producer – Leon Vynehall

Every time Leon Vynehall releases new music, you’re guaranteed a fundamental level of coherence. The British producer is a quiet, cerebral guy, and his long-form statements communicate rich themes and a solid sense of structure even though they’re largely wordless. His 2014 breakthrough, Music for the Uninvited, explored house music’s queer history and Vynehall’s own childhood memories, like his mom’s handmade mixtapes and N64 games. Sultry follow-up Rojus, from 2016, used ornithological samples to trace the arc of a single night out dancing. 
On Nothing Is Still, his first studio album for venerable UK label Ninja Tune, Vynehall mines a piece of family lore: his grandparents’ emigration from England to New York City more than 50 years ago. But instead of using the story to frame another collection of jazzy, humid club cuts, Vynehall changes course. More deliberate and expansive than any of his other releases, the album moves beyond the dancefloor by incorporating traces of ambient and modern classical music. 
Nothing Is Still isn’t a radical reinvention—it relies on the same sumptuous palette Music for the Uninvited and Rojus used—but it does deconstruct Vynehall’s established sound. The parts that make up lengthy bangers from earlier in his career, like “It’s Just (House of Dupree)” and “Blush,” are distributed across multiple songs, forcing you to focus on individual elements: the breathy sax drifting through “Movements (Chapter III),” the lusty grunts peppering the woozy “Drinking It in Again (Chapter IV),” the disorienting throb of “English Oak (Chapter VII).” Although it’s less engaging on a track-to-track basis, this approach yields an album that works through a much wider spectrum of emotions. Rojus was supposed to soundtrack an evening from start to finish, but it ended up hanging in place like a thick fog; Nothing Is Still swells and recedes. At its most intense—like the menacing second half of centerpiece “Trouble - Parts I, II, & III (Chapter V)”—the record can hit you like a punch to the back of the head.

That trade-off between moment-to-moment scintillation and holistic satisfaction is the crux of Nothing Is Still. It’s designed to reward a degree of investment that goes beyond the passive listening experiences that define the streaming era. Vynehall described Rojus as “functional club music,” a phrase that gets at that record’s strengths: Each of its tracks can be isolated and embedded within a marathon DJ set. It’s hard to come up with a similar phrase that cuts to the core of Nothing Is Still—a “multimedia narrative experience,” maybe. (The album is being released alongside a series of short films and a novella co-written by Vynehall.) That’s a much less evocative set of descriptors, and its hollowness reflects this album’s higher degree of conceptual complexity. 
The implicit connections between Vynehall’s compositions and his grandparents’ move to America are what make Nothing Is Still sparkle. The graceful, swelling strings of opener “From the Sea/It Looms (Chapters I & II)” suggest the ebb and flow of a transatlantic voyage. Interludes “Birds on the Tarmac (Footnote III)” and “Julia (Footnote IV)” evoke the sonic clutter of a Manhattan morning—doors opening and closing, cash registers ringing, scraps of conversation—with layered, repeating passages reminiscent of Steve Reich. And after subjecting listeners to the anxious, noisy climaxes of “Trouble” and “English Oak,” Vynehall doles out a treat: the stunning “Ice Cream (Chapter VIII),” which starts as a play on the Field’s looping reveries and ends with birdsong layered over crashing waves of sound. The track feels like walking from the park down to the shore with a soft-serve cone, letting yourself be soothed by the rhythm of the tides. 
I spent much of my time with Nothing Is Still thinking about a recent sonic statement of purpose by Vynehall’s contemporary, Sam Shepherd, another young British producer who imagined himself moving beyond the club sphere. 2015’s Elaenia, the first full album Shepherd released as Floating Points, found him making a sharp left turn from the house and techno of his early EPs into tranquil ambient jazz and piano impressionism. It felt like a slab of music meant to be digested as a whole; it wielded silence and texture instead of groove and melody. 
Shepherd and Vynehall seem too progressive to believe that an association with dance music has somehow limited their prestige, but it’s also easy to imagine either of these bright, ambitious, insatiably curious artists wanting to do more than making people move. Like Elaenia, Nothing Is Still invites the listener recalibrate their expectations of the artist behind it. Vynehall is more than a producer with a great ear for texture and a nostalgic streak—he’s a storyteller, one who demands and merits our full attention.
Jamieson Cox / Pitchfork