Sunday, 21 April 2019

Harmonia 76 ‎– Tracks & Traces (1977)

Style: Krautrock, Experimental, Ambient
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: S3, Rykodisc, Grönland Records

1.   Vamos Companeros
2.   By The Riverside
3.   Luneburg Heath
4.   Sometimes In Autumn
5.   Weird Dream
6.   Almost
7.   Les Demoiselles
8.   When Shade Was Born
9.   Trace

Electric Guitar, Keyboards, Drum Machine – Rother
Keyboards – Roedelius
Lyrics By – Eno
Synthesizer, Electric Bass, Voice – Eno
Synthesizer, Harp (Mini-Harp) – Moebius
Written-By – Eno, Harmonia

Timing is everything. When Brian Eno met the trio of Hans Joachim Roedelius, Michael Rother and Dieter Moebius in 1974, he promised he'd come to visit them at their country home in Forst, Germany where they'd been recording together as Harmonia. It took him more than two years and, by the time he called them, Harmonia had effectively broken up. Each member was working on—or had completed—a solo album. But when Eno comes calling, you tend to find space in your schedule to see what might happen.  
That was the mentality of Harmonia, at least, who collectively admired both the UK pop star's work as part of Roxy Music and his solo albums, Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) and Another Green World. But despite the numerous reels of tapes that were recorded, no music from the legendary meeting between Eno and the trio surfaced until the late '90s. And that was only after Roedelius retrieved the tapes from Eno, and fashioned a version of the sessions that approximated what might have been released at the time—had the group cared to put it out. (And, considering Harmonia's lack of commercial success, found a record company willing to do so.)  
But the late '90s version of Tracks and Traces was a flawed artifact. Michael Rother had plenty of tapes of his own. Sketches, mostly, and only on cassette tape, which was unsuitable for release until digital technology allowed him the ability to clean them up. And the tracklisting was odd. As ambient as any of their previous work, the release began with the crackling proto-industrial thump of "Vamos Campaneros." In this reissue it sits in third position, eased into place by the wandering guitar of "Welcome" and "Atmosphere"'s muffled drum machine lightly ushering us into the album.  
From there, things stay largely the same, with the notable addition of "Aubade," which sounds like space disco without the disco attached. In between, highlights remain the aforementioned "Vamos Campaneros," the unpredictable ambience of "Weird Dream," Eno's haunting vocal on "Luneburg Heath" and the Forst-specific field recording-laden "By the Riverside." Most of it is idyllic, and most of it is extraordinarily ahead of its time. But what makes Tracks and Traces so fascinating isn't its historical value. It's that the experiments conducted by Eno, Roedelius, Rother and Moebius here still sound great. Assuredly probing the reaches of their respective talents, this is the sound of four legends at their artistic peak finding new forms of expression, finally presented properly. 
Todd L. Burns / Resident Advisor

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Massive Attack ‎– Blue Lines (1991)

Style: Dub, Trip Hop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label:  Wild Bunch Records, Virgin, Circa

1.   Safe From Harm
2.   One Love
3.   Blue Lines
4.   Be Thankful For What You’ve Got
5.   Five Man Army
6.   Unfinished Sympathy
7.   Daydreaming
8.   Lately
9.   Hymn Of The Big Wheel

Twenty years on from this landmark album’s release and its makers are very much a part of the mainstream, an outfit comfortably capable of selling out the nation’s biggest venues and with enough column inches of acclaim behind them to build a (rather flimsy, granted) ladder to the Moon. But at the time, Massive Attack were purveyors of a sound so new that it didn’t have a pigeonhole to fits its form – trip hop would not be coined for another few years, and this mash-up of dub, rap, reggae and soul caught attentions like few other releases of the time. It didn’t so much hold one by the collar as set fire to their shoes. 
Blue Lines wasn’t produced without persuasion, though, and while it might shuffle to a remarkably assured beat, the then-trio of 3D, Daddy G and Mushroom needed a little coercion to get the puzzle pieces in their right places. The celebrated guilty party: one Neneh Cherry, a star on the back of 1989’s Raw Like Sushi LP, whose championing of this group of Wild Bunch sound system sorts helped seal a record deal. And once Blue Lines was delivered, Virgin set about exploiting its singular content. Hip hop unlike its stateside purveyors, soul without bedroom intent: this wasn’t quite like anything else out there. And the breakthrough would be, while hardly instant, dramatic enough to still be felt to this day. 
Unfinished Sympathy alone didn’t make Blue Lines the classic its standing in so many best-albums-ever charts confirms, but it ensured that the public en masse would give Massive Attack the chance to impress with their myriad approaches to music-making. While its peak position of 13 on the UK singles chart could be seen as something of a disappointment if released today, Unfinished Sympathy’s video clicked with the MTV crowd – Shara Nelson’s determined street-walking was immediately iconic, later referenced (read: stolen wholesale) by The Verve and parodied by Fat Les. Although it utilised samples, uncleared at the time, there was no doubting that the track signalled the arrival of a powerful pop force with unique ideas. It blew the floodgates open, and in the years that followed a thousand lesser acts aping Blue Lines’ melancholy-kissed claustrophobia, bubbling basslines and smoky vocals poured into the world’s bedsits and penthouses alike. 
Of course, focusing on just Unfinished Sympathy doesn’t tell a fraction of the story to be discovered on this album. Horace Andy’s sweet, from-dark-to-light tones on the distant-thundering dread of Five Man Army, the noticeable emotional crack in Nelson’s voice as she delivers the chorus of Safe From Harm, the slinky funk of Lately, Hymn of the Big Wheel’s urban-evensong climax: there’s a wide spectrum of delights spread across these nine tracks. And if you’ve never indulged before – the likelihood is slim, surely – make sure that you slip inside this enduring masterpiece as soon as you can. Arguably, Massive Attack have never bettered this debut – and certainly, they’ve never sounded quite this hungry and fresh since. 
Mike Diver  / BBC Review

Soul II Soul ‎– Club Classics Vol. One (1989)

Style: House, Dub, Soul, RnB/Swing, Neo Soul, Downtempo
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Virgin, 10 Records

01.    Keep On Movin'
02.   Fairplay
03.   Holdin' On (Bambelela)
04.   Feeling Free (Live Rap)
05.   African Dance
06.   Dance
07.   Feel Free
08.   Happiness (Dub)
09.   Back To Life (Accapella)
10.   Jazzie's Groove

Credits: Arranged By – Jazzie B Keyboards – Simon Law Piano – Simon Law Producer – Jazzie B, Nellee Hooper Programmed By – Nellee

Soul II Soul's pivotal debut album is 20 years young. Make anyone feel old? 1989's Club Classics Vol. 1 has firmly cemented itself in UK soul music history. With their funky anthems, unforgettable lyrics and signature beats, appreciation for the group’s unique twist on classic soul can be found from America (where Soul II Soul hit top 10) to Australia (where they still tour today). 
Chunky, ballsy single Fairplay was both Soul II Soul's first official release and the reason major label Virgin signed Jazzie B's groundbreaking group. Having already created major hype on the underground with their street party soundsystem (Notting Hill carnival still hosts the collective), Fairplay was proof that the Londoners could cut it in the mainstream. 
Twisting voluptuous female soul vocals (Caron Wheeler, Rose Windross, the late Do'Reen Waddell) with rare groove-styled dance beats gave Soul II Soul a niche that would see them win a broad array of fans worldwide. Back To Life (However Do You Want Me), their best-recognised hit, is a classic example of this musical melting pot. 
Keep On Movin' –another key anthem- was the group’s first real mainstream success (Fairplay only made it to 63 in the UK charts) and came at a time when American artists saturated the R&B scene. Founder Jazzie B made his record label more than happy as the track hit number five in the UK and number one on the US R&B chart. 
Much like Bristol's trip-hop supergroup, Massive Attack, Soul II Soul have had a huge and important effect on black British music. Like Massive Attack's Blue Lines, Club Classics Vol. 1 is one of those rare albums that make you want to listen to every single track, over and over, again and again. Something most musicians can but dream of. 
Elle j Small / BBC Review

De La Soul ‎– 3 Feet High And Rising (1989)

Genre: Hip Hop
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Liberation Records, Tommy Boy , Big Life

01.   Intro
02.   The Magic Number
03.   Change In Speak
04.   Cool Breeze On The Rocks
05.   Can U Keep A Secret
06.   Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)
07.   Ghetto Thang
08.   Transmitting Live From Mars
09.   Eye Know
10.   Take It Off
11.    A Little Bit Of Soap
12.   Tread Water
13.   Say No Go
14.   Do As De La Does
15.   Plug Tunin' (Last Chance To Comprehend)
16.   De La Orgee
17.   Buddy
18.   Description
19.   Me Myself And I
20.   This Is A Recording 4 Living In A Fulltime Era (L.I.F.E.)
21.   I Can Do Anything (Delacratic)
22.   D.A.I.S.Y. Age
23.   Plug Tunin' (Original 12" Version)
24.   Potholes In My Lawn

Co-producer – De La Soul
Producer – Prince Paul

An acknowledged classic, De La Soul's debut album now resides in something of a vacuum. A little like Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica, this is a record of such startling originality that was paradoxically to lead the band eventually down a creative dead end. The 'D.A.I.S.Y. Age' message of positivity (shared by fellow travellers like A Tribe Called Quest), was originally put forward as an answer to the increasingly violent, misogynistic world of rap. But one look around today seems to confirm that their message, while both intelligent and deftly put, fell on a lot of deaf ears. But for a brief spell, it looked like Posdnuos (Kelvin Mercer), Trugoy the Dove (David Jude Jolicoeur), and Pasemaster Mase (Vincent Mason) had shown the direction that hip hop should take. 
While the 'concept' of the gameshow around which the album hangs (with producer, Prince Paul weighing in as well) was always a little tedious, what lies in between is still sparklingly different. Paul's use of samples from sources not usually associated with the genre (Steely Dan? Hall And Oates? The album's title was taken from a JOHNNY CASH song!) may seem ordinary now (Kanye West is still trying to convince us he's being original by using 70s AOR - pah), but at the time it was groundbreaking. Ironically it was also what led to the legal minefield that such snippets provide for each new hip hop album as The Turtles sued for the use of You Showed Me on Transmitting Live From Mars. 
And what of the subject matter? Here the issues addressed are hippie philosophy (Tread Water), first love (Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)), drug abuse (Say No Go), body odour (A Little Bit Of Soap), and, amazingly for a rap record, self-doubt (Can U Keep A Secret). It was all delivered in that self-deprecating style with oodles of humour. And while the 'hippie' tag bothered the band for years, it was a palatable blend that could have taken rap beyond material gain and gang beefs. If only... 
Chris Jones / BBC Review

Friday, 19 April 2019

DIIV ‎– Is The Is Are (2016)

Style: Lo-Fi, Shoegaze, Indie Rock
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Captured Tracks, Casa del Puente Discos

01.   Out Of Mind
02.   Under The Sun
03.   Bent (Roi's Song)
04.   Dopamine
05.   Blue Boredom (Sky's Song)
06.   Valentine
07.   Yr Not Far
08.   Take Your Time
09.   Is The Is Are
10.   Mire (Grant's Song)
11.   Incarnate Devil
12.   (Fuck)
13.   Healthy Moon
14.   Loose Ends
15.   (Napa)
16.   Dust
17.   Waste Of Breath

Bass – Devin Ruben Perez
Drums – Ben Wolf, Colby Hewitt, Colin Caulfield, ZCS
Songwriter, Producer, Performer – Zachary Cole Smith
Arranged By  – Colin Caulfield
DIIV Is – Andrew Bailey, Ben Wolf, Colby Hewitt, Colin Caulfield, Devin Ruben Perez, ZCS

Tosca ‎– Opera (1997)

Style: Dub, Downtempo
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: G-Stone Recordings, Chrysalis, Studio !K7

01.   Fuck Dub Part 1+2
02.   Amalienbad
03.   Worksong
04.   Gimmi Gimmi
05.   Ladies+Gentlemen
06.   Chocolate Elvis
07.   Ambient Emely
08.   Postgirl
09.   Listen My Friend
10.   Buona Sarah

Credits: Producer, Written-By – Richard Dorfmeister, Rupert Huber

Prins Thomas ‎– Ambitions (2019)

Style: House, Downtempo, Nu-Disco
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Smalltown Supersound

1.   Foreplay
2.   XSB
3.   Feel The Love
4.   Ambitions
5.   Fra Miami Til Chicago
6.   Urmannen
7.   Sakral

Keyboards – Bugge Wesseltoft
Mastered By – Michelle Grinser
Written By, Performer, Producer – Prins Thomas

At some point over the course of five solo albums, Prins Thomas’ space-disco sound slipped into autopilot. His perky beats and basslines were pure ear candy, but on his recent solo albums—2016’s Principe del Norte, 2017’s Prins Thomas 5—the really interesting stuff happened when he powered down his drum machines and let his tracks spiral out into synth-soaked minimalism. On Ambitions, the Norwegian producer born Thomas Moen Hermansen ducks back inside his groove-fueled wheelhouse, but this time he seems to be reveling in it. 
Some of that freshness may stem from the fact that Ambitions’ tracks weren’t originally intended as pieces of an album; they’re based on stray ideas sketched out on his laptop, or even hummed directly into a handheld recorder, while traveling and gigging around the world, and then fleshed out in Hermansen’s’ studio in Asker, an Oslo suburb. That shotgun genesis might help account for the range of the album, which takes in woozy soul, polyrhythmic drum studies, slow-motion dream techno, and even a couple of songs that might be mistaken for Moon Safari outtakes. 
The mood is cohesive throughout, but Prins Thomas never sounds like he’s repeating himself. Each song is a unique piece of the puzzle. If there’s a unifying theme, it’s warmth: sunny, wistful, as suggestive of spring. The chirping birds of opener “Foreplay” make way for the laid-back disco of “XSB,” which is whipped as frothy as a sugary meringue. Toward the end, melancholy strings rise in the mix, triggering memories of Massive Attack.

For fans of Prins Thomas at his headiest, two long songs at the center of the album should do the trick: The dazzlingly polyrhythmic “Ambitions” morphs, over 12 minutes, from 6/8 drum circle to a four-to-the-floor funk stomp. (In a note accompanying the album, along with shout-outs to Haruomi Hosono, Daniel Lanois, Shinichi Atobe, and Ricardo Villalobos, Hermansen thanks the late Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, and Liebezeit’s example rings loud and clear.) Where “Ambitions” is knotty, “Fra Miami til Chicago,” is smooth and pleasingly predictable, teasing out a chiming guitar melody over a clean 4/4 beat and rosy bass synth; it’s the closest the album comes to the blissful soundscaping of his last album, and it’s enough to make you wish he’d dedicate an entire album to this style. 
But the album’s penultimate and most far-reaching song, “Urmannen,” offers the best of both worlds: It’s a progged-out disco bubbler with all the nuance of Talk Talk in their blacked-out studio, delicate tendrils of sound disappearing into the loamy darkness. It’s the rare occasion that Hermansen’s ambient interests align so neatly with his disco instincts—a small step, perhaps, toward a new era in his exploration. 
Philip Sherburne / Pitchfork

Mongo Santamaria ‎– Afro Roots (1989)

Style: Afro-Cuban
Format: CD
Label: Prestige

01.   Afro Blue
02.   Che-Que-Re-Que-Che-Que
03.   Rezo
04.   Ayenye
05.   Onyae
06.   Bata
07.   Meta Rumba
08.   Chano Pozo
09.   Los Conguitos
10.   Monte Adentro
11.   Imaribayo
12.   Mazacote
13.   Yeye
14.   Congobel
15.   Macunsere
16.   Timbales Y Bongo
17.   Yambu
18.   Bricamo
19.   Longoito
20.   Conga Pa Gozar
21.   Columbia

A CD reissue of a mid-'70s repackaging of Mongo Santamaria's first two Fantasy albums, 1958's Yambu and 1959's Mongo, Afro-Roots is superb Latin jazz. Although these were Santamaria's first albums as a leader, the conga player had already worked with Pérez Prado, Tito Puente, and Cal Tjader, giving him absolutely impeccable Latin jazz credentials to go along with his obviously amazing chops. Considering that these albums were recorded for a general jazz audience and the tight, concise arrangements don't allow Santamaria room to stretch out as he did in concert (most of the songs are in the two- to three-minute range), Afro-Roots is still an impressively genuine album; although the '50s were the age of Martin Denny-style exotica kitsch, most of these tracks are extremely traditional Cuban music. Some, like "Bata" and "Timbales y Bongo," are simply hypnotic solos on the titular instruments, while others are traditional Afro-Cuban folk songs and chants. The delightful original "Afro Blue," which quickly became a Latin jazz standard, almost sounds out of place in this setting. 
Stewart Mason / AllMusic

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Max Richter ‎– Memoryhouse (2002)

Style: Modern Classical, Minimal
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: BBC, FatCat Records, Late Junction

01.   Europe, After The Rain
02.   Maria, The Poet (1913)
03.   Laika's Journey
04.   The Twins (Prague)
05.   Sarajevo
06.   Andras
07.   Untitled (Figures)
08.   Sketchbook
09.   November
10.   Jan's Notebook
11.   Arbenita (11 Years)
12.   Garden (1973) / Interior
13.   Landscape With Figure (1922)
14.   Fragment
15.   Lines On A Page (One Hundred Violins)
16.   Embers
17.   Last Days
18.   Quartet Fragment (1908)

Conductor – Rumon Gamba
Orchestra – BBC Philharmonic
Written-By, Producer – Max Richter

Max Richter’s debut album Memoryhouse was originally recorded with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in 2002 for the BBC’s Late Junction classical music label. A masterpiece in neoclassical composition, the album has languished in out-of-print obscurity since the dissolution of Late Junction as a label. Indeed, inquisitive listeners might now know Richter better for his earlier collaborations with electronic pioneers The Future Sound of London and Roni Size, as well as his elegiac score to Ari Folman’s 2008 animated documentary Waltz with Bashir. 
But Fat Cat Records has plucked Memoryhouse from the doldrums to introduce a new audience to Richter’s first major solo work, and give old fans an excuse to fall under its spell all over again. And what an intoxicating spell it is. A 65-minute journey through the beauty and tragedy of 20th century Europe, Memoryhouse is like an immaculately observed postcard journal, albeit one informed more by imagination than documentary accuracy. 
Opening track Europe, After the Rain sets the template for the album’s elegant aesthetic, with a breathy whisper and a crooning violin melody. The track’s central refrain is repeated throughout the album, whether to the toy box electronica of Untitled (Figures) or the baroque harpsichord of Garden (1973)/Interior. The repetition of musical themes set to diverse soundscapes helps to shape the album’s feel as a repository of scattered memories, like a muddled stack of old photographs.    
And this vagueness proves to be Memoryhouse’s greatest asset. Whilst some tracks have clearly identifiable reference points, most are left pleasingly open, allowing the listener to fill in the blanks. The thumping, apocalyptic bombast of Last Days might conjure up the sight of WW2 tanks rolling across the French countryside; Sarajevo’s swirling strings might send listeners sprinting down the backstreets of a war-torn city.       
Despite the album’s grounding in orchestral music, there’s much for the modern music fan to love here. Richter’s epic, cinematic exploration of sound has echoes in post-rock’s more restrained moments (Mono and Sigur Rós are good touchstones), and even in Beirut’s Eurocentric indie folk. 
This collection of evocative vignettes demonstrates why many filmmakers would happily donate a limb to have Richter scoring their movie, but the happy fact is that Memoryhouse will play infinitely better to the stories in your head. 
Chris Lo / BBC Review

The Ballistic Brothers ‎– London Hooligan Soul (1995)

Style: Trip Hop, Acid Jazz, Downtempo
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Junior Boy's Own

01.   Portobello Cafe
02.   Come On
03.   Soho Cab Ride
04.   I'll Fly Away
05.   Jah Jah Call You
06.   Mark's Lude
07.   I Don't Know
08.   Sister Song
09.   A Beautiful Space
10.   Steppin' Into Eden
11.   Peckings
12.   Uschi's Lament

Co-producer, Engineer – Grand Master Daddy Marc
Producer, Arranged By – Ballistic Brothers
Strings, Programmed By – Uschi Classen
Written-By – Ashley Beedle, Dave Hill, Diesel, Marc Woolford, Rocky, Uschi Classen