Murderous presidential candidates, post-apocalyptic cities and a healthy portion of Porridge Radio – all this and more as we run through the best EPs released in the first month of 2016…
1115 – The Drowned World
Taking its name from the J.G. Ballard book of the same name, The Drowned World is the debut release from 1115, a German duo who go by the names Grey and Fehler Kuti. Shamefully I haven’t read Ballard’s highly regarded post-apocalyptic novel, but in terms of evoking its central setting – a tropical, semi-submerged London in the 22nd century – it seems like it would make a more than successful soundtrack to it.
The first piece, a hazy, two-minute chill-out number that could almost be a remix of Rephlex’s ’90s lounge act The Gentle People, makes for an unexpectedly soothing start. It doesn’t last. While things never get noisy exactly, the trebly, metallic beats that pepper the rest of the record add a creeping intensity, especially when offset against a series of manipulated vocal samples that often sound like the twisted cries of tropical birds.
The Drowned World successfully gives off a sense of humidity appropriate to the subject matter. The rapid-fire tribalism of Clap! Clap! and the hypnotic repetition of Andy Stott can be heard at times, but 1115 manage to use their technology to take us to somewhere that feels not just modern, but oddly distant as well. It’ll be interested to hear what they have in store for their debut album, currently being recorded with Cico Beck and Markus Acher, but we’ll have to wait until 2017 to hear it. Which gives us plenty of time to finally read Ballard’s bloody book…
Brad Carter – Field Hand
As soon as I heard the first twanging notes of Georgia native Brad Carter, I thought of my old friend and banjo enthusiast Daniel Farrell, and asked him what he thought. Here are his immediate responses to the six tracks that make up Carter’s debut EP, Field Hand:
1 – What the fuck happens halfway through? I quite like it.
2 – Lyrically fun, bit boring.
3 – Fiddle, stamping and ill-thought-through marriage plans. What’s not to like?
4 – This is great. I’ve never considered an affair but all that brooding banjo makes it hard to resist.
5 – Is this an attempt at the theme for James Bond’s midlife crisis? If so he’s nailed it. Whether that’s a good thing is debatable.
6 – Seriously questionable attitude to mother. Nice tune.
Kamera – Ventoux
Apparently Kamera’s latest release on Phantasy was inspired by some onerous cycling sessions climbing Mont Ventoux in France – also known as ‘The Beast of Provence’. Wisely avoiding the opportunity to call the record ‘The Beats of Provence’, Kamera has assembled a selection of tracks that successfully maintain the sort of relentless propulsion you imagine one would need to take on such an arduous challenge.
The haywire techno of opener ‘Consignia’ is appropriately gruelling, and perhaps the best choice to soundtrack your own training sessions as a result, but it’s the title track that really grabs your attention. The poly-rhythms may not be that helpful when trying to find a steady pedalling pace, but they provide a sweet musical injection more effective than any human growth hormone.
‘MF15’ returns to harder sounds – you can almost feel the wind and rain competing to throw you off balance as it pumps you onwards – before the ridiculously named ‘Voodoo Canapé’ rounds things off in transcendentally ambient fashion. Is this the sound of exhausted elation as you reach the summit, or the absorbing sense of focus that apparently comes from being in ‘the zone’? As a lazy bastard I don’t know, but it sure is nice to listen to…
Niilas – Memoraids
I once took a seven-hour train from Oslo to Bergen, and it was one of the most beautiful journeys I’ve ever had the pleasure of undertaking. In fact, one of the only things that could’ve improved it is if I’d had the title track of Bergen teenager Niilas’ Memoraids EP to listen to as we zoomed through the snow-blanketed mountains. A pristine electronic production, with synths that seem to loom and sparkle before periodically shifting in intensity, it would’ve been the perfect accompaniment to those stunning alpine views.
The rest of the EP doesn’t quite reach such heights, so to speak, but all show Niilas’ burgeoning skill as a producer. ‘Cosylan’ has that same box-fresh playfulness that marked the first Cashmere Cat releases, while the percussion on ‘Ocelote’ sounds like it could’ve been sampled from dripping stalactites in a Norwegian ice cave.
While the production may be a little too artificially shiny for some, there’s something undeniably enjoyable about the broken bottle breakdown of ’24OZ’ and the airy melodies of ‘Flash 3’, with the latter sounding like something off Plaid’s soundtrack for Tekkonkinkreet. If Niilas is sounding this accomplished at the age of 18, then who knows what to expect from him over the next few years?
Odd Loves To Dance – Demon Wizard
More Norwegian stuff here; I really should be saving this stuff for Derval McCloat to cover in our new Nordic Heads column, but these pesky young Scandinavians are just too talented to ignore. Not least Odd Loves To Dance’s guitarist Petter Haugen Andersen, who apparently isn’t content playing drums for the outstanding Gold Celeste (a group who released one of our favourite albums of last year). Can’t he be content in just one great band? Greedy.
Odd Loves To Dance are a little less psychedelic than Gold Celeste, and a little more power-pop. One thing they share though is a knack for tunes, as exemplified on opener ‘Out Of Minds’, which is good enough to have popped up on an early Supergrass album, as is the quirky, tempo-juggling ‘Cinnamon’. ‘Tango’ and ‘Melvin’ initially sound a little more subdued, but the former retains a nice tonal wobbliness while the latter eventually explodes into a thumping sax-stained instrumental.
The sax then returns on the altogether more blissful ‘Nothing To Say’, which ushers the record out like a gentle breeze on a sunny day. A sunny day where someone happens to be following you around playing a saxophone. It’s a strong close to a strong body of work, and hopefully there’ll be a longer account from these lads in the near future – for whenever Odd Loves To Dance, we want to listen…
Orlando Wolf – Kinder
In rock music, regularly crossing the 6-minute mark can be unfairly chastised as straying into self-indulgent prog- or post-rock territory. Luckily in dance music no such temporal snobbery exists; which is just as well for Orlando Wolf, as the two tracks on his Kinder EP almost reach twenty minutes between them. Well, why not?
It certainly gives the title track plenty of room to breathe, turning it from a pleasantly teasing deep house track into something positively subterranean. The dynamic shifts are subtle but effective, and it eventually ebbs away in exquisite fashion. And while the slightly more sentimental harmonies of ‘Milk’ don’t quite grab me as much, it’s still executed skilfully, moving through the gears towards a satisfying bass injection after around six-and-a-half minutes.
Porridge Radio / West America – Hello Dog Friendly
Ahhh, split records. Something you don’t seem to see enough of these days, despite them being a great way for bands who are pals to share audiences with each other. I guess the only problem with them is that inevitably each listener finds one side more to their taste, while the other goes neglected. Hopefully neither Brighton’s Porridge Radio or Los Angeles’ West America find themselves shoved rudely to one side by anyone who wisely purchases Hello Dog Friendly, for both sides are worth investigating.
Perhaps it’s some latent patriotism (doubtful), but my personal preference is for Porridge Radio. They nail the key factor when it comes to DIY-indie-punk-rock-whatever, which is not to let the natural abrasiveness of lo-fi recording ruin a good tune. ‘Don’t Ask Me Twice’ may sound like the band were tumbling down a steep staircase at the time, but it also shifts through several brilliant passages; Bradford Cox wishes he could still write songs as good as this.
‘I Don’t Listen’ rattles along with the same bloody snarl as early Sleater Kinney, while in contrast ‘Get Out Of My House’ is positively sweet, and unexpectedly heart-rending. Finishing off with a track, ‘Born Confused’, which sounds like Sic Alps jamming with Micachu is just the icing on the cake. Genuinely brilliant stuff, and I can’t wait to see Porridge Radio play live.
I’m unlikely to see West America play any time soon, being as they’re on a different continent, but I reckon they’d offer a decent night out too. The recording is a little clearer, although still exhibiting plenty of DIY charm, and the blink-and-you-miss-em tunes are played with spirit. The cute lop-sided guitar riff of ‘Past Is Personal’ is my favourite, with the vocals dolloped over it like a paralytic drunk put in charge of serving school dinners. The way it furiously collapses halfway through then gets itself together for the finish is fantastic.
‘Gentrify The Moon’, a title Busdriver would be proud of, kicks off with the infamous story of when Republican nominee Ben Carson, aka Dr. Pyramid, almost stabbed someone to death while camping; a pleasingly topical touch. While Porridge Radio still get our nod in the Hello Dog Friendly caucus, I urge you to pick up the EP (available for ‘name your price’ on Bandcamp) and make up your own mind. As splits go, it’s one of the best I’ve heard in ages.
Raphae – Nights With No Name
Let’s finish with something more soothing. Raphae is a French-born pianist who apparently gave up a decent job at Google last year to focus on music. While abandoning the thriving tech industry for the flailing music one might seem foolhardy to say the least, it’s clear from the opening notes of ‘Night With No Name’ that she has talent that deserves recognition.
Hopefully she’ll find it. The title track of this double-header exhibits the enigmatic harmonies and dynamic control of a Rachmaninov piece, augmented with strings that give it a quietly haunted feel. Clearly Raphae is made for soundtrack work; just listening to this makes me want to shoot a film to go with it, and I doubt I’ll be the only one who has that reaction.
The subtle background static on ‘Nights With No Name’ and ‘Waiting For Max’ give both a cosily timeless quality that plays off nicely against the music itself, which almost sounds as if it’s covered with a light frost. While the first half of ‘Waiting For Max’ opens out very gradually, there’s a nice switch to an organ-accompanied second section which whips up the pace like an Arctic zephyr. The discordant counterpoint at the end is a bizarre touch, but one that shows Raphae has an itch for invention as well as a gift for composition. Keep your eye on this one.
Kier Wiater Carnihan