We’ve already covered Lance Neptune’s Animal Eclipse and Kojey Radical’s 23 Winters recently, but they were far from the only quality EPs to grace our stereos last month. Indulge yourself in the rest of February’s finest EP releases below, including a few legendary faces…
Iggy Pop / Tarwater / alva noto – Leaves of Grass
The irrepressible Iggy Pop has been collecting coverage once again of late thanks to his latest solo album (which sees him working with Josh Homme among others), meaning this less predictable collaboration with German post-everythingers Tarwater and alva noto has gone somewhat under the radar. Which is a shame really, as while Iggy’s Post Pop Depression LP is a decent if unspectacular record, this atmospheric tribute to Walt Whitman is an altogether different beast.
Iggy’s eerie-rumble-at-the-bottom-of-a-ravine voice is tailor-made for spoken-word tracks, as previously proven on the likes of Death In Vegas’ ‘Aisha’ and his own ‘A Machine For Loving’ – and so it proves here. His gravelly tone finds itself reduced almost to a whisper at times, and even when more forceful, he still gives Whitman’s words a spacious plinth on which to present themselves. On ‘From Pent-Up Aching Rivers’ he delivers words with the measured, sombre rhythm of someone slowly hammering nails into a coffin (reflected in the percussive production) before slurring the words ‘muscular urge’ into each other so they become entwined like two mating slugs.
Yet while the Whitman’s earthy, sinewy words rightfully take centre stage, the music is more than just a platform for Iggy Pop’s intonations. Electronic pulses play off against elemental samples (birds calling, breezes blowing), bringing the 19th-century poetry into the present while incorporating sounds that existed long before any of the contributors – even the dead one. The blissful ‘Out Of The Rolling Ocean The Crowd’ and minimal title track provide perhaps the best marriages of sound and word, but there’s nothing on Leaves of Grass that feels mismatched.
In the press release Iggy Pop describes Walt Whitman as “one of the first manic American populists. You know you’re looking at pictures of him, and he was obviously someone who was very much involved with his own physical appearance. His poetry is always about motion and rushing ahead, and crazy love and blood pushing through the body.” He could almost be talking about himself. In an age when Iggy’s peers have been taking leave of this mortal coil with saddening frequency, Leaves of Grass finds an artist who, like his mate Bowie, clearly remains inspired by challenging projects. Let’s hope he sticks around to complete a few more of them.
Lafawndah – Tan
Yasmine Dubois, aka Lafawndah, has previously explained her sound as ‘ritual club music’, and it’s a description that rings true on her latest release on Warp, the mercurial Tan. With crisp, spacious, adventurous production that calls to mind the likes of Kingdom, FKA twigs and Björk, Lafawndah enlists a sparkling roster of producers for these four tracks: ADR, L-Vis 1990, Nick Weiss (Teengirl Fantasy) and Tamer Fahri. Happily we find that too many cooks haven’t spoiled the broth in this case, but instead refined it.
The industrial shudder of ‘Town Crier’ provides an incongruous but effective setting for Lafawndah’s RnB-friendly topline, while ‘Ally’ (the video for which we were raving about just a couple of days ago) uses middle eastern instrumentation to thread these two elements together, adding a touch of prickly heath to a juxtaposition that could otherwise feel coldly distant. Oh, and it also boasts kick drums that could collapse your skull.
The warlike ‘Tan’ is more confrontational, built slap-bang in the middle of a rhythmic minefield, only slightly let down by a snare sound that can’t quite compete with the bassier percussion. ‘Crumb’ is a comparatively gentle way to round things off, with a swung beat that proves irresistible when it kicks in. While some might find Lafawndah’s juxtaposition of catchy melodic phrases with challenging production a little jarring, it’s territory that this most worldly of artists is quickly making her own.
Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit
The first track revealed from Ritual Spirit, ‘Take It There’, proved not nearly as interesting as you’d hope from a long-awaited reunion with Tricky. Luckily the rest of the EP raises its game considerably, to the point where this feels like it could actually be their best record so far this century.
Opening track ‘Dead Editors’ encapsulates this dawning realisation in miniature. Opening with a fairly typical Massive Attack atmospheric drone, it pricks the ears with some sleek bass, then all but tears them off with a two-step inspired beat that sounds like interference from a nearby pirate radion station. Meanwhile, Roots Manuva’s guest appearance feels like such a natural fit that it’s hard to believe they haven’t worked together before.
‘Ritual Spirit’ then threatens to lose momentum by beginning like a tired update on ‘Angel’, but by mixing in some syncopated percussion and Azekel’s beautifully haunted vocals, they manage to turn it into an understated winner. It may not have the epic pay-off of ‘Angel’, but it feels like it doesn’t need it.
‘Voodoo in the Blood’ is equally impressive, offering longed-for reassurance that their relationship with Young Fathers could blossom into something more than just reliable tour support. More new Massive Attack music is apparently on the way soon, and on form like this we’ll be looking forward to it with genuine excitement.
Opaque Body – Sun Permeant
Last March we deemed Opaque Body’s ‘Native Copper’ our “favourite 71-minute track this year”, and it’s fair to say no one else came close to claiming that title over the rest of 2015. Luckily the four tracks on Evan-Daniel Rose-González’s new EP aren’t quite as lengthy (although none come in under seven minutes) otherwise we’d be here all night. Then again, a night spent listening to Sun Permeant wouldn’t necessarily be a wasted one.
Indeed, the glitchy hypnagogia of tracks like ‘Psoas’ sound like they could only have been composed in the small hours, during that window between midnight and dawn where even the most chilled of night owls start to feel a little fidgety. ‘Compound Eye’, while not as enchanting, takes the listener even further into the Opaque Body subconscious, with several unusual samples drifting in and out of a droning underbed before finishing in what sounds like a stuttering field recording from inside his own bloodstream.
Apparently Rose-González also composes music for computer games, and the rest of the EP feels like it could be the soundtrack to an obscure gaming creation. ‘Test Obelisk’ is the sort of music you can imagine repeating endlessly while you struggle to solve some cryptic conundrum (with added Burial-esque vocal shadows) while the atmospheric ‘Form-Surrogate’ feels like a tense exploration of an alien landscape. All in all, a good shout to be our favourite 34 minute, 12 second EP of the year…
Standard Planets & Iain Sinclair – Overground
Our second spoken-word-heavy EP of this column sees another legendary figure on vocal duties, albeit a very different one. Still, while I’ve never seen psychogeography supremo Iain Sinclair inspire a frenzied stage invasion while writhing naked on stage, his distinctively unfussy delivery makes the perfect foil for this collaboration with East London genre-hoppers Standard Planets.
Sinclair has long been obsessed with the ever-mutating history of East London, so it’s both fitting and amusing that the EP kicks off in the postured exclusivity of member’s club Shoreditch House, where the author finds his talk rudely interrupted by a pissed-up city developer. The woozy music nicely reflects the equilibrium-upsetting impact of his sozzled intervention, while the violent clash between this celebrated historian of Hackney and a man who specialises in airbrushing it, in a venue which embodies this uneasy process, makes for almost nightmarish entertainment.
This tension reaches a plateau with the appearance of a real-life London bogeyman, Boris Johnson, on the rollicking ‘On Yer Bike, Boris’. Sinclair finds him “barking like a seal, shaking the straw of his signature fringe from his cold eyes” during a press conference that gets increasingly sickening as it progresses. It takes a lot to beat Tory MP Jerry Hayes’ recent invective against the ‘copper bottomed, double dealing hypocritical little shit’, but Sinclair and Standard Planets just about manage it, before finding themselves swept into a queasy punk whirlpool.
‘Private Road’ proves the final destination on Overground, a bitter sounding of London’s death knell that finds Standard Planet at their most dramatic and Sinclair at his most appalled, with the naming of a new development after fictional rapist Robert Lovelace compared to ‘dedicating a crèche to Jimmy Savile’. It proves an impassioned completion to this righteous triptych, the most successful of Standard Planets’ collaborations to date, and a superb new setting for Sinclair’s timely prose. Which sounds a bit like PR spiel for some newly built luxury flats. Damn.
The Endgame – Savage
While there’s nothing especially savage about the playful dancehall on ‘Savage Riddim’, the opening track on Endgame’s new EP, the diamond-sharp synths and crushed snares suggest he could render a brutal sonic beast at a moment’s notice. His strident percussion and polished production are used for pleasure rather than punishment however, picking out frequencies that tease the feet on the opening track, and the ears on the slightly mournful ‘1 Night Riddim’.
The chirpy ‘XOX’ follows, its title resembling a Playstation button combo in the imaginary Japanese Sci-Fi RPG the music could provide the soundtrack to, before the familiar feather-light groove of ‘NXN’ (which first pricked our ears a couple of weeks ago) rounds things off in fine style. Hopefully this is just the start for Endgame.
Useless Eaters – Temporary Mutilation
Like all right-minded human beings, I’m a sucker for tuned percussion in punk rock. Ever since hearing the ascending scale on ‘Penetration’ by Iggy & The Stooges (there’s that man again) I’ve had an all-too-rarely-satisfied hankering for that clash between noisy guitars and delicate plinky tones. Praise be to Useless Eaters then for the title track to Temporary Mutilation, which also features my other favourite unexpected punk instrument, the saxophone. I feel spoilt.
And that’s before gorging on the rest of the record, which offers so many greasy thrills you’ll have a stomach ache by the end. ‘Breathing Smear’ is a catchy, edgy belter, ‘Posion Dart’ a skulking drum-machine-fuelled brooder, and ‘Car Accident Face’ a terse, jerky number that sounds like a sped-up Gang Of Four, with Seth Sutton’s arsed-off vocals adding some crucial attitude.
‘Scene and Sequence’ is probably my favourite though, with a moody, low-slung riff that would sidle up to you in a low-lit bar and slyly half-inch your wallet from your back pocket. In fact, the only problem with this record is that Useless Eaters’ sonic mutilation is all too temporary. More please.
Whistlejacket – What I Ate on Sunday
Whistlejacket have been knocking around the London shoegaze scene for a while now, but What I Ate on Sunday feels like they’ve moved up a level. Launched from the traditional indie springboard that is Fierce Panda, it could help lift them from their usual high-profile support slots for the likes of DIIV and King Gizzard and into a headline act in their own right.
Opening track ‘Holiday’ may not deviate wildly from their usual template, but Rory Attwell’s production adds a pleasing punchy immediacy, while the laidback ‘Trying My Best’ is a real beaut, employing a hazy psychedelic sound akin to the likes of Pridjevi and Gold Celeste. The echoing guitar effect on the chorus is particularly delicious.
‘Stay N’ slides back in shoegaze territory but with a section that curiously recalls Buzzcocks (always a bonus) and the closing ‘Duck Soup’ delivers a catchy, confident finish (nice drums too). The only track that doesn’t grab me is the overly anthemic ‘We Don’t Make ‘Em (Like American Girls)’ which almost sounds like the work of a different (American) band. On the whole though, this record makes for a decent dish. Have it for lunch this Sunday.
Kier Wiater Carnihan