Essential Selection By Oliver Clasper
‘Sex sells’ has long been the glib mantra championed by the hucksters on Madison Avenue. And while FKA twigs’ debut album drips with unashamed carnality, there’s much more to it than mere tales of youthful fornication. The artist born Tahliah Barnett isn’t a novice to the music industry having previously worked as a back-up dancer for a number of pop stars, but this is new territory for her and it feels like she appeared out of nowhere. This is a debut album that, while not being groundbreaking, sounds unlike most other artists that peddle their wares amid the cacophony of today’s popular music. It marries slick, woozy R&B with awkward glitchy production that’s hard to categorise, with lyrics that make you want to seduce anything in sight – or at least masturbate right then and there with your earphones still on.
For something truly post-apocalyptic then look no further than Spectre by Dubliner Ian McDonnell, aka Eomac. As one half of Lakker, McDonnell has been releasing music for close to a decade, most recently on the revered Belgian label R&S. Here he is let loose on a long player by Berlin’s Killekill (home to Blake Baxter and Jimmy Edgar), and while there are shades of the style of stripped back and industrial sounding Techno that the German city is known for, this LP offers a glimpse into McDonnell’s other electronic tastes – notably those that grew out of the Irish and British scenes from the 90s onwards: rave, IDM, hardcore, and breaks, to name a few. This is an impressive collection of dark, rich and textured music that isn’t for the faint-hearted.
There’s always been a danger when reviewing hip-hop, especially if you’re from a certain generation, of comparing it to the monumental output of the 1990s. It’s a moot point when it comes to freshmen, but for artists who cut their teeth during that golden period it’s a necessary evil. In fact, so clear is this connection that Common even includes a track (‘Rewind That’) that name checks the late J Dilla, who produced much of his Like Water for Chocolate LP from 2000, as well as No I.D., the man behind arguably the Chicagoan’s best work, 1994’s Resurrection. This new album is patchy at best: the production is sparse and stirs little, and even though his vocal delivery and content are as on point as ever the album as a whole feels half-baked. It’s no surprise then that the best track is the one about a bygone era.
In the Wild
‘Head’ music is a difficult art form to master and should be approached not only with caution, but with a clear modus operandi and/or fresh approach to sound design. Last year the New York-based Falty DL released Hard Courage that was for all intents and purposes an album filled with club tracks. One year on and we have In the Wild, Drew Lustman’s attempt at something more conceptual. What you get is an album that never quite gets going. Every other song is an interlude of sorts: samples, drifting synths and various other sounds, as if something more substantial is approaching. If this were a film score, or if indeed the sounds themselves conjured up something cinematic, then it would be job well done. In the Wild is neither.
In the early 90s a young British expat named Richie Hawtin made the short trip over from sleepy Windsor, Ontario in Canada to the city of Detroit. It was here that Techno was born, and where Hawtin found his calling. Two decades on and Hawtin, under the guise of Plastikman, has become one of electronic music’s most revered and prolific DJs. He is also one of Techno’s great minimal producers, starting with his 1993 debut LP Sheet One. His latest album is the first since 2003’s Closer, and it’s sadly a disappointing return after ten years away. For some reason EX sounds like a man making a facsimile of what he thinks his work should sound like. It’s expertly made as usual, but it moves so little it’s virtually stationary.
Shit and Shine
The name is enough to prick consciences, and the sound, though not as abrasive, charmless, or radical as previous releases, will make you question both your taste and your sanity. In this fast-paced world in which the future seems to be rushing in while everything around us is falling dismally apart, only Shit and Shine appear able to channel the resulting ennui and chaos. Doesn’t sound like your bag? ‘Piss off and listen to Disclosure then’, he’d probably say. Actually, this is Shit and Shine’s most accessible record to date, following on from the industrial-noise releases such as 2006’s Jealous of Shit and Shine. This is metal twisted feedback deranged club music unlike anything you’ve heard. It may not be the truth, but it gets damn close.
Fhloston Paradigm is the pseudonym belonging to the seasoned Philadelphia producer King Britt, formerly aligned with Digable Planets as well as being one half of Ovum Recordings alongside Techno luminary Josh Wink. Anyone switched on enough to have tracked down the dystopian-sounding Boards of Canada LP Tomorrow’s Harvest is advised to do the same with this. Britt’s alias is a direct reference to the Fhloston Paradise resort in Luc Besson’s enjoyably gaudy sci-fi film The Fifth Element, and the sounds he conjures up on this record are essentially ‘the future as seen through the past’. It’s ambient and atmospheric, with a handful of vocals tracks thrown in as well as a few nods to the dance floor. As with any medium it’s refreshing to see an artist attempt to create a singular vision.
Asian Essential Selections By Charlie Tamoto
Judge By Self
If you want to know more about hip hop in Hong Kong, there is no better place to start than with MC Yan – the ‘godfather’ of HK hip hop. Most famously known for being part of the underground group LMF (Lazy Mutha Fucka), Yan has taken almost two decades to release his first solo album, Judge By Self, which features a host of respected artists such as Jan Lo, Paul Wong, Scottie Hui and Anthony Wong. The 11 track album moves through jazzy hip hop, reggae and slam poetry with a basement party feel even though it’s layered with social commentary and lyrics of unrest that reflect the sentiments of Hong Kongers, especially in the current political climate.
Shut Up and Kiss Me
It’s been almost three years since dancing diva Elva Hsiao released an album. It’s her 13th album, but her first with Sony Entertainment. Even so, Hsiao hasn’t been able to produce anything new or intriguing. She’s peaked and not much has changed apart from her face. ‘Shut Up and Kiss Me’ has an awkward progression with a bumpy and jarring rhythm that’s tortured even more by Hsiao’s deteriorating vocals. Even the mid-tempo ballad ‘Willing to Hurt’, sounds uninspired and lacks the emotional depth of her previous hits ‘The Most Familiar Stranger’ and ‘The Story of Him and Her’. ‘Thundering Ski, Fiery Earth,’ might be the most acceptable track on the album with an aggressive club beat that can stir a bit of gyrating. Perhaps switching record labels wasn’t in Hsiao’s best interest.
Winner was the most highly anticipated act to debut in K-Pop this year. After winning the YG Entertainment competition ‘Who is Next: Win’, the group is being closely watched by netizens who were eager to see if this quintet consisting of Kang Seung Yoon, Song Min Ho, Lee Seung Hoon, Kim Jin Woo and Nam Tae Hyun would meet their expectations – and they have with flying colours. Following in the footsteps of their boy band seniors, Big Bang, Winner has produced an eponymous album and it’s full of swag. It’s refreshing to see a boy band that writes their own songs. And their tracks seamlessly move from hip hop, dance, RnB, and soft rock with consistency and focus. Their title track ‘Empty’ follows a smooth and sullen beat to create an urban RnB and blues crossover that’s catchy and comfortable. ‘I’m Him’ turns up the energy with a bellowing beat that sounds hard and all thug. Things take a turn for the ethereal with the piano ballad ‘Confession’. The soft and airy vocals are soothing and makes for a welcome bedtime playlist. Winner does not disappoint and leaves us eager for their follow up album.
Ice Cream Man
Indie-pop artist Kaji Hideki is out with his 15th album, ‘Ice Cream Man’ and his summery, skippy fun sound remains a delight. Already having been in the scene for two decades and being an influential figure in the Shibuya-kei movement, the seasoned artist is at his best with up-tempo rollicking on tracks like ‘Summer Camp’, ‘Jam & Butter Song’ and ‘Tropical Girl’. You can’t help but smile as these sweet tracks conjure up fond adolescent memoires. There is life and heart to Hideki’s music and despite his long-running career he still finds ways renew his sound to make it modern.