Essential Selection by Oliver Clasper
Journey of the Deep Sea Dweller IV
Much like fellow Detroit electro-Techno artists Underground Resistance, Drexciya maintained an aura of anonymity throughout their career. Essentially they let their music do the talking; it wasn’t about image, and it certainly wasn’t about fame. African-American art and culture has also had a long and rich connection with the ‘other-worldly’ and the extra-terrestrial, and strains both latent and obvious of Afro-futurism can be found in the music of Miles Davis to Sun Ra. The two ‘official’ members of Drexciya, the late James Stinson and Gerald Donald, were fascinated by water, and their productions are chock full of references to aquatics; their music is as deep, murky, and mysterious as the great oceans. Alongside some older, known tracks from around the 1990s, a number of unreleased and previously unheard songs feature here. Drexciya are special, and this record fits well within the pantheon of great electronica.
Rival Dealer EP
It’s been almost exactly one year since Burial’s last release, Truant/Rough Sleeper. But whereas that record had a cinematic quality to it, with its expansive motifs and clear mise en scene, his latest short-player appears, on the outset at least, to have less narrative structure. This three-track (including two at over ten minutes) is part musical adventure, part public service announcement. From the start it seems like more of the same, which is all well and good, but even your favourite ice cream can get sickly after a while. Muffled, pitched down vocal samples, ghostly quotes, and percussion that clatters and vanishes. But then the opener changes gear midway through, and again near the end, and you’re reminded what a master craftsman Burial really is. He has also claimed that this is an anti-bullying record of sorts, and the voice samples attest to that: they’re all about accepting yourself as you are. This is conscious art at its very best.
Sometime around 2007/8 dubstep began to split into factions and spawn new sub-genres. A generation had grown up, in London at least, on seminal nights like FWD at Plastic People, as well as DMZ at Mass in Brixton, but for many the 140bpm clatter of break beats and stomach-churning sub bass wasn’t providing enough. Similarly, it was mostly men going to dubstep raves (with women preferring garage, house, Techno, and drum’n’bass). As a result, a slew of dubstep artists such as Pangaea, Ben UFO, Martyn, Addison Groove, Joy Orbison, and Burial, among others, began making what was termed ‘post-dubstep’, or ‘future garage’. The tracks weren’t as rowdy, with Techno (or certainly 4/4) elements began creeping back in, which meant more funk and groove. Hessle Audio label owner Pangaea demonstrates this sound on his first Fabric live mix. It’s still broody, and with plenty of darkness, but it has the pulse and mood of a great Techno mix.
The Abstract & The Dragon
A word of warning: this is a mix-tape, not an album proper. It also features a lot of old tracks from the back catalogues of Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, and A Tribe Called Quest. So what you’re left with on this 28-track extravaganza (a lot of which are just skits) is essentially a whole host of, well, old (but still much-loved) tracks. Memorable Tribe cuts include ‘God Lives Through’ (replete with Busta’s now aged and grizzled voice) and ‘Scenario’ (as well as the remix from the bonus disc of The Love Movement)’, a DJ Scratch remix of Q-Tip’s 2008 track ‘Getting’ Up’, Busta’s ‘We Taking Off’ and the insanely good J Dilla produced ‘You Can’t Hold the Torch’, on which both MCs lament how hip-hop is currently in a bad state. Other standouts include the disco-laden Kid Capri remix of Busta’s ‘Thank You’ and the Golden Age sounding ‘Come on Down’ featuring Big Daddy Kane.
Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks
Wig Out at Jagbags
For many, Stephen Malkmus will always be the lead singer of the revered and much missed Californian band Pavement (who called it a day in 1999). But he has actually recorded more material as a solo artist – or at least with other bands – than he ever did with Pavement. And this is Malkmus and The Jicks’ sixth album together, and it’s as joyous as any of their previous material. It’s always good to have variety in your musical tastes, and for every GYBE! or Burial release you need something from this man: it’s all great riffs and guitar solos, unself-conscious lyrics displaying an overriding love of life that never spills over into saccharine nonsense. And where Pavement records were somewhat sparse, raw, and seemingly under-produced, this record is the opposite. Standout tracks include ‘J Smoov’, ‘The Janitor Revealed’, and ‘Independence Street’.
The first thing that strikes you about Cale is that his voice is similar to that of a young Dylan, and his sound (or, more specifically his guitar playing style) is not unlike either the late British singer-songwriter John Martyn, or Cale’s compatriot Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. On this, his fourth studio album, the Louisiana native, who currently lives in Brooklyn, has picked up where 2011’s Noise of Welcome left off, which itself had grown in size compared with his debut five years previously. Where 2006’s Outlander Sessions was bare and stripped-back, the later material has more going on, production-wise. He sounds less like a one-man troubadour and more like a man looking to build a sound. On his latest he uses echo and reverb, and the overall flavour appears, on the surface at least, a little more melancholy. He’s also starting to flex his vocal style, which is most evident on ‘Hold Fast’.
Asian Essential Selections by Charlie Tamoto
Over the past decade, acclaimed Hong Kong indie singer-songwriter Chet Lam has penned an extensive list of hits for artists like Eason Chan, Gigi Leung, Sammi Cheng, Hebe Tian and Stephanie Sun. For his latest release – aptly named Playlist – Lam has taken back and collected all of those hit for his own interpretation and re-arrangement. The result is a sentimental piece of work that lets his now twenty to thirty something year old fans reminisce about the more innocent tween years of their lives. At the top of the playlist is none other than the mega hit ‘Encounter’, which Lam gives a more progressive arrangement to with complex harmonies and a playful fiddle. Another highlight is ‘Thank You’, which Lam slows down for a bluesy, attitude-driven track that’s fit for a live set at a smoky saloon. The album accomplishes the task of bringing in fresh sound that makes you forget about the original.
Songs of Transience
The rather infallible Cheer Chen is the folk-rock darling of Taiwan’s indie music scene. Her lyrics read like poetic prose and her compositions have won her the title of Best Songwriter at the Golden Melody Awards. Chen has never bowed to industry pressures to pump out albums, which is why she has taken four years to meticulously weave together her sixth quality album, Songs of Transience. The charismatic fragile quality of Chen’s voice brings life to her title track, ‘Memory of the Gypsies’, which emphasis the message of perseverance over an uplifting orchestral melody. On ‘Ripple’, Chen brings an earthy folk sound with a layer of longing shrills and bongos that captures the essence of desperation. As a whole, the album is thoughtfully arranged and appropriate for audiences that are into a mature and developed sound that’s soothing to the ears.
Rain Vol 6. – Rain Effect
After spending almost four-months fulfilling his obligatory military service, the King of K-Pop is back with his sixth album, Rain Effect – which unfortunately – seems a bit like watered down and dated pop. His first title track ’30 Sexy’ showcases the now 32-year-old artists’ velvety voice, but fails in creating an infectious dance song with its mild futuristic droning. The second title track, ‘La Song’, does fair better with its raw, Rio-infused Latin flavour mixed with heavy bass beats and hip hop rhythms. But that’s the only redemption to this album.
At the peak of his career Rain was heralded by Time magazine as one of the top ‘100 Most Influential People Who Shape Our World’. He was widely popular across Asia and also made his mark in the US with two sold out concerts at Madison Square Garden and his Hollywood film Ninja Assassin. But that was then and this is now. While Rain was absent – other younger K-Pop icons have emerged with a following that has surpassed Rain. He’s got a lot of work ahead of him if he wants be an influential character in music again, but at least he still has his boyish good looks and chiseled body.
Hong Kong hasn’t seen many new talents in 2013…except for maybe one – and her name is Agatha Kong aka AGA. The 25-year-old lovely was recently crowned with the gold award at this year’s Commercial Radio 903 awards and has been creating quite a stir in scene with her sultry voice, RnB rhythms and her self-titled debut album AGA. Her main plugs, ‘Hello’ and ‘One Day At A Time’, are fluid ballads with a touch of sensuality and clarity. AGA’s voice glides through the tracks with crisp tones for a delicate take on heartbreak. Also on the album is the four million view YouTube success ‘Better Me’, which AGA originally wrote for Fiona Sit. AGA sings her English demo version, which highlights her musical talents and emotional depth as a singer-songwriter. With further development and focus she might just have a chance at becoming the next big female artist in 2014.