Hot New Albums [January 2015]

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Essential Selection [By Oliver Clasper]

Theo Parrish – American Intelligence

Theo Parrish
American Intelligence

Despite the grandiose (or playful?) title and lengthy running time this isn’t the epic Parrish evidently set out to make. The Detroit-based Chicago native digs deep and even has an underlying message running throughout, but it’s still a record that’s hard to digest: what works on the dance floor doesn’t always work on the home stereo, and vice versa. And just like his long, expressive live sets Parrish occasionally likes to focus on the minimal aspect of his own slow-tempo house tracks and disco re-edits. In that sense there’s much to enjoy, but also much to grow weary of as some songs have little personality. In the end, you get the sense that he’s simply lost in the funk, which is fine seeing as he’s one of the best DJs working today and his knowledge of music history goes marrow deep. But his own productions can veer towards the self-indulgent.

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D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah

D’Angelo and the Vanguard
Black Messiah

Speak to any D’Angelo fan right now and there’s a chance they won’t be able to hear your ramblings over the sound of Black Messiah. And while wary of eulogising an album from an artist who hasn’t recorded a long player since the equally rich Voodoo in 2000, Black Messiah is nonetheless a record of incredible depth and sincerity – both in its musicianship and content. Moreover, in the wake of the unrest in America that was sparked by the indiscriminate killing of a young black man by the Ferguson police force, now is as good a time as ever for a political statement. The Age of Ego and Frivolity may finally be giving way to the Age of Consciousness and Sincerity. Here’s to hoping, at least. Apparently Black Messiah was slated for an early 2015 release, but given the current state of affairs the artist and label worked tirelessly to get it out as soon as possible. That alone speaks volumes.

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Andy Stott – Faith in Strangers

Andy Stott
Faith in Strangers

One of the new Sennheiser ads that is currently doing the rounds on Spotify suggests that ‘garage duo’ du jour Disclosure are ‘rewriting the rules of dance music’. It’s probably not worth taking this up with the Advertising Standards Authority, but it is still a blatant untruth. Andy Stott, on the other hand, kind of is (and one uses the words ‘kind of’ quite deliberately). In fact, one could argue that the British are currently pushing ‘post-post-post future’ dubstep, techno, and old jungle and garage elements in new and fascinating directions. Further, it would seem, than their American counterparts, at least. The likes of Powell, Regis, Lee Gamble, Eomac (from Ireland), Moiré, and Actress are reshaping and reimagining these influences, dredging up older fragments and melding them into newer sounds that defy easy classification. Faith in Strangers is all this and more, and hence hard to describe. And that’s very much one of its greatest strengths.

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Steffi – Power of Anonymity

Steffi
Power of Anonymity

The Dutch-born former Amsterdam resident moved to Berlin almost a decade ago, and now aged 40 and having cemented herself as a much-loved resident of the infamous Panorama Bar, probably feels like a veteran of the scene. This is her second LP on the Berghain club’s own label, Ostgut Ton, and while it’s as lush and dreamy as you would expect from a Steffi record it doesn’t quite have the same personality as her debut Yours & Mine. Perhaps it’s the explicit nods to the past that render this something of a pastiche. The retro sound and look has long been the calling card of every disgruntled generation (tired of their own situation and intent on romanticising the past) but it feels like the 80s and 90s in particular have been Xeroxed to death over the past few years. And to admit that you’ve been listening to a lot of old electro records and just wanted to make your own version seems like a waste of a singular vision.

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Machinedrum – Vapor City Archives

Machinedrum
Vapor City Archives

To all who are as yet  unacquainted with the American producer Machinedrum, this is as good a place as any to start, unless you already ‘know’ him as one half of Sepalcure. Vapor City Archives is rich, frenetic, highly abrasive, but also rhythmic and accessible, finding a good balance between minimal and more complex fractures of bass, rhythm and melody. The record as a whole channels old jungle breaks, found sounds, and dusty, murky vocal samples (sometimes sounding too much like cut-rate Burial, to its detriment), all of which are barely audible beneath layers of pads and other effects. So far, so good, but then you find out that they’re just B-sides and scraps from last year’s Vapor City LP. That can be disappointing, but taken on its own this LP is worth listening to. Isolate and enjoy, and forget about context.

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Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back

Public Enemy
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back

D’Angelo’s new album Black Messiah was slated for a 2015 release, but given the protests taking place in the US since the killing of Michael Brown by the Ferguson police force, the artist and the label rushed to get it out earlier. And let’s face it, with Umbrella Movement still a necessary thorn in the government’s side here in Hong Kong (and Beijing), political music has never been more important. And so now is as good a time as any to re-release arguably the most political hip-hop record of all time. Dropped on an unsuspecting public in 1988 it was Public Enemy’s second album, and one which emphasised two things: social message and sonic energy. While their debut Fear of a Black Planet was already explicit, it didn’t necessarily work live, so they pushed the sound further on a record that defies description. As KRS-One said: if you don’t know by now you’ll never know.

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 Asian Essential Selections [By Charlie Tamoto]

Okan - Loved One

Okan
Loved One

The four-member indie rock band of Okan have just released their debut album, Loved One, and it’s exactly what the dying rock community in Japan needs. Clean thrashes, uplifting wailing, addictive riffs and a glorified mix of Japanese and Western rock influences all rolled into one dynamic 11 track album. This is a very personal album for the band, which deals with their experiences with bullying, thoughts of suicide and family tragedy. Things start off on a high intensity with ‘Shapes of Happiness’ and ‘Light’. The tracks are fast paced, lush and full of bright crisp guitar progressions. ‘Sunflower’ is a more Japanese inspired track and utilises the shamisen to blend in with a country rock sound for a fun folk tune. What really resonated with us is the slashing good fun of ‘Samurai’ and its revved up hook that’ll have you cheering from your gut. Check out this album if you want to know what’s up-and-coming in Japan’s rock scene.

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Jay Chou - Hey Not Bad

Jay Chou
Hey, Not Bad

After two years, the maestro of Mando-pop is back with his thirteenth album, Hey, Not Bad, released in conjunction with his world tour. Jay Chou’s career in music has been expansive and his influence unparalleled. Few would disagree that Chou was vital in changing the sound of Chinese pop music at the turn of the century. And after 14 years, he’s still trying to add something different to his music. His title track, ‘The Huge Shoes’, is an interesting comical melody filled with circus-like, honky tonk piano progressions and licks. The song is punchy, but not the easiest to listen to. Chou tries to incorporate too many musical elements at once for a borderline jarring experience. However, Chou still shines is in his nostalgic, love-of-family ballads like ‘Listening to Your Father.’ He seamlessly takes RnB and merges it with traditional Chinese sounds for an emotionally longing piece. His newest 12-track album isn’t the most inspired, but it still highlights what he’s known for and good at.

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Jacky Cheung Wake Up Dreaming

Jacky Cheung
Wake Up Dreaming

After seven years, Cantopop king Jacky Cheung releases a Mandarin album to celebrate his 30th anniversary in music. Vocally, Cheung has still got it and you can really hear his raw, soulful power on the modern rock track, ‘Wake Up Dreaming’. Not bad for a 53-year-old. The real gem of the album is the gripping ballad, ‘The Rest of Time’, which is a clear favorite to win some major awards this year. The composition has the perfect balance of emotional depth, maturity and sincerity. Combined with Cheung’s abilities, the song rises to the next level of impact. Overall however, the album leaves a bit to be desired. Tracks like the Hawaiian ukulele track, ‘Fall in Love With You’ is confusing and diminishes Cheung’s classy image. Producers should have cut half the album and turned it into an EP for a more focused piece of work, instead of this distracting mix. Nevertheless, Cheung’s title tracks should be enough to carry him onto the podium.

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Standing Egg US

Standing Egg
US

Feeling a bit of those winter blues? Remedy that with the easy breezy, spirit lifting vibes from acoustic band, Standing Egg and their new album US. The setup for Standing Egg is quite unique and consists of members Egg1, Egg2 and Egg3, who produce and compose the music. They then collaborate with a host of indie artists like Clover on title track, ‘Kiss Me’ or Yeseul on the folky piece, ‘She is Back’, which has road trip written all over it. If you’re planning a relaxing day at the park or at the beach, lazing around and catching some rays, US is that happy-go-lucky album you need to complement your day.