Essential Selection By Oliver Clasper
Built on Glass
Chances are you heard Chet Faker’s single ‘Melt’ from last year, on which the Australian’s warm and gravelly vocals slip and slide over a shuffling Rhodes-piano infused rhythm track. And now we have his highly anticipated debut LP. The first thing one notices is how similar it sounds to James Blake’s output, both in its production and vocal style (the subject matter here, however, is more concerned with love). In fact, it’d be surprising if he hasn’t had the British producer-singer-songwriter’s first two albums on repeat of late. This a shame though, because the trickle-down effect is so obvious that it deflects from Faker’s talent as an individual beat-maker and vocalist. Reservations aside, opener ‘Release Your Problems’ is a great R&B cut, although the album does lose its way towards the end.
Nobody is making electronic music like Powell. Four years ago he put an early selection of rough tracks straight into the hands of British Techno luminary Regis, and it surprised few that the Birmingham producer took him under his wings without a moment’s hesitation. Over the course of one EP and four singles Powell’s style has begun to shift and grow, for the better. Where once the Londoner’s sound was erratically stubborn, almost for the sake of it, it now has more focus and a tighter grip on rhythm and melody (two elements he almost actively avoided in place of simply fucking with shit). This is post-punk electronic music that defies convention and is as mad as it is unique. Some may find it hard to know what to do with, but after repeat listens it gets deep inside the system.
Any artist worth his salt at one time or other has attempted to create a piece of work that is both forward-looking and classic. The question is how to achieve that. Atlanta’s crate-digger extraordinaire pulled it off with his sublime mix-tape/demo/test pressing from 2012, and there were reasonable expectations that he would score a double with this long player. Unfortunately it leans a bit too heavily on the retro funk and electro sounds. But that’s not to say it isn’t a joy to listen to. There are plenty of woozy synths and sticky bass lines: think Miami Vice kitsch meets George Clinton cool. Some of the tracks, like ‘Green Sky’, are slow burners for the dance floor, but too often this LP feels like something you’ve heard before.
The Queens native is one of the most under-appreciated and under-rated rappers in hip-hop, and what many don’t know is that he is over two decades in the game, first as one half of Organized Konfusion – whose two albums in the 1990s remain sleeper classics – and then as a solo artist. His debut LP from 1999, Internal Affairs, sits alongside fellow New Yorker Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides as one of the most explosive solos to emerge at the tail end of the last century, and while his production (and seemingly his faith in the scene) has dwindled somewhat over the past 15 years, his vocal skills haven’t. ‘Damage’ is a perfect example of a rapper on top of his game; his ability to shape and twist words is a testament to the power of the English language. Forget Jay-Z, Pharoahe is the king of New York.
Seven years have passed since the London-based Portico Quartet released their Mercury-nominated debut LP Knee Deep in the North Sea. Their jazz-cum-world inflected instrumental album heralded an fascinating new sound, which included the hang drum – then played by a 20-year-old named Nick Mulvey. But ever the wanderer, the Cambridge native branched out on his own, and First Mind is his beautiful debut album. Comparisons to John Martyn and Nick Drake are expected, but there is a lightness to Mulvey’s touch that doesn’t allow the dark to drag, either on the message or the music (though there are plenty of moments of reflection and introspection). His skills as a guitarist can’t be over-stated, either. ‘April’ is the perfect example of his instrumental talent, while also being the most arresting track on the album.
It’s easy to spot the connection between SFV Acid’s erstwhile productions and a genre of music that was in its heyday when the Californian was still in his high chair. On last year’s debut, The Dwell, the insular and isolated Zane Reynolds (as he comes across in a mini documentary about his life), wrote an album consisting of mostly 4/4 acid tracks while drinking coffee in his local Starbucks. At the time he said he wanted to paint a picture of small-town San Fernando valley, where he lives, which means flat and homogenous parking lots, strip malls, diners, and retail outlets. Critics didn’t exactly rave about it, but thankfully he has produced a much stronger sophomore release – which has more depth and a more forceful rhythm throughout.
We On 1
The Chicago-based Rashad, who died at the tender age of 34 only last month, had been DJing and producing for early two decades, but it was only when the influential British label Hyperdub put out last year’s ‘I Don’t Give a Fuck’ single that he became known worldwide and his frenetic strain of house that blends breaks, jungle, booty bass, and the Miami sound into a concoction riddled with sparse drums and pulsing bass lines became the ‘in sound of right now’. His debut LP, Double Cup, released late last year, was arguably one of the finest pieces of electronica for some time. Sadly, this new release doesn’t do him justice, mainly because the sexually explicit lyrics are front and centre. That’s part of the sub-culture, but unless you’re from those ends it’s likely to be something that gets in the way of the music.
Asian Essential Selections By Charlie Tamoto
After winning ‘K-pop Star 2’ with their charming playfulness and light-hearted acoustic harmonies, the sibling duo of Lee Chan-hyuk and Lee Soo-hyun that make up Akdong Musician have finally released their long-anticipated album, Play, which has dominated the Korean music charts. And in just three days their title track ‘200%’ reached over two million view on YouTube. There is a simple reason that accounts for the success of the 18-year-old brother and 15-year-old sister – their upbeat and cheerful music comes off as genuine and honest and captures a brighter side of adolescence. It also helps that they have strong musical sensibilities. Chan-hyuk is superb on the guitar and combined with Soo-hyun’s voice they create beautiful vocal rifts and harmonies that are broken up with highly rhythmic beats that’ll have you grooving in your seat. If you want a light-summer album for a beach side excursion, ‘Play’, would be ideal.
Journey Into the Night
Singer-songwriter William Wei Li-an aka ‘Weibird’ has dropped his boy-next-door appearance for a more mature and sophisticated outlook for his third album, Journey Into the Night. For title track, ‘Wolf’, Wei transforms into a werewolf in order to explore his inner primal urges against heavy metal rock cranks and crashes. It’s an intense sound compared to Wei’s usual softer boyish acoustic sensibilities. In fact, the whole album is an exploration into variations of rock like blues, jazz, metal and folk, which is apparent on ‘Mask’, ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Who to Believe’. Wei’s signature high-pitched wails carry the power-packed pace of the album that’ll have you thrashing, but at the same time cherishing the slowed down moments on tracks like ‘Shipwreck’, where a full orchestra takes over for a somber twist.
You Are My Man
Though she started out her career in entertainment by winning a singing competition, it has taken Kristal Tin 21 years to come out with her very first album. And to our surprise it’s a well thought out cover album that has turned classic unrequited love songs into jazzy blues delights. Tin has a classic soulful voice reminiscent of a throwback 1920s Shanghainese songstress that comes across strong in ‘Not Hurting Anyone’. Another highlight is Tin’s rendition of Nicholas Tse’s ‘Playground’, which she turns into musical theater piece that’s only accompanied by a rippling piano melody. It’s fluid, simple and complete, much like the rest of her album. Let’s hope the now 36-year-old Hong Kong star doesn’t take another two decades before her next release.
Hong Kong’s prince of soul and R’n’B is back with his eighth album, Dangerous World, which offers up a new gripping experimental sound that veers far from mediocrity. For the past decade, Fong has been one of the most prolific and singular voices in the Chinese music scene and he continues to push his limits further with the title track. He follows that with a snappy modern Motown-inspired ‘Black, White, Grey’. Things slow down with ‘Special Person’, a catchy soul ballad that highlights his velvety vocals. Lyrically, Fong sticks to straightforward rhymes that are less deep and more jejune. If you’re looking for something poetic, then that’s not what Fong has ever been known for. But if you enjoy modern R’n’B artists like Miguel and Frank Ocean, Fong’s newer dark and broody sound in tracks like ‘Paris’ and ‘Corpse’ are sure to tickle your interest.