CAT/ has teamed up with some friends. It is nice to have friends…
Collaborations are tricky things to get right. If one person takes charge it doesn’t quite work, and one person is left out, have it too loose and it’s a free for all and no one is happy. Luckily CAT/’s jaunt in the studio with WRCKTNGL and KTNG is a slice of post-dubstep, dark electro perfection. Each artist has their own say, and their style is represented, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like a single producer’s work.
Throughout it’s all too short duration Glare throbs and pulses and digests itself, while never losing track of its purpose, yet at the same time never quite keeping to its brief. But what is that brief? To create a track full of ambient moans, claustrophobic bass drops and oppressive break beats. It’s a tour de force, not just for CAT/, WRCKTNGL and KTNG, but for the Titan Squad umbrella that covers them. Let’s hope there is more of this in the pipeline, as its too good to be a one off!
Tess Conway has the perfect answer to a rainy weekend. Pull the curtains, and crank up Aesthesia
Synthwave is has been trending over the last few months. Most notably because of the soundtrack to Netflix’s instant classic Stranger Things. The whole score that Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein created was as much an homage to the 1980’s as the show, but with contemporary production techniques and sounds.
Tess Conway isn’t new to the synthwave game, her 2013 Depth release on Phantasma Disques was an underground favourite. Her new single Aesthesia is in the vein of her early releases, but there is a propinquity to it that was missing in the past. Opening with a swath of wonky synths and vaporous bass fill the speakers. As Part 1 progresses it has a miasmic quality to it that is as addictive as it is virulent. Part 2 carries on in the same vibe, but everything is more ethereal.
There is a subtle euphoria that permeates Conway’s music. In other hands this would have sounded like a Slinky big room track from 1999 re-jiggled with synthwave stylings.
K.Flay unveils the EP she’s always hinted at!
Kristine Flaherty AKA K.Flay has been on my musical radar ever since I first heard her remix of Gucci Gucci in 2011. While that song was decent, Flaherty’s remix was something else. Even before I’d finished listening to it, I’d googled and was buying and downloading everything she had released. After that fateful day when two stranger’s futures were intertwined, I’ve been a loyal fan. When Flay released the Eyes Shut EP through Sony I was convinced this was Day 0. Sadly, like the album she recorded, nothing came of it and she remained in the shadows while lesser musicians got bigger. Since Eyes Shut Flay has released a slew of singles, a youtube book club, EP’s and her debut album, Life as a Dog. They all showcased her deft touch at production and razor sharp lyrics, but they were missing something. The inventive zeal of Eyes Shut wasn’t quite there, that is until now, until Crush Me.
Crush Me consists of four tracks that range from a straight up garage rock banger to a tender and sentimental ballad. But the most remarkable thing is that they all flow together than carry a loose story arc. The EP opens with Blood in the Cut. This is the most aggressive, and catchy, track on the EP. Loosley it’s about being single and angry. Musically this is summed up by sounding like a mixture of the Dead Weather, Nick Cave and Trentemøller. The lyrics however are the star of the show. Flay’s drawly delivery, coupled with nuggets like “Met back up with the boy I love, Cried on the streets of San Francisco, I don’t have an agenda, All I do is pretend to be ok so my friends, Can’t see my heart in the blender”, “Lately, I’ve been killing all my time, Reading through your messages my favorite way to die, Take my head and kick it in, Break some bread for all my sins”, and the chorus of “It’s too quiet in this room, I need noise, I need the buzz of a sub, Need the crack of a whip, Need some blood in the cut” eloquently sum this up perfectly. This is Flay at her best!
Hollywood Forever is up next. This time Flay explains her fears and anxieties. Again the lyrics are the star of the show. Opening line “I’m hiding from mirrors, I’m frightened of sex, Despising my image, I’m enlightened and slightly obsessed” feels slightly beatific. “I used to be so confident, So sober and awake, I never thought to act, Devoted and ashamed, Wanted to call my ex, To hear him say my name, Over the phone to me” is something that we’ve all gone through, but Flay sums it up succinctly and laconically. The music is a slower version of Blood in the Cut, but instead of the anger, we have slightly redemptive tones and a subtle aching of melancholy.
The next two songs are slower, and this pace if reflective in the subject matter. Dreamers is basically about if you could what would you re-do differently, but at the same time realising that only you can control your life. The EP closes with You Felt Right in which Flay tells the story of a romance that never quite happened, but resonated deeply. The music is laidback, but with occasional bass drops, however the soaring chours could be the stand out event on EP. The lyrics are like a diamond bullet to the head “I’m always in the wrong place at the wrong time, Headed on a bad trip with the wrong high, I don’t really know why, But you felt right to me, I hadn’t had a good thing in a long time, Moving in the fast lane with the wrong guy, I don’t really know why, But you felt right to me”. In a weird way You Felt Right should open the EP, as it’s the start of the story, but ending it feels more fitting.
Crush Me shows that Flay hasn’t lost any of her musical and lyrically prowess, as it’s is visceral, yet tender. This juxtaposition is what makes Flay one of the most exciting musicians on the scene today. Let’s hope that there is more of this calibre in Flay’s harddrive as it sounds like her has a fire in her belly and something to say. When an artist has these at the same time anything can happen!
1-800 Dinosaur Presents Trim is one of the finest and forward thinking albums released in 2016 thus far
The musical polymath that is James Blake first started 1-800 Dinosaur in 2010 as club night banner while on tour. It was a way for him, and his backing band, to let off steam and play different music than he is singularly know. 1-800 Dinosaur now consists of Blake, Foat, Trim, drummer Mr Assister, guitarist Airhead, and DJ Klaus and they’ve just released their debut album ‘Trim’
Instead of opening with a salvo of rapid fire beats, bowling loosening bass and the sound of the inner city sprawl, that is Trim’s inspiration, we’re greeted with World Music xylophones and shimmering synths. While the music whips and swirls around us Trim delivers stream of consciousness lyrics are as intelligent as they are entertaining. Instead of rapping about gang issues and other stereotypes, this Grime artist offers us an alternative. And this is what 1-800 Dinosaur is, an alternative to over produced hip-hop that only name checks its postcode and what its wearing. ‘Before I Lied’, picks things up a bit, for the first time on the album we have conventional bass and breakbeats. Sounding like a slower and laid back re-work of DMX’s classic ‘X Gonna Give it You’ with an inspired horn section. Trim’s grime raps are as clever and inventive as on ‘Stretch’, but the beats are tighter and everything has a grittier feeling to it.
‘Man Like Me’, is classic grime in the Wiley Bow E3 vein, but musically its more ad-hoc and shambolic. There are moments when it feels like everything is going to collapse under it loping bass and ungainly beats. ‘White Room’ is tailor made for when you walk into a club, it’s busy, everything is strobing and it looks like the small room is in a different time zone to the rest of the world and everything is in slow motion. However the star of the show is Airhead’s searing guitar riffs. They give the song this feeling of euphoria that when juxtaposed with the stark electronics gives it a warmth seldom seen and hear in electronic music. ‘Seeker’ sounds like a cut-and-paste remix of music and dialogue from the Channel 4 programme Utopia. It’s all choppy beats, lurid, creepy, but ultimately one of the stand out moments of the album. Speaking of standout moments, the best is definitely left for last. However the reason why ‘No Manners’ is so addictive to listen to is partly down to a delicious string sounding loop and it has a catchy as chorus. “The kids got tunes, bangers, And I’m out with the hoodlums, goons, jackers. And they throw us in the works, spanners, And we ain’t like those other grime MC’s, rappers. You might end up with you your whole crew in tatters, you’re whole crew’s in tatters”.
1-800-Dinosaur Presents Trim, is far more than a Blake side project. It’s a fully functioning collective that, luckily for us punters, have put on some amazing nights and released some forward thinking music. The real power of this album is not only the showcasing 1-800’s collective musical prowess and their ability to mix and merge genres and style effortlessly to create music that sounds like nothing that has been released commercially in recent month, but of Trim’s vocals. Throughout the album he is the glue that holds everything together. Some of his lyrics are just roasting and bravado, but others are tongue I cheek rhymes meant to evoke a sense of fun, but there is also a lot of poignant and thought provoking stuff that not only sums up what’s it like to be living in 2016, but hints at a way to try and make it better. 1-800-Dinosaur are much more than a club-night, a label and a supergroup and where they go from here it’s hard to say, but it’ll be well trim!
Retro Promenade is far from a niche label putting out synth covers and fake scores. Here are some key releases to get you started!
Retro Promenade is a label from Austin Texas that releases 1980’s and 1990’s influenced music and art, each releases comes with a limited edition poster. Their music is full of neon synth-wave, unadulterated pop, retro motifs and ultimately fun!
First Up is Retro Promenade’s most recent release Fairmont Futura Turbo. This EP by synth-wave producer Raider is based around the Ford Fairmont. This car might not seem the obvious choice of subject matter for a dreamy and woozy electronic EP but it does make perfect sense. The Ford Fairmont was sold between 1978 and 1983 and the music sounds like it’s been lifted straight out of some cult score and given a contemporary beat. Its laidback, classic and fun. Which I guess is what the designer’s wanted the Fairmont to be too.
An album that everyone at thisyearinmusic immediately fell in lust with was Bart Graft’s Art Exhibition. As their blurb says “It slices; it dices; and it makes french fries in three different…
…you know what? Just have a listen It’ll absolutely blow you away.” Seem legit. Jammin’ with Ariel sounds like Harold Faltermeyer having a go at Brian Eno’s ambient series, but having a laugh with it, instead of making minimal soundscapes. The searing guitar solo is the stand out moment. Why can’t the art galleries I go to play this, instead of Shostakovitch…
One of the best things that Retro Promenade does is commission fake soundtracks to fake films. The standout fake soundtrack is Protector’s 2014 masterpiece Return of the Killer Train. While this film doesn’t exist, in my mind it plays out like a mixture of Duel and Nightmare on Elm Street. Will the killer train be stopped before it claims another victim? You’ll have to listen to find out!
The jewel in Retro Promenade’s crown is its Twin Peak’s album from 2015. Over three volumes that showcased the up and coming producers around at the time, they covered, remixed and released songs that were inspired by the original series and the music. The songs are the same, compositionally, but everything has been given a cool neon synth sheen. If you are, or know of a, Peaker this these are albums for you!
If these links have whet your whistle check out the rest of Retro Promenade’s vast back catalogue including a John Carpenter inspired covers album, an alternative score for Batman as he fights crime in Gotham and their most recent, Die Hard inspired, Christmas album! Retro Promenade is a label that is far more diverse and varied than it first appears, much like the decades and genres it loves.
Oh and going forward how about a version of the Akira soundtrack, just putting it out there Retro Promenade…