John Talabot – fIN (2012)

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The debut album of  rising Young Turks musician John Talabot with fIN.

Currently at Rate Your Music’s No. 1 spot for Top Albums of 2012 [edit: now at #10 as of 28/3), the sexy album art and the placement of it into the “Balearic Beat” genre piqued my interest.  Balearic Beat? Minimal Techno? Micro House? Consider me there! On first glance it seemed like it would be right up my alley, and the mountains of praise lavished upon this convinced me to give it a try. What followed was, well, quite a listening experience.

Opener “Depak Ine” is stellar; rich jungle samples form a thick textural base that Talabot works his magic over; dark and brooding yet offering a surprising warmth is the story of this album, with groovy minimal techno melodies and bassy, deep house kicks. It’s thick, lavish and über sexy listening and prepares us for the oncoming experimentality.

“Destiny”, with its dub overtones, settles us in for the long run by establishing an amazing groove. Talabot’s house and club influences are clear; this is something that feels like it was made with the dancefloor in mind, blending sultry vocals with a rich bassline. “El Oeste” and “Oro y Sangre” chase it up with shuffling synths, tribal drum undercurrents and distorted, distant screams, ones we cannot distinguish between revelry or fear.

Despite a very weak middle,  things get distinctly sunnier and bouncier with something of a 90’s throwback in “When The Past Was Present” with its floaty vocals and strongly pulsing synth beats, and the distinctly ambient “H.O.R.S.E”, which happens to be my personal favourite with its writhing synth backing and soft vocal coos.

It’s an album that, on the surface, appears to promise a happy, balearic listening experience but instead delivers something inherently darker, more shadowy. Talabot manages to capture the twilight hour of some sunny, exotic country, that brief period where the night is on the verge of beginning just as the clubs begin their nightly routine in the city while the insect populace also starts its orchestra in the more rural areas. It’s stunningly well done for the most part and displays some really well produced deep house; fat yet downtempo and tightly controlled basslines married against complex tropical textures make this a pretty rich and warm experience suitable for both personal listening as well as on the dancefloor.

Having come back to this long after my initial listens it has grown on me, but I’m still hesitant. Good, but doesn’t quite hit the spot:

7.5/10

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Mirrorring – Foreign Body (2012)

Foreign Body, the new sounds of collaborative effort Mirrorring, comprised of Grouper and Tiny Vipers.

I’m not familiar with Tiny Vipers’s (Jesy Fortino) work, but I am familiar with Grouper’s (Liz Harris) fantastic drone and noise style. If the Grouper side of things was anything to go by, I anticipated lots of reverb, delicate acoustic guitar, tonnes of drone and a smattering of utterly incomprehensible vocals. I wasn’t far off.

Hold up, that wasn’t me trying to paint a bad picture, far from it in fact. Grouper’s last album AIA was devastatingly beautiful, and this Mirrorring collaboration does something to temper her usually deep, dreamy fog.

At its core, as with Grouper’s own work, this is actually acoustic, and the first glimpse we really see of that foundation comes out with “Silent From Above”. The drone is left behind and there is a strong focus on acoustic guitar and Fortino’s vocals. As with all the tracks it is introspective, delicate and heartfelt. It gets very intimate, you can hear the scratches of fingers along the guitar strings (take that lo-fi), and the hushed, breathy vocals just sweep you up and waft you carefully along a folksy stream. “Cliffs” again takes Fortino’s essence with a very folk sound, but we can feel the dark menace of Harris’s drone lying just beneath the surface, barely restrained. For nearly 10 minutes we witness the tussle between Fortino and Harris, each one vying for front spot, hypnotically shifting the music back and forth but ultimately with no clear winner.

“Drowning The Call” rotates the focus around onto Grouper instead, seeing the return of those heavily processed guitars awash in an unusually warm haze of drone. The vocals are less lyrically focused and are so indistinct that they serve only as textures, the two women stacking sensual harmonies together. It’s all quite wonderful really, just bathed in sunlight and not having a care in the world. “Mine” falls in a similar vein but loses some of the warmth and fuzziness, oscillating back to that folk sound again. Laden with textures and processing the vocal clarity remains buried, keeping the atmosphere suitably mysterious.

“Mirror Of Our Sleeping” keeps the folk/drone interplay going right until the very end, forcing us to lean forward in our seats as the music becomes super minimal and quiet, lulling and soothing the listener into a trance, cooling us down as we leave the musical tennis match behind in a bleak drone fuzz.

Despite how minimal, mysterious and ethereal the music here is there is a surprising amount of “stuff” going on, and is excellent listening whether you want to sit and experience or just have in the background. Don’t let this one pass you by; it is careful and considerate and very beautiful.

7.5/10

Dropxlife – Furthur (2012)

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Here’s one of my favourite electronic albums of the year, Dropxlife’s debut mix tape/album Furthur.

Most electronic albums, and I’m thinking specifically about the review that never was (John Talabot’s balearic album fIN), capture me greatly for a short while but I then quickly lose interest. Not so here. In fact, I’ve been worrying that I’ve been listening to this too much, that I’ll only ruin the experience for myself faster, but the anticipated boredom hasn’t arrived yet. Furthur is something different.

How best to describe this? This album comes from quality electronic stock; born from the same future garage of Burial or Clubroot coupled with shuffling trip-hop undercurrents reminiscent of some drawn out Massive Attack makes this a bassy but slow moving release. Kicking off with the elegant downtempo of “MADEXMEN” and the similar “BEXFOREVER” we feel that Burial influence creeping in with quiet, fragmented vocal fragments submerged beneath processed guitar and a tight bassline. That’s what I love about this, the bass is punchy and warm, yet brooding. It doesn’t smother everything but has a substantial and dark presence.

The best track by far though is the title track “FURTHUR”. There is a real feet-tapping, head-nodding funk here as it brings airier, choppier vocals to the fore, temporarily putting the bassline to the side. The slightly up-pitched vocals remind me a lot of Burial’s “Fostercare” actually, they’re gorgeous. Tracks in a similar vein are “TRIPXENT”, although it’s more driven and less “funky”, and “REDXBLOOR” with it’s wavering, hovering beats and creepily naive helium-treated vocals.

“NUERXOLD” brings down the pace again though, juxtaposing distant faux-piano against a superb bassline, but it’s not a fight against light and dark, more an elegant merger of the two; one side has you floating, the other has you trapped under metres of earth. “1STXFLOOR” even brings some guitar fragments into the mix to give it a real diversity and get a few more textures. But it’s in the last two tracks of  “STILLXSHOTS” and “PAIRXDIS” where things settle down, become a bit more placid and spacious, cinematic even, but it feels somewhat unfinished and inconclusive, it’s stringed accompaniments just fading out feels a little anti-climactic.

Regardless, this is a 100% solid release from start to finish, there is barely a dull moment. The production is tight and precise, it all feels very careful yet almost, almost laid back. Seriously, seriously sexy stuff, I honestly think this is my album of the year right now. Oh, and did I mention that it’s FREE? (<- that’s a link)

8.5/10 (closer to a 9 in all honesty)