Abstractive Noise – Of The Adder’s Bite (2013)

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I think there’s an expectation raised before you listen to certain albums based on the album artwork and some of the genre descriptors, a promise that you’re going to get a certain experience out of an album. I try not to think about these things beforehand but it’s difficult to avoid, and with Abstractive Noise’s Of The Adder’s Bite there comes an expectation of big, bold and dark music, but one that fails to materialise.

The premise here is that it is a concept album, a journey through a machine-world in which the male protagonist in his travels discovers is a woman (or a woman in the form of a machine). It’s quite an unusual concept, one that perhaps does not make itself superficially obvious; first to be explored is the first chapter, the realisation of the machine’s existence. It’s opened by “Outcast” by lonely and slowly swelling drones as we come to. Vision materialises quickly and there is something of a mechanical feel to the repetitive sequences of violins and hushed percussion, but it’s slow and even at its peak never really feels grand or big. It tumbles into the machinations of…”Machine (Phase 1)”, a short interlude that finally begins to hint at space in its dark sub-bass currents, combined with aggressive and cold glitch fragments writhing over the top. Phase 2 is significantly more active as it moves away into more expanded melodies and rigourously structured music, but it has replaced all emotion with pretty unassuming and uninteresting recombinations of the same constructions we’ve heard for the last 10 minutes. Admittedly the staccato footfalls in the abrupt final throes are pretty cool and menacing.

The second chapter is presented as being the struggle for escape. “Trap” finally has some frantic energy to it that I’ve  been waiting for; the violins are as highly strung as they’ve ever been but there’s an alarming pace in the underlying cellos(?) and powerful percussion that sets things into a flat spin. There are then moments of despair and hopelessness in the next effort, here in the first movement of the title track. Piano is introduced for the first time with powerful effect, crushing the pacing and with slow stringed wails sending us into a pit of despair. It is something of an overdone moment though, exaggerating this plight somewhat, and it switches gears abruptly into the more surreptitious and plotting “Vengeance”, the uselessness of the previous track suddenly abandoned in favour of sharper and more determined music. Little xylophones ring out in the dark and the plucked and manipulated strings set out this tiptoeing and creeping image, deviously working in the candlelight.

Lastly, the final chapter presents us of the realisation that our escape is not possible. “Poisonous Well” begins to proposition this idea of acceptance; seemingly the plans from “Vengeance” have not materialised and we’re left with the broad swathes of, well I’m not quite sure how to describe it. The music is stylistically close to everything else we’ve heard so far so there’s not much to go on. It’s a bit more downtrodden I suppose, more resigned. This is especially true in the second movement of the title track; faint screams can be heard in the distance alongside the sad creaks of doors and other mechanical oddities in some quiet corner of this terrible machine. The violins are back to serenade us through this clichéd experience, but it is touching despite it. Frustrated bangs and smashes punctuate the quieter moments in madness. Finally, closer and longest track “of Betrayers and Betrayed” takes us out over its 10 minute span. It’s content to simply soldier on through, suck it up and just deal with it, but sadly that means we’re presenting with a relatively unwavering and unchanging track throughout, not migrating far from the usual, almost boring at this point, combinations of limited strings and percussion.

It’s a nice idea and concept, but I’m sceptical as to how well it can be deciphered through the music alone without reading the press kit. On my first listen without the context I felt the album as a whole felt pretty loose and not particularly progressive, and I still maintain that there is a disappointing amount of variety. I just wish it had more ferocity, a bit more fire in the belly that would just make it a little more entertaining and dramatic; some noise here and more glitch fragments there. Well executed and produced but a bit thin in the ideas department, using the overarching concept as something of a crutch.

 

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Discodeine – Swimmer (2013)

It’s been a peculiar week where I’ve not felt particularly inspired by anything. Following on from Burial’s surprise EP release has been pretty tough for me and I haven’t consumed anything since that’s really caught me in the same way. Luckily, French House duo Discodeine sort of made their way onto my radar with their sophomore release Swimmer.

I know that in the past I’ve been hesitant to tackle Electronic Dance Music but sometimes it’s just so insatiable and catchy that’s it’s difficult to deny, especially when it comes in a package as meaty yet compact as this 30 minute groover. Opener “Seabox”cruises in on a bed of pattering percussion and thick synth lines, only to be followed up by breathy vocals and faux piano.

“Why eat fresh meat”

He whispers enigmatically, although one of the clearer lines that cut through the mix. It’s a swirling, sub-tropical amalgamation of groovy, simplistic textures and it sets out the structure of the album to follow reasonably well. Follow up “Dry By” strips things back a bit more, paring the instrumentation right back to the synths and making the vocals even more breathy. It’s a rising and falling tide, working up into flurries of excitable sound at the peak of the choruses as the sung aspects come into their own, but keeping things low key and limited when they’re less impassioned. There’s lots of bleary electronic rushes of sunny noise and wiggling synths and it’s all painfully Summery.

It segues beautifully into lead single “Aydin”, which decides not to cruise anymore and set out a definitive and strong rhythm in the drum machines and piercing violin strings and deep, flanged synth basslines. It’s got an inherent darkness but also a grander scope than the preceeding tracks that makes it decidedly more ambitious and empowered, forcing its way against the current. Contrast this against “Dive Wet”, which somehow manages to juxtapose a Microhouse piece against the tumult of electronica we just went through. Once again its spoken word delivery and creeping melodies make for a dark and brooding atmosphere, shuffling along at an almost awkward pace but keeping just enough structure to propel it onward, despite the repetitive lyrics.

Thus largely ends the reign of the vocal lead tracks; much of the rest of this pretty short release is focused on the melodies alone. “Slip Slow” reaffirms the dark intents of “Dive Wet” with its drone currents and syncopated drum flurries amidst a creeping, minimal electronic riff, reflections bobbing and rippling in the wake of some dark ship. Fortunately this streak is interrupted by the relatively more jovial “Hydraa” which finally comes along to shine some light through the lingering dark spell with repetitious, solid beats and fluffy synth riff clouds. The cool “Shades of Cyan” is positively Hawaiian with its crooning guitars and excitable percussion, a bright and shimmering piece that’s as relaxing as it is danceable.

It’s hard to believe this sweet little piece moves into the 4/4, club ready “Liquid Sky” with such ease; it’s such a 90’s throwback track it sounds like I’m listening to the soundtrack of Wip3out or something, especially during the middle with those sawblade whines and the huge reverb and not to mention the female coos and waahs that permeate the multiplicity of textures it tumbles into in its heavy closing moments. The sweet 26 second interlude of “Vox” is an odd decision since it throws a glowing drone into the space between two rather driven tracks, but closer “Plum Blossom” more than makes up for this oversight. Flanging those weird backing synths once again it ties in all the delicious sounds of the album into one space, creating a tropical, Hawaiian vibe whilst also marrying it with somewhat darker and more ominious sounds in the more oppressive beats. It remains largely upbeat though with its fun 303s stuffed into the background and the even livelier drums and cymbals thrust above.

As always I’m pretty terrible when it comes to talking about music like this, but what I can tell you is that it’s fun, cheeky, occasionally propped with limited but compositionally useful vocals and nicely but not cheesily simplistic. It’s got a decent production quality and sometimes repetitive but pretty sweet tropical beats, perfect for these Wintry times.

 

Burial – Rival Dealer (2013, EP)

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Where do I even start? It’s been some time since exploring Burial’s catalogue; Untrue has never been a favourite album of mine and I’ve been previously underwhelmed by some of his other EPs, but it would appear that something has finally clicked into place with his latest effort from the famous Hyperdub label in  Rival Dealer. Maybe it’s simply a matter of right place, right time, but Rival Dealer hits all the spots and more, and I just can’t get enough.

The title track opens this three piece EP with a 10 minute timespan and good god is it incredible. “I’m gonna love you more than anyone” is sung through the already empowered melody, a dark synth lead piece the likes of which I’ve never heard before. It sounds like tortured strings singing through a thick drum machine bassline, lo-fi fuzz and snippets of mechanical noise, a stuttering and staccato performance that evokes images of some film noir chase scene. The rushes of sound, the deeply processed vocals, even the somewhat imperfect nature of the mixing, are all perfect. Suddenly it melts away at around the halfway mark in a pulse of disturbed electronica and switches into its second phase, one where 4/4 beats are king and the beats become less slippery and coy and more abrasive and progressive. Even this falls away as we enter the closing minutes of the track and it’s perhaps the most beautiful so far. Ambience reigns supreme in this slow motion melancholic period of grace, delicate female vocals confessing that they’ve “been watching you” through the distortion, and that “this is who I am”. The whole piece is also about acceptance of the relinquishment of a relationship, the realisation that things can’t go on forever, especially in the final phase of sung vocals.

“Hiders” is an unusual piece but somehow manages to work everything together. Fans of Burial might very well not be a fan of this, significantly more Pop influenced, piece; there’s a peacefulness and even euphoria here in the glowing walls of running water and shimmering synth drone sequences, the light crackling of fire and the jangling of jewellery. It kicks up the pace in the latter half as it moves away from these slower movements into a more uptempo number with the drum machine setting the cheesy but satisfying rhythm. It’s happy, joyous, although it leads darkly into the final track “Come Down To Us” with tracts of murky noise and stuttering glitch.

The closer then is ushered in and presented as an inherently dark number is a complex leviathan of mixed sounds and emotion. Sometimes capitalising on the moody drones evoked in the title track it creates expansive vistas of hopeful sound, other times slipping into slinky sitars to give a slightly more off-kilter feel that, coupled with deep basslines, generates an inherently more creepy atmosphere. Vocals are a huge component of this piece, often times being used more as a textural fabric rather than as clearly defined voices, but they set the tone and message of this piece. “Don’t be afraid” is repeated frequently in an alarming voice; “this is the moment where you see who you are”, and an important speech by transgender filmmaker Lana Wachowski at the very end all make this a track about embracing not only yourself but the opinions and views of other people, accepting that we cant please everyone but we can be happy within ourselves so long as we accept who we are. The final phase in particular is an evocative sequence of sultry percussion, beautiful vocal soars and expansive synths that overcome the hardships of our darker moments.

It’s so astonishingly well paced and well constructed it’s really difficult not to get sucked into this release. The vocals are repeated but are mixed up enough throughout to give a real sense of personal evolution and keep the pieces fresh, and their processing matches the tone of the tangentially evolving melodies perfectly. I think the themes of sexuality and personal acceptance are certainly an important facet of this release but for me it’s more the journey than the message; I simply cannot stop listening to it. The way he juxtaposes the paralysing dark sequences with those concerned voices against the joyous, light filled movements is simply beautiful to behold, and if you’re in any way a fan of Dubstep, Garage, Techno, Ambient or all of the above, I would highly recommend checking it out.

You can listen to all the tracks for free at Hyperdub’s Youtube Page