Trampique – Face To Face (Dark Clover, 2014)

Are you sure you’re ok? Do you want me to leave or something?

Alexandr Frolov of Volor Flex has had a difficult time of 2013 by the sounds of things; briefly putting aside his well known Volor Flex alias for the time being and producing his debut LP under Trampique (the title an allusion to his hometown), Face to Face is a downtempo, Future Garage chronicle of his year, month by month, and what a bleak affair it is. Evoking some of the same musical sensibilities as others in this vein like Clubroot and Burial, Frolov carves our journey through shuffling hi-hats, irregular rhythms and crooning synth drones. And forgive me but this album does call for a track by track breakdown, it’s just how the story unfolds.

“January” is stoic and quiet, burbling little muffled guitar pickings alongside its bleak expanses of reverb, the slow trudging and crunching through snow heard delicately rising out of the darkness. It’s a lonely and cold opening, and I want to say that things pick up but that’s not entirely true. “February”`s suppressed sub-bass lines are certainly more empowered in its initial sequences, a burst of energy at the start of the month, but it falls away to sparse, downtrodden piano tinklings and moaning winds as we’re left to contemplate alone. “March” welcomes the prospect of and imminent Spring in its shuffling beats and tolling electronica, pushing at a brisker pace in an attempt to breakaway from these Winter fugues.

Unfortunately Spring and Summer appear to be every bit as unrelenting; “April” gives us something of an insight into its darkness with its elongate drones and spoken word lines; “the reason I came back to town was for you”, they admit, “do you ever wonder if thing’s might have been different between us?”. For the first time the music really opens up to us and we get a slight insight into the melancholia being displayed. “May” rises out of the surf on its cruising idiosyncratic beats and shuffling rhythms; it’s grooving and driven but ultimately feels distracting and self-appeasing, that fun night out before the regret seeps in the following morning. And so it does in “June”, our female companion whispering out of the darkness with a faint air of concern. It synths flutter and roll before descending into a judgmental, crackling void of vague regret, of expectations not met.

Our microcosm continues to expand as “July” feels the need to clear its head, taking a night stroll through the still light evenings as it churns out the same idiosyncratic riff that underpins his life, but it’s slower and more tympanic, walking slowly and plodding along with its head bowed. “September” also has a similar feel to it in its later moments, albeit more sluggish and suppressed, buried under a drugged haze. “October”`s 2-step beats reignite some of “May”`s bombast and drive, although this time it’s entirely more headstrong and deliberate, advancing and empowering ourselves through its pulsating, flowing grooves. It’s reinforced in “November” with some more dubby moments supplementing the sparkly and lightweight electronica it’s paired with, fluttering arpeggios alongside the Burial reminiscent vocal fragments.

By the time “December” comes around we’re ready for the year to be over; conjoining some of the quiet minimalism of “April” and “January”, its empty xylophones tinkle like stars appearing in the enveloping night, its drones cool and resigned to their fate. “I have made a mistake”, she says, “you can’t take me”; a sad parting shot that, despite all we did and regardless of how proactive we were in the preceding months, our dreams become delicately crushed once more as she says no.

Frolov certainly shoehorns a great deal of time and emotional content into an album that’s only 30 minutes long, and that’s why I love this release; it’s short, bitesized and potent, not to mention deliciously introspective. It’s truly difficult to fault this record; I love this particular brand of Chillstep and Future Garage and I’ve been looking for something akin to this for quite a while; the fact that it tells such an intimate and varied story across its span is really just the icing on the cake for me. Check it out.

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Burial – Rival Dealer (2013, EP)

HDB069 insert

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

Borealis – Voidness (2012)

The first album under Jesse Somfay’s new moniker Borealis (one of four), Voidness.

I love the work that Somfay produced under his own name; an eclectic fusion of albums and EP’s devoted to a really cerebral future techo sound, music that was really intimate and emotional and rooted in good electronic music principles. These new four aliases Somfay has made are each going to go in separate directions away from his original sounds, exploring other genres for different purposes (like recreating that classic and now-since-lost 90’s trance sound). Voidness, the first of these releases, is a direct attack on popular EDM music, blending an exotic fusion of genre styles together, blurring boundaries for the purpose of highlighting how caught up we are on identity.

That’s the premise anyway, an album that seeks to give the finger to the soulless, emotionless, empty (void) that is EDM at the moment. Does it achieve that though is the question.

I agree wholeheartedly with the reasoning behind this release, but I am not enjoying how it presents itself. The sound of this album is unique, I’ll give it that; I’m not the best at categorising electronic sub-genres (it’s a tricky and inflammatory business, and this is deliberately obtuse), but you should expect IDM, dubstep (the Burial kind) and minimal techno, although since labelling is against the principles of this album, forget what I just wrote. There’s a huge number of overlapping beat elements, some of them driving the tracks forward and underpinning everything, others circling and adding their textural overprint, but nothing complex, just simple and relaxed beats. There’s a lo-fi fuzz to many of the sequences that is a big throwback from Somfay’s earlier albums, but due to the precision and quality of many of the other electronic structures it feels a bit redundant.

The atmospheres here, while perhaps darker and more downtrodden than much of his earlier work, are definitely more open and less claustrophobic/oppressive. It seems to be very nostalgia seeped, drawing up many of the ambient textures he began to use later in his career (especially on A Catch In The Voice). Disjointed, distal samples from TV and radio work their way in, along with the classic helium-treated dubstep vocals (the “Womb” + “Not Of This Reality” doublet) a la Burial.

The problem with this release is that it takes all of techno’s worst facets and combines them with, to put it bluntly, a tonne of unnecessary electronic fuckery that makes this 75 minute release rather tiresome listening. Most of the tracks are rather forgettable and uninspiring, and the few that are (eg. “Womb”, “Nightingale”, “Nightfall”) are the few tracks that actually feel uplifting and don’t stick to the boring, monochromatic sound style that makes this album drag on and on.

This album puts itself in a deadzone, an electronic limbo trapped between genres, to highlight our dependence on labels and our obsession with hooks and drops, such that popular EDM has now become. In many ways it has achieved this goal, but in doing so Somfay has created a cumbersome and exhausting album that is surprisingly emotionally deficient and, while sounding unique, still wallows in lots of dubstep inspired sound. Teetering on the precipice of being great; so sad I got hyped for this for so long.

4.5/10