Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 2. NZCA Lines ‘Infinite Summer’

Basic RGB

“An album chock-full of juxtapositions and deft emotional manipulations, held effortlessly together by Michael Lovett’s soulboy vocals.” – Electronic Sound

NZCA Lines were another band that I fell in love with as soon as I heard their new LP this year, and totally kicked myself for not having heard of them until the occasion of their second album, Infinite Summer. Michael Lovett, the brains behind NZCA Lines, has appeared on Metronomy’s albums and helped Christine & The Queens on the outstanding Chaleur Humaine. His is a prodigious talent, effortlessly creating addictive pop music with the same artsiness that made Chaleur Humaine a great example of the thinking listener’s electronica.

I wrote about NZCA Lines for Electronic Sound. Back issues of Electronic Sound can be found at www.electronicsound.co.uk.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 3. LNZNDRF ‘LNZNDRF’

lnzndrf

“In thrall to the methods of Can, if not their actual sound.” – Electronic Sound

I heralded the trio of Scott and Bryan Devendorf (from The National) and Bryan Lanz (from Beirut) as my new favourite band upon the release of their self-titled album for 4AD earlier this year. It would the first of three such occasions where I made that claim.

This was a frighteningly inventive LP, formed out of the same sort of long-form improvised jams that Can used nearly fifty years before in the creation of their seminal early records, only then treated and manipulated to take on a relatively ‘composed’ form. The output was a sort of Krautrock / electronic hybrid whose details reveal themselves over repeated listens.

I reviewed the album for Electronic Sound and interviewed Scott Devendorf for Clash. Back issues of Electronic Sound are available at http://www.electronicsound.co.uk while my interview can be read here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 4. Reed & Caroline ‘Buchla & Singing’ // Erasure ‘From Moscow To Mars’

I felt a little conflicted about including these two on my list, for reasons which I will attempt somewhat clumsily to explain. I then reasoned that this is my list, I’m kind of really proud of what I’ve done to support both these releases, and so on the list they shall remain. I’ve also linked them together for the purposes of convenience.

erasure_moscow_to_mars_1000
“It might have the look and feel of a futuristic tombstone, but From Moscow To Mars, as its title from the oft-forgotten single ‘Star’ indicates, represents a thirty year journey – a journey that the duo are very firmly still on with a new album in the works and plenty more rocket fuel left in the tanks.” – This Is Not Retro

“What emerges here is a distinct sense of loyalty – from Vince Clarke and Andy Bell to one another, and to the enduring art of writing emotional pop music.” – Electronic Sound

First up, the mammoth and some would definitely argue long overdue Erasure box. This was finally released in December after production delays and I reviewed this – atypically for me – for two places: Electronic Sound and then a slightly more personal piece for This Is Not Retro. I am, and forever will be, a massive Erasure fan first and foremost, so my ability to be objective about From Moscow To Mars is one possible conflict of interest. Personally, I think I pulled it off, but you can judge for yourself. The review for This Is Not Retro can be found here. Back issues of Electronic Sound are over at www.electronicsound.co.uk

The second reason for feeling slightly conflicted came in November when I found myself in Birmingham as a guest of the Erasure fan club at the official launch party for the boxset. I was there nominally as a guest but found myself helping out in a couple of ways – blowing up some very sorry balloons (I apologise to anyone who attended and laughed at those) while listening to Vince Clarke and Andy Bell soundcheck their set (including a new song) and then helping out with three hours of meet and greets. It was a special, and slightly surreal experience.

img_0419

Second, Buchla & Singing by Reed & Caroline, a charming album of compositions for the Buchla by Reed Hays with beautiful singing by Caroline Schutz. The album was released on Vince Clarke’s Very Records back in October to universal acclaim. I didn’t get to review this one, but trust me, had I done so I would have called it out as very special indeed.

I wrote the press release for Very Records for this album and enjoyed a very pleasant Skype chat with Hays in order to prepare that. Of all the things I have done this year, getting handed that job and helping support the release of Buchla & Singing – in a way somewhat different from just scribing a review – was right up there as a major career highlight, and I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity.

One of the best tracks on the album is ‘Henry The Worm’. Reed and I spoke about that track at length but I just couldn’t find a way of fitting it into the press release, so here is that little off-cut. I thought it was a nice story. Music sometimes needs to take itself less seriously.

“Around the time my son was born, I wrote a song that’s on the record called ‘Henry The Worm’,” explained Reed. “We named Henry, my son, after a little caterpillar that was crawling around a Mexican restaurant. When we saw the first sonogram I thought he looked like a little caterpillar.”

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 5. Savoir Adore ‘The Love That Remains’

“The best thing to come out of Brooklyn since the last thing.” – Electronic Sound

This one snuck in right at the very end of the year, and caught me totally unawares. I’ve become accustomed, like most people have, to great music coming flooding out of Brooklyn, but Savoir Adore‘s new album was something else. The album was released earlier in the year in the US but only got its UK release in December.

The best reference point I have for this synth-heavy opus – which its creator Paul Hammer explains was influenced by the dominant romantic input to Fado music, the elusive concept of saudade – would probably be Bleachers’ debut LP. Except that where Bleachers seemed to really have to work hard at writing big choruses and infectious synth melodies, Hammer and Savoir Adore never sound like they’re having to try too hard. This gives The Love That Remains a certain polish and sheen that far bigger productions would die for, without ever once sounding completely like a chart pop album.

My review of this will appear in the next issue of Electronic Sound.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 8. Yeasayer ‘Amen & Goodbye’

“At its best when it stops trying to be overly clever and instead rushes shamelessly into the slick pop that has run throughout Yeasayer’s career.” – Electronic Sound

Album number four from Yeasayer had a title that suggested some sort of full stop, but whose music suggested the trio were finding new ways of writing music and exciting experimental angles to exploit. In spite of that foray into slightly odder areas, opening track ‘I Am Chemistry’ and the stand-out ‘Silly Me’ are among this Brooklyn band’s finest moments.

I found myself listening to this album a lot over the summer, and kicked myself for not responding to an opportunity to interview Chris Keating from the band for a second time.

I reviewed this for Electronic Sound. Back issues are available from http://www.electronicsound.co.uk

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2016 Top 10 Albums: 9. The Seshen ‘Flames & Figures’

“Modern pop music’s ongoing homage to the sounds and rhythms of 80s music has produced some outstanding songs, but also some absolute stinkers.” – Electronic Sound 23

The Seshen hail from San Francisco’s Bay Area and make shiny, soulful and infectious pop music. Their second album found the band delivering a high gloss electronic album full of heartache, heartbreak, angst, abuse and many more deeply personal emotional cues from Lalin St. Juste and the rest of The Seshen.

I covered this album for Electronic Sound 23, whereupon I described it as containing some of the best pop songs you’ll hear today. High praise indeed.

One of the weirdest and most unexpected things that’s happened to me this year has been rediscovering a love of pop music, something that outside of the likes of Erasure I’d pretty much actively stopped looking for. That’s allowed me to appreciate acts like The Seshen in a way that I’d never have been prepared to before. More on my rekindled appreciation of pop later on.

Back issues of Electronic Sound can be found at electronicsound.co.uk

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Electronic Sound #21 – Print Edition


As if I wasn’t proud already about being part of the Electronic Sound team, this month that sense of pride went up a couple of notches as the publication made the transition from being an entirely digital proposition to a fully-fledged newsstand magazine. That’s a bold move in a day and age where we’re told that everything is going in the opposite direction, but the team at Electronic Sound have undoubtedly pulled it off. You can buy copies of the print edition here.

I’m doubly proud because one of the most important features I’ve ever had the good fortune to scribe is heavily featured in the first newsstand edition – an interview with Very Records owner and one half of Erasure, Vince Clarke. The interview was conducted one extremely sticky May afternoon in Vince’s Brooklyn home studio.

As if that wasn’t seismic enough for an individual whose entire interest in music writing can be traced back to a record label flyer that fell out of the 12″ single of Erasure’s ‘Chorus’ almost 25 years ago, we were joined by Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll by Skype from his home in Brighton to discuss the Clarke / Hartnoll album 2Square. Once I’d properly decided that dance music was the place for me in the mid-Nineties, Orbital were a duo I fell for in a big way, and so getting airtime with not one, but two, idols in one go was a pretty sweet deal. I am eternally grateful to Electronic Sound for this opportunity, and also to my family for letting me duck out of part of our vacation in New York to undertake the interview.
Photography for the interview came from the wonderful Ed Walker. Ed wrote a great piece about the experience for his website, which can be read here. While you’re there, please do take a look at Ed’s surreptitious photographs of New Yorkers, which are all taken during a specific period of the day where light is particularly beautiful.

In addition to the Clarke / Hartnoll feature, I also interviewed Rico Conning for this issue. Conning will be familiar to Mute fans because of the remixes and edits he did for the label during its Eighties heyday. I had not appreciated that prior to working at William Orbit’s Guerrila Studio, Conning (and Fad Gadget drummer Nick Cash) had been in a post-punk band called The Lines. The interview tells the story of their hitherto lost third album, Hull Down, which was finally released earlier this year.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound