Electronic Sound 36

Electronic Sound issue 36 is available to buy / order now, and features a comprehensive overview of David Bowie’s 70s forays into electronic music.

This month I wrote a short feature on up-and-coming Bristol electronic musician Henry Green and major feature on James Holden, whose album The Animal Spirits was far and away my favourite record of 2017. The interview took place in Holden’s studio near Turnham Green and found us talking about maths, spiritual jazz, the complexities of trying to add electronics to the music of Ornette Coleman, how to shrink a modular synth down to the size of a cabin bag, and the complex algorithms that explain duo playing. The result was one of my favourite interviews and consequently one of my favourite features to have written.

On the reviews front, this month I covered a reissue of Coil‘s Time Machines, the beautiful guitar processing of Martin Heyne‘s Electric Intervals, explorations of the fading AM radio spectrum by Conflux Coldwell, a lovely pairing of pianist Tom Rogerson with Brian Eno on Finding Shore, a scarily good release by Espectrostatic on the fine Burning Witches imprint and Null + Void‘s Cryosleep featuring Depeche Mode‘s Dave Gahan among other guest vocalists.

Electronic Sound can be purchased here.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Documentary Evidence 2017 Top 10 Albums: 1. James Holden & The Animal Spirits ‘The Animal Spirits’

One album this year stood apart for me and it was this record by former progressive house DJ James Holden, an endeavour that the word ‘epic’ was presumably designed for.

Assembled by Holden as bandleader and with his own electronics as the backbone, The Animal Spirits was executed through improvisations that were faithful to the questing spirit of jazz, specifically the spiritual music crafted by the likes of Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders and Don Cherry, and the similarly transcendent cycles of Moroccan trance music.

Electronics should act as a inflexible handbrake on pure improv, or at least that’s what we’re meant to believe, but Holden isn’t a typical electronic musician – not only did he build his own hand baggage-sized modular synth, but he also wrote his own software that was integrated with his drummer’s playing to ensure that he could keep up with the rest of the band. The fact that Holden would go so far as to work with a renowned physicist on the theory behind how a duo of musicians impact one another through errors in their playing, and then figure out how to program that, and then make it fit into a band concept, underlines just how different Holden is. There is a vibrant electronic jazz fusion scene going on right now, spearheaded by Holden and his Border Community imprint, Floating Points and others, but The Animal Spirits still stands apart.

I interviewed James for Electronic Sound. The interview took place at his studio near Turnham Green, a compact space filled with modular kit where The Animal Spirits was realised in what must have been an intense series of sessions. Holden is an educated, softly spoken, thoughtful individual. You get the impression when speaking to Holden that he’s only devoting part of his brain to the conversation – not because he’s disinterested, as he was perhaps the most engaging interviewee I sat with this year, but because he’s partitioned off the rest of his brain to resolve some new, complex algorithm simultaneously.

I’m convinced that, in years to come, people will consider The Animal Spirits to be a pivotal electronic music album, one that freed up synths from the linear shackles of rigid sequencers; don’t wait for everyone else to catch up – enjoy it now. Listen to The Animal Spirits here.

Buy Electronic Sound at www.electronicsound.co.uk.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2017 Top 10 Albums: 5. Moon Hooch ‘Live At The Cathedral’

“The trio of Mike Wilbur, Wenzl McGowen and James Muschler may well have just written a whole new playbook for modern jazz.”
– Electronic Sound

It’s warm, sunny evening in July and I’m in a quiet little hotel near the Champs Elysées in Paris, with the loud and uncompromising sounds of New York trio Moon Hooch blasting out at neighbour-bothering volumes.

This was one of those albums that hit my inbox and initially went straight into the trash folder, only to resurface later when my editor at Electronic Sound put it on my list of things to cover that month. I felt like such an idiot for deleting it. Loved by luminaries like Iggy Pop and recorded here in the cavernous environs of the Cathedral of St. John The Divine in New York, Moon Hooch make an unholy punk-jazz racket that is entirely in the NYC tradition of James Chance & The Contortions. It’s bratty, electronically-augmented and wildly inventive, twisting New York’s venerable jazz legacy into incredibly creative new shapes.

Electronic Sound can be purchased at www.electronicsound.co.uk

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2017 Top 10 Albums: 7. Floating Points ‘Reflections – Mojave Desert’

“Sam Shepherd seems set to become one of his generation’s musicians to watch, and a potential legend in the making.”
Electronic Sound

Floating Points‘s Elaenia was my favourite album of 2015 by far, and was responsible for me beginning to realise that fusing electronics with jazz wasn’t quite as naff as everyone had told me it was. Consequently I was ridiculously excited to get the chance to review Sam Shepherd’s latest album for Electronic Sound, an album where he had moved from solo artist to de facto band leader.

Reflections – Mojave Desert is a major progression on from Elaenia, where the addition of extra musicians has allowed Shepherd to more precisely express what he was clearly to do back in 2015 but couldn’t when his only tools were samples and electronics. To fully understand the exacting process Shepherd went through to create the five tracks on the album, an accompanying film showed the group performing and collecting sounds amid the breathtaking backdrop of the Joshua Tree National Park.

The result is an album full of finely-wrought atmospherics and complex arrangements that showcases Shepherd’s strong appreciation of jazz music history and his ability to push things in a thoroughly modern direction.

Listen to Reflections – Mojave Desert here.

Electronic Sound can be purchased at www.electronicsound.co.uk.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Documentary Evidence 2017 Top 10 Albums: 10. BRZZVLL ‘Waiho’

“An album of genuinely memorable riffs on jazz’s essential spirit.”
Electronic Sound

I’ve had another year of getting to write about incredible music, and choosing my seasonal top ten albums this year was especially difficult.

To kick things off, I’ve selected BRZZVLL‘s stunning Waiho, the new album from a Belgian seven-piece group who take the infinitely flexible template of jazz and infuse that with everything from hip-hop to the edgy big-band funk espoused by Talking Heads when they’d more or less doubled their line-up.

I reviewed Waiho for Electronic Sound.

Listen to Waiho here.

Buy Electronic Sound at www.electronicsound.co.uk.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Electronic Sound 35

Issue 35 of Electronic Sound has been out for a while, and this month features a major in-depth look at the work of much-missed German producer Conny Plank.

This issue features the last part of my feature on Alison Moyet, here focussing in on her influences. Such pieces are often really illuminating, particularly – as here – were they cover non-musical influences, and it was no different on this occasion. The interview was conducted in a bar in Chelsea back in May, and is the companion piece to a feature about Moyet’s latest album, Other.

My other major feature for this month was about the weird world of the Welcome To Night Vale podcast, something’s that been running for years but which totally passed me by. My interview with Jeffrey Cranor, co-author of the podcast, was definitely one of the most fun things I’ve done this year.

On the reviews front, I covered Gregg Kowalsky‘s ambient delight L’Orange, L’Orange, the very Night Vale-friendly strangeness of Snapped Ankles‘s Come Play The Trees, a reissue of an overlooked album by Twins Natalia, an absolutely fantastic electronic jazz crossover in the form of Brzzvll‘s Waiho, a more subtle jazz-with-synths hybrid in the form of Chet Doxas‘s Rich In Symbols, the fantastically raw No Luscious Life by Glasgow’s Golden Teacher, and a career-spanning piece on Simian Mobile Disco‘s ADSR reissue and Anthology collection.

My final contribution this month was among the most personally rewarding. For the magazine’s Buried Treasure section, I wrote a piece on Vic Twenty‘s Electrostalinist, an album which sadly seemed to pass everyone by when it was released in 2005. Vic Twenty was originally a duo of Adrian Morris and Angela Penhaligon (Piney Gir), they supported Erasure in 2003, and Mute‘s Daniel Miller set up a new independent label called Credible Sexy Units just to release one solitary single by the duo. Piney left to follow a successful solo career and Morris carried on alone. I drafted a review of the album for Documentary Evidence when it was released but never finished it, much to my regret, and so it was a pleasure to finally give Electrostalinist the coverage it deserved.

Electronic Sound can be purchaed at www.electronicsound.co.uk.

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

Electronic Sound 34

Issue 34 of Electronic Sound is now available. Focussing in on the world of soundtracks to coincide with the release of Blade Runner 2049, the latest issue includes an exclusive 7″ containing extracts from Louis and Bebe Barron’s genre-defining soundtrack to the sci-fi landmark Forbidden Planet.

My major contribution to the latest issue was an interview with Clint Mansell. Mansell was formerly a member of Pop Will Eat Itself, a band I got into in the mid-90s thanks to a friend at the after-school office jobs we both had, whereupon he plied me with each and every one of their releases up to that point. So smitten by PWEI was I that I did that very 90s thing of buying a t-shirt to show my allegiance, a lovely navy blue Designers Republic thing containing the cartoon band mascot. I was wearing that t-shirt the day I started university, which attracted the attention of another freshman who recognised the logo; we’ve been lifelong friends ever since.

This is a longwinded way of saying that Mansell’s music really matters to me, and so getting the chance to speak to him was a real privilege. Mansell’s inclusion in the Electronic Sound soundtrack issue arises because of his post-PWEI work as a composer for the films of Darren Aronofsky and Duncan Jones’s, developing scores for the harrowing Requiem For A Dream, Moon and the upcoming Mute. And speaking of Mute, which I often do of course, Mansell is pictured in a Mute ‘walking man’ logo in the photos accompanying my feature, and this issue includes a new interview with Mute founder Daniel Miller.

Elsewhere in this issue I wrote a short piece introducing the work of Lithuanian electronic producer Brokenchord, whose new album Endless Transmission is a robust, trip-hop embracing work of great weight. I also wrote short reviews of albums by livesampled piano duo Grandbrothers, the sexually-charged Blade Runner-inspired debut album from Parisian François X, a slinky 80s-inspired R&B album by Submerse, a thoughtful new LP from Aris Kindt and a grainy industrial / minimal release by Vanity Productions issued through Posh Isolation, one of my favourite small labels. To round the issue out, I reviewed the Front & Follow label’s fantastic ten year anniversary compilation Lessons, and surveyed the varied career of Auteurs founder Luke Haines through a new 4-disc box set. Having written the press release and an interview to support the release of Alka‘s The Colour Of Terrible Crystal on Vince Clarke‘s Very Records, it was pleasing to see the album get a deservedly positive review in the latest issue.

You can pick up a copy of the new issue at www.electronicsound.co.uk

(c) 2017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound