Brian Eno – Reflection (Opal / Warp album, 2016)

I like to that that I was a very good student of electronic music history, all told. When I understood that synth music didn’t come into existence with the likes of ‘Tainted Love’ in 1981, or even with Kraftwerk’s experiments in the previous decade, I was fastidious about trying to absorb all of the points along the genesis of the genre. I’m still doing that.

At some point in the 1990s I went headlong into the work of Brian Eno, probably around the time of the the second Future Sound Of London album where they’d used some of Robert Fripp’s ‘Frippertronics’ on that record. You read up about Fripp, you get to Eno, but then again most electronic music roads at some point will likely lead you to Eno. As soon as I found out about his electronic music, my local library’s collection of his CDs was rapidly depleted.

I liked most of what I heard, but the one that jumped out was his 1988 album The Shutov Assembly. I remember renting this the same day as Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works II, and being surprised at how similar they both were; both being largely formed of weightless, serene pieces that seemed at times to border on the classical in their melodic content. Since then, The Shutov Assembly has become a go-to album for me at times when I need to chill the fuck out; usually this is at the start of an overnight flight back from the States, or a 4.15 train to St. Pancras before a Eurostar connection. I’m normally fast asleep by the start of the second track, ‘Alhondiga’. I know it’s a complete disservice to the album not to actually listen to it all the way through, at least not consciously, but I sure appreciate the album for helping me to sleep.

Over the years I’ve become an Eno collector, but not to the extent that I wish I could. Nevertheless, when the opportunity came up to review his new single-track Warp album Reflection for Clash, I was all over it. My review of this supremely beautiful record can be found here.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Various Artists – Artificial Intelligence (Warp compilation, 1992)

  
compilation // Artificial Intelligence

Warp’s groundbreaking Artificial Intelligence compilation did what so many other seminal compilations did and effectively made a scene concrete. Like Eno’s No New York did for post-punk in the US, it could be argued confidently that Warp did the same for the particular brand of electronica over which the Sheffield label presided, spawning a series of intriguing albums by the label that gave voice to many of the artists that were showcased on the compilation.

Artificial Intelligence arrived in 1992, the same year that hardcore had rudely woken the listening public from their slumber, and on many of the tracks included here there’s still a whiff of detuned breakbeats as opposed to the haphazard glitch beats that the likes of Autechre would come to represent over the next two decades. In fact, Autechre’s ‘Crystel’, one of two tracks by Sean Booth and Rob Brown included here, sounds positively like a conventional instrumental synthpop track compared to the jagged rhythms and icy melodies they would become poster children for. Tracks like Musicology’s ‘Preminition’ are not exactly the bedroom listening we came to expect from the AI series, and instead sound like straightforward rave tracks, complete with menacing basslines and euphoric soul samples.

Of interest to Mute / NovaMute fans are three tracks from Speedy J and Richie Hawtin, here operating under his short-lived UP! alias. Hawtin’s ‘Spiritual High’ was originally released on a 12” song on Hawtin’s Probe label, and later released as one side of NovaMute’s Probe Mission 2 12” as part of a tentative partnership between the UK and Canadian labels (the other track on that 12” was by Public Energy, an alias of Speedy J). For a track taken from a relatively early part of Hawtin’s career, the format of his later work is immediately recognisable in the thudding snare-heavy beats, acid squelches and the way his track repeats endlessly but still builds toward several peaks over the course of its six minute duration.

‘Fill 3’ by Speedy J forms part of a series of tracks with that title, but as far as I can tell, was an exclusive to Artificial Intelligence. By the time Jochem Paap had arrived at NovaMute his music had undergone many changes, and ‘Fill 3’ sounds positively naïve in comparison with his later work, though with its synth pads and shimmering textures it is undoubtedly one of the most pleasantly ambient tracks on the whole collection. Given the momentum implied by its bubbling patterns and fragile melodies, it feels like it’s crying out for a beat sequence of some form, but to J’s credit he resisted the temptation of adding one. The other Speedy J track on Artificial Intelligence, ‘De-Orbit’, was featured on his Warp album Ginger and is a slowed-down, chilled-out affair with hip-hops breaks, wherein the languid pace allows for intricate details to emerge through the greater sense of space.

Alongside Autechre, Artificial Intelligence showcased Warp stalwart Aphex Twin, here in his Dice Man guise but with a track from his Polygon Window album for the label, as well as B12 (Musicology) and The Black Dog under the name I.A.O. The album also included Orb’s Alex Paterson with a live version of the classic ‘Loving You’, though it’s not immediately apparent what makes this a Paterson solo effort rather than an Orb performance.

1994’s follow-up compilation mined the same vein, with many of the same players, but branched out further, and also illustrated how much the electronic music could evolve in just two short years. For this reviewer, I bought Artificial Intelligence 2 before the first instalment, and listening in reverse made this first compilation sound decidedly tentative, but I nevertheless fully understood the importance of what Warp had assembled here.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

!!! – As If (Warp album, 2015)

  

!!!, undoubtedly the finest bunch of New York disco-punk-funks terms you’ll ever come across, released their new album As If in Ocober. I reviewed the album for Clash and you can read my review here. Somewhat appropriately for an album that evokes the spirit of Studio 54, my review was written on a flight to NYC.
Sometime Mute act Modey Lemon drummer Paul Quattrone plays in !!!.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence