Venetian Snares – Traditional Synthesizer Music (2016). I think this might be Venetian Snares’ best album in a while. Actually, I liked My Love is a Bulldozer, but apart from that, I think this is his strongest album since Rossz… back in 2005. I won’t dwell too much on the concept/background; I think I read somewhere that each track was produced using a different modular synth set-up. Either way, the album was made on modular synths, and I’m not going to dwell too much on that (complicated, DIY synths that you build yourself), apart from to quote Aaron himself, ‘I just started doing these tunes where it was like, I’m only gonna use this modular and see what I can get out of it. It was really a fun adventure to approach music like that. Like, I have this modular synth and all my sounds have to come out of this. No multi-tracking, no editing or whatever.’ This album certainly sounds like it was produced using a specific setup, there is a closely defined sound palette: shiny, clean, robotic synth melodies and very metallic, again robotic percussion. Not an amen break or snare rush in sight. This also feels like one of Snares’ most accessible albums for a long while, in the sense that there are just 12 tracks, all around the 3 or 4 minute mark – sure, this is still very much ‘machine music’; he’s not lost his fondness for unorthodox time signatures at breakneck tempo and won’t be providing soundtracks for anything shown before 9pm – but some of these tracks are almost jaunty. There are no horror movie samples, no nosebleed inducing gabba drums, no references to torture/porn/animal festishes (delete as appropriate). This is just the sound of an incredibly talented and unique musician experimenting with some serious tech – and producing fascinating results. Haunting, ghostly, synth-electro – in a way that can only be Venetian Snares.
The Dandy Warhols – Distortland (2016). I will find time elsewhere to do a full discog review of the Dandys because they are one of my all time favourite bands. But on this I will just say, it’s a great little album. Just a shame about the little, I wish it was double the length. It’s not normally something I would complain about, as I struggle to find time to listen to all the albums I want, but the Dandys are a sprawling album kind of band. Distortland is a like a sampler of their career to date – the psychedelic shoegaze fuzz of Search Party could’ve been at home on either of their first two albums; the husky voiced hoe-down of Catcher in the Rye could’ve sat comfortably on 13 Tales… there’s just enough synth to compliment their sound, rather than sounding like a band being produced to not sound like themselves (a la Monkey House). Doves builds in layers of whispered semi audible vocals and guitar noise to a euphoric shoegazey climax (reminscient of Heroes by Bowie) but it’s sold short by its four minute running time. I’d love to see them open this out and let it chug for double that. Likewise for STYGGO, which has a loping groovy bassline and a satisfyingly simple do-do-do hook – they could have turned this into a hypnotic stoned groover, but, like a rebellious teenager given a curfew, the track is curtailed to another Roger Bannister mile. Now all this may be unfair on the Dandys’ – a band never knowingly succinct. I’m sure there are many music journalists, tasked with reviewing Dandys albums, who would’ve wished for some fat-trimming here and there. But for a longtime fan like me, it feels this album is only half what it could be – which is a shame when most of the tracks are so strong. Give it a listen on Spotify.
Deepchord – Hash-Bar Loops (2011). Dub techno is a funny genre for me – I love it, and often when I’m listening to a dub techno release, I’ll be moved to wonder whether it is actually the best genre of all*. But when I look in my collection, I notice I only really have a dozen or so releases that I actually listen to. Maybe a little goes a long way. Anyway, Deepchord – undoubtedly a titan of the genre. I’ve enjoyed 01-06 and Vantage Isle (2006) for many years, so why not branch out. I’m not enough of a dub techno aficionado to be able to tell whether this is ‘advancing the genre’ or whatever, and honestly with some very specific genres like this, I don’t think it’s necessary for an album to attempt to do that. You just need the right elements, interacting well. Embody the platonic form of dub techno. And here, Deepchord delivers. I read that these tracks were inspired by a prolonged stay in Amsterdam – and some feature field recordings from this lazy, hazy time in the Dutch capital. So we have warm, crackly, enveloping ambience, the inevitable deep deep bass, and of course the dubby throb of bassdrum – plus lots of repetition. And sometimes, that is all you need. I won’t go into detail over individual tracks, except to mention Softiel, which stood out as an early favourite. The call and response synth line is basically tech house, and everything is just encased in a lovely soft dub cocoon of bass and pulse and rhythm – not unlike that very pleasant feeling you get when emerging from the peak of a cannabis high, and you’re past the paranoia and into the warm fuzzy uplands. Recommended. Listen to it on Spotify.
*there is a tendency for this to happen with all genres.
Janes Addiction – Ritual de lo Habitual (1989). This should really not be a band I like, and when I was forging my musical tastes, a band like Janes Addiction seemed anathema to me: brash, glamourous, trashy, American; they seemed like they could be one outfit change away from being an 80s hair metal Guns’n’Roses type band. Anyway, many years later I was moved to give them a proper chance. Inspired by reading How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran – a book that also prompted me to try Smashing Pumpkins (also written off in teenage years) and Neds Atomic Dustbin, more on them another time. But yeah this album is class, as is the album before, Nothing’s Shocking. They kind of are all the things I’d originally projected onto them, but for some reason I felt ready to embrace those qualities, and it’s just fucking fun music to listen to. Maybe I’m having a second, very delayed, teenage rebellion. I only ever knew the single, Been Caught Stealing, which is great, along with some other uptempo, shouty funky ones, but I think I prefer their Led Zeppelin style epic rock journeys, i.e. on this album the track Three Days. An 11 minute opus about a drug-fuelled three person sex orgy/journey of discovery. So yeah…love it.