09/02/2020 – This week I have been mostly listening to

Forest Swords – Engravings (2013). This is a new addition to my collection, based on the recommendation from a Whatsapp group, in which tunes from any manner of genre and era are liable to be shared. The track posted in the group was the final track, Friend, you will never learn, and the rest of the album easily matches up to that track’s sombre atmospherics and haunting production.

Forest Swords (aka Matthew Barnes, from the Wirral) occupies the same musical landscape as early Four Tet, composing his tracks from the sounds of live instruments and organic, non-synthesised source material. But whereas Four Tet makes music that is ‘homely’ – the soundtrack to a walk in the park on an autumn day, or cosying up indoors while rain trickles outside – Forest Swords is wilder and darker.

Some of the tracks have a distinct ‘Mediaeval’ vibe – with marching drums, and echoing horns conjuring up images of dank castles and dark forests (see for example, Thor’s Stone). Lumbering heavy beats and bassy reverb are predominant across the album, and here and there these elements arrange themselves into something resembling the arch swagger of post-dubstep. My initial impressions of this album was that it sounded like Burial, if instead of the nocturnal underbelly of South London, he was soundtracking a pagan gathering on a remote windswept moor. A compelling album, one to keep coming back to.

Squarepusher – Be up a Hello (2020). I have a weird tendency when my favourite artists release new albums to delay gratification and hold off listening, sometimes for more than a year (see, Tomorrow’s Harvest). But not this time! Ever since Spotify informed me of a brand new Squarepusher track at the back end of last year, I’ve bought into the hype and read at least four pre-album release interviews, before diving into the album on release day. I won’t rehearse too much of the back story surrounding the recording of this album, in summary: Squarepusher broke a bone in his wrist a few years ago, rendering him incapable of playing his beloved bass guitar. This, coupled with the death of a close friend, led him to ‘go back to his roots’ and record music using the primitive analogue tools he used when first starting out. Allowing himself to be constrained by the parameters of his hardware seems to have untapped a wellspring of inspiration.

So yeah, this album is ‘classic Squarepusher’, in the sense of: hectic jungle breakbeats, crazed 303 acid lines and frenetic melodies (but no bass guitar). I think I’ll save a fuller review for another time, and suffice to say for now: I love it. But I’m also very partial to Damogen Furies, which you could argue – given it was recorded on bespoke software designed over several years by Jenkinson himself – is the opposite of this album.

Despite the difference in their sound and production, both albums are inimitably Squarepusher: hyperactive, dizzingly complex but always with an innate musicality. Even though Damogen Furies is fully ‘synthetic’ the melodies are thoroughly rooted in jazz and Tom’s virtuoso skill with the bass guitar. Does the world need a throwback 1997-style drill’n’bass Squarepusher album in 2020? Personally, I would say yes why the hell not, and even if he has made music in this way before, you can still tell this was produced in 2020 (it’s not Big Loada version 2.0). And even if you answer no to that question, you can’t deny that no one in this style can come close to Squarepusher. Whether he’s using a 303 and a Vic-Commodore, or a bespoke algorithmic/logarithmic/generative software – he sounds like no one else.

James Shinra – Vital Heat (2018). This album still sounds awesome. Quickly on its way to being one my top favourite electronic albums from recent years.

Convextion – Convextion LP (2006). I’ve been meaning to listen to this guy (aka Gerard Hanson) for some time, as by all accounts he’s required listening on the dub-techno scene. Even on very first hearing, some of the tracks on this album already sound familiar. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve heard them used in mixes elsewhere or just because I’ve listened to so much of this kind of techno and Convextion is very influential.

Equanimity opens things on a very light note, a doubled-up kick drum carrying aloft some light ambient pads – come to think of it, it sounds very Selected Ambient Works, there’s elements of Tha in there. There’s a synth tone in this track that sounds very similar to one used on Chico’s Groove by The Chemical Brothers. (You can hear it at 5:17 on Equanimity and 2:50 on Chico’s Groove). I’m not saying there’s any sampling going on, it may simply have been generated in the same way – on both tracks it has a wonderful warm feeling, like drops of golden sunlight. Solum Ferrum takes things in a more electro-robotic direction, with a classic Basic Channel-style crackly synth atmosphere, over a briskly marching kick drum. I’m still only on my second listen but this is clearly an album I’ll be coming back to: dub-techno – nay just Techno – as it should be: emotional, minimal, pulsing.

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