Jon Hopkins – ‘Singularity’
The acclaimed British producer wrestles with his own demons by taking a meditative journey towards enlightenment.
When is too much actually too much? What follows all the noise? And will we ever learn to truly find inner peace as a species? Well, who would have thought that the fifth full-length by British producer Jon Hopkins turned out to be one that deals with such existential thoughts although being an instrumental album. But once you know and understand the story behind Singularity the already quite impressive listening experience further benefits from it. Singularity is the story of a man trying to find his inner piece in the chaos of the world and it’s also a metaphor for the world we’re living in; one that got this tendency to head for chaos and destruction. That chaos is represented in the pumping first half of Singularity. The title-track starts the album in a cinematic way and lets the impending chaos break loose. The beats get even harder than on 2013’s Immunity which first saw Hopkins embracing the sound and vibe of techno music. The tender intro of the following Emerald Rush is just a short respite before the pumping kick returns and a monster breaks loose. Aside from the hardness of those beats it’s also Hopkins‘ determined will to break with the standardized sounds and structures of techno. That Emerald Rush beat always seems a bit off-track while also appearing pretty perfect at the same time. Neon Pattern Drum takes a synth pad and slowly sharps it into a kick drum, just to mess with the listener’s expectations. Hopkins wants you feel, not to think!
In Everything Connected the chaos gets more abstract before the noise suddenly silences and allows the listener to take a deep breath in Feel First Life. The track feels like the sunrise after a dark-twisted club night, an escape to nature, away from the noisy city, a dialogue with your inner self while ignoring all the other voices. For Jon Hopkins the journey of Singularity is one of ‘burning out’ – something that happened to him, following the success of its predecessor. The second half frees itself from the noise, is calmer and more optimistic. The sounds seek for meaning, peace and understanding through playfulness (C O S M) and reduced ambient structures (Echo Dissolve). In the end, Recovery ends the album in total silence as the story went full circle. Everything’s gone and it’s up to the listener whether he’d like to start again or change a thing. There’s so much to read into Singularity and so much to discover in each and every second that it will immediately call for a second spin. It there was any doubt in he exceptional talent of Jon Hopkins this record neutralizes it and places him as one of THE most important composers in contemporary music. (Norman Fleischer)
Iceage – ‘Beyondless’
The Danish punks graduate to fully-fledged pop/rock band, and the results are very impressive indeed.
Even back in their earliest, scrappiest days, Iceage showed an intent to go beyond mere genre assignments. Ever since they announced their arrival with a bang on 2011’s New Brigade, and specifically the absolute bottle rocket White Rune the signs were there from the beginning. The band went from strength-to-strength on 2013’s You’re Nothing – and with the song Coalition wrote a modern punk anthem – and then broadened their palette on 2014’s breakout success Plowing Into the Field of Love. Then, everything went quiet. Well, kind of, frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt worked on his side project Marching Church, while the rest of the band worked away at topping their third record, now with a fair degree of hype and expectation from not just the punk world but the wider indie-rock community.
What a relief then, after a four-year wait, that the band’s fourth record Beyondless not only matches those expectations but smashes them into tiny pieces. This is the Copenhagen quartet’s masterpiece (so far) with songs that wash and fade and stomp and bite and spit. They have harnessed their punk energy into a true work of art, influenced by a wide range of sounds such as country (Thieves Like Us), ‘Showtime’ jazz and Britpop (The Day the Music Dies) and have successfully managed to condense it into a single cohesive unit. On Take it All strings and brass fall-in as if this was The National, while the Sky Ferreira-assisted Pain Killer gives us an infectious pop tune. This is the sound of a band finding everything coming together, and it would be a lie to say they haven’t earned it. (Adam Turner-Heffer)
DJ Koze – ‘Knock Knock’
The German electronic music institution remains a class of his own and delivers yet another stunning LP.
It’s been five years since Stefan Kozalla aka DJ Koze released his album Amygdala which was and still is a really great record. The follow-up takes his diverse mixture to new heights and on top of it Knock Knock is filled with star-packed features by artists such as Róisín Murphy, Sophia Kennedy, Mano Le Though or Lampchop‘s Kurt Wagner. While the first track Club der Ewigkeiten sounds like a track you would play after coming home from a long rave, Colors Of Autumn mixes finest rap beats with electronic beats. On the second track Bonfire Koze uses a Bon Iver sample to create a lively electro banger. The José Gonzalez feature Music On My Teeth is a laid-back Lo-Fi-Anthem, yet Róisín Murphy’s first feature Illumination is a forward-going track that you could imagine ending up in a techno set if it was only played faster.
And with the psychedelic Pick Up comes a song that would perfectly soundtrack any open-air rave in summer. There’s even pretty traditional soul in Knock Knock with Lord Knows. And in the closing track Drone Me Up, Flashy Sophia Kennedy even brings a surprisingly smooth German pop chanson into the record. Knock Knock is an ‘all killer no filler’ album that uses inspirations from several genres such as psychedelic rock, R’n’B, rap, trip-hop, house and techno to transform them into a warm album that just oozes of weirdness. Somehow DJ Koze managed to design a mixtape-like record with a cohesive character and consistent story to tell. Through its star-stutted features, Knock Knock ends up being an incredibly smooth album that rather fits to the afterhour, not the dancefloor. (Louisa Zimmer)
Damien Jurado – ‘The Horizon Just Laughed’
Never underestimate the inconspicuous Damien Jurado. The Horizon Just Laughed easily contains some of his best material in a long time.
After 20 years of releasing music there are still some borders to be crossed for Damien Jurado. He started with records so lo-fi close to being ethereal. Lately he succesfully expanded his sonic universe with the Maraqopa-trilogy. And now, Jurado self-produced an album for the first time in his career. And by sounding very rich and layered, it still turns out to be one of his most intimate. Framed by little sketches, postcards and bits of memory Jurado collected on his extended touring endeavours, he compiled a truly delicate, warm and rich record, that contains some of his best and open-hearted material in years.
The strength of Jurado’s songwriting lies within his feeling for rhythm. Whereas some songwriters tend to overestimate their voices, lyrics or guitar skills, the most influential ones, from Nick Drake to José Gonzales are or were very much aware of how a song has to move and swing. Jurado definitely is one of the latter. Allocate already starts with that irresistible shuffle paired with a gently strummed guitar, shy violins and Jurado’s space-filling falsetto. His lyrics always a little enigmatic, song titles referring to dead artists and every song a little world of its own, The Horizon Just Laughed is not that kind of instant pleasure. But once you’re in, there’s no way out. Try and get Percy Faith out of your head, try and not get totally sucked into the elegance of Over Rainbows and Rainier, peaking in Jurado sighing, establishing a brief moment of total silence, and hit you with a line like: ‘I forgot I was human and I laid up my emotions and I knock them like dishes to the floor’. He still is one of the most underrated songwriters in the US and with this record, Damien Jurado gently reminds us of that. (Henning Grabow)
Taken By Trees – ‘Yellow To Blue’
Victoria Bergsman embraces her private luck and turns it into satisfying pop delicacies which might easily carry us through the entire summer.
All solo albums so far by Swedish songwriter Victoria Bergsman and her alter ego Taken By Trees have been driven by an individual narrative and stories close to her hart. 2007’s folk-like Open Field was born of out her own insecurity about continuing her career, 2009’s East of Eden saw her striving for creative adventures and saw her experimenting with Sufi music from Pakistan before 2012’s Other Worlds became a celebration of falling in love, transported via the vibes of Hawaiian music. It took Bergsman six long years to release a follow-up and there’s a reason for it: life. Well, and Charlie, her son whose arrival explains the three years it took Yellow To Blue to manifest. Starting a family might have changed pace and priorities for the beloved artist but thank god, it didn’t affect the quality. The story of the fourth Taken By Trees record is one of warmth and soul-soothing love, an alternative draft to the cynicism of this world. And maybe that’s not the worst thing to do these days.
Musically, Bergsman leaves the exotic sound experiments of her predecessors behind and embraces the notion and power of pop on her fourth album. Tracks like Wait, Once and the chilled Doin’ Time combine sun-drenched R&B vibes with smooth groove and a protagonist who’s clearly enjoying what she’s doing. Vibrant Colors overflows the listener with feel-good vibes while a track like Charlie is a gentle tribute to her son, riding on a rhythm of early 90s break beats. Compared to the exotic and sensual scenery of Other Worlds, things are a bit less subtle on Yellow To Blue but midtempo ballads like Break It Down and Lights Go Out still manage to transport that beloved romantic notion. Crafted in the sun of her new home in California it makes sense for the artist to have the record sounding the way it does. This is an album to embrace life and love as our strongest weapons against the dystopian feeling all over the place. Taken By Trees remains one of pop music’s most precious sources of great storytelling in pop and I surely can’t wait for the next chapter which will hopefully not take another six years. (Norman Fleischer)
Gaz Coombes – ‘World’s Strongest Man’
Reflective, emotionally strong and not afraid to address his insecurities. Gaz Coombes returns with a new album that focuses on the kind of strength that really matters.
Buckle up, everybody. Gaz Coombes is back with his third solo album to date and has been stretching his muscles again in the studio resulting in new songs that feel like a sonically wrapped exploration of what it means to be a strong man these days. Reflecting on issues revolving around masculinity, the strength of World’s Strongest Man is its very personal perspective and the reevaluation of the male ego throughout the new songs. Having been inspired by Grayson Perry’s book The Descent Of Man, Coombes’ way of deconstructing the male image is all about opening up and embracing vulnerability in order to gain strength. Talking about emotional strength here, not a display of physical achievements.
Despite dealing with a whole bunch of big questions surrounding masculinity and its often toxic consequences in the context of an equal society, musically Coombes focuses on the small details instead. The songs don’t come on strong, but tend to develop more slowly into a groove that is subtle, but addictive at the same time. It’s been a long time since the former Supergrass singer’s fuzzy guitars were the most dominant feature in a song. Coombes has found its strength as a songwriter in the opposite direction as it seems. Instead of holding on to his past musical glory, the 2018 version of himself is very much moving forward. Most importantly, in an emotional sense that allows him to constantly question himself. Not only as a man, but a songwriter as well. In times of heated discussions about gender inequality, Coombes emerges with deeply reflective songs and some of his best songwriting. (Annett Bonkowski)