Friday, 29 July 2011

Album review: Dedication - Zomby (4AD)

I've written before about the lack of decent long players in the realm of dubstep. Many albums are simply too hard on the ear and not varied enough to warrant repeat listens. I was very pleasantly surprised therefore when Zomby's new effort reached my Iphone. Not only is it varied but its light of touch and, dare I say it, uplifting in places - not something one might say about most releases in the genre.

Dedication is similar to the likes of Mount Kimbie in the way it draws in from a range of urban sounds and regurgitates them. Zomby's ongoing love of rave (first showcased in his slightly underwhelming debut Where Were U In 92? is again at the fore but this time more focused. It has a more human element than some of his previous efforts.

The first thing to say is that this is a record that covers a lot of ground in little time. It's 16 tracks fly by in a 36 minute exhilarating ride (once again the case for the short, focused album is made). Many tracks blend seamlessly into each other but each has a distinctive sound and Zomby has learnt the importance of providing differing moods and textures to keep things interesting.

Witch Hunt kicks things off and is punctuated by gunshots but its far from a bleak listen. Natalie's song meanwhile uses snatches of vocal (again very Mount Kimbie or maybe even Geogaddi era Boards of Canada) and is closer in spirit to rave than any bass driven sound. Even its lyrics 'move together...closer' verge on the euphoric. At various times the more abstract drum and bass acts (Photek, Omni Trio etc) come to mind as synths are introduced over soothing waves of bass (Alothea and Riding with Death are good examples). Black Orchid is a wilder trip - similar to some of the sounds on the Brainfeeder label with its juddering beats reverberating across the speakers from left to right.

The most accessible track (as well as the most distinctively dubstep) is undoubtedly Things Fall Apart. For one it features a conventional vocal (from Animal Collective's Panda Bear). It builds gradually to greater intensity before the 50's exotica of the following track (Salamander) releases the pressure. My own favourite track is Digital Rain - this is quite beautiful, streaming playful arcade-game melodies over a slippery beat-  the sort of thing you might imagine Kraftwerk recording if they were still doing so. Wonderful stuff.

The end of the album notably sees the introduction of piano. Both Haunted and Basquait make use of the instrument and here, as elsewhere, the label of dubstep becomes irrelevant. This is instead someone understanding the range of electronic music and combining with real instrumentation to push boundaries. Just as things slip away were are confronted by final track Mozaik - this is a shock to the system, upbeat. Rather than let things fizzle out Zomby demands our attention before ending things suddenly.

If you don't particularly like dubstep but do like electronic music I suspect you might like this. The best music is often that which transcends genre and despite my own initial reservations this does exactly that.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Round up: 5 great albums you really should hear

I like to do a little round up every three months or so - an opportunity to mention records that might not have warranted a full review here or an opportunity to big something up if it didn't get enough attention at the time. After a slow start to the year there has been some really good stuff in recent months.

Firstly, those which nearly made the top 5. I'll not go into depth on Bon Iver''s self-titled second album as I reviewed it at the time, but if alt-country is your thing you'll like it. Its an ambitious mix of Crosby, Stills and Nash era Americana and 1980's soft rock and is a brave and impressive record. Another record I reviewed at the time was The Weeknd's House of Balloons - sleazy coke fuelled RandB - I know that sounds awful but rest assured this is quality stuff all the way and its free to legally download.

Others that are worth a mention are Metronomy's English Riviera which has had good reviews all over the place with its slightly 80's synth sounding take on Paignton and Torquay (again, its much better than it sounds) and the very recently released Horrors LP Skying which manages to sound exciting while sounding somewhat like the Psychedelic Furs. In terms of hip-hop I'd recommend Shabazz Palace's Black up - the best abstract hip hop this side of Madlib's Quasimoto LPs. Finally, check out Thurston Moore's Demolished Thoughts - produced by Beck - its a little obviously derivative of Beck's own work and of Nick Drake (the strings in particular recall the English troubadour) but its a very nice listen.

Here though are the 5 I really think you need to pick up

tUnEyArDs - Whokill

Absolutely bonkers this. Afro-pop, dub, post punk, jazz and folk all melded together by  Merill Garbus a native of New England. This is her second album (her first recorded using a handheld voice recorder only) The free jazz of Gangsta is a wonderful example of the eccentricity here with the sound ripping from speaker to speaker to leave the listener somewhat disorientated. In the spirit of ESG, Pere Ubu, Jah Wobble, Nina Simone and Fela Kuti but utterly original as well....lyrically its not afraid to touch upon issues of the day - race, gender, body image and her voice is immense - this lady is going to be a big star.

Diamond Mine - King Creosote and Jon Hopkins

Sometimes less is more. Reminicent of Barafundle era Gorky's Xygotic Mynci, you're unlikely to hear a more understated album all year. Some of the tracks are barely audible but this is a lovely piece of folk with no attempt whatsoever to crossover into the wider marketplace. The record was seven years in the making and inspired by Scottish fishing villages so this probably isn't for you if you like your heavy dubstep. Much of the joy here is not just the songs but the sounds placed into them - cups of tea, people chatting, birds singing - this is a record of great atmosphere and perfect if you are off to a fishing village for your summer holidays.

Gloss Drop - Battles

I feared listening to this record after seeing to described as 'maths rock' - has anything ever sounded so unappealing? I'm pleased to say that it doesn't sound as difficult as you might think and despite not having much in the way of vocals is thoroughly listenable. The drums in particular stand out and propel each song forward. Stand out track is Ice Cream which also has a fantastic video (below). These New Yorkers have been making idea packed music for years now and are worthy of your attention if you like guitar rock.

ISAM - Amon Tobin

If you are one of those people who only likes music that is pushing forward the boundaries then Brazillian Amon Tobin's latest LP is for you. He's eschewed the 'drill n' bass' sound of previous releases and created what he calls a 'sound sculpture' but this is challenging stuff with layers of off kilter beats thrown down into the mix of field recordings. One wonders if this will date quickly as at times it sounds like an alien invasion (although Surge has undoubtedly been influenced by car or motorcycle racing. ISAM does breed some humanity though (much like Boards of Canada in places) - check Wooden Toy as an excellent example...another excellent Ninja Tunes release...and a record the like of which I've not heard before.

Locussolus - Locussolus

Finally for one of dance music's great enigmas - DJ Harvey. A legendary DJ, his recorded material has never quite reached the same heights but this release on Uraguayan electronica label International feel is a thoroughly enjoyable listen. Its probably best described as cosmic house music and features remixes from Andy Weatherall, Lindstrom and Prins Thomas (whose remix of I want it brilliantly uses Venus to hook you in). The use of slower, dubby keeps tempo varied although as an album its perhaps a little disjointed.  If you like this sort of thing you've probably already got it but if you're looking for some 'quality house' look no further. 

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Hidden Gem: 666 - Aphrodite's Child (Vertigo, 1972)

Greek progressive rock wouldn't instinctively be my favourite genre of choice nor would I rush to hear an album featuring Charriots of Fire composer Vangelis (although you gotta love Blade runner) and 70's housewife's favourite Demis Rousos - but that's before I heard 666. This record has gained much kudos in recent years and is increasingly being regarded as one of the key psych-prog records of the early 1970s. Vangelis Papathanassiou (to give him his full name) actually formed Aphrodite's Child in 1963 but in the early 1970s he hooked up with Greek poet Costas Ferris in Paris  to create this ambitious (some would say preposterous) rock opera. The record isn't without its faults, its long, meandering and at certain times, tests the patience - much of side 2 of the original vinyl is essentially ambient -  but the scale of ambition here and the sheer value of experimentalism are to be applauded.

Opening track Babylon sounds like the Who with its driving drums and bass although I don't recall the Who ever using a trumpet. Its one of a number of tracks (The Battle of the Locusts, Altamont) that are typical of the hard rock sound of the day. However, to think this is a record of bombastic rock is a mistake, Loud, Loud, Loud, for example, is a different proposition - a female poet recalling Horses era Patti Smith - already one can detect a variety of sounds and approaches coming into play. The four horsemen is perhaps the best known track on the record and has been much imitated (check Beck's Chemtrails for one). Its a perfect combination of rock and soul (or psych as the geeks might call it). The guitars sing in the sort of way that Hendrix or Clapton could play. But for each stroke of genius there is indulgence. The Lamb for one is a ludicrous instrumental that could only have been made in the early 1970's.

First track on side 2 Aegian Sea however is majestic. Again the guitar comes to the fore but this is a track that has the texture and depth of Pink Floyd or early Dire Straits (yes I said early Dire Straits) Like The aforementioned Battle of the Locusts it makes you realise that these guys really could play. Perhaps the most surprising track of all however is Do it.  This is a bizarre rock/funk fusion that really wouldn't sound out of place on a mix by Coldcut or a record by Red Snapper. Even that though is upstaged by the sexual outpouring and orgasmic shrieks of Irene Pappas (apparently the first take of this performance art was over 40 minutes long - now that's stamina!).

Hic et Nunc veers more towards classic 1960's psychedelia. It wouldn't be out of place next to tracks by the Small Faces and the Zombies. We then get a 19 minute 'opera within an opera' in All the seats were occupied. Funky drumbeats, cut ups from previous songs and Greek folk melodies combine in a sound that could only be described as 'progressive.' That just leaves us with Break, an Elton John style nearly hit sung by drummer Lucas Sideras.

A few things really stand out about 666. Firstly its ambition and seriousness are without question. Second, every member of the band contributes to the whole to create something that none of them could create alone. Third, thank god for punk.

Having said that, this is a fascinating listen and it has actually aged very well. Three or four tracks are stand out great prog-psych classics (Altamont is particularly good with its driving beats and talk of 'rolling people' virtually setting the template for the Verve's whole career) and one wishes more of today's guitar based acts had such a feeling of freedom and experimentation in their music making.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The 20 Greatest Warp Records Lps Part 2 (by Wil Williams)

So here it is guys - the top 10 from our very special guest Wil Williams - enjoy and discover...


Rattling through 23 tracks of glitchy breakbeats, chopped-up vocals, squelchy synths and even some glorious jazz bass and Rhodes on Uprock and Invigorate in just 60 minutes could have resulted in a car crash of an album in less capable hands than producer Scott Heren. Somehow One Word Extinguisher manages to hang together as a raw but coherent album despite its constant shifts in mood and style from the in-your-face hip-hop of The End of Biters - International through the melancholic electronica of 90% of My Mind Is With You to the soulful beats of Why I Love You and the optimistic synth drone of album highlight Choking You. This unexpected coherence may be the result of the year-long relationship breakup that accompanied the recording of the album, but what results is an album ahead of its time -it predicted many of underground hip-hop’s movements later in the decade.


Anyone who’s seen Battles live knows it’s all about the energy and intensity of drummer John Stanier and his unusually high cymbal followed closely by guitarist/keyboardist Ian Williams. They may have lost vocalist Tyondai Braxton in 2011, but how many identifiable words are to be found on Mirrored anyway, despite the numerous ahs, whistles and hums? Musically Battles’ first full-length record, has been categorized as math rock due to its complex stop-start atypical rhythms and angular dissonant guitars, but thanks partly to its release on Warp and partly to the dancefloor-friendly tribal rhythms of single Atlas it has crossed over the dance/indie divide. Race: In starts the album off sounding similar to the post-rock of Tortoise, but quickly moves into far less familiar musical territory with the elephant-like noises of Atlas and juxtaposed speed-vocals and whistling of Ddiamondd. Leyendecker (named after the Leyendeckerstrasse subway station in Cologne) offers one of Mirrored’s more restrained and catchier moments, with its killer jerky beat and wailing vocal noises, before Race: Out brings things full circle and creates an eternal loop: the album’s end “mirroring” its beginning, so producing a fittingly postmodern climax.


The fact that Aphex Twin’s first album for Warp was released under the pseudonym Polygon Window allows me to include two Richard James albums in my top twenty. Surfing on Sine Waves, second in the (Artificial Intelligence) series, is a dark, twisted album that draws equal inspiration from the Stockhausen-influenced European electronic tradition embodied by Kraftwerk as well as the funkier sounds of Atkins, May and Saunderson’s Detroit techno. Synth melodies build, interweave and decay over the beautiful brutality of the relentless thumping Roland kick drum, only letting up on final ambient track Quino-phec. The monochrome artwork perfectly captures the brooding atmosphere of loneliness and isolation that pervades the album: an agoraphobic front cover of Cornish cliffs and sea, a claustrophobic inner sleeve of Richard D. James rushing down subway steps and an enigmatic back cover showing a mysterious lone figure surfing. This album represents the triumph of machines over nature, with any human elements used only sparingly to add texture, such as the “Do-Re-Mi” sample from the Sound of Music on Supremacy II. Deemed (mistakenly) by some critics as a mere diversion in the Aphex catalogue, this album still disorientates18 years after it first appeared, no more so than on single Quoth, a drum-driven frenzy cooked up in Kernow.


Saint Dymphna is a complex album of contradictions to be filed under mainstream avant-garde. Opener Bebey lulls its listeners into accepting a cold, futuristic, machine-like atmosphere through woozy synths, sharp hi-hats, reverb-drenched toms and cascading keyboards then abruptly takes an unexpected turn into a number of incongruous human elements in the more ancient sounds of African drumming and melodies filtered through a New York pop sensibility. First Communion then introduces the further contradiction of a singer who does not sing. Instead, vocalist Lizzi Bougatsos shrieks, wails and howls over choppy guitars and an eighties pop chorus. Vacuum breathes life into the corpse of My Bloody Valentine, overlaying the dense mass of guitars, keyboards and noise with the sound of laser guns before suddenly dropping into the Brooklyn arthouse glitter meets East London grime of Princes featuring Tinchy Stryder. Single House Jam offers post-punk attitude delivered with pure 80s pop melodies whilst comedown closer Dust is a Middle Eastern lullaby, gently rocking Saint Dymphna to tenth place in FACT Magazine’s 100 Best Albums of the 2000s.


“There’s a Sufi and a Killer in everybody, man, and I'll be whatever I have to be just to make it through", Californian yoga teacher Samuel Ecks told The Guardian newspaper ahead of his debut genre-hopping album release for Warp. Though extremely eclectic in its sources, this is not an easy listening album with the tension between Ecks’ sufi and killer sides being played out over 19 sprawling lo-fi hip hop tracks that take in Turkish psych, acid folk, psychedelic soul, funk and Hindi movies soundtracks all filtered through a vintage fuzzbox. Ecks’ voice is rough, raw and cracked, much like the the Mojave desert, a place he calls home at least part of the time. Gaslamp Killer provides much of the production on A Sufi and Killer, delighting dusty crate-diggers with such aural treats as the Eastern chants of Kowboys and Indians. Fellow LA producers Flying Lotus and Mainframe chip in too, the former with the trippy sitars of album highlight Ancestors, the latter with the p-funk of ultra limited edition 7”single Holidays/Candylane (with its gold foil printed prayer book upping the mystical ante). Ecks also does “normal” with a twist: gentle animal-themed ballads (Sheep) as well as standard songwriters’ emotions (like the pain of loss on She’s Gone) are present, but always permeated with the reassuring fug of a cheap microphone and a dusty needle.


Would anyone out there have this in their Warp top 20, let alone top 10? The critics certainly wouldn’t – Butter arrived in an audacious sleeve, but to modest reviews. I’m not sure there’s anyone out there who loves Hudson Mohawke’s debut LP as much as I do (although not as much as the genius of his Polyfolk Dance EP on Warp – the pinnacle of wonky). There is nothing subtle about Butter or its influences (prog rock, 80s hip-hop, p-funk, R’n’B, computer games) – from the screeching hair metal guitar of intro Shower Melody into the bump and bombast of Gluetooth, this is an over-the-top album caught in the act of veering dangerously out of control. Joy Fantastic sounds like a Glaswegian Outkast on acid, whilst 3:30 throws things off-kilter with Hudson Mo’s beloved dislocated beats and high-pitched chipmunk vocals that permeate many of the tracks on Butter. If I had even less sense, this ridiculous album would be my Warp all-time number one, but it’s a schizophrenic album with slightly too much tasteless R’n’B (fun as it is) and slightly too little wonky mayhem such as LP highlights No One Could Ever and FUSE.


Back in the day the mark of a good album for me meant it could fit on one side of a C90 cassette. At under 33 minutes in length, you could almost squeeze RDJ Album onto one side of a C60, with such economy of size meaning every beat and every sound needs placing with great technical precision. RDJ Album starts abruptly with 4 - straight in with strings underpinned with drill-n-bass beats as there’s no time to waste on a gently building into – this feels like an album whose raison d’etre is simply to meet its end. This sense of the difficulty of capturing the present moment reflects the album’s central theme - the Cornwall of Aphex Twin’s childhood. Whether places (Carn Marth, Goon Gumpas) or ZX Spectrum code (Peek 824545201) these are Blakean Songs of Innocence and Experience as witnessed by the cover shot of the artist’s evil grin. Fleeting memories of lost innocence are painted with extreme clashing textures – Girl/Boy Song (track 3.5, second side) is a microcosm of the album’s tension between the “innocence” of lush classical strings and soothing childlike melodies on the one hand and the butal “experience” of the undanceable drum onslaught on the other. Pitchfork hailed RDJ Album as the 40th greatest album of the 1990s and its disorientating portrait of a lost Cornish childhood hasn’t faded with age.


The third (and best) installment of the (Artificial Intelligence) series, Bytes is both a product of and a reaction against the four-to-the-floor rave culture that dominated UK dancefloors in the early 90s. This is an intelligent yet playful album, taking cold Detroit techno as its base, then adding a warmer palette of emotion and eccentricity to transform it into something distinctly British. The playful theme continues into the sleeve notes – Bytes is presented as a compilation of different artists (apparently for contractual reasons), but each is a combination of one or more of the three London producers Ed Handley and Andy Turner (Plaid) and Ken Downie. This pseudo-compilation structure allows Black Dog Productions to experiment, innovate and produce an album of great variety with the end-of-the night acid house of Caz (by Close Up Over) sitting unproblematically next to the “Massive Attack rhythm section” meets “Aphex Twin melodies and acid piano” of Carceres Ex Novum (by Xeper). Bytes is a highly influential album and an essential chapter in the development of electronic listening music – a must have for anyone who claims to like Warp.


I have no idea if Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin had children of their own when they recorded their debut for Warp (I suspect not), but this album is the sound of childhood through adult eyes and ears. How reliable are our early memories? Was childhood really so carefree and innocent? The hazy cover shot adds to the confusion: a “family” scene depicting three adults and four children, faces removed for anonymity. But why three adults in a family scene and faces removed to protect whom? The theme of anxious nostalgia also plays out in the band’s name (taken from National Film Board of Canada) and the album’s warm 70s drenched analogue mood also appears to draw on the incidental music that would have backed these fondly (if not accurately) remembered public information films. There are standout tracks (the distant voices and fragile melodies of Turquoise Hexagon Sun; the slow squelchy krautrock of Roygbiv), but this album’s greatness is down to its homogeneity with every track and interlude playing an equally important role in delivering one of the most influential British albums of the nineties. Ranking this “pioneering collection of pastoral folktronica” at #35 in their top 100 albums of the 1990s, Pitchfork perfectly sums up Music Has the Right to Children’s considerable legacy and why the name “Boards of Canada” could just as easily refer to the whole genre of music they spawned: “Sometimes an album is so good and makes its case so flawlessly that it spawns a mini-genre of its own and becomes shorthand for a prescribed set of values”.


It may not have won him the Grammy he thought it deserved, but this is still an “important” album. Like Boards of Canada, Steve Ellison has succeeded in creating his own personal mini-genre complete with its own private mythology and symbolism, in this case the self-described “space opera”. Building on his previous album Los Angeles (another Warp classic), Cosmogramma is denser, more multi-layered (yet more coherent), has more live instrumentation and more obvious jazz influences. Like fellow visionary and astral traveller, William Blake, Ellison’s creation involves a revolution of the imagination: “I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s” in Blakean terms. In Cosmogramma’s case this meant freeing Flying Lotus from every limiting genre “box” he’d ever been put into and allowing his creative energy to expand into new territories of sonic innovation. Thus Los Angeles’ insular post-Dilla urban travelogue is transformed into one complete otherworldly musical movement built around several distinct passages that vary in intensity and mood to provide an absorbing electronic-organic listening experience. After the jolting full-on introduction of Clock Catcher, Pickled! and Nose Art, the electronic computer game noises of this opening three-track passage suddenly decay into the organic celestial harp and subtle orchestral sweeps of Intro//A Cosmic Drama and Zodiac Shit, invoking the spirit of Ellison’s aunt (and my favourite jazz artist), the late great jazz multi-instrumentalist Alice Coltrane. This passage continues on into the soulful Computer Face//Pure Being, album highpoint …And the World Laughs With You, featuring subtle low key vocals from Thom Yorke, and the saxophone, harp and strings of Arkestry. After the Charles Stepney-like interlude Mmmhmm, Do the Astral Plane introduces a mid-tempo 4/4 house beat to the proceedings, only for Satelllliiiiiteee to take things off the dancefloor and back into more warped listening territory. German Haircut opens a closing passage of more downtempo jazz whose beautiful bleeps, violins and harp explicitly reference Alice Coltrane on Drips//Auntie’s Harp - highly appropriate given the album was named after Ellison misheard the term “cosmic drama” on one of her recorded discourses. Waiting for a Kenya Airlines flight to Nairobi at Heathrow Terminal 3 in May 2010, I immediately felt a sense of aural superiority to all others passengers due to the privilege of hearing the just-released Cosmogramma for the first ever time. Whilst the critical jury is still out, it is the sheer level of musical imagination and ambition packed into the 17 tracks that makes this (for me) the greatest Warp album of the first twenty years.

Friday, 1 July 2011

The 20 greatest Warp Records LPs Part 1 (by Wil Williams)

Wil Williams is my brother in law. In the fifteen years I've known him he's been a constant inspiration in the world of musical discovery. First drawn to music by The Smiths, he caught the first wave of acid house before discovering drum n bass, jazz and electronica, finding time along the way to be the bass player in Creation indie 'almost legends' Adorable. A constant love during our friendship has been the music of Warp records. Who better then to give you the definitive guide to the 20 greatest Warp LPs....

This is far from a perfect Top Twenty. For a start, I’m biased – my Warp is a label of electronic “listening music” for “long journeys, quiet nights and club drowsy dawns”, so you won’t find critics’ favourites like Jamie Lidell’s Multiply or Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest in this list (unlike others). Secondly, I know much less about the middle than the beginning and the end: my love of Warp goes right back to the start with the Forgemasters, Sweet Exorcist and Nightmares on Wax. As a Warwick University student in the late eighties/early nineties I spent most weekends hitching to Sheffield to buy records from the Warp shop and then dancing to them at the Palais nightclub the same evening. I religiously bought the first 50 Warp 12”s, including every remix. Then I lost interest, picking up the odd album here and there, until Flying Lotus’ Los Angeles reminded me why Warp was such a vital label. Since 2008, Warp has released some of the best albums of the 21st century and you’ll find them below alongside early classics and rediscoveries from that lost middle period. Ranking these gems in order of greatness was an almost impossible task (which might explain why I haven’t come across another list that does so) and I’m sure there will be glaring omissions. The cut off for this list was the end of 2010 with only one entry per artist (with one exception). Listen with an open mind and “if you think on the same wavelength”, you’ll know who to contact/send tapes to.

Wil, Coventry, June 2011

20. AUTECHRE – AMBER WARP25 (1994)

If you’re an Autechre fan reading this you may well be thinking why choose Amber over the progressively more experimental Tri Repetae (1995) or Confield (2001)? The answer is because I am not an Autechre fan and Sean Booth and Rob Brown’s second lp for Warp is simply a lot more fun and a lot less irritating than these other more critically acclaimed albums. Building on first lp Incunabula, Amber is a spacier, more ambient affair than it predecessor, displaying far greater diversity of sound and mood by toning down the beats and turning up the synths. Whilst chin-stroking is deferred to foot-tapping on Amber’s funky (almost bouncy) numbers Montreal, Slip and Piezo, there are still the trademark darker angrier moments like the ten-minute Further and final track Teartear. There are also some stunningly sparse and subtle pieces like the drumless Yulquen and the hoover-bass groove of Nil which only add to the album’s overarching mood: the pleasure of isolation as visualized in the sleeve’s depiction of a pink sun-bathed desert landscape devoid of life.


Are Broadcast just a second-rate Stereolab? A third-rate United States of America? Or to mutate a line from LFO’s We Are Back, just imitators of the true creators? On their second album proper, the Birmingham quintet discover their own vintage sound: a fusion of Western pop with exotic charity shop influences taking in easy listening and European art film soundtracks, framed crucially with noisy rough edges. For me, the fairground tweeness of opener Colour Me In grates a little as it lacks the layer of “atmospheric noise” that sits behind the best of Haha Sound, such as the percussive clatter and throb on final track Hawk. Things quickly look up though after this false start. Before We Begin and Valerie both create a musical atmosphere of wistful childlike nostalgia for singer Trish Keenan (who sadly died in January 2011) to populate with her consciously fragile vocals whilst Pendulum sees Keenan’s cool soft tones layered over a harder screechy krautrock soundtrack to great effect, justifying Haha Sound’s 121st place in Pitchfork’s Top 200 Albums of the 2000s?


There are a number of clues on Ultravisitor that Squarepusher might be about to surprise and do something “accessible”. Firstly, the black and white images that dominate previous covers are replaced by a colour photo of Jenkinson himself staring bleary-eyed out of the sleeve. Secondly, there’s the sound of a fake live audience on several tracks, whose applause is acknowledged on Circlewave by an intimate “hello, my name is Thomas Jenkinson” from the previously reclusive artist. All intriguing stuff, but thankfully there are incredible tunes to back up this new user-friendly persona. Whilst opener Ultravisitor continues the drill-and-bass theme of previous outings, this time round the Aphex-like melody is allowed to dominate rather than dissolve. Then there’s the strong jazz theme that runs throughout, starting with the gentle (beat-less) guitar strummings of I Fulcrum and stunning lp highlight Iambic 9 Poetry, a minor key battle between jazz drums and keys where once again melody wins. There are still many disorientating passages, such as the wonderful eight-and-half-minute urban nightmare of 50 Cycles, but Ultravisitor is all the better for its “accessible” side and represents the pinnacle of Sqaurepusher on Warp.

17. !!! – MYTH TAKES WARP154 (2007)
Were Fujiya and Miyagi to move to Brooklyn and undergo a conversion to rockabilly, then the result might sound something like the reverb guitar-ladden krautrock of the opening and title track on !!! (Chk Chk Chk)’s third album Myth Takes. From here on in the disco-punk-funk dancefloor onslaught rarely lets up. Standout third track Must Be The Moon starts off reminiscent of Kuff Dam-era Happy Mondays before Nic Offer’s falsetto vocals interspersed with him rapping over a stripped down breakbeat remind us that this is very much a New York lp. Bend Over Beethoven cranks up the already dizzying hypnotic groove before the pace relents for the psychedelic guitars of the horn-stab-driven Break in Case of Anything and the warm bursts of falsetto on come-down track and album closer Infinifold. It’s Warp, but not as we knew it.


Nothing in Stephen Wilkinson’s previous three (heavily Boards of Canada-influenced) Bibio albums hinted at the range of musical styles and songwriting talent that burst out of his stunning Warp debut Ambivalence Avenue. From the Shuggie Ottis-like psychedelic soul of Jealous of Roses through the gentle guitar folk of All the Flowers and Abrasion to the Dilla-heavy beats of Fire Ant and the intergalactic space-funk of S’Vive, the nostalgic natural world influences are still to be heard, but as background textures rather than foreground songwriting substitutes. Advertising executives know a good tune when they hear one and have plundered Ambivalence Avenue’s warm melodies, most notably Amazon Kindle’s appropriation of standout track Lovers’ Carvings with its Walt Whitman-inspired “all is divine and mysterious” theme: "Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touched from". Bibio has risen above his influences and produced an electronic album of enormous depth and variety.


I saw them live only once at a pop festival in 99 where former Spice Girl Mel C was bottled off for attempting a Sex Pistols cover. Even in a field in broad daylight I was suitably moved by the intensity of Red Snapper’s beat-heavy acoustic-electric fusion to tell anyone who would listen that I had never been happier in my life. Our Aim is to Satisfy is the only Red Snapper album that comes close to capturing the raw power of that live performance. The tight drum and double bass-led funk onslaught of its first half (broken up momentarily by the slower soulful Shellback) runs seamlessly into the rub-a-dub soul of I Stole Your Car before jarring into the much colder, melancholic/ paranoid tones of the stunning climactic sequence of Alaska Street, Belladonna and They’re Hanging Me Tonight. It is this closing 3-song album-within-an-album that represents for me Red Snapper’s finest achievement, but the brilliance of the full lp is recognised by its inclusion in Robert Dimery’s 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

14. SPEEDY J – GINGER WARP14 (1993)

In his review of Ginger (“a masterpiece of techno music as audio design”) for the US Allmusic blog, Joshua Glazer makes the somewhat far-fetched claim that the catalogue of Dutch techno producer Jochem Paap “easily matches the Beatles in terms of diversity, development and absolute quality”. Whilst Paap’s firmly four-to-the-floor debut lp (Number 6 in the (Artificial Intelligence) series) wouldn’t cause Lennon/McCartney too many sleepless nights as songwriters, Ginger does offer twelve beautifully layered and arranged slabs of what Warp termed electronic listening music with some highly memorable melodies woven in. Highlights include the Reuben Wilson Got to Get Your Own bass-line sampling funk of Beam Me Up!; the warm euphoric synth waves of Fill 14 and single Pepper; and the incredible closing track De-Orbit: the anthem of the Artificial Intelligence series and an absolute all-time Warp classic.


Seneca announces Tortoise’s arrival on Warp with a chaotic bang: Jeff Parker’s spaghetti western guitar wrestles with John McEntire’s demolishing of his drum kit to suddenly dissolve into the funkiest, eeriest jam on any “post-rock” record I’ve heard. The quirky off-beat percussion and squelchy synths of Eros take forward the funk theme, especially when the killer jazz-funk bassline kicks in, before sliding into the more familiar post-rock territory of Benway. Firefly ditches the complex rhythms and time signature changes for electronic atmospherics before launching into the guitar-hook laden pop of Six Pack, the closest the Chicago five-piece get to conventional or catchy. Further on, Blackjack layers xylophones and Morricone guitars over a pulsating beat to produce the imaginary soundtrack of a sci-fi western. This is an album where every track is a highlight offering its own peculiar fusion of styles and sounds and whilst not Tortoise’s most experimental work, it offers a route into one of the most important American bands of the last twenty years.


House. What is House? Dedicated to the “Pioneers of the Hypnotic Groove”, Frequencies opens by listing the Leeds producers’ influences (Eno, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, YMO) before providing one of the most thrilling moments of the whole Warp catalogue: the drop from opener “Intro” into the label’s first major hit single, the incredible acid-fuelled LFO (Low Frequency Oscillation). Whilst not every track lives up to the magic of this opening sequence (in particular third track Simon from Sydney), Frequencies does manage to capture in its bleeps and rumbling sub-bass the spirit of late 80s/early 90s British acid house, notably in vinyl side one closer We Are Back. “There are many imitators, but we are the true creators” states a voice reminiscent of sentient computer Alpha 60 in Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville and like Godard’s dystopian sci-fi classic, Frequencies represents the distorted sound of a nostalgic future and one of the most influential British dance albums of the nineties.


The concept behind Warp’s Artificial Intelligence series was to create electronic listening music for the post-club comedown. Based on my experience of 5am in rented rooms in Coventry and Sheffield, a “hip-hop” (not trip hop) album called Smokers Delight (why no apostrophe?) fulfilled that role instead in the mid-90s. In the four-year gap since first lp A Word of Science (containing the Warp classic Aftermath), E.A.S.E. (aka George Evelyn) had lost partner Boy Wonder and found new member Robin Taylor Firth, resulting in NOW’s greatest work. Night’s Introlude kicks things off with that killer Quincy Jones sample from Summer in the City, referencing Nights Interlude on A Word of Science, an intertextual theme that would continue on to Les Nuits on third lp Carboot Soul (again emerging after a 4-year hiatus). Unlike Aphex Twin, NOW have no desire to spoil the comedown party by throwing a drill & bass curveball into the ambient mix halfway through to terrify its listeners. Instead, Smokers Delight is a smooth coherent (if one-dimensional) smokers’ delight of soulful samples (The Dells, Smokey Robinson, Positive Force, Bob James) and keyboards over dub-infused bass and laid-back hip hop beats with the occasional melodic guitar riff keeping things “herbalized”.