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Albums Of The Month: Music We’ve Loved This March
Christian Eede , March 29th, 2019 09:45

From These New Puritans to The Comet Is Coming, Laurel Halo to The Caretaker, this is our favourite music of the last four weeks

Hare Hopper! illustration for March by Lisa Cradduck

Hurtling quickly to the end of March and already to a quarter-way through this year, it's time for our usual round-up of the month's best music here at tQ. It's a month that saw one of our favourite bands These New Puritans return with their first album since 2013's stunning Field Of Reeds and, spoiler alert, it was well worth the wait. Another of tQ's favourites Leyland James Kirby drew the curtains on his The Caretaker project after a three-year series of albums which saw him mirror the onset of dementia via music. You can read an interview from 2016, in which he set out his plans for The Caretaker, here.

Shabaka Hutchins and The Comet Is Coming continued to fly the flag for an ever-ascendant British jazz scene with their latest album, while Rian Treanor stepped out with his debut album on Planet Mu, proving that complex computer music and fun dance floor-centred rhythms aren't mutually exclusive.

All of the above, and more, feature below amongst our favourite albums of the last four weeks, while there are also some brilliant new tracks from the likes of Caterina Barbieri, Hey Colossus, black midi and Varg, amongst others, for you to sink your teeth into. Happy listening!

Albums Of The Month

These New Puritans - Inside The Rose (Infectious Music)

To work on the follow-up to Field Of Reeds, Jack Barnett moved to Berlin, not in a 'trust fund edgelord in a black coat outside Berghain' sort of way, but purely because he could afford to get studio space in a large old Communist-era radio studio. "I'm not really in Berlin because I love the mystique of [the city] or anything like that, so the whole miserable winter thing doesn't really hold anything for me," he told me a few years ago. "It could be anywhere, I'm the sort of person where my environment doesn't have a massive effect on what I do, I don't think it would change the music particularly." There, he forged forward as part of a two-member core operation with twin brother George (Thomas Hein has departed to take a PhD in neuroscience). Additional contributions came from long-time collaborators Graham Sutton and conductor Andre De Ridder, yet even with this palette, this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, Field Of Reeds II. How could it be? That's not to say this is a comedown. It's a consolidation, yes, but rather than tread water These New Puritans continue to explore and augment their own landscape. Luke Turner - read the full review here

The Caretaker - Everywhere at the end of time – Stage 6 (History Always Favours The Winners)

Everywhere at the end of time – Stage 6 sounds like being lost, like lostness as a permanent state of crisis. This is probably the weirdest ambient music I have ever heard. Barely present whilst eerily enveloping. First suite, ‘A confusion so thick you keep forgetting’ is a billowing fog of noise and raining hiss. The production is vast, cavernous and upsetting. It is a howling nothing eschewing any sense of momentum despite the endlessly mutating apparitions looming out of the fog. On this first side there is not a trace of The Caretaker’s established sound.

Following this, ‘A brutal bliss beyond this empty defeat’ further enhances the wholly peculiar and paradoxical nature of what you’re hearing. It is panic ambience, a manic unspooling of sound and noise with just the briefest flash of what could be a melody or an instrument then gone before your mind’s ear can grasp it. If Stages 4 and 5 were overtly anxious, at least the clarity of the fragments offered discernibly recognisable sounds. Even that luxury is not afforded you here – these are like echoes of anxiety. Read the full review here

Rian Treanor - ATAXIA (Planet Mu)

It shouldn’t be any great revelation that rhythmically dense, sonically challenging electronic music made by people capable of lucidly articulating theory – what we talk about when we talk about Rian Treanor and his debut album ATAXIA – can also be fun as all hell. Notwithstanding several decades of synth/computer-based composition backing this up, though, there’s been a deeply satisfying run of stuff in this conceptual niche over the last few years: producers who might, given a semi-interested listen, sound dry, priggish and unsuited to the rave. But as surely as you can bug out to Nkisi or Lorenzo Senni or Aïsha Devi, the nine tracks on this album are built for bone-hard club systems and flailing limbs.

In this respect, ATAXIA is not hugely frontloaded, opening with ‘ATAXIA A1’ (all tracks are titled according to their position on the four sides of vinyl, even on digital formats) – sparse, spindly beats which sound like Indian handdrums and a voiceover which talks of sex and piss and boredom and resembles some perverted language learning tape but is actually dialogue from Bruce Nauman’s video installation Good Boy Bad Boy. Hereafter, Treanor embraces bass and breaks, often with greater gusto than his first three 12-inches might have led one to expect. He is a greatly skilled programmer who walks that thinnest of lines – music that confounds obvious ideas of what dance music can be, while still being possible to actually dance to – with nous comparable to Aphex or Squarepusher, or fringe footworkers such as Jlin and DJ Paypal. Noel Gardner - read the full review here

The Comet Is Coming - Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery (Impulse!)

Like the dance music pioneers whose influence runs through the album, The Comet Is Coming know that the secret of success is all about tension and relief. While Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery is at its best when battering the listener with the combined histories of cosmic jazz and British rave, its quieter moments are just as key to the album’s strength. Opening track ‘Because The End is Really The Beginning’ is a masterclass in mood-setting. Totally overdramatic with lumbering cinematic horns and ominous drum fills, it sounds like being dropped into the futuristic wasteland in which this album makes it home. It makes a fitting tribute to the influence that the group themselves admit Blade Runner has had on them.

Both dance music and cosmic jazz have a propensity for lengthy tracks, prioritising space for the listener to get lost in over radio-play. But most of the songs on Trust… are kept short, often wrapping things up around the five-minute mark. The exception is the Kate Tempest-featuring ‘Blood of The Past’, an eight-minute epic at the core of the record. The only track to feature vocals, ‘Blood of The Past’ takes the Prodigy influence of ‘Summon the Fire’ and warps it into an industrial, head-banging anthem with Tempest informing the listener “it is too late for dreaming” and warning us of the error of our ways. Mike Vinti - read the full review here

Hannah Peel & Will Burns - Chalk Hill Blue (Rivertones)

On Chalk Hill Blue landscape is the setting for the impossible task of living, whether as a hostile condition - "The madness, really, of a dawn chorus" - or a place that offers no possibility of belonging, however drunk you get. Burns reflects, darkly, on "The slick beds of somebody's home county." The album is specific about context, with tracks called ‘May 9th', ‘February' and 'Ridgeway', but these timestamps are only clues to a fragmented narrative. We catch tantalising glimpses of a story, moments brought into focus under Burns' piercing gaze. Meanwhile, Peel's music is hypnotic, whether brooding quietly or surging into a series of gradually overlapping and separating beats. On ‘Change', her synthesisers sound like a forest fire, a distant orchestra, a swarm of insects and a flock of birds. ‘Summer Blues' uses sad pianos, and ‘February' a chirping bassoon. The title track is an all-instrumental piece with synthesisers that drop neat lines of lone, heart-stopping notes. Tom Bolton - read the full review here

Laurel Halo - DJ-Kicks (!K7)

Not many labels are better suited to capturing the different in electronic music than vaunted German label !K7 and its DJ-Kicks series. Kicking off in 1995 with a slew of club-focused mix CDs from the likes of Joey Beltram, Claude Young and Stacey Pullen, the series moved into experimental territory two years later when it commissioned a mix from Scottish singer-songwriter Nicolette, which inspired further out-there entries, especially Rockers Hi-Fi's lush and languid May 1997 release. Laurel Halo’s latest DJ-Kicks dovetails these approaches, a fleet-footed, hour-long mix that dishes out slow burners and gut punchers in equal and effective measures, remaining engaging and weird throughout.

A compelling aspect of the mix is its lack of linearity, which is also evident in Halo’s general artistic approach. Her dynamic back catalogue conveys everything from ambient, fever dream feelings (‘The Sick Mind’) to vocal-led, gelatinous pop (‘Jelly’). One particularly locked in, tech-centred section of the mix, which includes Final Cut’s armour-clad ‘Temptation’, is bridged by the peaky jazz of Geoffrey Landers’ ‘Brian’s Having a Party’ before dashing headfirst into Via Maris’ ‘Side Effects’, which churns with Timedance otherworldliness. James Ball - read the full review here

Little Simz - Grey Area (Age 107)

Our twenties are an aching tug between adolescence and adulthood; a hard-to-define era with a malaise that's difficult to pinpoint, yet well-captured in music and art. It's both cavernous and oppressive, as we reach for what is us, or us in motion. Is this a personality trait, or a passing fancy? A staunch ideal or a feeling in transition? Little Simz' third studio album, Grey Area, sees her swing confidently through the duality of youth to harness the harshest of her vulnerable, raw moments, and the best savage, wisdom-weaponry, giving each reflection on herself pride and place on this record. Anna Cafolla - read the full review here

Tracks Of The Month

Caterina Barbieri - ‘Fantas’

Caterina Barbieri previews her first album for Editions Mego with a 10-minute epic complete with the kind of soaring, hypnotic arpeggios that she’s come to be known for. CE

black midi - 'crow's perch'

The implausibly youthful looking black midi release another zesty banger in anticipation of their debut Rough Trade LP, due soon hopefully. JD

Mark - ‘Fucking Sick of Myself Since Day One (Hot Desk Mix)’

The ever-ungoogleable Mark returns to Ostgut Ton’s experimental offshoot Unterton with this screwface-inducing meshing of breakcore and IDM. CE

Hey Colossus - 'Memory Gore'

Yet more proof, if any were needed, that we don't live in the best of all possible worlds (because if we did, on the strength of tracks like this, Hey Colossus - one of the best rock bands in the world - would be massive). JD

Varg - ‘A Weak Heart to Break (BD 4-Ever)’

One of techno’s most charismatic figures resurfaces on Northern Electronics with a doof-driven ode to euphoric ‘90s trance. CE

The Claque - ‘Hush’

A lovely cut of weird and emotional guitar pop from Irish newcomers The Claque, undercut with pumping rhythm and topped with a smattering of scratching noise. Ace. PC

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