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Summer Update

August 1, 2011

Apologies for the gap between entries, but like any sensible Briton I have spent most of the last month or so in foreign climbs, knowing full well that July conversely tends to be a miserable anti-climax in terms of weather. I won’t bore you with my travels, but some choice photos – taken by my talented better half Aziza Azul – can be found here, here and here on her Tumblr and a few phone snaps from my solo NYC trip are below:

Central Park

Coney Island

Brooklyn Squirrel

As much as I’d like to join my fellow journalists in some righteous hand-wringing over the phone hacking scandal and demise of The News of the World, there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been better said by The Guardian – particularly good examples here, here and here. Also, while the toppling of a terrible publication and exposure of morally abhorrent practices is real progress, I suspect that much like the first NOTW phone-hacking trial, scapegoats will be hung out to dry and the dodgy practices and dodgier papers will rumble on. The table below from the Information Commissioner gives a good idea of the scale of the problem, and even thought the organisation I work for has an excellent ethical code and high standards of journalism, in full disclosure we were bought up by the Daily Mail Group, so a full rant might seem a tad hypocritical. NOTW not even the tip of the iceberg

On to more pleasant matters though, and an update from my last post on good telly. As you may or may not have seen, the excellent The Shadow Line finished and has now been replaced by the next in the Beeb’s New Drama season; The Hour. Based on the inception of the titular current events show in the 1950s, it stars Dominic West as the dashing host, up against Ben Wishaw’s razor-sharp reporter, with Romola Garai’s struggling producer keeping them from coming to blows. A couple of episodes in and it’s already got me as gripped as The Shadow Line and is fast living up to its hype as the British Mad Men. Sticking with drama, Channel 4 have signed up the US version of The Killing. I had previously been recommended the Danish original by a colleague, but missed its airing on BBC Four, so I was a bit sceptical when I found myself watching the feature-length first episode of the remake a few weeks ago. It all looked very polished, the story was sufficiently intriguing to keep me watching, but a few episodes in and I still don’t feel particularly gripped by the plight of the characters and the plot doesn’t have half as much cliffhanger-y intrigue as it seems to think it does.

The Hour is Nigh

Away from the serious stuff, there have been some lols to be found if you look hard enough. A couple of tips from some friends recently back from across the pond are well worth a look. Tuesday nights on Channel 5 offshoot 5Star are where and when you can find US import Archer, an animated spy-spoof surrounding the exploits of the suave but incredibly self-centred spy Sterling Archer; a breath of fresh air in comparison to the increasingly stale efforts of Matt Groening and Seth McFarlane. Also on Tuesday nights, but over on BBC3, is Angry Boys, the latest mockumentary from Summer Heights High creator Chris Lilley. While it’s not quite as funny as his last series, some of his new characters – like faux-gansta rapper S.Mouse, prison officer Gran and uber-pushy mum Jen Okazaki – all continue to push the comedic limits. Another Australian show that I came across recently was Wilfred. My interest was initially drawn to a very odd advert on American TV, which I then mentioned to a friend, who informed me of the Aussie original series. The premise remains the same in each – we follow Adam, his girlfriend Sarah and the eponymous Wilfred, so far so normal, but the nonsense stems from the fact that Adam sees the dog as a man in a dog suit who talks to him – but I implore you avoid the Elijah Wood-fronted US remake and search for the first series online somewhere.

Away from the idiot box, there are any number of wonderful things going on to arouse your ears. Lets start with hip hop, and courtesy of my workmate Hugh I’ve been introduced to the brilliance of Action Bronson, described to me as “looking like a GamesWorkshop employee, but sounding like Ghostface Killah”. On his new album ‘Dr Lecter’ he spits about his three favourite things – fine food, good women and fat blunts – all backed by a nice soulful New York sound. While the style definitely takes liberally from Ghostface and the Wu Tang Clan, the man himself liked Bronsolini’s work so much he teamed up with him for the track ‘Meteor Hammer’, which you can download here.Sticking with the Clan, they’ve got a new record out, and while it’s not vintage material, there are still a few prime cuts on ‘Legendary Weapons’ worth looking out.

In stark contrast to the Wu-Corp. commercial juggernaut are Shabazz Places, a mysteriously promotion shy Seattle-based collective producing weird and often wonderful off-kilter hip hop. Their new album ‘Black Up’ is challenging at times, but rewards like ‘Are You…Can You…Were You‘ are well worth your time. A couple of other things to look forward to on the hip hop front come in the form of my two favourite US trip-hoppers; DJ Shadow and RJD2. The former’s forthcoming album, ‘The Less You Know The Better’, is becoming less and less of a hot prospect with every new teaser single I hear from it; here’s hoping the full record doesn’t continue the great man’s downward trajectory. Hopefully RJD2 will be able to avert a similar decline by teaming up with vocalist Aaron Livingston to from Icebird. The duo will apparently “utilise the psychedelic soul for which the Philly music scene has long been known” on their debut LP ‘The Abandoned Lullaby’ in October.

Another, more eyebrow-rasing collaboration is between blues-rock superstar Jack White and hitherto barely known Detroit rapper Black Milk. White contacted Milk (I like how that sounds) after seeing one of his videos and asked him if he’s like to record some tracks with him at his Third Man studios in Nashville. Read the full story and hear the music they made here. Ending with the beatsier side of hip hop, I’m throughly looking forward to the new EP from Weegie synth-glitch pioneer Hudson Mohawke, ‘Satin Panthers’. If bold lead single ‘Thunder Bay’ is anything to go by, it should be even more entertaining than 2009’s ‘Butter’.

I would normally put Anticon beatmaster Alias in the hip hop section, but going on what the first single from his new album sounds like, I’m going to use him to segway into a new genre paragraph. ‘Wanna Let It Go’ is the teaser track from the forthcoming ‘Fever Dream’ and sounds like he’s moving towards the Joy Orbison/Mount Kimbie end of the spectrum; see what you think and download it for free here. Talking of Mount Kimbie, the Peckham-based post-dubstep duo recently released the excellent EP ‘Carbonated’ – the title track being a particularly soothing number – but this time the hype has shifted from them onto the next big thing; SBTRKT. The masked crusader has been doing the rounds now for a while, but the release of his eponymous debut album has got people talking, especially since he’s made it quite commercially accessible. This means fans of his clubbier previous releases may be disappointed with some of the vocal numbers, but tracks like ‘Ready Set Loop’ prove he still knows where the dance floor is.

Carbonated

Another homegrown talent peeking his head above the parapet is Midland. Following in the footsteps of cohorts Ramadanman/Pearson Sound and Julio Bashmore, he’s stepped up this year with releases ‘Bring Joy’ and ‘Through Motion’; the latter being a firm favourite of mine recently. Not British, but well worth a mention is the debut full-length album from Ghostly International signature Com Truise. ‘Galactic Melt’ is chock full of the analogue synths he collects, harking back to all the best bits of electro from the last 30 years; ‘Flightwave‘ is particularly drenched in retro-bliss. Whilst we’re overseas it would be remiss of me not to mention the third album from everyone’s favourite Brazilian architect-turned-house-producer Gui Boratto. The aptly titled ‘III’ is out in September on Kompakt and if ‘The Drill’ is anything to go by it should be another beauty.

Just in time for the summer re-boot loopy disco duo Tiger & Woods have released their debut album; ‘Through the Green’. If you’ve been enjoying their output for a wee while now then there will be plenty you already know and love, plus a few fine noobs along the way. As trailed here several months ago, french knob twiddler Anthony Gonzales AKA M83 is back with his sixth album ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’, of which he says: “I think it is a reflection of my 30 years of being a human being. It’s a compilation of all my previous music together. It’s a retrospective of myself.” You can download the potent first single ‘Midnight City’ here (watch out for the sax solo) and the full record will be out in October. Another album coming to fruition soon is the latest from The Rapture. It’s called ‘In the Grace of Your Love’, it’s out at the start of September on DFA and the lead single is  ‘How Deep is Your Love‘; an intriguingly different melancholic-piano-disco grower.

There have been a couple of updates of favourite songs from last year which are worth mentioning. Firstly the dubbed-out Dennis Bovell version of Steve Mason‘s ‘The Letter’ – one of many highlights from the album reversioning ‘Ghosts Outside’ – and secondly the updated version of Erol Alkan and Boys Noize‘s ‘Avalanche’, with Jarvis Cocker enlisted to read Leonard Cohen‘s poem of the same name.

I like it when musicians and press people get creative. Too often promo campaigns follow the same well trodden path, so it’s nice to see people grasping the best of new technology and social networking to increase the listener/customer’s involvement. A couple of recent instances I’ve enjoyed include Sasha’s competition to create a new version of his track ‘Cut Me Down’ in order to win a production session at a swanky Ibiza studio. Some of the entries fashioned from the spare parts made available on Soundcloud were genuinely excellent, I particularly like this last 14 worthy effort from Ryan Davis. The much-discussed new app from mash-up pioneers Soulwax has clearly been a labour of love, so hats off to them for putting so much effort into something with so little financial reward. Annoyingly only available on Apple devices, it launched at the start of July containing six hour-long mixes, each following an individual theme and accompanied by bespoke visuals. The brothers Dewaele will add a new hour-long set to the app each week, until users have access to a full days worth of music. Finally, one of the industry’s true innovators, Bjork‘s really gone to town with the packaging of her latest album, Biophilia, making it available as an app that gradually extends into an explorable musical universe, with new constellations (songs) added over time. For a better explanation – courtesy of Sir David Attenborough no less – click here, or just watch the fantastic new Gondry-directed video for Crystalline.

Not content with revolutionising the way people access music, some artists are going out of their way to shift the paradigm of live performance. Electronic musicians have long been criticised for lacklustre stage shows (“I bet he’s just checking his emails”) but while men manipulating machines will never be able to content with the drama of a band in full pomp, the likes of the Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk and Underworld have paved the way for the incredible new tour set up of Ninja Tune-r Amon Tobin. His ISAM album tour has been heaped with praise for the ground-breaking 3D projection system. I can’t begin to explain how it all works, but those have seen it – and I fully intend to when he comes back to London in the autumn – say it’s genuinely game-changing stuff. On a similar tip, Jamie XX has teamed up with visual artist Quayola, for a live AV gig sponsored by Rizlab; sign up for a chance to see it here.

To finish, lets briefly wrap up a few mixes and compilations that have been doing the rounds since I last wrote. M.A.N.D.Y returned to the Body Language mix series that helped make their name, Volume Ten is all you’d expect from the Get Physical stable; muscular, melodic, European house. Sticking with the same label, Heidi‘s Jackathon is unsurprisingly a jackin’ mix of chunky Chicago-influenced house, while over on DJ-Kicks, Motor City Drum Ensemble takes the reigns for the latest installment of the series; here’s an exclusive cut from the comp by the man himself. The last review I wrote was for Jackmaster’s FabricLive mix, hopefully I can bag myself a first listen to the long overdue Fabric comp debut from Four Tet. Finally, an insider tells me good things about the new concept from Desyn Masiello and co. Faciendo is a collaborative effort between Des and a group of like-minded DJ’s – Tom Morgan, Rowdent, balErik, Add2Basket, Lucas Abadi and Dory – pooling resources to host fortnightly radio shows, contribute to a series of multi-genre compilation CDs and working towards establishing a regular club night and festival tent. The first radio mix comes from Masiello and I’ll keep you abreast of further developments.

Just a couple more musical things I need to convey before I go. Firstly a couple of releases on hipster boutique Kitsune – the latest of their ‘Tabloid‘ mix series is being mixed by Rio mix-masters The Twelves and Mark Ronson‘s  rework and release the title track off last year’s ‘Record Collection’ album – and secondly a quick word of gratitude to Radiohead for their continuing selection of some of dance music’s most interesting producers to remix singles off ‘King of Limbs’ – namely Caribou, Nathan Fake, Jaques Green, Pearson Sound, Lone and Four Tet – all available to stream online.

If you can’t be arsed clicking through the multitude of musical links I’ve provided then why not just click here instead for all the best bits squeezed and sequenced into a brand new 8tracks mix.

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