Monday, 18 February 2008

TD Rants: The Observer Music Monthly

Is there any more frustrating music publication than the Observer Music Monthly? I'd argue not. While knee-jerk reaction bibles like the NME have always been upfront about their preference for the new over the old, the OMM likes to pretend it's both down with the kids and up with the dads (or should that be the other way round?). The result is an awkward mix of Q/Mojo style dad band interviews (U2, for the umpteenth time), genuinely weighty music journalism, Guardianista coverage of urban music ("wow, this new thing called dubstep is amazing" etc) and the odd blast of I-D/Face-ish Nathan Barley-ism.

Of course, we'd expect nothing less from a magazine that comes with a Sunday newspaper, whose audience spans several generations (students and teens at one end of the scale, aging baby boomers at the other). But that still doesn't excuse its poor coverage of dance music, which it seems to see - like many mainstream music publications - as devoid of musical merit. On the rare occasions the OMM does cover dance/electronic music, it usually does so badly. Witness Miranda Sawyer's rambling nu-rave rant last year, which started off by defending dance music (making similar points to this piece, ironically) before wandering off into a celebration of the throwaway nature of dance music. Damming with feint praise, basically. Aside from these sorts of opinion pieces and the odd review, electronic music is pretty much ignored - unless, of course, they can get some pictures of Shoreditch teens wearing silly clothes out of it. Touche.

It was interesting to note that yesterday's edition of the OMM proudly predicted that 2008 would see "the return of the Bristol sound". Their justification for all this, of course, was their cover feature with Portishead. On the back of the release of their forthcoming album - and those by Tricky and Massive Attack - the OMM boldly predicted a big year for "the Bristol sound".

There is no doubt that all those album releases are big news, and it is great that Bristol's most famous artists are returning, but the city has not been a haven for stoned trip-hop producers - or even particularly hip-hop producers - for the last half decade at least. If the Observer Music Monthly did some digging, they'd find that the Bristol scene is as healthy and vibrant as it's ever been - and that no-one sound dominates. Our dubstep producers - most notably Pinch, Appleblim and Peverelist - are renowned the world over, the city's techno community is thriving (see Emptyset and others), we boast some of the best grime and garage DJs and MCs around (Joker, Blazey) and drum & bass is still big news. Hell, we've even got a small but dedicated community of disco nerds.

2008 does feel like a big year for Bristol, but it's not because of a few million-selling artists who haven't released records in donkeys. It's because we have some of the most exciting, up and coming producers around, a gaggle of dedicated DJs and promoters, and a massive student population. If anyone from the OMM is reading this, we'll happily fill you in - come on down to Bristol and we'll show you around.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Jamie Lidell: I'll have a dance please, Jim

I don’t think I’m alone in getting all hot under the collar at the prospect of new albums from this century’s kings of dancefloor soul, Jamie Lidell and Plantlife. Both’s sophomore sets are scheduled for release in April, making Spring 2008 potentially a vintage season for hot new elpees (you can also look forward to albums from Maurice Fulton - under his Syclops guise - Hercules & Love Affair, the Juan MacLean and Kelley Polar).

Imagine my excitement, then, when both the Plantlife and Jamie Lidell sets landed at Tricky Disco Towers this morning? Helpfully our office CD player is on the blink, so I’ve spent the last few hours with my headphones on and the volume cranked up, submerging myself in the deep fried funk, high octane soul and P-funk flavas of two of dance music’s most remarkable talents.

We’ll start with Lidell’s ‘Jim’, which is due for release on April 28th on Warp Records. It’s a truly remarkable set, full of unashamedly euphoric songs – the kind that make you want to jump out of your seat, punch the air and sing along at high volume with a pained, Stevie Wonder-ish look on your face.

Opening with the positive soul vibration of ‘Another Day’ (think ‘Multiply’ with gospel choirs), Lidell works his way through a string of piano-heavy, hands-in-the-air retro-soul anthems. There’s the ‘Waiting In Vain’ goes Blues Brothers throwdown of ‘Wait For Me’, the orgasmic funk build of ‘Out Of My System’ and the stomping funk rock wig-out that is ‘Hurricane’. As is traditional, Lidell gets his Prince on for the P Funk-and-piano jam ‘Figure Me Out’, a strutting peacock of a track that sounds like it came straight out of Paisley Park in the mid ’80s. Only better.

Of course, it’s not all about tub-thumping Motown-ish screamers. Lidell shows his sensitive side with the superb ‘All I Wanna Do’, perhaps his most heart-achingly sweet track yet. Even better is ‘Rope Of Sand’, a track so atmospheric and melancholic it’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It’s almost painfully beautiful, and the perfect end to a dazzling sophomore set. Lidell is already something of a star, but ‘Jim’ could send him stellar – it’s a wonderful set.

As for Plantlife, expect some thoughts on that in the next few days. With 19 tracks covering a myriad of styles, it takes a few listens to get a handle on. I can tell you that it's a belter, though - definitely one to keep an eye out for come April.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Peace dance

There was much merriment at Tricky Disco Towers when we heard about ‘Computer Incarnations For World Peace 2’, Sonar Kolektiv’s timely follow-up to last year’s superb collection of obscure prog disco and experimental electronic oddities. This time round, compiler Gerd Jansen has swapped vintage ’70s and ’80s electro oddities for contemporary nu-disco, cosmic and Balearica. In this regard, ‘Computer Incarnations…2’ is more of a companion piece than a straight follow-up.

Still, the tracklist is certainly tasty, with the mouth-watering prospect of rare and unreleased material from the likes of Todd Terje, Prins Thomas, Chateau Flight (who will be making their Bristol debut at best before: at the end of March), Maurice Fulton (coming our way in April) and recent TAPE guest Mark E.

Since it landed on our desks this morning, we’ve had the finished CD on almost constant rotation. As you’d expect, it’s a lovely collection – once again Gerd Jansen has put together a set that will appeal to both disco newbies and fully paid-up Balearic beards (only the most obsessive of nerds will have the vast majority of material here). Craftily, he’s found space for some relatively big records – in nu-disco/Balearic circles, at least – in the shape of Smith & Mudd’s ‘Shulme’, Ray Mang’s ‘To & Fro’, Danny Wang & Brennan Green’s largely forgotten 2002 remix of Crazy P’s ‘Keep On’, and Woolfy’s brilliant ‘Odyssey’, one of the best things released by Rong in 2007.

These underground “beard anthems” nestle side by side with a selection of real exclusives – a string of unreleased and suitably obscure cuts that are worth the admission price alone. Mark E’s ‘Fighter’ is the sort of track the bespectacled Brummie is becoming renwoned for – long, loping, atmospheric and subtly euphoric. It’s not in the same league as his forthcoming release on Internasjonal (the brilliant ‘Good Times’), but it’s still pretty darn hot.

Another of the exclusives comes from Tricky Disco’s fave Swiss producer, Alex Storrer AKA Lexx. His ‘Mahogany’ instrumental feels like a logical extension of his recent uber-Balearic ‘Axis Shift’ single, all bubbling German house synths, subtle disco guitars, sunset kys, dubby basslines and music box melodies. Wonderful stuff.

Perhaps the most high profile of the unreleased tracks is that by Versat'ile Records’ Chateau Flight. Ironically, it’s perhaps the most pedestrian of the lot. Trippy, chugging and hypnotic with appregiated synth meldoies aplenty, it sounds like cosmic disco for the afterhours generation. It's not bad by any means, but they've done better.

Away from the exclusives and “big hitters”, there are plenty of highlights. Todd Terje & Prins Thomas’s ‘ReinbĂ„gan’ is arguably the compilation’s stand out track. For those who don’t own one of the 60 12” copies supposedly in existence (that includes us, by the way), it’s a fantastic dub disco cover of Cloud One’s disco classic ‘Don’t Let My Rainbow Pass Me By’ complete with anthemic piano flourishes, deliciously dubby beats and On-U-Sound style harmonica. Thankfully it’s one of the tracks Sonar Kollektiv have picked for the ‘Compter Incarnations For World Peace 2’ 12” sampler, so all us vinyl junkies can finally own a copy. Hurrah!

Almost as good – and also destined for the 12” sampler – is Project Sandro’s ‘Blazer’, a marimba-tastic nu-disco epic that’s so Scandolearic it should move to Oslo and call itself Rune. I have to admit not coming across it before, though apparently it came out in 2005 on L.A’s Sentrall Records. Incidentally, another Sentrall track appears on ‘Computer Incarnations… 2’ – Maurice Fulton’s typically dreamy/walking bass-heavy remix of Rollmottle’s ‘Take A Break’. It’s good, too, though followers of Fulton may feel a little short-changed; he might be a genius, but he might want to thinking about writing some new basslines.

Throw in a dash of Balearic disco-pop from Frontera (their chill out comp-friendly cover of the classic ‘Walking In The Rain’) and San Serac and a wonderful Al Usher tune (‘Lullaby For Robert’, which I somehow managed to miss when it was released a couple of years back) and you’ve got another essential collection of electronic disco oddities. Good work Gerd.

Expect to see ‘Computer Incarnations For World Peace 2’ in record shops around April time.