Horse Time

Horse Time is the first release on Phonopsia’s new label – Horse Category. As a statement of intent for the sounds to come, this debut record shows the breadth of Phonopsia’s craft in the studio looking to not be limited by genre or tempo. Across the EP he delivers a slow techno track with housey leanings, a room shaking minimal techno track, up-tempo electro wigged out with oddball elements, and a down-tempo finale that abuses time.

The first and last tracks on Horse Time are siblings, products of Covid, and homages to our new post-temporal existence. Trace Signals from a Temporal Dimension and Memories of Time are connected by a shared twinkling melody line – one has all the house music feels of dancing in the day time and the latter offers up a more quirky and playful take on the hook.

Deadline: Gala was recorded as a production demonstration for the Georgetown Film Festival gala in Washington, D.C. in 2002. It was created live with an audience in a two hour window – start to finish. It’s a track that people have enjoyed in his sets now 18 years later will be released on vinyl.

Nuba Tuba was made in 2009, and while it is a bonafide electro track it also brings in influences of early Hemlock/Hessle influence on the large tuba-like bass.

Phonopsia has been making and playing music for a good number of years and was Süd Electronic resident from 2007-2009 and regular guest for Bleep43 from 2002-2010.

The Soundcloud link here includes clips of all four tracks. The Bandcamp link below that offers full streaming of Nuba Tuba , and is the first place where Horse Time can be ordered.

Best Albums of 2020

2020 (among many much more important things) was the year when Bandcamp became a lifestyle, and a focal point for distinguishing algorithmic pacification from active patronage. It was a safety net for artists whose last remaining stream of funding had been cancelled. It is an exemplar of how art can operate in future, for those who hope to subsist by their passion, and those who simply want to share their art with the world in a way that puts the art first. Although my list here is not “about” Bandcamp, I want to encourage everyone to think about their role in music, since the algorithmic subscriber has effectively become the source of income for the exploiters. I  have been harping on about this all year, and will continue to use this harsh rhetoric to try to get the point across. A passive consumer of the algorithm is actively feeding exploitation. Establish a connection with the art you love. Nurture and explore. Purchase what you enjoy, because it will make a difference to the future of the artist who made it. The only subscription model that supports art today is direct patronage (like Patreon and Bandcamp subscriptions). If subscription “works for you”, then subscribe to artists rather than those who exploit artists. And if that all seems too weird, then just buy some good music.

That said, on to the list.

Likwid Continual Space Motion – Earthbound

One hour and forty seven minutes of monument to broken beats and much that informed the divergence of this strain from all that proceeded it. There is no other word for it than “monumental”. The most important broken beat album since 4 Hero’s Creating Patterns, 19 years later. It really doesn’t lend itself to words, as words always fall short of something it is doing well. I can’t offer any higher praise. Best album of the year, and possibly of the decade or century. Masterpiece #1 of 2020.

Rian Treanor – File Under UK Metaplasm

Given the height of praise for LCSM, it must be hard to follow, right? Well, for many of the same reasons, this is right up in that same praise bracket. Although the end results diverge, they are both amalgamations that bring together strains in the best completely novel ways. Once you’ve heard this, it becomes a new reference for everything that is happening. Especially if you are paying any attention to what is happening in Africa and the UK, and reflect a bit on the influences from Chicago and Detroit, this is clearly global music. Where LCSM unifies past and present, Rian Treanor unifies space. Masterpiece #2 of 2020.

The Transcendence Orchestra – Feeling The Spirit

Not sure this is a masterpiece per se, but it is an absolutely wonderful album, and I will be listening to it for a very long time. It has earned itself a place beside the best ambient albums in my collection. While I have followed everything The Transcendence Orchestra have done quite closely, this is the peak of what they’ve achieved so far. And while it is its own whole, it hints at new directions. Some of this picks up where Coil’s ambience left off, but with a unique flavour, and that is probably the best stretch of a comparison I could make, as it does so many other things as well. One thing I notice when I listen to this album is that the tracks are distinct, but they work so well together that I scarcely realise the first one has finished when I reach the end of the album.

Pole – Fading

I believe I have all of Pole’s albums, and am certainly not one to see the first two or three as the canon and everything else as the rest (as I think may be common), but in any case I see this as the best album he’s created since the first two, and perhaps even better than them. It is brilliant. Everything you know about Pole is here, but it’s all under new direction. It’s not really different, but it is impeccable Pole. This is one that will stay in “rotation” for years.

LEYA – Flood Dream

With many thanks to Actress for the tip, this album opened up a world of music from LEYA and Eartheater to me, which has drifted rapidly from discovery to immersion. The remixers alone may add some weight to the recommendation, with both Actress and Drew McDowall (formerly of Coil) adding their interpretations. But the originals stand their ground, and if there is any criticism to be found of this album it’s that the best tracks are so outstanding that some of the others become less memorable. Nevertheless, the whole album is what you will probably choose to listen to once you make this connection. Detuned harp wasn’t really on my radar for 2020, but I will have an emptier 2021 if it transpires without it.

Bass Clef – Maze Greys

I couldn’t say it better my friend Brendan, “Like your brain just found a previously unknown room in its house which is vast, well-lit, and contains a massive chaise longue.” A completely novel thing that demands and rewards immersion.

Legowelt – Pancakes With Mist

Danny Wolfers released so many good albums this year, you would think it would be hard to pick one. I must have bought at least 100 of his new tracks, which is incomprehensible, but probably accurate. However, this is the clear album choice among these, if you must pick only one (I would encourage you to do more). There is scarcely a duff moment in all that work, but this album is so great. I only included one track here as reference because there was no way I could single out two or three from the rest. My kids once mistook this track for Drecxiya, which I think says it all.

Gan Gan Garmana Kacapi Suling – Javasounds Vol. 7

I have had a peripheral interest in Gamalan since I first learned about Reich’s early influences 20ish years ago, but it is fair to say that I never pursued it until now, and that recent interest was largely pushed along after hearing the Gamalan Degung track that featured in the Netflix short film, “John was trying to contact aliens”.

So I went on a bit of Gamalan binge. It is one of the most pure forms of music, wearing its connections to the trance-like states it can inspire on its sleeve. And this is the best new Gamalan I’ve found in 2020.

Linkwood & Other Lands – Face the Facts

Other Lands and associated acts have been a major musical presence this year, so picking one album is difficult, but this collaboration with Linkwood really stands out. It sounds like itself but still covers a fairly wide range, and some of the tracks boil over with sincerity and funk. 

His Name Is Alive – Return To Never (Home Recordings 1979 – 1986 Vol 2) and Ghost Tape EXP

The second and prelude-to-third volumes of Warren Defever’s tape archive releases – some made when he was as young as ten, but largely his high school years before His Name Is Alive arrived on 4AD. Beautiful droney effected guitar on tape. Unfathomable that he made all of this at such a young age, and that they were made before most of the things they remind us of today. The Ghost Tape EXP cassette is still available, so act fast if you want this music for tape on tape.

Five honourable mentions

Reggie Dokes‘ Deep House Remix of Teyana Taylor-Still, which is probably my favourite house track of the year.

Polypores, who had many great albums this year, including the recent WF 11 – Tempus album.

Plant43‘s Storm Control includes two of his best tracks – the title track which is what we expect of him but definitely one of his best, and the surprising downtempo Sparks in the Grey Light, which I absolutely adore.

Eartheater‘s Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin. Probably lacking the highs or Trinity, but making up for that with consistency and breadth.

Jordan JCZ‘s jams on Patreon.

Prepaternal

Dad techno!

The second of the recent resurrections, this track was originally “finished” the day before my older son was born in 2010. Unfortunately I rushed the arrangement and there were a couple of parts I wasn’t happy with, and this was when I working entirely outboard. Last month I managed to re-create the stems and got back to work on it.

Lots of digital synths on this one. Supernova II, Nord, MS2000R, Microwave XT. I love the synths of the late ’90s, and spent months on the synthesis for this track. This track probably represents my interest in synthesis better than anything else I’ve done. Also a bit of last minute Pro-1 thrown in for balance.

Ooze

Originally recorded with the entirely outboard setup in 2008. This is fairly synth-heavy, with a lot of Waldorf Q, Micowave XT, Nord and MS2000R. The original mixdown was severely lacking low end, aside from the occasional boom, which was fairly overwhelming and chewed up all space for the main kick. Now fixed up with a functional kick and some changes to the hats.

Trace Signals from a Temporal Dimension

Zero tracks in nearly ten years, then two within a month. It’s like London buses here!

This track started as a variant of Memories of Time, but it was always my intent to take the bits wherever they wanted to go at a higher tempo. And so we have here a track that includes one or two bits that are time-stretched or just sped up MIDI from the original recordings, some bits that have been slightly re-written, and more than half net new parts (although some of those parts use the same sounds from Memories of Time). Is it a reprise? It’s definitely not a remix. I reckon it’s a new track with some common bits. It really doesn’t matter, but having finished another thing does, and hopefully the name establishes sufficient commonality. In any case I hope it is well received.

Memories of Time

For the first time in nearly a decade, I’ve found my feet in the studio, and have actually managed to finish a track (embedded below). There are so many contributing changes, including:

  • Parenthood.
  • Removal of the massive 32-channel Soundcraft mixing desk.
  • Replacement with a set of sound interfaces that can meet my needs digitally and the right control surfaces to retain tactile control.
  • Acceptance that I work better with a screen, even if I don’t want making music to be fully synonymous with looking at a screen.
  • Adding some simpler analog synths to complement the more complex digital synths that have been my primary focus forever. I’ve discovered that the immediacy the analog synths afford is incomparable, even if I don’t subscribe to digital vs. analog sound quality dogma. The TD-3, MS-1 and Pro-1 work for me because the sounds they make work, always have worked, and are incredibly effective for creating a foundation. They are lovely machines. I probably should have embraced this sooner, but the raft of cheaper clones has finally made this more possible without so much risk, and I really love them.
  • The time spent late last year with MidiQuest to gain control of the external kit was an essential foundation I’d discarded for far too long. Particularly, the time spent working with them to create a Jomox AirBase 99 module was critical, as a mechanism for engaging with the instrument and learning how to manage it, but also MidiQuest taught me how to use the Jomox, even if that eventually made me less reliant on MidiQuest.
  • I’m old enough to be pretty comfortable with my own creative idiosyncrasies.

Ultimately, I finally have a way of working that allows me to start and stop without so much fear of volatility, I have the sound quality I need, I have the inputs I need, I have learned how to handle this complex arrangement of disparate things, and I feel like the things I’m making are of a quality that doesn’t make me feel like I’m trading on past glories.

Hope you enjoy this.

ATTACK!!!

A few years ago, before things went quiet here, I uploaded an older track (2001 IIRC) to Soundcloud, because I’ve always liked it and I’ve unfortunately lost the parts. I was pretty meticulous about saving/backing stuff up at the time, but this was a casualty of some mistake or another. I still have a .WAV of the track in its final state, which I like, but a lot of people have told me they’re not massively in to the distorted 909 kick (there are two 909s – one of which seems to be a bit on the Lenny D side of things for some people). Anyway… this song did a lot of things I was happy with at the time, and if the kick is a blemish today, so be it.  Track now removed. May re-emerge at some point.

Top stuff 2011

Many apologies for the disservice here. Fatherhood and the rest of life have taken precedence over writing about music. It’s probably going to stay that way, although I have actually been buying a lot of music, and really spending time taking it in. Some updates on this flow from @phonopsia.

By inserting some distance between myself and the pressures of keeping up with new music, I’ve found myself drawn to albums, which has resulted in a long-overdue engagement with my musical past. To this end, back in January I filled loads of holes in my music collection along the lines of The Pixies, Tom Waits, Joy Division, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock; but I also started exploring a load of things I’d intentionally overlooked forever, which is an impulse that’s stuck with me throughout the year. I say, “intentionally” because I prioritised purchasing new music pretty much non-stop for the last twenty-five years and it now feels like the right time to start spending more time looking back.

I haven’t forgotten the present, and a few things will pop up here from recent months, but this is largely a view of the old stuff that caught my ears, as inspired by brelson’s top 10 albums of 2011. This is a selection of YouTube clips and is taxonomically muddled but I think this is the easiest way to present my interests these days and hopefully an easy way for you to consume it. So, without further digression, here’s some stuff I’ve been listening to.

His Name is Alive

I first rediscovered His Name is Alive via the Brothers Quay’s video for “Are We Still Married”, which I vaguely remembered from when it used to get play on MTV. They were also one of the miriad bands that I overlooked in my late teens, as I developed a short-lived aversion to everything without synths, which is something I’ve been trying to rectify by revisiting this period in particular. At any rate, I was reminded of His Name Is Alive after plundering a load of Brothers Quay short films.

Here’s a few other examples of the variety of their sound:

The first few albums have really clicked with me. It’s somewhat irritating that a lot of material reappears on subsequent releases – sometimes in new versions – other times the same. But that shouldn’t scare anyone off. The early releases are full of ideas and maintain an exceptionally high level of quality as individual tracks and as proper albums. Their newer works are more variable.

Mark Seven’s Salute 2

The Mark Seven “Salute 2” mix probably did more to kick-start my drive to explore the past than anything this year (it came out late 2010 but I only got to it early in 2011). I know I should know more of this stuff better, but I didn’t and the mix did precisely what a good mix should do, insofar as I rushed out to buy the key tracks that I was missing. They were:

Gene Chandler’s “Does She Have a Friend”

Hi Gloss’s “”You’ll Never Know”

Heaven 17 “Let Me Go!”

There’s loads of other great music on these three discs (or free downloads from the link above). A track list can be found over here.

Grizzly Bear/Department of Eagles

I’m not sure when I first started paying attention to Grizzly Bear. I certainly never realised they were massively popular until recently. I think it was probably when my high school friend Ben who mentioned them to me a couple of years ago. At the time, I listened, thought, “this is alright”, and then moved on. For whatever reasons I went back again and bought Veckatimest, perhaps buoyed by the fact that it’s been released on Warp Records in the UK. I love this album, but I’ve also visited their earlier works since then, which are probably just as good. For whatever reason, I’ve particularly clung to the Department of Eagles side project, for which I cite “Around the Bay” here. I’d recommend it all. It’s not the sort of thing I’d normally listen to, but it’s so well written, arranged and coherent, there’s not much to dislike. And it is all very well produced by band member Chris Taylor, for people who geek out on such things.

Scott Walker

I’m late on the Scott Walker boat, but I suppose there’s a lens through which everyone getting to him after 1965 is late. The dude is a genius, although I find his hit/miss ratio a bit unfavourable. That said, I’ve bought nearly every Scott Walker release and some of the Walker Brothers releases to boot. In fact, my favourite Scott Walker tune, “The Electrician”, is drenched in his influence, but was released as part of the 1978 Walker Brothers album Nite Flights.

If you’re looking for a good place to start with Scott Walker, look no further than the 30th Century Man documentary.

Stevie Wonder

Am I the only person alive who didn’t know that Stevie Wonder did Pastime Paradise? How many other tracks had unimagined Stevie Wonder beginnings? I decided I wouldn’t live any longer without knowing and started plundering the back catalogue, specifically Songs in the Key of Life and Secret Life of Plants. I actually know some of the other 70s albums reasonably well, but these two are huge and so important. On these two albums I think it’s the synths and the wild inventiveness that do it for me most, but of course his music wants for nothing.

Back to Pastime Paradise… just imagine hearing this in 1976.

Africa Hitech

Steve Spacek and Mark Pritchard sounds too good to be true if you look at my music collection, but this puts their talents together in a way that makes sense, while moving in to new territory for both. It’s probably the freshest dance music I’ve heard in 2011. It’s a rare collaboration that lives up to its promises on paper. I’d recommend the album, 93 Million Miles, as the singles in advance of it didn’t do as much for me. This is “Light the Way”.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

A work colleague who plays in a metal band recommended these guys. I’ve known the name for ages but never seriously sought out their music before he sent me some clips. At any rate, I was missing out, and it’s prompted me to check out Kranky in more detail to boot. Great stuff. This track, Gathering Storm, from the Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven! album is the second part of a 22 minute song, which cresecendos ridiculously.

I would literally recommend  buying all of their music. And their A Silver Mount Zion project. If you get impatient with this clip on the first listen, skip to about 4:20. The impatience will not persist.

Reflection Eternal

Talib Kweli is an MC I’ve never given enough time. I’ve bought some of his singles, I have a Black Star album and I’ve always liked him, but I’ve never sought out his albums. Late this year I sought to rectify this, purchasing the Reflection Eternal album Train of Thought, produced by Hi-Tek. I also bought the first two Hi-Tek solo albums, because the beats are as good as they get. It’s very difficult to choose a single track to highlight here, as the lyrics, delivery, beats and production are all so good. This is “Too Late (feat. Res)”.

Franco Campanino

This is a track that I first heard on the superb Noctambulo mix. I bought it late this year and listened to it loads again. Huge tune. Immense strings. Italian disco rather than Italo disco I suppose.

nb: that Noctambulo mix (track list here) got me interested in Goblin as well, who are definitely worth a mention here, both for their tunes and the far out Dario Argento films that they scored.

Dario Argento with knife

Billy Ocean

“Nights” is a track that I’ve known for a few years, but I don’t think I really knew it was Billy Ocean. At the same time, I had a notion that he made some amazing tunes, but didn’t know where to start. Eventually I started with the “Nights (Feel Like Getting Down)” album, rediscovered this song and found an album that has few equals from this style/era. Really listenable stuff that should stay in rotation for a long time, and a rare dance music album that holds together properly.

Six or Seven HonoUrable mentions

There’s loads of other stuff to mention, but I need to save on words, actually finish this post and properly get ready for the beginning of a new year, so hopefully this fairly succinct list will serve as a pointer or a starter for discussion.

Twin Shadow

Twin Shadow’s is my favourite new 4AD artist. The debut album is very good throughout, with only one song that I can do without. “When We’re Dancing” is probably my favourite, and you can fit it in a mix! Lots of 80s references on this album, without sounding regurgitated.

Deep Chord presents Liumin

I have no particular tracks to mention, I just haven’t stopped listening to this album since it was released 18 months ago. Worth a listen or fifty for any “dub techno” sceptics. The ambient second disk is good as well. It’s worth mentioning that it took a few listens to really grab me and at first I actually thought some of the effects were a bit crap, but since getting inside this music all reservations have been left behind. “Maglev” is one of the murkier examples:

Mara Carlyle

I bought Floreat for my wife just a few days ago, but I strongly suspect this will get routine play for many years to come. You may remember Mara Carlyle from her Accidental Records album, The Lovely (produced by Plaid), or the tracks on Plaid’s Not For Threes which she contributed vocals to, like Rakimou.

Floreat was actually finished in 2008 but it only got a release in mid-2011 after getting shelved by EMI. It’s coming from a similar musical place to The Lovely. I’d be very surprised if people who liked that album didn’t like this one. It oozes auteurship, as she handles nearly everything herself on the album, and with a voice like hers it’s a very complete package. Probably should be in the top 10 were it not for the fact that I’ve only heard it twice so far!

Dimlite

Dimlite has been probably my favourite left field hip hop producer for some time. This year’s Grimm Reality reaffirms this view with tracks like, “One Of Uh Infinity’s Countless Uh Tiny Cycles”, which scarcely resembles hip hop at all any more.

Damu

Damu’s debut album took some time to sink in, but having done so, it feels like a keeper. “Plasm” is a great introduction. One review I read likened it to a pastiche of everything that’s happening in London at the moment, which isn’t too far off the mark I suppose, but I certainly don’t read that in a negative way.

Siouxsie and The Banshees/Cocteau Twins

Lastly, I’ve bought nearly every album from Siouxsie and The Banshees and the Cocteau Twins. There’s not much to say other than that I’m kicking myself for not moving from dabbler to obsessive sooner.

That’s it I reckon. Hopefully I’ll finish some tunes and post them up here this year!

Five Note Leo Groove

Note: track now removed. May re-emerge at some point.

Since not too long after finishing Nuba Tuba, I’ve been working on a new song. There’s been much disruption in the studio during this process, as I’ve upgraded my mixer and added a few other pieces of kit that I’m still getting to grips with. In the last couple of weeks I’ve been moving on to the arrangement of that track but on Tuesday night I decided to divert completely and write something new with the same sounds that I’ve been working with forever. To my surprise I “finished” something in two or three hours. On Wednesday night I revisited the mixdown and tidied up a couple of sloppy notes, etc, but basically just re-recorded Tuesday’s work.

I reckon this is far from my best track, but it’s an interesting result given that I intentionally thwarted all of my normal tendencies in the writing of it. Rather than thinking of it as a separate version or mix, it’s more precisely a “rewrite”. I left all of the sounds unaltered, save the tiniest of level/envelope tweaks. When I wrote it I started playing one part until I decided to stop. Then I played another part on top of it intuitively. And then the third and the fourth. There was some minor editing and quantising along the way, but the approach was completely linear, rather than assembled, and I didn’t really pay attention to an 8-bar structure other than once or twice. I certainly left it behind a few times. In short, I let my ears do the writing. It’s kind of sloppy and some things are rough but these are things that I normally omit and I’m fairly pleased with this antithesis. It sounds completely different to the still-unfinished original.

The result is more repetitious than my normal stuff, although the synthesis itself goes some way to conserving novelty over the fairly brief 4:15 duration. In the name of trying something new I thought I’d post it up here. Hope you enjoy.

Prosthetic Memory