I’ve strayed from doing my bit the last 2 months or so. In part to knuckling down in to a new job, and of course, relying on the same universal excuse that every die hard fan and the most tenuous bandwagoner can share in equal measure… dropping everything in sight for World Cup fever. But I’ve used ‘rest day’ well, to temporarily nip my shortcomings in the bud. This is now in order to discipline myself into assessing the best in new aural delights in a new monthly format. And what a good time to get back on track, for June was a month where forward thinking musicians came to the fore with some serious boundary pushing.
This year’s heights have been scaled so far by axe wielders, who take the inspiration with a look into the rear view mirror. The War on Drugs triumphant take on Springsteen doing AOR, or Mac DeMarco’s brand of whacked weirdness set to the most last baid jangly rhythms. It seemed as though all musical roads in 2014 have thus far been proudly pointing towards analogue sensibilities. Little Dragon stemmed that tide however, and began to grab the acclaim by the scruff of the neck with May’s ‘Nabuma Rubberband’, with the progressive melting pot of genres therein (and a contender for AOTY thus far) As we veer further into Summer, the direction is now seemingly firmly one one of electronic adventurism and progression.
I’ve championed him before, and Lone’s latest release is no exception, where a rich and prolific upward trajectory continues unabated with ‘Reality Testing’. A producer whose palate is built on a foundation of early 90’s video games soundtracks (ie Zelda), acid house rave tracks from the same era, and an eternal debt of gratitude to Board’s of Canada, Reality Testing was supposed to be more of a kinetic blast of his ravish tendencies, with a long player of hyper energy promised. In reality, he’s gone the other extreme, and showcased his inability to resist his fascination with more ambient soundscapes. The result is a record of growing beauty. Instantly attractive as impressive background music, it evolves as pulsating and delicate hip hop beats, married with that Boards of Canada sound showcase further depth with each listen. As a long player full of soothing, yet challenging ambient textures, the standout tracks are ironically the punchier numbers, such as last years single ‘Airglow Fires’ and the piano house driven ‘Vengeance Video’. Both should be first port of call when giving it a blast.
One of last year’s albums of the year was the Gus Gus produced John Grant’s ‘Pale Green Ghosts’. Gus Gus’s new release ‘Mexico’ was therefore impossible to ignore. The production follows suit and is second to none, even if some of the tracks can chug into samey territory a little too easily. Opener ‘Obnoxiously Sexual’, despite having an appalling title and a healthy portion of cheesey male vocals, still manages to be a tour de force, veering from the most polished of DFA Productions to something St Vincent may have reworked with a lush string sections and boisterous brass.
For downtime and the more sedate of offerings, The Antlers continue to go about their chamber pop business in the most quiet of of ways, with a refreshingly consistent batch of songs that to me, evoked a strong nod and taste of Talk Talk or Mercury Rev, or even Spiritualized. Sometimes a hazy, melancholic mood pervading throughout is all you’re in the market for. With the prevalent stream of electronic beginning to dominate my earwaves again, this seemed like a perfect antidote at times.
The clear standout this month however, seemed to encompass all the best elements of the aforementioned releases, which probably best illustrates how forward thinking and stunning a release it is. From the Brainfeeder label/stable, run by Flying Lotus, Taylor McFerrin’s ‘Early Riser’ also seems to encompass the best elements an emerging like minded talents and friends in Fly Lo, Thundercat, the late virtuoso pianist Austin Peralta, and Robert Glasper. Indeed Glasper and Thundercat feature on this, among a huge cast of contributors bringing their own elements of R&B, experimental electronica and that brand of progressive jazz that Glasper has been a driving force in pioneering (alongside musicians like Derrick Hodge and Richard Spaven, and that Gilles Peterson has relentlessly helped put on the map) The building blocks of the range of genres are laid by McFerrin’s instrumentation. His aforementioned talented contacts add the virtuoso beef and class to what becomes a delicious array of futuristic jazz. He seems to shy away from vocals on the whole, giving various unknowns who seem like new, refreshed versions of Bjork or Martina Topley Bird (just two examples) provide a varied character to his already hugely innovative, multi faceted soundscapes. His own father, Bobby, even makes an appearance. For something with so much diversity and range in laying his foundations, and such experimentation involved too, it is a stunning achievement to create such a consistent record with next to no mediocrity. Taylor McFerrin may have risen to the top of the Brain Feeder pile in an instant, and with the potential Early Riser has showcased, the sky could be the limit. This album feels like listening to the future of music.