\\Notes From Downriver//
\\Punk (La Vie Antérieure)//
\\Minimal Techno//
\\(Co-Dependent) Independent Jangling//
\\Occasional Modern Classical//

By James Harbard

Christian Loffler - “Veiled Grey” (Ki records - 2014)

In the 2000’s Death Cab for Cutie reinvented indie rock in a way that shook people. Their music was hyper emo, and obvious, the chord progressions, everything on paper seemed formulaic but in the air seemed to be the very teenage anthems a generation had been denied. Loffler is essentially the minimal techno equivalent and his still brilliant 2012 record A Forest is yet to be equaled in it’s ability to be obvious with outstanding results. “Veiled Grey” is the first of seven cuts form his New EP, and funnily enough that opening piano line reminded me more of Death Cab For Cutie’s “Transatlanticism” than anything from a Kompakt catalogue.

Woods - With Love And With Love (Woodsist -2014)

Mid last year woods released an alternate version of Sun and Shade's “Be All Be Easy”, one of their extensive catalogs best songs. If that first version felt like a loveable campfire ode caught on tape this new version felt like the definitive studio version and it also marked the first year in years Woods hadn't released a record after 2012's phenomenal Bend Beyond. That beast was a 33 minute streamlining of their experimental leanings into perfect glistening pop songs forming their first real masterpiece. The infantile remains of whatever the last six or so years of my life has involved seem almost eerily unfamiliar to me now but there was always Woods records, every one of them vital.

Getting a girlfriend moving out should be the sound of settling, but it’s the sound of having to reinvent yourself as an adult whilst still wanting to be a child. The original version of “Be All Be Easy”, was on a record that featured long drawn out folk drones that wanted to be children forever, this new version saw it forced to be a little more grown up. It really drilled home that things change, even something as reliable as a new bit of Woods.

With Light And Love’s first single “Moving To The Left” feels like the fully fresh realised new take of that alternate version of “Be All Be Easy.” It’s a fleshier more laboured version of what Woods could already do so easily, the last minute smashes through with ripping live room energy just as a few moments did on 2009’s Songs of Shame's still excellent highlight “Gypsy Hand” but there's more advanced melodic nuggets in this one that send it higher, it's bursting at the seams with that signature sad happiness as well. On paper I imagined the nine minute title track being a flashback to this long, drawn out improvisational jams that broke up the neon folk pop of Sun and Shade. Although ample padding for their earlier less stable years, Bend Beyond ditched those drawn out tracks completely because for the first time they didn’t need them. Looking back they could be a chore. “With Light and with Love” is nothing of the sort, in fact it’s Woods first true epic and probably the best thing here, every considered guitar moment worthwhile and no hyper folk drones what reek of weed smoke in sight.

Although With Light And With Love is certainly Woods most ambitious and thrilling record, not to mention their most notably labored over, it falls a little short of Bend Beyond's melodic mastery. Little is the operative word here, although the impossible harmonies of “Impossible Sky” might be absent, melty tracks like the beautiful “Leaves Like Glass” with that heavy hitting bass line and confident higher mixed guitar work that follows it mean they are definitely not missed. Woods are a band that is comfortably pushing themselves within the safety of a niche they basically invented and describing a Woods record as anything short of outstanding still seems like an impossibility. The thing that remains a constant through all of their music is the wonderful emotional ambiguity they somehow conjure, although they're not a band that obviously reinvents itself every record although a look back at their catalogue demonstrates a unique and constant morphosis and With Light and With Love will be remembered as the record they stepped back for a second, let us breathe and then drew that to our attention.

Dauwd - Kindlinn (Kompakt -2014)  

I’ve already touched on how much Dauwd was leaping for it this year with “Lydia”. Last year’s Heat Division EP was very good, excellent even but Kindlinn as a front to back piece of dance music is second only to Kassem Mosse’s game changing Workshop 19 as the best piece of techno 2014 has seen. Front to back jaw dropping shit.

Symbol - Online Architecture (Holodeck Records - 2014)

He had mentioned her before but I knew I had to tread around his relationship with her with caution. He was a malicious man. He had many girls like this, but she was his very favourite.
"I’d love to stick around and chew the fat but I have to leave I have an appointment."
That’s the first thing he said to me as I walked in.
"I came a long way to see you." I lied. I had come to see her.
"You didn’t I know why you’re here, you’re chasing her." He nodded his head to where I had seen the girl earlier.
I went blank, and my palms become sweaty.
"I’m a reasonable man" I said.
He laughed and I considered leaving immediately. I was shaking beyond control he smiled his sickly grin and just stood there.
"I’m here to see you".
"Good for you."
"That’s a fucking condescending answer if I’ve ever heard one."
"And what’s with the swearing, calm down, I know what’s going on here."
"Do you?"
The girl appeared in the hallway she smiled at me. She was so beautiful. He tipped his head and he walked off, put her arm around her and said “We’re going to get dinner.”

At the very least, my favourite album art of 2014. At the most, a very beautiful record.

Protomartyr - Under Color Of Official Light (Hardly Art -2014)

The Tarpeian Rock (/tɑrˈpiːən/; Latin: Rupes Tarpeia or Saxum Tarpeium) was a steep cliff of the southern summit of the Capitoline Hill, overlooking the Roman Forum in Ancient Rome. It was used during the Roman Republic as an execution site. Murderers, traitors, perjurors, and larcenous slaves, if convicted by the quaestores parricidii, were flung from the cliff to their deaths. Those who had a mental or significant physical disability also suffered the same fate as they were thought to have been cursed by the gods. The cliff was about 25 meters tall. The Protomartyr song “Tarpeian Rock” finds Joe Casey listing a cast of those you should throw from here in plain spoken english as some fuzzed out backing vocals support his every claim with a riot shout of “THROW THEM FROM THE ROCK!” It’s a bleak anthem and points a lot of fingers. According to Casey “pretty much every band ever” should apparently get tossed.

In the space of another song called “What The Wall Said” on their sophomore album Protomartyr sound a little like the shades of early 2000’s Walkmen, shroud guitars like EP era MBV, strut a little like The Strokes did at their best and implement a gorgeous melodic guitar line that sounds maybe a little like… hmm… Archers of Loaf? Not to mention the fact that Casey sounds a shitload like Nick Cave most of the time. So What’s strange about Under Color Of Official Light is it’s a record that can conjure images of the entire 2000’s collection of indie rock and post-punk royalty whilst delivering a record that is like none of them at all. It’s a poetic, shinier, more ambitious follow up to the very good No Passion, All Technique and grows the seed planted by that record that these guys make post punk that although grounded by a genre is revolutionary and unexpected. It’s almost as if they have in fact acknowledged everything and everyone and then thrown them off a cliff to a very bleak demise. Under Color Of Official Light is the fall.

The sinister confidence this affords them has let them explore the sounds of their peers in an interesting capacity without becoming anything like any of them. They use some sunnier Slumberland esq guitar riffs on opener “Maidenhead” and it’s the first time melody has really seeped in their music so overtly. It suits them. They can be an oppressive and brutal band and far from making their music sound “simpler” the strings of easily identifiable indie rock melody that try so hard to take over never do thanks to their war cry of suppress, suppress, suppress. Another demonstration of this is “Come and See” the records best and most emotionally loaded and strangely euphoric track. All hints of normality are suppressed by that commanding voice and those lyrics which are often incredibly smart, confronting and powerful.  “Scum. Rise!” is a commanding Nick Cave tribute that essentially is a 2014 Murder Ballad done fresh. That track is possibly the best example of how they roll a bunch of references into something that you can acknowledge and access this music through but offer you something the influences never could. These guys don’t really fit anywhere in the 2014 zeitgeist and in many respects it makes them the perfect peer for fellow kings of hyper bleak whatever-america-punk, Merchandise, an incredible band that has remained peerless. This is a very smart record, and you should listen to Casey. It’s not only rare that a band sounds this suppressive in a genre that is filled with a lot of dudes that sound the same, it’s also rare that they have this much to say.  

Orcas - Yearling (Moor - 2014)

Orcas released an excellent self titled record in 2012 that seemed like it manifested effortlessly, Thomas Meluch (aka Benoît Pioulard) and Rafael Anton Irisarri made a sort of Gas meets pop (no pun intended) hybrid with a sort of immediacy and clear collaborative effort that is often lacking from these projects - projects like these that so often tend to delve deeper into ambient artists self securities and signatures (see Hecker and Lopatin).

Their next move could have been anything, I’m happy to say that Yearling is not only better than their first effort, it’s better for unexpected reasons and that’s always fun. Orcas’ highlight was its beautiful closer “High Fences”, a vocalless Gas influenced track that fizzled away to a better place. In complete contrast Yearling's highlight is the incredible “Infinite Stillness”, a borderline perfect pop song that rolls Meluch's voice over hills of ambient orchestral ossicaltions like it's falling asleep in your arms. It sets the tone for a record that delights in melody when it could so easily avoid it. So yeah, it's weird that this shift has occurred and that Orcas are a sort of ambient Radiohead now rather than a Gas impersonation project that occasionally implements vocals, but what's better is they're good in both guises and now there's more to love.

How To Dress Well - “Repeat Pleasure” / “Words I Don’t Remember” (Weird World -2014)

Tom Krell’s Love Remains, changed the way I thought about music and as an academic experiment was more successful than virtually any concept record I’d ever heard. It really did sound like mum driving me around playing 80’s hits I don’t remember, and “Ready For The World” did sound like it was recorded through a wall with someone crying on the other side and it was impossible to stop listening to.

Four years later it’s still the perfect play against the virtuosity of RnB music, and his follow up was a disappointing stepping stone demonstration that this very virtuosity was easier for him to interact with from a distance. So it’s interesting then that his first two cuts from his new record sound more like Love Remains cuts than Total Loss cuts in the way that they showcase Krell as a voice producer rather than a singer that frames himself front and centre as so much RnB does (and Total Loss did). These tricks remove the now omni-confident Krell from the equation of the shuddering midsection of “Words I Don’t Remember”, a moments that feels like a complete deconstruction of everything that he frames in the first few seconds and an ode to the forgotten, indecipherable lyrics of much of the shattered Love Remains.

"Repeat Pleasure" is an even bigger beast. It sounds like a Balearic indie rock song sung by someone who loves Janet Jackson and it is full of producer tricks and thick atmosphere of 2010 Tri Angle - the very label that released Love Remains. Both are the most powerful things he’s recorded since that year and point to the exciting idea that although he could never return to the blown out abstraction of 2010 and shows he can still achieve the same sort of atmospheric dissonance, that a name like Total Loss lends it to through glistening studio cuts and somehow achieve something even bigger.

Deadbeat + Paul St. Hilaire - The Infinity Dub Sessions (Kompakt - 2014)

It’s hard when you try and rectify your relationship with something and nobody listens to you. I enjoy Reggae but I’d never listen to it alone, I find it far too distant, and opposite to popular perception it’s not really a welcoming thing to listen to, especially if you’re white and live in the suburbs. In fact if that’s you their god kinda wants you dead….

But I do warm to it when I’m around it, and when it’s done in a way that seems to throw its arms open and welcome you it can be incredible - see that Congos record from a couple of years ago, it’s my go to “cheer the fuck up” record. I do however listen to a lot of dub techno and although Stott and Segue are really quite distanced from things traditionally associated with the word “dub” (you wouldn’t really smoke a joint to We Stay Together) there’s still room in my life for more purist associations, this being a prime example. This is a powerful dub techno record I’ve been enjoying for the last month or so, it reminds me of a more accessible version of some of the old Chain Reaction stuff, you definitely know who much I adore that Porter Ricks 1995 classic and there is definitely some parallels in influence here.

But this has a little more flavour than any of that Chain Reaction stuff, and although the stark nakedness of those mid nineties is what gave them their appeal to me (it’s a very German take on dub) Deadbeat has always been about a very Jamaican takes on dub and this is no exception, somehow he’s always done it in a way that seems universal. This is a very now rendition though and demands your full attention as it takes dramatic shifts over that same underlying pulse. Still find it funny who released it though…

Fennesz - “Static Kings” (Mego-2014)

So when are you finally gonna give me a chance? (next lifetime.) Wait!!! You said that last lifetime ago, I like food. (I hate the stuff) And Movies. (What’s a MUU-vey?) So there’s this place that shows food, and serves movies and I was thinking. (Good to hear.) Thanks, So….(wait.) join me. (Did you see that?) See what? …Oh nice one, se-see you round….Milady nice to see you again. (Grrr) Today’s the day huh? (Rggg) Was that a backwards grrr? Anyways join me for dinner…(never.)

"Oh he sounds like Fennesz"

I don’t know what the mean age of my readership is but that’s pretty much what you’ll hear from any dude in their mid thirty’s who was once a music obsessive but never encountered the indie world’s (rightly) crowned son of ambient Tim Hecker. Even though Hecker was kicking around in minimal techno guises when Fennesz released his seminal masterpiece and possibly the greatest ambinet record ever before Harmony in Ultraviolet - Endless Summer - in 2001 It wasn’t really until seven years down the track when Ultraviolet changed the way we thought about music forever and quite frankly a lot of guys who soundtracked their lives to Endless Summer had just lost interest by then. They had their moment and it was with Fennesz, I’ve retroactively enjoyed (loved) it with them.

To say his 2008 record Black Sea stepped away from Endless Summer would not be inaccurate, it felt like he subsumed his past into something so sunken he could never go back to it. It was arrestingly beautiful stuff. It sort of told a story that rendered Endless Summer far in the past, tracks like “Glass Ceiling” felt like the smouldering remains of the love felt in “Happy Audio”. It is infinite to the point of the full and perfect circle, and here we are in 2014 where the first (perfectly titled) cut from his recently announced new record sells that statement as truth. Bécs is out in a month or so and has been billed as a conceptual follow up to Endless Summer. It’s also being released on the same Austrian record label. But does a record released 13 years ago really need a follow up? Take one listen to this thing, it’s gorgeous. Then go and listen to Endless Summer again, it hasn’t aged a day, in fact it still feels like it’s in your future and in some exciting ways, it is.

Millie & Andrea - Drop The Vowels (Modern Love - 2014)

Let me get something straight, this is almost certainly deliberately not the follow up to the decades most devastating and still ultimate record. Luxury Problems remains a sinister force over a year on, a piece of techno that shattered expectations created by it’s almost equally impossible predecessor We Stay Together, through operatic acrobatics and impossible textures. Nope, this is not a follow up but Passed Me By and We Stay Together’s weathered club drawl remains a prominent texture, and there are so many signatures here that are clearly Stott’s it’s almost impossible not to get excited.

But there’s two other halves to this record and one of them is very interesting. Miles who released the still overly dense but very impressive Faint Hearted last year though Modern Love is one of them. Faint Hearted remains an impossible record for me to penetrate (although I hear a lot of great things in it and continue to try), but here his knack for texture is fleshed out in a more immediate way by Stott’s ability to find those amazing anti-melodies. It works really well in parts, take the overly hyper and appropriately named “Temper Tantrum” and the fantastic club textures of “Back Down” that feature Luxury Problems esq vocals.

Then there’s that third half and it’s the most unusual. You can’t help but feel the pair are using this project to to explore things that they would never put to their own names, The Opener “Riff Raff” starts with strange tribal chanting, and grows into tinkering little piece of jungle machinery, it’s oddly beautiful. Then there’s “Corrosive” the record’s great divider and I’m not entirely sold on it, it starts with a signature Stott growl before unexpectedly trap beats sky rocket the thing into something distinctly American, its TNGHT influence for sure and it’s a aesthetically ugly ad on I think this music would be better without. Stepping away from any pretension on my part In the hands of two European masters “Corrosive” and the title track are still very far from failures of any sort.

The record’s finest moments for me came in the little hyper detailed moments, “Stay Ugly“‘s dub pulse and glorious tortured synth line, “Spectral Source“‘s, purist techno, (possibly the most purist techno Stott’s been involved with since his excellent Merciless) and although I’m guessing the track was a Miles driven one, what the new comers to this shit won’t know is that tacks going on four years old. The stunning ambient closer “Quay” pulls some similar tricks to Kassem Mosse’s incredible “C1” a track I’m still completely in awe of. It’s a rave anthem treated with glass like fragility and it closes the record perfectly. Drop The Vowels was never intended as a masterpiece and it’s experimental nature is not as resolved as the two’s work alone and it acts as a thrilling and important testing ground. A testing ground that is populated by the two masters of this style of dub techno and even in the records more confronting moments it’s very hard no to hear it.