Open Ear Blog

New Music Reviews | November

Abstract Orchestra — Madvillain Vol. 1

Having already taken on the works of J Dilla, here Abstract Orchestra return with more big band Jazz versions and reimaginings of the Hip Hop genius that is Madvillain. That original Hip Hop duo, made up of MF DOOM and Madlib, relied heavily on Soul, Jazz and Funk beats so it’s less of a stretch than may be expected. Instead, these reworks bring extra depth and nuance to the originals while still standing as unique works in their own right. Mixing squalls of horns with direct, organic percussion the vibe is of Funk heavy 70s B-movies. That this style of music was itself an influence on Madvillian’s music is the sort of full circle coming together of musical ideas we can get behind.

John Grant — Love Is Magic

Following on from the electronic adventures of previous release ‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’, the latest from John Grant is another electronic odyssey in the mould of 80s synth-driven Dance and Pop. As someone who pries deeply into his subject, whether that’s current affairs, social observation or personal intimacy or all three combined, Grant employs an open, blunt, and at times brazen form of lyricism that can be at once dark or tinged with sadness yet also stinging with wit and humour. Whether working through lust/hate contradictions on the driving uptempo Pop of ‘Preppy Boy’ or reflecting on love on the ballad ‘Is He Strange’, Grant brings a cinematic streak to his brand of musical theatre.

Matthew Dear — Bunny

Six years since his last album under his own name Matthew Dear returns with a thick, heavy, and woozy collection of Indie electronics and House. More strongly tied to Dear’s vocal narratives than previous releases, there’s a weight to ‘Bunny’ that intensifies when Dear’s deep vocals pin down the synth and bass grooves. Lighter elements cut in on tracks like ‘Bad Ones’ featuring Tegan and Sara, allowing Dear the opportunity to creep into the Pop territory he has always threatened to explore. However, the overall tone is one better exemplified by ‘Can You Rush Them’ which throws around wads of dub bass before diving into Dear’s carefully paced narrative.

Mansur Brown — Shiroi

Having become an integral part of Kamaal Williams’ crew, Mansur Brown here releases his debut album, a borderless collection of Jazz, electronics, and Funk. Prominently featuring Brown’s virtuoso guitar playing there are clear influences from past cosmic-guitar explorers like Eddie Hazel or even Robert Fripp, but it’s the contemporary influences that stand out most. Featuring leading lights Thundercat on bass and Robert Glasper on keys, it’s any wonder that this is an album at the peak of modern Jazz. At its best, like on the beat driven ‘Flip Up’, the reverb-laden guitar trance of ‘Me Up’ or the soulful ‘God Willing’ Brown makes a strong case for being hailed one of the albums of the year.

“Henry Wu’s Black Focus label is on a roll this year, with the release of his Kamaal Williams LP - the follow up to the already classic album by Yussef Kamaal - and the Wu-Tang vs Kamaal bonus mash up a couple of months ago. It’s difficult for any artist to create a record focussed on only one instrument, but Mansur Brown achieves this on Shiroi with his unique guitar playing. Singular, timeless music that has made it’s way only many of my Fresh playlists but also works nicely on my Lounge and Collection lists. It’s a vibe!”

Brian d’Souza, Founder, Open Ear @auntie._.flo

Cat Power — Wanderer

Moving on from the bright and at times buoyant ‘Sun’, album ten finds Chan Marshall, for she is Cat Power, returning to a more simple Blues and Folk based style that at times borders on minimal. Building tracks with just guitar, piano and her elegant, emotive and singular voice, we’re treated to an intimate collection of songs that somehow feel robust thanks to the way these carefully crafted sounds dominate their rests, pauses, and silences. The one duet here, ‘Woman’ with Lana Del Rey, is restrained and measured despite being one of the more energetic tracks here, while the cover of Rihanna’s ‘Stay’ loops the chorus alongside heavily punctuated piano. Each is a highlight in its own way on this album of wandering.

Anchorsong — Cohesion

Wearing its influences on its sleeve, the latest from Anchorsong channels classical Indian percussion as well as 70s and 80s Bollywood film soundtracks. While instrumentally percussion makes up the majority of the sounds here, it’s the Bollywood influence that is most telling as a definite cinematic quality pervades. Uptempo and rhythmic, ‘Cohesion’ bubbles with a languorous kind of energy that is danceable yet undemanding. The organic nature of the percussion brings with it a warmth that is enveloping that brings cohesion to the varying tempos that drift from propulsive to meandering.

“Cohesion, the long-awaited and much-teased third album by transplanted Tokyoite Masaaki Yoshida is everything I hoped it would be and never expected it could be. 2015’s Ceremonial seemed to take his beats, sounds and atmospheres as far as they could reasonably go beyond adding the usual live strings (which he went on to do anyway), but this aptly-titled follow-up takes his shoegaze-hip-hop-brass-and-strings-electronic-Afrobeat arrangements in thoroughly welcome new directions without diluting the urgent vibrancy and thrilling modernity that’s always been present in Yoshida’s rare musical offerings. Cohesion is as close to being unique as is possible in the electronic mainstream, and I’m looking forward to playing and playlisting it many times.”

Neil Macdonald, Head of Music, @scienceversuslife

Neneh Cherry — Broken Politics

Like its predecessor, ‘Broken Politics’ sees Neneh Cherry team up with Kieran Hebden of Four Tet on production duties. The beats he produces here are both broader and more settled than those found in his own work and this largely compliments Cherry’s even paced vocals. Relying on chiming synths and percussion and low droning and rumbling bass, Cherry’s voice is allowed space to lead. Lyrically the world is at turns set to rights and poked and prodded by an inquisitive yet considered mind. As always, Cherry is at her best when channeling a universal voice like on ‘Black Monday’ and ‘Deep Vein Thrombosis’.

“Being a young girl and feeling her Buffalo Stance just as much as she did in her music video lead me to follow her career and see her as one of the most powerful and sassy females in music I’ve ever connected with. It’s their second stab at working together after Blank Project but something about Broken Politics felt like Hebden and Cherry balanced each others styles more than the first time. Synchronised Devotion is a night time and morning downtempo essential touching on herself through astrology. It’s her politics, and her voice becomes so prominent amongst any electronic and soul focused playlist.”

Lily London, Playlist Curator, @sweetlemonadefm

Parcels — Parcels

Having been picked up for a collaboration by none other than Daft Punk, it’s fair to say that Parcels have the credibility to be Pop hit makers. That their amorphously nostalgic Pop takes on similar influences as the robotic duo but takes it in a very different direction will also see them in good stead. Whether taking on grooving Disco and Funk or lounging soft Rock and synth Pop shapes, the song writing and production are crisp and clear. Setting them apart from their peers are Parcels’ vocal harmonies, often five strong, and it is these that tie them most strongly to the great Pop groups of the past.

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