The 25 best albums of the last three months: January to March 2018
Every three months, FACT rounds up the best albums that have passed through our inboxes and over our desks. This is 2018’s first quarter report and is jam-packed with club, ambient, experimental and rap gems you might have missed.
It’s supposed to be spring and while there might still be snow on the ground, we can at least be thankful for the sheer volume of good music that’s slipped into the world over the last three months.
From unsettling club transmissions like DEBIT’s Animus and Martyn Bootyspoon’s Silk Eternity to the outerzone ambience of Chaines’ The King and Pendant’s Make Me Know You Sweet, these are the 25 best albums of the last three months.
DJ Haram and Moor Mother have been performing as avant-garde noise project 700 Bliss for a few years, but at the top of 2018 they finally put out their first collection as a duo, 700 Spa, released via Rabit’s Halcyon Veil in conjunction with East Coast punk beasts Don Giovanni Records. The five-song EP focuses their brand of scuzz and sparkle, balancing Nicki Minaj samples with pugnacious meditations on police and race-based violence. It’s leathery and feminine, resilient and playful – it goes in like a lion and just stays that way. CL
A classically trained viola player from age six until she found herself drawn to digital composition at 18, Astrid Sonne harnesses both technical mastery and fresh-faced excitement on her astounding first album. Alternately beautiful and terrifying, Human Lines recalls a clique of electronic scientists, from Laurel Halo to Raymond Scott. Call it Soothing Sounds For Rosemary’s Baby, or just one of the strongest debuts in recent memory. MB
There’s nothing particularly saintly about Bad Gyal’s steamy new mixtape, Worldwide Angel. Binging on the kind of reggaeton and dancehall-inspired club-pop that the Barcelona-based rapper cooked to perfection on previous releases, the tape signals the star’s arrival on the international stage with a hedonistic travelogue of romance and weed-fueled partying.
Teaming up with some of the world’s most respected underground producers, including Jam City, Florentino and Dubbel Dutch, the album takes the temperature of global club music via low-key jams like ‘Internationally’ and ‘Yo Sigo Iual’. Indulgent, melancholy and addictive, Worldwide Angel is sugary pop excess that’s worth the tooth decay. ACW
Manchester-based composer Cee Haines’ vision flickers into view as a gender-less voice sings over crackling vinyl loops and smoke-damaged horns on The King‘s closing track ‘Eraserhead’. The album is an ambitious, genre-free dive into the darkest recesses of the Black Lodge, with backmasked voices spitting whispers over heart-stopping strings and hoarse, stuttering electronics. Who needs a fourth season of Twin Peaks, anyway? JT
Italian producer Dario Tronchin has been quietly developing his abstract brand of techno across labels like Stroboscopic Artefacts, Enklav and Mistry over the past decade. His latest album – the first on Mumdance and Logos’ Different Circles imprint – is his most remarkable collection of tracks yet, combining the influence of everything from grime instrumentals and dubstep bass pressure to the sharp angles of Raster-Noton, dreamy ambient and even house music. Whether you buy into Different Circles’ “weightless” ethos or not, Always Yours will leave you floating on air. SW
Chemistry Lessons, Vol. 1
Though Chemistry Lessons, Vol. 1 pays tribute to Chris Carter’s childhood memories of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, don’t for a second worry that Throbbing Gristle’s resident synth butcher is living in the past. TG were always too ahead of the times to ever fall behind and Carter’s remarkable sonic vignettes (occasionally featuring vocals from Cosey Fanni Tutti and the late Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson) would sound equally at home in an early episode of Doctor Who, on a ’90s IDM compilation or encoded into a transmission from the future. MB
Chicago firebrand CupcakKe may be most recognized for her unflinching raunchiness, but with her latest, Ephorize, she continues to prove that there is far more to her than what she’s known for. Although songs like ‘Duck Duck Goose’ are filled with crude absurdities – seriously, just look at thesee lyrics – her political side comes out on queer-positive ‘Crayons’ and she looks deep inside herself on ‘Self Interview’. CupcakKe may rap often about dicks, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t the total package ;) CL
CV & JAB
Thoughts of a Dot as it Travels a Surface
A musical interpretation of Canadian visual artist Zin Taylor’s vast panoramic wall drawing Thoughts of a Dot as it Travels a Surface, CV & JAB’s debut is nothing if not ambitious. It’s a collaboration between Kranky’s Christina Vantzou and John Also Bennett, one of the members of synth trio FORMA, that re-casts Taylor’s bold expressions as scientifically-engineered modular bleeps and textures, using the drawing as a graphical score. If that sounds like a slog, don’t worry: Vantzou and Bennett might be methodical and rigorous but they fill their art with soul, beauty and mystery. JT
The first-ever full-length released by N.A.A.F.I, Animus is a faithful balancing act of ambient and Latin club. NY-via-MX producer DEBIT says she was inspired by the iconic gender meditation Women Who Run With the Wolves while composing the track. “I was thinking about gender and how we represent ourselves sexually, reconciling the personal with the societal,” she told FACT in February. “A strong animus helps us travel between an underworld and top-side world.” Her exploration of different electronic textures creates a world with genuine sonic freedom, one you want to explore and eventually call home. CL
Fis and Rob Thorne
Ngā Parirau o te Kārearea
Running a label that plants trees instead of raking in currency, New Zealand-born experimental producer Fis is more attuned to nature than many of his peers. His passion for the planet gets an extra boost on this spectacular new collaborative EP with Māori sound artist Rob Thorne (Ngāti Tumutumu) – the follow-up to last year’s acclaimed Clear Stones.
Ngā Parirau o te Kārearea (“the beating wings of the falcon”) stirs up an evocative meeting of minds that unites Fis’s ‘nuum-influenced electronic processes with Thorne’s contemporary practice of taonga pūoro: the traditional musical instruments or “singing treasures” of the Māori people of New Zealand. However, despite the gently lapping waves of the album’s opener, Ngā Parirau o te Kārearea is by no means a calming ambient journey, instead relying on decayed industrial sounds and distortion to document the destruction of nature at the hands of human beings. ACW
Jung An Tagen
Agent Im Objekt
If you’ve ever wondered what kind of music Pierre Schaeffer might be making if he’d been born in the 1980s, look no further than Jung An Tagen, whose bright, polished sounds sit firmly at the intersection of extreme computer music, psychedelia and contemporary club. Agent Im Objekt is as cerebral an experience as you might expect from an Editions Mego release, but there’s an undercurrent of something playful, fun and a little unhinged simmering under the surface of this inventive record too. SW
The Book Room
Swiss producer Benjamin Kilchhofer has been quietly impressing with his gentle, organic electronic studies for some time. 2016’s Dersu 12″ was an inviting introduction, bettered by its follow-up: last year’s sublime, percussive Acosta, a split with Opal Tapes’ Hainbach that fused African rhythms with the vaporous atmosphere of dub techno and the precision of Krautrock.
The Book Room is Kilchhofer’s debut full-length and is remarkably accomplished; it’s a collection of riffs on his signature sound that might be slightly overlong at 20 tracks and 74 minutes, but doesn’t outstay its welcome. Percussion fizzes where it could scrape and bubbles where it might otherwise bump; basses don’t drop, they breathe; and crystalline synths are sculpted like the amplified loops of an electric mbira. Refined and elegant, The Book Room will surely improve with age. JT
Lolina (aka Inga Copeland)
Inga Copeland’s third solo album, The Smoke, is a labyrinthine listening experience that will leave you wandering in circles, constantly looking over your shoulder. Copeland details vivid crime scenes in stoned deadpan, filling her jarring compositions with surreal electronic blasts and noir-ish atmospheres. ‘The River’ is a particular highlight, with swooping strings that may as well have been snipped from a Bernard Herrmann score. The Smoke rides a dangerous line between mystery and artistry – you won’t find many answers, but the experience is addicting. MB
Despite working with everyone from Mica Levi to Russell Haswell, Paradise 94 is UK cellist and composer Lucy Railton’s solo debut. Railton takes her cues from the cut ’n’ paste of musique concrète and extreme noise’s pensive cacophony, piecing together an electroacoustic collage using field recordings, samples and the kind of nails-on-a-chalkboard cello that you’d expect to find on a horror movie soundtrack.
From the eerie breaking glass sounds on ‘Pinnevik’ to the Hitchcockian, vertigo-inducing glissandi on ‘Fortified Up’, Railton’s debut album is lined with filmic mini-dramas. And there’s always plenty of room for songs about gaslighting, especially when they sound like a cello-headed mutant clambering through a dimly-lit sewage tunnel. ACW
Silk Eternity is the fever dream of a kid raised on Daft Punk’s ‘Teachers’, DJ Assault’s ‘Ass N Titties’, and techno’s darker climes. Perfectly at home on Fractal Fantasy, Martyn Bootyspoon’s debut takes ghettohouse into the future while looking back with reverence to the past. Come for his rhythms, stay for the ‘Rhythm of the Night’ sample. CL
(TSO Music Group)
Punken is Houston rapper Maxo Kream’s first major release since he was arrested on “organized crime” charges two years ago, so it’s not hard to guess what the album details. The contradictions of American life – compounded on Houston’s unforgiving streets – serve as the backdrop for vivid tales like ‘Roaches’, ‘Work’ and ‘Go’. Kream is a gifted writer and his unique voice underlines his wordplay, his rubbery delivery elevating lines like, “Math teacher ask me, Maxo, why I’m always skippin’ / I was trappin’ fractions after school like detention.” Grim, bold and honest, Punken is another grand statement from one of contemporary Southern rap’s most impressive characters. JT
Bad Baby marks a change of direction for Lindsey French, aka Negative Gemini. 2016’s Body Work was a shimmering rave-pop delight, but the new EP focuses more heavily on narrative, taking influence from the horrific death of French’s sister, who was murdered by her husband in Virginia just over a year ago.
“I think it’s because I feel like I have so much to say right now, so many stories to tell, and songwriting really lends itself to that. It’s very cathartic for me,” French told i-D in November. This red-raw emotion comes to the fore on the heart-wrenching finale ‘My Innocence’, while live instrumentation throughout adds a distinctly human touch. Bad Baby is proof that beauty can sometimes bloom amidst the thorns of tragedy. ACW
After over a decade on the scene, Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle is still best known for selling his Crenshaw mixtape for $100 in 2013 (Jay-Z bought 100 of them). Five years later, Hussle’s debut proper album Victory Lap has finally hit the shelves and it’s good, building on the promise of 2016’s underrated Slauson Boy 2 and showcasing starry guest verses from The-Dream, Kendrick Lamar, YG and Puff Daddy. The beats snap effortlessly, and with standouts as hard as ‘Last Time That I Checc’d’, the album’s flimsier moments are easy enough to swerve. JT
Príncipe’s P. ADRIX was raised in Lisbon by Angolan parents but moved to Manchester three years ago. The grimey, ‘Functions on the Low’-flavored opener of his debut Álbum Desconhecido (“unknown album”) kicks off this culture clash, while jungle rumbles on ‘Abertura da Roda’ and the cowbell and bassline on ‘Bola De Cristal’ further nod to the producer’s adopted homeland. But scurrying down the record’s backbone is the polyrhythmic 140BPM pulse of Angolan kuduro – P. ADRIX’s long-standing obsession – brought to life on tumbling standout ‘Ovni’. ACW
The Sky Looks Different Here
There’s a sublime quality to Paper Dollhouse’s third album, The Sky Looks Different Here. The duo had intended the album to be poppier than previous efforts, but when Nina Bosnic moved away from London (and he band’s other member, Astrud Steehouder), the direction shifted. Everything is underpinned by Bosnic’s evocative, pastoral field recordings, giving the humming ambience, vocals and muted electronics an eerie home-spun quality.
It’s hardly surprising that they were influenced by Robert C. O’Brien’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel Z For Zachariah, a book about a young girl living alone in the wilderness following a nuclear war. The Sky Looks Different Here is similarly desolate, as Steehouder and Bosnic travel westward in search of a new horizon. JT
Make Me Know You Sweet
(West Mineral Ltd.)
Despite being best known for his dubby techno constructions on Software and Probito, Brian Leeds took his Huerco S. project into new territory with For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have), one of 2016’s most unexpected ambient albums. With Make Me Know You Sweet, Leeds returns to the sound but shifts the moniker: it’s his first release as Pendant and the first for West Mineral Ltd., his new imprint. And thankfully, while the window dressing has changed, the sound is intact. Leeds guides us through a hypnotic landscape, not discarding rhythm entirely but submerging it beneath layer upon layer of noise and tape hiss. Background music it ain’t. JT
RR2: The Bitter Dose
At 40, Roc Marciano sounds more impassioned than many rappers half his age. And it’s not that he’s never brushed success, either – rather, he has a love for rap that drips from every couplet. RR2: The Bitter Dose follows last year’s outstanding Rosebudd’s Revenge, again highlighting the rapper’s vivid storytelling and keen ear for beats. Think Ka trading rhymes with MF DOOM after spending an evening with Necro and you’ll have some idea of Marci’s delivery and then imagine each word dancing around vintage electronics, continental lounge music and decaying porno soundtracks. If that doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time, I can’t help you. JT
Somewhere Decent to Live
Manchester duo Space Afrika reach dizzying heights with Somewhere Decent to Live, an album that fuses the hypnotic thud of dub techno with the anarchic haze of ‘ardkore and sets it against the North’s brutalist concrete backdrop. This is a sound they’ve been plugging away at for a while, but where previous transmissions have often relied on reference, Somewhere Decent to Live leaves much to the imagination.
Beats are filtered away leaving nothing but whooshing sub bass tones and the gentle pin-prick of solitary hi-hats, while familiar jungle textures are pushed beneath garbled voices and an omnipresent studio hum. If you want to know where Burial, Bukem, and Brian Eno intersect, Somewhere Decent to Live hints at an answer while laying the groundwork for something altogether more revelatory. JT
In a Poem Unlimited
U.S. Girls, the project from pop savant Meg Remy, came out swinging at the end of 2017. While most Americans were at a breaking point with political anxiety caused by the Trump Administration, Remy was expressing her disappointments with The Donald’s predecessor. The lead single from In a Poem Unlimited, her second album for 4AD, expressed her displeasure with the Barack Obama’s wartime tendencies during his tenure as Commander in Chief.
But Remy has always been bold and is unafraid to sing what she really feels, even when it is ugly, unpopular, or upsetting. Her music is deeply personal, but experimental and immersive. Poem is one of her most exciting yet, hinging on ecstatic sounds, including incredible sax lines that rope you in right away. Remy’s been releasing music as U.S. Girls for almost 10 years – here’s to hoping she continues her ascent over the next decade, too. CL
Physically Sick 2
Physically Sick 2 picks up where the first charity compilation from Allergy Season and Discwoman started: mad as hell and even more informed. This time the proceeds for the name-your-price collection went to the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, a focused recipient chosen for the continued fight against oppression, not just a reaction to a changing government. And this one is just as stacked as the first. It features tracks from M.E.S.H., Ziúr, UMFANG, Fatima Al Qadiri, False Witness, and many more. But it’s not just a who’s who of underground dance, tracks like Pelada’s ‘Destado’ and Lauren Flax’s ‘Earthquake’ featuring Tigga Calore are total game-changers. CL