Melt Yourself Down

Melt Yourself Down cover art

We all know how much the music press love to build little boxes in which to compartmentalise artists, but sometimes it would be good if they could put a bit more effort into it: the two most common descriptions one sees attached to London/ Hastings collective Melt Yourself Down are “Acoustic Ladyland side-project” and “UK jazz supergroup”, and whilst there is a degree of truth in both neither are wholly accurate and in fact do the band something of a disservice. For one thing, Acoustic Ladyland – for much of the last decade the most successful ensemble on the contemporary British jazz circuit – are no longer operational, which means MYD are no more a “side-project” than, say, Wings or the Style Council were; this is the sound of saxophonist Pete Wareham and bassist Ruth Goller moving forward, not just finding a new diversion to pass the time away from work. Secondly, MYD are only jazz by default, in as much as a group with a two-horn frontline and collective time served with some of the genre’s biggest names (see also Polar Bear, the Heliocentrics, Mulatu Astatke) will always be automatically and lazily tagged as such. In fact, whilst most of MYD’s players are grounded in jazz – second saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and drummer Tom Skinner (who also records as Hello Skinny) make up half of Middle East-meets-New Orleans quartet Sons Of Kemet – the group’s sound is much further-reaching, with percussionist Satin Singh (Transglobal Underground) and vocalist Kushal Gaya (Zun Zun Egui) bringing punked-up world fusion rhythms to the table and producer Leafcutter John, a one-time Planet Mu stalwart, adding electronic flourishes and dancefloor heft. So we get brassy, block-rocking bangers (“Fix My Life”, below) and hyperactive Afro-acid house (“Release!“) seamlessy melding booming hip hop and highlife rhythms with duelling saxes and fat synths; Krautrock Arabesques (“Tuna”) and riotous calypso (“We Are Enough“), even a daring attempt at jazzing up sludgy prog-metal (“Camel”). With Gaya spouting unhinged Damo Suzuki-esque glottal-babble and leading the band with call-and-response chants, and with Wareham and Hutchings’ addictive sweet and sour harmonies and Skinner and Singh’s equally irresistable thunderous double drum attack pushing the adrenaline levels into the red, it’s the kind of music John Peel would have loved, a condensed Rough Guide to World Music for those who would rather be shaking their rumps at Notting Hill Carnival than comparing garden suntans with the armchair tourists at WOMAD. It’s a dozen stamps in a well-thumbed passport, an open plane ticket to wherever you want to go and a few places you didn’t know existed besides. It’s the pharaohs’ own “Gangnam Style”, a retro-futurist tribal rave-up of mind-blowing proportions. It’s Fela Kuti playing the Hacienda. It’s James Chance and the Contortions playing Ronnie Scott’s. It’s Can playing CBGBs. It’s the sounds of Cairo ’57, Cologne ’69, New York ’78 and the “Second Summer of Love” coming together in London 2013, and it’s absolutely wonderful. Straddling continents and generations with their globe-trotting giddiness, Melt Yourself Down have produced the best British debut album in years, and if you need a pigeonhole to stuff them in, here’s one that’s a little more accurate than “UK jazz supergroup”: your new favourite band.

Melt Yourself Down is out June 17 via The Leaf Label
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Lust For Youth : Perfect View

The middle ground between New Order and Andy Stott is largely unexplored territory, but over the last few years Swedish producer Hannes Norrvide has made it his own and now he’s looking to brighten up the place. If previous Lust For Youth releases placed ghostly synth-pop echoes and industrial noise on equal footing, on his second album for the Sacred Bones label – Perfect View, out June 11 – Norrvide lets a few shafts of light in as the emphasis falls on lo-fi interpretations of early rave music and electro, most notably on the title track, balmy instrumental “Barcelona” and ebullient closer “Image”. Fans of the gloomy, industrial stylings found on earlier efforts needn’t worry though: what was once resolutely “coldwave” may now be that little bit warmer, but there’s enough bleak intensity here to give even the most gothically-inclined post-punk the chills. Listen to “Breaking Silence” below.

Poisonous Relationship : Garden Of Problems

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Sheffield has played an important part in the history of electronic music: the city’s late-’70s scene produced some of the movement’s most influential bands – synth-pop originators Heaven 17, the Human League and ABC and industrial experimentalists Cabaret Voltaire – whilst in 1989 Warp Records, for years the quintessential electronic label, was founded there. 26 year-old Jamie Crewe AKA Poisonous Relationship (dude has to have had his heart broken, right?) is the latest link in the chain, although the sprawling, opulent productions on his debut long-player Garden Of Problems owe as much to the American and European artists inspired by his home-town’s heroes; channeling Detroit techno, Chicago house and more contemporary minimalist beats Crewe has made a fluid, funky record equally suited to headphone listening or dancefloor situations, and added soulful R&B vocals, lush harmonies, saxophones, steel drums and electric pianos, imbuing the songs with a warmth you wouldn’t normally expect from a city best known for its steel. The album is out now via Ecstasy Records; check out Crewe’s video for epic opener “Men’s Feelings” below.

Joe Goddard ft. Mara Carlyle : She Burns

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It’s nearly a year since the most recent Hot Chip album In Our Heads was released, so you can bet your life the band’s workaholic members already have a bunch of new material ready; Alexis Taylor’s About Group are putting out their third album next month, New Build are already debuting songs for possible inclusion on their sophomore LP and sometime in the not too distant future DFA Records and Greco-Roman will jointly release a new EP, Taking Over, from Joe Goddard. Featuring vocals from Brit singer-songwriter Mara Carlyle, that release’s 8-minute lead track “She Burns” morphs from slow-building torch song to slinky house banger before taking a strange turn in its second half towards War Of The Worlds-style prog-techno, with Goddard’s FX-laden synths conjuring up images of Carlyle crooning calmly as aliens lay waste to everything around her; listen below.

Avant jazz double : Black Host and Diamond Terrifier

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Jazz music often catches a bad rap: young people these days seem to view it either as music that belongs to a bygone era, to their parents’ or grandparents’ generations, or as music for intellectuals, to be played only through headphones in library research rooms or as an accompaniment to some pompous college professor’s weekend dinner party. Well listen up dummies: you need to pay attention to the smart people and respect your elders, because jazz rocks. Not only was it around for half a century before rock & roll came along, it also paved the way for pretty much everything you now know as music; it’s biggest stars were more complex characters with dirtier, darker secrets than any of your dead-at-27 so-called heroes, and you’ll find more moments of musical innovation in most fifty year-old jazz records than you will in anything released this year. All we are saying, then, is “give jazz a chance”, and what better place to start than with Black Host‘s debut LP Life In The Sugar Candle Mines, out May 28 via Northern Spy Records, one of the finest jazz-rock fusion albums in recent memory and a good way for the uninitiated to dip a toe into some of the genre’s choppier waters. Led by drummer and sound designer Gerald Cleaver, the quintet – serial collaborators, award winners and renowned improvisers to a man – veer expertly from free-jazz skronk to blissful psychedelia to big-band swing to musique concrete to avant-rock, often within the space of a single track, as demonstrated on 17-minute opener “Hover”; over waves of seismic percussion and Pascal Niggenkemper’s bedrock bass, veteran pianist Cooper-Moore and Brandon Seabrook – named the best guitarist in NYC by The Village Voice last year – trade alternately melodic and chaotic solos while saxophonist Darius Jones breathes the kind of beautiful fire that will have those in the know reaching for the Ornette Coleman and Jan Garbarek comparisons. With all five players sharing equal billing, there is plenty of virtuosic musicianship to admire. Cooper-Moore in particular flips between styles at the drop of a hat to follow wherever Cleaver’s shape-shifting shuffle leads him, scattering broken scales over the spazzed-out (and aptly named) “Ayler Children” or rolling out luxurious rhapsodies on elegant closer “May Be Home”; Seabrook, meanwhile, is magnetic, wrangling scratchy, metallic Ribot riffs from his guitar and sounding for all the world like the in-bred banjo-picker from Deliverance after a heavy Swordfishtrombones session. The group are at their best, however, in full-on mode, jostling for attention like a litter of boisterous puppies on the FX-laden freeform jam “Amsterdam/ Frames” or flexing their prog muscles on the wonderfully knotty “Test-Sunday” (below); fine examples of a band acutely aware of their place in jazz’s timeline, paying respectful homage to their forefathers whilst marching fearlessly towards the horizon to the beat of their own drum.

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Though not blood relations, Black Host and Brooklyn’s Diamond Terrifier are very much part of the same extended family. DT is the solo alias of Zs saxophonist and bandleader Sam Hillmer, himself a Northern Spy alumnus, and if Black Host represent a modern take on jazz’s past, then Hillmer offers a tantalising glimpse into its future. Having started out two years back as a fun exercise in live saxophone looping, the DT sound really started to take shape with last year’s Kill The Self That Wants To Kill Yourself, produced and edited by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor whose Terrible Records imprint will release Hillmer’s latest set The Subtle Body Wears A Shadow on May 28. With that release, Hillmer and Taylor learned how to corral long saxophone drones (multi-tracked, pitch-shifted and fed through various pedals and processors), electronics and primitive drum machines into short compositions that straddled the grey area between meditative ambience and punk’s agressive energy whilst also tipping a knowing wink to contemporary experimental dance forms, a process that clearly influenced Zs’ Grain; The Subtle Body expands even further on that blueprint with a four-part, thirty minute suite that finds those disparate – and often apparently improvised – elements woven into something with a more cohesive narrative structure. Of course, as with Zs (and, indeed, much of the music that exists within the same orbit), that narrative is very much open to interpretation, and mine – whilst probably wildy off-message – revolves around some sort of near-future dystopian man-machine cyber-fable. Opening with a slow, tidal sax refrain, first movement “Shrine Flu” ushers in a sense of uneasy calm, Hillmer’s fluttering notes hypnotising whilst in the background a rising electronic hum subconsciously warns that all is not well; a disembodied, computerised voice forecasting its own death then introduces “Two Witnesses”, with bells and chimes giving way to five minutes of uninterrupted free-jazz skronk before a sputtering drum machine kicks in and a lonely synth starts picking out alien techno motifs. Right at the end the sax drops away completely, leaving a skeletal version of a footwork track pumping away for a few moments, the robot’s heart slowly grinding to a halt. Despite it’s twinkling, Badalamenti-esque intro, “Triple Gem” (below) soon reveals itself as the android’s death rattle, Hillmer blasting away with short, sharp bursts whilst chugging industrial rhythms and distorted synths lead into a two minute ambient drift and the robot again, pleading: “Who can save me, who can protect me from this horror, this frighful dread.” Finally the title track, a sad but uplifting farewell to our hero/ villain; a lonesome refrain, splintering into synthesized shards at the end of each cycle, one last robotic voiceover as the camera pans away from the scrapyard graveside, repeated over and over: “Humans long to free themselves from misery, but misery itself they follow and pursue; they long for joy, but in ignorance they destroy it, like they would a hated enemy”. Regardless of how you choose to read it, it’s a deeply moving piece, and one that challenges our preconceptions of “process” and “technique” in music making, which is probably exactly what Hillmer was shooting for. It’s a long way removed from Miles Davis’ early tape-splicing studio experiments, but it’s just as daring and further proof that whilst jazz may be the great grandfather of popular music, there’s life in the old dog yet.

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Black Hippy : U.O.E.N.O.

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Released back in February, Atlanta rapper Rocko’s sleeper street-hit “U.N.E.N.O.” (“You don’t even know”) may not have set the charts on fire, but it’s become 2013’s most controversial hip hop track thanks to a line from Rick Ross’ guest verse that seemingly glorified date rape, describing having sex with an unconscious girl after spiking her drink with the powdered MDMA derivative “Molly”. Things worked out pretty badly for Ross, who lost a huge endorsement deal with Reebok as a result, but the song’s beat – by up-and-coming producer Childish Major – has taken on a life of its own, with the likes of 2Chainz, Wiz Khalifa, A$AP Rocky, Usher and even (apparently) Kanye West contributing remixes. Best of the bunch so far is the reworking by Top Dawg Entertainment‘s Black Hippy crew, namely Kendrick Lamar, Ab Soul, ScHoolBoy Q and Jay Rock, who all prove that it’s possible to go real hard without saying anything real stupid; listen below.

Smith Westerns : Soft Will

To some extent, it feels like we’ve watched Chicago’s Smith Westerns grow up; they were, after all, just 19 years old when their self-titled debut album was released in 2009. So it shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise to find that their third LP Soft Will – out June 11 via Mom+Pop – finds the band (brothers Cullen and Cameron Omori with Max Kakacek and new full-time drummer Julian Ehrlich) in a more reflective mood; recorded with Beach House/ Yeah Yeah Yeahs producer Chris Coady following months away from home touring its predecessor Dye It Blonde, the album features dreamy doo-wop (“Cheer Up”), mid-paced rockers (“Idol”, “3am Spiritual“) and even an epic, swirling Dark Side Of The Moon-style psych-prog instrumental (“XXIII”). Tracks like “Glossed” and “Fool Proof”, meanwhile, show that they are still refining their preferred brand of synth-smeared, jangling glam-pop; check out first single “Varsity” below.

Power Trip : Manifest Decimation

Oil isn’t the only source of power in Texas you know: straight outta Dallas comes the full-throttle hardcore metal attack of Power Trip, whose debut full-length Manifest Decimation drops June 10 courtesy of the mighty Southern Lord label. Inspired by legendary old-schoolers like Cro-Mags and Nuclear Assault, the five-piece barrel through 35 minutes of headbanging, sweat-soaked crossover thrash riffola that will take fans of a certain vintage back to the genre’s 1987 glory days, with frontman Riley Gale leading the troops with Lemmy-esque bark-along choruses and some serious black metal growling. It’s scuzzy, putrid stuff – as if Paolo “Madman” Girardi’s gruesome cover art (above) wasn’t a big enough giveaway – infused with a punk energy that is as addictive as it is exhilarating; check out the title track below.

Austra : Home # Ital remix

Austra - "Home"

For their second album Olympia – the follow-up to 2011’s excellent Feel It Break, out June 18 via Domino – Toronto’s Austra have expanded both their sound and their line-up, doubling in size from a trio to a six-piece and throwing more classic house and techno influences into the mix alongside the band’s usual icy synth-pop and frontwoman Katie Stelmanis’ goth diva vocals. As such, first single “Home” has proved fertile ground for remixing: Detroit dance legend Kevin Saunderson has already turned in a great old-school version, and now former Black Eyes/ Mi Ami member Daniel Martin-McCormick AKA Ital has transformed the track into an epic, immersive slice of twitchy, tranced-out electronica. Compare and contrast with the lush, shapeshifting original below.

Wise Blood : Id

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Citing producers like SpaceGhostPurrp and Zomby as influences, Christopher Laufman makes crazily inventive sample-based pop as Wise Blood, and on June 25 will release his debut LP id via Dovecote Records. Recorded with Animal Collective/ Dirty Projectors producer Nicolas Vernhes during a year-long “wilderness period” that saw the Pittsburgh singer scrap an album’s worth of material and take on a part-time job driving “party girls” from booking to booking, id delivers on the promise of early singles like “Loud Mouths” and then some: half-rapping over collages of looped choirs, droning synths and jazz horns, Laufman is hypnotic on hip hop-flavoured bangers like “Alarm” and “Rat“, playful on the poppy “Target” and bewildering on cluttered closer “Consumed”, whilst a pair of stunning instrumentals (“8PM – 10PM” and “11PM – 1AM”) sound like Clams Casino breaking into Timbaland’s sample store and plundering the crate marked “1999-2001: India & the Far East”. Endlessly inventive and utterly original, it’s a debut worth waiting for; listen to “Universe Is Blessed” below.