Switched On – Back To Mine: Jungle (DMC)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The rejuvenated Back To Mine series – now into its third decade – moves on to Jungle. Two albums down, the figureheads of the seven-strong group, Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, have put together a collection of the music making them tick behind the scenes. As with a good number in the series so far, that means selections from the tour bus, the after party and almost certainly the morning after. It provides an insight to fans from behind the scenes on what makes them tick, and illustrates their policy of going for music they like, whatever the genre.

What’s the music like?

Predictably varied. After a nice bit of hot weather soul from Barbara Moore, it’s not long before the temp rises with No Fear, a lovely bit of affirmative Afro-funk from Jungle’s own producer Inflo, and the funk-fuelled disco house of Merle’s Fannie Likes 2 Dance. Having switched tack with four to the floor we go deeper with newer house from Manuel Darquart’s Birds Of Paradise and the lush heat soaked Red Haze from DrumTalk.

Gradually the tempo slows with the bumpy Space Cadet from Admin, a lovely deep bit of funk, and the even more lush sounds of The MariasCariño. All the while we are heading for Sly5thAve and a superb cover of Frank Ocean’s Super Rich Kids, a typical example of Jungle’s light hearted and party fuelled approach.

The small hours having arrived, it’s an ideal opportunity for Kamaal Williams’ woozy High Roller, Sam Evian’s soft hearted Next To You and an off kilter Lavender from BADBADNOTGOOD and KAYTRANADA. As is traditional the host should add a track of their own, and Jungle’s is a typically heady Come Back A Different Day, over a stumbling rhythm, which pans out even further to Mansur Brown’s Shiroi.

For the home straight it’s slower and sultry funk from The Flying Stars Of Brooklyn NY’s Live On, then SAULT’s catchy torch song Masterpiece. Paul Cherry’s Like Yesterday is a rueful song of modern relationship ills, before the sleepy cinematic closer, HNNY’s Sunday. The house lights go up soon after!

Does it all work?

Pretty much all. Jungle have nailed the brief of the Back To Mine series, which ideally keeps the listener entertained and guessing, while educating them on some new sounds and bringing a bit more perspective to the music the hosts make. Jungle tick all those boxes and add some humour, sauce and funk.

Is it recommended?

Yes – an easy recommendation for a really enjoyable set of tunes. A bit smoky, certainly a bit rhythmic, and uplifting too. What’s not to like?

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Switched On – Special Request: Offworld (Houndstooth)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Paul Woolford’s third album of the year under the Special Request moniker attempts to answer a question. What if Jam & Lewis signed to Metropolis?

The thought of one of soul music’s finest production duo hanging out with Juan Atkins at the beginning of another era in Detroit musical history in the mid-1980s is an irresistible one, and Woolford’s ambitious attempt to bring the combination to life is what powers Offworld.

What’s the music like?

There are seven expansive tracks, mostly instrumental and rich in analogue colour, put together with Woolford’s trademark instinctive approach.

Immediately it finds the sweet spot with the booming bass, analogue highs and strong vocal of 237,000 miles. More typical of the album are the vast spaces evoked by Offworld Memory 3. Front Screen Projection looks back to Jean Michel Jarre with its synth sound and riff, but forward with its no-nonsense breakbeat, while Arse End Of The Moon, a classic Woolford title, has sharper sounds and clattering, big beat percussion. Morning Ritual is also a lovely track, a brooding instrumental, before a rather fine remix of The Grid’s Floatation, signing off with an affectionate quarter-hour of expansive ambience and a nicely done retro beat.

Does it all work?

Once again – yes. Woolford never pads his albums out too much, either in texture or duration, so while Offworld is not much longer than an extended EP without the Grid remix, it works brilliantly well.

Is it recommended?

Yes indeed – as much as the first two albums of this year’s crop did. Paul Woolford is on a roll right now and it’s up to us to keep up!

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Switched On – Conforce: Dawn Chorus (Delsin Records)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Conforce is the work of Dutch producer Boris Bunnik, who comes from the island of Terschelling, near Rotterdam. He has a good deal of previous in electronic music, working under the Versalife and Severnaya pseudonyms. This is his fifth album for the Delsin label.

Previous Conforce albums have included references to AI and machine learning, but retain their personal edge through Bunnik’s more ambient dressing and the packaging, which often includes his own photography.

What’s the music like?

Dawn Chorus moves at two different speeds. The foreground is rich with percussion, with rolling breakbeats that generate plenty of energy. This gives the music much more of a human element, ensuring it doesn’t sound too processed. Behind all the rhythmic activity sit slow moving sets of chords, subtly changing shape like clouds in the sky or mist over a lake.

Throughout there are references to the role of electronics in everyday life, with chattering loops and bleeps. Marooned feels remote in spite of its squelchy bass, while Axis Perpendicular packs more of a bunch with its offbeat breaks. Avoid is roomy and heavily percussive, while iO also has increased activity. Void and Umbra are both excellent tracks, the latter taking on an eerie edge by the end.

Does it all work?

Yes. Without being too ground breaking, Conforce has a style that is immediately identifiable and extremely listenable. With ambience and energy combined his is a style that works on two different levels for Dawn Chorus.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Anyone following the Delsin label will want to get involved, as it maintains their quality-rich approach.

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Switched On – Steffi x Virginia: Work A Change (Ostgut Ton)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Steffi & Virginia have been regular collaborators ever since 2011, when their vocal track Yours surfaced on the Ostgut Ton label. I use the term ‘Vocal track’ rather than ‘song’ advisedly, because the two DJs and vocalists find that their vocal work complements the instrumental craft, the two elements becoming inseparable.

Eight years on and their musical chemistry remains, sparking eight track EP Work A Change.

What’s the music like?

Every bit as vital as the pair’s first work. Steffi x Virginia, as the name implies, are an incredibly cohesive unit, finishing each other’s musical sentences on tracks that exist somewhere between techno, electro and pop. They manage to satisfy the elements of each style while being difficult to pin down to a single genre.

Beats bubble below the surface while cool keyboards float above on Be True To Me, which kicks in with a catchy chorus, while the two standouts Help Me Understand and Work The Change have a great sense of urgency. Both exist in instrumental form to show just how good they are.

Sight From Above, meanwhile, has a closer harmony which leads to a warmer sound, while Until You’re Begging has a conversational style over a busy beat. Only Internal Bleeding doesn’t quite hit the spot, though the harmonies are as effective as ever.

Does it all work?

Yes, because the blend of processed electronica with a freedom of spirit is irresistible. Work A Change, Help Me Understand and Be True To Me are big hitters that repay many repetitions (from experience!)

Is it recommended?

Without hesitation. These two spark off each other to brilliant effect, and the natural creation of this album has led to some brilliant vocal and instrumental sparring. It brings forward high quality music with energy and positivity.

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On record – CBSO / Edward Gardner – Mendelssohn in Birmingham Vol.5: Overtures (Chandos)

Mendelssohn
Trumpet Overture Op.101 (1825)
Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream Op.21 (1826)****
Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage Op.27 (1828)**
The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave) Op.26 (1830)*
The Fair Melusine, Op. 32 (1834)
Overture to St. Paul Op.36 (1836)
Ruy Blas Overture Op.95 (1839)***
Overture to Athalie Op.74 (1844)
Lorenda Ramou (piano)

Chandos CHSA5235 [74’53”]

Producer Brian Pidgeon
Engineers Ralph Couzens, Jonathan Cooper and ****Robert Gilmour

Recorded *20-21 October 2013; **15 and ***16 February 2014; ****13-14 July 2015; 10-11 July 2018 at Town Hall, Birmingham

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

For the fifth release in Chandos’s series Mendelssohn in Birmingham, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and its onetime guest conductor Edward Gardner further traverse the orchestral output of a composer who was not averse to snatching mediocrity from the jaws of greatness.

What’s the music like?

It should be pointed out only a part of this release consists of new material. The Hebrides, Ruy Blas and Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage first appeared in harness with Symphonies nos.4 and 5, nos.1 and 3, and no.2 respectively; while A Midsummer Night’s Dream was coupled with a selection of the incidental music for Shakespeare’s play as well as the Violin Concerto. Those who have been acquiring this series may thus feel a little short-changed, which perhaps makes purchasing those previously unreleased items as individual downloads the best option.

Proceeding chronologically, the Trumpet Overture reinforced Mendelssohn’s precocity in the wake of his Octet for strings – its breezily incisive manner, opened-out expressively by ominous asides, a viable template for future generations on which to hone their aspirations. Few could have hoped to match A Midsummer Night’s Dream as to prodigality of invention or technical resource, not least in terms of its redefining the orchestra near the outset of the Romantic era. A more prolix structure, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage yet merits revival through the limpid eloquence of its introduction and surging impetus of its Allegro towards a rousing peroration. That said, it cannot compare with The Hebrides in terms of an evocation sustained via formal sleight of hand and emotional clarity as remain breath-taking to this day.

Into the 1830s, The Fair Melusine still remains engaging for those subtly tangible images of watery domains (proto-Wagnerian, though the connection is easily overstated) and headlong fate through a vivid if increasingly impersonal idiom. Such impersonality had all but taken hold by the time of the oratorio St Paul, its overture breathing an aura of unforced piety and ‘natural order’ increased by the fugal interplay at its centre then almost apologetic fervency near its close. Mendelssohn rather grudgingly supplied incidental music for Victor Hugo’s play Ruy Blas, but the overture retains its drama and melodic appeal up to the surging coda. Would that Athalie conveyed comparable conviction, but this overture to Jean Racine’s play yields little more then technical proficiency as its composer strives gainfully for inspiration.

Does it all work?

On a technical level, absolutely. Mendelssohn was a master of his craft whose abundant early promise was only intermittently fulfilled by his later music. Tackling these overtures in order of composition (rather than that of this disc) tends to reinforce such an observation, which is not to deny the sheer technical command of even those lesser pieces or of the conviction that Gardner and his players have invested into this programme overall. Save for just a couple of overly headlong climaxes, there is little to fault here in terms of either playing or recording.

Is it recommended?

Yes, with the proviso detailed above. Bayan Northcott’s estimable booklet note mentions the overture to cantata The First Walpurgis Night as being inseparable from its main work, which makes a CBSO recording of this ‘dark horse’ among Mendelssohn works the more desirable.

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For more information on this release and to purchase in multiple formats visit the Chandos website