Switched On – Richard Norris: Elements (Group Mind)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Richard Norris has kept himself busy during lockdown. As well as running the excellent Group Mind resource on Facebook (do join if you have an interest in any sort of ambient music!) he has been making music to help ease the stress created by the COVID-19 pandemic, confinement and worrisome news headlines – to name just a few of our bugbears in recent months.

Having released a series of Music for Healing tracks, Norris now heads into album territory with meditations on the five Chinese elements. He is helped by vocalist Bishi (who appears on Water) and some wonderful artwork by Mark Golding and Andy Ball, and a striking front cover image designed by Lyndon Pike.

What’s the music like?

Although his music with The Grid and Beyond The Wizards Sleeve is largely beat-driven, Norris has always shown a talent for creating musical textures that can soothe or comfort, and Elements is a fruitful use of that resource.

He uses appealing, analogue-driven sounds twinned with sequencers, making consonant musical motifs and – where required – well-crafted beats. Earth sets a solid base, its loops unfolding at a naturally relaxed pace, while Water is a more expansive structure, contrasting immersive vocals from Bishi with gentle instrumental oscillations.

Norris’s interpretation of Fire brings to mind the vision of flames lazily flickering in the half-light, with glowing embers that leave a lasting warmth. This eases us into the lovely stillness of Air, which could easily go on for longer than five minutes and not outstay its welcome, after which Space is appropriately remote, with lights twinkling in the distance.

Does it all work?

Yes. Elements is ideal for either end of the day, soothing the fevered brow but also working the brain nicely with its loops and well-constructed melodies. The music is always on the move, but the mind can choose the intensity with which it follows the designs.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. If the cover hasn’t already drawn you in then the music will. For best results the LP is strongly recommended, but anything linked to headphones will do the job. Norris offers a half hour of escapism, something we can all do with right now!

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Let’s Dance – The Beloved: Happiness (Special Edition) (New State Entertainment)

The BelovedHappiness (Special Edition) (New State Entertainment)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Music can make you feel old sometimes. With the recent trend for deluxe reissues of older albums that is happening on an increasingly regular basis for this particular writer! However in the case of The Beloved, initial horror at their standout album Happiness reaching 30 years of age is replaced by the pleasure of a chance to listen to it again – now in the company of a number of exclusives.

The album has been remastered and reissued with its distinctive and attractive artwork, very much of its time but also falling in nicely alongside the misty-eyed memories people have been creating of Ibiza recently. After the Heritage Orchestra’s Ibiza Classics tour and the White Lines series on Netflix, the reissue of Happiness is timely – and it’s tempting to say it’s a shot in the arm for us late in the summer.

What’s the music like?

Inevitably Happiness sounds dated now, but when you hear it alongside the more clinical Ibiza sounds of the current year its analogue charm is only amplified. There is a strong, positive thread running through the album too which is enormously helpful in these times. Songs like Hello, Don’t You Worry, The Sun Rising and I Love You More all hit the ears sunny side up, with Jon Marsh’s husky vocals enjoying the Balearic climate.

The Sun Rising continues to stand as one of the very finest tunes from the early 1990s, its blissful piano-led house music fit for any dawn-themed chillout set. The knowledge that it was written while the sun rose over Nunhead only increases its likability, totally suited to everyday phenomena. The roll call of Hello is always fun but also meaningful, trying to picture all the different people Marsh name checks and also identifying how they match up. It’s a great set of soundbites.

The extra material offers a great deal of context, especially with the accompaniment of the booklet notes, where Marsh confirms that he and Steve Waddington were ‘doing our own thing. Absolute musical freedom.” That much is confirmed by Acid Love, Sally and Jackie (Won’t You Please Come Home?), all of which are footloose and euphoric if occasionally on the ragged side. The influence of New Order is put to good use on these songs in particular.

 

 

Does it all work?

Mostly. There are a couple of more obvious album tracks towards the album’s close, and some show their age a little more readily, but this is still a very strong set of songs suitable both for the singles chart and for the centre of a dancefloor. The Beloved really hit a rich vein of form around this time, and it’s great to be reminded of the artwork that complements it so well. They really were in touch with Ibiza clubbers at the time.

Is it recommended?

Yes. With lockdown, quarantine and external pressures creating anxiety like never before, the reappearance of Happiness provides just the sort of escape its listeners will be looking for, along with the simple assurance that maybe things will be alright after all. When you listen to any of the singles on here, The Beloved make you feel that could indeed be the case!

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Switched On – Various Artists: Total 20 (Kompakt)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Twenty years undefeated, Kompakt‘s annual round-up is a valuable line in the sand for lovers of their brand of quality electronic music and techno. It comes with a defiant message in what has been a difficult summer for dance music. ‘Music is our oxygen. We’ll dance together soon’.

What’s the music like?

Why change a winning formula? There are 23 tracks here from the Kompakt stable, bringing together established and new artists, adding a slew of exclusives and unreleased tracks, but still standing strong as a statement of what the Cologne label do best.

Style-wise there is something for everyone here, from the slower jam of Silicone‘s remix of Weval‘s Doesn’t Do Anything to the driving, sharp-edged textures of Marc Romboy‘s Stalker. Most of the cuts are instrumental but there are a couple of notable exceptions. Kiwi‘s Hello Echo is a nice disco-house cut in the spirit of The Juan MacLean, Bestley providing the excellent vocals, while Kölsch‘s urgent Remind You strikes a more paranoid tone.

Label head Michael Mayer contributes the nocturnal Agita, while Jonathan Kaspar‘s Licht is a really good combination of warm textures and bleeps. Jörg Burger‘s Surprise Yourself! is a classy affair, with rippling synth lines, while the rolling contours of Lose Control by David Douglas also impress. Best of all though is a rich piece of techno from Steve Moore, his soundtrack setting credentials coming to the fore in the superb Frame Dragging, a really good blend of urgency and warmth.

All this takes place alongside fine contributions from label staples Robag Wruhme, Jürgen Paape, Sascha Funke and Voigt & Voigt – not to mention strong stuff from Yotam Avni and the lively Blush from Christian Nielsen.

Does it all work?

Yes. This sort of compilation series might seem like a dying breed but Kompakt’s Total series works so well because of its variety, quality and new content, satisfying fans and newcomers alike.

Is it recommended?

Definitely. It is to be hoped the annual late summer appearance of the Total compilation will continue well beyond its twentieth year, for its regular slot in the calendar guarantees a new clutch of excellent electronic music. Listeners to the previous 19 will not be disappointed!

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Switched On – GLOK: Dissident Remixed (Bytes)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

This time last year Ride fans – and electronic music devotees – were both surprised and delighted at the appearance of GLOK, the self-titled instrumental album from the band’s guitarist Andy Bell. Bell had kept his electronic alias relatively under wraps until then, but he revealed himself as an accomplished producer harnessing the influence of Krautrock into some strong, beat-laden grooves.

With a talent for expanding his music to fill bigger structures, Bell also recognised the flexibility of his recordings for the remix treatment – which is what we have here. His enviable contact book has resulted in remixes from a number of sources including James Chapman (Maps), Richard Sen and the late Andrew Weatherall with one of his last studio contributions.

What’s the music like?

Remix albums can be substandard affairs and stopgaps when an artist’s inspiration is running dry, but there is no danger of any of that happening here.

Franz Kirmann impresses greatly with his two versions of Kolokol. The first has added squiggles and a dogged beat that presses all the right buttons, while the second has murkier textures and a stripped back, dubby beat. Timothy Clerkin delivers a remix of Projected Sounds with head nodding goodness, while Andrew Weatherall‘s mix of Cloud Cover is underpinned by characteristically dark bass line and fluttering atmospherics.

On the downtempo side of things there is a nice, woozy take on Weaver from C.A.R., and a lovely hazy dub version of Exit Through The Skylight from Jay Glass, with rich instrumental colours. Bell himself turns in a brilliant extended version of Pulsing. Stretched out to 15 minutes, the track turns subtly from a laid back, dub-inflected tread to a dreamy breakdown in the middle, before extra bleeps and bass are introduced.

One of the most striking inventions comes from Minotaur Shock, bringing analogue beats and warm synth colours to Weaver, twisting and turning the source material. It is immediately complemented by another excellent remix of Pulsing, this time from MapsJames Chapman reaching for the stars with a typically wide panorama.

Does it all work?

Yes. It works as a remix album should, building on the original and bringing out different elements of Bell’s music. The variety of talent on show is laid out in an appealing structure, using his acumen to craft another album that has an ideal ebb and flow.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. GLOK Remixed emerges as a companion to put alongside the original, showing off the flexibility of its source material and making some really excellent, alternative grooves from it. With Bell’s debut solo album as a vocalist coming up soon, there is much to enjoy from him this year!

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Let’s Dance – Various Artists: The Ladies of Too Slow To Disco Vol.2 (How Do You Are?)

Various Artists – The Ladies of Too Slow To Disco Vol.2 (How Do You Are?)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

First, an explanation. If you are understandably wondering how something called Too Slow To Disco is put under the ‘Let’s Dance’ banner, then let me try to justify! For six years now, DJ Supermarkt has been making annual compilations of West Coast pop music, mostly from the 1970s, under the Too Slow To Disco label. In doing so he has anticipated the revival of so-called ‘yacht rock’, assembling a mixture of well-known and little-known names under the banner.

The compilations are well-planned and are on the slow side…but they could definitely be experienced in a club environment, or by the pool – hence their inclusion under Let’s Dance. And let’s face it, this is very high quality, song-based chill out music.

What’s the music like?

The first Ladies of Too Slow To Disco gained a lot of interest, with a Guardian piece exploring where some of its singers are now, and the second hits the same sweet spot. The songs are drawn from 1974-1982, and on this volume DJ Supermarkt looks to strike out further in the directions of soul, gospel and jazz.

The journey is a successful one, on the way enjoying the very smooth grooves of Marti Caine‘s Love The Way You Love Me, which if anything is ‘out-slinked’ by Diane Tell‘s Mon Ami-E. Linda Tillery sings beautifully of how she would ‘like to get to know you in a special kind of womanly way’, while Martee Lebous raises positive thoughts on the rather lovely For David. Lulu makes an appearance too, with the slow but very smooth funk of I Love To Boogie.

Each of these songs tells a story, and most of them have accomplished arrangements, such as the subtle brass colouring applied to Nicolette Larson‘s Baby, Don’t You Do It, while there is a good deal of funk around too – the best saved for the star of the show, Elkie BrooksThe Rising Cost Of Love.

Does it all work?

Yes. Anyone following this series will know the amount of work that goes in to digging out the tracks, but arranging them in the most coherent order is also a skill that DJ Supermarkt has in abundance. Not a hair is out of place here!

Is it recommended?

Yes. For breeezy sounds in the heat of the summer Too Slow To Disco has prove to be a series that is hard to equal, and for poolside holiday listening it has no equal. The ladies on this instalment fit seamlessly into an increasingly long list of excellent (and educational) compilations!

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