Let’s Dance – Defected presents House Masters: Todd Edwards (Defected)

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Various ArtistsDefected presents House Masters: Todd Edwards (Defected)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The time is ripe for a Todd Edwards retrospective. The much-loved producer, credited as one of the founding fathers of late-90s garage, UK style, has always had a distinctive way of working his beats. With clipped percussion, cleverly-used samples, good humour and a large dose of soul, he has been a go-to man for remix and production for nigh on 30 years. Daft Punk have credited his influence, and worked with him on two albums, while a whole host of chart bothering artists, among them Moloko, Robin S, Wildchild and Wretch 32, have gone his way for a remix.

Recently Defected have taken Edwards under their wing, restoring hundreds of previously unavailable productions to the catalogue, and this double album provides a useful retrospective and a reminder of what might be in store for the collector.

What’s the music like?

Brilliant. You don’t get to be dance music royalty without making good music – and there’s no doubt Edwards makes great music for good times. His fluid grooves are sliced and diced, the clipped percussion sounds putting a skip in each beat.  The approach is largely soulful, and on grooves like God Will Be There and the landmark Edwards production Saved My Life, more than a bit spiritual.

Defected have divided the collection in two, with a set of full length original productions complemented by some excellent examples from the remix collection.  The original productions are equally represented by past and present, with You’re Sorry one of his best recent songs, and the Sinden collaboration Deeper working really well on the vocal front. All I Need is more percussive, while Dancing For Heaven is a buoyant treat and Fly Away is super cool. The Daft Punk association is well represented, with the charmer Face To Face bringing out the best in both sides, and Fragments Of Time, from the Random Access Memories album, a great track for top-down driving.

There is a smoother version of St Germain’s Alabama Blues, with a warm guitar and organ but not quite the heat soaked charm of the earlier version. Indo’s R U Sleeping fares really well, as does Moloko’s Pure Pleasure Seeker – while Zoot Woman’s Taken It All gets a shiny remix.

Does it all work?

Yes. Edwards has an effortlessly cool style and it runs throughout this collection, moving between house and garage with great ease. He always gives the vocal plenty of room, but still packs the production with all kinds of riffs, beats and soundbites, keeping the dancefloor moving at all times.

Is it recommended?

It is – but be warned, listening to this might take you down a Todd Edwards rabbit hole. With so many productions remastered and now available through Defected, it would be churlish to stop here!

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You can buy David Penn’s House Masters compilation from the Defected website here

On Record – Daniel Wylie’s Cosmic Rough Riders: Atoms and Energy (Last Night From Glasgow)

daniel-wylie

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Daniel Wylie has had a long and distinguished career in songwriting, whether with his band, Cosmic Rough Riders, or as a solo artist. Throughout he has stayed true to a classic approach with plenty of room for influences from the 1960s onwards, but with room too for originality of thought in both music and lyrics.

Atoms And Energy is confirmation that the fire still burns brightly. Recorded in Glasgow’s La Chunky Studios in 2019, the album is headed by Wylie but includes contributions from Neil Sturgeon (acoustic guitars), Stu Kidd (percussion) and Johnny Smillie (electric guitars and arrangements), who also engineered the album

What’s the music like?

A mark of Wylie’s career has been his consistency. Even when he returned from the relative wilderness in 2004 to start his solo career with Ramshackle Beauty, the songs confirmed his quality threshold had not dimmed a bit – and the same is true now. If anything, life experience and the discipline of writing songs on an almost daily basis has fed into the music for Atoms And Energy, taking it right up there among the best work Wylie has yet produced.

The lyrics can always be clearly heard – a property often underrated in songs! – and they are notable for their frank and occasionally uncomfortable take on life, warts and all, especially on songs like God Is Nowhere. A melodic approach is sustained throughout, and after several hearings the listener will have several of these songs firmly embedded in the brain.

The lyrics are key to understanding where Wylie is at. A good deal of the memory bank is used as the songwriter harks back to childhood days, but he does so from the context of adulthood and particularly in the wake of his mother’s death. A Memory brings these reminiscences to life with great clarity, while the breezy Heaven’s Waiting Room hangs on to treasured memories while asking the pertinent question ‘why does everybody leave?’ Red Sunset (Green Eyes) is a whimsical number, and although Wylie is ‘feeling sad about my plight’, the outlook – musically at least – is positive.

Many of Wylie’s songs are bittersweet or have darker shades around the edges. The Bruises And The Blood is one such song, a thoughtful opener, while Ruth The Truth ups the ante on the guitar sound, a punchy number where ‘I caught her lying again’.

His wife remains the chief muse, and she appears to be the obvious inspiration for songs like Our Love Will Never Die, an unabashed and tender ode to a long relationship. Saddle Up The Horses comes from a similar emotional place, the album closer doffing its cap to Neil Young along the way.

Arguably the most striking of the nine here, however, is Listen To The Sound Of The Rain, a shimmering beauty that could have been written and imported from the late 1960s. Its dappled psychedelia stretches far in Wylie’s hands, the vocals beautifully poised as he sings of ‘a world full of wonder’, the guitar sound dancing on the musical horizon.

Does it all work?

Yes. Anyone familiar with Wylie’s previous work will know what to expect here – but with part of that expectation comes the knowledge that the songs won’t be routine and won’t be presented without emotive input or instrumental dexterity. The guitar playing is a strong feature of the record, and the lovely shimmering textures are a possible reflection of the cloud-strewn skies under which they were written.

Is it recommended?

Wholeheartedly. Daniel Wylie continues to write moving songs with hooks that take gradual root in the listener’s mind and then prove very difficult to dislodge. Atoms and Energy offers more of the same – but with even greater conviction and quality. 

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You can purchase Atoms and Energy from the Last Night From Glasgow website

 

On record – Becomings: Sam Hayden Works for solo piano (Ian Pace) (Métier)

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Sam Hayden
Becomings (Das Werden) I-VII (2016-18)
Fragment (After Losses) (2003)
…still time… (1990)
Piano Moves (1990)

Ian Pace (piano)

Métier MSV28611 [two discs, 89’31”]

Producers / Engineers Will Goring, Sophie Nicole Ellison, Sam Hayden

Recorded August & September 2020 at City University, London

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

A major release of music from Sam Hayden (b1968), currently Professor of Composition at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance – the extent (thus far) of whose output for piano is featured here, and which makes for listening as engrossing as it can seem daunting.

What’s the music like?

It may be significant that, as if mindful of the reception that is nowadays accorded the more radical of today’s music, the composer’s own annotations seem intent on observing his music from the outside – as if to encourage objectivity on the part of those listening. This is by no means an unreasonable gambit for approaching his sometimes intricate, frequently oblique, and always provocative music which is made more so through the constant tension between the systematic and the spontaneous in his thinking. Not least with Becomings (Das Werden), whose notion – as has preoccupied philosophers from Heraclitus to Wittgenstein and beyond – of the state of ‘becoming’, as opposed to ‘being’, pervades the seven pieces at conceptual and semantic as well as musical levels; any tangible sense of finality remaining out of reach.

‘I’ functions as a prelude, but its textural dexterity and hectic passagework plunge straight in. ‘II’ takes this harmonic and polyphonic interplay much further as the intensifying waves of activity culminate in music of assaultive impact, whereas ‘III’ adopts a more improvisatory approach to formal elaboration. ‘IV’ assumes the guise of a central slow movement with its leisurely evolution and trill-permeated texture almost claustrophobic in its intricacy, while ‘V’ finds the superimposition of chromatic and spectral harmonic cycles at its most clearly defined. ‘VI’ unfolds as though a toccata of jagged expressive contrasts before it subsides into simmering anticipation, then ‘VII’ brings this sequence full-circle with its allusions to the opening piece as if a coda whose finality is pointedly offset by the desire to begin anew.

Of the other items, Fragment (After Losses) takes its material from an earlier orchestral piece as the basis for a short while eventful study in disjunct alternations of rhythm and timbre. As his earliest acknowledged work for solo piano, …still time… is audibly a statement of intent with its abrupt if methodical contrasts across the spectrum of pianistic facets; one whose debt to earlier composers (notably Stockhausen) is discharged via the constant pivoting between stasis and dynamism. Larger in overall conception, Piano Moves utilizes an amplified piano in music whose encroaching resonance and polyrhythmic intricacy gradually and inexorably saturate the sound-space; an extended ‘coda’ reducing previously dense textures to a hieratic succession of repeated chords such as sets the primary material at a vastly different remove.

Does it all work?

It does, not least through the unwavering focus of Ian Pace (who gave the complete premiere of Becomings two years back) in clarifying and articulating music whose complex textures never feel merely abstruse – thereby making for an experience seldom less than intelligible.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. These are fiercely committed readings, recorded with clarity and presence, making for a release worthy of attention from all adventurous and inquiring listeners for its dedicated and impressive music-making. Hayden’s chamber music (NMCD168) is also worth investigation.

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You can discover more about this release at the Divine Arts website, where you can also purchase the recording. For the composer’s website, click here, and for more information on Ian Pace click here

On record – Param Vir: Wheeling Past the Stars (NMC Recordings)

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cPatricia Auchterlonie (soprano); cUlrich Heinen (cello); aSoumik Datta (sarod), aKlangforum Wien / Enno Poppe; bLondon Chamber Orchestra / Odaline de la Martínez dSchönberg Ensemble / Micha Hamel

Param Vir

Raga Fields (2014)a
Before Krishna (1987)b
Wheeling Past the Stars (2007)c
Hayagriva (2005)d

NMC Recordings NMC D265 [69’07”] 

Producers aFlorian Rosensteiner, bStephen Plaistow, cDavid Lefeber, dAnneke van Dulken, dWim Laman
Engineers aFritz Trondel, dDick Lucas

Recorded b14 December 1988 at BBC Studios, Maida Vale, London; d13 December 2005 at Muziekgebouw, Amsterdam; a23 May at Konzerthaus, Vienna; c10 October 2020 at Henry Wood Hall, London

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Not a little surprisingly, this release from NMC is the first devoted to Param Vir (b1952), his music a welcome though undervalued presence in the UK over the almost four decades since relocating here from his native India and making for a ‘portrait’ whose appearance is timely.

What’s the music like?

Right from his earliest pieces written in the UK, Vir possessed a distinctive and engaging idiom – as can be heard in Before Krishna, subtitled an ‘Overture for Strings’, in which the narrative leading up to the deity’s birth is evoked through an intensive development of the ‘Krishna row’; heard in the context of string writing as is audibly influenced by (if never beholden to) the sonorist techniques from previous decades. Especially striking are those deftly enveloping chordal harmonics into which the music diffuses during the final bars.

Hayagriva is demonstrably more personal in approach – not least in its evoking the horse-headed being and mythological archetype behind a work whose headlong rhythmic energy gradually moves, via an intricately detailed transition, to a closing section whose subdued manner does not preclude music of fastidious textural variety and expressive nuance from emerging. The colour sequence ‘red/crimson-green/gold-blue’ evolves in parallel, but the aural trajectory pursued by this ‘mixed ensemble of 15 players’ is appreciably more subtle.

The song-cycle Wheeling Past the Stars draws on four poems by Rabindranath Tagore (sung in widely praised translations by William Radice). ‘Unending Love’ opens the sequence with its ecstatic vocal melisma and cello glissandi, while ‘Palm-tree’ portrays night-ride and storm with no mean resourcefulness. The unaffected charm and vivacity of ‘Grandfather’s Holiday’ then provides an admirable foil to ‘New Birth’, its frequently impassioned contemplation of those ‘who come later’ making for an earnest yet always eloquent conclusion to this cycle.

Raga Fields is outwardly a concerto for sarod but one where the orchestral contribution can be perceived as growing out of the soloist – whether in the gradual textural proliferation of ‘Void’; the comparable melodic interplay, notably through a variety of insinuating solos for woodwind, of ‘Tranquil’; then the stealthy rhythmic accumulation of ‘Vibrant’, in which the constant shifting between notated and improvisatory passages is heard at its most intensive. As the coming together of differing concepts, this is a productive and engrossing synthesis.

Does it all work?

Yes, in that Vir’s music exhibits its Indian antecedents distinctly yet always subtly. Allied to unforced harmonic clarity and a keen feeling for textural finesse is a sure sense of where each piece is headed formally, such that the considerable emotional intensity never risks becoming turgid or self-indulgent. It helps that these performances are attuned to the work at hand – not least Patricia Auchterlonie with Ulrich Heinen in the song-cycle, or the three ensembles that are heard in the remaining items. Whatever else, Vir has been well served by his performers.

Is it recommended?

Indeed. The sound has, in some cases, been remastered to mitigate the considerable time-span between performances, while Paul Conway pens his customary reliable notes. Hopefully, a follow-up release, maybe of Vir’s wide-ranging orchestral output, will not be long in coming.

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You can get more information on the disc at the NMC website, where you can also purchase the album. For more on Param Vir, you can visit the composer’s website

On Record – Squid: Bright Green Field (Warp Records)

squid

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Squid are a fascinating proposition. The cover of Bright Green Field promises much in terms of pastoral beauty and optimistic music, but the reality is often at complete odds with the picture. While there are indeed pastoral moments, found in field recordings of bees and church bells, there are moments of outright anger at the direction in which society, and British society in particular, is going.

This reflects the quintet’s position in Brighton, from where they can see both the attractive and vulgar elements of living in Britain, and the corporate traps too. G.S.K., for instance, details the chemical conglomerate GlaxoSmithKline as being so big you can now tell the time by them.

What’s the music like?

As fascinating and multi-layered as the lyrics. It is not possible to pin Squid down to a single style; rather it is instructive to say what they are capable of doing and how they communicate. What really strikes the listener is how assured it all is, and that no matter what style they use to communicate, they do it with great intensity.

Drummer and vocalist Ollie Judge has a glorious unpredictability, moving from wry observations to excited yelps at the flick of a switch. Several Squid songs change mood like the weather, and the music follows suit – but always in thrall to the lyrics, never for the sake of it. At times they channel the calculated rock of Battles, while the style of Narrator brings reminders of The Rapture, building up into a ritualistic frenzy. Some of the tracks are left as unkempt, but in a good way – and Boy Racers definitely falls into this category, its cheery punk pop grinding to a halt before a woozy interlude starts to blur the senses.

As Bright Green Field progresses, there continues to be a refreshing willingness to disregard the musical rules. Paddling is brilliant, an oblique melody dominating until Judge’s repeated cry of “Don’t push me in!” Rich brass sonorities open up in The Flyover, while Global Groove proves an effective snapshot of the album, building tension with a brass and guitar payoff as Judge gets more and more animated. Finally the lyrical content of Pamphlets emphasises the Britishness of the band in spite of the krautrock influences deployed here, working up a lather as the song progresses.

Does it all work?

Unexpectedly, and in spite of the listener’s expectations. Squid challenge our perceptions of genre on a regular basis, stomping all over the dividing lines. They have such a firm confidence in what they do that their musical workings are instinctive, and their rebellious nature is countered by pastoral asides. There is plenty of seething anger here, too, but none of it is misplaced.

Is it recommended?

Yes, without hesitation. Pretty Green Field contains some of the most original pop music you will hear from a new band in 2021.

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