Switched On: Kasper Bjørke: Sprinkles (hfn Music)

kasper-bjorke

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Kasper Bjørke is a prolific producer, with two decades’ worth of music under his belt. Much of that has been in a solo capacity for the Copenhagen artist, who has proved himself equally effective as a songwriter and instrumentalist.

His new album Sprinkles falls into the latter category, and appears to have its roots in a lockdown climate. Recorded and produced on his laptop, in a cabin by the beach in Denmark, the aim is to draw on energy and positive feelings from Bjørke’s experience gigging worldwide. It should provide music to fill the considerable hole left by empty dancefloors over the last year and a half.

What’s the music like?

Polished, dancefloor-friendly, and summery. Bjørke writes with a fluent, listener-friendly approach, providing plenty of hooks but working them in to textures as suitable for a Balearic poolside as they are for the darker club. Elements of house, techno and electro combine with instinctive ease.

The three singles already released – Baybi, Running and Kites – are excellent, and the way Baybi unfolds with a lazy saxophone is especially attractive. Grace has bubbling synths, its analogue approach working well, while Mirage flickers brightly at the edges, with some nicely applied textures.

As the album progresses so does Bjørke’s tendency to experiment, and RDVSpecial sharpens the synth tones to good effect. Finally Viewwws throws a few longing looks back towards 1990s ambient, with its loping, dubby tread.

Does it all work?

It does. Nothing here is too demanding, but nor is it lacking in substance. The Danish seaside gives itself away in the warm textures, and the sepia-tinted edges to some of Bjørke’s tracks are attractive.

Is it recommended?

It is. Kasper Bjørke’s output has been consistent and varied up until now, but there is room for the deeper side in his output – and the productions here are linked together rather nicely. Sprinkles is an ideal summer album.

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Sprinkles  is released on 30 July. To hear the first three singles and to purchase, you can visit Bandcamp here:

Switched On: Arandel: InBach Vol.2 (InFiné)

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reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The second instalment of Arandel’s InBach project comes just a year after the first. The French producer, who chooses to remain anonymous for now, has been discovering a wide range of raw material beyond last year’s reinterpretations, and has enjoyed the new perspectives offered by live performance of the first album material.

Now the music takes on more spoken word contributions, as well as using rare instruments recorded at the Musée de la Musique in Paris. The record also features Ondes Martenot player Thomas Bloch and the cello of label mate Gaspar Claus.

What’s the music like?

Extremely varied. Arandel has an orchestral mind, which means he can approach music from many different directions. The stripped-back woodwind of Invention 5, for instance, builds from almost nothing to a full, symphonic climax with electronic choral voices, showing how the French producer ‘gets’ Bach’s increase in intensity.

Concerto for No Keyboard, on the other hand retreats to the lower end of the spectrum and applies the sort of electronic squiggles you would expect to hear from Wendy Carlos – whose Switched On Bach was a big influence on Arandel’s working.

The starry-eyed Doxa Notes is a beautiful way to start the album, and develops into a lush palette of electronics, with a spoken word top from Myra Davies. It is a reinterpretation of Aux Vaisseaux, itself based on Bach’s 14 Canons on The Goldberg Ground, BWV 1087.

Spoken word is an important component of this album and Nos Contours is an even better vocal number. Developed from Bodyline, a track on the first album, it features bubbling electronics under Ornette’s low but steady vocal, both bending under the weight of increased percussion towards the end.

Arandel’s handling of Bach’s original material is always respectful but is more than happy to take risks. Capriccio is otherworldly but in a good way, a reworking of Bach’s Capriccio on the departure of a beloved brother which is in fact a memorial to Arandel’s own brother. Its spectral voicing is almost overrun by a large electronic choir, but is in fact swept up by its power.

Praeludium takes a dubby, four to the floor beat and pushes resolutely onwards, while the autotune of Fabula’s vocal over Bach’s Meine Seele Warter Auf Den Herrn will be more divisive, but it is nothing if not effective.

Confirmation of Arandel’s more adventurous approach can be found in Octobre, a pleasingly unconventional take on the famous Air. Luxurious in its Hamlet cigar promotion, this music is stripped back to a chamber organ and oboe sound here, together with well chosen atmospherics and a time-taken voiceover from the producer’s nephew, with a dreamlike story of an ominous gang of children.

Finally Myriade provides a soothing and rather moving close, with another voiceover – from no less than Bridget St.John – complementing the slow-moving, majestic harmonies.

Does it all work?

Yes. Some of the interpretations are more divisive than others, but this is a good thing, as Arandel is showing a wide range of possibilities when working with Bach’s music. When it comes to electronic music his is surely the most flexible of original material with which to work, and the fact it can be reproduced more or less faithfully says a lot about its staying power.

Is it recommended?

Yes. An essential purchase for those familiar with Arandel’s way of working, InBach Vol.2 suggests that the ideas are only just getting going rather than drying up! These powers of invention and imagination will surely serve the producer well as he moves on to even more ambitious things.

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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

Switched On: Stone Giants: West Coast Love Stories (Nomark)

stone-giants

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Stone Giants is a new alias for Amon Tobin, the prolific Brazilian producer. It represents a new and slightly surprising side to his musical personality, exploring the connection between his own voice and his electronic music.

In his own words, West Coast Love Stories is ‘the weathered account of a fair run with romantic experiences. Things I wouldn’t trade for any number of more sober affairs’.

What’s the music like?

Deeply felt and pleasingly elusive. There are a number of influences at play here, including shoegaze and post rock, together with his own long standing ability to paint a scene with just a few notes.

Tobin’s voice doesn’t tend to go beyond a murmur but he still uses it expressively. With the descriptive Stinson Beach he combines woozy vocals with a slightly wavering pitch on the electronics to good effect, creating an air of mystery. The multilayered vocal and shimmering textures of the title track work really well, while the musical language of Best Be Sure, with dreamy vocals from Figueroa, has a hint of the African desert about its principal riff.

Tobin brings elegance to A Year To The Day, whose riff spins a web of intrigue. The Girl With The Great Ideas (That I Steal) has a similarly enchanting air, with some clever play on perspective and panning.

Does it all work?

Yes – Tobin sets the fuzzy scene early on and it permeates the like a heat haze. The unfocused elements of his work put the album in a dreamlike state, and the lack of bass keeps it floating in mid air. A word, too, for the cover photography by Jr Korpa – as good a match of music and image as you could wish to see.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Stone Giants is another string to Amon Tobin’s already impressive bow, revealing another side of his personality – and the romantic, lovelorn side suits him.

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Switched On: Toby Wiltshire – Shunyata : Emptiness (Cue Dot Records)

toby-wiltshire

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Cue Dot model deserves some examination, for this is no ordinary record label. It is a not-for-profit organisation, run by Paul Scott in Derbyshire, and is fronted by the flagship Cue Dot Series, now up to seven records strong. This is an opportunity for collaboration within electronic music, and the participating artists are given full control over the content and titles. The artwork, however, follows the same distinctive and particularly attractive circle pack design, best explained in the press release as ‘representing the infinite possibilities opened up through an electronic palette’.

The seventh in the series is given to Leeds-based composer Toby Wiltshire, who responds with an album using Buddhist imagery and concepts as its stimulation. Wiltshire’s free-standing style allows for slow, untethered musical movement, adding field recordings, modular synths and software to the equation. It is music for mindfulness, but with a license to develop along the way.

What’s the music like?

Wiltshire achieves a very appealing blend of stillness and activity in his work, which immediately carries the promise of outdoor activity. This in itself is stimulating, given the amount of time we have all spent indoors over the last 15 months, so the running water and soft, sleepy tones of Mist Clearing On The Mountain give the listener a chance to acclimatise to the new surroundings.

Wiltshire works and intertwines the seven recordings with the ease of a man who has been composing for 20 years, and he knows instinctively how to let the music breathe as much as it needs to. There are no explicit melodies but there are thoughts and moods that recur as each track proceeds, each keeping a firm grasp on tonality.

Running water and soft tones are also an appealing feature of Floating Consciousness, aptly named, with harmonics on the stringed instruments that give a glint to the edge of the overall sound. Karuna holds a beautiful poise, shifting slowly in the equivalent of a soft musical breeze, while Glimpse uses higher, quite shrill pitches but counters them with sounds in the middle distance. Orange Light is lovely, painting a series of closely matched, complementary musical colours like a Rothko painting.

One of the most restful scenes is found within Sakura, where bird-like noises call across the rippling texture. We could be in a vast cave, or out on the edge of a swamp in the rain – both examples of the pictures Wiltshire’s music forms in the listener’s mind. The Wave And The Water brings everything to rest at the end, with the gentle undulations implied by the title gradually evening out.

Does it all work?

It does – and if anything could be extended to an even longer piece of work. Yet Wiltshire leaves the listener wanting more, and as his work responds to repeated listening, it is easy to go round again immediately – a good state to be in. Talking of states, you will certainly end this album in a calmer condition then when you began it!

Is it recommended?

Very much so – and if like me you are using this as a point of entry to the Cue Dot series, it works as a starting point from which to enjoy the other six. There is much to admire about this label, and we will explore more in due course, but for now the wide open stage is Toby Wiltshire’s, and his music is very easy to experience and admire.

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