Switched On – Twinkle3: Minor Planets (Marionette)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Minor Planets completes a trilogy spanning 15 years from Twinkle 3. The trio – Richard Scott, David Ross and Clive Bell – have a very open musical approach, which on this album allows influences from diverse sources such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Stockhausen to be taken in, via some sounds of the Far East evoked by Bell’s shakuhachi. The press release for Minor Planets tells a vivid story, promising ‘aleatoric analogue sequencing, chamber-like acoustic improvisation and dub treatments’…which ‘become distilled into a district and emotive narrative that takes us on an exilharating hyperspace cruise to the outer reaches.’

What’s the music like?

Fluid, instinctive and never less than intriguing. Minor Planets captures the sense of emptiness outer space portrays, but also the elements of strangeness, discovery and wonder. From the strange ticking and slightly acidic electronics of Opik 2099 to the mysterious Ziziyu 26946, the textures constantly evolve and the dubby beats provide both comfort and on occasion edginess. The shanachi sounds rather wonderful when used on Soma 2815 and on Kallope 22, taking the listener far away.

Does it all work?

Yes, it does, though headphones are recommended to get the best sonic perspective. Minor Planets does indeed take the listener far from home on its nine very different excursions.

Is it recommended?

Definitely. Those with a mind for ambient music should seek this out, especially if they like a bit of exploration and experimentation at the same time.

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Switched On – Manu Delago: Circadian Live (One Little Independent)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Releasing a live album in these times of isolation is a bittersweet experience. Manu Delago will know more than most, as he has played well over 1,000 gigs – but this is the one program he wanted to freeze frame and share with his home audience.

The music centres on the European tour of Delago’s Cicadian album in late 2019, where the 18 gigs in 21 days were performed by the nine-piece Cicadian Ensemble. This is a band long in the making but with a pleasing symmetry, three players each assigned to the areas of percussion, strings and wind instruments.

The aim of Cicadian Live is to show that while electronic music forms an important part of Delago’s thinking, his musical communication is equally strong – and arguably emotionally deeper – through acoustic performance.

What’s the music like?

Every bit as enchanting as we heard on Cicadian, but with the added frisson of the live music environment. To hear these tracks evolve in the moment is to be there in the cycle with Delago himself, hanging on the next move of each of his instrumentalists.

As tracks like Draem evolve, with their striking textures, the ear is drawn to each new melodic development, each percussive layer and each twang of the string bass. Delago’s enchanting sound world benefits greatly from the intimacy of these live recordings, and the instinctive chemistry between all the players involved.

The collection Immediately creates its own rarefied atmosphere with The Silent Flight Of The Owl, one of Cicadian’s standout moments, and does not let up until we are set down 70 minutes later with B.F.G.

In the middle there are intimate moments of rare beauty, where the listener dare not breathe lest the peace be broken, and these contrasts with powerful bursts of momentum such as Almost Thirty, where a series of crescendos break out into no-holds barred freak-outs, and Zeitgeber, a blend of virtuosity and concentrated feeling which is a testament to the fine musicianship of all involved.

The brassy rasps of Satori work well, building up a head of steam, and contrast nicely with the ripples of Circadian itself, stopping time to mesmerising effect. Down To The Summit, like Almost Thirty a fully scored piece from 2015’s Silver Kobalt, captivates with its twists and turns.

Does it all work?

Yes, because the instincts and musical understanding of the nine ensemble members is compelling the whole way through. This was clearly a special tour, and it serves to hear the new tracks from the Cicadian album rub shoulders with the more established Delago output.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. The live album works even better if you have heard the studio account of Cicadian first – but if not it serves as an excellent introduction to Delago’s craft. Each track sets its own unique atmosphere but captures the attention with intricacy, craft and spontaneity.

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Switched On – Digitonal: Set The Weather Fair (Just Music)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

For Digitonal’s fourth studio album, Andrew Dobson is joined by producer Dom Graveson for a fusion of analogue and digital setting natural scenes to vivid music. Set The Weather Fair will be a comforting reassurance to those who have already enjoyed Dobson’s first three albums under the Digitonal moniker, but this one offers greater depths of texture and musicianship.

What’s the music like?

Blissful – but also wholly immersive. This is music that paints vivid pictures but in the same breath possesses a great deal of emotion. One of the biggest pluses here is the way Dobson uses his clarinet and cello to colour the textures and to make the melodies more distinctive. He also knows his way around small and expansive structures – the ten-minute Gold Of The Azure is every bit as captivating as The End Is Just The Beginning that follows it.

Those two tracks are notable for their use of the clarinet, which comes to the fore on Gold Of The Azure, and then the cello on The End Is Just The Beginning, which features a slowly tolling piano. The Dance’s Pattern, too, is ideally paced.

On his Bandcamp page Dobson sets out the story behind the album and its sonic images, citing a number of influences in a modest tribute to the music he listens to. The truth of the matter is however that this music, instrumental thought it is in his make-up, is all used to make a wholly original piece of work, a recognisably British affair where both restraint and bold colours are used to great effect.

Does it all work?

Yes. The colours are captivating, the use of beats and beatless music is just right, and the proportions feel right too. Dobson has a winning way with melody, and Graveson’s production nouse is the icing on the cake.

Is it recommended?

It is. Set The Weather Fair can easily be divided into the nine elements that make up the whole, but it is best experienced in a single sitting, a seamless flow of musical ambience that settles the mind and gently moves the soul. It is right up there with Digitonal’s best work.

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Switched On – Detroit Love 4 mixed by Mirko Loko (Detroit Love / !K7)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Carl Craig’s Detroit Love mix series moves onto a fourth instalment under the watchful eye of Mirko Loko, who Craig recruited for the Detroit Electronic Music Festival back in 2001. With such a longstanding attachment to the city and its techno heritage, the Swiss DJ is a natural choice and takes the chance to say thank you to Detroit and its cultural legacy. He does so in the form of a 22-track mix including homegrown talent but also casting an eye further afield to show off the influence of the city.

What’s the music like?

This is a really fine set, mixed with impressive fluidity by Mirko Loko. From the start he creates a good deal of space, Fred P’s Vision In Osaka setting the scene beautifully before Loko’s own excellent Detroit Love Mix of It’s Like, with persuasive vocals from Ursula Rucker. As the mix proceeds Loko moves between quite minimal tracks and bigger, expansive moments like Chaos In The CBD’s Comfort Zone, or the blissful Aos Si of Takuya Yamashita.

However the real high point comes with Derrick May’s appearance on Loko’s Mentors Heritage, a mix made especially for the compilation. The booming voice and percussion are an ideal match, especially when segueing into the bare bones of the piano in Laurent Garnier’s mix of Gilb’R’s Pressure.

From then the mix rolls on, taking in the propulsive Madness of Temo Howard before an excellent finish from Mirko Loko and Stacey Pullen with Tronic Illusion – another exclusive mix – and Lady B’s Cruising Around Motor City.

Does it all work?

It does indeed. Well paced, structured and full of subtly euphoric moments uniting past and present in an effortless blend.

Is it recommended?

Yes – a very strong addition to what is proving to be an extremely collectable series.

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Let’s Dance – Róisín Murphy: Róisín Machine (Skint / BMG)

Róisín MurphyRóisín Machine (Skint / BMG)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

A new Róisín Murphy album is always a cause for celebration – whether it has been with her band Moloko or, in more recent times, a solo record in collaboration with a number of electronic music luminaries. This time around Róisín Machine, her first long player in four years, sees her working once again with Crooked Man aka Richard Barratt.

As if the new album was not enough Murphy has been busy making visual complements to the music under lockdown.

What’s the music like?

It is difficult to imagine a more stylish artist than Róisín Murphy. Even with Moloko it felt like her expressiveness matched the music in an effortless way, which made the finished result even more stylish and cool. Little has changed under her own name, though if anything the music is more dance based and the vocals even more meaningful.

Róisín Machine tells a story, threaded beautifully from start to finish, and as a result it works best when heard in a complete span. There are many telling lyrics, but the opening gambit, “I feel my story’s still untold, but I make my own happy ending”, sets the scene perfectly, after which Murphy and Barratt concoct a persuasive, loping groove.

Questions are asked as the album progresses. Kingdom Of Ends finds the singer “waking up every morning, thinking what the hell am I doing?”, while even during the cool chic of Shellfish Madamoiselle, with its bumpy beats and warm synthesizers, she feels that “I shouldn’t be dancing at a time like this”.

Difficult, though, when the music is so persuasive. The groove and vocal of Something More are a perfect match, the stylish slow disco-house brilliantly done. The same, too, goes for the effortless groove of Incapable. For the last two tracks, Narcissus and Jealousy, the tempo quickens and the pulse rate too, Róisín more obviously on the dancefloor.

The most compelling stories are told in Murphy’s Law, however, where she sings of how “I’d rather be alone than making do and mending”, but finds her instincts are pulling her in different directions.

Does it all work?

Yes – either as a single whole or as individual tracks, Róisín Machine is brilliantly worked through. The singer sounds completely at home, but at the same time there are thought provoking lyrics and feet-provoking grooves.

Is it recommended?

Wholeheartedly. This is an album that embodies the saying ‘Style never goes out of fashion’. Róisín Murphy remains one of our finest vocalists, and like a fine wine is just continuing to improve with age. Richard Barratt proves the ideal match in the production department, and together the two have made one of the best pop albums of the year.

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