Switched On – Ocoeur: Everything (n5MD)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Franck Zaragoza’s sixth album as Ocoeur comes with a plea. It is about getting people to restore their communication to a more direct level of humanity, rather than spending all the time gazing at devices, heads down.

With a wish that we engage with ‘Everything’ around us, Zaragoza gets to work on a broad, ambient canvas, producing an album of six rather beautiful tracks. The one-word titles speak of the simplicity he is searching for in his music.

What’s the music like?

Everything is a beauty. With it Zaragoza manages to suspend conventional feelings of time. Setting out its scope with the Jean Michel Jarre leanings of Ascent, laden with melancholy, it presents a simple, tonal musical language that evolves beautifully.

The title track introduces a kick drum as punctuation, though the appearance of any drums is relatively rare. Current has icy percussion around the edges as it unwraps a chilly, watery scene. Glow also uses shards of rhythm to accompany its luminous keyboards, unfolding at a natural pace.

It is however the closing pair of Dawn and Dusk that leave a lasting mark. At 20 minutes between them, they have an easy, natural progression across space and time in direct opposition to the busy digital environments around us. There is very little to anchor either production to the ground, but the floated motifs work really well.

Does it all work?

Yes. The softly reflective nature of this music makes it ideal for either end of the day, and Ocoeur’s slow yet measured progressions take place through sounds the listener can dive into.

Is it recommended?

Wholeheartedly. Its sentiment is spot on, but so is the feeling you get after 40 minutes spent in Ocoeur’s company. A cleansing and subtly uplifting experience.

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Everything is released on Friday February 28 on n5MD

Switched On – Kennebec: Departure (Night Time Stories)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Olympic Peninsula in Washington state is a world away from downtown New York, but the two link Eric Phillips’ first album as Kennebec. Suffering from the sensory overload that many can experience in one of the world’s most vibrant cities, Phillips and his friends were looking for an escape, and their time in the Northwest gave them not just solace but musical impetus.

Phillips is now based in Portland Oregon, but Departure will serve as a musical diary of his Washington sojourn.

What’s the music like?

Departure is the result of two years’ musical endeavour, but rather than sounding like a long, laborious piece of work, it is notable for its freshness. The wide open textures speak of pure musical and mental freedom, while the rich selection of instruments and textures suggest a complete lack of restrictions. The musical language is open too – with electronica as a loose base, Phillips and friends explore Western musical forms but are open to inclusion and variety.

In the course of its 35 minutes Departures makes good and imaginative use of Mirabai Peart’s violin and viola, with a silvery tone the base for Kalahari and some nice, multiple string work on A Monsoon. Phillips also uses the ngoni and kalimba in the course of his musical explorations, as well as classical guitar – all of which he plays himself. They give tracks like Pipe Dreams and As We Grow Older a rarefied air.

Add to this some imaginative studio-based rhythms and you have a flexible style of music that rewards several approaches.

Does it all work?

Yes. Departure works from several musical angles. Electronica lovers will enjoy its fresh approach and freely cast rhythms, while traditional music fans will appreciate the sensitive blending of different styles. This is fusion of genres at its best, done in a way that needs no labelling at all.

Emotionally the music is very open, reflective on occasion but imbued with a fresh energy at others, as though the creator has emerged from a particularly good and invigorating night’s sleep. Spend more time with it and it will have a similar effect on you, the listener!

Is it recommended?

Very much so. Departure works at either end of the day and provides the opportunity of a clean and clear mindful state for its listeners. Think of it as a palette cleanser and a fresh approach, and you will take plenty from its charms.

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https://open.spotify.com/album/1AIeBT51FcDEI4ZblHmCUT?si=jIPCjaNmRx6pyV5s6W17ZA

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Switched On – Recondite: Dwell (Ghostly International)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Recondite has been criticised for sounding the same between albums – as recently as the last few days – but when your output is as beautifully set up as his it would seem churlish to change your style unless you feel a strong conviction to do it. Real name Lorenz Brunner, he also recognises that his devoted fanbase thrive on his ability to continue doing what he does so well – and Dwell is the result of those endeavours.

What’s the music like?

Introverted but rhythmic. Dwell stays on the darker side where harmonies and atmospherics are concerned but there is a strong element of comfort to its vibes, a nice balance of warmth and cold.

Nobilia and Black Letter are two of the best tracks, both with starry flickers. In spite of the delicate drum tracks there is still a good deal of movement too. Mirror Games explores some rather lovely effects that are the sonic equivalent of dancing light patterns, refracting out over a bigger perspective. Moon Pearl is dubby, with light and shade, while Interlude 2 and Surface also explore a slower tempo to good effect. Wire Threat is extremely deep, the muffled kick drum and held bass a bed for slowly shifting, twinkling keyboards to move over.

Does it all work?

Yes. Brunner’s music reveals more than you think it might on first listen, describing a picture the listener can create for themselves. It is darkly shaded and nocturnal, but is ultimately a strong companion to have around. Turn the music up and it works well in a small club space too.

Is it recommended?

Yes. Our perception might be that Recondite may not be challenging himself overly, but it takes great craft and invention to keep interesting in electronic music. Dwell is full of good things, and provides proof that Brunner is still producing some beautiful music. Those who already love his output will see no reason to hesitate here.

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Let’s Dance – Crosstown Rebels present Spirits III (Crosstown Rebels)

Various ArtistsCrosstown Rebels presents Spirits III (Crosstown Rebels)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

In the press release for the latest instalment of their Spirits compilation, Crosstown Rebels founder Damian Lazarus explains why the series has become so important to him. He sees it as ‘a very important annual mission in which my focus is to uncover some of the most exciting new underground music and piece it together in a way that makes a statement for the label. In discovering new artists and putting them side by side with established people we are setting new agendas for sound and for the future. These are battle weapons, freshly unearthed anthems, deep experiments and awakenings’.

What’s the music like?

Very much in keeping with the press release. There are several striking cuts here, and as Lazarus says it’s a very healthy blend of the known names and new ones. Not surprisingly the known names includes Lazarus himself, and his Ergot starts proceedings with a deep track whose riff almost slips down the back of the music.

Elsewhere the chunky beats and bass of Denney and James Dexter’s Transcend are a hit, as is the brooding Creatures Of The Night from Aiwaska with Jimmy Wit an H. Arguably the most distinctive and memorable track comes from Cipy and Knowkontrol, whose Newark has a really good falsetto vocal as its main hook. Dennis Cruz gives a nice trumpet imitation of an elephant to add a bit of humourous deep jazz to Mother Earth, while Harry Romero reinforces his reputation for fine house music with the excellent It’s You, a kind of mini chant that really gets going over bleeps and a nippy beat. The tempo drops a bit for Eli & Fur at the end, their collaboration with Brothertiger She’s Just A Wanderer a loping piece of dub-house that works really well.

Does it all work?

Yes. It’s well laid out and delivered, and does exactly what a fan of Crosstown Rebels would want it to do.

Is it recommended?

Yes, for the above reasons! House music is the main name of the game here, but Damian Lazarus has put together a really good set of forward facing Spirits that deserve to be heard.

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You can buy the compilation from the Phonica Records website here

Switched On – BUNKR: The Initiation Well Remixed (VLSI)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

BUNKR’s album The Initiation Well proved to be one of the sleeper electronic hits of 2019, showing off the ability of Brighton’s James Dean to present an album of really well thought out electronica.

Now as a companion piece he has commissioned an album’s worth of remixes, with eight very different interpretations ranging from Digitonal to preston.outatime.

What’s the music like?

Both calming and invigorating, in equal measure. The collection is presented in a logical order, so we begin with a dreamy Digitonal remix of For The Birds, setting the scene beautifully as the track is left in suspension, bisected by a soft piano.

Fujiya & Miyagi do a typically fuzzy take on Solitary Drift, with added flutter and distortion that suits it really well – and their own half-whispered vocals. Octavcat then ensure Solar Wings takes off with its broad chords and busy rhythm.

The upfront, block beats of preston.outatime take Left For Dust to a tougher dancefloor, while Jonathan Krisp gets some acidic squiggles going against the slow moving backdrop of The Initiation Well itself. East Of Eden acquires more bleeps and movement, a really nice glitchy bit of techno applied by Lextron, while the remix of Docking Procedure finds Infinite Scale going under the surface with a head-nodding bit of dub. Finally label heads Echaskech apply their typically robust beats to a heady remix of Left For Dust.

Does it all work?

Yes. Importantly this set of remixes works as an album too, such is the intelligent arrangement of different tempos, textures and beats. All the BUNKR originals are complemented but remain recognisably the work of Dean himself.

Is it recommended?

Very much so. If you liked the original album you’ll find this imaginatively realised remix collection complements it perfectly.

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