Switched On – Plaid: Feorm Falorx (Warp Records)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Plaid have now been with Warp Records for 30 years, which is an astonishing length of time in electronic music. In that time they have established themselves as a consistent source of innovation and quality, with a distinctive musical style that evades categorisation but still provides a great deal of harmonic and colourful interest.

To say that the duo – Ed Handley and Andy Turner – are underrated would be judging it about right, for audiences have simply grown accustomed to their regular output of interesting and vital music. As with the previous ten albums, Feorm Falorx has a curious title, which relates to an imaginary performance at the Feorm festival on the planet Falorx, where musicians are removed from time, space and the physical limitations of their bodies.

The album is a proper concept, to be accompanied with visual content and a graphic novel.

What’s the music like?

Plaid’s music continues in a life all of its own, and true to form this album is a distinctive yet elusive set of compositions. Alternately serious and playful, their music still sounds incredibly fresh – and, appropriately, as though it has beamed in from another planet.

There is so much going on in a typical Plaid track, with so many nuances and instinctive changes of gear, that it takes several listens for thorough appreciation of what the pair achieve in the course of their tracks.

The fictional festival set bursts into life with Perspex, a rush of spring-like germination which also sounds like a set of melodic wind chimes. The following Modenet has a foursquare rhythm, but as with a lot of Plaid’s work there is syncopation in play, giving it a slightly quirky disposition.

Elsewhere, Wondergan is as close as Plaid will surely get to the disco, with its chirpy riffing and swinging rhythm, while the Mason Bee collaboration Nightcrawler has a momentum borne of Krautrock.

C.A. has an impressive scope and a longer, majestic line, going deeper in its emotion. Meanwhile Cwtchr starts brightly but gradually a shadow falls over its complexion through the darker shades of the bass. Speaking of bass, Bowl is appropriately named, powered by a sonorous and rounded lower line.

Return To Return reminds us of how many layers Plaid can get into a track, with rich sounds that are stripped away to reveal the workings of their rhythm section. Later on, as the set hits its peak, the stabbing riffs of Tomason and the increasingly sharp synth lines of Wide I cut through like otherworldly rave anthems.

Does it all work?

It does. There is a lot going on here, but as always with Plaid nothing is superfluous, and the sheer enjoyment of making electronic music comes through.

Is it recommended?

It is – and it really is time that we stopped taking Plaid for granted as much as they do. They continue to make exquisitely crafted music, beautifully shaped and richly coloured. Those on the planet of Falorx are in for a treat!

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Switched On – Gold Panda: The Work (City Slang)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Derwin Dicker’s fourth album under the Gold Panda alias arrives with a new outlook from the producer on looking after his mental health.

In a refreshingly frank press release, he talks of the difficulty of looking after a new person with the birth of his first daughter, and the challenges that brought to his own self-care. In particular he refers to a eureka moment in a Japanese hotel, where he realised the destructive aftereffects of alcohol on his wellbeing. The album’s title The Work reflects the efforts made to look at things from a different perspective, and a self-help program including therapy, running, pilates and an osteopath.

Dicker has always been very open about his state of mind and its influence on his music, and now it looks as though he has arrived at a happy place. “I don’t know where I fit in”, he says, “and maybe that’s good.”

What’s the music like?

A breath of fresh air – but one that draws in oxygen from more than one continent.

After a gentle start on Swimmer, where electronic waves lap at an imaginary shore, The Dream introduces bright colours and easy beats, along with a vibrant harp solo that adds a distinctly Eastern colour.

This inter-continental approach has always been one of Gold Panda’s strongest qualities, and it proves to be the case once again here. Similarly his awareness of instrumental colour leads to consistently fresh approaches, giving his sound a bright treble and a wide, open-air perspective.

The beatless Anima reflects this with some lovely colours, while deeper shades run through Chrome. The Want is built on a distracted loop that acquires a jumpy, energetic rhythm and bass line, as though two songs have merged from different directions. One is drowsy and the other energetic, leading to a strange but invigorating tension in the middle, topped again by electronic harp.

I’ve Felt Better (Than I Do Now) is more club-based, powered by a four to the floor rhythm and with several interlocking hooks before cutting to slower, more exotic passage. Perhaps the best track is Plastic Future, a multi-layered track mixing percussive thoughts and a high harp line, shot through with warm keyboards in the centre – a feeling on which New Days and I Spiral capitalize.

Does it all work?

It does. Dicker’s music never feels too processed, with a freshness running through the textures akin to opening the curtains for the first time on a sunny day.

Is it recommended?

Yes, enthusiastically. The Gold Panda body of work is consistently stimulating, and this colourful album is one of Derwin Dicker’s finest achievements within that.

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Switched On – Romare: Fantasy (You See)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

After a number of album releases for Ninja Tune (Projections, Love Songs: Part Two and Home), Romare sets sail on his own label You See. Here he delivers a new 8-track album, bringing more of his own instrumentation and vocals to the fore alongside previously honed sampling techniques. On Fantasy, Romare (real name Archie Fairhurst) is able to also bring in audio clips from 1970s fantasy cinema, which proved a lasting inspiration during lockdown.

Fairhurst also cites a love of the band Gryphon and the influence of Medieval music on the album.

What’s the music like?

Playful and affectionate, though not afraid to get down and dirty when it wants to. The influence of Medieval music is most evident in its touching simplicity, while on other occasions Romare’s music is a lot more layered, with plenty going on.

Priestless chugs along with displaced voices, brassy undertones and fun riffing, its direction never easy to trace. Dungeon and the excellent Seventh Seal are more beat driven too, the latter exploring suspended synths which are initially hazy but then let loose in thrilling fashion. Sunset is energetic and quite playful, too.

At the other end of the beat spectrum sits the blissful Walking In The Rain, an easy and effortless stroll where the rhythm track and vocal – perfect for this month’s British weather! – go hand in hand. Closing track The Fool taps into a similar vibe, showing how easily Romare can switch between intense sample-based workouts and pieces of music that take us outside for a breather.

Does it all work?

It does. There are no particular rules to Fantasy, which make the resultant music all the more winsome. Fairhurst’s blend of carefree structure and more careful, studied looping works really well.

Is it recommended?

It is. Previous albums showed Romare to be imaginative and creative in rhythm and sound – Fantasy builds on that and shows he is progressing to be a producer of some repute.

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On Record: Set Fire To Flames – Sings Reign Rebuilder (21st anniversary reissue) (130701)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The collective Set Fire To Flames were destined to release just two albums – but their debut Sings Reign Rebuilder has developed something of a cult following since its release in 2001. In the UK it was released on the Fat Cat imprint 130701 as its first ever release, the reason the whole label was begun – and it sold out within weeks. 21 years later it returns in the form of a remaster, reissued on a heavyweight black vinyl double LP.

Set Fire To Flames were a 14-piece collective set up in Montreal, with links to all manner of post rock or experimental outfits, including Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mt Zion, Exhaust, Fly Pan Am and Hangedup. Godspeed’s guitarist David Bryant was effectively the group supervisor, establishing the membership and taking ownership of the recording, which took place in one heavily concentrated improvisation session.

For five days in an old Montreal house, the newly assembled band explored making music in one confined space, in various states of sleep deprivation and intoxication. The many hours resulting from the sessions were heavily edited, with Sings Reign Rebuilder the result.

What’s the music like?

In a word, uneasy! Yet that would be to throw away the obvious amount of effort that went into both the recording and editing processes.

Despite the name of the collective, Sings Reign Rebuilder is seriously dark and often mournful music. It does however have an intensity that is rare in instrumental music, the strength of feeling you would associate with classical music from the likes of Penderecki or Gorecki – even though this is improvised music from Montreal.

The band’s use of stringed instruments is especially gripping. Omaha… begins as a sorrowful duet, while the towering slow burner that is Shit-Heap-Gloria Of The New Town Planning… has a very steady build that culminates with the oscillation of two violins in a dark duet. There is also intense cello interplay on Two Tears In A Bucket.

Elsewhere the outlook tends to be rooted in noise – and a good deal of that is unsettling, with scratchy effects not too far removed from nails down a blackboard, or traffic-based noises that have a more mechanical basis. Vienna Arcweld… behaves like an instrument that refuses to function fully, with a sawing motion in the treble register, while Cote D’Abrahams Room Tone starts with what sounds like roadworks – and yet somehow possesses an ambience of the everyday. Injur: Gutted Two-Track also fidgets with extraneous noise.

Vocals are rare, though those used on Wild Dogs Of The Thunderbolt draw the listener in.

Does it all work?

It does – but the unremitting intensity and darkly shaded processes mean that this is not music for all seasons or moods. When it crackles into life, though, the music of Set Fire To Flames is hypnotic and magnificently brooding with its drones and subtle melodic interplay.

Is it recommended?

It is, as a highly effective project with compelling musical results. In remastered form, Sings Reign Rebuilder is even more gripping than it was in 2001.

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Switched On – Lomond Campbell: Under The Hunger Moon We Fell (One Little Independent)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The third instalment of Lomond Campbell’s experiments with music based on tape loops is a primal affair. While he was nearing completion of the album there was a dramatic Supermoon phenomenon known as a Hunger Moon, which occurs at the end of winter when predators are at their most desperate.

For his source material Campbell took 140 tape loops, stacked up on top of each other, and gradually whittled them down until, as the press release says, ‘the bare bones of something musical started to show itself’ on each track. The three-part project of music based on tape loops has its origins in a request from King Creosote, who was looking for a custom tape looping machine. Campbell obliged – but in the process created a musical instrument he wanted to get to know.

What’s the music like?

Moody and rather magnificent.

The title and recording process explain the album’s extremes of emotions, from intense and sudden soul searching to unexpected tenderness – but make no mistake, this is not a record that drifts complacently through the middle.

There is often an exploratory feel to this music, from the way a lone synthesizer line winds its way up through the misty textures of Bastard Wing, and the way the violin dominates Phonon For No One, with a busy drum track rather like the steady thrum of horses’ hooves underneath. Yet there is stillness too, best heard through the tolling piano that begins Leave Only Love Behind, an atmospheric tale.

We hear Lomond Campbell the vocalist for the first time, on For The Uncarved – a striking set of timbres providing the backing for his heavily manipulated but distinctive voice, which is eventually swamped by a rush of white noise.

Often the elements are close at hand, such as on the wide open and windswept track The Mountain And The Pendulum, a panorama with vivid outlines and a sweeping backdrop. It is another demonstration of how good Campbell is at setting the scene and allowing the climate to take over.

Does it all work?

Yes. Though often darkly tinged, this is a compelling piece of work – and compressed, too, the seven tracks weighing in at little more than .dfgd

Is it recommended?

Very much so. It will have you – as it did me – working back through Lomond Campbell’s impressive discography to check if there is anything that hasn’t been missed. Highly recommended, both as a trilogy and as this single, searching element.

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