Switched on – Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: The Mosaic Of Transformation (Ghostly International)

What’s the story?

It is tempting to put forward the idea that what the musical world needs right now is a new album from t Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. That is because the music she has made up until now is not just a comfort for anxious times but it offers real, meaningful positivity from within. Recognising that potential, Ghostly International have proceeded with the album release rather than defer it, meaning that while Smith’s tour with Caribou may be cancelled the album she would be promoting is still with us.

Her previous release, Tides, was free of beats, and much of the rhythmic profile of The Mosaic Of Transformation is constructed without explicit use of bass drums. Yet it is an album of movement, exploring the relationship between sound and colour, and our own physical beings. She has a great wealth of knowledge and experience in this area, making music specifically designed to ‘fit’ our life experiences in a way that enhances them.

What’s the music like?

The Mosaic Of Transformation is light on its feet much of the time, but that does not make it insubstantial. Quite the opposite, for in tracks like Expanding Electricity, the ten and a half minute closing track on the album, Smith has put together sound collages of a deep and lasting beauty and also of a surprising density. If music were colour – which it often is of course – there would be deep blues and purples in this track especially, beginning with sonorous low register strings but curving upwards through the spectrum. When her multitracked voice proclaims, ‘I feel it, can you feel it expanding?’, the celebration of electrical power is wholeheartedly complete.

This love of electricity – without which very little of our music could be heard! – is felt throughout the album, where brighter pastel shades make themselves known. Carrying Gravity is another substantial track that develops instinctively and with a keen structural command. It has a luminous glow, especially as the textures thin out towards the end.

Some of the harmonic language Smith uses has an Oriental feel, which is either implied or more directly referenced – and the busy exchanges of The Steady Heart bring this through to the front. It is subtly apparent as the album gurgles into life through Unbraiding Boundless Energy Within Boundaries, while Remembering uses block chords and Smith’s distinctive layered vocals. After the initial relative stillness Understanding Body Messages stays true to its title with snippets of musical code passing along the line, conveying positive energy.

The beats are more gainfully employed in The Steady Heart, which has multi-layered vocals at its core – but everything is inevitably pointed to the closing, epic ode to electrical power.

Does it all work?

Yes – and the more you listen to The Mosaic Of Transformation, the more it has to offer. Smith’s layering technique is a sonic delight, because each visit to the music reveals previously hidden workings, subtle melodic touches and crossrhythms, all done with a light craftswoman’s touch. As the last sounds of Expanding Electricity subside, a lasting warmth is left behind.

Is it recommended?

Yes – and the more you listen to The Mosaic Of Transformation, the more it has to offer. Smith’s layering technique is a sonic delight, and each visit to the music reveals previously hidden workings, subtle melodic touches and crossrhythms, all done with a light craftswoman’s touch. As the last sounds of Expanding Electricity subside, a lasting warmth is left behind.

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Switched on – Hodge: Shadows In Blue (Houndstooth)

What’s the story?

Having made a guest appearance on the Houndstooth compilation IDDK in 2018, Hodge joins full-time to release his debut LP on the label. He joins a list of luminaries such as Special Request, Throwing Snow, Aisha Devi and Marquis Hawkes.

Hodge – real name Jacob Martin – says his inspirations for the album come from pleasingly diverse sources such as gardening, science fiction, progressive rock and a penchant for raving.

What’s the music like?

Shadows In Blue feels like an outdoor record, as its inspirations would imply – yet it does occasionally disappear indoors for a heavy session clubbing. Hodge keeps his door open to a number of different styles, working with busy loops and spacious backdrops on the title track, and looking back in time to the mid-1990s for the rave he craves in Cutie.

Ghost Of Akina also feels older with its clattering beats, while Lanes keeps the energy high but takes a more machine-like approach. Meanwhile Lanacut gives a view of a more private side to the producer.

The progressive rock elements are not quite so explicit but are probably better made known in the original structures both of the tracks and the album. There is certainly a psychedelic strand that reveals itself when the busier tracks get going.

Does it all work?

Yes, it’s a very cohesive album and Hodge has a busy state of mind that keeps energy levels high. His may not yet be a wholly distinctive voice but there are a lot of good things to commend Shadows In Blue, which shows how he knows his way round a studio.

Is it recommended?

Yes – as a signpost for the future especially. Shadows In Blue is a strong debut from a producer who joins a crowded field of British techno talent. It will be interesting to see how he progresses and how his individual voice blossoms from here.

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Switched on – Nathan Fake: Blizzards (Cambria Instruments)

What’s the story?

Blizzards began with Nathan Fake’s intention to soundtrack ‘the ideal rave’. Heavily based on his live shows, it was made with an eye on musical instinct, going with the moment and effectively going back to first principles.

The Norfolk producer’s fifth album, Blizzards’ title is a nod towards the chaotic politics of the UK in recent times, but its spirit is about channeling positive energy in response.

What’s the music like?

By turns, the music in Blizzards is invigorating and heartwarming. Fake has always been able to summon up kinetic energy without a moment’s notice, which explains why the album gets off to such a strong start with Cry Me A Blizzard, but it’s an approach that bears fruit elsewhere with the twists, turns and clattering breakbeats of Firmament. Vectra and Eris & Dysnomia power upwards from deep bass movements, their loops sweeping all before them, while Torch Song is all about the euphoric treble, with rushes of white sound and widescreen percussive movement. Tbilisi, meanwhile, has sonorous bell-like textures to counter the fizzing drum track

These heady, hedonistic moments of abandon are beautifully countered by warm-hearted thoughts and rich harmonies. Ezekiel evolves magically, from primitive beginnings to brightly lit vistas all centred on a majestic melodic loop, taking the listener on an immersive trip. It is a real beauty, one of Fake’s warmest musical thoughts to date. The closing Vitesse, with all energy spent, revels in the comedown of a good and thoroughly satisfying night, slowly descending in pitch as it comes in to land.

Does it all work?

Yes, handsomely. Nathan Fake has always shown a strong suitability for the album format but here, on his own label, he works brilliantly well with a combination of structure and flexibility. The instinctive approach gives Blizzards a human edge and a warmth that might not have been so apparent had the music been more studio-governed.

Is it recommended?

Without hesitation. In a competitive field, Blizzards is probably Nathan Fake’s finest piece of work to date, confirming him to be one of the top talents of the day in UK electronic music.

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Switched on – Douglas Greed: Angst (3000° Grad)

What’s the story?

The story behind Angst is one made for these times. Douglas Greed returns to long-playing action five years after his previous outing for the BPitch Control label. The press release behind the album talks extensively about fear, a state of mind we have all experienced over the last few months – but it explores how Greed has used it in a positive sense.

He is not alone either, enlisting the services of vocalist Joy Wellboy for the resilient album bookends Roll With The Punches and Not Afraid. Meanwhile Odd Beholder takes over vocal duties for two further songs, The Few and Numbers.

What’s the music like?

Very easy on the ear. Greed writes intimate music that is ultimately comforting, especially in the unison vocal achieved with Wellboy for Roll With The Punches, which is complemented by long, serene melodies. Odd Beholder’s tracks are also cool, offering a good contrast to the instrumentals around, and on The Few there is a nice, full bass.

Of the instrumentals, The Taste Of Dust is effective with the extra atmosphere of its muted trumpet, while the harmonic shades of Wie man unsterbliche Tiere züchtet complement the spoken word sample. The Future Will Repeat Itself has quite an ominous warning but opens out nicely into broader textures, while the sharper tones of Everybody Wants To Live In A Mansion hint at busier dancefloors.

Greed saves the most uplifting and resourceful track until last, Wellboy’s contribution to Not Afraid packing a strong emotional message and depth.

Does it all work?

Yes, and Angst works well as a single unit, its structure paced just right. On occasion I wondered if Greed might flex his muscles a bit more in the percussion department, but subtlety and intimacy are his watchwords here. The vocals complement his thoughtful approach, and the slightly brooding instrumentals really complement the moods we find ourselves in currently.

Is it recommended?

It is – for those who like their electronic music on the mindful side. Greed’s music does have strength in depth, and can act both as a home listening comfort and a quiet but lasting inspiration.

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Switched on – Fabric presents Maribou State (Fabric)

What’s the story?

Fabric may have called time on their two long-running compilation series, each of which declared on 100 not out, but they are still producing anthologies centering on a particular artist. Some, like this one from the duo Maribou State, are still concerned with reproducing the feel of a night out to the club.

There’s a subtle difference this time around, however, as the mix hones in on the sweet spot where the feelings build, Maribou State heading out on the journey to their own set with spirits and expectations high. This most pleasant of states is enhanced by field recordings from previous journeys into the club, complementing the choice of 21 tracks.

What’s the music like?

Dreamy. There is pure escapism at work here, right from the moment the strains of Stelvio Cipriani’s Mary’s Theme ease the listener into the evening. Over the next few tracks Maribou State establish a relaxed tempo and a penchant for a catchy hook or two, the relatively short excerpts blending together and fed through a warm fuzz. That slightly out of focus sound peaks through the heady sounds of Kutiman’s Line 5 and carries us through a soft-hearted cover of Ain’t No Stopping Us Now from Risco Connection, nicely done.

This is a junction point in the mix, after which it gets more percussive while retaining the fuzzy sheen round the outside. This works especially well when tracks like Oriyin’s Roll The Dice, with its nagging vocal hook, and Botany’s excellent Wednesday Night Oct 28 2015 are involved. The latter, a Western Vinyl release, pans out nicely, losing its beats as disjointed choral voices circle the listener in a heady cocktail.

Two-thirds of the way through the mix the tracks get longer, and we arrive at the squelchy funk of Shire Tea’s Hackney Birdwatch, as English as it sounds. This is the cue for two new tracks from Maribou State themselves, the urgent Mother and the skittish beats of Strange Habits, featuring Yussef Dayes. These frame another exclusive, their pulsing remix of Radiohead’s Reckoner, with some squiggly synthesizers to complement Thom Yorke’s floated vocal. Earlier on in the mix we get the duo channelled through the pseudonym North Downs, the easy and rather lovely Settle Down.

The mix wraps up with another Shire Tea track, the quick stepping Gentleman’s Whistle Club, which steps into the cooled down piano vibes of Hailu Mergia, and the improvisatory Yefkir Engurguro. This disappears into the middle distance.

Does it all work?

Most of the time. The mix drifts a little towards the middle, in danger of settling too far into the background, but thankfully the duo have an ace or a hook up their sleeves to bring it forward again. It’s good to hear a quirk or two in the productions, and refreshing to note the relative absence of big names.

Is it recommended?

Yes. For much of this warming hour and a quarter there is a strong sunshine vibe, and although Maribou State are be recreating a night at Fabric they could just as easily be providing the soundtrack for a particularly warm poolside scene in the Mediterranean. How we could do with that now!

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