Switched On – Daniel Avery: Ultra Truth (Phantasy Sound)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

On his albums to date, Daniel Avery has used music as a tool for escapism, dealing as he calls it in ‘misty-eyed euphoria’.

Ultra Truth is the first of his albums to take a completely opposite approach, looking to face the darkness of our times head on. Avery does so with a big production arsenal, aided by Ghost Culture and Manni Dee, while guest vocals are provided by HAAi, Jonnine Standish (HTRK), AK Paul with the voices of Marie Davidson, Kelly Lee Owens, Sherelle and James Massiah.

What’s the music like?

Given the brief outlined above, it comes as no surprise to report that Ultra Truth is a big beast of an album. It’s cover is a remarkably accurate guide to the music contained within, which twists and turns through various forms of discomfort, while also finding broad canvases of dark ambience. These become an effective and alluring backdrop.

The album is full of imaginative rhythms and big, big spaces. No space is bigger than the one found on the deeply mysterious Wall Of Sleep, which has a wall of sound and a thumping good rhythm, not to mention enchanting vocals from HAAi. Higher is equally immersive only with darker colouring, supported by an ominous bass sound. Lone Swordsman, meanwhile, has a fluorescent loop dancing in the middle distance

Sometimes the thick ambience can be oppressive, and Overflowing With Esscape expands so the speakers can barely contain its far reaching tendrils. By contrast, a track such as Collapsing Sky has an empty, remote feel – yet the floated chords still offer a form of consolation.

Avery’s rhythm tracks are often busy, providing a percussive clatter for the likes of Devotion, while thick and intensely ambient figures hang above like musical clouds. Only has more of a shoegaze / Cocteau Twins feel.

Does it all work?

It certainly does. As with his previous long players, Avery shows an effortless ease with structures large and small, meaning the listener can dip into individual tracks or pan out for the whole magnum opus.

Is it recommended?

Without hesitation. This is an artist whose body of work is gaining in stature with each release, as deep emotion and musical sensibilities sit seamlessly together. Another outstanding release.

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Switched On – Gabe Gurnsey: Diablo (Phantasy Sound / PIAS)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Diablo is an album for transportation. Not the car journey or train ride, though I can confirm it works on both – more the idea of transporting the listener straight into a hot, sweaty basement club somewhere, in the dead of night.

Gabe Gurnsey describes his new opus as being ‘formed out of a lot of trust and lust’, and credits his musical and physical other half, Tilly Morris, for her role in proceedings – not just as vocalist but as quality control and muse. Together they have made an album whose theme is release and escape, and to do it they use banks of keyboard sounds, vocal manipulation and a vocal hook or ten.

What’s the music like?

Hedonistic, in the best possible way. The twisting synth lines appear almost immediately on the horizon and stay for the duration, which is a good thing as they complement Morris’s voice perfectly. A fine first track, the single Push, sets out the stall, then the following Hey Diablo crackles with atmosphere.

With its vocals, Power Passion has an edge, leaning on 80s influences for its source material but also nailing a contemporary sound. The richly coloured Blessings struts forward confidently, while the synths on I Love A Sea On Fire bubble and weave, the deadpan vocal matched with liquid loops. Give Me is especially good, its vocal couplet beginning “Give me your oxygen”.

Special mention should be made of Morris, who proves the ideal foil to his electronics on this record. She brings something of the Eurythmics / Human League vibe to the table, but there is also a strong helping of Blancmange in the deadpan approach – which on repeated listening has a lot more depth than first meets the ear.

Does it all work?

Yes. There is a real frisson in a lot of these tracks, capturing the optimism and escapism we all feel on a good night in a club.

Is it recommended?

It is. Diablo is one of those albums looking backwards and forwards simultaneously, and Gurnsey’s awareness of both directions means that this new album works a treat.

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