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 – Bibio: BIB10 (Warp Records)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

As its title confirms, this is the tenth studio album that Bibioaka Stephen Wilkinson – has completed. Much of that odyssey has been for Warp Records, where he has garnered a loyal following from albums such as Ambivalence Avenue, Mind Bokeh, Silver Wilkinson and the attractive Sleep On The Wing EP from 2020.

For BIB10, however, Wilkinson wanted to use more synths, drum machines and electric guitars, but in his words, ‘getting a more polished sound, without ironing the humanity out of it, was part of the ethos’.

What’s the music like?

Anyone following Bibio over those ten albums will know that he has a high quality threshold, and that his songs are consistently good and meaningful. His work also evades capture where genres are concerned, flitting between electronica, pop, folk and a lightly psychedelic approach.

BIB10 feels firmly rooted in the 1980s at times with its electro-funk work, but on other occasions when the guitar comes out it even passes close to the orbit of Steely Dan. The music has a typically airy disposition and an attractive lightness, while Bibio’s vocals are as always very nicely done.

Two tracks feature the resonant tones of Olivier St Louis – the breezy S.O.L. and the album closer Fools, which dips into RnB. Elsewhere, Off Goes The Light is an attractively light hearted song in a big space, Sharratt is a nicely designed web of guitar melodies, while the languid Rain And Shine has slight Eastern leanings.

Cinnamon Cinematic is a perky number where those Steely Dan references crop up, its closing guitar solo a good bit of fun. Meanwhile there are more pastoral overtones in the thoughtful tones of A Sanctimonious Song, with its woozy effects.

Does it all work?

It does. One of the funkiest of Bibio’s albums, it also contains some of his most satisfying, club-based songs. The drums machines work a treat, ensuring a bit of time travel for listeners as they go back three decades.

Is it recommended?

Heartily. Bibio remains one of our underrated musical wonders, and Warp really do have a treasure on their hands. More people should appreciate his music, and the way it sweeps our cares away!

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Switched On – Stereolab: Pulse of the Early Brain (Switched On, Vol. 5) (Warp Records)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The latest – and possibly last – in Stereolab’s Switched On compilation series brings together a range of projects from the 1990s and 2000s, tying up a number of odds and ends.

Two of the tracks (Robot Riot and Unity Purity Occasional) were written for sculptures made by Charles Long. The song for the latter, to quote the band, ‘is channeled through three tubes that simultaneously blow the visitors’ hands dry with warm jets of air’.

Other titbits and rarities include the limited edition Symbolic Logic Of Now!, XXXOOO from 1992, and a track for a Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra compilation album (Blaue Milch).

The biggest feature of the album, however, is the double collaboration between Stereolab and Nurse With Wound from 1997. Lasting 40 minutes, these two longform works were released on coloured vinyl.

What’s the music like?

This is a really enjoyable set of miscellaneous musical treasures, for as we have learned in the previous releases there is barely such a thing as a Stereolab cast-off that isn’t worth listening to.

The extended Nurse With Wound collaborations are especially rewarding. Simple Headphone Mind trips along nicely with enjoyable squiggles, and leads into Trippin’ With The Birds, adopting the same key but utilising an even more experimental approach. There is lots of electronic trickery, the birds making themselves known in a variety of different and imaginative ways.

The collection is well-sequenced, moving backwards and forwards between the earliest material of 1992 and the more dense offerings of later years. The Low Fi EP is a lot of fun, varoom! starting with a driving beat and typically sonorous vocal from Laetitia Sadier and disappearing in white noise. Laisser-faire has a more communal vocal, set back in the mix from the big beats, while Elektro [he held the world in his iron grip] gets some wonderfully woozy electronics together.

ABC feels especially low-fi, with a grubby riff, while Robot Riot is excellent. We don’t hear so much on the vocal front from Laetitia Sadier in particular on this compilation, but we have never heard her voice in the way it appears after Autechre have finished with it. Their remix of Refractions In The Plastic Pulse is an out of body experience, a dislocated vocal married to some particularly busy beats.

Does it all work?

It does, though this collection does now feel like a set of assortments given that these are seemingly the last remaining rarities to be hovered up and collected in the corner together.

Is it recommended?

It is – certainly to completists of the band. Those new to the treasures of Stereolab might want to pick up earlier on in the series, but are advised that this is still an extremely worthwhile addition to the collection.

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Switched on – new music from Stereolab

Arcana bring good news to fans of Stereolab – having just announced a new album, the band are going back on a European tour in the Autumn.

The album first – and it’s the fifth in the popular ‘Switched On’ series that Warp Records have been exploring. Pulse of the Early Brain [Switched On Volume 5] will be released on September 2, via Warp Records and Duophonic UHF Disks. It will include some intriguing and desirable miscellany from the band, with its lead track, Robot Riot, a previously unavailable piece of music which was written for a Charles Long sculpture:

Also on the tracklisting for Pulse of the Early Brain are two Nurse With Wound collaborations from 1997, a second commission for a Charles Long sculpture, Unity Purity Occasional, and two tracks, Spool of Collusion and Forensic Itch, that made up a rare black vinyl 7” with the Chemical Chords LP in 2008.

This release includes both old and new, however, going back to the Low Fi EP, released on Too Pure in 1992, for four tracks (Low Fi, [Varoom!], Laisser-Faire and Elektro [he held the world in his iron grip].

And so it continues – for a total of 16 tracks. For full details visit the Stereolab Bandcamp site…and for a review of the album when it drops make sure you check back to Arcana!

On Record – Broadcast: Mother Is The Milky Way / Maida Vale Sessions / Microtronics Vols. 1 & 2 (Warp Records)

mother-is-the-milky-way

written by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Broadcast were one of Warp Records’ treasures in the label’s earlier years, yet their output came to a sudden halt with the tragic early death of singer Trish Keenan in 2011. At that point the band were at the peak of their creative powers, which makes this set of reissues and rarities all the more poignant.

The triple pack of rarities is effectively a companion piece to the band’s discography, bringing forward a lost album (2009’s tour-only release Mother Is The Milky Way), a set of BBC sessions from Maida Vale, including three appearances for John Peel, and Microtronics, a two-volume set of 21 instrumentals released as tour-only specials in 2003 and 2005.

What’s the music like?

Fans of the band will not be disappointed – and while many will surely own a good deal of this music, having it reissued in a single pack with due love and attention gives it extra special appeal. It is instructive to be reminded just how imaginative the band were, and how their Englishness shines through in the meeting point of acoustic and electronic.

Mother Is The Milky Way makes a strong impression, and could almost have been recorded during lockdown given its quotient of birdsong and field recordings. The murmured awakening of In Here The World Begins makes a strong impression on headphones, while scenes such as the fuzzy backdrop to Elegant Elephant evoke dappled sunlight. Meanwhile I’m Just A Person In This Roomy Verse has a low register musing but also interference as the listener crosses the dials on the imaginary radio.

maida-vale-sessions

The Maida Vale Sessions are special. Drawn from four different sessions between 1996 and 2003, they have poise and elegance, but also macabre elements and psychedelic tendencies that give the music an appealing unpredictability. The autumnal waltz of The Note (Message From Home) is the perfect place to start, while the wonderful Come On Let’s Go is great to hear again. The insistent phrases of Look Outside make a strong impression, as do the willowy, chromatic arpeggios of the harpsichord on The Book Lovers. A stately Long Was The Year, and the exquisite twilight shadows of Echoes Answer, with an extended coda, are highlights of a session from 2000, while the twinkling lights of Pendulum are the highlight of a session from August 2003.

microtronics

The Microtronics album is fascinating. These snippets are descriptive musical postcards, colourfully shaded and showing off a broad range of styles. The electronic bossa nova of Microtronics 2 is striking, while Microtronics 3 – as with many of the recordings – give a strong sense of eavesdropping in the band’s workshop. Microtronics 6 throws some sonic grenades, while other snippets of note include the clattering drums of Microtronics 12 and the playful keyboard stabs of Microtronics 17.

Does it all work?

Yes. These three documents give a fascinating look under the bonnet of Broadcast’s creative process, while the fully formed songs prove their worth in the sessions. The pastoral element of Mother Is The Milky Way, meanwhile, are full of springtime vitality and promise.

Is it recommended?

Yes – to fans and newcomers alike, providing the newcomers avail themselves of the band’s studio albums too. They will not be disappointed.

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