inc. – The Place

I’ve returned to the music of my youth, sounds awfully pretentious doesn’t it, but it’s true, I have. I remember getting my first cassette Walkman, about 20 years back, and listening to a tape which was half Michael Jackson half Prince, Beat It and Thieves In The Temple blowing my mind in equal proportions. Prince in particular though has been lighting up the screen on my portable music source on the bus of late.

My route back to Prince, however, has been a less direct one than you might think, and the path that took me there has introduced me to two artists (one old, one new) that share direct and indirect links with the Purple one. Don’t you just love those musical mystery tours of discovery!?

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A somewhat random Wednesday night decision to watch Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back introduced me to a singer and his band that in all honesty I really should have known about already. I enjoyed the film, it was light hearted, effortless and a fun throwback to those teen movies that lit up the early 2000s for me. Things got even juicier in the final scene though, Jay introducing (and I share his sentiment) “…the greatest band in the world! Morris Day and the Time!” The stage show and sound that was to follow have been repeated relentlessly through YouTube scouting since. All there is to say is that “Jungle Love” is the bomb. Now, time for a brief history lesson…

Morris Day and the Time’s Jungle Love has appeared, performed live on stage, in another film before. Any guesses? Yes, they doing their thing in Prince’s 1984 film debut; Purple Rain.

The lesson doesn’t stop there though kids, oh no. Do a little digging (or ask a musically informed relative) and you’ll discover that Prince and Morris Day used to play in a band together at school. Following on from a bit of solo success, Prince set himself up a little side project more focussed on edgier, funky sounds. After a bit of jiggery pokery with the line up (apparently Alexander O’Neal was in the running for the front man job at one point), Morris Day and the Time was born.

On to the next. It was whilst rooting around for a bit of background on Mr Day and his musical friend that I happened across Paul Lester’s June 2011 New Band of the day – No 1,042. In it he asks the question “Who’s the best ever Prince?” Not as in who would win in a partying with the ladies competition out of Prince Harry and Prince Albert II, no no no. What PL was getting at was, who does the “Prince Sound” the best? Notable mentions are offered to Beck, Jamie Lidell and Pharrell, all good shouts I would say. But it was the newest name and the subject of the article that started to excite me. Formerly Teen Inc. (and sounding more like Stevie Wonder than Prince), a rebrand dropped the Teen and brought us inc.

Brothers Andrew and Daniel have been working the circuit, learning their trade and mastering it. The “3” EP features a funk shuffle trio of hot pop hits, my pick being the church-soul-organ infused ‘Swear’. The lyrics don’t overburden the music, but carry you along softly for the ride. It’s new single ‘The Place’ that is whipping me into a frenzy right now though. I think I’d heard this a few times before, maybe on the radio, maybe in a forward thinking cafe/bar, who knows. But as soon as I got my hands on the name of the track and made the connection to inc. I was on board. More lush vocals, liberal use of 808s, a pitter patter of soft synth play and some baby making bass. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

Better still, the track’s yours for free if you sign up to the their mailing list – here.

So here I am, two new acts in the repertoire both with a common theme. Confirmation for me that Prince really did leave a strong mark on me as a youth and still does today.

AlunaGeorge – Your Drums, Your Love

There’s been a raft of tracks in recent years where an already cracking instrumental has been taken on by some fledgling artist to create a more commercially palatable “vocal edit”. One that sticks out for me is Katy B – Katy On A Mission. Having spent a large part of my latter days in the capital listening back to Rinse FM shows and recordings of their acts’ live shows around the country, I had heard both the beat (Benga – Man On A Mission) and the vocal that later became famous on the Katy B track over a different song entirely (Katy B at Bloc festival 2010). I have to confess, I have a soft spot for the Katy On A Mission, it certainly didn’t ruin the original Benga tune for me, however the same cannot be said for all such “remixes”.

I am a massive fan of Glasgow producer de jour Rustie’s debut full length offering; Glass Swords. In particular the track After Light which I flagged up in a previous post (Glass Swords). I’ve got to say I was a bit of grumpy teenager crossed with a miserable old git (I’m half way between now so it was inevitable really) when I first heard the AlunaGeorge vocal edit. It added nothing for me, the vocal almost apologetic in it’s “soft” layering over the dance swell of the beat underneath.

First impressions count for a hell of a lot, so needless to say my expectation level was not at its highest when I was alerted to a new track by AlunaGeorge doing the rounds and being hyped to the hilt. What have I learnt from this? Don’t let those shoddy first impressions cloud your judgement.

Again, the first listen didn’t set me alight, but the more I hear from sweetly spoken Aluna (Francis) and George (Reid)’s glitchy yet engaging production, the more those first impressions fade into the distance, are forgotten and in fact, proven to be very wrong. Your Drums, Your Love (formerly Treading Water) pulls influence from things you know (there’s James Blake-ness in there that’s for sure) and others you don’t (some lovely clavichord style twiddles and subtle chug-rock guitar runs that I just can’t pinpoint), which when combined make for a very strong assault on the aural sense.

The time and effort that has gone into the presentational package which accompanies the song deserves as much attention as the track itself. The music video sees Aluna thinking out loud through song as she tours a gallery populated by a collection of diverse pieces from illustrator and sculptor Arran Gregory and an assortment of body popping punters. The glass Wolf is a particular favourite, alongside the bear.

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The moral of the story kids, cliche’s have their place and you should never judge a leopard by it’s stripes…or something like that.

Oris Jay – To The Fly

His name may not be one that instantly jumps out at you when UK bass music is mentioned. You may have heard of him by another moniker. Either way, Oris Jay a.k.a Darqwan can be described as nothing less than a trail blazer in his chosen field.

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He’s no newbie neither, first launching on to the Jungle scene in the early 90s. In the time since that initial impact was made, he has defined his sound, a weighty yet busy affair. The new album – To The Fly (his first full length offering), released on Texture, combines not only the names he has previously released under, but the many styles he has so superbly represented over the years.

A consistent theme throughout is the depth of sound; ten tonne bass lines that you know are coming, yet are made to wait for with almost Tarantino style suspense. You can hear hints of fellow visionaries across many of the tracks. “Don’t Know Who” has the darkness of Leofah – Mud, “Boosi” has the drum shuffle of Skream – Check It, there’s an EZ-ness to “Flashing Light”. Not for one minute though am I suggesting Jay has been unoriginal in his delivery, if anything I would say, his sound and production style were likely front of mind for the aforementioned peers during their composition process.

The album showcases the full breadth of Darqwan’s interest, which in stand alone track form is spot on. In LP format though it does feel a little disjointed at times. Some of the vocal collabs overshadow what would be, in my humble opinion, stronger instrumental cuts. All this said, as a representation of a multi decade career in the UK electronic arena, To The Fly does tell the Oris Jay story; where he’s been, how he’s soaked that up and how he wants you to hear it.

I am now anxiously awaiting the drop of the title track to pile drive me into 100 Hz of heaven at Outlook later this month. Bring it!

Summer Songs That Rock

Summer is a season characterised by songs that keep popping up everywhere – at festivals, on tv and most importantly in your head. Whilst the following cuts are unlikely to receive heavy R1 airtime they are worthy waypoints on your path to a happy summer.

Jai Paul – Jasmine (XL)
Technically speaking this is a Spring song, released digitally as it was on 9 April. However, the vinyl release dropped more recently giving us a nice excuse to fly the flag for a track that passed some by. This is only Jai Paul’s second release on XL and both are special. In contrast to the thundering, base heavy debut BTSTU, Jasmine is a softer, more luxurious love episode that evokes Prince. Lush chords, wobbling synths and funk guitar make this an ethereal delight.
To quote the great Ron Burgundy, this is baby making music.

Hackman – Forgotten Notes (RAMP Recordings)
Originally produced by Saine in 2011, Hackman takes the acoustic guitar and longing melody and escalates it to toe-tapping territory. Hackman was definitely a big fan of the original (‘best bit of music i’ve heard in aggeeeees :)’ he commented on Saine’s soundcloud) and it shows in the production; overlaying a two-step vocal and pitching it up to 115bpm, Hackman puts a bounce into the track.
Best enjoyed with an ice cold brewski on a rooftop bar.
Jacques Greene – Ready EP (3024)
Jacques Greene had me at Another Girl, one of the standout tech hits of 2011. The Montreal-based producer worked the vocal and drop so effectively on that cut that I wondered whether his best days were behind him. Thankfully, he has limited his releases to high quality output only, effortlessly remixing Radiohead’s Lotus Flower and now dropping the double A-side (triple if you get the digital version) that is the Ready EP. Grittier than Another Girl, this one snarls like a caged beast, recoiling and then erupting with tough beats and 80s cop chase bass. Check Prism for a more pensive, throbbing sound.
Gym music par excellence.
Koreless – Lost in Tokyo (Vase)
Jacques Greene also provides remix duties for Koreless’ latest release, though on this occasion even a Mr Greene re-imagining cannot take the limelight away from the original. Koreless aka Glasgow born Lewis Roberts has been producing dream-speed beats for a couple of years now, honing his measured 2-step sound since Maria, via Up Down Up Down and the monumental 4D to arrive at Lost in Tokyo, a 3′ 38″ masterpiece. The now common multi-pitched vocal rests easily atop a metronomic clave and sombre organ to create a modest, otherworldly and soulful epic.
Have someone pipe this to you under the waves in the Mediterranean.
Haydn – Manchild (Brownswood Recordings)
Manchild can be found on the latest incarnation of the ever reliable Brownswood Bubblers series but this track stands head and shoulders above the rest. Wobbling base and sweeping synths waft Haydn’s lilting vocals across a desert of reverberating snares, background sounds flit in and out and all the while Manchild coasts along effortlessly. Hailing from Brooklyn and having worked with the likes of Fatima and Jesse Boykins iii already, Hadyn’s lo-fi sound has a very bright future indeed.
Let this be the last thing you hear before turning in.

Actress – R.I.P

Some time ago Ben and I returned to my flat after a few beverages in London town. I whacked on the new 12″ I’d just bought, hoping for the approval of a seasoned musician. In the event, the response to Actress‘ Rainy Dub was more anger than approval; how can such a simple, repetitive rhythm go on for so long? And why?

But I have a massive soft spot for the current wave of 80s sci-fi inspired sound. Take Symmetry’s Themes for an Imaginary Film; 36 tracks spanning almost two hours and rumoured (incorrectly) to have been the original sound track for Nicolas Refn’s cult hit Drive. Symmetry’s Themes ebbs and flows, pulsating one minute and introspective the next, the perfect accompaniment to a rocket trip to outer space (if you’re heading that way). Anything by film-maker John Carpenter also works; take the title theme to Assault on Precinct 13 with it’s minimal, early electronica synth melody, thudding base drum and lo-fi snares.

This film score sound is what Actress delivers on so effectively. Darren Cunningham strips back anything extraneous and lets sounds cascade in, blend together and develop their own character – sometimes over almost 9 minutes as with the intergalactic, Detroit-inspired Hubble from his overlooked 2010 LP Splazsh. Whereas that LP showcased Actress’ ability to make deep, 3am dancefloor rollers, RIP is more filmic and ethereal. Jardin is a wandering, landscape-conjuring theme, with gentle keys and background static that reminds me of Minority Report’s 3D holograms and their faithful, if glitchy, reproduction of reality. Marble Plexus stomps along with a coarse, shuffling patchwork of sounds, a new hook unveiled on each listen. And with N.E.W., a drum-less drift into solar systems beyond our ken, Actress demonstrates his ability to create filmic masterpieces that are crying out to be showcased in a sci-fi epic.

Immerse yourself in Actress’ work – especially in the divisive Rainy Dub – and you will prosper.